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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

From Celadon and Astree themselves downwards


Now,

of course, any one may say of the Land where such a code might be realised, in the very words of one of the most charming of songs, set to one of the happiest of tunes:

Cette rive, ma chere, On ne la connait guere Au pays des amours!

But that is not the question, and if it _were_ possible it undoubtedly would be a very agreeable Utopia, combining the transcendental charms of the country of Quintessence with the material ones of the Pays de Cocagne. From its own point of view there seems to be no fault to find with it, except, perhaps, with the first part of the Twelfth Commandment; for the remembrance of former favours heightens the enjoyment of later ones, and the danger of _nessun maggior dolore_ is excluded by the hypothesis of indifference after breach. But a sort of umpire, or at any rate thirdsman, the shepherd Silvandre,[145] when asked his opinion, makes an ingenious objection. To carry out Article Three, he says, there ought to be a Thirteenth:

13. That they may break any of these rules just as they please.

For what comes of this further the reader may go to the book, but enough of it should have been given to show that there is no want of salt, though there is no (or very little) _gros sel_[146] in the _Astree_.

[Sidenote: Narrative skill frequent.]

justify;">Yet again there is very considerable narrative power. Abstracts may be found, not merely in older books mentioned or to be mentioned, but in the recent publications of Koerting and the Abbe Reure, and there is neither room nor need for a fresh one here. As some one (or more than one) has said, the book is really a sort of half-allegorical tableau of honourable Love worked out in a crowd of couples (some I believe, have counted as many as sixty), from Celadon and Astree themselves downwards. The course of these loves is necessarily "accidented," and the accidents are well enough managed from the first, and naturally enough best known, where Celadon flings himself into the river and is rescued, insensible but alive, by nymphs, who all admire him very much, though none of them can affect his passion for Astree. But one cares--at least I have found myself caring--less for the story than for the way in which it is told--a state of things exactly contrary, as will be seen, to that produced with or in me by the _Grand Cyrus_. There we have a really well, if too intricately, engineered plot, in the telling of which it is difficult to take much interest. Here it is just the reverse. And one of the consequences is that you can dip in the _Astree_ much more refreshingly than in its famous follower, where, if you do so, you constantly "don't know where you are."

[Sidenote: The Fountain of the Truth of Love.]

One of the most famous things in the book, and one of the most important to its conduct, is the "Fountain of the Truth of Love," a few words on which will illustrate the general handling very fairly. This Fountain (presided over by a Druid, a very important personage otherwise, who is a sort of high priest thereof) has nothing in common with the more usual waters which are philtres or anti-philtres, etc. Its function is to be gazed in rather than to be drunk, and if you look into it, loving somebody, you see your mistress. If she loves you, you see yourself as well, beside her, and (which is not so nice) if she loves some one else you see _him_; while if she is fancy-free you see her only. Clidaman, one of the numerous lovers above mentioned, tries the water; and his love, Silvie, presents herself again and again as he looks, "almost setting on fire with her lovely eyes the wave which seemed to laugh around her." But she is quite alone.


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