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before that date – no copies of them either in print or in manuscript, nor so much as a mention of or allusion to any one of them in our earlier literature. They are not,” it is forcibly observed, “in the style of old literature. They contain no references to old literature. As little does old literature contain, any references to them.” This is the more extraordinary when we consider the vast amount of attention they have attracted since they were first brought forward by Percy in his Reliques. They may not very unreasonably be thought, Mr. Chambers remarks, to have done more to make the popularity of that collection than all its other contents. It has been common to attribute to Percy's book a large share in the new inspiration which soon after its appearance began to show itself in our poetry. Mr. Chambers winds up with a more pointed deduction. “If,” he says,
" there be
truth or force in this speculation, I shall be permitted to indulge in the idea that a person lived a hundred years before Scott, who, with his feeling for Scottish history, and the features of the past generally, constructed out of these materials a similar romantic literature. In short, Scotland appears to have had a Scott a hundred years before the actual person so named. And we may well believe that, if we had not had the first, we either should not have had the second, or he would have been something considerably different, for, beyond question, Sir Walter's genius was fed and nurtured on the ballad literature of his native country. From his Old Mortality and Waverley back to his Lady of the Lake and Marmion ; from these to his Lay of the Last Minstrel ; from that to his Eve of St. John and Glenfinlas; and from these, again, to the ballads which he collected, mainly the produce (as I surmise) of an individual precursor, is a series of steps easily traced, and which no one will dispute. Much significance there is, indeed, in his own statement that Hardyknute was the first poem he ever learned, and the last he should forget. Its author — if my suspicion be correct — was his literary foster-mother, and we probably owe the direction of his genius, and all its fascinating results, primarily to her.”
THE NOVELISTS, — RICHARDSON, FIELDING, SMOLLETT.
A VERY remarkable portion of the literature of the middle of the last century is the body of prose fiction, the authors of which we familiarly distinguish as the modern English novelists, and which in some respects may be said still to stand apart from everything in the language produced either before or since.
If there be any writer entitled to step in before Richardson and Fielding in claiming the honor of having originated the English novel, it is Daniel Defoe. But, admirable as Defoe is for his inventive power and his art of narrative, he can hardly be said to have left us any diversified picture of the social life of his time, and he is rather a great raconteur than a novelist, strictly and properly so called. He identifies himself, indeed, as perfectly as any writer ever did, with the imaginary personages whose adventures he details ; — but still it is adventures he deals with rather than either manners or characters. It may
be observed that there is seldom or ever anything peculiar or characteristic in the language of his heroes and heroines : some of them talk, or write, through whole volumes, but all in the same style ; in fact, as to this matter, every one of them is merely a repetition of Defoe himself. Nor even in professed dialogue is he happy in individualizing his characters by their manner of expressing themselves; there may be the employment occasionally of certain distinguishing phrases, but the adaptation of the speech to the speaker seldom goes much beyond such mere mechanical artifices; the heart and spirit do not flash out as they do in nature; we may remember Robinson Crusoe’s man Friday by his broken English, but it is in connection with the fortunes of their lives only, of the full stream of incident and adventure upon which they are carried along, of the perils and perplexities in which they are involved, and the shifts they are put to, that we think of Colonel Jacque, or Moll Flanders, or even of Robinson Crusoe himself. What character they have to us is all gathered from the circumstances in which they are placed; very little or none of it from either the manner or the matter of their discourses. Even their conduct is for the most part the result of circumstances; any one of them acts, as well as speaks, very nearly as any other would have done similarly situated. Great and original as he is in his proper line, and admirable as the fictions with which he has en
riched our literature are for their other merits, Defoe has created no character which lives in the national mind
— no Squire Western, or Trulliber, or Parson Adams, or Strap, or Pipes, or Trunnion, or Lesmahago, or Corporal Trim, or Uncle Toby. He has made no attempt at any such delineation. It might be supposed that a writer able to place himself and his readers so completely in the midst of the imaginary scenes he describes would have excelled in treating a subject dramatically. But, in truth, his genius was not at all dramatic. With all his wonderful power of interesting us by the air of reality he throws over his fictions, and carrying us along with him whithersoever he pleases, he has no faculty of passing out of himself in the dramatic spirit, of projecting himself out of his own proper nature and being into those of the creations of his brain. However strong his conception was of other things, he had no strong conception of character. Besides, with all his imagination and invention, he had little wit and no humor - no remarkable skill in any other kind of representation except merely that of the plain literal truth of things. Vivid and even creative as his imagination was, it was still not poetical. It looked through no atmosphere of ideal light at anything; it saw nothing adorned, beautified, elevated above nature ; its gift was to see the reality, and no more. Its pictures, therefore, partake rather of the character of fac-similes than that of works of art in the true sense.
