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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And good fairies and bad fairies


[Sidenote:

The main _Cabinet des Fees_--more on Mme. d'Aulnoy.]

He who ventures on the complete _Cabinet des Fees_[226] in its more than forty volumes, will provide himself with "cabin furniture" of nearly as good pastime-quality, at least to my fancy (and yet I may claim to be something of a Balzacian), as the slightly larger shelf-ful which suggested itself to the fancy of Mr. Browning and provoked (_as_ "cabin furniture") the indignation of Mr. Swinburne. But he had better look over the contents before he takes it on board, or he will find himself, if his travelling library is anything like as large as that of the patriarch Photius, in danger of duplication. For the _Cabinet_ holds, not merely the _Arabian Nights_ in the original translation of Galland, but also Hamilton: as well, of course, as much of what we may call the classical fairy matter proper on which we have already dwelt, and which is known to all decent people. Still, he will find more of Mme. d'Aulnoy than, unless he is already something of an expert, he already knows, and perhaps he will not be entirely rejoiced at the amplification. She wrote more or less regular heroic romances,[227] which are very inferior to her fairy tales; and though these are not in the _Cabinet_, she sometimes "mixes the kinds" rather disastrously in shorter pieces. The framework of _Don Gabriel Ponce de Leon_, which enshrines the sad but charming "Golden Sheep," and a variant of _Cendrillon_, is poor stuff; and

_Les Chevaliers Errans_ only shows what we knew before, that the junction of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is not the time or the place in which to find the loved one, if that loved one is mediaeval. Still, this invaluable lady does generally reck and exemplify her own immortal rede. "Il me semble," says Prince Marcassin to the fairies, "a vous entendre, qu'il ne faut pas meme croire ce qu'on voit." And they reply, "La regle n'est pas toujours generale; _mais il est indubitable que l'on doit suspendre son jugement sur bien des choses, et penser qu'il peut entrer quelque chose de Feerie dans ce que nous paroit de plus certain_."

[Sidenote: Warning against disappointment.]

Alas! it was precisely this _quelque chose de Feerie_ which is wanting in the majority of the minor fairy-tale writers. That they should attain the wonderful simplicity, freshness, and charm of Perrault at his best was not to be expected; hardly that they should reach the more sophisticated grace of Hamilton; but it might have been hoped that some would come more or less near the lower, and much more unequal, but occasionally very successful art or luck of Mme. d'Aulnoy herself. Unfortunately very few of them do. It was easy enough to begin _Il etait autrefois un roi et une reine_, to put in a Prince Charming and a Princess Graciosa, and good fairies and bad fairies, and magicians and ogres and talking beasts, and the like. It was not so easy to make all these things work together to produce the peculiar spell which belongs to the true land of Faery, and to that land alone. Still more unfortunately, wrong ways of attempting the object (or some other object) were as easy


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