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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

Ludovica ou Le Testament de Waterloo



_Ludovica ou Le Testament de Waterloo_, a much later book, was, the author tells us, finished in June 1830 under the fiendish tyranny of "all-powerful bigots, implacable Jesuits, and restored marquises"; but the glorious days of July came; a new dynasty, "jeune, forte, sincere" (Louis Philippe "young and sincere"!), was on the throne; the ship of state entered the vast sea of liberty; France revived; all Europe seemed to start from its shroud--and _Ludovica_ got published. But the author's joy was a little dashed by the sense that, unlike its half-score of forerunners, the book had not to battle with the bigots and the Jesuits and the "restored marquises"--the last a phrase which has considerable charms of suggestion.

All this, of course, has its absurd side; but it shows, by way of redemption, that Ducange, in one of the many agreeable phrases of his country, "did not go to it with a dead hand." He seems, indeed, to have been a thoroughly "live" person, if not a very wise one: and _Ludovica_ begins with a rousing situation--a crowd and block in the streets of Paris, brought about by nobody quite knows what, but ending in a pistol-shot, a dead body, the flight of the assassin, the dispersal of the crowd by the _gendarmes_, and finally the discovery by a young painter, who has just returned from seeing his mother at Versailles, of a very youthful, very pretty, and very terrified girl, speaking an

unknown tongue, and not understanding French, who has fled for refuge into a dark alley ending in a flight of cellar-steps. It is to the point that among the confused cries attending the disturbance have been some about a girl being carried off.

It must be admitted that this is not unpromising, and I really think _Ludovica_ (with a caution as to the excessive prolixity of its kind and time) might be recommended to lovers of the detective novel, of which it is a rather early sample. I have confessed, in a later chapter, that this particular "wanity" is not my favourite; but I found myself getting through M. Victor Ducange's six volumes--burdened rather than ballasted as they are by political outbursts, rather "thorn-crackling" attempts at humour, and the like--with considerably less effort than has sometimes attended similar excursions. If they had been three instead of six I hardly think I should have felt the collar at all. The superiority to _L'Artiste et le Soldat_ is remarkable. When honest Jules Janin attributed to Ducange "une erudition peu commune," he must either have been confusing Victor with Charles, or, which is more probable, exhibiting his own lack of the quality he refers to. Ducange does quote tags of Latin: but erudition which makes Proserpine the daughter of _Cybele_, though certainly _peu commune_ in one sense, is not so in the other. The purposes and the jokes, as has been said, may bore; and though the style is better than Ducray's, it would not of itself "over-stimulate." But the man is really almost prodigal of incident, and does not manage it badly.

Here, you have Ludovica's father and mother (the former of whom has been crimped to perform a marriage under the impression that he is a priest, whereas he is really a colonel of dragoons) escaping through a hole at the back of a picture from a skylighted billiard-room. There, an enterprising young man, "sitting out" at a ball, to attend which he has disguised himself, kisses his partner,[72] and by that pleasing operation dislodges half his borrowed moustache. It falls, alas! on her hand, she takes it for a spider, screams, and so attracts an unwelcome public. Later in the same evening he finds himself shut up in

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