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

[Sidenote: The danger of the "moral."]

Still, the lessons of correction, warning, and instruction to be drawn from these gracious little things, for the benefit of their younger and more elaborate successors, are not easily exhausted. They are, on the whole, very moral, and it is well that morality, rightly understood, should animate fiction. But they are occasionally much too moral, and then they warn off instead of cheering on. Take, for instance, two other neighbours in the collection just quoted, Le Prince Cheri and the ever-delightful La Belle et La Bete. Both of these are moral; but the latter is just moral enough, while Cheri, with one or two alleviations (of which, perhaps, more presently), is hardly anything if not moral, and therefore disgusts, or at any rate bores. On the other hand, "Beauty" is as bonne as she is belle; her only fault, that of overstaying her time, is the result of family affection, and her reward and the punishment of the wicked sisters are quite copy-book. But it is not for this part that we love what is perhaps the most engaging of all the tales. It is for Beauty's own charm, which is subtly conveyed; for the brisk and artistic "revolutions and discoveries"; above all, for the far from merely sentimental pathos of the Beast's all but death for love, and the not in the least mawkish bringing of him to life again by love.[225]

[Sidenote: Yet often redeemed.]

One may perhaps also make amends to Prince Cheri for the abuse just bestowed on him. His story has at least one touch which is sovereign for a fiction-fault common in the past, and only too probable in the future, at whatever time one takes the "present" of the story. When he is not unjustly turned into a monster of the most allegorical-composite order of monster architecture—a monster to whom dragons and wyverns and chimaeras dire are as ordinary as kittens—what do they do with him? They put him "with the other monsters." Ce n'est pas plus raide que ca. The present writer need hardly fear to be thought an anti-mediaevalist, but he is very much afraid that an average mediaeval romancer might have thought it necessary to catalogue these other monsters with the aid of a Bestiary. On the other hand, there have been times—no matter which—when this abrupt introduction and dismissal of monsters as common objects (for which any respectable community will have proper stables or cages) would have been disallowed, or explained away, or apologised for, or, worst of all, charged with a sort of wink or sneer to let the reader know that the author knew what he was about. Here there is nothing of this superfluous or offensive sort. The appropriate and undoubting logic of the style prevails over all too reasonable difficulties. There are monsters, or how could Cheri be made into one? If there are monsters there must, or in the highest probability may, be other monsters. Put him with them, and make no fuss about it. If all novelists had had this aplomb, we should have been spared a great deal of tediousness, some positive failures, and the spoiling, or at least the blotting and marring, of many excellent situations. But to praise the good points of fairy stories, from the brief consummateness of Le Chat Botte to the longer drawn but still perfectly golden matter of La Biche au Bois, would really be superfluous. One loathes leaving them; but one has to do it, so far as the more unsophisticated part of them is concerned. Yet the duty of the historian will not let him be content with these, and, to vary "The Brave Lord Willoughby" a little, "turning to the [others] a thousand more," he must "slay," or at least criticise.

[Sidenote: The main Cabinet des Fees—more on Mme. d'Aulnoy.]

He who ventures on the complete Cabinet des Fees[226] in its more than forty volumes, will provide himself with "cabin furniture" of nearly as good pastime-quality, at least to my fancy (and yet I may claim to be something of a Balzacian), as the slightly larger shelf-ful which suggested itself to the fancy of Mr. Browning and provoked (as "cabin furniture") the indignation of Mr. Swinburne. But he had better look over the contents before he takes it on board, or he will find himself, if his travelling library is anything like as large as that of the patriarch Photius, in danger of duplication. For the Cabinet holds, not merely the Arabian Nights in the original translation of Galland, but also Hamilton: as well, of course, as much of what we may call the classical fairy matter proper on which we have already dwelt, and which is known to all decent people. Still, he will find more of Mme. d'Aulnoy than, unless he is already something of an expert, he already knows, and perhaps he will not be entirely rejoiced at the amplification. She wrote more or less regular heroic romances,[227] which are very inferior to her fairy tales; and though these are not in the Cabinet, she sometimes "mixes the kinds" rather disastrously in shorter pieces. The framework of Don Gabriel Ponce de Leon, which enshrines the sad but charming "Golden Sheep," and a variant of Cendrillon, is poor stuff; and Les Chevaliers Errans only shows what we knew before, that the junction of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is not the time or the place in which to find the loved one, if that loved one is mediaeval. Still, this invaluable lady does generally reck and exemplify her own immortal rede. "Il me semble," says Prince Marcassin to the fairies, "a vous entendre, qu'il ne faut pas meme croire ce qu'on voit." And they reply, "La regle n'est pas toujours generale; mais il est indubitable que l'on doit suspendre son jugement sur bien des choses, et penser qu'il peut entrer quelque chose de Feerie dans ce que nous paroit de plus certain."

[Sidenote: Warning against disappointment.]

Alas! it was precisely this quelque chose de Feerie which is wanting in the majority of the minor fairy-tale writers. That they should attain the wonderful simplicity, freshness, and charm of Perrault at his best was not to be expected; hardly that they should reach the more sophisticated grace of Hamilton; but it might have been hoped that some would come more or less near the lower, and much more unequal, but occasionally very successful art or luck of Mme. d'Aulnoy herself. Unfortunately very few of them do. It was easy enough to begin Il etait autrefois un roi et une reine, to put in a Prince Charming and a Princess Graciosa, and good fairies and bad fairies, and magicians and ogres and talking beasts, and the like. It was not so easy to make all these things work together to produce the peculiar spell which belongs to the true land of Faery, and to that land alone. Still more unfortunately, wrong ways of attempting the object (or some other object) were as easy as the right ways were difficult. They cannot avoid muddling the fairy tale with the heroic romance: and with the half-historical sub-variety of this latter which Mme. de La Fayette introduced. The worst enchanter that ever fairies had to fight with is not such an enemy of theirs as History and Geography—two most respectable persons in their proper places, but fatal here. They will make King Richard of England tell fairy tales to Blondel out of the Austrian tower, and muddle up things about his wicked brother the Count of Mortagne. They will talk of Lemnos and Memphis and other patatis and patatas of the classical dictionary and the Grand Cyrus. In a fashion not perhaps so instantly suicidal, but in a sufficiently annoying fashion, they will invent clumsy "speaking" names, or dog-Latin and cat-Greek ones. And, perhaps worst of all, they prostitute the delicate charms of the fairy tale to clumsy adulation of the reigning monarch, and tedious half-veiled flattery or satire of less exalted persons, or, if "prostitute" be too harsh a word here, attempt to force a marriage between these charms and the dullest moralising. In fact, it is scarcely extravagant to say that, in regard to too many of them—to some of them at least—everything that ought not to be, such as the things just mentioned and others, is there, and everything that ought to be—lightness, brightness, the sense of the impossible in which it is delightful to believe, the dream-feeling, the magic of gratified wish and realised ideal—is not.

[Sidenote: Mlle. de la Force and others.]

Of course, in these other and minor writers that the Cabinet has to give, all these disappointments do not always occur, and the crop is mixed. Mlle. de la Force[228] was one of those dames or demoiselles de compagnie who figure so largely in the literary history of the French eighteenth century, and whose group is illustrated by such names as those of Mlle. Delaunay and Mlle. de Lespinasse. Her full name was Charlotte Rose de Caumont de la Force, and she was, if not an adventuress, a person of adventures, who also wrote many quasi-historical romances in the Princesse de Cleves manner. Her fairy tales are thin, and marred by weak allegory of the "Carte de Tendre" kind. A "Pays des Delices," very difficult to reach, and constantly personated by a "Pays des Avances," promises little and performs less.

The eleven (it is an exact eleven) called Les Illustres Fees is scarcely so illustrious as the All England and the United were, in the memory of some of us, in another and better played kind of cricket. The stories are not very long; they run to a bare eighteen small pages apiece; but few readers are likely to wish them longer. Blanche-Belle introduces the sylphes—an adulteration[229] which generally produces the effect that Thackeray deplored when his misguided friend would have puree mixed with julienne. Le Roi Magicien is painfully destitute of personality; we want names, and pretty names, for a fairy tale. Le Prince Roger is a descendant of Melusine, and one does not think she would be proud of him. Fortunio is better, and Quiribirini, one of the numerous stories which turn on remembering or failing to remember an odd name,[230] perhaps better still; but the rest deserve little praise, and the last, L'Ile Inaccessible, appears to be, if it is anything but pure dulness, a flat political allegory about England and France.

The style picks up a little in the miscellany called (not without a touch of piquancy) La Tyrannie des Fees Detruite, by a Mme. d'Auneuil, whom persons of a sceptical turn might imagine to be a sort of factitious rival to Mme. d'Aulnoy.[231] It returns to the Greek or pseudo-Greek names of the heroic romance, and to its questionable device of histoires stuck like plums in a pudding. Nor are the Sans Parangon and the Fee des Fees of the Sieur de Preschac utterly bad. But Les Aventures d'Abdalla, besides rashly incurring the danger (to be exemplified and commented on more fully a little later) of vying with the Arabian Nights, substitutes for the genuine local colour and speech the fade jargon of French eighteenth-century "sensibility"—autels and flammes and all the rest of the trumpery. But it does worse still—it tries to be instructive, and informs us of the difference between male and female dives and peris, of the custom of suttee, and of the fact that there are many professional singers and dancers among Indian girls. This is simply intolerable.[232]

[Sidenote: The large proportion of Eastern Tales.]

[Sidenote: Les Voyages de Zulma.]

