CHAPTER VI. THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
I.—ENGLAND UNDER ANNE AND THE FIRST TWO GEORGES.
II.—SWIFT, ADDISON, DEFOE. III.—RICHARDSON, FIELDING, SMOLLETT.
The advance of a nation in numbers and civilization is accompanied by so great a complexity of social conditions that in this volume it is possible only to attempt to seize such salient characteristics of the eighteenth century as may serve to throw light on the course of English fiction. No age presents a more prosaic aspect. If we consider the condition of England at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the prevalence of abuses and corruption left by the ignorance or vice of preceding years, and reflect at the same time upon the progressive nature of the people, the practical habit of their minds, and the moral earnestness which they never wholly lost, it is not surprising to find that the century is one of reforms. Population and wealth had outgrown the laws and customs which had hitherto served for their control, and though in the earlier part of the period we find corruption in public and private life, indifference in religion, inadequate provision for the education of the young, gross abuses in jurisprudence, and coarseness of action and taste throughout the social system, there is also perceptible a solid foundation of good-sense and an earnest desire for improvement, which gradually, as the century wore on, introduced one reform after another, until many of those benefits were attained or made possible which the present century almost unconsciously enjoys. We should lose one of the most instructive lessons which history can afford, if, with Carlyle, we should allow the eighteenth century to lie “massed up in our minds as a disastrous, wrecked inanity, not useful to dwell upon,” The England of that century was modern England, but modern England, burdened with a heritage of corruption and ignorance which it is the glory of the time to have in large part discarded. It was a time of social and material progress, and it was also the period of the growth and perfection of English fiction. To thoroughly understand the one, we must be acquainted with the other, and it will be the object of the two following chapters to trace the development of the English novel in connection with that national development of which it will be shown to be in great measure the exponent.
That subordination of the imagination to reason, which, after the Restoration, became so marked in English thought on intellectual, political, and religious subjects, was continued in the eighteenth century with results which affected the whole current of national life. Before the light of physical science, silent but irresistible in its advances, faded away the remains of dogmatism and superstition. Astrology was forgotten in astronomy; belief in modern miracles and witchcraft ceased to take root in minds conscious of a universe too vast for realization, and governed by laws so regular, that probability could not attach to arbitrary interference by God or the devil. From the broadening of the intellectual horizon finally resulted inestimable benefits; but these benefits were purchased at the price of much temporary evil. If in religion, the rational tendencies prepared the way for the liberal and undogmatic Christianity to come, their effect for many years was to be seen only in scepticism, in a mocking indifference to religion itself, in a contempt of high moral aspirations and sentiments. If in politics, the final effect of these tendencies was to introduce new wisdom into government, they showed for long no other result than the suppression of all the higher qualities of a statesman, the disappearance of every sign of patriotism other than an ignorant hatred of foreign countries, the complete subversion of public spirit by private rapacity.
The prevailing intellectual characteristics are marked, in literature, by the great predominance of prose over poetry. It will be no disparagement to Pope, Prior, Gray, Collins, Akenside, Goldsmith, or Young, to say that they did not attain in poetry what in prose was attained by Swift, Defoe, Steele, Addison, Bolingbroke, Richardson, Fielding, Smollet, Hume, Gibbon, Junius, and Burke; while Goldsmith is as much valued for his prose as for his verse, Addison, Swift, and Johnson more so. It is to these men, and to contemporaries of lesser note, that English literature is indebted for the invention or perfection of prose forms of the highest importance and beauty. Defoe stands pre-eminent among the founders of the newspaper, destined to attain so high a degree of power and utility. Addison, Steele, and Johnson made the essay one of the most attractive and popular forms of literature. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Horace Walpole, Chesterfield, and Junius brought letter-writing to perfection. Defoe, Addison, Richardson, and Fielding developed the realistic novel. A prosaic and conventional tone pervaded even the poetry of the period. Appreciation of poetry was almost extinguished, Addison, writing of the poets of the past, made no mention of Shakespeare, and found it possible to say of Chaucer:
In vain he jests in his unpolish'd strain,
And tries to make his readers laugh, in vain.
And of Spenser:
Old Spenser next, warm'd with poetick rage,
In ancient tales amus'd a barb'rous age.
But now the mystick tale that pleas'd of yore
Can charm an understanding age no more.
“If you did amuse yourself with writing any thing in poetry,” wrote Horace Walpole to Sir H. Mann, in 1742, “you know how pleased I should be to see it; but for encouraging you to it, d'ye see, 'tis an age most unpoetical! 'Tis even a test of wit to dislike poetry; and though Pope has half a dozen old friends that he has preserved from the taste of last century, yet, I assure you the generality of readers are more diverted with any paltry prose answer to old Marlborough's secret history of Queen Mary's robes. I do not think an author would be universally commended for any production in verse, unless it were an ode to the Secret Committee, with rhymes of liberty and property, nation and administration.”
During the brilliant era of literary activity, known by the name of Queen Anne, men of letters were encouraged by the government by means of employment or rewards. They were supported also by the public through the high social consideration which was freely accorded to men of talent. Literary success was a passport to the houses and the intimacy of the great. But under the first two Georges and the administration of Walpole the government was seconded by the public in its neglect of authors and their works. In those days the circle of readers was too small to afford remuneration to authorship. Employment or help from the government was almost a sine qua non for the production of works which required time and research. While under Anne, Swift received a deanery, Addison was Secretary of State, Steele a prominent member of Parliament, and Newton, Locke, Prior, Gay, Rowe, Congreve, Tickell, Parnell, and Pope all received direct or indirect aid from the government, in the reigns of George I and George II, Steele died in poverty, Savage walked the streets for want of a lodging, Johnson lived in penury and drudgery. Thomson was deprived of a small office which formed his sole dependence. This neglect of authors and of literature was only partially due to an unappreciative government. It was supported by the indifference of a public in a high degree material and unintellectual. Conversation in France, said Chesterfield, “turns at least upon some subject, something of taste, some point of history, criticism, and even philosophy; which, though probably not quite so solid as Mr. Locke's, is, however, better and more becoming rational beings than our frivolous dissertations upon the weather or upon whist.”
In keeping with the unimpassioned and prosaic tone of the time, was the low state of religious feeling, and the degeneration of the church, both in its own organization and in public esteem. The upper classes of society, as a rule, were lukewarm and insincere in any form of belief. Statesman and nobles in the most prominent positions combined professed irreligion with open profligacy, while the lower classes were left, through the indolence and selfishness of the clergy, almost without religious teaching. Montesquieu found that people laughed when religion was mentioned in London drawing-rooms. Sir Robert Walpole put the general feeling in his own coarse way. “Pray, madam,” said he to the Princess Emily, when it was suggested that the archbishop should be called to the death-bed of Queen Caroline, “let this farce be played; the archbishop will act it very well. You may bid him be as short as you will. It will do the queen no hurt, no more than any good; and it will satisfy all the wise and good fools, who will call us all atheists if we don't pretend to be as great fools as they are.” This low state of religious sentiment was brought about by much the same causes which, at a later time, substituted a moral and liberal for the old dogmatic Christianity. The dislike of theological controversy left by the civil wars was aided by the Act of Toleration in giving the nation a religious peace, and in diverting human energy from religious speculations or emotions. The rational character of the national intellect was inclined to what was material and tangible, to physical study or industry. The general desire to submit all questions to the test of a critical reason, induced the clergy to apply the same test to theology. But while these tendencies, in their final result, were on the whole beneficial to religion, their temporary effect was injurious to it in a high degree. With a few exceptions, such as Butler, Berkeley, and Wilson, the clergy shared the indifference of their flocks. The upper ranks were indolent, selfish, often immoral; the lower, poor, ignorant, and degraded in social position. Bishops and prominent clergymen, under the system of pluralities, left their congregations to the care of hungry curates, and sought promotion by assiduous attendance at ministers' levees, or by paying court to the king's mistresses. It is not surprising that public respect for them and for their calling almost died away. Pope wrote sneeringly:
EVEN in a BISHOP I can spy desert;
Seeker is decent, Rundle has a heart.
A naked Venus hung in the room where prayers were read while Queen Caroline dressed, which Dr. Madox sarcastically termed “a very proper altar-piece.” Of the High Churchmen Defoe declared that “the spirit of Christianity is fled from among them.” When the Prince of Wales died, George the Second appointed governors and preceptors for the prince's children. Horace Walpole's description of one of these is significant. “The other Preceptor was Hayter, Bishop of Norwich, a sensible well-bred man, natural son of Blackbourn, the jolly old Archbishop of York, who had all the manners of a man of quality, though he had been a Buccaneer and was a Clergyman; but he retained nothing of his first profession except his seraglio.”
While the attention of the upper clergy was largely absorbed by thoughts of private profit and by the pursuit of worldly advancement, the lower ranks were left in a position degrading alike to themselves and to religion. In the country a clergyman was little above a peasant in social consideration, and seldom equal to him in the comforts of life. To eke out the sustenance of himself and family, hard labor in his own garden was by no means the most menial of the services he was obliged to perform. His wife was usually a servant-maid taken from a neighboring country house, and the kitchen was his most common resort when he visited the home of a squire. A private chaplain was little above a servant. In London, many clergymen fell into the prisons through debt or crime. From the ranks of the lower clergy were recruited the “buck-parsons,” so long a scandal to the church and to public morality; and the large body of “Fleet parsons,” of infamous character, in the pay of gin shops and taverns, who, for a trifling sum, performed what were legal marriages between boys and girls, drunkards and runaways.
The corruption in political life, begun under the Restoration and increased during the Revolution, was amplified and reduced to a system under Walpole until government seemed to be based on bribery. Ridiculing public spirit and disinterested motives in others, he bribed George the Second with the promise of a large civil list, bribed Queen Caroline with a large allowance, bribed members of Parliament with sinecures, pensions, or with direct payment of money, and paid himself with wealth and a peerage. Corruption was so firmly rooted as an engine of power, that no serious discredit attached to it. So low had fallen the standard of political honor, so widespread had become the spirit of self-seeking and corruption among the ministers and in Parliament, that “Love of our country,” wrote Browne, “is no longer felt; and except in a few minds of uncommon greatness, the principle of public spirit exists not.” The dominating idea of political life was well put in the words of the Marquis of Halifax: “Parties in a state, generally, like freebooters, hang out false colors; the pretence is public good, the real business is to catch prizes.” Lord Hervey divided the Whig party in 1727 into “Patriots and Courtiers, which was in plain English, 'Whigs in place,' and 'Whigs out of place.'“ The assertion of disinterestedness met only with ridicule. In an interview with Queen Caroline, “when Lord Stair talked of his conscience with great solemnity, the queen (the whole conversation being in French) cried out: Ah, my Lord, ne me parlez point de conscience, vous me faites evanouir.” As personal advancement, and not the public service, was the ruling aim of statesmen, it is not surprising that for this advancement no means were regarded as too low. The king's mistresses were the object of ceaseless attentions from aspirants for office, and sometimes were the recipients of their bribes. Treachery was the order of the day. Bolingbroke said to Sir Robert Walpole, “that the very air he breathed was the gift of his bounty,” and then left Sir Robert to tell the king that Walpole “was the weakest minister any prince ever employed abroad, and the wickedest that ever had the direction of affairs at home.” The Duke of Newcastle, that “living, moving, talking caricature,” stands out an exaggerated type of the common statesmen of the time; “hereditary possessors of ennobled folly,” maintained in offices which they had no capacity to fill by corruption, the abuse of patronage, and the control of rotten boroughs. Speaking of the Dukes of Devonshire, Grafton, and Newcastle, Lord Hervey says: “The two first were mutes, and the last often wished so by those he spoke for, and always by those he spoke to.” George the Second appreciated the character and objects of his advisers. He had, also, a frank and pointed way of describing them. In his opinion Sir Robert Walpole was “a great rogue”; Mr. Horace Walpole, ambassador to France, was a “dirty buffoon”; Newcastle, an “impertinent fool”; Lord Townshend, a “choleric blockhead”; while Lord Chesterfield was disposed of as a “tea-table scoundrel.” He complained that he was “obliged to enrich people for being rascals, and buy them not to cut his throat.” “The king and queen,” wrote Hervey, “looked upon human kind as so many commodities in a market, which, without favor or affection, they considered only in the degree they were useful, and paid for them in that proportion—Sir Robert Walpole being sworn appraiser to their Majesties at all these sales.”
The cringing subserviency of political men was equal to their corruption. When George I died, and it was believed that Sir Spencer Compton would succeed to the power of Sir Robert Walpole, at the king's reception “Sir Robert walked through these rooms as if they had been still empty; his presence, that used to make a crowd wherever he appeared, now emptied every corner he turned to, and the same people who were officiously a week ago clearing the way to flatter his prosperity, were now getting out of it to avoid sharing his disgrace. Everybody looked upon it as sure, and whatever profession of adherence and gratitude for former favors were made him in private, there were none among the many his power had obliged (excepting General Churchill and Lord Hervey) who did not in public as notoriously decline and fear his notice, as they used industriously to seek and covet it.” On the same occasion, Horace Walpole tells us, “my mother * * * could not make her way (to pay her respects to the king and queen) between the scornful backs and elbows of her late devotees, nor could approach nearer to the queen than the third or fourth row; but no sooner was she descried by her Majesty, than the queen cried aloud, 'There I am sure I see a friend!' The torrent divided and shrunk to either side: 'and as I came away,' said my mother, 'I might have walked over their heads if I had pleased.'“ The general corruption and wickedness produced a remarkable misanthropy in the minds of men, which is reflected in the savage satire of Swift, in the bitter invective of Junius, in the cynicism of Lord Hervey. Sir Robert Walpole, said the latter, “had more warmth of affection and friendship for some particular people than one could have believed it possible for any one who had been so long raking in the dirt of mankind to be capable of feeling for so worthless a species of animals. One should naturally have imagined that the contempt and distrust he must have had for the species in gross, would have given him at least an indifference and distrust toward every particular.”
The mercenary character of Parliament allowed the first two Georges to have much their own way as long as the money held out. Liberty of the subject, if not in great danger, had certainly lost its natural guardian. Few seats depended on a direct and popular vote. Most of them were in the gift of noblemen or rich commoners, “rotten boroughs,” having only “the bare name of a town, of which there remains not so much as the ruins.” Defoe tells us that the market price of a seat was a thousand guineas. The object of the purchaser was less often the service of his country, or even an honorable ambition, than the profit to be made from the sale of his vote. Members not infrequently had regular salaries from the government. “Sir Robert Walpole and the queen both told me separately,” wrote Lord Hervey, “that it (the victory of the court) cost the king but 900_l.—500_l. to one man, and 400_l. to another; and that even those two sums were advanced to two men who were to have received them at the end of the session had this question never been moved, and who only took this opportunity to solicit prompt payment.” Lord Chesterfield, in the same letter in which he spoke of the corrupt influencing of elections as a high crime and misdemeanor, recommends the Earl of Marchmont to bribe “some of your venal peers” to confess that they took money to vote for the court. “Ever since Lord Granville went out,” wrote Horace Walpole in 1744, “all has been in suspense. The leaders of the Opposition immediately imposed silence upon their party; everything passed without the least debate, in short, all were making their bargains. One has heard of the corruption of courtiers, but, believe me the impudent prostitution of patriots, going to market with their honesty, beats it to nothing. Do but think of two hundred men of the most consummate virtue, setting themselves to sale for three weeks!” The corruption of Parliament and the indifference, of members to any interests other than their own, were pointedly expressed by Queen Caroline in her reply to an address by Lord Stair:—“I must, therefore, once more ask you, my Lord, how you can have the assurance to talk to me of your thinking the sense of constituents, their interests, or their instructions any measure or rule for the conduct of their representatives in Parliament. * * * To talk, therefore, in the patriot strain you have done to me on this occasion, can move me, my Lord, to nothing but laughter.”
In the words of Mr. Lecky, the government was “corrupt, inefficient, and unheroic, but it was free from the gross vices of continental administrations; it was moderate tolerant, and economical; it was, with all its faults, a free government, and it contained in itself the elements of reformation.” The national industry and resolution, particularly in the middle classes, brought about a great increase of wealth, a remarkable development of manufactures and commerce, which gave the country the extraordinary prosperity which it has since, almost without a check, enjoyed. The external appearance of England presented a new aspect. A fourth part of the whole land was redeemed from waste and put under cultivation. The advance in agriculture and manufactures, making necessary better means of communication, introduced canals and substituted fine highways for the old muddy, robber-infested roads. The condition of these as late as 1736 may be inferred from that of the road between Kensington and London: “The road between this place and London is grown so infamously bad, that we live here in the same solitude as we should do if cast on a rock in the middle of the ocean, and all the Londoners tell us there is between them and us a great, impassable gulf of mud. There are two roads through the Park, but the new one is so convex and the old one so concave, that by this extreme of faults they agree in the common one of being, like the high-road, impassable.”
Social life was marked by the same corruption, by the same absence of high aspirations and standards which we have seen in politics. The nation, especially the higher ranks, had not recovered from the license of the Restoration, while the agencies which can preserve virtue and refinement in a society were almost inactive. Religion, partly in consequence of the reaction which followed the civil wars, and partly in consequence of the spread of rational tendencies, had lost its hold on society, and no longer sufficed to keep it in check. Theological controversy, although it issue in narrowness and persecution, yet has the merit of keeping alive an appreciation of high moral qualities and aims. In the absence of strong religious feeling, there is yet in the human mind a natural preference for what is beautiful and honorable, usually taking the form of ideals, which may keep up a social tone. This may be seen in the age of Elizabeth, not a very religious period, but one in which poetry and elevation of thought overshadow coarseness and immorality. The nineteenth century, again, is neither marked by strong religious feelings nor by any great tendency to idealization. And yet the nineteenth century has its standard, firmly based on public opinion, made up of a respect for decency and justice, a love of refinement, and an appreciation of the expediency as well as the attractiveness of virtue; a standard which influences many minds over which religion has little control. But in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, religion had ceased to govern, and had not yet attained that moral influence which, even in the absence of strong faith, establishes rectitude of conduct, philanthropy, and purity of thought in the minds of men. The ideals and aspirations of preceding centuries had no meaning for what Addison called an “understanding age,” and the standard of order, refinement and taste of the present had yet to come. The low state of society was realized and revolted against by the best minds of the time. Gay lampooned it in the “Beggars' Opera,” Swift satirized it in “Gulliver's Travels,” Defoe became by force of circumstances a moral teacher; Addison, Steele, all the essayists preached lay sermons; the novelists set out with the object, less to amuse than to instruct, to improve their readers. This tendency, so marked in the literature of the time, is the evidence of the reforming influences at work. But many years passed before their effect was perceptible.
There is nothing attractive about George the First and his two ugly old mistresses, the “Elephant” and the “Maypole”; nor about his court of Germans, utilizing their time in England by accumulating money to carry back to Hanover when the harvest time had passed. George the Second, brave, but narrow and ill-tempered, embodied in himself the coarseness of the time. He loved his wife, who was faithful to him through every outrage and every neglect. He caused one side to be taken out of her coffin, so that when he should be laid beside her his dust might mingle with hers. He esteemed her so highly, that in his grief at losing her, he went so far as to say that if she had not been his wife, he would have wished her for a mistress. To this wife, whom, in his own way, he sincerely loved and sincerely mourned, he confided all the details of his amours with other women. From Hanover, where he was acquiring Madame Walmoden as his mistress, “he acquainted the queen by letter of every step he took—of the growth of his passion, the progress of his applications, and their success, of every word as well as every action that passed—so minute a description of her person that, had the queen been a painter, she might have drawn her rival's picture at six hundred miles' distance. He added, too, the account of his buying her, and what he gave her, which, considering the rank of the purchaser, and the merits of the purchase as he set them forth, I think he had no great reason to brag of, when the first price, according to his report, was only one thousand ducats—a much greater proof of his economy than his passion.” Among many extraordinary relations and expressions his letters contained, “there was one in which he desired the queen to contrive, if she could, that the Prince of Modena, who was to come the latter end of the year to England, might bring his wife with him; and the reason he gave for it was, that he heard her Highness was pretty free of her person, and that he had the greatest inclination imaginable to pay his addresses to a daughter of the late Regent of France, the Duke of Orleans—'un plaisir' (for he always wrote in French), 'que je suis sur, ma chere Caroline, vous serez bien aise de me procurer, quand je vous dis combien je le souhaite.' Such a request to his wife respecting a woman he never saw, and during his connection with Madame Walmoden, speaks much stronger in a bare narrative of the fact, than by any comment or reflections; and is as incapable of being heightened as difficult to be credited.”
Queen Caroline bore all this without a murmur in order to retain her political influence with the king. To the power of the queen she sacrificed the feelings of the woman. With many good qualities and considerable ability, she shared in the prevailing coarseness. Her son, the Prince of Wales, was a very disagreeable person. Neither the queen nor the Princess Caroline “made much ceremony of wishing a hundred times a day that the prince might drop down dead of an apoplexy—the queen cursing the hour of his birth, and the Princess Caroline declaring she grudged him every hour he continued to breathe; and reproaching Lord Hervey” for ever having believed “the nauseous beast (those were her words) cared for anybody but his own nauseous self.” The morning after the prince had been ordered to leave the palace, “the queen, at breakfast, every now and then repeated, 'I hope, in God, I shall never see him again'; and the king, among many other paternal douceurs in his valediction to his son, said,'Thank-God, to-morrow night the puppy will be out of my house.'“ “My dear Lord” said the queen to Hervey, “I will give it to you under my own hand, if you are in any fear of my relapsing, that my dear first-born is the greatest ass and the greatest liar and the greatest canaille, and the greatest beast in the whole world, and that I most heartily wish he was out of it.” After the royal family, Sir Robert Walpole was the most prominent person in the country. He went about publicly with his mistress, and entertained his friends at his country-seat with orgies which disturbed the whole neighborhood. When the queen died he urged the princesses to get their father some new mistress to distract him. Lord Hervey says that Lady Sundon “had sense enough to perceive what black and dirty company, by living in a court, she was forced to keep.” Lady Deloraine, who was suspected of being the king's mistress, “when she spoke seriously to Sir Robert Walpole, pretended not to have yet yielded; and said 'she was not of an age like a vain or a loving fool, but that if she did consent, that she would be well paid.'“ “She told Lady Sundon, with whom she was very little acquainted, that the king had been very importunate these two years; and had often told her how unkind she was to refuse him; that it was mere crossness, for that he was sure her husband would not take it at all ill.” The looseness of the marriage tie had been a prevailing evil ever since the Restoration. Steele wrote in the Tatler in 1710: “The wits of this island for above fifty years past, instead of correcting the vices of the age, have done all they could to inflame them. Marriage has been one of the common topics of ridicule that every stage scribbler hath found his account in; for whenever there is an occasion for a clap, an impertinent jest upon matrimony is sure to raise it. This hath been attended with very pernicious consequences. Many a country squire, upon his setting up for a man of the town, has gone home in the gaiety of his heart and beat his wife. A kind husband hath been looked upon as a clown, and a good wife as a domestic annual unfit for the company or conversation of the beau monde. In short, separate beds, silent tables, and solitary homes have been introduced by your men of wit and pleasure of the age.”
The prevailing immorality and coarseness were in keeping with the absence of sympathy with all elevation of thought and sentiment. “If a man of any delicacy were to attend the discourses of the young fellows of this age,” wrote Steele, “he would believe that there were none but prostitutes to make the objects of passion.” “Every woman is at heart a rake,” thought Pope. Women were generally treated with disrespect, and distinctively female virtues were almost without appreciation. It is instructive to contrast the deeds of arms done in honor of a mistress in the Middle Ages, and the elevated sentiments held regarding women in what Addison called a “barbarous age,” with the actions by which young men sometimes showed their devotion in the earlier part of the eighteenth century. The latter were as extravagant as the former, but extravagant after how different a manner. One young fellow, distinguished himself by drinking wine strained through his mistress' chemise; another, by drinking out of her shoe; another, by having her slipper torn to shreds, cooked, and served up as a dish. Coarseness of thought naturally brought on coarseness of action. Horace Walpole wrote in 1737, “'Tis no little inducement, to make me wish myself in France, that I hear gallantry is not left off there; that you may be polite, and not be thought awkward for it. You know the pretty men of the age in England use the women with no more deference than they do their coach horses, and have not half the regard for them that they have for themselves.”
Against the grosser faults of immorality and indecency Steele and Addison preached. But even they were insensible to an elevated view of the relations between men and women. Such a view was, however, taken by Defoe; a man whom Steele and Addison, as well as the polite world in general, looked upon as an adventurer, and one whose opinions on social subjects they disdained. “We reproach the sex every day,” wrote Defoe, “with folly and impertinence, while I am confident, had they the advantages of education equal to us, they would be guilty of less than ourselves. * * * I cannot think that God ever made them so delicate, so glorious creatures, and furnished them with such charms, so agreeable and so delightful to mankind, with souls capable of the same enjoyments as men, and all to be only stewards of our houses, cooks, and slaves.” Defoe stands almost alone in his remonstrance against the neglect of female education. But he stands more isolated still in his appreciation of womanly virtues, and in the enthusiasm with which he could speak of them. “A woman well-bred and well-taught, furnished with the additional accomplishments of knowledge and behavior, is a creature without comparison. Her society is the emblem of sublimer enjoyments; she is all softness and sweetness, love, wit, and delight; she is every way suitable to the sublimest wish; and the man that has such a one to his portion, has nothing to do but to rejoice in her and be thankful.”
Love was hardly distinguished from mere animal desire. The poets wrote of it coldly and conventionally, as of a thing which existed only in name. The lover could only beg his mistress “to ease his pain.” But the conventionality which extended through all thoughts and expressions relating to the higher emotions of the human soul, had no effect in diminishing the coarseness of thought and conversation. Men were conventional as regards the nobler sentiments of life, but they were not conventional in the spirit which excludes from conversation and literature the gross and the immoral. Chesterfield wrote to his son of honor, justice, and so forth, as qualities of which he should know the names, but of no consequence compared to “manners, good-breeding, and the graces.” If a man blushed, it was not at his own indecency, nor at his own vice, but at the supposition that he could be so weak as to be influenced by sentiments of delicacy. Coarseness is, of course, quite separate from immorality, although the two are usually found together. In the earlier part of the eighteenth century there was a marked distinction between them. Swift's Stella, a woman of refinement, was highly indignant at remarks being made before her of a licentious character, but she herself used expressions of the grossest description without a thought of impropriety. The same distinction is seen in the essays and novels of the time. Swift, Defoe, Fielding, Richardson, all had a moral object in their fictions—the exposure and condemnation of vice, the encouragement of virtue. And yet most of these novels, especially intended to exert a good influence, are of so coarse a nature, and describe scenes so licentious that no parent would now allow them in their children's hands. The essayists wrote principally what we should now look upon as sermons, or moral teachings, and yet very many of their papers are unfit to be read in a mixed society. Men and women were made then of coarser stuff than we. Their eyes and ears were less sensitive. They were, at best, accustomed to think and speak of things which to us seem disgusting, and of which, therefore, we think and speak as little as possible. In view of the circumstances which influenced society in the last century, this condition was a perfectly natural one. We must bear it in mind in reading contemporary literature, that we may not mistake an author's intention. But we must be careful in censuring what was, after all, only one necessary stage in the development of our own civilization. It must be said, also, that the coarseness of the eighteenth century was a healthy coarseness, bred of energetic natures and animal spirits. In our time, and in the midst of our advanced refinement there lurks a sickly sentimentality, a false modesty, and an unhealthy delicacy which are in a degree inimical to morality. We have novels in great numbers, not broadly coarse, as those of Fielding or Smollett, but insidiously immoral, painting vice and unbridled passions in an attractive light.
The same rude and physical coarseness controlled the standard of taste, and introduced boisterousness and violence even into amusements. “The present grandeur of the British nation might make us expect,” wrote Steele, “that we should rise in our public diversions and manner of enjoying life, in proportion to our advancement in glory and power. Instead of that, survey this town, and you will find rakes and debauchees are your men of pleasure; thoughtless atheists and illiterate drunkards call themselves free-thinkers; and gamesters, banterers, biters, swearers, and twenty new-born insects more, are, in their several species, the modern men of wit.” Walpole wrote in 1744: “The town has been trying all this winter to drive pantomimes off the stage, very boisterously; for it is the way here to make even an affair of taste and sense a matter of riot and arms. Fleetwood, the master of Drury Lane, has omitted nothing to support them, as they supported his house. About ten days ago he let into the pit great numbers of bear-garden bruisers (that is the term), to knock down everybody that hissed. The pit rallied their forces and drove them out. I was sitting very quietly in the boxes contemplating all this. On a sudden the curtain flew up, and discovered the whole stage filled with blackguards armed with bludgeons and clubs, to menace the audience. This raised the greatest uproar.”
Mrs. Delany, whose character has excited so much admiration in her own and in succeeding generations, left, in her autobiography and letters, a picture of the society about her as seen by one of the most refined and cultivated women of the time. Like many others, she was struck with disgust at the coarseness and immorality which surrounded her. “It is enough to make one a cynic, to shun the world, and shut oneself up in a tub as Diogenes did; but I must acknowledge, though the age is very degenerate, that it is not quite void of perfection. I know some persons that still reconcile me to the world, and that convince me that virtue is not fled, though it is confined to a few.” “The men have so despicable an opinion of women, and treat them by their words and actions so ungenerously and inhumanly.” “The women were never so audacious as now; this may well be called the brazen age.” The material tone of society and its lack of sentiment were largely responsible for the low estimation in which women were held. Marriages were almost universally arranged on the simple basis of money, a circumstance which explains much of the conjugal infidelity and unhappiness which prevailed. “My Lady A.'s behaviour,” wrote Mrs. Delany, “and some more wives' behaviour of the same stamp, has so disgraced matrimony that I am not surprised the men are afraid of it; and if we consider the loose morals of the men, it is strange the women are so easily won to their own undoing.” Mrs. Delany, while a young married woman, although she was known to be of a virtuous character, was subjected to licentious attacks which fell little short of violence. It is hardly necessary to comment on the hard drinking and the hard swearing which were almost universal characteristics of gentlemen of fashion. Duelling was still a custom, and gambling was the favorite amusement at court, at the clubs, and in ladies' drawing-rooms. The title of gentleman depended on birth, and had nothing to do with personal conduct. Caste feeling was very strong. Gentlemen looked upon professional men or men of letters as beneath them, however superior they might be in manners, morals, or education. A curious instance of this caste feeling occurred in the case of Captain Vratz, who said of himself and companions on their way to the gallows for murder, that “God would show them some respect as they were gentlemen.” When Gay's “Beggar's Opera” was put on the stage, the fashionable world crowded to see their own coarseness and immorality exhibited in the persons of thieves and highwaymen, and to laugh at the truth of the Beggar's words: “Through the whole piece you may observe such a similitude of manners in high and low life, that it is difficult to determine whether (in the fashionable vices) the fine gentlemen imitate the gentlemen of the road, or the gentlemen of the road the fine gentlemen.”
