HotFreeBooks.com
A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1 - From the Beginning to 1800
by George Saintsbury
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Also they prayed to God the Creator, adoring Him, and solemnly repledging to Him their faith, and glorifying Him for His boundless goodness; while, giving Him thanks for all time past, they commended themselves to His divine mercy for all the future. This done, they turned to their rest.

[Sidenote: The war.]

It is only after this serious training that the first important division of what may be called the action begins—the "War of the Cakes," in which certain outrageous bakers, subjects of King Picrochole of Lerne, first refuse the custom of the good Grandgousier's shepherds, and then violently assault them, the incident being turned by the choleric monarch into a casus belli against the peaceful one. Invasion, the early triumph of the aggressor, the triumphant appearance of the invincible Friar John, and the complete turning of the tables by the advent of Gargantua and his terrible mare, follow each other in rapid and brilliant telling, and perhaps no parts of the book are better known. The extraordinary felicity with which Rabelaisian irony—here kept in quieter but intenser activity than almost anywhere else—seizes and renders the common causes, excuses, manners, etc., of war can never have escaped competent readers; but it must have struck more persons of late than perhaps at any former time. It would be impertinent to particularise largely; but if the famous adaptation and amplification of the old Pyrrhus story in the counsel of Spadassin and Merdaille to Picrochole were printed in small type as the centre of a fathom-square sheet, the whole margin could be more than filled with extracts, from German books and newspapers, of advice to Kaiser Wilhelm II. Nor is there anything, in literature touching history, where irony has bitten more deeply and lastingly into Life and Time than the brief record of Picrochole's latter days after his downfall.

He was informed by an old hag that his kingdom would be restored to him at the coming of the Cocqsigrues: since then it is not certainly known what has become of him. However, I have been told that he now works for his poor living at Lyons, and is as choleric as ever. And always he bemoans himself to strangers about the Cocqsigrues—yet with a certain hope, according to the old woman's prophecy, that at their coming he will be reinstated in his kingdom.

Edward FitzGerald would have called this "terrible"; and perhaps it is.

But there is much more humour than terror in the rest, and sometimes there are qualities different from either. The rescue of the sacred precincts of the Abbey of Seuille from the invaders by that glorious monk (a personage at no great remove from our own Friar Tuck, to the later portraits of whom he has lent some of his own traits) pleases the soul well, as do the feats of Gymnast against Tripet, and the fate of the unlucky Touquedillon, and the escalade of La Roche Clermande, and (a little less perhaps) the pure burlesque of the eating of the pilgrims, and the combing out of the cannon balls, and the contrasted sweet reasonableness of the amiable though not at all cowardly Grandgousier. But the advice of the Evil Counsellors to Picrochole is still perhaps the pearl:

[Sidenote: The Counsel to Picrochole.]

Then there appeared before Picrochole the Duke of Mennail, Count Spadassin, and Captain Merdaille, and said to him, "Sire, this day we make you the most happy and chivalrous prince that ever has been since the death of Alexander of Macedon." "Be covered, be covered," said Picrochole. "Gramercy, sire", said they, "but we know our duty. The means are as follows. You will leave here in garrison some captain with a small band of men to hold the place, which seems to us pretty strong, both by nature and by the fortifications you have contrived. You will, as you know well, divide your army in half. One half will fall upon this fellow Grandgousier and his people, and easily discomfit him at the first assault. There we shall gain money in heaps, for the rascal has plenty. (Rascal we call him, because a really noble prince never has a penny. To hoard is the mark of a rascal.)

"The other part will meanwhile draw towards Aunis, Saintonge, Angoumois, and Gascony, as well as Perigord, Medoc, and Elanes. Without any resistance they will take towns, castles, and fortresses. At Bayonne, at St. Jean de Luz, and at Fontarabia you will seize all the ships, and coasting towards Galicia and Portugal, will plunder all the seaside places as far as Lisbon, where you will be reinforced with all the supplies necessary to a conqueror: Corbleu! Spain will surrender, for they are all poltroons. You will pass the Straits of Seville,[94] and will there erect two columns more magnificent than those of Hercules for the perpetual memory of your name. And that Strait shall thenceforward be named the Sea of Picrochole.

"When that sea has been passed, lo! comes Barbarossa[95] to surrender as your slave." "I," said Picrochole, "will extend mercy to him." "Very well," said they, "on condition that he is baptized. And then you will assault the kingdoms of Tunis, of Hippo,[96] of Argier, of Bona, of Corona—to cut it short, all Barbary. Going further,[97] you will keep in your hands Majorca, Minorca, Sardinia, Corsica, and the other islands of the Ligurian and Balearic sea. Coasting to the left[98] you will dominate all Narbonese Gaul, Provence, the Allobroges, Genoa, Florence, Lucca, and, begad! Rome. Poor master Pope is already dying for fear of you." "I will never kiss his slipper," said Picrochole.



"Italy being taken, behold Naples, Calabria, Apulia, and Sicily all at your mercy, and Malta into the bargain. I should like to see those funny knights, formerly of Rhodes, resist you! if it were only to examine their water." "I should like," said Picrochole, "to go to Loretto." "No, no," said they, "that will be on the way back. Thence we shall take Candia, Cyprus, Rhodes, and the Cyclades, and make a set at Morea. We shall get it at once. By St. Treignan, God keep Jerusalem! for the soldan is nothing in power to you." "Shall I," said he, "then rebuild the Temple of Solomon?" "Not yet," said they, "wait a little. Be not so hasty in your enterprises."

And so with the most meticulous exactness (Rabelais' geography is irreproachable, and he carefully avoids the cheap expedient of making Spadassin and Merdaille blunder) and the sagest citations of Festina lente, they take him through Asia Minor to the Euphrates and Arabia, while the other army (that which has annihilated Grandgousier) comes round by the northern route, sweeping all Europe from Brittany and the British Isles to Constantinople, where the great rendezvous is made and the universal empire established, Picrochole graciously giving his advisers Syria and Palestine as their fiefs.

"Pretty much like our own days," said Mr. Rigmarole. Have we not heard something very like this lately, as "Berlin to Baghdad," if not "Calais to Calcutta"? And even if we had not, would not the sense and the satire of it be delectable? A great deal has been left out: the chapter is, for Rabelais, rather a long one. The momentary doubt of the usually undoubting Picrochole as to what they shall drink in the desert, allayed at once by a beautiful scheme of commissariat camels and elephants,[99] which would have done credit to the most modern A.S.C., is very capital. There is, indeed, an unpleasant Echephron[100] who points the old moral of Cineas to Pyrrhus himself. But Picrochole rebuffs him with the invaluable Passons oultre, and closes the discussion by anticipating Henri Quatre (who, no doubt, learnt the phrase from him), crying, "Qui m'aime, si me suive!" and ordering all haste in the war.

It is possible that, here or earlier, the not-quite-so-gentle-as-he-is-traditionally-called reader may ejaculate, "This is all true enough; but it is all very well known, and does not need recapitulation." Is this quite so certain? No doubt at one time Englishmen did know their Rabelais well. Southey did, for instance, and so, according to the historian of Barsetshire, did, in the next generation, Archdeacon Grantly. More recently my late friend Sir Walter Besant spent a great deal of pains on Master Francis, and mainly owing to his efforts there existed for some years a Rabelais Club (already referred to), which left some pleasant memories. But is it quite so certain that the average educated Englishman can at once distinguish Eudemon from Epistemon, give a correct list of the various answers to Panurge's enquiries as to the probable results of his marriage, relate what happened when (as glanced at above and returned to later) nous passasmes oultre, and say what the adorable Quintessence admitted to her dainty lips besides second intentions? I doubt it very much. Even special students of the Great Book, as in other cases, have too often allowed themselves to be distracted from the pure enjoyment of it by idle questions of the kinds above mentioned and others—questions of dates and names and places, of origins and borrowings and imitations—questions the sole justification of which, from the genuine Pantagruelian point of view, is that their utter dryness inevitably suggests the cries—the Morning Hymn and the Evening Voluntary of the book itself—A boire! and Trinq.

But, even were this not so, a person who has undertaken, wisely or unwisely, to write the history of the French Novel is surely entitled to lay some stress on what seems to him the importance of this its first eminent example. At any rate he proposes not to passer oultre, but to stick to the line struck out, and exhibit, in reasonable detail, the varieties of novel-matter and manner contained in the book.

[Sidenote: The peace and the Abbey of Thelema.]

The conclusion of Gargantua—after the victor has addressed a concio to the vanquished, has mildly punished the originators of the trouble or those he could catch (Spadassin and Merdaille having run away "six hours before the battle") by setting them to work at his newly established printing-press, and has distributed gifts and estates to his followers—may be one of the best known parts of the whole book, but is not of the most strictly novel character, though it has suggested at least one whole novel and parts or passages of others. The "Abbey of Thelema"—the home of the order of Fay ce que vouldras—is, if not a devout, a grandiose imagination, and it gives occasion for some admirable writing. But it is one of the purest exercises of "purpose," and one of the least furnished with incident or character, to be found in Rabelais. In order to introduce it, he may even be thought guilty of what is extremely rare with him, a fault of "keeping." He avoids this fault surprisingly in the contrasted burlesque and serious chronicles of Grandgousier and Gargantua himself, as well as in the expanded contrast of Pantagruel and Panurge. Yet the heartiest admirer of "Friar John of the Funnels" (or "Collops," for there is a schism on this point) may fail to see in him a suitable or even a possible Head for an assemblage of gallant gentlemen and stately ladies (both groups being also accomplished scholars) like the Thelemites. But Rabelais, like Shakespeare, had small care for small objections. He wanted to sketch a Paradise of Anti-Monkery, and for this he wanted an Anti-Abbot. Friar John was the handiest person, and he took him. But it is worth noting that the Abbot of Thelema never afterwards appears as such, or in the slightest relation to this miniature but most curious and interesting example of the Renaissance fancy for imaginary countries, cities, institutions, with its splendours of architecture and decoration, its luxurious but not loose living, its gallantry and its learning, its gorgeous dress, its polished manners (the Abbot must have had some trouble to learn them), and its "inscriptions and enigmas" in verse which is not quite so happy as the prose. One would not cut it out of the book for anything, and parallels to it (not merely of the kind above referred to) have found and may find place in other books of fiction. But it is only a sort of chantry, in the Court of the Gentiles too, of the mighty Temple of the Novel.

