HotFreeBooks.com
The English Novel
by George Saintsbury
1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE ENGLISH NOVEL

BY

GEORGE SAINTSBURY

PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH

LONDON: J.M. DENT & SONS LTD. BEDFORD STREET, STRAND 1913 NEW YORK: E.P. BUTTON & CO.



PREFACE

It is somewhat curious that there is, so far as I know, no complete handling in English of the subject of this volume, popular and important though that subject has been. Dunlop's History of Fiction, an excellent book, dealt with a much wider matter, and perforce ceased its dealing just at the beginning of the most abundant and brilliant development of the English division. Sir Walter Raleigh's English Novel, a book of the highest value for acute criticism and grace of style, stops short at Miss Austen, and only glances, by a sort of anticipation, at Scott. The late Mr. Sidney Lanier's English Novel and the Principle of its Development is really nothing but a laudatory study of "George Eliot," with glances at other writers, including violent denunciations of the great eighteenth-century men. There are numerous monographs on parts of the subject: but nothing else that I know even attempting the whole. I should, of course, have liked to deal with so large a matter in a larger space: but one may and should "cultivate the garden" even if it is not a garden of many acres in extent. I need only add that I have endeavoured, not so much to give "reviews" of individual books and authors, as to indicate what Mr. Lanier took for the second part of his title, but did not, I think, handle very satisfactorily in his text.

I may perhaps add, without impropriety, that the composition of this book has not been hurried, and that I have taken all the pains I could, by revision and addition as it proceeded, to make it a complete survey of the Novel, as it has come from the hands of all the more important novelists, not now alive, up to the end of the nineteenth century.

GEORGE SAINTSBURY.

Christmas, 1912.



CONTENTS

CHAP.

I. THE FOUNDATION IN ROMANCE II. FROM LYLY TO SWIFT III. THE FOUR WHEELS OF THE NOVEL WAIN IV. THE MINOR AND LATER EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY NOVEL V. SCOTT AND MISS AUSTEN VI. THE SUCCESSORS—TO THACKERAY VII. THE MID-VICTORIAN NOVEL VIII. THE FICTION OF YESTERDAY—CONCLUSION

INDEX



THE ENGLISH NOVEL



CHAPTER I

THE FOUNDATION IN ROMANCE

One of the best known, and one of the least intelligible, facts of literary history is the lateness, in Western European Literature at any rate, of prose fiction, and the comparative absence, in the two great classical languages, of what we call by that name. It might be an accident, though a rather improbable one, that we have no Greek prose fiction till a time long subsequent to the Christian era, and nothing in Latin at all except the fragments of Petronius and the romance of Apuleius. But it can be no accident, and it is a very momentous fact, that, from the foundation of Greek criticism, "Imitation," that is to say "Fiction" (for it is neither more nor less), was regarded as not merely the inseparable but the constituent property of poetry, even though those who held this were doubtful whether poetry must necessarily be in verse. It is another fact of the greatest importance that the ancients who, in other forms than deliberate prose fiction, try to "tell a story," do not seem to know very well how to do it.

The Odyssey is, indeed, one of the greatest of all stories, it is the original romance of the West; but the Iliad, though a magnificent poem, is not much of a story. Herodotus can tell one, if anybody can, and Plato (or Socrates) evidently could have done so if it had lain in his way: while the Anabasis, though hardly the Cyropaedia, shows glimmerings in Xenophon. But otherwise we must come down to Lucian and the East before we find the faculty. So, too, in Latin before the two late writers named above, Ovid is about the only person who is a real story-teller. Virgil makes very little of his story in verse: and it is shocking to think how Livy throws away his chances in prose. No: putting the Petronian fragments aside, Lucian and Apuleius are the only two novelists in the classical languages before about 400 A.D.: and putting aside their odd coincidence of subject, it has to be remembered that Lucian was a Syrian Greek and Apuleius an African Latin. The conquered world was to conquer not only its conqueror, but its conqueror's teacher, in this youngest accomplishment of literary art.

It was probably in all cases, if not certainly, mixed blood that produced the curious development generally called Greek Romance. It is no part of our business to survey, in any detail, the not very numerous but distinctly interesting compositions which range in point of authorship from Longus and Heliodorus, probably at the meeting of the fourth and fifth centuries, to Eustathius in the twelfth. At one time indeed, when we may return to them a little, we shall find them exercising direct and powerful influence on modern European fiction, and so both directly and indirectly on English: but that is a time a good way removed from the actual beginning of our journey. Still, Apollonius of Tyre, which is probably the oldest piece of English prose fiction that we have, is beyond all doubt derived ultimately from a Greek original of this very class: and the class itself is an immense advance, in the novel direction, upon anything that we have before. It is on the one hand essentially a "romance of adventure," and on the other essentially a "love-story"—in senses to which we find little in classical literature to correspond in the one case and still less in the other. Instead of being, like Lucius and the Golden Ass, a tissue of stories essentially unconnected and little more than framed by the main tale, it is, though it may have a few episodes, an example of at least romantic unity throughout, with definite hero and definite heroine, the prominence and importance of the latter being specially noteworthy. It is in fact the first division of literature in which the heroine assumes the position of a protagonist. If it falls short in character, so do even later romances to a great extent: if dialogue is not very accomplished, that also was hardly to be thoroughly developed till the novel proper came into being. In the other two great divisions, incident and description, it is abundantly furnished. And, above all, the two great Romantic motives, Adventure and Love, are quite maturely present in it.

To pass to the deluge, and beyond it, and to come to close quarters with our proper division, the origin of Romance itself is a very debatable subject, or rather it is a subject which the wiser mind will hardly care to debate much. The opinion of the present writer—the result, at least, of many years' reading and thought—is that it is a result of the marriage of the older East and the newer (non-classical) West through the agency of the spread of Christianity and the growth and diffusion of the "Saint's Life." The beginnings of Hagiology itself are very uncertain: but what is certain is that they are very early: and that as the amalgamation or leavening of the Roman world with barbarian material proceeded, the spread of Christianity proceeded likewise. The Vision of St. Paul—one of the earliest examples and the starter it would seem, if not of the whole class of sacred Romances, at any rate of the large subsection devoted to Things after Death—has been put as early as "before 400 A.D." It would probably be difficult to date such legends as those of St. Margaret and St. Catherine too early, having regard to their intrinsic indications: and the vast cycle of Our Lady, though probably later, must have begun long before the modern languages were ready for it, while that of the Cross should be earlier still. And let it be remembered that these Saints' Lives, which are still infinitely good reading, are not in the least confined to homiletic necessities. The jejuneness and woodenness from which the modern religious story too often suffers are in no way chargeable upon all, or even many, of them. They have the widest range of incident—natural as well as supernatural: their touches of nature are indeed extended far beyond mere incident. Purely comic episodes are by no means wanting: and these, like the parallel passages in the dramatising of these very legends, were sure to lead to isolation of them, and to a secular continuation.

But, once more, we must contract the sweep, and quicken the pace to deal not with possible origins, but with actual results—not with Ancient or Transition literature, but with the literature of English in the department first of fiction generally and then, with a third and last narrowing, to the main subject of English fiction in prose.

The very small surviving amount, and the almost completely second-hand character, of Anglo-Saxon literature have combined to frustrate what might have been expected from another characteristic of it—the unusual equality of its verse and prose departments. We have only one—not quite entire but substantive—prose tale in Anglo-Saxon, the version of the famous story of Apollonius of Tyre, which was to be afterwards declined by Chaucer, but attempted by his friend and contemporary Gower, and to be enshrined in the most certain of the Shakespearean "doubtfuls," Pericles. It most honestly gives itself out as a translation (no doubt from the Latin though there was an early Greek original) and it deals briefly with the subject. But as an example of narrative style it is very far indeed from being contemptible: and in passages such as Apollonius' escape from shipwreck, and his wooing of the daughter of Arcestrates, there is something which is different from style, and with which style is not always found in company—that faculty of telling a story which has been already referred to. Nor does this fail in the narrative portions of the prose Saints' Lives and Homilies, especially Aelfric's, which we possess; in fact it is in these last distinctly remarkable—as where Aelfric tells the tale of the monk who spied on St. Cuthbert's seaside devotions. The same faculty is observable in Latin work, not least in Bede's still more famous telling of the Caedmon story, and of the vision of the other world.

