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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Going to Erigone for consolation


He is furious, and tries "Glicerie" (the form might be more Greek), an _ingenue_ of fifteen, who was "like a rose," who had attracted already the vows of the most gallant youths, etc. The most brilliant of these youths instantly retire before the invincible Alcibiades. But in the first place she wishes that before "explanations"[393] take place, a marriage shall be arranged; while he, oddly enough, wishes that the explanations should precede the hymen. Also she is particular about the consent of her parents: and, finally, when he asks her whether she will swear constancy against every trial, to be his, and his only, whatever happens, she replies, with equal firmness and point, "Never!" So he is furious again. But there is a widow, and, as we have seen in former cases, there was not, in the French eighteenth century, the illiberal prejudice against widows expressed by Mr. Weller. She is, of course, inconsolable for her dear first, but admits, after a time, the possibility of a dear second. Only it must be kept secret as yet. For a time Alcibiades behaves nobly, but somehow or other he finds that everybody knows the fact; he is treated by his lady-love with obvious superiority; and breaks with her. An interlude with a "magistrate's" wife, on less proper and more Crebillonish lines, is not more successful. So one day meeting by the seashore a beautiful courtesan, Erigone, he determines, in the not contemptible language of that single-speech poetess, Maria del Occidente, to "descend and sip a lower draught." He is happy after a fashion with her for two whole months: but at the end of that time he is beaten in a chariot race, and, going to Erigone for consolation, finds the winner's vehicle at her door. Socrates, on being consulted, recommends Glicerie as, after all, the best of them, in a rather sensible discourse. But the concluding words of the sage and the story are, as indeed might be expected from Xanthippe's husband, not entirely optimist: "If your wife is well conducted and amiable, you will be a happy man; if she is ill-tempered and a coquette, you will become a philosopher--so you must gain in any case." An "obvious," perhaps, but a neat and uncommonly well-told story.

[Sidenote: _Soliman the Second._]

_Soliman the Second_ is probably the best known of Marmontel's tales, and it certainly has great merits. It is hardly inferior in wit to Voltaire, and is entirely free from the smears of uncomeliness and the sniggers of bad taste which he would have been sure to put in. The subject is, of course, partly historical, though the reader of Knollys (and one knows more unhappy persons) will look in vain there, not, indeed, for Roxelana, but for the _nez retrousse_, which is the important point of the story. The great Sultan tires of his Asiatic harem, complaisant but uninteresting, and orders European damsels to be caught or bought for him. The most noteworthy of the catch or batch are Elmire, Delia, and Roxelane. Elmire comes first to Soliman's notice, charms him by her sentimental ways, and reigns for a time, but loses her piquancy, and (by no means wholly to her satisfaction) is able to avail herself of the conditional enfranchisement, and return to her country, which his magnanimity has granted her. Her immediate supplanter, Delia, is an admirable singer, and possessed of many of the qualifications of an accomplished _hetaera_. But for that very reason the Sultan tires of her likewise; and for the same, she is not inconsolable or restive: indeed she acts as a sort of Lady Pandara, if not to introduce, at any rate to tame, the third, Roxelane, a French girl of no very regular beauty, but with infinite attractions, and in particular possessed of what Mr. Dobson elegantly calls "a madding ineffable nose" of the _retrousse_ type.


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