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pires were gained and battles decided by the valour of a single man; imagination bestowing what nature has denied, and the system of human affairs has rendered impossible.
BOOKSELLER. I assure you these books were very useful to the Authors, and their Booksellers; and for whose benefit beside should a man write? These romances were very fashionable, and had a great sale : they fell in luckily with the humour of the
PLUTARCH. Monsieur Scuderi tells me they were written in the times of vigour and spirit, in the evening of the gallant days of chivalry, which, though then declining, had left in the hearts of men a warm glow of courage and heroism; and they were to be called to books, as to battles, by the sound of the trumpet : he says. too, that if writers had not accommodated themselves to the prejudices of the age, and written of bloody battles and desperate encounters, their works would have been esteemed too effeminate an amusement for gentlemen. Histories of chivalry, instead of enervating, tend to in
vigorate the mind, and endeavour to raise human nature above the condition, which is naturally prescribed to it;; bụt as strict justice, patriot motives, prudent counsels, and a dispassionate choice of what upon the whole is fittest and best, do not direct these heroes of romance, they cannot serve for instruction and example, like the great characters of true history. It has ever been my opinion, that only the clear and steady light of truth can guide men to virtue, and that the lesson which is impracticable, must be unuseful. Whoever shall design to regulate his conduct by these visionary characters, will be in the condition of superstitious people, who choose rather to act by intimations they receive in the dreams of the night, than by the sober counsels of morning meditation. Yet L confess it has been the practice of many nations to incite, men to virtue by relating the deeds of fabulous heroes; but surely it is the custom only of yours to incite them to vice, by the history of fabulous scoundrels. Men of fine imagination have soared into the regions of fancy to bring back Astrea: you go thither in
search of Pandora ; Oh disgrace to letters ! Oh shame to the Muses !
BOOKSELLER. You express great indignation at our present race of writers; but believe me, the fault lies chiefly on the side of the readers. As Monsieur Scuderi observed to you, authors must comply with the manners and disposition of those who are to read them. There must be a certain sympathy between the book and the reader, to create a good liking. Would you present a modern fine gentleman, who is negligently lolling in an easy-chair, with the Labours of Hercules for his, recreation ? or make him climb the Alps with Hannibal, when he is expiring with the fatigue of last night's ball? Our readers must be amused, flattered, soothed; such adventures must be offered to them as they would like to have a share in.
:. PĽUTARCH. in It should be the first object of writers to correct the vices and follies of the
I will allow as much compliance with the mode of the times, as will make truth and good morals agreeable. Your love of fic
titious characters might be turned to good purpose, if those presented to the public were to be formed on the rules of religion and morality. It must be confessed, that history, being employed only about illustrious
persons, public events, and celebrated actions, does not supply us with such instances of domestic merit as one could wish: our heroes are great in the field and the senate, and act well in great scenes on the theatre of the world: but the idea of a man, who in the silent retired path of life never deviates into vice, who considers no spectator but the Omniscient Being, and solicits no applause but His approbation, is the noblest model that can be exhibited to mankind, and would be of the most general use. Examples of domestic virtue would be more particularly useful to women than those of great heroines. The virtues of women are blasted by the breath of public fame, as flowers that grow on an eminence are faded by the sun and wind, which expand them. But true female praise, like the music of the spheres, arises from a gentle, à constant, and an equal progress in the path marked
out for them, by their great Creator; and, like the heavenly harmony, it is not adapted to the gross ear of mortals, but is reserved for the delight of higher beings, by whose wise laws they were ordained to give a silent light, and shed a mild benignant influence on the world.
BOOKSELLER. We have had some English and French writers who aimed at what you suggest. In the supposed character of Clarissa (said a clergymen to me a few days before I left the world) one finds the dignity of heroism tempered by the meekness and humility of religion, a perfect purity of mind and sanctity of manners; in that of Sir Charles Grandison, a noble pattern of every private virtue, with sentiments so exalted as to render him equal to every public duty.
PLUTARCH. Are there no other authors who write in this manner?
BOOKSELLER. Yes, we have another writer of these imaginary histories: one who has not long since descended to these regions: his name is