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THERE are a hundred faults in this thing, 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, an 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. In this age of opulence and refinement, whom can such a character please? Such as are fond of high life, will turn with disdain from the simplicity of his country fireside; such as mistake ribaldry for humour, will find no wit in his harmless conversation; and such as have been taught to deride religion, will laugh at one, whose chief stores of comfort are drawn from futurity.
[We do not think it necessary to offer any laboured criticism of a work so well known as the VICAR OF WAKEFIELD. Its beauties are sufficiently obvious, and they have already secured for it an extent of popularity scarcely paralleled in the history of English literature. It possesses the rare merit of interesting the young and delighting readers of mature judgment: nor is it its least merit that while it amuses the fancy and cultivates the taste, it is calculated to improve the heart by cherishing every better principle and tender affection. In the beautiful language of Sir Walter Scott, "we read it 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." We may be permitted, however, to point out some slight imperfections in this exquisite story of domestic life, though, if we consider the circumstances of pecuniary difficulties under which it was finished, they ought perhaps to be ascribed rather to haste than to any deficiency of judgment on the part of the author.
Of these the most obvious is, the inferiority of the latter to the earlier part of the story. Towards the close, the incidents are too much crowded together, forced, and even improbable ; and the catastrophe thus loses part of its intended effect, inasmuch as it is not brought about gradually by a happy combination of probable events, connected with, and for which we have been prepared by, the progress of the narrative. The Vicar's misfortunes do indeed serve the very important purpose of calling forth the sterling virtues of his character, but they might have done this with equal effect, though they had been made more natural in their origin and less improbable in their progress and accumulation. Rapid and violent successions of great happiness and extreme wretchedness, where both seem fortuitous, and come upon us unexpectedly, however they may serve the purpose of a vulgar novelist, spoil the harmony of a story like the Vicar of Wakefield, which is all but a finished picture of simple nature.
A more serious objection has been made to this part of the story, by the Edinburgh Review, (art. on Standard Novels, Feb. 1815,) viz. that "it is an almost entire plagiarism from Wilson's account of himself, and Adams' domestic history, in Fielding's Joseph Andrews." This, however, is an idle charge. A similarity may indeed be traced in some of the incidents; and the character of the Vicar may have been suggested, indeed probably was, by that of Parson Adams; but in other respects, the resemblance is too slight to warrant the charge of plagiarism,
Goldsmith and Fielding both copied too closely after nature not to have many casual resemblances in painting the same class of characters.
The author has been guilty of a strange oversight in describing Sir William Thornhill as a man under thirty years of age, while his nephew, Squire Thornhill, who must necessarily be supposed to have been the son of a younger brother, is introduced at the same time as having already run a long course of debauchery and profligacy. Sir William's masquerading among his tenants has also been justly objected to by Sir Walter Scott, as a little too improbable. The Vicar's eldest son, George, is somewhat deficient in that delicacy and proud independence of spirit which we are accustomed to expect in a hero of fiction. The circumstance of his having been at one time the creature and flatterer of young Thornhill, and at another the associate of a quack in Paris, takes away from the interest which we would otherwise have felt in the accepted lover of Miss Wilmot, and the gallant avenger of his sister's wrongs. The other characters are happily conceived, and admirably supported. The eccentric character of Mr Burchell is not perhaps to be found in nature; but it is not so far removed from nature as to be improbable. Moses is admirable; so are the Flamboroughs. Mrs Primrose is, perhaps, a little too vulgar for the rank of life in which the family of Wakefield are first introduced to the reader; yet, had she been more polished, she would, in all probability, have been less interesting. The character of the Vicar himself is one of the finest compliments ever paid to human nature. Humble and generous in his prosperous circumstances, dignified in his humble fortunes-tempering the impatience of his feelings as a man, with the remembrance of his duty as a Christian minister-intolerant of vice, yet patient with the viciouspious and learned-deeply imbued with Christian knowledge, and adorned with the graces of the Christian character,·
-Try each part, reprove each dull delay,
The great excellence of the VICAR OF WAKEFIELD, which depends so little on intricacy of plot and the succession of surprising events, consists in its exquisite touches of pathos its quiet humour-the amiable picture which it draws of domestic life, and the lessons of virtue which it inculcates in so engaging a form as to win the heart, and with so much dignity as to command the respect even of the profligate. — B.]