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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Sidenote The successors Marmontel


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[Sidenote: The successors--Marmontel.]

What has been called the second generation of the _philosophes_, who were naturally the pupils of the first, "were not like [that] first," that is to say, they did not reproduce the special talents of their immediate masters in this department of ours, save in two instances. Diderot's genius did not propagate itself in the novel way at all[385]: indeed, as has been said, his best novel was not known till this second generation itself was waning. The most brilliant of his direct hearers, Joubert, took to another department; or rather, in his famous _Pensees_, isolated and perfected the utterances scattered through the master's immense and disorderly work. Naigeon, the most devoted, who might have taken for his motto a slight alteration of the Mahometan confession of faith, "There is no God; but there is only one Diderot, and I am his prophet," was a dull fellow, and also, to adopt a Carlylian epithet, a "dull-snuffling" one, who could not have told a neck-tale if the Hairibee of the guillotine had caught him and given him a merciful chance. Voltaire in Marmontel, and Rousseau in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, were more fortunate, though both the juniors considerably transformed their masters' fashions; and Marmontel was always more or less, and latterly altogether, an apostate from the principle that the first and last duty of man is summed

up in _ecrasons l'infame_.

This latter writer has had vicissitudes both in English and French appreciation. We translated him early, and he had an immense influence on the general Edgeworthian school, and on Miss Edgeworth herself. Much later Mr. Ruskin "took him up."[386] But neither his good nor his bad points have, for a long time, been such as greatly to commend themselves, either to the major part of the nineteenth century, or to what has yet passed of the twentieth, on either side of the channel.

He was, no doubt, only a second-class man of letters, and though he ranks really high in this class, he was unfortunately much influenced by more or less passing fashions, fads, and fancies of his time--_sensibilite_ (see next chapter) philosophism, politico-philanthropic economy, and what not. He was also much of a "polygraph," and naturally a good deal of his polygraphy does not concern us, though parts of his _Memoirs_, especially the rather well-known accounts of his sufferings as a new-comer[387] in the atrocious Bastille, show capital tale-telling faculty. His unequal criticism, sometimes very acute, hardly concerns us at all; his _Essai sur les Romans_ being very disappointing.[388] But he wrote not a little which must, in different ways and "strengths," be classed as actual fiction, and this concerns us pretty nearly, both as evidencing that general set towards the novel which is so important, and also in detail.

[Sidenote: His "Telemachic" imitations worth little.]

It divides itself quite obviously into two classes, the almost didactic matter of _Belisaire_ and _Les Incas_, and the still partly didactic, but much more "fictionised" _Contes Moraux_. The first part (which is evidently of the family of _Telemaque_) may be rapidly dismissed. Except for its good French and good intentions, it has long had, and is likely always to have, very little to say for itself. We have seen that Prevost attempted a sort of quasi-historical novel. Of actual history there is little in _Belisaire_, rather more in _Les Incas_. But historical fact and story-telling art are entirely subordinated in both to moral purpose, endless talk about virtue and the affections and justice and all the rest of it--the sort of thing, in short, which provoked the immortal outburst, "In the name of the Devil and his grandmother, _be_ virtuous and have done with it!" There is, as has just been said, a great deal of this in the _Contes_ also; but fortunately there is something else.


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