[Sidenote: Pantagruel I. The contrasted youth.]

What it was exactly that made Rabelais "double," as it were, on Gargantua in the early books of Pantagruel[101] it would probably be idle to enquire. His deliberate mention in the Prologue of some of the most famous romances (with certain others vainly to be sought now or at any time) might of course most easily be a mere red herring. It may be, that as Gargantua was not entirely of his own creation, he determined to "begin at the beginning" in his original composition. But it matters little or nothing. We have, once more, a burlesque genealogy with known persons—Nimrod, Goliath, Polyphemus, etc. etc.—entangled in a chain of imaginaries, one of the latter, Hurtaly, forming the subject of a solemn discussion of the question why he is not received among the crew of the Ark. The unfortunate concomitants of the birth of Pantagruel—which is fatal to his mother Badebec—contrast with the less chequered history of Gargantua and Gargamelle, while the mixed sorrow and joy of Gargantua at his wife's death and his son's birth completes this contrast. Pantagruel, though quite as amiable as his father, if not more so, has in infancy the natural awkwardnesses of a giant, and a hairy giant too—devouring cows whole instead of merely milking them, and tearing to pieces an unfortunate bear who only licked his infant chops. As was said above, he has no wild-oats period of education like his father's, but his company is less carefully chosen than that of Gargantua in the days of his reformation, and gives his biographer opportunities for his sharpest satire.

First we have (taken, as everybody is supposed now to know, from Geoffrey Tory, but improved) the episode of the Limousin scholar with his "pedantesque"[102] deformation of French and Latin at once, till the giant takes him by the throat and he cries for mercy in the strongest meridional brogue.[103] Then comes the famous catalogue of the Library of Saint Victor, a fresh attack on scholastic and monastic degeneracy, and a kind of joining hands (Ortuinus figures) with the German guerrilla against the Obscuri, and then a long and admirable letter from Gargantua, whence we learn that Grandgousier is dead, and that his son is now the sagest of monarchs, who has taken to read Greek, and shows no memory of his governesses or his earlier student days. And then again comes Panurge.

[Sidenote: Panurge.]

Many doubtful things have been said about this most remarkable personage. He has been fathered upon the Cingar of Folengo, which is too much of a compliment to that creation of the great Macaronic, and Falstaff has been fathered upon him, which is distinctly unfair to Falstaff. Sir John has absolutely nothing of the ill-nature which characterises both Cingar and Panurge; and Panurge is an actual and contemptible coward, while many good wits have doubted whether Falstaff is, in the true sense, a coward at all. But Panurge is certainly one thing—the first distinct and striking character in prose fiction. Morally, of course, there is little to be said for him, except that, when he has no temptations to the contrary, he is a "good fellow" enough. As a human example of mimesis in the true Greek sense, not of "imitation" but of "fictitious creation," he is, once more, the first real character in prose fiction—the ancestor, in the literary sense, of the mighty company in which he has been followed by the similar creations of the masters from Cervantes to Thackeray. The fantastic colouring, and more than colouring, of the whole book affects him, of course, more than superficially. One could probably give some not quite absurd guesses why Rabelais shaped him as he did—presented him as a very naughty but intensely clever child, with the monkey element in humanity thrown into utmost prominence. But it is better not to do so. Panurge has some Yahooish characteristics, but he is not a Yahoo—in fact, there is no misanthropy in Rabelais.[104] He is not merely impish (as in his vengeance on the lady of Paris), but something worse than impish (as in that on Dindenault); and yet one cannot call him diabolic, because he is so intensely human. It is customary, and fairly correct, to describe his ethos as that of understanding and wit wholly divorced from morality, chivalry, or religion; yet he is never Mephistophelian. If one of the hundred touches which make him a masterpiece is to be singled out, it might perhaps be the series of rapturous invitations to his wedding which he gives to his advisers while he thinks their advice favourable, and the limitations of enforced politeness which he appends when the unpleasant side of their opinions turns up. And it may perhaps be added that one of the chief reasons for believing heartily in the last Book is the delectable and unimprovable contrast which La Quinte and her court of intellectual fantastry present to this picture of intellectual materialism.

[Sidenote: Short view of the sequels in Book II.]

It was impossible that such a figure should not to a certain extent dwarf others; but Rabelais, unlike some modern character-mongers, never lets his psychology interfere with his story. After a few episodes, the chief of which is the great sign-duel of Thaumast and Panurge himself, the campaign against the Dipsodes at once enables Pantagruel to display himself as a war-like hero of romance, permits him fantastic exploits parallel to his father's, and, by installing Panurge in a lordship of the conquered country and determining him, after "eating his corn in the blade," to "marry and settle," introduces the larger and most original part of the whole work—the debates and counsellings on the marriage in the Third Book, and, after the failure of this, the voyage to settle the matter at the Oracle of the Bottle in the Fourth and Fifth. This "plot," if it may be called so, is fairly central and continuous throughout, but it gives occasion for the most surprising "alarums and excursions," variations and divagations, of the author's inexhaustible humour, learning, inventive fertility, and never-failing faculty of telling a tale. If the book does sometimes in a fashion "hop forty paces in the public street," and at others gambade in a less decorous fashion even than hopping, it is also Cleopatresque in its absolute freedom from staleness and from tedium.

[Sidenote: Pantagruel II. (Book III.)

The marriage of Panurge and the consultations on it.]

The Third Book has less of apparent variety in it, and less of what might be called striking incident, than any of the others, being all but wholly occupied by the enquiries respecting the marriage of Panurge. But this gives it a "unity" which is of itself attractive to some tastes, while the delightful sonnet to the spirit Of Marguerite,

Esprit abstraict, ravy et ecstatique,

(perhaps the best example of rhetoriqueur poetry), at the beginning, and the last sight (except in letters) of Gargantua at the end, with the curious coda on the "herb Pantagruelion" (the ancestor of Joseph de Maistre's famous eulogy of the Executioner), give, as it were, handle and top to it in unique fashion. But the body of it is the thing. The preliminary outrunning of the constable—had there been constables in Salmigondin, but they probably knew the story of the Seigneur of Basche too well—and the remarkable difference between the feudatory and his superior on the subject of debt, serve but as a whet to the project of matrimony which the debtor conceives. Of course, Panurge is the very last man whom a superficial observer of humanity—the very first whom a somewhat profounder student thereof—would take as a marrying one. He is "a little failed"; he thinks to rest himself while not foregoing his former delights, and he shuts eyes and ears to the proverb, as old as Greek in words and as old as the world in fact, that "the doer shall suffer." That he should consult Pantagruel is in the circumstances almost a necessity, and Pantagruel's conduct is exactly what one would expect from that good-natured, learned, admirable, but rather enigmatic personage. Merely "aleatory" decision—by actual use of dice—he rejects as illicit, though towards the close of the book one of its most delectable episodes ends in his excusing Mr. Justice Bridoye for settling law cases in that way. But he recommends the sortes Virgilianae, and he, others, and Panurge himself add the experiment of dreams, and the successive consultation of the Sibyl of Panzoust, the dumb Nazdecabre, the poet Raminagrobis, Epistemon, "Her Trippa," Friar John himself, the theologian Hippothadee, the doctor Rondibilis, the philosopher Trouillogan, and the professional fool Triboulet. No reader of the most moderate intelligence can need to be told that the counsellors opine all in the same sense (unfavourable), though with more or less ambiguity, and that Panurge, with equal obstinacy and ingenuity, invariably twists the oracles according to his own wishes. But what no reader, who came fresh to Rabelais and fasting from criticism on him, could anticipate, is the astonishing spontaneity of the various dealings with the same problem, the zest and vividness of the whole thing, and the unceasing shower of satire on everything human—general, professional, and individual—which is kept up throughout. There is less pure extravagance, less mere farce, and (despite the subject) even less "sculduddery" than in any other Book; but also in no other does Rabelais "keep up with humanity" (somewhat, indeed, in the fashion in which a carter keeps up with his animal, running and lashing at the same time) so triumphantly.

In no book, moreover, are the curious intervals—or, as it were, prose choric odes—of interruption more remarkable. Pantagruel's own serious wisdom supplies not a few of them, and the long and very characteristic episode of Judge Bridoye and his decision by throw of dice is very loosely connected with the main subject. But the most noteworthy of these excursions comes, as has been said, at the end—the last personal appearance of the good Gargantua, and the famous discourse, several chapters long, on the Herb Pantagruelion, otherwise Hemp.

[Sidenote: Pantagruel III. (IV.) The first part of the voyage.]

