Page images
[blocks in formation]

servedly successful; and after a century, Clarissa Harlowe” was resuscitated in Paris, to the immense admiration of the French, whose taste for “sentiment" caused them to over-rate its real worth. Written in his little back shop in the intervals of business, these works are yet to be regarded as coming from the heart; and they are unquestionably works of genius. “ Clarissa" .is said to be “one of the noblest tributes ever paid to female virtue and honour :” and it was paid by one who knew the sex well, and was himself in heart and brain almost a woman. But it is impossible to account for the gift of genius. Here is an old stationer, fat, well to do, loving money and good living, vain as a peacock, worried to death by small critics who continually gave him dyspepsia and agonies of indigestion, and only soothed by the highly spiced flattery and the spiteful reprisals on his enemies of a circle of foolish female friends; here is, to all appearance, one of the most unfit men in the world, who, after making money till he is fifty, is led by the paltry ambition of making more, to write a work which turns out to be utterly different from his first intention, and to prove the author a great moralist, who has the most intimate acquaintance with the human heart, its passions, foibles, strength, and virtues; who can describe almost as minutely as Defoe; who can teach while he amuses, and instruct the heart in virtue while he drives away the admiration for vice; who is powerful, tragic, pathetic, and eminently original ; and whose art is so great that his readers follow their enchanter through eight long volumes, heaving a sigh of regret when they lay them down; while the student of morality pronounces them to have been a benefit to the human race.

In our next chapter I shall glance, not always in


strict chronological order, at greater and more powerful writers—Fielding, Sterne, Smollett, &c.—but scarcely at so singular an example of genius as that presented by Samuel Richardson. The attention of the student of this branch of literature may here be called to two foreign novels that every Englishman should be familiar with, if he would understand the numerous allusions to them that he will meet in his course of reading. I. refer to Cervantes' “Don Quixote" and Lesage's "Gil Blas." The first should be read in Shelton's quaint and lively version (1612-20). Smollett's translation of the latter work is the best yet given to the world.

[merged small][graphic][merged small][merged small][merged small]

HE British Novelist, as was but natural,
soon got into his head a notion that he
must be a moral teacher. We have
found Samuel Richardson commencing a

career of positive improvement by offering to afford the readers of his day a pabulum, or mental food, totally superior to anything that had gone before it; and it must be owned that Richardson was very moral if very slow. He had, however, (and it must always be the unfortunate duty of the novelist, or of the truthful narrator of any kind,) to portray a considerable deal of vice; for virtue is not virtue unless tried. Hence his Pamela, his virtuous heroine, is continually persecuted by the attentions of her master, Mr. Booth, and has many traps laid for her by her companion, Mrs. Jeukes, an odious woman, drawn with great force and knowledge of human nature; and these scenes, the better they were drawn, became, in the

many, the worse; for instead of believing that pictures of vice must disgust, certain persons seem

eyes of


to think that they must allure; nay, from the false idea that innocence and ignorance are the same, they try to shut away from the young any knowledge of evil, and having “purified” Shakespeare, purify also the Bible, for family reading.

This is a mistake. The Holy Spirit himself has told us, in truth as

hty as a whirlwind, as unshaken and firm as a chain of mountains, that "the kingdom of God is within us." There is another truth, its parallel, equally valuable, which He has left for man to find out,—it is this : the kingdom of the devil is also within us. We cannot be good by pretending not to know evil. When women go mad, the most innocent, the youngest, the most purely educated often utter the most horrid and obscene language; a proof that to them such evil has been known; how acquired, how taught, it is in vain to ask. Wha the teacher ought to seek is, not to blot out and veil iniquity, since that will always be visible, but to make the heart strong enough to cast out the evil, first into the herd of swine, then into the sea, which shall swallow it for ever.

Richardson, Defoe, Bunyan—in his splendid religious novel—have been obliged, by the truth that was in them, to picture evil; and they have shown (the last two less than the first) that vice has often a very gay and beautiful exterior; and, while they inculcate a love of virtue, they have insensibly taught a knowledge of the world. In Defoe's marvellous minor works, in “Roxana,” “The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders,” in “Colonel Jack," and a few others, he has constantly shown what a bad bargain vịce is, and that, if a man sups with the devil, he must eat GOODNESS OF GENIUS.


dirty pudding. Defoe has done this with an unerring instinct, and has painted everything as plainly, and made wickedness as hideous, as does Hogarth in his moral pictures. All these men, and it is something to thank God for—who were so great and pleasant in their genius, who were to be universally read, and to have such an effect on their fellows, were moralists in their hearts. They are continually preaching the beauty of goodness: they can never show virtue, or peace, or sweetness of nature, in a sufficiently charming light. They picture vice, meanness, folly, as ever on the losing side. They make even fortune and the world bow down to goodness, and crown it with success; nay, one of them pierces beyond the clouds which hide futurity, and, passing “through the valley of the shadow of death" with his hero, in a passage unexampled for its tenderness and beauty, carries him, surrounded by a company of “shining ones,” into the presence of his Creator, and takes the crown of gold from the hands of God himself, to place it on the head of his constant and triumphant hero.

The eyes of the world at large seem, however, early to have been shut against the novelist, and not to have seen how well, in a dramatic sense, he also was doing God's work. The Churches of every sect were against him, as against his co-worker the playwright, and he won his way step by step, and but slowly. His pictures of vice, necessary to his art, were condemned; reading was pronounced to be idleness, ignorance declared to be innocence; and the plain, ordinary teaching, and forcible and direct manner of the early masters were soon overdone, and grew out of fashion. The Philistine of that day wanted as much

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »