CHAPTER VII. THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY CONTINUED.
I.—THE RELIGIOUS REVIVAL.
II.—STERNE, JOHNSON, GOLDSMITH, AND OTHERS. III.—MISS BURNEY, AND THE FEMALE NOVELISTS.
IV.—THE ROMANTIC REVIVAL.
We have observed in the earlier works of fiction of the eighteenth century, together with great coarseness of thought and manners, the reflection of a strong moral and reforming tendency. As early as the reign of William III, Parliament had requested the king to issue proclamations to justices of the peace, instructing them to put in execution the neglected laws against open licentiousness. In 1698, Collier published his “Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage,” a powerful and effective protest against the depravity of the drama. At about the same time had been formed the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, which energetically attacked the more flagrant forms of crime. “England, bad as she is,” wrote Defoe in 1706, “is yet a reforming nation; and the work has made more progress from the court even to the street, than, I believe, any nation in the world can parallel in such a time and in such circumstances.” Toward the middle of the century, these tendencies took effect in the Methodist Revival, a movement destined to exert a profound influence on society. Accompanying this revival, or resulting from it, were many important reforms. The corruption of political life gradually diminished. A new patriotism and unselfishness began to appear in public men. A spirit of philanthropy arose which corrected some of the worst social abuses. Under the leadership of the noble John Howard, the prisons, so long the abandoned haunts of squalor, oppression, and misery, were considerably redeemed from their shameful condition. Beau Nash marked the progress of peaceful and law-abiding habits by formally forbidding the wearing of swords wherever his fashionable authority was recognized. In the fiction of the latter half of the eighteenth century is illustrated a gradual transition of morals and taste from the unbridled coarseness of the century's earlier years to the comparative refinement of our own times.
There lived in Sussex about the time of the Methodist revival, a thriving shopkeeper named Thomas Turner. He had received a good education, and in early life had been a schoolmaster. On reading “Clarissa” he had exclaimed, what would have gladdened the heart of Richardson: “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!” His literary tastes were so pronounced and varied that in the space of six weeks he had read Gray's “Poems,” Stewart “On the Supreme Being,” the “Whole Duty of Man,” “Paradise Lost and Regained,” “Othello,” the “Universal Magazine,” Thomson's “Seasons,” Young's “Night Thoughts,” Tournefort's “Voyage to the Levant,” and “Perigrine Pickle.” This scholarly tradesman kept a diary, in which he recorded his thoughts, his studies, and his amusements with a frankness which deserves the thanks of posterity. Some passages of his diary, in their illustration of the combination of licence, coarseness, and moral earnestness characteristic of the writer's time may greatly assist us in appreciating the power and influence of the religious revival.
“I went to the audit and came home drunk. But I think never to exceed the bounds of moderation more. * * * “Sunday, 28th, went down to Jones', where we drank one bowl of punch and two muggs of bumboo; and I came home again in liquor. Oh, with what horrors does it fill my heart, to think I should be guilty of doing so, and on a Sunday, too! Let me once more endeavour, never, no never, to be guilty of the same again. * * * I read part of the fourth volume of the Tatler; the oftener I read it, the better I like it. I think I never found the vice of drinking so well exploded in my life, as in one of the numbers.” In January, 1751, “Mr. Elless (the schoolmaster), Marchant, myself, and wife sat down to whist about seven o'clock, and played all night; very pleasant, and I think I may say innocent mirth, there being no oaths nor imprecations sounding from side to side, as is too often the case at cards.” February 2, “we supped at Mr. Fuller's, and spent the evening with a great deal of mirth, till between one and two. Tho, Fuller brought my wife home on his back, I cannot say I came home sober, though I was far from being bad company. I think we spent the evening with a great deal of pleasure.” March 7th, a party met at Mr. Joseph Fuller's, “drinking,” records our diarist, “like horses, as the vulgar phrase is, and singing, till many of us were very drunk, and then we went to dancing, and pulling of wigs, caps, and hats; and thus we continued in this frantic manner, behaving more like mad people than they that profess the name of Christians.” Three days after, the same amusements are enjoyed at the house of Mr. Porter, the clergyman of the parish, except “there was no swearing and ill words, by reason of which Mr. Porter calls it innocent mirth, but I in opinion differ much therefrom.” Mr. Turner had no great reason to respect the opinion of clergymen on such matters. Soon after, “Mr. ——, the curate of Laughton, came to the shop in the forenoon, and he having bought some things of me (and I could wish he had paid for them), dined with me, and also staid in the afternoon till he got in liquor, and being so complaisant as to keep him company, I was quite drunk. How do I detest myself for being so foolish!” A little later, Mr, Turner attended a vestry meeting, at which “we had several warm arguments, and several vollies of execrable oaths oftentime redounded from almost all parts of the room.
“About 4 P.M. I walked down to Whyly. We played at bragg the first part of the even. After ten we went to supper, on four broiled chicken, four boiled ducks, minced veal, cold roast goose, chicken pastry, and ham. Our company, Mr. and Mrs. Porter, Mr. and Mrs. Coates, Mrs. Atkins, Mrs. Hicks, Mr. Piper and wife, Joseph Fuller and wife, Tho. Fuller and wife, Dame Durrant, myself and wife, and Mr. French's family. After supper our behaviour was far from that of serious, harmless mirth; it was downright obstreperious, mixed with a great deal of folly and stupidity. Our diversion was dancing or jumping about, without a violin or any musick, singing of foolish healths, and drinking all the time as fast as it could be well poured down; and the parson of the parish was one among the mixed multitude. If conscience dictates right from wrong, as doubtless it sometimes does, mine is one that I may say is soon offended: for, I must say, I am always very uneasy at such behavior, thinking it not like the behaviour of the primitive Christians, which, I imagine, was most in conformity to our Saviour's gospel.
“Thursday, Feb, 25th. This morning, about six o'clock, just as my wife was got to bed, we was awaked by Mrs. Porter, who pretended she wanted some cream of tartar; but as soon as my wife got out of bed, she vowed she should come down. She found Mr. Porter (the clergyman), Mr. Fuller, and his wife, with a lighted candle, and part of a bottle of port wine and a glass. The next thing was to have me down stairs, which being apprised of, I fastened my door. Up stairs they came, and threatened to break it open; so I ordered the boys to open it, when they poured into my room; and as modesty forbid me to get out of bed, so I refrained; but their immodesty permitted them to draw me out of bed, as the phrase is, topsy-turvey; but, however, at the intercession of Mr. Porter, they permitted me to put on * * * my wife's petticoats; and in this manner they made me dance, without shoes and stockings, until they had emptied a bottle of wine, and also a bottle of my beer. * * * About three o'clock in the afternoon, they found their way to their respective homes, beginning to be a little serious, and, in my opinion, ashamed of their stupid enterprise and drunken perambulation. Now let any one call in reason to his assistance, and reflect seriously on what I have before recited, and they will join me in thinking that the precepts delivered from the pulpit on Sunday, though delivered with the greatest ardour, must lose a great deal of there efficacy by such examples.”
Such were the amusements and such the moral reflections of a country tradesman in the middle of the last century, Fielding, Smollett, and the other novelists described the same kind of life: the same succession of brawls, drunken sprees, cock-fights, boxing matches, and bull-baitings. It would be difficult to imagine a state of society more ripe for a revival. Mr. Thomas Turner had moral and religious aspirations, but these could not be satisfied by the clergyman of his parish or the curate of Laughton, the companions of his debauches but not the sharers of his remorse. When the clergy were sincere and moral, they were still too cold and commonplace to seriously influence their flocks. The sermons of the time were at best, moral essays, teaching little, as Mr. Lecky says, “that might not have been taught by disciples of Socrates and Confucius.” They might encourage honesty and temperance where those virtues already existed, but they had no spell to arouse religious feelings, nor to reclaim the vicious. How great, then, must have been the effect of the impassioned eloquence of a Whitefield, which could draw tears from thousands of hardened colliers, upon such a society as that of Mr. Turner and his friends, accustomed only to the discourses of their boon companion, the Rev. Mr. Porter. The prevailing licence and the prevailing moral consciousness were elements especially adapted to the work of the religious revivalist. The effect of the sermons of Berridge is thus described by an eye-witness:
I heard many cry out, especially children, whose agonies were
amazing. One of the eldest, a girl of ten or twelve years old, was
full in my view, in violent contortions of body, and weeping aloud,
I think incessantly, during the whole service. * * * While poor
sinners felt the sentence of death in their souls, what sounds of
distress did I hear! Some shrieking, some roaring aloud. The most
general was a loud breathing, like that of people half strangled
and gasping for life. And indeed, almost all the cries were like
those of human creatures dying in bitter anguish. Great numbers
wept without any noise; others fell down as dead; some sinking in
silence; some with extreme noise and violent agitation. I stood on
the pew seat, as did a young man in an opposite pew—an
able-bodied, fresh, healthy countryman. But in a moment, when he
seemed to think of nothing less, down he dropped with a violence
inconceivable. The adjoining pews seemed shook with his fall. I
heard afterward the stamping of his feet, ready to break the boards
as he lay in strong convulsions at the bottom of the pew. * * *
Among the children who felt the arrows of the Almighty I saw a
sturdy boy about eight years old, who roared above his fellows, and
seemed, in his agony, in struggle with the strength of a grown man.
His face was red as scarlet; and almost all on whom God laid his
hand turned either red or almost black. * * * A stranger, well
dressed, who stood facing me, fell backward to the wall; then
forward on his knees, wringing his hands and roaring like a bull.