But these faculties have better chance of exhibiting themselves in the verse division of our Anglo-Saxon wreckage. Beowulf itself consists of one first-rate story and one second-rate but not despicable tale, hitched together more or less anyhow. The second, with good points, is, for us, negligible: the first is a "yarn" of the primest character. One may look back to the Odyssey itself without finding anything so good, except the adventures of the Golden Ass which had all the story-work of two mightiest literatures behind them. As literature on the other hand, Beowulf may be overpraised: it has been so frequently. But let anybody with the slightest faculty of "conveyance" tell the first part of the story to a tolerably receptive audience, and he will not doubt (unless he is fool enough to set the effect down to his own gifts and graces) about its excellence as such. There is character—not much, but enough to make it more than a mere story of adventure—and adventure enough for anything; there is by no means ineffectual speech—even dialogue—of a kind: and there is some effective and picturesque description. The same faculties reappear in such mere fragments as that of Waldhere and the "Finnsburgh" fight: but they are shown much more fully in the Saints' Lives—best of all in the Andreas, no doubt, but remarkably also (especially considering the slender amount of "happenings") in the Guthlac and the Juliana. In fact the very fragments of Anglo-Saxon poetry, by a sort of approximation which they show to dramatic narrative and which with a few exceptions is far less present in the classics, foretell much more clearly and certainly than in the case of some other foretellings which have been detected in them, the future achievements of English literature in the department of fiction. The Ruin (the finest thing perhaps in all Anglo-Saxon) is a sort of background study for something that might have been much better than The Last Days of Pompeii: and The Complaint of Deor, in its allusion to the adventures of the smith Weland and others, makes one sorry that some one more like the historian of a later and decadent though agreeable Wayland the Smith, had not told us the tale that is now left untold. A crowd of fantastic imaginings or additions, to supply the main substance, and a certain common-sense grasp of actual conditions and circumstances to set them upon, and contrast them with—these are the great requirements of Fiction in life and character. You must mix prose and poetry to get a good romance or even novel. The consciences of the ancients revolted from this mixture of kinds; but there was no such revolt in the earlier moderns, and least of all in our own mediaeval forefathers.

So few people are really acquainted with the whole range of Romance (even in English), or with any large part of it, that one may without undue presumption set down in part, if not in whole, to ignorance, a doctrine and position which we must now attack. This is that romance and novel are widely separated from each other; and that the historian of the novel is really straying out of his ground if he meddles with Romance. These are they who would make our proper subject begin with Marivaux and Richardson, or at earliest with Madame de La Fayette, who exclude Bunyan altogether, and sometimes go so far as to question the right of entry to Defoe. But the counter-arguments are numerous: and any one of them would almost suffice by itself. In the first place the idea of the novel arising so late is unnatural and unhistorical: these Melchisedecs without father or mother are not known in literature. In the second a pedantic insistence on the exclusive definition of the novel involves one practical inconvenience which no one, even among those who believe in it, has yet dared to face. You must carry your wall of partition along the road as well as across it: and write separate histories of Novel and Romance for the last two centuries. The present writer can only say that, though he has dared some tough adventures in literary history, he would altogether decline this. Without the help of the ants that succoured Psyche against Venus that heap would indeed be ill to sort.

But there is a third argument, less practical in appearance but bolder and deeper, which is really decisive of the matter, though few seem to have seen it or at least taken it up. The separation of romance and novel—of the story of incident and the story of character and motive—is a mistake logically and psychologically. It is a very old mistake, and it has deceived some of the elect: but a mistake it is. It made even Dr. Johnson think Fielding shallower than Richardson; and it has made people very different from Dr. Johnson think that Count Tolstoi is a greater analyst and master of a more developed humanity than Fielding. As a matter of fact, when you have excogitated two or more human beings out of your own head and have set them to work in the narrative (not the dramatic) way, you have made the novel in posse, if not in esse, from its apparently simplest development, such as Daphnis and Chloe, to its apparently most complex, such as the Kreutzer Sonata or the triumphs of Mr. Meredith. You have started the "Imitation"—the "fiction"—and tout est la. The ancients could do this in the dramatic way admirably, though on few patterns; in the poetical way as admirably, but again not on many. The Middle Ages lost the dramatic way almost entirely, but they actually improved the poetical on its narrative side, and the result was Romance. In every romance there is the germ of a novel and more; there is at least the suggestion and possibility of romance in every novel that deserves the name. In the Tristram story and the Lancelot cycle there are most of the things that the romancer of incident and the novelist of character and motive can want or can use, till the end of the world; and Malory (that "mere compiler" as some pleasantly call him) has put the possibilities of the latter and greater creation so that no one who has eyes can miss them. Nor in the beginning does it much or at all matter whether the vehicle was prose or verse. In fact they mostly wrote in verse because prose was not ready.

In the minor romances and tales (taking English versions only) from Havelok to Beryn there is a whole universe of situation, scenario, opportunity for "business." That they have the dress and the scene-backing of one particular period can matter to no one who has eyes for anything beyond dress and scene-backing. And when we are told that they are apt to run too much into grooves and families, it is sufficient to answer that it really does not lie in the mouth of an age which produces grime-novels, problem-novels, and so forth, as if they had been struck off on a hectograph, possessing the not very exalted gift of varying names and places—to reproach any other age on this score. But we have only limited room here for generalities and still less for controversy; let us turn to our proper work and survey the actual turn-out in fiction—mostly as a result of mere fashion, verse, but partly prose—which the Middle Ages has left us as a contribution to this department of English literature.

It has been said that few people know the treasures of English romance, yet there is little excuse for ignorance of them. It is some century since Ellis's extremely amusing, if sometimes rather prosaic, book put much of the matter before those who will not read originals; to be followed in the same path by Dunlop later, and much later still by the invaluable and delightful Catalogue of [British Museum] Romances by Mr. Ward. It is nearly as long since the collections of Ritson and Weber, soon supplemented by others, and enlarged for the last forty years by the publications of the Early English Text Society, put these originals themselves within the reach of everybody who is not so lazy or so timid as to be disgusted or daunted by a very few actually obsolete words and a rather large proportion of obsolete spellings, which will yield to even the minimum of intelligent attention. Only a very small number (not perhaps including a single one of importance) remain unprinted, though no doubt a few are out of print or difficult to obtain. The quality and variety of the stories told in them are both very considerable, even without making allowance for what has been called the stock character of mediaeval composition. That almost all are directly imitated from the French is probable enough, that most are is certain: but this matters, for our purpose, nothing at all. That the imitation was not haphazard or indiscriminate is obvious. Thus, though we have some, we have not very many representatives of the class which was the most numerous of all in France—the chansons de geste or stories of French legendary history, national or family. Except as far as the Saracens are concerned, they would naturally have less interest for English hearers. The Matiere de Rome, again—the legends of antiquity—though represented, is not very abundant outside of the universally popular Tale of Troy; and the almost equally popular Alexander legend does not occupy a very large part of them. What is perhaps more remarkable is that until Malory exercised his genius upon "the French book," the more poetical parts of the "matter of Britain" itself do not seem to have been very much written about in English. The preliminary stuff about Merlin and Vortigern exists in several handlings; the foreign campaigns of Arthur seem always (perhaps from national vanity) to have been popular. The "off"-branches of Tristram and Percivale, and not a few of the still more episodic romances of adventures concerning Gawain, Iwain, and other knights, receive attention. The execrable Lonelich or Lovelich, who preceded Malory a little, had of course predecessors in handling the other parts of the Graal story. But the crown and flower of the whole—the inspiration which connected the Round Table and the Graal and the love of Lancelot and Guinevere—though, so far as the present writer's reading and opinion are of any weight, the recent attempts to deprive the Englishman, Walter Map, of the honour of conceiving it are of no force—seems to have waited till the fifteenth century—that is to say the last part of three hundred years—before Englishmen took it up. Most popular of all perhaps, on the principle that in novels the flock "likes the savour of fresh grass," seem to have been the pure romans d'aventures—quite unconnected or nearly so with each other or with any of the larger cycles. Those adventures of particular heroes have sometimes a sort of Arthurian link, but they really have no more to do with the main Arthurian story than if Arthur were not.

For the present purpose, however, filiation, origin, and such-like things are of much less importance than the actual stories that get themselves told to satisfy that demand which in due time is to produce the supply of the novel. Of these the two oldest, as regards the actual forms in which we have them, are capital examples of the more and less original handling of "common-form" stories or motives. They were not then, be it remembered, quite such common-form as now—the rightful heir kept out of his rights, the usurper of them, the princess gracious or scornful or both by turns, the quest, the adventure, the revolutions and discoveries and fights, the wedding bells and the poetical justice on the villain. Let it be remembered, too, if anybody is scornful of these as vieux jeu, that they have never been really improved upon except by the very obvious and unoriginal method common in clever-silly days, of simply reversing some of them, of "turning platitudes topsy-turvy," as not the least gifted, or most old-fashioned, of novelists, Tourguenief, has it. Perhaps the oldest of all, Havelok the Dane—a story the age of which from evidence both internal and external, is so great that people have not quite gratuitously imagined a still older Danish or even Anglo-Saxon original for the French romance from which our existing one is undoubtedly taken—is one of the most spirited of all. Both hero and heroine—Havelok, who should be King of Denmark and Goldborough, who should be Queen of England—are ousted by their treacherous guardian-viceroys as infants; and Havelok is doomed to drowning by his tutor, the greater or at least bolder villain of the two. But the fisherman Grim, who is chosen as his murderer, discovers that the child has, at night, a nimbus of flame round his head; renounces his crime and escapes by sea with the child and his own family to Grimsby. Havelok, growing up undistinguished from his foster-brethren, takes service as a scullion with the English usurper. This usurper is seeking how to rid himself of the princess without violence, but in some way that will make her succession to the crown impossible, and Havelok having shown prowess in sports is selected as the maiden's husband. She, too, discovers his royalty at night by the same token; and the pair regain their respective inheritances and take vengeance on their respective traitors, in a lively and adventurous fashion. There are all the elements of a good story in this: and they are by no means wasted or spoilt in the actual handling. It is not a mere sequence of incident; from the mixture of generosity and canniness in the fisherman who ascertains that he is to have traitor's wages before he finally decides to rescue Havelok, to the not unnatural repugnance of Goldborough at her forced wedding with a scullion, the points where character comes in are not neglected, though of course the author does not avail himself of them either in Shakespearean or in Richardsonian fashion. They are there, ready for development by any person who may take it into his head to develop them.

