[Sidenote: Examples of their style.]
No one will be surprised to hear that the "Phebus" or systematised conceit, for which the period is famous, and which the beloved Marguerite herself did not a little favour, is abundant in them. From a large selection of M. Reynier's, I cull, as perhaps the most delightful of all these, if not also of all known to me in any language, the following:
During this task, Love, who had ambushed himself, plunged his wings in the tears of the lover, and dried them in the burning breast of the maiden.
"A squadron of sighs" is unambitious, but neat, terse, and very tempting to the imagination. More complicated is a lady "floating on the sea of the persecution of her Prince, who would fain give her up to the shipwreck of his own concupiscence."
And I like this:
The grafts of our desires being inarched long since in the tree of our loves, the branches thereof bore the lovely bouquets of our hopes.
And this is fine:
Paper! that the rest of your white surface may not blush at my shame, suffer me to blacken it with my sorrow!
It has always been a sad mystery to me why rude and dull intelligences should sneer at, or denounce, these delightful fantastries, the very stuff of which dreams and love and poetry—the three best things of life—are made.
[Sidenote: Montreux and the Bergeries de Juliette.]
The British Museum possesses not very many of the, I believe, numerous works of Nicolas de Montreux, alias, as has been said, Ollenix du Mont Sacre, a "gentleman of Maine," as he scrupulously designates himself. But it does possess two parts (the first two) of the Bergeries de Juliette, and I am not in the least surprised that no reader of them should have worried any librarian into completing the set. Each of these parts is a stout volume of some five hundred pages, not very small, of close small print, filled with stuff of the most deadly dulness. For instance, Ollenix is desirous to illustrate the magnificence and the danger of those professional persons of the other sex at Venice who have filled no small place in literature from Coryat to Rousseau. So he tells us, without a gleam or suspicion of humour, that one customer was so astonied at the decorations of the bedroom, the bed, etc., that he remained for two whole hours considering them, and forgetting to pay any attention to the lady. It is satisfactory to know that she revenged herself by raising the fee to an inordinate amount, and insisting on her absurd client's lackey being sent to fetch it before the actual conference took place. But the silliness of the story itself is a fair sample of Montreux' wits, and these wits manage to make anything they deal with duller by their way of telling it.
[Sidenote: Des Escuteaux and his Amours Diverses.]
It is still more unfortunate that our national collection has none of the numerous fictions of A(ntoine?) de Nerveze. His Amours Diverses (1606), in which he collected no less than seven love-stories, published separately earlier, would be useful. But it luckily does provide the similarly titled book of Des Escuteaux, who is perhaps the most representative and prolific writer, next to Montreux and Nerveze, of the whole, and who seems to me, from what I have read of the first and what others say of the second, to be their superior. The collections consist of (Amours de in every case) Filiris et Isolia, dedicated to Isabel (not "-belle") de Rochechouart; Clarimond et Antoinette (to Lucresse [sic] de Bouille); Clidamant et Marilinde (to Jane de la Brunetiere), and Ipsilis et Alixee (to Renee de Cosse, Amirale de France!).
Some readers may be a little "put off" by a habit which Des Escuteaux has, especially in the first story of the volume, of prefixing, as in drama, the names of the speakers—Le Prince, La Princesse, etc.—to the first paragraphs of the harangues and histoires of which these books so largely consist. But it is not universal. The most interesting of the four is, I think, Clidamant et Marilinde, for it introduces the religious wars, a sojourn of the lovers on a desert island, which M. Reynier not unjustly calls Crusoe-like, and other "varieties."
[Sidenote: Francois de Moliere—Polyxene.]
I have not seen the other—quite other, and Francois—Moliere's Semaine Amoureuse, which belongs to this class, though later than most; but his still later Polyxene, a sort of half-way house between these shorter novels and the ever-enlarged "Heroics," is a very fat duodecimo of 1100 pages. The heroine has two lovers—one with the singular name of Cloryman,—but love does not run smooth with either, and she ends by taking the (pagan) veil. The bathos of the thought and style may be judged from the heroine's affecting mention of an entertainment as "the last ballet my unhappy father ever saw."
[Sidenote: Du Perier—Arnoult et Clarimonde.]
Not one of the worst of these four or five score minors, though scarcely in itself a positively good thing, is the Sieur du Perier's La Haine et l'Amour d'Arnoult et de Clarimonde. It begins with a singularly banal exordium, gravely announcing that Hate and Love are among the most important passions, with other statements of a similar kind couched in commonplace language. But it does something to bring the novel from an uninteresting cloudland to earth by dealing with the recent and still vividly felt League wars: and there is some ingenuity shown in plotting the conversion of the pair from more than "a little aversion" at the beginning to nuptial union—not at the end. For it is one of the points about the book which are not commonplace, though it may be a survival or atavism from mediaeval practice—that the latter part of it is occupied mainly, not with Arnoult and Clarimonde, but with the loves, fortunes, and misfortunes of their daughter Claride.
[Sidenote: Du Croset—Philocalie. Corbin—Philocaste.]
The Philocalie of Du Croset (1593) derives its principal interest from its being not merely a Bergerie before the Astree, but, like it, the work of a Forezian gentleman who proudly asserts his territoriality, and dedicates his book to the "Chevalier D'Urfe." And its part name-fellow, the Philocaste of Jean Corbin—a very tiny book, the heroine of which is (one would hardly have thought it from her name) a Princess of England—is almost entirely composed of letters, discourse on them, and a few interspersed verses. It belongs to the division of backward-looking novels, semi-chivalrous in type, and its hero is as often called "The Black Knight" as by his name.
[Sidenote: Jean de Lannoi and his Roman Satirique.]
The Roman Satirique (1624) of Jean de Lannoi is another example of the curious inability to "hit it off" which has been mentioned so often as characterising the period. Its 1100 pages are far too many, though it is fair to say that the print is exceptionally large and loose. Much of it is not in any sense "satiric," and it seems to have derived what popularity it had almost wholly from the "key" interest.
[Sidenote: Beroalde de Verville outside the Moyen de Parvenir.]
The minor works—if the term may be used when the attribution of the major is by no means certain—of Beroalde de Verville have, as is usual, been used both ways as arguments for and against his authorship of the Moyen de Parvenir. Les Aventures de Floride is simply an attempt, and a big one in size, to amadigauliser, as the literary slang of the time went. The Histoire Veritable, owing nothing but its title and part of its idea to Lucian, and sub-titled Les Princes Fortunes, is less conventional. It has a large fancy map for a frontispiece; there are fairies in it, and a sort of pot-pourri of queernesses which might not impossibly have come from the author or editor of the Moyen in his less inconveniently ultra-Pantagruelist moments. Le Cabinet de Minerve is actually a glorification of "honest" love. In fact, Beroalde is one of the oddest of "polygraphers," and there is nobody quite like him in English, though some of his fellows may be matched, after a fashion, with our Elizabethan pamphleteers. I have long wished to read the whole of him, but I suppose I never shall.
And it is time to leave these very minor stars and come to the full and gracious moon of the Astree itself.
[Sidenote: The Astree—its author.]
Honore D'Urfe, who was three years younger than Shakespeare, and died in the year in which Charles I. came to the throne, was a cadet of a very ancient family in the district or minor province of Forez, where his own famous Lignon runs into the Loire. He was a pupil of the Jesuits and early fort en theme, was a strenuous ligueur, and, though (or perhaps also because) he was very good friends with Henri's estranged wife, Margot, for some time decidedly suspect to Henri IV. For this reason, and others of property, etc., he became almost a naturalised Savoyard, but died in the service of his own country at the beginning of Richelieu's Valtelline war. The most noteworthy thing in his rather eventful life was, however, his marriage. This also has a direct literary interest, at least in tradition, which will have his wife, Diane de Chateaumorand, to be Astree herself, and so the heroine of "the first [great] sentimental romance." The circumstances of the union, however, were scarcely sentimental, much less romantic. They were even, as people used to say yesterday, "not quite nice," and the Abbe Reure, a devotee of both parties to it, admits that they "heurte[nt] violemment nos idees." In fact Diane was not only eight years older than Honore and thirty-eight years of age, but she had been for a quarter of a century the wife of his elder brother, Anne, while he himself was a knight of Malta, and vowed to celibacy. Of course (as the Canon points out with irrefragably literal accuracy in logic and law) the marriage being declared null ab initio (for the cause most likely to suggest itself, though alleged after extraordinary delay), Diane and Honore were not sister- and brother-in-law at all, and no "divorce" or even "dispensation" was needed. In the same way, Honore, having been introduced into the Order of St. John irregularly in various ways, never was a knight of it at all, and could not be bound by its rules. Q.E.D. Wicked people, of course, on the other hand, said that it was a device to retain Diane's great wealth (for Honore was quite poor in comparison) in the family; sentimental ones that it was a fortunate and blameless crowning of a long and pure attachment. As a matter of fact, no "permanent children" (to adopt an excellent phrase of the late Mr. Traill's) resulted; Diane outlived her husband, though but for a short time, and left all her property to her relations of the Levis family. The pair are also said not to have been the most united of couples. In connection with the Astree their portraits are interesting. Honore d'Urfe, though he had the benefit of Van Dyck's marvellous art of cavalier creation, must have been a very handsome man. Diane's portrait, by a much harder and dryer hand, purports to have been taken at the age of sixty-four. At first sight there is no beauty in it; but on reinspection one admits possibilities—a high forehead, rather "enigmatic" eyes, not at all "extinguished," a nose prominent and rather large, but straight and with well, but not too much, developed "wings," and, above all, a full and rather voluptuous mouth. Such may have been the first identified novel-heroine. It is a popular error to think that sixty-four and beauty are incompatibles, but one certainly would have liked to see her at sixteen, or better still and perhaps best of all, at six and twenty.
