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to hoid an unaltered tenor of moral and virtuous conduct, did he suppose that to bimself alone he was responsible, and that his own reason, a judge so peculiarly subject to be bribed, blinded, and imposed upon by the sophistry with wbich the human mind can gloss over those actions to which human passions so strongly impel us, was the ultimate judge of his actions ? Let each reader ask the question at his own conscience, and if he can honestly and conscientiously answer in the affirmative, he is either that faultless monster which the world never saw, or he deceives bimself as grossly as the poor devotee, who, referring his course of conduct to the action of some supposed internal inspiration, conceives bimself, upon a different ground, incapable of crime, even when he is in the very act of committing it.
'We are not treating this subject theologically; the nature of our present work excludes such serious reasoning. But we would remind, even in those light sketches, those who stand up for the self-sufficient morality of modern philosophy, or rather sophistry, that the experiment has long since been tried on a large scale. Whatever may be the inferiority of the ancients in physical science, it will scarce be denied, that in moral science they possessed all the lights which the unassisted Reason, that is now referred to as the sufficient light of our paths, could possibly attain. Yet, when we survey what their system of Ethics did for the perfection of the human species, we will see that but a very few even of the teachers themselves have left behind them such characters as tend to do honour to their doctrines. Some philosophers there were, who, as instructors in morality, showed a laudable example to their followers; and we will not invidiously inquire how far these were supported in their self-denial either by vanity, or the desire of preserving consistency, or the importance annexed to the founder of a sect; although the least of these motives may
afford great support to temperance, even in cases where it is not rendered easy by advanced age, which of itself calmıs the more stormy passions. But the satires of Juvenal, of Petronius, and, above all
, Lucian, show what slight effect the doctrines of Zeno, Epictetus, Plato, Socrates, and Epicurus, produced on their avowed followers, and how little influence the beard of the stoic, the sophistry of the academician, and the self-denied mortification of the cynics, had upon the sects which derived their names froin these distinguished philosophers. We will find that these pretended despisers of sensual pleasure shared the worst vices of the grossest age of society, and added to them the detestable hypocrisy of pretending that they were all the while guided by the laws of true wisdom and of right reason.
• If in modern times, they who owned the restraint of philosophical discipline alone have not given way to such gross laxity of conduct, it is because those principles of religion, which they affect to despise, have impressed on the public mind a moral feeling unknown till the general prevalence of the Christian religion; but which, since its predominance, has so generally pervaded European society, that no pretender to innovation can directly disavow its influence, though he endeavours to show that the same results, which are recommended from the Christian pulpit, and practised by the Christian community, might be reached by the un
VOL, XXXIV. NO. LXVIII.
assisted efforts of that human reason, to which he counsels us to resigo the sole regulation of our morals.
' In short, to oppose one authority in the same department to another, the reader is requested to compare the character of the philosophic Square in Tom Jones with that of Bage's philosophical heroes; and to consider seriously whether a system of ethics, founding an exclusive and paramount court in a man's own bosom for the regulation of his own conduct, is likely to form a noble, enlightened and generous character, influencing others by superior energy and faultless example; or whether it is not more likely, as in the observer of the rule of right, to regulate morals according to temptation and convenience, and to form a selfish sophistical hypocrite, who, with morality always in his mouth, finds a perpetual apology for evading the practice of abstinence, when either passion or interest solicits him to indulgence.'
