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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Lafacido Hearn more recently executed another


Yet even in the preliminary forty or fifty pages few readers can fail to perceive that they have got hold of a most uncommon book. Its uncommonness, as was partly said above, does not consist merely in the excellence of its description; nor in the acuteness of the occasional _mots_; nor in the passion of the two main characters; nor in the representation of the mood of that "discouraged generation of 1850" of which it is, in prose and French, the other Testament corresponding to Matthew Arnold's in verse and English. Nor does it even consist in all these added together; but in the way in which they are fused; in which they permeate each other and make, not a group, but a whole. It might even, like Sainte-Beuve's _Volupte_ (_v. inf._). be called "not precisely a novel" at all, and even more than Fabre's _Abbe Tigrane_ (_v. inf._ again), rather a study than a story. And it is partly from this point of view that one regrets the prologue and epilogue. No doubt--and the plea is a recurring one--in life these storms and stresses, these failures and disappointments, do often subside into something parallel to Dominique's second existence as squire, sportsman, husband, father, and farmer. No doubt they

Pulveris exigui jactu compacta quiescunt,

whether the dust is of the actual grave and its ashes, or the more symbolical one of the end of love. But on the whole, for art's sake, this somewhat prosaic _Versoehnung_ is better left behind the scenes. Yet this may be a private--it may be an erroneous--criticism. The positive part of what has been said in favour of _Dominique_ is, I think, something more. There are few novels like it; none exactly like, and perhaps one does not want many or any more. But by itself it stands--and stands crowned.

FOOTNOTES:

[198] Some years after its original appearance Mr. Andrew Lang, in collaboration with another friend of mine, who adopted the _nom de guerre_ of "Paul Sylvester," published a complete translation under the title of _The Dead Leman_; and I believe that the late Mr. Lafacido Hearn more recently executed another. But this last I have never seen. (The new pages which follow to 222, it may not be superfluous to repeat, appeared originally in the _Fortnightly Review_ for 1878, and were reprinted in _Essays on French Novelists_, London, 1891. The Essay itself contains, of course, a wider criticism of Gautier's work than would be proper here.)

[199] For, as a rule, the critical faculty is like wine--it steadily improves with age. But of course anybody is at liberty to say, "Only, in both cases, when it is good to begin with."

[200] I suppose this was what attracted Mr. Hearn; but, as I have said, I do not know his book itself.

[201] I do not know how many of the users of the catchword "purely decorative," as applied to Moore, knew what they meant by it; but if they meant what I have just said, I have no quarrel with them.

[202] Yet even inside poetry not so very much before 1830.

[203] Of course I know what a dangerous word this is; how often people who have not a glimmering of it themselves deny it to others; and how it is sometimes seen in mere horseplay, often confounded with "wit" itself, and generally "taken in vain." But one must sometimes be content with [Greek: phoneenta] or [Greek: phonanta] (the choice is open, but I prefer the latter) [Greek: synetoisi], and take the consequences of them with the [Greek: asynetoi].


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