The great prominence of the Eastern Tale, indeed, in this collection is likely to be one of the most striking things in it to a new-comer. He would know, of course, that such tales are not uncommon in contemporary English; he would certainly be acquainted with Addison's, Johnson's, Goldsmith's experiments in them, perhaps with those of Hawkesworth and others.[233] He could see for himself that the "accaparation" by France of the peerless Arabian Nights themselves must have led to a still greater fancy for them there; and he might possibly have heard the tradition (which the present writer[234] never traced to its source, or connected with any real evidence either way) that no less a person than Lesage assisted Galland in his task. But though the Nights themselves form the most considerable single group in the Cabinet, the united bulk of their congeners or imitations occupies a still larger space. There are the rather pale and "moon-like" but sometimes not uninteresting Thousand and One Days, and the obviously and rather foolishly pastiched Thousand and One Quarters of an Hour. There are Persian Tales—origin of a famous and characteristic jibe at "Namby Pamby" Philips—and Turkish Tales which are a fragment of one of the numerous versions of the Seven Sages scheme. The just mentioned Adventures of Abdallah betray their source and their nature at once; the hoary fables of Bidpai and Lokman are modernised to keep company with these "fakings," and there are more definitely literary attempts to follow. Les Voyages de Zulma, again an incomplete thing which actually tails off towards its failure of an end, shows some ingenuity in its conception, but suffers, even in the beginning, from that mixing of kinds which has been pointed out and reprobated. An attempt is made to systematise the fairy idea by representing these gracious creatures as offspring of Destiny and the Earth, with a cruel brother Time, and an offset of mischievous sisters who exactly correspond to the good ones—Disgracieuse to Gracieuse, and so on—and have a queen Laide-des-Laides, who answers to the good fairy princess, Belle-des-Belles. A mortal—Zulma—is, for paternal rather than personal merits, chosen by Destiny to enjoy the privilege of entering and understanding the fairy world, and Gracieuse is the fairy assigned as his guide. The idea is, as has been said, rather ingenious; but it is too systematic, and like other things in other parts of the collection, "loses the grace and liberty of the composition" in system. Moreover, the morality, as is rather the wont of these imitators when they are not (as a few of the partly non-cabinetted ones are) deliberately naughty, is much too scrupulous.[235] It is clear that Zulma is in love with Gracieuse, that she responds to some extent, and that Her Majesty Queen Belle-des-Belles is a little jealous and inclined to cut Gracieuse out. But nothing in the finished part of the story gives us any of the nice love-making that we want.

[Sidenote: Fenelon.]

Madame le Marchand's Boca is a story which begins in Peru but finishes in an "Isle of Ebony," where the names of Zobeide and Abdelazis seem rather more at home; it is not without merit. As for the fables and stories which Fenelon composed for that imperfect Marcellus, the Duke of Burgundy, they have all the merits of style, sense, and good feeling which they might be expected to have, and it would be absurd to ask of them qualities which, in the circumstances, they could not display.

The Chinese Tales are about as little Chinese as may be, consisting of accounts of his punitive metempsychoses by the Mandarin Fum Hoam (a name afterwards borrowed in better known work), who seems to have been excluded from the knowledge of anything particularly Celestial.[236] But they are rather smartly told. On the other hand, Florine ou la Belle Italienne, which is included in the same volume with the sham Chinoiseries, is one of the worst instances of the confusion of kinds noted above. It honestly prepares one for what is coming by a reference in the Preface to Fenelon; but a list of dramatis (or fabulae) personae, which follows, would have tried the saintliness even of him of Cambrai almost as much as a German occupation of his archiepiscopal see. "Agatonphisie," for a personage who represents, we are told, "Le Bon Sens," might break the heart of Clenardus, if not the head of Priscian.

The Thousand and One Quarter Hours, or Contes Tartares, have as little of the Tartar as those above mentioned of the Chinese, but if somewhat verbose, they are not wholly devoid of literary quality. The substance is, as in nearly all these cases, Arabian Nights rehashed; but the hashing is not seldom done secundum artem, and they have, with the Les Sultanes de Gujerate and Nouveaux Contes Orientaux, which follow them, the faculty of letting themselves be read.

The best of these[237] (except the French translation of the so-called Sir Charles Morell's (really James Ridley's) Tales of the Genii (see above)) is perhaps, on the whole, Les Sultanes de Gujerate, where not only are some of the separate tales good, but the frame-story is far more artistically worked in and round and out than is usually the case. But taking them all together, there is one general and obvious, as well as another local and particular objection to them. Although the sub-title (v. sup. again) lets them in, the main one regards them with, at best, an oblique countenance. The differences between the Western fairy and the Eastern peri, dive, djin, or whatever one chooses to call her, him, or it, though not at all easy to define, are exceedingly easy to feel. The magicians and enchanters of the two kinds are nearer to each other, but still not the same. On the other hand, it is impossible for any one who has once felt the strange charm of the Arabian Nights not to feel the immense inferiority of these rehashes and croquettes and rissoles, and so forth, of the noble old haunch or sirloin. Yet again, from the special point of view of this book, though they cannot be simply passed over, they supply practically nothing which marks, or causes, or even promises an advance in the general development of fiction. They may be said to be simply a continuation of, or a relapse upon, the pure romance of adventure, with different dress, manners, and nomenclature. There is hardly a single touch of character in any one; their very morals (and no shame to them) are arch-known; and they do not possess style enough to confer distinction of the kind open to such things. If you take Les Quatre Facardins, before most of them, and Vathek[238] (itself, remember, originally French in language), after them all, the want of any kind of genius in their composers becomes almost disgustingly apparent. Yet even these masterpieces are masterpieces outside the main run of the novel.

[Sidenote: Caylus.]

Although, therefore, it would be very ungrateful not to acknowledge that they do sometimes comply with the demands of that sensible tyrant already mentioned, Sultan Hudgiadge, and "either amuse us or send us to sleep," it must be admitted to be with some relief that one turns once more, at about the five and twentieth volume, to something like the fairy tale proper, if to a somewhat artificial and sophisticated form of it. The Comte de Caylus was a scholar and a man of unusual brains; Moncrif showed his mixture of Scotch and French blood in a corresponding blend of quaintness and esprit; others, such as Voisenon in one sex and Voltaire's pet Mlle. de Lubert in the other, whatever they were, were at any rate not stupid.

[Sidenote: Prince Courtebotte et Princesse Zibeline.]

To Anne Claude Philippe de Tubieres de Grimoard de Pestels de Levi, Comte de Caylus, one owes particular thanks, at least when one comes to the history of Le Prince Courtebotte, after wrestling with the macedoine of orientalities just discussed. It is not, of course, Perrault, and it is not the best Madame D'Aulnoy. But you are never "put out" by it; the hero, if rather a hero of Scott in the uniform propriety of his conduct, or of Virgil in his success, is not like Waverley, partly a simpleton, nor like Aeneas, wholly a cad. One likes the Princess Zibeline both before she had a heart and afterwards; it can be very agreeable to know a nice girl in both states. Perhaps it was not quite cricket of the good fairy to play that trick[239] on the ambassador of King Brandatimor, but it was washed out in fair fight; and King Biby and his people of poodles are delightful. One wonders whether Dickens, who was better read in this kind of literature than in most, consciously or unconsciously borrowed from Caylus one of his not least known touches.[240]

[Sidenote: Rosanie.]

In the next of the Caylus stories there is an Idea—the capital seems due because the Count was a man of Science, as science (perhaps better) went then, and because one or his other tales (not the best) is actually called Le Palais des Idees. The idea of Rosanie is questionable, though the carrying of it out is all right. Two fairies are fighting for the (fairy) crown, and the test is who shall produce the most perfect specimen of the special fairy art of education of mortals. (I may, as a ci-devant member of this craft, be permitted to regret that the business has been so largely taken over by persons who are neither fairies in one sex, though there may be some exceptions here, nor enchanters in the other, where exceptions are very rare indeed.) The tutoress of the Princess Rosanie pursues her task, and pursues it triumphantly, by dividing the child into twelve interim personalities, each of whom has a special characteristic—beauty, gentleness, vivacity, discretion, and what not. At the close of the prescribed period they are reunited, and their fortunate lover, who has hitherto been distracted between the twelve eidola, is blessed with the compound Rosanie. Although it is well known to be the rashest of things for a man to say anything about women—although certainly sillier things have been said by men about women than about any other subject, except, of course, education itself—I venture to demur to the fairy method. Both a priori and from experience, I should say that unmixed Beauty would become intolerably vain; that Discretion would grow into a hypocritical and unpleasant prude; that Vivacity would develop into Vulgarity; and that the reincarnation of the twelve would be one of the most intolerable creatures ever known, if it were not that the impossibility of the concentrated essences being united in one person, after separation in several, would save the situation by annihilating her.

[Sidenote: Prince Muguet et Princesse Zaza.]

Caylus, however, makes up in the third tale, Le Prince Muguet et la Princesse Zaza, where, though the principal fairy, she of the Hetre, is rather silly for one of the kind, Muguet is a not quite intolerable coxcomb, and Zaza is positively charming. Her sufferings with a wicked old woman are common; but her distress when the fairy makes her seem ugly to the Prince, who has actually fallen in love with her true portrait, and the scenes where the two meet under this spell, are among the best in the whole Cabinet—which is a bold word. The others, though naturally unequal, never or very seldom lack charm, for the reason that Caylus knew what one has ventured to call the secret of Fairyland—that it is the land of the attained Wish—and that he has the art of scattering rememberable and generative phrases and fancies. Tourlou et Rirette, one of the lightest of all, may not impossibly—indeed probably—have suggested Jean Ingelow's great single-speech poem of Divided; the Princesses Pimprenelle and Lumineuse are the right sort of Princesses; Nonchalante et Papillon, Bleuette et Coquelicot come and take their places unpretentiously but certainly; Mignonette and Minutieuse are not "out." Caylus is not Hamilton by a long way; but he has something that Hamilton has not. He is still less Perrault or Madame d'Aulnoy, but he has a sufficient difference from either. With these predecessors he makes the select quartette of the fairy-tale tellers of France.

