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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Meets an old friend a certain Captain Renaud who


The second]

The second is also tragical, but less so; and is again very well told. It is concerned with the explosion of a powder-magazine--fortunately not the main one--at Vincennes, brought about by the over-zeal of a good old adjutant, the happiness of whose domestic interior just before his fate (with some other things) forms one of Vigny's favourite contrasts.

[Sidenote: and third.]

But, as in _Stello_, he has kept the best wine to the last. The single illustration of _Grandeur_ must have, for some people, though it may not have for all, the very rare interest of a story which would rather gain than lose if it were true. It opens in the thick of the July Revolution, when the veteran French army--half-hearted and gaining no new heart from the half-dead hands which ought to have guided it--was subjected, on a larger scale, to the same sort of treatment which the fresh-recruited Sherwood Foresters (fortunately _not_ half-hearted) experienced in Dublin at Easter 1916. The author, having, luckily for himself, resigned his commission a year or two before, meets an old friend--a certain Captain Renaud--who, though a _vieux de la vieille_, has reached no higher position, but is adored by his men, and generally known as "Canne de Jonc," because he always carries that not very lethal weapon, and has been known to take it into action instead of a sword.


the "sullen interval" of the crisis the two talk; and Renaud is led into telling the chief experiences of his life. He had known little of his father--a soldier before him--but had been taken by that father on Bonaparte's Egyptian expedition till, at Malta, he was stopped by Bonaparte himself, who would have no boy on it save Casabianca's (pity he did not stop him too!). But he only sends Renaud back to the Military Academy, and afterwards makes him his page. The father is blown up in the _Orient_, but saved, and, though made prisoner by us, is well treated, and, as being of great age and broken health, allowed, by Collingwood's interest, to go to Sicily. He dies on the way; but is able to send a letter to his son, which is one of the finest examples of Vigny's peculiar melancholy irony. In this he recants his worship of the (now) Emperor. It has, however, no immediate effect on the son. But before long, by an accident, he is an unwilling and at first unperceived witness of the famous historical or half-historical interview at Fontainebleau between Napoleon and the Pope, where the bullied Holy Father enrages, but vanquishes, the conqueror by successively ejaculating the two words _Commediante!_ and _Tragediante!_ (This scene is again admirable.) The page's absence from his ordinary duty excites suspicion, and the Emperor, _more_ _suo_, exiles him to the farce-tragedy of the Boulogne flotilla, where the clumsy flat-bottoms are sunk at pleasure as they exercise[260] by English frigates. The father's experience is repeated with the son, for he also is captured and also falls into the beneficent power of Collingwood, whom Vigny almost literally beatifies.[261] The Admiral keeps the young man on parole with him four years at sea, and when he has--"so as by water" if not fire--overcome the temptation of breaking his word, effects exchange for him. But, as is well known (the very words occur here, though I do not know whether for the first time or not), Napoleon's motto in such cases was: "Je n'aime pas les prisonniers. On se fait tuer." He goes back to his duty, but avoids recognition as much as possible, and receives no, or hardly any, promotion. Once, just after Montmirail, he and the Emperor meet, whether with full knowledge on the latter's part is skilfully veiled. But they touch hands. Still Captain Renaud's _guignon_ pursues him in strange fashion; and during a night attack on a Russian post near Reims he kills, in a mere blind mellay, a boy officer of barely fourteen, and is haunted by remorse ever afterwards.

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