[Sidenote: The book.]
The Astree itself is not the easiest of subjects to deal with. It is indeed not so huge as the Grand Cyrus, but it is much more difficult to get at—a very rare flower except in the "grey old gardens" of secular libraries. It and its author have indeed for a few years past had the benefit (as a result partly of another doubtful thing, an x-centenary) of one of the rather-to-seek good specimens among the endless number of modern literary monographs. But it has never been reprinted—even extracts of it, with the exception of a few stock passages, are not common or extensive; and though a not small library has been written about it in successive waves of eulogy, reaction, mostly ignorant contempt, rehabilitation, and mere bookmaking; though there have been (as noted) recent anniversaries and celebrations, and so forth; though it is one of the not numerous books which have given a name-type—Celadon,—and a place—"les bords du Lignon,"—to their own, if not to universal literature, it seems to be "as a book" very little known. The faithful monographer above cited admits merit in Dunlop; but Dunlop does not say very much about it. Herr Koerting (v. sup.) analyses it. Possibly there may be, also in German, a comparison, tempting to those who like such things, between it and its twenty years' predecessor, Sidney's Arcadia, the first French translation of which, in 1625, just after Urfe's death, was actually dedicated to his widow. But I suspect that few English writers about Sidney have known much of the Astree, and I feel sure that still fewer French writers on this have known anything of Sidney save perhaps his name. Of course the indebtedness of both books to Montemayor's Diana is a commonplace.
[Sidenote: Its likeness to the Arcadia.]
[Sidenote: Its philosophy and its general temper.]
One of the numerous resemblances between the two, and one which, considering their respective positions in the history of the French and English novel, is most interesting, is the strong philosophical and specially Platonic influence which the Renaissance exercised on both. Sidney, however full of it elsewhere, put less of it in his actual novel; while, on the other hand, nothing did so much to create and spread the rather rococo notion of pseudo-platonic love in France, and from France throughout Europe, as the Astree itself. The further union of the philosophic mind with an eminently cavalier temperament—the united ethos of scholar, soldier, lover, and courtier—fills out the comparison: and dwarfs such merely mechanical things as the mixed use of prose and verse (which both may have taken, nay pretty certainly did take, from Montemayor) and the pastoralities, for which they in the same way owed royalty to the Spaniard, to Tasso, to Sannazar, and to the Greek romances, let alone Theocritus and Virgil. And, to confine ourselves henceforward to our own special subject, it is this double infusion of idealism—of spiritual and intellectual enthusiasm on the one hand and practical fire of life and act on the other—which makes the great difference, not merely between the Astree and its predecessors of the Amadis class, but between it and its successors the strictly "Heroic" romances, though these owe it so much. The first—except in some points of passion—hardly touch reality at all; the last are perpetually endeavouring to simulate and insinuate a sort of reality under cover of adventures and conventions which, though fictitious, are hardly at all fantastic. But the Astree might almost be called a French prose Faerie Queene, allowing for the difference of the two nations, languages, vehicles, and milieux generally, in its representation of the above-mentioned cavalier-philosophic ethos—a thing never so well realised in France as in England or in Spain, but of which Honore d'Urfe, from many traits in life and book, seems to have been a real example, and which certainly vindicates its place in history and literature.
[Sidenote: Its appearance and its author's other work.]
The Astree appeared in five instalments, 1607-10-12-19 and posthumously, the several parts being frequently printed: and it is said to be almost impossible to find a copy, all the parts of which are of the first issue in each case. The two later parts probably, the last certainly, were collaborated in, if not wholly written by, the author's secretary Baro. But it was by no means Honore's only work; indeed the Urfes up to his time were an unusually literary family; and, while his grandfather Claude collected a remarkable library (whence, at its dispersion in the evil days of the house during the eighteenth century, came some of not the least precious possessions of French public and private collections), his unfortunate brother Anne was a poet. Honore himself, besides school exercises, wrote Epistres Morales which were rather popular, and display qualities useful in appreciating the novel itself; a poem in octosyllables, usually and perhaps naturally called "La Sireine," but really entitled in the masculine, and having nothing to do with a mermaid; a curious thing, semi-dramatic in form and in irregular blank verse, entitled Silvanire ou La Morte Vive, which was rehandled soon after his death by Corneille's most dangerous rival Mairet; and an epic called La Savoisiade, which seems to have no merit, and all but a very small portion of which is still unprinted.
[Sidenote: Its character and appeals.]
He remains, therefore, the author of the Astree, and, taking things on the whole (a mighty whole, beyond contest, as far as bulk goes), there are not so many authors of the second rank (for one of the first he can hardly be called) who would lose very much by an exchange with him. One's estimates of the book are apt to vary in different places, even as, though not in the same degree as, the estimates of others have varied at different times; but I myself have found that the more I read of it the more I liked and esteemed it; and I believe that, if I had a copy of my own and could turn it over in the proper diurnal and nocturnal fashion, not as duty- but as pleasure-reading, I should like it better still. Certain points that have appealed to me have been noticed already—its combination of sensuous and ideal passion is perhaps the most important of them; but there are not a few others, themselves by no means void of importance. One is the union, not common in French books between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century, of sentiment and seriousness with something very like humour. Hylas, the not exactly "comic man," but light-o'-love and inconstant shepherd, was rather a bone of contention among critics of the book's own century. But he certainly seasons it well; and there is one almost Shakespearean scene in which he is concerned—a scene which Benedick and Beatrice, who may have read it not so very many years after their own marriage, must have enjoyed considerably. Hylas and the shepherdess Stella (who is something of a girl-counterpart of his, as in the case just cited) draw up a convention of love between them. The tables, though they are not actually numbered in the original, are twelve, and, shortened a little, run as follows:
[Sidenote: Hylas and Stella and their Convention.]
1. Neither is to be sovereign over the other.
2. Both are to be at once Lover and Beloved. [They knew something about the matter, these two, for all their jesting.]
3. There is to be no constraint of any kind.
4. They are to love for as long or as short a time as they please.
5. No charge of infidelity is ever to be brought on either side.
6. It is quite permitted to either or both to love somebody else, and yet to continue loving each other.
7. There is to be no jealousy, no complaints, no sulks.
8. They are to do and say exactly what they please.
9. Words like "faithfulness," etc., are taboo.
10. They may leave off playing whenever they like.
11. And begin again ditto.
12. They are to forget both the favours they receive from each other and the offences they may commit against each other.
Now, of course, any one may say of the Land where such a code might be realised, in the very words of one of the most charming of songs, set to one of the happiest of tunes:
Cette rive, ma chere, On ne la connait guere Au pays des amours!
But that is not the question, and if it were possible it undoubtedly would be a very agreeable Utopia, combining the transcendental charms of the country of Quintessence with the material ones of the Pays de Cocagne. From its own point of view there seems to be no fault to find with it, except, perhaps, with the first part of the Twelfth Commandment; for the remembrance of former favours heightens the enjoyment of later ones, and the danger of nessun maggior dolore is excluded by the hypothesis of indifference after breach. But a sort of umpire, or at any rate thirdsman, the shepherd Silvandre, when asked his opinion, makes an ingenious objection. To carry out Article Three, he says, there ought to be a Thirteenth:
13. That they may break any of these rules just as they please.
For what comes of this further the reader may go to the book, but enough of it should have been given to show that there is no want of salt, though there is no (or very little) gros sel in the Astree.
[Sidenote: Narrative skill frequent.]
Yet again there is very considerable narrative power. Abstracts may be found, not merely in older books mentioned or to be mentioned, but in the recent publications of Koerting and the Abbe Reure, and there is neither room nor need for a fresh one here. As some one (or more than one) has said, the book is really a sort of half-allegorical tableau of honourable Love worked out in a crowd of couples (some I believe, have counted as many as sixty), from Celadon and Astree themselves downwards. The course of these loves is necessarily "accidented," and the accidents are well enough managed from the first, and naturally enough best known, where Celadon flings himself into the river and is rescued, insensible but alive, by nymphs, who all admire him very much, though none of them can affect his passion for Astree. But one cares—at least I have found myself caring—less for the story than for the way in which it is told—a state of things exactly contrary, as will be seen, to that produced with or in me by the Grand Cyrus. There we have a really well, if too intricately, engineered plot, in the telling of which it is difficult to take much interest. Here it is just the reverse. And one of the consequences is that you can dip in the Astree much more refreshingly than in its famous follower, where, if you do so, you constantly "don't know where you are."
[Sidenote: The Fountain of the Truth of Love.]
One of the most famous things in the book, and one of the most important to its conduct, is the "Fountain of the Truth of Love," a few words on which will illustrate the general handling very fairly. This Fountain (presided over by a Druid, a very important personage otherwise, who is a sort of high priest thereof) has nothing in common with the more usual waters which are philtres or anti-philtres, etc. Its function is to be gazed in rather than to be drunk, and if you look into it, loving somebody, you see your mistress. If she loves you, you see yourself as well, beside her, and (which is not so nice) if she loves some one else you see him; while if she is fancy-free you see her only. Clidaman, one of the numerous lovers above mentioned, tries the water; and his love, Silvie, presents herself again and again as he looks, "almost setting on fire with her lovely eyes the wave which seemed to laugh around her." But she is quite alone.
