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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Is following either Homer or Apollonius


But

there are earlier touches of that life which makes all literature, and tale-telling most of all. An opening on Degeneracy is scarcely one of these, for this was, of course, a commonplace millenniums earlier, and it had the recent belief about the approaching end of the world at the actual A.D. 1000 to prompt it. The maiden is "bought" for Alexis from her father or mother. Instead of the not unusual and rather distasteful sermons on virginity which later versions have, the future saint has at least the grace to accompany the return of the ring[11] with only a few words of renunciation of his spouse to Christ, and of declaration that in this world "love is imperfect, life frail, and joy mutable." A far more vivid touch is given by the mother who, when search for the fugitive has proved futile, ruins the nuptial chamber, destroys its decorations, and hangs it with rags and sackcloth,[12] and who, when the final discovery is made, reproaches the dead saint in a fashion which is not easy to reply to: "My son, why hadst thou no pity of _us_? Why hast thou not spoken to me _once_?" The bride has neither forgotten nor resented: she only weeps her deserter's former beauty, and swears to have no other spouse but God. The poem ends--or all but ends--in a hurly-burly of popular enthusiasm, which will hardly resign its new saint to Pope or Emperor, till at last, after the usual miracles of healing, the body is allowed to rest, splendidly entombed, in the Church of St. Boniface.

justify;">Now the man who could thus, and by many other touches not mentioned, run blood into the veins of mummies,[13] could, with larger range of subject and wider choice of treatment, have done no small things in fiction.

But enough talk of might-have-beens: let us come to the things that were done.

FOOTNOTES:

[4] The article "Romance" in the _Encyclopaedia Britannica_, 11th ed.; and the volume on _The English Novel_ in Messrs. Dent's series "Channels of English Literature," London, 1913.

[5] Plato (or Socrates?) does it only on a small scale and partially, though there are the makings of a great novelist in the _Dialogues_. Apollonius Rhodius is the next verse-tale teller to Homer among the prae-Christian Greeks.

[6] Virgil, in the only parts of the _Aeneid_ that make a good story, is following either Homer or Apollonius.

[7] To me at least the seeming seems to approach demonstration; and I can only speak as I find, with all due apologies to those who find differently.

[8] There is, of course, a Latin "sequence" on the Saint which is nearer to the French poem; but that does not affect our present point.

[9] The literal "cooked," with no burlesque intention, was used of punitory burning quite early; but it is not certain that the transferred sense of _cuire_, "to _pain_," is not nearly or quite as old.

[10] Not the least interesting part of this is that it is almost sufficient by itself to establish the connection between Saint's Life and Romance.

[11] By a very curious touch he gives her also "les renges de s'espide," _i.e._ either the other ring by which the sword is attached to the sword-belt, or the belt itself. The meaning is, of course, that with her he renounces knighthood and all worldly rank.

[12] She addresses the room itself, dramatically enough: "Chamber! never more shalt thou bear ornament: never shall any joy in thee be enjoyed."


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