A Short History of French Literature, by George Saintsbury

Chapter 3.

Novelists.

The peculiarity of the eighteenth century in France as regards literature —— that is to say, the application of great talents to almost every branch of literary production without the result of a distinct original growth in any one department —— is nowhere more noticeable than in the department of prose fiction288. The names of Lesage, Prévost, Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, are deservedly recorded among the list of the best novel writers. Yet, with the exception of Manon Lescaut, which for the time had no imitators, of the great works of Lesage which, admirable in execution, were by no means original in conception, and of the exquisite but comparatively insignificant variety of the prose Conte, of which Voltaire was the chief practitioner, nothing in the nature of a masterpiece, still less anything in the nature of an epoch-making work, was composed. The example of Manon was left for the nineteenth century to develop, the others either died out (the adventure romance, after Lesage's model, flourishing brilliantly in England, but hardly at all in France), or else were subordinated to a purpose, the purpose of advocating philosophe views, or of pandering to the not very healthy cravings of an altogether artificial society. Yet, so far as merely literary merits are concerned, few branches of literature were more fertile than this during the period.

Lesage.

The first, and on the whole, the most considerable name of the century in fiction is that of the author of Gil Blas. Alain René Lesage was born at Sarzeau, near Vannes, on the 8th of May, 1668, and died at Boulogne on the 17th of November, 1747. He was bred a lawyer, and should have had a fair competence, but, being early left an orphan, was deprived of most of his property by the dishonesty of his guardian. He married young, moreover, and, unlike most of the prominent men of letters of his day, never seems to have enjoyed any solid patronage or protection from any powerful man or woman. This is indeed sufficiently accounted for by anecdotes which exist showing his extreme independence of character. Like most men of talent in such circumstances, he turned, though not very early, to literature, and began by a translation of the 'Letters' of Aristaenetus. No great success could have awaited him in this line, and perhaps the greatest stroke of good-fortune in his life was the suggestion of the Abbé de Lyonne that he should turn his attention to Spanish literature, a suggestion which was not made more unpalatable by the present of a small annuity. He translated the 'New Don Quixote' of Avellaneda (than which he might have found a better subject), and he adapted freely plays from Rojas, Lope de Vega, and Calderon. It was not, however, till he was nearly forty that he produced anything of real merit. The Diable Boiteux appeared in 1707, and was at once popular. Still Lesage did not desert the stage, and the production of his admirable comedy Turcaret ought to have secured him success there. But the Comédie Française was at that time more under the influence of clique than at any other time of its history; and Lesage, disgusted with the treatment he received from it, gave himself up entirely to writing farces and operettas for the minor theatres, and to prose fiction. Gil Blas, his greatest work, originally appeared in 1715, but was not completed till twenty years later. He also wrote — besides one or two bright but trifling minor works of a fictitious character, La Valise Trouvée (a letter-bag supposed to be picked up), Une Journée des Parques, a keen piece of Lucianic satire, etc. — many other romances in the same general style as his great works, and more or less borrowed from Spanish originals. The chief of these are Guzman d'Alfarache, Estévanille Gonzalez, Le Bachelier de Salamanque, and a curious Defoe-like book entitled Vie et Aventures de M. de Beauchéne. In his old age he retired to the house of his second son, who held a canonry at Boulogne, and resided there for some years, until, in 1747, he died in his eightieth year. His works have hitherto been very insufficiently collected and edited.

Le Diable Boiteux and Gil Blas are far the greatest of Lesage's romances, and, as it happens, they are the most original, little except the starting-point being borrowed in the one case, and nothing but a few detached details in the other. Lesage was, however, true to the general spirit of his model, the picaroon romance of Spain, a kind of Roman d'Aventures transported from the days and conventional conditions of chivalry to those of ordinary but still adventurous life in the Peninsula. The directly satirical intention predominates in the Diable Boiteux, the more purely narrative faculty in Gil Blas. In both the piercing observation of human character, which Lesage possessed in a greater degree perhaps than any other French writer, appears, and so does his remarkable power of making the results of this observation live and move. No French writer is so little of a mere Frenchman as Lesage, and in this point of cosmopolitan humanity he may be compared, without extravagance, in kind if not in degree, to Shakespeare. Besides his skill in character-drawing, and his faculty of spicing his narrative with epigram, Lesage also possessed extraordinary narrative ability. His books are not remarkable for what is called plot, that is to say, the action rather continues indefinitely in a straight line than converges on a given and definite point. But this continuance is so adroitly managed that no break is felt, and the succession very seldom becomes tedious. The novel of Lesage is the immediate parent and pattern of that of Fielding and Smollett in England. It is somewhat remarkable that it had no successors of importance or merit in France. This is probably to be accounted for by the cosmopolitan tone which has been already remarked upon. Indeed Lesage, as a rule, has had less justice done to him by his countrymen than any other of their great writers. Yet his style, looked at merely from the point of view of art, is excellent, and perhaps superior to that of any of his contemporaries properly so called.

