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pronounce the likeness to be perfect; and yet the view may be fitted to corrupt the mind of every one who looks upon it. The truth is, there are many characters which ought never to be drawn in fiction, as there are many which ought never to be contemplated in fact. And he who regards the welfare of a child will be as anxious to withhold from him the view of many natural and lively descriptions of vice, as to keep him from the company of those who are really vicious. “ Many, writers," says a celebrated critic and moralist, “ for the sake, as they tell us, of following nature, so mingle good and bad qualities in their principal personages, that they are both equally conspicuous; and as we accompany them through their adventures with delight, and are led by degrees to intetest ourselves in their favour, we lose the abhorrence of their faults because they do not hinder our pleasure, or perhaps regard them with kindness for being united with so much merit. There have been men, indeed, splendidly wicked, whose endowments threw a brightness on their crimes, and whom scarce any villainy made perfectly detestable, because they never could be wholly divested of their excellences; but such have been, in all ages, the great corruptors of the world, and their resemblance ought no more to be preserved than the art of murdering without pain.”
Estimating novels, then, not as they might be. made, but as they are in fact, it may be asserted, that there is no species of reading which, promiscuously pursued, has a more direct tendency to
dDr. JOHNSON. Rambler, vol. i.
. On this principle it is plain that such a character as Tom Jones ought never to have been exhibited by a friend to virtue. And though the characters drawn by RICHARDSON are by no means so liable co censure on this ground as several of those by FiELDING, yet it may be doubted whether the Lovelace of the former, taken in all its parts, be a character calculated to make a virtuous impression, especially on the youthful mind.
discourage the acquisition of solid learning, to fill the mind with vain, unnatural, and delusive ideas, and to deprave the moral taste. It would, perhaps, be difficult to assign any single cause which has contributed so much to produce that lightness and frivolity which so remarkably characterize the literary taste of the eighteenth century, as the unex, ampled multiplication, and the astonishing popularity of this class of writings. The friend of novels will perhaps agree,
that the promiscuous perusal of them is dangerous, and will plead for a discreet selection. But who is to make this selection? On whom shall devolve the perplexing task of separating the wheat from the chaff, the food from the poison? If amidst the mighty mass, those which are tolerably pure, and especially those which are calculated to be useful, be only now and then to be found, as a few scattered pearls in the oceans shall the delicate and arduous task of making the choice be committed to minds “ unfurnished with ideas, and therefore easily susceptible of impressions; not fixed by principles, and therefore easily following the current of fancy; not informed by experience, and consequently open to every false suggestion, and partial account?”. The imminent danger, and almost certain mischief arising from a choice made by such minds cannot be contemplated by those who feel an interest in human happiness, without deep anxiety and pain. And to expect a wise choice to be made by parents and instructors, is to suppose, what was never the case in any state of society, that they are generally enlightened and virtuous.
f The celebrated Dr. GÓLDSMITH, in writing to his brother, respecting the education of a son, expresses himself in the following strong terms, which are the more remarkable, as he had himself written a novel : “ Above all things, never let your son touch a romance or novel; these paint beauty in colours more charming than nature; and describe happi. ness that man never tastes. How delusive, how destructive are those pictures of consummate bliss! They teach the youthful mind to sigh after beauty and happiness which never existed ; to despise the little good which fortune has mixed in our cup, by expecting more than she ever gave; and, in general, take the word of a man who has seen the world, and has studied human nature more by experience than precept; take my word for it, I say, that such books teach us very little of the world.” Life of GOLDSMITH, prefixed to his Miscellaneous Works.
On the whole, the answer of a wise preceptor to the main question respecting the utility of novels, would probably be something like this:--That, wholly to condemn them, and rigidly to forbid the perusal of any, in the present state of the literary world, would be an indiscreet and dangerous extreme; that reading a very few, therefore, of the best is not unadviseable ;3 that in selecting these, however, great vigilance and caution should be exercised by those to whom the delicate and difficult task is committed; that the perusal of a large number, even of the better sort, has a tendency too much to engross the mind, to fill it with artificial views, and to diminish the taste for more solid reading; but that a young person habitually and indiscriminately devoted to novels, is in a fair way to dissipate his mind, to degrade his taste, and to bring on himself intellectual and moral ruin.
& The author has no hesitation in saying, that, if it were possible, he would wholly prohibit the reading of novels. Not because there are none worthy of being perused; but because the hope that, out of the polluted and mischievous mass continually presented to the youthful mind, a tole-, rably wise choice will, in many instances, be made, can scarcely be thought a reasonable hope. ' As, however, those fictitious productions are strewed around us in such profusion, and will more or less excite the curiosity of youth, the plan of total exclusion is seldom practicable. In this case it is, perhaps, the wisest course to endeavour to regulate the curiosity which cannot be prevented, and to exercise the utmost vigilance in making a proper choice for its gratification, and in restraining this gratification within small bounds. For it may, with confidence, be pronounced, that NO ONE WAS E VER AN EXTENSIVE AND ESPECIALLY AN HABITUAL READER OF NOVELS, EVEN SUPPOSING THEM ALL TO BE WELL SELECTED, WITHOUT SUFFERING BOTH INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL INJURY, AND OF COURSE INCURRING A DIMINUTION OF HAPPINESS,
POETRY, in one form or another, has been tha growth of every age with the history of which we are acquainted, and the eighteenth century had its full share of those who paid their court to the muses. It may be said with confidence, indeed, that the last age produced a far greater pumber of poets than any former period of the same extent. But it must be confessed that, of this num. ber, few are entitled to the character of distinguished excellence. The mantle of SHAKSPEARE or of Milton has not fallen upon any succeeding bard. Since the death of the latter, more than a century has passed away without producing a rival of his great and deserved fame. Still it may be maintained that poets, and poetic excellence, have been produced, of sufficient distinction to do high honour to modern genius, and to merit a respectful consideration.
The poetic diction and versification of several modern languages have been much enriched and refined, "during the period under review. Of these improvements it may be proper to take some brief . notice, before we proceed to consider the particuJar specimens of poetic genius which belong to this period.
During the period in question, English versification has been greatly improved. Though DryDEN, at the close of the preceding century, had done much towards the promotion of this object;
yet the style of English poetry was left by him in an irregular, harsh, and incorrect state. He was succeeded by Mr. Pope, whose successful exertions to polish, refine, and regulate the language of our poetry, are well known. more vigour of genius, and more sublimity of conception than Pope, the latter undoubtedly exhibits a degree of correctness and elegance of diction, and of harmony and sweetness of numbers, which had never been equalled by any preceding poet, and which have never been exceeded since his time. “New sentiments, and new images,” says á great critic, " others may produce; but to attempt any further improvement of versification will be dangerous. Art and diligence have now done their best; and what shall be added, will be the effort of tedious toil, and needless curiosity.""
English poetry is also indebted to several who have written since Mr. POPE. The names of these, and the nature and amount of the services which they rendered, will be more fully brought to the mind of the intelligent reader in reviewing hereafter the particular works by which they are most honourably known to the public.
About the beginning of the seventeenth century, there was a race of versifiers in Europe, and es pecially in Great-Britain, who have been called by the critics metaphysical poets.' They were generally men of learning, and many of them endowed with genius; but were either destitute of taste, or possessed only that which was false and perverted, Pedantic, subtle, obscure, and confused, they presented absurd and gross conceits, rather than just images; scholastic refinements, rather than copies of nature; and far-fetched ideas and illustrations,
f Life of Pope, by Dr. Johnson. i Life of Cowley, by Johnson.