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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote Les Quatre Facardins


No one had ever been able to look at them long enough to distinguish their exact colour; for as soon as one met her glance it was like a stroke of lightning. When she was eight years old her father, the Caliph, was in the habit of sending for her, to admire his offspring and give the courtiers the opportunity of paying a thousand feeble compliments to her youthful beauty; for even then they used to put out the candles at midnight, no other light being necessary except that of the little one's eyes. Yet all this was nothing but--in the literal sense, and the other--child's play; it was when her eyes had acquired full strength that they became no joking matter.

[_The fatal effects--killing men in twenty-four hours, and blinding women--are then told, with the complaints of the nobility whose sons have fallen victims, and the various suggestions for remedying the evil made at a committee, which is presided over by the Seneschal of the kingdom ... "the silliest man who had ever held such an office--so much so that the caliph could not possibly think of choosing any one less silly." Tarare happens to be in this pundit-potentate's service; and so the story starts._]

[Sidenote: _Les Quatre Facardins._]

But--and indeed the writer's opinion on this point has already been indicated--Hamilton's masterpiece, unfinished as it is,

is _Les Quatre Facardins_. Indeed, though unfinished in one sense, it is, in another, the most finished of all. Beside it the completed _Faustus_ is a mere trifle, and not a very interesting trifle. It has no dull parts like _Zeneyde_ and even _Le Belier_. It has much greater complication of interest and variety of treatment than _Fleur d'Epine_, in which, after the opening, Hamilton's peculiar _persiflage_, though not absent, is much less noticeable. It at least suggests, tantalising as the suggestion is, that the author for once really intended to wind up all his threads into a compact ball, or (which is the better image) to weave them into a new and definite pattern. Moreover--this may not be a recommendation to everybody, but it is a very strong one to the present historian,--it has no obvious or insistent "key"-element whatsoever. It is, indeed, not at all unlikely that there _is_ one, for the trick was ingrained in the literature and the society of the time. But if so, it is a sleeping dog that neither bites nor barks; and if you let it alone it will stay in its kennel, and not even obtrude itself upon your view.

To these partly, if not wholly, negative merits it adds positive ones of a very considerable and delectable kind. The connection with the _Arabian Nights_ is brought closer still in the fact that it is not only told (as of himself) by the Prince of Trebizond, Dinarzade's servant-cavalier, but is linked--to an important extent, and not at all to Schahriar's unmixed satisfaction--with one of the earliest incidents of the _Nights_ themselves, the remarkable story how the Lady from the Sea increases her store of rings at the cost of some exertion and alarm--not to mention the value of the rings themselves--to the Sultan and his brother, the King of Tartary. This lady, with her genie and her glass box, reappears as "Cristalline la Curieuse"--one of the two heroines. The other, of whose actual adventures we hear only the beginning, and that at the very close of the story, is Mousseline la Serieuse, who never laughs, and who, later, escaping literally by the loss of her last garment, twitched off by the jaws of an enormous crocodile, afterwards the pest of the country, finds herself under a mysterious weird. She is never able to get a similar vestment made for her, either of day- or night-fashion. Three hundred and seventy-four dozen of such things, which formed her wardrobe, had disappeared[300] after the death (actually crocodile-devoured) of her Mistress of the Robes; and although she used up all the linen-drapers' stocks of the capital in trying to get new ones, they were all somewhat milder varieties of the shirt of Nessus. For the day-shifts deprived her of all appetite for food or drink, and the night ones made it impossible for her to sleep.


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