Close in the track of Madame de la Fayette followed Madame de Fontaines (Marie Louise Charlotte de Givri), the date of whose birth is unknown, but who died in 1730. She was a friend of Voltaire's youth, and her best work is named La Comtesse de Savoie, the date of the story being the eleventh century. She also wrote a short story of less merit called Aménophis. Madame de Tencin (Claudine Alexandrine Guérin), the mother of D'Alembert, the friend of Fontenelle, and one of the most famous salon-holders of the early eighteenth century, was a more fertile and a cleverer writer. She was born in 1681, and died in 1749. She had a bad heart, but an excellent head, and she showed her powers in the Mémoires du Comte de Comminges and the Siége de Calais, besides some minor works. The fault of almost all romances of the La Fayette school, the habit of throwing the scene into periods about which the writers knew nothing, appears in these works.

Marivaux.

But the first writer of fiction after Lesage who is worthy of separate mention at any length (for in these later centuries of our history there are, as any reader of books will understand, vast numbers of practitioners in every branch of literary art who are entirely unworthy of notice in a compendious history of literature) is Marivaux, an original and remarkable novelist, who, though by no possibility to be ranked among the great names of French literature, occupies a not inconsiderable place among those who are remarkable without being great. Pierre Carlet de Marivaux, whose strict paternal appellation was simply Pierre Carlet, was born at Paris on the 8th of February, 1688. His father was of Norman origin, and held employments in the financial branch of the public service. Very little is known of the son's youth, and indeed not much of his life. He is said to have produced his first play, Le Père Prudent et Equitable, at the age of eighteen, and his dramatic industry was thenceforward considerable. As a romancer he worked more by fits and starts. His first attempt at prose fiction is said to have been — for the authenticity of the attribution is not certain — a romance in a kind of pseudo-Spanish style, called Les Effets surprenants de la Sympathie, published six years later. Then he took to the sterile and ignoble literature of travesty, attacking Homer and Fénelon in the style of Scarron and Cotton. This brought him, through La Motte, under the influence of Fontenelle, to whom he owed not a little. He made a fortune and lost it in Law's bubble. Then he turned journalist, and after writing social articles in the Mercure, started a periodical himself, the nature of which is sufficiently shown by its borrowed title, Le Spectateur Français, 1722. At a later period he began another paper of the same kind, Le Cabinet du Philosophe, 1734. His plays, which have been already noticed, were written partly for the Comédie Française, and partly for a very popular Italian company which appeared in France during the second quarter of the century. But for the present purpose his works which concern us are the famous romance of Marianne, 1731-1742, and the less-known one of the Paysan Parvenu, 1735. His dramas, rather than his fictions, procured him a place in the Academy in 1742, and he died in 1763.

Marianne has been said to be the origin of Pamela, which may not be exactly the fact, though it is difficult not to believe that it gave Richardson his idea. But it is certain that it is a remarkable novel, and that it, rather than the plays, gave rise to the singular phrase Marivaudage, with which the author, not at all voluntarily, has enriched literature. The plot is simple enough. A poor but virtuous girl has adventures and recounts them, and the manner of recounting is extremely original. A morally faulty but intellectually admirable contemporary, Crébillon the younger, described this manner excellently by saying that the characters not only say everything that they have done and everything that they have thought, but everything that they would have liked to think but did not. This curious kind of mental analysis is expressed in a style which cannot be defended from the charge of affectation notwithstanding its extreme ingenuity and occasional wit. The real importance of Marianne in the history of fiction is that it is the first example of the novel of analysis rather than of incident (though incident is still prominent), and the first in which an elaborate style, strongly imbued with mannerism, is applied to this purpose. The Paysan Parvenu, the title of which suggested Restif's novel Le Paysan Perverti, and which was probably not without influence on Joseph Andrews, is not very different in manner from Marianne, and, like it, was left unfinished after publication in parts at long intervals.

