A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1 - From the Beginning to 1800
by George Saintsbury
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The sally in the last sentence, with the other about the tortoise, and the mock solemnity of the opening, illustrate two special characteristics, which will be noticed below, and which may be taken in each case as a sort of revulsion from, or parody of, the solemn ways of the regular romance. There may be even a special reference to the "Phebus" the technical name or nickname of the "high language" in these repeated burlesque introductions of the sun. And the almost pert flings and cabrioles of the narrator form a still more obvious and direct Declaration of Independence. But these are mere details, almost trivial compared with the striking contrast of the whole presentation and faire of the piece, when taken together with most of the subjects of the last chapter.

It may require a little, but it should not require much, knowledge of literary history to see how modern this is; it should surely require none to see how vivid it is—how the sharpness of an etching and the colour of a bold picture take the place of the shadowy "academies" of previous French writers.[256] There may be a very little exaggeration even here—in other parts of the book there is certainly some—and Scarron never could forget his tendency to that form of exaggeration which is called burlesque. But the stuff and substance of the piece is reality.

An important item of the same change is to be found in the management of the insets, or some of them. One of the longest and most important is the autobiographical history of Le Destin or Destin (the article is often dropped), the tall young man with the patch on his face. But this is not thrust bodily into the other body of the story, Cyrus-fashion; it is alternated with the passages of that story itself, and that in a comparatively natural manner—night or some startling accident interrupting it; while how even courtiers could find breath to tell, or patience and time to hear, some of the interludes of the Cyrus and its fellows is altogether past comprehension. There is some coarseness in Scarron—he would not be a comic writer of the seventeenth century if there were none. Not very long after the beginning the tale is interrupted by a long account of an unseemly practical joke which surely could amuse no mortal after a certain stage of schoolboyhood. But there is little or no positive indecency: the book contrasts not more remarkably with the Aristophanic indulgence of the sixteenth century than with the sniggering suggestiveness of the eighteenth. Some remnants of the Heroic convention (which, after all, did to a great extent reflect the actual manners of the time) remain, such as the obligatory "compliment." Le Destin is ready to hang himself because, at his first meeting with the beautiful Leonore, his shyness prevents his getting a proper "compliment" out. On the other hand, the demand for esprit, which was confined in the Heroics to a few privileged characters, now becomes almost universal. There are tricks, but fairly novel tricks—affectations like "I don't know what they did next" and the others noted above: while the famous rhetorical beginnings of chapters appear not only at the very outset, but at the opening of the second volume, "Le Soleil donnant aplomb sur les antipodes,"—things which a century later Fielding, and two centuries later Dickens, did not disdain to imitate.

Scarron did not live to finish the book, and the third part or volume, which was tinkered—still more the Suite, which was added—by somebody else, are very inferior. The somewhat unfavourable opinions referred to above may be partly based on the undoubted fact that the story is rather formless; that its most important machinery is dependent, after all, on the old rapt or abduction, the heroines of which are Mademoiselle de l'Etoile (nominally Le Destin's sister, really his love, and at the end his wife) and Angelique, daughter of La Caverne, who is provided with a lover and husband of 12,000 (livres) a year in the person of Leandre, one of the stock theatrical names, professedly "valet" to Le Destin, but really a country gentleman's son. Thus everybody is somebody else, again in the old way. Another, and to some tastes a more serious, blot may be found in the everlasting practical jokes of the knock-about kind, inflicted on the unfortunate Ragotin, a sort of amateur member of the troupe. But again these "low jinks" were an obvious reaction from (just as the ceremonies were followings of) the solemnity of the Heroics; and they continued to be popular for nearly two hundred years, as English readers full well do know. Nevertheless these defects merely accompany—they do not mar or still less destroy—the striking characteristics of progress which appear with them, and which, without any elaborate abstract of the book, have been set forth somewhat carefully in the preceding pages. Above all, there is a real and considerable attempt at character, a trifle typy and stagy perhaps, but still aiming at something better; and the older nouvelle-fashion is not merely drawn upon, but improved upon, for curious anecdotes, striking situations, effective names. Under the latter heads it is noteworthy that Gautier simply "lifted" the name Sigognac from Scarron, though he attached it to a very different personage; and that Dumas got, from the same source, the startling incident of Aramis suddenly descending on the crupper of D'Artagnan's horse. The jokes may, of course, amuse or not different persons, and even different moods of the same person; the practical ones, as has been hinted, may pall, even when they are not merely vulgar. Practical joking had a long hold of literature, as of life; and it would be sanguine to think that it is dead. Izaak Walton, a curious contemporary—"disparate," as the French say, of Scarron, would not quite have liked the quarrel between the dying inn-keeper, who insists on being buried in his oldest sheet, full of holes and stains, and his wife, who asks him, from a sense rather of decency than of affection, how he can possibly think of appearing thus clad in the Valley of Jehoshaphat? But there is something in the book for many tastes, and a good deal more for the student of the history of the novel.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Furetiere and the Roman Bourgeois.]

The couplet-contrast of the Comic Romance of Scarron and the "Bourgeois" Romance of Furetiere[257] is one of the most curious among the minor phenomena of literary history; but it repeats itself in that history so often that it becomes, by accumulation, hardly minor. There is a vast difference between Furetiere and Miss Austen, and a still vaster one between Scarron and Scott; but the two French books stand to each other, on however much lower a step of the stair, very much as Waverley stands to Pride and Prejudice, and they carry on a common revulsion against their forerunners and a common quest for newer and better developments. The Roman Bourgeois, indeed, is more definitely, more explicitly, and in further ways of exodus, a departure from the subjects and treatment of most of the books noticed in the last chapter. It is true that its author attributes to the reading of the regular romances the conversion of his pretty idiot Javotte from a mere idiot to something that can, at any rate, hold her own in conversation, and take an interest in life.[258] But he also adds the consequence of her elopement, without apparently any prospect of marriage, but with an accomplished gentleman who has helped her to esprit by introducing her to those very same romances; and he has numerous distinct girds at his predecessors, including one at the multiplied abductions of Mandane herself. Moreover his inset tale L'Amour Egare (itself something of a parody), which contains most of the "key"-matter, includes a satirical account (not uncomplimentary to her intellectual, but exceedingly so to her physical characteristics) of "Sapho" herself. For after declining to give a full description of poor Madeleine, for fear of disgusting his readers, he tells us, in mentioning the extravagant compliments addressed to her in verse, that she only resembled the Sun in having a complexion yellowed by jaundice; the Moon in being freckled; and the Dawn in having a red tip to her nose!

But this last ill-mannered particularity illustrates the character, and in its way the value, of the whole book. A romance, or indeed in the proper sense a story—that is to say, one story,—it certainly is not: the author admits the fact frankly, not to say boisterously, and his title seems to have been definitely suggested by Scarron's. The two parts have absolutely no connection with one another, except that a single personage, who has played a very subordinate part in the first, plays a prominent but entirely different one in the second. This second is wholly occupied by legal matters (Furetiere had been "bred to the law"), and the humours and amours of a certain female litigant, Collantine, to whom Racine and Wycherley owe something, with the unlucky author "Charroselles"[259] and a subordinate judge, Belastre, who has been pitch-forked by interest into a place which he finally loses by his utter incapacity and misconduct. To understand it requires even more knowledge of old French law terms generally than parts of Balzac do of specially commercial and financial lingo.

This "specialising" of the novel is perhaps of more importance than interest; but interest itself may be found in the First Part, where there is, if not much, rather more of a story, some positive character-drawing, a fair amount of smart phrase, and a great deal of lively painting of manners. There is still a good deal of law, to which profession most of the male characters belong, but there are plentiful compensations.

As far as there is any real story or history, it is that of two girls, both of the legal bourgeoisie by rank. The prettier, Javotte, has been briefly described above. She is the daughter of a rich attorney, and has, before her emancipation and elopement, two suitors, both advocates; the one, Nicodeme, young, handsome, well dressed, and a great flirt, but feather-headed; the other, Bedout, a middle-aged sloven, collector, and at the same time miser, but very well off. The second heroine, Lucrece, is also handsome, though rather less so than Javotte: but she has plenty of wits. She is, however, in an unfortunate position, being an orphan with no fortune, and living with an uncle and aunt, the latter of whom has a passion for gaming, and keeps open house for it, so that Lucrece sees rather undesirable society. Despite her wits, she falls a victim to a rascally marquis, who first gives her a written promise of marriage, and afterwards, by one of the dirtiest tricks ever imagined by a novelist—a trick which, strange to say, the present writer does not remember to have seen in any other book, obvious though it is—steals it.[260] Fortunately for her, Nicodeme, who is of her acquaintance, and a general lover, has also given her, though not in earnest and for no serious "consideration," a similar promise: and by the help of a busybody legal friend she gets 2000 crowns out of him to prevent an action for breach. And, finally, Bedout, after displacing the unlucky Nicodeme (thus left doubly in the cold), and being himself thrown over by Javotte's elopement, takes to wife, being induced to do so by a cousin, Lucrece herself, in blissful ignorance (which is never removed) of her past. The cousin, Laurence, has also been the link of these parts of the tale with an episode of precieuse society in which the above-mentioned inset is told; a fourth feminine character, Hyppolyte (vice Philipote), of some individuality, is introduced; Javotte makes a greater fool of herself than ever; and her future seducer, Pancrace, makes his appearance.

