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and least of all do we anticipate any splendid accession to the posthumous fame of an author, whose talents do not, in the present day, rank him above a dignified and respectable mediocrity.
MATURIN'S FATAL REVENGE.
[Fatal Revenge ; or, the Family of Montorio : a Romance.
By DENNIS JASPER MURPHY.' 3 vols. 8vo. London. 1807.- Quarterly Review, 1810.]
L’APPRENDS d'être vif. Such was the noted answer of a German baron who had alarmed a whole Parisian hotel by leaping over joint-stools in his solitary apartment. This mode of qualifying himself for the lively conversation of the French was probably attended with some fatigue to the worthy Frei-herr's person, and perhaps some damage to his shins; with which we the more readily sympathize, as, in compliance with the hint of several well-meaning friends, we are just taking the
[Afterwards avowed of the Rev. C. R. Maturin.]
pen after some desperate efforts pour apprendre à être vif. It was whispered to us, in no unfriendly voice, that we were respectable classical scholars, divines at least as serious as was necessary, tolerable politicians, considering the old-fashioned nature of our principles, and as good philosophers as could be expected of persons obviously trammelled by belief in the tenets which, in compliance with ancient custom, are still delivered once in seven days to those who choose to hear them. It seemed further to be allowed, that we were indifferent good hands at a sarcasm, and displayed some taste for poetry; but still we were not lively—that is, we had none of those light and airy articles which a young lady might read while her hair was papering. To sum up all in one dismal syllable, it was insinuated that we were dull. To prove the futility of the charge, we resolved to extend the sphere of our enquiries ; and to review not only the grave and weighty, but the flitting and evanescent productions of the times; for the purpose of giving full scope to our ingenuity, and evincing the vivacity of our talents, so wantonly called in question. The want of proper subjects for the exercise of our powers was the first dilemma.
We had no friendly correspondent at the court of Paris who, with a sentimental flourish on the peace which ought to subsist in the republic of letters, though war raged between the respective countries of the sages, might forward, through some kind neutral, the last new novel or the latest philosophical discovery of the Institute, and only expect us, in requital, to give the wit and learning and science of the Great Nation its reasonable and just precedence over those of our own country. What then was to be done? After some consideration, we sent to our publisher for an assortment of the newest and most fashionable novels, hoping to find among the frivolous articles of domestic manufacture something to supply the want of foreign importation. It is from a laborious inspection into the contents of this packet, or rather hamper, that we are now risen with the painful conviction that spirits and patience may be as completely exhausted in perusing trifles as in following algebraical calculations. Before proceeding, however, to the novel selected almost at random for the subject of a few remarks, we cannot but express our surprise at the present degradation of this class of compositions.
The elegant and fascinating productions which honoured the name of novel, those which Richardson, Mackenzie, and Burney, gave to the public; of which it was the object to exalt virtue and degrade vice; to which no fault could be objected unless that they unfitted here and there a romantic mind for the common intercourse of life, while they refined perhaps a thousand whose faculties could better bear the fair ideal which they presentedthese have entirely vanished from the shelves of the circulating library. It may indeed be fairly alleged in defence of those who decline attempting this higher and more refined species of composition, that the soil was in some degree exhausted by overcropping—that the multitude of base and tawdry imitations obscured the merit of the few which are tolerable, as the overwhelming blaze of blue, red, green, and yellow, at the exhibition, vitiates our taste for the few good paintings which show their modest hues upon its walls. The public was indeed weary of the protracted embarrassments of lords and ladies who spoke such language as was never spoken, and still more so of the sea-saw correspondence between the sentimental Lady Lucretia and the witty Miss Caroline, who battledored it in the pathetic and the lively, like Morton and Reynolds on the stage. But let us be just to dead and to living merit. In some of the novels of the late Charlotte Smith, we found no ordinary portion of that fascinating power which leads us through every various scene of happiness or distress at the will of the author; which places the passions of the wise and grave for a time under the command of ideal personages; and perhaps has more attraction for the public at large than any other species of literary composition, the drama not excepted. Nor do we owe less to Miss Edgeworth, whose true and vivid pictures of modern life contain the only sketches reminding us of human beings, whom, secluded as we are, we have actually seen and conversed with in various parts of this great metropolis.
When we had removed from the surface of our hamper a few thin volumes of simple and insipid sentiment; taken a moment's breath; and exclaimed “ O Athenians, how hard we labour for your applause !” we lighted upon a class of books which excited sterner sensations. There existed formerly a species of novel of a tragi-comic nature, which, far from pretending to the extreme sentiment and delicacy of the works last mentioned, admitted, like the elder English comedy, a considerable dash of coarse and even indelicate humour.
Such were the compositions of Fielding; and such of Smollet, the literary Hogarth, whose figures, though they seldom attained grace or elegance, were marked with indelible truth and peculiarity of character. Instead of this kind of comic satire, in which to borrow a few words of Old Withers, abuses, when whipped, were perhaps stripped a little too bare, we have now the lowest denizens of Grub Street narrating, under the flimsy veil of false names, and through the medium of a fictitious tale, all that malevolence can invent and stupidity propagate concerning private misfortunes and personal characters. We have our Winters in London, Bath, and Brighton, of which it is the dirty object to drag forth the secret history of the day, and to give to Scandal a court of written record. The talent which most of these things indicate is that of the lowest newspaper composition, and the acquaintance with the fashionable world precisely what might be gleaned from the footman or porter ; while the portraits of Bow Street officers, swindlers, and bailiffs, are possibly drawn from a more intimate acquaintance. The shortness of our cruise has not yet permitted us to fall in with any of these picaroons ; but let them beware, as Lieutenant Bowling says, how they come athwart our hawser;