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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Sidenote Petits Tableaux de Moeurs


To call the book good would be ridiculous, but a very large experience of first novels of dates before, the same as, and after its own may warrant allotment to it of possibilities of future good gifts. The history, such as it is, runs currently; there are no hitches and stops and stagnations, the plentiful improbabilities are managed in such fashion that one does not trouble about them, and there is an atmosphere, sometimes of horseplay but almost always of good humour.

[Sidenote: _Petits Tableaux de Moeurs._]

The matter which, by accident or design, goes with this in mid-century reprints of Paul, is of much later date, but it shows that, for some time, its author had been exercising himself in a way valuable to the novelist at any time but by no means as yet frequently practised. _Petits Tableaux de Moeurs_ consists of about sixty short sketches of a very few pages each (usually two or three) and of almost exactly the same kind as those with which Leigh Hunt, a little earlier in England, transformed the old _Spectator_ essay into the kind of thing taken up soon afterwards by "Boz" and never disused since. They are sketches of types of men, of Parisian cafes, gardens, and restaurants; fresh handlings of old subjects, such as the person who insists on taking you home to a very bad "pot-luck" dinner, and the like. Once more, there is no great brilliance in these. But they are lightly and pleasantly done; it must be obvious to every one that they are simply invaluable training for a novelist who is to leave the beaten track of picaresque adventure and tackle real ordinary life. To which it may be added, as at least possible, that Thackeray himself may have had the creation of Woolsey and Eglantine in _The Ravenswing_ partly suggested by a conversation between a tailor and a hairdresser in Paul's "Le Banc de Pierre des Tuileries." As this is very short it may be worth giving:

To finish our observations, my friend and I went and sat behind two young men dressed in the extreme of the fashion, who, with their feet placed on chairs as far as possible from those in which they were sitting, gracefully rocked themselves, and evidently hoped to attract general attention.

In a minute we heard the following conversation:

"Do you think my coat a success?" "Superb! delicious! an admirable cut!" "And the pantaloons?" "Ravishing! Your get up is really stunning." "The governor told me to spend three hours in the Grand Alley, and put myself well forward. He wants people to take up this new shape and make it fashionable. He has already one order of some consequence." "And, as for me, do you think my hair well done?" "Why, you look like a very Adonis. By the way, _my_ hair is falling off. Do give me something to stop that." "You must give it nourishment. You see hairs are plants or flowers. If you don't water a flower, you can see it withering." "Very true. Then must I use pommade?" "Yes, but in moderation; just as a tree too much watered stops growing. Hair is exactly like vegetables." "And both want cutting?" "Why, yes; it's like a plantation; if you don't prune and thin the branches it kills the young shoots. Cutting helps the rise of the sap." "Do you hold with false fronts?" "I believe you! Why, I make them; it's just like putting a new roof on a house." "And that does no harm to one's head?" "Impossible! neither glue nor white of egg, which needs must hinder growth, are used. People who wear them mix their own hair with the front. They are two flocks, which unite to feed together, as M. Marty says so well in the _Solitaire_."[41] "Two torrents which join in the valley: that is the image of life!"


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