Thus reduced to "argument" form, the story may seem even more modern than it really is, and the censures, apologies, etc., put forward above may appear rather unjust. But few people will continue to think so after reading the book. The materials, especially with the "trimmings" to be mentioned presently, would have made a very good novel of the completest kind. But, once more, the time had not come, though Furetiere was, however unconsciously, doing his best to bring it on. One fault, not quite so easy to define as to feel, is prominent, and continued to be so in all the best novels, or parts of novels, till nearly the middle of the nineteenth century. There is far too much mere narration—the things being not smartly brought before the mind's eye as being done, and to the mind's ear as being said, but recounted, sometimes not even as present things, but as things that have been said or done already. This gives a flatness, which is further increased by the habit of not breaking up even the conversation into fresh paragraphs and lines, but running the whole on in solid page-blocks for several pages together. Yet even if this mechanical mistake were as mechanically redressed,[261] the original fault would remain and others would still appear. A scene between Javotte and Lucrece, to give one instance only, would enliven the book enormously; while, on the other hand, we could very well spare one of the few passages in which Nicodeme is allowed to be more than the subject of a recit, and which partakes of the knock-about character so long popular, the young man and Javotte bumping each other's foreheads by an awkward slip in saluting, after which he first upsets a piece of porcelain and then drags a mirror down upon himself. There is "action" enough here; while, on the other hand, the important and promising situations of the two promises to Lucrece, and the stealing by the Marquis of his, are left in the flattest fashion of "recount." But it was very long indeed before novelists understood this matter, and as late as Hope's famous Anastasius the fault is present, apparently to the author's knowledge, though he has not removed it.

To a reader of the book who does not know, or care to pay attention to, the history of the matter, the opening of the Roman Bourgeois may seem to promise something quite free, or at any rate much more free than is actually the case, from this fault. But, as we have seen, they generally took some care of their openings, and Furetiere availed himself of a custom possibly, to present readers, especially those not of the Roman Church, possessing an air of oddity, and therefore of freshness, which it certainly had not to those of his own day. This was the curious fashion of quete or collection at church—not by a commonplace verger, or by respectable churchwardens and sidesmen, but by the prettiest girl whom the cure could pitch upon, dressed in her best, and lavishing smiles upon the congregation to induce them to give as lavishly, and to enable her to make a "record" amount.

The original meeting of Nicodeme and the fair Javotte takes place in this wise, and enables the author to enlighten us further as to matters quite proper for novel treatment.[262] The device of keeping gold and large silver pieces uppermost in the open "plate"; the counter-balancing mischief of covering them with a handful of copper; the licensed habit, a rather dangerous one surely, of taking "change" out of that plate, which enables the aspirant for the girl's favour to clear away the obnoxious sous as change for a whole pistole—all this has a kind of attraction for which you may search the more than myriad pages of Artamene without finding it. The daughter of a citizen's family, in the French seventeenth century, was kept with a strictness which perhaps explains a good deal in the conduct of an Agnes or an Isabelle in comedy. She was almost always tied to her mother's apron-strings, and even an accepted lover had to carry on his courtship under the very superfluous number of six eyes at least. But the Church was misericordious. The custom of giving and receiving holy water could be improved by the resources of amatory science; but this of the quete was, it would seem, still more full of opportunity. Apparently (perhaps because in these city parishes the church was always close by, and the whole proceedings public) the fair queteuse was allowed to walk home alone; and in this instance Nicodeme, having ground-baited with his pistole, is permitted to accompany Javotte Vollichon to her father's door—her extreme beauty making up for the equally extreme silliness of her replies to his observations.

The possible objection that these things, fresh and interesting to us, were ordinary and banal to them, would be a rather shallow one. The point is that, in previous fiction, circumstantial verisimilitude of this kind had hardly been tried at all. So it is with the incident of Nicodeme sending a rabbit (supposed to be from his own estate, but really from the market—a joke not peculiar to Paris, but specially favoured there), or losing at bowls a capon, to old Vollichon, and on the strength of each inviting himself to dinner; the fresh girds at the extraordinary and still not quite accountable plenty of marquises (Scarron, if I remember rightly, has the verb se marquiser); and the contributory (or, as the ancients would have said, symbolic) dinners—as it were, picnics at home—of bourgeois society at each other's houses, with not a few other things. A curious plan of a fashion-review, with patterns for the benefit of ladies, is specially noticeable at a period so early in the history of periodicals generally, and is one of the not few points in which there is a certain resemblance between Furetiere and Defoe.

It is in this daring to be quotidian and contemporary that his claim to a position in the history of the novel mainly consists. Some might add a third audacity, that of being "middle-class." Scarron had dealt with barn-mummers and innkeepers and some mere riff-raff; but he had included not a few nobles, and had indulged in fighting and other "noble" subjects. There is no fighting in Furetiere, and his chief "noble" figure—the rascal who robbed Lucrece of her virtue and her keys—is the sole figure of his class, except Pancrace and the precieuse Angelique. This is at once a practical protest against the common interpretation and extension of Aristotle's prescription of "distinguished" subjects, and an unmistakable relinquishment of mere picaresque squalor. Above all, it points the way in practice, indirectly perhaps but inevitably, to the selection of subjects that the author really knows, and that he can treat with the small vivifying details given by such knowledge, and by such knowledge alone. There is an advance in character, an advance in "interior" description—the Vollichon family circle, the banter and the gambling at Lucrece's home, the humour of a precieuse meeting, etc. In fact, whatever be the defects[263] in the book, it may almost be called an advance all round. A specimen of this, as of other pioneer novels, may not be superfluous; it is the first conversation, after the collection, between Nicodeme and Javotte.

[Sidenote: Nicodeme takes Javotte home from church.]

This new kind of gallantry [his removing the offensive copper coins as pretended "change" for his pistole] was noticed by Javotte, who was privately pleased with it, and really thought herself under an obligation to him. Wherefore, on their leaving the church, she allowed him to accost her with a compliment which he had been meditating all the time he was waiting for her. This chance favoured him much, for Javotte never went out without her mother, who kept her in such a strait fashion of living that she never allowed her to speak to a man either abroad or at home. Had it not been so, he would have had easy access to her; for as she was a solicitor's daughter and he was an advocate, they were in relations of close affinity and sympathy—such as allow as prompt acquaintance as that of a servant-maid with a valet-de-chambre.[264]

As soon as the service was over and he could join her, he said, as though with the most delicate attention, "Mademoiselle, as far as I can judge, you cannot have failed to be lucky in your collection, being so deserving and so beautiful." "Alas! Sir," replied Javotte in the most ingenuous fashion, "you must excuse me. I have just been counting it up with the Father Sacristan, and I have only made 65 livres 5 sous. Now, Mademoiselle Henriette made 90 livres a little time since; 'tis true she collected all through the forty hours'[265] service, and in a place where there was the finest Paradise ever seen." "When I spoke," said Nicodeme, "of the luck of your collection, I was not only speaking of the charity you got for the poor and the church; I meant as well what you gained for yourself." "Oh, Sir!" replied Javotte, "I assure you I gained nothing. There was not a farthing more than I told you; and besides, can you think I would butter my own bread[266] on such an occasion? 'Twould be a great sin even to think of it." "I was not speaking," said Nicodeme, "of gold or silver. I only meant that nobody can have given you his alms without at the same time giving you his heart." "I don't know," quoth Javotte, "what you mean by hearts; I didn't see one in the plate." "I meant," added Nicodeme, "that everybody before whom you stopped must, when he saw such beauty, have vowed to love and serve you, and have given you his heart. For my own part I could not possibly refuse you mine." Javotte answered him naively, "Well! Sir, if you gave it me I must have replied at once, 'God give it back to you.'"[267] "What!" cried Nicodeme rather angrily, "can you jest with me when I am so much in earnest, and treat in such a way the most passionate of all your lovers?" Whereat Javotte blushed as she answered, "Sir, pray be careful how you speak. I am an honest girl. I have no lovers. Mamma has expressly forbidden me to have any." "I have said nothing to shock you," replied Nicodeme. "My passion for you is perfectly honest and pure, and its end is only a lawful suit." "Then, Sir," answered Javotte, "you want to marry me? You must ask my papa and mamma for that; for indeed I do not know what they are going to give me when I marry." "We have not got quite so far yet," said Nicodeme. "I must be assured beforehand of your esteem, and know that you have admitted me to the honour of being your servant." "Sir," said Javotte, "I am quite satisfied with being my own servant, and I know how to do everything I want."

Now this, of course, is not extraordinarily brilliant; but it is an early—a very early—beginning of the right sort of thing—conversation of a natural kind transferred from the boards to the book, sketches of character, touches of manners and of life generally, individual, national, local. The cross-purposes of the almost idiotic ingenue and the philandering gallant are already very well done; and if Javotte had been as clever as she was stupid she could hardly have set forth the inwardness of French marriages more neatly than by the blunt reference to her dot, or have at the same moment more thoroughly disconcerted Nicodeme's regularly laid-out approaches for a flirtation in form, with only a possible, but in any case distant, termination in anything so prosaic as marriage.[268] The thing as a whole is, in familiar phrase, "all right" in kind and in scheme. It requires some perfecting in detail; but it is in every reasonable sense perfectible.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Cyrano de Bergerac and his Voyages.]