The lower classes of society were as ignorant and brutal as the higher were coarse and corrupt. Among the other qualities in which the times were deficient, was philanthropy. The measures which the wisdom and charity of the present have exerted to diminish crime, and to improve the condition of the poor, were then represented only by a harsh and cruel penal code, which had a powerful, though an indirect tendency to promote pauperism and to multiply criminals. Although population had greatly increased, no new provision had been made for religious teaching, and there were no schools but those of Edward and Elizabeth. Defective poor-laws, which forbade laborers to move from one parish to another in search of work, made pauperism in many cases the inevitable fate of the industrious. In the cities there was no adequate police regulation of the criminal classes; and this, too, at a time when peaceful habits were fast growing among the people at large, and police protection was more needed than ever before. At the same time there came upon the lower classes, the terrible scourge of gin. Violent and ignorant as these classes were, the effects upon them of so cheap and maddening a drink were incalculably debasing. “The drunkenness of the common people,” says an eye-witness, “was so universal by the retailing of a liquor called gin, with which they could get drunk for a groat, that the whole town of London, and many towns in the country swarmed with drunken people of both sexes from morning to night, and were more like a scene from a Bacchanal than the residence of a civil society.” The sign which hangs over the inn-door in Hogarth's picture of Gin Lane, and announces that the customer can get drunk for a penny, dead drunk for twopence, and have straw for nothing, was a copy, not an invention. Attempts to limit the traffic in gin were met by riots so fierce that the government was obliged to withdraw its measures. The violent natures of the common people appeared in their amusements as well as in their crimes. Their sports were of the most brutal kind, and almost all involved the sufferings of men or animals. Among other entertainments advertised to take place in London in 1729 and 1730, were “a mad bull to be dressed up with fireworks and turned loose in the game place, a dog to be dressed up with fireworks over him, a bear to be let loose at the same time, and a cat to be tied to the bull's tail, a mad bull dressed up with fireworks to be baited.” Such amusements were interspersed with cock-fighting, prize fights, and boxing matches between women. The same brutality characterised the crimes of the period. Violent riots, aggravated by the plunder of gin-shops, attended the preaching of the Methodists, the Gin Act, and even the employment by Garrick of a few French dancers at Drury Lane Theatre. Piracy and smuggling were systematically carried on, accompanied by atrocious cruelties and murders. It was no uncommon practice for the inhabitants of the sea-coast to lure vessels on shore by false signals in order to plunder them.
Other causes, as well as the ignorance and brutality in which the lower classes almost necessarily lived, contributed to the number and impunity of criminals. It was only in 1736 that the streets of London, hitherto plunged at night in total darkness, began to be lighted for a few hours by lamps. The right of sanctuary, which still practically existed in such quarters as Whitefriars and the Mint afforded to criminals an easy and safe retreat beyond the reach of the law. The rougher elements of the upper as well as of the lower classes, made the streets impassable at night without great danger. They organized themselves into bands, and committed atrocious and wanton brutalities on inoffensive passers-by. One band, called the Modocs, indulged in the amusement called “tipping the lion” which consisted in flattening the nose of the victim on his face and boring out his eyes with the fingers. There were also the “dancing masters,” who made people dance by pricking them with swords, the “sweaters,” who pricked their victims with swords till they fell exhausted, and the “tumblers,” who set women on their heads and mutilated their limbs. Others rolled women down hill in barrels, cut the faces of maid-servants, and slit the noses of watchmen. The criminal classes became so daring and numerous that the streets were insecure even in the day-time, “It is shocking to think what a shambles this country is grown!” wrote Walpole. “Seventeen were executed this morning, after having murdered the turnkey on Friday night, and almost forced open Newgate. One is forced to travel even at noon, as if one were going to battle.” It was the custom to go out at night accompanied by armed servants. Addison gave an amusing description of the precautions observed when Sir Roger de Coverley was taken to the theatre. “The Captain, who did not fail to meet me there at the appointed Hour, bid Sir Roger fear nothing, for that he had put on the same Sword which he made use of at the Battle of Steenkirk. Sir Roger's Servants, and among the rest my old Friend the Butler, had, I found, provided themselves with good oaken Plants to attend their Master upon this occasion. When we had placed him in his Coach, with myself at his left hand, the Captain before him, and his Butler at the Head of his Footmen in the Rear, we convoyed him in safety to the Playhouse.” “One night, in the beginning of November, 1749,” wrote Walpole, “as I was returning from Holland House by moonlight, about ten at night, I was attacked by two highwaymen in Hyde Park, and the pistol of one of them going off accidentally, razed the skin under my left eye, left some marks of shot on my face, and stunned me.” These men were taken about a year later. “I have been in town for a day or two, and heard no conversation but about M'Lean, a fashionable highwayman, who is just taken, and who robbed me among others. * * * His father was an Irish Dean; his brother is a Calvinist minister in great esteem at the Hague. * * * He took to the road with only one companion, Plunkett, a journeyman apothecary, my other friend. * * * M'Lean had a lodging in St. James Street, over against White's, and another at Chelsea; Plunkett one in Jermyn St., and their faces are as well known about St. James' as any gentleman who lives in that quarter, and who, perhaps, goes upon the road too. M'Lean had a quarrel at Putney Bowling Green two months ago with an officer whom he challenged for disputing his rank; but the captain declined, till M'Lean should produce a certificate of his nobility, which he has just received. * * * As I conclude he will suffer, and wish him no ill, I don't care to have his idea, and am almost single in not having been to see him. Lord Mountford at the head of half White's went the first day: his aunt was crying over him: as soon as they were withdrawn she said to him, knowing they were of White's, 'My dear, what did the lords say to you? Have you ever been concerned with any of them?'—was not it admirable? What a favorable idea people must have of White's! and what if White's should not deserve a much better! But the chief personages who have been to comfort and weep over this fallen hero are Lady Caroline Petersham and Miss Asche: I call them Polly and Lucy.”
The fact that death was the penalty for almost all serious violations of the law gave an additional zest to crime. The criminal looked upon himself, and was looked upon by others, as a brave man, and even those who abhorred the crime retained a certain admiration for the courage which they thought involved in its commission. Felons sat erect and proud in the cart which carried them to execution. Their great ambition was to die like “gentlemen,” and they saw no disgrace in death by “the ladder and the cord,” so long as it was borne with bravado. Criminals are frequent and prominent characters in contemporary fiction. The period contributed more than any other to the romance of crime, and a glamour has been cast over the most infamous careers which has made them celebrated to the present day. The famous highwayman Dick Turpin, and one Parsons, the son of a baronet, educated at Eton, attained a public interest and admiration, in which the greatness of their crimes was forgotten in the dangers they incurred and the boldness with which they defied justice. When Jack Sheppard, the burglar, was finally captured after two remarkable escapes from Newgate, he became a popular hero. Great numbers of people visited him in prison and gave him presents of money. Several lives were written of him.
But the most remarkable criminal career, and that which best illustrates the inefficiency of the law and the impunity and ferocity of criminals, is that of Johnathan Wild, surnamed the Great. This man spent some time in Newgate, and having become acquainted with the secrets and methods of its inhabitants, married a notorious woman who was well versed in similar knowledge. He then set up an establishment for receiving stolen goods, and organized thieves into regular bands. Some were to rob churches, others to pick pockets at theatres and fairs, others to rob on the streets and highways. He even divided the country into districts, and appointed a special gang to work in each. All these thieves were obliged to account to him for what they stole, and he disposed of it in London, or if that seemed too dangerous, he sent it abroad in a ship of his own. He attained over lesser criminals the most rigid authority and absolute power. His lieutenants were chosen among transported convicts who had returned before the expiration of their terms. These were legally incapable of giving evidence against Wild, but he could send them to the gallows at a moment's notice, if suspicious of their fidelity, by information to the authorities. Over the common thieves he had nearly the same power. Those whom he suspected of retaining part of their booty, or whom he feared as witnesses against himself, were at once sent to the gallows by private information to the magistrates. On the other hand, a thief who was in danger of arrest, if useful and faithful, was taken into Wild's own house, protected, fed, and employed in counterfeiting or other in-door occupation. When a law was passed making it criminal to receive stolen goods, Wild opened an intelligence office for the discovery of missing articles. To that office came the thieves, like so many workmen, to deliver their booty and receive their wages, and there, too, came the robbed to describe their losses and name their rewards. If the reward were sufficient to satisfy Wild, he returned the article; otherwise he had it made unrecognizable by skilled workmen whom he employed for the purpose, and presented it to a faithful follower, or disposed of it in the regular course of business. It is impossible not to notice a certain resemblance between Johnathan Wild and Defoe's English Tradesman. The practical turn of mind, the absence of sentiment so characteristic of the times, are to be seen alike in the thief, the tradesman, and the gentleman. Conducted on purely business principles, like a mercer's shop or a marriage between noble families, without hatred or affection, anger or generosity, the work went on. Wild dealt in human lives with the same cold, money-making calculation which directed the disposal of a stolen watch. When public complaints were made, that although many robberies were committed few thieves were apprehended, Wild supplied the gallows with thieves who were useless to him or lukewarm in his interest. When a large reward was offered for the apprehension of a criminal, Wild was usually able to deliver the man. If he was unable to do so, or was friendly to the criminal, he still secured the reward by giving false information against an innocent person, and supported his assertions by the perjury of his subordinates. By these methods he soon grew rich. He carried a silver wand which he asserted to be a badge of office given him by the government, and entered into secret leagues with corrupt magistrates. After a time he called himself a gentleman, and wore a sword, the first use of which was to cut off his wife's ear. At last he was detected in aiding the escape of a highwayman confined in Newgate, and being deprived of his power, he was easily convicted. He was hung in 1725, and on his way to the scaffold was almost pelted to death by the mob.
The impunity with which Wild followed his long career of crime was not unusual. The authorities were inefficient and corrupt. Fielding, himself a police justice, makes a magistrate say in “Amelia”: “And to speak my opinion plainly, such are the laws and such the method of proceeding that one would almost think our laws were made for the protection of rogues, rather than for the punishment of them.” The laws bore hardly upon the poor and spared the rich. “The parson,” complained Defoe in the “Poor Man's Plea,” “preaches a thundering sermon against drunkenness, and the justice of the peace sets my poor neighbor in the stocks, and I am like to be much the better for either, when I know perhaps that this same parson and this same justice were both drunk together but the night before.” The magistrates and constables were as much in need of reform as the laws. “The greatest criminals in this town,” said Walpole, “are the officers of justice; there is no tyranny they do not exercise, no villany of which they do not partake.” Many of the magistrates were never impartial, except, as Fielding said: “when they could get nothing on either side.” One class of constables was described by Fielding in “Amelia.” The watchmen intended “to guard our streets by night from thieves and robbers, an office which at least requires strength of body, are chosen out of those poor old decrepit people, who are from their want of bodily strength rendered incapable of getting a livelihood by work. These men, armed only with a pole, which some of them are scarce able to lift, are to secure the persons and houses of his Majesty's subjects from the attacks of young, bold, stout, desperate, and well-armed villains. If the poor old fellows should run away from such enemies, no one, I think, can wonder, unless it be that they were able to make their escape.” Defoe's pickpockets are always more afraid of being mobbed on the spot, than of being detected and punished by the police. Well known highwaymen not infrequently rode through the streets of London with armed companions, although large rewards were offered for their capture. Many of the constables were of the most villanous character. The following incident, recorded by Walpole, is only one of many instances of their brutality which might be mentioned. “There has lately been the most shocking scene of murder imaginable; a parcel of drunken constables took it into their heads to put the laws in execution against disorderly persons, and so took up every woman they met till they had collected five or six and twenty, all of whom they thrust into St. Martin's round house, where they kept them all night, with doors and windows closed. The poor creatures, who could not stir or breathe, screamed as long as they had any breath left, begging at least for water; one poor wretch said she was worth eighteen-pence, and would gladly give it for a draught of water, but in vain! So well did they keep them there, that in the morning four were found stifled to death; two died soon after, and a dozen more are in a shocking way. In short, it is horrid to think what the poor creatures suffered. Several of them were beggars, who, from having no lodging, were necessarily found in the street, and others honest labouring women. One of the dead was a poor washer-woman, big with child, who was returning home late from washing. * * * These same men, the same night, broke into a bagnio in Covent Garden, and took up Jack Spencer, Mr. Stewart, and Lord George Graham, and would have thrust them into the round-house with the poor women if they had not been worth more than eighteen-pence!”
Keepers of prisons bought their places with the distinct purpose of making money by extortions from the prisoners. The following is an account of the means pursued by Bainbridge, Warden of the Fleet, to extort money from one Solas, a poor man, imprisoned for debt: “Bainbridge caused him to be turned into the dungeon, called the Strong Room of the Master's side. This place is a vault, like those in which the dead are interred, and wherein the bodies of persons dying in the said prison are usually deposited till the coroner's inquest hath passed upon them; it has no chimney nor fireplace, nor any light but what comes over the door, or through a hole of about eight inches square. It is neither paved nor boarded; and the rough bricks appear both on the sides and top, being neither wainscotted nor plastered; what adds to the dampness and stench of the place, is its being built over the common sewer, and adjoining to the sink and dunghill where all the nastiness of the prison is cast. In this miserable place the poor wretch was kept by the said Bainbridge manacled and shackled for near two months. At length on receiving five guineas from Mr. Kemp, a friend of Solas's, Bainbridge released the prisoner from his cruel confinement. But though his chains were taken off, his terror still remained, and the unhappy man was prevailed upon by that terror, not only to labor gratis for the said Bainbridge, but to swear also at random all that he hath required of him; and the committee themselves saw an instance of the deep impression his sufferings had made upon him; for on his surmising from something said, that Bainbridge was to return again as Warden of the Fleet, he fainted, and the blood started out of his mouth and nose.” This example is by no means an exceptional one. It is impossible, within the limits of this volume, to give an adequate idea of the disease, the squalor, the cruelties and abuses which existed in the prisons. Their interiors are often described by the novelists, who were unable to exaggerate the actual circumstances. Poor prisoners, when acquitted, were dragged back to prison and kept there till their dues were paid or they were released by death. Richer men were subjected to all sorts of indignity and danger, even to that of small-pox, to force them to enrich their jailers.
The social condition of England in the first half of the eighteenth century presents a material and unattractive aspect. Its most prominent characteristics are the corruption and coarseness of the upper classes, and the ignorant brutality of the lower. Still there existed beneath this exterior, qualities and habits in the highest degree favorable to civilization and social order. At a later time these qualities brought about reforms which did away with many of the worst abuses. Among the middle classes, fast rising to political and social prominence, lived an earnest morality, which at a later time took form in the great Methodist revival, and the rise of philanthropy. This persevering industry of the same classes added enormously to the wealth of the nation. When reform came, it came as a revolt against existing conditions, showing at once how bad those conditions were, and how strongly the popular mind inclined to a better state. A general feeling of disgust prevailed which left deep traces on contemporary literature, and produced a widespread misanthropy. The first half of the eighteenth century was to the period of the Restoration like the morning after a debauch. Rochester, in the time of Charles II, and Hervey, in the time of George II were representative men. The difference in the feelings with which these men looked upon life is significant. Rochester, in the full tide of dissipation, glories in his sensuality, and writes the “Maimed Debauchee.”