The presiding Druid interprets, not merely in the sense already given, but with one of the philosophic commentaries, which, as has been said, are distinctive of the book. The nature of the fountain is to reflect not body but spirit. Spirit includes Will, Memory, and Judgment, and when a man loves, his spirit transforms itself through all these ways into the thing loved. Therefore when he looks into the fountain he sees Her. In the same way She is changed into Him or some one else whom she loves, and He sees that image also; but if she loves no one He sees her image alone.
"This is very satisfactory" (as Lady Kew would say) to the inquiring mind, but not so much so to the lover. He wants to have the fountain shut up, I suppose (for my notes and memory do not cover this point exactly), that no rival may have the chance denied to himself. He would even destroy it, but that—the Druid tells and shows him—is quite impossible. What can be done shall be. And here comes in another of the agreeable things (to me) in the book—its curious fairy-tale character, which is shown by numerous supernaturalities, much more humanised than those of the Amadis group, and probably by no means without effect on the fairy-tale proper which was to follow. Clidaman himself happens, in the most natural way in the world, to "keep"—as an ordinary man keeps cats and dogs—a couple of extraordinary big and savage lions and another couple of unicorns to fight, not with each other, but with miscellaneous animals. The lions and the unicorns are forthwith extra-enchanted, so as to guard the fountain—an excellent arrangement, but subject to some awkwardnesses in the sequel. For the lions take turns to seek their meat in the ordinary way, and though they can hurt nobody who does not meddle with the fountain, and have no wish to be man-eaters, complications naturally supervene. And sometimes, besides fighting, and love-making, and love casuistry, and fairy-tales, and oracles, and the finer comedy above mentioned, "Messire d'Urfe" (for he did not live too late to have that most gracious of all designations of a gentleman used in regard to him) did not disdain, and could not ill manage, sheer farce. The scene with Cryseide and Arimant and Clorine and the nurse and the ointment in Part III. Book VII., though it contains little or nothing to effaroucher la pudeur, is like one of the broader but not broadest tales of the Fabliaux and their descendants.
[Sidenote: Some drawbacks—awkward history.]
The book, therefore, has not merely a variety, but a certain liveliness, neither of which is commonplace; but it would of course be uncritical to suppress its drawbacks. It is far too long: and while bowing to those to the manner born who say that Baro carried out his master's plan well in point of style, and acknowledging that I have paid less attention to Parts IV. and V. than to the others, it seems to me that we could spare a good deal of them. One error, common to almost the whole century in fiction, is sometimes flagrant. Nobody except a pedant need object to the establishment, in the time of the early fifth century and the place of Gaul, of a non-historical kinglet- or queenletdom of Forez or "Seguse" under Amasis (here a feminine name), etc.; nor, though (as may perhaps be remarked again later) things Merovingian bring little luck in literature, need we absolutely bar Chilperics and Alarics, or a reference to "all the beauties of Neustria." But why, in the midst of the generally gracious macedoine of serious and comic loves, and jokes, and adventures, should we have thrust in the entirely unnecessary, however historical, crime whereby Valentinian the Third lost his worthless life and his decaying Empire? It has, however, been remarked, perhaps often enough, by those who have busied themselves with the history of the novel, how curious it is that the historical variety, though it never succeeded in being born for two thousand years after the Cyropaedia and more, constantly strove to be so. At no time were the throes more frequent than during the seventeenth century in France; at no time, there or anywhere else, were they more abortive.
[Sidenote: But attractive on the whole.]
But it remains on the whole an attractive book, and the secret of at least part of this attractiveness is no doubt to be found stated in a sentence of Madame de Sevigne's, which has startled some people, that "everything in it is natural and true." To the startled persons this may seem either a deliberate paradox, or a mere extravagance of affection, or even downright bad taste and folly. But the Lady of all Beautiful Letter-writers was almost of the family of Neverout in literary criticism. If she had been a professional critic (which is perhaps impossible), she might have safeguarded her dictum by the addition, "according to its own scheme and division." It is the neglect of this implication which has caused the demurs. "'Natural!'" and "'true!'" they say, "why, the Pastoral is the most frankly and in fact outrageously unnatural and false of all literary kinds. Does not Urfe himself warn us that we are not to expect ordinary shepherds and shepherdesses at all?" Or perhaps they go more to detail. "The whole book is unabashedly occupied with love-making; and love is not the whole, it is even a very small part, of life, that is to say, of truth and nature." Or, to come still closer to particulars, "Where, for instance, did Celadon, who is represented as having been reduced to utter destitution when, more heroum, he started a quasi-hermit life in the wood, get the decorations, etc., of the Temple he erected to Love and Astree?" One almost blushes at having to explain, in a popular style, the mistakenness, to use the mildest word, of these objections. The present writer, in a book less ambitious than the present on the sister subject of the English novel, once ventured to point out that if you ask "where Sir Guyon got that particularly convenient padlock with which he fastened Occasion's tongue, and still more the hundred iron chains with which he bound Furor?" that is to say, if you ask such a question seriously, you have no business to read romance at all. As to the Love matter, of that it is still less use to talk. There are some who would go so far as to deny the major; even short of that hardiness it may be safely urged that in poetry and romance Love is the chief and principal thing, and that the poet and the romancer are only acting up to their commission in representing it as such. But the source of all these errors is best reached, and if it may be, stopped, by dealing with the first article of the indictment in the same way. What if Pastoral is artificial? That may be an argument against the kind as a whole, but it cannot lie against a particular example of it, because that example is bound to act up to its kind's law. And I think it not extravagant to contend that the Astree acts up to its law in the most inoffensive fashion possible—in such a fashion, in fact, as is hardly ever elsewhere found in the larger specimens, and by no means very often in the smaller. Hardly even in As You Like It, certainly not in the Arcadia, do the crook and the pipe get less in the way than they do here. A minor cavil has been urged—that the "shepherds" and the "knights," the "shepherdesses" and the "nymphs" are very little distinguishable from each other; but why should they be? Urfe had sufficient art to throw over all these things an air of glamour which, to those who can themselves take the benefit of the spell, banishes all inconsistencies, all improbabilities, all specks and knots and the like. It has been said that the Astree has in it something of the genuine fairy-tale element. And the objections taken to it are really not much more reasonable than would be the poser whether even the cleverest of wolves, with or without a whole human grandmother inside it, would find it easy to wrap itself up in bedclothes, or whether, seeing that even walnut shells subject cats to such extreme discomfort, top-boots would not be even more intolerable to the most faithful of feline retainers.
[Sidenote: The general importance and influence.]
The literary influence and importance of the book have never been denied by any competent criticism which had taken the trouble to inform itself of the facts. It can be pointed out that while the "Heroics," great as was their popularity for a time, did not keep it very long, and lost it by sharp and long continued—indeed never reversed—reaction, the influence of the Astree on this later school itself was great, was not effaced by that of its pupils, and worked in directions different, as well as conjoint. It begat or helped to beget the Precieuses; it did a great deal, if not exactly to set, to continue that historical character which, though we have not been able to speak very favourably of its immediate exercise, was at last to be so important. Above all, it reformed and reinforced the "sentimental" novel, as it is called. We have tried to show that there was much more of this in the mediaeval romance proper than it has been the fashion in recent times to allow. There was a great deal in the Amadis class, but extravaganzaed out of reason as well as out of rhyme. To us, or some of us, the Astree type may still seem extravagant, but in comparison it brings things back to that truth and nature which were granted it by Madame de Sevigne. Its charms actually soothed the savage breast of Boileau, and it is not surprising that La Fontaine loved it. Few things of the kind are more creditable to the better side of Jean Jacques a full century later, than that he was not indifferent to its beauty; and there were few greater omissions on the part of mil-huit-cent-trente (which, however, had so much to do!) than its comparative neglect to stray on to the gracious banks of the Lignon. All honour to Saint-Marc Girardin (not exactly the man from whom one would have expected it) for having been, as it seems, though in a kind of palinodic fashion, the first to render serious attention, and to do fair justice, to this vast and curious wilderness of delights.
[Sidenote: The Grand Cyrus.]
[Sidenote: Its preface to Madame de Longueville.]