After him one expects—and meets—a drop. No reasonable person would look for a really great fairy tale from Jean Jacques, because you must forget yourself to write one; and La Reine Fantasque, though not bad, is not good. Madame de Villeneuve may, for ought I know, have been an excellent person in other ways, but she deserves one of the worst bolgias in the Inferno of literature for lengthening, muddling, and altogether spoiling the ever-beloved "Beauty and the Beast." Mlle. de Lussan, they say,[241] was too fond of eating, and died of indigestion. A more indigestible thing than her own Les Veillees de Thessalie, which figure here (she wrote a great deal more), the present writer has never come across. And as for Prince Titi, which fills a volume and a half, it might have been passed without any remark at all if it had not become famous in connection with the Battle of Croker and Macaulay over the body of Boswell's Johnson.[242]

A break takes place at the thirtieth volume of the Cabinet, and a fresh instalment, later than the first batch, follows, with more particulars about authors. Here we find the attributions of the very large series of imitative Eastern tales already noticed, and to be followed in this new parcel by Soirees Bretonnes, to Thomas Simon Gueulette. The thirty-first opens with the Funestine of Beauchamps[243]—an ingenious title and heroine-name, for it avoids the unnatural sounds so common, is a quite possible feminine appellation, and though a "speaking" one, is only so to those who understand the learned languages, and so deserve to be spoken to. Moreover, the idea, though not startlingly original or a mark of genius, is good—that of an unlucky child who attracts the malignity of all fairies, and is ugly, stupid, ill-natured, and everything that is detestable. Her reformation by the genie Clair-Obscur would not be bad if it were cut a great deal shorter.

It is followed by a series of short tales, beginning with The Little Green Frog, and not of the first class, which in turn are succeeded by two (or, as the latter is in two parts, three) longer stories, sometimes attributed to Caylus—Le Loup Galeux and Bellinette et Belline. The Soirees Bretonnes themselves, though apparently the earliest, are not the happiest of Gueulette's pastiches; the speaking names[244] especially are irritating. A certain Madame de Lintot, who does not seem to have had anything to do with the hero of Pope's famous "Ride with a Bookseller," is what may be called "neutral," with Timandre et Bleuette and others; nor does a fresh instalment of Moncrif's efforts show the historian of cats at his best. But in vol. xxxiii. Mlle. de Lubert, glanced at before, raises the standard. She should have cut her tales down; it is the mischief of these later things that they extend too much. But Lionnette et Coquerico is good; Le Prince Glace et la Princesse Etincelante is not bad; and La Princesse Camion attracts, by dint of extravagance in the literal sense. Fairy trials had gone far; but the necessity of either marrying a beautiful sort of mermaid or else of flaying her, and the subsequent trial, not of flaying, but braying her in a mortar as a shrimp, show at least a lively fancy. Nor is the anonymous Nourjahad—an extremely moral but not dull tale, which follows—at all contemptible.

The French Bar, inexhaustible in such things, gave another tale-teller in one Pajon, who, besides the obligatory polissonneries, not included in the Cabinet, composed not a few harmless things of some merit. The first, Eritzine et Paretin, is perhaps the best. Nor is the complement of vol. xxxiv., the Bibliotheque des Fees et des Genies (the title of which was that of a larger collection, containing much the same matter as the Cabinet, and probably in Johnson's mind when he jotted down Prince Titi), quite barren. La Princesse Minon-Minette et le Prince Souci, Apranor et Bellanire, Grisdelin et Charmante, are none of them unreadable. The next volume, too, is better as a whole than any we have had for a long time. Mme. Fagnan's Minet Bleu et Louvette contains, in its fifteen pages, a good situation by no means ill-treated. The pair are under the same spell—that of being ugly and witty for part of the week, handsome, stupid, and disagreeable for the other part, and of having the times so arranged that each sees the other at his or her most repulsive to her or his actual state. The way in which "Love unconquered in battle" proves, though not without fairy assistance, victorious here also, is very ingeniously managed.

One of the cleverest of all the later fairy tales is the Acajou et Zirphile of Duclos, who, indeed, had sufficient wits to do anything well, and was a novelist, though not a very distinguished one, on a larger scale. The tale itself (which is said to have been written "up to" illustrations of Boucher designed for something else) has, indeed, a smatch of vulgarity, but a purely superfluous and easily removable one. It is almost as cleverly written as any thing of Voltaire's: and the final situation, where the hero, who has gone through all the mischiefs and triumphs of one of Crebillon's, recovers his only real love, Zirphile, in a torment and tornado of heads separated from bodies and hands separated from arms, is rather capital.

Not much less so, in the different way of a pretty sentimentality, is the Aglae ou Naboline of the painter Coypel; while the batch of short stories from Mme. Le Prince de Beaumont's Magasin des Enfants have had a curious fate. They are rather pooh-poohed by French editors and critics, and they are certainly very moral, too much so, in fact, as has been already objected to one of them, Le Prince Cheri. But allowances have been allowed even there, and, somehow or other, Fatal et Fortune, Le Prince Charmant, Joliette, and the rest have recovered more of the root of the matter than most others, and have established a just popularity in translation.

And then comes the shortest, I think, of all the stories in the one and forty volumes; the silliest as a composition; the most contemptibly thought—but by the accidents of fate endowed later with a tragic-satiric moralitas almost if not quite unrivalled in literature. Its author was a certain M. Selis, apparently a very respectable schoolmaster, professor, and bookmaker of not the lowest class—employments and occupations in respect of all of which not a few of us have earned our bread and paid our income-tax. Unluckily for him, there was born in his time a Dauphin, and he wrote a little adulatory tale of the birth, and the editors of the Cabinet Appendix thanked him much for giving it them. It is not four pages long; it tells how an ancestral genie—a great king named Louis—blessed the child, and said that he would be called "the father of his people," and another followed suit with "the father of letters," and a third swore Ventre Saint Gris! and named the baby's uncle as "Joseph," and a still greater Louis said other things, and a fairy named Maria Theresa crowned the blessings. Then came an ogre mounted on a leopard and eating raw meat, who was of Albion, and said he was king of the country, and observed "God ham" [sic], and was told that he would be beaten and made to lay down his arms by the child.

And the Dauphin, unless this signalement is strangely delusive, lived to know the worst ogres in the world (their chief was named Simon), who were of his own people, and to die the most unhappy prince or king in that world. And he of the Leopard who said God ham, would have saved that Dauphin if he could, and did slay many of his less guiltless relations and subjects, and beat the rest "thorough and thorough," and restored (could they have had the will and wit to profit by it) the race of Louis and Francis, and of the genie who said "Ventre Saint Gris!" to their throne. And this was the end of the vaticinations of M. Selis, and such are the tears of things.

The rest of this volume is occupied by a baker's dozen of Contes Choisis, the first of which, Les Trois Epreuves, seems to imitate Voltaire, and is smartly written, while some of the others are not bad.

Volume xxxvi. is occupied (not too appositely, though inoffensively in itself) by a translation of Wieland's Don Silvia de Rosalva, which is a German Sir Launcelot Greaves or Spiritual Quixote, with fairy tales substituted for romances of chivalry. The author of Oberon was seldom, if ever, unreadable, and he is not so here; but the thing is neither a tale proper (seeing that it fills a whole volume), nor a real fairy tale, nor French, so we may let it alone.

Then this curious collection once more comes to an end, which is not an end, with a very useful though not too absolutely trustworthy volume of Notices des Auteurs, containing not only "bio-bibliographical" articles on the actual writers collected, but references to others, great and small, from Marivaux, Lesage, Prevost, and Voltaire downwards, and glances, sometimes with actual comptes rendus, at pieces of the class not included. That it is conducted on the somewhat irresponsible and indolent principles of its time might be anticipated from previous things, such as the clause in the Preface to Wieland's just noticed book, that the author had "gone to Weimar, where perhaps he is still," an observation which, from the context, seems not to be so much an attempt at persiflage as a pure piece of lazy naivete. The volume, however, contains a great deal of information such as it is; some sketches, ingeniously draped or Bowdlerised, of the "naughty" tales excluded from the collection itself, and a few amusing stories.[245]

As, however, has been said, there was to be still another joint to this crocodile, and the four last volumes, xxxviii. to xli. (not, as is wrongly said by some, xxxvii. to xl.), contain a somewhat rash continuation of the Arabian Nights themselves, with which Cazotte[246] appears to have had a good deal to do, though an actual Arab monk of the name of Chavis is said to have been mainly concerned. They are not bad reading; but even less of fairy tales than Gueulette's orientalities.

* * * * *

Not much apology is needed, it may be hoped, for the space given to this curious kind; the bulk of its production, the length of its popularity, and the intrinsic merit of some few of its better examples vindicate its position here. But a confession should take the place of the unnecessary excuse already partly made. The artificial fairy tale of the more regular kind was not, by the law of its being, prevented almost unavoidably from doing service to the novel at large, as the Eastern story was; but, as a matter of fact, it did little except what will be mentioned in the next paragraph. That it helped to exemplify afresh what had been shown over and over again for centuries, the singular recreative faculty of the nation and the language, was about all. But another national characteristic, the as yet incurable set of the French mind towards types—which, if the second volume of this work ever appears, will, it is hoped, be shown to have spared the later novel—seized on these tales. They are "as like as my fingers to my fingers," and they are not very pretty fingers as a rule. Incidentally they served as frameworks to some of the worst verse in the world, nor, for the most part, did they even encourage very good prose. You may get some good out of them; but unless you like hunting, and are not vexed by frequent failures to "draw," the Cabinet des Fees is best left to exploration at second-hand.