Should some brave youth (worth being drunk) prove nice,
And from his fair inviter meanly shrink,
'T would please the ghost of my departed vice,
If, at my council, he repent and drink.
But Hervey represents the time when dissipation had run a long course, and disgust, sanctity, and misanthropy were succeeding. To him, as to Swift, men were “a worthless species of animals,” their vices, natural; their virtues, affectation:
Mankind I know, their nature and their art,
Their vice their own, their virtue but a part
Ill played so oft, that all the cheat can tell,
And dangerous only when 't is acted well,
* * * * *
To such reflections when I turn my mind
I loathe my being, and abhor mankind.
[Footnote 90: Carlyle, “Frederick the Great,” p. 13. vol. i.]
[Footnote 91: Addison, “An Account of the Greatest English Poets.” Quoted by Henry Morley, LL.D., “English Literature in the Reign of Victoria.”]
[Footnote 92: Lecky's “History of England in the 18th Century,” vol. i, p. 502.]
[Footnote 93: Lord Hervey, “Memoirs of George II,” v. 3, p. 527.]
[Footnote 94: Hervey's “Mem. of George II,” vol. 1, p. 147, note.]
[Footnote 95: Walpole's “Reminiscences”; Hervey's “Mem.,” v. 2, p. 103, note.]
[Footnote 96: Walpole's “Mem. of George II,” vol. 1, p. 87.]
[Footnote 97: Browne's “Estimate of the Times”; Lecky, “Hist. of 18th Century,” vol. 1, p. 509.]
[Footnote 98: Lord Hervey, “Mem. of Geo. II,” vol. i, p. 5.]
[Footnote 99: Idem, vol. i, p. 170.]
[Footnote 100: Idem, vol. i, p. 18.]
[Footnote 101: Hervey's “Mem.,” i, 20.]
[Footnote 102: Idem, vol. 1, p. 208.]
[Footnote 103: Hervey's “Memoirs,” 1, 39.]
[Footnote 104: Idem, ii, 360.]
[Footnote 105: Idem, ii, 31.]
[Footnote 106: Idem, vol. i, p. 91.]
[Footnote 107: Hervey's “Memoirs,” vol. 1, p. 37.]
[Footnote 108: Hervey, 1, 22-25.]
[Footnote 109: Horace Walpole, “Reminiscences.”]
[Footnote 110: Locke “On Civil Government,” b. ii, ch. 13; Lecky's “History of the 18th Century,” vol. I, p. 471.]
[Footnote 111: Hervey's “Memoirs,” ii, 280.]
[Footnote 112: Chesterfield, “Correspondence,” iii, 94.]
[Footnote 113: Walpole to Mann, Dec. 24, 1741.]
[Footnote 114: Hervey's “Memoirs,” i, 172.]
[Footnote 115: “History of the Eighteenth Century,” vol. 1, p. 512.]
[Footnote 116: Green's “Short History of the English People,” pp. 768-9.]
[Footnote 117: Hervey, ii, 189, note.]
[Footnote 118: Hervey's “Memoirs,” vol. i, p. 500.]
[Footnote 119: Hervey's “Memoirs,” vol. i, p. 502.]
[Footnote 120: Lord Hervey's “Memoirs", ii, 255.]
[Footnote 121: Idem, ii, 434.]
[Footnote 122: Hervey's “Memoirs,” ii, 472.]
[Footnote 123: Hervey's “Memoirs,” ii, 350.]
[Footnote 124: Idem, i, 90.]
[Footnote 125: Idem, ii, 349.]
[Footnote 126: Tatler, No. 159, Saturday, April 15, 1710.]
[Footnote 127: Steele, Tatler, No. 5.]
[Footnote 128: Walpole to Montague, March 20, 1737.]
[Footnote 129: Wilson's “Memoirs of Defoe,” vol. i, p. 265.]
[Footnote 130: Wilson's “Memoirs of Defoe,” vol. i, p. 206.]
[Footnote 131: Steele, Tatler, No. 12 May 7, 1709.]
[Footnote 132: Walpole to Mann, Nov. 26, 1711.]
[Footnote 133: Letter to Mrs. Ann Granville, Dec. 5, 1739.]
[Footnote 134: Letter to Mrs. Ann Granville, Jan. 17, 1731-32.]
[Footnote 135: Letter to Mrs. Ann Granville, Nov. 18, 1729.]
[Footnote 136: Letter to Mrs. Ann Granville, Christmas-day, 1729.]
[Footnote 137: Green, “Short History of the English People,” p. 717.]
[Footnote 138: Lord Hervey's “Memoirs of George II,” vol. ii, p. 139.]
[Footnote 139: Strutt's “Sports and Pastimes,” p. 259; Lecky, “History of England in the 18th Century,” vol. i, chap. iv.]
[Footnote 140: Lecky, “History of England in the 18th Century,” vol. i, p. 522.]
[Footnote 141: Walpole to Sir H. Mann, March 23, 1752.]
[Footnote 142: The Spectator, “Sir Roger at the Playhouse.”]
[Footnote 143: Horace Walpole, “Short Notes of My Life.”]
[Footnote 144: Horace Walpole to Sir H. Mann, Aug. 2, 1750.]
[Footnote 145: See the “Newgate Calendar.”]
[Footnote 146: See the “Newgate Calendar” and Pike's “History of Crime,” vol. 2, chap. x.]
[Footnote 147: Walpole to Mann, bet. July 14 and 29, 1742.]
[Footnote 148: “Amelia,” book i, chap. 2.]
[Footnote 149: Walpole to Mann, bet. July 14 and 29, 1742.]
[Footnote 150: “State Trials;” vol. xvii, p. 298. Proceedings against John Higgins, Esq., Warden of the Fleet, Thomas Bainbridge, Esq., Warden of the Fleet, Richard Corbett, one of the Tipstaffs of the Fleet, and William Acton, Keeper of the Marshalsea Prison: 3 George II, A.D. 1729. Report of the Com. of the House of Commons.]
Lord Hervey's bitter lines introduce us to Jonathan Swift. Nature, together with the character of his time, made the great Dean a misanthropist. Physical infirmity, disappointed hopes, and a long series of humiliations destroyed the happiness which should have belonged to his rare union of noble gifts,—his tall, commanding figure, his awe-inspiring countenance, his acute wit, and magnificent intellect. Naturally proud and sensitive to an abnormal degree, he was obliged to suffer the most galling slights. From his earliest years he hated dependence, and yet, until middle life he was forced to be a dependent. His education was furnished by the charity of relatives, between whom and himself there was no affection. His college degree was conferred in a manner which made it a disgrace rather than an honor. The long years which he passed in the household of Sir William Temple, subject to the humors and caprices of his master, embittered his temper at the time of life when it should have been most buoyant and hopeful. Thus began the melancholy and misanthropy which marred his whole life, darkening his triumphs, turning such love as he had to give into a curse to those who received it, producing an eccentricity which often gave him the appearance of a madman, and finally bringing him to a terrible end—to die, as he himself foretold, like a blasted elm, first at the top. He kept his birthday as a day of mourning. He solemnly regretted his escape when nearly killed by an accident. He habitually parted from a friend with the wish that they might never meet again. Caesar's description of Cassius is wonderfully applicable to Swift:
——He reads much;
He is a great observer, and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men ——
Seldom he smiles; and smiles in such a sort
As if he mocked himself, and scorn'd his spirit
That could be amused to smile at any thing.
The character of Swift presents great apparent contradictions. Although full of good-will and appreciation for individuals, although exercising out of a small income the most discriminating and open handed generosity, there has never lived a man more bitter in his misanthropy, more fierce in his denunciation of mankind. Although capable of great and disinterested affection, he was unable to make his affection a source of happiness to himself or to others. Although he always chose for companionship the most refined and cultivated women, the wisest and most honored men, his mind dwelt by preference on the most terrible examples of human depravity, and he gave permanent form, in his literary productions, to ideas from which a healthy mind must always turn with horror and disgust. His misanthropy was founded partly on observation of the evil and corruption which he saw about him, and partly on the suspicions and exaggerations of his own imagination. He gave up writing a history of England, because, in his own words, he found the characters of history such a pack of rascals that he would have no more to say to them. He made a “List of Friends,” which he classified as Grateful, Ungrateful, Indifferent, and Doubtful. Of these friends, forty-four in number, only seventeen were marked with the g which signified that their friendship was trusted. We cannot disassociate Swift from his own time, nor can we attribute simply to a melancholy life or to mental aberration the revolting conceptions which his works contain. The coarseness and corruption which marked the private and public life of Swift's day had their share in the production of such poems as The “Lady's Dressing-Room,” and such degrading views of human nature as are expressed in the “Voyage to the Houyhnhnms.”
It is a significant sign of the times that Hogarth, the greatest English painter, and Swift, the greatest English writer, should have employed their talents in caricature and in satire. In the wonderful allegory of the “Tale of a Tub,” in which the corruptions and failings of the English, Roman, and Presbyterian churches were ridiculed in the persons of Jack, Peter, and Martin, Swift displayed at an early age his exuberant wit and surpassing satirical power. The “Tale of a Tub” was succeeded by the “Battle of the Books,” an imaginary conflict between volumes in a library, which exposed the absurdity of the controversy over the relative merits of the ancients and the moderns. But Swift's satire became most fierce and brilliant when it was turned from rival creeds and rival literatures, and directed toward mankind itself.
The “Travels of Lemuel Gulliver” were dropped, said the publisher, at his house, in the dark, from a hackney-coach. In regard to this work, the Dean followed his custom of sending out his writings to the world to make their way on their own merits, without the assistance of his name. But the authorship of the book could not long remain unknown before the storm of applause and curiosity which it immediately excited. It was a production, said Johnson, “so new and strange that it filled the reader with a mingled emotion of merriment and amazement. It was received with such avidity, that the price of the first edition was raised before the second could be made; it was read by the high and the low, the learned and illiterate. Criticism was for a while lost in wonder; no rules of judgment were applied to a book written in open defiance of truth and regularity.” Whether read for the satire or the story, the adventures of Gulliver proved equally fascinating. They “offered personal and political satire to the readers in high life, low and coarse incidents to the vulgar, marvels to the romantic, wit to the young and lively, lessons of morality and policy to the grave, and maxims of deep and bitter misanthropy to neglected age and disappointed ambition.”
The early part of the eighteenth century offered rich material to the satirist, and Swift brought to his work unparalleled fierceness and power. He attacked the corruption of the politician and the minister, the vanity and vice of the courtier, the folly and extravagance of the fashionable world, and gathering venom in his course, made his satire universal and painted the pettiness and deformity of the human race. But among the follies and vices of mankind, vanity was the fault most offensive to Swift, and that which he lashed with his most bitter invective. To ridicule human pride, and to expose its inconsistency with the imperfection of man, is the ruling object of his great satirical romance. On Gulliver's return to England from the land of the Houyhnhnms, where, under the degraded form of Yahoos, he had studied mankind as they appeared when influenced by all human vices and brutal instincts unveiled by hypocrisy or civilization, he describes his horror at observing the existence of vanity among his countrymen who resembled Yahoos so closely;—
My reconcilement to the Yahoo kind in general might not be so
difficult, if they would be content with those vices and follies
only which nature has entitled them to. I am not in the least
provoked at the sight of a lawyer, a pickpocket, a colonel, a fool,
a lord, a gamester, a politician, a whoremonger, a physician, an
evidence, a suborner, an attorney, a traitor, or the like; this is
all according to the due course of things: but when I behold a lump
of deformity and diseases, both in body and mind, smitten with
pride, it immediately breaks all the measures of my patience;
neither shall I ever be able to comprehend how such an animal, and
such a vice, could tally together.
In the “Voyage to Lilliput” the follies and vanities of individuals and of parties are ridiculed by the representation of their practice among diminutive beings. Sir Robert Walpole suffered in the person of Flimnap the Lilliputian Premier, Tories and Whigs in the High-Heels and Low-Heels, Catholics and Protestants in the Big-endians and Small-endians. In the “Voyage to Brobdingnag,” where Gulliver finds himself a pigmy among giants, the general object of the satire is the same, but its application becomes more bitter and universal. Characteristics of the human race hardly perceptible in their ordinary proportions, attain a disgusting and monstrous prominence when seen in the huge persons of the Brobdingnagians. The king of this gigantic people is represented as a beneficent monarch, who directs all his energies toward the peace, prosperity, and material advancement of his subjects; who seeks with a cold, calculating mind, undisturbed by passion or prejudice, the greatest good of the greatest number. To this monarch Gulliver gave a description of his native country: “I artfully eluded many of his questions, and gave to every point a more favorable turn, by many degrees, than the strictness of truth would allow; for I have always borne that laudable partiality to my own country, which Dionysius Halicarnasseusis, with so much justice, recommends to a historian; I would hide the frailties and deformities of my political mother, and place her virtues and beauties in the most advantageous light.” But the impression produced upon the King of Brobdingnag by Gulliver's relation expressed the widespread sense of evil which existed in Swift's day, which tinctured literature with misanthropy, and made Rousseau at a later time argue the superiority of the savage man over his civilized, but corrupt and hypocritical brother.
He was perfectly astonished with the historical account I gave him
of our affairs during the last century; protesting: “It was only a
heap of conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres, revolutions,
banishments, the very worst effects that avarice, faction,
hypocrisy, perfidiousness, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy,
lust, malice, and ambition could produce.”
His majesty, in another audience, was at the pains to recapitulate
the sum of all I had spoken; compared the questions he made with
the answers I had given; then, taking me into his hands, and
stroking me gently, delivered himself in these words, which I shall
never forget, nor the manner he spoke them in: “My little friend,
Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your
country; you have clearly proved that ignorance, idleness, and vice
are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator; that laws
are best explained, interpreted, and applied by those whose
interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding
them. I observe among you some lines of an institution, which in
its original, might have been tolerable, but these half erased, and
the rest wholly blurred and blotted by corruptions. It does not
appear from all you have said, how any one perfection is required
toward the procurement of any one station among you; much less,
that men are ennobled on account of their virtue; that priests are
advanced for their piety or learning; soldiers for their conduct or
valor; judges for their integrity; senators for the love of their
country; or counsellors for their wisdom. * * * I cannot but
conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of
little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the
surface of the earth!”
In the voyage to Laputa the satire is directed against the vanity of human wisdom, and the folly of abandoning useful occupations for the empty schemes of visionaries. The philosophers of Laputa had allowed their land to run to waste, and their people to fall into poverty in their attempts to “soften marble for pillows and pin-cushions,” to “petrify the hoofs of a living horse to prevent them from foundering,” to “sow land with chaff,” and to “extract sunbeams from cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw, inclement summers.” The satire cannot be considered too broad when we consider the folly and credulity which, at the time of the South Sea mania, led many persons into sinking their whole fortunes in such enterprises as the company “To Fish up Wrecks on the Irish Coast,” to “Make Salt-Water Fresh,” to “Extract Silver from Lead,” and to “Import Jackasses from Spain.”
