The piece Celle que j'adore is the best of the casual verses, though there are other good songs, etc. Those which alternate with the prose of some of the tales are too often (as in the case of the Cabinet insets, v. sup.) rather prosaic. Of the prose miscellanies the so-called Relations "of different places in Europe," and "of a voyage to Mauritania," contain some of the cream of Hamilton's almost uniquely ironic narrative and commentary. When that great book, "The Nature and History of Irony," which has to be written is written—the last man died with the last century and the next hour seems far off—a contrast of Hamilton and Kinglake will probably form part of it.
 As a member, though a cadet, of a cadet branch of one of the noblest families of Great Britain and Ireland.
 As a soldier, a courtier of Charles II., and a Jacobite exile in France.
 I may perhaps be allowed to refer to another essay of mine on him in Miscellaneous Essays (London, 1892). It contains a full account, and some translation, of the Conversation du marechal d'Hocquincourt avec le Pere Canaye, which is at once the author's masterpiece of quiet irony, his greatest pattern for the novelist, and his clearest evidence of influence on Hamilton.
 There are some who hold that the "English" differentia, whether shown in letters or in life, whether south or north of Tweed, east or west of St. George's Channel is always Anglo-Norman.
 The "Marian" and Roman comparison of Anne Boleyn's position to Rosamond's is interesting.
 It is a sort of brief lift and drop of the curtain which still concealed the true historical novel; it has even got a further literary interest as giving the seamy side of the texture of Macaulay's admirable Jacobite's Epitaph. The account would be rather out of place here, but may be found translated at length (pp. 44-46) in the volume of Essays on French Novelists more than once referred to.
 The most unexpected bathos of these last three words is of course intentional, and is Hamilton all over.
 The nymph is lying on a couch, and her companion (who has been recalcitrant even to this politeness) is sitting beside her.
 This is as impudent as the other passages below are imbecile—of course in each case (as before) with a calculated impudence and imbecility. The miserable creature had himself obliged her to "come out of the water" by declining to join her there on the plea that he was never good for an assignation when he was wet!
 If they are true, and if Madame de Grammont was the culprit, it is a sad confirmation of the old gibe, "Skittish in youth, prudish in age." It can only be pleaded in extenuation that some youth which was not skittish, such as Sarah Marlborough's, matured or turned into something worse than "devotion." And Elizabeth Hamilton was so very pretty!
 "Completions" of both Zeneyde and Les Quatre Facardins, by the Duke de Levis, are included in some editions, but they are, after the fashions of such things, very little good.
 The name is not, like "Tarare," a direct burlesque; but it suggests a burlesque intention when taken with "facond" and others including, perhaps, even faquin.
 The Sultaness is almost persona muta—and indeed her tongue must have required a rest.
 As Hamilton's satiric intention is as sleepless as poor Princess Mousseline herself, it is not impossible that he remembered the incident recorded by Pepys, or somebody, how King Charles the Second could not get a sheet of letter paper to write on for all the Royal Households and Stationery Offices and such-like things in the English world.
 I.e. colour-printed cotton from India—a novelty "fashionable" and, therefore, satirisable in France.
 Or "distaffs and spindles"?
 She is indeed said to have "converted" both him and Grammont, the latter perhaps the most remarkable achievement of its kind.
 Mr. Austin Dobson's charming translation of this was originally intended to appear in the present writer's essay above mentioned.
 The chief region of bookselling. Cf. Corneille's early comedy, La Galerie du Palais.
 For note on Telemaque see end of chapter.
 Who is here herself an improved Doralise.
 To put it otherwise in technical French, there is a little grivoiserie in him, but absolutely no polissonnerie, still less any cochonnerie. Or it may be put, best of all, in his own words when, in a short French-Greek dialogue, called La Volupte, he makes Aspasia say to Agathon, "Je vous crois fort voluptueux, sans vous croire debauche."
LESAGE, MARIVAUX, PREVOST, CREBILLON
The words which closed the last chapter should make it unnecessary to prefix much of the same kind to this, though at the end we may have again to summarise rather more fully.
[Sidenote: The subjects of the chapter.]
As was there observed, our figures here are, with the possible exception of Crebillon Fils, "larger" persons than those dealt with before them; and they also mark a further transition towards the condition—the "employment or vocation"—of the novelist proper, though the polygraphic habit which has grown upon all modern literature, and which began in France almost earlier than anywhere else, affects them. Scarron was even more of a dramatist than of a novelist; and though this was also the case with Lesage and Marivaux—while Prevost was, save for his masterpiece, a polygraph of the polygraphs—their work in fiction was far larger, both positively and comparatively, than his. Gil Blas for general popularity, and Manon Lescaut for enthusiastic admiration of the elect, rank almost, if not quite, among the greatest novels of the world. Marivaux, for all his irritating habit of leaving things unfinished, and the almost equally irritating affectation of phrase, in which he anticipated some English novelists of the late nineteenth and earliest twentieth century, is almost the first "psychologist" of prose fiction; that is to say, where Madame de la Fayette had taken the soul-analysis of hardly more than two persons (Nemours scarcely counts) in a single situation, Marivaux gives us an almost complete dissection of the temperament and character of a girl and of a man under many ordinary life-circumstances for a considerable time.
[Sidenote: Lesage—his Spanish connections.]
But we must begin, not with him but with Lesage, not merely as the older man by twenty years, but in virtue of that comparative "greatness" of his greatest work which has been glanced at. There is perhaps a doubt whether Gil Blas is as much read now as it used to be; it is pretty certain that Le Diable Boiteux is not. The certainty is a pity; and if the doubt be true, it is a greater pity still. For more than a century Gil Blas was almost as much a classic, either in the original or in translation, in England as it was in France; and the delight which it gave to thousands of readers was scarcely more important to the history of fiction generally than the influence it exerted upon generation after generation of novelists, not merely in its own country, but on the far greater artists in fiction of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century in England from Fielding to Scott, if not to Dickens. Now, I suppose, that we are told to start with the axiom that even Fielding's structure of humanity is a simple toy-like thing, how much more is Lesage's? But for those of us who have not bowed the knee to foolish modern Baals, "They reconciled us; we embraced, and we have since been mortal enemies"; and the trout; and the soul of the licentiate; and Dr. Sangrado; and the Archbishop of Granada—to mention only the most famous and hackneyed matters—are still things a little larger, a little more complex, a little more eternal and true, than webs of uninteresting analysis told in phrase to which Marivaudage itself is golden and honeyed Atticism.
Yet once more we can banish, with a joyful and quiet mind, a crowd of idle fancies and disputes, apparently but not really affecting our subjects. The myth of a direct Spanish origin for Gil Blas is almost as easily dispersible by the clear sun of criticism as the exaggeration of the debt of the smaller book to Guevara. On the other hand, the general filiation of Lesage on his Spanish predecessors is undeniable, and not worth even shading off and toning down. A man is not ashamed of having good fathers and grandfathers, whose property he now enjoys, before him in life; and why should he be in literature?
[Sidenote: Peculiarity of his work generally.]
Lesage's work, in fiction and out of it, is considerable in bulk, but it is affected (to what extent disadvantageously different judges may judge differently) by some of the peculiarities of the time which have been already mentioned, and by some which have not. It is partly original, partly mere translation, and partly also a mixture of the strangest kind. Further, its composition took place in a way difficult to adjust to later ideas. Lesage was not, like Marivaux, a professed and shameless "unfinisher," but he took a great deal of time to finish his work. He was not an early-writing author; and when he did begin, he showed something of that same strange need of a suggestion, a "send-off," or whatever anybody likes to call it, which appears even in his greatest work. He began with the Letters of Aristaenetus, which, though perhaps they have been abused more than they deserve by people who have never read them, and would never have heard of them if it had not been for Alain Rene, are certainly not the things that most scholars, with the whole range of Greek literature before them to choose from, would have selected. His second venture was almost worse than his first; for there are some prettinesses in Aristaenetus, and except for the one famous passage enshrined by Pope in the Essay on Criticism, there is, I believe, nothing good in the continuation of Don Quixote by the so-called Avellaneda. But at any rate this job, which is attributed to the suggestion of the Abbe de Lyonne, "put" Lesage on Spanish, and never did fitter seed fall on more fertile soil.
[Sidenote: And its variety.]
Longinus would, I think, have liked Gil Blas, and indeed Lesage, very much. You might kill ten asses, of the tallest Poitou standard in size and the purest Zoilus or Momus sub-variety in breed, under you while going through his "faults." He translates; he borrows; he "plagiarises" about as much as is possible for anybody who is not a mere dullard to do. Of set plot there is nothing in his work, whether you take the two famous pieces, or the major adaptations like Estevanille Gonzales and Guzman d'Alfarache, or the lesser things, more Lucianic than anything else, such as the Cheminees de Madrid and the Journee des Parques and the Valise Trouvee. "He worked for his living" (as M. Anatole France long ago began a paper about him which is not quite the best of its very admirable author's work), and though the pot never boiled quite so merrily as the cook deserved, the fact of the pot-boiling makes itself constantly felt. Les chaines de l'esclavage must have cut deep into his soul, and the result of the cutting is evident enough in his work. But the vital marks on that work are such as many perfectly free men, who have wished to take literature as a mistress only, have never been able to impress on theirs. He died full of years, but scarcely of the honours due to him, failing in power, and after a life of very little luck, except as regards possession of a wife who seems to have been beautiful in youth and amiable always, with at least one son who observed the Fifth Commandment to the utmost. But he lives among the immortals, and there are few names in our present history which are of more importance to it than his.