* * * * *

To collect the results of this long chapter, we may observe that in these three departments—Pastoral, Heroic, and Fairy—various important elements of general novel material and construction are provided in a manner not yet noticed. The Pastoral may seem to be the most obsolete, the most of a mere curiosity. But the singular persistence and, in a way, universality of this apparently fossil convention has been already pointed out; and it is perhaps only necessary to shift the pointer to the fact that the novels with which one of the most modern, in perhaps the truest sense of that word, of modern novelists, though one of the eldest, Mr. Thomas Hardy, began to make his mark—Under the Greenwood Tree and Far from the Madding Crowd—may be claimed by the pastoral with some reason. And it has another and a wider claim—that it keeps up, in its own way, the element of the imaginative, of the fanciful—let us say even of the unreal—without which romance cannot live, without which novel is almost repulsive, and which the increasing advances of realism itself were to render more than ever indispensable. As for the Heroic, we have already shown how much, with all its faults, it did for the novel generally in construction and in other ways. It has been shown likewise, it is hoped, how the Fairy story, besides that additional provision of imagination, fancy, and dream which has just been said to be so important—mingled with this a kind of realism which was totally lacking in the others, and which showed itself especially in one immensely important department wherein they had been so much to seek. Fairies may be (they are not to my mind) things that "do not happen"; but the best of these fairies are fifty times more natural, not merely than the characters of Scudery and Gomberville, but than those (I hold to my old blasphemy) of Racine. Animals may not talk; but the animals of Perrault and even of Madame d'Aulnoy talk divinely well, and, what is more, in a way most humanly probable and interesting. Never was there such a triumph of the famous impossible-probable as a good fairy story. Except to the mere scientist and to (of course, quite a different person) the unmitigated fool, these stories, at least the best of them, fully deserve the delightful phrase which Southey attributes to a friend of his. They are "necessary and voluptuous and right." They were, to the French eighteenth century and to French prose, almost what the ballad was to the English eighteenth century and to English verse; almost what the Maerchen was to the prose and verse alike of yet un-Prussianised Germany. They were more than twice blessed: for they were charming in themselves; they exercised good influence on other literary productions; and they served as precious antidotes to bad things that they could not improve, and almost as precious alternatives to things good in themselves but of a different kind from theirs.

What, however, none of the kinds discussed in this chapter gave entirely, while only the fairy story gave in part, and that in strong contrast to another part of itself, was a history of ordinary life—high, low, or middle—dealing with characters more or less representing live and individual personages; furnished with incidents of a possible and probable character more or less regularly constructed; furnished further with effective description of the usual scenery, manners, and general accessories of living; and, finally, giving such conversation as might be thought necessary in forms suitable to "men of this world," in the Shakespearian phrase. In other words, none of them attained, or even attempted to fulfil, the full definition of the novel. The scattered books to be mentioned in the next chapter did not, perhaps, in any one case—even Madame de la Fayette's—quite achieve this; but in all of them, even in Sorel's, we see more or less conscious or unconscious attempt at it.


[124] Herr Koerting (v. sup. p. 133) gave considerable space to Barclay's famous Argenis, which also appeared fairly early in the century. To treat, however, a Latin book, written by a Scotsman, with admittedly large if not main reference to European politics, as a "French novel," seems a literary solecism. I do not know whether it is rash to add that the Argenis itself seems to me to have been wildly overpraised. It is at any rate one of the few books—one of the still fewer romances—which have defied my own powers of reading at more than one attempt.


[Sidenote: Note on marked influence of Greek Romance.]

The repetition, in the seventeenth century, of something very like a phenomenon which we noticed in the twelfth, is certainly striking, and may seem at first sight rather uncanny. But those who have made some attempt to "find the whole" in literature, and in that attempt have at least found out something about the curious laws of revolution and recurrence which take the place of any progress in a straight line, will deem the thing natural enough. We declined, in the earlier case, to admit much, if any, direct influence of the accomplished Greek Romance on the Romance of the West; but we showed how classical subjects, whether pure or tinctured with Oriental influence, induced an immensely important development of this same Western Romance in two directions—that of manners, character, and passion, and that of marvel. In the later period classical influences of all sorts are again at work; but infinitely the larger part of that work is done by the Greek Romances themselves—pastoral, adventurous, and sentimental,—the dates of the translations of which will be given presently. And the newer Oriental kind—coming considerably later still and sharing its nature certainly, and perhaps its origin, not now with classical mythology, but again, in the most curious way, with Western folk stories—supplements and diversifies the reinforcement.

[126] Scudery writes "Urfe," and this confirms the obiter dictum of Sainte-Beuve, that with the Christian name, the "Monsieur," or some other title you must use the "de," otherwise not. But in this particular instance I think most French writers give the particle.

[127] I myself, in writing a Short History of French Literature many years ago, had to apologise for incomplete knowledge; and I will not undertake even now to have read every romance cursorily mentioned in this chapter—indeed, some are not very easy to get at. But I have done my best to extend my knowledge, assisted by a rather minute study of the contemporary English heroic romance in prose and verse; and I believe I may say that I do now really know the Grand Cyrus, though even now I will again not say that I have read every one of its perhaps two million words, or even the whole of every one of its more than 12,000 pages. In regard to the Astree I have been less fortunately situated; but "I have been there and still would go."

[128] The above remarks are most emphatically not intended to refer to the work of Mr. Greg.

[129] The sheep, whether as a beast of most multitude or for more recondite reasons, has, of course, the preference; but it may be permissible to say that no guardian of animals is excluded. Goat-herds in the Greek ran the shepherd hard; neat-herds and swine-herds abound everywhere except, as concerns the last, in Jewry; even the goose-girl figures, and has in Provencal at least a very pretty name—auquiera.

[130] The mediaeval pastourelle is no doubt to some extent conventional and "made in moulds." But it is by no means so unreal as (whether Greek was so or not) Roman pastoral pretty certainly was, and as modern has been beyond possibility of doubt. How good it could be, without any convention at all, Henryson showed once for all in our own language by Robene and Makyne.

[131] Theagenes and Chariclea had preceded it by thirteen years, though a fresh translation appeared in the same year, as did the first of Hysminias and Hysmine. Achilles Tatius (Cleitophon and Leucippe) had been partly done in 1545, but waited till 1568 for completion.

[132] Op. cit. sup.

[133] They are almost always Amours after their Greek prototypes, sometimes simple, often qualified, and these most frequently by such adjectives as "Infortunees et chastes," "Constantes et infortunees," "Chastes et heureuses," "Pudiques," etc. etc. Not a few are taken direct from episodes of Ariosto or other elders; otherwise they are "loves" of Laoniphile, Lozie, Poliphile and Mellonimphe, Pegase (who has somehow or other become a nymph) and Leandre, Dachmion and Deflore (a rather unlucky heroine-name), etc. etc. Their authors are nearly as numerous as their titles; but the chief were a certain Sieur de Nerveze, whose numerous individual efforts were collected more than once to the number at least of a good baker's dozen, and a Sieur des Escuteaux, who had the same fortune. Sometimes the Hellenism went rather to seed in such titles as Erocaligenese, which supposed itself to be Greek for "Naissance d'un bel amour." It is only (at least in England) in the very largest libraries, perhaps in the British Museum alone, that there is any chance of examining these things directly; some of them escaped even the mighty hunt of M. Reynier himself. What the present writer has found is treated shortly in the text.

[134] M. Reynier (most justly, but of course after many predecessors) points out that the common filiation of these things on Marini and Gongora is chronologically impossible. We could, equally of course, supply older examples still in English; and persons of any reading can carry the thing back through sixteenth- and fifteenth-century examples to the Dark Ages and the late Greek classics—if no further.

[135] It is fair to say that the first is "make-weighted" with a pastoral play entitled Athlette, from the heroine's rather curious name.

[136] It has two poems and some miscellanea. Something like this is the case with another bookmaker of the class, Du Souhait.

[137] It may be childish, but the association in this group of ladies—three of them bearing some of the greatest historic names of France, and the fourth that of the admirable critic with no other namesake of whom I ever met—seemed to me interesting. It is perhaps worth adding that Isabel de Rochechouart seems to have been not merely dedicatee but part author of the first tale.

[138] The habit is common with these authors.

[139] He gives more analysis than usual, but complains of the author's "affectation and bad taste." I venture to think this relatively rather harsh, though it is positively too true of the whole group.

[140] La Vie et les Oeuvres de Honore d'Urfe. Par le Chanoine O. C. Reure, Paris, 1910.

[141] The Abbe Reure, to whom I owe my own knowledge of the translation and dedication, says nothing more.

[142] M. Reynier, in the useful book so often quoted, has shown that, as one would expect, this influence is not absent from the smaller French love-novels which preceded the Astree; indeed, as we saw, it is obvious, though in a form of more religiosity, as early as the Heptameron. But it was not till the seventeenth century in France, or till a little before it in some cases with us, that "Love in fantastic triumph sat" between the shadowing wings of sensual and intellectual passion.

[143] They had, indeed, neither luck nor distinction after Honore's death: and the last of the family died, like others of the renegade nobles of France, by his own hand, to escape the guillotine which he himself had helped to establish.

[144] The more orthodox "laws of love" which Celadon puts up in his "Temple of Astraea" are less amusing.

[145] He constantly plays this part of referee and moraliser. But he is by no means exempt from the pleasing fever of the place, and some have been profane enough to think his mistress, Diane, more attractive than the divine Astree herself.

[146] Very delicate persons have been shocked by the advantages afforded to Celadon in his disguise as the Druid's daughter, and the consequent familiarity with the innocent unrecognising heroine. But honi soit will cover them.

[147] There is plenty of this, including a regular siege of the capital, Marcilly.

[148] The constant confusion, in these quasi-classical romances, of masculine and feminine names is a rather curious feature. But the late Sir W. Gilbert played some tricks of the kind in Pygmalion and Galatea, and I remember an English novelist, with more pretensions to scholarship than Gilbert, making the particularly unfortunate blunder of attributing to Longus a book called "Doris and Chloe."

[149] It is fair to say that Urfe has been praised for these historical excursions or incursions of his.

[150] Its difficulty of access in the French has been noted. The English translation may be less rare, but it is not a good one even of its kind. And, in face of the most false and misleading statements, never more frequent than at the present moment, about the efficacy of translations, it may be well to insist on the truth. For science, history philosophy (though in a descending ratio through these three) translations may serve. The man who knows Greek or Latin or any other literature only through them knows next to nothing of that literature as such, and in its literary quality. The version may be, as in the leading case of FitzGerald's Omar Khayyam, literature itself of the highest class; but it is quite other literature than the original, and is, in fact, a new original itself. It may, while keeping closer, be as good as Catullus on Sappho or as bad as Mr. Gladstone on Toplady in form; but the form, even if copied, is always again other.

[151] Some reasons will be given later for taking this first—not the least being the juxtaposition with the Astree. The actual order of the chief "Heroic" authors and books is as follows: Gomberville, La Caritee, 1622; Polexandre, 1632; Citheree, 1640-42. La Calprenede, Cassandre, 1642; Cleopatre, 1648; Faramond, 1662. Mlle. de Scudery, Ibrahim, 1641; Artamene, 1649; Clelie, 1656; Almahide, 1660.

[152] Cousin relieved his work on "The True, the Good, and the Beautiful" not only with elaborate disquisitions on the ladies of the Fronde who, though certainly beautiful were not very very good, but with a long exposition of French society as revealed in the Grand Cyrus itself.

[153] Scudery bore, and evidently rejoiced in, this sounding title, which can never have had a titular to whom it was more appropriate. The place seems to have been an actual fortress, though a small one, near Marseilles.

[154] I blushed for my namesake when I found, some time afterwards, that he had copied this unusual (save in German) feminisation of the sun from Gomberville (v. inf. p. 240).

[155] That is classical education: in comparison with which "all others is cagmaggers."

[156] I have wavered a little between adopting French or Greek forms of names. But as the authors are not consistent, and as some of their more fanciful compounds classicalise badly, I have finally decided to stick to the text in every case, except in those of historical persons where French forms such as "Pisistrate" would jar.

[157] Like Robina in Mrs. Lirriper's Legacy.

[158] There are ten parts, each divisible into two volumes and three books. There is also a division at the end of the fifth "part" and the tenth volume, the first five (ten) having apparently been issued together. The "parts" are continuously paged—running never, I think, to less than 1000 pages and more than once to a little over 1400.

[159] Drama may have done harm here, if those dramatic critics who say that you must never "puzzle the audience" are right. The happy novel-reader is of less captious mood and mould: he trusts his author and hopes his author will pull him through.

[160] Some exception in the way of occasional flashes may be made for two lively maids of honour to be mentioned later, Martesie and Doralise.

[161] There is an immense "throw-back" after the Sinope affair, in which the previous history of Artamene and the circumstances of Mandane's abduction are recounted up to date—I hope that some readers at least will not have forgotten the introduction of Lancelot to Guinevere. We have here the Middle Age and the Grand Siecle like philippines in a nutshell.

[162] To understand the account, it must be remembered that the combat takes place in a position secluded from the two armies and strictly forbidden to lookers-on; also that it is to be absolutely a outrance.

[163] It is not perhaps extravagant to suggest that Sir Walter had something of this fight, as well as of the Combat des Trente, in his mind when he composed the famous record of the Clan Chattan and Clan Quhele battle.

[164] Praed's delightful Medora might have found the practice of the Grand Cyrus rather oppressive; but she would have thoroughly approved its principles.

[165] He is King of Cappadocia now, Astyages being alive; and only succeeds to Media later. It must never be forgotten that the Cyropaedia, not Herodotus, is the chief authority relied upon by the authors, though they sometimes mix the two.

[166] There is a very great physical resemblance between the two, and this plays an important and repeated part in the book.

[167] The King of Assyria, the King of Pontus, and the later Aryante (v. inf.). The fourth is the "good Rival" Mazare, who, though he also is at one time in possession of the prize, and though he never is weary of "loving unloved," is too honourable a gentleman to force his attentions on an unwilling mistress.

[168] It is probably, however, not quite fair to leave the reader, even for a time, under the impression that it is merely an excursion. Of all the huge and numerous loop-lines, backwaters, ramifications, reticulations, episodes, or whatever they may be called, there is hardly one which has not a real connection with the general plot; and the appearance of Thomyris here has such connection (as will be duly seen) in a capital and vital degree.

[169] Some readers no doubt will not need to be reminded that this is the original title of The Marriage of Kitty,—literally "gangway," but in the sense of "makeshift" or "locum tenens."

[170] Cf. John Heywood's Interlude of Love. These stories also remind one of the short romances noticed above.

[171] No gentleman, of course, could refuse a challenge pure and simple, unless in very peculiar circumstances; but hardly Sir Lucius O'Trigger or Captain M'Turk would oblige a friend to enter into this curious kind of bargain.

[172] Another instance of the astonishing interweaving of the book occurs here; for here is the first mention of Sappho and other persons and things to be caught up sooner or later.

[173] Such knowledge as I have of the other romances of the "heroic" group shows them to be, with the possible exception of those of La Calprenede, inferior in this respect, even allowing for the influence of the Cyropaedia.

[174] An extract may be worth giving in a note: "For the rest, if there is anybody who is not acquainted enough with all my authors [this is a very delightful sweep over literature] to know what was the Ring of Gyges which is spoken of in this volume, let him not imagine that it is Angelica's, with which I chose to adorn Artamene; and let him, on the contrary, know that it was Ariosto who stole this famous ring which gave his Paladins so much trouble; that he took it from those great men whom I am obliged to follow" [a sweep of George's plumed hat in the best Molieresque marquis style to Herodotus, Xenophon, and Cicero (who comes in shortly) and the others].

[175] The opening sentences of this Histoire give a curious picture of the etiquette of these spoken narrative episodes, which, from the letters and memoirs of the time, we can see to have been actually practised in the days of Precieuse society. [The story is not of course delivered in the presence of Panthea herself; but she sends a confidante, Pherenice, to tell it.] "They were no sooner in Araminta's apartment than, after having made Cyrus sit down, and placed Pherenice on a seat opposite to them, she begged her to begin her narrative and not to hide from them, if it were possible, the smallest thought of Abradates and Panthea. Accordingly this agreeable person, having made them a compliment so as to ask their pardon for the scanty art she brought to the story she was going to tell, actually began as follows:"

[176] Observe how vague what follows is. A scholar and a modiste, working in happiest conjunction, might possibly "create" the dress; but as for the face it might be any one out of those on one hundred chocolate-boxes.

[177] This passage gives a key to the degradation of the word "elegant." It has kept the connotation of "grace," but lost that of "nobility."

[178] Abstracts of all the principal members of this group and others occurred in the Bibliotheque Universelle des Romans, which appeared as a periodical at Paris in 1778. But what I do not know is whether any one ever arranged an elaborate tabular syllabus of the book like that of Burton's Anatomy. It would lend itself admirably to the process if any one had time and inclination to do the thing.

[179] With the exception, already noted, of Urfe; and even he is far below Donne.

[180] There were, though not many, actual instances of capital punishment for disregard of the edicts against duelling, and imprisonment was common. But the deterrent effect was very small. Montmorency-Bouteville was the best-known victim.

[181] It is amusing, as one reads this, to remember Hume's essay in which he lays stress on the contrast between Greek and French ideas in this very matter of the duel.

[182] A curious and rather doubtful position; well worth the consideration of anybody who wishes to write the much-wanted History and Philosophy of Duelling.

[183] The author uses "Prince," as indeed one might expect, rather in the Continental than in the English way, and the persons who bear it are not always sons of kings or members of reigning families. The two most agreeable quiproquos arising from this difference are probably the fictitious unwillingness of the excellent Miss Higgs to descend from "Princesse de Montcontour" to "Duchesse d'Ivry," and the, it is said, historical contempt of a comparatively recent Papal dignitary for an English Roman Catholic document which had no Princes among the signatories.

[184] Nobody, unless I forget, has the wisdom to put the counter-question, "Can you ever cease loving if you have once really loved?" which is to be carefully distinguished from a third, "Can you love more than once?" But there are more approaches to these arcana in the Astree than in Mlle. de Scudery.

[185] A very nice phrase.

[186] He had refused to cross swords with her, and had lowered his own in salute.

[187] Compare the not quite so ingenious adjustment of the intended burning of Croesus.

[188] Clelie is about as bad in this respect, v. inf.: the others less so.

[189] I have said that you can do this with the Astree, and that this makes for superiority in it: but there also I think absolutely continuous reading of the whole would become "collar-work."

[190] That is to say, several weeks occupied in the manner above indicated. You may sometimes read two of the volumes in a day, but much oftener you will find one enough; in the actual process for the present history some intervals must be allowed for digestion and precis; and, as above remarked, if other forms of "cheerfulness," in Dr. Johnson's friend Mr. Edwards's phrase, do not "break in" of themselves, you must make them, to keep any freshness in the task. I fancy the twenty volumes were, if not "my sole occupation" (like that more cheerful and charitable one of the head-waiter at Limmer's), my main one for nearly twice twenty days.

[191] In this respect the remarks above extend backwards to the Astree, and even to some of the smaller and earlier novels mentioned in connection with it. But the "Heroics," especially Mlle. de Scudery, modernise the treatment not inconsiderably.

[192] Achilles Tatius and the author of Hysminias and Hysmine come nearest. But the first is too ancient and the last too modern.

[193] We have indeed endeavoured to discover a "form" of the greatest and best kind in the Arthurian, but it has been acknowledged that it may not have been deliberately reached—or approached—by even a single artist, and that, if it was, the identity of that artist is not quite certain.