It is impossible within the limits of this volume to comment with any completeness on the application of Gulliver's Travels. The satire gathered strength and bitterness in its progress, until the limits of horror were reached in the voyage to the Houyhnhnms. This portion of the work cannot be considered to apply universally. Man does not here perceive a truthful reflection of himself. The Houyhnhnms, beings endowed with reason, but undisturbed and untempted by the passions or struggles of earthly existence, are not brutes, and are not to be compared with men. The Yahoos, in their total depravity, are not human; they represent, and that with a terrible truthfulness, the condition into which men may fall when their animal instincts and baser passions are allowed to subvert their reason and their noble qualities. The more a man suffers his better nature to yield to his lower, the more he resembles the detestable Yahoo. In this sense alone, the satire applies generally to mankind; but it applies with peculiar point to some characteristics of Swift's time. In reading the following passage, it is impossible not to be reminded of the treatment of Sir Robert Walpole by his former flatterers and sycophants when his power seemed at an end:
Some curious Houyhnhnms observe that in most herds there was a
sort of ruling Yahoo, * * * who was always more deformed in body
and mischievous in disposition than any of the rest; that this
leader had usually a favorite as like himself as he could get,
whose employment was to lick his master's feet * * * and drive the
female Yahoos to his kennel; for which he was now and then rewarded
with a piece of ass's flesh. This favorite is hated by the whole
herd, and, therefore, to protect himself, keeps always near the
person of his leader. He usually continues in office till a worse
can be found; but the very moment he is discarded, his successor,
at the head of all the Yahoos in that district, young and old,
male and female, come in a body, and * * * (defile) him from head
But Swift, in his denunciation of men under the form of the Yahoos, disclosed the narrowness of his own misanthropy. When Gulliver has returned from his last voyage, with a mind which had dwelt on the beastliness and vice of the human race as it existed in the land of the Houyhnhnms, his warped judgment is unable to discern in his countrymen any attributes but those which they seem to share with the Yahoos:—
My wife and family received me with great surprise and joy, because
they concluded me certainly dead; but I must freely confess the sight
of them filled me only with hatred, disgust, and contempt; and the
more, by reflecting on the near alliance I had to them. * * * As soon
as I entered the house, my wife took me in her arms and kissed me;
at which, having not been used to the touch of that odious animal
for so many years, I fell into a swoon for almost an hour. At the
time I am writing, it is five years since my last return to England:
during the first year, I could not endure my wife or children in my
presence; the very smell of them was intolerable, much less could I
suffer them to eat in the same room. To this hour they dare not
presume to touch my bread, or drink out of the same cup; neither
was I ever able to let one of them take me by the hand.
Thus Swift himself, from the vividness with which he realized, and the intensity with which he hated, the vices and failings of humanity, was unable to duly appreciate the good, which, in some measure, always accompanies the evil.
It was the habit of the great Dean to utter the witticisms which caused the continual delight or terror of all who approached him with the most stern composure. Such was the manner of the “Travels.” The solemn and circumstantial narrative style, imitated from the old English explorers added verisimilitude to the incidents and point to the sarcasm. Trifles, personal to the traveller and of no consequence to the course of the story, gave an appearance of truth to the whole work. Thus Gulliver keeps the reader informed of the most minute details interesting to himself. “I took part of a small house in the Old Jewry; and being advised to alter my condition, I married Mrs. Mary Burton, second daughter to Mr. Edmund Burton, hosier, in Newgate Street, with whom I received four hundred pounds for a portion.” In the same way he informs us carefully that the date of his sailing on the first voyage was May 4, 1699, from Bristol, and the storm which destroyed the ship arose when in the latitude of 30 degrees 2 minutes south. In a work of fiction only such events are expected as have a direct bearing upon the development of the plot, and when immaterial details are introduced, the reader is likely to be impressed with their truth. In this way the personality of Gulliver is kept up, and he remains, through whatever strange scenes he passes, the same honest, blunt English sailor.
Yet more remarkable is the skill of the author in maintaining the probability of the allegory. When living among the Lilliputians, Gulliver insensibly adopts their ideas of size. He admires as much as they the prowess of the horseman who clears his shoe at a single leap. When the committee of the Lilliputian king examine Gulliver's pockets, they describe his handkerchief as a “great piece of coarse cloth, large enough to be a foot-cloth to your majesty's chief room of state”; his purse is “a net, almost large enough for a fisherman,” containing “several massy pieces of yellow metal, which, if they be real gold, must be of immense value.” The same almost mathematical accuracy of proportion is kept up in the visit to Brobdingnag, and on Gulliver's return to his native country he experiences as much trouble in reaccustoming his mind to the ordinary standard as he had met with in adopting that of pigmies or giants. There was a country clergyman living in Ireland, who declared there were some things in Gulliver's Travels he could not quite believe. His difficulty probably occurred in the “Voyage to the Houyhnhnms.” In the latter part of the work Swift allowed the fiction to yield to the exigencies of the satire. So long as we can imagine the existence of giants and pigmies, it is easy to realize all the circumstances connected with Gulliver's existence among them, but it is impossible to feel the same sense of reality in regard to horses who live in houses they could not build, and who eat oats they could not harvest.
The general desire for reform is not more clearly to be seen in Acts of Parliament than in the works of Swift and Addison. The earlier part of the century was marked by a strong realization of evil, and by a constantly growing inclination to suppress it. The first condition is illustrated by the fierce satire of “Gulliver's Travels,” the second by the earnest admonitions of the Spectator. The two great authors make a striking contrast. Swift, misanthropic, miserable, bitter; Addison, happy, loving mankind, admired alike by ally and opponent, Swift, dying mad; Addison, calm, conscious, employing his last moments to ask pardon of one he had offended. The same contrast is in their works. Swift dwelt and gloated on the evil about him, exposed it in more than its own deformity, and left his reader to reflect on his own degradation. Addison, to whom that evil was almost equally apparent, but who turned from its contemplation with horror, exerted all his talents to correct it. “The great and only end of these speculations,” he tells the reader of the Spectator, “is to banish vice and ignorance out of the territories of Great Britain.”
With solemn reproof and delicate raillery, Addison urged women to lay aside coarseness and folly, and preached against the licentiousness, swearing, gambling, duelling, and drunkenness of the men. He attacked with both argument and ridicule the idea so prevalent since the Restoration, that vice was necessarily associated with pleasure and elegance, virtue with Puritanism and vulgarity. To teach people to be witty without being indecent, gay without being vicious, such was the object of Addison. As M. Taine says, he made morality fashionable. To do this he exposed the folly and ugliness of vice. But he did more. He held up to the public view characters who exemplified his teachings, and were calculated to attract imitation. In the creation and delineation of these characters he unconsciously began the English novel.
We should look in vain in the pages of Fielding, of Scott, or of George Eliot, for a more perfect sketch of character than that of Sir Roger de Coverley. And the minor personages are little less delicately and naturally drawn. There is the Bachelor of the Inner-Temple, “an excellent critick,” to whom “the time of the play is his hour of business”; Sir Andrew Freeport, the typical merchant; Captain Sentry, “a gentleman of great courage, good understanding, but invincible modesty”; Will Honeycomb, “an honest, worthy man where women are not concerned”; the clergyman, who has ceased to have “interests in this world, as one who is hastening to the object of all his wishes, and conceives hope from his decays and infirmities.” “These are my ordinary companions,” says the Spectator, whom we soon learn to know very well too.
Addison's knowledge of human nature, and his skill in delineating it in single touches, place him in the front rank of writers of fiction, notwithstanding the limit of his contributions to this department of literature. In a few words we are made to see and know the Quaker who reproves the insolent captain on the stage-coach: “Thy mirth, friend, savoureth of folly; thou art a person of a light mind; thy drum is a type of thee, it soundeth because it is empty.” There is nothing wanting to the reader's perfect acquaintance with Will Wimble, the poor relation. All who know Worcestershire, says the Spectator, “are very well acquainted with the parts and merits of Sir Roger.” His fame has spread from Worcestershire throughout the English-speaking world, where he has been loved and admired for more than a hundred and fifty years. Sir Roger de Coverley is not to be described by any pen but that of Addison. He exhibits, joined to a perfect simplicity, the qualities of a just, honest, useful man, and delightful companion. Our acquaintance with him is a personal one. We know how he appears at his country-house, surrounded by admiring tenants and servants, and how he occupies himself in London, and whom he meets there. We know his ancestry, the extent and management of his estate, his long standing love affair with the beautiful widow, all his thoughts, opinions, and surroundings. All who read about Sir Roger remember him with affection. Addison dwelt with tenderness on every detail regarding him, and finally described Sir Roger's death to prevent any less reverential pen from trifling with his hero.
Previous to the publication of the papers of the Spectator relating to Sir Roger de Coverley, there had been no attempt at what is a necessary constituent of the modern novel—the study of character. There had been the romance and the allegory. There had been the short love story. But with Addison, nature becomes the subject of fiction, and the novel is begun.
In a review of the remarkable life of Daniel Defoe, he appears to us under the varied aspects of a tradesman, a pamphleteer, a politician, a novelist, and, through it all, a reformer. It is in his character as a novelist that he is now known, and that he is to be considered here. But there are few among the millions to whom “Robinson Crusoe” has brought pleasure, who know that the composition of that work was only one event in a long life of ceaseless labor, political and literary, and that its author's fame among his contemporaries was assured independently of it. Defoe's career was so full that both his chief biographers have found three large volumes to be necessary to do it justice. And yet it was not until near the end of that busy life, when the author was fifty-eight years old, feeling the approach of age and infirmity, and looking about for means to provide for a large family, that he added the writing of novels to his multifarious occupations.
There is probably no writer with whose works his life and personality are more intimately connected. It is impossible to consider the one separate from the other. Defoe began to write novels as a tradesman, as a literary hack, and as a reformer. Being dependent on his pen for his bread, he wrote what was likely to bring in the most immediate return. He calculated exactly the value and quality of his wares. He gave to his fictions the same moral object which inspired his own life. His novels followed naturally on his other labors, and partook of their character. It was his custom, on the death of any celebrated person, to write his life immediately, and to send it to the world while public interest was still fresh. But being often unable to obtain complete or authentic information concerning the subject of his biography, he supplemented facts and rumors by plausible inventions. Fiction entered into his biographies, just as biography afterward entered into his novels. But in writing the lives of real individuals Defoe recognized the necessity of impressing his reader with a sense of the truth and exactitude of the narrative. This effect he attained by the use of a literary faculty which he possessed in a degree unequalled by any other writer—that of circumstantial invention. By the multiplication of small, unimportant details, each one of which is carefully dwelt upon, and by the insertion of uninteresting personal incidents and moral reflections, seeming true from their very dulness, he gave to his work a remarkable verisimilitude. He did not even issue the book under his own name, but invented an authorship which would attract attention and credibility. Thus the “History of Charles XII" was announced on the title-page as “written by a Scot's gentleman in the Swedish service”; and the “Life of Count Patkul” was “written by a Lutheran minister who assisted him in his last home, and faithfully translated out of a High Dutch manuscript.” The same characteristics appear in all Defoe's works. He invents freely, giving the most elaborate details to support his assertions, and attains to an extraordinary degree the art of “lying like truth.” In the “Journal of the Plague Year,” Defoe assumed with his accustomed ease and skill the character of a plain, blunt London shopkeeper. He described with such apparent accuracy the observations of a man who had lived in the scene of that terrible calamity, giving curious incidents, anecdotes, statistics, after so methodical a manner, that it was long before any doubts were cast on the authenticity of the journal. It was a work of imagination, but so matter-of-fact, that it is difficult to believe the author had any imagination, and that he had not actually witnessed every occurrence he so calmly related. It is the same with the “Memoirs of a Cavalier.” The civil wars are described by a young officer who took part in them, who gives a detailed account of his own opinions, his wardrobe, his horse, his lodgings. Lord Chatham quoted these memoirs as the true account of an eye-witness. From writing the life of a well known individual, Defoe had advanced to writing the life of a fictitious person placed amidst historical scenes. His next step was to write the life of a fictitious person amidst fictitious scenes.
The “Journal of the Plague Year” had been issued to satisfy a popular interest excited by the appearance of the plague in France and the consequent fear of it in England. A similar public demand occasioned the composition of “Robinson Crusoe.” A sailor named Alexander Selkirk had been “marooned” on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez, and after living there alone for more than four years, had been taken off by the same captain who had abandoned him. The interest taken in England in the narrative of this event revealed to Defoe's acute mind a great literary opportunity. But if he was indebted to the adventure of Selkirk for the fundamental idea of his novel, he was not the less original. Never has a greater individuality been given to a fictitious character, or a more vivid impression of life and reality to the circumstances surrounding him. The combination of ingenuity and simplicity which distinguishes the work, has, for a century and a half, had a peculiar fascination for children, and has awakened the wonder and admiration of men. There are three works of English fiction of imperishable interest, all of which have attained in a high degree the quality of reality, and have charmed alike all classes and ages. In the allegory of “The Pilgrim's Progress,” the sense of reality was produced by the intense realization of the subject by the author, unassisted by any literary device. In “Gulliver's Travels” the effect was attained by a skilful observation of exact proportions, added to a circumstantial and personal method of narration, which Swift probably owed in some measure to Defoe. If the reader can accept the possible existence of pigmies and giants, his credulity is put to no further strain. Defoe had no difficulty of the supernatural to overcome. He had a power almost as great as that of Bunyan of identifying himself with his hero; and he surpassed Swift in the power of circumstantial invention.
The story of “Robinson Crusoe” is too intimately known to require comment. His over-mastering desire to go to sea, his being cast up by the breakers on the island, his endless labors, and the resolute determination which overcame them, his dangers, fears, and the consolation of religion, the foot-print on the sand, the companionship with Friday, and the final release, are recollections of our childhood too familiar to be dwelt upon. But in this very familiarity with Robinson himself, in the brightness and endurance of our idea of him, in our acquaintance with the inmost workings of his mind and heart, is contained the evidence that Defoe not only wrote a novel of adventure, as he had intended, but that he wrote also a novel of character.
If the author of “Robinson Crusoe” could realize so thoroughly the difficulties and expedients of a man living on a desert island, he could deal yet more easily with the adventures and shifts of thieves and abandoned women which formed the subject of his other tales. In these minor works, now little known, Defoe displayed equal talents, but did not attain equal results. The enduring interest which must ever attach to the central idea of “Robinson Crusoe” the complete isolation of the man—gave that work a very exceptional claim to the attention of posterity. But it had other merits, which are not apparent in the same perfection in Defoe's lesser novels. Its design was single and concentrated, its chief character natural and strongly marked, its plot coherent and complete. Moll Flanders and Colonel Jack are indeed well-drawn and real persons, and the design of the works which bear their names is clear, but in both cases the plot is merely a series of independent adventures, and the characters themselves could not, from their nature, long attract the attention of readers. “Colonel Jack,” “Captain Singleton,” “Moll Flanders,” and “Roxana,” have been surpassed, and are neglected. “Robinson Crusoe” is, of its kind, perfect, and therefore enduring.
But the works of Defoe have a historical, almost equal to their literary, interest. Whoever would attain a correct idea of the condition of the lower classes in the earlier part of the eighteenth century, should consult “Moll Flanders” and “Colonel Jack,” as much as the “Newgate Calendar,” and histories of crime and labor. What the author has described, he had seen.
Defoe was throughout his life a reformer; a large proportion of the many pamphlets and occasional writings which fell from his pen have for their object the reformation or exposure of some abuse. Yet a large number of his fictitious characters are thieves and harlots. The criminal classes occupied the public mind in the first half of the eighteenth century to a remarkable degree, and Defoe was not mistaken in thinking that novels concerning those classes would interest and sell. He knew that the public taste was low, and his business was to cater to public taste. He said, in “More Reformation”:
Let this describe the nation's character.
One man reads Milton, forty Rochester;
The cause is plain, the temper of the time.
One wrote the lewd, the other the sublime.
