« PreviousContinue »
and open character, he is expelled from his benefactor's house under the foulest and most beart-rending accusations; but we certainly sympathize very little in the distress of Pickle, brought on by his own profligate profusion, and enhanced by his insolent misanthropy. We are only surprized that his predominating arrogance does not weary out the benevolence of Hatchway and Pipes, and scarce think the ruined spendthrift deserves their persevering and faithful attachment.
* But the deep and fertile genius of Smollett afforded resources sufficient to balance these deficiences; and when the full weight has been allowed to Fielding's superiority of taste and expression, his northern contemporary will still be found fit to balance the scale with bis great rival. If Fielding had superior taste, the palm of more brilliancy of genius, more inexhaustible richness of invention, must in justice be awarded to Smollett. In comparison of his sphere, that in which Fielding walked was limited ; and, compared with the wealthy profusion of varied character and incident which Smollett has scattered through his works, there is a poverty of composition about his rival. Fielding's fame rests on a single chef d'æuvre; and the art and industry which produced Tom Jones was unable to rise to equal excellence in Amelia. Though therefore we may justly prefer Tom Jones as the most masterly example of an artful and well-told novel, to any individual work of Smollett ; yet Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, and Humphrey Clinker, do each of them far excel Joseph Andrews or Amelia ; and, to descend still lower, Jonathan Wild, or The Journey to the Next World, cannot be put into momentary comparison with Sir Lancelot Greaves, or Ferdinand Count Fathom.
Every successful novelist must be more or less a poet, even although he may never have written a line of verse. The quality of imagination is absolutely indispensable to him ; his accurate power of examining and embodying human character and human passion, as well as the external face of nature, is not less essential; and the talent of describing well what he feels with acuteness, added to the above requisites, goes far to complete the poetic character. Smollett was, even in the ordinary sense, which limits the name to those who write verses, a poet of distinction ; and, in this particular, superior to Fielding, who seldom aims at more than a slight translation from the classics. Accordingly, if he is surpassed by Fielding in moving pity, the northern novelist soars far above him in his powers of exciting terror. Fielding has no passages which approach in sublimity to the robber scene in Count Fathom; or to the terrible description of a sea-engagement, in which Roderick Random sits chained and exposed upon the poop, without the power of motion or exertion, during the carnage of a tremendous engagement. Upon many other occasions Smollett's descriptions ascend to the sublime; and in general there is an air of romance in his writings, which raises his narratives above the level and easy course of ordinary life. He was, like a pre-eminent poet of our own day, a searcher of dark bosoms, and loved to paint characters under the strong agitation of fierce and stormy passions. Hence, misanthropes, gamblers, and duellists, are as common in his works as in those of Salvator Rosa, and are drawn in most cases with the same
terrible truth and effect. To compare Ferdinand Count Fathom to the Jonathan Wild of Fielding would be perhaps unfair to the latter author; yet, the works being composed on the same plan, (a very bad one as we think,) we cannot help placing them by the side of each other, when it becomes at once obvious that the detestable Fathom is a living and existing miscreant, at whom we shrink as from the presence of an incarnate fiend, while the villain of Fielding seems rather a cold personification of the abstract principle of evil, so far from being terrible, that, notwithstanding the knowledge of the world argued in many passages of his adventures, we are compelled to acknowledge him absolutely tiresome.
It is, however, chiefly in his profusion, which amounts almost to prodigality, that we recognize the superior richness of Smollett's fancy. He never shows the least desire to make the most, either of a character, or a situation, or an adventure, but throws them together with a carelessness which argues unlimited confidence in his own powers. Fielding pauses to explain the principles of his art, and to congratulate himself and his readers on the felicity with which he constructs his narrative, or makes his characters evolve themselves in the progress. These appeals to the reader's judgment, admirable as they are, have sometimes the fault of being diffuse, and always the great disadvantage, that they remind us we are perusing a work of fiction ; and that the beings with whom we have been conversant during the perusal, are but a set of evanescent phantoms, conjured up by a magician for our amusement. Smollett seldom holds communication with bis readers in his own per
He manages his delightful puppet-show without thrusting his head beyond the curtain, like Gines de Passamonte, to explain what he is doing; and hence, besides that our attention to the story remains unbroken, we are are sure that the author, fully confident in the abundance of bis materials, has no occasion to eke them out with extrinsic matter.
