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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Riccoboni and Le Marquis de Cressy


de Tencin tried to escape by several gates. Besides her moral purposes and her _esprit_, she indulged in a good deal of rather complicated and sometimes extravagant incident. _M. de Comminge_, which is very short, contains, not to mention other things, the rather startling detail of a son who, out of chivalrous affection for his lady-love, burns certain of his father's title-deeds which he has been charged to recover, and the still more startling incident of the heroine living for some years in disguise as a monk. The following epistle, however, from the heroine to the hero, will show better than anything else the topsy-turvy condition which sensibility had already reached. All that need be said in explanation of it is that the father (who is furious with his son, and not unreasonably so) has shut him up in a dungeon, in order to force him to give up his beloved Adelaide.[408]

Your father's fury has told me all I owe you: I know what your generosity had concealed from me. I know, too, the terrible situation in which you are, and I have no means of extracting you therefrom save one. This will perhaps make you more unhappy still. But I shall be as unhappy as yourself, _and this gives me the courage to do what I am required to do_. They would have me, by engaging myself to another, give a pledge never to be yours: 'tis at this price that M. de Comminge sets your liberty. It will cost me perhaps my

life, certainly my peace. But I am resolved. I shall in a few days be married to the Marquis de Benavides. What I know of his character forewarns me of what I shall have to suffer; _but I owe you at least so much constancy as to make only misery for myself in the engagement I am contracting_.

The extremity of calculated absurdity indicated by the italicised passages was reached, let it be remembered, by one of the cleverest women of the century: and the chief excuse for it is that the restrictions of the La Fayette novel, confined as it was to the upper classes and to a limited number of elaborately distressing situations, were very embarrassing.

[Sidenote: Mme. Riccoboni and _Le Marquis de Cressy_.]

Madame Riccoboni, mentioned earlier as continuing _Marianne_, shows the completed product very fairly. Her _Histoire du Marquis de Cressy_ is a capital example of the kind. The Marquis is beloved by a charming girl of sixteen and by a charming widow of six-and-twenty. An envious rival betrays his attentions to Adelaide de Bugei, and her father makes her write an epistle which pretty clearly gives him the option of a declaration in form or a rupture. For a Sensible man, it must be confessed, the Marquis does not get out of the difficulty too well. She has slipped into her father's formal note the highly Sensible postscript, "Vous dire de m'oublier? Ah! Jamais. On m'a force de l'ecrire; rien ne peut m'obliger a le penser ni le desirer." Apparently it was not leap-year, for the Marquis replied in a letter nearly as bad as Willoughby's celebrated epistle in _Sense and Sensibility_.

MADEMOISELLE,--Nothing can console me for having been the innocent cause of fault being found with the conduct of a person so worthy of respect as you. I shall approve whatever you may think proper to do, without considering myself entitled to ask the reason of your behaviour. How happy should I be, mademoiselle, if my fortune, and the arrangements which it forces me to make, did not deprive me of the sweet hope of an honour of which my respect and my sentiments would perhaps make me worthy, but which my present circumstances permit me not to seek.

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