[194] The intolerance of anything but scraps is one of the numerous arms and legs of the twentieth century Baal. There are some who have not bowed down to it.

[195] For Soliman is not indisposed to fall in love with his illustrious Bassa's beloved.

[196] At the close of Old Mortality.

[197] One is lost if one begins quoting from these books. But there is another passage at the end of the same volume worth glancing at for its oddity. It is an elaborate chronological "checking" of the age of the different characters; and, odd as it is, one cannot help remembering that not a few authors from Walter Map (or whoever it was) to Thackeray might have been none the worse for similar calculations.

[198] It is not, I hope, frivolous or pusillanimous, but merely honest, to add that, as I have spent much less time on Clelie than on the other book, it has had less opportunity of boring me.

[199] Cf. the Astree as noted above.

[200] He also wrote several plays.

[201] This would supply the ghost of Varus with a crushing answer to "Give me back my legions!" in such form as "Why did you send me with them?"

[202] At another time there might have been a little gentle satire in this, but hardly then.

[203] It would seem, however, that the Scuderys were not originally Norman.

[204] Chateaubriand hardly counts in strictness.

[205] Although some say that almost every one of the numerous personae of the Astree had a live original.

[206] These books, having been constantly referred to in this fashion, offer a good many traps, into some of which I have fallen in the past, and may have done so even now. For instance, Koerting rightly points out that almost every one calls this "La Jeune Alcidiane," whereas A. is the hero, who bears his mother's name.

[207] I had made this remark before I knew that Koerting had anticipated it.

[208] The more recent books which refer to him, and (I think) the British Museum Catalogue, drop this addition. But he was admittedly of the Pontcarre family.

[209] Neither the original, however, nor this revision seems to have enjoyed the further honour of a place in the British Museum. Other books of his which at least sound novelish were Darie, Aristandre, Diotrephe, Cleoreste (of which as well as of Palombe analyses may be found in Koerting). The last would seem to be the most interesting. But in the bibliography of the Bishop's writings there are at least a dozen more titles of the same kind.

[210] Cf. the "self-precipitation" of Celadon. Perhaps no class of writers has ever practised "imitation," in the wrong sense, more than these "heroic" romancers.

[211] I am glad to find the high authority of my friend Sir Sidney Colvin on my side here as to the wider position—though he tells me that he was not, when he read Endimion, conscious of any positive indebtedness on Keats' part.

[212] V. sup. p. 177, note 3.

[213] Gombauld seems to have been a devotee of both Queens: and commentators will have it that this whole book is courtship as well as courtiership in disguise.

[214] A kind of intermediary nymph—an enchantress indeed—who has assisted and advised him in his quests for the goddess.

[215] Emile Magne, Mme. de V., Paris, 1907.

[216] This sometimes causes positive obscurity as to fact. Thus it is impossible to make out from M. Magne whether Hortense, in her last days, actually married the cousin with whom she had been intimate in youth, or merely lived with him.

[217] By M. H. E. Chatenet, Paris, 1911.

[218] There is a little in the verse, most of which belongs to the "flying" kind so common in the century.

[219] V. inf. upon it.

[220] His own admirable introduction to Perrault in the Clarendon Press series will, as far as our subject is directly concerned, supply whatever a reader, within reason further curious, can want: and his well-known rainbow series of Fairy Books will give infinite illustration.

[221] The longest of all, in the useful collection referred to in the text, are the Oiseau Bleu and the charming Biche au Bois, each of which runs to nearly sixty pages. But both, though very agreeable, are distinctly "sophisticated," and for that very reason useful as gangways, as it were, from the simpler fairy tale to the complete novel.

[222] Enchanters, ogres, etc. "count" as fairies.

[223] Apuleius, who has a good deal of the "fairy" element in him, was naturally drawn upon in this group. The Psyche indebtedness reappears, with frank acknowledgment, in Serpentin Vert.

[224] If Perrault really wrote this, the Muses, rewarding him elsewhere for the good things he said in "The Quarrel," must have punished him here for the silly ones. It has, in fact, most of the faults which neo-classicism attributed to its opposite.

[225] For a spoiling of this delightful story v. inf. on the Cabinet.

[226] Its full title, "ou Collection Choisie des C. des F. et autres Contes Merveilleux," should in justice be remembered, when one feels inclined to grumble at some of the contents.

[227] This indeed was the case, in one or other kind of longer fiction writing, with most of the authors to be mentioned. The total of this in the French eighteenth century was enormous.

[228] She is even preceded by a Mme. de Murat, a friend of Mme. de Parabere, but a respectable fairy-tale writer. It does not seem necessary, according to the plan of this book, to give many particulars about these writers; for it is their writings, not themselves, that our subject regards. The curious may be referred to Walckenaer on the Fairy Tale in general, and Honore Bonhomme on the Cabinet in particular, as well as (v. inf.) to the thirty-seventh volume of the collection itself.

[229] There is sometimes alliance and sometimes jealousy on this subject. In one tale the "Comte de Gabalis" is solemnly "had up," tried, and condemned as an impostor.

[230] Ricdin-Ricdon, one of those which pass between Coeur de Lion and Blondel, is of the same kind, is also good, and is longer.

[231] She seems, however (see vol. 37 as above), to have been a real person.

[232] The would-be anonymous compiler (he was really Gueulette, on whom v. inf.) of this and the other collections now to be noticed, when acknowledging his sufficiently evident supercherie and some of his indebtednesses (e.g. to Straparola), defends this on Edgeworthian principles. But though it is quite true that a healthy curiosity as to such things may be aroused by tales, it should be left to satisfy itself, not forestalled and spoilt and stunted by immediate information.

[233] The once very popular Tales of the Genii (v. inf.) which are often referred to by Scott and other men of his generation, seem to have dropped out of notice comparatively. We shall meet them here in French.

[234] The late Mr. Henley was at one time much interested in this point, and consulted me about it. But I could tell him nothing; and I do not know whether he ever satisfied himself on the subject. Lesage is said (though I am not sure that the evidence goes beyond on dit) to have revised the work of Petis de La Croix in the Days; and some of his own certainly corresponds to it.

[235] Or, as it was once put, with easy epigram, when the artificial fairy tale is not dreadfully improper it is apt to be dreadfully proper.

[236] Nothing suits the entire group better than the reply of the ferocious and sleepless but not unintelligent Sultan Hudgiadge, in the Nouveaux Contes Orientaux, when his little benefactress Moradbak says that she will have the honour to-morrow of telling him a histoire Mongole. "Le pays n'y fait rien," says he. And it doesn't.

[237] All of them, be it remembered, the work of Gueulette (v. inf.).

[238] The recently recovered "episodes" of this are rather more like the Cabinet stories than Vathek itself; and perhaps a sense of this may have been part of the reason why Beckford never published them.

[239] He came to ask, or rather demand, Zibeline's hand for his master: and the fairy made his magnificence appear rags and rubbish.

[240] Mr. Toots's "I'm a-a-fraid you must have got very wet." When Courtebotte returns from his expedition, across six months of snow, to the Ice Mountain on the top of which rests Zibeline's heart, "many thousand persons" ask him, "Vous avez donc eu bien froid?"

[241] She is also said to have been a "love-child" of no less a father than Prince Eugene.

[242] Anybody who is curious as to this should look up the matter, as may be done most conveniently in an excursus of Napier's edition, where my "friend of" [more than] "forty years," the late Mr. Mowbray Morris, in a note to his own admirable one-volume "Globe" issue, thought that Macaulay was "proved to be absolutely right." Morris, though his published and signed writings were few, and though he pushed to its very furthest the hatred of personal advertisement natural to most English "gentlemen of the press," was a man of the world and of letters in most unusual combination; of a true Augustan taste both in criticism and in composition; of wit and of savoir vivre such as few possess. But, like all men who are good for anything, he had some crazes: and one of them was Macaulay. I own that I do not think all the honours were on T. B. M.'s side in this mellay: but this is not the place to reason out the matter. What is quite certain is that in this long-winded and mostly trivial performance there is a great deal of intended, or at least suggested, political satire. But Johnson, though he might well think little of Titi, need not have despised the whole Cabinet (or as he calls it, perhaps using the real title of another issue, Bibliotheque), and would not on another occasion. Indeed the diary-notes in which the thing occurs are too much in shorthand to be trustworthy texts.

[243] Pierre Francois Godard de Beauchamps seems to have been another fair example of the half-scholarly bookmakers of the eighteenth century. He wrote a few light plays and some serious Recherches sur les Theatres de France which are said to have merit. He translated the late and coxcombical but not uninteresting Greek prose romance of Hysminias and Hysmine, as well as that painful verse-novel, the Rhodanthe and Dosicles of Theodoras Prodromus: and he composed, under a pseudonym, of course, a naughty Histoire du Prince Apprius to match his good Funestine. The contrasted ways and works of such bookmakers at various times would make a not uninteresting essay of the Hayward type.

[244] "Engageant," "Adresse," "Parlepeu," etc. The Avertissement de l'Auteur is possibly a joke, but more probably an awkward and miss-fire supercherie revealing the usual ignorance of the time as to matters mediaeval. "Alienore" (though it would be better without the final e) is a pretty as well as historic form of one of the most beautiful and protean of girl's names: but how did her father, a "seigneur anglais," come to be called "Rivalon Murmasson"? And did they know much about Arabia Felix in Brittany when "Daniel Dremruz" reigned there between A.D. 680 and 720? Gueulette himself was a barrister and Procureur-Substitut at the Chatelet. He seems to have imitated Hamilton, to whom the editors of the Cabinet rather idly think him "equal," though, inconsistently, they admit that Hamilton "stands alone" and Gueulette does not. On the other hand, they charge Voltaire with actually "tracing" over Gueulette. ("Zadig est calque sur les Soirees Bretonnes.") This is again an exaggeration; but Gueulette had, undoubtedly, a pleasant and exceedingly fertile fancy, and a good knack of narrative.

