Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση
[ocr errors]

could cull fine passages, although it is stiff, and dull to read all through. The Minstrel is in Spenserian measure ; its

hero, Edwin, a youth full of aspiration and good1735-1803

ness, is tutored by an old hermit, who discourses to him on all noble themes. Beattie also wrote that ballad of The Hermit whose opening lines are so familiar :

At the close of the day, when the hamlet is still,

And mortals the sweets of forgetfulness prove." Beattie published his works as the last quarter of the century began. Before we enter upon a period full of events, I wish to go back a space and trace for you the history of the novel in the eighteenth century.






HE novel, which in the present is the most widely read

of any kind of book that issues from the printingpress, is really a plant of comparatively recent growth in literature. In

my Talks thus far, I have been able to show you very few works of prose fiction. In the sixteenth century there were occasional long and rather tedious romances, among the best of which are Sidney's Arcadia and Lyly's Euphues. In the seventeenth century we have no great work that can be called a novel, unless we should reckon John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in the list.

The nearest approach to the prose fiction of the present, previous to the middle of the eighteenth century, is found in De Foe's works, which are nearly all biographical relations, like Robinson Crusoe and Colonel Jack.

I think, therefore, the birth of the modern novel of society, reflecting the life, manners, and conversation of the age, is usually dated from the middle of the eighteenth century, when Richardson and Fielding began to write.

The pioneer in the novel of sentiment, which has for its subject the various distresses and moving situations in the lives of a pair of lovers, is SAMUEL RICHARDSON. The first fifty years of his life seem to have been a slow

1689–1761 preparation for the work which filled his later years.

He was a delicate and rather shy boy, who sought the society of women and girls rather than of boys of his own age.

He showed early an ability for letter-writing, and when a boy was largely employed by the young women of his acquaintance in writing their love-letters. In this way, no

. doubt, the style afterwards used in his novels — all of which are written in the form of letters was first formed. But notwithstanding his early experience with the pen, Richardson was not drawn from the ordinary pursuits of life by it. He was bred a printer, learned his trade thoroughly, and when he had served a seven years' apprenticeship married his master's daughter and went into business for himself, in the good old orthodox style of doing things. He was over fifty years old, in easy circumstances, living in a snug little villa, the fruit of his honest labors, when he began to write his first novel. He says that two publishers, business friends, whom he had often furnished with prefaces and other garnishes to the works he printed for them, asked him why he did not write some letters in the form of a novel, illustrating scenes in real life. They probably saw his talent in that direction, and thought that by means of it they might turn an honest penny for themselves and him. He took their advice, and his first famous novel, Pamela, was the result.

Were we to read Pamela to-day, knowing nothing of its history, the excitement and delight it caused on its first appearance would be incredible.

While he was writing it he began by reading a little to his wife and a young lady visitor; and after that he says they came every night to his

; study, saying, “ Have you any more of Pamela, Mr. Richardson? We have come to have a little more of Pamela."

On its publication the story took every woman's heart by storm ; nor was the admiration of the book confined to women only: it was read by men of the world as well as by scholars and critics. It created a sensation almost as great in France as in England, and the greatest thinkers in France, who were laying the foundations of ideas that were soon to appear in the French Revolution, left off for the time discussion of graver matters, while they read with delight Samuel Richardson's novels.

It was several years after Pamela that Clarissa Harlowe appeared. This was his greatest success, and carried him to a height of fame that might have turned a stronger head than his. In both novels the plot had the same mainspring. Each heroine is subjected to the persecutions of an unprincipled lover, through whose baseness she suffers all kinds of trials; in the end the servant-maid, Pamela, turns her suitor into a good husband by force of her beauty and virtues, while the gifted Clarissa sinks under the wrongs she suffers from the depraved Lovelace, and after calmly arranging her funeral, even to the fitting up of her coffin, she passes away amid the lamentations of friends and relatives.