His face at first turned quite red, then almost black. He rose and
ran against the wall till Mr. Keeling and another held him. He
screamed out “Oh! what shall I do? what shall I do? Oh, for one
drop of the blood of Christ!”
These were violent remedies, but they were applied to a powerful disease. If the revivalists did harm by the religious terrorism which they excited, they yet had a powerful and wide-spread influence for good. They awakened religious feelings among the people, and diffused a new earnestness among the clergy. A spirit of philanthropy was born with their teachings which has gone on growing until it now extends a protecting arm even to brutes. The societies for the prevention of cruelty to children and to animals are part of a great philanthropic movement which began at the end of the eighteenth century, which has carried into practical, every-day life the spirit of Christianity, and has given to the words mercy and charity, the signification of real and existing virtues. Horses, dogs, even rats, are now more safe from wanton brutality than great numbers of men and women in the eighteenth century. To any one who studies that period, the stocks, the whipping post, the gibbet, cock fights, prize-fights, bull-baitings, accounts of rapes, are simply the outward signs of an all-pervading cruelty. If he opens a novel, he finds that the story turns on brutality in one form or other. It is not only in such novels as those of Fielding and Smollett, which are intended to describe the lower classes of society, and in which blackened eyes and broken heads are relished forms of wit, that the modern reader is offended by the continual infliction of pain. Goldsmith gives Squire Thornhill perfect impunity from the law and from public opinion in his crimes. Mackenzie does not think of visiting any legal retribution on his “Man of the World.” Godwin wrote “Caleb Williams” to show with what impunity man preyed on man, how powerless the tenant and the dependent woman lay before the violence or the intrigue of the rich. And it is not only that a crime should be committed with perfect security which would now receive a severe sentence at the hands of an ordinary judge and jury which surprises the reader of to-day, but that scenes which would now shock any person of common humanity or taste, were, in the last century, especially intended to amuse. In Miss Burney's “Evelina,” Captain Mirvan continually insults and maltreats Mme. Duval, the grandmother of the heroine, in a manner which would not only be inconceivable in a gentleman tolerated in society, but in a blackguard, not entirely bereft of feelings of decency or good-nature. While she is a guest in his own house, he torments her with false accounts of the sufferings of a friend; sends her on a futile errand to relieve those sufferings in a carriage of his own, and then, disguised as a highwayman, he assaults her with the collusion of his servants, tears her clothes, and leaves her half dead with terror, tied with ropes, at the bottom of a ditch. When Mme. Duval relates her ill-treatment to her granddaughter, Evelina could only find occasion to say: “Though this narrative almost compelled me to laugh, yet I was really irritated with the captain, for carrying his love of tormenting—sport, he calls it to such harshness and unjustifiable extremes.” And Miss Burney expected, no doubt with reason, that her reader would be amused by all this.
In the same work a nobleman and a fashionable commoner are described as settling a bet by a race between two decrepit women over eighty years of age. “When the signal was given for them to set off, the poor creatures, feeble and frightened, ran against each other: and neither of them being able to support the shock, they both fell on the ground. * * * Again they set off, and hobbled along, nearly even with each other, for some time, yet frequently, to the inexpressible diversion of the company, they stumbled and tottered. * * * Not long after, a foot of one of the poor women slipped, and with great force she came again to the ground. * * * Mr. Coverley went himself to help her, and insisted that the other should stop. A debate ensued, but the poor creature was too much hurt to move, and declared her utter inability to make another attempt. Mr. Coverley was quite brutal; he swore at her with unmanly rage, and seemed scarce able to refrain even from striking her.” It would be impossible perhaps to find a party of the upper ranks gathered at a country house at the present time, composed of persons who could have endured, without remonstrance, such treatment of a pair of superannuated horses; yet Miss Burney describes the efforts and sufferings of these old women as affording inexpressible diversion to the ladies and gentlemen who figure in her novel, and she evidently expects the reader to be equally entertained. “Evelina” was written by a young woman who saw the best society, who was maid of honor to Queen Charlotte, who was universally admired for her delicacy and her talents, and whose novels are among the most refined of the time.
The higher ranks were much less influenced by the religious revival than the lower. Although certainly not less in need of reformation, they were far less inclined to welcome it. The fashionable indifference to religion was an obstacle which Wesley found much more difficult to overcome than the brutal ignorance of the inmates of Newgate. After listening to a sermon by Whitefield, Bolingbroke complimented the preacher by saying that he had “done great justice to the divine attributes.” The Duchess of Buckingham's remarks on the preaching of the Methodists, in a letter to Lady Huntingdon, are an amusing commentary on the times. “I thank your ladyship for the information concerning the Methodist preachers. Their doctrines are most repulsive, and strongly tinctured with impertinence and disrespect toward their superiors, in perpetually endeavoring to level all ranks and do away with all distinctions. It is monstrous to be told that you have a heart as sinful as the common wretches that crawl the earth. This is highly offensive and insulting, and I cannot but wonder that your ladyship should relish any sentiments so much at variance with high rank and good-breeding.” High rank and good-breeding, however, in the society of which the Duchess of Buckingham was so proud, were not considered inconsistent with habitual drunkenness, indecency, and profanity. The vices which “the common wretches that crawl the earth" practised in addition to these, her Grace would have had difficulty in mentioning.
Still, in the latter half of the eighteenth century is to be traced a continual improvement, which is reflected in contemporary fiction. As a remarkable example of the change which took place may be mentioned the instance of the Earl of March. “As Duke of Queensberry, at nearer ninety than eighty years of age, he was still rolling in wealth, still wallowing in sin, and regarded by his countrymen as one whom it was hardly decent to name, because he did not choose, out of respect for the public opinion of 1808, to discontinue a mode of existence which in 1768 was almost a thing of course” among the higher ranks.
[Footnote 184: Wilson's “Memoirs of Daniel Defoe.”]
[Footnote 185: For the diary of Thomas Turner, see “Glimpses of our Ancestors,” by Charles Fleet, pp. 31-52.]
[Footnote 186: For these manifestations, see Wesley's “Journal,” and Lecky's “History of England in the Eighteenth Century,” vol. II, chap. ix.]
[Footnote 187: Lecky, “Hist. of England in the 18th Century,” vol. ii, chap. 9.]
[Footnote 188: See Trevelyan's “Early History of Charles James Fox,” Harper's ed., p. 75.]
In 1759, were published the first two volumes of “Tristram Shandy,” a singular and brilliant medley of wit, sentiment, indecency, and study of character. Laurence Sterne was a profligate clergyman, a dishonest author, and an unfaithful husband. He wrote “Tristram Shandy,” and he wrote a great many sermons. He descended to the indulgence of low tastes, and rose to an elevated strain of thought, with equal facility. He was a man who knew the better and followed the worse. His talents made him a welcome guest at great men's tables, where he paid for his dinner by amusing the company with a brilliant succession of witticisms and indecent anecdotes, which, to his hearers, derived an additional piquancy from the fact that they proceeded from the mouth of a divine. But although the man was in many respects contemptible, although he disgraced his priestly character by his profligacy, and his literary character by a shameless plagiarism, he possessed in a high degree a quality which must give him a distinguished place in English fiction. His borrowed plumage and his imitation of Rabelais' style apart, Sterne had originality, a gift at all times rare, and always, perhaps, becoming rarer. As a humorist, he is to be classed with Fielding and Smollett, but as a novelist, his position in the history of fiction is separate and unique.
“Tristram Shandy” has all the elements of a novel except the plot. The author has no story to tell. His aim is to amuse the reader by odd and whimsical remarks on every subject and on every personage whose peculiarities promise material for humor and satire. Sterne is perpetually digressing, moralizing commenting on every trivial topic which enters into his story, until the story itself is completely lost, if, indeed, it can be said ever to have been begun. The absence of arrangement is so marked that it is very difficult to turn to a passage which in a previous perusal has struck the eye. The eccentricity and whimsicality of the book contributed greatly to its immediate popularity. But the same characteristics which seem brilliant when novel, soon become dull when familiar, and although “Tristram Shandy" will always afford single passages of lasting interest to the lover of literature, the work as a whole is not a little tedious when read continuously from cover to cover.
In the course of his literary medley, Sterne introduces his reader to a group of characters amongst the most odd and original in fiction. Mr. Shandy, with his syllogisms and his hypotheses, his “close reasoning upon the smallest matters”; Yorick, the witty parson, whose epitaph, Alas! Poor Yorick! expresses so tenderly the amiable faults for which he suffered; Captain Shandy, that combination of simplicity, gentleness, humanity, and modesty, are all creations which deserve to rank with the most individual and happily conceived of fictitious personages. Sterne makes a character known to the reader by a succession of delicate touches rather than by description. He seems to enter into an individual, and make him betray his peculiarities by significant actions and phrases. Thus Mr. Shandy exposes at once the nature of his mind and the vigor of his “hobby-horse,” when he exclaims to his brother Toby: “What is the character of a family to an hypothesis?”
The combination of sentiment, pathos, and humor which Sterne sometimes reached with remarkable success, is particularly apparent in every incident which concerns the celebrated Captain Toby Shandy, for the creation of which character this author may most easily be forgiven his indecencies and his literary thefts. Uncle Toby's sympathy with Lefevre, a poor army officer, on his way to join his regiment, who died in an inn near Shandy's house, is exquisitely painted throughout, and the colloquy between the captain and his faithful servant, Corporal Trim, when the death of the officer is imminent, is probably the finest passage which ever fell from the skilful pen of Laurence Sterne:
A sick brother-officer should have the best quarters, Trim; and if
we had him with us,—we could tend and look to him.—Thou art an
excellent nurse thyself, Trim: and what with thy care of him, and
the old woman's, and his boy's, and mine together, we might recruit
him again at once, and set him upon his legs.