It has been possible to speak of one of the pioneer books mentioned in this chapter with more allowance than most of the few critics and historians who have discussed or mentioned it have given it, and to recommend the others, not uncritically but quite cheerfully. This satisfactory state of things hardly persists when we reach what seems perhaps, to those who have never read it, not the least considerable of the batch—the Voyage a la Lune of Cyrano de Bergerac, as his name is in literary history, though he never called himself so.[269] Cyrano, though he does not seem to have had a very fortunate life, and died young, yet was not all unblest, and has since been rather blessed than banned. Even in his own day Boileau spoke of him with what, in the "Bollevian" fashion, was comparative compliment—that is to say, he said that he did not think Cyrano so bad as somebody else. But long afterwards, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Gautier took him up among his Grotesques and embalmed him in the caressing and immortalising amber of his marvellous style and treatment; while at the end of the same century one of the chief living poets and playwrights of France made him the subject of a popular and really pathetic drama. His Pedant Joue is not a stupid comedy, and had the honour of furnishing Moliere with some of that "property" which he was, quite rightly, in the habit of commandeering wherever he found it. La Mort d'Agrippine is by no means the worst of that curious school of tragedy, so like and so unlike to that of our own "University wits," which was partly exemplified and then transcended by Corneille, and which some of us are abandoned enough to enjoy more as readers, though as critics we may find more faults with it, than we find it possible to do with Racine. But the Voyage a la Lune, as well as, though rather less than, its complementary dealing with the Sun, has been praised with none of these allowances. On the contrary, it has had ascribed to it the credit of having furnished, not scraps of dialogue or incident, but a solid suggestion to an even greater than Moliere—to Swift; remarkable intellectual and scientific anticipations have been discovered in it, and in comparatively recent times versions of it have been published to serve as proofs that Cyrano was actually a father[270] of French eighteenth-century philosophie—a different thing, once more, from philosophy.

Let us, however, use the utmost possible combination of critical magnanimity with critical justice: and allow these precious additions, which did not form part of the "classical" or "received" text of the author, not to count against him. For him they can only count with those who still think the puerile and now hopelessly stale jests about Enoch and Elijah and that sort of thing clever. But they can be either disregarded or at least left out of the judgment, and it will yet remain true that the so-called Voyage is a very disappointing book indeed. As this is one of the cases where the record of personal experience is not impertinent, I may say that I first read it some forty years ago, when fresh from reading about it and its author in "Theo's" prose; that I therefore came to it with every prepossession in its favour, and strove to like it, or to think I did. I read it again, if I remember rightly, about the time of the excitement about M. Rostand's Cyrano, and liked it less still; while when I re-read it carefully for this chapter, I liked it least of all. There is, of course, a certain fancifulness about the main idea of a man fastening bottles of dew round him in the expectation (which is justified) that the sun's heat will convert the dew into steam and raise him from the ground. But the reader (it is not necessary to pay him the bad compliment of explaining the reasons) will soon see that the scheme is aesthetically awkward, if not positively ludicrous, and scientifically absurd. Throwing off bottles to lower your level has a superficial resemblance to the actual principles and practice of ballooning; but in the same way it will not here "work" at all.

This, however, would be a matter of no consequence whatever if the actual results of the experiment were amusing. Unfortunately they are not. That the aeronaut's first miss of the Moon drops him into the new French colony of Canada may have given Cyrano some means of interesting people then; but, reversing the process noticed in the cases of Scarron and Furetiere, it does not in the least do so now. We get nothing out of it except some very uninteresting gibes at the Jesuits, and, connected with these, some equally uninteresting discussions whether the flight to the Moon is possible or not.

Still one hopes, like the child or fool of popular saying, for the Moon itself to atone for Canada, and tolerates disappointment till one actually gets there. Alas! of all Utopias that have ever been Utopiated, Cyrano's is the most uninteresting, even when its negative want of interest does not change into something positively disagreeable. The Lunarians, though probably intended to be, are hardly at all a satire on us Earth-dwellers. They are bigger, and, as far as the male sex is concerned, apparently more awkward and uglier; and their ideas in religion, morals, taste, etc., are a monotonously direct reversal of our orthodoxies. There is at least one passage which the absence of all "naughty niceness" and the presence of the indescribably nasty make a good "try" for the acme of the disgusting. More of it is less but still nasty; much of it is silly; all of it is dull.[271]

Nevertheless it is not quite omissible in such a history as this, or in any history of French literature. For it is a notable instance of the coming and, indeed, actual invasion, by fiction, of regions which had hitherto been the province of more serious kinds; and it is a link, not unimportant if not particularly meritorious, in the chain of the eccentric novel. Lucian of course had started it long ago, and Rabelais had in a fashion taken it up but a century before. But the fashioners of new commonwealths and societies, More, Campanella, Bacon, had been as a rule very serious. Cyrano, in his way, was serious too; but the way itself was not one of those for which the ticket has been usually reserved.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Mme. de la Fayette and La Princesse de Cleves.]

But the last of this batch is the most important and the best of the whole. This is La Princesse de Cleves, by Marie Madeleine Pioche de Lavergne, Comtesse de la Fayette, friend of Madame de Sevigne and of Huet; more or less Platonic, and at any rate last, love of La Rochefoucauld; a woman evidently of great charm as well as of great ability, and apparently of what was then irreproachable character. She wrote, besides other matter of no small literary value and historical interest, four novels, the minor ones, which require no special notice here, being Zaide, La Comtesse de Tende, and (her opening piece) Madame de Montpensier. Their motives and methods are much the same as those of the Princesse de Cleves, but this is much more effectively treated. In fact, it is one of the very few highly praised books, at the beginnings of departments of literature, which ought not to disappoint candid and not merely studious readers.

It begins with a sketch, very cleverly done, of the Court of Henri II., with the various prominent personages there—the King and the Queen, Diane de Poitiers, Queen Mary of Scotland ("La Reine Dauphine"), "Madame, soeur du Roi" (the second Margaret of Valois—not so clever as her aunt and niece namesakes, and not so beautiful as the latter, but, like both of them, a patroness of men of letters, especially Ronsard, and apparently a very amiable person, though rude things were said of her marriage, rather late in life, to the Duke of Savoy), with many others of, or just below, royal blood. Of these latter there are Mademoiselle de Chartres, the Prince de Cleves, whom she marries, and the Duc de Nemours, who completes the usual "triangle."[272] As is also usual—in a way not unconnected in its usuality with that of triangular sequences—the Princess has more amitie and estime than amour for her husband, though he, less usually, is desperately in love with her. So, very shortly, is Nemours, who is represented as an almost irresistible lady-killer, though no libertine, and of the "respectful" order. His conduct is not quite that of the Elizabethan or Victorian ideal gentleman; for he steals his mistress's portrait while it is being shown to a mixed company; eavesdrops (as will be seen presently) in the most atrocious manner; chatters about his love affairs in a way almost worse; and skulks round the Princess's country garden at night in a manner exceedingly unlikely to do his passion any good, and nearly certain to do (as it does) her reputation much harm. Still, if not an Amadis, he is not in the least a Lovelace, and that is saying a good deal for a French noble of his time. The Princess slowly falls in love with him (she has seen him steal the portrait, though he does not know this and she dares say nothing for fear of scandal); and divers Court and other affairs conduct this concealed amourette (for she prevents all "declaration") in a manner very cleverly and not too tediously told, to a point when, though perfectly virtuous in intention, she feels that she is in danger of losing self-control.

[Sidenote: Its central scene.]

Probably, though it is the best known part of the book, it may be well to give the central scene, where M. de Nemours plays the eavesdropper to M. and Mme. de Cleves, and overhears the conversation which, with equal want of manners and of sense, he afterwards (it is true, without names) retails to the Vidame de Chartres, a relation of Mme. de Cleves herself, and a well-known gossip, with a strong additional effect on the fatal consequences above described. It is pretty long, and some "cutting" will be necessary.