Prévost

A third eminent writer of novels was, in point of production, a contemporary of Lesage and Marivaux, though he was nearly thirty years younger than the first, and fully ten years younger than the second, and he more than either of them set the example of the modern novel. The Abbé Prévost, sometimes called Prévost d'Exilles, was born at Hesdin, in Picardy, in April, 1697. He was brought up by the Jesuits, and after a curious hesitation between entering the order and becoming a soldier (he actually served for some time) he joined the famous community of the Benedictines of Saint Maur, the most learned monastic body in the Roman church. When he did this he was four-and-twenty, and he continued for some six years to give himself up to study, not without interludes of professorial work and of preaching. He became, however, disgusted with his order, and unfortunately left his convent before technical permission had been given; a proceeding which kept him an exile from France for several years. It was at this time (1728) that he threw himself into novel-writing, taking his models, and in some cases, his scenes and characters, from England, which he visited, and of which he was a fervent admirer. He obtained permission to return in 1735, and then started a paper called Le Pour et le Contre, something like those of Marivaux, but more like a modern critical review. He received the protection of several persons of position and influence, notably the Prince de Conti and the Chancellor D'Aguesseau, and for nearly thirty years led a laborious literary life, in the course of which he is said to have written nearly a hundred volumes, mostly compilations. His death, which occurred in November, 1763, was perhaps the most horrible in literary history. He was on his way from Paris to his cottage near Chantilly, when he was struck by apoplexy. A stupid village doctor took him for dead, and began a post-mortem examination to discover the cause. Prévost revived at the stroke of the knife, but was so injured by it that he expired shortly afterwards.

His chief works of fiction are the Mémoires d'un Homme de Qualité, 1729, Clèveland, and the Doyen de Killérine, 1735, romances of adventure occupying a middle place between those of Lesage and Marivaux. But he would have been long forgotten had it not been for an episode or rather postscript of the Mémoires entitled Manon Lescaut, in which all competent criticism recognises the first masterpiece of French literature which can properly be called a novel. Manon is a young girl with whom the Chevalier des Grieux, almost as young as herself, falls frantically in love. The pair fly to Paris, and the novel is occupied with the description of Manon's faithlessness — a faithlessness based not on want of love for Des Grieux, but on an overmastering desire for luxury and comfort with which he cannot always supply her. The story, which is narrated by Des Grieux, and which has a most pathetic ending, is chiefly remarkable for the perfect simplicity and absolute life-likeness of the character-drawing. The despairing constancy of Des Grieux, conscious of the vileness of his idol, yet unable to help loving her, the sober goodness of his friend Tiberge, the roystering villany of Manon's brother Lescaut, and, above all, the surprising and novel, but strictly practical and reasonable, figure of Manon, who, in her way, loves Des Grieux, who has no objection to deceive her richer lovers for him, but whose first craving is for material well-being and prosperity — make up a gallery which has rarely been exceeded in power and interest.

A novelist of merit, slightly junior to these, was Madame Riccoboni (Marie Jeanne Laboras de Mézières), who was born in 1713, married an actor and dramatic author of little talent, and died at a great age in 1792. Her best works of fiction are Le Marquis de Cressy, Mylady Catesby, and Ernestine, with an exceedingly clever continuation (which, however, stops short of the conclusion) of Marivaux' Marianne. All these books are constructed with considerable skill, and are good examples of what may be called the sentimental romance. Duclos, better known now for his historical and historical-ethical work, was also a novel-writer at this period. The Lettres du Marquis de Roselle, of Madame Elie de Beaumont, rather resembles the work of Madame Riccoboni.

The works of the three principal writers who have just been discussed belong to the first half of the century, and do not exhibit those characteristics by which it is most generally known. Marivaux is indeed an important representative of the laborious gallantry which descended from the days of the précieuses— Fontenelle being a link between the two ages — and Prévost exhibits, in at least its earlier stage, the sensibility which was one of the great characteristics of the eighteenth century. But neither of them can in the least be called a philosophe. On the other hand, the philosophe movement, which dominated the middle and latter portions of the age, was not long in invading the department of fiction. Each of the three celebrated men who stood at its head devoted himself to the novel in one or other of its forms; while Montesquieu, in the Lettres Persanes, came near to it, and each of the trio themselves had more or fewer followers in fiction.

Voltaire.

No long work of prose fiction stands under the name of Voltaire, but it may be doubted whether any of his works displays his peculiar genius more fully and more characteristically than the short tales in prose which he has left. Every one of them has a moral, political, social, or theological purpose. Zadig, 1748, is, perhaps, in its general aim, rather philosophical in the proper sense; Babouc, 1746, social; Memnon, 1747, ethical. Micromegas, 1752, is a satire on certain forms of science; the group of smaller tales, such as Le Taureau Blanc, are theological or rather anti-theological. L'Ingénu, 1767, and L'Homme aux Quarante Écus (same date), are political from different points of view. All these objects meet and unite in the most famous and most daring of all, Candide, 1758. Written ostensibly to ridicule philosophical optimism, and on the spur given to pessimist theories by the Lisbon earthquake, Candide is really as comprehensive as it is desultory. Religion, political government, national peculiarities, human weakness, ambition, love, loyalty, all come in for the unfailing sneer. The moral, wherever there is a moral, is, 'be tolerant, and cultivez votre jardin,' that is to say, do whatsoever work you have to do diligently. But in all these tales the destructive element has a good deal the better of the constructive. As literature, however, they are almost invariably admirable. There is probably no single book in existence which contains so much wit, pure and simple, as the moderate sized octavo in which are comprised these two or three dozen short stories, none of which exceeds a hundred pages or so in length, while many do not extend beyond two or three. Nowhere is the capacity of the French language for persiflage better shown, and nowhere, perhaps, are more phrases which have become household words to be found. Nowhere also, it is true, is the utter want of reverence, which was Voltaire's greatest fault, and the absence of profundity, which accompanied his marvellous superficial range and acuteness, more constantly displayed.

