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tisfied with exposing their want of canHor in the particular in* Stance, without defending the work on another score, on principles so questionable as the following:
• It appears to me that in general it betrays littleness and pedantry to shew too much severity with regard to certain probabilities, in works of imagination ; and if this severity should pass into a principle, we could no longer dare to exhibit any but ordinary scenes. In a romance, as in works of a higher nature, in poems, in tragedies, every event, every circumstance that is f-ossib/t, is admissible, if it tvere only for the purpose of producing surprise, FOR surprise is one of the mi am of pleating: but if that extraordinary situation produce* a t-ne developement of feelings, it is ingenious and beautiful. We ought to be particular as to probabilities only in the conduct of persons relatively to their character. Two things should be rigorously exacted in all works of imagination: truth of sentiment, and well supported character. I repeat that in other respects, provided the events and inci- . dents be not physically impossible, there is nothing to he said; nay more, an absolute -want of probability ought not only to be passed in silence, but pardoned, if great beauties result from it. In one ot the finest romances ever written, I mean Clarissa, it-is utterly improbable that the modest, prudent, and timid Clarissa should abandon her paternal roof in order to take flight with a young man who is in love with her, and has the most profligate character: a want of probability which is so much the more inexcusable, that it gives the lie to the heroine's character; this fault is undoubtedly obnoxious to criticism, yet must be forgiven, in favour of all the beauties that result from it. Again, it is horrible and improbable that the haughty Lovelace should conduct her whom he passionately loves to a house of ill fame: but this dreadful idea gives birth to scenes so sublime, that, after having read them, we have no longer either the power or the right to criticise it.'
Even those who are least inclined to trench on the rights of fancy, or to clip the many-coloured wings of romance, will think that these doctrines are too much tinged with latitudinarianism, and too apt to betray into heresy. Without stopping to analyse the logic of the passage, by which few minds, we apprehend, are likely to be satisfied, it may be worth while to examine the two examples of improbability laid to the charge of Richardson; and to inquire whether, instead of serving as precedents for conducting a romance on such principles, they may not be more rationally considered as establishing a contrary rule, and recommending a contrary practice. In fact, the argument involves a confusion between the improbability of events and circumstances, which Madame De G. is defending, and the inconsistency of character, which she severely condemns. The two incidents, or events, are deficient in verisimilitude, only because they are supposed to proceed from motives incapable of producing them, conformably to the general character and feelings of the actors in the story. Abstractedly contemplated,
the elopement of Clarissa is so inconsistent , with her principles, that we may ptonounce it impossible: but the persecution and cruelty of her family, the threat of an oHious husband, and the estrangement or absence of all the fflends who could assist her, have always appeared to us to-justify the only step by which she could extricate herself from the tremendous difficulties of her situation. Lovt'iace, on the other hand, in degrading Clarissa, whom he loved, by the polluted protection to which he consigned her, was impelled by violent and long excited passion to a deed which must have deeply wounded all the generous sensibilities in his nature, but which he found to be thi only expedient for gratifying his desires.— If the motives in either case are insufficient for the conduct, Richardson has so far committed a fault: but surely a different kind of fault from that of accidentally assigning a lodging to Clara within a mile of the city which Valmore accidentally came to besiege; of making him accidentally take up his quarters in that very lodgingof bringing, through the soh; operation of chance, her unknown father at, the head of German auxiliaries to the aid of the besieged, and employing ber suppositious parent as an incendiary among the rebels, all at the same important crisis; and finally of preserving the menaced life of the heroine by the fortuitous, but pantomimic, substitution of a bottle of physic for a dose of poison, which kills the dog to whom it is administered :—< tissue of events so very improbable, that it is above a hundred to one that eithvr of them could ever have taken place ; and which are finally effected, not by those extraordinary.trains of circumstances which often produce the most singular results, but merely by that necessity which compels all authors of romance, to contrive that their dramatis persona should appear on the stage in a body, at the final close of the scsne.
