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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

There is also much good in Heureusement


[Sidenote:

_Heureusement._]

There is also much good in _Heureusement_, the nearest to a "Crebillonnade" of all, though the Crebillonesque situations are ingeniously broken off short. It is told by an old marquise[394] to an almost equally old abbe, her crony, who only at the last discovers that, long ago, he himself was very nearly the shepherd of the proverbial hour. And _Le Mari Sylphe_, which is still more directly connected with one of Crebillon's actual pieces, and with some of the weaker stories (_v. sup._) of the _Cabinet des Fees_, would be good if it were not much too long. Others might be mentioned, but my own favourite, though it has nothing quite so magnetic in it as the _nez de Roxelane_, is _Le Philosophe Soi-disant_, a sort of apology for his own clan, in a satire on its less worthy members, which may seem to hit rather unfairly at Rousseau, but which is exceedingly amusing.

[Sidenote: _Le Philosophe Soi-disant._]

Clarice--one of those so useful young widows of whom the novelists of this time might have pleaded that they took their ideas of them from the Apostle St. Paul--has for some time been anxious to know a _philosophe_, though she has been warned that there are _philosophes_ and _philosophes_, and that the right kind is neither common nor very fond of society. She expresses surprise, and says that she has always heard a _philosophe_ defined as an odd creature who

makes it his business to be like nobody else. "Oh," she is told, "there is no difficulty about _that_ kind," and one, by name Ariste, is shortly added to her country-house party. She politely asks him whether he is not a _philosophe_, and whether philosophy is not a very beautiful thing? He replies (his special line being sententiousness) that it is simply the knowledge of good and evil, or, if she prefers it, Wisdom. "Only that?" says wicked Doris; but Clarice helps him from replying to the scoffer by going on to ask whether the fruit of Wisdom is not happiness? "And, Madame, the making others happy." "Dear me," says naive Lucinde, half under her breath, "I must be a _philosophe_, for I have been told a hundred times that it only depended on myself to be happy by making others happy." There is more wickedness from Doris; but Ariste, with a contemptuous smile, explains that the word "happiness" has more than one meaning, and that the _philosophe_ kind is different from that at the disposal and dispensation of a pretty woman. Clarice, admitting this, asks what _his_ kind of happiness is? The company then proceeds, in the most reprehensible fashion, to "draw" the sage: and they get from him, among other things, an admission that he despises everybody, and an unmistakable touch of disgust when somebody speaks of "his _semblables_."[395]

Clarice, however, still plays the amiable and polite hostess, lets him take her to dinner, and says playfully that she means to reconcile him to humanity. He altogether declines. Man is a vicious beast, who persecutes and devours others, he says, making all the time a particularly good dinner while denouncing the slaughter of animals, and eulogising the "sparkling brook" while getting slightly drunk. He declaims against the folly and crime of the modern world in not making philosophers kings, and announces his intention of seeking complete solitude. But Clarice, still polite, decides that he must stay with them a little while, in order to enlighten and improve the company.


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