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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Alfred de Vigny Cinq Mars


would fain go on, but duty forbids a larger allotment of space; and, after all, the thing itself may be read by any one in half an hour or so, and will not, at least ought not, to be forgotten for half a lifetime--or a whole one. The finding of Sylvie, no longer a _little_ girl, but still a girl, still not married, though, as turns out, about to be so, is chequered with all sorts of things--sketches of landscape; touches of literature; black-and-white renderings of the _Voyage a Cythere_; verses to Adrienne; to the actress Aurelie (to become later the dream-Aurelia); and, lastly--in the earlier forms of the piece at any rate--snatches of folk-song, including that really noble ballad:

Quand Jean Renaud de la guerre revint,

which falls very little, if at all, short of the greatest specimens of English, German, Danish, or Spanish.

And over and through it all, and in other pieces as well, there is the faint, quaint, music--prose, when not verse--which reminds one[246] somehow of Browning's famous Toccata-piece. Only the "dear dead women" are dear dead fairies; and the whole might be sung at that "Fairy's Funeral" which Christopher North imagined so well, though he did not carry it out quite impeccably.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Alfred de Vigny: _Cinq-Mars_.]

justify;">The felicity of being enabled to know the causes of things, a recognised and respectable form of happiness, is also one which I have recently enjoyed in respect of Alfred de Vigny's _Cinq-Mars_. For Vigny as a poet my admiration has always been profound. He appears to me to have completed, with Agrippa d'Aubigne, Corneille, and Victor Hugo, the _quatuor_ of French poets who have the secret of magnificence;[247] and, scanty as the amount of his poetical work is, _Eloa_, _Dolorida_, _Le Cor_, and the finest passages in _Les Destinees_ have a definite variety of excellence and essence which it would not be easy to surpass in kind, though it might be in number, with the very greatest masters of poetry. But I have never been able, frankly and fully, to enjoy his novels, especially _Cinq-Mars_. In my last reading of the chief of them I came upon an edition which contains what I had never seen before--the somewhat triumphant and strongly defiant tract, _Reflexions sur la Verite dans l'Art_, which the author prefixed to his book after its success. This tractate is indeed not quite consistent with itself, for it ends in confession that truth in art is truth in observation of human nature, not mere authenticity of fact, and that such authenticity is of merely secondary importance at best. But in the opening he had taken lines--or at any rate had said things--which, if not absolutely inconsistent with, certainly do not lead to, this sound conclusion. In writing historical novels (he tells us) he thought it better not to imitate the foreigners (it is clear that this is a polite way of indicating Scott), who in their pictures put the historical dominators of them in the background; he has himself made such persons principal actors. And though he admits that "a treatise on the decline and fall of feudalism in France; on the internal conditions and external relations of that country; on the question of military alliances with foreigners; on justice as administered by parliaments, and by secret commissions on charges of sorcery," might not have been read while the novel _was_; the sentence suggests, with hardly a possibility of rebuttal, that a treatise of this kind was pretty constantly in his own mind while he was writing the novel itself. And the earlier sentence about putting the more important historical characters in the foreground remains "firm," without any necessity for argument or suggestion.

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