To turn from the Pastoral to the Heroic, the actual readers, English or other, of Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus in late years, have probably been reckonable rather as single spies (a phrase in this connection of some rather special appropriateness) than in battalions. And it is to be feared that many or most, if not nearly all of them, have opened it with little expectation of pleasure. The traditional estimates are dead against it as a rule; it has constantly served as an example—produced by wiseacres for wiseacres—of the unwisdom of our ancestors; and, generous as were Sir Walter's estimates of all literature, and especially of his fellow-craftsmen's and craftswomen's work, the lively passage in Old Mortality where Edith Bellenden's reference to the book excites the (in the circumstances justifiable) wrath of the Major—perhaps the only locus of ordinary reading that touches Artamene with anything but vagueness—is not entirely calculated to make readers read eagerly. But on turning honestly to the book itself, it is possible that considerable relief and even a little astonishment may result. Whether this satisfaction will arise at the very dedication by that vainglorious and yet redoubtable cavalier, Georges de Scudery, in which he characteristically takes to himself the credit due mainly, if not wholly, to his plain little sister Madeleine, will depend upon taste. It is addressed to Anne Genevieve de Bourbon, Duchess of Longueville, sister of Conde, and adored mistress of many noteworthy persons—the most noteworthy perhaps being the Prince de Marcillac, better known, as from his later title, as Duc de la Rochefoucauld, and a certain Aramis—not so good a man as three friends of his, but a very accomplished, valiant, and ingenious gentleman. The blue eyes of Madame de Longueville (M. de Scudery takes the liberty to mention specially their charm, if not their colour) were among the most victorious in that time of the "raining" and reigning influence of such things: and somehow one succumbs a little even now to her as the Queen of that bevy of fair, frail, and occasionally rather ferocious ladies of the Fronde feminine. (The femininity was perhaps most evident in Madame de Chevreuse, and the ferocity in Madame de Montbazon.) Did not Madame de Longueville—did not they all—figuratively speaking, draw that great philosopher Victor Cousin up in a basket two centuries after her death, even as had been done, literally if mythically, to that greater philosopher, Aristotle, ages before? But the governor of Our Lady of the Guard says to her many of these things which that very Aramis delighted to hear (though not perhaps from the lips of rivals) and described, rebuking the callousness of Porthos to them, as fine and worthy of being said by gentlemen. The Great Cyrus himself "comes to lay at her Highness's feet his palms and his trophies." His historian, achieving at once advertisement and epigram, is sure that as she listened kindly to the Death of Caesar (his own play), she will do the same to the Life of Cyrus. Anne Genevieve herself will become the example of all Princesses (the Reverend Abraham Adams might have groaned a little here), just as Cyrus was the pattern of all Princes. She is not the moon, but the sun of the Court. The mingled blood of Bourbon and Montmorency gives her such an eclat that it is almost unapproachable. He then digresses a little to glorify her brother, her husband, and Chapelain, the famous author of La Pucelle, who had the good fortune to be a friend of the Scuderys, as well as, like them, a strong "Heroic" theorist. After which he comes to that personal inventory which has been referred to, decides that her beauty is of a celestial splendour, and, in fact, a ray of Divinity itself; goes into raptures, not merely over her eyes, but over her hair (which simply effaces sunbeams); the brightness and whiteness of her complexion; the just proportion of her features; and, above all, her singularly blended air of modesty and gallantry; her intellectual and spiritual match; her bodily graces; and he is finally sure that though somebody's misplaced acuteness may discover faults which nobody else will perceive (Georges would like to see them, no doubt), her extreme kindness will pardon them. A commonplace example of flattery this? Well, perhaps not. One somehow sees, across the rhetoric, the blue eyes of Anne Genevieve and the bristling mustachios and "swashing outside" and mighty rapier of Georges; and the thing becomes alive with the life of a not ungracious past, the ills of which were, after all, more or less common to all times, and its charms (like the charms of all things and persons charming) its own.
[Sidenote: The "Address to the Reader."]
But the Address to the Reader, though it discards those "temptations of young ladies" (Madame de Longueville can never have been old) which Dr. Johnson recognised, and also the companion attractions of Cape and Sword, is of perhaps directly greater importance for our special and legitimate purpose. Here the brother and sister (probably the sister chiefly) develop some of the principles of their bold adventure, and they are of no small interest. It is allowed that the varying accounts of Cyrus (in which, as almost every one with the slightest tincture of education must be aware, doctors differ remarkably), at least those of Herodotus and Xenophon (they do not, or she does not, seem to have known Ctesias), are confounded, and selected ad libitum and secundum artem only. Further "lights" are given by the selection of the "Immortal Heliodorus" and "the great Urfe" as patterns and patrons of the work. In fact, to any expert in the reading and criticism of novels it is clear that a great principle has been—imperfectly but somehow—laid hold of.
[Sidenote: The opening of the "business."]
Perhaps, however, "laid hold of" is too strong; we should do better by borrowing from Dante and saying that the author or authors have "glimpsed the Panther,"—have seen that a novel ought not to be a mere chronicle, unselected and miscellaneous, but a work which, whether it has actual unity of plot or not, has unity of interest, and will deal with its facts so as to secure that interest. At first, indeed, they plunge us into the middle of matters quite excitingly, though perhaps not without more definite suggestion, both to them and to us, of the "immortal" Heliodorus. The hero, who still bears his false name of Artamene, appears at the head of a small army, the troops of Cyaxares of Media; and, at the mouth of a twisting valley, suddenly sees before him the town of Sinope in flames, the shipping in the harbour blazing likewise, all but one bark, which seems to be flying from more than the conflagration. A fine comic-opera situation follows; for while Artamene is trying to subdue the fire he is attacked by the traitor Aribee, general under the King of Assyria, who is himself shut up in a tower and seems to be hopelessly cut off from rescue by the fire. The invincible hero, however, subdues at once the rebel and the destroying element; captures the Assyrian, who is not only his enemy and that of his master Cyaxares, but his Rival (the word has immense importance in these romances, and is always honoured with a capital there), and learns that the escaping galley carried with it his beloved Mandane, daughter of Cyaxares, of whom he is in quest, and who has been abducted from her abductor and lover by another, Prince Mazare of Sacia.
[Sidenote: The ups and downs of the general conduct of the story.]
All this is lively and business-like enough, and one feels rather a brute in making the observation (necessary, however) that Artamene talks too much and not in the right way. When things in general are "on the edge of a razor" and one is a tried and skilful soldier, one does not, except on the stage, pause to address the unjust Gods, and inquire whether they have consented to the destruction of the most beautiful princess in the world; discuss with one's friends the reduction into cinders of the adorable Mandane, and further enquire, without the slightest chance of answer, "Alas! unjust Rival! hast thou not thought rather of thine own preservation than of hers?" However, for a time, the incidents do carry off the verbiage, and for nearly a hundred small pages there is no great cause for complaint. It is the style of the book; and if you do not like it you must "seek another inn." But what succeeds, for the major part of the first of the twenty volumes, is open to severer criticisms. We fall into interminable discussions, recits, and the like, on the subject of the identity of Artamene and Cyrus, and we see at once the imperfect fashion in which the nature of the novel is conceived. That elaborate explanation—necessary in history, philosophy, and other "serious" works—cannot be cut down too much in fiction, is one truth that has not been learnt. That the stuffing of the story with large patches of solid history or pseudo-history is wrong and disenchanting has not been learnt either; and this is the less surprising and the more pardonable in that very few, if indeed any, of the masters and mistresses of the novel, later and greater than Georges and Madeleine de Scudery, have not refused to learn it or have not carelessly forgotten the learning. Even Scott committed the fault sometimes, though never in his very best work. Dumas—when he went out and left the "young men" to fill in, and stayed too long, and made them fill in too much—did it constantly. Yet again, that mixture of excess and defect in talking, which has been noted already, becomes more and more trying in connection with the previously mentioned faults and others. Of mere talk there is enough and immensely to spare; but it is practically never real dialogue, still less real conversation. It is harangue, narrative, soliloquy, what you will, in the less lively theatrical forms of speech watered out in prose, with "passing of compliments" in the most gentlefolkly manner, and a spice of "Phebus" or Euphuism now and then. But it is never real personal talk, while as for conveying the action by the talk as the two great masters above mentioned and nearly all others of their kind do, there is no vestige of even an attempt at the feat, or a glimpse of its desirableness.
Again, one sees before long that of one priceless quality—a sense of humour—we shall find, though there is a little mild wit, especially in the words of the ladies named in the note, no trace in the book, but a "terrible minus quantity." I do not know that the late Sir William Gilbert was a great student of literature—of classical literature, to judge from the nomenclature of Pygmalion and Galatea mentioned above, he certainly was not. But his eyes would surely have glistened at the unconscious and serious anticipation of his own methods at their most Gilbertian, had he ever read pp. 308 sqq. of this first volume. Here not only do Cyrus and a famous pirate, by boarding with irresistible valour on each side, "exchange ships," and so find themselves at once to have gained the enemy's and lost their own, but this remarkable manoeuvre is repeated more than twenty times without advantage on either side—or without apparently any sensible losses on either side. From which it would appear that both contented themselves with displays of agility in climbing from vessel to vessel, and did nothing so impolite as to use their "javelins, arrows, and cutlasses" (of which, nevertheless, we hear) against the persons of their competitors in such agility on the other side. It did come to an end somehow after some time; but one is quite certain that if Mr. Crummles had had the means of presenting such an admirable spectacle on any boards, he never would have contented himself without several encores of the whole twenty operations.
An experienced reader, therefore, will not need to spend many hours before he appreciates pretty thoroughly what he has to expect—of good, of bad, and of indifferent—from this famous book. It is, though in a different sense from Montaigne's, a livre de bonne foi. And we must remember that the readers whom it directly addressed expected from books of this kind "pastime" in the most literal and generous, if also humdrum, sense of the word; noble sentiments, perhaps a little learning, possibly a few hidden glances at great people not of antiquity only. All these they got here, most faithfully supplied according to their demand.
[Sidenote: Extracts—the introduction of Cyrus to Mandane.]
Probably nothing will give the reader, who does not thus read for himself, a better idea of the book than some extract translations, beginning with Artamene's first interview with Mandane, going on to his reflections thereon, and adding a perhaps slightly shortened version of the great fight recounted later, in which again some evidence of the damaging absence of humour, and some suggestions as to the originals of divers well-known parodies, will be found. (It must be remembered that these are all parts of an enormous recit by Chrisante, one of Artamene's confidants and captains, to the King of Hircania, a monarch doubtless inured to hardships in the chase of his native tigers, or requiring some sedative as a change from it.)
