A HISTORY OF THE FRENCH NOVEL
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
LONDON BOMBAY CALCUTTA MADRAS MELBOURNE
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
NEW YORK BOSTON CHICAGO DALLAS SAN FRANCISCO
THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA. LTD. TORONTO
A HISTORY OF THE FRENCH NOVEL
(TO THE CLOSE OF THE 19TH CENTURY)
BY GEORGE SAINTSBURY
M.A. AND HON. D.LITT. OXON.; HON. LL.D. ABERD.; HON. D.LITT. DURH.; FELLOW OF THE BRITISH ACADEMY; HON. FELLOW OF MERTON COLLEGE, OXFORD; LATE PROFESSOR OF RHETORIC AND ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
FROM THE BEGINNING TO 1800
MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON 1917
In beginning what, if it ever gets finished, must in all probability be the last of some already perhaps too numerous studies of literary history, I should like to point out that the plan of it is somewhat different from that of most, if not all, of its predecessors. I have usually gone on the principle (which I still think a sound one) that, in studying the literature of a country, or in dealing with such general characteristics of parts of literature as prosody, or such coefficients of all literature as criticism, minorities are, sometimes at least, of as much importance as majorities, and that to omit them altogether is to risk, or rather to assure, an imperfect—and dangerously imperfect—product.
In the present instance, however, I am attempting something that I have never, at such length, attempted before—the history of a Kind, and a Kind which has distinguished itself, as few others have done, by communicating to readers the pleasure of literature. I might almost say that it is the history of that pleasure, quite as much as the history of the kind itself, that I wish to trace. In doing so it is obviously superfluous to include inferiorities and failures, unless they have some very special lesson or interest, or have been (as in the case of the minorities on the bridge of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) for the most part, and unduly, neglected, though they are important as experiments and links. We really do want here—what the reprehensible hedonism of Mr. Matthew Arnold, and his submission to what some one has called "the eternal enemy, Caprice," wanted in all cases—"only the chief and principal things." I wish to give a full history of how what is commonly called the French Novel came into being and kept itself in being; but I do not wish to give an exhaustive, though I hope to give a pretty full, account of its practitioners.
In another point, however, I have kept to my old ways, and that is the way of beginning at the beginning. I disagree utterly with any Balbus who would build an absolute wall between romance and novel, or a wall hardly less absolute between verse- and prose-fiction. I think the French have (what is not common in their language) an advantage over us in possessing the general term Roman, and I have perhaps taken a certain liberty with my own title in order to keep the noun-part of it to a single word. I shall extend the meaning of "novel"—that of roman would need no extension—to include, not only the prose books, old and new, which are more generally called "romance," but the verse romances of the earlier period.
The subject is one with which I can at least plead almost lifelong familiarity. I became a subscriber to "Rolandi's," I think, during my holidays as a senior schoolboy, and continued the subscriptions during my vacations when I was at Oxford. In the very considerable leisure which I enjoyed during the six years when I was Classical Master at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, I read more French than any other literature, and more novels than anything else in French. In the late 'seventies and early 'eighties, as well as more recently, I had to round off and fill in my knowledge of the older matter, for an elaborate account of French literature in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, for a long series of articles on French novelists in the Fortnightly Review, and for the Primer and Short History of the subject which I wrote for the Clarendon Press; while from 1880 to 1894, as a Saturday Reviewer, I received, every month, almost everything notable (and a great deal hardly worth noting) that had appeared in France.
Since then, the cutting off of this supply, and the extreme and constant urgency of quite different demands on my time, have made my cultivation of the once familiar field "parc and infrequent." But I doubt whether any really good judge would say that this was a serious drawback in itself; and it ceases to be one, even relatively, by the restriction of the subject to the close of the last century. It will be time to write of the twentieth-century novel when the twentieth century itself has gone more than a little farther.
For the abundance of translation, in the earlier part especially, I need, I think, make no apology. I shall hardly, by any one worth hearing, be accused of laziness or scamping in consequence of it, for translation is much more troublesome, and takes a great deal more time, than comment or history. The advantage, from all other points of view, should need no exposition: nor, I think, should that of pretty full story-abstract now and then.
There is one point on which, at the risk of being thought to "talk too much of my matters," I should like to say a further word. All my books, before the present volume, have been composed with the aid of a library, not very large, but constantly growing, and always reinforced with special reference to the work in hand; while I was able also, on all necessary occasions, to visit Oxford or London (after I left the latter as a residence), and for twenty years the numerous public or semi-public libraries of Edinburgh were also open to me. This present History has been outlined in expectation for a very long time; and has been actually laid down for two or three years. But I had not been able to put much of it on paper when circumstances, while they gave me greater, indeed almost entire, leisure for writing, obliged me to part with my own library (save a few books with a reserve pretium affectionis on them), and, though they brought me nearer both to Oxford and to London, made it less easy for me to visit either. The London Library, that Providence of unbooked authors, came indeed to my aid, for without it I should have had to leave the book alone altogether; and I have been "munitioned" sometimes, by kindness or good luck, in other ways. But I have had to rely much more on memory, and of course in some cases on previous writing of my own, than ever before, though, except in one special case, there will be found, I think, not a single page of mere "rehashing." I mention this without the slightest desire to beg off, in one sense, from any omissions or mistakes which may be found here, but merely to assure my readers that such mistakes and omissions are not due to idle and careless bookmaking. That "books have fates" is an accepted proposition. In respect to one of these—possession of materials and authorities—mine have been exceptionally fortunate hitherto, and if they had any merit it was no doubt largely due to this. I have, in the present, endeavoured to make the best of what was not quite such good fortune. And if anybody still says, "Why did you not wait till you could supply deficiencies?" I can only reply that, after seventy, [Greek: nyx gar erchetai] is a more insistent warrant, and warning, than ever.
[Edinburgh, 1914-15; Southampton, 1915-16] 1 ROYAL CRESCENT, BATH, May 31, 1917.
ADDENDA AND CORRIGENDA
P. 3, note.—This note was originally left vague, because, in the first place, to perform public and personal fantasias with one's spear on the shield of a champion, with whom one does not intend to fight out the quarrel, seems to me bad chivalry, and secondly, because those readers who were likely to be interested could hardly mistake the reference. The regretted death, a short time after the page was sent to press, of Mr. W. J. Courthope may give occasion to an acknowledgment, coupled with a sincere ave atque vale. Mr. Courthope was never an intimate friend of mine, and our agreement was greater in political than in literary matters: but for more than thirty years we were on the best terms of acquaintance, and I had a thorough respect for his accomplishments.
P. 20, l. 5.—Fuerres de Gadres. I wonder how many people thought of this when Englishmen "forayed Gaza" just before Easter, 1917?
P. 46, mid-page.—It so happened that, some time after having passed this sheet for press, I was re-reading Dante (as is my custom every year or two), and came upon that other passage (in the Paradiso, and therefore not known to more than a few of the thousands who know the Francesca one) in which the poet refers to the explanation between Lancelot and the Queen. It had escaped my memory (though I think I may say honestly that I knew it well enough) when I passed the sheet: but it seemed to me that perhaps some readers, who do not care much for "parallel passages" in the pedantic sense, might, like myself, feel pleasure in having the great things of literature, in different places, brought together. Moreover, the Paradiso allusion seems to have puzzled or misled most of the commentators, including the late Mr. A. J. Butler, who, by his translation and edition of the Purgatorio in 1880, was my Virgil to lead me through the Commedia, after I had sinfully neglected it for exactly half a life-time. He did not know, and might easily not have known, the Vulgate Lancelot: but some of those whom he cites, and who evidently did know it, do not seem to have recognised the full significance of the passage in Dante. The text will give the original: the Paradiso (xvi. 13-15) reference tells how Beatrice (after Cacciaguida's biographical and historical recital, and when Dante, in a confessed outburst of family pride, addresses his ancestor with the stately Voi), "smiling, appeared like her who coughed at the first fault which is written of Guinevere." This, of course (see text once more), is the Lady of Malahault, though Dante does not name her as he does Prince Galahault in the other locus. The older commentators (who, as has been said, did know the original) do not seem to have seen in the reference much more than that both ladies noticed, and perhaps approved, what was happening. But I think there is more in it. The Lady of Malahault (see note in text) had previously been aware that Lancelot was deeply in love, though he would not tell her with whom. Her cough therefore meant: "Ah! I have found you out." Now Beatrice, well as she knew Dante's propensity to love, knew as well that pride was even more of a besetting weakness of his. This was quite a harmless instance of it: but still it was an instance—and the "smile" which is not recorded of the Arthurian lady meant: "Ah! I have caught you out." Even if this be excessive "reading into" the texts, the juxtaposition of them may not be unsatisfactory to some who are not least worth satisfying. (Since writing this, I have been reminded that Mr. Paget Toynbee did make the "juxtaposition" in his Clarendon Press Specimens of Old French (October, 1892), printing there the "Lady of Malahault" passage from MSS. copied by Professor Ker. But there can be no harm in duplicating it.)
P. 121, ll. 8-10. Perhaps instead of, or at least beside, Archdeacon Grantly I should have mentioned a more real dignitary (as some count reality) of the Church, Charles Kingsley. The Archdeacon and the Canon would have fought on many ecclesiastical and some political grounds, but they might have got on as being, in Dr. Grantly's own words at a memorable moment "both gentlemen." At any rate, Kingsley was soaked in Rabelais, and one of the real curiosities of literature is the way in which the strength of Gargantua and Pantagruel helped to beget the sweetness of The Water Babies.
Chap. viii. pp. 163-175.—After I had "made my" own "siege" of the Astree on the basis of notes recording a study of it at the B.M., Dr. Hagbert Wright of the London Library was good enough to let me know that his many years' quest of the book had been at last successful, and to give me the first reading of it. (It was Southey's copy, with his own unmistakable autograph and an inserted note, while it also contained a cover of a letter addressed to him, which had evidently been used as a book-mark.) Although not more than four months had passed since the previous reading, I found it quite as appetising as (in the text itself) I had expressed my conviction that it would be: and things not noticed before cropped up most agreeably. There is no space to notice all or many of them here. But one of the earliest, due to Hylas, cannot be omitted, for it is the completest and most sententious vindication of polyerotism ever phrased: "Ce n'etait pas que je n'aimasse les autres: mais j'avais encore, outre leur place, celle-ci vide dans mon ame." And the soul of Hylas, like Nature herself, abhorred a vacuum! (This approximation is not intended as "new and original": but it was some time after making it that I recovered, in Notre Dame de Paris, a forgotten anticipation of it by Victor Hugo.)
Another early point of interest was that the frontispiece portrait of Astree (the edition, see Bibliography, appears to be the latest of the original and ungarbled ones, imprimee a Rouen, et se vend a Paris (1647, 10 vols.)) is evidently a portrait, though not an identical one, of the same face given in the Abbe Reure's engraving of Diane de Chateaumorand herself. The nose, especially, is hardly mistakable, but the eyes have rather less expression, and the mouth less character, though the whole face (naturally) looks younger.
On the other hand, the portrait here—not of Celadon, but admittedly of Honore d'Urfe himself—is much less flattering than that in the Abbe's book.
Things specially noted in the second reading would (it has been said) overflow all bounds here possible: but we may perhaps find room for three lines from about the best of the very numerous but not very poetical verses, at the beginning of the sixth (i.e. the middle of the original third) volume:
Le prix d'Amour c'est l'Amour meme. Change d'humeur qui s'y plaira, Jamais Hylas ne changera,
the two last being the continuous refrain of a "villanelle" in which this bad man boasts his constancy in inconstancy.
P. 265, note 1.—It ought perhaps to be mentioned that Mlle. de Lussan's paternity is also, and somewhat more probably, attributed to Eugene's elder brother, Thomas of Savoy, Comte de Soissons. The lady is said to have been born in 1682, when Eugene (b. 1663) was barely nineteen; but of course this is not decisive. His brother Thomas Amedee (b. 1656) was twenty-six at the time. The attribution above mentioned gave no second name, and did not specify the relationship to Eugene: so I had some difficulty in identifying the person, as there were, in the century, three Princes Thomas of Savoy, and I had few books of reference. But my old friend and constant helper in matters historical, the Rev. William Hunt, D.Litt., cleared the point up for me. Of the other two—Thomas Francois, who was by marriage Comte de Soissons and was grandfather of Eugene and Thomas Amedee, died in the same year in which Thomas Amedee was born, therefore twenty-six before Mlle. de Lussan's birth: while the third, Thomas Joseph, Eugene's cousin, was not born till 1796, fourteen years after the lady. The matter is, of course, of no literary importance: but as I had passed the sheet for press before noticing the diversity of statements, I thought it better to settle it.
P. 267. Pajon. I ought not to have forgotten to mention that he bears the medal of Sir Walter Scott (Introduction to The Abbot) as "a pleasing writer of French Fairy Tales."
Page 453.—Choderlos de Laclos. Some surprise has been expressed by a friend of great competence at my leaving out Les Liaisons Dangereuses. I am, of course, aware that "persons of distinction" have taken an interest in it; and I understand that, not many years ago, the unfortunate author of the beautiful lines To Cynara wasted his time and talent on translating the thing. To make sure that my former rejection was not unjustified, I have accordingly read it with care since the greater part of this book was passed for press; and it shall have a judgment here, if not in the text. I am unable to find any redeeming point in it, except that some ingenuity is shown in bringing about the denouement by a rupture between the villain-hero and the villainess-heroine, M. le Vicomte de Valmont and Mme. la Marquise de Merteuil. Even this, though fairly craftsmanlike in treatment, is banal enough in idea—that idea being merely that jealousy, in both sexes, survives love, shame, and everything else, even community in scoundrelism—in other words, that the green-eyed monster (like "Vernon" and unlike "Ver") semper viret. But it is scarcely worth one's while to read six hundred pages of very small print in order to learn this. Of amusement, as apart from this very elementary instruction, I at least can find nothing. The pair above mentioned, on whom practically hangs the whole appeal, are merely disgusting. Their very voluptuousness is accidental: the sum and substance, the property and business of their lives and natures, are compact of mischief, malice, treachery, and the desire of "getting the better of somebody." Nor has this diabolism anything grand or impressive about it—anything that "intends greatly" and glows, as has been said, with a black splendour, in Marlowesque or Websterian fashion. Nor, again, is it a "Fleur du Mal" of the Baudelairian kind, but only an ugly as well as noxious weed. It is prosaic and suburban. There is neither tragedy nor comedy, neither passion nor humour, nor even wit, except a little horse-play. Congreve and Crebillon are as far off as Marlowe and Webster; in fact, the descent from Crebillon's M. de Clerval to Laclos' M. de Valmont is almost inexpressible. And, once more, there is nothing to console one but the dull and obvious moral that to adopt love-making as an "occupation" (vide text, p. 367) is only too likely to result in the [Greek: techne] becoming, in vulgar hands, very [Greek: banausos] indeed.
The victims and comparses of the story do nothing to atone for the principals. The lacrimose stoop-to-folly-and-wring-his-bosom Mme. de Tourvel is merely a bore; the ingenue Cecile de Volanges is, as Mme. de Merteuil says, a petite imbecile throughout, and becomes no better than she should be with the facility of a predestined strumpet; her lover, Valmont's rival, and Mme. de Merteuil's plaything, M. le Chevalier Danceny, is not so very much better than he should be, and nearly as much an imbecile in the masculine way as Cecile in the feminine; her respectable mother and Valmont's respectable aunt are not merely as blind as owls are, but as stupid as owls are not. Finally, the book, which in many particular points, as well as in the general letter-scheme, follows Richardson closely (adding clumsy notes to explain the letters, apologise for their style, etc.), exhibits most of the faults of its original with hardly any of that original's merits. Valmont, for instance, is that intolerable creature, a pattern Bad Man—a Grandison-Lovelace—a prig of vice. Indeed, I cannot see how any interest can be taken in the book, except that derived from its background of tacenda; and though no one, I think, who has read the present volume will accuse me of squeamishness, I can find in it no interest at all. The final situations referred to above, if artistically led up to and crisply told in a story of twenty to fifty pages, might have some; but ditchwatered out as they are, I have no use for them. The letter-form is particularly unfortunate, because, at least as used, it excludes the ironic presentation which permits one almost to fall in love with Becky Sharp, and quite to enjoy Jonathan Wild. Of course, if anybody says (and apologists do say that Laclos was, as a man, proper in morals and mild in manners) that to hold up the wicked to mere detestation is a worthy work, I am not disposed to argue the point. Only, for myself, I prefer to take moral diatribes from the clergy and aesthetic delectation from the artist. The avenging duel between Lovelace and Colonel Morden is finely done; that between Valmont and Danceny is an obvious copy of it, and not finely done at all. Some, again, of the riskiest passages in subject are made simply dull by a Richardsonian particularity which has no seasoning either of humour or of excitement. Now, a Richardson de mauvais lieu is more than a bore—it is a nuisance, not pure and simple, but impure and complex.
I have in old days given to a few novels (though, of course, only when they richly deserved it) what is called a "slating"—an ereintement—as I once had the honour of translating that word in conversation, at the request of a distinguished English novelist, for the benefit of a distinguished French one. Perhaps an example of the process is not utterly out of place in a History of the novel itself. But I have long given up reviewing fiction, and I do not remember any book of which I shall have to speak as I have just spoken. So hic caestus, etc.—though I am not such a coxcomb as to include victor in the quotation.
 For the opposite or corresponding reasons, it has seemed unnecessary to dwell on such persons, a hundred and more years later, as Voisenon and La Morliere, who are merely "corrupt followers" of Crebillon fils; or, between the two groups, on the numerous failures of the quasi-historical kind which derived partly from Mlle. de Scudery and partly from Mme. de la Fayette.
 That of the minor "Sensibility" novelists in the last chapter.
 I have once more to thank Professors Ker, Elton, and Gregory Smith for their kindness in reading my proofs and making most valuable suggestions; as well as Professor Fitzmaurice-Kelly and the Rev. William Hunt for information on particular points.
CHAPTER I PAGE
The early history of prose fiction—The late classical stage—A nexus of Greek and French romance?—the facts about the matter—The power and influence of the "Saint's Life"—The Legend of St. Eulalia—The St. Alexis.
THE MATTERS OF FRANCE, ROME, AND BRITAIN 9
The Chanson de Geste—The proportions of history and fiction in them—The part played by language, prosody, and manners—Some drawbacks—But a fair balance of actual story merit—Some instances of this—The classical borrowings: Troy and Alexander—Troilus—Alexander—The Arthurian Legend—Chrestien de Troyes and the theories about him—His unquestioned work—Comparison of the Chevalier a la Charette and the prose Lancelot—The constitution of the Arthuriad—Its approximation to the novel proper—Especially in the characters and relations of Lancelot and Guinevere—Lancelot—Guinevere—Some minor points—Illustrative extracts translated from the "Vulgate": the youth of Lancelot—The first meeting of Lancelot and Guinevere—The scene of the kiss—Some further remarks on the novel-character of the story—And the personages—Books.
ROMANS D'AVENTURES 55
Variety of the present group—Different views held of it—Partenopeus of Blois selected for analysis and translation.
