Page images
PDF
EPUB

distinguishing seature; when, again, in the views which are given of the conduct, the detail is too particular, the author is apt to tire by becoming tedious, or to disgust by being trifling or familiar, or by approaching to vulgarity. Some of our most celebrated historians have committed errors of the sust fort; when, at the end of a reign, or at the exit of a hero, they draw the character of the King, or great man, and tell their readers, that the perfon they are taking leave of was brave, generous, juji, humane; or the tyrant they have been declaiming against, was cruel, haughty, jealous, deceitful; these general qualities are fo little distinguishing, that they may be applied, almost, to any very good, or very bad man, in the history. When, on the other hand, an author, in order to give a particular view of the perfon of whom he writes, tells his readers, what such perfon did before, and what after dinner; what before, and what aster he slept; if his vivacity prevent him from appearing tedious,, he will at least be in danger of displeasing by the appearance of vulgarity or affectation.

It may be proper here to observe,, that, ijr , making a right choice of the different manM 6 ners. ners in which a character may be drawn, much depends upon the subject, or design of the author; one method may be more suited to one kind of composition than to another. Thus the author who consines himself merely to drawing characters, the historian who draws a character arising only from, or illustrating the events he records, or the novellist who delineates characters by feigned circumstances and situations, have each their several objects, and different manners may be properly adopted by each of them. Writers, such as Theophrajlus and La Bruyere, take for their object a character governed by fome one passion, abforbing all others, and influencing the man in every thing; the miser, the epicure, the drunkard, &c The business of the historian is more dissicult and more extensive; he takes the complicated characters in real lise; he must give a view of every distinguishing characteristic of the perfonage, the good and the bad, the fierce and the gentle, all the strange diversities which life presents.

Novel-writers ought, like the prosessed writers of character, to have it generally in view to illustrate fome one distinguishing seature

or or passion of the mind; but then they have it in their power, by the assistance of story, and by inventing circumstances and'situation, to exhibit its leading seatures in every possible point of view. The great error, indeed, into which novel-writers commonly fall, is, that they attend more to the story and to the circumstances they relate, than to giving new and just views of the character of the perfon they present. Their general method is to assix names to certain perfonages, whom they introduce to their readers, whom they lead through dangers and distresses, or exhibit in circumstances of ridicule, without having it in view to illustrate any one predominant or leading principle of the human heart; without making their readers one bit better acquainted with the characteristic seatures of those perfons at the end of the story than at the beginning. Hence there are fo sew novels which give lasting pleasure, or can bear to be perused oftener than once. From the surprise occasioned by the novelty or nature of the events, they may carry their readers once through them; but, as they do not illustrate any of the principles of the mind, or give any interesting views of character,they raise no desire for a second perufal, and ever after lie neglected on the shelf.

How

How very disferent from these are the novel?, which, in place of relying upon the mere force of incident, biing the characters of their perfonages fully before us, paint all their7 shades. and attitudes, and by making us, as it were, intimately acquainted with them, deeply engage our hearts in every circumstance which can afsect them? This happy talent of delineating with truth and delicacy all the seatures and nicetints of human character, never fails to delights and will often atone for many desects. It is this which renders Richardson fo interesting,, in spite of his immeasurable tediousness; it is this which, will render Fielding ever delightfuj, notwithstanding the indelicate coarseness with, which, he? too often osfends us

A

32. Saturday, May 15, 1779.

Happiness has been compared, by one of my predecessors, to a Game; and he has prescribed certain rules to be followed by the players. These, indeed, are more necessary than one might suppose at first sight; this game, Jike most others, being as often lost by ba4play as by ill luck. The circumstances I am placed in, fome of which I communicated to my readers in my introductory paper, make me often a fort of looker-on at this game; and, like all lookers-on, I think I discover blunders in the play of my neighbours, who frequently lose the advantages their fortune lays open to> them.

To chase the allusion a little farther, it is. seldom that opportunities occur of brilliant Jlroia, or deep calculation. With most of us,, the ordinary little stake is all that is played for; and he who goes on observing the common rules of the game, and keeping his temper in the reverses of it, will sind himself a gainer at last. In plainer language, happiness* with the bulk of men, may be faid to consists

in,

« PreviousContinue »