No sooner had the Princess seen my Master than she rose, and prepared to receive him with much kindness and much joy, having already heard, by Arbaces, the service he had done to the King, her father. Artamene then made her two deep bows, and coming closer to her, but with all the respect due to a person of her condition, he kissed [no doubt the hem of] her robe, and presented to her the King's letter, which she read that very instant. When she had done, he was going to begin the conversation with a compliment, after telling her what had brought him; but the Princess anticipated him in the most obliging manner. "What Divinity, generous stranger," said she, "has brought you among us to save all Cappadocia by saving its King? and to render him a service which the whole of his servants could not have rendered?" "Madam," answered Artamene, "you are right in thinking that some Divinity has led me hither; and it must have been some one of those beneficent Divinities who do only good to men, since it has procured me the honour of being known to you, and the happiness of being chosen by Fortune to render to the King a slight service, which might, no doubt, have been better done him by any other man." "Modesty," said the Princess (smiling and turning towards the ladies who were nearest her), "is a virtue which belongs so essentially to our own sex, that I do not know whether I ought to allow this generous stranger so unjustly to rob us of it, or—not content with possessing eminently that valour to which we must make no pretension—to try to be as modest when he is spoken to of the fineness of his actions as reasonable women ought to be when they are praised for their beauty. For my part," she added, looking at Artamene, "I confess I find your proceeding a little unfair. And I do not think that I ought to allow it, or to deprive myself of the power of praising you infinitely, although you cannot endure it." "Persons like you," retorted Artamene, but with profound respect, "ought to receive praise from all the earth, and not to give it lightly. 'Tis a thing, Madam, of which it is not pleasant to have to repeat; for which reason I beg you not to expose yourself to such a danger. Wait, Madam, till I have the honour of being a little better known to you."
There are several pages more of this carte and tierce of compliment; but perhaps a degenerate and impatient age may desire that we should pass to the next subject. Whether it is right or not in so desiring may perhaps be discussed when the three samples have been given.
Artamene has been dismissed with every mark of favour, and lodged in a pavilion overlooking the garden. When he is alone—
[Sidenote: His soliloquy in the pavilion.]
After having passed and re-passed all these things over again in his imagination, "Ye gods!" said he, "if, when she is so lovable, it should chance that I cannot make her love me, what would become of the wretched Artamene? But," and he caught himself up suddenly, "since she seems capable of appreciating glory and services, let us continue to act as we have begun! and let us do such great deeds that, even if her inclination resisted, esteem may introduce us, against her will, into her heart! For, after all, whatever men may say, and whatever I may myself have said, one may give a little esteem to what one will never in the least love; but I do not think one can give much esteem to what will never earn a little love. Let us hope, then; let us hope! let us make ourselves worthy to be pitied if we are not worthy to be loved."
After which somewhat philosophical meditation it is not surprising that he should be informed by one of his aides-de-camp that the Princess was in the garden. For what were Princesses made? and for what gardens?
The third is a longer passage, but it shall be subjected to that kind of centoing which has been found convenient earlier in this volume.
[Sidenote: The Fight of the Four Hundred.]
[The dispute between the kings of Cappadocia on the one hand and of Pontus on the other has been referred to a select combat of two hundred men a side. Artamene, of course, obtains the command of the Cappadocians, to the despair of his explosive but not ungenerous rival, "Philip Dastus." After a very beautiful interview with Mandane (where, once more, the most elegant compliments pass between these gentlefolkliest of all heroes and heroines) and divers preliminaries, the fight comes off.] They began to advance with heads lowered, without cries or noise of any kind, but in a silence which struck terror. As soon as they were near enough to use their javelins, they launched them with such violence that [a slight bathos] these flying weapons had a pretty great effect on both sides, but much greater on that of the Cappadocians than on the other. Then, sword in hand and covered by their shields, they came to blows, and Artamene, as we were informed, immolated the first victim [but how about the javelin "effect"?] in this bloody sacrifice. For, having got in front of all his companions by some paces, he killed, with a mighty sword-stroke, the first who offered resistance. [Despite this, the general struggle continues to go against the Cappadocians, though Artamene's exploits alarm one of the enemy, named Artane, so much that he skulks away to a neighbouring knoll. At last] things came to such a point that Artamene found himself with fourteen others against forty; so I leave you to judge, Sir [Chrisante parle toujours], whether the party of the King of Pontus did not believe they had conquered, and whether the Cappadocians had not reason to think themselves beaten. But as, in this fight, it was not allowed either to ask or to give quarter, and was necessary either to win or to die, the most despairing became the most valiant. [The next stage is, that in consequence of enormous efforts on his part, the hero finds himself and his party ten to ten, which "equality" naturally cheers them up. But the wounds of the Cappadocians are the severer; the ten on their side become seven, with no further loss to the enemy, and at last Artamene finds himself, after three hours' fighting, alone against three, though only slightly wounded. He wisely uses his great agility in retiring and dodging; separates one enemy from the other two, and kills him; attacks the two survivors, and, one luckily stumbling over a buckler, kills a second, so that at last the combat is single. During this time the coward Artane abstains from intervening, all the more because the one surviving champion of Pontus is a personal rival of his, and because, by a very ingenious piece of casuistry, he persuades himself that the two combatants are sure to kill each other, and he, Artane, surviving, will obtain the victory for self and country!]
He is nearly right; but not quite. For after Artamene has wounded the Pontic Pharnaces in six places, and Pharnaces Artamene in four (for we wound "by the card" here), the hero runs Pharnaces through the heart, receiving only a thigh-wound in return. He flourishes both swords, cries "I have conquered!" and falls in a faint from loss of blood. Artane thinks him dead, and without caring to come close and "mak sicker," goes off to claim the victory. But Artamene revives, finds himself alone, and, with what strength he has left, piles the arms of the dead together, writes with his own blood on a silver shield—
TO JUPITER GUARDIAN OF TROPHIES,
and lies beside it as well as he can. The false news deceives for a short time, but when the stipulated advance to the field takes place on both sides, the discovery of the surviving victor introduces a new complication, from which we may for the moment abstain.
The singlestick rattle of compliment in the interview first given, and the rather obvious and superfluous meditations of the second, may seem, if not exactly disgusting, tedious and jejune. But the "Fight of the Four Hundred" is not frigid; and it is only fair to say that, after the rather absurd passage of chasse croise on ship-board quoted or at least summarised earlier, the capture of Artamene by numbers and his surrender to the generous corsair Thrasybulus are not ill told, while there are several other good fights before you come to the end of this very first volume. There is, moreover, an elaborate portrait of the Princess, evidently intended to "pick up" that vaguer one of Madame de Longueville in the Preface, but with the blue of the eyes here fearlessly specified. Here also does the celebrated Philidaspes (most improperly, if it had not been for the justification to be given later, transmogrified in the above-mentioned passage by Major Bellenden into "Philip Dastus? Philip Devil") make his appearance. The worst of it is that most, if not the whole, is done by the recit delivered, as noted above, by Chrisante, one of those representatives of the no less faithful than strong Gyas and Cloanthus, whom imitation of the ancients has imposed on Scudery and his sister, and inflicted on their readers.
[Sidenote: The abstract resumed.]
The story of the Cappadocian-Pontic fight is continued in the second volume of the First Part by the expected delivery of harangues from the two claimants, and the obligatory, but to Artane very unwelcome, single combat. He is, of course, vanquished and pardoned by his foe, making, if not full, sufficient confession; and it is not surprising to hear that the King of Pontus requests to see no more of him. The rest—for it must never be forgotten that all this is "throwing back"—then turns to the rivalry of Artamene and Philidaspes for the love of Mandane, while she (again, of course) has not the faintest idea that either is in love with her. Philidaspes, who (still, of course) is not Philidaspes at all, is a rough customer—(in fact the Major hardly did him injustice in calling him "Philip Devil"—betraying also perhaps some knowledge of the text), and it comes to a tussle. This rather resembles what the contemptuous French early Romantics called une boxade than a formal duel, and Artamene stuns his man with a blow of the flat. Cyaxares is very angry, and imprisons them both, not yet realising their actual fault. It does not matter much to Artamene, who in prison can think, aloud and in the most beautiful "Phebus," of Mandane. It matters perhaps a little more to the reader; for a courteous jailer, Aglatidas, takes the occasion to relate his own woes in a "History of Aglatidas and Amestris," which completes the second volume of the First Part in three hundred and fifty mortal pages to itself.