Some of his best and least unequal work is indeed denied us. We have nothing to do with his drama, though Turcaret is something like a masterpiece in comedy, and Crispin Rival de son Maitre a capital farce. We cannot even discuss that remarkable Theatre de la Foire, which, though a mere collection of the lightest Harlequinades, has more readable matter of literature in it than the whole English comic drama since Sheridan, with the exception of the productions of the late Sir William Gilbert.
Nor must much be said even of his minor novel work. The later translations and adaptations from the Spanish need hardly any notice for obvious reasons; whatever is good in them being either not his, or better exemplified in the Devil and in Gil. The extremely curious and very Defoe-like book—almost if not quite his last—Vie et Aventures de M. de Beauchesne, Capitaine de Flibustiers, is rather a subject for a separate essay than for even a paragraph here. But Lesage, from our point of view, is Le Diable Boiteux and Gil Blas, and to the Diable Boiteux and Gil Blas let us accordingly turn.
[Sidenote: Le Diable Boiteux.]
The relations of the earlier and shorter book to the Diablo Cojuelo of Luis Velez de Guevara are among the most open secrets of literature. The Frenchman, in a sort of prefatory address to his Spanish parent and original, has put the matter fairly enough; anybody who will take the trouble can "control" or check the statement, by comparing the two books themselves. The idea—the rescuing of an obliging demon from the grasp of an enchanter, and his unroofing the houses of Madrid to amuse his liberator—is entirely Guevara's, and for a not inconsiderable space of time the French follows the Spanish closely. But then it breaks off, and the remainder of the book is, except for the carrying out of the general idea, practically original. The unroofing and revealing of secrets, from being merely casual and confined to a particular neighbourhood, becomes systematised: a lunatic asylum and a prison are subjected to the process; a set of dreamers are obliged to deliver up what Queen Mab is doing with them; and, as an incident, the student Don Cleofas, who has freed Asmodeus, gains through the friendly spirit's means a rich and pretty bride whom the demon—naturally immune from fire—has rescued in Cleofas's likeness from a burning house.
[Sidenote: Lesage and Boileau.]
The thing therefore neither has, nor could possibly pretend to have, any merit as a plotted and constructed whole in fiction. It is merely a variety of the old "framed" tale-collection, except that the frame is of the thinnest; and the individual stories, with a few exceptions, are extremely short, in fact little more than anecdotes. The power and attraction of the book lie simply in the crispness of the style, the ease and flow of the narrative, and the unfailing satiric knowledge of human nature which animates the whole. As it stands, it is double its original length; for Lesage, finding it popular, and never being under the trammels of a fixed design, very wisely, and for a wonder not unsuccessfully, gave it a continuation. And, except the equally obvious and arbitrary one of the recapture of the spirit by the magician, it has and could have no end. The most famous of the anecdotes about it is that Boileau—in 1707 a very old man—found his page reading it, and declared that such a book and such a critic as he should never pass a night under the same roof. Boileau, though he often said rude, unjust, and uncritical things, did not often say merely silly ones; and it has been questioned what was his reason for objecting to a book by no means shocking to anybody but Mrs. Grundy Grundified to the very nth, excellently written, and quite free from the bombast and the whimsicality which he loathed. Jealousy for Moliere, to whom, in virtue of Turcaret, Lesage had been set up as a sort of rival; mere senile ill-temper, and other things have been suggested; but the matter is of no real importance even if it is true. Boileau was one of the least catholic and the most arbitrary critics who ever lived; he had long made up and colophoned the catalogue of his approved library; he did not see his son's coat on the new-comer, and so he cursed him. It is not the only occasion on which we may bless what Boileau cursed.
[Sidenote: Gil Blas—its peculiar cosmopolitanism.]
Gil Blas, of course, is in every sense a "bigger" book of literature. That it has, from the point of view of the straitest sect of the Unitarians—and not of that sect only—much more unity than the Diable, would require mere cheap paradox to contend. It has neither the higher unity, say, of Hamlet, where every smallest scene and almost personage is connected with the general theme; nor the lower unity of such a thing as Phedre, where everything is pared down, or, as Landor put it in his own case, "boiled off" to a meagre residuum of theme special. It has, at the very most, that species of unity which Aristotle did not like even in epic, that of a succession of events happening to an individual; and while most of these might be omitted, or others substituted for them, without much or any loss, they exist without prejudice to mere additions to themselves. As the excellent Mr. Wall, sometime Professor of Logic at Oxford, and now with God, used to say, "Gentlemen, I can conceive an elephant," so one may conceive a Gil Blas, not merely in five instead of four, but in fifty or five hundred volumes. But, on the other hand, it has that still different unity (of which Aristotle does not seem to have thought highly, even if he thought of it at all), that all these miscellaneous experiences do not merely happen to a person with the same name—they happen to the same person. And they have themselves yet another unity, which I hardly remember any critic duly insisting on and discussing, in the fact that they all are possibly human accidents or incidents. Though he was a native of one of the most idiosyncratic provinces of not the least idiosyncratic country in Europe, Lesage is a citizen not of Brittany, not of France, not of Europe even, but of the world itself, in far more than the usual sense of cosmopolitanism. He has indeed coloured background and costume, incident and even personage itself so deeply with essence of "things of Spain," that, as has been said, the Spaniards, the most jealous of all nationalities except the smaller Celtic tribes, have claimed his work for themselves. Yet though Spain has one of the noblest languages, one of the greatest literatures in quality if not in bulk, one of the most striking histories, and one of the most intensely national characters in the world, it is—perhaps for the very reason last mentioned—as little cosmopolitan as any country, and Lesage, as has been said, is inwardly and utterly cosmopolitan or nothing.
At Paris, at Rome, at the Hague he's at home;
and though he seems to have known little of England, and, as most Frenchmen of his time had reason to do, to have disliked us, he has certainly never been anywhere more at home than in London. In fact—and it bears out what has been said—there is perhaps no capital in Europe where, in the two hundred years he has had to nationalise himself, Lesage has been less at home than at Paris itself. The French are of course proud of him in a way, but there is hardly one of their great writers about whom they have been less enthusiastic. The technical, and especially the neo-classically technical, shortcomings which have been pointed out may have had something to do with this; but the cosmopolitanism has perhaps more.
[Sidenote: And its adoption of the homme sensuel moyen fashion.]
For us Lesage occupies a position of immense importance in the history of the French novel; but if we were writing a history of the novel at large it would scarcely be lessened, and might even be relatively larger. He had come to it perhaps by rather strange ways; but it is no novelty to find that conjunction of road and goal. The Spanish picaresque romance was not in itself a very great literary kind; but it had in it a great faculty of emancipation. Outside the drama it was about the first division of literature to proclaim boldly the refusal to consider anything human as alien from human literary interest. But, as nearly always happens, it had exaggerated its protests, and become sordid, merely in revolt from the high-flown non-sordidness of previous romance. Lesage took the principle and rejected the application. He dared, practically for the first time, to take the average man of unheroic stamp, the homme sensuel moyen of a later French phrase, for his subject. Gil Blas is not a virtuous person, but he is not very often an actual scoundrel. (Is there any of us who has never been a scoundrel at all at all?) He is clever after his fashion, but he is not a genius; he is a little bit of a coward, but can face it out fairly at a pinch; he has some luck and ill-luck; but he does not come in for montes et maria, either of gold or of misery. I have no doubt that the comparison of Gil Blas and Don Quixote has often been made, and it would be rather an excursus here. But inferior as Lesage's work is in not a few ways, it has, like other non-quintessential things, much more virtue as model and pattern. Imitations of Don Quixote (except Graves's capital book, where the following is of the freest character) have usually been failures. It is hardly an extravagance to say that every novel of miscellaneous adventure since its date owes something, directly or indirectly, to Gil Blas.
One of the "faults"—it must be understood that between "faults" with inverted commas and faults without them there is a wide and sometimes an unbridgeable gulf—lies in the fact that the book is after all not much more of a whole, in any sense but that noted above, than Le Diable Boiteux itself. The innumerable incidents are to a very large extent episodes merely, and episodes in the loose, not the precise, sense of the term. That is to say, they are not merely detachable; they might be reattached to almost any number of other stories. But the redeeming feature—which is very much more than a mere redeeming feature—is the personality of the hero which has been already referred to. Lesage's scrip and staff, to apply the old images exactly enough, are his inexhaustible fertility in well-told stories and his faculty of delineating a possible and interesting human character.
[Sidenote: Its inequality—in the Second and Fourth Books especially.]