The Fourth Book (Third of Pantagruel) starts the voyage, and begins to lead the commentator who insists on fixing and interpreting the innumerable real or apparent double, treble, and almost centuple meanings, into a series of dances almost illimitable. As has been suggested more than once, the most reasonable way is probably to regard the whole as an intentional mixture of covert satire, pure fooling, not a little deliberate leading astray, and (serving as vehicle and impelling force at once) the irresistible narrative impulse animating the writer and carrying the reader on to the end—any end, if it be only the Other End of Nowhere. The "curios," living and other, of Medamothi (Nowhere to begin with!), and the mysterious appearance of a shipful of travellers coming back from the Land of Lanterns, whither the Pantagruelian party is itself bound; the rather too severely punished ill-manners of the sheep-dealer Dindenault; the strange isles of various nature—such, especially, as the abode of the bailiffs and process-servers, which gives occasion to the admirably told story of Francois Villon and the Seigneur of Basche; the great storm—another of the most famous passages of the book—with the cowardice of Panurge and the safe landing in the curious country of the Macreons (long-livers); the evil island where reigns Quaresmeprenant, and the elaborate analysis of that personage by the learned Xenomanes; the alarming Physeter (blowing whale) and his defeat by Pantagruel; the land of the Chitterlings, the battle with them, and the interview and peace-making with their Queen Niphleseth (a passage at which the sculduddery-hunters have worked their hardest), and then the islands of the Papefigues and the Papimanes, where Rabelais begins his most obvious and boldest meddling with the great ecclesiastical-political questions of the day—all these things and others flit past the reader as if in an actual voyage. Even here, however, he rather skirts than actually invades the most dangerous ground. It is the Decretals, not the doctrines, that are satirised, and Homenas, bishop of Papimania, despite his adoration of these forgeries, and the slightly suspicious number and prettiness of the damsels who wait upon him, is a very good fellow and an excellent host. There is something very soothing in his metaphorical way of demanding wine from his Hebes, "Clerice, esclaire icy," the necessary illumination being provided by a charming girl with a hanap of "extravagant" wine. These agreeable if satiric experiences—for the Decretals do no harm beyond exciting the bile of Master Epistemon (who, it is to be feared, was a little of a pedant)—are followed by the once more almost universally known passage of the "Frozen Words" and the visit to "Messer Gaster, the world's first Master of Arts"; by the islands (once more mysterious) of Chaneph (hypocrisy) and Ganabin (thieves); the book concluding abruptly with an ultra-farcical cochonnerie of the lower kind, relieved partially by a libellous but impossible story about our Edward the Fifth and the poet Villon again, as well as by the appearance of an interesting but not previously mentioned member of the crew of the Thalamege (Pantagruel's flagship), the great cat Rodilardus.

[Sidenote: Pantagruel IV. (Book V.) The second part of the voyage. The "Isle Sonnante."]

[Sidenote: The "Chats Fourres."]

One of the peculiarities of the Fifth Book, and perhaps one of those which have aroused that suspicion about it which, after what has been said above, it is not necessary further to discuss, is that it is more "in blocks" than the others.[105] The eight chapters of the Isle Sonnante take up the satire of the Fourth Book on Papimania and on the "Papegaut," who is here introduced in a much fiercer tone—a tone which, if one cared for hypothetical criticism, might be attributed with about equal probability to a genuine deepening of hostile feeling, to absence of revision, and to possible sophistication by some one into whose hands it fell between the author's death and its publication. But a perfectly impartial critic, who, on the one hand, does not, in Carlyle's admirable phrase, "regard the Universe as a hunting-field from which it were good and pleasant to drive the Pope," and, on the other, is content to regard the extremer Protestants as singularly unpleasant persons without pronouncing Ernulphus-curses on them, may perhaps fail to find in it either the cleverest or the most amusing part of the voyage. The episode of the next Isle—that des Ferrements—is obscure, whether it is or is not (as the commentators were sure to suggest) something else beginning with "obsc-," and the succeeding one, with its rocks fashioned like gigantic dice, is not very amusing. But the terrible country of the Chats Fourres and their chief Grippeminaud—an attack on the Law as unsparing as, and much more vivid than that on the Church in the overture—may rank with the best things in Rabelais. The tyrant's ferocious and double-meaning catchword of Or ca! and the power at his back, which even Pantagruel thinks it better rather to run away from than to fight openly, which Panurge frankly bribes, and over which even the reckless and invincible Friar John obtains not much triumph, except that of cutting up, after buying it, an old woman's bed—these and the rest have a grim humour not quite like anything else.

[Sidenote: "La Quinte."]

The next section—that of the Apedeftes or Uneducated Ones[106]—has been a special object of suspicion; it is certainly a little difficult, and perhaps a little dull. One is not sorry when the explorers, in the ambiguous way already noted, "passent Oultre," and, after difficulties with the wind, come to "the kingdom of Quintessence, named Entelechy." Something has been said more than once of this already, and it is perhaps unnecessary to say more, or indeed anything, except to those who themselves "hold of La Quinte," and who for that very reason require no talking about her. "We" (if one may enrol oneself in their company) would almost rather give up Rabelais altogether than sacrifice this delightful episode, and abandon the idea of having the ladies of the Queen for our partners in Emmelie, and Calabrisme, and the thousand other dances, of watching the wonderful cures by music, and the interesting process of throwing, not the house out of the window, but the window out of the house, and the miraculous and satisfactory transformation of old ladies into young girls, with very slight alteration of their former youthful selves, and all the charming topsyturvifications of Entelechy. Not to mention the gracious if slightly unintelligible speeches of the exquisite princess, when clear Hesperus shone once more, and her supper of pure nectar and ambrosia (not grudging more solid viands to her visitors), and the great after-supper chess-tournament with living pieces, and the "invisible disparition" of the lady, and the departure of the fortunate visitors themselves, duly inscribed and registered as Abstractors of Quintessence. The whole is like a good dream, and is told so as almost to be one.

Between this and the final goal of the Country of Lanterns the interest falls a little. The island of "Odes" (not "poems" but "ways"), where the "walks walk" (les chemins cheminent); that of "Esclots" ("clogs"), where dwell the Freres Fredonnants, and where the attack on monkery is renewed in a rather unsavoury and rather puerile fashion; and that of Satin, which is a sort of Medamothi rehandled, are not first-rate—they would have been done better, or cut out, had the book ever been issued by Master Francis. But the arrival at and the sojourn in Lanternia itself recovers the full powers of Rabelais at his best, though one may once more think that some of the treatment might have been altered in the case just mentioned.

[Sidenote: The conclusion and The Bottle.]

Apart from the usual mixture of serious and purely jocular satire, of learning and licence, of jargonic catalogues, of local references to Western France and the general topography of Utopia, this conclusion consists of two main parts—first, a most elaborate description of the Temple, containing underground the Oracle of the Bottle, to which the pilgrims are conducted by a select "Lantern," and of its priestess Bacbuc, its adytum with a fountain, and, in the depth and centre of all, the sacred Bottle itself; and secondly, the ceremonies of the delivery of the Oracle; the divine utterance, Trinq! its interpretation by Bacbuc; the very much ad libitum reinterpretations of the interpretation by Panurge and Friar John, and the dismissal of the pilgrims by the priestess, Or allez de par Dieu, qui vous conduise![107]

* * * * *

What, it may be asked, is the object of this cumbrous analysis of certainly one of the most famous and (as it at least should be) one of the best known books of the world? That object has been partly indicated already; but it may be permissible to set it forth more particularly before ending this chapter. Of the importance, on the one hand, of the acquisition by the novel of the greatest known and individual writer of French up to his date, and of the enormous popularity of this example of it, enough may have been said. But the abstract has been given, and the further comment is now added, with the purpose of showing, in a little detail, how immensely the resources and inspirations of future practitioners were enriched and strengthened, varied and multiplied, by Gargantua and Pantagruel. The book as a whole is to be classed, no doubt, as "Eccentric" fiction. But if you compare with Rabelais that one of his followers[108] who possessed most genius and who worked at his following with most deliberation, you will find an immense falling off in richness and variety as well as in strength. The inferiority of Sterne to Master Francis in his serious pieces, whether he is whimpering over dead donkeys and dying lieutenants, or simulating honest indignation against critics, is too obvious to need insistence. Nor can one imagine any one—unless, like Mackenzie and other misguided contemporaries or juniors, he himself wanted to whimper, or unless he also aimed at the fatrasie—going to Sterne for pattern or inspiration. Now Rabelais is a perpetual fount of inspiration, an inexhaustible magazine of patterns to the most "serious" novelist whose seriousness is not of the kind designated by that term in dissenting slang. That abounding narrative faculty which has been so much dwelt on touches so many subjects, and manages to carry along with it so many moods, thoughts, and even feelings, that it could not but suggest to any subsequent writer who had in him the germ of the novelist's art, how to develop and work out such schemes as might occur to him. While, for his own countrymen at least, the vast improvement which he made in French prose, and which, with the accomplishment of his younger contemporaries Amyot and Montaigne, established the greatness of that prose itself, was a gain, the extent of which cannot be exaggerated. Therefore it has seemed not improper to give him a chapter to himself, and to treat his book with a minuteness not often to be paralleled in this History.[109]

FOOTNOTES:

[90] A complete argument on this much vexed subject can hardly be wished for here: but it may be permitted to say that nearly fifty years' consideration of the matter has left less and less doubt in my mind as to the genuineness of the "Quart" or "Quint" Livre as it is variously called—according as Gargantua is numbered separately or not. One of the apparently strongest arguments against its genuineness—the constant presence of "Je" in the narrative—really falls, with the others—the fiercer and more outspoken character of the satire, the somewhat lessened prominence of Pantagruel, etc. etc.—before one simple consideration. We know from the dates of publication of the other books that Rabelais was by no means a rapid writer, or at any rate that, if he wrote rapidly, he "held up" what he did write long, and pretty certainly rewrote a good deal. Now the previous Book had appeared only a short time before what must have been the date of his death; and this could not, according to analogy and precedent, have been ready, or anything like ready, when he died. On the other hand, time enough passed between his death and the publication (even of the Ile Sonnante fragment) for the MS. to have passed through other hands and to have been adulterated, even if it was not, when the Master's hands left it, in various, as well as not finally finished form. I can see nothing in it really inconsistent with the earlier Books; nothing unworthy of them (especially if on the one hand possible meddling, and on the other imperfect revision be allowed for); and much, especially the Chats Fourres, the Quintessence part, and the Conclusion, without which the whole book would be not only incomplete but terribly impoverished. I may add that, having a tolerably full knowledge of sixteenth-century French literature, and a great admiration of it, I know no single other writer or group of other writers who could, in my critical judgment, by any reasonable possibility have written this Book. Francois Rabelais could have done it, and I have no doubt that he did it; though whether we have it as he left it no man can say.

