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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The Serees Soirees of the Angevin Guillaume Bouchet


Other tale-collections.]

The fancy for these collections of tales spread widely in the sixteenth century, and a respectable number of them have found a home in histories of literature. Sometimes they present themselves honestly as what they are, and sometimes under a variety of disguises, the most extravagant of which is the title of the rather famous work of Henri Estienne, _Apologie pour Herodote_. Others, more or less fantastic, are the _Propos Rustiques_ and _Baliverneries_ of Noel Du Fail, a Breton squire (as we should say), and his later _Contes d'Eutrapel_; the _Escraignes Dijonnaises_ and other books of Tabourot des Accords; the _Matinees_ and _Apres Dinees_ of Cholieres, and, the largest collection of all, the _Serees_ [Soirees] of the Angevin Guillaume Bouchet,[117] while after the close of the actual century, but probably representing earlier work, appeared the above-mentioned _Moyen de Parvenir_, by turns attributed and denied to Beroalde de Verville. In all these, without exception, the imitation of Rabelais, in different but unmistakable ways, is to be found; and in not a few, that of the _Heptameron_ and of Desperiers; while not unfrequently the same tales are found in more than one collection. The _fatrasie_ character--that is to say, the stuffing together of all sorts of incongruous matter in more or less burlesque style--is common to all of them; the licence of subject and language to most; and there are hardly any, except a

few mere modernisings of old _fabliaux_, in which you will not find the famous farrago of the Renaissance--learning, religious partisanship, war, law, love, almost everything. All the writers are far below their great master,[118] and none of them has the appeal of the _Heptameron_. But the spirit of tale-telling pervades the whole shelf-ful, and there is one more special point of importance "for us."

[Sidenote: The "provincial" character of these.]

It will be observed that some of them actually display in their titles (such as that of Tabouret's book as quoted) the fact that they have a definite provinciality in no bad sense: while Bouchet is as clearly Angevin and Du Fail as distinctly Breton as Des Accords is Burgundian and as the greatest of all had been Tourangeau. It can scarcely be necessary to point out at great length what a reinforcement of vigour and variety must have been brought by this plantation in the different soils of those provinces which have counted for so much--and nearly always for so much good[119]--in French literature and French things generally. The great danger and defect of mediaeval writing had been its tendency to fall into schools and ruts, and the "printed book" (especially such a printed book as Rabelais) was, at least in one way, by no means unlikely to exercise this bad influence afresh. To this the provincial differences opposed a salutary variety of manners, speech, local colour, almost everything. Moreover, manners themselves generally--one of the fairest and most fertile fields of the novel-kingdom--became thus more fully and freely the object and subject of the tale-teller. Character, in the best and most extensive and intensive sense of the word, still lagged behind; and as the drama necessarily took that up, it was for more reasons than one encouraged, as we may say, in its lagging. But meanwhile Amyot and Calvin[120] and Montaigne were getting the language more fully ready for the prose-writer's use, and the constant "sophistication" of literature with religion, politics, knowledge of the physical world in all ways, commerce, familiarity with foreign nations--everything almost that touched on life--helped to bring on the slow but inevitable appearance of the novel itself. But it had more influences to assimilate and more steps to go through before it could take full form.

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