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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

As in the case of the chansons


But,

as was hinted, the story does not actually end. There is a great deal about the festivities, and though the author says encouragingly that he "will not devise much of breeches," he _does_--and of many other garments. Indeed the last of his liveliest patches is a mischievous picture of the Court ladies at their toilette: "Let me see that mirror; make my head-dress higher; let me show my mouth more; drop the pleat over the eyes;[74] alter my eyebrows," etc. etc. But beyond the washing of hands before the feast, this French book that Crapelet printed fourscore years ago goeth not. Perhaps it was a mere accident; perhaps the writer had a shrewd notion that whatever he wrote would seem but stale in its reminder of the night when Partenopeus lay awake, and seemingly alone, in the enchanted palace--now merely an ordinary place of splendour and festivity--and when something came to the bed, "step by step, little by little," and laid itself beside him.

Such are the contents and such some of the special traits and features of one of the most famous of those romances of chivalry, the reading of which with anything like the same interest as that taken in Homer, seemed to the Reverend Professor Hugh Blair to be the most suitable instance he could hit upon of a total lack of taste. This is a point, of course, on which each age, and each reader in each age, must judge for itself and himself. I think the author of the _Odyssey_ (the _Iliad_ comes rather in competition

with the chansons than with these romances) was a better poet than the author of _Partenopeus_, and I also think that he was a better story-teller; but I do not think that the latter was a bad story-teller; and I can read him with plenty of interest. So I can most of his fellows, no one of whom, I think, ever quite approaches the insipidity of their worst English imitators. The knights do not weary me with their exploits, and I confess that I am hyperbolical enough to like reading and thinking as well as talking of the ladies very much. They are of various sorts; but they are generally lovable. There is no better for affection and faithfulness and pluck than the Josiane of _Bevis_, whose husband and her at one time faithful guardian, but at another would-be ravisher, Ascapart, guard a certain gate not more than a furlong or two from where I am writing. It is good to think of the (to some extent justified) indignation of l'Orgueilleuse d'Amours when Sir Blancandin rides up and audaciously kisses her in the midst of her train; and the companion picture of the tomb where Idoine apparently sleeps in death (while her true knight Amadas fights with a ghostly foe above) makes a fitting pendant. If her near namesake with an L prefixed, the Lidoine of _Meraugis de Portlesguez_, interests me less, it is because its author, Raoul de Houdenc, was one of the first to mix love and moral allegory--a "wanity" which is not my favourite "wanity." To the Alexandrine of _Guillaume de Palerne_ reference has already been made. Blanchefleur--known all over Europe with her lover Floire (Floris, etc.)--the Saracen slave who charms a Christian prince, and is rescued by him from the Emir of Babylon, to whom she has been sold in hopes of weaning Floris from his attachment, more than deserved her vogue. But, as in the case of the _chansons_, mere cataloguing would be dull and unprofitable, and analysis on the scale accorded to _Partenopeus_ impossible. One must only take up once more the note of this whole early part of our history, and impress again on the reader the evident _desire_ for the accomplished novel which these numerous romances show; the inevitable _practice_, in tale-telling of a kind, which the production of them might have given; and, above all, the openings, germs, suggestions of new devices in fiction which are observable in them, and which remained for others to develop if the first finders left them unimproved.


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