So too is it in the less powerful and rather more cut and dried King Horn. Here the opening is not so very different; the hero's father is murdered by pirate invaders, and he himself set adrift in a boat. But in this the princess (daughter of course of the king who shelters him) herself falls in love with Horn, and there is even a scene of considerable comic capabilities in which she confides this affection by mistake to one of his companions (fortunately a faithful one) instead of to himself. But Horn has a faithless friend also; and rivals, and adventures, and journeys; and returns just in the nick of time, and recognitions by rings, and everything that can properly be desired occur. In these—even more perhaps than in Havelok's more masculine and less sentimental fortunes—there are openings not entirely neglected by the romancer (though, as has been said, he does not seem to have been one of the strongest of his kind) for digression, expatiation, embroidery. Transpose these two stories (as the slow kind years will teach novelists inevitably to do) into slightly different keys, introduce variations and episodes and codas, and you have the possibilities of a whole library of fiction, as big and as varied as any that has ever established itself for subscribers, and bigger than any that has ever offered itself as one collection to buyers.

The love-stories of these two tales are what it is the fashion—exceedingly complimentary to the age referred to if not to the age of the fashion itself—to call "mid-Victorian" in their complete "propriety." Indeed, it is a Puritan lie, though it seems to possess the vivaciousness of its class, that the romances are distinguished by "bold bawdry." They are on the contrary rather singularly pure, and contrast, in that respect, remarkably with the more popular folk-tale. But fiction, no more than drama, could do without the [Greek: amarthia]—the human and not unpardonable frailty. This appears in, and complicates, the famous story of Tristram, which, though its present English form is probably younger than Havelok and Horn, is likely to have existed earlier: indeed must have done so if Thomas of Erceldoune wrote on the subject. Few can require to be told that beautiful and tragical history of "inauspicious stars" which hardly any man, of the many who have handled it in prose and verse, has been able to spoil. Our Middle English form is not consummate, and is in some places crude in manner and in sentiment. But it is notable that the exaggerated and inartistic repulsiveness of Mark, resorted to by later writers as a rather rudimentary means of exciting compassion for the lovers, is not to be found here; in fact, one of the most poetical touches in the piece is one of sympathy for the luckless husband, when he sees the face of his faithless queen slumbering by her lover's side with the sun on it. "And Mark rewed therefore." The story, especially in its completion with the "Iseult of Brittany" part and the death of Tristram, gives scope for every possible faculty and craftsmanship of the most analytic as of the most picturesque novelist of modern times. There is nothing in the least like it in ancient literature; and to get a single writer who would do it justice in modern times we should have to take the best notes of Charles Kingsley, and Mr. Blackmore, and Mr. Meredith, leaving out all their faults, and combine. It is not surprising that, in the very infancy of the art, nobody in German or French, any more than in English (though the German here is, as it happens, the best), should have done it full justice; but it is a wonder that a story of such capacities should have been sketched, and even worked out in considerable detail, so early.

Of the far greater story of which Tristram is a mere episode and hardly even that—a chantry or out-lying chapel of the great cathedral—the Arthurian Legend, the earlier English versions, or rather the earlier versions in English, are, as has been said, not only fragmentary but disappointing. There is nothing in the least strange in this, even though (as the present writer, who can speak with indifferent knowledge, still firmly holds) the conception of the story itself in its greatest and unifying stage is probably if not certainly English. The original sources of the story of Arthur are no doubt Celtic; they give themselves out as being so, and there is absolutely no critical reason for disbelieving them. But in these earlier forms—the authority of the most learned Celticists who have any literary gift and any appreciation of evidence is decisive on this point—not only are the most characteristic unifying features—the Graal story and the love of Lancelot and Guinevere—completely wanting, but the great stroke of genius—the connection of these two and the subordination of all minor legends as to the dim national hero, Arthur, with those about him—is more conspicuously wanting still. Whether it was the Englishman Walter Map, the Norman Robert de Borron, or the Frenchman Chrestien de Troyes, to whom this flash of illumination came, has never been proved—will pretty certainly now never be proved. M. Gaston Paris failed to do it; and it is exceedingly unlikely that, where he failed, any one else will succeed, unless the thrice and thirty times sifted libraries of Europe yield some quite unexpected windfall. In the works commonly attributed to Chrestien, all of which are well known to the present writer, there is no sign of his having been able to conceive this, though he is a delightful romancer. Robert is a mere shadow; and his attributed works, as his works, are shadows too, though they are interesting enough in themselves. Walter not only has the greatest amount of traditional attribution, but is the undoubted author of De Nugis Curialium. And the author of De Nugis Curialium, different as it is from the Arthurian story, could have finally divined the latter.

But at the time when he wrote, Englishmen, with the rarest exceptions, wrote only in French or Latin; and when they began to write in English, a man of genius, to interpret and improve on him, was not found for a long time. And the most interesting parts of the Arthurian story are rarely handled at all in such early vernacular versions of it as we have, whether in verse or prose. Naturally enough, perhaps, it was the fabulous historic connection with British history, and the story of the great British enchanter Merlin, that attracted most attention. The Arthour and Merlin which is in the Auchinleck MS.; the prose Merlin, published by the Early English Text Society; the alliterative Thornton Morte d'Arthur, and others, are wont to busy themselves about the antecedents of the real story—about the uninteresting wars of the King himself with Saxons, and Romans, and giants, and rival kings, rather than with the great chivalric triple cord of Round Table, Graal, and Guinevere's fault. The pure Graal poems, Joseph of Arimathea, the work of the abominable Lonelich or Lovelich, etc., deal mainly with another branch of previous questions—things bearable as introductions, fillings-up, and so forth, but rather jejune in themselves. The Scots Lancelot is later than Malory himself, and of very little interest. Layamon's account, the oldest that we have, adds little (though what little it does add is not unimportant) to Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace; and tells what it has to tell with nearly as little skill in narrative as in poetry. Only the metrical Morte—from which, it would appear, Malory actually transprosed some of his most effective passages in the manner in which genius transproses or transverses—has, for that reason, for its dealings with the catastrophe, and for the further opportunity of comparison with Tennyson, interest of the higher kind. But before we come to Malory himself it is desirable to turn to the branches—the chapels, as we have called them, to the cathedral—which he also, in some cases at least, utilised in the magnum opus of English prose romance.

These outliers were rather more fortunate, probably for no more recondite reason than that the French originals (from which they were in almost every instance certainly taken) were finished in themselves. Of the special Gawain cycle or sub-cycle we have two romances in pure metrical form, and more than two in alliterative, which are above the average in interest. Ywain and Gawain, one of the former, is derived directly or indirectly from the Chevalier au Lyon of Chrestien de Troyes; and both present some remarkable affinities with the unknown original of the "Sir Beaumains" episode of Malory, and, through it, with Tennyson's Gareth and Lynette. The other, Lybius Disconus (Le Beau Deconnu) is also concerned with that courteous nephew of Arthur who, in later versions of the main story, is somewhat sacrificed to Lancelot. For a "real romance," as it calls itself (though it is fair to say that in the original the word means "royal"), of the simpler kind but extremely well told, there are not many better metrical specimens than Ywain and Gawain, but it has less character-interest, actual or possible, than those which have been commented on. The hero, King Urien's son, accepts an adventure in which another knight of the Table, Sir Colgrevance, has fared ill, after it has been told in a conversation at court which is joined in first by the Queen and afterwards by the King. Sir Kay here shows his usual cross-grainedness; and Guinevere "with milde mood" requests to know "What the devil is thee within?" The adventure is of a class well known in romance. You ride to a certain fountain, pour water from it on a stone, and then, after divers marvels, have to do battle with a redoubtable knight. Colgrevance has fared badly; Kay is as usual quite sure that he would fare better; but Ywain actually undertakes the task. He has a tough battle with the knight who answers the challenge, but wounds him mortally; and when the knight flies to his neighbouring castle, is so hard on his heels that the portcullis actually drops on his horse's haunches just behind the saddle, and cuts the beast in two. Ywain is thus left between the portcullis and the (by this time shut) door—a position all the more awkward that the knight himself expires immediately after he has reached shelter. The situation is saved, however, by the guardian damsel of romance, Lunet (the Linet or Lynette of the Beaumains-Gareth story), who emerges from a postern between gate and portcullis and conveys the intruder safe to her own chamber. Here a magic bed makes him invisible: though the whole castle, including the very room, is ransacked by the dead knight's people and would-be revengers, at the bidding of his widow.

