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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 2

As in many ways like Beyle said of himself on his death bed


[Sidenote:

Beyle's place in the story.]

Still, there is always something unfair in making use of "Remains," and for my part I do not think that, unless they are of extraordinary merit, they should ever be published. "Death _should_ clear all scores" in this way as in others. Yet no really critical person will think the worse of Beyle's published work because of these _anecdota_, though they may, as actually before us, be taken as throwing some light on what is not so good in the _publicata_. There can be no doubt that Beyle occupies a very important position in the history of the novel, and not of the French novel only, as the first, or almost the first, analyst of the ugly for fictitious purposes, and as showing singular power in his analysis. Unfortunately his synthetic gifts were not equally great. He had strange difficulty in making his stories _march_; he only now and then got them to _run_; and though the real life of his characters has been acknowledged, it is after all a sort of "Life-in-Death," a new manifestation of the evil power of that mysterious entity whom Coleridge, if he did not discover, first named and produced in quasi-flesh, though he left us without any indication of more than one tiny and accidental part of her dread kingdom.

He has thus the position of _pere de famille_, whether (to repeat the old joke) of a _famille deplorable_ in the moral, not the sentimental, sense, must, I suppose, be left

matter of opinion. The plentiful crop of monographs about him since M. Stryienski's Pompeian explorations and publications is in a manner--if only in a manner--justified by the numerous followers--not always or perhaps often conscious followers, and so even more important--in his footsteps. Nobody can say that the picaresque novelists, whether in their original country or when the fashion had spread, were given to _berquinades_ or fairy-tales. Nobody can say that the tale-writers who preceded and followed them were apostles of virtue or painters of Golden-Age scenes. But, with some exceptions (chiefly Italian) among the latter, they did not, unless their aim were definitely tragical--an epithet which one could show, on irrefragable Aristotelian principles, to be rarely if ever applicable to Beyle and his school--they did not, as the common phrase goes, "take a gloomy view" only. There were cakes and ale; and the cakes did not always give internal pains, nor the ale a bad headache. As even Hazlitt (who has been selected, not without reason, as in many ways like Beyle) said of himself on his death-bed, rather to some folks' surprise though not to mine, most of the characters "had a happy life," though the happiness might be chequered: and some of them were "good." It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that in Beyle's books happiness does not exist, and virtue has hardly a place. There are some characters who may be said to be neutral or "on the line"; they may be not definitely unhappy or definitely bad. But this is about as far as he ever goes in that direction. And accordingly he and his followers have the fault of one-sidedness; they may (he did) see life steadily, but they do not see it whole. There is no need to preach a sermon on the text: in this book there is full need to record the fact.[146]

* * * * *

[Sidenote: Balzac--conditions of the present dealing.]


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