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ON BRITISH NOVELS AND ROMANCES, INTRODUCTORY TO A
SERIES OF CRITICISMS ON THE LIVING NOVELISTS.
[NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.)
We regard the authors of the best novels | fair and glistening eyes in moments snatched and romances as among the truest benefactors from repose, and beneath counters and shopof their species. Their works have often con boards minister delights “secret, sweet, and veyed, in the most attractive form, lessons of precious.” It is possible that, in particular the most genial wisdom. But we do not prize instances, their effects may be baneful; but, on them so much in reference to their immediate the whole, we are persuaded they are good. aim, or any individual traits of nobleness with The world is not in danger of becoming too which they may inform the thoughts, as for romantic. The golden threads of poesy are not their general tendency to break up that cold too thickly or too closely interwoven with the and debasing selfishness with which the souls ordinary web of existence. Sympathy is the of so large a portion of mankind are encrusted. first great lesson which man should learn. It They give to a vast class, who by no means will be ill for him if he proceeds no farther; if would be carried beyond the most contracted his emotions are but excited to roll back on his range of emotion, an interest in things out of heart, and to be fostered in luxurious quiet themselves, and a perception of grandeur and But unless he learns to feel for things in which of beauty, of which otherwise they might ever he has no personal interest, he can achieve have lived unconscious. Pity for fictitious suf- nothing generous or noble. This lesson is in ferings is, indeed, very inferior to that sympa- reality the universal moral of all excellent rothy with the universal heart of man which mances. How mistaken are those miserable inspires real self-sacrifice; but it is better even reasoners who object to them as giving "false to be moved by its tenderness, than wholly to be pictures of life-of purity too glossy and etheignorant of the joy of natural tears. How real-of friendship too deep and confiding-of many are there for whom poesy has no charm, love which does not shrink at the approach of and who have derived only from romances ill, but looks on tempests and is never shaken," those glimpses of disinterested heroism and because with these the world too rarely blosideal beauty, which alone “make them less for- soms! Were these things visionary and unlorn,” in their busy career! The good house- real, who would break the spell, and bid the dewife, who is employed all her life in the seve- licious enchantment vanish? The soul will rest drudgery, has yet some glimmerings of a not be the worse for thinking too well of its state and dignity above her station and age, kind, or believing that the highest excellence and some dim vision of meek, angelic suffer- is within the reach of its exertions. But these ing, when she thinks of the well-thumbed vo- things are not unreal; they are shadows, inlume of Clarissa Harlowe, which she found, deed, in themselves; but they are shadows cast when a girl, in some old recess, and read, with from objects stately and eternal.
Man can breathless eagerness, at stolen times and mo- never imagine that which has no foundation in ments of hasty joy. The careworn lawyer or his nature. The virtues he conceives are not politician, encircled with all kinds of petty the mere pageantry of his thought. We feel anxieties, thinks of the Arabian Nights Enter- their truth-not their historic or individual tainments, which he devoured in his joyful truth—but their universal truth, as reflexes of school-days, and is once more young, and in- human energy and power. It would be enough nocent, and happy. If the sternest puritan were for us to prove that the imaginative glories acquainted with Parson Adams, or with Dr. which are shed around our being, are far Primrose, he could not hate the clergy. If brighter than “the light of common day,” which novels are not the deepest teachers of hu- mere vulgar experience in the course of the manity, they have, at least
, the widest range. world diffuses. But, in truth, that radiance is They lend to genius “lighter wings to fly.” not merely of the fancy, nor are its influences They are read where Milton and Shakspeare lost when it ceases immediately to shine on are only talked of, and where even their names our path. It is holy and prophetic. The best are never heard. They nestle gently beneath joys of childhood—its boundless aspiratious the covers of unconscious sofas, are read by and gorgeous dreams, are the sure indications
of the nobleness of its final heritage. All the purity of an angel. She is at the same time softenings of evil to the moral vision by the one of the grandest of tragic heroines, and the gentleness of fancy, are proofs that evil itself divinest of religious enthusiasts. Clarissa shall perish. Our yearnings after ideal beauty alone is above her. Clementina steps statelily show that the home of the soul which feels in her very madness, amidst " the pride, pomp, them, is in a lovelier world. And when man and circumstance” of Italian nobility; Clarissa describes high virtues, and instances of no- is triumphant, though violated, deserted, and bleness, which rarely light on earth ; so sub- encompassed by vice and infamy. Never can lime that they expand our imaginations beyond we forget that amazing scene, in which, on the their former compass, yet so human that they effort of her mean seducer to renew his outmake our hearts gush with delight; he disco- rages, she appears in all the radiance of menvers feelings in his own breast, and awakens tal purity, among the wretches assembled to sympathies in ours, which shall assuredly one witness his triumph, where she startles them by day have real and stable objects to rest on ! her first appearance, as by a vision from
