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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And the Precieuses Ridicules a delightful farce

some "desperate willins" (as

Sam Weller called the greengrocer at the swarry) who fail to see much more than types in Racine, though there is something more in Corneille, and a very great deal more in Moliere. In the romances which charmed at home the audiences and spectators of these three great men's work abroad, there is nothing, or next to nothing, else at all. The spirit of the _Epistle to the Pisos_, which acted on the Tragedians in verse, which acted on Boileau in criticism and poetry, was heavier on the novelist than on any of them. Take sufficient generosity, magnanimity, adoration, bravery, courtesy, and so forth, associate the mixture with handsome flesh and royal blood, clothe the body thus formed with brilliant scarfs and shining armour, put it on the best horse that was ever foaled, or kneel it at the feet of the most beautiful princess that ever existed, and you have Cyrus. For the princess herself take beauty, dignity, modesty, graciousness, etc., _quant. suff._, clothe _them_ in garments again magnificent, and submit the total to extreme inconveniences, some dangers, and an immense amount of involuntary travelling, but nothing "irreparable," and you have Mandane. For the rest, with the rare and slight exceptions mentioned, they flit like shadows ticketed with more or less beautiful names. Even Philidaspes, the most prominent male character after the hero by far, is, whether he be "in cog" as that personage or "out of cog" as Prince and King of Assyria, merely a petulant hero--a sort of cheap
Achilles, with no idiosyncrasy at all. It is the fault, and in a way the very great fault, of all the kind: and there is nothing more to do with it but to admit it and look for something to set against it.

How great a thing the inception (to use a favourite word of the present day, though it be no favourite of the writer's) of the "psychological" treatment of Love[191] was may, of course, be variously estimated. The good conceit of itself in which that day so innocently and amusingly indulges will have it, indeed, that the twentieth century has invented this among other varieties of the great and venerable art of extracting nourishment from eggs. "We have," somebody wrote not long ago--the exact words may not be given, but the sense is guaranteed--"perceived that Love is not merely a sentiment, an appetite, or a passion, but a great means of intellectual development." Of course Solomon did not know this, nor Sappho, nor Catullus, nor the fashioners of those "sentiments" of the Middle Ages which brought about the half-fabulous Courts of Love itself, nor Chaucer, nor Spenser, nor Shakespeare, nor Donne. It was reserved for--but one never names contemporaries except _honoris causa_.

It is--an "of course" of another kind--undeniable that the fashion of love-philosophy which supplies so large a part of the "yarn" of Madeleine de Scudery's endless rope or web is not _our_ fashion. But it is, in a way, a new variety of yarn as compared with anything used before in prose, even in the Greek romances[192] and the _Amadis_ group (nay, even in the _Astree_ itself). Among other things, it connects itself more with the actual society, manners, fashions of its day than had ever been the case before, and this is the only interesting side of the "key" part of it. This was the way that they did to some extent talk and act then, though, to be sure, they also talked and acted very differently. It is all very well to say that the Hotel de Rambouillet is a sort of literary-historical fiction, and the _Precieuses Ridicules_ a delightful farce. The fiction was not wholly a fiction, and the farce was very much more than a farce--would have been, indeed, not a farce at all if it had not satirised a fact.

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