« PreviousContinue »
“ It is not, in our opinion, a very difficult attempt to class Fielding or Smollett; the one as an observer of the characters of human life, the other as a describer of its various eccentricities;-but it is by no means so easy to dispose of Richardson, who was neither an observer of the one, nor a describer of the other; but who seemed to spin his materials entirely out of his own brain, as if there had been nothing existing in the world beyond the little shop in which he sat writing. There is an artificial reality about his works, which is nowhere to be met with. They have the romantic air of a pure fiction, with the literal minuteness of a common diary. The author had the strangest matter-of-fact imagination that ever existed, and wrote the oddest mixture of poetry and prose. He does not appear to have taken advantage of any thing in actual nature, from one end of his works to the other; and, yet, throughout all his works, (voluminous as they are—and this, to be sure, is one reason why they are so), he sets about describing every object and transaction, as if the whole had been given in on evidence by an eyewitness. This kind of high finishing from imagination is an anomaly in the history of human genius; and certainly nothing so fine was ever produced by the same accumulation of minute parts. There is not the least distraction, the least forgetfulness of the end ; every circumstance is made to tell. We cannot agree that this exactness of detail produces heaviness ; on the contrary, it gives an appear. ance of truth, and a positive interest to the story; and we listen with the same attention as we should to the particulars of a confidential communication. We at one time used to think some parts of Sir Charles Grandison rather trifling and tedious, especially the long description of Miss Harriet Byron's wedding-clothes, till we met with two young ladies who had severally copied out the whole of that very description for their own
private gratification. After this, we could not blame the author.
“ The effect of reading this work, is like an increase of kindred; you find yourself all of a sudden introduced into the midst of a large family, with aunts and cousins to the third and fourth generation, and grandmothers both by the father's and mother's side,-and a very odd set of people too, but people whose real existence and personal identity you can no more dispute than your own senses,- for you see and hear all that they do or say. What is still more extraordinary, all this extreme elaborateness in working out the story, seems to have cost the author nothing ; for it is said, that the published works are mere abridgments. We have heard (though this, we suppose, must be a pleasant exaggeration), that Sir Charles Grandison was originally written in eight and twenty volumes.
“Pamela is the first of his productions, and the very child of his brain. Taking the general idea of the character of a modest and beautiful country girl, and of the situation in which she is placed, he makes out all the rest, even to the smallest circumstance, by the mere force of a reasoning imagination. It would seem as if a step lost would be as fatal here as in a mathematical demonstration. The development of the character is the most simple, and comes the nearest to nature that it can do, without being the same thing. The interest of the story increases with the dawn of understanding and reflection in the heroine. Her sentiments
gradually expand themselves, like opening flowers.com · She writes better every time, and acquires a confidence
in herself, just as a girl would do, writing such letters in such circumstances; and yet it is certain that no girl would write such letters in such circumstances. What we mean is this. Richardson's nature is always the nature of sentiment and reflection, not of impulse or
situation. He furnishes his characters, on every occasion, with the presence of mind of the author. He makes them act, not as they would from the impulse of the moment, but as they might upon reflection, and upon a careful review of every motive and circumstance in their situation. They regularly sit down to write letters; and if the business of life consisted in letter-writing, and was carried on by the post (like a Spanish game at chess), human nature would be what Richardson represents it. All actual objects and feelings are blunted and deadened, by being presented through a medium which may be true to reason, but is false in nature. He confounds his own point of view with that of the immediate actors in the scene : and hence presents you with a conventional and factitious nature, instead of that which is real. Dr Johnson seems to have preferred this truth of reflection to the truth of nature, when he said that there was more knowledge of the human heart in a page of Richardson than in all Fielding. Fielding, however, saw more of the practical results, and understood the principles as well; but he had not the same power of speculating upon their possible results, and combining them in certain ideal forms of passion and imagination, which was Richardson's real excellence.
" It must be observed, however, that it is this mutual good understanding, and comparing of notes between the author and the persons he describes ; his infinite circumspection, his exact process of ratiocination and cal. culation, which gives such an appearance of coldness and formality to most of his characters, which makes prudes of his women and coxcombs of his men. Every thing is too conscious in his works. Every thing is distinctly brought home to the mind of the actors in the
scene, which is a fault undoubtedly: but then, it must · be confessed, every thing is brought home in its full force to the mind of the reader also; and we feel the same interest in the story as if it were our own. Can any thing be more beautiful or affecting than Pamela's reproaches to her lumpish heart' when she is sent away from her master's at her own request,-its lightness when she is sent for back,-the joy which the conviction of the sincerity of his love diffuses in her heart, like the coming-on of spring,—the artifice of the stuff gown, the meeting with Lady Davers after her marriage, and the trial-scene with her husband? Who ever remained insensible to the passion of Lady Clementina, except Sir Charles Grandison himself, who was the object of it ? Clarissa is, however, his masterpiece, if we except Lovelace. If she is fine in herself, she is still finer in his account of her. With that foil her purity is dazzling indeed ; and she who could triumph by her virtue, and the force of her love, over the regality of Lovelace's mind, his wit, his person, his accomplishments and his spirit, conquers all hearts. We should suppose that never sympathy more deep or sincere was excited than by the heroine of Richardson's romance, except by the calamities of real life. The links in this wonderful chain of interest are not more finely wrought, than their whole weight is overwhelming and irresistible. Who can forget the exquisite gradations of her long dying scene, or the closing of the coffin-lid, when Miss Howe comes to take her last leave of her friend ; or the heart-breaking reflection that Clarissa makes on what was to have been her wedding-day? Well does a modern writer exclaim,
“ Books are a real world, both pure and good,
“ Richardson's wit was unlike that of any other writer ;-his humour was so too. Both were the effect of intense activity of mind ;-laboured, and yet completely effectual. We might refer to Lovelace's reception and description of Hickman, when he calls out death in his ear, as the name of the person with whom Clarissa had fallen in love; and to the scene at the glove-shop. What can be more magnificent than his enumeration of his companions—Belton so pert and so pimply-Tourville so fair and so foppish,' &c. ? In casuistry, he is quite at home; and, with a boldness greater even than his puritanical severity, has exhausted every topic on virtue and vice. There is another peculiarity in Richardson, not perhaps so uncommon, which is, his systematically preferring his most insipid characters to his finest, though both were equally his own invention, and he must be supposed to have understood something of their qualities. Thus he preferred the little, selfish, affected, insignificant Miss Byron, to the divine Clementina; and again, Sir Charles Grandison, to the nobler Lovelace. We have nothing to say in favour of Lovelace's morality; but Sir Charles is the prince of coxcombs,-whose eye was never once taken from his own person and his own virtues ; and there is nothing which excites so little sympathy as this excessive egotism.”
6 But,” resumed the Nymph, “ I recollect, in another article,--the review of Mrs Barbauld's Life and Correspondence of Richardson,—there are some better observations on the character of that writer, which might have been repeated here :"
“ The great excellence of Richardson's novels," says the critic,“ consists, we think, in the unparalleled minuteness and copiousness of his descriptions, and in the pains he takes to make us thoroughly and intimately acquainted with every particular in the character and situation of the personages with whom we are occupied. It has been the policy of other writers to avoid all details that are not