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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

And almost of awe There was beef


* * * * *

But, with one or two more notices, we must close this chapter.

Although Dumas, by an odd anticipatory reversal of what was to be his son's way, spent a great deal of time on more or less trashy[305] plays before he took to his true line of romance, and so gave opportunity to others to get a start of him in the following of Scott, it was inevitable that his own immense success should stir emulation in this kind afresh. In a way, even, Sue and Soulie may be said to belong to the class of his unequal competitors, and others may be noticed briefly in this place or that. But there is one author who, for one book at least, belonging to the successors rather than the _avant-coureurs_, but decidedly of the pre-Empire kind, must have a more detailed mention.

[Sidenote: Achard.]

Many years ago somebody was passing the small tavern which, dating for aught I know to the times of Henry Esmond, and still, or very lately, surviving, sustained the old fashion of a thoroughfare, fallen, but still fair, and fondly loved of some--Kensington High Street, just opposite the entrance to the Palace. The passer-by heard one loiterer in front of it say to his companion in a tone of emotion, and almost of awe: "There was beef, and beer, and bread, and greens, and _everything you can imagine_." This _pheme_ occurred to me when,

after more than half a century, I read again Amedee Achard's _Belle-Rose_. I had taken it up with some qualms lest crabbed age should not confirm the judgment of ardent youth; and for a short space the extreme nobility of its sentiments did provoke the giggle of degeneracy. But forty of the little pages of its four original volumes had not been turned when it reassured me as to the presence of "beef, and beer, and bread, and greens, and everything you can imagine" in its particular style of romance. The hero, who begins as a falconer's son and ends as a rich enough colonel in the army and a Viscount by special grace of the Roi Soleil, is a _sapeur_, but far indeed from being one of those graceless comrades of his to whom nothing is sacred. At one time he does indeed succumb to the sorceries of a certain Genevieve de Chateaufort, a duchess _aux narines fremissantes_. But who could resist this combination? even if there were a marquise of the most beautiful and virtuous kind, only waiting to be a widow in order to be lawfully his. Besides, the Lady of the Quivering Nostrils becomes an abbess, her rather odd abbey somehow accommodating not merely her own irregularly arrived child (_not_ Belle-Rose's), but Belle-Rose himself and his marchioness after their marriage; and she is poisoned at the end in the most admirably retributive fashion. There are actually two villains--a pomp and prodigality (for your villain is a more difficult person than your hero) very unusual--one of whom is despatched at the end of the second volume and the other at the actual curtain. There is the proper persecuting minister--Louvois in this case. There are valiant and comic non-commissioned officers. There is a brave, witty, and generous Count; a lover of the "fatal" and ill-fated kind; his bluff and soldierly brother; and more of the "affair of the poisons" than even that mentioned above. You have the Passage of the Rhine, fire-raisings, duels, battles, skirmishes, ambuscades, treachery, chivalry--in fact, what you will comes in. And you must be a very ill-conditioned or feeble-minded person if you _don't_ will. Every now and then one might, no doubt, "smoke" a little reminiscence; more frequently slight improbabilities; everywhere, of course, an absence of any fine character-drawing. But these things are the usual spots, and very pardonable ones, of the particular sun. I do not remember any French book of the type, outside the Alexandrian realm, that is as good as _Belle-Rose_;[306] and I am bound to say that it strikes me as better than anything of its kind with us, from James and Ainsworth to the excellent lady[307] who wrote _Whitehall_, and _Whitefriars_, and _Owen Tudor_.


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