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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And a third swore Ventre Saint Gris


Not

much less so, in the different way of a pretty sentimentality, is the _Aglae ou Naboline_ of the painter Coypel; while the batch of short stories from Mme. Le Prince de Beaumont's _Magasin des Enfants_ have had a curious fate. They are rather pooh-poohed by French editors and critics, and they are certainly _very_ moral, too much so, in fact, as has been already objected to one of them, _Le Prince Cheri_. But allowances have been allowed even there, and, somehow or other, _Fatal et Fortune_, _Le Prince Charmant_, _Joliette_, and the rest have recovered more of the root of the matter than most others, and have established a just popularity in translation.

And then comes the shortest, I think, of all the stories in the one and forty volumes; the silliest as a composition; the most contemptibly _thought_--but by the accidents of fate endowed later with a tragic-satiric _moralitas_ almost if not quite unrivalled in literature. Its author was a certain M. Selis, apparently a very respectable schoolmaster, professor, and bookmaker of not the lowest class--employments and occupations in respect of all of which not a few of us have earned our bread and paid our income-tax. Unluckily for him, there was born in his time a Dauphin, and he wrote a little adulatory tale of the birth, and the editors of the _Cabinet_ Appendix thanked him much for giving it them. It is not four pages long; it tells how an ancestral genie--a great king named Louis--blessed the

child, and said that he would be called "the father of his people," and another followed suit with "the father of letters," and a third swore _Ventre Saint Gris!_ and named the baby's uncle as "Joseph," and a still greater Louis said other things, and a fairy named Maria Theresa crowned the blessings. Then came an ogre mounted on a leopard and eating raw meat, who was of Albion, and said he was king of the country, and observed "_God ham_" [_sic_], and was told that he would be beaten and made to lay down his arms by the child.

And the Dauphin, unless this _signalement_ is strangely delusive, lived to know the worst ogres in the world (their chief was named Simon), who were of his own people, and to die the most unhappy prince or king in that world. And he of the Leopard who said _God ham_, would have saved that Dauphin if he could, and did slay many of his less guiltless relations and subjects, and beat the rest "thorough and thorough," and restored (could they have had the will and wit to profit by it) the race of Louis and Francis, and of the genie who said "Ventre Saint Gris!" to their throne. And this was the end of the vaticinations of M. Selis, and such are the tears of things.

The rest of this volume is occupied by a baker's dozen of _Contes Choisis_, the first of which, _Les Trois Epreuves_, seems to imitate Voltaire, and is smartly written, while some of the others are not bad.

Volume xxxvi. is occupied (not too appositely, though inoffensively in itself) by a translation of Wieland's _Don Silvia de Rosalva_, which is a German _Sir Launcelot Greaves_ or _Spiritual Quixote_, with fairy tales substituted for romances of chivalry. The author of _Oberon_ was seldom, if ever, unreadable, and he is not so here; but the thing is neither a tale proper (seeing that it fills a whole volume), nor a real fairy tale, nor French, so we may let it alone.

Then this curious collection once more comes to an end, which is not an end, with a very useful though not too absolutely trustworthy volume of _Notices des Auteurs_, containing not only "bio-bibliographical" articles on the actual writers collected, but references to others, great and small, from Marivaux, Lesage, Prevost, and Voltaire downwards, and glances, sometimes with actual _comptes rendus_, at pieces of the class not included. That it is conducted on the somewhat irresponsible and indolent principles of its time might be anticipated from previous things, such as the clause in the Preface to Wieland's just noticed book, that the author had "gone to Weimar, where perhaps he is still," an observation which, from the context, seems not to be so much an attempt at _persiflage_ as a pure piece of lazy _naivete_. The volume, however, contains a great deal of information such as it is; some sketches, ingeniously draped or Bowdlerised, of the "naughty" tales excluded from the collection itself, and a few amusing stories.[245]


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