Page images

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,

Round which, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and our happiness may grow !

“ Richardson's wit was unlike that of any other wri. ter ;-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 sym< pathy as this excessive egotism."

“ 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 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 domestic 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 situation 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 old 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 characters, 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.”



6 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,

« PreviousContinue »