THE BEGINNINGS OF PROSE FICTION 73
Prose novelettes of the thirteenth century: Aucassin et Nicolette not quite typical—L'Empereur Constant more so—Le Roi Flore et la Belle Jehane—La Comtesse de Ponthieu—Those of the fourteenth: Asseneth—Troilus—Foulques Fitzwarin—Something on these—And on the short story generally.
ALLEGORY, FABLIAU, AND PROSE STORY OF COMMON LIFE 89
The connection with prose fiction of allegory—And of the fabliaux—The rise of the nouvelle itself—Les Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles—Analysis of "La Demoiselle Cavaliere"—The interest of namea personages—Petit Jehan de Saintre—Jehan de Paris.
The anonymity, or at least impersonality, of authorship up to this point—Rabelais unquestionably the first very great known writer—But the first great novelist?—Some objections considered—And dismissed as affecting the general attraction of the book—Which lies, largely if not wholly, in its story-interest—Contrast of the Moyen de Parvenir—A general theme possible—A reference, to be taken up later, to the last Book—Running survey of the whole—Gargantua—The birth and education—The war—The Counsel to Picrochole—The peace and the Abbey of Thelema—Pantagruel I. The contrasted youth—Panurge—Short view of the sequels in Book II.—Pantagruel II. (Book III.) The marriage of Panurge and the consultations on it—Pantagruel III. (Book IV.) The first part of the voyage—Pantagruel IV. (Book V.) The second part of the voyage: the "Isle Sonnante"—"La Quinte"—The conclusion and The Bottle.
THE SUCCESSORS OF RABELAIS AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE "AMADIS" ROMANCES 134
Subsidiary importance of Brantome and other character-mongers—The Heptameron—Note on Montaigne—Character and "problems"—Parlamente on human and divine love—Desperiers—Contes et Joyeux Devis—Other tale-collections—The "provincial" character of these—The Amadis romances—Their characteristics—Extravagance in incident, nomenclature, etc.—The "cruel" heroine—Note on Helisenne de Crenne.
THE SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY NOVEL—I. 152
The Pastoral and Heroic Romance, and the Fairy Story.
Immense importance of the seventeenth century in our subject—The divisions of its contribution—Note on marked influence of Greek Romance—The Pastoral in general—Its beginnings in France—Minor romances preceding the Astree—Their general character—Examples of their style—Montreux and the Bergeries de Juliette—Des Escuteaux and his Amours Diverses—Francois de Moliere: Polyxene—Du Perier: Arnoult et Clarimonde—Du Croset: Philocalie—Corbin: Philocaste—Jean de Lannoi and his Roman Satirique—Beroalde de Verville outside the Moyen de Parvenir—The Astree: its author—The book—Its likeness to the Arcadia—Its philosophy and its general temper—Its appearance and its author's other work—Its character and appeals—Hylas and Stella and their Convention—Narrative skill frequent—The Fountain of the Truth of Love—Some drawbacks: awkward history—But attractive on the whole—The general importance and influence—The Grand Cyrus—Its preface to Madame de Longueville—The "Address to the Reader"—The opening of the "business"—The ups and downs of the general conduct of the story—Extracts: the introduction of Cyrus to Mandane—His soliloquy in the pavilion—The Fight of the Four Hundred—The abstract resumed—The oracle to Philidaspes—The advent of Araminta—Her correspondence with Spithridates—Some interposed comments—Analysis resumed—The statue in the gallery at Sardis—The judgment of Cyrus in a court of love—Thomyris on the warpath—General remarks on the book and its class—The other Scudery romances: Ibrahim—Almahide—Clelie—Perhaps the liveliest of the set—Rough outline of it—La Calprenede: his comparative cheerfulness—Cleopatre: the Cypassis and Arminius episode—The book generally—Cassandre—Faramond—Gomberville: La Caritee—Polexandre—Camus: Palombe, etc.—Hedelin d'Aubignac: Macarise—Gombauld: Endimion—Mme. de Villedieu—Le Grand Alcandre Frustre—The collected love-stories—Their historic liberties—Carmente, etc.—Her value on the whole—The fairy tale—Its general characteristics: the happy ending—Perrault and Mme. d'Aulnoy—Commented examples: Gracieuse et Percinet—L'Adroite Princesse—The danger of the "moral"—Yet often redeemed—The main Cabinet des Fees: more on Mme. d'Aulnoy—Warning against disappointment—Mlle. de la Force and others—The large proportion of Eastern Tales—Les Voyages de Zulma—Fenelon—Caylus—Prince Courtebotte et Princesse Zibeline—Rosanie—Prince Muguet et Princesse Zaza—Note on Le Diable Amoureux.
THE SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY NOVEL—II. 274
From "Francion" to "La Princesse de Cleves"—Anthony Hamilton.
The material of the chapter—Sorel and Francion—The Berger Extravagant and Polyandre—Scarron and the Roman Comique—The opening scene of this—Furetiere and the Roman Bourgeois—Nicodeme takes Javotte home from church—Cyrano de Bergerac and his Voyages—Mme. de la Fayette and La Princesse de Cleves—Its central scene—Hamilton and the Nymph—The opening of Fleur d'Epine—Les Quatre Facardins.
LESAGE, MARIVAUX, PREVOST, CREBILLON 325
The subjects of the chapter—Lesage: his Spanish connections—Peculiarity of his work generally—And its variety—Le Diable Boiteux—Lesage and Boileau—Gil Blas: its peculiar cosmopolitanism—And its adoption of the homme sensuel moyen fashion—Its inequality, in the Second and Fourth Books especially—Lesage's quality: not requiring many words, but indisputable—Marivaux: Les Effets de la Sympathie (?)—His work in general—Le Paysan Parvenu—Marianne: outline of the story—Importance of Marianne herself—Marivaux and Richardson: "Marivaudage"—Examples: Marianne on the physique and moral of Prioresses and Nuns—She returns the gift-clothes—Prevost—His minor novels: the opinions on them of Sainte-Beuve—And of Planche—The books themselves: Histoire d'une Grecque Moderne—Cleveland—Le Doyen de Killerine—The Memoires d'un Homme de Qualite—Its miscellaneous curiosities—Manon Lescaut—Its uniqueness—The character of its heroine—And that of the hero—The inevitableness of both and the inestimableness of their history—Crebillon fils—The case against him—For the defendant: the veracity of his artificiality and his consummate cleverness—The Crebillonesque atmosphere and method—Inequality of his general work; a survey of it.
THE PHILOSOPHE NOVEL 377
The use of the novel for "purpose"; Voltaire—General characteristics of his tales—Candide—Zadig and its satellites—Micromegas—L'Ingenu—La Princesse de Babylone—Some minors—Voltaire, the Kehl edition, and Plato—An attempt at different evaluation of himself—Rousseau: the novel character of the Confessions—The ambiguous position of Emile—La Nouvelle Heloise—Its numerous and grave faults—The minor characters—The delinquencies of Saint-Preux—And the less charming points of Julie; her redemption—And the better side of the book generally—But little probability of more good work in novel from its author—The different case of Diderot—His gifts and the waste of them—The various display of them—Le Neveu de Rameau—Jacques le Fataliste—Its "Arcis-Pommeraye" episode—La Religieuse—Its story—A hardly missed, if missed, masterpiece—The successors—Marmontel—His "Telemachic" imitations worth little—The best of his Contes Moraux worth a good deal—Alcibiade ou le Moi—Soliman the Second—The Four Flasks—Heureusement—Le Philosophe Soi-disant—A real advance in these—Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.
"SENSIBILITY." MINOR AND LATER NOVELISTS. THE FRENCH NOVEL, c. 1800 428
"Sensibility"—A glance at Miss Austen—The thing essentially French—Its history—Mme. de Tencin and Le Comte de Comminge—Mme. Riccoboni and Le Marquis de Cressy—Her other work: Milady Catesby—Mme. de Beaumont: Lettres du Marquis de Roselle—Mme. de Souza—Xavier de Maistre—His illustrations of the lighter side of Sensibility—A sign of decadence—Benjamin Constant: Adolphe—Mme. de Duras's "postscript"—Sensibilite and engouement—Some final words on the matter—Its importance here—Restif de la Bretonne—Pigault-Lebrun: the difference of his positive and relative importance—His life and the reasons for giving it—His general characteristics—L'Enfant du Carnaval and Les Barons de Felsheim—Angelique et Jeanneton—Mon Oncle Thomas—Jerome—The redeeming points of these—Others: Adelaide de Meran and Tableaux de Societe—L'Officieux—Further examples—Last words on him—The French novel in 1800.
CHRONOLOGICAL CONSPECTUS OF THE PRINCIPAL WORKS OF FRENCH FICTION NOTICED IN THIS VOLUME 475
BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTES 479
[Sidenote: The early history of prose fiction.]
Although I have already, in two places, given a somewhat precise account of the manner in which fiction in the modern sense of the term, and especially prose fiction, came to occupy a province in modern literature which had been so scantily and infrequently cultivated in ancient, it would hardly be proper to enter upon the present subject with a mere reference to these other treatments. It is matter of practically no controversy (or at least of none in which it is worth while to take a part) that the history of prose fiction, before the Christian era, is very nearly a blank, and that, in the fortunately still fairly abundant remains of poetic fiction, "the story is the least part" (as Dryden says in another sense), or at least the telling of the story, in our modern sense, is so. Homer (in the Odyssey at any rate), Herodotus (in what was certainly not intentional fiction at all), and Xenophon are about the only Greek writers who can tell a story, for the magnificent narrative of Thucydides in such cases as those of the Plague and the Syracusan cataclysm shows all the "headstrong" ethos of the author in its positive refusal to assume a "story" character. In Latin there is nothing before Livy and Ovid; of whom the one falls into the same category with Herodotus and Xenophon, and the other, admirable raconteur as he is, thinks first of his poetry. Scattered tales we have: "mimes" and other things there are some, and may have been more. But on the whole the schedule is not filled: there are no entries for the competition.
