Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

to heaven, prepares to die, if her craven destroyer advances, striking the vilest with the deep awe of goodness, and walking placidly at last, from the circle of her foes, none of them daring to harm her! How pathetic, above all other pathos in the world, are those snatches of meditation which she commits to the paper, in the first delirium of her wo! How delicately imagined are her preparations, for that grave in which alone she can find repose! Cold must be the hearts of those who can conceive them as too elaborate, or who can venture to criticise them. In this novel all appears most real; we feel enveloped, like Don Quixote, by a thousand threads; and like him, would we rather remain so for ever, than break one of their silken fibres. Clarissa Harlowe is one of the books which leave us different beings from those which they find us. "Sadder and wiser" do we arise from its perusal.

Yet when we read Fielding's novels after those of Richardson, we feel as if a stupendous pressure were removed from our souls. We seem suddenly to have left a palace of enchantment, where we have past through long galleries filled with the most gorgeous images, and illumined by a light not quite human nor yet quite divine, into the fresh air, and the common ways of this "bright and breathing world." We travel on the high road of humanity, yet meet in it pleasanter companions, and catch more delicious snatches of refreshment than ever we can hope elsewhere to enjoy. The mock heroic of Fielding, when he condescends to that ambiguous style, is scarcely less pleasing than its stately prototype. It is a sort of spirited defiance to fiction, on the behalf of reality, by one who knew full well all the strong holds of that nature which he was defending. There is not in Fielding much of that which can properly be called ideal— if we except the character of Parson Adams; but his works represent life as more delightful than it seems to common experience, by disclosing those of its dear immunities, which we little think of, even when we enjoy them. How delicious are all his refreshments at all his inns! How vivid are the transient joys of his heroes, in their chequered course—how full and over-flowing are their final raptures! His Tom Jones is quite unrivalled in plot, and is to be rivalled only in his own works for felicitous delineation of character. The

little which we have told us of Allworthy, especially that whicli relates to his feelings respecting his deceased wife, makes us feel for him, as for one of the best and most revered friends of our childhood. Was ever the " soul of goodness in things evil" better disclosed, than in the scruples and the dishonesty of Black George, that tenderest of gamekeepers and truest of thieves 1 Did ever health, good-humour, frankheartedness, and animal spirits hold out so freshly against vice and fortune as in the hero 1 Was ever so plausible a hypocrite as Blifil, who buys a Bible of Tom Jones so delightfully, and who, by his admirable imitation of virtue, leaves it almost in doubt, whether, by a counterfeit so dexterous, he did not merit some share of her rewards 1 Who shall gainsay the cherry lips of Sophia Western1 The story of Lady Bellaston we confess to be a blemish. But if there be any vice left in the work, the fresh atmosphere diffused over all its scenes, will render it innoxious. Joseph Andrews has far less merit as a story—but it depicts Parson Adams, whom it does the heart good to think on. He who drew this character, if he had done nothing else, would not have lived in vain. We fancy we can see him with his torn cassock, (in honour of his high profession,) his volumes of sermons, which we really wish had been printed, and his Eschylus, the best of all the editions of that sublime tragedian! Whether he longs after his own sermons against vanity— or is absorbed in the romantic tale of the fair Leonora—or uses his ox-like fists in defence of the fairer Fanny, he equally embodies in his person " the homely beauty of the good old cause," of high thoughts, pure imaginations, and manners unspotted by the world.

Smollet seems to have had more touch of romance than Fielding, but not so profound and intuitive a knowledge of humanity's hidden treasures. There is nothing in his works comparable to Parson Adams; but then, on the other hand, Fielding has not any thing of the kind equal to Strap. Partridge is dry, and hard, compared with this poor barber-boy, with his generous overflowings of affection. Roderick Random, indeed, with its varied delineation of life, is almost a romance. Its hero is worthy of his name. He is the sport of fortune rolled about through the "many ways of wretchedness" almost without resistance, but ever catching those

[ocr errors]

tastes of joy which are every where to be relished by those who are willing to receive them. We seem to roll on with him, and get delectably giddy in his company.

The humanity of the Vicar of Wakefield is less deep than that of Roderick Random, but sweeter tinges of fancy are cast over it. The sphere in which Goldsmith's powers moved, was never very extensive, but, within it, he discovered all that was good, and shed on it the tenderest lights of his sympathizing genius. No one ever excelled so much as he in depicting amiable follies and endearing weaknesses. His satire makes us at once smile at, and love all that he so tenderly ridicules. The good Vicar's trust in Monagomy, his son's purchase of the spectacles, his own sale of his horse, to his solemn admirer at the fair; the blameless vanities of his daughters, and his resignation under his accumulated sorrows, are among the best treasures of memory. The pastoral scenes in this exquisite tale are the sweetest in the world. The scents of the hay field, and of the blossoming hedge-rows, seem to come freshly to our senses. The whole romance is a tenderly-coloured picture, in little, of human nature's most genial qualities.

