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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Of Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus 151 in late years


The general importance and influence.]

The literary influence and importance of the book have never been denied by any competent criticism which had taken the trouble to inform itself of the facts. It can be pointed out that while the "Heroics," great as was their popularity for a time, did not keep it very long, and lost it by sharp and long continued--indeed never reversed--reaction, the influence of the _Astree_ on this later school itself was great, was not effaced by that of its pupils, and worked in directions different, as well as conjoint. It begat or helped to beget the _Precieuses_; it did a great deal, if not exactly to set, to continue that historical character which, though we have not been able to speak very favourably of its immediate exercise, was at last to be so important. Above all, it reformed and reinforced the "sentimental" novel, as it is called. We have tried to show that there was much more of this in the mediaeval romance proper than it has been the fashion in recent times to allow. There was a great deal in the _Amadis_ class, but extravaganzaed out of reason as well as out of rhyme. To us, or some of us, the _Astree_ type may still seem extravagant, but in comparison it brings things back to that truth and nature which were granted it by Madame de Sevigne. Its charms actually soothed the savage breast of Boileau, and it is not surprising that La Fontaine loved it. Few things of the kind are more creditable to the better

side of Jean Jacques a full century later, than that he was not indifferent to its beauty; and there were few greater omissions on the part of _mil-huit-cent-trente_ (which, however, had so much to do!) than its comparative neglect to stray on to the gracious banks of the Lignon. All honour to Saint-Marc Girardin (not exactly the man from whom one would have expected it) for having been, as it seems, though in a kind of _palinodic_ fashion, the first to render serious attention, and to do fair justice, to this vast and curious wilderness of delights.[150]

[Sidenote: The _Grand Cyrus_.]

[Sidenote: Its preface to Madame de Longueville.]

To turn from the Pastoral to the Heroic, the actual readers, English or other, of _Artamene ou le Grand Cyrus_[151] in late years, have probably been reckonable rather as single spies (a phrase in this connection of some rather special appropriateness) than in battalions. And it is to be feared that many or most, if not nearly all of them, have opened it with little expectation of pleasure. The traditional estimates are dead against it as a rule; it has constantly served as an example--produced by wiseacres for wiseacres--of the _un_wisdom of our ancestors; and, generous as were Sir Walter's estimates of all literature, and especially of his fellow-craftsmen's and craftswomen's work, the lively passage in _Old Mortality_ where Edith Bellenden's reference to the book excites the (in the circumstances justifiable) wrath of the Major--perhaps the only _locus_ of ordinary reading that touches _Artamene_ with anything but vagueness--is not entirely calculated to make readers read eagerly. But on turning honestly to the book itself, it is possible that considerable relief and even a little astonishment may result. Whether this satisfaction will arise at the very dedication by that vainglorious and yet redoubtable cavalier, Georges de Scudery, in which he characteristically takes to himself the credit due mainly, if not wholly, to his plain little sister Madeleine, will depend upon taste. It is addressed to Anne Genevieve de Bourbon, Duchess of Longueville, sister of Conde, and adored mistress of many noteworthy persons--the most noteworthy perhaps being the Prince de Marcillac, better known, as from his later title, as Duc de la Rochefoucauld, and a

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