[Sidenote: The late classical stage.]
In later classical literature, both Greek and Latin, the state of things alters considerably, though even then it cannot be said that fiction proper—that is to say, either prose or verse in which the accomplishment of the form is distinctly subordinate to the interesting treatment of the subject—constitutes a very large department, or even any regular department at all. If Lucius of Patrae was a real person, and much before Lucian, he may dispute with Petronius—that first-century Maupassant or Meredith, or both combined—the actual foundation of the novel as we have it; but Lucian himself and Apuleius (strangely enough handling the same subject in the two languages) give securer and more solid starting-places. Yet nothing follows Apuleius; though some time after Lucian the Greek romance, of which we have still a fair number of examples (spread, however, over a still larger number of centuries), establishes itself in a fashion. It does one thing, indeed, which in a way refounds or even founds the whole conception—it establishes the heroine. There are certainly feminine persons, sometimes not disagreeable, who play conspicuous and by no means mute or unpractical parts in both Greek and Latin versions of the Ass-Legend; but one can hardly call them heroines. There need be no chicane about the application of that title to Chloe or to Chariclea, to Leucippe or to her very remarkable rival, to Anthia or to Hysmine. Without the heroine you can hardly have romance: the novel without her (though her individuality may be put in commission) is an absolute impossibility.
[Sidenote: A nexus of Greek and French romance? The facts about the matter.]
The connection between these curious performances (with the much larger number of things like them which we know to have existed) on the one side, and the Western mediaeval romance on the other, has been at various times matter of considerable controversy; but it need not trouble us much here. The Greek romance was to have very great influence on the French novel later: on the earlier composition, generally called by the same name as itself, it would seem to have had next to none. Until we come to Floire et Blanchefleur and perhaps Parthenopex, things of a comparatively late stage, obviously post-Crusade, and so necessarily exposed to, and pretty clearly patient of, Greek-Eastern influence, there is nothing in Old French which shows even the same kinship to the Greek stories as the Old English Apollonius of Tyre, which was probably or rather certainly in the original Greek itself. The sources of French "romance"—I must take leave to request a "truce of God" as to the application of that term and of "epic" for present purposes—appear to have been two—the Saint's Life and the patriotic or family saga, the latter in the first place indelibly affected by the Mahometan incursions of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries. The story-telling instinct—kindled by, or at first devoted to, these subjects—subsequently fastened on numerous others. In fact almost all was fish that came to the magic net of Romance; and though two great subjects of ours, the "Matter of Britain" (the Arthurian Legend) and the "Matter of Rome" (classical story generally, including the Tale of Troy), came traditionally to rank themselves with the "Matter of France" and with the great range of hagiology which it might have been dangerous to proclaim a fourth "matter" (even if anybody had been likely to take the view that it was so), these classifications are, like most of their kind, more specious than satisfactory.
[Sidenote: The power and influence of the "Saint's Life."]
Any person—though indeed it is to be feared that the number of such persons is not very large—who has some knowledge of hagiology and some of literature will admit at once that the popular notion of a Saint's Life being necessarily a dull and "goody" thing is one of the foolishest pieces of presumptuous ignorance, and one of the most ignorant pieces of foolish presumption. Not only have modern novelists sometimes been better informed and better inspired—as in the case of more than one version of the Legends of St. Mary of Egypt, of St. Julian, of Saint Christopher, and others—but there remain scores if not hundreds of beautiful things that have been wholly or all but wholly neglected. It is impossible to imagine a better romance, either in verse or in prose, than might have been made by William Morris if he had kept his earliest loves and faiths and had taken the variorum Legend of St. Mary Magdalene, as we have it in divers forms from quite early French and English to the fifteenth-century English Miracle Play on the subject. That of St. Eustace ("Sir Isumbras"), though old letters and modern art have made something of it, has also never been fully developed in the directions which it opens up; and one could name many others. But it has to be admitted that the French (whether, as some would say, naturally enough or not) never gave the Saint's Life pure and simple the development which it received in English. It started them—I at least believe this—in the story-telling way; but cross-roads, to them more attractive, soon presented themselves.
[Sidenote: The Legend of St. Eulalia.]
Still, it started them. I hope it is neither intolerably fanciful nor the mere device of a compiler anxious to make his arrows of all wood, to suggest that there is something noteworthy in the nature of the very first piece of actual French which we possess. The Legend of St. Eulalia can be tried pretty high; for we have the third hymn of the Peristephanon of Prudentius to compare it with. The metre of this
Germine nobilis Eulalia
is not one of the best, and contrasts ill with the stately decasyllables—perhaps the very earliest examples of that mighty metre that we have—which the infant daughter-tongue somehow devised for itself some centuries later. But Prudentius is almost always a poet, if a poet of the decadence, and he had as instruments a language and a prosody which were like a match rifle to a bow and arrows—not of yew and not cloth-yard shafts—when contrasted with the dialect and speech-craft of the unknown tenth-century Frenchman. Yet from some points of view, and especially from ours, the Anonymus of the Dark Ages wins. Prudentius spins out the story into two hundred and fifteen lines, with endless rhetorical and poetical amplification. He wants to say that Eulalia was twelve years old; but he actually informs us that
Curriculis tribus atque novem, Tres hyemes quater attigerat,
and the whole history of the martyrdom is attitudinised and bedizened in the same fashion.
Now listen to the noble simplicity of the first French poet and tale-teller:
A good maiden was Eulalia: fair had she the body, but the soul fairer. The enemies of God would fain conquer her—would fain make her serve the fiend. She listened not to the evil counsellors, that she should deny God, who abideth in Heaven aloft—neither for gold, nor for silver, nor for garments; for the royal threatenings, nor for entreaties. Nothing could ever bend the damsel so that she should not love the service of God. And for that reason she was brought before Maximian, who was the King in those days over the pagans. And he exhorted her—whereof she took no care—that she should flee from the name of Christian. But she assembled all her strength that she might rather sustain the torments than lose her virginity: for which reason she died in great honour. They cast her in the fire when it burnt fiercely: but she had no fault in her, and so it pained her [or she burnt] not.
To this would not trust the pagan king: but with a sword he bade them take off her head. The damsel did not gainsay this thing: she would fain let go this worldly life if Christ gave command. And in shape of a dove she flew to heaven. Let us all pray that she may deign to intercede for us; that Christ may upon us have mercy after death, and of His clemency may allow us to come to Him.
[Sidenote: The St. Alexis.]
Of course this is story-telling in its simplest form and on its smallest scale: but the essentials are there, and the non-essentials can be easily supplied—as indeed they are to some extent in the Life of St. Leger and to a greater in the Life of St. Alexis, which almost follow the Sainte-Eulalie in the making of French literature. The St. Alexis indeed provides something like a complete scheme of romance interest, and should be, though not translated (for it runs to between 600 and 700 lines), in some degree analysed and discussed. It had, of course, a Latin original, and was rehandled more than once or twice. But we have the (apparently) first French form, probably of the eleventh century. The theme is one of the commonest and one of the least sympathetic in hagiology. Alexis is forced by his father, a rich Roman "count," to marry; and after (not before) the marriage, though of course before its consummation, he deserts his wife, flies to Syria, and becomes a beggar at Edessa. After a time, long enough to prevent recognition, he goes back to Rome, and obtains from his own family alms enough to live on, though these alms are dispensed to him by the servants with every mark of contempt. At last he dies, and is recognised forthwith as a saint. This hackneyed and somewhat repulsive donnee (there is nothing repulsive to the present writer, let it be observed, either in Stylites or in Galahad) the French poet takes and makes a rather surprising best of it. He is not despicable even as a poet, all things considered; but he is something very different indeed from despicable as a tale-teller. To begin, or, strictly speaking, to end with (R. L. Stevenson never said a wiser thing than that the end must be the necessary result of, and as it were foretold in, the beginning), he has lessened if not wholly destroyed the jar of the situation by (most unusually and considering the mad chastity-worship of the time rather audaciously) associating the deserted wife directly with the Saint's "gustation of God" above:
Without doubt is St. Alexis in Heaven, With him has he God in the company of the Angels, With him the maiden to whom he made himself strange, Now he has her close to him—together are their souls, I know not how to tell you how great their joy is.
But there are earlier touches of that life which makes all literature, and tale-telling most of all. An opening on Degeneracy is scarcely one of these, for this was, of course, a commonplace millenniums earlier, and it had the recent belief about the approaching end of the world at the actual A.D. 1000 to prompt it. The maiden is "bought" for Alexis from her father or mother. Instead of the not unusual and rather distasteful sermons on virginity which later versions have, the future saint has at least the grace to accompany the return of the ring with only a few words of renunciation of his spouse to Christ, and of declaration that in this world "love is imperfect, life frail, and joy mutable." A far more vivid touch is given by the mother who, when search for the fugitive has proved futile, ruins the nuptial chamber, destroys its decorations, and hangs it with rags and sackcloth, and who, when the final discovery is made, reproaches the dead saint in a fashion which is not easy to reply to: "My son, why hadst thou no pity of us? Why hast thou not spoken to me once?" The bride has neither forgotten nor resented: she only weeps her deserter's former beauty, and swears to have no other spouse but God. The poem ends—or all but ends—in a hurly-burly of popular enthusiasm, which will hardly resign its new saint to Pope or Emperor, till at last, after the usual miracles of healing, the body is allowed to rest, splendidly entombed, in the Church of St. Boniface.
Now the man who could thus, and by many other touches not mentioned, run blood into the veins of mummies, could, with larger range of subject and wider choice of treatment, have done no small things in fiction.
But enough talk of might-have-beens: let us come to the things that were done.
 The article "Romance" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed.; and the volume on The English Novel in Messrs. Dent's series "Channels of English Literature," London, 1913.
