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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

From any omissions or mistakes which may be found here


The

subject is one with which I can at least plead almost lifelong familiarity. I became a subscriber to "Rolandi's," I think, during my holidays as a senior schoolboy, and continued the subscriptions during my vacations when I was at Oxford. In the very considerable leisure which I enjoyed during the six years when I was Classical Master at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, I read more French than any other literature, and more novels than anything else in French. In the late 'seventies and early 'eighties, as well as more recently, I had to round off and fill in my knowledge of the older matter, for an elaborate account of French literature in the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_, for a long series of articles on French novelists in the _Fortnightly Review_, and for the _Primer_ and _Short History_ of the subject which I wrote for the Clarendon Press; while from 1880 to 1894, as a _Saturday Review_er, I received, every month, almost everything notable (and a great deal hardly worth noting) that had appeared in France.

Since then, the cutting off of this supply, and the extreme and constant urgency of quite different demands on my time, have made my cultivation of the once familiar field "_parc_ and infrequent." But I doubt whether any really good judge would say that this was a serious drawback in itself; and it ceases to be one, even relatively, by the restriction of the subject to the close of the last century. It will be time to write of the twentieth-century

novel when the twentieth century itself has gone more than a little farther.

For the abundance of translation, in the earlier part especially, I need, I think, make no apology. I shall hardly, by any one worth hearing, be accused of laziness or scamping in consequence of it, for translation is much more troublesome, and takes a great deal more time, than comment or history. The advantage, from all other points of view, should need no exposition: nor, I think, should that of pretty full story-abstract now and then.

There is one point on which, at the risk of being thought to "talk too much of my matters," I should like to say a further word. All my books, before the present volume, have been composed with the aid of a library, not very large, but constantly growing, and always reinforced with special reference to the work in hand; while I was able also, on all necessary occasions, to visit Oxford or London (after I left the latter as a residence), and for twenty years the numerous public or semi-public libraries of Edinburgh were also open to me. This present _History_ has been outlined in expectation for a very long time; and has been actually laid down for two or three years. But I had not been able to put much of it on paper when circumstances, while they gave me greater, indeed almost entire, leisure for writing, obliged me to part with my own library (save a few books with a reserve _pretium affectionis_ on them), and, though they brought me nearer both to Oxford and to London, made it less easy for me to visit either. The London Library, that Providence of unbooked authors, came indeed to my aid, for without it I should have had to leave the book alone altogether; and I have been "munitioned" sometimes, by kindness or good luck, in other ways. But I have had to rely much more on memory, and of course in some cases on previous writing of my own, than ever before, though, except in one special case,[2] there will be found, I think, not a single page of mere "rehashing." I mention this without the slightest desire to beg off, in one sense, from any omissions or mistakes which may be found here, but merely to assure my readers that such mistakes and omissions are not due to idle and careless bookmaking. That "books have fates" is an accepted proposition. In respect to one of these--possession of materials and authorities--mine have been exceptionally fortunate hitherto, and if they had any merit it was no doubt largely due to this. I have, in the present, endeavoured to make the best of what was not quite such good fortune. And if anybody still says, "Why did you not wait till you could supply deficiencies?" I can only reply that, after seventy, [Greek: nyx gar erchetai] is a more insistent warrant, and warning, than ever.[3]


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