He[273] heard M. de Cleves say to his wife, "But why do you wish not to return to Paris? What can keep you in the country? For some time past you have shown a taste for solitude which surprises me and pains me, because it keeps us apart. In fact, I find you sadder than usual, and I am afraid that something is annoying you." "I have no mind-trouble," she answered with an embarrassed air; "but the tumult of the Court is so great, and there is always so much company at home, that both body and mind must needs grow weary, and one wants only rest." "Rest," replied he, "is not the proper thing for a person of your age. Your position is not, either at home or at Court, a fatiguing one, and I am rather afraid that you do not like to be with me." "You would do me a great injustice if you thought so," said she with ever-increasing embarrassment, "but I entreat you to leave me here. If you would stay too, I should be delighted—if you would stay here alone and be good enough to do without the endless number of people who never leave you." "Oh! Madam," cried M. de Cleves, "your looks and your words show me that you have reasons for wishing to be alone which I do not know, and which I beg you to tell me." He pressed her a long time to do so without being able to induce her, and after excusing herself in a manner which increased the curiosity of her husband, she remained in deep silence with downcast eyes. Then suddenly recovering her speech, and looking at him, "Do not force me," said she, "to a confession which I am not strong enough to make, though I have several times intended to do so. Think only that prudence forbids a woman of my age, who is her own mistress,[274] to remain exposed to the trials[275] of a Court." "What do you suggest, Madame?" cried M. de Cleves. "I dare not put it in words for fear of offence." She made no answer, and her silence confirming her husband in his thought, he went on: "You tell me nothing, and that tells me that I do not deceive myself." "Well then, Sir!" she answered, throwing herself at his feet, "I will confess to you what never wife has confessed to her husband; but the innocence of my conduct and my intentions gives me strength to do it. It is the truth that I have reasons for quitting the Court, and that I would fain shun the perils in which people of my age sometimes find themselves. I have never shown any sign of weakness, and I am not afraid of allowing any to appear if you will allow me to retire from the Court, or if I still had Mme. de Chartres to aid in guarding me. However risky may be the step I am taking, I take it joyfully, as a way to keep myself worthy of being yours. I ask your pardon a thousand times if my sentiments are disagreeable to you; at least my actions shall never displease you. Think how—to do as I am doing—I must have more friendship and more esteem for you than any wife has ever had for any husband. Guide me, pity me, and, if you can, love me still." M. de Cleves had remained, all the time she was speaking, with his head buried in his hands, almost beside himself; and it had not occurred to him to raise his wife from her position. When she finished, he cast his eyes upon her and saw her at his knees, her face bathed in tears, and so admirably lovely that he was ready to die of grief. But he kissed her as he raised her up, and said:

[The speech which follows is itself admirable as an expression of despairing love, without either anger or mawkishness; but it is rather long, and the rest of the conversation is longer. The husband naturally, though, as no doubt he expects, vainly, tries to know who it is that thus threatens his wife's peace and his own, and for a time the eavesdropper (one wishes for some one behind him with a jack-boot on) is hardly less on thorns than M. de Cleves himself. At last a reference to the portrait-episode (see above) enlightens Nemours, and gives, if not an immediate, a future clue to the unfortunate husband.]

It will be seen at once that this is far different from anything we have had before—a much further importation of the methods and subjects of poetry and drama into the scheme of prose fiction.

We need only return briefly to the main story, the course of which, as one looks back to it through some 250 years of novels, cannot be very difficult to "proticipate." A continuance of Court interviews and gossip, with the garrulity of Nemours himself and the Vidame, as well as the dropping of a letter by the latter, brings a complete eclaircissement nearer and nearer. The Countess, though more and more in love, remains virtuous, and indeed hardly exposes herself to direct temptation. But her husband, becoming aware that Nemours is the lover, and also that he is haunting the grounds at Coulommiers by night when the Princess is alone, falls, though his suspicion of actual infidelity is removed too late, into hopeless melancholy and positive illness, till the "broken heart" of fact or fiction releases him. Nemours is only too anxious to marry the widow, but she refuses him, and after a few years of "pious works" in complete retirement, herself dies early.

It is possible that, even in this brief sketch, some faults of the book may appear; it is certain that actual reading of it will not utterly deprive the fault-finder of his prey. The positive history—of which there is a good deal, very well told in itself,[276] and the appearance of which at all is interesting—is introduced in too great proportions, so as to be largely irrelevant. Although we know that this extremely artificial world of love-making with your neighbours' wives was also real, in a way and at a time, the reality fails to make up for the artifice, at least as a novel-subject. It is like golf, or acting, or bridge—amusing enough to the participants, no doubt, but very tedious to hear or read about.[277] Another point, again true to the facts of the time, no doubt, but somewhat repulsive in reading, is the almost entire absence of Christian names. The characters always speak to each other as "Monsieur" and "Madame," and are spoken of accordingly. I do not think we are ever told either of M. or of Mme. de Cleves's name. Now there is one person at least who cannot "see" a heroine without knowing her Christian name. More serious, in different senses of that word, is the fact that there is still ground for the complaint made above as to the too solid character of the narrative. There is, indeed, more positive dialogue, and this is one of the "advances" of the book. But even there the writer has not had the courage to break it up into actual, not "reported," talk, and the "said he's" and "said she's," "replied so and so's" and "observed somebody's" perpetually get in the way of smooth reading.

So much in the way of alms for Momus. Fortunately a much fuller collection of points for admiration offers itself. It has been admitted that the historical element[278] is perhaps, in the circumstances and for the story, a trifle irrelevant and even "in the way." But its presence at all is the important point. Some, at any rate, of the details—the relations of that Henri II., with whom, it seems, we may not connect the very queer, very rare, but not very beautiful faience once called "Henri Deux" ware,[279] with his wife and his mistress; his accidental death at the hands of Montgomery; the history of Henry VIII.'s matrimonial career, and the courtship of his daughter by a French prince (if not this French prince)—are historical enough to present a sharp contrast with the cloudy pseudo-classical canvas of the Scudery romances, or the mere fable-land of others. Any critical Brown ought to have discovered "great capabilities" in it; and though it was not for more than another century that the true historical novel got itself born, this was almost the nearest experiment to it. But the other side—the purely sentimental—let us not say psychological—side, is of far more consequence; for here we have not merely aspiration or chance-medley, we have attainment.

There is a not wholly discreditable prejudice against abridgments, especially of novels, and more especially against what are called condensations. But one may think that the simple knife, without any artful or artless aid of interpolated summaries, could carve out of La Princesse de Cleves, as it stands, a much shorter but fully intelligible presentation of its passionate, pitiful subject. A slight want of individual character may still be desiderated; it is hardly till Manon Lescaut that we get that, but it was not to be expected. Scarcely more to be expected, but present and in no small force, is that truth to life; that "knowledge of the human heart" which had been hitherto attempted by—we may almost say permitted to—the poet, the dramatist, the philosopher, the divine; but which few, if any, romancers had aimed at. This knowledge is not elaborately but sufficiently "set" with the halls and ruelles of the Court, the gardens and woods of Coulommiers; it is displayed with the aid of conversation, which, if it seems stilted to us, was not so then; and the machinery employed for working out the simple plot—as, for instance, in the case of the dropped letter, which, having originally nothing whatever to do with any of the chief characters, becomes an important instrument—is sometimes far from rudimentary in conception, and very effectively used.

It is therefore no wonder that the book did two things—things of unequal value indeed, but very important for us. In the first place, it started the School of "Sensibility"[280] in the novel, and so provided a large and influential portion of eighteenth-century fiction. In the second—small as it is—it almost started the novel proper, the class of prose fiction which, though it may take on a great variety of forms and colours, though it may specialise here and "extravagate" there, yet in the main distinguishes itself from the romance by being first of all subjective—by putting behaviour, passion, temperament, character, motive before incident and action in the commoner sense—which had had few if any representatives in ancient times, had not been disentangled from the romantic envelope in mediaeval, but was to be the chief new development of modern literature.

* * * * *

There seemed to be several reasons for separating Hamilton from the other fairy-tale writers. The best of all is that he has the same qualification for the present chapter as that which has installed in it the novelists already noticed—that of idiosyncrasy. This leads to, or rather is founded on, the consideration that his tales are fairy-tales only "after a sort," and testify rather to a prevalent fashion than to a natural affection for the kind.[281] Thirdly, he exhibits, in his supernatural matter, a new and powerful influence on fiction generally—that of the first translated Arabian Nights. Lastly, he is in turn himself the head of two considerable though widely different sub-departments of fiction—the decadent and often worthless but largely cultivated department of what we may call the fairy-tale improper,[282] and the very important and sometimes consummately excellent "ironic tale," to be often referred to, and sometimes fully discussed, hereafter.

The singularity of Hamilton's position has always been recognised; but until comparatively recently, his history and family relations were very little understood. Since the present writer discussed him in a paper[283] now a quarter of a century old in print, and older in composition, further light has been thrown on his life and surroundings in the Dictionary of National Biography, and more still in a monograph by a lady[284] whose researches will, it is hoped, sooner or later be published. A very little, too, of the unprinted work which was held back at his death has been recovered. But this, it seems, includes nothing of importance; and his fame will probably always rest, as it has so long and so securely rested, on the Memoires de Grammont, the few but sometimes charming independent verses, some miscellanies not generally enough appreciated, and the admirable group of ironic tales which set a fashion hardly more admirably illustrated since by Voltaire and Beckford[285] and Lord Beaconsfield, to name no others. Of these things the verses,[286] unfortunately, do not concern us at all; and the Memoires and miscellanies[286] only in so far as they add another, and one of the very best, to the brilliant examples of personal narrative of which the century is so full, and which have so close a connection with the novel itself. But the Tales are, of course, ours of most obvious right; and they form one of the most important points de repere in our story.

