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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Portando dentro accidioso fummo


[23]

For the mother, in a fashion which the good Father-missionary most righteously and indignantly denounces as unchristian, had staked her own salvation on her daughter's obedience to the vow.

[24] Its author, in the _Memoires d'Outre-Tombe_, expressed a warm wish that he had never written it, and hearty disgust at its puling admirers and imitators. This has been set down to hypocritical insincerity or the sourness of age: I see neither in it. It ought perhaps to be said that he "cut" a good deal of the original version. The confession of Amelie was at first less abrupt and so less effective, but the newer form does not seem to me to better the state of Rene himself.

[25] There had been a very early French imitation of _Werther_ itself (of the end especially), _Les dernieres aventures du sieur d'Olban_, by a certain Ramond, published in 1777, only three years after Goethe. It had a great influence on Ch. Nodier (_v. inf._), who actually republished the thing in 1829.

[26] This "out-of-bounds" passion will of course be recognised as a Romantic trait, though it had Classical suggestions. Chateaubriand appears to have been rather specially "obsessed" by this form of it, for he not merely speaks constantly of Rene as _le frere d'Amelie_, but goes out of his way to make the good Father in _Atala_ refer, almost ecstatically, to the happiness of the more immediate descendants of Adam

who were _compelled_ to marry their sisters, if they married anybody. As I have never been able to take any interest in the discussions of the Byron and Mrs. Leigh scandal, I am not sure whether this _tic_ of Chateaubriand's has been noticed therein. But his influence on Byron was strong and manifold, and Byron was particularly apt to do things, naughty and other, because somebody else had done or suggested them. And of course it has, from very early days, been suggested that Amelie is an experience of Chateaubriand's own. But this, like the investigations as to time and distance and possibility in his travels and much else also, is not for us. Once more I must be permitted to say that I am writing much about French novels, little about French novelists, and least of all about those novelists' biographers, critics, and so forth. Exceptions may be admitted, but as exceptions only.

[27] I once had to fight it out in public with a valued and valiant friend for saying something like this in regard to Edgar of Ravenswood--no doubt, in some sort a child of Rene's or of Nelvil's; but I was not put to submission. And Edgar had truer causes for sulks than his spiritual ancestor had--at least before the tragedy of Amelie.

[28] Not in the strict theological meaning of this phrase, of course; but the misuse of it has aesthetic justification.

[29] _I.e._ not mere "sloth," but the black-blooded and sluggish melancholy to which Dante pays so much attention in the _Inferno_. This deadly sin we inadequately translate "sloth," and (on one side of it) it is best defined in Dante's famous lines (_Inf._ vii. 121-3):

Tristi fummo Nell' aer dolce che dal sol s' allegra, Portando dentro accidioso fummo.

Had Amelie sinned and not repented she might have been found in the Second circle, flying alone; Rene, except _speciali gratia_, must have sunk to the Fourth.

[30] For instance, he goes a-beaver-hunting with the Natchez, but his usual selfish moping prevents him from troubling to learn the laws of the sport, and he kills females--an act at once offensive to Indian religion, sportsmanship, and etiquette, horrifying to the consciences of his adopted countrymen, and an actual _casus belli_ with the neighbouring tribes.


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