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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

With this he had slain divers magpies


Now

turn to the opening passage of the _Roman Comique_, which strikes the new note most sharply. It is rather well known, probably even to some who have not read the original or Tom Brown's congenial translation of it; for it has been largely laid under contribution by the innumerable writers about a much greater person than Scarron, Moliere. The experiences of the _Illustre Theatre_ were a little later, and apparently not so sordid as those of the company of which Scarron constituted himself historiographer; but they cannot have been very dissimilar in general kind, and many of the characteristics, such as the assumption now of fantastic names, "Le Destin," "La Rancune," etc., now of rococo-romantic ones, such as "Mademoiselle de l'Etoile," remained long unaltered. But perhaps a fresh translation may be attempted, and the attempt permitted. For though the piece, of course, has recent Spanish and even older Italian examples of a kind, still the change in what may be called "particular universality" is remarkable.

[Sidenote: The opening scene of this.]

The sun had finished more than half his course, and his chariot, having reached the slope of the world, was running quicker than he wished. If his horses had chosen to avail themselves of the drop of the road, they would have got through what remained of the day in less than half or quarter of an hour; but instead of pulling at full

strength, they merely amused themselves by curvetting, as they drew in a salt air, which told them the sea, wherein men say their master goes to bed every night, was close at hand. To speak more like a man of this world, and more intelligibly, it was between five and six o'clock, when a cart came into the market-place of Le Mans. This cart was drawn by four very lean oxen, with, for leader, a brood-mare, whose foal scampered about round the cart, like a silly little thing as it was. The cart was full of boxes and trunks, and of great bundles of painted canvas, which made a sort of pyramid, on the top of which appeared a damsel, dressed partly as for town, partly for country. By the side of the cart walked a young man, as ill-dressed as he was good-looking. He had on his face a great patch, which covered one eye and half his cheek, and he carried a large fowling-piece on his shoulder. With this he had slain divers magpies, jays, and crows; and they made a sort of bandoleer round him, from the bottom whereof hung a pullet and a gosling, looking very like the result of a plundering expedition. Instead of a hat he had only a night-cap, with garters of divers colours twisted round it, which headgear looked like a very unfinished sketch of a turban. His coat was a jacket of grey stuff, girt with a strap, which served also as a sword-belt, the sword being so long that it wanted a fork to draw it neatly for use. He wore breeches trussed, with stockings attached to them, as actors do when they play an ancient hero; and he had, instead of shoes, buskins of a classical pattern, muddied up to the ankle. An old man, more ordinarily but still very ill-dressed, walked beside him. He carried on his shoulders a bass-viol, and as he stooped a little in walking, one might, at a distance, have taken him for a large tortoise walking on its hind legs. Some critic may perhaps murmur at this comparison; but I am speaking of the big tortoises they have in the Indies, and besides I use it at my own risk. Let us return to our caravan.


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