 Plato (or Socrates?) does it only on a small scale and partially, though there are the makings of a great novelist in the Dialogues. Apollonius Rhodius is the next verse-tale teller to Homer among the prae-Christian Greeks.
 Virgil, in the only parts of the Aeneid that make a good story, is following either Homer or Apollonius.
 To me at least the seeming seems to approach demonstration; and I can only speak as I find, with all due apologies to those who find differently.
 There is, of course, a Latin "sequence" on the Saint which is nearer to the French poem; but that does not affect our present point.
 The literal "cooked," with no burlesque intention, was used of punitory burning quite early; but it is not certain that the transferred sense of cuire, "to pain," is not nearly or quite as old.
 Not the least interesting part of this is that it is almost sufficient by itself to establish the connection between Saint's Life and Romance.
 By a very curious touch he gives her also "les renges de s'espide," i.e. either the other ring by which the sword is attached to the sword-belt, or the belt itself. The meaning is, of course, that with her he renounces knighthood and all worldly rank.
 She addresses the room itself, dramatically enough: "Chamber! never more shalt thou bear ornament: never shall any joy in thee be enjoyed."
 Let me repeat that I mean no despite to the "Communion of Saints" or to their records—much the reverse. But the hand of any purpose, Religious, Scientific, Political, what not, is apt to mummify story.
THE MATTERS OF FRANCE, ROME, AND BRITAIN
It has been said already that the Saint's Life, as it seems most probable to the present writer, started the romance in France; but of course we must allow considerable reinforcement of one kind or another from local, traditional, and literary sources. The time-honoured distribution, also given already, of the "matter" of this romance does not concern us so much here as it would in a history of French literature, but it concerns us. We shall indeed probably find that the home-grown or home-fed Chanson de Geste did least for the novel in the wide sense—that the "Matter of Rome" chiefly gave it variety, change of atmosphere to some extent, and an invaluable connection with older literatures, but that the central division or "Matter of Britain," with the immense fringes of miscellaneous romans d'aventures—which are sometimes more or less directly connected with it, and are always moulded more or less on its patterns—gave most of all.
[Sidenote: The Chanson de Geste.]
Of these, however, what has been called the family or patriotic part was undoubtedly the earliest and for a long time the most influential. There is, fortunately, not the least need here to fight out the old battle of the cantilenae or supposed ballad-originals. I see no reason to alter the doubt with which I have always regarded their existence; but it really does not matter, to us, whether they existed or not, especially since we have not got them now. What we have got is a vast mass of narrative poetry, which latterly took actual prose form, and which—as early certainly as the eleventh century and perhaps earlier—turns the French faculty for narrative (whether it was actually or entirely fictitious narrative or not does not again matter) into channels of a very promising kind.
The novel-reader who has his wits and his memory about him may perhaps say, "Promising perhaps; but paying?" The answer must be that the promise may have taken some time to be fully liquidated, but that the immediate or short-dated payment was great. The fault of the Chansons de Geste—a fault which in some degree is to be found in French literature as a whole, and to a greater extent in all mediaeval literature—is that the class and the type are rather too prominent. The central conception of Charlemagne as a generally dignified but too frequently irascible and rather petulant monarch, surrounded by valiant and in a way faithful but exceedingly touchy or ticklish paladins, is no doubt true enough to the early stages of feudalism—in fact, to adapt the tag, there is too much human nature in it for it to be false. But it communicates a certain sameness to the chansons which stick closest to the model.
[Sidenote: The proportions of history and fiction in them.]
The exact relation of the Chansons de Geste to the subsequent history of French fiction is thus an extremely important one, and one that requires, not only a good deal of reading on which to base any opinion that shall not be worthless, but a considerable exercise of critical discretion in order to form that opinion competently. The present writer can at least plead no small acquaintance with the subject, and a full if possibly over-generous acknowledgment of his dealings with it on the part of some French authorities, living and dead, of the highest competence. But the attractions of the vast and strangely long ignored body of chanson literature are curiously various in kind, and they cannot be indiscriminately drawn upon as evidence of an early mastery of tale-telling proper on the part of the French as a nation.
There is indeed one solid fact, the importance of which can hardly be exaggerated in some ways, though it may be wrongly estimated in others. Here is not merely the largest part proportionately, but a very large bulk positively, of the very earliest part of a literature, devoted to a kind of narrative which, though some of it may be historic originally, is pretty certainly worked up into its concrete and extant state by fiction. The comparison with the two literatures which on the whole bear such comparison with French best—English and Greek—is here very striking. People say that there "must have been" many Beowulfs: it can hardly be said that we have so much as a positive assertion of the existence of even one other, though we have allusions and glances which have been amplified in the usual fashion. We have positive and not reasonably doubtful assertion of the existence of a very large body of more or less early Greek epic; but we have nothing existing except the Iliad and the Odyssey.
[Sidenote: The part played by language, prosody, and manners.]
On this fact, be it repeated, if we observe the canons of sound criticism in the process, too much stress in general cannot be laid. There must have been some more than ordinary nisus towards story-telling in a people and a language which produced, and for three or four centuries cherished, something like a hundred legends, sometimes of great length, on the single general subject of the exploits, sufferings, and what not of the great half-historical, half-legendary emperor a la barbe florie, of his son, and of the more legendary than historical peers, rebels, subjects, descendants, and "those about both" generally. And though the assertion requires a little more justification and allowance, there must have been some extraordinary gifts for more or less fictitious composition when such a vast body of spirited fictitious, or even half-fictitious, narrative is turned out.
But in this justification as to the last part of the contention a good deal of care has to be observed. It will not necessarily follow, because the metal is attractive, that its attractiveness is always of the kind purely belonging to fiction; and, as a matter of fact, a large part of it is not. Much is due to the singular sonority and splendour of the language, which is much more like Spanish than modern French, and which only a few poets of exceptional power have been able to reproduce in modern French itself. Much more is imparted by the equally peculiar character of the metre—the long tirades or laisses, assonanced or mono-rhymed paragraphs in decasyllables or alexandrines, which, to those who have once caught their harmony, have an indescribable and unparalleled charm. Yet further, these attractions come from the strange unfamiliar world of life and character described and displayed; from the brilliant stock epithets and phrases that stud the style as if with a stiff but glittering embroidery; and from other sources too many to mention here.
[Sidenote: Some drawbacks.]
Yet one must draw attention to the fact that all the named sources of the attraction, and may perhaps ask the reader to take it on trust that most of the unnamed, are not essentially or exclusively attractions of fiction—that they are attractions of poetry. And, on the other hand, while the weaving of so vast a web of actual fiction remains "to credit," there are not a few things to be set on the other side of the account. The sameness of the chanson story, the almost invariable recurrence of the stock motives and frameworks—of rebellion, treason, paynim invasion, petulance of a King's son, somewhat too "coming" affection of a King's daughter, tyrannical and Lear-like impotentia of the King himself, etc.—may be exaggerated, but cannot be denied. In the greatest of all by general acknowledgment, the far-famed Roland, the economy of pure story interest is pushed to a point which in a less unsophisticated age—say the twentieth instead of the twelfth or eleventh century—might be put down to deliberate theory or crotchet. The very incidents, stirring as they are, are put as it were in skeleton argument or summary rather than amplified into full story-flesh and blood; we see such heroine as there is only to see her die; even the great moment of the horn is given as if it had been "censored" by somebody. People, I believe, have called this brevity Homeric; but that is not how I read Homer.
In fact, so jealous are some of those who well and wisely love the chansons, that I have known objections taken to ranking as pure examples, despite their undoubted age and merit, such pieces as Amis et Amiles (for passion and pathos and that just averted tragedy which is so difficult to manage, one of the finest of all) and the Voyage a Constantinoble, the single early specimen of mainly or purely comic donnee. This seems to me, I confess, mere prudery or else mistaken logic, starting from the quite unjustifiable proposition that nothing that is not found in the Chanson de Roland ought to be found in any chanson. But we may admit that the "bones"—the simplest terms of the chanson-formula—hardly include varied interests, though they allow such interests to be clothed upon and added to them.
[Sidenote: But a fair balance of actual story merit.]
Despite this admission, however, and despite the further one that it is to the "romances" proper—Arthurian, classical, and adventurous—rather than to the chansons that one must look for the first satisfactory examples of such clothing and addition, it is not to be denied that the chansons themselves provide a great deal of it—whether because of adulteration with strictly "romance" matter is a question for debate in another place and not here. But it would be a singularly ungrateful memory which should, in this place, leave the reader with the idea that the Chanson de Geste as such is merely monotonous and dull. The intensity of the appeal of Roland is no doubt helped by that approach to bareness—even by a certain tautology—which has been mentioned. Aliscans, which few could reject as faithless to the type, contains, even without the family of dependent poems which cluster round it, a vivid picture of the valiant insubordinate warrior in William of Orange, with touches of comedy or at least horse-play.
[Sidenote: Some instances of this.]
