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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Rather than with Merimee or Gautier


few days after telling the story he is shot by a _gamin_ whom older men have made half-drunk and furnished with a pistol with directions to do what he does. And all this is preserved from being merely sentimental ("Riccobonish," as I think Vigny himself--but it may be somebody else--has it) by the touch of true melancholy on the one hand and of all-saving irony on the other.

[Sidenote: The moral of the three.]

So also these two curious books save Vigny himself to some extent from the condemnation, or at any rate the exceedingly faint praise, which his principal novel may bring upon him as a novelist. But they do so to some extent only. It is clear even from them, though not so clear as it is from their more famous companion, that he was not to the manner born. The riddles of the painful earth were far too much with him to permit him to be an unembarrassed master or creator of pastime--not necessarily horse-collar pastime by any means, but pastime pure and simple. His preoccupations with philosophy, politics, world-sorrow, and other things were constantly cropping up and getting in the way of his narrative faculty. I do not know that, even of the scenes that I have praised, any one except the expurgated Crebillonade of the King and the Lady and the Doctor goes off with complete "currency," and this is an episode rather than a whole tale, though it gives itself the half-title of _Histoire d'une Puce Enragee_.

He could never, I think, have done anything but short stories; and even as a short-story teller he ranks with the other Alfred, Musset, rather than with Merimee or Gautier. But, like Musset, he presents us, as neither of the other two did (for Merimee was not a poet, and Gautier was hardly a dramatist), with a writer, of mark all but the greatest, in verse and prose and drama; while in prose and verse at least he shows that quality of melancholy magnificence which has been noted, as hardly any one else does in all three forms, except Hugo himself.

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[Sidenote: Note on Fromentin's _Dominique_: its altogether exceptional character.]

I have found it rather difficult to determine the place most proper for noticing the _Dominique_ of Eugene Fromentin--one of the most remarkable "single-speech" novels in any literature. It was not published till the Second Empire was more than half-way through, but it seems to have been written considerably earlier; and as it is equally remarkable for _lexis_ and for _dianoia_, it may, on the double ground, be best attached to this chapter, though Fromentin was younger than any one else here dealt with, and belonged, in fact, to the generation of our later, though not latest, constituents. But, in fact, it is a book like no other, and it is for this reason, and by no means as confessing omission or after-thought, that I have made the notice of it a note. In an outside way, indeed, it may be said to belong to the school of _Rene_, but the resemblance is very partial.

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