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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Was the principal birth time of the famous Heroic variety


In its first decade appeared

the epoch-making pastoral-heroic _Astree_ of Honore d'Urfe;[124] its middle period, from 1620 to 1670, was the principal birth-time of the famous "Heroic" variety, pure and simple; while, from that division into the last third, the curiously contrasted kind of the fairy tale came to add its quota of influence. At various periods, too, individuals of more or less note (and sometimes of much more than almost any of the "school-writers" just mentioned) helped mightily in strengthening and diversifying the subjects and manners of tales. To this period also belongs the continuance and prominence of that element of actual "lived" anecdote and personal history which has been mentioned more than once before. The _Historiettes_ of Tallemant contain short suggestions for a hundred novels and romances; the memoirs, genuine or forged, of public and private persons have not seldom, in more modern times, formed the actual basis of some of the greatest fiction. Everybody ought long to have known Thackeray's perhaps rather whimsical declaration that he positively preferred the forged D'Artagnan memoirs of Courtils de Sandras (as far at least as the Gascon himself was concerned) to the work of that Alexander, the truly Great, of which he was nevertheless such a generous admirer: and recently mere English readers have had the opportunity of seeing whether they agree with him. In fact, as the century went on, almost all kinds of literature began to be more or less pervaded with the novel appeal
and quality.

[Sidenote: The divisions of its contribution.]

The letters of "Notre Dame des Rochers" constantly read like parts or scenes of a novel, and so do various compositions of her ill-conditioned but not unintelligent cousin Bussy-Rabutin. Camus de Pontcarre in the earlier and Fenelon in the later century determined that the Devil should not have this good prose to himself, and our own Anthony Hamilton showed the way to Voltaire in a kind, of which, though the Devil had nothing immediately to do with it, he might perhaps make use later. In fact, the whole century teems with the spirit of tale-telling, _plus_ character-analysis; and in the eighteenth itself, with a few notable exceptions, there was rather a falling-off from, than a further advance towards, the full blossoming of the aloe in the nineteenth.

It will probably, therefore, not be excessive to give two chapters (and two not short ones) to this period. In the first of them we may take the two apparently opposite, but by no means irreconcilable schools of Pastoral and Heroic Romance[125] and of Fairy Tale, including perhaps only four persons, if so many, of first-rate literary rank--Urfe,[126] Madeleine de Scudery, Madame d'Aulnoy, and Perrault; in the second, the more isolated but in some cases not unimportant names and works of Sorel, Scarron, Furetiere, and the capital ones of Madame de la Fayette and Hamilton. According to the plan previously pursued, less attempt will be made to give exhaustive or even full lists of practitioners than to illustrate their practice thoroughly by example, translated or abstracted, and by criticism; and it is necessary that this latter course should be used without mercy to readers or to the historian himself in this first chapter. For there is hardly any department of literature which has been more left to the rather treacherous care of traditional and second- or seventh-hand judgment than the Heroic romance.[127]


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