To discuss, on the one hand, how Hamilton's singularly mixed conditions and circumstances of birth[287] and life[288] influenced his literary production would be interesting, but in strictness rather irrelevant. To attempt, on the other, at any great length to consider the influences which produced the kind of tale he wrote would have more relevance, but would, if pursued in similar cases elsewhere, lengthen the book enormously. Two main ancestor or progenitor forces, as they may be called, though both were of very recent date and one actually contemporary, may be specified. The one was the newborn fancy for fairy-tales, and Eastern tales in particular. The other was the now ingrained disposition towards ironic writing which, begun by Rabelais, as a most notable origin, varied and increased by Montaigne and others, had, just before Hamilton, received fresh shaping and tempering from not a few writers, especially Saint-Evremond. There is indeed no doubt that this last remarkable and now far too little read writer,[289] who, let it be remembered, was, like Hamilton, and even more so, an intimate friend of Grammont and also an inmate of Charles's court, was Hamilton's direct and immediate model so far as he had any such—his "master" in the general tone of persiflage. But master and pupil chose, as a rule, different subjects, and the idiosyncrasy of each was intense; it must be remembered, too, that both were of Norman blood, though that of the Hamiltons had long been transfused into the veins of a new nationality, while Saint-Evremond was actually born in Normandy. The Norman (that is to say, the English, with a special intention of difference[290]) in each could be very easily pointed out if such things were our business. But it is the application of this, and of other things in relation to the development of the novel, that we have to deal with.

It is said, and there is good reason for believing it to be true, that all the stories have a more or less pervading vein of "key" application in them. But this, except for persons particularly interested in such things, has now very little attraction. It has been admitted that it probably exists, as indeed it does in almost everything of the day, from the big as well as "great" Cyrus to the little, but certainly not much less great, Princesse de Cleves. But our subject is what Hamilton writes about these people, not the people about whom he may or may not be writing.

What we have left of Hamilton's tales, as far as they have been printed (and, as was said above, not much more seems to exist), consists of five stories of very unequal length, and in two cases out of the five unfinished. One of the finished pieces, Fleur d'Epine, and one of the unfinished—although unfinished it is not only one of the longest, but, unluckily in a way, by far the best of all—Les Quatre Facardins, are "framework" stories, and avowedly attach themselves, in an irreverent sort of attachment, to the Arabian Nights; the others, Le Belier, Zeneyde (unfinished), and L'Enchanteur Faustus, are independent, and written in the mixed verse-and-prose style which had been made popular by various writers, especially Chapelle, but which cannot be said to be very acceptable in itself. Taken together, they fill a volume of just over 500 average octavo pages in the standard edition of 1812; but their individual length is very unequal. The two longest, the fragmentary Quatre Facardins and the finished Le Belier, run each of them to 142 pages; the shortest, L'Enchanteur Faustus, has just five-and-twenty; while Fleur d'Epine, in its completeness, has 114, and Zeneyde, in its incompleteness, runs to 78, and might have run, for aught one can tell—in the mixed tangle of Roman and Merovingian history in which the author (possibly in ridicule of Madeleine de Scudery's classical chronicling) has chosen to plunge it—to 780 or 7800, which latter figure would, after all, have been little more than half the length of the Grand Cyrus itself.

We may take L'Enchanteur Faustus first, as it requires the shortest notice. In fact, if it had not been Hamilton's, it would hardly require any. Written to a "charmante Daphne" (evidently one of the English Jacobite exiles, from a reference to a great-great-grandfather of hers who was "admiral in Ireland" during Queen Elizabeth's time), it is occupied by a story of the great Queen herself, who is treated with the mixture of admiration (for her intelligence and spirit) with "scandal" (about her person and morals) that might be expected at St. Germains. The subject is the usual exhibition of dead beauties (here by, not to, Faustus), with Elizabeth's affected depreciation of Helen, Cleopatra, and Mariamne, and her equally affected admiration of Fair Rosamond,[291] whom she insists on summoning twice, despite Faustus's warning, and with disastrous consequences. Hamilton's irony is so pervading that one does not know whether ignorance, carelessness, or intention made him not only introduce Sidney and Essex as contemporary favourites of Elizabeth, but actually attribute Rosamond's end to poor Jane Shore instead of to Queen Eleanor! This would matter little if the tale had been stronger; but though it is told with Hamilton's usual easy fluency, the Queen's depreciations, the flattery of the courtiers, and the rest of it, are rather slightly and obviously handled. One would give half a dozen like it for that Second (but not necessarily Last) Part of the Facardins, which Crebillon the younger is said to have actually seen and had the opportunity of saving, a chance which he neglected till too late.

As L'Enchanteur Faustus is the shortest of the completed tales, so Le Belier is the longest; indeed, as indicated above, it is the same length as what we have of Les Quatre Facardins. It is also—in that unsatisfactory and fragmentary way of knowledge with which literature often has to content itself—much the best known, because of the celebrated address of the giant Moulineau to the hero-beast "Belier, mon ami,... si tu voulais bien commencer par le commencement, tu me ferais plaisir." There are many other agreeable things in it; but it has on the whole a double or more than double portion of the drawback which attends these "key" stories. It was written to please his sister, Madame de Grammont, who had established herself in a country-house, near Versailles. This she transformed from a mere cottage, called Moulineau, into an elegant villa to which she gave the name of Pontalie. There were apparently some difficulties with rustic neighbours, and Anthony wove the whole matter into this story, with the giant and the (of course enchanted) ram just mentioned; and the beautiful Alie who hates all men (or nearly all); and her father, a powerful druid, who is the giant's enemy; and the Prince de Noisy and the Vicomte de Gonesse, and other personages of the environs of Paris, who were no doubt recognisable and interesting once, but who, whether recognisable or not, are not specially interesting now. To repeat that there are good scenes and piquant remarks is merely to say once more that the thing is Hamilton's. But, on the whole, the present writer at any rate has always found it the least interesting (next to L'Enchanteur Faustus) of all.

On the other hand, Zeneyde—though unfinished, and though containing, in its ostensibly main story, things compared to which the Prince de Noisy and the Vicomte de Gonesse excite to palpitation—has points of remarkable interest about it. One of these—a prefatory sketch of the melancholy court of exiles at St. Germains—is like nothing else in Hamilton and like very few things anywhere else. This is in no sense fiction—it is, in fact, a historical document of the most striking kind; but it makes background and canvas for fiction itself,[292] and it gives us, besides, a most vivid picture of the priest-ridden, caballing little crowd of folk who had made great renunciations but could not make small. It also shows us in Hamilton a somewhat darker but also a stronger side of satiric powers, differently nuanced from the quiet persiflage of the Contes themselves. This, however, though easily "cobbled on" to the special tale, and possibly not unconnected with it key-fashion, is entirely separable, and might just as well have formed part of an actual letter to the "Madame de P.," to whom it is addressed.

The tale itself, like some if not all the others, but in a much more strikingly contrasted fashion, again consists of two strands, interwoven so intimately, however, that it is almost impossible to separate them, though it is equally impossible to conceive two things more different from each other. The ostensible theme is a history of herself, given by the Nymph of the Seine to the author—a history of which more presently. But this is introduced at considerable length, and interrupted more than once, by scenes and dialogues, between the nymph and her distinctly unwilling auditor, which are of the most whimsically humorous character to be found even in Hamilton himself.

The whole account of the self-introduction of the nymph to the narrator is extremely quaint, but rather long to give here as a whole. It is enough to say that Hamilton represents himself as by no means an ardent nympholept, or even as flattered by demi-goddess-like advances, which are of the most obliging description; and that the lady has not only to make fuller and fuller revelations of her beauty, but at last to exert her supernatural power to some extent in order to carry the recreant into her "cool grot," not, indeed, under water, but invisibly situated on land. What there takes place is, unfortunately, as has been said, mainly the telling of a very dull story with one not so dull episode. But the conclusion of the preface exemplifies the whimsicality even of the writer, and points to the existence of a commodity in the fashion of wig-wearing which few who glory in "their own hair," and despise their periwigged forefathers, are likely to have thought of:

[Sidenote: Hamilton and the Nymph.]

At these words [her own] raising her eyes to heaven, she sighed several times; and though she tried to keep them back, I saw, coursing the length of her cheeks and falling on her beautiful neck, tears so natural, in the midst of a silence so touching, that I was just about to follow her example.[293] But she soon recovered herself; and having shown me by a languishing look that she was not insensible to my sympathetic emotion ... [she enjoins discretion, and then:—] After having looked at me attentively for some time she came closer to me, and as she gently pulled one side of my wig in order to whisper in my ear, I had to lean over her in a rather familiar manner.[294] Her face touched mine, and it seemed to me animated by a lively warmth, very different from the insensibility which I had accused[295] her of shedding upon me when she came out of the water. Her breath was pure and fresh, and her goddess-ship, which I had suspected of being something marshy, had no taint of mud about it. If only I might reveal all that she said to me in a confidence which I could have wished longer![295] But apparently she got tired of it[295] and let go my wig. "'Twould be too tiresome," she said, "to go on talking like this. Go out there, and leave us alone!" I turned round, and seeing no one in the room, I thought this order was addressed to me, so I was just rising....

This quaint presentation of a craven swain is perhaps as good an example as could be found of the curious mixture of French and English in Hamilton. Hardly any Frenchman could have borne to put even a fictitious eidolon of himself in such a contemptible light; very few Englishmen, though they might easily have done this, would have done it so neatly, and with so quaint a travesty of romantic situation. But the main story, as admitted above, is assommant, though, just before the breach, a substitution of three agreeable damsels for the nymph herself promises something better.