To satisfy the forty who read Rochester, Defoe described the lives and occupations of pirates, pickpockets, highwaymen, and women of abandoned character. The title-pages of some of these novels cannot with decency be quoted, and the novels themselves are filled with criminal and licentious scenes. But the reforming inclination of Defoe himself, and that which we find in the general literature of the time, induced him to turn these scenes into a moral account. Moll Flanders is a low, cunning, thoroughly bad woman, and her life is placed quite bare before the reader. Yet Defoe asserts that the book is designed to teach a good lesson. “There is not a superlative villain brought upon the stage, but either he is brought to an unhappy end, or brought to be a penitent. There is not an ill thing mentioned, but it is condemned even in the relation; nor a virtuous, just thing, but it carries its praise along with it. * * * Upon this foundation the book is recommended to the reader, as a work from every part of which something may be learned, and some just and religious inference is drawn.” Defoe, thoroughly a man of his time, thought he could put the coarsest and most vicious matter before his reader, and reasonably expect him to profit by the moral, without being hurt by contact with the vice. “All possible care,” he says, “has been taken to give no lewd ideas, no immodest turns in the dressing up of this story. * * * To this purpose some of the vicious part of her life, which could not be modestly told, is quite left out, and several other parts very much shortened. What is left, 'tis hoped will not offend the chastest reader, or the modestest hearer.” To any one acquainted with “Moll Flanders” this seems a strange statement. It exhibits the standard of the age. Mrs. Behn said almost the same thing about her novels and plays. To make up for the low, vicious life unrolled before us, it is not enough that Moll at last “grew rich, lived honest, and died penitent.”
The aim of “Roxana, or the Fortunate Mistress,” like that of “Moll Flanders,” is to describe the gradual corruption of a woman, who is influenced by some conscientious scruples and misgivings, but the heroine is placed in a higher station of life. We have a curious commentary on the times in comparing the body of the work with the preface. “Roxana” is among the coarsest records of vice in English fiction. But yet it is to impart moral instruction. “In the manner she has told the story it is evident she does not insist upon her justification in any part of it; much less does she recommend her conduct, or, indeed, any part of it, except her repentance, to our imitation. On the contrary, she makes frequent excursions, in a just censuring and condemning her own practice. How often does she reproach herself in the most passionate manner, and guide us to make just reflections in the like cases?” The modern reader is astonished to find “that all imaginable care has been taken to keep clear of indecencies and immodest expressions; and, it is hoped, you will find nothing to prompt a vicious mind, but everywhere much to discourage and expose it.”
Defoe is much more successful in teaching a moral lesson in “Colonel Jack.” The aim of this novel is to describe the course of a street-boy who takes to thieving before he knows that it is not a legitimate business, and who being possessed naturally of a good character is brought to repentance and reform when subjected to better influences. Defoe's preface has great significance when we consider the deplorable condition of the lower classes and no better idea can be gained of the usual fate of the children of the poor than is afforded by this novel.
Here is room for just and copious observations on the blessings and
advantages of a sober and well-governed education, and the ruin of
so many thousands of all ranks in this Nation for want of it; here
also we may see how much public schools and charities might be
improved, to prevent the destruction of so many unhappy children,
as, in this town, are every year bred up for the executioner.
The miserable condition of multitudes of youth, many of whose
natural tempers are docible, and would lead them to learn the best
things, rather than the worst, is truly deplorable, and is
abundantly seen in the history of this man's childhood; where,
though circumstances formed him by necessity to be a thief,
surprising rectitude of principles remained with him, and made him
early abhor the worst part of his trade, and at length to forsake
the whole of it. Had he come into the world with the advantage of a
virtuous education, and been instructed how to improve the generous
principles he had in him, what a figure might he not have made,
either as a man or a Christian.
The promise of the preface is fulfilled. The whole work is a protest against the neglect of the education and training of the youth of the lower classes; and the life of Colonel Jack would be apt to have a good effect on youthful readers of the time. In Chapter X, when Jack has risen by his industry and humanity from being a slave on a Virginia plantation to the rank of an overseer, and finally to that of an independent planter, he makes a long digression to rejoice in his change of condition and character:
It was an inexpressible joy to me, that I was now like to be not
only a man, but an honest man; and it yielded me a greater
pleasure, that I was ransomed from being a vagabond, a thief, and a
criminal, as I had been from a child, than that I was delivered
from slavery, and the wretched state of a Virginia sold servant; I
had notion enough in my mind of the hardship of the servant or
slave, because I had felt it, and worked through it; I remembered
it as a state of labour and servitude, hardship and suffering. But
the other shocked my very nature, chilled my blood, and turned the
very soul within me; the thought of it was like reflections upon
hell and the damned spirits; it struck me with horror, it was
odious and frightful to look back on, and it gave me a kind of fit,
a convulsion or nervous disorder, that was very uneasy to me.
These reflections remind us of the self-communings of Bunyan in “Grace Abounding in the Chief of Sinners.” They express the feelings of remorse and the longings for a better state arising in the mind of a rough but conscientious man. They are the promptings of a strong moral nature, and illustrate those national qualities which brought about the reforms which distinguish the latter half of the eighteenth century. Colonel Jack took advantage of every opportunity for improvement. When a vagabond in Scotland, he learned with infinite pains to read and write. When a planter in Virginia, he took for his schoolmaster a transported felon, who knew Latin. This spirit of self-advancement by patient labor, by invincible resolution, is the spirit of Defoe's writings; it is the English characteristic which has raised the nation to all its prosperity and greatness.
When “Robinson Crusoe” had attained celebrity, Defoe claimed that it was an allegory of his own life. A parallel might easily be drawn between the isolation of the solitary sailor on his island, and that of the persecuted author in the heart of a great city. All the world, and particularly his literary brethren, had been against Defoe. Pope had put him into the “Dunciad,” Swift had spoken of him as “the fellow who was pilloried, I forget his name,” He had known oppression and poverty, the pillory and the prison. He has left us his own view of the aim of “Robinson Crusoe.” “Here is invincible patience recommended under the worst of misery; indefatigable application and undaunted resolution under the greatest and most discouraging circumstances.” And such is the moral of Defoe's own life.
Mrs. Heywood had written a number of stories resembling, in the licentiousness of their character and the flimsiness of their construction, the novels of Mrs. Behn. Toward the end of her life she wrote “Miss Betsey Thoughtless,” which is believed to have suggested to Miss Burney some of the incidents in “Evelina.” This novel was exceedingly popular, and had some merit, considering the period of its composition. It is among the earliest specimens of a domestic novel; the plot has interest, and the characters are life-like. It illustrates, if any illustration were needed, the prevailing absence of any elevated view, either of love, or of the relations between men and women. The book is made up of easy seductions and licentious talk, and represents its youthful characters as very familiar with dissolute scenes and thoughts.
[Footnote 151: “Julius Caesar,” Act. I, sc. 2. Quoted in Scott's “Life of Swift.” For Swift, see also “Life” by Sheridan, by Roscoe, and by Forster.]
[Footnote 152: “Life of Swift.”]
[Footnote 153: Sir W. Scott. “Life of Swift.”]
[Footnote 154: See “Life of Swift,” by Scott.]
[Footnote 155: Wilson “Life of Defoe.” Lee, “Life of Defoe.”]
[Footnote 156: See “Daniel Defoe,” by William Minto, p. 135. American edition.]
[Footnote 157: William Minto, “Life of Defoe,” p. 134:—“From writing biographies with real names attached to them, it was but a short step to writing biographies with fictitious names.”]
[Footnote 158: “Memoir of Defoe,” William Hazlitt, p. 30.]
[Footnote 159: See the preface to “Moll Flanders.”]
[Footnote 160: Preface to the “Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe.”]
[Footnote 161: “Love in Excess,” “The British Recluse,” “The Injured Husband,” “Jenny and Jemmy Bessamy,” “The Fortunate Foundling.”]
Samuel Richardson might have stood for Hogarth's “Industrious Apprentice.” When a printer's boy, young Samuel stole from his hours of rest and relaxation the time to improve his mind. He was careful not to tire himself by sitting up too late at night over his books, and purchased his own candles, so that his master, who called him the “pillar of his house,” might suffer no injury from his servant's improvement. Thus Richardson persevered in the path of virtue, until, like the “Industrious Apprentice,” himself, he married his master's daughter, succeeded to his business, and lived happy and respected, surrounded by all the blessings which should fall to the lot of the truly good.
“I was not fond of play, as other boys,” says the author of “Pamela”; “my school-fellows used to call me Serious and Gravity; and five of them particularly, delighted to single me out, either for a walk, or at their fathers' houses, or at mine, to tell them stories, as they phrased it. Some I told them from my reading, as true; others from my head, as mere invention; of which they would be most fond. * * * All my stories carried with them, I am bold to say, an useful moral.“ In such a manner, and with such an intention, Richardson began his career as a novelist.
The life of the stout, vain little printer was already well advanced, his fortune was assured, and he was surrounded by a group of affectionate relatives and admiring female friends, when he was asked by a publisher to write “a little book of familiar letters on the useful concerns in common life.” While thinking over this proposal, be recollected a story once told him of a young servant-girl, whose honor was long attempted by a dissolute master, and who, by her resolute chastity, finally conquered his vicious intentions, and was rewarded by honorable marriage with her thwarted seducer. And then it occurred to Richardson, that this story, “if written in an easy and natural manner, suitable to the simplicity of it, might possibly introduce a new species of writing, that might possibly turn young people into a course of reading different from the pomp and parade of romance writing, and, dismissing the improbable and marvellous, with which novels generally abound, might tend to promote the cause of religion and virtue.” Such was the origin of a novel destined to make a new era in English fiction. It is evident that Richardson placed before himself two aims: to promote the cause of religion and virtue, and to introduce a new species of writing, and in both he succeeded.
The name, “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded,” sounds like a tract, and “Pamela” is, indeed, a very long tract. The contrast is curious between the moral object of the work and its contents. In the preface we are told that “Pamela” is to inculcate religion and morality in an easy and agreeable manner; it is to make vice odious, to make virtue truly lovely, and to give practical examples, “worthy to be followed, in the most critical cases, by the modest virgin, the chaste bride, and the obliging wife.” Moreover, all this is to be done, “without raising a single idea throughout the whole, that shall shock the exactest purity.” Yet, “Pamela” contains not a few scenes likely to inflame the imagination, and its subject, kept continually before the reader's mind, is the licentious pursuit of a young girl. This story would not now do for a tract. But it answered the purpose very well in the eighteenth century. Richardson had no fear his book would give the youthful reader any new knowledge of evil, or that the long account of Pamela's attempted seduction would shock the “exactest purity” of his time. He simply described the dangers to which every attractive young woman was more or less subject by the prevailing looseness of morals, while, by the pathetic and resolute resistance of Pamela's chastity, he undoubtedly enlisted the sympathies of his reader on the side of virtue. The perusal of the book was recommended by Dr. Sherlock from the pulpit. One critic declared that it would do more good than twenty volumes of sermons; another, that if all other books were to be burnt, “Pamela” and the Bible should be preserved. A gentleman said that he would give it to his son as soon as he could read, that he might have an early impression of virtue.
The moral of “Pamela” was virtue rewarded. That of “Clarissa,” Richardson's second novel, was virtue triumphant, even in disgrace and ruin. The heroine, to escape the tyranny of her parents who wished to force her into a marriage she abhors, throws herself on the protection of a lover, the famous Lovelace, who, failing to seduce her by any other means, lures her into a brothel, and there violates her person while she is rendered insensible by opiates. Lovelace offers to make reparation for his crime by marriage, but in refusing this offer, and in dying of a broken heart, Clarissa carries out the moral of the story.
Richardson was blamed for making the libertine hero, Lovelace, more attractive than was consistent with moral effect. And to remedy this mistake, he undertook in “Sir Charles Grandison,” his last novel, to draw the portrait of a man of true honor; “acting uniformly well through a variety of trying scenes, because all his actions are regulated by one steady principle: a man of religion and virtue; of liveliness and spirit; accomplished and agreeable; happy in himself, and a blessing to others.” Sir Charles then is not a man, but a model. “Pamela” and “Clarissa” remained virtuous through temptation and trial. But Grandison is a good man because he has no inducement to be otherwise. He can afford to be generous, because he is rich; he can afford to decline a duel, his reputation for skill in swordsmanship is so well established that he runs no danger of being called a coward; he is free from licentiousness, because his passions are under perfect control. The name of Sir Charles Grandison has passed into a proverb, and its mention calls up to the mind a man of the most dignified deportment, of the most delicate consideration for women, and of the most elaborate manners. But it must be remembered that in Sir Charles, our author drew the portrait of what a gentleman should be, and not of what a gentleman was. Even the most punctilious men of the time did not, like Grandison, hesitate to visit a sick person, because it would involve travelling on Sunday; nor did they, as he, refuse to have their horses' tails docked, because nature had humanely given those tails as a protection against flies. The Grandisonian manners are not to be taken as a picture of contemporary fashion. Richardson was unacquainted with aristocratic habits, and his high-flown love scenes were purely ideal. When he goes into high life, said Chesterfield, “he mistakes the modes.” Not long before Sir Charles was making his formal and courtly addresses to Miss Byron, Walpole had written to George Montagu: “'Tis no little inducement to wish myself in France, that I hear gallantry is not left off there; that you may be polite, and not be thought awkward for it. You know the pretty men of the age in England use the women with no more deference than they do their coach horses.” Such was the state of things which the example of Sir Charles Grandison was intended to remedy.
The moral design is an important element in Richardson's novels, but the extraordinary popularity of these works was owing to other causes. Richardson had known how to move his reader's heart, and how to give to his characters a deep personal interest. He had attempted to introduce “a new species of writing,” and public enthusiasm testified to his success. Colly Cibber read “Clarissa” before its publication, and was wrought up into a high state of excitement by the story. “What a piteous, d——d, disgraceful pickle you have placed her in!” he wrote to Richardson. “For God's sake, send me the sequel, or—I don't know what to say! * * * My girls are all on fire and fright to know what can possibly have become of her.” And when he heard that Clarissa was to have a miserable end, he wrote the author: “God d——n him, if she should.” Mrs. Pilkington was not less distressed: “Spare her virgin purity, dear sir, spare it! Consider if this wounds both Mr. Cibber and me (who neither of us set up for immaculate chastity ), what must it do with those who possess that inestimable treasure?” Miss Fielding, the sister of the novelist of that name, thus described, in a letter to its author, her feelings on reading “Clarissa”: “When I read of her, I am all sensation; my heart glows. I am overwhelmed; my only vent is tears.” One Thomas Turner, who kept a village shop in Sussex, thus recorded in his diary the impression produced upon him by the death of Clarissa: “Oh, may the Supreme Being give me grace to lead my life in such a manner as my exit may in some measure be like that divine creature's.” Johnson was an enthusiastic admirer of Richardson. Dr. Young looked upon him as an “instrument of Providence.” Ladies at Ranelagh held up “Pamela,” to show that they had the famous book. Nor was this interest confined to the last century. “When I was in India,” said Macaulay to Thackeray, “I passed one hot season at the hills, and there were the governor-general, and the secretary of government, and the commander-in-chief, and their wives. I had “Clarissa” with me, and as soon as they began to read, the whole station was in a passion of excitement about Miss Harlowe and her misfortunes, and her scoundrelly Lovelace. The governor's wife seized the book, and the secretary waited for it, and the chief justice could not read it for tears!” Macaulay “acted the whole scene,” adds Thackeray; “he paced up and down the Athenaeum library; I dare say he could have spoken pages of the book.” But admiration of Richardson was still greater among foreigners. The novels were translated into French, Dutch, and German, and the enthusiasm they excited may be imagined from the warmth of Diderot's eulogy: “I yet remember with delight the first time ('Clarissa') came into my hands. I was in the country. How deliciously was I affected! At every moment I saw my happiness abridged by a page. I then experienced the same sensations those feel who have long lived with one they love, and are on the point of separation. At the close of the work I seemed to remain deserted. * * * Oh, Richardson! thou singular genius in my eyes! thou shalt form my reading at all times. If, forced by sharp necessity, my friend falls into indigence; if the mediocrity of my fortune is not sufficient to bestow on my children the necessary cares for their education, I will sell my books,—but thou shalt remain! Yes, thou shalt rest in the same class with Moses, Homer, Euripides, and Sophocles, to be read alternately.”
