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On the English Novelists.
THERE is an exclamation in one of Gray's letters_- Be mine to read eternal new romances of Marivaux and Crebillon!" ir did not utter a similar aspiration at the conclusion of the last new novel which I read (I would not give offence by being more particular as to the name) it was not from any want of affectura for the class of writing to which it belongs; for without going so far as the celebrated French philosopher, who thought that more was to be learnt from good novels and romances than from the gravest treatises on history and morality, yet there are few works to which I am oftener tempted to turn for profit or deleghel than to the standard productions in this species of composite We find there a close imitation of men and manners; we set the very web and texture of society as it really exists, and as we meet with it when we come into the world. If poetry has ** something more divine in it," this savours more of humanity We are brought acquainted with the motives and characters of mankind, imbibe our notions of virtue and vice from practical examples, and are taught a knowledge of the world through the airy medium of romance. As a record of past manners and opinions, too, such writings afford the best and fullest information For example, I should be at a loss where to find in any authentic documents of the same period so satisfactory an account of the general state of society, and of moral, political, and religros feeling in the reign of Cirorge Il as we meet with in the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and his friend Mr Abraham Adams This work, indeed, I take to be a perfect place of statistics in *** kind. In looking into any regular history of that period, into learned and eloquent charge to a grand jury or the clergy of a diocese or into a tract on controversial divinity we should bear only of the ascendancy of the Protestant succession, the horrors of Popery, the triumph of civil and religious liberty, the wisdom and moderation of the sovereign, the happiness of the subject, and the flourishing state of manufactures and commerce. But if we really wish to know what all these fine-sounding names come to, we cannot do better than turn to the works of those who, having no other object than to imitate nature, could only hope for success from the fidelity of their pictures ; and were bound (in self-defence) to reduce the boasts of vague theorists and the exaggerations of angry disputants to the mortifying standard of reality. Extremes are said to meet; and the works of imagination, as they are called, sometimes come the nearest to truth and nature. Fielding, in speaking on this subject, and vindicating the use and dignity of the style of writing in which he excelled against the loftier pretensions of professed historians, says, " that in their productions nothing is true but the names and dates, whereas in his everything is true but the names and dates.” If so, he has the advantage on his side.
I will here confess, however, that I am a little prejudiced on the point in question; and that the effect of many fine speculations has been lost upon me, from an early familiarity with the most striking passages in the work to which I have just alluded. Thus nothing can be more captivating than the description somewhere given by Mr. Burke of the indissoluble connexion between learning and nobility, and of the respect universally paid by wealth to piety and morals. But the effect of this ideal representation has always been spoiled by my recollection of Parson Adams sitting over his cup of ale in Sir Thomas Booby's kitchen. Echard On the Contempt of the Clergy' is, in like manner, a very good book, and "worthy of all acceptation;" but somehow an unlucky impression of the reality of Parson Trulliber involuntarily checks the emotions of respect to which it might otherwise give rise; while, on the other hand, the lecture which Lady Booby reads to Lawyer Scout on the immediate expulsion of Joseph and Fanny from the parish, casts no very favourable light on the flattering accounts of our practical jurisprudence which are to be found in Blackstone or De Lolme. The most moral writers, after all, are those who do not pretend to inculcate any moral. The professed moralist almost unavoidably degenerates into the partisan of a system; and the philosopher is too apt to warp the evidence to his own purpose. But the painter of manners gives the facts of human nature, and leaves us to draw the inference ; if we are not able to do this, ar do it ill, at least it is our own fault.
The first-rate writers in this class, of course, are few; but those few we may reckon among the greatest ornaments and best benefactors of our kind. There is a certain set of them who, us i were, take their rank by the side of reality, and are appealed » as evidence on all questions concerning human nature
. The principal of these are Cervantes and Le Sage, who may be con sidered as having been naturalised among ourselves; and, of native English growth, Fielding, Smollett, Richardson, and Sterne. As this is a department of criticism which deserves more attention than has been usually bestowed upon it, I shall here venture to recur (not from choice but necessity) to what ! have said upon it in a well-known periodical publication t and endeavour to contribute my mite towards settling the standard of excellence, both as to degree and kind, in these several writers.
