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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

To be wildly unhistorical and uncritical


Of

what this addition is presently. But Romance, as I see it, insists upon and gives the truth and the whole truth of nature itself. Who is the greatest of Romantics? By agreement of all but the purblind and the paradoxer, Shakespeare. Who is the truest and the most universal of all writers? By consent of classic and romantic, at least of those of either kind who "count"--again Shakespeare. Let me say at once that, having early sworn allegiance to Logic, I am perfectly aware that a coincidence of two things in one person does not prove the identity of the things. But it proves their compossibility, and when it is found _in excelsis_, it surely goes near to prove a good deal more. Nor is one in the least confined to this argument from example, strong as it is. When you examine Classicism, which, whatever we may say or not say of it, will always stand as the opposite of Romance, you find that it always leaves something out. It may--it does in its best examples--give you truth; it may--it does in its best examples--add something which is its own "generosity"--its castigation, its order, its reason, its this and that and the other. To be very liberal, it may be admitted that the perpetual and meticulous presence in it of "Thou shalt not" do or say this or that, is most conspicuous--let us go to the extreme of generosity ourselves and say, is only conspicuous--in its feebler examples. But there is always something that it does not give, and some of us think that there are not a few things
which it cannot give. There is nothing, not even ugliness itself, which Romance cannot give, though there its form of generosity comes in, and the ugly in simple essence becomes beautiful by treatment.

I could bestow any amount of tediousness in these generalities on my readers if I thought it necessary: but having developed my proposition and its meaning, I think it better to pass to the applications thereof in the present subject.

Of the wide extension of aim and object effected by Romantic influence in the novel, as in other departments of literature, there can be little denial, though of course it may be contended that this extension took place not as it ought and as it ought not. But of the fact of it and of the corresponding variety introduced with it, the very pioneers of the so-called Romantic movement give ample proof. We have seen this even in the extremely inchoate stage of the first two decades; when the great definitely Romantic leaders made their appearance it was more remarkable still. The four chief writers who gave the Romantic lead before 1830 itself may be taken to be Nodier, Hugo, Merimee, and Vigny. They stand in choice of subjects, as in treatment of them, wide apart; and just as it has been noted of Vigny's poetry, that its three chief pieces, "Eloa," "Dolorida," and "Le Cor" point the way to three quite different kinds of Romantic verse, so, confining ourselves to the same example, it may be repeated that _Cinq-Mars_ and the smaller stories exemplify, and in a way pattern, kinds of Romantic prose fiction even further apart from each other. Always, through the work of these and that of Gautier, and of all the others who immediately or subsequently follow them, this broadening and branching out of the Romantic influence--this opening of fresh channels, historical and fanciful, supernatural and ordinary--shows itself. The contention, common in books, that this somehow ceased about the middle of the century, or at least died off with the death of those who had carried it out, appears to me, I confess, to be wildly unhistorical and uncritical. At no time--the proofs fill this volume--do we find any restriction, of choice of subject or conduct of treatment, to anything like the older limits. But the most unhistorical and the most uncritical form of this contention is the astonishing endeavour to vindicate a "classical" character for Naturalism. Most certainly there is "impropriety" in some of the classics and "impropriety" in all the Naturalists, but other resemblance I can see none. As for the argument that as Naturalism is opposed to Romance and Classicalism is opposed to Romance, _therefore_ Naturalism is Classical--this is undoubtedly a very common form of bastard syllogism, but to labour at proving its bastardy would be somewhat ridiculous.


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