Графични страници
PDF файл
ePub

nish us with the means of exercising and exerting our own powers in the way of comparing, reasoning, and judging, and of drawing sound conclusions of the future from the past.

NUMBER XCVIII.

of excessive and indiscriminate Novel reading.

The age we live in may justly be called the age of Novels and of Novelists. This brotherhood and sis. terhood of writers are of modern origin. If we except the Romancers of the middle ages-who, by the byė, however wild and extravagant they appear, are thought to exhibit pretty correct delineations of the coarseness, ferociousness, and brutality of the manners of their times_if we except those old romancers, there were few novelists of any note prior to about the middle of the last century. It was then that Fielding and Richardson and Smollet appeared before the public : an astonishing trio, whose brilliance of genius, command of language, and distinct insight into the feelings and passions of the human heart, enabled them to adorn. their pages with fascinating charms.* To the works

* of those geniuses there succeeded swarms of imitators of each sex, and of every grade, as well in Germany as Britain : so that the reading world, for the last thirty years has been inundated as it were with novels, of which

every one finds readers.

* It must be owned, however, and is deeply to be regretted, that many of the pages of Fielding and Smollet are not only deformed with ribaldry, but tend directly to counte: nance and encourage looseness of morals.

once.

а

It is an obvious fact, that books of no other kind are read with so much eagerness by the American youth of both sexes, as novels, or narratives of feigned incidents, characters and scenery: for though they seldom tempt to a second reading, they as seldom fail of being read

In this respect it makes very little difference whether a novel be the fruit of genius, or of hair-brained folly ; whether it has the stamp of learning, or proceeds from the pen of conceited ignorance; whether it. sketches real life, or outstrips the extravagance of Bedlam :-if the thing be but new, it is earnestly enquired for, and eagerly perused.

And where lies the harm ? Not in the nature of this species of writing, for it is not censurable in itself. We have the highest of all authorities for the use of Parables: they have been made the vehicle for conveying moral truth in the most cogent and captivating, and at the same time the most inoffensive manner. Apologues and fables are worthy of praise rather than blame, if framed with ingenuity, and made of manifest tendency to promote good morals. And the like may be said of the species of writing that goes under the denomination of novels : it is not censurable as a species of composition, but as a species of composition that has been generally and deplorably perverted by misuse. It is not to be denied that a novel may be so fashioned by well-directed talent, as to blend amusement with instruction, entertainment with the moral improvement of the mind ; nor is it to be affirmed that there are no instances of this happy combination : some there are, though comparatively few. But the harm of novel-reading, carried to the excess of extravagance to which the present age has carried it, lies partly at least in the following particulars, which my limits will allow me but barely to mention.

1. Passing over the baser sort of novels, or such as have a direct tendency to deprave the mind and the heart, it may be confidently affirmed that the greater part of the rest, though they profess to have a moral purpose, do in no measure inculcate pure christian morals, but those of a spurious kind : the standard of their morality being very little higher, if any, than that of the highest order of the pagan school.

2. There is always danger, especially as regards youth, of cultivating the imagination too much, and the more solid faculties of our nature too little ; and it is of the nature of most novels to produce this effect: they expand and bloat the imagination without informing the understanding or maturing the judgment.

3. The pictures of life given in novels are not usually those of common, but of high life; and can be therefóre of no practical use at all to persons who are not destined to move in the highest circles. On the other hand, they tend to sophisticate their manners as well as their morals; the manners of Dukes and Dutchesses being widely remote from what should be the manners of plain men and women.

4. Novel-readers, unless gifted with a more than ordinary fund of sound sense, are prone to slide into a romantic habit of thinking, and to cherish extravagant expectations. Finding in the books they are most accustomed to, a series of preternatural events; astonishing effects produced without even a shadow of cause ; persons suddenly raised, as by magic, from humble circumstances to boundless opulence and loftiness of rank finding in the books which they ponder by day and through the vigils of the night, a perpetual recurrence of such unearthly scenery described in glowing language; it is no wonder that they cherish preposteraus hopes; nor is it a wonder if they become disgusted

with the homely scenes and occupations of ordinary life, and look with contempt upon every situation, enjoyment, or connection, that is actually attainable by them.

5. If novels have the good effect of beguiling the young into a passion for reading, they have also, not unfrequently, the bad effect of so enervating their minds that there is left them neither industry nor relish for sober history, nor for any thing else that requires the labour of their understandings and judgments.

6. This kind of reading has a tendency to vitiate the taste, as well in regard to style as sentiment. The readers of novels--they who read them indiscriminately or without selection—are accustomed to a style nauseously sweet, or vapidly towering; consisting of spangled heaps of words and images which smother the sense, where sense there is. Thus accustomed, their feelings are no less repugnant to plain sober language, than to plain sober sense. *

It does by no means follow from what has here been said, that parents and instructers should lay their children under an absolute interdiction with respect to their perusing novels. For, not to mention that such

* Perhaps no single circumstance contributed so much to that general and deep corruption of our language, which began many years ago, and from which it is now considerably purified, -as the influence of the novellists of the last age. One of them-one of the sisterhood-commenced her novel as here follows :-" The setting sun's refulgent glories tipt with daszling lustre Etna's lofty summits, and danced in a thousand varied hues over Polycrasto's smooth, transparent bosoin. The gentle sephyrs breathed Sicilian odours, and wafted on their silken wings the finest strains of Italian melody," - And in this honied strain the fair one proceeded on, casting abroad her nosegays at every step. Indeed I well remember when a style like this, was regarded by our reading youths with rap, turous admiration and delight.

a

is the texture of our general nature that prohibition has a stimulating power, so that if a book never so worthiess, were prohibited by law, almost every body would wish to read it ;—there are, no doubt, some novels, which might be put into the hands of the young with safety, and to their real advantage. The danger lies in reading them indiscriminately or without selection, and in making them a principal part of reading 66 Those novels which paint the manners and character of the body of mankind, and affect the reader with the relation of misfortunes which may befal himself," may be perused, now and then, not only as an amusement, but as a profitable study ;-yet, after all, it is real life with which we must chiefly have to do.

[ocr errors]

NUMBER XCIX.

of the impassable and unalterable limits to the pleasures

of Sense.

The pleasures of sevse, common to all animal natures, can admit of very little increase by the refinements of art, and at the same time are bounded and limited by impassable barriers. I say impassable barriers, for you no sooner have overleaped them than the pleasure is gone, and satiety, disgust, or some kind or other of painful dissatisfaction, succeeds to its place.

Sweet as is the light, too much of it would instantly destroy the organ of vision. Pleasant as it is to see the sun, yet looking steadfastly upon him in bis meridian glory, would cause pain, and even blindness. The light of that luminary, by which alone we see the innumerable objects that are visible to us, is coloured ; else

« ПредишнаНапред »