Diderot.

No inconsiderable portion of the extensive and unequal work of Diderot is occupied by prose fiction. He began by a licentious tale in the manner, but without the wit, of Crébillon the younger; a tale in which, save a little social satire, there was no purpose whatever. But by degrees he, like Voltaire, began to use the novel as a polemical weapon. The powerful story of La Religieuse, 1760, was the boldest attack which, since the Reformation and the licence of Latin writing, had been made on the drawbacks and dangers of conventual life. Jacques le Fataliste, 1766, is a curious book, partly suggested, no doubt, by Sterne, but having a legitimate French ancestry in the fatrasie of the sixteenth century. Jacques is a manservant who travels with his master, has adventures with him, talks incessantly to him, and tells him stories, as also does another character, the mistress of a country inn. One of these stories, the history of the jealousy and attempted revenge of a great lady on her faithless lover by making him fall in love with a girl of no character, is admirably told, and has often since been adapted in fiction and drama. Other episodes of Jacques le Fataliste are good, but the whole is unequal. The strangest of all Diderot's attempts in prose fiction — if it is to be called a fiction and not a dramatic study — is the so-called Neveu de Rameau, in which, in the guise of a dialogue between himself and a hanger-on of society (or rather a monologue of the latter), the follies and vices, not merely of the time, but of human nature itself, are exposed with a masterly hand, and in a manner wonderfully original and piquant.

Rousseau.
Crébillon the Younger.

Neither Voltaire, however, nor Diderot devoted, in proportion to their other work, as much attention to prose fiction as did Jean Jacques Rousseau. Even the Confessions might be classed under this head without a great violation of propriety, and Rousseau's only other large books, La Nouvelle Héloïse, 1760, and Emile, 1764, are avowed novels. In both of these the didactic purpose asserts itself. In the latter, indeed, it asserts itself to a degree sufficient seriously to impair the literary merit of the story. The second title of Emile is L'Education, and it is devoted to the unfolding of Rousseau's views on that subject by the aid of an actual example in Emile the hero. It had a great vogue and a very considerable practical influence, nor can the race of novels with political or ethical purposes be said to have ever died out since. As a novel, properly so called, it has but little merit. The case is different with Julie or La Nouvelle Héloïse. This is a story told chiefly in the form of letters, and recounting the love of a noble young lady, Julie, for Saint Preux, a man of low rank, with a kind of afterpiece, depicting Julie's married life with a respectable but prosaic free-thinker, M. de Wolmar. This famous book set the example, first, of the novel of sentiment, secondly, of the novel of landscape painting. Many efforts have been made to dethrone Rousseau from his position of teacher of Europe in point of sentiment and the picturesque, but they have had no real success. It is to La Nouvelle Héloïse that both sentimental and picturesque fictions fairly owe their original popularity; yet Julie cannot be called a good novel. Its direct narrative interest is but small, its characters are too intensely drawn or else too merely conventional, its plot far too meagre. It is in isolated passages of description, and in the fervent passion which pervades parts of it, that its value, and at the same time its importance in the history of novel-writing, consist.

Some lesser names group themselves naturally round those of the greater Philosophes in the department of prose fiction. Voltaire's style was largely followed, but scarcely from Voltaire's point of view, and those who practised it fell rather under the head of Conteurs pure and simple than of novelists with a purpose. The prose Conte of the eighteenth century forms a remarkable branch of literature, redeemed from triviality by the exceptional skill expended on it. The master of the style was Crébillon the younger, in whom its merits and defects were both eminently present. Son of the tragic author, Crébillon led an easy but a rather mysterious life, married an Englishwoman, and was supposed by his friends to be dead long before he had actually quitted this world. His works, of which it is unnecessary to mention the names here, exhibit the moral corruption of the times in almost the highest possible degree. But they abound in keen social satire, in acute literary criticism, and in verbal wit. What is more, they show an extraordinary mastery of the art of narrative of the lighter kind. Around Crébillon are grouped a large number of writers, some of whom almost rival him in delicate literary knack, and most of whom equal him in perverse immorality of subject and tone. Much of the formal exercise of this tale literature was a tradition from the slightly earlier school of fairy tale-writing, which has already been noticed. Voisenon, Caylus, Boufflers, Moncrif (the most original and most eccentric of all), La Morlière, are names of this class. Their prose may, on the analogy of Vers de Société, be called Prose de Société, and of a very corrupt society too. But its formal excellence is considerable.