—In a fortnight or three weeks, added my uncle Toby, smiling, he
might march.—He will never march, an' please your Honour, in this
world, said the Corporal.—He will march, said my uncle Toby,
rising up from the side of the bed with one shoe off.—An' please
your Honour, said the Corporal, he will never march but to his
grave. He shall march, cried my uncle Toby, marching the foot
which had a shoe on, though without advancing an inch,—he shall
march to his regiment.—He cannot stand it, said the Corporal.—He
shall be supported, said my uncle Toby.—He'll drop at last, said
the Corporal, and what will become of his boy? He shall not drop
said my uncle Toby, firmly,—Ah, well-a-day!—do what we can for
him, said Trim, maintaining his point,—the poor soul will
die.—He shall not die, by G—, cried my uncle Toby.
—The accusing spirit, which flew up to Heaven's chancery with
the oath, blushed as he gave it in;—and the recording angel, as
he wrote it down, dropped a tear upon the word, and blotted it out
“Ye, who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiencies of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia.” Thus begins the famous tale which Dr. Johnson made the repository of so much of his wisdom, and so beautiful an example of English style. Rasselas and his royal brothers and sisters live in a secluded portion of the earth known as the Happy Valley, where, completely isolated from the world, they await their succession to the crown of the imaginary land of Abyssinia, surrounded by every luxury which can make life agreeable, and shut off from all knowledge of those evils which can make it painful. The aim of the story is to show the vanity of expecting perfect happiness, and the folly of sacrificing present advantages for the delusive promises of the future.
The scene opens in the Happy Valley, where there is all that labor or danger can procure or purchase, without either labor to be endured or danger to be dreaded. Rasselas illustrates the habitual discontent of man by wearying of the monotonous happiness of his royal home, and, together with his sister Nekayah, who shares his ennui, and Imlac, a man of learning, he escapes from the abode of changeless joys and perpetual merriment.
Once beyond the barriers of the Happy Valley, Rasselas and Nekayah seek in the various ranks and conditions of men the abode of true happiness. It is sought in vain amidst the hollow and noisy pleasures of the young and thoughtless; in vain among philosophers, whose theories so ill accord with their practice; in vain among shepherds, whose actual life contrasts so painfully with the descriptions of the poet; in vain in crowds, where sorrow lurks beneath the outward smile; in vain in the cell of the hermit, who counts the days till he shall once more mix with the world. The task becomes more hopeless with each new disappointment. Rasselas pursues his investigation among the higher ranks, in courts and cities; Nekayah, hers among the poor and humble, in the shop and the hamlet. But when the brother and sister meet to share their experiences, they both have the same tale to tell of human discontent. Finally, in returning disappointed to Abyssinia, they illustrate the tendency among men to look back with regret on the early pleasures of life, abandoned for the impossible happiness which discontent had taught them to seek.
On this slight thread of narrative, Johnson strung his thoughts with great felicity. The characters, by the different view which they entertain of life, are distinct and individual. The book is filled with pregnant and beautiful passages, which leave a deep impression on the reader. The words in which Imlac describes to the Prince and Princess the dangers of an unrestrained imagination, might, with equal propriety, find a place in a scientific treatise on the causes of insanity, and in a collection of beautiful literary extracts:
To indulge the power of fiction, and send imagination out upon the
wing, is often the sport of those who delight too much in silent
speculation. When we are alone, we are not always busy; the labour
of excogitation is too violent to last long; the ardour of inquiry
will sometimes give way to idleness or satiety. He who has nothing
external that can divert him, must find pleasure in his own
thoughts, and must conceive himself what he is not; for who is
pleased with what he is? He then expatiates in boundless futurity,
and culls from all imaginable conditions that which for the present
moment he should most desire, amuses his desires with impossible
enjoyments, and confers upon his pride unattainable dominion. The
mind dances from scene to scene, unites all pleasures in all
combinations, and riots in delights which nature and fortune, with
all their bounty, cannot bestow.
In time, some particular train of ideas fixes the attention; all
other intellectual gratifications are rejected; the mind, in
weariness or leisure, recurs constantly to the favorite conception,
and feasts on the luscious falsehood whenever she is offended with
the bitterness of truth. By degrees, the reign of fancy is
confirmed; she grows first imperious, and in time, despotic. Then
fictions begin to operate as realities, false opinions fasten upon
the mind, and life passes in dreams of rapture or of anguish.
The resemblance between Johnson's “Rasselas” and Voltaire's “Candide” is so marked, that had either author seen the other's work, he must have been suspected of imitation. But while both these great minds were writing at nearly the same time on the same theme of human misery, the lessons they taught differed in a manner which is strongly illustrative of the differences between the two men and their respective surroundings. French scepticism and distrust of divine power led Voltaire to impute human griefs to the incapacity of the Creator. But Johnson, writing “Rasselas” in an hour of sorrow, to obtain means to pay for his mother's funeral, taught that that happiness, which this world can not afford, should be sought in the prospect of another and a better.
All readers of Boswell know how the “Vicar of Wakefield” found a publisher. How Goldsmith's landlady arrested him for his rent, and how he wrote to Johnson in his distress. How the kind lexicographer sent a guinea at once, and followed to find the guinea already changed, and a bottle of Madeira before the persecuted but philosophical author. How Johnson put the cork in the bottle, and after a hasty glance at the MS. of the “Vicar of Wakefield,” went out and sold it for sixty pounds. And how triumphantly Goldsmith rated his landlady.
In the hands of that bookseller, who purchased the novel as much out of charity as in hope of profit, the “Vicar of Wakefield” remained neglected, until the publication of “The Traveler” had made the author famous. This interval would have afforded Goldsmith ample time to correct the obvious inconsistencies and faults which his work contained. But in the spirit of a man who depended on his pen for his bread, he made no effort to improve what had already brought him all this remuneration for which he could hope. This is the more to be regretted, that very little revision would have been sufficient, to make the “Vicar of Wakefield” as perfect in its construction as in its style and spirit. “There are a hundred faults in this thing,” says the preface, “and a hundred things might be said to prove them beauties. But it is needless. A book may be amusing with numerous errors, or it may be very dull without a single absurdity. The hero of this piece unites in himself the three greatest characters upon earth;—he is a priest, a husbandman, and the father of a family. He is drawn as ready to teach, and ready to obey—as simple in affluence, and majestic in adversity.”
These few words are not an inaccurate statement of the merits and demerits of the “Vicar of Wakefield.” Faults there are, certainly. The improbability of Sir William Thornhill's being able to go about among his own tenantry incognito, without other disguise than a change of dress; the inconsistency of the philanthropist's allowing his villainous nephew to retain possession of the wealth which he used only to assist him in his crimes; and, finally, the impossibility of that nephew's being so nearly of an age with Sir William himself, when he must have been the son of a younger brother, are all blemishes which Goldsmith might easily have removed, had he not relied on the opinion which he expressed in Chapter xv, “the reputation of books is raised, not by their freedom from defect, but by the greatness of their beauties.”
Such a rule would be an obviously dangerous one for an author to follow. But Goldsmith's confidence in the beauties of his novel was fully justified by the verdict of the world. No novelist has more deeply imbued his work with his own genius and spirit, and none have had a more beneficent genius, nor a more beautiful spirit to impart than the author of “The Deserted Village.” The exquisite style, the delicate choice of words, the amiability of sentiment, so peculiarly his own, and so well suited to express the simple beauty of his thoughts, give a charm to the work which familiarity can only endear. Dr. Primrose, preserving his simplicity, his modesty, and his nobility of character alike when surrounded by the pleasures of his early and prosperous home, when struggling with the hardships of his ruined fortune, and when rewarded at last by the surfeit of good-fortune which follows his trial, stands high among the most noble conceptions of English fiction. “We read the 'Vicar of Wakefield,'“ said the great Sir Walter, “in youth and in age. We return to it again and again, and bless the memory of an author who contrives so well to reconcile us to human nature.”
Goethe, when in his eighty-first year, declared that Goldsmith's novel “was his delight at the age of twenty, that it had in a manner formed a part of his education, influencing his tastes and feelings throughout life, and that he had recently read it again from beginning to end, with renewed delight, and with a grateful sense of the early benefit derived from it.” “Rogers, the Nestor of British literature, whose refined purity of taste and exquisite mental organization rendered him eminently calculated to appreciate a work of the kind, declared that of all the books, which, through the fitful changes of three generations he had seen rise and fall, the charm of the 'Vicar of Wakefield' had alone continued as at first; and could he revisit the world after an interval of many more generations, he should as surely look to find it undiminished.” So wrote Washington Irving; and if the reader is inclined to look for the causes of the extraordinary endurance of Goldsmith's work, he can find them nowhere better stated than in the words of John Forster: “Not in those graces of style, nor even in that home-cherished gallery of familiar faces can the secret of its extraordinary fascination be said to consist. It lies nearer the heart. A something which has found its way there; which, while it amused, has made us happier; which, gently interweaving itself with our habits of thought, has increased our good-humour and charity; which, insensibly it may be, has corrected wilful impatiences of temper, and made the world's daily accidents easier and kinder to us all; somewhat thus should be expressed, I think, the charm of the 'Vicar of Wakefield.'”