[91] It is perhaps hardly necessary, but may not be quite idle, to observe that our Abstractor of Quintessence takes good care not to quote the other half of the parallelism, "but the prudent looketh well to his going."

[92] It is possible, but not certain, that he is playing on the two senses of the word apparence, the ambiguity of which is not so great in English. The A. V., "evidence of things not seen," would not have suited his turn.

[93] In which, it will be remembered, the "liquor called punch," which one notes with sorrow that Rabelais knew not, but which he certainly would have approved, is also "nowhere spoken against."

[94] Original "Sibyle." I owe to Prof. Ker an important reminder (which I ought not to have needed) of Dante's "Sibilia" in the famous "Ulysses" passage, Inf. xxvi. 110.

[95] The Turkish corsair, not the German Emperor.

[96] Probably erected into a kingdom in honour of St. Augustine.

[97] Passant oultre—one of Rabelais' favourite and most polymorphic expressions. It has nearly always an ironical touch in it; and it enjoys a chapter all to itself in that mood—V. xvii.

[98] Perhaps this a gauche might make as good a short test as any of a reader's sense of humour. But here also a possible Dantean reminiscence (not suggested to me this time) comes in; for in the lines already quoted "dalla man destra" occurs.

[99] The King is, however, more difficult to satisfy on this point than on others; and objects with a delightful preterite, "Yes: but we did not get our wine fresh and cool"; whereat they rebuke him with a respectful reminder that great conquerors cannot be always entirely comfortable.

[100] "Suspender of judgment."

[101] Of course the first book of the son preceded the reconstructed history of the father; but this is immaterial.

[102] The correct opposition of this term (Latin or Greek words vernacularised) to "Macaronic" (vernacular words turned into Latin or Greek form) is not always observed.

[103] It is very seldom, after his infantine and innocent excesses, that Pantagruel behaves thus. He is for the most part a quiet and somewhat reserved prince, very generous, very wise, very devout, and, though tolerating the eccentricities of Panurge and Friar John, never taking part in them.

[104] If Swift had drunk more wine and had not put water in what he did drink, possibly this quality might have been lessened in him.

[105] The first of these, the Isle Sonnante, as is well enough known to all students, appeared separately and before the rest.

[106] A sort of dependency or province of the Chats Fourres.

[107] A MS. "addition" unknown to the old printed forms, appears in some modern ones. It is a mere disfigurement: and is hardly likely even to have been a rejected draft.

[108] Not Swift here, but Sterne. There is far higher genius in Gulliver than in Shandy; but the former is not fatrasie, the latter is.

[109] That the not quite unknown device of setting up a man of straw in order to knock him down has not been followed in this chapter, a single piece of evidence out of many may be cited. H. Koerting in his justly well reputed Geschichte des Franz. Romans im XVII. Jahrh. (Oppeln u. Leipzig, 1891, i. 133 note) would rule Rabelais out of the history of the novel altogether. This book, which will be quoted again with gratitude later, displays a painstaking erudition not necessitating any make-weight of sympathy for its author's early death after great suffering. It is extremely useful; but it does not escape, in this and other places, the censure which, ten years before the war of 1914, the present writer felt it his duty to express on modern German critics and literary historians generally (History of Criticism, London, 1904, vol. iii. Bks. viii. and ix.), that on points of literary appreciation, as distinguished from mere philology, "enumeration," bibliographical research, and the like, they are "sadly to seek." It may not be impertinent to add that Herr Koerting's history happened never to have been read by me till after the above chapter of the present book was written.



CHAPTER VII

THE SUCCESSORS OF RABELAIS AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE "AMADIS" ROMANCES

In the present chapter we shall endeavour to treat two divisions of actual novel- or at least fiction-writing—strikingly opposed to each other in character; and a third subject, to include which in the title would have made that title too long, and which is not strictly a branch of novel-writing, but which had perhaps as important an influence on the progress of the novel itself as anything mentioned or to be mentioned in all this History. The first division is composed of the followers—sometimes in the full, always in the chronological sense—of Rabelais, a not very strong folk as a rule, but including one brilliant example of co-operative work, and two interesting, if in some degree problematical, persons. The second, strikingly contrasting with the general if not the universal tendency of the first, is the great translated group of Amadis romances, which at once revived romance of the older kind itself, and exercised a most powerful, if not an actually generative, influence on newer forms which were themselves to pass into the novel proper. The third is the increasing body of memoir- and anecdote-writers who, with Brantome at their head, make actual personages and actual events the subjects of a kind of story-telling, not perhaps invariably of unexceptionable historic accuracy, but furnishing remarkable situations of plot and suggestions of character, together with abundant new examples of the "telling" faculty itself.

[Sidenote: Subsidiary importance of Brantome and other character-mongers.]

The last point, as an apparent digression but really a most important contribution to the History, may perhaps be discussed and dismissed first. All persons who have even a slight knowledge of French literature must be aware how early and how remarkable are its possessions in what is vaguely called the "Memoir" department. There is nothing at the time, in any modern literature known to the present writer, similar to Villehardouin, or a little later to Joinville,—one might almost say that there is nothing in any literature at any time superior, if there be anything equal, in its kind to Froissart. In the first two cases there is pure personal experience; in the third there is, of course, a certain amount of precedent writing on the subject for guidance, and a large gathering of information by word of mouth. But in all these, and to a less extent in others up to the close of the fifteenth century, there is the indefinable gift of treatment—of "telling a story." In Villehardouin this gift may be almost wholly, and in principle very mainly, limited to the two great subjects which made the mediaeval end as far as profane matters were concerned—fighting and counselling; but this is by no means the case in Froissart, whom one is sometimes tempted to regard as a Sir Walter Scott thrown away upon base reality.

With the sixteenth century this gift once more burgeoned and spread itself out—dealing, indeed, very mainly with the somewhat ungrateful subject of the religious disputes and wars, but flowering or fruiting into the unsurpassable gossip—though gossip is too undignified a word—of Pierre de Bourdeilles, Abbe de Brantome, that Froissart and Pepys in one, with the noble delight in noble things of the first, inextricably united to the almost innocent shamelessness of the second, and a narrative gift equal to that of either in idiosyncrasy, and ranging beyond the subjects of both. Himself a soldier and a courtier (his abbacy, like many others, was purely titular and profitable—not professional in the least), his favourite subjects in literature, and obviously his idols in life, were great soldiers and fair ladies, "Bayard and the two Marguerites," as some one has put it. And his vivid irregular fashion of writing adapts itself with equal ease to a gallant feat of arms and a ferocious, half-cut-throat duel, to an exquisite piece of sentimental passion like that which tells us the story how the elder Queen of Navarre rebuked the lover carelessly stepping over the grave of his dead mistress, and to an unquotable anecdote to parallel the details of which, in literature of high rank, one must go to Rabelais himself, to Martial, or to Aristophanes. But, whatever the subject, the faculty of lively communication remains unaltered, and the suggestion of its transference from fact (possibly a little coloured) to pure fiction becomes more and more possible and powerful.[110]

[Sidenote: The Heptameron.]

No book has been more subject to the "insupportable advances" of the "key"-monger than the Heptameron, and the rage for identifying has gone so far that the pretty old name of "Emarsuite" for one of the characters has been discarded for an alleged and much uglier "Ennasuite," which is indeed said to have MS. authority, but which is avowedly preferred because it can be twisted into "Anne a Suite" ("Anne in Waiting"), and so can be fastened to an actual Maid of Honour of Marguerite's. It is only fair, however, to admit that something of the kind is at least suggested by the book itself. Even by those who do not trouble themselves in the least about the personages who may or may not have been disguised under the names of Nomerfide (the Neifile of this group) and Longarine, Saffredent and Dagoucin and Gebron (Geburon they call him now), admit the extreme probability of the Queen having invited identification of herself with Parlamente, the younger matron of the party, and of Hircan her husband with the King of Navarre.[111] But some (among whom is the present writer) think that this delightful and not too well-fated type of Renaissance amorousness, letteredness, and piety combined made a sort of dichotomy of herself here, and intended the personage of Oisille, the elder duenna (though by no means a very stern one) of the party, to stand for her as well as Parlamente—to whom one really must give the Italian pronunciation to get her out of the abominable suggestion of our "talking-machine."

[Sidenote: Character and "problems."]

