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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

It was only after this time that Dumas fils


[322]

To be absolutely candid, Dumas himself did sometimes ask more of them than they could do; and then he failed. There can, I think, be little doubt that this is the secret of the inadequacy (as at least it seems to me) of the Felton episode. As a friend (whose thousand merits strive to cover his one crime of not admiring Dumas quite enough), not knowing that I had yet written a line of this chapter, but as it happened just as I had reached the present point, wrote to me: "Think what Sir Walter would have made of Felton!"

[323] I could myself be perfectly content to adapt George III. on a certain _Apology_, and substitute for all this a simple "I do not think Dumas needs any defence." But where there has been so much obloquy, there should, perhaps, be some refutation.

[324] "And then he says, says he...."

[325] In modern novels, of course. You have some good talk in Homer and also in the Sagas, but I am not thinking or speaking of them.

[326]

"Red ink for ornament and black for use-- The best of things are open to abuse."

(_The Good Clerk_ as vouched for by Charles Lamb.)

[327] Yet, being nothing if not critical, I can hardly agree with those who talk of Dumas' "_wild_ imagination"! As the great Mr. Wordsworth was more often

made to mourn by the gratitude of men than by its opposite, so I, in my humbler sphere, am more cast down sometimes by inapposite praise than by ignorant blame.

CHAPTER IX

THE FRENCH NOVEL IN 1850

[Sidenote: The peculiarity of the moment.]

It was not found necessary, in the last volume, to suspend the current of narrative or survey for the purpose of drawing interim conclusions in special "Interchapters."[328] But the subjects of this present are so much more bulky and varied, in proportion to the space available and the time considered; while the fortunes of the novel itself altered so prodigiously during that time, that something of the kind seemed to be desirable, if not absolutely necessary. Moreover, the actual centre of the century in France, or rather what may be called its precinct, the political interregnum of 1848-1852, is more than a _mere_ political and chronological date. To take it as an absolute apex or culmination would be absurd; and even to take it as a definite turning-point might be excessive. Not a few of the greatest novelists then living and working--Hugo, whose most popular and bulkiest work in novel was yet to come; George Sand, Merimee, Gautier--were still to write for the best part of a quarter of a century, if not more; and the most definite fresh start of the second period, the rise of Naturalism, was not to take place till a little later. But already Chateaubriand, Beyle, Charles de Bernard, and, above all, Balzac, were dead or soon to die: and it cannot be said that any of the survivors developed new characters of work, for even Hugo's was (_v. sup._) only the earlier "writ large" and modernised in non-essentials. On the other hand, it was only after this time that Dumas _fils_, the earliest of what may be called the new school, produced his most remarkable work.


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