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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Whether it be sufficient to establish primacy or not


But,

once more, just as the time need not rely on any single champion of its greatest to maintain its position, so, if all the greater names just mentioned were struck out, it would still be able to "make good" by dint of the number, the talent, the variety, the novelty of its second- and third-rate representatives. Even those who may think that I have taken Paul de Kock too seriously cannot deny--for it is a simple fact--the vigorous impulse that he gave to the _popularity_ of the novel as a form of the printed book, if not of literature; while I can hardly imagine any one who takes the trouble to examine this fact refusing to admit that it is largely due to an advance in reality of a kind--though they may think this kind itself but a shady and sordid one. On the other hand, I think less of Eugene Sue than at one time "men of good" used to think; but I, in my turn, should not dream of denying his popularity, or the advance which he too effected in procuring for the novel its share, and a vast share, in the attention of the general reader. Jules Sandeau and Charles de Bernard, Soulie and Feval and Achard, and not a few others mentioned or not mentioned in the text, come up to support their priors, while, as I have endeavoured to point out, two others still, Charles Nodier and Gerard de Nerval, though it may seem absurd to claim primacy for them, contribute that idiosyncrasy without which, whether it be sufficient to establish primacy or not, nothing can ever claim to possess that quality.

style="text-align: justify;">[Sidenote: The kinds--the historical novel.]

But while it is not necessary to repeat the favourable estimates already given of individuals, it is almost superfluous to rest the claims of the period to importance in novel history upon them. Elsewhere[336] I have laid some emphatic and reiterated stress on the mischief which has sometimes arisen from too exclusive critical attention to "kinds," classes, and the like in literature--to the oblivion or obscuring of individual men and works of letters. But as there has been, and I hope will be, no ignoring of individuals here, and as this whole book endeavours to be a history of a kind, remarks on subdivisions of that kind as such can hardly be regarded as inopportune or inconsistent.

[Sidenote: Appearance of new classes--the historical.]

Now it is impossible that anybody who is at all inclined or accustomed to think about the characteristics of the pleasure he receives from literature, should not have noticed in this period the fact--beside and outside of the other fact of a provision of delectable novelists--of a great splitting up and (as scientific slang would put it) fissiparous generation of the the classes of novel. It is, indeed, open to the advocates or generic or specific criticism--though I think they cannot possibly maintain their position as to poetry--to urge that a great deal of harm was done to the novel, or at least that its development


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