This widow, however, is rather an Ephesian matron. The sagacious Lunet, whose confidante she is, suggests to her that, unless she enlists some doughty knight as her champion, the king will confiscate her fief; and that there is no champion like a husband. A very little more finesse effects the marriage, even though the lady is made aware of the identity of her new lover and her own husband's slayer. (It is of course necessary to remember that the death of a combatant in fairly challenged and fought single contest was not reckoned as any fault to his antagonist.) Ywain actually shows his prowess against the King: and has an opportunity of showing Kay once more that it is one thing to blame other people for failing, and another to succeed yourself. And after this the newly married pair live together happily for a time. But it was reckoned a fault in a knight to take too prolonged a honeymoon: and Ywain, after what the French call adieux dechirants, obtains leave for the usual "twelvemonth and a day," at the expiration of which, on St. John's Eve, he is without fail to return, the engagement being sealed by the gift from his lady of a special ring. He forgets his promise of course: and at the stated time a damsel appears, sternly demands the ring, and announces her lady's decision to have nothing further to do with him. There is in such cases only one thing for any true knight, from Sir Lancelot to Sir Amadis, to do: and that is to go mad, divest himself of his garments, and take to the greenwood. This Ywain duly does, supporting himself at first on the raw flesh of game which he kills with a bow and arrows wrested from a chance-comer; and then on less savage but still simple food supplied by a benevolent hermit. As he lies asleep under a tree, a lady rides by with attendants, and one of these (another of the wise damsels of romance) recognises him as Sir Ywain. The lady has at the time sore need of a champion against a hostile earl, and she also fortunately possesses a box of ointment infallible against madness, which Morgane la Faye has given her. With this the damsel is sent back to anoint Ywain. He comes to his senses, is armed and clothed, undertakes the lady's defence, and discomfits the earl: but is as miserable as ever. Resisting the lady's offer of herself and all her possessions, he rides off once more "with heavy heart and dreary cheer."

Soon he hears a hideous noise and, riding in its direction, finds that a dragon has attacked a lion. He succours the holier beast, kills the dragon, and though he has unavoidably wounded the lion in the melee is thenceforth attended by him not merely as a food-provider, but as the doughtiest of squires and comrades in fight. To aggravate his sorrow he comes to the fountain and thorn-tree of the original adventure, and hears some one complaining in the chapel hard by. They exchange questions. "A man," he said, "some time I was" (which must be one of the earliest occurrences in English of a striking phrase), and the prisoner turns out to be Lunet. She has been accused of treason by the usual steward (it is very hard for a steward of romance to be good) and two brothers—of treason to her lady, and is to be burnt, unless she can find a knight who will fight the three. Ywain agrees to defend her: but before he can carry out his promise he has, on the same morning, to meet a terrible giant who is molesting his hosts at a castle where he is guested. Both adventures, however, are achieved on the same day, with very notable aid from the lion: and Ywain undertakes a fresh one, being recruited by the necessary damsel-messenger, against two half-fiend brother knights. They stipulate that the lion is to be forcibly prevented from interfering, and he is locked up in a room; but, hearing the noise of battle, he scratches up the earth under the door, frees himself, and once more succours his master at the nick of time. Even this does not expiate Ywain's fault: and yet another task falls to him—the championship of the rights of the younger of a pair of sisters, the elder of whom has secured no less a representative than Gawain himself. The pair, unknowing and unknown, fight all day long before Arthur's court with no advantage on either side: and when the light fails an interchange of courtesies leads to recognition and the settlement of the dispute. Now the tale is nearly full. Ywain rides yet again to the magic fountain and performs the rite; there is no one to meet him; the castle rocks and the inmates quake. But the crafty Lunet persuades her mistress to swear that if the Knight of the Lion, who has fallen at variance with his lady, will come to the rescue, she will do all she can to reconcile the pair. Which not ill-prepared "curtain" duly falls: leaving us comfortably assured that Ywain and his Lady and Lunet and the Lion (one wishes that these two could have made a match of it, and he must surely have been a bewitched knight) lived happily

"Until that death had driven them down."

This, it has been said, is a specimen of the pure romance; with little except incident in it, and a touch or two of manners. It does not, as the others noticed above do, lend itself much to character-drawing. But it is spiritedly told; though rougher, it is much more vigorous than the French original; and the mere expletives and stock phrases, which are the curse of these romances, do not obtrude themselves too much. In this respect, and some others, it is the superior of the one coupled above with it, Lybius Disconus, which is closer, except in names, to the Beaumains story. Still, this also is not a bad specimen of the same class. The hero of it is a son, not a brother, of Gawain, comes nameless or nicknamed, but as "Beaufils," not "Beaumains," to Arthur's court, and is knighted at once, not made to go through the "kitchen-knave" stage. Accordingly, the damsel Elene (not Lunet), to whom he is assigned as champion in the adventure of the Lady of Sinadowne, objects only to his novelty of knighthood and is converted by his first victory. The course of the adventures is, however, different from that which some people know from Malory, and many from Tennyson. One of them is farcical: the Fair Unknown rescues a damsel at her utmost need from two giants, a red and a black, one of whom is roasting a wild boar and uses the animal as a weapon, with the spit in it, for the combat. Moreover, he falls a victim to the wiles of a sorceress-chatelaine whom he has also succoured: and it is only after the year and day that Elene goads him on to his proper quest. But this also is no bad story.

The limits of this volume admit of not much farther "argument" (though the writer would very gladly give it) of these minor romances of adventure, Arthurian and other. Ellis's easily accessible book supplies abstracts of the main Arthurian story before Malory; of the two most famous, though by no means best, of all the non-Arthurian romances, Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton (the former of which was handled and rehandled from age to age, moralised, curtailed, lengthened, and hashed up in every form); of the brilliant and vigorous Richard Coeur-de-Lion; of the less racy Charlemagne romances in English; of the Seven Wise Masters, brought from the East and naturalised all over Europe; of the delightful love story of Florice and Blancheflour; of that powerful and pathetic legend of the Proud King (Robert of Sicily), which Longfellow and Mr. William Morris both modernised, each in his way; of those other legends, Sir Isumbras and Amis and Amillion, which are so beautiful to those who can appreciate the mediaeval mind, and to the beauty of which others seem insensible; of Sir Triamond and Sir Eglamour (examples of the romance at its weakest); of the exceedingly spirited and interesting Ipomydon, and of some others, including the best of Scotch romances, Sir Eger, Sir Grame, and Sir Graysteel. But Ellis could not know others, and he left alone yet others that he might have known—the exquisite Sir Launfal of Thomas Chester at the beginning of the fifteenth century, where an unworthy presentment of Guinevere is compensated by the gracious image of Launfal's fairy love; the lively adventures of William of Palerne, who had a werewolf for his friend and an emperor's daughter for his love, eloping with her in white bear-skins, the unusual meat of which was being cooked in her father's kitchen; Sir Orfeo—Orpheus and Eurydice, with a happy ending; Emare, one of the tales of innocent but persecuted heroines of which Chaucer's Constance is the best known; Florence of Rome; the rather famous Squire of Low Degree; Sir Amadas, not a very good handling of a fine motive, charity to a corpse; many others.

Nor does he seem to have known one of the finest of all—the alliterative romance of Gawain and the Green Knight which, since Dr. Morris published it some forty years ago for the Early English Text Society, has made its way through text-books into more general knowledge than most of its fellows enjoy. In this the hero is tempted repeatedly, elaborately, and with great knowledge of nature and no small command of art on the teller's part, by the wife of his host and destined antagonist. He resists in the main, but succumbs in the point of accepting a magic preservative as a gift: and is discovered and lectured accordingly. It is curious that this, which is far above the usual mere adventure-story and is novel of a high kind as well as romance, has no known French original; and is strongly English in many characteristics besides its verse-form.

On the whole, however, one need have no difficulty in admitting that the majority of these romances do somewhat content themselves with incident, incident only, and incident not merely of a naif but of a stock kind, for their staple. There are striking situations, even striking phrases, here and there; there is plenty of variety in scene, and more than is sometimes thought in detail; but the motive-and-character-interest is rarely utilised as it might be, and very generally is not even suggested. There is seldom any real plot or "fable"—only a chain of events: and though no one but a very dull person will object to the supernatural element, or to the exaggerated feats of professedly natural prowess and endurance, it cannot be said that on the whole they are artistically managed. You feel, not merely that the picture would have been better if the painter had taken more pains, but that the reason why he did not is that he did not know how.

