Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

the lights of which are managed with such inimitable skill, that his almost superhuman kindness and charity, seem placed within the compass of our emulation and practice. It is in this way that Fielding, by a thousand examples of human worth, atones for holding out a dangerous temptation, and in the long run, in his fictions, gives a decided preponderance to the side of virtue. It is consoling to the pride of human nature, that he should have found the prototype of Allworthy, in the amiable and philanthrophic individual, on whom Pope has conferred the immortality of his verse in the well remembered lines,

Let humble Allen with an awkward shame
Do good by stealth and blush to call it fame.

Nor is it less a subject of sympathy and interest, that the beautiful wife of poor Fielding, should have sat for the likeness of the charming Sophia Western, however much the affection of the husband might have'heightened the colouring of the painter.

Independently of the fidelity of the pictures of Fielding, not only to English manners, but to truth and nature, there is nothing which characterizes him more, than the fascinating simplicity with which his finest touches, both of wisdom and pathos, are executed apparently without an effort, and although it is not our business or purpose to review Fielding's works we are tempted, in confirmation of our remarks, to enrich our pages with two examples, the first of his fidelity to nature, and the second, of the ease and simplicity with which matters of the greatest wisdom and reflection are discussed. In the interview between Nightingale and Mrs. Miller, who come to obtain, if possible, Allworthy's forgiveness of his nephew, the narrative tells us :

“ That here Nightingale was going to cease, when Mrs. Miller again begged him to relate all the many dutiful expressions he had heard him (Jones) make use of towards Mr. Allworthy. To say the utmost good of Mr. Allworthy (cries Nightingale) is doing no more than strict justice, and can have no merit in it; but indeed, I must say, no man can be more sensible of the obligations he bath to so good a man than is poor Jones. Indeed, sir, I am convinced, the weight of your displeasure is the heaviest burden he lies under. He bath often lamented it to me, and bath as often protested in the most solemn manner, he hath never been intentionally guilty of any offence towards you; nay, he hath sworn, that he would rather die a thousand deaths, than he would have his conscience upbraid him with one disrespectful, ungrateful, or updutiful thought towards you. But I ask pardon, sir, I am afraid I presume, to intermeddle too far in so tender a point."

" You have spoken no more than a Christian Cought, (cries Mrs. Miller.)

“ Indeed, Mr. Nightingale, (answered Allwortby) I applaud your generous friendship, and wish he may merit it of you. I confess I am glad to hear the report you bring from this unfortunate gentleman, and if this matter should turn out as you represent it, (and indeed I doubt nothing of what you say) I may, perhaps, in time, be brought to think better than lately I have of this young man; for this good gentlewoman here, nay, all who know me, can witness that I loved bim as dearly as if he had been my own son. Iudeed, I have considered him as a child sent by fortune to my care.

I still remember the innocent, the helpless situation in which I found him. I feel the tender pressure of his little hands this moment."

In the whole range of our reading, we know not where to find anything which so exquisitely echoes the very breathings of nature. What breast that has ever known a parent's love, cun contemplate without emotion, the touching picture of infant helplessness and affection, which induce Allworthy still " to feel the tender pressure of his little hands," or who can fail to recognize, what a master of the human heart Fielding was, and what an affectionate one be must have carried in his own bosom? That a man, thus gifted with the tenderest and most ennobling sensibilities (of which we have more authentic evidence than his fictions afford,) should have tasted in their bitterest forms, both degradation and sorrow, and have sunk to such a depth, as to have formed the principal figure in one of the cold-blooded, yet lively pictures of low life, sketched without one jot of sympathy or compassion, by the heartless Horace Walpole, is a subject at once of inexpressible astonishment and pain. Shall we speak in more tenderness “ of the fears of the brave, and of the follies of the wise," than of the moral infirmities of the virtuous ?We would fain hope not—we wish, at least, not to belong to that school, in which a kind, generous and feeling heart will not plead something even in the midst of its failings.

The last example which we shall offer of the case and simplicity of his style, and the depth of his reflections, is not the less curious as furnishing a very singular contrast between the theory and practice of poor Fielding, between the wisdom of his reflections and the imprudence of his conduct-he says:

“ And here, in defiance of all the barking critics in the world, I must and will introduce a digression concerning true wisdom, of which Mr. Allworthy was in reality as great a pattern as he was of goodness.

“ True wisdom, then, notwithstanding all which Mr. Hogarth's poor poet may have writ against riches, and in spite of all which any rich,

well-fed divine may have preached against pleasure, consists not in the contempt of either of them. A man may have as much wisdom in the possession of an afluent fortune, as any beggar in the streets; or may enjoy a handsome wife, or a hearty friend, and still remain as wise as any sour popish recluse, who buries all his social faculties, and staryes his belly while he lashes his back. To say the truth, the wisest man is likeliest to possess all worldly blessings in an eminent degree; for, as that moderation which wisdom prescribes, is the surest way to useful wealth, so can it alone qualify us to taste many pleasures. The wise man gratifies every appetite, and every passion, while the fool sacrifices all the rest to pall and satiate one. It may be objected, that very wise men have been notoriously avaricious. I answer, not wise in that instance. It may, likewise, be said, that the wisest men have been in their youth; immoderately fond of pleasure. I answer, they were not wise then. Wisdomn, in short, whose lessons have been represented as so hard to learn, by those who neves were at her school, only teaches us to extend a simple maxim, universally known and followed, even in the lowest life, a little farther than that life carries it, and this is, not to buy at too dear a price. Now, wboever takes this maxim abroad with him, into the grand market of the world, and constantly applies it to honours, to riches, to pleasures, and to every other commodity which that market affords, is, I will venture to affirm, a wise man, and must be so acknowledged in the worldly sense of the word; for he makes the best of bargains, since in reality, be purchases everything at the price, only of a little trouble, and carries home all the good things I have mentioned, while he keeps his health, his innocence and his reputation, the common prices which are, paid for them by others, entire and to himself. From this moderation likewise, he learns two other lessons, which complete his character. First, never to be intoxicated when he hath mad. the best bargain, nor dejected when the market is empty, or when its commodities are too dear for his purchase.”

