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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

But Prudentius is almost always a poet


to be feared that the number

of such persons is not very large--who has some knowledge of hagiology _and_ some of literature will admit at once that the popular notion of a Saint's Life being necessarily a dull and "goody" thing is one of the foolishest pieces of presumptuous ignorance, and one of the most ignorant pieces of foolish presumption. Not only have modern novelists sometimes been better informed and better inspired--as in the case of more than one version of the Legends of St. Mary of Egypt, of St. Julian, of Saint Christopher, and others--but there remain scores if not hundreds of beautiful things that have been wholly or all but wholly neglected. It is impossible to imagine a better romance, either in verse or in prose, than might have been made by William Morris if he had kept his earliest loves and faiths and had taken the _variorum_ Legend of St. Mary Magdalene, as we have it in divers forms from quite early French and English to the fifteenth-century English Miracle Play on the subject. That of St. Eustace ("Sir Isumbras"), though old letters and modern art have made something of it, has also never been fully developed in the directions which it opens up; and one could name many others. But it has to be admitted that the French (whether, as some would say, naturally enough or not) never gave the Saint's Life pure and simple the development which it received in English. It started them--I at least believe this--in the story-telling way; but cross-roads, to them more attractive, soon presented
themselves.

[Sidenote: The Legend of St. Eulalia.]

Still, it started them. I hope it is neither intolerably fanciful nor the mere device of a compiler anxious to make his arrows of all wood, to suggest that there is something noteworthy in the nature of the very first piece of actual French which we possess. The Legend of St. Eulalia can be tried pretty high; for we have[8] the third hymn of the _Peristephanon_ of Prudentius to compare it with. The metre of this

Germine nobilis Eulalia

is not one of the best, and contrasts ill with the stately decasyllables--perhaps the very earliest examples of that mighty metre that we have--which the infant daughter-tongue somehow devised for itself some centuries later. But Prudentius is almost always a poet, if a poet of the decadence, and he had as instruments a language and a prosody which were like a match rifle to a bow and arrows--_not_ of yew and _not_ cloth-yard shafts--when contrasted with the dialect and speech-craft of the unknown tenth-century Frenchman. Yet from some points of view, and especially from ours, the Anonymus of the Dark Ages wins. Prudentius spins out the story into two hundred and fifteen lines, with endless rhetorical and poetical amplification. He wants to say that Eulalia was twelve years old; but he actually informs us that

Curriculis tribus atque novem, Tres hyemes quater attigerat,


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