In 1760 was published “Chrysal, the Adventures of a Guinea,” by Charles Johnstone, the author of several deservedly forgotten novels. The first volume was sent to Dr. Johnson for his opinion, who thought, as Boswell tells us, that it should be published—an estimate justified by the considerable circulation which the book enjoyed.
Chrysal is an elementary spirit, whose abode is in a piece of gold converted into a guinea. In that form the spirit passes from man to man, and takes accurate note of the different scenes of which it becomes a witness. This is a natural and favorable medium for a satire, which Johnstone probably owed, in some measure, both to the “Diable Boiteux” of Gil Blas, and the “Adventures of a Halfpenny” of Dr. Bathurst. The circulation of the guinea enables the author to describe the characteristics of its possessors as seen by a truthful witness, and he has taken advantage of his opportunity to produce one of the most disgusting records of vice in literature. A depraved mind only could find any pleasure in reading “Chrysal,” and whoever is obliged to read it from cover to cover for the purpose of describing it to others, must find himself, at the end of his task, in sore vexation of spirit. Human depravity is never an agreeable subject for a work of entertainment, and while Swift's genius holds the reader fascinated with the horror of his Yahoos, the ability of a Manley or a Johnstone is not sufficient to aid the reader in wading through their vicious expositions of corruption. It must be said that Johnstone had some excuse. If he were to satirize society at all, it was better that he should do it thoroughly; that he should expose official greed and dishonesty, the orgies of Medenham Abbey, the infamous extortions of trading justices, in all their native ugliness. It must be said that the time in which he lived presented many features to the painter of manners which could not look otherwise than repulsive on his canvas. But his zeal to expose the vices of his age led him into doing great injustice to some persons, and into grossly libelling others. He imputed crimes to individuals of which he could have had no knowledge; and he shamefully misrepresented the Methodists and the Jews. If Johnstone had wished to see how offensive a book he might write, and how disgusting and indecent a book the public of his day would read and applaud, he might well have brought “Chrysal” into the world. If he had intended, by exposing crime, to check it, he had better have burned his manuscript. He has added one other corruption to those he exposed, and one other evidence of the lack of taste and decency which characterized his time. No man can plead the intention of a reformer as an excuse for placing before the world the scenes and suggestions of unnatural crime which sully the pages of “Chrysal,” and if men do, in single instances, fall below the level of brutes, he who gloats over their infamy and publishes their contagious guilt deserves some share of their odium.
The novels of Henry Mackenzie have a charm of their own, which may be largely attributed to the fact that their author was a gentleman. Whoever has read, to any extent, the works of fiction of the eighteenth century, must have observed how perpetually he was kept in low company, how rarely he met with a character who had the instincts as well as the social position of a gentleman. A tone of refined sentiment and dignity pervades “The Man of Feeling,” which recalls the “Vicar of Wakefield,” and introduces the reader to better company and more elevated thoughts than the novels of the time usually afford. “The Man of Feeling” is hardly a narrative. Harley, the chief character, is a sensitive, retiring man, with feelings too fine for his surroundings. The author places him in various scenes, and traces the effect which each produces upon his character. The effect of the work is agreeable, though melancholy, and the early death of Harley completes the delineation of a man too gentle and too sensitive to battle with life.
In his next novel Mackenzie described the counterpart of Harley, “The Man of the World.” Almost any writer of the present day who took a man of the world for his hero, would draw him as a calm, philosophical person, neither very good nor very bad,—one who took the pleasures and troubles of life as they came, without quarrelling with either. But the man of the world as Mackenzie paints him, and as the eighteenth century made him, was quite another individual. Sir Thomas Sindall is a villain of the heroic type. Not one, simply, who does all the injury and commits all the crimes which chance brings in his way. He labors with a ceaseless persistency, and a resolution which years do not diminish, to seduce a single woman. Without any apparent passion, he finally accomplishes his object by force, after having spent several years in ruining her brother to prevent his interference. The long periods of time, the great expenditure of vital energy, and the exhaustless fund of brutality which are consumed by the fictitious villains of the eighteenth century in gratifying what would seem merely a passing inclination, astonish the reader of to-day. The crime of rape, rarely now introduced into fiction, and rarely figuring even in criminal courts, is a common incident in old novels, and as commonly, remains unpunished. In Sir Thomas Sindall, Mackenzie meant to present a contrast to the delicate and benevolent character of Harley. Both are extremes, the one of sensibility, the other of brutality. Harley was a new creation, but Sindall quite a familiar person, with whom all readers of the novels of the last century have often associated.
It was suggested very sensibly to Mackenzie, that the interest of most works of fiction depended on the designing villainy of one or more characters, and that in actual life calamities were more often brought about by the innocent errors of the sufferers. To place this view before his readers, Mackenzie wrote “Julia de Roubigne,” in which a wife brings death upon herself and her husband by indiscreetly, though innocently, arousing his jealousy. Sir Walter Scott ranked this novel among the “most heart-wringing histories” that ever were written—a description which justly becomes it. Mackenzie's aim was less to weave a complicated plot, than to study and move the heart; and to the lover of sentiment his novels may still be attractive.
The “Fool of Quality,” by Henry Brooke, has had a singular history. The author was a young Irishman of a fine figure, a well-stored mind, and a disposition of particular gentleness. He was loved by Pope and Lyttleton, caressed by the Prince of Wales, and honored by the friendly interest of Jonathan Swift. Married before he was twenty-one to a young girl who presented him with three children before she was eighteen, his life was a constant struggle to provide for a family which increased with every year. After a long period of active life, passed in literary occupations, he retired to an obscure part of Ireland, and there died, attended by a daughter, the only survivor of twenty-two children, who remembered nothing of her father “previous to his retirement from the world; and knew little of him, save that he bore the infirmities and misfortunes of his declining years with the heroism of true Christianity, and that he was possessed of virtues and feelings which shone forth to the last moment of his life, unimpaired by the distractions of pain, and unshaken amid the ruins of genius.”
The “Fool of Quality” was first published in 1766, and received a moderate share of public attention. Its narrative was extremely slight. Harry, the future Earl of Moreland, was stolen from his parents by an uncle in disguise; and the five volumes of the work consist almost entirely of an account of the education of the child, and the various incidents which affected or illustrated his mental growth. One day John Wesley chanced to meet with it, and although he required his followers “to read only such books as tend to the knowledge and love of God,” he was tempted to look into this particular novel. The “whimsical title" at first offended him, but as he proceeded, he became so enthusiastic over the moral excellence of the work, that he expunged some offensive passages it contained, and republished it for the benefit of the Methodists. “I now venture to recommend the following treatise,” said Wesley to his people, “as the most excellent in its kind that I have seen either in the English or any other language. * * * It perpetually aims at inspiring and increasing every right affection; at the instilling gratitude to God and benevolence to man. And it does this not by dry, dull, tedious, precepts, but by the liveliest examples that can be conceived; by setting before your eyes one of the most beautiful pictures that ever was drawn in the world. The strokes of this are so delicately fine, the touches so easy, natural, and affecting, that I know not who can survey it with tearless eyes, unless he has a heart of stone. I recommend it, therefore, to all those who are already, or who desire to be, lovers of God and man.” It was not as a good novel that Wesley either enjoyed or republished the “Fool of Quality.” He recommended it for the excellence of its moral, and the “Fool of Quality” would have been allowed to slumber forever on Methodist book-shelves, had it not been revived by a man who was an equally good judge of a moral and a work of fiction.
But, in regard to this novel, it must be admitted that Charles Kingsley's judgment was seriously at fault. He saw both its qualities and its faults, but he did not realize that a good purpose will not make up for a poor execution. The causes of the neglect of the book, said the Canon in his preface, are to be found “in its deep and grand ethics, in its broad and genial humanity, in the divine value which it attaches to the relations of husband and wife, father and child, and to the utter absence, both of that sentimentalism and that superstition which have been alternately debauching of late years the minds of the young. And if he shall have arrived at this discovery, he will be able possibly to regard at least with patience those who are rash enough to affirm that they have learnt from this book more which is pure, sacred, and eternal, than from any which has been published since Spenser's 'Fairy Queen.'“ On the testimony of Wesley and of Kingsley, all the merits of a moral nature which they claim for the “Fool of Quality" will readily be accorded to it. But it is very doubtful that such qualities would necessarily interfere with the success of a work of fiction. The real reason why very few who can help it will read this novel, lies in those characteristics which Kingsley himself admitted would appear to the average reader. “The plot is extravagant as well as ill-woven, and broken, besides, by episodes as extravagant as itself. The morality is quixotic, and practically impossible. The sermonizing, whether theological or social, is equally clumsy and obtrusive. Without artistic method, without knowledge of human nature and the real world, the book can never have touched many hearts and can touch none now.”
