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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

By far the best of all Les Quatre Facardins


It

is said, and there is good reason for believing it to be true, that all the stories have a more or less pervading vein of "key" application in them. But this, except for persons particularly interested in such things, has now very little attraction. It has been admitted that it probably exists, as indeed it does in almost everything of the day, from the big as well as "great" _Cyrus_ to the little, but certainly not much less great, _Princesse de Cleves_. But our subject is what Hamilton writes about these people, not the people about whom he may or may not be writing.

What we have left of Hamilton's tales, as far as they have been printed (and, as was said above, not much more seems to exist), consists of five stories of very unequal length, and in two cases out of the five unfinished. One of the finished pieces, _Fleur d'Epine_, and one of the unfinished--although unfinished it is not only one of the longest, but, unluckily in a way, by far the best of all--_Les Quatre Facardins_, are "framework" stories, and avowedly attach themselves, in an irreverent sort of attachment, to the _Arabian Nights_; the others, _Le Belier_, _Zeneyde_ (unfinished), and _L'Enchanteur Faustus_, are independent, and written in the mixed verse-and-prose style which had been made popular by various writers, especially Chapelle, but which cannot be said to be very acceptable in itself. Taken together, they fill a volume of just over 500 average octavo pages in the standard

edition of 1812; but their individual length is very unequal. The two longest, the fragmentary _Quatre Facardins_ and the finished _Le Belier_, run each of them to 142 pages; the shortest, _L'Enchanteur Faustus_, has just five-and-twenty; while _Fleur d'Epine_, in its completeness, has 114, and _Zeneyde_, in its incompleteness, runs to 78, and might have run, for aught one can tell--in the mixed tangle of Roman and Merovingian history in which the author (possibly in ridicule of Madeleine de Scudery's classical chronicling) has chosen to plunge it--to 780 or 7800, which latter figure would, after all, have been little more than half the length of the _Grand Cyrus_ itself.

We may take _L'Enchanteur Faustus_ first, as it requires the shortest notice. In fact, if it had not been Hamilton's, it would hardly require any. Written to a "charmante Daphne" (evidently one of the English Jacobite exiles, from a reference to a great-great-grandfather of hers who was "admiral in Ireland" during Queen Elizabeth's time), it is occupied by a story of the great Queen herself, who is treated with the mixture of admiration (for her intelligence and spirit) with "scandal" (about her person and morals) that might be expected at St. Germains. The subject is the usual exhibition of dead beauties (here by, not to, Faustus), with Elizabeth's affected depreciation of Helen, Cleopatra, and Mariamne, and her equally affected admiration of Fair Rosamond,[291] whom she insists on summoning _twice_, despite Faustus's warning, and with disastrous consequences. Hamilton's irony is so pervading that one does not know whether ignorance, carelessness, or intention made him not only introduce Sidney and Essex as contemporary favourites of Elizabeth, but actually attribute Rosamond's end to poor Jane Shore instead of to Queen Eleanor! This would matter little if the tale had been stronger; but though it is told with Hamilton's usual easy fluency, the Queen's depreciations, the flattery of the courtiers, and the rest of it, are rather slightly and obviously handled. One would give half a dozen like it for that _Second_ (but not necessarily _Last_) _Part_ of the _Facardins_, which Crebillon the younger is said to have actually seen and had the opportunity of saving, a chance which he neglected till too late.


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