Sir Thomas Malory, himself most unknown perhaps of all great writers, did know how; and a cynical person might echo the I nunc of the Roman satirist, and dwell on the futility of doing great things, in reference to the fact that it used to be fashionable, and is still not uncommon, to call Malory a "mere compiler." Indeed from the direction which modern study so often takes, of putting inquiry into origins above everything, and neglecting the consideration of the work as work, this practice is not likely soon to cease. But no mistake about the mysterious Englishman (the place-names with which the designation is connected are all pure English) is possible to any one who has read his book, and who knows what prose fiction is. The Noble Histories of King Arthur, La Morte d'Arthur, The Story of the most Noble and Worthy King Arthur, The Most Ancient and Famous History of the Renowned Prince Arthur, The Birth, Life, and Acts of King Arthur—call it by whichever name anybody likes of those which various printers and reprinters have given it—is one of the great books of the world. If they can give us any single "French book"—the reference to which is a commonplace of the subject—from which it was taken, let them; they have not yet. If they point out (as they can) French and English books from which parts of it were taken, similar things may be done with Dante and Chaucer, with Shakespeare and Milton, and very probably could have been done with Homer. It is what the artist does with his materials, not where he gets them, that is the question. And Malory has done, with his materials, a very great thing indeed. He is working no doubt to a certain extent blindly; working much better than he knows, and sometimes as he would not work if he knew better; though whether he would work as well if he knew better is quite a different point. Sometimes he may not take the best available version of a story; but we must ask ourselves whether he knew it. Sometimes he may put in what we do not want: but we must ask ourselves whether there was not a reason for doing so, to him if not to us. What is certain is that he, and he only in any language, makes of this vast assemblage of stories one story, and one book. He does it (much more than half unconsciously no doubt) by following the lines of, as I suppose, Walter Map, and fusing the different motives, holding to this method even in parts of the legend with which, so far as one knows, Map cannot have meddled. Before him this legend consisted of half a dozen great divisions—a word which may be used of malice prepense. These were the story of Merlin, that of Arthur's own origin, and that of the previous history of the Graal for introduction; the story of Arthur's winning the throne, of the Round Table, and of the marriage with Guinevere, also endless branchings of special knights' adventures, and of the wars with the Saxons and the Romans, and the episode of the False Guinevere—with whom for a time Arthur lives as with his queen—for middle; and the story of the Graal-quest, the love of Lancelot for the Queen, and the rebellion of Mordred with its fatal consequences, for close. Exactly how much of this Malory personally had before him we cannot of course say: but of any working up of the whole that would have spared him trouble, and robbed him of credit, we do not know. In fact the favourite term "compiler" gives up the only dangerous point. Now in what way did Malory compile? In the way in which the ordinary compiler proceeds he most emphatically does not. He cuts down the preliminaries mercilessly: but they can be perfectly well spared. He misses almost all the wars with the Saxons, which are the most tedious parts of the originals. He adopts, most happily, the early, not the late, placing of those with the Romans. He drops the false Guinevere altogether, which is imperative, that the true one may have no right to plead the incident—though he does not represent Arthur as "blameless." He gives the roman d'aventures side of the Round Table stories, from the great Tristram and Palomides romances through the Beaumains episode downwards, because they are interesting in themselves and lead up to the Graal quest. He gives that Quest as plentifully because it leads up to the "dolorous death and departing out of this world of them all." How he gives the Lancelot and Guinevere tragedy we shall see presently. And the catastrophe of the actual "departing" he gives perfectly; with the magnificent final scenes which he has converted, sometimes in almost Shakespearean fashion, by the slightest verbal touches from mediocre verse to splendid prose. A very remarkable compiler! It is a pity that they did not take him and cut him up in little stars for a light to all his brethren in compiling thereafter.

For he has what no compiler as such can have—because the moment he has it he ceases to be a compiler, and becomes an artist—the sense of grasp, the power to put his finger, and to keep it, on the central pulse and nerve of the story. That he did this deliberately is so unlikely as to be practically impossible: that he did it is certain. The Arthurian Legend is the greatest of mediaeval creations as a subject—a "fable"—just as the Divina Commedia is the greatest of mediaeval "imitations" and works of art. And as such it is inevitable that it should carry with it the sense of the greatest medieval differences, Chivalry and Romance. The strong point of these differences is the way in which they combine the three great motives, as Dante isolates them, of Valour, Love, and Religion. The ancients never realised this combination at all; the moderns have merely struggled after it, or blasphemed it in fox-and-grapes fashion: the mediaevals had it—in theory at any rate. The Round Table stories, merely as such, illustrate Valour; the Graal stories, Religion; the passion of Lancelot and Guinevere with the minor instances, Love. All these have their [Greek: amarthia]—their tragic and tragedy-causing fault and flaw. The knight wastes his valour in idle bickerings; he forgets law in his love; and though there is no actual degradation of religion, he fails to live up to the ideal that he does not actually forswear. To throw the presentation—the mimesis—of all this into perfectly worthy form would probably have been too much for any single genius of that curious time (when genius was so widely spread and so little concentrated) except Dante himself, whose hand found other work to do. To colour and shape the various fragments of the mosaic was the work of scores. To put them together, if not in absolutely perfect yet in more than sufficient shape, was, so far as we know, the luck of Malory only: though some one (Map or another) had done a mighty day's work long before in creating the figure and the adventures of Lancelot and imagining the later quest of the Graal with the figure of Galahad—that "improved Percivale," as the seedsmen say.

But besides this power of shaping (or even of merely combining) scattered elements into a story, Malory has another—the other of the first importance to the novelist proper—in his attraction to character, if not exactly in his making up of it. It has been said above that the defect of the pure romances—especially those of continental origin—is the absence of this. What the Greeks called [Greek: dihanoia]—"sentiment," "thought," "cast of thought," as it has been variously rendered—is even more absent from them than plot or character itself: and of its almost necessary connection with this latter they often seem to have no idea. Very rare is such a touch as that of Sir Amadas being unable at the feast to get rid of the memory of the unburied corpse, kept by enemies from the kindly earth that would hide it, and the rites that would help it to peace: still rarer that in Guy of Warwick when the hero, at the height of his fame and in the full enjoyment of his desires, looks from the tower and is struck by the selfishness and earthliness of his career. The first notion is not "improved" in the original at all, and the second very badly; but in most of the others such things do not even exist. Now the greater Legend is full of situations which encourage such thoughts, and even of expressed thoughts that only need craftsmanship to turn them into the cornerstones of character-building, and the jewels, five or fifty words long, of literature. The fate and metaphysical aid that determine the relations of Tristram and Iseult; the unconscious incest of Arthur and Margause with its Greek-tragic consequence; the unrewarded fidelity of Palomides, and (an early instance of the soon to be triumphant allegory) his fruitless chase of the Beast Glatissant; all these are matters in point. But of course the main nursery of such things is the Lancelot-and-Guinevere story itself. Nobody has yet made Guinevere a person—nobody but Shakespeare could have done so perhaps, though Shakespeare's Guinevere would probably have been the greatest woman in all art. But Malory has not been the least successful with her: and of Lancelot he has made, if only in study, one of the great characters of that fictitious world which is so much truer than the real. And let no one say that we are reading Tennyson or any one else into Malory. There are yet persons, at least at the time this was written not quite Methusalahs, who read the Morte d'Arthur before the Idylls appeared and who have never allowed even the Idylls to overlay their original idea of the most perfect and most gentle of knights.

It is probable indeed that Malory invented little or nothing in the various situations, by which the character of Lancelot, and the history of his fatal love, are evolved. We know in most cases that this is so. It is possible, too, that at first (probably because the possibilities had not dawned on him, as it has been admitted they never did very consciously) he has not made the most of the introduction of lover and lady. But when the interest becomes concentrated, as in the various passages of Guinevere's wrath with her lover and their consequences, or in the final series of catastrophes, he is fully equal to the occasion. We know—this time to his credit—how he has improved, in the act of borrowing them, the earlier verse-pictures of the final parting of the lovers, and there are many other episodes and juxtapositions of which as much may be said. That except as to Lancelot's remorse (which after all is the great point) there is not much actual talk about motive and sentiment is nothing; or nothing but the condition of the time. The important point is that, as the electricians say, "the house is wired" for the actual installation of character-novelling. There is here the complete scenario, and a good deal more, for a novel as long as Clarissa and much more interesting, capable of being worked out in the manner, not merely of Richardson himself, but of Mr. Meredith or Mr. Hardy. It is a great romance, if not the greatest of romances: it has a great novel, if not the greatest of novels, written in sympathetic ink between the lines, and with more than a little of the writing sometimes emerging to view.

Little in the restricted space here available can be, though much might be in a larger, said about the remaining attempts in English fiction before the middle of the sixteenth century. The later romances, down to those of Lord Berners, show the character of the older with a certain addition of the "conjuror's supernatural" of the Amadis school. But the short verse-tales, especially those of the Robin Hood cycle, and some of the purely comic kind, introduce an important variation of interest: and even some of the longer, such as that Tale of Beryn, which used to be included in Chaucer's works, vary the chivalrous model in a useful way. Still more important is the influence of the short prose tale:—first Latin, as in the Gesta Romanorum (which of course had older and positively mediaeval forerunners), then Italian and French. The prose saved the writer from verbiage and stock phrase; the shortness from the tendency to "watering out" which is the curse of the long verse or prose romance. Moreover, to get point and appeal, it was especially necessary to throw up the subject—incident, emotion, or whatever it was—to bring it out; not merely to meander and palaver about it. But language and literature were both too much in a state of transition to admit of anything capital being done at this time. It was the great good fortune of England, corresponding to that experienced with Chaucer in poetry three quarters of a century earlier, that Malory came to give the sum and substance of what mediaeval fiction could do in prose. For more, the times and the men had to come.



CHAPTER II

FROM LYLY TO SWIFT

During the dying-off of romance proper, or its transference from verse to prose in the late fifteenth and earlier sixteenth century, there is not very much to note about prose fiction in England. But, as the conditions of modern literature fashioned themselves, a very great influence in this as in other departments was no doubt exercised with us by Italian, as well as some by Spanish in a way which may be postponed for a little. The Italian prose tale had begun to exercise that influence as early as Chaucer's time: but circumstances and atmosphere were as yet unfavourable for its growth. It is a hackneyed truism that Italian society was very much more modern than any other in Europe at this time—in fact it would not be a mere paradox to say that it was, and continued to be till the later sixteenth, much more modern than it has ever been since—or till very recently. By "modern" is here meant the kind of society which is fairly cultivated, fairly comfortable, fairly complicated with classes not very sharply separated from each other, not dominated by any very high ideals, tolerably corrupt, and sufficiently business-like. The Italian novella, of course, admits wild passions and extravagant crimes: but the general tone of it is bourgeois—at any rate domestic. With its great number of situations and motives, presented in miniature, careful work is necessary to bring out the effect: and, above all, there is abundant room for study of manners, for proverbial and popular wisdom and witticism, for "furniture"—to use that word in a wide sense. Above all, the Italian mind, like the Greek, had an ethical twist—twist in more senses than one, some would say, but that does not matter. Manners, morals, motives—these three could not but displace, to some extent, mere incident: though there was generally incident of a poignant or piquant kind as well. In other words the novella was actually (though still in miniature) a novel in nature as well as in name. And these novelle became, as is generally known, common in English translations after the middle of the sixteenth century. Painter's huge Palace of Pleasure (1566) is only the largest and best known of many translations, single and collected, of the Italian novellieri and the French tale-tellers, contemporary, or of times more or less earlier.

For some time, as almost everybody knows, these collections of translated matter served a purpose—great indeed, but somewhat outside their proper department—by furnishing the Elizabethan dramatists with a large part—perhaps the larger part—of their subjects. But they very soon began to exercise it directly by suggesting the fictitious part of the prose pamphlet—a department which, though infinitely less well known than the plays, and still not very easy to know, holds almost the second position as representing the popular literature of the Elizabethan time. And they also had—in one case certainly, in the other probably—no little influence upon the two great Elizabethan works which in a manner founded the modern novel and the modern romance in English—the Euphues of Lyly and the Arcadia of Sir Philip Sidney.

The pamphlet stories (which are themselves often play-connected, as in the case of Lodge's Rosalynde and Greene's Pandosto) do not require much notice, with one exception—Nash's Jack Wilton or the Unfortunate Traveller, to which some have assigned a position equal, or perhaps superior in our particular subject, to that of the Arcadia or that of Euphues. This seems to the present writer a mistake: but as to appear important is (in a not wholly unreal sense) to be so, the piece shall be separately considered. The rest are mostly marred by a superabundance of rather rudimentary art, and a very poor allowance of matter. There is hardly any character, and except in a few pieces, such as Lodge's Margarite of America, there is little attempt to utilise new scenes and conditions. But the whole class has special interest for us in one peculiarity which makes it perhaps unreadable to any but students, and that is its saturation with the Elizabethan conceit and word-play which is sometimes called Euphuism. Nor is this wonderful, considering that more than one of these "pamphlets" is directly connected with the matter and the personages of Euphues itself. To this famous book, therefore, we had better turn.

Some people, it is believed, have denied that Euphues is a novel at all; and some of these some have been almost indignant at its being called one. It is certainly, with Rasselas, the most remarkable example, in English, of a novel which is to a great extent deprived of the agremens to which we have for some two centuries been accustomed in the kind, and, to a still greater, loaded with others which do not appeal to us. To put aside altogether its extraordinary and in a way epoch-making style, which gives it its main actual place in the history of English literature, it is further loaded with didactic digressions which, though certain later novelists have been somewhat peccant in the kind, have never been quite equalled—no, not in Rasselas itself or the Fool of Quality. But if anybody, who has the necessary knowledge to understand, and therefore the necessary patience to tolerate, these knotty knarry envelopes, insertions, and excrescences, will for the moment pay no attention to them, but merely strip them off, he will find the carcass of a very tolerable novel left behind. The first plot of Philautus—Euphues—Lucilla, and the successive jilting of the two friends for each other and for Curio, is no mean novel-substance. Not Balzac himself, certainly no one of his successors, need disdain it: and more than one of them has taken up something like it. The journey from Naples to London, and the episode of Fidus and Iffida, could have been worked up, in the good old three-volume days, to a most effective second volume. And the picture of the court, with the further loves of Philautus, Camilla, and the "violet" Frances, would supply a third of themselves even if Euphues were left out, though some livelier presentation of his character (which Lyly himself was obviously too much personally interested to make at all clear) would improve the whole immensely. But it was still too early: the thing was not yet to be done. Only, I do not know any book in which the possibilities, and even the outlines, of this thing were indicated and vaguely sketched earlier in any European language, unless it be the Lucretia and Euryalus of AEneas Silvius, which is much more confined in its scope.

The fact is that the very confusedness, the many undeveloped sides, of Euphues, make it much more of an ancestor of the modern novel than if it were more of a piece. The quicquid agunt homines is as much the province of the novel as of the satire; and there is more than something of this as it affected Elizabethan times in Euphues. Men's interest in morals, politics, and education; their development of the modern idea of society; their taste for letters; their conceits and fancies—all these appear in it.

The Arcadia stands in a different compartment. Euphues is very much sui generis: failure as it may be from some points of view, it deserves the highest respect for this, and like most other things sui generis it was destined to propagate the genus, if only after many days. The Arcadia was in intention certainly, and to great extent in actual fact, merely a carrying out of the attempt, common all over Europe (as a result of the critical searchings of heart of the Italians), to practise a new kind—the Heroic Romance of the sub-variety called pastoral. The "heroic" idea generally was (as ought to be, but perhaps is not, well known) to blend, after a fashion, classical and romantic characteristics—to substitute something like the classic unity of fable or plot for the mere "meandering" of romantic story, and to pay at least as much attention to character as the classics had paid, instead of neglecting it altogether, as had recently though not always been the case in Romance. But the scheme retained on the other hand the variety of incident and appeal of this latter: and especially assigned to Love the high place which Romance had given it. As for the Pastoral—that is almost a story to itself, and a story which has been only once (by Mr. W.W. Greg) satisfactorily, and then not quite completely, told. It is enough to say here, and as affecting our own subject, that it supplied a new opportunity of gratifying the passion of the Renaissance for imitating antiquity, at the same time permitting to no small extent the introduction of things that were really romantic, and above all providing a convention. The Heroic romance generally and the Pastoral in particular went directly back to the Greek romances of Heliodorus and Longus: but they admitted many new and foreign elements.

At the same time, bastard as the heroic romance was, it could not but exercise an important influence on the future of fiction, inasmuch as it combined, or attempted to combine, with classical unity and mediaeval variety the more modern interest of manners and (sometimes) personality. Sidney's attempt (which, it must be remembered, is not certainly known to be wholly his as it stands, and is certainly known not to have been revised by him for publication) exercised a very great influence in English. For its popularity was enormous, and it doubtless served as shoehorn to draw on that of the English translations of French and Spanish romance which supplied, during the greater part of the seventeenth century, the want of original composition of the kind. The unconscionable amount of talk and of writing "about it and about it" which Euphues and the minor Euphuist romances display is at least as prominent in the Arcadia: and this talk rarely takes a form congenial to the modern novel reader's demands. Moreover, though there really is a plot, and a sufficient amount of incident, this reader undoubtedly, and to no small extent justly, demands that both incident and plot shall be more disengaged from their framework—that they should be brought into higher relief, should stand out more than is the case. Yet further, the pure character-interest is small—is almost nonexistent: and the rococo-mosaic of manners and sentiment which was to prove the curse of the heroic romance generally prevents much interest being felt in that direction.[1] It would also be impossible to devise a style less suited to prose narrative, except of a very peculiar kind and on a small scale, than that either of Euphues or of the Arcadia, which, though an uncritical tradition credits it with driving out Lyly's, is practically only a whelp of the same litter. Embarrassed, heavy, rhetorical, it has its place in the general evolution of English prose, and a proper and valuable place too. But it is bad even for pure romance purposes: and nearly hopeless for the panoramic and kaleidoscopic variety which should characterise the novel. To the actual successors of the Arcadia in English we shall come presently.

