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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The Berger Extravagant and Polyandre


The _Berger Extravagant_ and _Polyandre_.]

I am bound to say that in Sorel's other chief works of fiction, the _Berger Extravagant_ and _Polyandre_, I find the same curious mixture of qualities which have made me more lenient than most critics to _Francion_. And I do not think it unfair to add that they also incline me still more to think that there was perhaps a little of the _Pereant qui ante nos_ feeling in Furetiere's attack (_v. inf._ p. 288). Neither could possibly be called by any sane judge a good book, and both display the uncritical character,[250] the "pillar-to-postness," the marine-store and almost rubbish-heap promiscuity, of the more famous book. Like it, they are much too big.[251] But the _Berger Extravagant_, in applying (very early) the _Don Quixote_ method, as far as Sorel could manage it, to the _Astree_, is sometimes amusing and by no means always unjust. _Polyandre_ is, in part, by no means unlike an awkward first draft of a _Roman Bourgeois_. The scene in the former, where Lysis--the Extravagant Shepherd and the Don Quixote of the piece,--making an all-night sitting over a poem in honour of his mistress Charite (the Dulcinea), disturbs the unfortunate Clarimond--a sort of "bachelor," the sensible man of the book, and a would-be reformer of Lysis--by constant demands for a rhyme[252] or an epithet, is not bad. The victim revenges himself by giving the most ludicrous words he can think of, which Lysis duly works in, and

at last allows Clarimond to go to sleep. But he is quickly waked by the poet running about and shouting, "I've got it! I've found it. The finest _reprise_ [= refrain] ever made!" And in _Polyandre_ there is a sentence (not the only one by many) which not only gives a _point de repere_ of an interesting kind in itself, but marks the beginning of the "_farrago libelli_ moderni": "Ils ont des mets qu'ils nomment des _bisques_; je doute si c'est potage ou fricassee."

Here we have (1) Evidence that Sorel was a man of observation, and took an interest in really interesting things.

(2) A date for the appearance, or the coming into fashion, of an important dish.

(3) An instance of the furnishing of fiction with something more than conventional adventure on the one hand, and conventional harangues or descriptions on the other.

(4) An interesting literary parallel; for here is the libelled "Charroselles" (_v. inf._ p. 288) two centuries beforehand, feeling a doubt, exactly similar to Thackeray's, as to whether a _bouillabaisse_ should be called soup or broth, brew or stew. Those who understand the art and pastime of "book-fishing" will not go away with empty baskets from either of these neglected ponds.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Scarron and the _Roman Comique_.]

Almost as different a person as can possibly be conceived from Sorel was Paul Scarron, Abbe, "Invalid to the Queen," husband of the future Mme. de Maintenon, author of burlesques which did him no particular honour, of plays which, if not bad, were never first rate, of witticisms innumerable, most of which have perished, and of other things, besides being a hero of some facts and more legends; but author also of one book in our own subject of much intrinsic and more historical interest, and original also of passages in later books more interesting still to all good wits. Not a lucky man in life (except for the possession of a lively wit and an imperturbable temper), he was never rich, and he suffered long and terribly from disease--one of the main subjects of his legend, but, after all discussions and carpings, looking most like rheumatoid arthritis, one of the most painful and incurable of ailments. But Scarron was, and has been since, by no means unlucky in literature. He had, though of course not an unvaried, a great popularity in a troubled and unscrupulous time: and long after his death two of the foremost novelists of his country selected him for honourable treatment of curiously different kinds. Somehow or other the introduction of men of letters of old time into modern books has not been usually very fortunate, except in the hands of Thackeray and a very few more. Among these latter instances may certainly be ranked the pleasant picture of Scarron's house, and of the attention paid to him by the as yet unmarried Francoise d'Aubigne, in Dumas's _Vingt Ans Apres_. Nor is it easy to think of any literary following that, while no doubt bettering, abstains so completely from robbing, insulting, or obscuring its model as does Gautier's _Capitaine Fracasse_.

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