Richardson has been specially praised because he drew his characters from life, and brought fiction from the regions of stilted romance into the ordinary walks of human life. This is one of his merits, although in endeavoring to be realistic he is sometimes ludicrous. When Lovelace goes to see Clarissa, he writes to Belford the following account of her dress, for which we ought to be obliged to him, since it gives us a picture of a well-dressed woman in the year 1750; but it seems a little out of place from a man who is in a delirium of joy at meeting his beloved :

“Thou shalt judge of her dress. I am a critic, thou know'st, in women's dresses. There is such a native elegance in this lady that she surpasses all that I could imagine surpassing. But then her person adorns what she wears, more than dress can adorn her. . . . . Her headdress was Brussels lace, peculiarly adapted to the charming air and turn of her features; a sky-blue ribbon illustrated that. . . . Her gown was a pale primrose, colored paduasoy, the cuffs and robings curiously embroidered by the fingers of this ever-charming Arachne in a running

[ocr errors]


pattern of violets and their leaves ; a pair of diamond snaps
in her ears.
Her ruffles were the same as her


apron flowered lawn, her petticoat white satin quilted, her shoes blue satin braided with the same color, without lace, for what need has the prettiest foot in the world of ornament? Neat buckles on them, and on her charming arms a pair of black velvet glove-like muffs."

But it is his description of Clarissa's preparations for her death, and all the circumstances attending it, that Richardson's genius rises to its full height. All preparations for the burial are described with the minuteness of a fashionable auctioneer's catalogue. Belford, the friend of Lovelace, writes thus to him after a visit to Clarissa, who is sinking rapidly into a decline :

“She had slept better, I found, than I, though her solemn repository [her coffin, which Clarissa ordered some time before death] was under her window not far from her bedside. I was prevailed on to go up and look at the devices. Mrs. Lovick has since shown me a copy of the draught by which all was ordered, and I will give thee a sketch of the symbols.

The principal device, neatly etched, on a plate of white metal, is a crowned serpent with its tail in its mouth, forming a ring, the emblem of eternity; and in the circle made by it is this inscription :


April X.,
[Then the year]

“ Ætat. XIX. “For ornaments: at top an hour-glass, winged; at bottom, an urn. Under the hour-glass, on another plate, this inscription: “Here the wicked cease from troubling, and here the weary be at

rest.' JOB 3-17. “ Over the urn, near the bottom:

“Turn again unto thy rest, O my soul! For the Lord hath rewarded thee; and why? Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.' Ps. cxvi. 7, 8.

“Over this text is the head of a white lily snapped short off and just falling from the stalk; and this inscription over that, between the principal plate and the lily:

"• The days of man are but as grass : for he flourisheth as a flower of the field. For as soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone: and the place thereof shall know it no more.” Ps. ciii

15, 16.

“She excused herself to the women on the score of her youth, and being used to draw for her needle-works, for having shown more fancy than would perhaps be thought suitable on so solemn an occasion. The date, April 1oth, she accounted for as not being able to tell what her closing day would be, and as that was the fatal day of her leaving her father's house. ... The burial dress was brought home with it [the coffin). The women had curiosity enough, I suppose, to see her open that. And, perhaps, thou wouldst have been glad to have been present to have admired it too."

If Clarissa had been a female undertaker, she could not more admirably have arranged for her death and burial; yet all this, which seems to the modern reader overstrained sentimentality, sent the readers of that age weeping to their beds.

It is said that so many young women of the time fell in love with Lovelace, in spite of his vices, that Richardson felt as if he must write a novel which should contain an antidote to the dangerous fascinations of the hero of Clarissa. He accordingly constructed the character of Sir Charles Grandison, who was rich, well-born, well-bred, and a walking encyclopædia of all the virtues, You remember the hero in the fairy tale, whose gifts from eleven good fairies are at last made null and void by the curse of one evil fairy. This evil fairy came in at Sir Charles Grandison's baptism to endow him with insupportable priggishness; so that in spite of his virtues one can hardly endure him through the seven volumes that make this formidable story, which, I fancy, very few readers of modern novels will ever read through. Walter Scott tells a story of an old lady of advanced age who preferred to have Sir Charles Grandison read aloud to her above all other books,“ Because,” she said, “should I fall asleep in the course of the reading, I am sure I shall have lost none of it, but shall find the characters where I left them, talking together in the cedar parlor."

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »