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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The presiding Druid interprets


The

presiding Druid interprets, not merely in the sense already given, but with one of the philosophic commentaries, which, as has been said, are distinctive of the book. The nature of the fountain is to reflect not body but spirit. Spirit includes Will, Memory, and Judgment, and when a man loves, his spirit transforms itself through all these ways into the thing loved. Therefore when he looks into the fountain he sees Her. In the same way She is changed into Him or some one else whom she loves, and He sees that image also; but if she loves no one He sees her image alone.

"This is very satisfactory" (as Lady Kew would say) to the inquiring mind, but not so much so to the lover. He wants to have the fountain shut up, I suppose (for my notes and memory do not cover this point exactly), that no rival may have the chance denied to himself. He would even destroy it, but that--the Druid tells and shows him--is quite impossible. What can be done shall be. And here comes in another of the agreeable things (to me) in the book--its curious fairy-tale character, which is shown by numerous supernaturalities, much more _humanised_ than those of the _Amadis_ group, and probably by no means without effect on the fairy-tale proper which was to follow. Clidaman himself happens, in the most natural way in the world, to "keep"--as an ordinary man keeps cats and dogs--a couple of extraordinary big and savage lions and another couple of unicorns to fight, not with each

other, but with miscellaneous animals. The lions and the unicorns are forthwith extra-enchanted, so as to guard the fountain--an excellent arrangement, but subject to some awkwardnesses in the sequel. For the lions take turns to seek their meat in the ordinary way, and though they can hurt nobody who does not meddle with the fountain, and have no wish to be man-eaters, complications naturally supervene. And sometimes, besides fighting,[147] and love-making, and love casuistry, and fairy-tales, and oracles, and the finer comedy above mentioned, "Messire d'Urfe" (for he did not live too late to have that most gracious of all designations of a gentleman used in regard to him) did not disdain, and could not ill manage, sheer farce. The scene with Cryseide and Arimant and Clorine and the nurse and the ointment in Part III. Book VII., though it contains little or nothing to _effaroucher la pudeur_, is like one of the broader but not broadest tales of the Fabliaux and their descendants.

[Sidenote: Some drawbacks--awkward history.]

The book, therefore, has not merely a variety, but a certain liveliness, neither of which is commonplace; but it would of course be uncritical to suppress its drawbacks. It is far too long: and while bowing to those to the manner born who say that Baro carried out his master's plan well in point of style, and acknowledging that I have paid less attention to Parts IV. and V. than to the others, it seems to me that we could spare a good deal of them. One error, common to almost the whole century in fiction, is sometimes flagrant. Nobody except a pedant need object to the establishment, in the time of the early fifth century and the place of Gaul, of a non-historical kinglet- or queenletdom of Forez or "Seguse" under Amasis (here a feminine name[148]), etc.; nor, though (as may perhaps be remarked again later) things Merovingian bring little luck in literature, need we absolutely bar Chilperics and Alarics, or a reference to "all the beauties of Neustria." But why, in the midst of the generally gracious _macedoine_ of serious and comic loves, and jokes, and adventures, should we have thrust in the entirely unnecessary, however historical, crime whereby Valentinian the Third lost his worthless life and his decaying Empire? It has, however, been remarked, perhaps often enough, by those who have busied themselves with the history of the novel, how curious it is that the historical variety, though it never succeeded in being born for two thousand years after the _Cyropaedia_ and more, constantly strove to be so. At no time were the throes more frequent than during the seventeenth century in France; at no time, there or anywhere else, were they more abortive.[149]


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