De Foe is one of the most extraordinary of English authors. His Robinson Crusoe is deservedly one of the most popular of novels. It is usually the first read, and always among the last forgotten. The interest of its scenes in the uninhabited island is altogether peculiar; since there is nothing to develope the character but deep solitude. Man, there, is alone in the world, and ean hold communion only with nature, and nature's God. There is nearly the same situation in Philoctetes, that sweetest of the Greek tragedies; but there we only see the poor exile as he is about to leave his sad abode, to which he has become attached, even with a child-like cleaving. In Robinson Crusoe, life is stripped of all its social joys, yet we feel how worthy of cherishing it is, with nothing but silent nature to cheer it. Thus are nature and the soul, left with no other solace, represented in their native grandeur and intense communion. With how fond an interest do we dwell on all the exertions of our fellowman, cut off from his kind; watch his growing plantations as they rise, and seem to water them with our tears! The exceeding vividness of all the descriptions are more delightful when combined with the lonelines and distance of the scene " placed far amid the melancholy main" in which we become dwellers. We have grown so familiar with the solitude, that the print of man's foot seen in the sand seems to appal us as an awful thing!—The Family Instructor of this author, in which he inculcates weightily his own notions of puritanical demeanour and parental authority, is very curious. It is a strange mixture of narrative and dialogue, fanaticism and nature; but all done with such earnestness, that the sense of its reality never quits us. Nothing, however, can be more harsh and unpleasing than the impression which it leaves. It does injustice both to religion and the world. It represents the innocent pleasures of the latter as deadly sins, and the former as most gloomy, austere, and exclusive. One lady resolves on poisoning her husband, and another determines to go to the play, and the author treats both offences with a severity nearly equal!

Far different from this ascetic novel is that best of religious romances, the Fool of Quality. The piety there is at once most deep and most benign. There is much, indeed of eloquent mysticism, but all evidently most heartfelt and sincere. The yearnings of the soul after universal good and intimate communion with the divine nature were never more nobly shown. The author is most prodigal of his intellectual wealth—" his bounty is as boundless as the sea, his love as deep." He gives to his chief characters riches endless as the spiritual stores of his own heart. It is, indeed, only the last which gives value to the first in his writings. It is easy to endow men with millions on paper, and to make them willing to scatter them among the wretched; but it is the corresponding bounty and exuberance of the author's soul, which here makes the money sterling, and the charity divine. The hero of this romance always appears to our imagination like a radiant vision encircled with celestial glories. The stories introduced in it are delightful exceptions to the usual rule by which such incidental tales are properly regarded as impertinent intrusions. That of David Doubtful is of the most romantic interest, and at the same time steeped in feeling the most profound. But that of Clement and his wife is perhaps the finest . The scene in which they are discovered, having placidly lain down to die of hunger together, in gentle

submission to Heaven, depicts a quiescence the most sublime, yet the most affecting. Nothing can be more delightful than the sweetening ingredients in their cup of sorrow. The heroic act of the lady to free herself from her ravisher's grasp, her trial and her triumphant acquittal, have a grandeur above that of tragedy. The genial spirit of the author's faith leads him to exult especially in the repentance of the wicked. No human writer seems ever to have hailed the contrite with so cordial a welcome. His scenes appear overspread with a rich atmosphere of tenderness, which softens and consecrates all things.

We would not pass over, without a tribute of gratitude, Mrs. Radcliffe's wild and wondrous tales. When we read them, the world seems shut out, and we breathe only in an enchanted region, where lovers' lutes tremble over placid waters, mouldering castles rise conscious of deeds of blood, and the sad voices of the past echo through deep vaults and lonely galleries. There is always majesty in her terrors. She produces more effect by whispers and slender hints than ever was attained by the most vivid display of horrors. Her conclusions are tame and impotent almost without example. But while her spells actually operate, her power is truly magical . Who can ever forget the scene in the Romance of the Forest, where the marquis, who has long sought to make the heroine the victim of licentious love, after working on her protector, over whom he has a mysterious influence, to steal at night into her chamber, and when his trembling listener expects only a requisition for delivering her into his hands replies to the question of "then—to night, my Lord!" "Adelaide dies"—or the allusions to the dark veil in the Mysteries of Udolpho—or the stupendous scenes in Spalatro's cottage 1 Of all romance writers Mrs. Radcliffe is the most romantic.

The present age has produced a singular number of authors of delightful prose fiction, on whom we intend to give a series of criticisms. We shall begin with Mackenzie, whom we shall endeavour to compare with Sterne, and for this reason we have passed over the works of the latter in our present cursory view of the novelists of other days.

« ПредишнаНапред »