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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

A sort of distant community of spirit with Jehan de Paris


The tale is smartly and succinctly told (there are not many more than a hundred of the small-sized and large-printed pages of the _Collection Jannet-Picard_), and there is a zest and _verve_ about it which ought to please any mood that is for the time in harmony with the much talked of Comic Spirit. But it certainly does not lose attraction, and it as certainly does not fail to lend some, when it is considered side by side with the other "John," especially if both are again compared with the certainly not earlier and probably later "Prose Romances" in English, to which that rather ambitious title was given by Mr. Thoms. There is nothing in these in the very remotest degree resembling _Jehan de Saintre_: you must get on to the _Arcadia_ or at least to _Euphues_ before you come anywhere near that. There is, on the other hand, in our stuff, a sort of distant community of spirit with _Jehan de Paris_; but it works in an altogether lower and less imaginative sphere and fashion; no sense of art being present, and very little of craft. It is astonishing that a language which had had, if only in verse, such an unsurpassable tale-teller as Chaucer, should have been so backward. But then the whole conditions of the fifteenth century, especially in England, become only the more puzzling the longer one studies them. Even in France, it will be observed, the output of Tale is by no means large.[89] Nor shall we find it very greatly increased even in the next age, though there is one masterpiece in quantity as well as quality. But, for our purpose, the _Cent Nouvelles_ and the two separate pieces just discussed continue, and in more and more striking manner, to show the vast possibilities when the way shall have been clearly found and the feet of the wayfarers firmly set in it.

FOOTNOTES:

[80] Prose as well as verse.

[81] In the very delightful imaginative introduction to _Quentin Durward_.

[82] This is one of the points which a modern novelist would certainly have seized; but whether to advantage or not is another question.

[83] And of course recognised by the "Antonians" as peculiar to La Salle.

[84] Only contrast "_Tom, Tom_, the piper's son," with "_There was once_ a piper's son," or think how comparatively uninteresting the enormities of another hero or not-hero would have been if he had been anonymous instead of being called "Georgy-Porgy Pudding-and-Pie!" ["Puddenum" is, or used to be, the preferred if corrupt nursery form.] In more elaborate and adorned narrative the influence, not merely of the name but of the beautiful name, comes in, and that of the name itself remains. In that tragic story of Ludlow Castle which was given above (Chap. iv. pp. 84-6), something, for the present writer at least, would have been lost if the traitor had been merely "a knight" instead of Sir Ernault Lisle and the victim merely "a damsel" instead of Marion de la Briere. And would the _bocca bacciata_ of Alaciel itself be as gracious if it was merely anybody's?

[85] The amazing farce-insets of Lyndsay's _Satire of the Three Estates_ could be paralleled, and were no doubt suggested, by French farces of older date.

[86] Nobody seems to be entirely certain what this odd title means: though there have been some obvious and some far-fetched guesses. But it has, like other _rhetoriqueur_ names of 1450-1550, such as "Traverser of Perilous Ways" and the like, a kind of fantastic attraction for some people.

[87] If I remember rightly, my friend the late R. L. Stevenson was wont to abuse it.

[88] As such, the substance is found in other languages. But the French itself has been traced by some to an earlier _roman d'aventure_, _Blonde d'Oxford_, in which an English heiress is carried off by a French squire.


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