It is singular that Kingsley should have expected that a book with so many and so evident faults could have remained popular simply because its moral was a good one. If he had sat down to warn the world against Henry Brooke's novel, he could hardly have expressed himself with more effect. Whatever merit it may have is buried under a mass of dulness almost impossible to penetrate, and a silliness pervades the characters and the conversations which makes even the lighter portions unreadable. The “Fool of Quality” has all the drawbacks of a novel of purpose in an exaggerated form. The improvement of his reader is a laudable object for a novelist. But it is an object which can be successfully carried out in a work of art, only very indirectly. An author may have a great influence for good, but that influence can be obtained, not by deliberate sermonizing, but only by tone of healthy sentiment which insensibly elevates the reader's mind.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the number and variety of works of fiction rapidly increased. William Beckford, whom Byron calls in “Childe Harold,” “Vathek, England's wealthiest son,” wrote in his twentieth year the oriental romance “Vathek,” which excited great attention at the time. It was composed in three days and two nights, during which the author never took off his clothes. Byron considered this tale superior to “Rasselas.” It represented the downward career of an oriental prince, who had given himself up to sensual indulgence, and who is allured by a Giaour into the commission of crimes which lead him to everlasting and horrible punishments. “Vathek” gives evidence of a familiarity with oriental customs, and a vividness of imagination which are remarkable in so youthful an author. The descriptions of the Caliph and of the Hall of Eblis are full of power. But in depth of meaning, and in that intrinsic worth which gives endurance to a literary work, it bears no comparison to “Rasselas.” The one affords an hour's amusement; the other retains its place among those volumes which are read and re-read with constant pleasure and satisfaction.
The novels of Richard Cumberland, “Henry,” “Arundel,” and “John de Lancaster,” contain some well-drawn characters and readable sketches of life. But Cumberland had little originality. He aimed without success at Fielding's constructive excellence, and imitated that great master's humor, only to reproduce his coarseness. The character of Ezekiel Daw, the Methodist, in “Henry,” is fair and just, and contrasts very favorably with the libellous representations of the Methodist preachers in Graves' “Spiritual Quixote,” and other contemporary novels. Another writer of fiction of considerable prominence in his day, but of none in ours, was Dr. Moore, whose “Zeluco” contained some very lively “Views of human nature, taken from life and manners, foreign and domestic,” but also some very disagreeable exhibitions of human degradation and vice.
The influence of the French Revolution in England is apparent in the works of several novelists who wrote at the end of the eighteenth century. Thomas Holcroft embodied radical views in novels now quite forgotten. Robert Bage has left four works containing opinions of a revolutionary character—“Barham Downs,” “James Wallace,” “The Fair Syrian,” and “Mount Henneth.” These novels are written in the form of a series of letters and have little narrative interest. The author has striven, sometimes successfully, at a powerful delineation of character, but his works are too evidently a vehicle for his political and philosophical opinions. He represents with unnatural consistency the upper classes as invariably corrupt and tyrannical, and the lower as invariably honest and deserving. His theories are not only inartistically prominent, but are worthless and immoral. He looks upon a tax-gatherer as a thief, and condones feminine unchastity as a trivial and unimportant offence.
The novelist most deeply embued with the doctrines of the French Revolution was William Godwin—a man of great literary ambition, and less literary capacity. His “Life of Chaucer” has the merits of a compilation, but not those of an original literary work. His political and social writings were merely reproductions of French revolutionary views, and were entirely discredited by Malthus' attacks upon them. The same lack of originality and of independent power characterized Godwin's novels. They all have a patch-work effect, and in all may be found the traces of imitation. “St. Leon” and “Mandeville" are dull attempts in the direction of the historical novel. “Fleetwood, or the New Man of Feeling” embodies some of the author's social views, and contains evidence of an imitation of Fielding and Smollett, in which only their coarseness is successfully copied.
But Godwin gave one book to the world which has acquired a notoriety which entitles it to a more extended notice than its intrinsic merits would otherwise justify. “Caleb Williams” was first published in 1794, and was widely read. Lord Byron is said to have threatened his wife that he would treat her as Falkland had treated Caleb Williams, and this fact brought the novel into prominence with the Byron controversy, and occasioned its republication in the present century. The author tells us that his object was “to comprehend a general review of the modes of domestic and unrecorded despotism by which man becomes the destroyer of man.” And this was to be done “without subtracting from the interest and passion by which a performance of this sort (a novel) ought to be characterized.” In both his didactic and his artistic purpose the author must be said to have failed. The story is briefly as follows: Falkland, who is represented as a man whose chief thought and consideration consist in guarding his honor from stain, stabs Tyrrel, his enemy, in the back, at night. He then allows two innocent men to suffer for the murder on the gallows. His aim, during the remainder of his life, is to prevent the discovery of his crime and the consequent disgrace to his name. Caleb Williams enters his employment as a secretary, discovers the secret with the greatest ease, and promises never to betray his patron. Williams soon becomes weary of his position, and attempts to escape. He is accused by Falkland of robbery and is imprisoned. He escapes from prison, and wanders about the country, always pursued by the hirelings of his master who use every means to render his life miserable. Finally he openly accuses Falkland of his crime, who confesses it and dies. The story is full of the most evident inconsistencies. There is no adequate reason for Tyrrel's hatred of Falkland, which leads to the murder. It is inconceivable that a man of Falkland's worship of honor should commit so dastardly a crime, and should suffer two innocent men to pay its penalty. The facility with which Falkland allows his secretary to discover a secret which would bring him to the gallows is entirely inconsistent with the strength of mind which the author imputes to his hero. Finally, the confession of crime, after so many years of secrecy, and when conscience must have been blunted by time and habit, is without adequate cause. The characters are very slightly sketched, and excite neither interest nor sympathy. Emily Melville resembles Pamela too closely, and Tyrrel is a poor reproduction of Squire Western.
Godwin tells us that, when thinking over “Caleb Williams,” he said to himself a thousand times: “I will write a tale, that shall constitute an epoch in the mind of the reader, that no one, after he has read it, shall ever be exactly the same man that he was before.” The effort, and straining after effect which this confession implies, are evident throughout the work. The reader's curiosity is continually excited by the promise of new interest and new developments, but he is as continually disappointed. The main idea of the story is certainly a striking one, but it is feebly carried out. The constitution of society cannot be effectively attacked by so improbable and exceptional an illustration of tyranny as the persecution of Caleb Williams.
[Footnote 189: It would be difficult to find a more bare-faced and impudent literary theft than the case in which Sterne appropriated to himself the remonstrance of Burton (“Anatomy of Melancholy"), against that very plagiarism which he (Sterne) was then committing. Burton said: “As apothecaries, we make new mixtures, every day pour out of one vessel into another * * * We weave the same web, still twist the same rope again and again.” Sterne says, with an effrontery all his own: “Shall we forever make new books, as apothecaries make new medicines, by pouring only out of one vessel into another? Are we forever to be twisting and untwisting the same rope—forever in the same track? forever at the same pace?” For Sterne's plagiarism, see Dr. Ferriar's “Essay and Illustrations,” also Scott's “Life of Sterne.”]
[Footnote 190: “Tristram Shandy,” orig. ed., vol. viii, chap. 8.]
[Footnote 191: “Rasselas,” chap. xliv. Contrast with Porter on “The Human Intellect,” pp. 371-2.]
[Footnote 192: See Scott's “Memoir of Johnson.”]
[Footnote 193: “The Reverie,” “The History of Arbaces,” “The Pilgrim,” “The History of John Juniper.”]
[Footnote 194: The facts of Brooke's life are taken from the introduction to the “Fool of Quality,” by Rev. Charles Kingsley, New York, 1860.]
[Footnote 195: Charles Kingsley, preface to the “Fool of Quality.”]
[Footnote 196: Kingsley's preface to “Fool of Quality.”]
[Footnote 197: “Alwyn,” “Anna St. Ives,” “Hugh Trevor,” “Bryan Perdue.”]
[Footnote 198: Published in 1817, when the author was far advanced in years.]
The publication of “Evelina,” in 1778, made a sensation which the merits of the work fully justified. The story of Miss Burney's early life, her furtive attempts at fictitious composition, the great variety of artistic and political characters who passed in review before her observant eyes at Dr. Burney's house have been made familiar by her own diary and letters. Petted and admired by Johnson, Mrs. Thrale, and the brilliant literary society of which they formed the centre, she lived sufficiently far into the present century to see the works of her early friends enrolled among the classics or consigned to oblivion, and to recognize that the approval of posterity had been added to the early fame of her own writings. As a very young girl, unnoticed by the distinguished persons who frequented her father's house, she had studied with careful attention the characters and manners of those who talked and moved about her. A strong desire to reproduce the impressions which filled her mind induced Miss Burney in her sixteenth year to devote her stolen hours of seclusion to fictitious composition. Discouraged in her early efforts by her stepmother, her habits of observation remained active, and took form, when the authoress was twenty five years old, in the famous novel of “Evelina.” The book was issued secretly and anonymously, the publisher even being ignorant of the writer's true name. But the immediate popularity and admiration which greeted the work soon led to its open acknowledgment by the happy young authoress.
And “Evelina” fully deserved the praise and interest which it obtained and still excites. The aim was to describe the difficulties and sensations of a young girl just entering life. The heroine chosen by Miss Burney was one whose circumstances particularly well suited her to form the centre of a varied collection of characters and of a comprehensive picture of contemporary society. Well connected on her father's side, Evelina moved in fashionable circles with the Mirvan family. On account of the origin of her mother she was brought into close contact with humbler personages, with Madame Duval and the Brangtons. Hence this novel presents to the reader a variety of social scenes which gives it a value possessed by no other work of fiction of the eighteenth century. No novelist has described so well or so fully the aspect of the theatres, of Vauxhall and Ranelagh, of Bath in the season, of the ridottos and assemblies of the London fashionable world. The shops, the amusements and the manners of the middle classes are made familiar to Evelina by her association with the Brangtons, and add greatly to the breadth of this valuable picture of metropolitan life. With a feminine attention to detail, and a quick perception of salient characteristics, Miss Burney described the world about her so faithfully and picturesquely as to deserve the thanks of every student of social history. The novel of “Evelina,” the letters of Horace Walpole and Mrs. Delany corroborate each other, and may be appropriately placed on the same shelf in a well-ordered library.
