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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

By Le Diable Boiteux and Gil Blas


Oddly

enough, the Second volume is also open to much exception of something, though not quite, the same kind; it seems as if Lesage, after making strong running, had a habit of nursing himself and even going to sleep for a while. The more than questionable habit of _histoire_-insertions revives; that of the rascal-hermit _picaro_, "Don Raphael," is, as the author admits, rather long, and, as he might have admitted, and as any one else may be allowed to say, very tiresome. Gil Blas himself goes through a long period of occultation, and the whole rather drags.

The First and the Third are the pillars of the house; and the Third, though (with the exception of the episode of the Archbishop, and that eternal sentence governing the relations of author and critic that "the homily which has the misfortune not to be approved" by the one is the very best ever produced by the other) not so well known, is perhaps even better than anything in the First. But the later part has, of course, not quite so much freshness; and nobody need want anything better than the successive scenes, slightly glanced at already, in which Gil Blas is taught, by no means finally,[321] the ways of the world; the pure adventure interest of the robbers' cave, so admirably managed and so little over-dwelt on; the experiences of travel and of the capital; the vivid pictures of _petit maitre_ and actress life; the double deception--thoroughly Spanish this, but most freshly and universally handled--by

Laure and Gil; many other well-known things; all deserve the knowledge and the admiration that they have won. But the Third, in which the hero is hardly ever off the scene from first to last, is my own favourite. He shows himself--not at his best, but humanly enough--in the affair with the ill-fated Lorenca, on which the Leyva family might have looked less excusingly if the culprit had been anybody but Gil. The Granada scenes, however, and not by any means merely those with the Archbishop, are of the very first class; and the reappearance of Laure, with the admirable coolness by which she hoodwinks her "keeper" Marialva, yields to nothing in the book. For fifty pages it is all novel-gold; and though Gil Blas, in decamping from the place, and leaving Laure to bear the brunt of a possible discovery, commits one of his least heroic deeds, it is so characteristic that one forgives, not indeed him, but his creator. The whole of the Lerma part is excellent and not in the least improbably impossible; there is infinitely more "human natur'" in it, as Marryat's waterman would have said, than in the _rechauffe_ of the situation with Olivares.

[Sidenote: Lesage's quality--not requiring many words, but indisputable.]

The effect indeed which is produced, in re-reading, by _Le Diable Boiteux_ and _Gil Blas_, but especially by the latter, is of that especial kind which is a sort of "_a posteriori_ intuition," if such a phrase may be permitted, of "classical" quality.[322] This sensation, which appears, unfortunately, to be unknown to a great many people, is sometimes set down by the more critical or, let us say, the more censorious of them, to a sort of childish prepossession--akin to that which makes a not ill-conditioned child fail to discover


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