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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

When the wicked Joseph le Mendiant


_Trois Hommes Forts._]

Perhaps there is no better example of the curious mixture of _verve_, variety, and vigorous hitting-off which characterised the youth of Dumas _fils_ than _Trois Hommes Forts_--a book of the exact middle of the century, which begins with an idyll, passing into a tragedy; continues with a lively ship-and-yellow-fever scene; plunges into a villainous conspiracy against virtue and innocence diversified with a bull-throwing; and winds up with another killing, which, this time, _is_ no murder; a trial, after which and an acquittal the accused and the Crown Prosecutor embrace before (and amidst the chalorous applause of) the whole Court; not forgetting a final _panache_ of happy marriage between innocence, a very little damaged, and the bull-thrower-avenger-_ouvrier_, Robert. It is of course pure melodrama--_Minnigrey_ and the Porte-Saint-Martin pleasantly accommodated. But it is not too long; it never drags; and it knocks about in the cheerfullest "pit-box-and-gallery" fashion from first to last. When the wicked "Joseph le Mendiant," _alias_ M. Valery, _alias_ Frederic Comte de La Marche[370]--who has stabbed a priest with one hand and throttled an old woman with the other; then made a fortune in Madagascar; then nearly died of yellow-fever on board ship, but recovered (something after the fashion of one of Marryat's heroes) by drinking a bottle of Madeira; then gone home and bought an estate and given himself the above title;

then seduced the innocent sister of the person who heard his confession; then tried to marry a high-born maiden;[371] then threatened to betray the sister's shame if her brother "tells"--when this villain has his skull broken by Robert, all right-minded persons will clap their hands sore. But remembrance of one passage at the beginning may "leave a savour of sorrow." Could you, even in Meridional France, to-day procure a breakfast consisting of truffled pigs' feet, truffled thrush, tomato omelette (I should bar the tomatoes), and strawberries in summer, or "quatre-mendiants" (figs, nuts, and almonds and raisins) in winter, _with_ a bottle of sound Roussillon or something like it, for three francs? Alas! one fears not.

[Sidenote: _Diane de Lys._]

_Diane de Lys_, a little later than most of the books just mentioned, and one, I think, of the first to be dramatised, so announcing the author's change of "kind," acquired a certain fame by being made (in which form I am not certain, but probably as a play) the subject of one of those odd "condemnations" by which the Second Empire occasionally endeavoured to show itself the defender of morality and the prop of family and social life. I do not think that Flaubert and Baudelaire had much reason to pride themselves on their predecessor in this particular pillory. Alexander the younger is not here even a coppersmith; his metal is, to me, not attractive at all. The Marquise de Lys is one of those

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