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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

It must be evident that Heredity


Fortes creantur fortibus et bonis,

as well as to:

Aetas parentum pejor avis tulit, etc.

Remounting the stairs, it must be evident that Heredity, Natural Selection, Evolution, Environment, etc., are things which, at the very best, can be allowed an exceedingly small part in artistic re-creation. Not only do they come under the general ban of Purpose, but their purpose-character is of the most thankless and unsucculent kind. I do not know that any one has ever attempted a mathematical novel, though the great Mr. Higgins of St. Mary Axe, as we all know, wrote a beautiful mathematical poem, of which the extant fragments are, alas! too few. If he had only lived a generation later, how charming would have been the fytte or canto on Quaternions! But, really, such a thing would not be more than a "farthest" on a road on which heredity-and-selection novels travel far. It is no use to say, "Oh! but human beings exemplifying those things can be made interesting." If they are it will not be because they are dealt with _sub specie hereditatis_, and confined in the circle of _milieu_.

Yet the master error lies, farther back still, in the strictly "Naturalist" idea itself--the theory of Experiment, the observation-document-"note," all for their own sake. Something has been said of this in relation to the Goncourts, but M. Zola's own exemplification

of the doctrine was so far "larger" in every sense than theirs, and reinforced with so much greater literary power, that it cannot be left merely to the treatment which was sufficient for them. Once more, it is a case of "corruption of the best." It is perfectly true that all novel-writing--even in a fashion all romance-writing too--ought to be based on experience[467] in practical life, and that infinite documents are procurable, infinite notes may be made, from that life. It is utterly _un_true that _any_ observation, _any_ experiment, _any_ document is good novel or romance stuff.

A very few remarks may perhaps be made on approaches to Zolaism--not in the sense of scabrousness--before Zola.

[Sidenote: "Document" and "detail" before Naturalism.]

A writer of one of those theses _a la mode Germanorum_, of which, at different times and in different occupations, it is the hard lot of the professional man of letters to read so many, would probably begin with the Catalogue of Ships, or construct an inventory of the "beds and basons" which Barzillai brought to David. Quite a typical "program" might be made of the lists of birds, beasts, trees, etc., so well known in mediaeval literature, and best known to the ordinary English reader from Chaucer, and from Spenser's following of him. We may, however, pass to the Deluge of the Renaissance and the special emergence therefrom of French fiction. It would not be an absolute proof of the "monographitis" just glanced at if any one were to instance the curious discussions on the propriety of introducing technical terms into heroic poetry--which is, of course, very close to heroic romance, and so to prose fiction generally.


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