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The Astrea
by [?]

I bring the Astrea forward to point out the ingenious manner by which a fine imagination can veil the common incidents of life, and turn whatever it touches into gold.

Honore D’Urfe was the descendant of an illustrious family. His brother Anne married Diana of Chateaumorand, the wealthy heiress of another great house. After a marriage of no less duration than twenty-two years, this union was broken by the desire of Anne himself, for a cause which the delicacy of Diana had never revealed. Anne then became an ecclesiastic. Some time afterwards, Honore, desirous of retaining the great wealth of Diana in the family, addressed this lady, and married her. This union, however, did not prove fortunate. Diana, like the goddess of that name, was a huntress, continually surrounded by her dogs:–they dined with her at table, and slept with her in bed. This insupportable nuisance could not be patiently endured by the elegant Honore. He was also disgusted with the barrenness of the huntress Diana, who was only delivered every year of abortions. He separated from her, and retired to Piedmont, where he passed his remaining days in peace, without feeling the thorns of marriage and ambition rankling in his heart. In this retreat he composed his Astrea; a pastoral romance, which was the admiration of Europe during half a century. It forms a striking picture of human life, for the incidents are facts beautifully concealed. They relate the amours and gallantries of the court of Henry the Fourth. The personages in the Astrea display a rich invention; and the work might be still read, were it not for those wire-drawn conversations, or rather disputations, which were then introduced into romances. In a modern edition, the Abbe Souchai has curtailed these tiresome dialogues; the work still consists of ten duodecimos.

In this romance, Celidee, to cure the unfortunate Celadon, and to deprive Thamire at the same time of every reason for jealousy, tears her face with a pointed diamond, and disfigures it in so cruel a manner, that she excites horror in the breast of Thamire; but he so ardently admires this exertion of virtue, that he loves her, hideous as she is represented, still more than when she was most beautiful. Heaven, to be just to these two lovers, restores the beauty of Celidee; which is effected by a sympathetic powder. This romantic incident is thus explained:–One of the French princes (Thamire), when he returned from Italy, treated with coldness his amiable princess (Celidee); this was the effect of his violent passion, which had become jealousy. The coolness subsisted till the prince was imprisoned, for state affairs, in the wood of Vincennes. The princess, with the permission of the court, followed him into his confinement. This proof of her love soon brought back the wandering heart and affections of the prince. The small-pox seized her; which is the pointed diamond, and the dreadful disfigurement of her face. She was so fortunate as to escape being marked by this disease; which is meant by the sympathetic powder. This trivial incident is happily turned into the marvellous: that a wife should choose to be imprisoned with her husband is not singular; to escape being marked by the small-pox happens every day; but to romance, as he has done, on such common circumstances, is beautiful and ingenious.

D’Urfe, when a boy, is said to have been enamoured of Diana; this indeed has been questioned. D’Urfe, however, was sent to the island of Malta to enter into that order of knighthood; and in his absence Diana was married to Anne. What an affliction for Honore on his return to see her married, and to his brother! His affection did not diminish, but he concealed it in respectful silence. He had some knowledge of his brother’s unhappiness, and on this probably founded his hopes. After several years, during which the modest Diana had uttered no complaint, Anne declared himself; and shortly afterwards Honore, as we have noticed, married Diana.