[1] As a work of general literature, the attraction of the Arcadia is of course much enhanced by, if it does not chiefly depend upon, its abundant, varied, and sometimes charming verse-insets. But, as a novel, it cannot count these.

The Unfortunate Traveller is of much less importance than the other two. It has obtained such reputation as it possesses, partly because of its invention or improvement of the fable of "Surrey and Geraldine"; more, and more justly, because it does work up a certain amount of historical material—the wars of Henry VIII. in French Flanders—into something premonitory (with a little kindness on the part of the premonished) of the great and long missed historical novel; still more for something else. Nash, with his quick wit, seems to have been really the first to perceive the capabilities of that foreign travel and observation of manners which was becoming common, stripped of the special atmosphere of pilgrimage which had formerly enveloped it. Even here, he had had the "notion of the notion" supplied to him by Lyly in Euphues: and a tolerably skilful advocate would not have so very much difficulty in claiming the book as one of the tribe of Euphuist pamphlets. But Jack Wilton the "traveller" is a little more of a person than the pedagogic Euphues and the shadowy Philautus. At any rate he has a very strong anticipation of Defoe, whose "Cavalier" was not improbably suggested by him. But Nash has neither the patience of Defoe, nor that singular originality, which accompanies in the author of Moll Flanders a certain inability to make the most of it. The Unfortunate Traveller is a sort of compilation or congeries of current fabliaux, novelle, and facetiae, with the introduction of famous actual persons of the time, from the crowned heads of the period, through Luther and Aretine downwards, to give bait and attraction. Sometimes it reminds one of a working up of the Colloquies of Erasmus: three centuries earlier than The Cloister and the Hearth, with much less genius than Charles Reade's, and still more without his illegitimate advantage of actual novels behind him for nearly half the time. But it gives us "disjectae membra novellae" rather than a novel itself: and the oftener one reads it the more clear one is that the time for writing novels had not yet come. The materials are there; the desire to utilise—and even a faint vague idea of how to utilise—them is there; but the art is almost completely absent. Even regarded as an early attempt in the "picaresque" manner, it is abortive and only half organised.

The subject of the English "Heroic" Romance, in the wide sense, is one which has been very little dealt with. Dunlop neglected it rather surprisingly, and until Professor Raleigh's chapter on the subject there was little of a satisfactory kind to be found about it anywhere. It must, however, be admitted that the abstainers from it have been to some extent justified in their abstention. The subject is a curious one: and it has an important place in the history of the Novel, because it shows at once how strong was the nisus towards prose fiction and how surprisingly difficult writers seem, nevertheless, to have found it to hit upon anything really good, much more anything really original in kind. For it is hardly too much to say that this century of attempt—we cannot call it a century of invention—from Ford to Congreve, does not add a single piece of any considerable merit to the roll of English books. As for a masterpiece, there is nothing in respect of which the use of such a word would not be purely ridiculous. And yet the attempts are interesting to the historian, and should not be uninteresting to the historical student of literature. One or two of them have a sort of shadowy name and place in literary history already.

In tracing their progress and character, we must allow for two native models: and for three foreign sources, one ancient, two modern, of influence. The Arcadia and Euphues, the former continuously, the latter by revival after an interval, exercised very great effect in the first half of the seventeenth century, during at least the earlier part of which the vogue of Amadis and its successors, as Englished by Anthony Munday and others, likewise continued. The Greek romances also had much to do with the matter: for the Elizabethan translators had introduced them to the vulgar, and the seventeenth century paid a good deal of attention to Greek. Then, when that century itself was on its way, the pastoral romance of D'Urfe first, and the Calprenede-Scudery productions in the second place, came to give a fresh impulse, and something of a new turn. The actual translations of French and Spanish romance, shorter and longer, good, bad, and indifferent, are of immense bulk and doubtless excited imitation: but we cannot possibly deal with them here. A bare list would fill a chapter. But some work of more or less (generally less) originality, in at least adaptation, calls for a little individual notice: and some general characterisation may be added.

It may be desirable to prelude the story by a reminder to the reader that the general characteristics of these various sources were "harlequin" in their diversity of apparent colour. The Amadis romances and, indeed, all the later examples of that great kind, such as Arthur of Little Britain, which Berners translated, were distinguished on the one side by a curious convention of unsmooth running of the course of love, on the other sometimes by a much greater licence of morality than their predecessors, and always by a prodigality of the "conjuror's supernatural"—witches and giants and magic black and white. The Spanish "picaresque" story was pretty real but even less decent: and its French imitations (though not usually reaching the licence of the short tale, which clung to fabliau ways in this respect) imitated it here also. The French heroic romance, on the other hand, observed the most scrupulous propriety in language and situation: but aggravated the Amadisian troubling of the course of true love, and complicated everything, very frequently if not invariably, by an insinuated "key" interest of identification of the ancient personages selected as heroes and heroines with modern personages of quality and distinction.

Emanuel Ford (whom the British Museum catalogue insists on spelling Forde and of whom very little seems to be known) published Parismus, Prince of Bohemia, as early as 1598. In less than a hundred years (1696) it had reached its fourteenth edition, and it continued to be popular in abridged and chap-booked form[2] far into the eighteenth century. (It is sometimes called Parismus and Parismenus: the second part being, as very commonly in romances of the class after the Amadis pattern, occupied largely with the adventures of the son of the hero of the first.) On the whole, Parismus, though it has few pretensions to elegance of style, and though some delicate tastes have been shocked at certain licences of incident, description, and phrase in it, is quite the best of our bunch in this kind. It is, in general conception, pure Amadis of the later and slightly degraded type. Laurana, the heroine (of whom a peculiarly hideous portrait adorns the black-letter editions side by side with Parismus himself, who is rather a "jolly gentleman") is won with much less difficulty and in much less time than Oriana—but separations and difficulties duly follow in "desolate isles" and the like. And though Parismus himself is less of an Amadis than Amadis, the "contrast of friends," founded by that hero and Galaor, is kept up by his association with a certain Pollipus—"a man of his hands" if ever there was one, for with them he literally wrings the neck of the enchantress Bellona, who has enticed him to embrace her. There is plenty of the book, as there always should be in its kind (between 400 and 500 very closely printed quarto pages), and its bulk is composed of proportionately plentiful fighting and love-making and of a very much smaller proportion of what schoolboys irreverently call "jaw" than is usual in the class. If it were not for the black letter (which is trying to the eyes) I should not myself object to have no other reading than Parismus for some holiday evenings, or even after pretty tough days of literary and professional work. The Famous History of Montelion, the Knight of the Oracle (1633?) proclaims its Amadisian type even more clearly: but I have only read it in an abridged edition of the close of the century. I should imagine that in extenso it was a good deal duller than Parismus. And of course the comparative praise which has been given to that book must be subject to the reminder that it is what it is—a romance of disorderly and what some people call childish adventure, and of the above-ticketed "conjuror's supernatural." If anybody cannot read Amadis itself, he certainly will not read Parismus: and perhaps not everybody who can manage the original—perhaps not even everybody who can manage Palmerin—could put up with Ford's copy. I can take this Ford as I find him: but I am not sure that I would go much lower.

[2] It is pleasant to remember that one of the chief publishers of these things in the late seventeenth century was W. Thackeray.

Ornatus and Artesia (1607?), on the other hand—his second or third book—strikes me as owing more to Heliodorus than to Montalvo, or Lobeira, or whoever was the author of the great romance of the last chivalric type. There are more intricacies in it; the heroine plays a rather more important part; there is even something of a nearer approach to modern novel-ways in this production, which reappeared at "Grub Street near the Upper Pump" in the year 1650. Ornatus sees his mistress asleep and in a kind of deshabille, employs a noble go-between, Adellena (a queer spelling of "Adelina" which may be intentional), is rejected with apparent indignation, of course; writes elaborate letters in vain, but overhears Artesia soliloquising confession of her love for him and disguises himself as a girl, Silvia. Then the villain of the piece, Floretus, to obtain the love of this supposed Silvia, murders a person of distinction and plots to poison Artesia herself. Ornatus-Silvia is banished: and all sorts of adventures and disguises follow, entirely in the Greek style. The book is not very long, extending only to signature R in a very small quarto. Except that it is much less lively and considerably less "free," it reminds one rather in type of Kynaston's verse Leoline and Sydanis. In fact the verse and prose romances of the time are very closely connected: and Chamberlayne's Pharonnida—far the finest production of the English "heroic" school in prose, verse, or drama—was, when the fancy for abridging set in, condensed into a tiny prose Eromena. But Ornatus and Artesia, if more modern, more decent, and less extravagant than Parismus, is nothing like so interesting to read. It is indeed quite possible that there is, if not in it, in its popularity, a set-back to the Arcadia itself, which had been directly followed in Lady Mary Wroth's Urania (1621), and to which (by the time of the edition noted) Charles I.'s admiration—so indecently and ignobly referred to by Milton—had given a fresh attraction for all good anti-Puritans. That an anti-Puritan should be a romance-lover was almost a necessity.

