Praises on the threshold: using the paratext to re-create the social network of French poets in the early 17th century

Praises on the threshold: using the paratext to re-create the social network of French poets in the early 17th century


From about 1550 to 1650, it was a very common practice for authors to ask their friends and peers to write poems of praise that they would place into the liminary space of their books. Their role and meaning within the literary and social frameworks at that time have not been studied yet in a global way. However, this practice was neither mundane nor anecdotal, but a distinctive feature of the Republic of Letters.

Indeed, this paratextual material appears to be of great interest and perfectly suitable for a cross-disciplinary approach.

History of the book

Liminary poems are designed to function as a captatio benevolentiae delegated to a third party. They take part to a “marketing strategy” involving both the author, the publisher and the reader. They prove the circulation of the texts in a manuscript format before their printing. Besides, the individual components of the paratextual system (dedication, preface, privilege, “the author to the reader”, “the publisher to the author”, “the publisher to the reader”, etc.) are affiliated in a complex way. This also raises the question of how the roles are divided between the author of the book, the authors of the liminary poems, and the bookseller-publisher (for instance, the choice of the poem’s titles, their precise locations in the book, their removal from an edition to one another…).

History of literature

These liminary poems belong to a literary sub-genre – the friendship poetry, that was very prolific at the end of the XVIth century and the beginning of the XVIIth century: epithalamiums, consolationes (for instance the well-known stanzas Consolation à Monsieur Du Périer by François de Malherbe), funeral orations or poems that celebrate friendship itself. We find them not only as paratextual contents but also as part of the work, in individual handbooks as well as collective anthologies. The rhetorical devices for encomiastic praise are used in association with specific topoï : the traditional qualities of the perfect poet, as defined for example in Les Marguerites françoises (1614) by Esprit Aubert. In addition, it should be noted that these poems express some kind of reflexiveness and self-referentiality. They are poetical praises of poetry.

Sociology of literature

The friendship poetry gives valuable information about the relations between poets and about their belonging to varied social circles (local notability, family, childhood friends, professors and pupils…). The concept of Republic of Letters could thus be taken in a broader view. By studying the social network of French poets in the early 17th century, we will reassess the importance that some of them really had in the literary field of that time. A few minores and less-known figures seem to have played a central role at the intersection of several circles.

Our project

Considering this, Praises on the threshold (in French: Les Politesses du seuil) is an ongoing research about liminary poems dedicated to the author in French poetical works (1598-1630). Within the framework of a thesis (PhD) in French literature at the University of Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV), we defined three main objectives:

  • enhance the bibliographic knowledge of liminary verse by providing a comprehensive inventory, within an estimated corpus of 700 works published between 1598 and 1630,
  • analyze the topical, rhetorical and poetical dimensions of these friendly praises,
  • provide an interactive visualization of all the peer relationships
    that form the network of this literary sociability (about 4,000 individual people).

Fruchterman Reingold
1. Social graph of French poets (1598-1630), by using Gephi and the « Fruchterman Reingold » algorithm

Yifan Hu
2 .Social graph of French poets (1598-1630), by using Gephi and the « Yifan Hu » algorithm

3. Beta website and proof-of-concept (only on a small amount of data) :

Further information (in French) :

Martin Frédéric, « Musarum frater, amice : les réseaux de sociabilité poétique à travers les pièces liminaires (1598-1630) », Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France 1/2015 (Vol. 115) , p. 137-147 – URL :

DOI : 10.3917/rhlf.151.0137

Any support to this project would be most welcome.

Frédéric Martin