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HENRY FIELDING, ESQ. SIR, My design being to speak in behalf of novel-writing, I know not to whom I can address myself with so much propriety as to yourself, who unquestionably stand foremost in this species of composition. To convey instruction in a pleasant manner, and mix entertainment with it, is certainly a commendable undertaking, perhaps more likely to be attended with success than graver precepts; and where amusement is chiefly consulted, there is merit in making people laugh, when it is done without giving offence to religion, virtue, or good manners. If the laugh be not raised at the expense of innocence or decency, good humour bids us indulge it, and we cannot laugh too often.
Can we help wondering, therefore, at the contempt with which many people affect to talk of this sort of composition? They seem to think it degrades the dignity of their understandings, to be found with a novel in their hands, and take great pains to let you know that they never read them. They are people of too great importance to spend their time in so idle a manner, and much too wise to be amused. Though many reasons may be given for this ridiculous and affected disdain, I believe a very
principal one is the pride and pedantry of learned men, who are willing to monopolize reading to themselves, and therefore fastidiously decry all books that are on a level with common understandings, as empty, trifling, and impertinent.
Thus the grave metaphysician, for example, who, after working night and day perhaps for several years, sends forth at last a profound treatise, where A. and B. seem to contain some very deep' mysterious meaning, grows indignant to think that every little paltry scribbler, who paints only the characters of the age, the manners of the times, and the working of the passions, should presume to equal him in fame.
The politician, too, who produces from his fund of observations a grave, sober, political pamphlet on the good of the nation; looks down with contempt on all such idle compositions as lives and romances, which contain no strokes of satire at the ministry, nor any thing concerning the balance of power on the continent. These gentlemen and their readers join all to a man in depreciating works of humour : or, if they speak in their praise, the commendation never rises higher than-Yes, 'tis well enough for such a sort of a thing ;' after which the grave observator retires to his newspaper, and there, according to the general estimation, employs his time to the best advantage.
But besides these, there is another set, who never read any modern books. They, wise men, are so deep in the learned languages, that they can pay no regard to what has been published within these last thousand years.
The world is grown old; men's geniuses are degenerated : the writers of this age are too contemptible for their notice, and they have no hopes of any better to succeed them. Yet these gentlemen of profound erudition will read any trash that is disguised in a learned language, and the worst ribaldry of Aristophanes shall be critiqued and commented on by men who object to Gulliver or Joseph Andrews.
But if this contempt for books of amusement be carried a little too far, as I suspect it is, even among men of science and learning, what shall be said to some of the greatest triflers of the times, who affect to talk the same language? These, surely, have no right to express any disdain of what is at least equal to their understandings. Scholars and men of learning have a reason to give; their application to severe studies may have destroyed their relish for works of a lighter cast, and consequently it cannot be expected that they should approve what they do not understand. But as for beaux, rakes, petitmaitres, and fine ladies, whose lives are spent in doing the things which novels record, I do not see why they should be indulged in affecting a contempt of them. People whose most earnest business
is to dress and play at cards, are not so importantly employed but that they may find leisure to read a novel. Yet these are as forward as any to despise them; and I once heard a very fine lady condemning some highly-finished conversations in one of your works, sir, for this curious reason: Because,' said she, it is such sort of stuff as passes every day between me and my own maid.'
I do not pretend to apply any thing here in behalf of books of amusement to the following little work, of which I ask your patronage. I am sensible how very imperfect it is in all its parts, and how unworthy to be ranked in that class of writings which I am now defending. But I desire to be understood in general, or more particularly with an eye to your works, which I take to be master-pieces and complete models in their kind. They are, I think, worthy the attention of the greatest and wisest men; and if any body is ashamed of reading them, or can read them without entertainment or instruction, I heartily pity their understandings.
The late editor of Mr. Pope's works, in a very ingenious note, wherein he traces the progress of romance-writing, justly observes, that this species of composition is now brought to perfection by M. De Marivaux in France, and Mr. Fielding in England. I have but one objection to make to this remark, which is, that the name of M. De Marivaux stands