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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

And Nisard are equally favourable



When Sainte-Beuve, thirty years after the book first appeared, subjoined a most curious Appendix to his only novel, _Volupte_, he included a letter of his own, in which he confesses that it is "not in the precise sense a novel at all." It is certainly in some respects an outlier, even of the outlying group to which it belongs--the group of _Rene_ and _Adolphe_ and their followers.

[Sidenote: Its "puff-book."]

I do not remember anything, even in a wide sense, quite like this Appendix--at least in the work of an author _majorum gentium_. It consists of a series of extracts, connected by remarks of Sainte-Beuve's own, from the "puff"-letters which distinguished people had sent him, in recompense for the copies of the book which he had sent _them_. Most people who write have had such letters, and "every fellow likes a hand." The persons who enjoy being biographied expect them, I suppose, to be published after their deaths; and I have known, I think, some writers of "Reminiscences" who did it themselves in their lifetimes. But it certainly is funny to find the acknowledged "first critic" in the Europe or the world of his day paralleling from private sources the collections which are (quite excusably) added as advertisements from published criticisms to later editions of a book. Intrinsically the things, no doubt, have interest. Chateaubriand, whose _Rene_

is effusively praised in the novel, opens with an equally effusive but rather brief letter of thanks, not destitute of the apparent artificiality which, for all his genius, distinguished that "noble _Why_count," and perhaps, for all its "butter," partly responsible for the _aigre-doux_ fashion in which the prais_ee_ subsequently treated the prais_er_. Michelet, Villemain, and Nisard are equally favourable, and perhaps a little more sincere, though Nisard (of course) is in trouble about Sainte-Beuve's divagations from the style of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Brizeux applauds in prose _and_ verse. Madame de Castries (Balzac's "Duchesse de Langeais"), afterwards an intimate personal friend of the critic's, acknowledges, in an anonymous letter, her "profound emotion." Lesser, but not least, people like Magnin join. Eugenie de Guerin bribes her future eulogist. Madame Desbordes-Valmore, _the_ French poetess of the day, is enthusiastic as to the book: and George Sand herself writes a good half-dozen small-printed and exuberant pages, in which the only (but repeated) complaint is that Sainte-Beuve actually makes his hero find comfort in Christianity. Neither Lamartine (as we might have expected) nor Lamennais (whose disciple Sainte-Beuve had tried to be) liked it; but Lacordaire did not disapprove.

[Sidenote: Itself.]

Before saying anything more about it, let us give a brief argument of it--a thing which it requires more (for reasons to be given later) than most books, whether "precisely" novels or not. It is the autobiographic history of a certain "Amaury" (whose surname, I think, we never hear), addressed as a caution to a younger friend, no name of whom we ever hear at all. The friend is too much addicted to the pleasures of sense, and Amaury gives him his own experience of a similar tendency. Despite the subject and the title, there is nothing in the least "scabrous" in it. Lacordaire himself, it seems, gave it a "vu et approuve" as being something that a seminarist or even a priest (which Amaury finishes, to the great annoyance of George Sand, as being) might have composed for edifying purposes. But the whole is written to show the truth of a quatrain of the Judicious Poet:

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