Page:The Palace of Pleasure, Volume 1 (1890).djvu/23

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xvii
INTRODUCTION.

luxury, all combined to make Italy one huge hot-bed of unblushing vice. The very interest in individuality, the spectator-attitude towards life, made men ready to treat life as one large experiment, and for such purposes vice is as important as right living even though it ultimately turns out to be as humdrum as virtue. The Italian nobles treated life in this experimental way and the novels of Bandello and others give us the results of their experiments. The Novellieri were thus the "realists" of their day and of them all Bandello was the most realistic. He claims to give only incidents that really happened and makes this his excuse for telling many incidents that should never have happened. It is but fair to add that his most vicious tales are his dullest.

That cannot be said of Queen Margaret of Navarre, who carries on the tradition of the Novellieri, and is represented in Painter by some of her best stories. She intended to give a Decameron of one hundred stories the number comes from the Cento novelle autichi, before Boccaccio but only got so far as the second novel of the eighth day. As she had finished seven days her collection is known as the Heptameron. How much of it she wrote herself is a point on which the doctors dispute. She had in her court men like Clement Marot, and Bonaventure des Périers, who probably wrote some of the stories. Bonaventure des Périers in particular, had done much in the same line under his own name, notably the collection known as Cymbalum Mundi. Marguerite's other works hardly prepare us for the narrative skill, the easy grace of style and the knowledge of certain aspects of life shown in the Heptameron. On the other hand the framework, which is more elaborate than in Boccaccio or any of his school, is certainly from one hand, and the book does not seem one that could have been connected with the Queen's name unless she had really had much to do with it. Much of its piquancy comes from the thought of the association of one whose life was on the whole quite blameless with anecdotes of a most blameworthy style. Unlike the lady in the French novel who liked to play at innocent games with persons who were not innocent, Margaret seems to have liked to talk and write of things