On turning our eyes from his productions to those either of Fielding or Richardson, we feel at once the spell of quite another sort of inventive or creative power. Yet no two writers could well be more unlike than the two we have mentioned are to one another both in manner and in spirit. Intellectually and morally, by original constitution of mind as well as in the circumstances of their training and situation, the two great contemporary novelists stood opposed the one to the other in the most complete contrast. Fielding, a gentleman by birth, and liberally educated, had been a writer for the public from the time he was twenty: Richardson, who had nearly attained that age before Fielding came into the world (the one was born in 1689, the other in 1707), having begun life as a mechanic, had spent the greater part of it as a tradesman, and had passed his fiftieth year before he became an author. Yet, after they had entered upon the same new field of literature almost together, they found themselves rivals upon that ground for
as long as either continued to write. To Richardson certainly belongs priority of date as a novelist: the first part of his Pamela was published in 1740, the conclusion in 1741 ; and Fielding's Joseph Andrews, originally conceived with the design of turning Richardson's work into ridicule, appeared in 1742. Thus, as if their common choice of the same species of writing, and their antipathies of nature and habit, had not been enough to divide them, it was destined that the two founders of the new school of fiction should begin their career by having a personal quarrel. For their works, notwithstanding all the remarkable points of dissimilarity between those of the one and those of the other, must still be considered as belonging to the same school or form of literary composition, and that a form which they had been the first to exemplify in our language. Unlike as Joseph Andrews was to Pamela, yet the two resembled each other more than either did any other English work of fiction. They were still our two first novels properly so called
our two first artistically constructed epics of real life. And the identity of the species of fictitious narrative cultivated by the two writers became more apparent as its character was more completely developed by their subsequent publications, and each proceeded in proving its capabilities in his own way, without reference to what had been done by the other. Fielding's Jonathan Wild appeared in 1743; Richardson's Clarissa Harlowe — the greatest of his works
was given to the world in 1748; and the next year the greatest birth of Fielding's genius — his Tom Jones – saw the light. Finally, Fielding's Amelia was published in 1751; and Richardson's Sir Charles Grandison in 1753. Fielding died at Lisbon in 1754, at the age of forty-seven ; Richardson survived till 1761, but wrote nothing more.
Meanwhile, however, a third writer had presented himself upon the same field — Smollett, whose Roderick Random had appeared in 1748, his Peregrine Pickle in 1751, and his Count Fathom in 1754, when the energetic Scotsman was yet only in his thirtyfourth year. His Sir Launcelot Greaves followed in 1762, and his Humphrey Clinker in 1771, in the last year of the author's active life. Our third English novelist is as much a writer suz generis as either of his two predecessors, as completely distinguished from each of them in the general character of his genius as they are from each other. Of the three, Richardson had evidently by far the richest natural soil of mind ; his defects sprung
from deficiency of cultivation ; his power was his own in the strictest sense ; not borrowed from books, little aided even by experi. ence of life, derived almost solely from introspection of himself and communion with his own heart. He alone of the three could have written what he did without having himself witnessed and lived through the scenes and characters described, or something like them which only required to be embellished and heightened, and otherwise artistically treated, in order to form an interesting and striking fictitious representation. His fertility of invention, in the most comprehensive meaning of that term, is wonderful, – supplying him on all occasions with a copious stream both of incident and of thought that floods the page, and seems as if it might so flow on and diffuse itself forever. Yet it must be confessed that he has delineated for us rather human nature than human life — rather the heart and its universal passions, as modified merely by a few broad distinctions of temperament, of education, of external circumstances, than those subtler idiosyncrasies which constitute what we properly call character. Many characters, no doubt, there are set before us in his novels, very admirably drawn and discriminated : Pamela, her parents, Mr. B., Mrs. Jewkes, Clarissa, Lovelace, Miss Howe, Sir Charles Grandison, Miss Byron, Clementina, are all delineations of this description for the most part natural, well worked out, and supported by many happy touches; but (with the exception, perhaps, of the last-mentioned) they can scarcely be called original conceptions of a high order, creations at once true to nature and new to literature ; nor have they added to that population of the world of fiction among which every reader of books has many familiar acquaintances hardly less real to his fancy and feelings than any he has met with in the actual world, and for the most part much more interesting. That which, besides
interests us in Richardson's novels, is not the characters of his personages but their sentiments, not their modes but their motives of action, the anatomy of their hearts and inmost natures, which is unfolded to us with so elaborate an inquisition and such matchless skill. Fielding, on the other hand, has very little of this, and Smollett still less. They set before us their pictures of actual life in much the same way as life itself would have set them before us if our experience had chanced to bring us into contact with the particular situations and personages delineated; we see, commonly, merely what we should have seen as lookers-on,