In the painting of manners Miss Burney was eminently successful. But she was hardly less so in a point in which excellence could not have been expected in so youthful a writer. The plot of “Evelina” is constructed with a skill worthy of a veteran. Fielding alone, of the eighteenth century novelists, can be said to surpass Miss Burney in this respect. The whole story of the mischances and misunderstanding of Evelina's intercourse with Lord Orville, the skill with which the various personages are brought into contact with each other and made to contribute to the final denoument, compose a truly artistic success. The introduction of Macartney and his marriage to the supposed daughter of Sir John Belmont form a very happy and effective invention.
In regard to her sketches of character, it may be objected that Miss Burney lacked breadth of treatment, that she dwelt on one distinctive characteristic at the expense of the others. But still, Lord Orville, though somewhat too much of a model, and Mrs. Selwyn, though somewhat too habitually a wit, are vivid and life-like characters. The Brangtons and Sir Clement Willougby are nature itself, and the girlish nature of Evelina is betrayed in her letters with great felicity.
It is no small triumph for Miss Burney, who has had so many and so deserving competitors in the department of literature to which she contributed, that her novels should have remained in active circulation for more than a century after their publication. “Cecilia” has much the same merits which distinguished “Evelina,” and the two novels bid fair to hold their own as long as English fiction retains its popularity. Johnson considered Miss Burney equal to Fielding. But although she possessed qualities similar to his—constructive power and picturesqueness—she possessed them in a lesser degree. In the management of the difficulties of the epistolary form of novel-writing, she surpassed Richardson in verisimilitude and concentration.
Some readers of the present day object to Miss Burney's novels that they contain so many references to “delicacy” and “propriety” that an air of affectation is produced. But at the time when “Evelina” was written, a perpetual discretion in actions and words was absolutely necessary to a young woman who did not wish to be subjected to libertine advances. Society is now so much more generally refined that there is far less danger of such misconstruction, and far less need for a young girl to be always on her guard. A sound objection, on the ground of taste, may be made against the excessively prolonged account of Captain Mirvan's brutalities. The effect might have been as well produced in a much shorter space, and the reader spared the uninteresting scenes which now fill so many repulsive pages. For this defect, however, we must blame the times more than the author.
Charlotte Lennox was the daughter of Sir James Ramsay, Lieutenant governor of New York, where she was born in 1720. When fifteen years of age she was sent to London, and there supported herself by her pen. Johnson said that he had “dined at Mrs. Garrick's with Mrs. Carter, Miss Hannah More, and Miss Fanny Burney: three such women are not to be found. I know not where I could find a fourth, except Mrs. Lennox, who is superior to them all.” Such high praise was not called forth by Mrs. Lennox's novels, which have little originality or power. “The Female Quixote” is an entertaining satire on the old French romances, but “Sophia,” and “Euphemia” are without any special interest.
A writer of more ability, whose name is still remembered by novel-readers, is Mrs. Inchbald. She was overcome in early life by an enthusiasm for the stage; ran away from home to find theatrical employment, and remained for many years a popular London actress. Although possessed of great and durable beauty, and the object of constant attention from aristocratic admirers, it is believed that her reputation continued unsullied. Her poverty, largely caused by a worthless husband, obliged her to perform the most menial labors. She rejoiced on one occasion that the approach of warmer weather released her from the duty of making fires, scouring the grate, sifting the cinders, and of going up and down three pair of long stairs with water or dirt. All this Mrs. Inchbald thought that she could cheerfully bear, but the labor of being a fine lady the remainder of the day was almost too much for her. “Last Thursday,” she wrote to a friend, “I finished scouring my bed-chamber, while a coach with a coronet and two footmen waited at the door to take me an airing.”
The same courage and industry were carried by Mrs. Inchbald into her literary labors, the profits of which enabled her to live with considerable comfort toward the end of her life. She left a large number of plays, many of which had been acted with success, and two novels, “A Simple Story,” published in 1791, and “Nature and Art,” published five years later. Neither of these works has much merit from a critical point of view. They are faulty in construction, and give frequent evidence of the authoress' lack of education.
Yet, in her ability to excite the interest and to move the feelings of her reader, Mrs. Inchbald met with great success. Her novels are of the pathetic order, and appeal to the sympathies with a sometimes powerful effect. Maria Edgeworth was deeply moved by the “Simple Story.” “Its effect upon my feelings,” she said after reading it for the fourth time, “was as powerful as at the first reading; I never read anynovel—I except none,—I never read any novel that affected me so strongly, or that so completely possessed me with the belief in the real existence, of all the persons it represents. I never once recollected the author whilst I was reading it; never said or thought, that's a fine sentiment,—or, that is well expressed—or, that is well invented; I believed all to be real, and was affected as I should be by the real scenes, if they had passed before my eyes; it is truly and deeply pathetic.”
The sisters, Harriet and Sophia Lee, wrote a number of stories gathered together under the rather unfortunate title of “The Canterbury Tales,” which had a long-continued popularity. “The Young Lady's Tale,” and “The Clergyman's Tale” were written by Sophia; all the others, together with the novel “Errors of Innocence,” belonged to Harriet. These stories have great narrative interest, and contain some powerfully drawn characters. Byron was deeply affected by some of them. Of the “German's Tale,” he confessed: “It made a deep impression on me, and may be said to contain the germ of much that I have since written.” It not only contained the germ of “Werner,” but supplied the whole material for that tragedy. All the characters of the novel are reproduced by Byron except “Ida,” whom he added. The plan of Miss Lee's work is exactly followed, as the poet admitted, and even the language is frequently adopted without essential change.
Charlotte Smith was a woman of talent and imagination who was driven to literature for aid in supporting a large family abandoned by their spendthrift father. She was among the most prolific novelists of her time, but only one work, “The Old Manor House,” enjoyed more than a passing reputation, or has any claim to particular mention here. The chief merit of Charlotte Smith's novels lies in their descriptions of scenery, an element only just entering into the work of the novelist.
Clara Reeve and the celebrated Mrs. Radcliffe did much to sustain the prominent position which women were taking in fictitious composition, and their works will be commented upon in connection with the romantic revival, to which movement they were eminent contributors.
Toward the end of the eighteenth century, the number and variety of works of fiction increased with remarkable rapidity. The female sex supplied its full share, both in amount and in excellence of work. But those who desire to see the advent of women into new walks of active life on the ground that their presence and participation add to the purity of every occupation they adopt, can find no illustration of the theory in the connection of women with fictitious composition. Mrs. Behn, Mrs. Manley, and Mrs. Heywood, the earliest female novelists, produced the most inflammatory and licentious novels of their time. At a later period, during the eighteenth century, although some female writers exhibited a very exceptional refinement, the majority showed in this respect no marked superiority to their masculine contemporaries. In our own time, whoever would make a list of those novels which are most evidently immoral in their teachings and licentious in their tone, would be obliged to seek them almost quite as much among the works of female writers, as among those of the rougher sex.
To write a really excellent novel, is among the most difficult of literary feats. But to write a poor one has often been found an easy undertaking. The apparent facility of fictitious composition has deceived great numbers of literary aspirants, and has filled the circulating libraries with a vast collection of thoroughly worthless productions. This unfortunate fecundity, to which the department of fiction is subject, began to be conspicuous at the end of the eighteenth century, and excited much opposition to novels of all kinds. Hannah More, in her essays on female education, inveighed against the evil in terms which are quite as applicable at the present day. “Who are those ever multiplying authors, that with unparalleled fecundity are overstocking the world with their quick-succeeding progeny? They are novel-writers; the easiness of whose productions is at once the cause of their own fruitfulness, and of the almost infinitely numerous race of imitators to whom they give birth. Such is the frightful facility of this species of composition, that every raw girl, while she reads, is tempted to fancy that she can also write. And as Alexander, on perusing the Iliad, found by congenial sympathy the image of Achilles stamped on his own ardent soul, and felt himself the hero he was studying; and as Correggio, on first beholding a picture which exhibited the perfection of the graphic art, prophetically felt all his own future greatness, and cried out in rapture: 'And I, too, am a painter!' So a thorough-paced novel-reading miss, at the close of every tissue of hackneyed adventures, feels within herself the stirring impulse of corresponding genius, and triumphantly exclaims: 'And I, too, am an author!' The glutted imagination soon overflows with the redundance of cheap sentiment and plentiful incident, and, by a sort of arithmetical proportion, is enabled by the perusal of any three novels, to produce a fourth; till every fresh production, like the prolific progeny of Banquo, is followed by
'Another, and another, and another!'”
[Footnote 199: Afterward Madame D'Arblay.]
[Footnote 200: See the “Progress of Romance,” by Clara Reeve, for the names of many now forgotten novels, for which room cannot be spared here.]
