Page images

necessary or impressive, to hurry over all the preparatory scenes, and to reserve the whole of the reader's attention for those momentous passages in which some decisive measure is adopted, or some great passion brought into action. The consequence is, that we are only acquainted with their characters in their dress of ceremony, and that, as we never see them except in those critical circumstances, and those moments of strong emotion, which are but of rare occurrence in real life, we are never deceived into any belief of their reality, and contemplate the whole as an exaggerated and dazzling illusion. With such authors we merely make a visit by appointment, and see and hear only what we know has been prepared for our reception. With Richardson we slip invisible into the doinestic privacy of his characters, and hear and see every thing that is said and done among them, whether it be interesting or otherwise, and whether it gratify our curiosity or disappoint it. We sympathize with the former, therefore, only as we sympathize with the monarchs and statesmen of history, of whose condition as-individuals we have but a very imperfect conception. We feel for the latter as for our private friends and acquaintance, with whose whole si. tuation' we are familiar, and as to whom we can conceive exactly the effects that will be produced by every thing that may befall them. In this art Richardson is undoubtedly without an equal, and, if we except De Foe, without a competitor, we believe, in the whole history of literature. We are often fatigued as we listen to his prolix descriptions, and the repetitions of those rambling and inconclusive conversations in which so many pages are consumed, without any apparent progress in the story'; but, by means of all this, we get so intimately acquainted with the characters, and so impressed with a persuasion of their reality, that when any thing really disastrous or important occurs to them, we feel as for oid friends and companions, and are irresistibly led to as lively a conception of their sensations as if we had been spectators of a real transaction. This we certainly think the chief merit of Richardson's productions : for, great as his knowledge of the human heart and his powers of pathetic description must be admitted to be, we are of opinion, that he might have been equalled in those particulars by many whose productions are infinitely less interesting.

“ That his pieces were all intended to be strictly moral is indisputable; but it is not quite so clear that they will uniformly be found to have this tendency. There is a certain air of irksome regularity, gloominess, and pedantry, attached to most of his virtuous charace ters, which is apt to encourage more unfortunate associations than the engaging qualities with which he has invested some of his vicious ones. The mansion of the Harlowes, which, before the appearance of Lovelace, is represented as the abode of domestic felicity, is a place in which daylight can scarcely be supposed to shine; and Clarissa, with her scrupulous devotions, her intolerably early rising, her day divided into tasks, and her quantities of needle-work and discretion, has something in her much less winning and attractive than inferior artists have often communicated to an innocent beauty of seventeen. The solemnity and moral discourses of Sir Charles, his bows, minuets, compliments, and immoveable tranquillity, are much more likely to excite the derision than the admiration of a modern reader. Richardson's good people, in short, are too wise and too formal ever to appear in the light of desirable companions, or to excite in a youthful mind any wish to resemble them. The gayety of all his characters is extremely girlish and silly, and is much more like the prattle of spoiled children, than the wit and pleasantry of persons acquainted with the world. The diction

throughout is heavy, vulgar, and embarrassed, though the interest of the tragical scenes is too powerful to allow us to attend to any inferior consideration.”



“ It says but little for our national curiosity,” observed the Bachelor one morning as Egeria appeared with a copy of Ferro's work on the Fine Arts in her hand, “ that we should have held military possession of so interesting an island as Sicily for a number of years, without drawing any thing of importance from Sicilian literature."

“ That was not so much the fault of the military gentlemen as of the Sicilian literature," replied the Nymph. “ The truth is, that there is very little in the literature of Sicily worthy of being translated. The learned Sicilians prefer the Italian to their native language, in the same manner as the Scots do the English. It is only for purposes illustrative of local humour and particular nationalities, that the Sicilian authors employ the language of Signor Stopholo; that is, their mother-tongue,Signor Stopholo being the personification of the Sicilian character as John Bull is of the English. In pastoral poetry, however, the land of Theocritus may still lay claim to honour and distinction. The Idyls of Meli unite with the sweetness of the classic the delicacy of modern refinement; they are, indeed, I presume,

very beautiful compositions, and possess an ease and charm in the euphony of the numbers which it would not be easy to imitate in translation. I know few madrigals more tender and expressive than the little piece beginning,

• Sti silenzii, sta verdura.' " I was not aware before,” said Benedict, “ of what

you mention relative to the difference between the Sicilian and Italian languages. therefore, that we are not to estimate the literary attainments of the Sicilians by what they have written in their own language so much as by what they have written in the Italian."

Exactly so," replied the Nymph; “ and the work which you now hold in your hand is an example in point. It is the best compendious view of the Fine Arts that has yet been published in any language; and it possesses this curious and singular merit, that the author adduces authority, and historical fact for every opinion he delivers. It is less, however, a work of genius than of erudition ; for it offers little that can be called either new or original, while it contains the essence of all that has been written and said on the subject."

“ I remember having heard something of the work before," said Benedict.

“ Yes, -I doubt not; for a certain friend of yours has made a translation of the first discourse," replied Egeria. “ It is not, however, a version of what the author has said, for he has not only here and there deviated from the text, but interwoven some of his own ideas on the subject, making it, in fact, more a theoretical disquisition than belongs to the historical

character of the original. I will read to you his essay."

THE FINE ARTS. “ The fine arts are the study and delight of all polished nations. They disarm the spirit of man of its natural ferocity, and they elevate the mind while they soften the heart. Ignorance is but another name for barbarity, and the want of knowledge sharpens the appetite of violence. It was, indeed, a strange paradox of Rousseau, to maintain that mankind were happier when they resembled wild beasts than with all the enjoyments of civilized life, and that the cultivation of their intellectual faculties had tended to degrade their virtues. There can be no virtue but what is founded on a comprehensive estimate of the effects of human actions; and an animal under the guidance of instinct cannot form any such estimate.

“ The chief object of science is the discovery of truth, and of art the development of beauty. In the former, we trust to reason, and in the latter to imagination.But judgment and fancy are of mutual assistance in both studies. Science clears the obstructions which impede the progress of art, and art adorns and smooths the path of science. No discovery is made without some previous conjectural effort of the mind, some exertion of the imagination ; nor is any beauty unfolded where there has not been some pre-consideration of probable effects, some exertion of the reasoning faculties.

“ As the human mind is pleased with the contemplation of what is true, and delighted with the appearance of what is beautiful, it may be assumed that the cultivation of science, and the improvement of art, originate in our love of pleasure. We commonly divide the objects of the two pursuits into distinct classes ; and we

« PreviousContinue »