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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

For he reanimates the body of Gogmagog


For

it is not only our first historical novel, but also the first, as far as England is concerned, of those outlaw stories which have always delighted worthy English youth from _Robin Hood_ to _The Black Arrow_. The Fitzwarins, as concerns their personalities and genealogies, may be surrendered without a pang to the historian, though he shall not have the marrow of the story. They never seem to have been quite happy except when they were in a state of "utlagation," and it was not only John against whom they rebelled, for one of them died on the Barons' side at Lewes.

The compiler, whoever he was--it has been said already and cannot be said too often, that every recompiler in the Middle Ages felt it (like the man in that "foolish" writer, as some call him, Plato) a sacred duty to add something to the common stock,--was not exactly a master of his craft, but certainly showed admirable zeal. There never was a more curious _macedoine_ than this story. Part of it is, beyond all doubt, traditional history, with place-names all right, though distorted by that curious inability to transpronounce or trans-spell which made the French of the thirteenth century call Lincoln "Nicole," and their descendants of the seventeenth call Kensington "Stintinton." Part is mere stock or common-form Romance, as when Foulques goes to sea and has adventures with the usual dragons and their usual captive princesses. Part, though not quite dependent on the general stock, is

indebted to that of a particular kind, as in the repeated catching of the King by the outlaws. But it is all more or less good reading; and there are two episodes in the earlier part which (one of them especially) merit more detailed account.

The first still has something of a general character about it. It is the story of a certain Payn Peveril (for we meet many familiar names), who seems to have been a real person though wrongly dated here, and has one of those nocturnal combats with demon knights, the best known examples of which are those recounted in _Marmion_ and its notes. Peveril's antagonist, however--or rather the mask which the antagonist takes,--connects with the oldest legendary history of the island, for he reanimates the body of Gogmagog, the famous Cornish giant, whom Corineus slew. The diabolic Gogmagog, however, seems neither to have stayed in Cornwall nor gone to Cambridgeshire, though (oddly enough the French editors do not seem to have noticed this) Payn Peveril actually held fiefs in the neighbourhood of those exalted mountains called now by the name of his foe. He had a hard fight; but luckily his arms were _or_ with a cross _edentee azure_, and this cross constantly turned the giant-devil's mace-strokes, while it also weakened him, and he had besides to bear the strokes of Peveril's sword. So he gave in, remarking with as much truth as King Padella in similar circumstances, that it was no good fighting under these conditions. Then he tells a story of some length about the original Gogmagog and his treasure. The secret of this he will not reveal, but tells Peveril that he will be lord of Blanche-lande in Shropshire, and vanishes with the usual unpleasant accompaniment--_tiel pueur dont Payn quida devier_. He left his mace, which the knight kept as a testimony to anybody who did not believe the story.


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