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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

But the first part of Polexandre



But if any one, deeming not unjustly that he had drunk enough of _Caritee_, were to conclude that he would drink no more of any of the waters of Gomberville, he would make a mistake. _Cytheree_[1] I cannot yet myself judge of, except at second-hand; but the first part of _Polexandre_, if not also the continuation, _Le Jeune Alcidiane_,[206] may be very well spoken of. It, that is to say the first part of it, was translated into English by no less a person than William Browne, just at the close of his life; and, perhaps for this reason, the British Museum does not contain the French original; but those who cannot attain to this lose the less, because the substance of the book is the principal thing. This makes it one of the liveliest of the whole group, and one does not feel it an idle vaunt when at the end the author observes cheerfully of his at last united hero and heroine, "Since we have so long enjoyed _them_, let us have so much justice as to think it fitting now that _they_ should likewise enjoy each other." Yet the unresting and unerring spirit of criticism may observe that even here the verbosity which is the fault of the whole division makes its appearance. For why not suppress most of the words after "them," and merely add, "let them now enjoy each other"?

The book is, in fact, rather like a modernised "number" of the _Amadis_ series,[207], and the author has had the will and the audacity

to exchange the stale old Greeks and Romans--not the real Greeks, who can never be stale, or the real Romans, who can stand a good deal of staling, but the conventional classics--as well as the impossible shadows of the Dark Ages, for Lepanto and the Western Main, Turks and Spaniards and Mexicans, and a Prince of Scotland. Here also we find in the hero something more like Almanzor than Artamene, if not than Artaban: and of the whole one may say vulgarly that "the pot boils." Now, with the usual Heroic it too often fails to attain even a gentle simmer.

[Sidenote: Camus--_Palombe_, etc.]

Jean Camus [de Pontcarre?],[208] Bishop of Belley and of Arras--friend of St. Francis of Sales and of Honore d'Urfe; author of many "Christian" romances to counteract the bad effects of the others, of a famous _Esprit de Saint Francois de S._, and of a very great number of miscellaneous works,--seems to have been a rather remarkable person, and, with less power and more eccentricity, a sort of Fenelon of the first half of the century. His best known novel, _Palombe_, stands practically alone in its group as having had the honour of a modern reprint in the middle of the nineteenth century.[209] The title-giver is a female, not a male, human dove, and of course a married one. Camus was a divine of views which one does not call "liberal," because the word has been almost more sullied by ignoble use in this connection than in any other--but unconventional and independent; and he provoked great wrath among his brethren by reflecting on the abuses of the conventual system. _Palombe_ appears to be not uninteresting, but after all it is but one of those parasitic exercises which have rarely been great except in the hands of very great genius. Historically, perhaps, the much less famous _Evenemens Singuliers_ (2 vols., 1628) are more important, though they cannot be said to be very amusing. For (to the surprise, perhaps, of a reader who comes to the book without knowing anything about it) it is composed of pure Marmontel-and-Miss-Edgeworth Moral Tales about _L'Ami Desloyal_, _La Prudente Mere_, _L'Amour et la Mort_, _L'Imprecation Maternelle_, and the like. Of course, as one would expect from the time, and the profession of the author, the meal of the morality is a little above the malt of the tale; but the very titles are "germinal."

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