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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Partenopeus or pex 59 of Blois


Different views held of it.]

The richness, indeed, of these _Romans d'aventures_ is surprising, and they very seldom display the flatness and triviality which mar by no means all but too many of their English imitations. Some of the faults which are part cause of these others they indeed have--the apparently irrational catalogues of birds and beasts, stuffs and vegetables; the long moralisings; the religious passages sometimes (as it may seem to mere moderns) interposed in very odd contexts; the endless descriptions of battles and single combats; the absence of striking characterisation and varied incident. Their interest is a peculiar interest, yet one can hardly call the taste for it "an acquired taste," because the very large majority of healthy and intelligent children delight in these stories under whatever form they are presented to them, and at least a considerable number of grown-up persons never lose the enjoyment. The disapproval which rested on "romances of chivalry" for a long time was admittedly ignorant and absurd; and the reasons why this disapproval, at least in its somewhat milder form of neglect, has never been wholly removed, are not very difficult to discover. It is to be feared that _Don Quixote_, great as it is, has done not a little mischief, and by virtue of its greatness is likely to do not a little more, though the _Amadis_ group, which it specially satirises, has faults not found in the older tales. The texts, though

in most cases easily enough accessible now, are not what may be called obviously and yet unobtrusively so. They are to a very large extent issued by learned societies: and the public, not too unreasonably, is rather suspicious, and not at all avid, of the products of learned societies. They are accompanied by introductions and notes and glossaries--things the public (again not wholly to be blamed) regards without cordiality. Latterly they have been used for educational purposes, and anything used for educational purposes acquires an evil--or at least an unappetising--reputation. In some cases they have been messed and meddled in _usum vulgi_. But their worst enemy recently has been, it may be feared, the irreconcilable opposition of their spirit to what is called the modern spirit--though this latter sometimes takes them up and plays with them in a fashion of maudlin mysticism.

[Sidenote: _Partenopeus of Blois_ selected for analysis and translation.]

To treat them at large here as Ellis treated some of the English imitations would be impossible in point of scale and dangerous as a competition; for Ellis, though a little too prone to Voltairianise or at least Hamiltonise things sometimes too good for that kind of treatment, was a very clever man indeed. For somewhat full abstract and translation we may take one of the most famous, but perhaps not one of the most generally and thoroughly known, _Partenopeus_ (or -_pex_[59]) _of Blois_, which, though it

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