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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

France possibly did not invent Romance


They

have been given; let us attempt to summarise them in the briefest possible way. France possibly did not invent Romance; no man or men could do that; it was a sort of deferred heritage which Humankind, like the Heir of Lynne, discovered when it was ready to hang itself (speaking in terms of literature) during the Dark Ages. But she certainly grew the seed for all other countries, and dispersed the growth to the ends of the earth. Very much the same was the case with the short tale in the "Middle" period. From the fifteenth century to the eighteenth (both included) she entered upon a curious kind of wilderness, studded with oases of a more curious character still. In one of them Rabelais was born, and found Quintessence, and of that finding--more fortunate than the result of True Thomas finding the Elf Queen--was born Pantagruelism. In another came Lesage, and though his work was scarcely original, it was consummate. None of these happy sojourns produced a _Don Quixote_ or a _Tom Jones_, but divers smaller things resulted. And again and again, as had happened in the Middle Ages themselves, but on a smaller scale, what France did found development and improvement in other lands; while her own miniature masterpieces, from the best of the _Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles_ and the _Heptameron_, through all others that we noticed down to _Adolphe_, showed the enormous power which was working half blindly. How the strength got eyes, and the eyes found the right objects to fix upon, must be left,
if fortune favour, for the next volume to tell.[436]

FOOTNOTES:

[404] We have seen above how things were "shaping for" it, in the Pastoral and Heroic romances. But the shape was not definitely taken in them.

[405] In the following pages, and here only in this volume, the author has utilised, though with very considerable alterations, some previously published work, _A Study of Sensibility_, which appeared originally in the _Fortnightly Review_ for September 1882, and was republished in a volume (_Essays on French Novelists_, London, 1891) which has been for some years out of print. Much of the original essay, dealing with Marivaux and others already treated here, has been removed, and the whole has been cut down, revised, and adjusted to its new contexts. But it seemed unnecessary to waste time in an endeavour to say the same thing differently about matters which, though as a whole indispensable, are, with perhaps one exception, individually not of the first importance.

[406] These words were originally written more than thirty years ago. I am not sure that there was not something prophetic in them.

[407] Madame de Fontaines in _La Comtesse de Savoie_ and _Amenophis_ "follows her leader" in more senses than one--including a sort of pseudo-historical setting or insetting which became almost a habit. But she is hardly important.

[408] Readers of Thackeray may remember in _The Paris Sketch Book_ ("On the French School of Painting," p. 52, Oxford ed.) some remarks on Jacquand's picture, "The Death of Adelaide de Comminge," which he thought "neither more nor less than beautiful." But from his "it appears," in reference to the circumstances, it would seem that he did not know the book, save perhaps from a catalogue-extract or summary.

[409] The extreme shortness of all these books may be just worth noticing. Reaction from the enormous romances of the preceding century may have had something to do with it; and the popularity of the "tale" something more. But the _causa verissima_ was probably the impossibility of keeping up sentiment at high pressure for any length of time, incident, or talk.


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