‘Smollett's sea-characters have been deservedly considered as inimitable; and the power with which he has diversified them, in so many instances, distinguishing the individual features of each honest tar, while each possesses a full proportion of professional manners and habits of thinking, is a most absolute proof of the richness of fancy with wbich the author was gifted, and which we have noticed as his chief advantage over Fielding. Bowling, Trunnion, Hatchway, Pipes, and Crowe, are all men of the same class, habits, and tone of thinking, yet so completely differenced by their separate and individual characters, that we at once acknowledge them as distinct persons, while we see and allow that every one of them belongs to the old English navy. These striking portraits have now the merit which is cherished by antiquaries--they preserve the memory of the school of Benbow and Boscawen, whose manners are now banished from the quarter-deck to the fore-castle. The naval officers of the present day, the splendour of whose actions has thrown into shadow the exploits of a thousand years, do not now affect the manners of a fore-mast man, and have shown how admirably well their duty can be discharged without any particular attachment to tobacco or flip, or the decided preference of a check shirt over a linen one. * In the comic part of their writings, we have already said, Fielding A A 4
is pre-eminent in grave irony, a Cervantic species of pleasantry, in which Smollett is not equally successful. On the other hand, the Scotchman (notwithstanding the general opinion denies that quality to his countrymen) excels in broad and ludicrous humour. His fancy seems to run riot in accumulating ridiculous circumstances one upon another, to the utter destruction of all power of gravity; and perhaps no books ever written bave excited sucli peals of inextinguishable laughter as those of Smollett. The descriptions which affect us thus powerfully, border sometimes upon what is called farce or caricature; but if it be the highest praise of pathetic composition that it draws forth tears, why should it not be esteemed the greatest excellence of the ludicrous that it compels laughter? The one tribute is at least as genuine an expression of natural feeling as the other; and he who can read the calamities of Trunnion and Hatchway, when run away with by their mettled steeds, or the inimitable absurdities of the feast of the ancients, without a good hearty burst of honest laughter, must be well qualified to look sad and gentlemanlike with Lord Chesterfield or Master Stephen.
Upon the whole, the genius of Smollett may be said to resemble that of Rubens. His pictures are often deficient in grace; sometimes coarse, and even vulgar in conception ; deficient, too, in keeping, and in the due subordination of parts to each other; and intimating too much carelessness on the part of the artist. But these faults are redeemed by such richness and brilliancy of colours ; such a profusion of imagination
-now bodying forth the grand and terrible—now the natural, the easy, and the ludicrous; there is so much of life, action, and bustle, in
every group be has painted; so much force and individuality of character, that we readily grant to Smollett an equal rank with his great rival Fielding,
The critic adds, while we place both far above any of their successors in the same line of fictitious composition-'
And if the meaning be, that Smollett and Fielding have had no rivals in the delineation of English manners, or even that they have remained unequalled in the portraiture of manners actually contemplated-of living manners absolutely—our readers may probably be inclined to assent to what is here said. But if, by - the same line of composition,' be meant the literature of the novel generally, we are sure every reader will agree with ourselves that Fielding and Smollett have had one successor, who is not merely a rival but a superior.
The great novelist of our own time has never framed a plot so perfect as that of Tom Jones; nor has he the wit of a Fielding -to say nothing of a Le Sage ;- but he much more than atones for such deficiencies by the display of a far wider combination of excellencies than is to be found in any one novelist besides. He has widened the whole field to an extent of which none that went before him ever dreamed; embellished it by many original graces, as exquisite at least as any that their hands had introduced ; and ennobled it by the splendours of a poetical imagination, more powerful and more exalted by far than had ever in former days exerted its energies elsewhere than in the highest of the strictly poetical forms-epic and tragic. Far above any other British novelist in the aggregate quality of what he produces, he still more largely excels the two greatest foreign masters, Cervantes and Le Sage, in the copiousness of his creations. Nor is it, in our judgment, among the least of his merits, that his genius has achieved all these triumphs without for a moment departing from that firm healthiness of feeling, that sustained and masculine purity of mental vigour, of which there are unfortunately but few examples in the works of this class that intervened between Don Quixote and Waverley.
