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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

133 gave considerable space to Barclay's famous Argenis

which romance cannot live,

without which novel is almost repulsive, and which the increasing advances of realism itself were to render more than ever indispensable. As for the Heroic, we have already shown how much, with all its faults, it did for the novel generally in construction and in other ways. It has been shown likewise, it is hoped, how the Fairy story, besides that additional provision of imagination, fancy, and dream which has just been said to be so important--mingled with this a kind of realism which was totally lacking in the others, and which showed itself especially in one immensely important department wherein they had been so much to seek. Fairies may be (they are not to my mind) things that "do not happen"; but the best of these fairies are fifty times more natural, not merely than the characters of Scudery and Gomberville, but than those (I hold to my old blasphemy) of Racine. Animals may not talk; but the animals of Perrault and even of Madame d'Aulnoy talk divinely well, and, what is more, in a way most humanly probable and interesting. Never was there such a triumph of the famous impossible-probable as a good fairy story. Except to the mere scientist and to (of course, quite a different person) the unmitigated fool, these stories, at least the best of them, fully deserve the delightful phrase which Southey attributes to a friend of his. They are "necessary and voluptuous and right." They were, to the French eighteenth century and to French prose, almost what the ballad was to the
English eighteenth century and to English verse; almost what the _Maerchen_ was to the prose and verse alike of yet un-Prussianised Germany. They were more than twice blessed: for they were charming in themselves; they exercised good influence on other literary productions; and they served as precious antidotes to bad things that they could not improve, and almost as precious alternatives to things good in themselves but of a different kind from theirs.

What, however, none of the kinds discussed in this chapter gave entirely, while only the fairy story gave in part, and that in strong contrast to another part of itself, was a history of ordinary life--high, low, or middle--dealing with characters more or less representing live and individual personages; furnished with incidents of a possible and probable character more or less regularly constructed; furnished further with effective description of the usual scenery, manners, and general accessories of living; and, finally, giving such conversation as might be thought necessary in forms suitable to "men of this world," in the Shakespearian phrase. In other words, none of them attained, or even attempted to fulfil, the full definition of the novel. The scattered books to be mentioned in the next chapter did not, perhaps, in any one case--even Madame de la Fayette's--quite achieve this; but in all of them, even in Sorel's, we see more or less conscious or unconscious attempt at it.


[124] Herr Koerting (_v. sup._ p. 133) gave considerable space to Barclay's famous _Argenis_, which also appeared fairly early in the century. To treat, however, a Latin book, written by a Scotsman, with admittedly large if not main reference to European politics, as a "French novel," seems a literary solecism. I do not know whether it is rash to add that the _Argenis_ itself seems to me to have been wildly overpraised. It is at any rate one of the few books--one of the still fewer romances--which have defied my own powers of reading at more than one attempt.


[Sidenote: Note on marked influence of Greek Romance.]

The repetition, in the seventeenth century, of something very like a phenomenon which we noticed in the twelfth, is certainly striking, and may seem at first sight rather uncanny. But those who have made some attempt to "find the whole" in literature, and in that attempt have at least found out something about the curious laws of revolution and recurrence which take the place of any progress in a straight line, will deem the thing natural enough. We declined, in the earlier case, to admit much, if any, direct influence of the accomplished Greek Romance on the Romance of the West; but we showed how classical subjects, whether pure or tinctured with Oriental influence, induced an immensely important development of this same Western Romance in two directions--that of manners, character, and passion, and that of marvel. In the later period classical influences of all sorts are again at work; but infinitely the larger part of that work is done by the Greek Romances themselves--pastoral, adventurous, and sentimental,--the dates of the translations of which will be given presently. And the newer Oriental kind--coming considerably later still and sharing its nature certainly, and perhaps its origin, not now with classical mythology, but again, in the most curious way, with Western folk stories--supplements and diversifies the reinforcement.

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