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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

And Vigny makes it justly clear that


[Sidenote:

The faults in its general scheme.]

Now I have more than once in this very book, and often elsewhere, contended, rightly or wrongly, that this "practice of the foreigners," in _not_ making dominant historical characters their own dominant personages, is _the_ secret of success in historical novel-writing, and the very feather (and something more) in the cap of Scott himself which shows his chieftainship. And, again rightly or wrongly, I have also contended that the hand of purpose deadens and mummifies story. Vigny's own remarks, despite subsequent--if not recantation--qualification of them, show that the lie of his land, the tendency of his exertion, _was_ in these two, as I think, wrong directions. And I own that this explained to me what I had chiefly before noticed as merely a fact, without enquiring into it, that _Cinq-Mars_, admirably written as it is; possessing as it does, with a hero who might have been made interesting, a great person like Richelieu to make due and not undue use of; plenty of thrilling incident at hand, and some actually brought in; love interest _ad libitum_ and fighting hardly less so; a tragic finish from history, and opportunity for plenty of lighter contrast from Tallemant and the Memoirs--that, I say, _Cinq-Mars_, with all this and the greatness of its author in other work, has always been to me not a live book, and hardly one which I can even praise as statuesque.[248]

It is

no doubt a misfortune for the book with its later readers--the earlier for nearly twenty years were free from this--that it comes into closest comparison with Dumas' best work. Its action, indeed, takes place in the very "Vingt Ans" during which we know (except from slight retrospect) nothing of what D'Artagnan and the Three were doing. But more than one or two of the same historical characters figure, and in the chapters dealing with the obscure _emeute_ which preceded the actual conspiracy, as well as in the scenes touching Anne of Austria's private apartments, the parallel is very close indeed.

[Sidenote: And in its details.]

Now of course Dumas could not write like Vigny; and though, as is pointed out elsewhere, to regard him as a vulgar fellow is the grossest of blunders as well as a great injustice, Vigny, in thought and taste and _dianoia_ generally, was as far above him as in style.[249] But that is not the question. I have said[250] that I do not quite _know_ D'Artagnan, though I think I know Athos, as a man; but as a novel-hero the Gascon seems to me to "fill all numbers." Cinq-Mars may be a succession or chain of type-personages--generous but headlong youth, spoilt favourite, conspirator and something like traitor, finally victim; but these are the "flat" characters (if one may so speak) of the treatise, not the "round" ones of the novel. And I cannot _unite_ them. His love-affair with Marie de Gonzague leaves me cold. His friend, the younger De Thou, is hardly more than "an excellent person." The persecution of Urbain Grandier and the sufferings of the Ursuline Abbess seem to me--to use the old schoolboy word--to be hopelessly "muffed"; and if any one will compare the accounts of the taking of the "Spanish bastion" at Perpignan with the exploit at that other bastion--Saint-Gervais at Rochelle--he will see what I mean as well as in any single instance. The second part, where we come to the actual conspiracy, is rather better than the first, if not much; and I think Vigny's presentment of Richelieu has been too much censured. Armand Duplessis was a very great man; but unless you accept the older Machiavellian and the more modern German doctrines as to what a great man may do, he must also be pronounced a most unscrupulous one; while there is little doubt (unless you go back to Louis XI.) that Vigny was right in regarding him as the original begetter of the French Revolution. But he is not here made by any means wholly inhuman, and Vigny makes it justly clear that, if he had not killed Cinq-Mars, Cinq-Mars would have killed him. In such cases of course the person who begins may be regarded as the assassin; but it is doubtful whether this is distributive justice of the highest order. And I do not see much salvation for France in Henry d'Effiat.


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