The unexampled popularity of this author has had good effects on our novel literature-and it has also had its evil effects. To that stimulus we, in all probability, owe the appearance of the classical and energetic Anastasius, the beautifully pathetic tale of Margaret Lyndesay, the exquisite humour of the Annals of the Parish, and The Provost, and other works of original merit. But to it we are also indebted for a whole deluge of novels and romances, which not only might not, but could not, have been written, had no Waverley pointed out one particular style and manner of novel-writing. Ou some of these, we are sorry to observe, considerable talents have been unwisely and unfortunately expended. In the best of them, it is almost needless to say, we seek in vain for any approach to the true excellencies of their master—the delicacy of his humour--the simplicity of his pathos-his tragic energy-the variety and extent of his knowledge—the graceful ease of his style -above all, his original conception of character, and the astonishing fertility of his invention: -these are matters far beyond the reach of knack. If we except two or three of the works of Mr. Cooper, we do not believe that any of these imitations will be remembered a few years hence; and yet we are far from considering that American writer as the ablest man that has imitated the great novelist of our time. perior success is owing to the superiority of his materials; he has employed a style of delineation which he couid never have invented, upon a fresh field, and, which is of still higher importance, on a field of manners and feelings familiar to his own observation. His Spy, Pioneers, &c., may be classed therefore, though post longum intervallum, with Waverley. His ingenious rivals on this side of the Atlantic have, on the contrary, trusted to reading and imagination for the best part of their materials; and being inferior beyond measure to their master, both in the accomplishment and the faculty, they have produced, at the best, the mere corpus exsangue of the historical romance.
It is impossible, however, to read the books even of this class, with which the press teems, without being struck with the extent to which the example of one great author has spread among our writers the feeling and perception of many principles of composition, heretofore but rarely exemplified, and never, perhaps, fully developed. If, for instance, we open any one of their books, and take any given description, whether of external nature, or of the picturesque of manners, and compare that with any attempt of the same class in the works of authors of the same sort of rank in talent, some fifteen years back, we shall be compelled to acknowledge, that the more recent writer has a feeling of what such description ought to be much above the reach of his predecessor. One genius, in a word, has made many clever artists
; and some of their works, at least, would bid fair for life, if there were not one general rule in the world of imaginative literature to which there is absolutely no exception: viz. in Martial's words:
Victurus Genium debet habere liber.' It is, above all, in the conception and delineation of character, that the true novelist, like the true dramatist, must excel; and these are matters, in which we may safely say, after the lapse of three thousand years since the date of the Iliad, that mere art can carry no one far. We read no fiction twice that merely heaps de scription upon description, and weaves incident with incident, however cleverly. The imitating romancer shrinks at once into his proper dimensions when we ask—what new character has he
" Where is his child ?” an echo answers
Art. III.-1. Journal of a Third Voyage for the Discovery of
a North-West Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific; performed in the years 1824, 25, in His Majesty's Ships Hecla and Fury, under the orders of Captain William Edward Parry, R.N., F.R.S., and Commander of the Expedition. London.
1826. 2. A Voyage towards the South Pole, performed in the years
1822–24. Containing an Examination of the Antarctic Sea, to the Seventy-fourth degree of Latitude: and a Visit to Tierra del Fuego, with a particular Account of the Inhabitants. To which is added, much useful Information on the coasting Navigation of Cape Horn, and the Adjacent Lands, with Charts of Harbours, &c. By James Weddell, Esq., Master in the Royal
Navy. London. 1825. TH) HE third and, we grieve to say, the least successful of Captain
Parry's strenuous and most meritorious efforts to decide the question of the practicability of a North-West passage from the