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would probably be too narrow to contain comfortably a couple of moon-skimmerss. Adio!
H. REPTON, Esq.
Lichfield, April 13, 1798. What reproach in the date of your last ? If read aright, October. I know not how to believe that so many mouths have elapsed since the gay smile of Mr Repton gleamed into my parlour, a little before he favoured me with this ingenious packet, and restored the darkly able volumes of Caleb Williams.
I grant the justice of all you say concerning the design of that work. It is highly censurable;and also on the unavoidable incompetence of all legal institutions, entirely to protect the dependent and the poor from being oppressed in some way or other, by the powerful and the wealthy. Viewed on the political side, these pages are the effusion of a morbid irritability, impatient of human defect in our constitution, and libelling our laws. Considered as a delineation of character and manners, it has an impressive, awful, and useful moral; displaying the mischiefs, the wickedness, and misery into which the boundless indulgence of an originally noble passion, may betray an amiable and highly liberal mind.
My acquaintance with the late gallant and murdered Colonel St George; the much I have heard of him from his intimate and long associated friends, convince me that the character of Falkland is, even in these cold days of renounced enthusiasm, not out of nature. All Orlando Falk. land would have been, had not disgrace blasted his course, dear St George was.
I cannot help thinking Godwin knew him, and that his talents, his excellencies, and peculiar cast of manners, suggested to this author the idea of his hero ;--so exactly do we find the portrait of St George's person, genius, virtues, and singularities, in the description of Falkland, when he was serene and full of hope, at peace with himself, admired and respected by all who knew him. The slender, almost effeminate, yet graceful figure ;—that mixture of dignified reserve, interesting sweetness, high spirit, and varied intelligence, which so amply recompensed the want of manly features in a pale fair face; that exquisitely jealous sense of honour; that romantic elevation of intrepid sentiment, despising every danger, capable of every exertion, and patient of every suffering, except infamy.
Such was St George, and I can conceive the possibility of a mind thus tempered becoming demonized by what should appear to its feelings, deep, and, though undeserved, remediless disgrace.
It is the privilege of genius to place uncommon characters in situations of extreme trial, and intuitively to feel how, so placed, they would probably act. Remember Macbeth, once generous, humane, and brave, and be not incredulous to the apostasy of a Falkland.
The excess of crime into which Falkland plunges, to screen from public violation his idolized honour, is fearful, is terrible. You call it disgusting. That is a word utterly uncharacteristic of the shuddering interest with which it grappled my attention. Hypocrisy it certainly is ; but, not being assumed as the veil of purposed future vices, but as the screen of one dire irrevocable fault, it is hypocrisy without the meanness which, in every other instance, real or fictitious, attaches to that vice.
Caleb's want of power to interest you in his character and hard fate astonishes me. You call him a rascal for having yielded to the ardour of his curiosity. If he had received a gentleman's education, instilling the lofty and scrupulous notions of honour, such a violation of its principles might have deserved the harsh epithet. From a lowborn youth, however endowed with native strength of intellect, we are not to expect them, and may well forgive the victory of an impulse so violent.
Then as to the perjury ;-breaking an oath not voluntarily taken but desperately imposed, cannot, at least in the full extent, be deemed perjury. His long and patient forbearance to break it, beneath persecution so incessant and extreme, renders every resistance he makes to its violation, virtuous in an higher degree than the final yielding is criminal. Whether in reality or fiction, human frailty considered, we ought to remit one fault to many virtues, rather than sink
virtues in the recollection of one fault. It is the omitting thus to poise the scales of justice, which produces so much false appreciation of character in actual life.
Then how can you say Caleb breaks this imposed vow without compunction? You forget how violent his previous struggles, how strong his reluctance to make the accusation ;-with what yearning remorse he was seized at the instant of bringing it forward, though not an act of revenge, but of self-defence. Does he not declare, that the remembrance of having made it must embit
ter his remaining days, and produce even greater misery than had resulted from those unremitted persecutions, which had urged him to the disclosure of his once, his yet loved master's guilt?
It appears to me that the author of this unique amongst novels, possesses the power to place marked characters in such situations as shall induce them to act extraordinarily, without acting unnaturally. I know of but one error against the laws of fiction, to which the work is amenable ;the leaving undiscovered the mysterious contents of the chest. Doubtless it is the duty of every author of an imaginary history, to satisfy, ere his reader leaves him, the strong curiosity he has excited.
Your plan of a * fourth volume accomplishes this end, and is very ingeniously contrived ;--but
* MR REPTON'S Sketch of a fourth volume to Caleb Williams.
“ Mr Falkland, to atone for his cruelty, makes Caleb 'his sole heir;
and in a private letter, inclosed in the will, conjures him to destroy the fatal chest, without examining its contents. Another field for the display of his passions. After a violent struggle, his curiosity again prevails, and he finds a narrative of Mr Falkland's life-and two skeletons, of a female and child, which Mr F. had caused to be placed there, to conceal their murder, and as a perpetual memento of his own crimes :
- these are a life of uniform deceit, uncontrollable passions, and utter disbelief in all religion. The narrative contains a