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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Such as in each case this Mentor depicts them


NOTE ON _TELEMAQUE_

It may not perhaps be superfluous to give the rest of that criticism of Hamilton's on _Telemaque_, the conclusion of which has been quoted above. "In vain, from the famous coasts of Ithaca, the wise and renowned Mentor came to enrich us with those treasures of his which his _Telemaque_ contains. In vain the art of the teacher delicately displays, in this romance of a rare kind, the usefulness and the deceitfulness of politics and of love, as well as that fatal sweetness--frail daughter of luxury--which intoxicates a conquering hero at the feet of a young mistress or of a skilful enchantress, such as in each case this Mentor depicts them. But, well-versed as he was in human weakness, and elaborately as he imitated the style and the stories of Greece, the vogue that he had was of short duration. Weary of inability to understand the mysteries which he unfolded, men ran to the Palais to give back the volume," etc., etc.

Hamilton, no doubt intentionally, has himself made this criticism rather "mysterious." It is well known that, if not quite at first, very soon after its appearance, the fact that the politics, if not also the morals, of Fenelon's book were directly at variance with Court standards was recognised. At a time when Court favour and fashion were the very breath of the

upper circles, and directly or indirectly ruled the middle, the popularity of this curious romance-exhortation was, at any rate for a time, nipped in the bud, to revive only in the permanent but not altogether satisfactory conditions of a school-book. Whether Hamilton dealt discreetly with the matter by purposely confining himself to the record of a fact, or at least mixing praise to which no exception could be taken, with what might be taken for blame, one cannot say. By dotting a few i's, crossing the t's, and perhaps touching up some hidden letters with the requisite reagent, one can, however, get a not unfair or unshrewd criticism of the book out of this envelope. _Telemaque_, if it is not, as one of Thackeray's "thorn" correspondents suggested, superior to "_Lovel Parsonage_ and _Framley the Widower_," has, or with some easy suppressions and a very few additions and developments might have, much more pure romance interest than its centuries of scholastic use allow it to have for most people. Eucharis is capable of being much more than she is allowed to show herself; and some Mrs. Grundys, with more intelligence than the average member of the clan, have hinted that Calypso might be dangerous if the persons who read about her were not likely to consider her as too old to be interesting. The style is, of course, admirable--there has hardly ever been a better writer of French than Fenelon, who was also a first-rate narrator and no mean critic. Whether by the "mysteries" Hamilton himself meant politics, morals, religion, or all three and other "serious" things, is a point which, once more, is impossible to settle. But it is quite certain that, whether there is any difficulty in comprehending them or not, a great many--probably the huge majority--of novel readers would not care to take the trouble to comprehend them, and might, even if they found little difficulty, resent being asked to do so. And so we have here not the first--for, as has been said, the Heroic romance itself had much earlier been "conscripted" into the service of didactics--but the first brilliant, or almost brilliant, example of that novel of purpose which will meet us so often hereafter. It may be said to have at once revealed (for the earlier examples were, as a rule, too dull to be fair tests) the ineradicable defects of the species. Even when the purpose does not entirely preclude the possibility of enjoyment, it always gets in the way thereof; and when the enjoyable matter does not absorb attention to the disregard of the purpose altogether, it seldom--perhaps never--really helps that purpose to get itself fulfilled.


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