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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Lord Ossery is indeed even more sensible than Lord Orville


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so forth, all of which, if a little high-flown, is not specially unnatural; but the oddity of the passage is to come. Most men would be a little embarrassed at receiving such a letter as this in presence of their wives (it is to be observed that the unhappy Adelaide is profuse of pardons to Madame as well as to Monsieur de Cressy), and most wives would not be pleased when they read it. But Madame de Cressy has the finest Sensibility of the amiable kind. She reads it, and then--

The Marquise, having finished this letter, cast herself into the arms of her husband, and clasping him with an inexpressible tenderness, "Weep, sir, weep," she cried, bathing him with her own tears; "you cannot show too much sensibility for a heart so noble, so constant in its love. Amiable and dear Adelaide! 'Tis done, then, and we have lost you for ever. Ah! why must I reproach myself with having deprived you of the only possession which excited your desires? Can I not enjoy this sweet boon without telling myself that my happiness has destroyed yours?"

[Sidenote: Her other work--_Milady Catesby_.]

All Madame Riccoboni's work is, with a little good-will, more or less interesting. Much of it is full of italics, which never were used so freely in France as in England, but which seem to suit the queer, exaggerated, topsy-turvyfied sentiments and expressions

very well. The _Histoire d'Ernestine_ in particular is a charming little novelette. But if it were possible to give an abstract of any of her work here, _Milady Catesby_, which does us the honour to take its scene and personages from England, would be the one to choose. _Milady Catesby_ is well worth comparing with _Evelina_, which is some twenty years its junior, and the sentimental parts of which are quite in the same tone with it. Lord Ossery is indeed even more "sensible" than Lord Orville, but then he is described in French. Lady Catesby herself is, however, a model of the style, as when she writes--

Oh! my dear Henrietta! What agitation in my senses! what trouble in my soul!... I have seen him.... He has spoken to me.... Himself.... He was at the ball.... Yes! he. Lord Ossery.... Ah! tell me not again to see him.... Bid me not hear him once more.

That will do for Lady Catesby, who really had no particular occasion or excuse for all this excitement except Sensibility. But Sensibility was getting more and more exacting. The hero of a novel must always be in the heroics, the heroine in a continual state of palpitation. We are already a long way from Madame de la Fayette's stately passions, from Marianne's whimsical _minauderies_. All the resources of typography--exclamations, points, dashes--have to be called in to express the generally disturbed state of things. Now unfortunately this sort of perpetual tempest in a teacup (for it generally is in a teacup) requires unusual genius to make it anything but ludicrous. I myself have not the least desire to laugh when I read such a book as _La Nouvelle Heloise_, and I venture to think that any one who does laugh must have something of the fool and something of the brute in his composition. But then Rousseau is Rousseau, and there are not many like him. At the Madame Riccobonis of this world, however clever they may be, it is difficult not to laugh, when they have to dance on such extraordinary tight ropes as those which Sensibility prescribed.

[Sidenote: Mme. de Beaumont--_Lettres du Marquis de Roselle_.]

The writers who were contemporary with Madame Riccoboni's later days, and who followed her, pushed the thing, if it were possible, even farther. In Madame de Genlis's tiny novelette of _Mademoiselle de Clermont_, the amount of tears shed, the way in which the knees of the characters knock together, their palenesses, blushes, tears, sighs, and other performances of the same kind, are surprising. In the _Lettres du Marquis de Roselle_ of Madame Elie de Beaumont (wife of the young advocate who defended the Calas family), a long scene between a brother and sister, in which the sister seeks to deter the brother from what she regards as a misalliance, ends (or at least almost ends, for the usual flood of tears is the actual conclusion) in this remarkable passage.


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