The striking, and to all but unusually dull or hopelessly "modern" imaginations as unusually beautiful, centre-point of Amis et Amiles,—where one of the heroes, who has sworn a "white" perjury to save his friend and is punished for it by the terror, "white" in the other sense, of leprosy, is abandoned by his wife, and only healed by the blood of the friend's children, is the crowning instance of another set of appeals. The catholicity of a man's literary taste, and his more special capacity of appreciating things mediaeval, may perhaps be better estimated by his opinion of Amis et Amiles than by any other touchstone; for it has more appeals than this almost tragic one—a much greater development of the love-motive than either Roland or Aliscans, and a more varied interest generally. Its continuation, Jourdains de Blaivies, takes the hero abroad, as do many other chansons, especially two of the most famous, Huon de Bordeaux and Ogier de Danemarche. These two are also good—perhaps the best—examples of a process very much practised in the Middle Ages and leaving its mark on future fiction—that of expansion and continuation. In the case of Ogier, indeed, this process was carried so far that enquiring students have been known to be sadly disappointed in the almost total disconnection between William Morris's beautiful section of The Earthly Paradise and the original French, as edited by Barrois in the first attempt to collect the chansons seventy or eighty years ago. The great "Orange" subcycle, of which Aliscans is the most famous, extends in many directions, but is apt in all its branches to cling more to "war and politics." William of Orange is in this respect partly matched by Garin of Lorraine. No chanson retained its popularity, in every sense of that word, better than the Quatre Fils d'Aymon—the history of Renaut de Montauban and his brothers and cousin, the famous enchanter-knight Maugis. As a "boy's book" there is perhaps none better, and the present writer remembers an extensive and apparently modern English translation which was a favourite "sixty years since." Berte aux grands Pies, the earliest form of a well-known legend, has the extrinsic charm of being mentioned by Villon; while there is no more agreeable love-story, on a small scale and in a simple tone, than that of Doon and Nicolette in Doon de Mayence. And not to make a mere catalogue which, if supported by full abstracts of all the pieces, would be inordinately bulky and would otherwise convey little idea to readers, it may be said that the general chanson practice of grouping together or branching out the poems (whichever metaphor be preferred) after the fashion of a family-tree involves of itself no inconsiderable call on the tale-telling faculties. That the writers pay little or no attention to chronological and other possibilities is hardly much to say against them; if this be an unforgivable sin it is not clear how either Dickens or Thackeray is to escape damnation, with Sir Walter to greet them in their uncomfortable sojourn.
But it is undoubtedly true that the almost exclusive concentration of the attention on war prevents the attainment of much detailed novel-interest. Love affairs—some glanced at above—do indeed make, in some of the chansons, a fuller appearance than the flashlight view of lost tragedy which we have in Roland. But until the reflex influence of the Arthurian romance begins to work, they are, though not always disagreeable or ungraceful, of a very simple and primitive kind, as indeed are the delineations of manners generally.
* * * * *
[Sidenote: The classical borrowings—Troy and Alexander.]
The "matter of Rome the Great," as the original text has it (though, in fact, Rome proper has little to do with the most important examples of the class), adds very importantly to the development of romance, and through that, of novel. Its bulk is considerable, and its examples have interest of various kinds. But for us this interest is concentrated upon, if not exclusively confined to, the two great groups (undertaken by, and illustrated in, the three great literary languages of the earlier Middle Ages, and, as usual, most remarkably and originally in French) of the Siege of Troy and the life of Alexander. It should be almost enough to say of the former that it introduced, with practically nothing but the faintest suggestion from really classical sources, the great romance-novel of the loves of Troilus and Cressida to the world's literature; and of the second, that it gives us the first instance of the infusion of Oriental mystery and marvel that we can discern in the literature of the West. For details about the books which contain these things, their authors and their probable sources and development, the reader must, as in other cases, look elsewhere. It is only our business here to say something about the general nature of the things themselves and about the additions that they made to the capital, and in some cases almost to the "plant," of fiction.
That the Troilus and Cressida romance, with its large provision and its more large suggestion of the accomplished love-story, evolved from older tale-tellers by Boccaccio and Chaucer and Henryson and Shakespeare, is not a pure creation of the earlier Middle Ages, few people who patiently attend to evidence can now believe. Even in the wretched summaries of the Tale of Troy by Dictys and Dares (which again no such person as the one just described can put very early), the real novel-interest—even the most slender romance-interest—is hardly present at all. Benoit de Sainte-More in the twelfth century may not have actually invented this; it is one of the principles of this book, as of all that its writer has written, that the quest of the inventor of a story is itself the vainest of inventions. But it is certain that nobody hitherto has been able to "get behind him," and it is still more certain that he has given enough base for the greater men who followed to build upon. If he cannot be credited with the position of the pseudo-Callisthenes (see below) in reference to the Alexander story, he may fairly share that of his contemporary Geoffrey of Monmouth, if not even of Nennius, as regards that of Arthur. The situation, or rather the group of situations, is of the most promising and suggestive kind, negatively and positively. In the first place the hero and heroine are persons about whom the great old poets of the subject have said little or nothing; and what an immense advantage this is all students of the historical novel of the last hundred years know. In the second, the way in which they are put in action (or ready for action) is equally satisfactory, or let us say stimulating. In a great war a prince loves a noble lady, who by birth and connections belongs to the enemy, and after vicissitudes, which can be elaborated according to the taste and powers of the romancer, gains her love. But the course of this love is interrupted by her surrender or exchange to the enemy themselves; her beauty attracts, nay has already attracted, the fancy of one of the enemy's leaders, and being not merely a coquette but a light-o'-love she admits his addresses. Her punishment follows or does not follow, is accomplished during the life of her true lover or not, according again to the taste and fancy of the person who handles the story. But the scheme, even at its simplest, is novel-soil: marked out, matured, manured, and ready for cultivation, and the crops which can be grown on it depend entirely upon the skill of the cultivator.
For all this some would, as has been said above, see sufficient suggestion in the Greek Romance. I have myself known the examples of that Romance for a very long time and have always had a high opinion of it; but except what has been already noticed—the prominence of the heroine—I can see little or nothing that the Mediaeval romance could possibly owe to it, and as a matter of fact hardly anything else in common between the two. In the last, and to some extent the most remarkable (though very far from the best if not nearly the worst), of the Greek Romances, the Hysminias and Hysmine of Eustathius, we have indeed got to a point in advance, taking that word in a peculiar sense, even of Troilus at its most accomplished, that is to say, the Marinism or Marivaudage, if not even the Meredithese, of language and sentiment. But Hysminias and Hysmine is probably not older than Benoit de Sainte-More's story, and as has just been said, Renaissance, nay post-Renaissance, not Mediaeval in character. We must, of course, abstain from "reading back" Chaucer or even Boccaccio into Benoit or into his probable plagiarist Guido de Columnis; but there is nothing uncritical or wrong in "reading forward" from these to the later writers. The hedge-rose is there, which will develop into, and serve as a support for, the hybrid perpetual—a term which could itself be developed in application, after the fashion of a mediaeval moralitas. And when we have actually come to Pandaro and Deiphobus, to the "verse of society," as it may be called in a new sense, of the happier part of Chaucer and to the intense tragedy of the later part of Henryson, then we are in the workshop, if not in the actual show-room, of the completed novel. It would be easy, as it was not in the case of the chansons, to illustrate directly by a translation, either here from Benoit or later from the shortened prose version of the fourteenth century, which we also possess; but it is not perhaps necessary, and would require much space.
The influence of the Alexander story, though scarcely less, is of a widely different kind. In Troilus, as has been said, the Middle Age is working on scarcely more than the barest hints of antiquity, which it amplifies and supplements out of its own head and its own heart—a head which can dream dream-webs of subtlest texture unknown to the ancients, and a heart which can throb and bleed in a fashion hardly shown by any ancient except Sappho. With the Alexander group we find it much more passively recipient, though here also exercising its talent for varying and amplification. The controversies over the pseudo-Callisthenes, "Julius Valerius," the Historia de Praeliis, etc., are once more not for us; but results of them, which have almost or quite emerged from the state of controversy, are. It is certain that the appearance, in the classical languages, of the wilder legends about Alexander was as early at least as the third century after Christ—that is to say, long before even "Dark" let alone "Middle" Ages were thought of—and perhaps earlier. There seems to be very little doubt that these legends were of Egyptian or Asiatic origin, and so what we vaguely call "Oriental." They long anticipated the importing afresh of such influences by the Crusades, and they must, with all except Christians and Jews (that is to say, with the majority), have actually forestalled the Oriental influence of the Scriptures. Furthermore, when Mediaeval France began to create a new body of European literature, the Crusades had taken place; the appetite for things Oriental and perhaps we should say the half-imaginative power of appreciating them, had become active; and a considerable amount of literature in the vernacular had already been composed. It was not wonderful, therefore, that the trouveres should fly upon this spoil. By not the least notable of the curiosities of literature in its own class, they picked out a historical but not very important episode—the siege of Gaza and Alexander's disgraceful cruelty to its brave defender—and made of this a regular Chanson de Geste (in all but "Family" connection), the Fuerres de Gadres, a poem of several thousand lines. But the most generally popular (though sometimes squabbled over) parts of the story, were the supposed perversion of Olympias, not by the God Ammon but by the magician-king Nectanabus personating the God and becoming thereby father of the Hero; the Indian and some other real campaigns (the actual conquest of Persia was very slightly treated), and, far above all, the pure Oriental wonder-tales of the descent into the sea, the march to the Fountain of Youth, and other myths of the kind.
Few things can be more different than the story-means used in these two legends; yet it must be personal taste rather than strict critical evaluation which pronounces one more important to the development of the novel than the other. There is a little love interest in the Alexander poems—the heroine of this part being Queen Candace—but it is slight, episodic, and rudimentary beside the complex and all-absorbing passions which, when genius took the matter in hand, were wrought out of the truth of Troilus and the faithlessness of Cressid. The joys of fighting or roaming, of adventure and quest, and above all those of marvel, are the attractions which the Alexander legend offers, and who shall say that they are insufficient? At any rate no one can deny that they have been made the seasoning, if not the stuff and substance, of an enormous slice of the romance interest, and of a very large part of that of the novel.
[Sidenote: The Arthurian Legend.]
It is scarcely necessary to speak of other classical romances, and it is of course very desirable to keep in mind that the Alexander story, in no form in which we have it, attempts any strictly novel interest; while though that interest is rife in some forms of "Troilus," those forms are not exactly of the period, and are in no case of the language, with which we are dealing. It was an Italian, an Englishman, and a Scot who each in his own speech—one in the admirable vulgar tongue, of which at that time and as a finished thing, Italian was alone in Europe as possessor; the others in the very best of Middle English, and, as some think, almost the best of Middle Scots verse—displayed the full possibilities of Benoit's story. But the third "matter," the matter of Britain or (in words better understanded of most people) the Arthurian Legend, after starting in Latin, was, as far as language went, for some time almost wholly French, though it is exceedingly possible that at least one, if not more, of its main authors was no Frenchman. And in this "matter" the exhibition of the powers of fiction—prose as well as verse—was carried to a point almost out of sight of that reached by the Chansons, and very far ahead of any contemporary treatment even of the Troilus story.
[Sidenote: Chrestien de Troyes and the theories about him.]
Before, however, dealing with this great Arthurian story as a stage in the history of the Novel-Romance in and by itself, we must come to a figure which, though we have very little substantial knowledge of it, there is some reason for admitting as one of the first named and "coted" figures in French literature, at least as regards fiction in verse. It is well known that the action of modern criticism is in some respects strikingly like that of the sea in one of the most famous and vivid passages of Spenser's unequalled scene-painting in words with musical accompaniment of them. It delights in nothing so much as in stripping one part of the shore of its belongings, and hurrying them off to heap upon another part. Chrestien de Troyes is one of the lucky personages who have benefited, not least and most recently, by this fancy. It is true that the actual works attributed to him have remained the same—his part of the shore has not been actually extended like part of that of the Humber. But it has had new riches, honours, and decorations heaped upon it till it has become, in the actual Spenserian language of another but somewhat similar passage (111. iv. 20), a "rich strond" indeed. Until a comparatively recent period, the opinion entertained of Chrestien, by most if not all competent students of him, was pretty uniform, and, though quite favourable, not extraordinarily high. He was recognised as a past-master of the verse roman d'aventures in octosyllabic couplet, who probably took his heterogeneous materials wherever he found them; "did not invent much" (as Thackeray says of Smollett), but treated whatever he did treat in a singularly light and pleasant manner, not indeed free from the somewhat undistinguished fluency to which this "light and lewed" couplet, as Chaucer calls it, is liable, and showing no strong grasp either of character or of plot, but on the whole a very agreeable writer, and a quite capital example of the better class of trouvere, far above the improvisatore on the one hand and the dull compiler on the other; but below, if not quite so far below, the definitely poetic poet.
To an opinion something like this the present writer, who formed it long ago, not at second hand but from independent study of originals, and who has kept up and extended his acquaintance with Chrestien, still adheres.
Of late, however, as above suggested, "Chrestiens" have gone up in the market to a surprising extent. Some twenty years ago the late M. Gaston Paris announced and, with all his distinguished ability and his great knowledge elaborately supported, his conclusions, that the great French prose Arthurian romances (which had hitherto been considered by the best authorities, including his own no less admirable father, M. Paulin Paris, slightly anterior to the poet of Troyes, and in all probability the source of part at least of his work) were posterior and probably derivative. Now this, of itself, would of course to some extent put up Chrestien's value. But it, and the necessary corollaries from it, as originality and so forth, by no means exhaust the additional honours and achievements which have been heaped upon Chrestien by M. Paris and by others who have followed, more or less accepted, and in some cases bettered his ascriptions. In the first and principal place, there has been a tendency, almost general, to dethrone Walter Map from his old position as the real begetter of the completed Arthurian romance, and to substitute the Troyan. Then, partly in support, but also to some extent, I think, independently of this immense ennoblement, discoveries have been made of gifts and graces in Chrestien himself, which had entirely escaped the eyes of so excellent a critic, so erudite a scholar, and so passionate a lover of Old French literature as the elder M. Paris, and which continue to be invisible to the far inferior gifts and knowledge, but if I may dare to say so, the equal good will and the not inconsiderable critical experience, of the present historian.
Now with large parts of this matter we have, fortunately enough, nothing to do, and the actual authorship of the great Arthurian conception, namely, the interweaving of the Graal story on the one hand and the loves of Lancelot and Guinevere on the other, with the Geoffrey of Monmouth matter, concerns us hardly at all. But some have gone even further than has been yet hinted in the exaltation of Chrestien. They have discovered in him—"him-by-himself-him"—as the author of his actual extant works and not as putative author of the real Arthuriad, not merely a pattern example of the court trouvere—as much as this, or nearly as much, has been admitted here—but almost the inventor of romance and even of something very like novel, a kind of mediaeval Scott-Bulwer-Meredith, equally great at adventure, fashion, and character-analysis; subject only, and that not much, to the limitations of the time. In fact, if I do not do some of these panegyrists injustice, we ought to have a fancy bust of Chrestien, with the titles of his works gracefully inscribed on the pedestal, as a frontispiece to this book, if not even a full-length statue, robed like a small St. Ursula, and like her in Memling's presentation at Bruges, sheltering in its ample folds the child-like figures of future French novelists and romancers, from the author of Aucassin et Nicolette to M. Anatole France.
Again, some fifty years of more or less critical reading of novels of all ages and more than one or two languages, combined with nearly forty years reading of Chrestien himself and a passion for Old French, leave the present writer quite unable to rise to this beatific vision. But let us, before saying any more what Chrestien could or could not do, see, in the usual cold-blooded way, what he did.
[Sidenote: His unquestioned work.]
The works attributed to this very differently, though never unfavourably, estimated tale-teller—at least those which concern us—are Percevale le Gallois, Le Chevalier a la Charette, Le Chevalier au Lyon, Erec et Enide, Cliges, and a much shorter Guillaume d'Angleterre. This last has nothing to do with the Conqueror (though the title has naturally deceived some), and is a semi-mystical romance of the group derived from the above-mentioned legend of St. Eustace, and represented in English by the beautiful story of Sir Isumbras. It is very doubtfully Chrestien's, and in any case very unlike his other work; but those who think him the Arthurian magician might make something of it, as being nearer the tone of the older Graal stories than the rest of his compositions, even Percevale itself. Of these, all, except the Charette, deal with what may be called outliers of the Arthurian story. Percevale is the longest, but its immense length required, by common confession, several continuators; the others have a rather uniform allowance of some six or seven thousand lines. Cliges is one of the most "outside" of all, for the hero, though knighted by Arthur, is the disinherited heir of Constantinople, and the story is that of the recovery of his kingdom. Erec, as the second part of the title will truly suggest, though the first may disguise it, gives us the story of the first of Tennyson's original Idylls. The Chevalier au Lyon is a delightful romance of the Gawain group, better represented by its English adaptation, Ywain, than any other French example. Percevale and the Charette touch closest on the central Arthurian story, and the latter has been the chief battlefield as to Chrestien's connection therewith, some even begging the question to the extent of adopting for it the title Lancelot.
[Sidenote: Comparison of the Chevalier a la Charette and the prose Lancelot.]
The subject is the episode, well known to English readers from Malory, of the abduction of Guinevere by Meleagraunce, the son of King Bagdemagus; of the inability of all knights but Lancelot (who has been absent from Court in one of the lovers' quarrels) to rescue her; and of his undertaking the task, though hampered in various ways, one of the earliest of which compelled him to ride in a cart—a thing regarded, by one of the odd conventions of chivalry, as disgraceful to a knight. Meleagraunce, though no coward, is treacherous and "felon," and all sorts of mishaps befall Lancelot before he is able for the second time to conquer his antagonist, and finally to take his over and over again forfeited life. But long before this he has arrived at the castle where Guinevere is imprisoned; and has been enabled to arrange a meeting with her at night, which is accomplished by wrenching out the bars of her window. The ill chances and quiproquos which result from his having cut his hands in the proceeding (though the actual visit is not discovered), and the arts by which Meleagraunce ensnares the destined avenger for a time, lengthen out the story till, by the final contest, Meleagraunce goes to his own place and the Queen is restored to hers.
Unfortunately the blots of constant tautology and verbiage, with not infrequent flatness, are on all this gracious story as told by Chrestien. Among the traps and temptations which are thrown in Lancelot's way to the Queen is one of a highly "sensational" nature. In the night Lancelot hears a damsel, who is his hostess, though he has refused her most thorough hospitality, shrieking for assistance; and on coming to the spot finds her in a situation demanding instant help, which she begs, if the irreparable is not to happen. But the poet not only gives us a heavily figured description of the men-at-arms who bar the way to rescue, but puts into the mouth of the intending rescuer a speech (let us be exact) of twenty-eight lines and a quarter, during which the just mentioned irreparable, if it had been seriously meant, might have happened with plenty of time to spare. So, in the crowning scene (excellently told in Malory), where the lover forces his way through iron bars to his love, reckless of the tell-tale witness of his bleeding hands, the circumlocutions are plusquam Richardsonian—and do not fall far short of a serious anticipation of Shakespeare's burlesque in A Midsummer Night's Dream. The mainly gracious description is spoilt by terrible bathetics from time to time. Guinevere in her white nightdress and mantle of scarlet and camus on one side of the bars, Lancelot outside, exchanging sweet salutes, "for much was he fain of her and she of him," are excellent. The next couplet, or quatrain, almost approaches the best poetry. "Of villainy or annoy make they no parley or complaint; but draw near each other so much at least that they hold each other hand by hand." But what follows? That they cannot come together vexes them so immeasurably that—what? They blame the iron work for it. This certainly shows an acute understanding and a very creditable sense of the facts of the situation on the part of both lovers; but it might surely have been taken for granted. Also, it takes Lancelot forty lines to convince his lady that when bars are in your way there is nothing like pulling them out of it. So in the actual pulling-out there is the idlest exaggeration and surplusage; the first bar splits one of Lancelot's fingers to the sinews and cuts off the top joint of the next. The actual embraces are prettily and gracefully told (though again with otiose observations about silence), and the whole, from the knight's coming to the window to his leaving it, takes 150 lines. Now hear the prose of the so-called "Vulgate Lancelot."
"And he came to the window: and the Queen, who waited for him, slept not, but came thither. And the one threw to the other their arms, and they felt each other as much as they could reach. "Lady," said Lancelot, "if I could enter yonder, would it please you?" "Enter," said she, "fair sweet friend? How could this happen?" "Lady," said he, "if it please you, it could happen lightly." "Certainly," said she, "I should wish it willingly above everything." "Then, in God's name," said he, "that shall well happen. For the iron will never hold." "Wait, then," said she, "till I have gone to bed." Then he drew the irons from their sockets so softly that no noise was made and no bar broke."
In this simple prose, sensuous and passionate for all its simplicity, is told the rest of the story. There are eighteen lines of it altogether in Dr. Sommer's reprint, but as these are long quarto lines, let us multiply them by some three to get the equivalent of the "skipping octosyllables." There will remain fifty to a hundred and fifty, with, in the prose, some extra matter not in the verse. But the acme of the contrast is reached in these words of the prose, which answer to some forty lines of the poet's watering-out. "Great was the joy that they made each other that night, for long had each suffered for the other. And when the day came, they parted." Beat that who can!
Many years ago, and not a few before M. Gaston Paris had published his views, I read these two forms of the story in the valuable joint edition, verse and prose, of M. Jonckbloet, which some ruffian (may Heaven not assoil him!) has since stolen or hidden from me. And I said then to myself, "There is no doubt which of these is the original." Thirty years later, with an unbroken critical experience of imaginative work in prose and verse during the interval, I read them again in Dr. Forster's edition of the verse and Dr. Sommer's of the prose, and said, "There is less doubt than ever." That the prose should have been prettified and platitudinised, decorated and diluted into the verse is a possibility which we know to be not only possible but likely, from a thousand more unfortunate examples. That the contrary process should have taken place is practically unexampled and, especially at that time, largely unthinkable. At any rate, whosoever did it had a much greater genius than Chrestien's.
This is no place to argue out the whole question, but a single particular may be dealt with. The curiously silly passage about the bars above given is a characteristic example of unlucky and superfluous amplification of the perfectly natural question and answer of the prose, "May I come to you?" "Yes, but how?" an example to be paralleled by thousands of others at the time and by many more later. Taken the other way it would be a miracle. Prose abridgers of poetry did not go to work like that in the twelfth-thirteenth century—nor, even in the case of Charles Lamb, have they often done so since.
It is, however, very disagreeable to have to speak disrespectfully of a writer so agreeable in himself and so really important in our story as Chrestien. His own gifts and performances are, as it seems to me, clear enough. He took from this or that source—his selection of the Erec and Percivale matters, if not also that of Yvain, suggests others besides the, by that time as I think, concentrated Arthurian story—and from the Arthuriad itself the substance of the Chevalier a la Charette. He varied and dressed them up with pleasant etceteras, and in especial, sometimes, though not always, embroidered the already introduced love-motive with courtly fantasies and with a great deal of detail. I should not be at all disposed to object if somebody says that he, before any one else, set the type of the regular verse Roman d'aventures. It seems likely, again, from the pieces referred to above, that he may have had originals more definitely connected with Celtic sources, if not actually Celtic themselves, than those which have given us the mighty architectonic of the "Vulgate" Arthur. In his own way and place he is a great and an attractive figure—not least in the history of the novel. But I can see nothing in him that makes me think him likely, and much that makes me think him utterly unlikely, to be the author of what I conceive to be the greatest, the most epoch-making, and almost the originating conception of the novel-romance itself. Who it was that did conceive this great thing I do not positively know. All external evidence points to Walter Map; no internal evidence, that I have seen, seems to me really to point away from him. But if any one likes let us leave him a mere Eidolon, an earlier "Great Unknown." Our business is, once more, with what he, whoever he was, did.
[Sidenote: The constitution of the Arthuriad.]
The multiplicity of things done, whether by "him" or "them," is astonishing; and it is quite possible, indeed likely, that they were not all done by the same person. Mediaeval continuators (as has been seen in the case of Chrestien) worked after and into the work of each other in a rather uncanny fashion; and the present writer frankly confesses that he no more knows where Godfrey de Lagny took up the Charette, or the various other sequelists the Percevale, from Chrestien than he would have known, without confession, the books of the Odyssey done by Mr. Broome and Mr. Fenton from those done by Mr. Pope. The grand-oeuvre is the combination of Lancelot as (1) lover of the Queen; (2) descendant of the Graalwards; (3) author, in consequence of his sin, of the general failure of the Round Table Graal-Quest; (4) father of its one successful but half-unearthly Seeker; (5) bringer-about (in more ways than one) of the intestine dissension which facilitates the invasion of Mordred and the foreigners and so the Passing of Arthur, of his own rejection by the repentant Queen, and of his death. As regards minor details of plot and incident there have to be added the bringing in of the pre-Round Table part of the story by Lancelot's descent from King Ban and his connections with King Bors, both Arthur's old allies, and both, as we may call them, "Graal-heirs"; the further connection with the Merlin legend by Lancelot's fostering under the Lady of the Lake; the exaltation, inspiring, and, as it were, unification of the scattered knight-adventures through Lancelot's constant presence as partaker, rescuer, and avenger; the human interest given to the Graal-Quest (the earlier histories being strikingly lacking in this) by his failure, and a good many more. But above all there are the general characters of the knight and the Queen to make flesh and blood of the whole.
Not merely the exact author or authors, but even the exact source or sources of this complicated, fateful, and exquisite imagination are, once more, not known. Years ago it was laid down finally by the most competent of possible authorities (the late Sir John Rhys) that "the love of Lancelot and Guinevere is unknown to Welsh literature." Originals for the "greatest knight" have been sought by guesswork, by idle play on words and names, if not also by positive forgery, in that Breton literature which does not exist. There do exist versions of the story in which Lancelot plays no very prominent part, and there is even one singular version—certainly late and probably devised by a proper moral man afraid of scandal—which makes Lancelot outlive the Queen, quite comfortably continuing his adventurous career (this is perhaps the "furthest" of the Unthinkable in literature), and (not, it may be owned, quite inconsistently) hints that the connection was merely Platonic throughout. These things are explicable, but better negligible. For my own part I have always thought that the loves of Tristram and Iseult (which, as has been said, were originally un-Arthurian) suggested the main idea to the author of it, being taken together with Guinevere's falseness with Mordred in the old quasi-chronicle, and perhaps the story of the abduction by Melvas (Meleagraunce), which seems to be possibly a genuine Welsh legend. There are in the Tristram-Iseult-Mark trio quite sufficient suggestions of Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur; while the far higher plane on which the novice-novelist sets his lovers, and even the very interesting subsequent exaltation of Tristram and Iseult themselves to familiarity and to some extent equality with the other pair, has nothing critically difficult in it.
But this idea, great and promising as it was, required further fertilisation, and got it from another. The Graal story is (once more, according to authority of the greatest competence, and likely if anything to be biassed the other way) pretty certainly not Welsh in origin, and there is no reason to think that it originally had anything to do with Arthur. Even after it obeyed the strange "suck" of legends towards this centre whirlpool, or Loadstone Rock, of romance, it yielded nothing intimately connected with the Arthurian Legend itself at first, and such connection as succeeded seems pretty certainly to be that of which Percevale is the hero, and an outlier, not an integral part. But either the same genius (as one would fain hope) as that which devised the profane romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, or another, further grafted or inarched the sacred romance of the Graal and its Quest with the already combined love-and-chivalry story. Lancelot, the greatest of knights, and of the true blood of the Graal-guardians, ought to accomplish the mysteries; but he cannot through sin, and that sin is this very love for Guinevere. The Quest, in which (despite warning and indeed previous experience) he takes part, not merely gives occasion for adventures, half-mystical, half-chivalrous, which far exceed in interest the earlier ones, but directly leads to the dispersion and weakening of the Round Table. And so the whole draws together to an end identical in part with that of the Chronicle story, but quite infinitely improved upon it.
[Sidenote: Its approximation to the novel proper.]
Now not only is there in this the creation of the novel in posse, of the romance in esse, but it is brought about in a curiously noteworthy fashion. A hundred years and more later the greatest known writer of the Middle Ages, and one of the three or four greatest of the world, defined the subjects of poetry as Love, War, and Religion, or in words which we may not unfairly translate by these. The earlier master recognised (practically for the first time) that the romance—that allotropic form (as the chemists might say) of poetry—must deal with the same. Now in these forms of the Arthurian legend, which are certainly anterior to the latter part of the twelfth century, there is a great deal of war and a good deal of religion, but these motives are mostly separated from each other, the earlier forms of the Arthur story having nothing to do with the Graal, and the earlier forms of the Graal story—so far as we can see—nothing, or extremely little, to do with Arthur. Nor had Love, in any proper and passionate sense of the word, anything to do with either. Women and marriage and breaches of marriage appear indeed; but the earlier Graal stories are dominated by the most ascetic virginity-worship, and the earlier Arthur-stories show absolutely nothing of the passion which is the subject of the magnificent overture of Mr. Swinburne's Tristram. Even this story of Tristram himself, afterwards fired and coloured by passion, seems at first to have shown nothing but the mixture of animalism, cruelty, and magic which is characteristic of the Celts. Our magician of a very different gramarye, were he Walter or Chrestien or some third—Norman, Champenois, Breton, or Englishman (Welshman or Irishman he pretty certainly was not)—had therefore before him, if not exactly dry bones, yet the half-vivified material of a chronicle of events on the one hand and a mystical dream-sermon on the other. He, or a French or English Pallas for him, had to "think of another thing."