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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The Astree appeared in five instalments


[Sidenote:

Its likeness to the _Arcadia_.]

[Sidenote: Its philosophy and its general temper.]

One of the numerous resemblances between the two, and one which, considering their respective positions in the history of the French and English novel, is most interesting, is the strong philosophical and specially Platonic influence which the Renaissance exercised on both.[142] Sidney, however full of it elsewhere, put less of it in his actual novel; while, on the other hand, nothing did so much to create and spread the rather rococo notion of pseudo-platonic love in France, and from France throughout Europe, as the _Astree_ itself. The further union of the philosophic mind with an eminently cavalier temperament--the united _ethos_ of scholar, soldier, lover, and courtier--fills out the comparison: and dwarfs such merely mechanical things as the mixed use of prose and verse (which both may have taken, nay pretty certainly did take, from Montemayor) and the pastoralities, for which they in the same way owed royalty to the Spaniard, to Tasso, to Sannazar, and to the Greek romances, let alone Theocritus and Virgil. And, to confine ourselves henceforward to our own special subject, it is this double infusion of idealism--of spiritual and intellectual enthusiasm on the one hand and practical fire of life and act on the other--which makes the great difference, not merely between the _Astree_ and its predecessors of the _Amadis_ class,

but between it and its successors the strictly "Heroic" romances, though these owe it so much. The first--except in some points of passion--hardly touch reality at all; the last are perpetually endeavouring to simulate and insinuate a sort of reality under cover of adventures and conventions which, though fictitious, are hardly at all fantastic. But the _Astree_ might almost be called a French prose _Faerie Queene_, allowing for the difference of the two nations, languages, vehicles, and _milieux_ generally, in its representation of the above-mentioned cavalier-philosophic _ethos_--a thing never so well realised in France as in England or in Spain, but of which Honore d'Urfe, from many traits in life and book, seems to have been a real example, and which certainly vindicates its place in history and literature.

[Sidenote: Its appearance and its author's other work.]

The _Astree_ appeared in five instalments, 1607-10-12-19 and posthumously, the several parts being frequently printed: and it is said to be almost impossible to find a copy, all the parts of which are of the first issue in each case. The two later parts probably, the last certainly, were collaborated in, if not wholly written by, the author's secretary Baro. But it was by no means Honore's only work; indeed the Urfes up to his time were an unusually literary family; and, while his grandfather Claude collected a remarkable library (whence, at its dispersion in the evil days of the house[143] during the eighteenth century, came some of not the least precious possessions of French public and private collections), his unfortunate brother Anne was a poet. Honore himself, besides school exercises, wrote _Epistres Morales_ which were rather popular, and display qualities useful in appreciating the novel itself; a poem in octosyllables, usually and perhaps naturally called "_La_ Sireine," but really entitled in the masculine, and having nothing to do with a mermaid; a curious thing, semi-dramatic in form and in irregular blank verse, entitled _Silvanire ou La Morte Vive_, which was rehandled soon after his death by Corneille's most dangerous rival Mairet; and an epic called _La Savoisiade_, which seems to have no merit, and all but a very small portion of which is still unprinted.


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