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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

As well as in' Germany and at Coppet


The light which lightens these abodes of bliss is compact of the rose of morning, of the flame of noon, of the purple of even; yet no star appears on the glowing horizon. No sun rises and no sun goes down on the country where nothing ends, where nothing begins. But an ineffable clearness, showering from all sides like a tender dew, maintains the unbroken[36] daylight in a delectable eternity.

Of course any one who is so minded may belittle this as classically cold; even as to some extent _neo_-classically bedizened; as more like, let us say, Moore's _Epicurean_ than like our greater "prose-poets" of the seventeenth and the nineteenth centuries. The presence in Chateaubriand of this dose of the style that was passing, and that he helped to make pass, has been admitted already: but I confess I think it is only a dose. Those who care to look up the matter for themselves might, if they do not choose to read the whole, turn to the admirable picture of camp-life on the Lower Rhine at the opening of Book VI. as a short contrast, while the story is full of others. Nor should one forget to add that Chateaubriand can, when he chooses, be epigrammatic as well as declamatory. "Such is the ugliness of man when he bids farewell to his soul and, so to speak, keeps house only with his body" is a phrase which might possibly shock La Harpe, but which is, as far as I remember, original, and is certainly crisp and effective enough.

style="text-align: justify;">Reassembling, then, the various points which we have endeavoured to make in respect of his position as novelist, it may once more be urged that if not precisely a great master of the complete art of novel-writing, by actual example, he shows no small expertness in various parts of it: and that, as a teacher and experimenter in new developments of method and indication of new material, he has few superiors in his own country and not very many elsewhere. That in this pioneer quality, as well as in mere contemporaneousness, he may, though a greater writer, be yoked with the authoress of _Corinne_ need hardly be argued, for the accounts given of the two should have sufficiently established it.

FOOTNOTES:

[8] Although, except in special cases, biographical notices are not given here, the reader may be reminded that she was born in 1766, the daughter of Necker and of Gibbon's early love, Susanne Curchod; married at twenty the Swedish ambassador, Baron of Stael-Holstein; sympathised at first with the Revolution, but was horrified at the murder of the king, and escaped, with some difficulty, from Paris to England, where, as well as in' Germany and at Coppet, her own house in Switzerland, she passed the time till French things settled down under Napoleon. With him she tried to get on, as a duplicate of himself in petticoats and the realm of mind. But this was clearly impossible, and she had once more to retire to Coppet. She had separated, though without positive quarrel, from her husband, whom, however, she attended on his death-bed; and the exact character of her _liaisons_ with others, especially M. de Narbonne and Benjamin Constant, is not easy to determine. In 1812 she married, privately, a young officer, Rocca by name, returned to Paris before and after the Hundred Days, and died there in 1817.


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