It is, in truth, a melancholy matter of reflection how largely the works, not of Bage merely, but of the true classics of the English Novel, stand in need of being introduced with preliminary cautions such as we have now been quoting. But perhaps the best of all antidotes is that which Sir Walter has furnished in his plain and intelligible narratives of the lives of the writers themselves. Their works should be uniformly prefaced in this manner, and we hope henceforward they will be so. When the youthful admirer of Tom Jones finds that Fielding himself, originally placed by birth, connection, and education in the first class of English society, was a man so utterly lowered in his personal feelings, through long worship of pleasure, that at the moment when all England was ringing with the praises of his genius, he could be discovered in his glory (as Lord Orford describes the scene) • banqueting with a blind man, a wh- and three Irisbmen, on some cold mutton and a bone of ham both in one dish, and the dirtiest cloth :' when he hears Fielding's dear friend and relation Lady Mary Wortley Montague extolling 'the animal spirits that gave him rapture with his cook-maid- the happy constitution that (even when he had with great pains half demolished it) made him forget every evil when he was before a venison pasty or over a flask of Champagne'he will perhaps come to her ladyship's conclusion that, if few men enjoyed life more than the author of those exquisite fictions, • few had less occasion to do so--the highest of his preferment being raking in the lowest sinks of vice and misery.' The unhappiness to which Smollett’s violent and misanthropical temper through life condemned him, may in like manner afford an useful lesson to those who have been sympathizing with his hot headed and cold hearted heroes. And the mind that has been bewildered amidst Sterne's contradictions of fine sentiment
and prurient filth, will find a salutary clue in the knowledge of a fact which all Sir W. Scott's good nature cannot prevent him from hinting—namely, that the tender and simple Yorick was, in his own person, a profligate man and a mean priest.
To return to our first extract-We must further dissent altogether from Sir Walter's opinion, that
the worst evil to be apprehended from the perusal of novels is, that the habit is apt to generate an indisposition to useful literature and real history,'
The person who devours the Memoirs of a Cavalier, and allows his Clarendon to sleep on a dusty shelf, would have treated the Lord Chancellor, we shrewdly suspect, with equal disrespect, although Defoe's delightful novel had never existed; and many, on the other hand, who, if that had never existed, would never have troubled Clarendon, have their curiosity stimulated by the charm of the fiction, and are compelled to gratify it by having recourse to the history. We have had abundant evidence of this tendency in our own times. The author of Waverley's historical romances have, with hardly one exception, been immediately followed by republications of the comparatively forgotten authors from whom he had drawn the historical part of his materials. A new edition of Philip de Comines was sold rapidly during the first popularity of Quentin Durward. A variety of contemporaneous tracts concerning the Scotch religious and civil wars have in like manner been called from oblivion in consequence of Waverley, and Old Mortality—and some valuable MS. memoirs even have been sent to the press solely under the influence of the curiosity which these and other novels of the same author had excited. It is certain there are more readers of novels now than in any
former time; but we suspect the readers of almost all other kinds of books are increased in at least as large a proportion. The elder established classics of our literature, historians among the rest, are eternally republished: the chief of them are obliged to be stereotyped in order to meet the constantly growing demand. Indeed it is a most remarkable fact, that no former period, eminently distinguished for the production of works of imagination, was at all to be compared with the present, for the encouragement and favour bestowed on departments of intellectual exertion, apparently the most remote from
that to which these belong. The public that is so voracious of novels is the same public that gives ear so willingly to the expounders of many branches of science, from which our ancestors would unquestionably have turned away as utterly dry and uninteresting. The novel-readers, who remain in our time exclusively novel-readers, would, we take leave to think, have been, in the immense majority of cases, readers of exactly nothing at all, had they lived a hundred years ago. AA 2
But what after all does our author mean by • useful literature'? Is that a literature without use, which makes men and women better acquainted with human nature ? Are the characters and the passions of our species less useful objects of study than the external events of any time, or the phenomena of material nature in any of her departments? We venture to be of opinion, that there is as much useful knowledge in Gil Blas, if the reader be one of those who would have understood the Epitaph of the Licentiate Pedro Garcias, as in any dozen volumes of real history the country of Le Sage has yet produced; and we have a considerable suspicion that the great novelist of our own age has taught more truths about the working of the human mind, than any professional metaphysician of his nation, from Dr. Hutchinson to Dr. Brown, both included; and is it really so, that knowledge loses value merely because it has been attained through a pleasant medium? Is Sir Walter Scott for absolutely banishing the Muses from his Republic?