When the French "heroics" began to appear it was only natural that they should be translated, and scarcely less so that they should be imitated in England. For they were not far off the Arcadia pattern: and they were a distinct and considerable effort to supply the appetite for fiction which has been dwelt upon. But except for this, and for fashion's sake, they did not contain much that would appeal to an English taste: and it is a little significant that one great reader of them who is known to us—Mrs. Pepys—was a Frenchwoman. Indeed, save for the very considerable "pastime" of a kind that they gave to a time, much of which required passing, it is difficult to understand their attraction for English readers. Their interminable talk never (till perhaps very recently) was a thing to suit our nation: and the "key" interest strikes us at any rate as of the most languid kind. But they were imitated as well as translated: and the three most famous of the imitations are the work of men of mark in their different ways. These are the Parthenissa (1654) of Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill and Earl of Orrery; the Aretina (1661) of Sir George Mackenzie; and the Pandion and Amphigeneia (1665) of "starch Johnny" Crowne.

Boyle was a strong Francophile in literature, and his not inconsiderable influence on the development of the heroic play showed it only less decidedly than his imitation of the Scudery romance. I cannot say that I have read Parthenissa through: and I can say that I do not intend to do so. It is enough to have read Sainte Madeleine of the Ink-Desert herself, without reading bad imitations of her. But I have read enough to know that Parthenissa would never give me anything like the modified satisfaction that is given by Parismus: and after all, if a man will not take the trouble to finish writing his book (which Orrery never did) why should his readers take the trouble even to finish reading what he has written? The scene is Parthia, with alternation to Syria, and diversions and episodes elsewhere: and though there is a certain amount of fighting, the staple is quite decorous but exceedingly dull love-making, conducted partly in the endless dialogue (or rather automatic monologue) already referred to, and partly in letters more "handsome" even than Mr. Frank Churchill's, and probably a good deal more sincere in their conventional way, but pretty certainly less amusing. The original attraction indeed of this class of novel consisted, and, in so far as it still exists, may be said to consist, in noble sentiment, elegantly expressed. It deserved, and in a manner deserves, the commendatory part of Aramis's rebuke to Porthos for expressing impatience with the compliments between Athos and D'Artagnan at their first and hostile rencounter.[3] Otherwise there is not much to be said for it. It does not indeed deserve Johnson's often quoted remark as to Richardson (on whom when we come to him we shall have something more to say in connection with these heroic romances), if any one were to read Parthenissa for the story he would not, unless he were a very impulsive person, "hang himself." He would simply, after a number of pages varying with the individual, cease to read it.

[3] "Quant a moi, je trouve les choses que ces messieurs se disent fort bien dites et tout a fait dignes de deux gentilhommes."

The work of the great Lord Advocate who was traduced by Covenanting malice is in a certain sense more interesting: and that not merely because it is much shorter. Aretina or The Serious Romance, opens with an "apology for Romances" generally, which goes far to justify Dryden's high opinion of Mackenzie as a critic. But it cannot be said to be much—it is a little—more interesting as a story than Parthenissa, and it is written in a most singular lingo—not displaying the racy quaintness of Mackenzie's elder contemporary and fellow-loyalist Urquhart, but a sort of Scotified and modernised Euphuism rather terrible to peruse. A library is "a bibliotheck richly tapestried with books." Somebody possesses, or is compared to "a cacochymick stomach, which transubstantiates the best of meats in its own malignant humour." And when the hero meets a pair of cannibal ruffians he confronts one and "pulling out a pistol, sends from its barrel two balls clothed in Death's livery, and by them opens a sallyport to his soul to fly out of that nasty prison." A certain zest may be given by these oddities, but it hardly lasts out more than 400 pages: and though the lives of Aretina and Philaretes are more simply and straightforwardly told than might be thought likely—though there are ingenious disguises of contemporary politics, and though Mackenzie was both a wise man and a wit—it is more certain than ever, when we close his book, that this is not the way of the world, nor the man to walk in that way.

Pandion and Amphigeneia is the inferior in importance of both these books. Crowne had perhaps rather more talent than it is usual to credit him with, but he does not show it here. I think Sir Walter Raleigh is quite right in regarding the book as more or less traced over the Arcadia: and it may be said to have all the defects of Sidney's scheme—which, it is fair once more to observe, we do not possess in any form definitely settled by its author—with none of the merits of his ornament, his execution, and his atmosphere of poetic fancy.

The fact is that this heroic romance was foredoomed to inefficiency. It was not a genuine kind at all: but a sort of patchwork of imitations of imitations—a mule which, unlike the natural animal, was itself bred, and bred in and in, of mules for generations back. It was true to no time, to no country, to no system of manners, life, or thought. Its oldest ancestor in one sense, though not in another—the Greek romance—was itself the growth of the latest and most artificial period of the literature to which it belonged. The pure mediaeval romance of chivalry was another, but of this it had practically nothing left. The Amadis class, the late Renaissance pastorals, the immediately preceding or accompanying French romances of the Scudery type, were, in increasing degree, hybrid, artificial, and dead-alive. Impotence and sterility in every sense could but be its portion. Of the two great qualities of the novel—Variety and Life—it had never succeeded in attaining any considerable share, and it had now the merest show of variety and no life at all. There is hardly anything to be said in its favour, except that its vogue, as has been observed, testified to the craving for prose fiction, and kept at least a simulacrum of that fiction before the public. How far there may be any real, though metaphysical, connection between the great dramatic output of this seventeenth century in England and its small production in novel is a question not to be discussed here. But undoubtedly the fact of the contrast is a "document in the case," and one of the most important in its own direction; completing the testimony of the mediaeval period in the other (that as romance dwindled, drama grew) and leading up to that of the eighteenth century when drama dwindled and the novel grew. The practice of Afra Behn in both, and the fact that Congreve, the greatest English dramatist of the close of the century, began with a novel and deserted the style for drama, are also interesting, and combine themselves very apparently with the considerations just glanced at. But Congreve and Afra must be postponed for a moment.

The two last discussed books, with Eromena and some others, are posterior to the Restoration in date, but somewhat earlier in type. The reign of Charles II., besides the "heroic" romances and Bunyan, and one most curious little production to be noticed presently, is properly represented in fiction by two writers, to whom, by those who like to make discoveries, considerable importance has sometimes been assigned in the history of the English Novel. These are Richard Head and Afra Behn, otherwise "the divine Astraea." It is, however, something of an injustice to class them together: for Afra was a woman of very great ability, with a suspicion of genius, while Head was at the very best a bookmaker of not quite the lowest order, though pretty near it. Of The English Rogue (1665-1680), which earns him his place here, only the first part, and a certain section of the fourth, are even attributed to him by Francis Kirkman, the Curll of his generation, who published the thing at intervals and admittedly wrote parts of it himself. It is quite openly a picaresque novel: and imitated not merely from the Spanish originals but from Sorel's Francion, which had appeared in France some forty years before. Yet, if we compare this latter curious book with Head's we shall see how very far behind, even with forty years' advantage in time, was the country which, in the next century, was practically to create the modern novel. Francion is not a work of genius: and it does not pretend to much more than the usual picaresque farrago of adventure, unmoral and sometimes rather cruel, but comic of a kind, strung together with little art in fable, and less in character. But the author is to some extent "cumbered about serving." He names his characters, tries to give them some vague personality, furnishes them with some roughly and sketchily painted scenery, and gives us not merely told tales, but occasionally something distantly resembling conversation. Head takes no trouble of this kind: and Kirkman does not seem to think that any such thing is required of him. Very few of the characters of The English Rogue have so much as a name to their backs: they are "a prentice," "a master," "a mistress," "a servant," "a daughter," "a tapster," etc. They are invested with hardly the slightest individuality: the very hero is a scoundrel as characterless as he is nameless:[4] he is the mere thread which keeps the beads of the story together after a fashion. These beads themselves, moreover, are only the old anecdotes of "coney-catching," over-reaching, and worse, which had separately filled a thousand fabliaux, novelle, "jests," and so forth: and which are now flung together in gross, chiefly by the excessively clumsy and unimaginative expedient of making the personages tell long strings of them as their own experience. When anything more is wanted, accounts of the manners of foreign countries, taken from "voyage-and-travel" books; of the tricks of particular trades (as here of piratical book-selling); of anything and everything that the writer's dull fancy can think of, are foisted in. The thing is in four volumes, and it seems that a fifth was intended as a close: but there is no particular reason why it should not have extended to forty or fifty, nay to four or five hundred. It could have had no real end, just as it has no real beginning or middle.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse