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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Voltaire 351 deserves the first place in this chapter


"Be it mine to read endless romances of Marivaux and Crebillon."

[345] Learnt, no doubt, to a great extent from Anthony Hamilton, with whose family, as has been noticed, he had early relations.

[346] He goes further, and points out that, as she is his _really_ beloved Marquise's most intimate friend, she surely wouldn't wish him to declare himself false to that other lady?--having also previously observed that, after what has occurred, he could never think of deceiving his Celie herself by false declarations. These topsy-turvinesses are among Crebillon's best points, and infinitely superior to the silly "platitudes reversed" which have tried to produce the same effect in more recent times.

[347] It has been said more than once that Crebillon had early access to Hamilton's MSS. He refers directly to the Facardins in _Ah! Quel Conte!_ and makes one of his characters claim to be grand-daughter of Cristalline la Curieuse herself.

[348] Nor perhaps even then, for passion is absolutely unknown to our author. One touch of it would send the curious Rupert's drop of his microcosm to shivers, as _Manon Lescaut_ itself in his time, and _Adolphe_ long after, show.

[349] Some remarks are made by "Madame _Hepenny_"--a very pleasing phoneticism, and, though an actual name, not likely to offend any actual person.

justify;">[350] No sneer is intended in this adjective. Except in one or two of the personages of _Les Egarements_, Crebillon's intended gentlemen are nearly always well-bred, however ill-moralled they may be, and his ladies (with the same caution) are ladies. It is with him, in this last point at any rate, as with our own Congreve, whom he rather closely resembles in some ways: though I was amused the other day to find some twentieth-century critical objections to actresses' rendering of _Love for Love_ as "too well-bred." The fact is that the tradition of "breeding" never broke down in France till the _philosophe_ period, while with us it lasted till--when shall we say?



[Sidenote: The use of the novel for "purpose"--Voltaire.]

It has been for some time a commonplace--though, like most commonplaces, it is probably much more often simply borrowed than an actual and (even in the sense of _communis_) original perception of the borrowers--that nothing shows the comparative inevitableness of the novel in the eighteenth century better than the use of it by persons who would, at other times, have used quite different forms to subserve similar purposes. The chief instance of this with us is, of course, Johnson in _Rasselas_, but it is much more variously and voluminously, if not in any single instance much better, illustrated in France by the three great leaders of the _philosophe_ movement; by considerable, if second-rate figures, more or less connected with that movement, like Marmontel and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre; and by many lesser writers.

There can be no question that, in more ways than one, Voltaire[351] deserves the first place in this chapter, not only by age, by volume, and by variety of general literary ability, but because he, perhaps more than any of the others, is a tale-teller born. That he owes a good deal to Hamilton, and something directly to Hamilton's master, Saint-Evremond, has been granted elsewhere; but that he is dependent on these models to such an extent as to make his actual production unlikely

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