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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

You see lines of foam stretching from headland to headland


But

this easy supplying of the bodily needs of the "horse with wings" and his "heavy rider" was as nothing to other things which strengthened the wings of the spirit and lightened the weight of the burden it bore. I have not been a great traveller outside the kingdom of England: and you may doubtless, in the whole of Europe or of the globe, find more magnificent things than you can possibly find in an island of the dimensions given. But for a miniature and manageable assemblage of amenities I do not think you can easily beat Guernsey. The town of St. Peter Port, and its two castles, Fort George above and Castle Cornet below, looking on the strait above mentioned, with the curiously contrasted islets of Herm and Jethou in its midst; the wonderful coast, first south- and then westward, set with tiny coves of perfection like Bec-du-Nez, and larger bays, across the mouth of which, after a storm and in calm sunny weather, you see lines of foam stretching from headland to headland, out of the white clots of which the weakest imagination can fancy Aphrodite rising and floating shorewards, to vanish as she touches the beach; the great western promontory of Pleinmont, a scarcely lessened Land's End, with the Hanois rocks beyond; the tamer but still not tame western, northern, and north-eastern coasts, with the Druid-haunted level of L'Ancresse and the minor port of St. Samson--all these furnish, even to the well-girt man, an extraordinary number[111] of walks, ranging from an hour's to a day's
and more there and back; while in the valleys of the interior you find scenery which might be as far from the sea as Warwickshire, or on the heights springs which tell you that they must have come from the neighbourhood of the Mount of Dol or the Forest of Broceliande.

With such colour and form of locality to serve, not merely as inspiration but as actual scene and setting, such genius as Hugo's could hardly fail. The thing is sad and delightful and great. As life, you may say, it could not have happened; as literature it could not but have happened, and has happened, at its best, divinely well. The contrast of the long agony of effort and its triumph on the Douvres, with the swift collapse of any possible reward at St. Samson, is simply a windfall of the Muses to this spoiled and, it must be confessed, often self-spoiling child of theirs. There are, of course, absurdities still, and of a different kind from the bug-pipe. I have always wished to know what the experiences of the fortunate and reverend but sheepish Ebenezer had been at Oxford--he must certainly have held a King Charles scholarship in his day--during that full-blooded time of the Regency. The circumstances of the marriage are almost purely Hugonian, though it does Hugo credit that he admires the service which he travesties so remarkably. But the _Dieu_ (not _diable_) _au corps_ which he now enjoys enables him to change into a beauty (in the wholly natural gabble of Mess Lethierry on the recovery of the _la Durande_) those long speeches which have been already noted as blots. And, beauty or blot, it would not have mattered. All is in the contrast of the mighty but conquered Douvres and the comparatively insignificant rocklet--there are hundreds like it on every granite coast--where Death the Consoler sets on Gilliatt's head the only crown possible for his impossible feat, and where the dislike of the ignorant peasantry, the brute resistance of machinery and material, the violence of the storm, the devilish ambush of the _pieuvre_, and all other evils are terminated and evaded and sanctified by the embrace and the euthanasia of the sea. Perhaps it is poetry rather than novel or even romance--in substance it is too abstract and elemental for either of the less majestical branches of inventive literature. But it is great. "By God! 'tis good," and, to lengthen somewhat Ben's famous challenge, "if you like, you may" put it with, and not so far from, in whatever order you please--the deaths of Cleopatra and of Colonel Newcome.


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