Of exceptional excellence among the short tales of this time, and free from their drawbacks, is the Diable Amoureux, 1772, of Cazotte, a singular person, strongly tinged with the 'illuminism,' or belief in occult sciences and arts, which was a natural result of the philosophe movement. Cazotte's melancholy story has a place in all histories of the French Revolution, and his name was (probably) borrowed by La Harpe for a bold and striking apologue, the authenticity or spuriousness of which is very much a matter of guess-work. The Diable Amoureux is a singularly powerful story of its kind, uniting, in the fashion so difficult with tales of diablerie, literary verisimilitude and exactness of presentation with strangeness of subject.

Voltaire's chief pupils and followers, while taking his own view of the utility of the prose tale for controversial purposes, followed another model for the most part in point of form. The immense influence of Télémaque was felt by Voltaire himself, though in his case it resulted in history pure and simple. Marmontel in his Bélisaire, and Florian in his Numa Pompilius and Gonsalve de Cordoue, returned to the historical romance. Something of the same class, though based upon much more solid scholarship, was the Voyage du Jeune Anacharsis of the Abbé Barthélemy. All these books, like their predecessor, have somewhat passed out of the range of literature proper into that of school books. They are, however, all good examples of the easy, correct, and lucid, if cold and conventional, tongue of the later eighteenth century.

Bernardin de Saint-Pierre.

Rousseau had a far more important disciple in fiction. Jacques Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was born at Havre in 1737. He was by profession an engineer, and both professionally and on his private account wandered about the world in a curious fashion. At last he met Rousseau, and the influence of Jean Jacques developed the sentimental morality, the speculative republicanism, and the ardent, if rather affected, love of nature which had already distinguished him. His best book, Paul et Virginie, is perhaps the only one of his works which can properly be called a novel; but La Chaumière Indienne deserves to be classed with it, and even the Études de la Nature are half fiction. Paul et Virginie was written when the author's admiration of nature and of the savage state, imbibed from Rousseau or quickened by his society, had been further inflamed by a three years' residence in Mauritius. Like the books mentioned in the last paragraph, Paul et Virginie has lost something by becoming a school-book, but its faults and merits are in a literary sense greater than theirs. The over-ripe sentiment and the false delicacy of it will always remain evidence of the stimulating but unhealthy atmosphere in which it was written. But it cannot be denied that, both here and elsewhere in Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, there is a very remarkable faculty of word-painting, and also of influencing the feelings.

Restif de la Bretonne.

The later eighteenth century saw a vast number of novelists and novels, few of which were of much literary value, while most of them displayed the evil influences of the time in more ways than one. Dulaurens, a vagabond and disreputable writer, is chiefly remembered for his Compère Mathieu, a book presenting some points of likeness to Jacques le Fataliste, and like it inspired partly by Sterne, and partly by Sterne's master, Rabelais. Writers like Louvet and La Clos continued the worst part of Crébillon's tradition without exhibiting either his literary skill or his wit. A much more remarkable name is that of Restif de la Bretonne, who has been called, and not without reason, the French Defoe. He was born at Sacy in Burgundy in 1734, and died at Paris in 1806. Although of very humble birth, he seems to have acquired an irregular but considerable education, and, establishing himself early in Paris, he became an indefatigable author. About fifty separate works of his exist, some of which are of great extent, and one of which, Les Contemporaines, includes forty-two volumes and nearly three hundred separate articles or tales. Restif, whose entire sanity may reasonably be doubted, was a novelist, a philosopher, a social innovator, a diligent observer of the manners of his times, a spelling reformer. His work is for the most part destitute of the most rudimentary notions of decency, but it is apparently produced in good faith and with no evil purpose. His portraiture of manners is remarkably vivid. It is in this, in his earnest but eccentric philanthropy, and in his grasp of character, not seldom vigorous and close, that he chiefly resembles Defoe. He has been called in France the Rousseau of the gutter, which also is a comparison not without truth and instruction, despite the jingle ('Rousseau du ruisseau') by which it was no doubt suggested.

The law which seems to have ordained that, though the eighteenth century in France should produce no masterpiece in fictitious literature, or only one, all the most distinguished literary names should be connected with fiction, extended to the long and, in a literary sense, dreary debateable land between the eighteenth century itself and the nineteenth. Of this period the two dominant names are beyond question those of Chateaubriand and of Madame de Stael. Both attempted various kinds of writing, but some of the most important work of both comes under the heading of the present chapter, and both as literary figures are best treated here.

