Imatges de pÓgina
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one might just as reasonably calculate on the intervention of a fairy, as on the train of lucky chances which combine first to involve Tom Jones in his difficulties, and afterwards to extricate him. Perhaps, indeed, the supernatural fable is of the two not only (as we before remarked) the less mischievous in its moral effects, but also the more correct kind of composition in point of taste: the author lays down a kind of hypothesis of the existence of ghosts, witches, or fairies, and professes to describe what would take place under that hypothesis; the novelist, on the contrary, makes no demand of extraordinary machinery, but professes to describe what may actually take place, according to the existing laws of human affairs: if he therefore present us with a series of events quite unlike any which ever do take place, we have reason to complain that he has not made good his professions.

When, therefore, the generality, even of the most approved novels, were of this character (to say nothing of the heavier charges brought, of inflaming the passions of young persons by warm descriptions, weakening their abhorence of profligacy, by exhibiting it in combination with the most engaging qualities, and presenting vice in all its allurements, while setting forth the triumphs of “ virtue rewarded”) it is not to be wondered that the grave guardians of youth should have generally stigmatized the whole class, as " serving only to fill young people's heads with romantic love-stories, and rendering them anfit to mind any thing else.” That this censure and caution should in many instances be indiscriminate, can surprise no one, who recollects how rare a quality discrimination is; and how much better it suits indolence, as well as ignorance, to lay down a rule, than to ascertain the exceptions to it: we are acquainted with a careful mother whose daughters, while they never in their lives read a novel of any kind, are permitted to peruse, without reserve, any plays that happen to fall in their way; and with another, from whom no lessons, however excellent, of wisdom and piety, contained in a prose-fiction, can obtain quarter ; but who, on the other hand, is no less indiscriminately indulgent to her children in the article of tales in verse, of whatever character.

The change, however, which we have already noticed, as having taken place in the character of several modern novels, has operated in a considerable degree to do away this prejudice; and has elevated this species of composition, in some respects at least, into a much higher class. For most of that instruction which used to be presented to the world in the shape of formal dissertations, or shorter and more desultory moral essays, such as those of the Spectator and Rambler, we may now resort to the pages of the acute and judicious, but not less amusing, novelists who have lately appeared. If their views of men and manners are no less just than those of the essayists who preceded them, are they to be rated lower, because they present to us these views, not in the language of general descrip

tion, but in the form of well-constructed fictitious narrative ? If the practical lessons they inculcate, are no less sound and useful, it is surely no diminution of their merit that they are conveyed by example instead of precept; nor, if their remarks are neither less wise nor less important, are they the less valuable for being represented as thrown out in the course of conversations suggested by the circumstances of the speakers, and perfectly in character. The praise and blame of the moralist are surely not the less effectual for being bestowed, - not in general declamation, on classes of men, but on individuals representing those classes, who are so clearly delineated and brought into action before us, that we seem to be acquainted with them, and feel an interest in their fate.

Biography is allowed, on all hands, to be one of the most attractive and profitable kinds of reading : now such novels as we have been speaking of, being a kind of fictitious biography, bear the same relation to the real, that epic and tragic poetry, according to Aristotle, bear to history; they present us (supposing, of course, each perfect in its kind) with the general, instead of the particularthe probable instead of the true; and by leaving out those accidental irregularities, and exceptions to general rules, which constitute the many improbabilities of real narrative, present us with a clear and abstracted view of the general rules themselves; and thus concentrate, as it were, into a small compass, the net result of wide experience.

Among the authors of this school there is no one superior, if equal, to the lady whose last production is now before us, and whom we have much regret in finally taking leave of: her death in the prime of life, considered as a writer) being announced in this the first publication to which her name is prefixed. We regret the failure not only of a source of innocent amusement, but also of that supply of practical good sense and instructive example, which she would probably have continued to furnish better than any of her contemporaries :-Miss Edgeworth, indeed, draws characters and details conversations, such as they occur in real life, with a spirit and fidelity not to be surpassed ; but her stories are most romantically improbable in the sense above explained), almost all the important events of them being brought about by most providential coincidences ; and this, as we have already remarked, is not merely faulty, inasmuch as it evinces a want of skill in the writer, and gives an air of clumsiness to the fiction, but is a very considerable drawback on its practical utility; the personages either of fiction or history being then only profitable examples, when their good or ill conduct meets its appropriate reward, not from a sort of

[Miss Jane Austen was born in 1775, at Steventon, in Hants, of which parish her father was rector upwards of forty years. On his death, she removed with her mother and sister for a short time to Southampton, and finally, iu 1809, to the pleasant village of Chawton, in the same county; from which place this amiable and accomplished lady sent her novels into the world. In May, 1817, symptoms of a deep decay induced her removal to Winchester, for the benefit of constant medical aid. She died there in July following, in her forty-second year.]

independent machinery of accidents, but as a necessary or probable result, according to the ordinary course of affairs. Miss Edgeworth also is somewhat too avowedly didactic: that seems to be true of her, which the French critics, in the extravagance of their conceits, attributed to Homer and Virgil ; viz. that they first thought of a moral, and then framed a fable to illustrate it ; she would, we think, instruct more successfully, and she would, we are sure, please more frequently, if she kept the design of teaching more out of sight, and did not so glaringly press every circumstance of her story, principal or subordinate, into the service of a principle to be inculcated, or information to be given. A certain portion of moral instruction must accompany every well-invented narrative. Virtue must be represented as producing, at the long run, happiness; and vice, misery; and the accidental events, that in real life interrupt this tendency, are anomalies which, though true individually, are as false generally as the accidental deformities which vary the average outline of the human figure. They would be as much out of place in a fictitious narrative, as a wen in an academic model. But any direct attempt at moral teaching, and any attempt whatever to give scientific information, will, we fear, unless managed with the utmost discretion, interfere with what, after all, is the immediate and peculiar object of the novelist, as of the poet, to please. If instruction do not join as a volunteer, she will do no good service. Miss Edgeworth’s novels put us in mind of those clocks and watches which are con

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