The characteristics of the successive parts of Gil Blas are distinct and interesting, the distinctions themselves being also rather curious. The anecdote cited above as to the Fourth and last volume is certainly confirmed by, and does not seem, as so many anecdotes of the kind do, to have been even possibly drawn from, the volume itself. Although the old power is by no means gone, the marks of its failing are pretty obvious. A glance has been given already to the unnecessary and disgusting repetition of the Pandar business—made, as it is, more disgusting by the distinctly tragic touch infused into it. The actual finale is, on the other hand, a good comedy ending of a commonplace kind, except that a comic author, such as Lesage once had been on and off the stage, would certainly have made Gil Blas suffer in his second marriage for his misdeeds of various kinds earlier, instead of leaving him in the not too clean cotton or clover of an old rip with a good young wife. If he had wanted a happy ending of a still conventional but satisfactory kind, he should have married Gil to Laure or Estelle (they were, in modern slang, sufficiently "shop-worn goods" not to be ill-mated, and Laure is perhaps the most attractive character in the whole book); have legitimated Lucrece, as by some odd crotchet he definitely refuses to do; have dropped the later Leporello business, in which his old love and her daughter are concerned, altogether, and have left us in a mild sunset of "reconciliation." If anybody scorns this suggestion as evidence of a futile liking for "rose-pink," let him remember that Gil Blas, ci-devant picaro and other ugly things, is actually left lapped in an Elysium not less improbable and much more undeserved than this. But it is disagreeable to dwell on the shortcomings of age, and it has only been done to show that this is a criticism and not a mere panegyric.
Oddly enough, the Second volume is also open to much exception of something, though not quite, the same kind; it seems as if Lesage, after making strong running, had a habit of nursing himself and even going to sleep for a while. The more than questionable habit of histoire-insertions revives; that of the rascal-hermit picaro, "Don Raphael," is, as the author admits, rather long, and, as he might have admitted, and as any one else may be allowed to say, very tiresome. Gil Blas himself goes through a long period of occultation, and the whole rather drags.
The First and the Third are the pillars of the house; and the Third, though (with the exception of the episode of the Archbishop, and that eternal sentence governing the relations of author and critic that "the homily which has the misfortune not to be approved" by the one is the very best ever produced by the other) not so well known, is perhaps even better than anything in the First. But the later part has, of course, not quite so much freshness; and nobody need want anything better than the successive scenes, slightly glanced at already, in which Gil Blas is taught, by no means finally, the ways of the world; the pure adventure interest of the robbers' cave, so admirably managed and so little over-dwelt on; the experiences of travel and of the capital; the vivid pictures of petit maitre and actress life; the double deception—thoroughly Spanish this, but most freshly and universally handled—by Laure and Gil; many other well-known things; all deserve the knowledge and the admiration that they have won. But the Third, in which the hero is hardly ever off the scene from first to last, is my own favourite. He shows himself—not at his best, but humanly enough—in the affair with the ill-fated Lorenca, on which the Leyva family might have looked less excusingly if the culprit had been anybody but Gil. The Granada scenes, however, and not by any means merely those with the Archbishop, are of the very first class; and the reappearance of Laure, with the admirable coolness by which she hoodwinks her "keeper" Marialva, yields to nothing in the book. For fifty pages it is all novel-gold; and though Gil Blas, in decamping from the place, and leaving Laure to bear the brunt of a possible discovery, commits one of his least heroic deeds, it is so characteristic that one forgives, not indeed him, but his creator. The whole of the Lerma part is excellent and not in the least improbably impossible; there is infinitely more "human natur'" in it, as Marryat's waterman would have said, than in the rechauffe of the situation with Olivares.
[Sidenote: Lesage's quality—not requiring many words, but indisputable.]
The effect indeed which is produced, in re-reading, by Le Diable Boiteux and Gil Blas, but especially by the latter, is of that especial kind which is a sort of "a posteriori intuition," if such a phrase may be permitted, of "classical" quality. This sensation, which appears, unfortunately, to be unknown to a great many people, is sometimes set down by the more critical or, let us say, the more censorious of them, to a sort of childish prepossession—akin to that which makes a not ill-conditioned child fail to discover any uncomeliness in his mother's or a favourite nurse's face. There is no retort to such a proposition as this so proper as the argument not ad hominem, but ab or ex homine. The present writer did not read the Devil till he had reached quite critical years; and though he read Gil Blas much earlier, he was not (for what reason he cannot say) particularly fond of it until the same period was reached. And yet its attractions cannot possibly be said to be of any recondite or artificial kind, and its defects are likely to be more, not less, recognised as the critical faculty acquires strength and practice. Nevertheless, recent reperusal has made him more conscious than ever of the existence of this quality of a classic in both, but especially in the larger and more famous book. And this is a mere pailful added to an ocean of previous and more important testimony. Gil Blas has certainly "classed" itself in the most various instances, of essentially critical, not specially critical but generally acute and appreciative, and more or less unsophisticated and ordinary judgments, as a thing that is past all question, equally enjoyable for its incidents, its character-sketches, and its phrasing—though the first are (for time and country) in no sense out of the way, the second scarcely go beyond the individualised type, and the third is neither gorgeous nor "alambicated," as the French say, nor in any way peculiar, except for its saturation with a sharp, shrewd, salt wit which may be described as the spirit of the popular proverb, somehow bodied and clothed with more purely literary form. It is true that, in the last few clauses, plenty of ground has been indicated for ascription of classicality in the best sense; and perhaps Lesage himself has summed the whole thing up when, in the "Declaration" of the author at the beginning of Gil Blas, he claims "to have set before himself only the representation of human life as it is." He has said it; and in saying and doing it he has said and done everything for his merits as a novelist and his place in the history of the novel.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Marivaux—Les Effets de la Sympathie (?)]
The Archbishop of Sens, who had the duty of "answering" Marivaux's "discourse of reception" into the Academy in the usual aigre-doux manner, informed him, with Academic frankness and Archiepiscopal propriety, that "in the small part of your work which I have run through, I soon recognised that the reading of these agreeable romances did not suit the austere dignity with which I am invested, or the purity of the ideas which religion prescribes me." This was all in the game, both for an Academician and for an Archbishop, and it probably did not discompose the novelist much. But if his Grace had read Les Effets de la Sympathie, and had chosen to criticise it, he might have made its author (always supposing that Marivaux was its author, which does not seem to be at all certain) much more uncomfortable. Although there is plenty of incident, it is but a dull book, and it contains not a trace of "Marivaudage" in style. A hero's father, who dies of poison in the first few pages, and is shown to have been brought round by an obliging gaoler in the last few; a hero himself, who thinks he has fallen in love with a beautiful and rich widow, playing good Samaritaness to him after he has fallen in among thieves, but a page or two later really does fall in love with a fair unknown looking languishingly out of a window; a corsaire, with the appropriate name of Turcamene, who is robustious almost from the very beginning, and receives at the end a fatal stab with his own poniard from the superfluous widow, herself also fatally wounded at the same moment by the same weapon (an economy of time, incident, and munitions uncommon off the stage); an intermediate personage who, straying—without any earthly business there—into one of those park "pavilions" which play so large a part in these romances, finds a lady asleep on the sofa, with her hand invitingly dropped, promptly kneels down, and kisses it: these and many other things fill up a Spanish kind of story, not uningeniously though rather improbably engineered, but dependent for its interest almost wholly on incident; for though it is not devoid of conversation, this conversation is without spirit or sparkle. It is, in fact, a "circulating library" novel before—at any rate at an early period of—circulating libraries: not unworkmanlike, probably not very unsatisfactory to its actual readers, and something of a document as to the kind of satisfaction they demanded; but not intrinsically important.
One has not seen much, in English, about Marivaux, despite the existence, in French, of one of the best of those monographs which assist the foreign critic so much, and sometimes perhaps help to beget his own lucubrations. Yet he is one of the most interesting writers of France, one of the most curious, and, one may almost say, one of the most puzzling. This latter quality he owes, in part at least, to a "skiey influence" of the time, which he shares with Lesage and Prevost, and indeed to some extent with most French writers of the eighteenth century—the influence of the polygraphic habit.
[Sidenote: His work in general.]
He was a dramatist, and a voluminous one, long before he was a novelist: and some of his thirty or forty plays, especially Les Fausses Confidences and Le Jeu de l'Amour et du Hasard, still rank among at least the second-class classics of the French comic stage. He tried, for a time, one of the worst kinds of merely fashionable literature, the travesty-burlesque. He was a journalist, following Addison openly in the title, and to some extent in the manner, of Le Spectateur, which he afterwards followed by Le Cabinet d'un Philosophe, showing, however, here, as he was more specially tempted to do, his curious, and it would seem unconquerable, habit of leaving things unfinished, which only does not appear in his plays, for the simple and obvious reason that managers will not put an unfinished play on the stage, and that, if they did, the afterpiece would be premature and of a very lively character. But the completeness of his very plays is incomplete; they "run huddling" to their conclusion, and are rather bundles of good or not so good acts and scenes than entire dramas. We are, however, only concerned with the stories, of which there are three: the early, complete, but doubtful Effets de la Sympathie, already discussed; the central in every way, but endlessly dawdled over, Marianne, which never got finished at all (though Mme. Riccoboni continued it in Marivaux's own lifetime, and with his placid approval, and somebody afterwards botched a clumsy Fin); and Le Paysan Parvenu, the latter part of which is not likely to be genuine, and, even if so, is not a real conclusion. We may, however, with some, advantage, take it before Marianne, if only because it is not the book generally connected with its author's name.