The writers who took the chief part in originating and sustaining the romantic revival in English fiction were Horace Walpole, Clara Reeve, and Mrs. Radcliffe. As we have called upon the testimony of Walpole so often in this work, and as we are now to consider him as an author, some account of his personal appearance may be of interest. “His figure,” says Miss Hawkins, “was not merely tall, but long and slender to excess; his complexion, and particularly his hands, of a most unhealthy paleness. His eyes were remarkably bright and penetrating, very dark and lively:—his voice was not strong, but his tones were extremely pleasant, and, if I may so say, highly gentlemanly. I do not remember his common gait; he always entered a room in that style of affected delicacy which fashion had then made almost natural;chapeau bras between his hands as if he wished to compress it, or under his arm; knees bent, and feet on tiptoe, as if afraid of a wet floor. His dress in visiting was most usually, in summer, when I most saw him, a lavender suit, the waistcoat embroidered with a little silver, or of white silk worked in the tambour, partridge silk stockings, and gold buckles, ruffles and frill generally lace. I remember, when a child, thinking him very much under-dressed, if at any time, except in mourning, he wore hemmed cambric. In summer, no powder, but his wig combed straight, and showing his very smooth, pale forehead, and queued behind; in winter, powder.”
Posterity has cause to regret that Horace Walpole, of all men best fitted by personal knowledge and ability to draw a picture of the brilliant society of his time, should have contributed no work in the department of realistic fiction. Had the keen observation and experience of the world so conspicuous in his letters been brought to bear on a narrative of real life not less ably constructed than that of “The Castle of Otranto,” an addition of no little value to the social history of the eighteenth century must have been the result. But although Walpole attempted no novel in which he might have depicted the fashionable life of which he was so faithful a chronicler, he yet tried an experiment in fiction for which he was peculiarly qualified by his antiquarian studies and his fondness for the arts and customs of feudal times.
The object of “The Castle of Otranto” was to unite the characteristic elements of the ancient romance with those of the modern novel. It was attempted to introduce into a narrative constructed with modern order and sequence, such supernatural events as controlled the incidents of romantic fiction. To accomplish this result, it was necessary that the mise en scene should be impressive and awe-inspiring, that the reader's mind should be insensibly prepared by strange surroundings for extraordinary incidents. In his selection of age and scene, Walpole was highly judicious. He chose the feudal period, when superstition accorded the most ready belief to supernatural agencies. He introduced his reader to a huge, gloomy castle, furnished with towers, donjons, subterranean passages, and trapdoors. He took for his hero, Manfred, a fierce and cruel knight, who had obtained his lands by duplicity and blood; whose chief aim in life was to continue his posterity in possession of wrongfully acquired power. He added subordinate characters of a kind to aid the effect of supernatural phenomena: a monk in a neighboring convent, who threatened Manfred with divine visitation for his crimes; superstitious servants, whose easy fears exaggerated every unusual sound or foot-fall. He gave an interest to his narrative by the love passages of Manfred's daughters which were perpetually at the mercy of the fate which hung over the castle. He introduced his supernatural effects in the form of a gigantic gauntlet seen on the stair-rail; a gigantic helmet which crushed the son and heir of the house as he was about to be married and to carry out his father's hopes; a skeleton monk who urged the rightful owner of the castle to take his own from the usurper's hands.
In attempting to make a regularly constructed narrative depend on supernatural agencies, Walpole undoubtedly succeeded as far as success was possible. But it may be said without hesitation that real success was unattainable. The very merits of “The Castle of Otranto” sustain this decision. The experiment had a fair trial. The narrative of Manfred's crimes and the punishments visited upon them, the characters and actions of subordinate personages are all managed with skill; while the supernatural agencies are introduced at the proper times and have the expected effects. But the real test of success in such an attempt must lie in the impression made on the reader's mind. And this impression may be of two kinds. Let us imagine a group of young people sitting about the dying embers of a fire on a winter's evening, listening to a ghost story. The black darkness, the sound of the wind howling without, accord with the low tones, the dim light, and the tale of horror within. The minds of the listeners insensibly cast off their ordinary trains of thought, and give themselves up to the unreal impressions of the moment. The incredible circumstances of the apparition are accepted without question or criticism; the impression of the supernatural occurrences is alone thought of and enjoyed. But now, let the same tale be read aloud after breakfast, from a newspaper, with the affidavits of the witnesses of the apparition duly attached, and only laughter can be the result.
Now let us apply the same test to romance. We open the “Morte d'Arthur”; we find ourselves at once in an unreal, almost nameless land; we meet with knights whom we only know apart by their armor, and queens ambling through pathless forests on white palfreys; we attend brilliant tournaments and witness superhuman deeds of arms. Our minds, untroubled by scepticism and thoughtless of unreality, yield themselves to the poetical illusion. Who stops to think of the incredible when Sir Bedivere hurls into the lake the dying Arthur's sword Excalibur?
Then Sir Bedivere departed, and went to the sword, and lightly took
it up, and went to the water side, and there he bound the girdle
about the hilts, and then he threw the sword as far into the water
as he might, and there came an arm and an hand above the water, and
met it, and caught it, and so shook it thrice and brandished, and
then vanished away the hand with the sword in the water.
But when we are introduced to the castle of Otranto, when we know its dimensions and appearance, when we have become acquainted with its inmates, and have been made to realize that they are flesh and blood like ourselves, we cannot receive without a shock the account of the supernatural occurrences by which they are affected. It is as if we listened to a ghost story in the glare of daylight, and in the full activity of our critical faculties.
“Thou art no lawful prince,” said Jerome; “thou art no prince—go,
discuss thy claim with Frederic; and when that is done——” “It is
done,” replied Manfred; “Frederic accepts Matilda's hand, and is
content to waive his claim, unless I have no male issue.” As he
spoke these words three drops of blood fell from the nose of
“The Castle of Otranto” is an entertaining, well-constructed romance which may absorb the attention of young people, and indeed of all readers who delight in tales of superstitious horror. But looked upon as a work of art, it contains discordant elements. The realistic manner in which the scene and characters are made known, the exactitude with which the incidents are combined, are in constant opposition to that poetical ideality without which the supernatural cannot take possession of the mind. In reading the “Morte d'Arthur” we are insensibly penetrated by an atmosphere of the marvellous which makes a giant a natural companion, and a magic sword a necessary part of a warrior's outfit. But Manfred and his family are so essentially human, and their surroundings are so realistic, that the reader's sense of congruity is shocked by the introduction of a bleeding statue or a skeleton monk.
This was evident to Miss Clara Reeve, who hoped to attain success in the attempt to unite the romance and the novel by limiting all supernatural occurrences to the verge of probability. It is obvious that the line would be difficult to draw. Miss Reeve drew it at ghosts. In the “Old English Baron,” she took a story similar to that of Walpole. She presented to the reader a castle whose real owner had been murdered, and of which the rightful heir, ignorant of his birth, lived as a dependent on the wrongful possessor. The story turned on the revelation of the secret by the ghost of the murdered knight.
“God defend us!” said Edmund; “but I verily believe that the person
that owned this armor lies buried under us.” Upon this a dismal,
hollow groan was heard, as if from underneath. A solemn silence
ensued, and marks of fear were visible upon all three; the groan
was thrice heard.
To the average mind of the present day Clara Reeve's ghost is not less improbable and incredible than Walpole's gigantic helmet. If the reader is prepared by the poetic nature of a narrative for the influence of the supernatural, he will receive all marvels with equal ease; but if he be not prepared, if his mind be occupied during the greater part of the work with actual and ordinary occurrences, any supernatural event is rejected. Miss Reeve introduced far less of the incredible than her predecessor, but she did not approach Walpole in the adaptation of her scenes to supernatural effects. It requires less imagination to see a figure walk out of a portrait in the gloomy castle of Otranto, than to hear the groan of Miss Reeve's spectre.
The incompatibility of the real and the unreal in the same work is sufficiently shown by the course pursued by the different writers who took part in the romantic revival. Walpole had boldly introduced a skeleton monk, and had crushed one of his characters by a gigantic helmet which fell from the sky. Clara Reeve's sense of congruity was shocked by so strong a contrast between the usual and the extraordinary, and therefore limited herself to a single supernatural effect, which might inspire fear while yet remaining within the bounds of superstitious credulity. The next and greatest contributor to the romantic revival still further modified the methods of her predecessors, and in so modifying them, testified her doubts of their efficacy. Mrs. Radcliffe's plan was not to summon a spectre from his resting-place and to make him move among flesh and blood personages. She simply described the superstitious fears of her heroes and heroines, and sought to make her reader share in them. She excited the imagination by highly wrought scenes of horror, but instead of ascribing those scenes to the intervention of supernatural beings, she showed them to proceed from natural causes. The terror felt, by her fictitious characters and shared by the reader, was not so much inspired by real dangers from without, as by superstitious fear within. The following passage will illustrate Mrs. Radcliffe's method of dealing with the supernatural:
From the disturbed slumber into which she then sunk, she was soon
awakened by a noise, which seemed to arise within her chamber; but
the silence that prevailed, as she tearfully listened, inclined her
to believe that she had been alarmed by such sounds as sometimes
occur in dreams, and she laid her head again upon the pillow.
A return of the noise again disturbed her, it seemed to come from
that part of the room which communicated with the private
staircase, and she instantly remembered the odd circumstance of the
door having been fastened during the preceding night by some
unknown hand. The late alarming suspicion concerning its
communication also occurred to her. Her heart became faint with
terror. Half raising herself from the bed, and gently drawing aside
the curtain, she looked toward the door of the staircase, but the
lamp that burnt on the hearth spread so feeble a light through the
apartment, that the remote parts of it were lost in shadow. The
noise, however, which she was convinced came from the door,
continued. It seemed like that made by the undrawing of rusty
bolts, and often ceased, and was then renewed more gently, as if
the hand that occasioned it was restrained by a fear of discovery.
