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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

But by an Examen in the old fashion


It

is probably unnecessary to point out at any great length that some of the drawbacks of _Les Natchez_ disappear almost automatically in _Les Martyrs_. The supernatural machinery is, on the hypothesis and at the time of the book, strictly congruous and proper; while, as a matter of fact, it is in proportion rather less than more used. The time and events--those of the persecution under Diocletian--are familiar, interesting, and, in a French term for which we have no exact equivalent, _dignes_. There is no sulky spider of a Rene crawling about the piece; and though history is a little strained to provide incidents,[32] "that's not much," and they are not in themselves improbable in any bad sense or degree. Moreover, the classical-dictionary element, which, as has been said, is so awkward to handle, is, at least after the beginning, not too much drawn upon.

The book, in its later modern editions, is preceded not merely by several Prefaces, but by an _Examen_ in the old fashion, and fortified by those elaborate citation-notes[33] from authorities ancient and modern which were a mania at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century, and which sometimes divert and sometimes enrage more modern readers in work so different as _Lalla Rookh_ and _The Pursuits of Literature_, while they provided at the time material for immortal jokes in such other work as the _Anti-Jacobin_ poems. In the Prefaces Chateaubriand discusses the prose

epic, and puts himself, quite unnecessarily, under the protection of _Telemaque_: in the _Examen_ he deals systematically with the objections, religious, moral, and literary, which had been made against the earlier editions of the book. But these things are now little more than curiosities for the student, though they retain some general historical importance.

[Sidenote: The story.]

The book starts (after an "Invocation," proper to its scheme but perhaps not specially attractive "to us") with an account of the household of Demodocus, a Homerid of Chios, who in Diocletian's earlier and unpersecuting days, after living happily but for too short a time in Crete with his wife Epicharis, loses her, though she leaves him one little daughter, Cymodocee, born in the sacred woods of Mount Ida itself. Demodocus is only too glad to accept an invitation to become high priest of a new Temple of Homer in Messenia, on the slopes of another mountain, less, but not so much less, famous, Ithome. Cymodocee becomes very beautiful, and receives, but rejects, the addresses of Hierocles, proconsul of Achaia, and a favourite of Galerius. One day, worshipping in the forest at a solitary Altar of the Nymphs, she meets a young stranger whom (she is of course still a pagan) she mistakes for Endymion, but who talks Christianity to her, and reveals himself as Eudore, son of Lasthenes. As it turns out, her father knows this person, who has the renown of a distinguished soldier.


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