[Sidenote: Le Paysan Parvenu.]
Notwithstanding this comparative oblivion, Le Paysan Parvenu is an almost astonishingly clever and original book, at least as far as the five of its eight parts, which are certainly Marivaux's, go. I have read the three last twice critically, at a long interval of time, and I feel sure that the positive internal evidence confirms, against their authenticity, the negative want of external for it. In any case they add nothing—they do not, as has been said, even really "conclude"—and we may, therefore, without any more apology, confine ourselves to the part which is certain. Some readers may possibly know that when that strangest of strange persons, Restif de la Bretonne (see the last chapter of this book), took up the title with the slight change or gloss of Parvenu to Perverti, he was at least partly actuated by his own very peculiar, but distinctly existing, variety of moral indignation. And though Pierre Carlet (which was Marivaux's real name) and "Monsieur Nicolas" (which was as near a real name as any that Restif had) were, the one a quite respectable person on ordinary standards, and the other an infinitely disreputable creature, still the later novelist was perhaps ethically justified. Marivaux's successful rustic does not, so far as we are told, actually do anything that contravenes popular morality, though he is more than once on the point of doing so. He is not a bad-blooded person either; and he has nothing of the wild-beast element in the French peasantry which history shows us from the Jacquerie to the Revolution, and which some folk try to excuse as the result of aristocratic tyranny. But he is an elaborate and exceedingly able portrait of another side of the peasant, and, if we may trust literature, even with some administration of salt, of the French peasant more particularly. He is what we may perhaps be allowed to call unconsciously determined to get on, though he does not go quite to the length of the quocunque modo, and has, as far as men are concerned, some scruples. But in relation to the other sex he has few if any, though he is never brutal. He is, as we may say, first "perverted," though not as yet parvenu, in the house of a Parisian, himself a nouveau riche and novus homo, on whose property in Champagne his own father is a wine-farmer. He is early selected for the beginnings of Lady-Booby-like attentions by "Madame," while he, as far as he is capable of the proceeding, falls in love with one of Madame's maids, Genevieve. It does not appear that, if the lady's part of the matter had gone further, Jacob (that is his name) would have been at all like Joseph. But when he finds that the maid is also the object of "Monsieur's" attentions, and when he is asked to take the profits of this affair (the attitude of the girl herself is very skilfully delineated) and marry her, his own point d'honneur is reached. Everything is, however, cut short by the sudden death, in hopelessly embarrassed circumstances, of Monsieur, and the consequent cessation of Madame's attraction for a young man who wishes to better himself. He leaves both her and Genevieve with perfect nonchalance; though he has good reason for believing that the girl really loves him, however she may have made a peculiar sort of hay when the sun shone, and that both she and his lady are penniless, or almost so.
He has, however, the luck which makes the parvenu, if in this instance he can hardly be said to deserve it. On the Pont Neuf he sees an elderly lady, apparently about to swoon. He supports her home, and finds that she is the younger and more attractive of two old-maid and devote sisters. The irresistibleness to this class of the feminine sex (and indeed by no means to this class only) of a strapping and handsome footman is a commonplace of satire with eighteenth-century writers, both French and English. It is exercised possibly on both sisters, though the elder is a shrew; certainly on the younger, and also on their elderly bonne, Catherine. But it necessarily leads to trouble. The younger, Mlle. Habert (the curious hiding of Christian names reappears here), wants to retain Jacob in the joint service, and Catherine at least makes no objection, for obvious reasons. But the elder sister recalcitrates violently, summoning to her aid her "director," and the younger, who is financially independent, determines to leave the house. She does so (not taking Catherine with her, though the bonne would willingly have shared Jacob's society), and having secured lodgings, regularly proposes to her (the word may be used almost accurately) "swain." Jacob has no scruples of delicacy here, though the nymph is thirty years older than himself, and though he has, if no dislike, no particular affection for her. But it is an obvious step upwards, and he makes no difficulties. The elder sister, however, makes strong efforts to forbid the banns, and her interest prevails on a "President" (the half-regular power of the French noblesse de robe, though perhaps less violently exercised, must have been almost as galling as the irresponsibleness of men of birth and "sword") to interpose and actually stop the arranged ceremony. But Jacob appears in person, and states his case convincingly; the obstacle is removed, and the pair are made happy at an extraordinary hour (two or three in the morning), which seems to have been then fashionable for marriages. The conventional phrase is fairly justified; for the bride is completely satisfied, and Jacob is not displeased.
His marriage, however, interferes not in the very least with his intention to "get on" by dint of his handsome face and brawny figure. On the very day of his wedding he goes to visit a lady of position, and also of devoutness, who is a great friend of the President and his wife, has been present at the irregular enquiry, and has done something for him. This quickly results in a regular assignation, which, however, is comically broken off. Moreover this lady introduces him to another of the same temperament—which indeed seems to have been common with French ladies (the Bellaston type being not the exception, but the rule). She is to introduce him to her brother-in-law, an influential financier, and she quickly makes plain the kind of gratitude she expects. This also is, as far as we are told, rather comically interfered with—Marivaux's dramatic practice made him good at these disappointments. She does give the introduction, and her brother-in-law, though a curmudgeon, is at first disposed to honour her draft. But here an unexpected change is made by the presentation of Jacob as a man of noble sentiment. The place he is to have is one taken from an invalid holder of it, whose wife comes to beg mercy: whereat Jacob, magnanimously and to the financier's great wrath, declines to profit by another's misfortune. Whether the fact that the lady is very pretty has anything to do with the matter need not be discussed. His—let us call it at least—good nature, however, indirectly makes his fortune. Going to visit the husband and wife whom he has obliged, he sees a young man attacked by three enemies and ill-bested. Jacob (who is no coward, and, thanks to his wife insisting on his being a gentleman and "M. de la Vallee," has a sword) draws and uses it on the weaker side, with no skill whatever, but in the downright, swash-and-stab, short- and tall-sailor fashion, which (in novels at least) is almost always effective. The assailants decamp, and the wounded but rescued person, who is of very high rank, conceives a strong friendship for his rescuer, and, as was said above, makes his fortune. The last and doubtful three-eighths of the book kill off poor Mlle. Habert (who, although Jacob would never have been unkind to her, was already beginning to be very jealous and by no means happy), and marry him again to a younger lady of rank, beauty, fashion, and fortune, in the imparted possession of all of which we leave him. But, except to the insatiables of "what happened next," these parts are as questionably important as they are decidedly doubtful.
The really important points of the book are, in the first place, the ease and narrative skill with which the story is told in the difficult form of autobiography, and, secondly, the vivacity of the characters. Jacob himself is, as will have been seen already, a piebald sort of personage, entirely devoid of scruple in some ways, but not ill-natured, and with his own points of honour. He is perfectly natural, and so are all the others (not half of whom have been mentioned) as far as they go. The cross sister and the "kind" one; the false prude and false devote Mme. de Ferval, and the jolly, reckless, rather coarse Mme. de Fecour; the tyrannical, corrupt, and licentious financier, with others more slightly drawn, are seldom, if ever, out of drawing. The contemporary wash of colour passes, as it should, into something "fast"; you are in the Paris of the Regency, but you are at the same time in general human time and place, if not in eternity and infinity.
[Sidenote: Marianne—outline of the story.]
The general selection, however, of Marianne as Marivaux's masterpiece is undoubtedly right, though in more ways than one it has less engaging power than the Paysan, and forebodes to some extent, if it does not actually display, the boring qualities which novels of combined analysis and jargon have developed since. The opening is odd: the author having apparently transplanted to the beginning of a novel the promiscuous slaughter with which we are familiar at the end of a play. Marianne (let us hail the appearance of a Christian-named heroine at last), a small child of the tenderest years, is, with the exception of an ecclesiastic, who takes to his heels and gets off, the sole survivor of a coachful of travellers who are butchered by a gang of footpads, because two of the passengers have rashly endeavoured to defend themselves. Nothing can be found out about the child—an initial improbability, for the party has consisted of father, mother, and servants, as well as Marianne. But the good cure of the place and his sister take charge of her, and bring her up carefully (they are themselves "gentle-people," as the good old phrase, now doubtless difficult of application, went) till she is fifteen, is very pretty, and evidently must be disposed of in some way, for her guardians are poor and have no influential relations. The sister, however, takes her to Paris—whither she herself goes to secure, if possible, the succession of a relative—to try to obtain some situation. But the inheritance proves illusory; the sister falls ill at Paris and dies there; while the brother is disabled, and his living has to be, if not transferred to, provided with, a substitute. This second massacre (for the brother dies soon) provides Marivaux with the situation he requires—that of a pretty girl, alone in the capital, and absolutely unfriended. Fortunately a benevolent Director knows a pious gentleman, M. de Climal, who is fond of doing good, and also, as it appears shortly by the story, of pretty girls. Marianne, with the earliest touch of distinct "snobbishness"—let it be proudly pointed out that the example is not English,—declines to go into service, but does not so much mind being a shop-girl, and M. de Climal establishes her with his lingere, a certain Mme. Dutour.