The Novelists' Library, to which these essays were originally appended, is, as we have already said, obviously incomplete. We must add that the various authors it embraces are not made to follow each other chronologically, or upon any principle of arrangement that we can discover-a particular in which M. Galignani might have had the wit to eschew the example of his original, when he was printing the Lives as a separate book.
As a fair specimen of the literary criticism which these Memoirs contain, we may take the passage in which Smollett and Fielding are contrasted.
The history, accomplishments, talents, pursuits, and, unfortunately, the fates of these two great authors, are so closely allied, that it is scarcely possible to name the one without exciting recollections of the other. Fielding and Smollett were both born in the bighest rank of society, both educated to learned professions, yet both obliged to follow miscellaneous literature as the means of subsistence. Both were confined, during their lives, by the narrowness of their circumstances,- both united a humorous cynicism with generosity and good-nature-both died of the diseases incident to a sedentary life, and to literary labour,-and both drew their last breath in a foreign land, to which they retreated under the adverse circumstances of a decayed constitution, and an exhausted fortune.
Their studies were no less similar than their lives. They both wrote for the stage, and neither of them successfully. They both meddled in politics, they both wrote travels, in which they showed that their good-humour was wasted under the sufferings of their disease ; and, to conclude, they were both so eminently successful as novelists, that no other English author of that class has a right to be mentioned in the same breath with Fielding and Smollett. If we compare the works of these two great masters yet more
closely, we may assign to Fielding, with little hesitation, the praise of a higher and purer taste than was shown by his rival; more elegance of composition and expression ; a nearer approach to the grave irony of Swift and Cervantes; a great deal more address or felicity in the conduct of his story; and, finally, a power of describing virtuous and amiable characters, and of placing before us heroes, and especially heroines, of much higher as well as more pleasing character than Smollett was able to present.
Thus the art and felicity with which the story of Tom Jones evolves itself
, is no where found in Smollett's novels, where the heroes pass froin one situation in life, and from one stage of society to another totally unconnected, except that, as in ordinary life, the adventures recorded, though not bearing upon each other, or on the catastrophe, befall he same personage. Characters are introduced and dropped without scruple, and, at the end of the work, the hero is found surrounded by a very different set of associates from those with whom his fortune seemed at first indissolubly connected. Neither are the characters which Smollett designed should be interesting, half so amiable as his readers could desire. The low-minded Roderick Random, who borrows Strap's money, wears his clothes, and, rescued from starving by the attachment of that simple and kind-hearted adherent, rewards bim by squandering his substance, receiving his attendance as a servant, and beating him when the dice ran against him, is not to be named in one day with the open-hearted, good-humoured, and noble-minded Tom Jones, whose libertinism (one particular omitted) is perhaps rendered but too amiable by his good qualities. We believe there are few readers who are not disgusted with the miserable reward assigned to Strap in the closing chapter of the novel. Five hundred pounds, (scarce the value of the goods he had presented to his master,) and the hand of a reclaimed street-walker, even when added to a Highland farm, seem but a poor recompense for his faithful and disinterested attachment. We should do Jones equal injustice by weighing him in the balance with the savage and ferocious Pickle, who,---besides his gross and base brutality towards Amelia; besides his ingratitude to his uncle, and the savage propensity which he shows in the pleasure he takes to torment others by practical jokes resembling those of a fiend in glee,-exhibits a low and ungentlemanlike tone of thinking, only one degree higher than that of Roderick Random. The blackguard frolic of introducing a prostitute in a false character to his sister, is a sufficient instance of that want of taste and feeling which Smollett's admirers are compelled to acknowledge, may be detected in his writings. It is yet more impossible to compare Sophia or Amelia to the females of Smollett, who (excepting Aurelia Darnel) are drawn as the objects rather of appetite than of affection, and excite no higher or more noble interest than might be created by the houris of the Mahomedan paradise.
It follows from this superiority on the side of Fielding, that his novels exbibit more frequently than those of Smollett, scenes of distress which excite the sympathy and pity of the reader. No one can refusé his compassion to Jones, when, by a train of practices upon his generous
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