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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

While Saint Evremond was actually born in Normandy


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There seemed to be several reasons for separating Hamilton from the other fairy-tale writers. The best of all is that he has the same qualification for the present chapter as that which has installed in it the novelists already noticed--that of idiosyncrasy. This leads to, or rather is founded on, the consideration that his tales are fairy-tales only "after a sort," and testify rather to a prevalent fashion than to a natural affection for the kind.[281] Thirdly, he exhibits, in his supernatural matter, a new and powerful influence on fiction generally--that of the first translated _Arabian Nights_. Lastly, he is in turn himself the head of two considerable though widely different sub-departments of fiction--the decadent and often worthless but largely cultivated department of what we may call the fairy-tale _improper_,[282] and the very important and sometimes consummately excellent "ironic tale," to be often referred to, and sometimes fully discussed, hereafter.

The singularity of Hamilton's position has always been recognised; but until comparatively recently, his history and family relations were very little understood. Since the present writer discussed him in a paper[283] now a quarter of a century old in print, and older in composition, further light has been thrown on his life and surroundings in the _Dictionary of National Biography_, and more still in a monograph

by a lady[284] whose researches will, it is hoped, sooner or later be published. A very little, too, of the unprinted work which was held back at his death has been recovered. But this, it seems, includes nothing of importance; and his fame will probably always rest, as it has so long and so securely rested, on the _Memoires de Grammont_, the few but sometimes charming independent verses, some miscellanies not generally enough appreciated, and the admirable group of ironic tales which set a fashion hardly more admirably illustrated since by Voltaire and Beckford[285] and Lord Beaconsfield, to name no others. Of these things the verses,[286] unfortunately, do not concern us at all; and the _Memoires_ and miscellanies[286] only in so far as they add another, and one of the very best, to the brilliant examples of personal narrative of which the century is so full, and which have so close a connection with the novel itself. But the _Tales_ are, of course, ours of most obvious right; and they form one of the most important _points de repere_ in our story.

To discuss, on the one hand, how Hamilton's singularly mixed conditions and circumstances of birth[287] and life[288] influenced his literary production would be interesting, but in strictness rather irrelevant. To attempt, on the other, at any great length to consider the influences which produced the kind of tale he wrote would have more relevance, but would, if pursued in similar cases elsewhere, lengthen the book enormously. Two main ancestor or progenitor forces, as they may be called, though both were of very recent date and one actually contemporary, may be specified. The one was the newborn fancy for fairy-tales, and Eastern tales in particular. The other was the now ingrained disposition towards ironic writing which, begun by Rabelais, as a most notable origin, varied and increased by Montaigne and others, had, just before Hamilton, received fresh shaping and tempering from not a few writers, especially Saint-Evremond. There is indeed no doubt that this last remarkable and now far too little read writer,[289] who, let it be remembered, was, like Hamilton, and even more so, an intimate friend of Grammont and also an inmate of Charles's court, was Hamilton's direct and immediate model so far as he had any such--his "master" in the general tone of _persiflage_. But master and pupil chose, as a rule, different subjects, and the idiosyncrasy of each was intense; it must be remembered, too, that both were of Norman blood, though that of the Hamiltons had long been transfused into the veins of a new nationality, while Saint-Evremond was actually born in Normandy. The Norman (that is to say, the English, with a special intention of difference[290]) in each could be very easily pointed out if such things were our business. But it is the application of this, and of other things in relation to the development of the novel, that we have to deal with.


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