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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Declined is still essentially Romantic


The

fact is, as should have been sufficiently made good above, that Naturalism is not opposed to Romance in anything like the sense that Classicism is: it is nothing but a degradation and exaggeration at once of certain things in Romance itself. Nor do I think that there is the slightest difficulty in showing that every form of novel-writing which we have been surveying in this book--that the work of every one of those distinguished or undistinguished writers who have been, with or without regret, declined--is still essentially Romantic. It is Romantic in its inflexible resolution to choose subjects for itself and not according to rule; Romantic in its wise or unwise individuality of treatment; Romantic in its preferential appeal to emotion rather than to pure intelligence; above all, Romantic in its quest--often no doubt ill-guided and unsuccessful, but always more or less present--for that element of strangeness which, though invisible to many who live, is a pervading character of Life itself, and the presence of which it is the glory of Romance itself, from its earliest to its latest manifestations, to have recognised and to some extent fixed, in artistic representation. And so, I hope, that what has been discovered in this volume--in the way of pageant and procession even more than that of examination, though with something of that also--may have shown further progress towards--nay, actual attainment of, the goal which I ventured to mark out in the earlier volume as that of the
novelist by the words, "Here is the whole of human life before you. Copy it or, better, re-create it--with variation and decoration _ad libitum_--as faithfully, but as fully, as you can."

Thesis-writing, however, is but dismal reading, unless (as Mrs. Scott told Jeffrey she hoped he was for the _Marmion_ review) "you are very well paid for it." Nor do I, as I have previously explained, consider it a necessary part of history, though common honesty may require that the presence of a doctrine, behind the delivery of an account, should be confessed. I think the account itself should be sufficient to make good my point; others may differ. But even if they do, some of them at least will, I hope, have found in that account some modicum of the amazing supply of rest and refreshment contained in the mass of literature we have been surveying.

On the two volumes together there may be a little more to say. I have touched, I hope not too frequently, on the curious pleasure which I myself have felt in reading again books sometimes unopened for more than half a century, sometimes read at different times during that period, sometimes positively familiar; and on the contrasted enjoyment of reading others written long ago in all but a few cases, but not, as it happened, read at the time of their appearance. I am indeed inclined to lay much stress on the quality of re-readableness in a novel. Perhaps, as indeed is pretty generally the fact in such cases, a capacity of reading again is required in the person as well as one of being read again in the book. The late Mr. Mark Pattison was not a friend of mine, and we once had a pitched battle; nor was he in any case given to borrow other people's expressions. But he was a critic, if he was anything, and he once did me the honour to repeat _verbatim_--whether consciously or not I cannot say, but in the very periodical where it had originally appeared--a sentence of mine about "people who would rather read any circulating-library trash, for the first time, than _Pendennis_ or _Pride and Prejudice_ for the second." I think this difference between the two classes is as worthy to rank, among the criteria of opposed races of mankind and womankind, as those between borrowers and lenders, Platonists and Aristotelians, or Big- and Little-Endians.


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