The remainder of the preface might have been properly reserved for a statement ot the reason3 which induced the ingenious author to compose a second romance, on a subject preoccupied by one of the most popular works of the last century. \Ve deemed it probable that, rejecting the fabulous incidents of a life sufficiently romantic, Madame De Genlis -would have embellished with the charms of her'description, the conquest of Carthage, the flight of Gtlimer, the heroic resolution of Zano, the glorious struggle and not dishonourable captivity of Vitiges,the twice repeated rescue of Rome, and the humanity of Belisarius towards all whom he protected or overpo wered. On recollecting the private life of that consummate General, it appeared to us possible that the biographer of dt la Falliere, Montespan, and M"intencn, might have added to the list of her distinguished heroines, that Antonina whose infidelity to
Apr. Rev. Vol.Lvi. lib. th^ the bed of her hero is considered by Gibbon to hate been atoned by her friendship for his person and her anxiety for his reputation; and that Theodora, whose capricious hatred could annihilate, while her unprincipled favour could transport to unmanly extasies, the firm, the resolute, the dignified destroyer of Carthage and saviour of Rome. No anecdotes could more perfectly exemplify the Romance of Real Life:—but we are here presented with only a few imaginary incidents, founded on the exploded supposition of the exile, blindness, and vagrant mendicancy, of the hero of Marmontel; whose name is mentioned principally to support the argument to which we have above paid some attention, by an enumeration of the most palpable and long detected absurdities of our old favourite, Btlisairc* The subsequent paragraph, however, closes the preface: —1 On an historical foundation, which belonged to all the world, I hare composed a work which has nothing in common with that of Marmontel. His political romance will always keep its place in the hearts of statesmen: mine perhaps will, for a few moments, amuse the leisure of women and people of the world, and that is enough for me.'
In one of the most solitary spots of the desert of the Thebaid, the ears of the hermit Arcadius were startled by the unusual sound of a human voice, and shocked with the execrations and vows of vengeance that flowed from a wounded ■pirit. Two paces from him, he found an old man chained to a rock, recently deprived of sight; whom, after having gently reproved his murmurs against Providence, he conducted to the peaceful asylum of his cell. It was Belisarius, who had received from hi3 sovereign this reward for countless service* and the most important victories. Unable.to dwell on any subject but that of his merits, his misfortunes, and the future indulgence of his resentment, he is drawn by his host into a recital of the events of his life; the anchorite having rather irritated than consoled him by the confident assurance that his own calamities have even surpassed those of Belisarius.
This narrative comprises a summary of all the leading actions in which Belisarius had been engaged, related perhaps* with rather more composure than the agonizing state of his mind could have warranted us to expect. The finest and most romantic incident is the most strictly historical, and relates to the conduct of Gelimer, king of the Vandals> after his army was defeated and his empire destroyed:
'That young and unfortunate prince (says Belisarius) was joined by his wife, who had the courage to be again united to him. Living on wild fruits, having no other refuge titan a cave scooped by nature among tcr» rible rocks, he aud the handful of his brave followers seemed resolved
nthst rather to remain In that desert place than to surrender. I passionately wished to seize his person, and lead him captive to Constantinople; and I neglected nothing to engage him to place himself in my hands: but all was useless. He appeared to us, from time to time, as if to brave us, on the height of a steep rock; we saw him there repeatedly, and admired the nobleness of his air, the beauty of his figure, and the grandeur of his countenance. One of his soldiers descended to the plain, and was brought to me; and 1 desired him to request that, his sovereign would receive Pharas, one of my lieutenants, whom I wished to send to him charged with words of peace. Gclimer consented: a guide came to Pharas, bandaged his eyes, and led him to the top of the mountain Papua. Pharas was touched with the misery in which he found that brave and unhappy prince, and still more with his heroic firmness. Surrounded by his soldiers, he was seated on a rock. "You see," said he to Pharas, " the throne which remains to me: a cave is my palace, and here is my court 1 I have no longer any courtiers, I am no longer flattered: but these generous companions in misfortune are resolved to share my lot \ they have made me a new oath of fidelity, that of dying with me in freedom in this desert." In spite of this language, Pharas fulfilled his mission; and he promised an independent station to Gelimer, which should be worthy of his birth, on condition that he would entrust himself to my hands, and follow me to Constantinople. "Never," replied Gelimer; " 1 will receive nothing from the destroyers of my country. Besides, what is it that you ask of met peace! I can no longer wage war against you; my subjects, my army, my empire,—you have annihilated them all. What do you offer me? riches? I despise them. Independence I I enjoy it, and owe it only to my own courage. Under the pretext of succouring a prince base enough to arm a foreign power against his country, you have put an end to the Vandal monarchy. Faithful friends, what will you restore to your ally? a palace which was pillaged, fields plundered, and a depopulated land. In a few days you have been able to destroy a powerful empire, but you shall never overcome the constancy of Gelimer. As long as you inhabit this miserable country, I will remain on this mountain, immoveable as itself, inflexible as destiny; here you shall always see me, proud of my poverty, and haughty in my sufferings; here, if it be necessary, will I close my life; in this very spot will I hollow out my tomb; this rock shall cover my ashes; and of all the mausoleums of kings, this shall be the most noble and illustrious."
*' Sire," replied Pharas, " Belisarius cannot, in the bottom of his heart, be the enemy of the brave; while he deplores your obstinacy, he esteems the greatness of your soul, and hopes that reflection will lead you to adopt a more moderate line of conduct. In the mean time, affected with your privations, he offers to send you provisions, and every thing that you can ask. "Then," said Gelimer, "let him send me a lute •, that I may sing the story of my
• The other two parts of the request might, we think, have been added, without violating the dignity of the tale—a sponge, to cleanse his wounds, and bread tor his famishing wife and child. &«.
Hhi •*]%•. calamities: It is the only thing that I can accept from him" This singular demand was granted: I had among my warlike music a great number of instruments, and many lutes; and I sent one to Gelimer, who immediately made use of it. Every day, after sunset, this prince, seated on the summit of his mountain, with his lute in bis hand, made the echoes of the valley repeat his melancholy plaint; his proud and wild chant, which was always the same, had a certain charm, which detained our soldiers at the foot of the mountain, for the sake of hearing him.'
Belisarius proceeds to relate that a mutiny among his soldiers compelled the reluctant surrender of Gelimer, who afterward followed the triumphal car of his conqueror through the streets of Constantinople. *• Gelimer (says Gibbon, whose picture, we prefer to that of Madame De Gknlis, or at least to our copy of it;) Gelimer slowly advanced: he was clad in a purpb robe, and still m untamed the majesty of a king. Not a tear escaped from his eyes, not a sigh was heard: but his pride or his piety derived some secret consolation from the words of Solomon, which he repeatedly pronounced—Vanitt! Vanity! All Is Vanity I" The laugh that broke from the royal captive, which is noticed by the historian as a singularity, is fairly explained in the romance by his stating to Belisarius, that on such a day, and at the same season, he had himself mounted the throne of Kilderic, and commenced his reign over a people who had then ceased to exist.
Some days after the Genera) had finished his narration, he challenges his companion to a competition of misfortunes: but on the morning on which the promised history wa6 to have been begun, he is awakened by the chant and the kite of Gelimer. That deposed king is his newly acquired friend j and the kindness received by him from one, on whom he had heaped every species of suffering, effectually appeases those revengeful sentiments which had transported him against the supposed authors of his misery. T he two old men resolve to quit the hermitage, and inquire the fate of the wife and daughter of Belisarius; who has the satisfaction of hearing that his cruel punishment was not inflicted by his sovereign, as he had supposed, and bv Justin the younger, the de.-tined successor to the imperial throne, but solely by the perfidy of his rival Narses. He finds the empire, however, reduced to the extremities of distress and danger, and the imperial family torn by a thoujand torments,,occasioned by the ruin which threatens them in common with their subjects, and a strange complication of untoward amoUrs. The only additional misfortunes that befel the hero were the death of his wife, the famous Antoninar which it could not have required much fortitude