This good lady is no procuress, but her morals are of a somewhat accommodating kind, and she sets to work, experiencing very little difficulty in the process, to remove Marianne's scruples about accepting presents from M. de Climal—pointing out, very logically, that there is no obligation to (as Chesterfield put it not long after) payer de sa personne; though she is naturally somewhat disgusted when the gifts take the form of handsome lingerie bought at another shop. When this, and a dress to match, are made up, Marianne as naturally goes to church to show them: and indulges in very shrewd if not particularly amiable remarks on her "even-Christians"—a delightful English archaism, which surely needs no apology for its revival. Coming out, she slips and sprains her ankle, whereupon, still naturally, appears the inevitable young man, a M. de Valville, who, after endless amicable wrangling, procures her a coach, but not without an awkward meeting. For M. de Valville turns out to be the nephew of M. de Climal; and the uncle, with a lady, comes upon the nephew and Marianne; while, a little later, each finds the other in turn at the girl's feet. Result: of course more than suspicion on the younger man's part, and a mixture of wrath and desire to hurry matters on the elder's. He offers Marianne a regular (or irregular) "establishment" at a dependent's of his own, with a small income settled upon her, etc. She refuses indignantly, the indignation being rather suspiciously divided between her two lovers; is "planted there" by the old sinner Climal, and of course requested to leave by Mme. Dutour; returns all the presents, much to her landlady's disgust, and once more seeks, though in a different mood, the shelter of the Church. Her old helper the priest for some time absolutely declines to admit the notion of Climal's rascality; but fortunately a charitable lady is more favourable, and Marianne gets taken in as a pensionnaire at a convent. Climal, whose sister and Valville's mother the lady turns out to be, falls ill, repents, confesses, and leaves Marianne a comfortable annuity. Union with Valville is not opposed by the mother; but other members of the family are less obliging, and Valville himself wanders after an English girl of a Jacobite exiled family, Miss Warton (Varthon). The story then waters itself out, before suddenly collapsing, with a huge and uninteresting Histoire d'une Religieuse. Whereat some folk may grumble; but others, more philosophically, may be satisfied, in no uncomplimentary sense, without hearing what finally made Marianne Countess of Three Stars, or indeed knowing any more of her actual history.
For in fact the entire interest of Marianne is concentrated in and on Marianne herself, and the fact that this is so at once makes continuation superfluous, and gives the novel its place in the history of fiction. We have quite enough, as it is, to show us—as the Princess Augusta said to Fanny Burney of the ill-starred last of French "Mesdames Royales"—"what sort of a girl she is." And her biographer has made her a very interesting sort of girl, and himself in making her so, a very interesting, and almost entirely novel, sort of novelist. To say that she is a wholly attractive character would be entirely false, except from the point of view of the pure student of art. She is technically virtuous, which is, of course, greatly to her credit. She is not bad-blooded, but if there were such a word as "good-blooded" it could hardly be applied to her. With all her preserving borax- or formalin-like touch of "good form," she is something of a minx. She is vain, selfish—in fact wrapped up in self—without any sense of other than technical honour. But she is very pretty (which covers a multitude of sins), and she is really clever.
[Sidenote: Importance of Marianne herself.]
Yet the question at issue is not whether one can approve of Marianne, nor whether one can like her, nor even whether, approving and liking her or not, one could fall in love with her "for her comely face and for her fair bodie," as King Honour did in the ballad, and as homo rationalis usually, though not invariably, does fall in love. The question is whether Marivaux has, in her, created a live girl, and to what extent he has mastered the details of his creation. The only critical answer, I think, must be that he has created such a girl, and that he has not left her a mere outline or type, but has furnished the house as well as built it. She is, in the particular meaning on which Mr. Hardy's defenders insist, as "pure" a "woman" as Tess herself. And if there is a good deal missing from her which fortunately some women have, there is nothing in her which some women have not, and not so very much which the majority of women have not, in this or that degree. It is difficult not to smile when one compares her quintessence with the complicated and elusive caricatures of womanhood which some modern novel-writers—noisily hailed as gynosophists—have put together, and been complimented on putting together. What is more, she is perhaps the first nearly complete character of the kind that had been presented in novel at her date. This is a great thing to say for Marivaux, and it can be said without the slightest fear of inability to support the saying.
[Sidenote: Marivaux and Richardson—"Marivaudage."]
Although, therefore, we may not care much to enter into calculations as to the details of the indebtedness of Richardson to Marivaux, some approximations of the two, for critical purposes, may be useful. One may even see, without too much folly of the Thaumast kind, an explanation, beyond that of mere idleness, in the Frenchman's inveterate habit of not completing. He did not want you to read him "for the story"; and therefore he cared little for the story itself, and nothing at all for the technical finishing of it. The stories of both his characteristic novels are, as has been fairly shown, of the very thinnest. What he did want to do was to analyse and "display," in a half-technical sense of that word, his characters; and he did this as no man had done before him, and as few have done since, though many, quite ignorant of their indebtedness, have taken the method from him indirectly. In the second place, his combination of method and phrase is for infinite thoughts. This combination is not necessary; there is, to take up the comparative line, nothing of it in Richardson, nothing in Fielding, nothing in Thackeray. A few French eighteenth-century writers have it in direct imitation of Marivaux himself; but it dies out in France, and in the greatest novel-period there is nothing of it. It revives in the later nineteenth century, especially with us, and, curiously enough, if we look back to the beginnings of Romance in Greek, there is a good deal there, the crown and flower being, as has been before remarked, in Eustathius Macrembolita, but something being noticeable in earlier folk, especially Achilles Tatius, and the trick having evidently come from those rhetoricians of whose class the romancers were a kind of offshoot. It is, however, only fair to say that, if Marivaux thought in intricate and sometimes startling ways, his actual expression is never obscure. It is a maze, but a maze with an unbroken clue of speech guiding you through it.
[Sidenote: Examples:—Marianne on the physique and moral of Prioresses and Nuns.]
A few examples of method and style may now be given. Here is Marianne's criticism—rather uncannily shrewd and very characteristic both of her subject and of herself—of that peculiar placid plumpness which has been observed by the profane in devout persons, especially in the Roman Church and in certain dissenting sects (Anglicanism does not seem to be so favourable to it), and in "persons of religion" (in the technical sense) most of all.
This Prioress was a short little person, round and white, with a double chin, and a complexion at once fresh and placid. You never see faces like that in worldly persons: it is a kind of embonpoint quite different from others—one which has been formed more quietly and more methodically—that is to say, something into which there enters more art, more fashioning, nay, more self-love, than into that of such as we.
As a rule, it is either temperament, or feeding, or laziness and luxury, which give us such of it as we have. But in order to acquire the kind of which I am speaking, it is necessary to have given oneself up with a saintlike earnestness to the task. It can only be the result of delicate, loving, and devout attention to the comfort and well-being of the body. It shows not only that life—and a healthy life—is an object of desire, but that it is wanted soft, undisturbed, and dainty; and that, while enjoying the pleasures of good health, the person enjoying it bestows on herself all the pettings and the privileges of a perpetual convalescence.
Also this religious plumpness is different in outward form from ours, which is profane of aspect; it does not so much make a face fat, as it makes it grave and decent; and so it gives the countenance an air, not so much joyous, as tranquil and contented.
Further, when you look at these good ladies, you find in them an affable exterior; but perhaps, for all that, an interior indifference. Their faces, and not their souls, give you sympathy and tenderness; they are comely images, which seem to possess sensibility, and which yet have merely a surface of kindness and sentiment.
Acute as this is, it may be said to be somewhat displaced—though it must be remembered that it is the Marianne of fifty, "Mme. la Comtesse de * * *," who is supposed to be writing, not the Marianne of fifteen. No such objection can be taken to what follows.
[She is, after the breach with Climal, and after Valville has earlier discovered his wicked uncle on his knees before her, packing up the—well! not wages of iniquity, but baits for it—to send back to the giver. A little "cutting" may be made.]
[Sidenote: She returns the gift-clothes.]
Thereupon I opened my trunk to take out first the newly bought linen. "Yes, M. de Valville, yes!" said I, pulling it out, "you shall learn to know me and to think of me as you ought." This thought spurred me on, so that, without my exactly thinking of it, it was rather to him than to his uncle that I was returning the whole, all the more so that the return of linen, dress, and money, with a note I should write, could not fail to disabuse Valville, and make him regret the loss of me. He had seemed to me to possess a generous soul; and I applauded myself beforehand on the sorrow which he would feel at having treated so outrageously a girl so worthy of respectful treatment as I was—for I saw in myself, confessedly, I don't know how many titles to respect.
In the first place I put my bad luck, which was unique; to add to this bad luck I had virtue, and they went so well together! Then I was young, and on the top of it all I was pretty, and what more do you want? If I had arranged matters designedly to render myself an object of sympathy, to make a generous lover sigh at having maltreated me, I could not have succeeded better; and, provided I hurt Valville's feelings, I was satisfied. My little plan was never to see him again in my lifetime; and this seemed to me a very fair and proud one; for I loved him, and I was even very glad to have loved him, because he had perceived my love, and, seeing me break with him, notwithstanding, would see also what a heart he had had to do with.