This combination of the dullest with some of the finest and most characteristic work of the author, would be rather a puzzle in a more "serious" writer than Hamilton; but in his case there is no need to distress, or in any way to cumber, oneself about the matter. The whole thing was a "compliment," as the age would have said, to Fantasy; and the rules of the Court of Quintessence, though not non-existent as dull fools suppose, are singularly elastic to skilled players.

We are left with what, even as it exists, is by far his most ambitious attempt, and with one in which, considering all its actual features, one need not be taking things too seriously if one decides that he had an aim at something like a whole—even if the legends[296] about further parts, actually seen and destroyed by a more than Byzantine pudibundity, are not taken as wholly gospel.

The completed Fleur d'Epine and the uncompleted Quatre Facardins[297] are in effect continuous parts (and to all appearance incomplete in more than the finishing of the second story) of an untitled but intelligibly sketched continuation of the Arabian Nights themselves. Hamilton, like others since, had evidently conceived an affection for Dinarzade: and a considerable contempt for Schahriar's notion of the advantages of matrimony. It is less certain, but I think possible, that he had anticipated the ideas of those who think that the unmarried sister went at least halves in the composition or remembrance of the stories themselves, or she could not have varied her timing at dawn so adroitly. He had, at any rate, an Irish-Englishman's sense of honest if humorous indignation at the part which she has to play (or rather endure) in these "two years" (much nearer three!), and the sequel in a way revenges her.

I should imagine that Thackeray must have been reminiscent of Hamilton when he devised the part of "Sister Anne" in Bluebeard's Ghost. Like her, Hamilton's Dinarzade is slightly flippant; she would most certainly have observed "Dolly Codlins is the matter" in Anne's place. Like her, she is not unprovided with lovers; she actually, at the beginning, "takes a night off" that she may entertain the Prince of Trebizond; and it is the Prince himself who relates the great, but, alas! torsoed epic of the Facardins,[298] of whom he is himself one. But as there are only two stories, there is no room for much framework, and we see much less of the "resurrected" Dinarzade[299] than we could wish from what we do see and hear.

Fleur d'Epine, which she herself tells, is a capital story, somewhat closer to the usual norm of the Nights than is usual with Hamilton. It bases itself on the well-known legends of the Princess with the literally murderous eyes; but this Princess Luisante is not really the heroine, and is absent from the greater part of the tale, though she is finally provided with the hero's brother, who is a reigning prince, and has everything handsome about him. The actual hero Tarare (French for "Fiddlestick!" or something of that sort, and of course an assumed name), in order to cure Luisante's eyes of their lethal quality, has to liberate a still more attractive damsel—the title-heroine—putative daughter of a good fairy and actual victim of a bad one, quite in the orthodox style. He does this chiefly by the aid of a very amiable mare, who makes music wherever she goes, and can do wonderful things when her ears are duly manipulated. It is a good and pleasant story, with plenty of the direct relish of the fairy-tale, Eastern and Western, and plenty also of satirical parody of the serious romance. But it is not quite consummate. The opening, however, as a fair specimen of Hamilton's style, may be given.

[Sidenote: The opening of Fleur d'Epine.]

Two thousand four hundred and fifty-three leagues from here there is an extraordinarily fine country called Cashmere. In this country reigned a Caliph; that Caliph had a daughter, and that daughter had a face; but people wished more than once that she had never had any. Her beauty was not insupportable till she was fifteen; but at that age it became impossible to endure it. She had the most beautiful mouth in the world; her nose was a masterpiece; the lilies of Cashmere—a thousand times whiter than ours—were discoloured beside her complexion; and it seemed impertinent of the fresh-blown rose to show itself beside the carnation of her cheek. Her forehead was unmatchable for shape and brilliancy; its whiteness was contrasted with a Vandyke point of hair blacker and more shining than jet—whence she took her name of "Luisante"; the shape of her face seemed made to frame so many wonders. But her eyes spoilt everything.

No one had ever been able to look at them long enough to distinguish their exact colour; for as soon as one met her glance it was like a stroke of lightning. When she was eight years old her father, the Caliph, was in the habit of sending for her, to admire his offspring and give the courtiers the opportunity of paying a thousand feeble compliments to her youthful beauty; for even then they used to put out the candles at midnight, no other light being necessary except that of the little one's eyes. Yet all this was nothing but—in the literal sense, and the other—child's play; it was when her eyes had acquired full strength that they became no joking matter.

[The fatal effects—killing men in twenty-four hours, and blinding women—are then told, with the complaints of the nobility whose sons have fallen victims, and the various suggestions for remedying the evil made at a committee, which is presided over by the Seneschal of the kingdom ... "the silliest man who had ever held such an office—so much so that the caliph could not possibly think of choosing any one less silly." Tarare happens to be in this pundit-potentate's service; and so the story starts.]

[Sidenote: Les Quatre Facardins.]

But—and indeed the writer's opinion on this point has already been indicated—Hamilton's masterpiece, unfinished as it is, is Les Quatre Facardins. Indeed, though unfinished in one sense, it is, in another, the most finished of all. Beside it the completed Faustus is a mere trifle, and not a very interesting trifle. It has no dull parts like Zeneyde and even Le Belier. It has much greater complication of interest and variety of treatment than Fleur d'Epine, in which, after the opening, Hamilton's peculiar persiflage, though not absent, is much less noticeable. It at least suggests, tantalising as the suggestion is, that the author for once really intended to wind up all his threads into a compact ball, or (which is the better image) to weave them into a new and definite pattern. Moreover—this may not be a recommendation to everybody, but it is a very strong one to the present historian,—it has no obvious or insistent "key"-element whatsoever. It is, indeed, not at all unlikely that there is one, for the trick was ingrained in the literature and the society of the time. But if so, it is a sleeping dog that neither bites nor barks; and if you let it alone it will stay in its kennel, and not even obtrude itself upon your view.

To these partly, if not wholly, negative merits it adds positive ones of a very considerable and delectable kind. The connection with the Arabian Nights is brought closer still in the fact that it is not only told (as of himself) by the Prince of Trebizond, Dinarzade's servant-cavalier, but is linked—to an important extent, and not at all to Schahriar's unmixed satisfaction—with one of the earliest incidents of the Nights themselves, the remarkable story how the Lady from the Sea increases her store of rings at the cost of some exertion and alarm—not to mention the value of the rings themselves—to the Sultan and his brother, the King of Tartary. This lady, with her genie and her glass box, reappears as "Cristalline la Curieuse"—one of the two heroines. The other, of whose actual adventures we hear only the beginning, and that at the very close of the story, is Mousseline la Serieuse, who never laughs, and who, later, escaping literally by the loss of her last garment, twitched off by the jaws of an enormous crocodile, afterwards the pest of the country, finds herself under a mysterious weird. She is never able to get a similar vestment made for her, either of day- or night-fashion. Three hundred and seventy-four dozen of such things, which formed her wardrobe, had disappeared[300] after the death (actually crocodile-devoured) of her Mistress of the Robes; and although she used up all the linen-drapers' stocks of the capital in trying to get new ones, they were all somewhat milder varieties of the shirt of Nessus. For the day-shifts deprived her of all appetite for food or drink, and the night ones made it impossible for her to sleep.

This particular incident comes, as has been said, just at the end of what we have of the book; indeed there is nothing more, save a burlesque embassy, amply provided with painted cloth[301] and monkeys, to the great enchanter Caramoussal (who has already figured in the book), and the announcement, by one of the other Facardins, of its result—a new adventure for champions, who must either make the Princess laugh or kill the crocodile. "It is indifferent," we learn from a most Hamiltonian sentence, "whether you begin with the crocodile or with the Princess." Indeed there is yet another means of restoring peace in the Kingdom of Astrachan, according to the enchanter himself, who modestly disclaims being an enchanter, observing (again in a thoroughly Hamiltonian manner) that as he lives on the top of a mountain close to the stars, they probably tell him more than they tell other people. It is to collect three spinning-wheels[302] which are scattered over the universe, but of some of which we have heard earlier in the story.

One takes perhaps a certain pleasure in outraging the feelings of the giant Moulineau, so hateful to Madame de Grammont, by beginning not merely in the middle but at the end—an end, alas! due, if we believe all the legends, to her own mistaken zeal when she became a devote—a variety of person for whom her brother[303] certainly had small affection, though he did not avenge himself on it in novel-form quite so cruelly as did Marivaux later. It is, however, quite good to begin at the beginning, though the verse-preface needs perhaps to be read with eyes of understanding. Ostensibly, it is a sort of historical condemnation of all the species of fiction which had been popular for half a century or so, and is thus very much to our purpose, though, like almost all the verses included in these tales, it does not show the poetic power which the author of Celle que j'adore[304] undoubtedly possessed. Mere tales, he says, have quite banished from court favour romances, celebrated for their sentiments, from Cyrus to Zaide, i.e. from Mlle. de Scudery to Mme. de la Fayette. Telemaque had no better fate

On courut au Palais[305] le rendre, Et l'on s'empressa d'y reprendre Le Rameau d'Or et l'Oiseau Bleu.[306]

Then came the "Arabian tales," of which he speaks with a harshness, the sincerity or design of which may be left to the reader; and then he himself took up the running, of course obliged by request of irresistible friends of the other sex. All which may or may not be read with grains of salt—the salt-merchant of which everybody is at liberty to choose for himself. Something may be said on the subject when we, in all modesty, try to sum up Hamilton and the period.