The first volume of the Second Part returns to the main story, or rather the main series of recits; for, Chrisante being not unnaturally exhausted after talking for a thousand pages or so, Feraulas, another of Artamene's men, takes up the running. The prisoners are let out, and Mandane reconciles them, after which—as another but later contemporary remarks (again of other things, but probably with some reminiscence of this)—they become much more mortal enemies than before. The reflections and soliloquies of Artamene recur; but a not unimportant, although subordinate, new character appears—not as the first example, but as the foremost representative, in the novel, of the great figure of the "confidante"—in Martesie, Mandane's chief maid of honour. Nobody, it is to be hoped, wants an elaborate account of the part she plays, but it should be said that she plays it with much more spirit and individuality than her mistress is allowed to show. Then, according to the general plan of all these books, in which fierce wars and faithful loves alternate, there is more fighting, and though Artamene is victorious (as how should he not be, save now and then to prevent monotony?) he disappears and is thought dead. Of course Mandane cries, and confesses to the confidante, being entirely "finished" by a very exquisite letter which Artamene has written before going into the doubtful battle. However, he is (yet once more, of course) not dead at all. What (as that most sagacious of men, the elder Mr. Weller, would have said)'d have become of the other seventeen volumes if he had been? There is one of the quiproquos or misunderstandings which are as necessary to this kind of novel as the flirtations and the fisticuffs, brought about by the persistence of an enemy princess in taking Artamene for her son Spithridates; but all comes right for the time, and the hero returns to his friends. The plot, however, thickens. An accident informs Artamene that Philidaspes is really Prince of Assyria, sure to become King when his mother, Nitocris, dies or abdicates, and that, being as he is, and as Artamene knows already, desperately in love with Mandane, he has formed a plot for carrying her off. The difficulties in the way of preventing this are great, because, though the hero is already aware that he is Cyrus, it is for many reasons undesirable to inform Cyaxares of the fact; and at last Philidaspes, helped by the traitor Aribee (v. sup.), succeeds in the abduction, after an interlude in which a fresh Rival, with a still larger R, the King of Pontus himself, turns up; and an immense episode, in which Thomyris, Queen of Scythia, appears, not yet in her more or less historical part of victress of Cyrus. She is here only a young sovereign, widowed in her earliest youth, extremely beautiful (see a portrait of her inf.), who has never yet loved, but who falls instantly in love with Cyrus himself (when he is sent to her court), and is rather a formidable person to deal with, inasmuch as, besides having great wealth and power, she has established a diplomatic system of intrigue in other countries, which the newest German or other empire might envy. By the end of this volume, however, the Artamene-Cyrus confusion is partly cleared up (though Cyaxares is not yet made aware of the facts), and the hero is sent after Mandane, to be disappointed at Sinope, in the fashion recounted some thousand or two pages before.
[Sidenote: The oracle to Philidaspes.]
With the beginning of vol. iv. (that is to say, part ii. vol. ii.) we return, though still in retrospect, to the direct fate of Mandane. Nitocris is dead, Philidaspes has succeeded to the crown of Assyria, and has carried Mandane off to his own dominions. The situation with so robustious a person as this prince may seem awkward, and indeed, as is observed in a later part of the book, the heroine's repeated sojourns (there are three if not four of them in all) in the complete power of one of the Rivals, with a large R, are very trying to Cyrus. However, such a shocking thing as violence is hardly hinted at, and the Princess always succeeds, as the Creole lady in Newton Forster said she did with the pirates, in "temporising," while her abductors confine themselves for the most part to the finest "Phebus." Even the fiery Philidaspes, though he breaks out sometimes, conveys his wish that Mandane should accompany him to Babylon by pointing out that "the Euphrates is jealous of the Tigris for having first had the honour of her presence," and that "the First City of the World ought clearly to possess the most illustrious princess of the Earth." Of course, if there is any base person who cannot derive an Aramisian satisfaction (v. sup.) from such things as this, he had better abstain from the Cyrus. But happier souls they please—not exquisitely, perhaps, or tumultuously, but still well—with a mild tickle which is not unvoluptuous. One is even a very little sorry for Philip Dastus when he begs his cruel idol to write to him the single word ESPEREZ, and meanwhile kindly puts it in capitals and a line to itself. Almost immediately afterwards an oracle juggles with him in fashion delightful to himself, and puzzling to everybody except the intelligent reader, who, it is hoped, will see the double meaning at once.
Il t'est permis d'esperer De la faire soupirer, Malgre sa haine: Car un jour entre ses bras, Tu rencontreras La fin de ta peine.
Alas! without going further (upon honour and according to fact), one sees the other explanation—that Mandane will have to perform the uncomfortable duty—often assigned to heroines—of having Philidaspes die in her lap.
For the present, however, only discomfiture, not death, awaits him. The Medes blockade Babylon to recover their princess; it suffers from hunger, and Philidaspes, with Mandane and the chivalrous Sacian Prince Mazare, whom we have heard of before, escapes to Sinope. Then the events recorded in the very beginning happen, and Mandane, after escaping the flames of Sinope through Mazare's abduction of her by sea, and suffering shipwreck, falls into the power of the King of Pontus. This calls a halt in the main story; and, as before, a "Troisieme Livre" consists of another huge inset—the hugest yet—of seven hundred pages this time, describing an unusually, if not entirely, independent subject—the loves and fates of a certain Philosipe and a certain Polisante. This volume contains a rather forcible boating-scene, which supplies the theme for the old frontispiece.
Refreshed as usual by this excursion, the author returns (in vol. v., bk. i., chap. iii.) to Cyrus, who is once more in peril, and in a worse one than ever. Cyaxares, arriving at Sinope, does not find his daughter, but does discover that Artamene, whom he does not yet know to be Cyrus and heir to Persia, is in love with her. Owing chiefly to the wiles of a villain, Metrobate, he arrests the Prince, and is on the point of having him executed, despite the protests of the allied kings. But the whole army, with the Persian contingent at its head, assaults the castle, and rescues Cyrus, after the traitor Metrobate has tried to double his treachery and get Cyaxares assassinated. Nobody who remembers the Letter of Advice already quoted will doubt what the conduct of Cyrus is. He only accepts the rescue in order that he may post himself at the castle gate, and threaten to kill anybody who attacks Cyaxares.
After this burst, which is really exciting in a way, we must expect something more soporific. Martesie takes the place of her absent mistress to some extent, and a good deal of what might be mistaken for "Passerelle" flirtation takes place, or would do so, if it were not that Cyrus would, of course, die rather than pay attention to anybody but Mandane herself, and that Feraulas, already mentioned as one of the Faithful Companions, is detailed as Martesie's lover. She is, however, installed as a sort of Vice-Queen of a wordy tourney between four unhappy lovers, who fill up the rest of the volume with their stories of "Amants Infortunes" (cf. the original title of the Heptameron), dealing respectively with and told by—
(1) A lover who is loved, but separated from his mistress.
(2) One who is unloved.
(3) A jealous one.
(4) One whose love is dead.
They do it moderately, in rather less than five hundred pages, and Martesie sums up in a manner worthy of any Mistress of the Rolls, contrasting their fates, and deciding very cleverly against the jealous man.
The first twenty pages or so of the sixth volume (nominally iii. 2) afford a good example of the fashion in which, as may be observed more fully below, even an analysis of the Grand Cyrus, though a great advance on mere general description of it, must be still (unless it be itself intolerably voluminous) insufficient. Not very much actually "happens"; but if you simply skip, you miss a fresh illustration of magnanimity not only in Cyrus, but in a formerly mentioned character, Aglatidas, with reference to the heroine Amestris earlier inset in the tale (v. sup.). And this is an example of the new and sometimes very ingenious fashion in which these apparent excursions are turned into something like real episodes, or at any rate supply connecting threads of the whole, in a manner not entirely unlike that which some critics have so hastily and unjustly overlooked in Spenser. Then we have an imbroglio about forged letters, and a clearing-up of a former charge against the hero, and (still within the twenty pages) a very curious scene—the last for the time—of that flirtation-without-flirtation between Cyrus and Martesie. She wants to have back a picture of Mandane, which she has lent him to worship; and he replies, looking at her "attentively" (one wonders whether Mandane, if present, would have been entirely satisfied with his "attention"), addresses her as "Cruel Person," and asks her (he is just setting out for the Armenian war) how she thinks he can conquer when she takes away what should make him invincible. To which replies Miss Martesie, "You have gained so many victories [ahem!] without this help, that it would seem you have no need of it." This is very nice, and Martesie, who is herself, as previously observed, quite nice throughout, lets him have the picture after all. But Cyrus, for once rather ungraciously, will not allow her lover, and his henchman, Feraulas to escort her home; first, because he wants Feraulas's services himself, and secondly, because it is unjust that Feraulas should be happy with Martesie when Cyrus is miserable without Mandane—an argument which, whether slightly selfish or not, is at any rate in complete keeping with the whole atmosphere of the book.
[Sidenote: The advent of Araminta.]
Now, as this is by no means a very exceptional, certainly not a unique, score of pages, and as it has taken almost a whole one of ours to give a rather imperfect notion of its contents, it follows that it would take about six hundred, if not more, to do justice to the ten or twelve thousand of the original. Which (in one of the most immortal of formulas) "is impossible." We must fall back, therefore, on the system already pursued for the rest of this volume, and perhaps even contract its application in some cases. A rash promise of the now entirely, if not also rather insanely, generous Prince not to marry Mandane without fighting Philidaspes, or rather the King of Assyria, beforehand, is important; and an at last minute description of Cyrus's person and equipment as he sets out (on one of the proudest and finest horses that ever was, with a war-dress the superbest that can be imagined, and with Mandane's magnificent scarf put on for the first time) is not quite omissible. But then things become intricate. Our old friend Spithridates comes back, and has first love affairs and afterwards an enormous recit-episode with a certain Princess of Pontus, whom Cyrus, reminding one slightly of Bentley on Mr. Pope's Homer and Tommy Merton on Cider, pronounces to be belle, blonde, blanche et bien faite, but not Mandane; and who has the further charm of possessing, for the first time in literature if one mistakes not, the renowned name of Araminta. A pair of letters between these two will be useful as specimens, and to some, it may be hoped, agreeable in themselves.
SPITHRIDATES TO THE PRINCESS ARAMINTA
[Sidenote: Her correspondence with Spithridates.]
