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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Cyrano's is the most uninteresting

us, however, use the utmost

possible combination of critical magnanimity with critical justice: and allow these precious additions, which did not form part of the "classical" or "received" text of the author, not to count against him. _For_ him they can only count with those who still think the puerile and now hopelessly stale jests about Enoch and Elijah and that sort of thing clever. But they can be either disregarded or at least left out of the judgment, and it will yet remain true that the so-called _Voyage_ is a very disappointing book indeed. As this is one of the cases where the record of personal experience is not impertinent, I may say that I first read it some forty years ago, when fresh from reading about it and its author in "Theo's" prose; that I therefore came to it with every prepossession in its favour, and strove to like it, or to think I did. I read it again, if I remember rightly, about the time of the excitement about M. Rostand's _Cyrano_, and liked it less still; while when I re-read it carefully for this chapter, I liked it least of all. There is, of course, a certain fancifulness about the main idea of a man fastening bottles of dew round him in the expectation (which is justified) that the sun's heat will convert the dew into steam and raise him from the ground. But the reader (it is not necessary to pay him the bad compliment of explaining the reasons) will soon see that the scheme is aesthetically awkward, if not positively ludicrous, and scientifically absurd. Throwing off bottles
to lower your level has a superficial resemblance to the actual principles and practice of ballooning; but in the same way it will not here "work" at all.

This, however, would be a matter of no consequence whatever if the actual results of the experiment were amusing. Unfortunately they are not. That the aeronaut's first miss of the Moon drops him into the new French colony of Canada may have given Cyrano some means of interesting people then; but, reversing the process noticed in the cases of Scarron and Furetiere, it does not in the least do so now. We get nothing out of it except some very uninteresting gibes at the Jesuits, and, connected with these, some equally uninteresting discussions whether the flight to the Moon is possible or not.

Still one hopes, like the child or fool of popular saying, for the Moon itself to atone for Canada, and tolerates disappointment till one actually gets there. Alas! of all Utopias that have ever been Utopiated, Cyrano's is the most uninteresting, even when its negative want of interest does not change into something positively disagreeable. The Lunarians, though probably intended to be, are hardly at all a satire on us Earth-dwellers. They are bigger, and, as far as the male sex is concerned, apparently more awkward and uglier; and their ideas in religion, morals, taste, etc., are a monotonously direct reversal of our orthodoxies. There is at least one passage which the absence of all "naughty niceness" and the presence of the indescribably nasty make a good "try" for the acme of the disgusting. More of it is less but still nasty; much of it is silly; all of it is dull.[271]

Nevertheless it is not quite omissible in such a history as this, or in any history of French literature. For it is a notable instance of the coming and, indeed, actual invasion, by fiction, of regions which had hitherto been the province of more serious kinds; and it is a link, not unimportant if not particularly meritorious, in the chain of the eccentric novel. Lucian of course had started it long ago, and Rabelais had in a fashion taken it up but a century before. But the fashioners of new commonwealths and societies, More, Campanella, Bacon, had been as a rule very serious. Cyrano, in his way, was serious too; but the way itself was not one of those for which the ticket has been usually reserved.

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