But we must now give some more account of the "Four Facardins" themselves. He of Trebizond is a tributary Prince of Schahriar's, much after the fashion (it is to be feared here burlesqued) of the innumerable second- and third-class heroes whom one meets in the Cyrus. He begins, like Dinarzade,[307] by "cheeking" the Sultan on his views of matrimony; and then he tells how he set out from his dominions in quest of adventures, and met another bearer of the remarkable name which his mother had insisted on giving him. This second adventurer happened to be bearer also of a helmet with a strange bird, apparently all made of gems, as its crest. They exchange confidences, which are to the effect that the Trebizondian Facardin is a lady-killer of the most extravagant success, while the other (who is afterwards called Facardin of the Mountain) is always unfortunate in love; notwithstanding which he proposes to undertake the adventure (to be long afterwards defined) of Mousseline la Serieuse. For the present he contents himself with two or three more stories (or, rather, one in several "fyttes"), which reduce the wildest of the Nights to simple village tales—of an island where lions are hunted with a provision of virgins, chanticleers, and small deer on an elaborately ruled system; of a mountain full of wild beasts, witches, lovely nymphs, savages, and an enchanter at the top. After an interruption very much in the style of Chaucer's Host and Sir Thopas, from Dinarzade, who is properly rebuked by the Sultan, Facardin of the Mountain (he has quite early in the story received the celebrated scratch from a lion's claw, "from his right shoulder to his left heel") recounts a shorter adventure with Princess Sapinelle of Denmark, and at last, after a fresh outburst from Dinarzade, the Prince of Trebizond comes to his own affairs.

Then it is that (after some details about the Prince of Ophir, who has a minim mouth and an enormous nose, and the Princess of Bactria, whose features were just the reverse) we recover Cristalline. It is perhaps only here that even Mrs. Grundy, though she may have been uncomfortable elsewhere, can feel really shocked at Hamilton; others than Mrs. Grundy need not be so even here. The genie has discovered his Lady's little ways, and has resolved to avenge himself on her by strict custody, and by a means of delivery which, if possible, might not have entirely displeased her. The hundred rings are bewitched to their chain, and are only to be recovered by the same process which strung them on it. But this process must be applied by one person in the space of twelve hours, and the conditions are only revealed to him after he has been kidnapped or cajoled within the genie's power. If he refuses to try, he is clad as Omphale clad Hercules, and set to work. If he tries and fails, he is to be flayed alive and burnt. Facardin, to the despair of his secretary, enters—beguiled by a black ambassadress, who merely informs him that a lady wants help—the enchanted boat which takes him to the fatal scene. But when he is to be introduced to the lady he entirely declines to part with his sword; and when the whole secret is revealed he, with the help of Cristalline, who is really a good-natured creature in more senses than one, slays the three chief minions of the tyrant—a watchmaker who sets the clock, a locksmith who is to count the detached rings, and a kind of Executioner High-priest who is to do the flaying and burning,—cuts his way with Cristalline herself to the enchanted boat, regaining terra firma and (relatively speaking) terra not too much enchanted. But at his very landing at the mouth of the crocodile river he again meets Facardin of the Mountain (who has figured in Cristalline's history earlier) with the two others, whose stories we shall never hear; and is told about Mousseline; whereat we and the tale "join our ends" as far as is permitted.

It would be easy to pick from this story alone a sort of nosegay of Hamiltonisms like that from Fuller, which Charles Lamb selected so convincingly that some have thought them simply invented. But it would be unjust to Anthony, because, unless each was given in a matrix of context, nobody could, in most cases at any rate, do justice to this curious glancing genius of his. It exists in Sydney Smith to some extent—in Thackeray to more—among Englishmen. There is, in French, something of it in Lesage, who possibly learnt it directly from him; and of course a good deal, though of a lower kind, in Voltaire, who certainly did learn it from him. But it is, with that slight indebtedness to Saint-Evremond noticed above, essentially new and original. It is a mixture of English-Irish (that is to say, Anglo-Norman) humour with French wit, almost unattainable at that day except by a man who, in addition to his natural gifts, had the mixed advantages and disadvantages of his exile position.

Frenchmen at the time—there is abundance, not of mere anecdote, but of solid evidence to prove it—knew practically nothing of English literature. Englishmen knew a good deal more of French, and imitated and translated it, sometimes more eagerly than wisely. But they had not as yet assimilated or appreciated it: that was left for the eighteenth century to do. Meanwhile Hamilton brought the double influence to bear, not merely on the French novel, but on the novel in general and on the eccentric novel in particular. To appreciate him properly, he ought to be compared with Rabelais before him and with Voltaire or Sterne—with both, perhaps, as a counsel of perfection—after him. He is a smaller man, both in literature and in humanity, than Master Francis; but the phrase which Voltaire himself rather absurdly used of Swift might be used without any absurdity in reference to him. He is a "Rabelais de bonne compagnie," and from the exactly opposite point of view he might be called a Voltaire or a Sterne de bonne compagnie likewise. That is to say, he is a gentleman pretty certainly as well as a genius, which Rabelais might have been, at any rate in other circumstances, but did not choose to be, and which neither Francois Arouet nor Laurence Sterne could have been, however much either had tried, though the metamorphosis is not quite so utterly inconceivable in Sterne's case as in the other's. Hamilton, it has been confessed, is sometimes "naughty"; but his naughtiness is neither coarse nor sniggering,[308] and he depends upon it so little—a very important point—that he is sometimes most amusing when he is not naughty at all. In other words, he has no need of it, but simply takes it as one of the infinite functions of human comedy. Against which let Mrs. Grundy say what she likes.

* * * * *

It is conceivable that objection may be taken, or at any rate surprise felt, at the fulness with which a group of mostly little books—no one of them produced by an author of the first magnitude as usual estimates run—has been here handled. But the truth is that the actual birth of the French novel took a much longer time than that of the English—a phenomenon explicable, without any national vainglory, by the fact that it came first and gave us patterns and stimulants. The writers surveyed in this chapter, and those who will take their places in the next—at least Scarron, Furetiere, Madame de La Fayette and Hamilton, Lesage, Marivaux, and Prevost—whatever objections or limitations may be brought against them, form the central group of the originators of the modern novel. They open the book of life, as distinguished from that of factitious and rather stale literature; they point out the varieties of incident and character; the manners and interiors and fantastic adjustments; the sentiment rising to passion—which are to determine the developments and departments of the fiction of the future. They leave, as far as we have seen them, great opportunities for improvement to those immediate followers to whom we shall now turn. Hamilton is, indeed, not yet much followed, but Lesage far outgoes Scarron in the raising of the picaresque; Marivaux distances Furetiere in painting of manners and in what some people call psychology; Manon Lescaut throws La Princesse de Cleves into the shade as regards the greatest and most novel-breeding of the passions. But the whole are really a bloc, the continental sense of which is rather different from our "block." And perhaps we shall find that, though none of them was equal in genius to some who succeeded them in novel-writing, the novel itself made little progress, and some backsliding, during nearly a hundred years after they ceased to write.


It may not perhaps be superfluous to give the rest of that criticism of Hamilton's on Telemaque, the conclusion of which has been quoted above. "In vain, from the famous coasts of Ithaca, the wise and renowned Mentor came to enrich us with those treasures of his which his Telemaque contains. In vain the art of the teacher delicately displays, in this romance of a rare kind, the usefulness and the deceitfulness of politics and of love, as well as that fatal sweetness—frail daughter of luxury—which intoxicates a conquering hero at the feet of a young mistress or of a skilful enchantress, such as in each case this Mentor depicts them. But, well-versed as he was in human weakness, and elaborately as he imitated the style and the stories of Greece, the vogue that he had was of short duration. Weary of inability to understand the mysteries which he unfolded, men ran to the Palais to give back the volume," etc., etc.