What was the secret by which the stout little printer excited such enthusiasm and won such eulogy? How did he appeal to natures so different as the worldly Lord Chesterfield, the country shopkeeper, and the impassioned Diderot? Richardson was the first novelist to stir the heart and to move the passions, and his power was the more striking that it was new. His study of human nature had begun early in life. “I was not more than thirteen,” he says, “when three young women, unknown to each other, having an high opinion of my taciturnity, revealed to me their love secrets, in order to induce me to give them copies to write after, or correct, for answers to their lovers' letters. * * * I have been directed to chide, and even repulse, when an offence was either taken or given, at the very time when the heart of the chider or repulser was open before me, overflowing with esteem and affection; and the fair repulser, dreading to be taken at her word, directed this word, or that expression, to be softened or changed. One, highly gratified with her lover's fervor and vows of everlasting love, has said, when I have asked her direction, I cannot tell you what to write; but (her heart on her lips) you cannot write too kindly.” With such an apprenticeship, Richardson had come to possess a very delicate perception of character, and especially of female character. There was a certain effeminacy in his own nature which made him understand women better than men. His best creations are Pamela and Clarissa. Lovelace and Grandison are drawn from the outside; they are less real and natural. But Richardson leads his reader into the inmost recesses of his heroines' hearts. He is at home in describing the fears, the trials, and the final childlike rejoicings of Pamela. He attains to a high tragic effect in the death of Clarissa, a scene which Sir James Mackintosh ranked with Hume's description of the death of Mary Stuart. In this power to touch the heart and to move the passions of his reader lay the charm of Richardson's writing. But to paint perfection, rather than to study nature, was his object in “Sir Charles Grandison,” and therefore that novel was less powerful in the author's day, and is less interesting in ours than “Pamela” and “Clarissa.” We no longer need the example of the pompous Sir Charles to dissuade us from indecent language and drunkenness in a lady's drawing-room, and we can only laugh at the studied propriety of his faultless intercourse with Miss Byron:
He kissed my hand with fervor, dropped down on one knee; again
kissed it—You have laid me, madam, under everlasting obligation;
and will you permit me before I rise—loveliest of women, will you
permit me to beg an early day?—
He clasped me in his; arms with an ardor—that displeased me not on
reflection. But at the time startled me. He then thanked me again
on one knee. I held out the hand he had not in his, with intent to
raise him; for I could not speak. He received it as a token of
favor; kissed it with ardor; arose; again pressed my cheeks with
his lips. I was too much surprised to repulse him with anger; but
was he not too free? Am I a prude, my dear?
Restrain, check me, madam, whenever I seem to trespass on your
goodness. Yet how shall I forbear to wish you to hasten the day
that shall make you wholly mine? You will the rather allow me to
wish it, as you will then be more than ever your own mistress;
though you have always been generously left to a discretion that
never was more deservedly trusted to. Your will, madam, will ever
The verisimilitude of Richardson's novels, which is made so striking by his feminine attention to detail, may seem destroyed to modern readers by the apparent improbability of the narrative itself. It appears strange that young girls like Pamela or Clarissa should be so entirely in the power of their seducers, that incidents should be repeated with impunity which the existence of a police force would seem to make impossible. But the reader whose sense of probability is shocked by the unpunished and uninterrupted villanies of Mr. B. and of Lovelace, can find evidence of the security with which such crimes could be committed by the rich and influential in the Newgate calendar. The forcible detention in his own house, by Lord Baltimore, of a young girl, his atrocious treatment of her, and his escape from punishment, are incidents in real life not more remarkable than the fictions of the novelist.
Sir Walter Scott lamented, early in the present century, the neglect into which the works of Richardson had fallen. That neglect has not since been diminished, for obvious reasons. “Surely, sir,” said Erskine to Johnson, “Richardson is very tedious.” “Why, sir,” was the lexicographer's reply, “if you were to read Richardson for the story, your impatience would be so much fretted that you would hang yourself, but you must read him for the sentiment, and consider the story as only giving occasion to the sentiment.” But the reader of today will agree with Erskine in thinking that Richardson is tedious. We have so many good novels which do not require the attention and labor exacted by him. We live so fast that we cannot spare the time for so much sentiment. These novels, like the elaborate embroideries of the last century, belong to a period when life was less full, and books less abundant. Samuel Richardson will take his place among the great authors who are much admired and little read, whose works every educated person should have heard of, but upon which very few would like to be examined.
With Richardson's novels English fiction took a long step forward; but it made a still greater advance in the hands of Henry Fielding. The latter was peculiarly well fitted by his talents and experience to carry the novel to a high position of importance and artistic merit. He united a considerable dramatic, and a great narrative power with an exuberant wit and an extensive knowledge of men. Allied to a noble family, but oppressed by poverty, Fielding mingled during his life with all classes of society. The Hon. George Lyttleton was his friend and protector, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu was his cousin. On the other hand, his poverty and improvidence constantly kept him, as Lady Mary put it, “raking in the lowest rinks of vice and misery.” Richardson, who always denounced Fielding's works as “wretchedly low and dirty,” said sneeringly: “his brawls, his jars, his jails, his spunging-houses are all drawn from what he has seen and known.” But in this ungenerous sneer lay a substantial compliment. Fielding did describe what he had seen and known, and the variety of his experience gave him a breadth and power in describing human nature which the confined life of Richardson could not afford. The two novelists cannot be fairly compared, nor should they be considered as rivals. They pursued different methods, and aimed at opposite effects. Each has a high place in English literature, which the greatness of the other cannot depress. Richardson is best able to make his reader weep, and Fielding to make him laugh.
Fielding was a tall, handsome fellow, so full of life and spirits that “his happy disposition,” to quote Lady Mary, “made him forget every evil when he was before a venison-pastry, or over a flask of champagne.” This rollicking, careless joyousness is the tone of his books. Whether taken to a prison, an inn, or a lady's boudoir, whether watching the breaking of heads, the blackening of eyes, or the making of love, the reader is always kept smiling.
Fielding is often censured by moralists for the coarseness of his novels. But had he not been coarse he would not have been true. He described life as it was in the eighteenth century, as he had seen it in the ups and downs of a checkered career. His characters were taken from the higher ranks and the lower. He placed the house, the amusements, the habits of a country gentleman before the reader with the faithfulness of a man who had hunted, feasted, and got drunk with country-gentlemen. He described the miserable prisons of his time as he only could who had mingled with their degraded inmates, and had exerted his power as a police magistrate to break up the gangs of ruffians who infested the streets. Thus Fielding's novels have a high historical, as well as a literary value. Mr. Lecky has testified to their importance in a reconstruction of the past by placing “Amelia” among his authorities. Squire Allworthy, Squire Western, Tom Jones, Parson Adams, are characters to be studied by whoever would understand social life in the eighteenth century. The lovely Sophia, the modest Fanny, and above all Amelia, whom Thackeray considered “the most charming character in English fiction,” are portraits in the gallery of history.
As Fielding set out to describe truth and nature as he saw them, the reader must put away his notions of refinement and delicacy. He must be prepared to be entertained by blows, licentious assaults, a tub of hog's blood thrown by a clergyman, coarse practical jokes, foul talk, all put before him without disguise or circumlocution. As he follows Parson Adams, Joseph, and Fanny in their journey, he must always be ready for a fight. Here is a specimen:
“The captain * * * drew forth his hanger as Adams approached him,
and was levelling a blow at his head which would probably have
silenced the preacher forever, had not Joseph in that instant
lifted up a certain huge stone pot of the chamber with one hand,
which six beaux could not have lifted with both, and discharged it,
together with the contents, full in the captain's face. The
uplifted hanger dropped from his hand, and he fell prostrate on the
floor with a lumpish noise, and his half-pence rattled in his
pocket: the red liquor which his veins contained, and the white
liquor which the pot contained, ran in one stream down his face and
his clothes. Nor had Adams quite escaped, some of the water having
in its passage shed its honors on his head, and begun to trickle
down the wrinkles, or rather furrows, of his cheeks; when one of
the servants snatching a mop out of a pail of water, which had
already done its duty in washing the house, pushed it in the
parson's face; yet could he not bear him down; for the parson
wresting the mop from the fellow with one hand, with the other
brought his enemy as low as the earth.”
To obtain any adequate idea of the range of Fielding's pictures of human nature, the reader must consult the novels themselves. Propriety forbids the insertion here of quotations which could convey an impression of the happy dissoluteness of Tom Jones, the brutal coarseness of Squire Western, or the scenes of unblushing license which pervade the novels of Henry Fielding. But a sample of the witty, jovial tone which has made these novels so popular may be of interest to readers who are not inclined to open “Tom Jones” itself. The following scene was occasioned by the appearance of Molly Seagrim in church, in unaccustomed and ostentatious finery, and is described in the Homeric style, which Fielding sometimes adopted with such humorous effect.
As a vast herd of cows in a rich farmer's yard, if, while they are
milked, they hear their calves at a distance, lamenting the robbery
which is then committing, roar and bellow: so roared forth the
Somersetshire mob an halloloo, made up of almost as many squalls,
screams, and other different sounds, as there were persons, or
indeed passions, among them. Some were inspired by rage, others
alarmed by fear, and others had nothing in theirs heads but the
love of fun; but chiefly Envy, the sister of Satan and his constant
companion, rushed among the crowd and blew up the fury of the
women; who no sooner came up to Molly than they pelted her with
dirt and rubbish.
Molly, having endeavored in vain to make a handsome retreat, faced
about; and laying hold of ragged Bess, who advanced in the front
of the enemy, she at one blow felled her to the ground. The whole
army of the enemy (though near a hundred in number), seeing the
fate of their general, gave back many paces, and retired beyond a
new dug grave; for the church-yard was the field of battle, where
there was to be a funeral that very evening. Molly pursued her
victory, and catching up a skull which lay on the side of the
grave, discharged it with such fury, that having hit a tailor on
the head, the two skulls sent equally forth a hollow sound at their
meeting, and the tailor took presently measure of his length on the
ground, where the skulls lay side by side, and it was doubtful
which was the more valuable of the two. Molly, then taking a thigh
bone in her hand, fell in among the flying ranks, and dealing her
blows with great liberality on either side, overthrew the carcass
of many a mighty hero and heroine. Recount, O muse, the names of
those who fell on this fatal day. First Jemmy Tweedle felt on his
hinder head the direful bone. Him the pleasant banks of sweetly
winding Stour had nourished, where he first learnt the vocal art,
with which, wandering up and down at wakes and fairs, he cheered
the rural nymphs and swains, when upon the green they interweaved
the sprightly dance; while he himself stood fiddling and jumping to
his own music. How little now avails his fiddle! He thumps the
verdant floor with his carcass. Next old Echepole, the sow-gelder,
received a blow in his forehead from our Amazonian heroine, and
immediately fell to the ground. He was a swinging fat fellow, and
fell with almost as much noise as a house. His tobacco-box dropt at
the same time from his pocket, which Molly took up as lawful
spoils. Then Kate of the Mill tumbled unfortunately over a
tombstone, which catching hold of her ungartered stocking, inverted
the order of nature, and gave her heels the superiority to her
head. Betty Pippin, with young Roger her lover, fell both to the
ground; where, O Perverse Fate! she salutes the earth, and he the
Fielding had shown more than any predecessor the possibilities of fiction in the study of character and the illustration of manners, and to the art of the narrator, he had added that of the dramatist. The falling of the rug in Molly Seagrim's bedroom is one of the happiest incidents ever devised, and no doubt suggested to Sheridan the falling of the screen in the “School for Scandal.” But the chief distinction of Fielding lies in his having carried the novel to a high point as a work of art. It was the opinion of Coleridge that the “Oedipus Tyrannus,” “The Alchemist,” and “Tom Jones,” were the three most perfect plots ever planned. It is to this excellence of plot—the subordination of each minor circumstance to the general aim, the skill with which all events are made to lead up to the final denouement—that Fielding, if any one, deserves the title of the founder of the English novel. But to give this title to any individual is a manifest injustice. The novel was developed, not created; and in that development many minds took part. Short love stories had been made familiar in England by the Italian writers. Such, also, had been produced by Mrs. Behn, Mrs. Manley, and Mrs. Heywood. Defoe had written novels of adventure, in one of which, at least, is found the combination of a character well drawn and a plot well executed. In the number of his characters and the complication of his plot, Richardson had surpassed Defoe. It is the merit of Fielding to have combined in a far greater degree than those who had gone before the characteristic qualities of the novel. In others we see the promise, in him the fulfilment.
And this was in no respect the result of an accident. Fielding looked upon his first work as a new attempt in English literature. “Joseph Andrews” was first intended to be merely a satire on “Pamela.” But study and reflection on the nature of his work determined Fielding to produce a “prose epic.” “The epic as well as the drama,” he said in the preface, “is divided into tragedy and comedy.” Now, he continued, “when any kind of writing contains all the other parts (of the epic), such as fable, action, characters, sentiments, and diction, and is deficient in metre only; it seems, I think, reasonable to refer it to the epic.” Such, too, was the opinion of the Chevalier Bunsen. “The romance of modern times,” he says in his preface to “Soll und Haben” * * * “represents the latest stadium of the epic. Every romance is intended, or ought to be, a new Iliad or Odyssey; in other words, a poetic representation of a course of events consistent with the highest laws of moral government, whether it delineate the general history of a people, or narrate the fortunes of a chosen hero. * * * The excellence of a romance, like that of an epic or a drama, lies in the apprehension and truthful exhibition of the course of human things.” Lord Byron expressed his opinion that Fielding had realized this view of the nature of the novel by calling him the prose Homer of human nature.
Fielding's novels are now considered unfit for general perusal. In considering the coarseness and immorality of a writer, the intention and the result must be separated. That Fielding's works are coarse, and that they contain scenes and characters of a dissolute nature, is neither to be denied nor to be regretted. If they were more pure, they would be less valuable from a historical point of view; less true to nature, and therefore less artistic. That the author's intention was far from the production of works with an evil tendency, is evident. He was careful to say in the preface to “Joseph Andrews”: “It may be objected to me that I have against my own rules introduced vices, and of a very black kind, in this work. To which I shall answer first, that it is very difficult to pursue a series of human actions, and keep clear from them. Secondly, that the vices to be found here are rather the accidental consequences of some human frailty or foible, than causes habitually existing in the mind. Thirdly, that they are never set forth as the objects of ridicule, but detestation. Fourthly, that they are never the principal figure at that time on the scene; and lastly, they never produce the intended evil.” And again, still more strongly, Fielding claims the merit of purity and moral effect for “Tom Jones,” “I hope my reader will be convinced, at his very entrance on this work, that he will find, in the whole course of it, nothing prejudicial to the cause of religion and virtue; nothing inconsistent with the strictest rules of decency, nor which can offend the chastest eye in the perusal. On the contrary, I declare, that to recommend goodness and innocence hath been my sincere endeavor in this history. * * * Besides displaying that beauty of virtue which may attract the admiration of mankind, I have attempted to engage a stronger motive to human action in her favor, by convincing men that their true interest directs them to a pursuit of her. For this purpose I have shown, that no acquisitions of guilt can compensate the loss of that solid inward comfort of mind, which is the sure companion of innocence and virtue; nor can in the least balance the evil of that horror and anxiety which, in their room, guilt introduced into our bosoms.”