I shall begin with the history of the renowned . Don Quixote de la Mancha,' who presents something more stately, more to mantic, and at the same time more real to the imagination, that any other hero upon record. His lineaments, his accoutrement, his pasteboard vizor, are familiar to us; and Mambrino's helmet still glitters in the sun! We not only feel the greatest love and veneration for the knight himself, but a certain respect for all those connected with him, the curate and Master Nicolas the barber, Sancho and Dapple, and even for Rosinante's loanness and his errors-Perhaps there is no work which combines to much whimsical invention with such an air of truth. Its popelarily us almost unequalled; and yet its merits have not been
• It was not to be forgotten that the author of 'Robinson Crusoe 'ww she an Englandıman. Ilus other works, such as the 'Lake of Columel Jack, &e. are of the eme cast, and leave an impression on the mine? more like that of things than words
+ The Bedinburgla Review.
sufficiently understood. The story is the least part of them; though the blunders of Sancho, and the unlucky adventures of his master, are what naturally catch the attention of the majority of readers. The pathos and dignity of the sentiments are often disguised under the ludicrousness of the subject, and provoke laughter when they might well draw tears. The character of Don Quixote himself is one of the most perfect disinterestedness. He is an enthusiast of the most amiable kind; of a nature equally open, gentle, and generous; a lover of truth and justice; and one who had brooded over the fine dreams of chivalry and romance, till they had robbed him of himself, and cheated his brain into a belief of their reality. There cannot be a greater mistake than to consider · Don Quixote' as a merely satirical work, or as a vulgar attempt to explode “ the long-forgotten order of chivalry." There could be no need to explode what no longer existed. Besides, Cervantes himself was a man of the most sanguine and enthusiastic temperament; and even through the crazed and battered figure of the knight, the spirit of chivalry shines out with undiminished lustre; as if the author had halfdesigned to revive the examples of past ages, and once more “witch the world with noble horsemanship.” Oh! if ever the mouldering flame of Spanish liberty is destined to break forth, wrapping the tyrant and the tyranny in one consuming blaze, that the spark of generous sentiment and romantic enterprise, from which it must be kindled, has not been quite extinguished, will perhaps be owing to thee, Cervantes, and to thy 'Don Quixote!
The character of Sancho is not more admirable in itself, than as a relief to that of the knight. The contrast is as picturesque and striking as that between the figures of Rosinante and Dapple. Never was there so complete a partie quarreé :they answer to one another at all points. Nothing need surpass the truth of physiognomy in the description of the master and man, both as to body and mind; the one lean and wall, the other round and short; the one heroical and courteous, the other selfish and servile; the one full of high-flown fancies, the other a bag of proverbs; the one always starting some romantic scheme, the other trying to keep to the safe side of custom and tradition. The gradual ascendancy, however, obtained by Don Quixote over Sancho, is as finely managed as it is characteristic. Credality and a love of the marvellous are as natural to ignorance as selfishness and cunning Sancho by degrees becomes a kind of lay brother of the order; acquires a taste for adventures in his own way, and is made all but an entire convert by the discovery of the hundred crowns in one of his most comfortless journeys Towards the end, his regret at being forced to give up the pursuit of knight-errantry, almost equals his master's; and he seizes the proposal of Don Quixote for them to turn shepherds with the greatest avidity-still applying it in his own fashion ; for while the Don is ingeniously torturing the names of his humble acquaintance into classical terminations, and contriving scenes of gallantry and song, Sancho exclaims, 'Oh, what delicate wooden spoons shall I carve! what crumbs and cream shall I devour!”-forgetting, in his milk and fruits, the pullets and geese at Camacho's wedding,
This intuitive perception of the hidden analogies of things, ot, as it may be called, this instinct of the imagination, is, perhaps what stamps the character of genius on the productions of art more than any other circumstance · for it works unconsciously, like nature, and receives its impressions from a kind of inspiration There is as much of this indistinet keeping and involuntary unity of purpose in Cervantes as in any author whatever Something of the same unsettled, rambling humour extende itself to all the subordinate parts and characters of the work. Thus we find the curate confidentially informing Don Quixote, that if he could get the ear of the government he has something of considerable importance to propose for the good of the state; and our adventurer afterwards (in the course of his peregrinations) meets with a young gentleman who is a candidate for poetical honours, with a mad lover, a forsaken damal, a Ma hometan lady converted in the Christian faith, &c -all dehorated with the same truth, wildres, and debosy of fancy The whole work breathes that air of romance, that aspiration after imnginary good, that indesenbable longing after something more than we posess, that in all places and in all conditions of life,