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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

And with so quaint a travesty of romantic situation


The

whole account of the self-introduction of the nymph to the narrator is extremely quaint, but rather long to give here as a whole. It is enough to say that Hamilton represents himself as by no means an ardent nympholept, or even as flattered by demi-goddess-like advances, which are of the most obliging description; and that the lady has not only to make fuller and fuller revelations of her beauty, but at last to exert her supernatural power to some extent in order to carry the recreant into her "cool grot," not, indeed, under water, but invisibly situated on land. What there takes place is, unfortunately, as has been said, mainly the telling of a very dull story with one not so dull episode. But the conclusion of the preface exemplifies the whimsicality even of the writer, and points to the existence of a commodity in the fashion of wig-wearing which few who glory in "their own hair," and despise their periwigged forefathers, are likely to have thought of:

[Sidenote: Hamilton and the Nymph.]

At these words [_her own_] raising her eyes to heaven, she sighed several times; and though she tried to keep them back, I saw, coursing the length of her cheeks and falling on her beautiful neck, tears so natural, in the midst of a silence so touching, that I was just about to follow her example.[293] But she soon recovered herself; and having shown me by a languishing look that she

was not insensible to my sympathetic emotion ... [_she enjoins discretion, and then_:--] After having looked at me attentively for some time she came closer to me, and as she gently pulled one side of my wig in order to whisper in my ear, I had to lean over her in a rather familiar manner.[294] Her face touched mine, and it seemed to me animated by a lively warmth, very different from the insensibility which I had accused[295] her of shedding upon me when she came out of the water. Her breath was pure and fresh, and her goddess-ship, which I had suspected of being something marshy, had no taint of mud about it. If only I might reveal all that she said to me in a confidence which I could have wished longer![295] But apparently she got tired of it[295] and let go my wig. "'Twould be too tiresome," she said, "to go on talking like this. Go out there, and leave us alone!" I turned round, and seeing no one in the room, I thought this order was addressed to me, so I was just rising....

This quaint presentation of a craven swain is perhaps as good an example as could be found of the curious mixture of French and English in Hamilton. Hardly any Frenchman could have borne to put even a fictitious eidolon of himself in such a contemptible light; very few Englishmen, though they might easily have done this, would have done it so neatly, and with so quaint a travesty of romantic situation. But the main story, as admitted above, is _assommant_, though, just before the breach, a substitution of three agreeable damsels for the nymph herself promises something better.

This combination of the dullest with some of the finest and most characteristic work of the author, would be rather a puzzle in a more "serious" writer than Hamilton; but in his case there is no need to distress, or in any way to cumber, oneself about the matter. The whole thing was a "compliment," as the age would have said, to Fantasy; and the rules of the Court of Quintessence, though not non-existent as dull fools suppose, are singularly elastic to skilled players.


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