Hamilton, no doubt intentionally, has himself made this criticism rather "mysterious." It is well known that, if not quite at first, very soon after its appearance, the fact that the politics, if not also the morals, of Fenelon's book were directly at variance with Court standards was recognised. At a time when Court favour and fashion were the very breath of the upper circles, and directly or indirectly ruled the middle, the popularity of this curious romance-exhortation was, at any rate for a time, nipped in the bud, to revive only in the permanent but not altogether satisfactory conditions of a school-book. Whether Hamilton dealt discreetly with the matter by purposely confining himself to the record of a fact, or at least mixing praise to which no exception could be taken, with what might be taken for blame, one cannot say. By dotting a few i's, crossing the t's, and perhaps touching up some hidden letters with the requisite reagent, one can, however, get a not unfair or unshrewd criticism of the book out of this envelope. Telemaque, if it is not, as one of Thackeray's "thorn" correspondents suggested, superior to "Lovel Parsonage and Framley the Widower," has, or with some easy suppressions and a very few additions and developments might have, much more pure romance interest than its centuries of scholastic use allow it to have for most people. Eucharis is capable of being much more than she is allowed to show herself; and some Mrs. Grundys, with more intelligence than the average member of the clan, have hinted that Calypso might be dangerous if the persons who read about her were not likely to consider her as too old to be interesting. The style is, of course, admirable—there has hardly ever been a better writer of French than Fenelon, who was also a first-rate narrator and no mean critic. Whether by the "mysteries" Hamilton himself meant politics, morals, religion, or all three and other "serious" things, is a point which, once more, is impossible to settle. But it is quite certain that, whether there is any difficulty in comprehending them or not, a great many—probably the huge majority—of novel readers would not care to take the trouble to comprehend them, and might, even if they found little difficulty, resent being asked to do so. And so we have here not the first—for, as has been said, the Heroic romance itself had much earlier been "conscripted" into the service of didactics—but the first brilliant, or almost brilliant, example of that novel of purpose which will meet us so often hereafter. It may be said to have at once revealed (for the earlier examples were, as a rule, too dull to be fair tests) the ineradicable defects of the species. Even when the purpose does not entirely preclude the possibility of enjoyment, it always gets in the way thereof; and when the enjoyable matter does not absorb attention to the disregard of the purpose altogether, it seldom—perhaps never—really helps that purpose to get itself fulfilled.


[247] It is perhaps not quite superfluous to point out that the principle of separation in these chapters is quite different from that (between "idealist" and "realist") pursued by Koerting and others, and reprobated, partially or wholly, by MM. Le Breton and Brunetiere.

[248] L'Autre Monde: ou Histoire Comique des Etats et Empires de la Lune, etc.

[249] It must be remembered that even Gerard Hamilton made many more speeches, but only one good one, while the novelists discussed here wrote in most cases many other books. But their goodness shows itself in hardly more than a single work in each case. Anthony Hamilton's is in all his.

[250] It has been noted, I think, by all who have written about the Berger, that Sorel is a sort of Balak and Balaam in one. He calls on himself to curse the Astree, but he, sometimes at least, blesses it.

[251] The Berger fills two volumes of some nine hundred pages; Polyandre, two of six hundred each! But it must be admitted that the print is very large and widely spaced.

[252] One remembers the story of the greater Corneille calling to the lesser down a trap between their two houses, "Sans-Souci!—une rime!"

[253] I have known this word more than once objected to as pedantic. But pedantry in this kind consists in using out-of-the-way terms when common ones are ready to hand. There is no single word in English to express the lower kind of "Dutch-painting" as this Greek word does. And Greek is a recognised and standing source of words for English. If geography, why not rhyparography?—or, if any one prefers it, "rhypography," which, however, is not, I think, so good a form.

[254] There is, no doubt, significance in the fact that they are definitely called nouvelles.

[255] V. sup. p. 204. The habit of these continues in all the books. L'Illustre Bassa opens with a most elaborate, but still not very much "alive," procession and sham fight.

[256] Of course Cervantes is not shadowy.

[257] As far as mere chronology goes, Cyrano, v. inf., should come between; but it would split the parallel.

[258] Scarron had, in Le Destin's account of himself, made a distinction between the pastoral and heroic groups and the "old" romances, meaning thereby not the true mediaeval specimens but the Amadis cycle. Furetiere definitely classes all of them together.

[259] The time is well known to have been fond of anagrams, and "Charroselles" is such an obvious one for "Charles Sorel" that for once there is no need to gainsay or neglect the interpreters. The thing, if really meant for a real person, is a distinct lampoon, and may perhaps explain the expulsion and persecution of Furetiere, by his colleagues of the Academy, almost as well as the ostensible cause thereof—his compiling, in competition with the Academy itself, of a French Dictionary, and a very good one, which was not printed till after his death, and ultimately became the famous Dictionnaire de Trevoux. Not that Sorel himself was of much importance, but that the thing shows the irritable and irritating literary failing in the highest degree. Furetiere had friends of position, from Boileau, Racine, and Bossuet downwards; and the king himself, though he did not interfere, seems to have disapproved the Academy's action. But the Roman was heavily "slated" for many years, though it had a curious revival in the earlier part of the next century; and for the rest of that century and the first part of the nineteenth it was almost wholly forgotten.

[260] She falls in love with an ebony cabinet at a fair which they visit together, and he gives it her. But, anticipating that she will use it for her most precious things, he privately gets a second set of keys from the seller, and in her absence achieves the theft of the promise.

[261] Any one who has, as the present writer has had, opportunities of actually doing this, will find it a not uninteresting operation, and one which "amply repays the expense" of time and trouble.

[262] This is a point of importance. Details of a life-like character are most valuable in the novel; but if they are not "material" in the transferred sense they are simply a bore. Scott undoubtedly learnt this lesson from his prentice work in finishing Strutt's Queenhoo Hall, where the story is simply a clumsy vehicle for conveying information about sports and pastimes and costumes and such-like "antiquarities."

[263] To us small, as are not those of its predecessors.

[264] Not a bad instance of the subacid touches which make the book lively, and which probably supply some explanation of its author's unpopularity. The "furred law-cats" of all kinds were always a prevailing party in Old France, and required stout gloves to touch them with.

[265] This (often called by its Italian name of Quarant' ore) is a "Devotion" during an exposure of the Sacrament for that time, in memory of the interval between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Our Lord. It is a public service, and, I suppose, collections were made at intervals. No one, especially no girl, could stand the time straight through. The "Paradise" was, of course, a "decoration."

[266] Javotte says "shoe the mule"—"ferrer la mule"—one of the phrases like "faire danser l'anse du panier" and others, for taking "self-presented testimonials," as Wilkie Collins's Captain Wragge more elegantly and less cryptically calls it.

[267] Of course the regular "thanks" of a collector for pious purposes.

[268] He does later seek this, and only loses her (if she can be called a loss) by his own folly. But his main objective is to conter (or as Furetiere himself has it, debiter) la fleurette. It ought, perhaps, to be mentioned, as a possible counterweight or drawback, that the novelist breaks off to discuss the too great matter-of-factness of bourgeois girls and women. But he was to have great followers in this also.

[269] He was born and baptised Savinien de Cyrano, and called himself de Cyrano-Bergerac. The sound of the additional designation and some of his legendary peculiarities probably led to his being taken for a Gascon; but there is no evidence of meridional extraction or seat, and there appears to be some of Breton or other Western connection.

[270] There is nothing in the least astonishing in his having been this—if he was. The tendency of the Renaissance towards what is called "free thought" is quite well known; and the existence, in the seventeenth century, of a sort of school of boisterous and rather vulgar infidelity is familiar—with the names of Bardouville, and Saint-Ibal or Saint-Ibar, as members of it—to all readers of Saint-Evremond, Tallemant, the Ana, etc.

[271] Perhaps the dullest part is where (save the mark!) the Demon of Socrates is brought in to talk sometimes mere platitudes, sometimes tame paradoxes which might as well be put in the mouth of any pupil-teacher, or any popular journalist or dramatist, of the present day.—Of the attempt to make Swift Cyrano's debtor one need say little: but among predecessors, if not creditors, Ben Jonson, for his News from the New World discovered in the Moon, may at least be mentioned.

[272] The key-mongers, of course, identify the three with the author, her own husband, and La Rochefoucauld.

[273] He has ensconced himself in one of the smaller rooms of a garden pavilion outside of which they are sitting, having left their suite at some distance.

[274] Maitresse de sa conduite, a curious but not difficult text as to French ideas of marriage.

[275] I have been obliged to insert "trials" to bring out the meaning of "exposee au milieu." "Exposee" has a fuller sense than the simple English verb, and almost equals the legal "exposed for sale."

[276] Mme. de la Fayette was a very accomplished woman, and, possibly from her familiarity with Queen Henrietta Maria, well acquainted with English as well as French history. But our proper names, as usual, vanquish her, and she makes Henry VIII. marry Jane Seimer and Catherine Havart.

[277] This does not apply to the main love story but to the atmosphere generally. The Vidame de Chartres, for instance, is represented as in love with (1) Queen Catherine; (2) a Mme. de Themines, with whom he is not quite satisfied; (3) a Mme. de Martignes, with whom he is; (4) a lady unnamed, with whom he has trompe them all. This may be true enough to life; but it is difficult to make it into good matter of fiction, especially with a crowd of other people doing much the same.

[278] It ought, perhaps, to be added that though manners, etc., altered not a little between Henri II. and Louis XIV., the alteration was much less than in most other histories at most other periods. It would be easy to find two persons in Tallemant whose actual experience covered the whole time.

[279] You had to call it so when I first saw it; when I last did so it was "Oiron." No doubt it is something else now.

[280] For that, see Chapter XII.

[281] See below on the version Introduction to the Quatre Facardins.

[282] Including miscellaneous imbecility and unsuitableness as well as moral indecorum.

[283] Written for the Fortnightly Review in 1882, but by a chapter of accidents not printed till 1890. Reprinted next year in Essays on French Novelists (London, 1891).

[284] Miss Ruth Clark.

[285] The conclusion of Vathek is of course undoubtedly more "admirable" than anything of Hamilton's; but it is in a quite different genus.

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