Thus, it is evident, that Fielding had no desire to write what might be harmful. The contrast between his promise and his fulfilment is simply an illustration of the standard of his time. His novels are coarse to a degree which may nullify their merits in the eyes of some readers of the present day, and may unfit them for the perusal of very young people. But this is simply because the standard in such matters has changed, and not because the novels were purposely made dissolute. Their coarseness was adapted to the lack of refinement in thought and speech characteristic of that time. Fielding wished to “laugh mankind out of their follies and vices.” In his coarseness there is always an open, frank laughter. There is none of that veiled pruriency which lurks underneath the more conventionally expressed, but really vicious sentiments that are to be found in too many novels of our own day.
The novel was well defined in character and well established in popularity when Smollett entered the field so well occupied by Richardson and Fielding. On this account his works have a less important place in the history of fiction than those of his predecessors. While he added greatly to the store of fictitious writing, he developed no new ideas concerning it. Fielding had announced at the outset of his career as a novelist that he had taken Cervantes as a prototype, and the influence of the great Spanish writer is plainly visible in “Joseph Andrews.” But in the literary workmanship of his two later novels, Fielding's entire originality is undeniable. Smollett, however, is plainly an imitator of Le Sage. He did not aim at that artistic construction of plot, which is Fielding's chief merit. The novel, in his hands, became rather a series of adventures, linked together by their occurrence to the same individuals. “A novel,” he said, “is a large, diffused picture, comprehending the characters of life, disposed in different groups, and exhibited in various attitudes, for the purposes of a uniform plan and general occurrence, to which every individual figure is subservient. But this plan cannot be executed with propriety, probability, or success, without a principal personage to attract the attention, unite the incidents, unwind the clue of the labyrinth, and at last close the scene by virtue of his importance.” But Smollett presents the “different groups” and “various attitudes” of his “diffused picture” with a luxuriance of imagination, a fidelity to nature, and an exuberance of broad humor which inspire interest even when they occasion disgust. If he added nothing new to the novel from a purely literary point of view, his works have an exceptional historical value.
His life was well adapted to educate him as an observer and student of human nature. Of a good Scotch family, but obliged by poverty to rely on his own efforts for a living, he mixed familiarly with varied classes of men. As a surgeon in London, he came in contact with the middle and lower ranks of the city, from which many of his best characters are taken. As surgeon's mate on board a man-of-war, he obtained that acquaintance with a seafaring life which was afterward turned to such excellent account.
Of Smollett's works, “Humphrey Clinker” is the most humorous, “Roderick Random” the simplest and most natural, “Perigrine Pickle,” the most elaborate and brilliant. The reader is conducted from adventure to adventure with an unfailing interest, sustained by the distinctness of the picture and the brightness of the coloring. The characters met with are natural and well studied. Trunnion, Hatchway, Pipes, Lieutenant Bowling, and Jack Rattlin are all distinctly seamen, and yet each has a marked individuality of his own. Matthew Bramble and Winifred Jenkins are among the best-drawn and most entertaining of fictitious personages. Smollett's humor is usually of the broadest and most elementary kind. It consists largely of hard blows, a-propos knockdowns, and practical jokes. More than any novelist, he illustrates the coarseness of his time. His pages are filled with cruelties and blackguardism. Many of his principal characters are dissolute without enjoyment, and brutal without good nature. Modern taste is shocked by the succession of repulsive scenes and degrading representations of vice which are often intended to amuse, and always to entertain. But it is because life in the eighteenth century had so many repulsive features, that the novels of the time often repel the modern reader, There is nothing strained or uncommon in the experiences of Miss Williams while in prison:
There I saw nothing but rage, anguish, and impiety; and heard
nothing but groans, curses, and blasphemy. In the midst of this
hellish crew, I was subjected in the tyranny of a barbarian, who
imposed upon me tasks that I could not possibly perform, and then
punished my incapacity with the utmost rigor and inhumanity. I was
often whipped into a swoon, and lashed out of it, during which
miserable intervals I was robbed by my fellow-prisoners of every
thing about me, even to my cap, shoes, and stockings; I was not
only destitute of necessaries, but even of food, so that my
wretchedness was extreme. Not one of my acquaintance, to whom I
imparted my situation, would grant me the least succor or regard,
on pretence of my being committed for theft; and my landlord
refused to part with some of my own clothes, which I sent for,
because I was indebted to him for a week's lodging. Overwhelmed
with calamity, I grew desperate, and resolved to put an end to my
grievances and life together; for this purpose I got up in the
middle of the night, when I thought everybody around me asleep, and
fixing one end of my handkerchief to a large hook in the ceiling
that supported the scales on which the hemp is weighed, I stood
upon a chair, and making a noose on the other end, put my neck into
it with an intention to hang myself; but before I could adjust the
knot, I was surprised and prevented by two women who had been awake
all the while, and suspected my design. In the morning my attempt
was published among the prisoners, and punished with thirty
stripes, the pain of which co-operating with my disappointment and
disgrace, bereft me of my senses, and threw me into an ecstasy of
madness, during which I tore the flesh from my bones with my teeth,
and dashed my head against the pavement.
While Smollett mingled such scenes of misery with coarse adventures and coarse humor, he is yet always true to nature and always picturesque. He keeps the reader's attention even when he offends his taste. He impaired the literary merit of “Perigrine Pickle,” but at the same time added to its dissolute character and its immediate popularity by the forced insertion of the licentious “Memoirs of a Lady of Quality.” Now a serious blemish, these memoirs formed at the time an added attraction to the book. They were eagerly read as the authentic account of Lady Vane, a notorious woman of rank, and were furnished to Smollett by herself, in the hope, fully gratified, that her infamous career might be known to future generations.
That the standard of public taste was rising, would appear from the fact that in the second edition of “Perigrine Pickle,” Smollett found it advisable to “reform the manners and correct the expression” of the first; but when “he flatters himself that he has expunged every adventure, phrase, and insinuation that could be construed by the most delicate reader into a trespass upon the rules of decorum,” he does not give a high idea of the standard of the “most delicate reader.” But Smollett has left an account of his own views regarding the moral effect of the pictures of vice and degradation which his works contain, and that account is a striking statement of contemporary feeling upon the subject:
The same principle by which we rejoice at the remuneration of
merit, will teach us to relish the disgrace and discomfiture of
vice, which is always an example of extensive use and influence,
because it leaves a deep impression of terror upon the minds of
those who were not confirmed in the pursuit of morality and virtue,
and, while the balance wavers, enables the right scale to
preponderate. * * * The impulses of fear, which is the most violent
and interesting of all the passions, remain longer than any other
upon the memory; and for one that is allured to virtue by the
contemplation of that peace and happiness which it bestows, an
hundred are deterred from the practice of vice, by the infamy and
punishment to which it is liable from the laws and regulations of
mankind. Let me not, therefore, be condemned for having chosen my
principal character from the purlieus of treachery and fraud, when
I declare that my purpose is to set him up as a beacon for the
benefit of the inexperienced and the unwary, who, from the perusal
of these memoirs, may learn to avoid the manifold snares with which
they are continually surrounded in the paths of life; while those
who hesitate on the brink of iniquity may he terrified from
plunging into that irremediable gulph, by surveying the deplorable
fate of Ferdinand Count Fathom.
This passage illustrates with remarkable fidelity the attitude, not only of Smollett, but of the other novelists and the general public of the first half of the eighteenth century, toward vice and crime. The consciousness of evil and the desire for reformation were prominent features of the time. But to deter men from wrong-doing, fear was the only recognized agent. There was absolutely no feeling of philanthropy. There was no effort to prevent crime through the education or regulation of the lower classes; there was no attempt to reform the criminal when convicted. The public fear of the criminal classes was expressed in the cruel and ineffective code which punished almost every offense with death. The corruptions which pervaded the administration of justice made it almost impossible to punish the wealthy and influential. When Smollett declared that the miserable fate of Count Fathom would deter his reader from similar courses by a fear of similar punishment, when Defoe urged the moral usefulness of “Moll Flanders" and “Roxana,” the two novelists simply expressed the general feeling that the sight of a malefactor hanging on the gallows was the most effective recommendation to virtue. In the same spirit in which justice exposed the offender in the stocks to public view, the novelist described his careers of vice ending in misery, and Hogarth conducted his Idle Apprentice from stage to stage till Tyburn Hill is reached. The same moral end is always in view, but the lesson is illustrated by the ugliness of vice, and not by the beauty of virtue. In our time we have reason to be thankful for a criminal legislation tempered by mercy and philanthropy. We have attained, too, a standard of taste and of humanity which has banished the degrading exhibitions of public punishments, which has largely done away with coarseness and brutality, and has added much to the happiness of life. In fiction, the writer who wishes to serve a moral purpose attains his end by the more agreeable method of holding up examples of merit to be imitated, rather than of vice to be shunned.
But when the great novelists of the eighteenth century were writing, the standard of taste was extremely low. The author knew that he was keeping his reader in bad company, and was supplying his mind with coarse ideas, but he believed that he might do this without offense. Defoe thought that “Moll Flanders” would not “offend the chastest reader or the modestest hearer”; Richardson, that the prolonged effort to seduce Pamela could be described “without raising a single idea throughout the whole that shall shock the exactest purity”; Fielding, that there was nothing in “Tom Jones” which “could offend the chastest eye in the perusal.” Nor, as concerned their own time, were they mistaken. They clearly understood the distinction between coarseness and immorality. The young women who read “Tom Jones” with enthusiasm were not less moral than the women who now avoid it, they were only less refined. They did not think vice less reprehensible, but were more accustomed to the sight of it, and therefore less easily offended by its description.
While the novels of which we have been speaking were making their first appearance, there lived in Kent a charming young lady who went by the name of “the celebrated Miss Talbot.” She had attained this distinction by her great cultivation. She had studied astronomy and geography, was “mistress of French and Italian,” and knew a little Latin. When she was only twenty years of age, the Dean of Canterbury spoke of her with high admiration. Her acquaintance was eagerly sought by accomplished young ladies, and by none more successfully than “the learned” Miss Carter. Both of these girls read the novels of the day, and fortunately recorded some of their opinions in the letters which passed between them. “I want much to know,” wrote Miss Talbot, “whether you have yet condescended to read 'Joseph Andrews.'“ “I must thank you,” replied Miss Carter, “for the perfectly agreeable entertainment I have met in reading 'Joseph Andrews.' It contains such a surprising variety of nature, wit, morality, and good sense, as is scarcely to be met with in any one composition, and there is such a spirit of benevolence through the whole, as, I think renders it peculiarly charming,” Some years later the Bishop of Gloucester came to visit Miss Talbot's family, and read “Amelia,” the young lady wrote, while he was nursing his cold by the fireside. Miss Carter replied that “in favor of the bishop's cold, his reading 'Amelia' in silence may be tolerated, but I am somewhat scandalized that, since he did not read it to you, you did not read it yourself.” “The more I read 'Tom Jones,'“ wrote Miss Talbot, “the more I detest him, and admire Clarissa Harlowe,—yet there are in it things that must touch and please every good heart, and probe to the quick many a bad one, and humor that it is impossible not to laugh at.” “I am sorry,” replied Miss Carter, “to find you so outrageous about poor Tom Jones; he is no doubt an imperfect, but not a detestable character, with all that honesty, good-nature, and generosity.” Miss Talbot, in a later letter, said that she had once heard a lady piously say to her son that she wished with all her heart he was like Tom Jones. In 1747 “Clarissa” was read aloud at the palace of the Bishop of Oxford, Miss Talbot's uncle. “As for us,” she wrote, “we lived quite happy the whole time we were reading it, and we made that time as long as we could, too, for we only read it en famille, at set hours, and all the rest of the day we talked of it. One can scarcely persuade one's self that they are not real characters and living people.” Even “Roderick Random” made part of the young ladies' reading. “It is a very strange and a very low book,” commented the Bishop's celebrated niece, “though not without some characters in it, and, I believe, some very just, though very wretched descriptions.”
[Footnote 162: Mrs. Barbauld's “Life of Richardson,” vol. 1, p. 42. Scott's “Life of Richardson.”]
[Footnote 163: Mrs. Barbauld's “Life of Richardson,” vol. 1, p. 37.]
[Footnote 164: Edinburgh Review. Oct., 1804. Scott's “Life of Richardson,” note.]
[Footnote 165: Richardson's correspondence, 1748.]
[Footnote 166: Richardson's correspondence. Forsyth's “Novels and Novelists,” p. 251.]
[Footnote 167: See the interesting “Glimpses of Our Ancestors,” by Charles Fleet, p. 33.]
[Footnote 168: Mrs. Barbauld's “Life of Richardson.”]
[Footnote 169: W.M. Thackeray, “Nil Nisi Bonum", Cornhill Mag., No. 1.]
[Footnote 170: D'Israeli's “Curiosities of Literature,” art. “Richardson.”]
[Footnote 171: Mrs. Barbauld's “Life of Richardson,” vol. I, p. 40. Scott's “Life of Richardson.”]
[Footnote 172: The reader may find some curious examples of the fidelity with which Fielding portrayed contemporary character and manners in comparing passages in “Tom Jones,” with “Glimpses of our Ancestors,” by Charles Fleet, pp. 38, 39, et passim.]
[Footnote 173: “Joseph Andrews,” book III, chap. 9.]
[Footnote 174: “Tom Jones,” book iv, ch. 8.]
[Footnote 175: Samuel Rogers, “Table Talk,” p. 227.]
[Footnote 176: Coleridge, “Table Talk,” p. 339, vol. 2, London, 1835.]
[Footnote 177: Preface to “Debit and Credit” (“Soll und Haben"), by Gustav Freitag.]
[Footnote 178: “Adventures of Count Fathom,” letter of dedication.]
[Footnote 179: “Roderick Random,” chap. xxiii.]
[Footnote 180: 'The wife of William, second Viscount Vane, “was the too celebrated Lady Vane; first married to Lord William Hamilton, and secondly to Lord Vane; who has given her own extraordinary and disreputable adventures to the world in Smollett's novel of 'Perigrine Pickle,' under the title of 'Memoirs of a Lady of Quality.'”—Walpole to Mann, Nov 23, 1743. “The troops continue going to Flanders, but slowly enough. Lady Vane has taken a trip thither after a cousin of Lord Berkeley, who is as simple about her as her own husband is, and has written to Mr. Knight at Paris to furnish her with what money she wants. He says she is vastly to blame, for he was trying to get her a divorce from Lord Vane, and then would have married her himself. Her adventures are worthy to be bound up with those of my good sister-in-law, the German Princess, and Moll Flanders.”—Walpole to Mann, June 14, 1742.]
[Footnote 181: “Adventures of Count Fathom,” letter of dedication.]
[Footnote 182: “The Carter and Talbot Correspondence,” Ed. by Rev. Montagu Pennington, 1809.]
[Footnote 183: See “The Carter and Talbot Correspondences.”]