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Gallantry Dizain des Fetes Galantes   By: (1879-1958)

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GALLANTRY

Dizain des Fetes Galantes

By

JAMES BRANCH CABELL

WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY LOUIS UNTERMEYER

" Half in masquerade, playing the drawing room or garden comedy of life, these persons have upon them, not less than the landscape among the accidents of which they group themselves with fittingness, a certain light that we should seek for in vain upon anything real. "

TO

JAMES ROBINSON BRANCH

THIS VOLUME, SINCE IT TREATS OF GALLANTRY, IS DEDICATED, AS BOTH IN LIFE AND DEATH AN EXPONENT OF THE WORD'S HIGHEST MEANING

" A brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand this.... Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with Thee, which frameth mischief by a law? "

INTRODUCTION

These paragraphs, dignified by the revised edition of Gallantry and spuriously designated An Introduction, are nothing more than a series of notes and haphazard discoveries in preparation of a thesis. That thesis, if it is ever written, will bear a title something academically like The Psychogenesis of a Poet; or Cabell the Masquerader . For it is in this guise sometimes self declared, sometimes self concealed, but always as the persistent visionary that the author of some of the finest prose of our day has given us the key with which (to lapse into the jargon of verse) he has unlocked his heart.

On the technical side alone, it is easy to establish Cabell's poetic standing. There are, first of all, the quantity of original rhymes that are scattered through the dozen volumes which Cabell has latterly (and significantly) classified as Biography. Besides these interjections which do duty as mottoes, chapter headings, tailpieces, dedications, interludes and sometimes relevant songs, there is the volume of seventy five "adaptations" in verse, From the Hidden Way , published in 1916. Here Cabell, even in his most natural role, declines to show his face and amuses himself with a new set of masks labelled Alessandro de Medici, Antoine Riczi, Nicolas de Caen, Theodore Passerat and other fabulous minnesingers whose verses were created only in the mind of Cabell. It has pleased him to confuse others besides the erudite reviewer of the Boston Transcript by quoting the first lines of the non existent originals in Latin, Italian, Provencal thus making his skilful ballades, sestinas and the less mediaeval narratives part of a remarkably elaborate and altogether successful hoax.

And, as this masquerade of obscure Parnassians betrayed its creator, Cabell impelled by some fantastic reticence sought for more subtle makeshifts to hide the poet. The unwritten thesis, plunging abruptly into the realm of analytical psychology, will detail the steps Cabell has taken, as a result of early associative disappointments, to repress or at least to disguise, the poet in himself and it will disclose how he has failed. It will burrow through the latest of his works and exhume his half buried experiments in rhyme, assonance and polyphony. This part of the paper will examine Jurgen and call attention to the distorted sonnet printed as a prose soliloquy on page 97 of that exquisite and ironic volume. It will pass to the subsequent Figures of Earth and, after showing how the greater gravity of this volume is accompanied by a greater profusion of poetry per se it will unravel the scheme of Cabell's fifteen essays in what might be called contrapuntal prose. It will unscramble all the rhymes screened in Manuel's monologue beginning on page 294, quote the metrical innovations with rhymed vowels on page 60, tabulate the hexameters that leap from the solidly set paragraphs and rearrange the brilliant fooling that opens the chapter "Magic of the Image Makers." This last is in itself so felicitous a composite of verse and criticism a passage incredibly overlooked by the most meticulous of Cabell's glossarians that it deserves a paper for itself. For here, set down prosaically as "the unfinished Rune of the Blackbirds" are four distinct parodies including two insidious burlesques of Browning and Swinburne on a theme which is familiar to us to day in les mots justes of Mother Goose... Continue reading book >>




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