The little person goes on very delectably describing the packing, and how she grudged getting rid of the pretty things, and at last sighed and wept—whether for herself, or Valville, or the beautiful gown, she didn't know. But, alas! there is no more room, except to salute her as the agreeable ancestress of all the beloved coquettes and piquant minxes in prose fiction since. Could anything handsomer be said of her creator?
* * * * *
[Sidenote: His minor novels—the opinions on them of Sainte-Beuve.]
[Sidenote: And of Planche.]
It is, though an absolute and stereotyped commonplace, an almost equally absolute necessity, to begin any notice of the Abbe Prevost by remarking that nothing of his voluminous work is now, or has been for a long time, read, except Manon Lescaut. It may be added, though one is here repeating predecessors to not quite the same extent, that nothing else of his, in fiction at least, is worth reading. The faithful few who do not dislike old criticism may indeed turn over his Le Pour et [le] Contre not without reward. But his historical and other compilations—his total production in volumes is said to run over the hundred, and the standard edition of his Oeuvres Choisies extends to thirty-nine not small ones—are admittedly worthless. As to his minor novels—if one may use that term, albeit they are as major in bulk as they are minor in merit—opinions of importance, and presumably founded on actual knowledge, have differed somewhat strangely. Sainte-Beuve made something of a fight for them, but it was the Sainte-Beuve of almost the earliest years (1831), when, according to a weakness of beginners in criticism, he was a little inclined "to be different," for the sake of difference. Against Cleveland even he lifts up his heel, though in a rather unfortunate manner, declaring the reading of the greater part to be "aussi fade que celle d'Amadis." Now to some of us the reading of Amadis is not "fade" at all. But he finds some philosophical and psychological passages of merit. Over the Memoires d'un Homme de Qualite—that huge and unwieldy galleon to which the frail shallop of Manon was originally attached, and which has long been stranded on the reefs of oblivion, while its fly-boat sails for ever more—he is quite enthusiastic, finds it, though with a certain relativity, "natural," "frank," and "well-preserved," gives it a long analysis, actually discovers in it "an inexpressible savour" surpassing modern "local colour," and thinks the handling of it comparable in some respects to that of The Vicar of Wakefield! The Doyen de Killerine—the third of Prevost's long books—is "infinitely agreeable," "si l'on y met un peu de complaisance." (The Sainte-Beuve of later years would have noticed that an infinity which has to be made infinite by a little complaisance is curiously finite). The later and shorter Histoire d'une Grecque moderne is a joli roman, and gracieux, though it is not so charming and subtle as Crebillon fils would have made it, and is "knocked off rather haphazardly." Another critic of 1830, now perhaps too much forgotten, Gustave Planche, does not mention the Grecque, and brushes aside the three earlier and bigger books rather hastily, though he allows "interest" to both Cleveland and the Doyen. Perhaps, before "coming to real things" (as Balzac once said of his own work) in Manon, some remarks, not long, but first-hand, and based on actual reading at more than one time of life, as to her very unreal family, may be permitted here, though they may differ in opinion from the judgment of these two redoubtable critics.
[Sidenote: The books themselves—Histoire d'une Grecque Moderne.]
I do not think that when I first wrote about Prevost (I had read Manon long before) more than thirty years ago, in a Short History of French Literature, I paid very much attention to these books. I evidently had not read the Grecque Moderne, for I said nothing about it. Of the others I said only that they are "romances of adventure, occupying a middle place between those of Lesage and Marivaux." It is perfectly true, but of course not very "in-going," and whatever reading I then gave any of them had not left very much impression on my mind, when recently, and for the purpose of the present work, I took them up again, and the Histoire as well. This last is the story of a young modern Greek slave named Theophe (a form of which the last syllable seems more modern than Greek), who is made visible in full harem by her particularly complaisant master, a Turkish pasha, to a young Frenchman, admired and bought by this Frenchman (the relater of the story), and freed by him. He does not at first think of making her his mistress, but later does propose it, only to meet a refusal of a somewhat sentimental-romantic character, though she protests not merely gratitude, but love for him. The latter part of the book is occupied by what Sainte-Beuve calls "delicate" ambiguities, which leave us in doubt whether her "cruelty" is shown to others as well, or whether it is not. In suggesting that Crebillon would have made it charming, the great critic has perhaps made another of those slips which show the novitiate. The fact is that it is an exceedingly dull book: and that to have made it anything else, while retaining anything like its present "propriety," either an entire metamorphosis of spirit, which might have made it as passionate as Manon itself, or the sort of filigree play with thought and phrase which Marivaux would have given, would be required. As a "Crebillonnade" (v. inf.) it might have been both pleasant and subtle, but it could only have been made so by becoming exceedingly indecent.
Still, its comparative (though only comparative) shortness, and a certain possibility rather than actuality of interest in the situation, may recommend this novel at least to mercy. If the present writer were on a jury trying Cleveland, no want of food or fire should induce him to endorse any such recommendation in regard to that intolerable book. It is, to speak frankly, one of the very few books—one of the still fewer novels—which I have found it practically impossible to read even in the "skim and skip and dip" fashion which should, no doubt, be only practised as a work of necessity (i.e. duty to others) and of mercy (to oneself) on extraordinary occasions, but which nobody but a prig and a pedant will absolutely disallow. Almost the only good thing I can find to say about it is that Prevost, who lived indeed for some time in England, is now and then, if not always, miraculously correct in his proper names. He can actually spell Hammersmith! Other merit—and this is not constant (in the dips which I have actually made, to rise exhausted from each, and skip rather than even skim to the rest)—I can find none. The beginning is absurd and rather offensive, the hero being a natural son of Cromwell by a woman who has previously been the mistress of Charles I. The continuation is a mish-mash of adventure, sometimes sanguinary, but never exciting, travel (in fancy parts of the West Indies, etc.), and the philosophical disputations which Sainte-Beuve found interesting. As for the end, no two persons seem quite agreed what is the end. Sainte-Beuve speaks of it as an attempted suicide of the hero—the most justifiable of all his actions, if he had succeeded. Prevost himself, in the Preface to the Doyen de Killerine, repeats an earlier disavowal (which he says he had previously made in Holland) of a fifth volume, and says that his own work ended with the murder of Cleveland by one of the characters. Again, this is a comprehensible and almost excusable action, and might have followed, though it could not have preceded, the other. But if it was the end, the other was not. A certain kind of critic may say that it is my duty to search and argue this out. But, for my part, I say as a reader to Cleveland, "No more in thee my steps shall be, For ever and for ever."
[Sidenote: Le Doyen de Killerine.]
Le Doyen de Killerine is not perhaps so utterly to be excommunicated as Cleveland, and, as has been said above, some have found real interest in it. It is not, however, free either from the preposterousness or from the dulness of the earlier book, though the first characteristic is less preposterous as such preposterousness goes. The Dean of Killerine (Coleraine) is a Roman Catholic dean, just after the expulsion of James II., when, we learn with some surprise, that neighbourhood was rather specially full of his co-religionists. He is a sort of lusus naturae, being bow-legged, humpbacked, potbellied, and possessing warts on his brows, which make him a sort of later horned Moses. The eccentricity of his appearance is equalled by that of his conduct. He is the eldest son of an Irish gentleman (nobleman, it would sometimes seem), and his father finds a pretty girl who is somehow willing to marry him. But, feeling no vocation for marriage, he suggests to her (a suggestion perhaps unique in fiction if not in fact) that she should marry his father instead. This singular match comes off, and a second family results, the members of which are, fortunately, not lusus naturae, but a brace of very handsome and accomplished boys, George and Patrick, and an extremely pretty girl, Rosa. Of these three, their parents dying when they are something short of full age, the excellent dean becomes a sort of guardian. He takes them to the exiled court of Versailles, and his very hen-like anxieties over the escapades of these most lively ducklings supply the main subject of the book. It might have been made amusing by humorous treatment, but Prevost had no humour in him: and it might have been made thrilling by passion, but he never, except in the one great little instance, compressed or distilled his heaps and floods of sensibility and sensationalism into that. The scene where a wicked Mme. de S—— plays, and almost outplays, Potiphar's wife to the good but hideous Dean's Joseph is one of the most curious in novel-literature, though one of the least amusing.
[Sidenote: The Memoires d'un Homme de Qualite.]
We may now go back to the Memoires, partly in compliment to the master of all mid-nineteenth-century critics, but more because of their almost fortuitous good luck in ushering Manon into the world. There is something in them of both their successors, Cleveland and the Doyen, but it may be admitted that they are less unreadable than the first, and less trivial than the second. The plan—if it deserve that name—is odd, one marquis first telling his own fortunes and voyages and whatnots, and then serving as Mentor (the application, though of course not original, is inevitable) to another marquis in further voyages and adventures. There are Turkish brides and Spanish murdered damsels; English politics and literature, where, unfortunately, the spelling does sometimes break down; glances backward, in "Histoires" of the Grand Siecle, at meetings with Charles de Sevigne, Racine, etc.; mysterious remedies, a great deal of moralising, and a great deal more of weeping. Indeed the whole of Prevost, like the whole of that "Sensibility Novel" of which he is a considerable though rather an outside practitioner, is pervaded with a gentle rain of tears wherein the personages seem to revel—indeed admit that they do so—in the midst of their woes.