I depart, Madam, because you wish it: but, in departing, I am the most unhappy of all men. I know not whither I go; nor when I shall return; nor even if you wish that I should return; and yet they tell me I must live and hope. But I should not know how to do either the one or the other, unless you order me to do both by two lines in your own hand. Therefore I beg them of you, divine Princess—in the name of an illustrious person, now no more, [her brother Sinnesis, who had been a great friend of his], but who will live for ever in the memory of
[He can hardly have hoped for anything better than the following answer, which is much more "downright Dunstable" than is usual here.]
ARAMINTA TO SPITHRIDATES
Live as long as it shall please the Gods to allow you. Hope as long as Araminta lives—she begs you: and even if you yourself wish to live, she orders you to do so.
[In other words he says, "My own Araminta, say 'Yes'!" and she does. This attitude necessarily involves the despair of a Rival, who writes thus:]
PHARNACES TO THE PRINCESS ARAMINTA
If Fortune seconds my designs, I go to a place where I shall conquer and die—where I shall make known, by my generous despair, that if I could not deserve your affection by my services, I shall have at least not made myself unworthy of your compassion by my death.
[And, to do him justice, he "goes and does it."]
This episode, however, did not induce Mademoiselle Madeleine to break her queer custom of having something of the same kind in the Third Book of every Part. For though there is some "business," it slips into another regular "History," this time of Prince Thrasybulus, a naval hero, of whom we have often heard, and his Alcionide, not a bad name for a sailor's mistress. Finally, we come back to more events of a rather troublesome kind: for the ci-devant Philidaspes most inconveniently insists in taking part in the rescuing expedition, which—saving scandal of great ones—is very much as if Mr. William Sikes should insist in helping to extract booty from Mr. Tobias Crackit. And we finally leave Cyrus in a decidedly awkward situation morally, and the middle of a dark wood physically.
[Sidenote: Some interposed comments.]
Here, according to that paulo-post-future precedent which she did so much to create, the authoress was quite justified in leaving him at the end of a volume; and perhaps the present historian is, to compare small things with great, equally justified in heaving-to (to borrow from Mr. Kipling) and addressing a small critical sermon to such crew as he may have attracted. We have surveyed not quite a third of the book; but this ought in any case—teste the loved and lost "three-decker" which the allusion just made concerns—to give us a notion of the author's quality and of his or her faire. It should not be very difficult for anybody, unless the foregoing analysis has been very clumsily done, to discern considerable method in Madeleine's mild madness, and, what is more, not a little originality. The method has, no doubt, as it was certain to have in the circumstances, a regular irregularity, which is, or would be in anybody but a novice, a little clumsy: and the originality may want some precedent study to discover it. But both are there. The skeleton of this vast work may perhaps be fairly constructed from what has already been dissected of the body; and the method of clothing the skeleton reveals itself without much difficulty. You have the central idea in the loves of Cyrus and Mandane, which are to be made as true as possible, but also running as roughly as may be. Moreover, whether they run rough or smooth, you are to keep them in suspense as long as you possibly can. The means of doing this are laboriously varied and multiplied. The clumsiest of them—the perpetual intercalation or interpolation of "side-shows" in the way of Histoires—annoys modern readers particularly, and has, as a rule, since been itself beautifully and beneficently lessened, in some cases altogether discarded, or changed—in emancipation from the influence of the "Unities"—to the form of second plots, not ostentatiously severed from the main one. But, as has been pointed out, a great deal of trouble is at any rate taken to knit them to the main plot itself, if not actually and invariably to incorporate them therewith; and the means of this are again not altogether uncraftsmanlike. Sometimes, as in the case of Spithridates, the person, or one of the persons, is introduced first in the main history; his own particular concerns are dealt with later, and, for good or for evil, he returns to the central scheme. Sometimes, as in that of Amestris, you have the Histoire before the personage enters the main story. Then there is the other device of varying direct narrative, as to this main story itself, with Recit; and always you have a careful peppering in of new characters, by histoire, by recit, or by the main story, to create fresh interests. Again, there is the contrast of "business," as we have called it—fighting and politics—with love-making and miscellaneous fine talk. And, lastly, there are—what, if they were not whelmed in such an ocean of other things, would attract more notice—the not unfrequent individual phrases and situations which have interest in themselves. It must surely be obvious that in these things are great possibilities for future use, even if the actual inventor has not made the most of them.
Their originality may perhaps deserve a little more comment. The mixture of secondary plots might, by a person more given to theorise than the present historian—who pays his readers the compliment of supposing that that excessively easy and therefore somewhat negligible business can be done by themselves if they wish—be traced to an accidental feature of the later mediaeval romances. In these the congeries of earlier texts, which the compiler had not the wits, or at least the desire, to systematise, provided something like it; but required the genius of a Spenser, or the considerable craft of a Scudery, to throw it into shape and add the connecting links. Many of the other things are to be found in the Scudery romance practically for the first time. And the suffusion of the whole with a new tone and colour of at least courtly manners is something more to be counted, as well as the constant exclusion of the clumsy "conjuror's supernatural" of the Amadis group. That the fairy story sprung up, to supply the always graceful supernatural element in a better form, is a matter which will be dealt with later in this chapter. The oracles, etc., of the Cyrus belong, of course, to the historical, not the imaginative side of the presentation; but may be partly due to the Astree, the influence of which was, we saw, admitted.
[Sidenote: Analysis resumed.]
It may seem unjust that the more this complication of interests increases, the less complete should be the survey of them; and yet a moment's thought will show that this is almost a necessity. Moreover, the methods do not vary much; it is only that they are applied to a larger and larger mass of accumulating material. The first volume of the Fourth Part, the seventh of the twenty, follows—though with that absence of slavish repetition which has been allowed as one of the graces of the book—the general scheme. Cyrus gets out of the wood literally, but not figuratively; for when he and the King of Assyria have joined forces, to pursue that rather paradoxical alliance which is to run in couple with rivalry for love and to end in a personal combat, they see on the other side of a river a chariot, in which Mandane probably or certainly is. But the river is unbridged and unfordable, and no boats can be had; so that, after trying to swim it and nearly getting drowned, they have to relinquish the game that had been actually in sight. Next, two things happen. First, Martesie appears (as usually to our satisfaction), and in consequence of a series of accidents, shares and solaces Mandane's captivity. Then, on the other side, Panthea, Queen of Susiana, and wife of one of the enemy princes, falls into Cyrus's hands, and with Araminta (who is, it should have, if it has not been, said earlier, sister of the King of Pontus) furnishes valuable hostage for good treatment of Mandane and other Medo-Persian-Phrygian-Hircanian prisoners.
Things having thus been fairly bustled up for a time, a Histoire is, of course, imminent, and we have it, of about usual length, concerning the Lydian Princess Palmis and a certain Cleandre; while, even when this is done, we fall back, not on the main story, but once more on that of Aglatidas and Amestris, which is in a sad plight, for Amestris (who has been married against her will and is maumariee too) thinks she is a widow, and finds she is not.
It has just been mentioned that Palmis is a Lydian Princess; and before the end of this Part Croesus comes personally into the story, being the head of a formidable combination to supplant the King of Pontus, detain Mandane, and, if possible (as the well-known oracle, in the usual ambiguity (v. inf.), encourages him to hope), conquer the Medo-Persian empire and make it his own. But the Histoire mania—now further excited by consistence in working the personages so obtained in generally—is in great evidence, and "Lygdamis and Cleonice" supply a large proportion of the early and all the middle of the eighth volume, the second of the Fourth Part. There is, however, much more business than usual at the end to make up for any slackness at the beginning. In a side-action with the Lydians both Cyrus and the King of Assyria are captured by force of numbers, though the former is at once released by the Princess Palmis, as well as Artames, son of Cyrus's Phrygian ally, whom Croesus chooses to consider as a rebel, and intends to put to death. Here, however, the captive Queen and Princess, Panthea and Araminta, come into good play, and exercise strong and successful influence through the husband of the one and the brother of the other. But at the end of book, volume, and part we leave Cyrus once more in the dismals. For though he has actually seen Mandane he cannot get at her, and he has heard three apparently most unfavourable oracles; the Babylonian one, which was quoted above, and which he, like everybody else, takes as a promise of success to Philidaspes; the ambiguous Delphic forecast of "the fall of an Empire" to Croesus; and that of his own death at the hands of a hostile queen, the only one which, historically, was to be fulfilled in its apparent sense, while the others were not. He cares, indeed, not much about the two last, but infinitely about the first.
At the opening of the Fifth Part (ninth volume) there is a short but curious "Address to the Reader," announcing the fulfilment of the first half of the promised production, and bidding him not be downhearted, for the first of the second half (the Sixth Part or eleventh volume of the whole) is actually at Press. It may be noticed that there is a swagger about these avis and such like things, which probably is attributable to Georges, and not to Madeleine.
The inevitable Histoire comes earlier than usual in this division, and is of unusual importance; for it deals with two persons of great distinction, and already introduced in the story, Queen Panthea and her husband Abradates. It is also one of the longer batch, running to some four hundred pages; and a notable part in it and in the future main story is played by one Doralise—a pretty name, which Dryden, making it prettier still by substituting a c for the s, borrowed for his most original and (with that earlier Florimel of The Maiden Queen, who is said to have been studied directly off Nell Gwyn) perhaps his most attractive heroine, the Doralice of Marriage a la Mode. Another important character, the villain of the sub-plot, is one Mexaris. At the end of the first instalment we leave Cyrus preparing elaborate machines of war to crush the Lydians.
