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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Under the impression that he has killed a certain Alcimedon


justify;">One objection, foreshadowed,

and perhaps a little more, already, must be allowed against _Clelie_. That tendency to resort to repetition of situations and movements--which has shown itself so often, and which practically distinguishes the very great novelists from those not so great by its absence or presence--is obvious here, though the huge size of the book may conceal it from mere dippers, unless they be experts. The similarity of the openings is, comparatively speaking, a usual thing. It should not happen, and does not in really great writers; but it is tempting, and is to some extent excused by the brocard about _le premier pas_. It is so nice to put yourself in front of your beginning--to have made sure of it! But this charity will hardly extend to such a thing as the repetition of Cyrus's foolish promise to fight Philidaspes before he marries Mandane in the case of Aronce, Horatius, and Clelie. The way in which Aronce is kept an "unknown" for some time, and that in which his actual relationship to Porsena is treated, have also too much of the _replica_; and though a lively skirmish with a pirate which occurs is not quite so absurd as that ready-made series of encores which was described above (pp. 181-2), there is something a little like it in the way in which the hero and his men alternately reduce the enemy to extremity, and run over the deck to rescue friends who are in the pirates' power from being butchered or flung overboard. "Sapho's" invention, though by no means sterile, was evidently somewhat
indiscriminate, and she would seem to have thought it rather a pity that a good thing should be used only once.

Nevertheless the compliment given above may be repeated. If I were sent to twelve months' imprisonment of a mild description, and allowed to choose a library, I should include in it, from the heroic or semi-heroic division, _Clelie_, La Calprenede's two chief books, Gomberville's _Polexandre_, and Gombauld's _Endimion_ (this partly for the pictures), with, as a matter of course, the _Astree_, and a choice of one other. By reading slowly and "savouring" the process, I should imagine that, with one's memories of other things, they might be able to last for a year. And it would be one of the best kind of fallows for the brain. In anticipation, let us see something of these others now.

[Sidenote: La Calprenede: his comparative cheerfulness.]

It has seemed, as was said, desirable to follow the common opinion of literary history in giving Madeleine de Scudery the place of honour, and the largest as well as the foremost share in our account of this curious stage in the history of the novel. But if, to alter slightly a famous quotation, I might "give a short hint to an impartial _reader_," I should very strongly advise him to begin his studies (or at least his enjoyment) thereof, not with "Sapho," but with Gauthier de Costes, Seigneur de la Calprenede, himself according to Tallemant almost the proverbial "Gascon _et demi_"; a tragic dramatist, as well as a romantic writer; a favourite of Mme. de Sevigne, who seldom went wrong in her preferences, except when she preferred her very disagreeable daughter to her very agreeable son; and more than any one else the inventor, or at least perfecter, of the hectoring heroic style which we associate with Dryden's plays. Indeed the Artaban of _Cleopatre_ is much more the original of Almanzor and Drawcansir than anything in Madeleine, though _Almahide_ was actually the source of Dryden's story, or heroine. Besides this, though La Calprenede has rather less of the intricate-impeach character than his she-rival, there is much more bustle and "go" in him; he has, though his books are proper enough, much less fear of dealing with "the kissing and that sort of thing," as it was once discreetly put; and he is sometimes positively exciting in his imbroglios, as when the beautiful Amazon princess Menalippe fights a real duel on horseback with Prince, afterwards King, Alcamenes of Scythia, under the impression that he has killed a certain Alcimedon, who was her lover; discovers, after no small time and considerable damage, that he is Alcimedon himself; and, like a sensible and agreeable girl, embraces him heartily in the sight of men and angels.


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