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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Prince Courtebotte et Princesse Zibeline


[Sidenote: Caylus.]

Although, therefore, it would be very ungrateful not to acknowledge that they do sometimes comply with the demands of that sensible tyrant already mentioned, Sultan Hudgiadge, and "either amuse us or send us to sleep," it must be admitted to be with some relief that one turns once more, at about the five and twentieth volume, to something like the fairy tale proper, if to a somewhat artificial and sophisticated form of it. The Comte de Caylus was a scholar and a man of unusual brains; Moncrif showed his mixture of Scotch and French blood in a corresponding blend of quaintness and _esprit_; others, such as Voisenon in one sex and Voltaire's pet Mlle. de Lubert in the other, whatever they were, were at any rate not stupid.

[Sidenote: _Prince Courtebotte et Princesse Zibeline._]

To Anne Claude Philippe de Tubieres de Grimoard de Pestels de Levi, Comte de Caylus, one owes particular thanks, at least when one comes to the history of _Le Prince Courtebotte_, after wrestling with the _macedoine_ of orientalities just discussed. It is not, of course, Perrault, and it is not the best Madame D'Aulnoy. But you are never "put out" by it; the hero, if rather a hero of Scott in the uniform propriety of his conduct, or of Virgil in his success, is not like Waverley, partly a simpleton, nor like Aeneas, wholly a cad. One likes the Princess Zibeline both before she had a heart and afterwards; it can be very agreeable to know a nice girl in both states. Perhaps it was not quite cricket of the good fairy to play that trick[239] on the ambassador of King Brandatimor, but it was washed out in fair fight; and King Biby and his people of poodles are delightful. One wonders whether Dickens, who was better read in this kind of literature than in most, consciously or unconsciously borrowed from Caylus one of his not least known touches.[240]

[Sidenote: _Rosanie._]

In the next of the Caylus stories there is an Idea--the capital seems due because the Count was a man of Science, as science (perhaps better) went then, and because one or his other tales (not the best) is actually called _Le Palais des Idees_. The idea of _Rosanie_ is questionable, though the carrying of it out is all right. Two fairies are fighting for the (fairy) crown, and the test is who shall produce the most perfect specimen of the special fairy art of education of mortals. (I may, as a _ci-devant_ member of this craft, be permitted to regret that the business has been so largely taken over by persons who are neither fairies in one sex, though there may be some exceptions here, nor enchanters in the other, where exceptions are very rare indeed.) The tutoress of the Princess Rosanie pursues her task, and pursues it triumphantly, by dividing the child into twelve _interim_ personalities, each of whom has a special characteristic--beauty, gentleness, vivacity, discretion, and what not. At the close of the prescribed period they are reunited, and their fortunate lover, who has hitherto been distracted between the twelve _eidola_, is blessed with the compound Rosanie. Although it is well known to be the rashest of things for a man to say anything about women--although certainly sillier things have been said by men about women than about any other subject, except, of course, education itself--I venture to demur to the fairy method. Both _a priori_ and from experience, I should say that unmixed Beauty would become intolerably vain; that Discretion would grow into a hypocritical and unpleasant prude; that Vivacity would develop into Vulgarity; and that the reincarnation of the twelve would be one of the most intolerable creatures ever known, if it were not that the impossibility of the concentrated essences being united in one person, after separation in several, would save the situation by annihilating her.


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