The early times of England-unlike those of above; and holding the penknife to her breast, Spain-were not rich in chivalrous romances. with her eyes lifted to heaven, prepares to die, The imagination seems to have been chilled if her craven destroyer advances, striking the by the manners of the Norman conquerors. vilest with deep awe of goodness, and walkThe domestic contests for the disputed throne, ing placidly, at last, from the circle of her foes, with their intrigues, battles, and executions, none of them daring to harm her! How pahave none of that rich, poetical interest, which thetic, above all other pathos in the world, are attended the struggles for the Holy Sepulchre. those snatches of meditation which she comNor, in the golden age of English genius, were mits to the paper, in the first delirium of her there any very remarkable works of pure fic-wo! How delicately imagined are her prepation. Since that period to the present day, rations for that grave in which alone she can however, there has been a rich succession of find repose! Cold must be the hearts of those novels and romances, each increasing the who can conceive them as too elaborate, or stores of innocent delight, and shedding on hu- who can venture to criticise them. In this man life some new tint of tender colouring. novel all appears most real; we feel enve
The novels of Richardson are once loped, like Don Quixote, by a thousand among the grandest and the most singular crea- threads; and like him, would we rather retions of human genius. They combine an ac- main so for ever, than break one of their silken curate acquaintance with the freest libertinism, fibres. Clarissa Harlowe is one of the books and the sternest professions of virtue—a sport- which leave us different beings from those ing with vicious casuistry, and the deepest which they find us. “ Sadder and wiser" do horror of free-thinking the most stately ideas we arise from its perusal. of paternal authority, and the most elaborate Yet when we read Fielding's novels after display of its abuses. Prim and stiff, almost those of Richardson, we feel as if a stupenwithout parallel, the author perpetually treads dous pressure were removed from our souls. on the very borders of indecorum, but with a We seem suddenly to have left a palace of solemn and assured step, as if certain that he enchantment, where we have past through could never fall. “The precise, strait-laced long galleries filled with the most gorgeous Richardson,” says Mr. Lamb in one of the pro- images, and illumined by a light not quite found and beautiful notes to his specimens, human nor yet quite divine, into the fresh air, “has strengthened vice from the mouth of and the common ways of this “ bright and Lovelace, with entangling sophistries, and ab- breathing world.” We travel on the high struse pleas against her adversary virtue, road of humanity, yet meet in it pleasanter which Sedley, Villiers, and Rochester wanted companions, and catch more delicious snatches depth of libertinism sufficient to have invent- of refreshment, than ever we can hope elseed." He had, in fact, the power of making any where to enjoy. The mock heroic of Fieldset of notions, however fantastical, appear as ing, when he condescends to that ambiguous “ truths of holy writ,” to his readers. This he style, is scarcely less pleasing than its stately did by the authority with which he disposed of prototype. It is a sort of spirited defiance to all things, and by the infinite minuteness of his fiction, on the behalf of reality, by one who details. His gradations are so gentle, that we knew full well all the strongholds of that do not at any one point hesitate to follow him, nature which he was defending. There is not and should descend with him to any depth in Fielding much of that which can properly before we perceived that our path had been be called ideal—if we except the character of unequal. By the means of this strange magic, Parson Adams; but his works represent life we become anxious for the marriage of Pa- as more delightful than it seems to common mela with her base master; because the author experience, by disclosing those of its dear imhas so imperceptibly wrought on us the belief munities, which we little think of, even when of an awful distance between the rights of an we enjoy them. How delicious are all his reesquire and his servant, that our imaginations freshments at all his inns! How vivid are regard it in the place of all moral distinctions. the transient joys of his heroes, in their After all, the general impression made on us checkered course—how full and overflowing by his works is virtuous. Clementina is to are their final raptures! His Tom Jones is the soul a new and majestic image, inspired by quite unrivalled in plot, and is to be rivalled virtue and by love, which raises and refines its only in his own works for felicitous delineconceptions. She has all the depth and in-ation of character. The little which we have tensity of the Italian character, with all the told us of Allworthy, especially that which re