free ebooks

A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Pangloss in its original kind is nearly extinct


He

had seen[353] the effect of which the fairy tale of the sophisticated kind was capable, and the attraction which it had for both vulgars, the great and the small: and he made the most of it. He kept and heightened its _haut gout_; he discarded the limitations to a very partial and conventional society which Crebillon put on it; but he limited it in other ways to commonplace and rather vulgar fancy, without the touches of imagination which Hamilton had imparted. Yet he infused an even more accurate appreciation of certain phases of human nature than those predecessors or partial contemporaries of his who were discussed in the last chapter had introduced; he _practicalised_ it to the _n_th, and he made it almost invariably subordinate to a direct, though a sometimes more or less ignoble, purpose. There is no doubt that he had learnt a great deal from Lucian and from Lucian's French imitators, perhaps as far back as Bonaventure des Periers; there is, I think, little that he had added as much as he could add from Swift.[354] His stolen or borrowed possessions from these sources, and especially this last, remind one in essence rather of the pilferings of a "light horseman," or river-pirate who has hung round an "old three-decker," like that celebrated in Mr. Kipling's admirable poem, and has caught something even of the light from "her tall poop-lanterns shining so far above him," besides picking up overboard trifles, and cutting loose boats and cables. But when he gets to shore and
to his own workshop, his almost unequalled power of sheer wit, and his general craftsmanship, bring out of these lootings something admirable in its own way.

[Sidenote: _Candide._]

_Candide_ is almost "great," and though the breed of Dr. Pangloss in its original kind is nearly extinct, the England which suffered the approach, and has scarcely yet allowed itself to comprehend the reality, of the war of 1914, ought to know that there have been and are Pangloss_otins_ of almost appalling variety. The book does not really require the smatches of sculduddery, which he has smeared over it, to be amusing; for its lifelikeness carries it through. As is well known, Johnson admitted the parallel with _Rasselas_, which is among the most extraordinary coincidences of literature. I have often wondered whether anybody ever took the trouble to print the two together. There would be many advantages in doing so; but they might perhaps be counter-balanced by the fact that some of the most fervent admirers of _Rasselas_ would be infinitely shocked by _Candide_, and that perhaps more of the special lovers of _Candide_ would find themselves bored to extinction by _Rasselas_. Let those who can not only value but enjoy both be thankful, but not proud.

Many people have written about the Consolations of Old Age, not seldom, it is to be feared, in a "Who's afraid?" sort of spirit. But there are a few, an apple or two by the banks of Ulai, which we may pluck as the night approaches. One is almost necessarily accidental, for it would be rash and somewhat cold-blooded to plan it. It consists in the reading, after many years, of a book once familiar almost to the point of knowing by heart, and then laid aside, not from weariness or disgust, but merely as things happened. This, as in some other books mentioned in this history, was the case with the present writer in respect of _Candide_. From twenty to forty, or thereabouts, I must have read it over and over again; the sentences drop into their places almost without exercising any effort of memory to recognise them. From forty to seventy I do not think I read it at all; because no reason made reading necessary, and chance left it untouched on the shelf. Sometimes, as everybody knows, the result of renewed acquaintance in such cases is more or less severe disappointment; in a few of the happiest, increased pleasure. But it is perhaps the severest test of a classic (in the exact but limited sense of that word) that its effect shall be practically unchanged, shall have been established in the mind and taste with such a combination of solidity and _nettete_, that no change is possible. I do not think I have ever found this to be more the case than with the history of Candide (who was such a good fellow, without being in the least a prig, as I am afraid Zadig was, that one wonders how Voltaire came to think of him) and of Mademoiselle Cunegonde (nobody will ever know anything about style who does not feel what the continual repetition in Candide's mouth of the "Mademoiselle" does) of the indomitable Pangloss, and the detestable baron, and the forgivable Paquette, and that philosopher Martin, who did _not_ "let cheerfulness break in," and the admirable Cacambo, who shows that, much as he hated Rousseau, Voltaire himself was not proof against the noble savage mania.[355]


eBook Search
Social Sharing
Share Button
About us

freefictionbooks.org is a collection of free ebooks that can be read online. Ebooks are split into pages for easier reading and better bookmarking.

We have more than 35,000 free books in our collection and are adding new books daily.

We invite you to link to us, so as many people as possible can enjoy this wonderful free website.

© 2010-2013 freefictionbooks.org - All Rights Reserved.

Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Contact Us