At what price Fielding purchased his pleasures, we need not remind the reader-more especially him who is fully sensible how much the stock of his own amusement has been augmented by the wit, pathos, humour, taste and wisdom, of this original and emphatically English Novelist, whose genius gave a new impulse and direction to the fictions of his own country, and extended their celebrity abroad.

Differing essentially from Fielding in the characteristics both of his own genius and the plan and execution of his Novels, Richardson must, nevertheless, be classed among the strictly national Novelists of England, as his scenes, incidents, and characters, are essentially English.

This writer, undoubtedly, deserved the distinction, which Dr. Johnson conferred on him, as one who had “enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue,” as well as that of being one of the earlier

[ocr errors]

reformers of the British Novel. His Pamela, which appeared in 1740, two years before the Joseph Andrews of Fielding furnished at once, a most prominent contrast to the mawkish trash of false sentiment and preposterous metaphysics which filled the romances of that da No higher proof can be furnished of the fidelity with which Richardson has copied nature, in this simple and affecting tale, than the fact, that notwithstanding the extent to which public taste had been corrupted by those romances, Pamela rose into immediate favour and unparalleled popularity. Of the extraordinary favour which this original writer found in the admiration and applause of his countrymen, we ought, perhaps, to say countrywomen—that highly amusing and instructive, though often ridiculous and sometimes disgusting record, called his Correspondence, affords the most authentic testimony.' He certainly lived with the chastity of a Joseph in the paradise of women, of whom he was the idol. The pulpit, usually at open war with works of fiction, nevertheless lent its holy, sanction to the perusal of Richardson's povels. But where is his popularity now? Who reads Sir Charles Grandison, Pamela, and we might also ask, Clarissa Harlowe? Is the solution to be found in the very beautiful speculations of a mighty master of the art himself, “ that he (Richardson) may in the present generation, be only paying, by comparative neglect, the price of the very bigb reputation which he enjoyed during his own age. For, if immortality, or anything approaching to it, is granted to authors and their works, it seems only to be on the conditions assigned to that of Nourjahad in the Eastern Tale, that they shall be liable to occasional intervals of slumber and oblivion." We think not. We fear the slumber of Richardson will be longer than the refreshing naps of the Eastern Princess—and for this plain reason, that he too often puts his own readers to sleep. Nothing better describes his prolixity, repetition and detail than the anecdote (which Sir Walter Scott relates) of the old dowager who used always to insist when she took, in her armchair, her afternoon's doze, (somewhat longer than Dr. Kitchener's forty-wink naps) “that Sir Charles Grandison should be read to her, because if she dropped asleep in the course of the reading, she was sure when she awoke to have lost none of the story, and to find the party where she left them, conversing in the cedar parlour.” This infirmity, as Dean Swift has it, of never knowing “when to have done," resulted somewhat from the mode by which his narrative is evolved through the intervention of epistolary correspondence, the most liable to fall into heaviness, as all the letter-writers have to dwell, more or less,

on the same incident, or to labour under the imputation of being cursed with the inost extraordinary blindness and insensibility to everything around them. But this fondness for go-sip and detail was the infirmity of Richardson's nature; it is betrayed every where in his correspondence as well as in his fictions. He is sometimes disposed almost to stop in the midst of a murder to describe the shoe-buckle of the homicide. Lady Mary Wortley Montague (no mean judge), will not allow him the credit of describing with accuracy or discrimination, the manners of high life, even in his own day. With her usual irony, her ladyship says,

“bis Anna Howe and Charlotte Grandison are recommended as patterns of charming pleasantry, and applauded by his saint-like dames, who mistake folly for wit and humour, and impudence and ill-nature for spirit and fire. Charlotte behaves like a humoursome child, and should have been used like one and whipped in the presence of her friendly confederate Harriet. He (Richardson) had no idea of the manners of high life. His old Lord W-talks in the style of a country justice, and his virtuous young ladies romp like wenches round a may-pole. Such liberties as pass between Mr. Lovelace and his cousin, are not to be excused by the relation. I should have been much astonished. if Lord Denbigh had offered to kiss me, and I dare swear Lord Trentham never attempted such an impertinence with you.” . And we must be allowed to say, that his principal hero, Sir Charles Grandison, appears to us to be as much out of the pale of human nature as the hoydens Lady Mary describes, were out of that of bon ton. This faultless monster is, nevertheless, a very amiable gentleman, whom Richardson is said to have conceived for the purpose of throwing even the splendour of Lovelace's heroism and generosity of spirit into the shade. But, after all, he is a very tame personage in spite of (shall we say in consequence of?) his being manufactured out of the “ porcelain kind of human clay,” and withal so excessively precise in sentiment and conduct, that his morals look like a German system of ethics or natural law, arranged upon mathematical principles. That a character so much better than the rest of his species, should be very didactic in bis discourse, and, consequently, a little prosy at times, is not at all wonderful, and still less that his virtues being beyond ordinary competition, should have less effect on us than the worth and infirmities of those poor mortals, whose merits blended with the failings of our common nature, enable them to excite and retain our sympathy and interest. But after all this criticism of qualification and exception, enough remains to establish on an enduring basis, Richardson's claim to be considered

« ZurückWeiter »