While Emily kept her eyes fixed on the spot, she saw the door move,
and then slowly open, and perceived something enter the room, but
the extreme duskiness prevented her perceiving what it was. Almost
fainting with terror, she had yet sufficient command over herself
to check the shriek that was escaping from her lips, and, letting
the curtain drop from her hand, continued to observe in silence the
motions of the mysterious figure she saw. It seemed to glide along
the remote obscurity of the apartment, then paused, and, as it
approached the hearth, she perceived, in the stronger light, what
appeared to be a human figure. Certain remembrances now struck upon
her heart, and almost subdued the feeble remains of her spirit. She
continued, however, to watch the figure, which remained for some
time motionless, but then, advancing slowly toward the bed, stood
silently at the feet, where the curtains, being a little open,
allowed her still to see it; terror, however, had now deprived her
of the power of discrimination, as well as that of utterance.
This scene is an excellent example of Mrs. Radcliffe's power of depicting and exciting fear. The loneliness of Emily in the castle, her dread of real dangers inclining her mind to expect the unreal, are shown with an art of which neither Walpole nor Reeve were capable. But, while these writers would have introduced a real spectre as the disturber of Emily's slumber, Mrs. Radcliffe is contented with the terror she has aroused, and hastens to explain its cause.
Having continued there a moment, the form retreated towards the
hearth, when it took the lamp, held it up, surveyed the chamber for
a few moments, and then again advanced towards the bed. The light
at that instant awakening the dog that had slept at Emily's feet,
he barked loudly, and, jumping to the floor, flew at the stranger,
who struck the animal smartly with a sheathed sword, and springing
towards the bed, Emily discovered—Count Morano.
These passages afford evidence of both the strength and the weakness of Mrs. Radcliffe's work. She chose a scene calculated to inspire horror, she subjected to its influence a lonely female, and she then described with blood-curdling minuteness each detail which could enhance the sense of hidden danger which it was her purpose to excite. While the reader follows such portions of her writings, he is carried by the force and picturesqueness of Mrs. Radcliffe's language into a condition of sympathy with the fears of the fictitious personage. But the moment that the scene of horror is past, that the hidden danger is revealed, that, it turns out to be no ghost but only a Count Morano, all Mrs. Radcliffe's power is required to prevent an anti-climax. This weakness is very different from that of Walpole or Reeve. They failed to excite the feeling of superstitious fear. Mrs. Radcliffe excited it, but she destroyed its effect by revealing the inadequacy of its cause. The works of Walpole, Clara Reeve, and particularly of Mrs. Radcliffe, contain very decided merits. They made a school which has found many admirers and has given a vast deal of pleasure. But the school was founded on wrong principles and could not endure. It is impossible for the mind to enjoy the supernatural while it is chained down to every-day life by realistic descriptions of scenes and persons. And it is equally impossible to permanently please by fear-inspiring narratives, when the reader is aware that all the while there is no sufficient cause for the hero's terror.
But what Mrs. Radcliffe attempted, she carried out with a very great skill. She placed the scenes of her narratives in Sicily, in Italy, or the south of France, and made good use of the warm natures and vivid imaginations which are born of southern climates. Every aid which an effective mise en scene could supply to her supernatural effects was most skilfully brought into play. Lonely castles, secret passages, gloomy churches, and monkish superstitions,—all were adapted to the tale of unknown dangers and fearful predicaments which Mrs. Radcliffe had to tell. She kept up with remarkable strength a supernatural tone which insensibly aids the imagination. In her descriptions of scenery, she chose nature in its most awe-inspiring forms, and instilled into the reader's mind the same sense of the insignificance of man, under the influence of which her heroes and heroines so continually remain. We are reminded of Buckle's description of the effect of nature upon human imagination and credulity when we notice the striking manner in which Mrs. Radcliffe moulded the surroundings of her heroes and heroines, and made their minds susceptible to superstitious terror.
From Beaujeu the road had constantly ascended, conducting the
travellers into the higher regions of the air, where immense
glaciers exhibited their frozen horrors, and eternal snow whitened
the summits of the mountains. They often paused to contemplate
these stupendous scenes, and, seated on some wild cliff, where only
the ilex or the larch could flourish, looked over dark forests of
fir, and precipices where human foot had never wandered, into the
glen—so deep that the thunder of the torrent, which was seen to
foam along the bottom was scarcely heard to murmur. Over these
crags rose others of stupendous height and fantastic shape; some
shooting into cones; others impending far over their base, in huge
masses of granite, along whose broken ridges was often lodged a
weight of snow, that, trembling even to the vibration of a sound,
threatened to bear destruction in its course to the vale. Around on
every side, far as the eye could penetrate, were seen only forms of
grandeur the long perspective of mountain tops, tinged with
ethereal blue, or white with snow; valleys of ice, and forests of
gloomy fir. * * * The deep silence of these solitudes was broken
only at intervals by the scream of the vultures, seen cowering
round some cliff below, or by the cry of the eagle sailing high in
the air; except when the travellers listened to the hollow thunder
that sometimes muttered at their feet.
Lewis in “The Monk,” and Maturin in “The Family of Montorio,” carried the principles of the Radcliffe school beyond the verge of absurdity. Their novels are wild melodramas, the product of distorted imaginations, in which endless horrors are mingled with gross violations of decency. “The Monk” and “The Family of Montorio” had a great reputation in their day, and in contemporary criticism we find their praise sung and their immortality predicted. But, while they illustrate, on the one hand, the temporary vogue an author may acquire by highly-wrought clap-trap and flashy flights of imagination, they show very plainly, in the oblivion which has overtaken them, how little such characteristics avail in the race for enduring fame.
[Footnote 201: “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” chap. xix.]
[Footnote 202: “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” ch. iv.]
At the end of the eighteenth century, the novel had become established as a popular form of literature, and the number of its votaries had begun to assume the proportions which have since made novelists by far the most numerous literary body. Some writers, perhaps, have been omitted who deserved mention as much as some who have been commented upon. But all have been spoken of, it is believed, who contributed any new ideas or methods to the art of fictitious composition.
The novel had, indeed, taken the place of the stage to a very great extent. If we compare the productions of the dramatist with those of the novelist, as regards both quantity and merit, during the last hundred and fifty years, we shall perceive a great preponderance in favor of the writer of fiction. Although there are some respects in which the novel cannot compete with the drama, there are obvious reasons why the former should be much better adapted than the latter to modern requirements. Great changes have come over the audience. With the progress of civilization, life has become less and less dramatic, and affords fewer striking scenes and violent ebullitions of passion. It not only furnishes far less material for stage effects, but also supplies little of that sympathy which the dramatist must find in the minds of his audience. While life has become less dramatic, it has become far more complex, and requires a broader treatment in its delineation than the restrictions of the stage can allow.
As we look back upon the fiction of the eighteenth century it is evident that the novel, like the play, is capable of great uses and of great abuses, according to the spirit in which it is written. In the hands of Defoe, Richardson, Fielding, Goldsmith, and Miss Burney, it reached a high position as a work of art. It retained, indeed, much of the manner of the story of adventure, inasmuch as the interest was more commonly made to depend on the fortunes of a chosen hero than on the development of a well constructed plot. But “Robinson Crusoe,” “Tom Jones,” “The Vicar of Wakefield,” and “Evelina,” are works which deserve and possess the interest of the present time. Such books as these are to be cherished as precious legacies from the years that have gone before. They have given, in the course of their long active circulation, an incalculable amount of pleasure. They have supplied posterity with a picturesque view of the life and manners of their ancestors which could not be acquired from any other source. But while the fiction of the eighteenth century includes much that is valuable from a literary and from a historical point of view, it includes also a great quantity of worthless and injurious writing. By far the larger number of novels published were of a kind likely to exert an evil influence on their readers. Their coarseness and licentiousness had a strong tendency to disseminate the morbid thoughts and unregulated passions which dictated their production. So general was the feeling that a work of fiction would probably contain immoral and debasing views of life, that the novel and the novelist, were both looked upon askance. “In the republic of letters,” said Miss Burney, “there is no member of such inferior rank, or who is so much disdained by his brethren of the quill, as the humble novelist; nor is his fate less hard in the world at large, since, among the whole class of writers perhaps not one can be named of which the votaries are more numerous but less respectable.” Miss Edgeworth, in the beginning of the present century, felt it necessary to call her first novel “a moral tale,” because so much folly, error, and vice are disseminated in books classed “under the denomination of novels.” A great part of the fiction of the last century, as indeed of our own time, possesses neither the value of a work of art nor that belonging to the description and preservation of contemporary manners. Nor could the excuse of the amusement they afforded be called up in their favor. No amusement is worth having which is not healthy and innocent. The general prejudice which formerly existed against novels very much lessened their circulation, and lessened the evil done by licentious productions. Careful parents did not allow a novel in their children's hands which had not passed an examination—a precaution now too generally neglected.
But notwithstanding all the trash, and worse than trash, which has gone into circulation under the broad and attractive term of novel, it is evident that the English speaking public on both sides of the Atlantic demand purity in the works of fiction which are submitted to its judgment. While no literary work can present a greater claim to permanent favor than a really good novel, none is more certain to be quite ephemeral than a bad one, whether its badness consist in the manner or the matter. For more than a hundred years “The Vicar of Wakefield” has held its own, while hundreds of novels which created more sensation at the time of their appearance have fallen into everlasting oblivion. And this triumph is not only due to literary excellence, but to the human excellence of the conception which Goldsmith gave to the world.