« PreviousContinue »
termined ; the subject of your ænigma is explained, and that was a secret which conscience had often told you long before the irresistible course of events proclaimed it. In this manner the history of man ought to be exhibited in novels; thus should fiction be employed to explain to us, by our virtues and our feelings, the mysteries of our fate.
Some will perhaps exclaim, Nothing, indeed, can be more, a fiction than a work on such a plan !". Do you still believe in those moral influences, in love, in the ele. vation of the soul, in a word, of all the illusions of that nature? In return, let me ask, if we discard this belief, what shall we put in its place ? Shall we substitute corrupt and vulgar pleasures, a frigid heart, or baseness and perfidy of mind ? This choice, hideous in itself, is seldom rewarded by happiness or
success; but though both should for a moment be its result, that spectacle would only serve to
inspire the virtuous man with a stronger sense of his own dignity. If history represented generous sentiments as always prosperous, they would have ceased to be generous. The speculators would soon have appropriated them to themselves as the best means of succeeding in the world. But the uncertainty as to what may lead to splendor, and the certainty of that which morality requires, is an excellent opposition, which honours the performance of duty, and the voluntary preference of adversity. It
appears to me then that the circumstances of real life, fleeting as they are, cannot so well instruct us in durable truths, as fictions founded those truths; and that the best lessons of delicacy or of digoity are to be found in novels, in which sentiments and characters
so naturally depicted, that on the perusal' we fancy a real scene passes before
: A common or a refined style are equally removed from this natural expression. Refinement is suited only to ornament, to those affections which we would not feel if we did not wish to display them. Refinement, indeed, is so evident a proof of coldness, that it excludes the possibility of any powerful emotion ; but common expressions are as distant from truth as those which are studied, because ordinary language never paints what really passes in our hearts. Every man has a mode of feeling peculiar to himself, which would produce originality if he gave way to it. Talent perhaps consists only in the power of easily transporting the soul into all the affections which the imagination can ex-; cite. Genius will never speak better than nature, but it will speak like her even in invented situations; wbile the man of ordinary mind can feel only the imprese, sions which arise from his own situation.' Thus, in every species of composition, to
paint with truth is of all things the most difficult, and the most simple, the most sublime and the most patural !
Ancient literature possessed no works of the kind we call novels. The country then absorbed all minds, and women did not enjoy so general an influence in society as to render it necessary for men to study all the delicate shades of love. The romances were much more indebted for their celebrity among the moderns to the marvellous nature of the adventures, than to the truth and delicacy of the sentiments. Madame de Lafayette, in her Princess of Cleves, was the first who succeeded in Uniting the painting of the brilliant manrrers of chivalry, with the touching language of impassioned affections. But the best novels are those of the eighteenth century! The English were the first who gave a moral object to these productions. They seek utility in every thing; a disposition which is peculiar to a free people.
They require to be instructed rather than amused, because having to make a noble use of the faculties of the mind, they love to develope, and not to benumb them.
Another people no less remarkable for their enlightened views than the English are for their institutions, I mean the Germans, possess novels distinguished by their profound truth and exquisite sensibility: but an improper estimate is formed of German literature among us, or, to speak more properly, the small number of well in- . forined persons who are acquainted with its do not give themselves the troable of rew plying to those who know it not. It is only since the time of Voltaire that justice has been done in France to the admirable literature of England. It will in the same manner be necessary for a man of genius to enrich himself with the fruitful originality of some German writers, to persuade! the French that there are works in that language in which the idcas are profound,