[245] The best perhaps is of a certain peppery Breton, Saint-Foix, who was successively a mousquetaire, a lieutenant of cavalry, aide-de-camp to "Broglie the War-god," and a long-lived litterateur in Paris. M. de Saint-Foix picked a quarrel in the foyer of the opera with an unknown country gentleman, as it seemed, and "gave him a rendezvous." But the other party replied coolly that it "was his custom" to be called on if people had business with him, and gave his address. Saint-Foix goes next morning, and is received with the utmost politeness and asked to breakfast. "That's not the question," says the indignant Breton. "Let us go out." "I never go out without breakfasting; it is my custom," says the provincial, and does as he says, politely repeating invitations from time to time to his fretting adversary. At last they do go out, to Saint-Foix's great relief; but they pass a cafe, and it is once more the stranger's sacred custom to play a game of chess or draughts after breakfast. The same thing happens with a "turn" in the Tuileries, at which Saint-Foix does not fume quite so much, because it is on the way to the Champs Elysees, where fighting is possible. The "turn" achieved, he himself proposes to adjourn there. "What for?" says the stranger innocently. "What for? A pretty question pardieu! To fight, of course! Have you forgotten it?" "Fight! Why, sir, what are you thinking of? What would people say of me? A magistrate, a treasurer of France, put sword in hand? They would take us for a couple of fools." Which argument being unanswerable, according to the etiquette of the time, Saint-Foix leaves the dignitary—who himself takes good care to tell the story. It must be remembered—first that no actual challenge had passed, merely an ambiguous demand for addresses; secondly, that the treasurer, as the superior by far in rank, had a right to suppose himself known to his inferiors; and thirdly, that to challenge a "magistrate" was in France equivalent to being, in the words of a lampoon quoted by Macaulay, "'Gainst ladies and bishops excessively valiant" in England.

[246] Although there is a good deal of merit in some of these tales, none of them approaches the charming Diable Amoureux which Cazotte produced in 1772, twenty years before his famous and tragical death after once escaping the Revolutionary fangs. This little story, which is at least as much of a fairy tale as many things "cabinetted," would be nearly perfect if Cazotte had not unluckily botched it with a double ending, neither of the actual closes being quite satisfactory. If, in one of them, he had had the pluck to stop at the outcry of the succubus Biondetta when she has at last attained her object,

"Je suis le diable! mon cher Alvare, je suis le diable!"

and let the rest be "wrop in mystery," it would probably have been the best way. But the bulk of the book is beyond improvement: and there is a fluid grace about the autobiographical recit which is very rare indeed, at least in French, except in the unfortunate Gerard de Nerval, who was akin to Cazotte in many ways, and actually edited him. A very carping critic may object to the not obvious nor afterwards explained interposition of a pretty little spaniel between the original diabolic avatar of the hideous camel's head and the subsequent incarnation of the beautiful Biondetto-Biondetta; especially as the later employment of another dog, to prevent Alvare's succumbing to temptation earlier than he did, is confusing. But this would be "seeking a knot in a reed." Perhaps the greatest merit of the story, next to the pure tale-telling charm above noted, is the singular taste and skill with which Biondetta, except for her repugnance to the marriage ceremony, is prevented from showing the slightest diabolic character during her long cohabitation with Alvare, and her very "comingnesses" are arranged so as to give the idea, not in the least of a temptress, but of an extra-innocent but quite natural ingenue. Monk Lewis, of course, knew Cazotte, but he has coarsened his original woefully. It may perhaps be added that the first illustrations, reproduced in Gerard's edition as curiosities, are such in the highest degree. They are ushered with an ironic Preface: and they sometimes make one rub one's eyes and wonder whether Futurism and Cubism are not, like so many other things, merely recooked cabbage.



From "Francion" to "La Princesse de Cleves"Anthony Hamilton[247]

[Sidenote: The material of the chapter.]

Justice has, it is hoped, been done to the great classes of fictitious work which, during the seventeenth century, made fiction, as such, popular with high and of low in France. But it is one of the not very numerous safe generalisations or inductions which may be fished out from the wide and treacherous Syrtes of the history of literature, that it is not as a rule from "classes" that the best work comes; and that, when it does so come, it generally represents a sort of outside and uncovenanted element or constituent of the class. We have, unfortunately, lost the Greek epic, as a class; but we know enough about it, with its few specimens, such as Apollonius Rhodius earlier and Nonnus later, to warn us that, if we had more, we should find Homer not merely better, but different, and this though probably every practitioner was at least trying to imitate or surpass Homer. Dante stands in no class at all, nor does Milton, nor does Shelley; and though Shakespeare indulgently permits himself to be classed as an "Elizabethan dramatist," what strikes true critics most is again hardly more his "betterness" than his difference. The very astonishment with which we sometimes say of Webster, Dekker, Middleton, that they come near Shakespeare, is not due, as foolish people say, to any only less foolish idolatry, but to a true critical surprise at the approximation of things usually so very distinct.

The examples in higher forms of literature just chosen for comparison do not, of course, show any wish in the chooser to even any French seventeenth-century novelist with Homer or Shakespeare, with Dante or Milton or Shelley. But the work noticed in the last chapter certainly includes nothing of strong idiosyncrasy. In other books scattered, in point of time of production, over great part of the period, such idiosyncrasy is to be found, though in very various measure. Now, idiosyncrasy is, if not the only difference or property, the inseparable accident of all great literature, and it may exist where literature is not exactly great. Moreover, like other abysses, it calls to, and calls into existence, yet more abysses of its own kind or not-kind; while school- and class-work, however good, can never produce anything but more class- and school-work, except by exciting the always dubious and sometimes very dangerous desire "to be different." The instances of this idiosyncrasy with which we shall now deal are the Francion of Charles Sorel; the Roman Comique of Paul Scarron; the Roman Bourgeois of Antoine Furetiere; the Voyages, as they are commonly called (though the proper title is different[248]), a la Lune et au Soleil, of Cyrano de Bergerac, and the Princesse de Cleves of Mme. de La Fayette; while last of all will come the remarkable figure of Anthony Hamilton, less "single-speech"[249] than the others and than his namesake later, but possessor of greater genius than any.

[Sidenote: Sorel and Francion.]

The present writer has long ago been found fault with for paying too much attention to Francion, and he may possibly (if any one thinks it worth while) be found fault with again for placing it here. But he does so from no mere childish desire to persist in some rebuked naughtiness, but from a sincere belief in the possession by the book of some historical importance. Any one who, on Arnoldian principles, declines to take the historic estimate into account at all, is, on those principles, justified in neglecting it altogether; whether, on the other hand, such neglect does not justify a suspicion of the soundness of the principles themselves, is another question. Charles Sorel, historiographer of France, was a very voluminous and usually a very dull writer. His voluminousness, though beside the enormous compositions of the last chapter it is but a small thing, is not absent from Francion, nor is his dulness. Probably few people have read the book through, and I am not going to recommend anybody to do so. But the author does to some extent deserve the cruel praise of being "dull in a new way" (or at least of being evidently in quest of a new way to be dull in), as Johnson wrongfully said of Gray. His book is not a direct imitation of any one thing, though an attempt to adapt the Spanish picaresque style to French realities and fantasies is obvious enough, as it is likewise in Scarron and others. But this is mixed with all sorts of other adumbrations, if not wholly original, yet showing that quest of originality which has been commended. It is an almost impossible book to analyse, either in short or long measure. The hero wanders about France, and has all sorts of adventures, the recounting of which is not without touches of Rabelais, of the Moyen de Parvenir, perhaps of the rising fancies about the occult, which generated Rosicrucianism and "astral spirits" and the rest of it—a whole farrago, in short, of matters decent and indecent, congruous seldom and incongruous often. It is not like Sterne, because it is dull, and at the same time quasi-romantic; while "sensibility" had not come in, though we shall see it do so within the limits of this chapter. It has a resemblance, though not very much of one, to the rather later work of Cyrano. But it is most like two English novels of far higher merit which were not to appear for a century or a century and a half—Amory's John Buncle and Graves's Spiritual Quixote. As it is well to mention things together without the danger of misleading those who run as they read, and mind the running rather than the reading, let me observe that the liveliest part of Francion is duller than the dullest of Buncle, and duller still than the least lively thing in Graves. The points of resemblance are in pillar-to-postness, in the endeavour (here almost entirely a failure, but still an endeavour) to combine fancy with realism, and above all in freedom from following the rules of any "school." Realism in the good sense and originality were the two things that the novel had to achieve. Sorel missed the first and only achieved a sort of "distanced" position in the second. But he tried—or groped—for both.

[Sidenote: The Berger Extravagant and Polyandre.]

I am bound to say that in Sorel's other chief works of fiction, the Berger Extravagant and Polyandre, I find the same curious mixture of qualities which have made me more lenient than most critics to Francion. And I do not think it unfair to add that they also incline me still more to think that there was perhaps a little of the Pereant qui ante nos feeling in Furetiere's attack (v. inf. p. 288). Neither could possibly be called by any sane judge a good book, and both display the uncritical character,[250] the "pillar-to-postness," the marine-store and almost rubbish-heap promiscuity, of the more famous book. Like it, they are much too big.[251] But the Berger Extravagant, in applying (very early) the Don Quixote method, as far as Sorel could manage it, to the Astree, is sometimes amusing and by no means always unjust. Polyandre is, in part, by no means unlike an awkward first draft of a Roman Bourgeois. The scene in the former, where Lysis—the Extravagant Shepherd and the Don Quixote of the piece,—making an all-night sitting over a poem in honour of his mistress Charite (the Dulcinea), disturbs the unfortunate Clarimond—a sort of "bachelor," the sensible man of the book, and a would-be reformer of Lysis—by constant demands for a rhyme[252] or an epithet, is not bad. The victim revenges himself by giving the most ludicrous words he can think of, which Lysis duly works in, and at last allows Clarimond to go to sleep. But he is quickly waked by the poet running about and shouting, "I've got it! I've found it. The finest reprise [= refrain] ever made!" And in Polyandre there is a sentence (not the only one by many) which not only gives a point de repere of an interesting kind in itself, but marks the beginning of the "farrago libelli moderni": "Ils ont des mets qu'ils nomment des bisques; je doute si c'est potage ou fricassee."