Early in Book II. we hear of a mysterious warrior on the enemy side whom nobody knows, who calls himself Telephanes, and whom Cyrus is very anxious to meet in battle, but for the time cannot. He is also frustrated in his challenge of the King of Pontus to fight for Mandane—a challenge of which Croesus will not hear. At last Telephanes turns out to be no less a person than Mazare, Prince of Sacia, whom we know already as one of the ever-multiplying lovers and abductors of the heroine; while, after a good deal of confused fighting, another inset Histoire of him closes the tenth volume (V. ii.). It is, however, only two hundred pages long—a mere parenthesis compared to others, and it leads up to his giving Cyrus a letter from Mandane—an act of generosity which Philidaspes, otherwise King of Assyria, frankly confesses that he, as another Rival, could never have done. After yet another Histoire (now a "four-some") of Belesis, Hermogenes, Cleodare, and Leonice, Abradates changes sides, carrying us on to an "intricate impeach" of old and new characters, especially Araminta and Spithridates, and to the death in battle of the generous King of Susiana himself, and the grief of Panthea. There is, at the close of this volume, a rather interesting Privilege du Roi, signed by Conrart ("le silencieux Conrart"), sealed with "the great seal of yellow wax in a simple tail" (one ribbon or piece of ferret only?), and bestowing its rights "nonobstant Clameur de Haro, Charte Normande, et autres lettres contraires."
The first volume of the Sixth Part (the eleventh of the whole and the first of what, as so many words of the kind are required, we may call the Second Division) has plenty of business—showing that the author or her adviser was also a business-like person—to commence the new venture. Cyrus, after being victorious in the field and just about to besiege Sardis in form, receives a "bolt from the blue" in the shape of a letter "From the unhappy Mandane to the faithless"—himself! She has learnt, she tells him, that his feelings towards her are changed, requests that she may no longer serve as a pretext for his ambition, and—rather straining the prerogatives assumed even by her nearest ancestresses in literature, the Polisardas and Miraguardas of the Amadis group, but scarcely dreamt of by the heroines of ancient Greek Romance—desires that he will send back to her father Cyaxares all the troops that he is, as she implies, commanding on false pretences.
Now one half expects that Cyrus, in a transport of Amadisian-Euphuist-heroism, will comply with this very modest request. In fact it is open to any one to contend that, according to the strictest rules of the game, he ought to have done so and gone mad, or at least marooned himself in some desert island, in consequence. The sophistication, however, of the stage appears here. After a very natural sort of "Well, I never!" translated into proper heroic language, he sets to work to identify the person whom Mandane suspects to be her rival—for she has carefully abstained from naming anybody. And he asks—with an ingenious touch of self-confession which does the author great credit, if it was consciously laid on—whether it can be Panthea or Araminta, with both of whom he has, in fact, been, if not exactly flirting, carrying on (as the time itself would have said) a "commerce of respectful and obliging admiration." He has a long talk with his confidant Feraulas (whose beloved and really lovable Martesie is, unluckily, not at hand to illuminate the mystery), and then he writes as "The Unfortunate Cyrus to the Unjust Mandane," tells her pretty roundly, though, of course, still respectfully, that if she knew how things really were "she would think herself the cruellest and most unjust person in the world." [I should have added, "just as she is, in fact, the most beautiful."] She is, he says, his first and last passion, and he has never been more than polite to any one else. But she will kindly excuse his not complying with her request to send back his army until he has vanquished all his Rivals—where, no doubt, in the original, the capital was bigger and more menacing than ever, and was written with an appropriate gnashing of teeth.
The traditional balance of luck and love, however, holds; and the armies of Croesus and the King of Pontus begin to melt away; so that, after a short but curious pastoral episode, they have to shut themselves up in the capital. The dead body of Abradates is now found, and his widow Panthea stabs herself upon it. This removes one of Mandane's possible causes of jealousy, but Araminta remains; and, as a matter of fact, it is this Princess on whom her suspicion has been cast, arising partly, though helped by makebates, from the often utilised personal resemblance between her actual lover, Prince Spithridates, and Cyrus. The treacherous King of Pontus has, in fact, shown her a letter from Araminta (his sister, be it remembered) which seems to encourage the idea.
All this, however, and more fills but a hundred pages or so, and then we are as usual whelmed in a Histoire de Timarete et de Parthenie, which takes up four times the space, and finishes the First Book. The Second opens smartly enough with the actual siege of Sardis; but we cannot get rid of Araminta (it is sad to have to wish that she was not "our own Araminta" quite so often) and Spithridates. Conversations between the still prejudiced Mandane and the Lydian Princess Palmis—a sensible and agreeable girl—are better; but from them we are hurled into a Histoire de Sesostre (the Egyptian prince, son of Amasis, who is now an ally of Cyrus) et de Timarete, which not only fills the whole of the rest of the volume, but swells over into the next, being much occupied with the villainies of a certain Heracleon, who is at the time a wounded prisoner in Cyrus's Camp. The siege is kept up briskly, but Cyrus's courteous release of certain captives adds fuel to Mandane's wrath as having been procured by Araminta. He will do anything for Araminta! The releases themselves give rise to fresh "alarums and excursions," among which we again meet a pretty name (Candiope), borrowed by Dryden. Doralise is also much to the fore; and we have a regular Histoire, though a shorter one than usual, of Arpalice and Thrasimede, which will, as some say, "bulk largely" later. The length of this part is, indeed, enormous, the double volume running to over fourteen hundred pages, instead of the usual ten or twelve. But its close is spirited and sufficiently interim-catastrophic. Cyrus discovers in the enceinte of Sardis the usual weak point—an apparently impregnable scarped rock, which has been weakly fortified and garrisoned—takes it by escalade in person with his best paladins, and after it the city.
But of course he cannot expect to have it all his own way when not quite twelve-twentieths of the book are gone, and he finds that Mandane is gone likewise; the King of Pontus, who has practically usurped the authority of Croesus, having once more carried her off—perhaps not so entirely unwilling as before. Cyrus pursues, and while he is absent the King of Assyria (Philidaspes) shows himself even more of a "Philip Devil" than usual by putting the captive Lydian prince on a pyre, threatening to burn him if he will not reveal the place of the Princess's flight, and actually having the torch applied. Of course Cyrus turns up at the nick of time, has the fire put out, rates the King of Assyria soundly for his violence, and apologises handsomely to Croesus. The notion of an apology for nearly roasting a man may appear to have its ludicrous side, but the way in which the historic pyre and the mention of Solon are brought in without discrediting the hero is certainly ingenious. The Mandane-hunt is renewed, but fruitlessly.
At the beginning of Part VII. there are—according to the habit noticed, and in rather extra measure as regards "us" if not "them"—some interesting things. The first is an example—perhaps the best in the book—of the elaborate description (called in Greek rhetorical technique ecphrasis) which is so common in the Greek Romances. The subject is an extraordinarily beautiful statue of a woman which Cyrus sees in Croesus's gallery, and which will have sequels later. It, or part of it, may be given:
[Sidenote: The statue in the gallery at Sardis.]
But, among all these figures of gold, there was to be seen one of marble, so wonderful, that it obliged Cyrus to stay longer in admiring it than in contemplating any of the others, though it was not of such precious material. It is true that it was executed with such art, and represented such a beautiful person, as to prevent any strangeness in its charming a Prince whose eyes were so delicate and so capable of judging all beautiful objects. This statue was of life-size, placed upon a pedestal of gold, on the four sides of which were bas-reliefs of an admirable beauty. On each were seen captives, chained in all sorts of fashions, but chained only by little Loves, unsurpassably executed. As for the figure itself, it represented a girl about eighteen years old, but one of surprising and perfect beauty. Every feature of the face was marvellously fine; her figure was at once so noble and so graceful that nothing more elegant could be seen; and her dress was at once so handsome and so unusual, that it had something of each of the usual garbs of Tyrian ladies, of nymphs, and of goddesses; but more particularly that of the Wingless Victory, as represented by the Athenians, with a simple laurel crown on her head. This statue was so well set on its base, and had such lively action, that it seemed actually animated; the face, the throat, the arms, and the hands were of white marble, as were the legs and feet, which were partly visible between the laces of the buskins she wore, and which were to be seen because, with her left hand, she lifted her gown a little, as if to walk more easily. With her right she held back a veil, fastened behind her head under the crown of laurel, as though to prevent its being carried away by the breeze, which seemed to agitate it. The whole of the drapery of the figure was made of divers-coloured marbles and jaspers; and, in particular, the gown of this fair Phoenician, falling in a thousand graceful folds, which still did not hide the exact proportion of her body, was of jasper, of a colour so deep that it almost rivalled Tyrian purple itself. A scarf, which passed negligently round her neck, and was fastened on the shoulder, was of a kind of marble, streaked with blue and white, which was very agreeable to the eye. The veil was of the same substance; but sculptured so artfully that it seemed as soft as mere gauze. The laurel crown was of green jasper, and the buskins, as well as the sash she wore, were, again of different hues. This sash brought together all the folds of the gown over the hips; below, they fell again more carelessly, and still showed the beauty of her figure. But what was most worthy of admiration in the whole piece was the spirit which animated it, and almost persuaded the spectators that she was just about to walk and talk. There was even a touch of art in her face, and a certain haughtiness in her attitude which made her seem to scorn the captives chained beneath her feet: while the sculptor had so perfectly realised the indefinable freshness, tenderness, and embonpoint of beautiful girls, that one almost knew her age.