[Sidenote: Its miscellaneous curiosities.]
On the whole, however, the youthful—or almost youthful—half-wisdom of Sainte-Beuve is better justified of its preference for the Memoires than of other things in the same article. I found it, reading it later on purpose and with "preventions" rather the other way, very much more readable than any of its companions (Manon is not its companion, but in a way its constituent), without being exactly readable simpliciter. All sorts of curious things might be dug out of it: for instance, quite at the beginning, a more definite declaration than I know elsewhere of that curious French title-system which has always been such a puzzle to Englishmen. "Il se fit appeler le Comte de ... et, se voyant un fils, il lui donna celui de Marquis de ..." There is a good deal in it which makes us think that Prevost had read Defoe, and something which makes it not extravagant to fancy that Thackeray had read Prevost. But once more "let us come to the real things—let us speak of" Manon Lescaut.
[Sidenote: Manon Lescaut.]
[Sidenote: Its uniqueness.]
It would be a very interesting question in that study of literature—rather unacademic, or perhaps academic in the best sense only—which might be so near and is so far—whether the man is most to be envied who reads Manon Lescaut for the first time in blissful ignorance of these other things, and even of what has been said of them; or he who has, by accident or design, toiled through the twenty volumes of the others and comes upon Her. My own case is the former: and I am far from quarrelling with it. But I sometimes like to fancy—now that I have reversed the proceeding—what it would have been like to dare the voices—the endless, dull, half-meaningless, though not threatening voices—of those other books—to refrain even from the appendix to the Memoires as such, and never, till the Modern Greekess has been dispatched, return to and possess the entire and perfect jewel of Manon. I used to wonder, when, for nearer five and twenty than twenty years, I read for review hundreds of novels, English and French, whether anybody would ever repeat Prevost's extraordinary spurt and "sport" in this wonderful little book. I am bound to say that I never knew an instance. The "first book" which gives a promise—dubious it may be, but still promising—and is never followed by anything that fulfils this, is not so very uncommon, though less common in prose fiction than in poetry. The not so very rare "single-speech" poems are also not real parallels. It is of the essence of poetry, according to almost every theory, that it should be, occasionally at least, inexplicable and unaccountable. I believe that every human being is capable of poetry, though I should admit that the exhibition of the capability would be in most cases—I am sure it would be in my own—"highly to be deprecated." But with a sober prose fiction of some scope and room and verge it is different. The face of Helen; the taste of nectar; the vision of the clouds or of the sea; the passion of a great action in oneself or others; the infinite poignancy of suffering or of pleasure, may draw—once and never again—immortal verse from an exceedingly mortal person. Such things might also draw a phrase or a paragraph of prose. But they could not extract a systematic and organised prose tale of some two hundred pages, each of them much fuller than those of our average six-shilling stuff; and yet leave the author, who had never shown himself capable of producing anything similar before, unable to produce anything in the least like it again. I wonder that the usual literary busybodies have never busied themselves—perhaps they have, for during a couple of decades I have not had the opportunity of knowing everything that goes on in French literature as I once did—with Prevost, demonstrating that Manon was a posthumous work of the Regent (who was a clever man), or an expression of a real passion which lay at the back of Richelieu's debauchery, or written by some unknown author from whom the Abbe bought it, and who died early, or something else of the kind.
There does not, however, appear to be the slightest chance or hope or fear (whichever expression be preferred) of the kind. Although Prevost elsewhere indulges—as everybody else for a long time in France and England alike did, save creative geniuses like Fielding—in transparently feigned talk about the origins of his stories, he was a very respectable man in his way, and not at all likely to father or to steal any one else's work in a disreputable fashion. There are no other claimants for the book: and though it may be difficult for a foreigner to find the faults of style that Gustave Planche rebukes in Prevost generally, there is nothing in the mere style of Manon which sets it above the others.
For once one may concede that the whole attraction of the piece, barring one or two transient but almost Shakespearian flashes of expression—such as the famous "Perfide Manon! Perfide!" when she and Des Grieux first meet after her earliest treason—is to be found in its marvellous humanity, its equally marvellous grasp of character, and the intense, the absolutely shattering pathos of the relations of the hero and heroine. There are those, of course, who make much of the persona tertia, Tiberge, the virtuous and friendly priest, who has a remarkable command of money for a not highly placed ecclesiastic, lends it with singular want of circumspection, and then meddles with the best of intentions and the most futile or mischievous of results. Very respectable man, Tiberge; but one with whom on n'a que faire. Manon and Des Grieux; Des Grieux and Manon—these are as all-sufficient to the reader as Manon was more than sufficient to Des Grieux, and as he, alas! was, if only in some ways, insufficient to Manon.
One of the things which are nuisances in Prevost's other books becomes pardonable, almost admirable, in this. His habit of incessant, straight-on narration by a single person, his avoidance of dialogue properly so called, is, as has been noted, a habit common to all these early novels, and, to our taste if not to that of their early readers, often disastrous. Here it is a positive advantage. Manon speaks very little; and so much the better. Her "comely face and her fair bodie" (to repeat once more a beloved quotation) speak for her to the ruin of her lover and herself—to the age-long delectation of readers. On the other hand, the whole speech is Des Grieux', and never was a monologue better suited or justified. The worst of such things is usually that there are in them all sorts of second thoughts of the author. There is none of this littleness in the speech of Des Grieux. He is a gentle youth in the very best sense of the term, and as we gather—not from anything he says of himself, but from the general tenor—by no means a "wild gallant"; affectionate, respectful to his parents, altogether "douce," and, indeed, rather (to start with) like Lord Glenvarloch in The Fortunes of Nigel. He meets Manon (Prevost has had the wits to make her a little older than her lover), and actum est de both of them.
[Sidenote: The character of its heroine.]
But Manon herself? She talks (it has been said) very little, and it was not necessary that she should talk much. If she had talked as Marianne talks, we should probably hate her, unless, as is equally probable, we ceased to take any interest in her. She is a girl not of talk but of deeds: and her deeds are of course quite inexcusable. But still that great and long unknown verse of Prior, which tells how a more harmless heroine did various things—
As answered the end of her being created,
fits her, and the deeds create her in their process, according to the wonderful magic of the novelist's art. Manon is not in the least a Messalina; it is not what Messalina wanted that she wants at all, though she may have no physical objection to it, and may rejoice in it when it is shared by her lover. Still less is she a Margaret of Burgundy, or one of the tigress-enchantresses of the Fronde, who would kill their lovers after enjoying their love. It has been said often, and is beyond all doubt true, that she would have been perfectly happy with Des Grieux if he had fulfilled the expostulations of George the Fourth as to Mr. Turveydrop, and had not only been known to the King, but had had twenty thousand a year. She wants nobody and nothing but him, as far as the "Him" is concerned: but she does not want him in a cottage. And here the subtlety comes in. She does not in the least mind giving to others what she gives him, provided that they will give her what he cannot give. The possibility of this combination is of course not only shocking to Mrs. Grundy, but deniable by persons who are not Mrs. Grundy at all. Its existence is not really doubtful, though hardly anybody, except Prevost and (I repeat it, little as I am of an Ibsenite) Ibsen in the Wild Duck, has put it into real literature. Manon, like Gina and probably like others, does not really think what she gives of immense, or of any great, importance. People will give her, in exchange for it, what she does think of great, of immense importance; the person to whom she would quite honestly prefer to give it cannot give her these other things. And she concludes her bargain as composedly as any bonne who takes the basket to the shops and "makes its handle dance"—to use the French idiom—for her own best advantage. It does annoy her when she has to part from Des Grieux, and it does annoy her that Des Grieux should be annoyed at what she does. But she is made of no nun's flesh, and such soul as she has is filled with much desire for luxury and pleasure. The desire of the soul will have its way, and the flesh lends itself readily enough to the satisfaction thereof.
[Sidenote: And that of the hero.]