A much more genuinely literary question has been raised and discussed as to the exact authorship of the book. That it is entirely Marguerite's, not the most jealous admirers of the Queen need for a moment contend. She is known to have had a sort of literary court from Marot and Rabelais downwards, some of the members of which were actually resident with her, and not a few of whom—such as Boaistuau and Le Macon, the translators of Bandello and Boccaccio, and Bonaventure Desperiers (v. inf.)—were positive experts in the short story. Moreover, the custom of distributing these collections among different speakers positively invited collaboration in writing. The present critic and his friend, Mr. Arthur Tilley of King's College, Cambridge, who has long been our chief specialist in the literature of the French Renaissance, are in an amicable difference as to the part which Desperiers in particular may have played in the Heptameron; but this is of no great importance here, and though Marguerite's other literary work is distinctly inferior in style, it is not impossible that the peculiar tone of the best parts of it, especially as regards the religious-amorous flavour, was infused by her or under her direct influence. The enthusiasm of Rabelais and Marot; the striking anecdote already mentioned which Brantome, whose mother had been one of Marguerite's maids of honour, tells us, and one or two other things, suggest this; for Desperiers was more of a satirist than of an amorist, and though the charges of atheism brought against him are (v. inf. again) scarcely supported by his work, he was certainly no pietist. I should imagine that he revised a good deal and sometimes imparted his nervous and manly, but, in his own Contes, sometimes too much summarised style. But some striking phrases, such as "l'impossibilite de nostre chair,"[112] may be hers, and the following remarkable speech of Parlamente probably expresses her own sentiments pretty exactly. It is very noteworthy that Hircan, who is generally represented as "taking up" his wife's utterances with a certain sarcasm, is quite silent here.

[Sidenote: Parlamente on human and divine love.]

"Also," said Parlamente, "I have an opinion that never will a man love God perfectly if he has not perfectly loved some of God's creatures in this world." "But what do you call 'perfect loving'?" said Saffredent. "Do you reckon as perfect lovers those who are transis,[113] and who adore ladies at a distance, without daring to make their wishes known?" "I call perfect lovers," answered Parlamente, "those who seek in what they love some perfection—be it beauty, kindness, or good grace,—always striving towards virtue; and such as have so high and honourable a heart, that they would not, were they to die for it, take for their object the base things which honour and conscience disapprove: for the soul, which is only created that it may return to its Sovereign Good, does naught while it is in the body but long for the attainment of this. But because the senses by which alone it can acquire information are darkened and made carnal by the sin of our first father, they can only show her the visible things which approach closest to perfection—and after these the soul runs, thinking to find in outward beauty, in visible grace, and in moral virtue, grace, beauty, and virtue in sovereign degree. But when she has sought them and tried them, and finds not in them Him whom she loves, she leaves them alone,[114] just as a child, according to his age, likes dolls and other trivialities, the prettiest he sees, and thinks a collection of pebbles actual riches, but as he grows up prefers his dolls alive, and gets together the goods necessary for human life. Yet when he knows, by still wider experience, that in earthly things there is neither perfection nor felicity, he desires to seek the Creator and the Source of these. Nevertheless, if God open not the eye of faith in him he would be in danger of becoming, instead of a merely ignorant man, an infidel philosopher.[115] For Faith alone can demonstrate and make receivable the good that the carnal and animal man cannot understand."

This gives the better Renaissance temper perhaps as well as anything to be found, and may, or should in fairness, be set against the worser tone of mere libertinage in which some even of the ladies indulge here, and still more against that savagery which has been noticed above. This undoubtedly was in Milton's mind when he talked of "Lust hard by Hate," and it makes Hircan coolly observe, after a story has been told in which an old woman successfully interferes to save a girl's chastity, that in the place of the hero he should certainly have killed the hag and enjoyed the girl. This is obviously said in no bravado, and not in the least humorously: and the spirit of it is exemplified in divers not in the least incredible anecdotes of Brantome's in the generation immediately following, and of Tallemant des Reaux in the next. The religiosity displayed is of a high temper of Christian Platonism, and we cannot, as we can elsewhere, say what the song says of something else, that "it certainly looks very queer." The knights and ladies do go to mass and vespers; but to say that they go punctually would be altogether erroneous, for Hircan makes wicked jokes on his and Parlamente's being late for the morning office, and, on one occasion at least, they keep the unhappy monks of the convent where they are staying (who do not seem to dare to begin vespers without them) waiting a whole hour while they are finishing not particularly edifying stories. The less complaisant casuists, even of the Roman Church, would certainly look askance at the piety of the distinguished person (said by tradition to have been King Francis himself) who always paid his respects to Our Lady on his way to illegitimate assignations, and found himself the better therefor on one occasion of danger. But the tone of our extract is invariably that of Oisille and Parlamente. The purer love part of the matter is a little, as the French themselves say, "alembicated." But still the whole is graceful and fascinating, except for a few pieces of mere passionless coarseness, which Oisille generally reproves. And it is scarcely necessary to say what large opportunities these tones and colours of fashion and "quality," of passion and manners, give to the future novelist, whose treatment shall stand to them very much as they stand to the shorter and sometimes almost shorthand written tales of Desperiers himself.

[Sidenote: Desperiers.]

With the Cymbalum Mundi of this rather mysterious person we need have little to do. It is, down to the dialogue-form, an obvious imitation of Lucian—a story about the ancient divinities (especially Mercury) and a certain "Book of Destiny" and talking animals, and a good deal of often rather too transparent allegory. It has had, both in its own day and since, a very bad reputation as being atheistical or at least anti-Christian, and seems really to have had something to do with the author's death, by suicide or otherwise. There need, however, be very little harm in it; and there is not very much good as a story, nor, therefore, much for us. It does not carry the art of its particular kind of fiction any further than Lucian himself, who is, being much more of a genius, on the whole a much better model, even taking him at that rather inferior rate. The Contes et Joyeux Devis, on the other hand, though the extreme brevity of some has perhaps sometimes prejudiced readers against them, have always seemed to the present writer to form the most remarkable book, as literature, of all the department at the time except Gargantua and Pantagruel and the Heptameron, and to supply a strong presumption that their author had more than a minor hand in the Heptameron itself. It must, of course, be admitted that the fashion in which they are delivered may not only offend in one direction, but may possibly mislead in another. One may read too much into the brevity, and so fall into the error of that other Englishman who was beguiled by the mysterious signs of Desperiers' greatest contemporary's most original creation. But a very large and long experience of literary weighing and measuring ought to be some safeguard against the mistake of Thaumast.

[Sidenote: Contes et Joyeux Devis.]

One remarkable difference which may seem, at first sight, to be against the theory of Desperiers having had a large share in the Heptameron is the contrasted and, as it may seem again at first sight, antagonistic tone of the two. There are purely comic and even farcical passages in Marguerite's book, but the general colour, as has been said, is religious-sentimental or courtly-amatory, with by no means infrequent excursions into the purely tragical. The Contes et Joyeux Devis, on the other hand, in the main continue the wholly jocular tone of the old fabliaux. But Desperiers must have been, not only not the great man of letters which the somewhat exaggerated zeal of his editor, M. Louis Lacour, ranked him as being, but a very weak and feeble writer, if he could not in this way write comedy in one book and tragedy in another. In fact Rabelais gives us (as the greatest writers so often do) what is in more senses than one a master-key to the contrast. Desperiers has in the Contes constant ironic qualifications and asides which may even have been directly imitated from his elder and greater contemporary; Marguerite has others which pair off in the same way with the most serious Rabelaisian "intervals," to which attention has been drawn in the last chapter. One point, however, does seem, at least to me, to emerge from the critical consideration of these two books with the other works of the Queen on the one hand and the other works of Desperiers[116] on the other. It is that the latter had a much crisper and stronger style than Marguerite's own, and that he had a faculty of grave ironic satire, going deeper and ranging wider than her "sensibility" would allow. There is one on the fatal and irremediable effects of disappointing ladies in their expectations, wherein there is something more than the mere grivoiserie, which in other hands it might easily have remained. The very curious Novel XIII.—on King Solomon and the philosopher's stone and the reason of the failure of alchemy—is of quite a different type from most things in these story-collections, and makes one regret that there is not more of it, and others of the same kind. For sheer amusement, which need not be shocking to any but the straitest-laced of persons, the story (XXXIV.) of a curate completely "scoring off" his bishop (who did not observe the caution given by Ophelia to Laertes) has not many superiors in its particular kind.

[Sidenote: Other tale-collections.]

The fancy for these collections of tales spread widely in the sixteenth century, and a respectable number of them have found a home in histories of literature. Sometimes they present themselves honestly as what they are, and sometimes under a variety of disguises, the most extravagant of which is the title of the rather famous work of Henri Estienne, Apologie pour Herodote. Others, more or less fantastic, are the Propos Rustiques and Baliverneries of Noel Du Fail, a Breton squire (as we should say), and his later Contes d'Eutrapel; the Escraignes Dijonnaises and other books of Tabourot des Accords; the Matinees and Apres Dinees of Cholieres, and, the largest collection of all, the Serees [Soirees] of the Angevin Guillaume Bouchet,[117] while after the close of the actual century, but probably representing earlier work, appeared the above-mentioned Moyen de Parvenir, by turns attributed and denied to Beroalde de Verville. In all these, without exception, the imitation of Rabelais, in different but unmistakable ways, is to be found; and in not a few, that of the Heptameron and of Desperiers; while not unfrequently the same tales are found in more than one collection. The fatrasie character—that is to say, the stuffing together of all sorts of incongruous matter in more or less burlesque style—is common to all of them; the licence of subject and language to most; and there are hardly any, except a few mere modernisings of old fabliaux, in which you will not find the famous farrago of the Renaissance—learning, religious partisanship, war, law, love, almost everything. All the writers are far below their great master,[118] and none of them has the appeal of the Heptameron. But the spirit of tale-telling pervades the whole shelf-ful, and there is one more special point of importance "for us."

[Sidenote: The "provincial" character of these.]

