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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

At least two lettres de cachet had preceded it


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and something is still in a way, supposed to be known since. But of the life of Pigault, who called himself Lebrun, it may be desirable to say something, for more reasons than one. In the first place, this life had rather more to do with his work than is always the case; in the second, very little will be found about him in most histories of French literature; in the third, there will be found assigned to him, in the text--not out of crotchet, or contumacy, or desire to innovate, but as a result of rather painful reading--a considerably higher place in the history of the novel than he has usually occupied. His correct name--till, by one of the extremest eccentricities of the French _Chats-Fourres_, he was formally unbegot by his Roman father, and the unbegetting (plus declaration of death) confirmed by the Parlement of Paris--was the imposing one of Charles Antoine Guillaume Pigault de L'Epinoy. The paternal Pigault, as may be guessed from his proceedings, was himself a lawyer, but of an old Calais family tracing itself to Queen Philippa's _protege_, Eustache de Saint-Pierre; and, besides the mysterious life-in-death or death-in-life, Charles Antoine Guillaume had to suffer from him, while such things existed, several _lettres de cachet_. The son certainly did his best to deserve them. Having been settled, on leaving school as a clerk in an English commercial house, he seduced his master's daughter, ran away with her, and would no doubt have married her--for Pigault was never
a really bad fellow--if she had not been drowned in the vessel which carried the pair back to France. He escaped--one hopes not without trying to save her. After another scandal--not the second only--of the same kind, he did marry the victim, and the marriage was the occasion of the singular exertion of _patria potestas_ referred to above. At least two _lettres de cachet_ had preceded it, and it is said that only the taking of the Bastille prevented the issue, or at least the effect, of a third. Meanwhile, he had been a gentleman-trooper in the _gendarmerie d'elite de la petite maison du roi_, which, seeing that the _roi_ was Louis Quinze, probably did not conduct itself after the fashion of the Thundering Legion, or of Cromwell's Ironsides, or even of Captain Steele's "Christian Hero." The life of this establishment, though as probably merry, was not long, and Pigault became an actor--a very bad but rather popular actor, it was said. Like other bad actors he wrote plays, which, if not good (they are certainly not very cheerful to read), were far from unsuccessful. But it was not till after the Revolution, and till he was near forty, that he undertook prose fiction; his first book being _L'Enfant du Carnaval_ in 1792 (noticed in text). The revolutionary fury, however, of which there are so many traces in his writings, caught him; he went back to soldiering and fought at Valmy. He did not stay long in the army, but went on novel-writing, his success having the rather unexpected, and certainly very unusual, effect of reconciling his father. Indeed, this arbitrary parent wished not only to recall him to life, which was perhaps superfluous, but to "make an eldest son of him." This, Pigault, who was a loose fish and a vulgar fellow, but, as was said above, not a scoundrel, could


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