Page images
PDF
EPUB

of an amusing though inelegant scene, without closing in with the combatants, or being made parties in the event. We read. Roderick Random as an entertaining story; for the particular accidents and modes of life which it describes have ceased to exist : but we regard Tom Jones as a real history, because the author never stops short of those essential principles which lie at the bottom of all our actions, and in which we feel an immediate interest ;-intus et in cute.-Smollett excels most as the lively caricaturist,-Fielding as the exact painter and profound metaphysician. We are far from maintaining, that this account applies uniformly to the productions of these two writers; but we think that, as far as they essentially differ, what we have stated is the general distinction between them. Roderick Random is the purest of Smollett's novels,--we mean in point of style and description. Most of the incidents and characters are supposed to have been taken from the events of his own life; and are therefore truer to nature. There is a rude conception of generosity in some of his characters, of which Fielding seems to have been incapable ; his amiable persons being merely good-natured. It is owing to this, we think, that Strap is superior to Partridge ; and there is a heartiness and warmth of feeling in some of the scenes between Lieutenant Bowling and his nephew, which is beyond Fielding's power of impassioned writing. The whole of the scene on ship-board is a most admirable and striking picture, and, we imagine, very little, if at all exaggerated, though the interest it excites is of a very unpleasant kind. The picture of the little profligate French friar, who was Roderick's travelling companion, and of whom he always kept to the windward, is one of Smollett's most masterly sketches. .Peregrine Pickle is no great favourite of ours, and Launcelot Greaves was not worthy of the genius of the author.

.: " Humphry Clinker and Count Fathom are both equally admirable in their way. Perhaps the former is the most pleasant gossipping novel that ever was written—that which gives the most pleasure with the least effort to the reader. It is quite as amusing as going the journey could have been, and we have just as good an idea of what happened on the road, as if we had been of the party. Humphry Clinker himself is exquisite ; and his sweetheart, Winifred Jenkins, nearly as good. Matthew Bramble, though not altogether original, is excellently supported, and seems to have been the prototype of Sir Anthony Absolute in the Rivals. But Lismahago is the flower of the flock. His tenaciousness in argument is not so delightful as the relaxation of his logical severity, when he finds his fortune mellowing with the wintry smiles of Mrs Tabitha Bramble. This is the best preserved and most original of all Smollett's characters. The resemblance of Don.. Quixote is only just enough to make it interesting to the critical reader, without giving offence to any body else. The indecency and filth in this novel, are what must be allowed to all Smollett's writings. The subject and characters in Count Fathom are, in general, exceedingly disgusting ; the story is also spun out to a degree of tediousness in the serious and sentimental parts; but there is more power of writing occasionally shown in it than in any of his works. We need only refer to the fine and bitter irony of the Count's address to the country of his ancestors on landing in England; to the robber-scene in the forest, which has never been surpassed ; to the Parisian swindler, who personates a raw English country squire, (Western is tame in the comparison); and to the story of the seduction in the west of England. We should have some difficulty to point out, in any author, passages written with more force and nature than these.

“ 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. met with two young ladies who had severally copied out the whole of that very description for their own

[ocr errors]

Copied

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. J.“ 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. 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 cir. cumspection, his exact process of ratiocination and calculation, 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

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »