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Don Quixote. This performance was expressly intended to pour ridicule on those masses of absurdity and impurity which had so long maintained an influence over the world. Few works were ever so much read, or so effectually answered their proposed end. Its effect was equal to the most sanguine expectations of the author. It destroyed the reign of chivalry; produced a new modification of public taste; occasioned the death of the old romance; and gave birth to another species of fictitious writing.
This may be called romance divested of its most extravagant and exceptionable characters. In the works of this kind the heroism and the gallantry of the old romance were in a degree retained; but the dragons, the necromancers, and the enchanted castles, were chiefly banished, and a nearer approach made to the descriptions of real life. The Astrea of M. D’URFE, and the Grand Cyrus, the Clelia, and the Cleopatra, of Madame SCUDERY, are among the most memorable specimens of romance thus pruned and improved. These works, however, had still too much of the improbable and unnatural to please a just taste; and therefore gave way to a further improvement, which was the introduction of the modern Novel.
The word Novel is intended to express that kind of fictitious history, which presents natural and probable exhibitions of modern manners and characters." In this species of writing the-extravagance, the heroic exploits, the complicated and endless intrigues, and the mock elevation before thought necessary, were abandoned: heroes, instead of being taken from the throne, were sought for in common life: in place of the enchanted castles, the conflicts of giants, and the absurdities of chivalry, the incidents which daily happen in the world, the ordinary scenes of social and domestic intercourse, were introduced: instead of the
n Most writers on this subject employ the word Romance to express both those performances which pourtrayed ancient manners, with all the extravagance and folly of chivalry; and those which depict modern manners true to nature and life. But since the word Romance is considered as invariably expressive of something wild, unreal, and far removed from common practice, ought not some other word to be adopted, to designate those fictitious works which profess to instruct or entertain by describing common life and real characters? And is not the word Novel well suited to this purpose of discrimination? This word has long been used; but, if I do not mistake, in many instances, without that accuracy of application which is desirable.
pompous, inflated style formerly admired, and which alone was congenial with the romantic spirit, a more simple and familiar manner was adopted; and, from ten or twelve tedious volumes, the narrative was reduced to two or three, and seldom much exceeded the latter number.
Of modern Novels a few appeared in the seventeenth century; but the number was so small, and the character of these, for the most part, so low, that even the names of but a small portion of them have reached the present time. The eighteenth century may be peculiarly and emphatically called the Age of Novels. The first great work of this kind, in the English language, was Joseph Andreros, by Mr. HENRY FIELDING, a comic performance, which, though sometimes indelicate, and often exceptionable in its moral tendency, yet displays great wit, humour, learning, taste, and knowledge of mankind. The next was Pamela, by Mr. SAMUEL RICHARDSON. This work introduced, and rendered popular, the mode of writing novels in the form of Letters, which has been since adopted by many, both in Great Britain and on the continent of Europe. Pamela was succeeded by Tom
. Dr. Beastie tells us, that Lord LYTTLETON, once in conversation with him, after mentioning several particulars of Pope, Swift, and other wits of that time, wlien he was asked some question relating to the author of Tom Jones, began his answer with these words, “ HENRY FIELDING, I assure you, had more wit, and more humour, than all the persons we have been speaking of put together.”
Jones, which, though by no means pure in its moral tendency, is esteemed by the ablest critics, as the first performance of the heroi-comic kind that was ever written. The same author next produced his Amelia, in which he imitated the epic poets, by beginning his narrative in the middle of the story. This plan was soon followed by RichARDSON, in his Clarissa Harlowe, and Sir Charles Grandison, in both which the epistolary form of writing is retained, to which he seems to have been particularly attached.
The earliest productions of Great-Britain in this department of writing may be considered as her best. FIELDING and RICHARDSON have never been exceeded, and probably not equalled, by any novelists since their day, either in their own or any other country. Each of these authors may be said to have invented a new species of fictitious writing, and to have carried it at once to the highest point of improvement which it has ever reached. Their talents were different, and their works display this difference in a very strong light; but each attained a degree of excellence in his way, altogether unrivalled. FIELDING is humorous and comic; RichARDSON more grave and dignified. They both paint with a masterly hand; but FIELDING is perhaps more true to nature than his rival. The former succeeds better in describing manners; the
“ Since the days of Homer, says Dr. BeATTIE, the world has not seen a more artful epic fable than Tom Jones. The characters and adventures are wonderfully diversified ; yet the circumstances are all so natural, and rise so easily from one another, and co-operate with so much regulafity in bringing on, even while they seem to retard the catastrophe, that the curiosity of the reader is kept always awake, and instead of flagging grows more and more impatient, as the story advances, till at last it becomes downright anxiety. And when we get to the end, and look back on the whole contrivance, we are amazed to find, that of so many incidents there should be so few superfluous; that in such variety of fiction there should be so great probability; and that so complex a tale should be so perspicuously conducted, and with perfect unity of design," See the Dissertation on Fable and Romance,
latter in developing and displaying the heart: In plot and contrivance FIELDING has no superior; while RICHARDSON interests us less by his incidents than by the beauty of his descriptions and the excellence of his sentiments. FIELDING is most at home when describing low life, and exhibiting the humorous effusions of coarseness and indelicacy.' RICHARDSON, on the other hand, is rather in his element when displaying the purity and sublimity of virtue.' The most eminent writers of different countries have paid homage to the merits of RICHARDSON as a novelist. His works have been translated into almost every language of Europe, and notwithstanding every dissimilitude of manners, and every disadvantage of translation, they have probably been more generally admired and eulogized than those of any other author in this species of composition. Though FIELDING has been less popular abroad, owing, perhaps, to the peculiar appropriateness of his pictures of English manners; yet, in several important attributes of fictitious narrative, he certainly transcends every other writer.
These distinguished and standard novelists have had many imitators, particularly in their own country; but none who have risen to the same degree of excellence which they attained. Among the most successful of these was Dr. SMOLLET. His Roderick Random was written in imitation of Tom Jones; his Humphrey Clinker, the last and best of his works, after the manner of RICHARDSON; and his History of Sir Launcelot Greaves, with a view to the manner of CERVANTES. These imitations are by no means without success, and certainly hold, in some respects, a very high place in the list of those fictitious writings which belong to the age under consideration. In exhibiting the pe
9 Dr. JOHNSON, once in conversation with Mr. THOMAS ERSKINE, said, “ Sir, if you were to read RICHARDSON for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself. But you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment.”
y RICHARDSON used to say, that had he not known who FIELDING was, he should have believed him to be an ostler.
s RICHARD 30N was a man of great purity and excellence of character. He was one of the best bred gentlemen of his day_habituated to genteel life only-amiable, benevolent, and unaffectedly pious; and no doubt endeavoured, though some have supposed without complete success, to construct all his narratives in such a manner as to give them an unexcepcionable moral tendency. FIELDING was less pure in his principles and character, and had been more conversant at some periods with low life. In wit, humour, and knowledge of mankind, he has been pronounced inferior to no individual of modern times excepting SHAKSPEARE.
ities of professional character Dr. SMOLLET displays great powers. Perhaps no writer was ever more successful in drawing the character of seamen. Sometimes, indeed, his pictures border on the extravagance of caricatura, to which his satiriçal and cynical disposition strongly inclined him. His propensity to burlesque and broad humour too frequently recurs; and he is often indelicate and licentious to a very shameful degree. These remarks apply, in some measure, to most of his works; but to his Peregrine Pickle, and The Adventures of an Atom, the charge of indelicate description, and immoral tendency, is particularly applicable.
About the beginning of the eighteenth century M. LE SAGE, an ingenious French writer, published his Gil Blas, which appears to have been among the earliest works of the novel kind, pulr lished on the continent of Europe, that rank with the first class, or that are now held in much esteem. This performance was intended to be a picture of Spanish manners, and abounds with a great variety of incident and vivacity of description. It differs from Tom Jones in that it partakes less of the Epic
# It is obvious, from the definition before given of a Novel, that SMOLLet's Sir Launcelot Greaves does not strictly belong to this class; but xrather falls under the denomination of Romance, VOL. II.