Chateaubriand.

François Auguste de Chateaubriand was born at Saint Malo, where he is now buried, in 1768, and died in 1848. He belonged to a family which was among the noblest of Britanny and of France, but which was not wealthy, and he was a younger son. Intended at first for the navy, he was allowed, at the outbreak of the Revolution, to indulge his fancy for travelling, and journeyed to North America. There he learnt the anti-monarchical turn which things had taken in France. He at once returned and joined the emigrants at Coblentz. He was seriously wounded at the siege of Thionville, and had some difficulty in making his way, by Holland and Jersey, to England, where he lived in great poverty. Chateaubriand's acceptance of the Legitimist side had been but half-hearted, and his first published work, Sur les Révolutions Anciennes et Modernes, still expresses the peculiar liberalism which — it is sometimes forgotten — was much more deeply rooted in the French noblesse of the eighteenth century than in any other class. This opened the way to his return at the time that Napoleon, then entering on the consulate, endeavoured, by all the means in his power, to conciliate the emigrants. The Génie du Christianisme, which had been preceded by Atala (a kind of specimen of it), was his first original, and his most characteristic, work. This curious book, which it is impossible to analyse, consists partly of a rather desultory apology for Christian doctrine, partly of a series of historical illustrations of Christian life: it appeared in 1802. It suited the policy of Napoleon, who made Chateaubriand, first, secretary to the Roman Embassy, and then ambassador to the Valais. But Chateaubriand had never given up his legitimism, and the murder of the Duke d'Enghien shocked him irresistibly. He at once resigned his post, and thenceforward was in more or less covert opposition, though he was not actually banished from France. Pursuing the vein which he had opened in the Génie, he made a journey to the East, the result of which was his Itinéraire de Paris à Jerusalem, and the unequal but remarkable prose epic of Les Martyrs. This, the story of which is laid in the time of Diocletian, shifts its scene from classical countries to Gaul, where the half-mythical heroes of the Franks appear, and then back to Greece, Rome, and Purgatory. The fall of Napoleon opened once more a political career, of which Chateaubriand had always been ardently desirous. His pamphlet, De Bonaparte et des Bourbons, was, perhaps, the most important literary contribution to the re-establishment of the ancient monarchy. During the fifteen years which elapsed between the battle of Waterloo and the Revolution of July, Chateaubriand underwent vicissitudes due to the difficulty of adjusting his liberalism and his legitimism, sentiments which seem both to have been genuine, but to have been quite unreconciled by any reasoning process on the part of their holder. Yet, though he had again and again experienced the most ungracious treatment both from Louis XVIII. and Charles X., the July monarchy had no sooner established itself than he resigned his positions and pensions, and took no further official part in political affairs during the rest of his life. In his latter days he was much with the celebrated Madame Recamier, and completed his affectedly-named but admirable Mémoires d'Outre Tombe — an autobiography which, though marred by some of his peculiarities, contains much of his most brilliant writing. Of the works not hitherto noticed, René, Le Dernier Abencérage, Les Natchez, and some sketches of travels and of French history, are the most remarkable.

For some thirty years, from 1810 to 1840, Chateaubriand was unquestionably the greatest man of letters of France in the estimation of his contemporaries. His fame has since then diminished considerably, and much has been written to account for the change. It is not, however, very difficult to understand it. Chateaubriand is one of the chief representatives in literature of the working of two conditions, which, while they lend for the time much adventitious importance to the man who takes full advantage of them, invariably lead to rapidly-diminished estimates of him when they have ceased to work. He was a representative at once of transition and reaction — of transition from the hard and fast classical standards of the eighteenth century to the principles of the romantic and eclectic schools, of reaction against the philosophe era. He was one of the earliest and most influential exponents of the so-called maladie du siècle, of what, from his most illustrious pupil, is generally called Byronism. His immediate literary teachers were Rousseau and Ossian. He was not a thoroughly well-educated man, and he was exceptionally deficient in the purely logical and analytic faculty as distinguished from the rhetorical and synthetic. What he could do and did, was to glorify Christianity and monarchism in a series of brilliantly-coloured pictures, which had an immense effect on an age accustomed to the grey tints and monotonous argument of the opposite school, but which, to a posterity which is placed at a different point of view, seem to lack accuracy of detail and sincerity of emotion. Nevertheless Chateaubriand, if not a very great man, was a very great man of letters. His best passages are not easily to be surpassed in brilliancy of style and vividness of colouring. If the sentiment of his René seems hollow now-a-days, it must be remembered that this is almost entirely a matter of fashion and of novelty. The Génie du Christianisme, despite many defects of taste, more of insight, and most of mere learning, remains one of the most eloquent pleadings in literature, and not one of the least effective; while the Itinéraire is the pattern of all the picturesque travels of modern times. All these works, and most of the rest, are practically novels with a purpose. Even in the autobiography the historic part is entirely subdued and moulded to the exigencies of the dramatic and narrative construction. Regarded merely as an individual writer, Chateaubriand would supply a volume of 'Beauties' hardly inferior to that which could be gathered from any other prose author in France. Regarded as a precursor, he deserves far more than any other single man, and almost more than all others put together, the title of father of the Romantic movement.

Madame de Stael.

His chief rival in the literature of the empire was also essentially, though not wholly or professedly, a novelist. Anne Louise Germaine Necker, who married a Swedish diplomatist, the Baron de Stael Holstein, and is, therefore, generally known as Madame de Stael, was the daughter of the great financier Necker, and of Susanne Curchod, Gibbon's early love. She was introduced young to salon life in Paris, and early displayed ungovernable vanity, and much of the sensibilité of the time, that is to say, an indulgence in sentiment which paid equally little heed to morality and to good sense. Her marriage was one purely of convenience: and while her husband, of whom she seems to have had no reason whatever to complain, obtained some wealth by it, she herself secured a very agreeable position, inasmuch as the king of Sweden pledged himself either to maintain M. de Stael in the Swedish embassy at Paris, or to provide for him in other ways. She approved the early stages of the Revolution, but was shocked at the deposition and death of the king and queen. Whereupon she fled the country. Before she was thirty she had written various books, Lettres sur J. J. Rousseau, Défense de la Reine, De l'Influence des Passions, and other pieces of many kinds. When the influence of Napoleon became paramount, Madame de Stael, who had returned to Paris, found herself in an awkward position, for she was equally determined to say what she chose, and to have gallant attentions paid to her, and Napoleon would not comply with either of her wishes. She, therefore, had to leave France, but not before she had published her first romance, Delphine, and a book on literature. She now travelled for some years in Germany and Italy in the company of Benjamin Constant, who was the object of one of her numerous accesses of affection. Corinne, her principal novel, and her greatest work but one, appeared in 1807, her book De l'Allemagne being suppressed in Paris, whither she had returned, but which she soon had to leave again. The Restoration gave her access once more to France, and enabled her to resume possession of property which had been unjustly seized, but she died not long afterwards, in 1817. Her Dix Années d'Exil and her Considérations sur la Révolution Française were published posthumously, the latter being one of her chief works. She had married secretly, in 1812, a M. de Rocca, a man more than young enough to be her son.

The personality of Madame de Stael is far from being attractive owing to her excessive vanity, which disgusted all her contemporaries, and the folly which made a woman, who had never been beautiful, continue, long after she had ceased to be young, to give herself in life and literature the airs of a newest Héloïse. But she is a very important figure in French literature. Part of her influence, as represented by the book De l'Allemagne, does not directly concern us in this chapter; this part was mainly, but not wholly, literary. It was helped and continued, however, by her other works, especially by her novels, and, above all, by Corinne. This influence, put briefly, was to break up the narrowness of French notions on all subjects, and to open it to fresh ideas. Her political and general works led the way to the nineteenth century, side by side with Chateaubriand's, but in an entirely different sense. What Chateaubriand inculcated was the sense of the beauty of older and simpler times, countries, and faiths which the self-satisfaction of the eighteenth century had obscured; what Madame de Stael had to impress were general ideas of liberalism and progress to which the same century, in its crusade against superstition and its rather short-sighted belief in its own enlightenment, was equally blind. Delphine, which is in the main a romance of French society only, written before the author had seen much of any other world except a close circle of French emigrants abroad, exhibits this tendency much less than Corinne, which was written after that German visit — by far the most important event of Madame de Stael's life. Here, as Rousseau had inculcated the story of nature and savage life, as Chateaubriand was, at the same time, inculcating the study of Christian antiquity and the middle ages, so Madame de Stael inculcated the cultivation of æsthetic emotions and impulses as a new influence to be brought to bear on life. Her style, though not to be spoken of disrespectfully, is, on the whole, inferior to her matter. It is full of the drawbacks of eighteenth-century éloges and academic discourses, now tawdry, now deficient in colour, flexibility, and life, at one time below the subject, at another puffed up with commonplace and insincere declamation. Yet when she understood a subject, which was by no means invariably the case, Madame de Stael was an excellent exponent; and when her feelings were sincere, which they sometimes were, she was a fair mistress of pathos.

A considerable number of names of writers of fiction during the later republic and the empire have a traditional place in the history of literature, and some of their works are still read, but chiefly as school-books. Madame de Genlis, the author of Les Veillées du Château, and also of many volumes of ill-natured, and not too accurate, memoirs and reminiscences, continued the moral tale of the eighteenth century, and in Mlle. de Clermont produced work of merit. Fiévée, a journalist and critic of some talent, is remembered for the pretty story of the Dot de Suzette. Madame de Souza, in her Adèle de Sénanges and other works, revived, to a certain extent, the style of Madame de la Fayette. Ourika and Edouard, especially the latter, preserve the name of Madame de Duras. Madame Cottin, in Malek Adel, Elizabeth or Les Exiles de Sibérie, etc., combined a mild flavour of romance with irreproachable moral sentiments. A vigorous continuator of the licentious style of novel, with hardly any of the literary refinement of its eighteenth-century contributors, but with more fertility of incident and fancy, was Pigault Lebrun, the forerunner of Paul de Kock. Madame de Krudener, a woman of remarkable history, produced a good novel of sentiment in Valérie.

Xavier de Maistre.

Two novelists, singularly different in idiosyncrasy, complete what may be called the eighteenth-century school. Xavier de Maistre, younger brother of the great Catholic polemist, Joseph de Maistre, was born at Chambéry, in 1763. He served in the Piedmontese army during his youth, and his most famous work, the Voyage autour de ma Chambre, was published in 1794. The national extinction of Savoy and Piedmont, at least the annexation of Savoy and the effacement of Piedmont, made Xavier de Maistre an exile. He joined his brother in St. Petersburg, served in the Russian army, fought, and was wounded in the Caucasus; attained the rank of general, and died at St. Petersburg, in 1852, at the great age of eighty-nine. His work consists of the Voyage, an account of a temporary imprisonment in his quarters at Turin, obviously suggested by Sterne, but exceedingly original in execution; Le Lépreux de la Cité d'Aoste, in which the same inspiration and the same independent use of it are noticeable; and Les Prisonniers du Caucase, a vivid narrative rather in the manner of the nineteenth than of the eighteenth century, with a continuation of the Voyage called Expédition Nocturne, which has not escaped the usual fate of continuations, and a short version of the touching story of Prascovia, which contrasts very curiously with Madame Cottin's more artificial handling of the same subject. The important point about Xavier de Maistre is that he unites the sentimentality of the eighteenth century, and not a little of its Marivaudage, with an exactness of observation, a general truth of description, and a sense of narrative art which belong rather to the nineteenth. Although he was not a Frenchman, his style has always been regarded as a model of French; and the great authority of Sainte Beuve justly places him and Mérimée side by side as the most perfect tellers of tales in the simple fashion.

Benjamin Constant.

Benjamin Constant's Adolphe, 1815, is a very different work, but an equally remarkable one. It may be a question whether it is not entitled to take rank rather as the first book of the nineteenth-century school than as the last of the eighteenth. But its author (better known as a politician) published no further attempt to pursue the way he had opened; and though he himself denied its application to the persons who were usually identified with its characters, there is every reason to believe that it was rather the record of a personal experience than a deliberate effort of art. It is very short, dealing with the love of a certain Adolphe for a certain Ellénore and his disenchantment. The psychological drawing, though one-sided, is astonishingly true, and though sensibilité is still present, it has obviously lost its hold both on the characters represented and their creator. Deliberate analysis appears almost as much as in the work of Beyle himself. It is in every respect a remarkable book, and many parts of it might have been written at the present day. What distinguishes it from almost all its forerunners is that there is hardly any attempt at incident, far less at adventure. The play of thought and feeling is the sole source of interest. It is true that the situation is one that could not support a long book, and that it is thus rather an essay at the modern analytic novel than a finished example of it. But it is such an essay, and very far from an unsuccessful one.

288 The works of fiction written by the great authors of the century are easily obtainable. Manon Lescaut has been frequently and satisfactorily reproduced of late years — the two editions of Glady, with and without illustrations, being especially noteworthy. Restif de la Bretonne is a literary curiosity whose voluminous works hardly any collector possesses in their entirety; but the three volumes of the Contemporaines, selected and edited for the Nouvelle Collection Jannet by M. Assézat, will give a very fair idea of his peculiarities. Of most of the other authors mentioned convenient, handsome, and not too expensive editions will be found in the Bibliothèque Amusante of MM. Garnier Frères. This includes Mesdames de Tencin, de Fontaines, Riccoboni, de Beaumont, de Genlis, de Duras, de Souza, as well as Marivaux and Fiévée. Lesage's more remarkable fictions are obtainable at every library. Xavier de Maistre forms a single cheap volume. A handsome little edition of Constant's Adolphe has been edited by M. de Lescure for the Librairie des Bibliophiles. Cazotte's Diable Amoureux is in the Nouvelle Collection Jannet. M. Uzanne's reproductions of the prose tale-tellers are excellent.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/saintsbury/george/french-lit/book4.3.html

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