It will be observed that some of them actually display in their titles (such as that of Tabouret's book as quoted) the fact that they have a definite provinciality in no bad sense: while Bouchet is as clearly Angevin and Du Fail as distinctly Breton as Des Accords is Burgundian and as the greatest of all had been Tourangeau. It can scarcely be necessary to point out at great length what a reinforcement of vigour and variety must have been brought by this plantation in the different soils of those provinces which have counted for so much—and nearly always for so much good[119]—in French literature and French things generally. The great danger and defect of mediaeval writing had been its tendency to fall into schools and ruts, and the "printed book" (especially such a printed book as Rabelais) was, at least in one way, by no means unlikely to exercise this bad influence afresh. To this the provincial differences opposed a salutary variety of manners, speech, local colour, almost everything. Moreover, manners themselves generally—one of the fairest and most fertile fields of the novel-kingdom—became thus more fully and freely the object and subject of the tale-teller. Character, in the best and most extensive and intensive sense of the word, still lagged behind; and as the drama necessarily took that up, it was for more reasons than one encouraged, as we may say, in its lagging. But meanwhile Amyot and Calvin[120] and Montaigne were getting the language more fully ready for the prose-writer's use, and the constant "sophistication" of literature with religion, politics, knowledge of the physical world in all ways, commerce, familiarity with foreign nations—everything almost that touched on life—helped to bring on the slow but inevitable appearance of the novel itself. But it had more influences to assimilate and more steps to go through before it could take full form.

[Sidenote: The Amadis romances.]

No more curious contrast (except, perhaps, the not very dissimilar one which will meet us in the next chapter) is to be found in the present History, or perhaps in any other, than that of the matter just discussed with the great body of Amadis romance which, at this same time, was introduced into French literature by the translation or adaptation of Nicolas Herberay des Essarts and his continuators. That Herberay[121] deserves, according to the best and most catholic students of French, a place with the just-mentioned writers among the formers or reformers of the French tongue, is a point of some importance, but, for us, minor. Of the controversial part of the Amadis subject it must, as in other cases, be once more unnecessary for us to say much. It may be laid down as certain, on every principle of critical logic and research, that the old idea of the Peninsular cycle being borrowed direct from any French original is hopelessly absurd. There is, notoriously, no external evidence of any such original ever having existed, and there is an immense improbability against any such original ever having existed. Further, the internal characteristics of the Spanish romances, though, undoubtedly, they might never have come into existence at all but for the French, and though there is a very slight "catch-on" of Amadis itself to the universally popular Arthurian legend, are not in the least like those of French or English. How the actual texts came into that existence; whether, as used to be thought at first, after some expert criticism was turned on them, the actual original was Portuguese, and the refashioned and prolific form Spanish, is again a question utterly beyond bounds for us. The quality of the romances themselves—their huge vogue being a matter of fact—and the influence which they exercised on the future development of the novel,—these are the things that concern us, and they are quite interesting and important enough to deserve a little attention.

[Sidenote: Their characteristics.]

What is certain is that these Spanish romances themselves—which, as some readers at any rate may be presumed to know, branch out into endless genealogies in the Amadis and Palmerin lines, besides the more or less outside developments which fared so hardly with the censors of Don Quixote's library—as well as the later French examples of a not dissimilar type, the capital instance of which, for literature, is Lord Berners's translation of Arthur of Little Britain—do show the most striking differences, not merely from the original twelfth- and thirteenth-century Charlemagne and Arthur productions, but also from intermediate variants and expansions of these. The most obvious of these discrepancies is the singular amplification of the supernatural elements. Of course these were not absent in the older romance literature, especially in the Arthurian cycle. But there they had certain characteristics which might almost deserve the adjective "critical"—little criticism proper as there was in the Middle Ages. They were very generally religious, and they almost always had what may be called a poetic restraint about them. The whole Graal-story is deliberately modelled on Scriptural suggestions; the miracle of reconciliation and restoration which concludes Amis and Amiles is the work of a duly commissioned angel. There are giants, but they are introduced moderately and equipped in consonance. The Saint's Life, which, as it has been contended, exercised so large an influence on the earlier romance, carried the nature, the poetry, the charm of its supernatural elements into the romance itself.

[Sidenote: Extravagance in incident, nomenclature, etc.]

In the Amadis cycle and in romances like Arthur of Little Britain all this undergoes a change—not by any means for the better. What has been unkindly, but not perhaps unjustly, called the "conjuror's supernatural" takes the place of the poet's variety. One of the personages of the Knight of the Sun is a "Bedevilled Faun," and it is really too much not to say that most of such personages are bedevilled. In Arthur of (so much the Lesser) Britain there is, if I remember rightly, a giant whose formidability partly consists in his spinning round on a sort of bedevilled music-stool: and his class can seldom be met with without three or seven heads, a similarly large number of legs and hands, and the like. This sort of thing has been put down, not without probability, to the Oriental suggestion which would come so readily into Spain. It may be so or it may not. But it certainly imports an element of puerility into romance, which is regrettable, and it diminishes the dignity and the poetry of the things rather lamentably. Whether it diminishes, and still more whether it originally diminished the readability of these same things, is quite another question.

Closely connected with it is the fancy for barbaric names of great length and formidable sound, such as Famongomadan, Pintiquinestra, and the like—a trait which, if anybody pleases, may be put down to the distorted echo of more musical[122] appellations in Arabic and other Eastern tongues, or to a certain childishness, for there is no doubt that the youthful mind delights, and always has delighted, in such things. The immense length of these romances even in themselves, and still more with continuations from father to son and grandson, and trains of descendants sometimes alternately named, can be less charged as an innovation, though there is no doubt that it established a rule which had only been an exception before. But, as will have been seen earlier, the continuation of romance genealogically had been not uncommon, and there had been a constant tendency to lengthen from the positively terse Roland to the prolix fifteenth-century forms. In fact this went on till the extravagant length of the Scudery group made itself impossible, and even afterwards, as all readers of Richardson know, there was reluctance to shorten.

[Sidenote: The "cruel" heroine.]

We have, however, still to notice another peculiarity, and the most important by far as concerns the history of the novel: this is the ever-increasing tendency to exaggerate the "cruelty" of the heroine and the sufferings of the lovers. This peculiarity is not specially noticeable in the earliest and best of the group itself. Amadis suffers plentifully; yet Oriana can hardly be called "cruel." But of the two heroines of Palmerin, Polisarda does play the part to some extent, and Miraguarda (whose name it is not perhaps fantastic to interpret as "Admire her but beware of her") is positively ill-natured. Of course the thing was no more a novelty in literature than it was in life. The lines—

And cruel in the New As in the Old one,

may certainly be transferred from the geographical world to the historical. But in classical literature "cruelty" is attributed rather indiscriminately to both sexes. The cliff of Leucas knew no distinction of sex, and Sappho can be set against Anaxarete. Indeed, it was safer for men to be cruel than for women, inasmuch as Aphrodite, among her innumerable good qualities, was very severe upon unkind girls, while one regrets to have to admit that no particular male deity was regularly "affected" to the business of punishing light o' love men, though Eros-Cupid may sometimes have done so. The Eastern mistress, for obvious reasons, had not much chance of playing the Miraguarda part as a rule, though there seems to me more chance of the convention coming from Arab and Hebrew poetry than from any other source. But in the Arabian Nights at least, though there are lustful murderesses—eastern Margarets of Burgundy, like Queen Labe of the Magicians,—there is seldom any "cruelty," or even any tantalising, on the part of the heroines.

A hasty rememberer of the sufferings of Lancelot and one or two other heroes of the early and genuine romance might say, "Why go further than this?" But on a little examination the cases will be found very different. Neither Iseult nor Guinevere is cruel to her lover; Orgueilleuse has a fair excuse in difference of rank and slight acquaintance; persons like Tennyson's Ettarre, still more his Vivien, are "sophisticated"—as we have pointed out already. Besides, Vivien and Ettarre are frankly bad women, which is by no means the case with the Polisardas and Miraguardas. They, if they did not introduce the thing—which is, after all, as the old waterman in Jacob Faithful says, "Human natur',"—established and conventionalised the Silvius and Phoebe relation of lover and mistress. If Lancelot is banished more than once or twice, it is because of Guinevere's real though unfounded jealousy, not of any coquettish "cruelty" on her part; if Partenopeus nearly perishes in his one similar banishment, it is because of his own fault—his fault great and inexcusable. But the Amadisian heroes, as a rule—unless they belong to the light o' love Galaor type, which would not mind cruelty if it were exercised, but would simply laugh and ride away—are almost painfully faithful and deserving; and their sojourns in Tenebrous Isles, their encounters with Bedevilled Fauns, and the like, are either pure misfortunes or the deliberate results of capricious tyranny on the part of their mistresses.

Now of course this is the sort of thing which may be (and as a matter of fact it no doubt was) tediously abused; but it is equally evident that in the hands of a novelist of genius, or even of fair talent and craftsmanship, it gives opportunity for extensive and ingenious character-drawing, and for not a little "polite conversation." If la donna e mobile generally, she has very special opportunities of exhibiting her mobility in the exercise of her caprice: and if it is the business of the lover (as it is of minorities, according to a Right Honourable politician) to suffer, the amoureux transi who has some wits and some power of expression can suffer to the genteelest of tunes with the most ingenious fugues and variations. A great deal of the actual charm of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century poetry in all languages comes from the rendering in verse of this very relation of woman and man. We owe to the "dear Lady Disdain" idea not merely Beatrice, but Beatrix long after her, and many another good thing both in verse and in prose between Shakespeare and Thackeray.

In the Amadis group (as in its slightly modernised successor, that of the Grand Cyrus), the handling is so preposterously long and the reliefs of dialogue and other things frequently managed with so little skill, that, except for sheer passing of time, the books have been found difficult to read. The present writer's knowledge of Spanish is too sketchy to enable him to read them in the original with full comfort. Amadis and Palmerin are legible enough in Southey's translations, made, as one would expect from him, with all due effort to preserve the language of the old English versions where possible. But Herberay's sixteenth-century French is a very attractive and perfectly easy language, thoroughly well suited to the matter. And if anything that has been said is read as despite to these romances, the reading is wrong. They have grave faults, but also real delights, and they have no small "place i' the story."[123]

FOOTNOTES:

[110]

[Sidenote: Note on Montaigne.]

This suggestive influence may be found almost as strongly, though shown with less literary craftsmanship, in Brantome's successor and to some extent overlapper, Tallemant des Reaux. And it is almost needless to say that in both subjects for novel treatment "foison," as both French and English would have said in their time. Nor may it be improper to add that Montaigne himself, though more indirectly, assisted in speeding the novel. The actual telling of a story is indeed not his strongest point: the dulness of the Travels, if they were really his (on which point the present writer cannot help entertaining a possibly unorthodox doubt), would sufficiently show this. But the great effect which he produced on French prose could not, as in the somewhat similar case of Dryden in English a century later, but prove of immense aid to the novelist. Except in the deliberately eccentric style, as in Rabelais' own case, or in periods such as the Elizabethan and our own, where there is a coterie ready to admire jargon, you cannot write novels, to interest and satisfy readers, without a style, or a group of styles, providing easy and clear narrative media. We shall see how, in the next century, writers in forms apparently still more alien from the novel helped it in the same way.

[111] The character of this Bourbon prince seems to have been very faithfully though not maliciously drawn by Margaret (for the name, Gallice pulchrum, is Anglice pulchrius, and our form may be permitted in a note) as not ungenial, not exactly ungentlemanly, and by no means hating his wife or being at all unkind to her, but constantly "hard" on her in speech, openly regarding infidelity to her as a matter of course, and not a little tinged by the savagery which (one is afraid) the English wars had helped to introduce among the French nobility; which the religious wars were deepening, and which, in the times of the Fronde, came almost to its very worst, and, though somewhat tamed later, lasted, and was no mean cause, if not so great a one as some think, of the French Revolution. Margaret's love for her brother was ill rewarded in many ways—among others by brutal scandal—and her later days were embittered by failure to protect the new learning and the new faith she had patronised earlier. But one never forgets Rabelais' address to her, or the different but still delightful piece in which Marot is supposed to have commemorated her Platonic graciousness; while her portrait, though drawn in the hard, dry manner of the time, and with the tendency of that time to "make a girl's nose a proboscis," is by no means unsuggestive of actual physical charm.

[112] This phrase, though Biblical, of course, in spirit, is not, so far as I remember, anywhere found textually in Holy Writ. It may be patristic; in which case I shall be glad of learned information. It sounds rather like St. Augustine. But I do not think it occurs earlier in French, and the word impossibilite is not banal in the connection.

[113] The famous phrase "amoureux transi" is simply untranslatable by any single word in English for the adjective, or rather participle. Its unmetaphorical use is, of course, commonest in the combination transi de froid, "frozen," and so suggests in the other a lover shivering actually under his mistress's shut window, or, metaphorically, under her disdain.

[114] The expression (passe oultre) commented on in speaking of Rabelais, and again one which has no English equivalent.

[115] A very early example of the special sense given to this word in French increasingly during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, of "freethinker" deepening to "atheist." Johnson's friend, it will be remembered, regarded Philosophy as something to which the irruption of Cheerfulness was fatal; Butler, as something acquirable by reading Alexander Ross; a famous ancient saying, as the remembrancer of death; and a modern usage, as something which has brass and glass "instruments." But it was Hegel, was it not? or Carlyle? who summarised the French view and its time of prevalence in the phrase, "When every one was a philosopher who did not believe in the Devil."

[116] His translations of the Andria and of Plato's Lysis; and his verses, the chief charm of which is to be found in his adoption of the "cut and broken" stanzas which the French Renaissance loved.

[117] Not to be confused with Jehan Bouchet the poet, a much older man, indeed some twenty years older than Rabelais, and as dull as Raminagrobis Cretin himself, but the inventor or discoverer of that agreeable agnomen "Traverseur des Voies Perilleuses" which has been noted above.

[118] Cholieres, I think, deserves the prize for sinking lowest.

[119] From all the endless welter of abuse of God's great gift of speech [and writing] about the French Revolution, perhaps nothing has emerged more clearly than that its evils were mainly due to the sterilisation of the regular Provincial assemblies under the later monarchy.

[120] A person not bad of blood will always be glad to mention one of the few good sides of a generally detestable character; and a person of humour must always chuckle at some of the ways in which Calvin's services to French prose were utilised.

[121] He did not confine his good offices to romances of caballeria. In 1539 he turned into French the Arnalte and Lucenda of Diego de San Pedro (author of the more widely known Carcel de Amor), a very curious if also rather tedious-brief love-story which had great influence in France (see Reynier, op. cit. inf. pp. 66-73). This (though M. Reynier did not know it) was afterwards versified in English by one of our minor Carolines, and will appear in the third volume of the collected edition of them now in course of publication by the Clarendon Press.

[122] Not always. Nouzhatoul-aouadat is certainly not as musical as Pintiquinestra, though Nouronnihar as certainly is.

[123]

[Sidenote: Note on Helisenne de Crenne.]

There should be added here a very curious, and now, if not in its own time, very rare book, my first knowledge of which I owed to a work already mentioned, M. Gustave Reynier's Le Roman Sentimental avant l'Astree (Paris, 1908), though I was able, after this chapter was composed, to find and read the original in the British Museum. It was first printed in 1538, and bears, like other books of its time, a disproportionately long title, which may, however, be easily shortened, "Les Angoisses douloureuses qui procedent d'Amour ... composees par dame Helisenne de Crenne." This Helisenne or Helisaine seems to have been a real person: and not the least of the remarkable group of women authors who illustrate her time in France, though M. Reynier himself admits that "it is difficult to know exactly who she was." She appears to have been of Picardy, and other extant and non-extant works are attributed to her. Like almost everybody of her time she wrote in the extreme rhetoriqueur style—so much so indeed as to lead even Pasquier into the blunder of supposing that Rabelais hit at her in the dialect of the "Limousin scholar." The Angoisses, which M. Reynier's acute examination shows to have been written by some one who must have known Boccaccio's Fiammetta (more than once Frenched about this time), is, or gives itself out to be, the autobiography of a girl of noble birth who, married at eleven years old and at first very fond of her husband, becomes at thirteen the object of much courtship from many gallants. Of these she selects, entirely on the love-at-first-sight principle, a very handsome young man who passes in the street. She is well read and tries to keep herself in order by stock examples, classical and romantic, of ill-placed and ill-fated affection. Her husband (who seems to have been a very good fellow for his time) gives her unconsciously what should have been the best help of all, by praising her self-selected lover's good looks and laughing at the young man's habit of staring at her. But she has already spoken frankly of her own appetit sensuel, and she proceeds to show this in the fashion which makes the fifteenth century and the early sixteenth a sort of trough of animalism between the altitudes of Mediaeval and Renaissance passion. Her lover turns out to be an utter cad, boastful, blabbing, and almost cowardly (he tells her in the usual stolen church interview, Je crains merveilleusement monsieur votre mari). But it makes not the slightest difference; nor does the at last awakened wrath of an at last not merely threatened but wideawake husband. Apparently she never has the chance of being actually guilty, for her husband finally, and very properly, shuts her up in a country house under strong duennaship. This finishes the first part, but there are two more, which return to more ancient ways. The lover Guenelic goes off to seek adventures, which he himself recounts, and acquires considerable improvement in them. He comes back, endeavours to free his mistress from her captivity, and does actually fly with her; but they are pursued; and though the lover and a friend of his with the rather Amadisian name of "Quezinstra" do their best, the heroine dies of weariness and shock, to be followed by her lover.

This latter part is comparatively commonplace. M. Reynier thinks very highly of the first. It is possible to go with him a certain part of the way, but not, I think, the whole, except from a purely "naturalist" and not at all "sentimental" point of view. Some bold bad men have, of course, maintained that when the other sex is possessed by an appetit sensuel this overcomes everything else, and seems, if not actually to exclude, at any rate by no means always or often to excite, that accompanying transcendentalism which is not uncommon with men, and which, comprised with the appetite, makes the love of the great lovers, whether they are represented by Dante or by Donne, by Shakespeare or by Shelley. Whether this be truth or libel non nostrum est. But it is certain that Helisenne, as she represents herself, does not make the smallest attempt to spiritualise (even in the lowest sense) or inspirit the animality of her affection. She wants her lover as she might want a pork chop instead of a mutton one; and if she is sometimes satisfied with seeing him, it is as if she were looking at that pork chop through a restaurateur's window and finding it better than not seeing it at all and contenting herself with the mutton. Still this result is probably the result at least as much of want of art as of original misfeeling; and the book certainly does deserve notice here.

The original Oeuvres of Helisenne form a rather appetising little volume, fat, and close and small printed, as indeed is the case with most, but not quite all, of the books now under notice. The complementary pieces are mainly moralities, as indeed are, in intention, the Angoisses themselves. These latter seem to me better worth reprinting than most other things as yet not reprinted, from the Heptameron (Helisenne, be it remembered, preceded Marguerite) for nearly a hundred years. The later parts, though (or perhaps even because) they contrast curiously with the first, are by no means destitute of interest; and M. Reynier, I think, is a little hard on them if he has perhaps been a little kind to their predecessor. The lingo is indeed almost always stupendous and occasionally terrible. The printer aids sometimes; for it was not at once that I could emend the description of the B. V. M. as "Mere et Fille de l'aliltonat [ant] plasmateur" into "altitonant" ("loud-thundering"), while plasmateur itself, though perfectly intelligible and legitimate, a favourite with the rhetoriqueurs, and borrowed from them even in Middle Scots, is not exactly everybody's word. But from her very exordium she may be fairly judged. "Au temps que la Deesse Cibele despouilla son glacial et gelide habit, et vestit sa verdoyante robe, tapissee de diverses couleurs, je fus procree, de noblesse." And, after all, there is a certain nobility in this fashion of speech and of literary presentation.



CHAPTER VIII

THE SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY NOVEL—I

The Pastoral and Heroic Romance, and the Fairy Story

[Sidenote: Immense importance of the seventeenth century in our subject.]

The seventeenth century, almost if not quite from its beginning, ranks in French literature as the eighteenth does with us, that is to say, as the time of origin of novels or romances which can be called, in any sense, modern. In its first decade appeared the epoch-making pastoral-heroic Astree of Honore d'Urfe;[124] its middle period, from 1620 to 1670, was the principal birth-time of the famous "Heroic" variety, pure and simple; while, from that division into the last third, the curiously contrasted kind of the fairy tale came to add its quota of influence. At various periods, too, individuals of more or less note (and sometimes of much more than almost any of the "school-writers" just mentioned) helped mightily in strengthening and diversifying the subjects and manners of tales. To this period also belongs the continuance and prominence of that element of actual "lived" anecdote and personal history which has been mentioned more than once before. The Historiettes of Tallemant contain short suggestions for a hundred novels and romances; the memoirs, genuine or forged, of public and private persons have not seldom, in more modern times, formed the actual basis of some of the greatest fiction. Everybody ought long to have known Thackeray's perhaps rather whimsical declaration that he positively preferred the forged D'Artagnan memoirs of Courtils de Sandras (as far at least as the Gascon himself was concerned) to the work of that Alexander, the truly Great, of which he was nevertheless such a generous admirer: and recently mere English readers have had the opportunity of seeing whether they agree with him. In fact, as the century went on, almost all kinds of literature began to be more or less pervaded with the novel appeal and quality.

[Sidenote: The divisions of its contribution.]

The letters of "Notre Dame des Rochers" constantly read like parts or scenes of a novel, and so do various compositions of her ill-conditioned but not unintelligent cousin Bussy-Rabutin. Camus de Pontcarre in the earlier and Fenelon in the later century determined that the Devil should not have this good prose to himself, and our own Anthony Hamilton showed the way to Voltaire in a kind, of which, though the Devil had nothing immediately to do with it, he might perhaps make use later. In fact, the whole century teems with the spirit of tale-telling, plus character-analysis; and in the eighteenth itself, with a few notable exceptions, there was rather a falling-off from, than a further advance towards, the full blossoming of the aloe in the nineteenth.

It will probably, therefore, not be excessive to give two chapters (and two not short ones) to this period. In the first of them we may take the two apparently opposite, but by no means irreconcilable schools of Pastoral and Heroic Romance[125] and of Fairy Tale, including perhaps only four persons, if so many, of first-rate literary rank—Urfe,[126] Madeleine de Scudery, Madame d'Aulnoy, and Perrault; in the second, the more isolated but in some cases not unimportant names and works of Sorel, Scarron, Furetiere, and the capital ones of Madame de la Fayette and Hamilton. According to the plan previously pursued, less attempt will be made to give exhaustive or even full lists of practitioners than to illustrate their practice thoroughly by example, translated or abstracted, and by criticism; and it is necessary that this latter course should be used without mercy to readers or to the historian himself in this first chapter. For there is hardly any department of literature which has been more left to the rather treacherous care of traditional and second- or seventh-hand judgment than the Heroic romance.[127]

* * * * *

[Sidenote: The Pastoral in general.]

The Pastoral, as being of the most ancient and in a literary sense of the highest formal rank, may occupy us first, but by no means longest. A great deal of attention (perhaps a great deal more than was at all necessary) has been paid to the pastoral element in various kinds of literature. The thing is certainly curious, and inevitably invited comment; but unfortunately it has peculiar temptations to a kind of comment which, though very fashionable for some time past, is rarely profitable. Pastorals of the most interesting kind actually exist in literature: "pastoralism" in the abstract, unless treated in the pure historical manner, is apt, like all similar criticism and discussion of "kinds" in general, to tend to [Greek: phlyaria].[128] For a history in a nutshell there is perhaps room even here, because the relations of the thing to fiction cannot be well understood without it. That the association of shepherds,[129] with songs, and with the telling of "tales" in both senses, is immensely old, is a fact which the Hebrew Scriptures establish, and almost the earliest Greek mythology and poetry confirm; but the wiser mind, here as elsewhere, will probably be content with the fact, and not enquire too busybodily into the reason. The connection between Sicily—apparently a land of actual pastoral life—and Alexandria—the home of the first professional man-of-letters school, as it may be called—perhaps supplies something more; the actual beauty of the Sicilian-Alexandrian poems, more still; the adoption of the form by Virgil, who was revered at Rome, renowned somewhat heterodoxically in the Middle Ages, and simply adored by the Renaissance, most of all. So, in English, Spenser and Milton, in French, Marot and others niched it solidly in the nation's poetry; and the certainly charming Daphnis and Chloe, when vernacularised, transferred its influence from verse to prose in almost all the countries of Europe.

To what may be called "common-sense" criticism, there is, of course, no form of literature, in either prose or verse, which is more utterly abhorrent and more helplessly exposed. Unsympathetic, and in some points unfair and even unintelligent, as Johnson's criticism of Lycidas may seem, to the censure of its actual "pastorality" there is no answer, except that "these things are an allegory" as well as a convention. To go further out of mere common-sense objections, and yet stick to the Devil's-Advocate line, there is no form which lends itself to—which, indeed, insists upon—conventions of the most glaring unreality more than the pastoral, and none in which the decorations, unless managed with extraordinary genius, have such a tendency to be tawdry at best, draggled and withered at worst. Nevertheless, the fact remains that at almost all times, both in ancient literature and since the revival of letters, as well as in some probably more spontaneous forms during the Middle Ages themselves,[130] pastorals have been popular with the vulgar, and practised by the elect; while within the very last hundred years such a towering genius as Shelley's, and such a manifold and effectual talent as Mr. Arnold's, have selected it for some of their very best work.

Such adoption, moreover, had, for the writer of prose fiction, some peculiar and pretty obvious inducements. It has been noticed by all careful students of fiction that one of the initial difficulties in its way, and one of those which do not seem to get out of that way very quickly, is diffidence on the writer's part "how to begin." It may be said that this is not peculiar to fiction; but extends from the poet who never can get beyond the first lines of his epic to the journalist who sits for an hour gazing at the blank paper for his article, and returns home at midnight, if not like Miss Bolo "in a flood of tears and a sedan chair," at any rate in a tornado of swearing at himself and (while there were such things) a hansom cab. Pastoral gives both easy beginning and supporting framework.

[Sidenote: Its beginnings in France.]

[Sidenote: Minor romances preceding the Astree.]

The transformation of the older pastoral form into the newer began, doubtless, with the rendering into French of Daphnis and Chloe,[131] which appeared in the same year with the complete Heptameron (1559). Twelve years later, in 1571, Belleforest's La Pyrenee et Pastorale Amoureuse rather took the title than exemplified the kind; but in 1578 the translation of Montemayor's Diana definitely turned the current into the new-old channel. It was not, however, till seven years later still that "Les Bergeries de Juliette, de l'invention d'Ollenix du Mont Sacre" (a rather exceptionally foolish anagram of Nicolas de Montreux) essayed something original in the style. Montreux issued his work, of which more presently, again and again in five instalments, the last of which appeared thirteen years later than the first. And it has been proved with immense bibliographical labour by M. Reynier,[132] that though the last decade of the sixteenth century in France was almost as fertile in short love-romances[133] as ours was in sonnet-cycles, the pastoral form was, whether deliberately or not, for the most part eschewed, though there were one or two exceptions of little if any consequence. It is indeed noteworthy that (only four years before the first part of the Astree) a second translation or the Diana came out. But it was not till 1607 that this first part actually appeared, and in the opinion of its own time generally, and our own time for the most part, though not in that of the interval, made a new epoch in the history of French fiction.

[Sidenote: Their general character.]

The general characteristics of this curious and numerous, but almost forgotten, body of work—which must, be it remembered, have exercised influence, more or less, on the progress of the novel by the ways of supply, demand, and reaction alike—have been carefully analysed by M. Reynier, with whom, in regard to one or two points of opinion, one may differ, but whose statements of fact are certainly trustworthy. Short as they usually are, and small as is the literary power displayed in most of them, it is clear that they, long before Rambouillet and the precieuses, indicate a distinct reaction against merely brutal and ferocious manners, with a standard of "courtiership" in both senses. Our dear Reine Margot herself in one case prescribes, what one hopes she found not merely in La Mole, but in others of those transitorily happy ones whose desiccated hearts did or did not distend the pockets of her farthingale as live Persian kittens do those of their merchants. To be a lover you must have "a stocking void of holes, a ruff, a sword, a plume, and a knowledge how to talk." This last point is illustrated in these miniature romances after a fashion on which one of the differences of opinion above hinted at may arise. It is not, as in the later "Heroics," shown merely in lengthy harangues, but in short and almost dramatised dialogue. No doubt this is often clumsy, but it may seem to have been not a whole mistake in itself—only an abortive attempt at something which, much later again, had to come before real novel-writing could be achieved, and which the harangues of the Scudery type could never have provided. There is a little actual history in them—not the key-cryptograms of the "Heroics" or their adoption of ancient and distant historic frames. In a very large proportion, forced marriages, proposed and escaped from, supply the plot; in not a few, forced "vocations" to the conventual life. Elopements are as common as abductions in the next stage, and are generally conducted with as much propriety. Courtships of married women, and lapses by them, are very rare.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13     Next Part
Home - Random Browse