So, too, there is no such instance known to me of the presentation of two different characters, in two different ways, so complete and yet so idiosyncratic in each. Sainte-Beuve showed what he was going to become (as well, perhaps, as something which he was going to lose) in his slight but suggestive remarks on the relation of Des Grieux to the average roue hero of that most roue time. It is only a suggestion; he does not work it out. But it is worth working out a little. Des Grieux is ab initio, and in some ways usque ad finem, a sort of ingenu. He seems to have no vicious tendencies whatever; and had Manon not supervened, might have been a very much more exemplary Chevalier de Malte than the usual run of those dignitaries, who differed chiefly from their uncrossed comrades and brethren in having no wife to be unfaithful to. He is never false to Manon—the incident of one of Manon's lovers trying vainly to tempt his rival, with a pretty cast-off mistress of his own, is one of the most striking features of the book. He positively reveres, not his mother, who is dead, and reverence for whom would be nothing in a Frenchman, but his father, and even, it would seem, his elder brother—a last stretch of reverence quite unknown to many young English gentlemen who certainly would not do things that Des Grieux did. Except when Manon is concerned, it would seem that he might have been a kind of saint—as good at least as Tiberge. But his love for her and his desire for her entirely saturate and transform him. That he disobeys his father and disregards his brother is nothing: we all do that in less serious cases than his, and there is almost warrant for it in Scripture. But he cheats at play (let us frankly allow, remembering Grammont and others, that this was not in France the unpardonable sin that it has—for many generations, fortunately—been with us), at the suggestion of his rascally left-hand brother-in-law, in order to supply Manon's wants. He commits an almost deliberate (though he makes some excuses on this point) and almost cowardly murder, on an unarmed lay-brother of Saint-Sulpice, to get to Manon. And, worst of all, he consents to the stealing of moneys given to her by his supplanters in order to feed her extravagance. After this his suborning the King's soldiers to attack the King's constabulary on the King's highway to rescue Manon is nothing. But observe that, though it is certainly not "All for God," it is "All for Her." And observe further that all these things—even the murder—were quite common among the rank and file of that French aristocracy which was so busily hurrying on the French Revolution. Only, Des Grieux himself would pretty certainly not have done them if She had never come in his way. And he tells it all with a limpid and convincing clarity (as they would say now) which puts the whole thing before us. No apology is made, and no apology is needed. It is written in the books of the chronicles of Manon and Des Grieux; in the lives of Des Grieux and Manon, suppose them ever to have existed or to exist, it could not but happen.
[Sidenote: The inevitableness of both and the inestimableness of their history.]
It is surely not profane (and perhaps it has been done already) to borrow for these luckless, and, if you will, somewhat graceless persons, the words of the mighty colophon of Matthew Arnold's most unequal but in parts almost finest poem, at least the first and last lines:
So rest, for ever rest, immortal pair,
The rustle of the eternal rain of love.
Nor is it perhaps extravagant to claim for their creator—even for their reporter—the position of the first person who definitely vindicated for the novel the possibility of creating a passionate masterpiece, outstripping La Princesse de Cleves as Othello outstrips A Woman Killed with Kindness. As for the enormous remainder of him, if it is very frankly negligible by the mere reader, it is not quite so by the student. He was very popular, and, careless bookmaker as he was in a very critical time, his popularity scarcely failed him till his horrible death. It can scarcely be said that, except in the one great cited instance, he heightened or intensified the French novel, but he enlarged its scope, varied its interests, and combined new objectives with its already existing schemes, even in his less good work. In Manon Lescaut itself he gave a masterpiece, not only to the novel, not only to France, but to all literature and all the world.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: Crebillon fils.]
The unfortunate nobleman as to whom Dickens has left us in doubt whether he was a peer in his own right or the younger son or a Marquis or Duke, pronounced Shakespeare "a clayver man." It was perhaps, in the particular instance, inadequate though true. I hardly know any one in literature of whom it is truer and more adequate than it is of Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crebillon the younger, commonly called Crebillon fils. His very name is an abomination to Mrs. Grundy, who probably never read, or even attempted to read, one of his naughty books. Gray's famous tribute to him—also known to a large number who are in much the same case with Mrs. Grundy—is distinctly patronising. But he is a very clever man indeed, and the cleverness of some of his books—especially those in dialogue—is positively amazing.
[Sidenote: The case against him.]
At the same time it is of the first importance to make the due provisos and allowances, the want of which so frequently causes disappointment, if not positive disgust, when readers have been induced by unbalanced laudation to take up works of the literature of other days. There are, undoubtedly, things—many and heavy things—to be said against Crebillon. A may say, "I am not, I think, Mr. Grundy: but I cannot stand your Crebillon. I do not like a world where all the men are apparently atheists, and all the women are certainly the other thing mentioned in Donne's famous line. It disgusts and sickens me: and I will have none of it, however clever it may be." B, not quite agreeing with A, may take another tone, and observe, "He is clever and he is amusing: but he is terribly monotonous. I do not mind a visit to the 'oyster-bearing shores' now and then, but I do not want to live in Lampsacus. After all, even in a pagan Pantheon, there are other divinities besides a cleverly palliated Priapus and a comparatively ladylike Cotytto. Seven volumes of however delicately veiled 'sculduddery' are nearly as bad as a whole evening's golf-talk in a St. Andrews hotel, or a long men's dinner, where everybody but yourself is a member of an Amateur Dramatic Society." The present writer is not far from agreeing with B, while he has for A a respect which disguises no shadow of a sneer. Crebillon does harp far too much on one string, and that one of no pure tone: and even the individual handlings of the subject are chargeable throughout his work with longueurs, in the greater part of it with sheer tedium. It is very curious, and for us of the greatest importance, to notice how this curse of long-windedness, episodic and hardly episodic "inset," endless talk "about it and about it," besets these pioneers of the modern novel. Whether it was a legacy of the "Heroics" or not it is difficult to say. I think it was—to some extent. But, as we have seen, it exists even in Lesage; it is found conspicuously in Marivaux; it "advances insupportably" in Prevost, except when some God intervenes to make him write (and to stop him writing) Manon; and it rests heavily even on Crebillon, one of the lightest, if not one of the purest, of literary talents. It is impossible to deny that he suffers from monotony of general theme: and equally impossible to deny that he suffers from spinning out of particular pieces. There is perhaps not a single thing of his which would not have been better if it had been shorter: and two of his liveliest if also most risky pieces, La Nuit et le Moment and Le Hasard au Coin du Feu, might have been cut down to one half with advantage, and to a quarter with greater advantage still.
There are, however, excuses for Crebillon: and though it may seem a rash thing to say, and even one which gives the case away, there is, at least in these two and parts of Le Sopha, hardly a page—even of the parts which, if "cut," would improve the work as a whole—that does not in itself prove the almost elfish cleverness now assigned to him.
[Sidenote: For the defendant—The veracity of his artificiality and his consummate cleverness.]
The great excuse for him, from the non-literary point of view, is that this world of his—narrow though crowded as it is, corrupt, preposterous, inviting the Judgment that came after it as no period perhaps has ever done, except that immediately before the Deluge, that of the earlier Roman empire, and one other—was a real world in its day, and left, as all real things do, an abiding mark and influence on what followed. One of the scores and almost hundreds of sayings which distinguish him, trivial as he seems to some and no doubt disgusting as he seems to others, is made by one of his most characteristic and most impudent but not most offensive heroes a la Richelieu, who says, not in soliloquy nor to a brother roue, but to the mistress of the moment: "If love-making is not always a pleasure, at any rate it is always a kind of occupation." That is the keynote of the Crebillon novel: it is the handbook, with illustrative examples, of the business, employment, or vocation of flirting, in the most extensive and intensive meanings of that term comprehensible to the eighteenth century.
[Sidenote: The Crebillonesque atmosphere and method.]
Now you should never scamp or hurry over business: and Crebillon observes this doctrine in the most praiseworthy fashion. With the thorough practicality of his century and of his nation (which has always been in reality the most practical of all nations) he sets to work to give us the ways and manners of his world. It is an odd world at first sight, but one gets used to its conventions. It is a world of what they used to call, in the later eighteenth and early nineteenth century, "high fellers" and of great ladies, all of whom—saving for glimpses of military and other appointments for the men, which sometimes take them away and are useful for change of scene, of theatres, balls, gaming-tables for men and women both—"have nothing in the world to do" but carry on that occupation which Clitandre of "The Night and the Moment," at an extremely suitable time and in equally appropriate circumstances, refers to in the words quoted above. There are some other oddities about this world. In some parts of it nobody seems to be married. Mrs. Grundy, and even persons more exercised in actual fact than Mrs. Grundy, would expect them all to be, and to neglect the tie. But sometimes Crebillon finds it easier to mask this fact. Often his ladies are actual widows, which is of course very convenient, and might be taken as a sign of grace in him by Mrs. G.: oftener it is difficult to say what they are legally. They are nearly all duchesses or marchionesses or countesses, just as the men hold corresponding ranks: and they all seem to be very well off. But their sole occupation is that conducted under the three great verbs, Prendre; Avoir; Quitter. These verbs are used rather more frequently, but by no means exclusively, of and by the men. Taking the stage nomenclature familiar to everybody from Moliere, which Crebillon also uses in some of his books, though he exchanges it for proper names elsewhere, let us suppose a society composed of Oronte, Clitandre, Eraste, Damis (men), and Cydalise, Celie, Lucinde, Julie (ladies). Oronte "takes" Lucinde, "possesses" her for a time, and "quits" her for Julie, who has been meanwhile "taken," "possessed," and "quitted" by Eraste. Eraste passes to the conjugation of the three verbs with Cydalise, who, however, takes the initiative of "quitting" and conjugates "take" in joint active and passive with Damis. Meanwhile Celie and Clitandre are similarly occupied with each other, and ready to "cut in" with the rest at fresh arrangements. These processes require much serious conversation, and this is related with the same mixture of gravity and irony which is bestowed on the livelier passages of action.