Here we have (1) Evidence that Sorel was a man of observation, and took an interest in really interesting things.

(2) A date for the appearance, or the coming into fashion, of an important dish.

(3) An instance of the furnishing of fiction with something more than conventional adventure on the one hand, and conventional harangues or descriptions on the other.

(4) An interesting literary parallel; for here is the libelled "Charroselles" (v. inf. p. 288) two centuries beforehand, feeling a doubt, exactly similar to Thackeray's, as to whether a bouillabaisse should be called soup or broth, brew or stew. Those who understand the art and pastime of "book-fishing" will not go away with empty baskets from either of these neglected ponds.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Scarron and the Roman Comique.]

Almost as different a person as can possibly be conceived from Sorel was Paul Scarron, Abbe, "Invalid to the Queen," husband of the future Mme. de Maintenon, author of burlesques which did him no particular honour, of plays which, if not bad, were never first rate, of witticisms innumerable, most of which have perished, and of other things, besides being a hero of some facts and more legends; but author also of one book in our own subject of much intrinsic and more historical interest, and original also of passages in later books more interesting still to all good wits. Not a lucky man in life (except for the possession of a lively wit and an imperturbable temper), he was never rich, and he suffered long and terribly from disease—one of the main subjects of his legend, but, after all discussions and carpings, looking most like rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most painful and incurable of ailments. But Scarron was, and has been since, by no means unlucky in literature. He had, though of course not an unvaried, a great popularity in a troubled and unscrupulous time: and long after his death two of the foremost novelists of his country selected him for honourable treatment of curiously different kinds. Somehow or other the introduction of men of letters of old time into modern books has not been usually very fortunate, except in the hands of Thackeray and a very few more. Among these latter instances may certainly be ranked the pleasant picture of Scarron's house, and of the attention paid to him by the as yet unmarried Francoise d'Aubigne, in Dumas's Vingt Ans Apres. Nor is it easy to think of any literary following that, while no doubt bettering, abstains so completely from robbing, insulting, or obscuring its model as does Gautier's Capitaine Fracasse.

It is, however, with this pleasant book itself that we are concerned. Here again, of course, the picaresque model comes in, and there is a good deal of directly borrowed matter. But a much greater talent, and especially a much more acute and critical wit than Sorel's, brings to that scheme the practical-artistic French gift, the application of which to the novel is, in fact, the subject of this whole chapter. Not unkindly judges have, it is true, pronounced it not very amusing; and an uncritical comparer may find it injured by Gautier's book. The older novel has, indeed, nothing of the magnificent style of the overture of this latter. Le Chateau de la Misere is one of the finest things of the kind in French; for exciting incident there is no better duel in literature than that of Sigognac and Lampourde; and the delicate pastel-like costumes and manners and love-making of Gautier's longest and most ambitious romance are not to be expected in the rough "rhyparography"[253] of the seventeenth century. But in itself the Roman Comique is no small performance, and historically it is almost great. We have in it, indeed, got entirely out of the pure romance; but we have also got out of the fatrasie—the mingle-mangle of story, jargon, nonsense, and what not,—out of the mere tale of adventure, out of the mere tale of grivoiserie. We have borrowed the comic dramatist's mirror—the "Muses' Looking-glass"—and are holding it up to nature without the intervention of the conventionalities of the stage. The company to which we are introduced is, no doubt, pursuing a somewhat artificial vocation; but it is pursuing it in the way of real life, as many live men and women have pursued it. The mask itself may be of their trade and class; but it is taken off them, and they are not merely personae, they are persons.

To re-read the Roman Comique just after reading the Grand Cyrus came into the present plan partly by design and partly by accident; but I had not fully anticipated the advantage of doing so. The contrast of the two, and the general relation between them could, indeed, escape no one; but an interval of a great many years since the last reading of Scarron's work had not unnaturally caused forgetfulness of the deliberate and minute manner in which he himself points that contrast, and even now and then satirises the Cyrus by name. The system of inset Histoires,[254] beginning with the well-told if borrowed story of Don Carlos of Aragon and his "Invisible Mistress," is, indeed, hardly a contrast except in point of the respective lengths of the digressions, nor does it seem to be meant as a parody. It has been said that this "inset" system, whether borrowed from the episodes of the ancients or descended from the constant divagations of the mediaeval romances, is very old, and proved itself uncommonly tenacious of life. But the difference between the opening of the two books can hardly have been other than intentional on the part of the later writer; and it is a very memorable one, showing nothing less than the difference between romance and novel, between academic generalities and "realist" particularism, and between not a few other pairs of opposites. It has been fully allowed that the overture of the Grand Cyrus is by no means devoid of action, even of bustle, and that it is well done of its kind. But that kind is strongly marked in the very fact that there is a sort of faintness in it. The burning of Sinope, the distant vessel, the street-fighting that follows, are what may be called "cartoonish"—large washes of pale colour. The talk, such as there is, is stage-talk of the pseudo-grand style. It is curious that Scarron himself speaks of the Cyrus as being the most "furnitured" romance, le roman le plus meuble, that he knows. To a modern eye the interiors are anything but distinct, despite the elaborate ecphrases, some of which have been quoted.[255]

Now turn to the opening passage of the Roman Comique, which strikes the new note most sharply. It is rather well known, probably even to some who have not read the original or Tom Brown's congenial translation of it; for it has been largely laid under contribution by the innumerable writers about a much greater person than Scarron, Moliere. The experiences of the Illustre Theatre were a little later, and apparently not so sordid as those of the company of which Scarron constituted himself historiographer; but they cannot have been very dissimilar in general kind, and many of the characteristics, such as the assumption now of fantastic names, "Le Destin," "La Rancune," etc., now of rococo-romantic ones, such as "Mademoiselle de l'Etoile," remained long unaltered. But perhaps a fresh translation may be attempted, and the attempt permitted. For though the piece, of course, has recent Spanish and even older Italian examples of a kind, still the change in what may be called "particular universality" is remarkable.

[Sidenote: The opening scene of this.]

The sun had finished more than half his course, and his chariot, having reached the slope of the world, was running quicker than he wished. If his horses had chosen to avail themselves of the drop of the road, they would have got through what remained of the day in less than half or quarter of an hour; but instead of pulling at full strength, they merely amused themselves by curvetting, as they drew in a salt air, which told them the sea, wherein men say their master goes to bed every night, was close at hand. To speak more like a man of this world, and more intelligibly, it was between five and six o'clock, when a cart came into the market-place of Le Mans. This cart was drawn by four very lean oxen, with, for leader, a brood-mare, whose foal scampered about round the cart, like a silly little thing as it was. The cart was full of boxes and trunks, and of great bundles of painted canvas, which made a sort of pyramid, on the top of which appeared a damsel, dressed partly as for town, partly for country. By the side of the cart walked a young man, as ill-dressed as he was good-looking. He had on his face a great patch, which covered one eye and half his cheek, and he carried a large fowling-piece on his shoulder. With this he had slain divers magpies, jays, and crows; and they made a sort of bandoleer round him, from the bottom whereof hung a pullet and a gosling, looking very like the result of a plundering expedition. Instead of a hat he had only a night-cap, with garters of divers colours twisted round it, which headgear looked like a very unfinished sketch of a turban. His coat was a jacket of grey stuff, girt with a strap, which served also as a sword-belt, the sword being so long that it wanted a fork to draw it neatly for use. He wore breeches trussed, with stockings attached to them, as actors do when they play an ancient hero; and he had, instead of shoes, buskins of a classical pattern, muddied up to the ankle. An old man, more ordinarily but still very ill-dressed, walked beside him. He carried on his shoulders a bass-viol, and as he stooped a little in walking, one might, at a distance, have taken him for a large tortoise walking on its hind legs. Some critic may perhaps murmur at this comparison; but I am speaking of the big tortoises they have in the Indies, and besides I use it at my own risk. Let us return to our caravan.

It passed in front of the tennis-court called the Doe, at the door of which were gathered a number of the topping citizens of the town. The novel appearance of the conveyance and team, and the noise of the mob who had gathered round the cart, induced these honourable burgomasters to cast an eye upon the strangers; and among others a Deputy-Provost named La Rappiniere came up, accosted them, and, with the authority of a magistrate, asked who they were. The young man of whom I have just spoken replied, and without touching his turban (inasmuch as with one of his hands he held his gun and with the other the hilt of his sword, lest it should get between his legs) told the Provost that they were French by birth, actors by profession, that his stage-name was Le Destin, that of his old comrade La Rancune, and that of the lady who was perched like a hen on the top of their baggage, La Caverne. This odd name made some of the company laugh; whereat the young actor added that it ought not to seem stranger to men with their wits about them than "La Montagne," "La Vallee," "La Rose," or "L'Epine." The talk was interrupted by certain sounds of blows and oaths which were heard from the front of the cart. It was the tennis-court attendant, who had struck the carter without warning, because the oxen and the mare were making too free with a heap of hay which lay before the door. The row was stopped, and the mistress of the court, who was fonder of plays than of sermons or vespers, gave leave, with a generosity unheard of in her kind, to the carter to bait his beasts to their fill. He accepted her offer, and, while the beasts ate, the author rested for a time, and set to work to think what he should say in the next chapter.

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