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deserves to be considered as a supplemental volume, to the histories of France and England, from 1660 to the revolution of the former country. The author has given us to understand in his preface, that it is his intention, should the present volume be received with approbation, to publish another containing a view of the social state of the two countries since the period at which the one before us closes. This, we doubt not, would to many readers present a subject of still greater interest, and from the manner in which the former part of the undertaking has been completed, we have reason to urge the author to a speedy renewal of his labours.
ART. IV.-1. Herbert Lacy. By the Author of Granby. 3 vols. 8vo. London: Colburn. 1828.
2. The Roué. 3 vols. 8vo. London: Colburn. 1828.
3. Pelham; or the Adventures of a Gentleman. 3 vols. 8vo. London : Colburn. 1828.
SUCH was the influx of novels, fashionable, historical, romantic, and sentimental, upon us during the publishing season, which may be said to have expired only with the session of parliament, that we found it impossible to read, still less to review them, with that attention which they required. We now propose to go gradually through the pile, a formidable one, of those publications which crowd our shelves, under the impression that, as the public has had time to consider their character and merits, it will be the more readily disposed to acquiesce in the opinions which we shall take leave to express concerning them. As it is not the object of this journal to usher forth new works into the world with high sounding eulogies, like auctioneers whose business it is to describe all the wares which pass through their hands as the very models of perfection, we shall make no apology for being thus tardy in our
The number of novels which have appeared during the last and the preceding season, forms, indeed, a remarkable feature in the literature of the times. Twenty years ago, a few shabby circulating libraries received the whole stream of inventive genius, and dispensed it out in penny draughts to the superannuated spinsters of the neighbourhood. Three, four, or, at the utmost, five pounds a volume, was the price paid for the copy-right of a promising romance; and the generality of authors were well satisfied with their treatment, if the publisher gave them half a score copies for their friends. But this was before the great middle-class of readers, which now form so large a proportion of the literary world, came into existence. There were then but two kinds of readers, and those as opposite to each other as light and darkness: the men who studied for reputation, or who read or profitable information; and the women who read novels all their
lives long, to save themselves from an ennui of equal duration. There were none of those active minds at work, which, without being studious, read away a vast portion of their leisure time, and without ever thinking of turning authors, or belonging to debating clubs, devour every subject that the art of printing can bring into discussion. This portion of the reading public owes its existence, as such, to the concurrence of the same causes as those which have brought the middle classes of the community into respectability and opulence, and diffused the spirit of inquiry as widely as the love of freedom, through the whole body of the English public. The lightest work of fiction, the most ingenious theory of the political economist, and the profoundest inquiry of the historical antiquary, are, at present, almost equally sure of finding readers; the one satisfying the ever-restless, ever-craving appetite for novelty which characterizes the public mind; and the other furnishing it with the materiel of thought and speculation; the substantial truth, as it supposes, out of which the rules are to be evolved of public action and public justice. The principles of political feeling at present prevalent in England, are all in close, permanent connection with the intellectual state of the community, and the scale which measures the one will give accurate results as to the other. The consequence is, that they aid each other; the prevalence of inquiry on all matters of state and national interest giving a spur to literature, and the diffusion of knowledge increasing the spirit of public debate.
The most unfortunate effect of this state of things, with regard to literature, is, that having become a fashionable and popular pursuit, it is liable to all the fluctuations, the rise and fall of excellency, to which every thing depending on public caprice is subject. Thus, at one time, a good style may obtain the patronage of the people, and at another one equally vicious. One season may bring forth works of the purest taste and the noblest principles, and the next, publications equally disgraceful to their authors and detrimental to public morals. This holds true in respect to the highest species of literature, and it is well deserving of attention in how important a degree every kind of science, both moral and natural, is dependant in such periods on moods of the popular mind. As soon as they are removed from the cloister, and become the pursuit of the world at large; as soon as they have begun to shed their light, not through the equal medium of long cultivated learning, but in direct, uncertain flashes of novel opinion and discovery, the advantages appendant to the diffusion of knowledge become, to a considerable extent, counterbalanced by an instability of opinion and principle that may almost always be discovered in a country so circumstanced. But the effects of fashion and popular caprice are, of course, still more perceptible on all the lighter classes of literature, which are, by their very nature, dependant on the factitious judgment of a self-tutored taste. A
breath destroys them, as a breath calls them into existence. They are the gossamer stuff of letters; the work of a thousand busy insects, whose productions depend on the chance brightness of the favouring sun. It is not talent, but tact, which is wanted to secure success. The public is not to be surprised into admiration, but flattered into it; and the first requisite in such works is, that they come out at the right time, not that they are formed on right principles. The fact is, that it is in literature as it is in morals, the correct-minded, as well as the pure-hearted, will always be by far the smaller number in a community; and as in a matter of business it is usually more profitable to please the many than the few, magazine writers, novelists, and publishers, will seldomer be found to lead than follow the public taste. There is, again, another circumstance to increase the evil. The love of science, and of the purer kinds of literature, is a calm, steady, easily regulated passion. It can rest on one object for a long time. It has no cravings after perpetual novelty, but seeks its gratification in objects that have long fed the flame. A very few works, therefore, of such intrinsic worth and beauty as would meet the approbation of minds of this class, would be sufficient for a season. More would not be desired or looked for. They would be a solid, palpable addition to the intellectual treasures of the country, and those who are capable of appreciating their merits would brood long and contentedly over them. But this is very far from being the case in a different style of literature. The lighter, the more frivolous and unsubstantial it may be, the greater will be the mass called for. Not only will every body be able to comprehend, and so far enjoy it, but every body will be perpetually craving for fresh supplies of the highly flavoured food. There is no necessity for a tutoring of the appetite to catch the proper relish, and no one, therefore, will even think of abstaining from it. Accordingly, booksellers, and their employés, the purveyors of the literary feast, pour out their viands without any fear of causing a glut in the market, and to their satisfaction find that there is no modern luxury forming a better source of regular commercial speculation, than the articles of intellectual pleasure.
We should almost feel ourselves guilty of an absurdity were we to set about formally deprecating the conduct of either booksellers or authors, in pandering, as it is called, to the public taste. would be quite as reasonable to expect your tailor should stop from making nankeen trousers, for fear of people getting the rheumatism, or that a silk-mercer should recommend the ladies to wear camlet instead of silk, as that a certain class of booksellers should insist on publishing only such works as a correct critic might approve. It is the same with authors. A new race has been called into existence in modern days;-a race of writers, who not only owe their materials but their very wit and invention to the fashion of the day;—who, had they to rest their claims to
attention on the true qualities of good authorship, or on their powers of reasoning or invention, would never have escaped obscurity,but who, finding that a careful observation of the words and sentiments of certain classes of society, together with a bold, dashing style of writing, are sufficient to carry both town and country, at once seize upon the most profitable walks of literature. It is not probable that writers of this kind will ever be persuaded into changing their style, or sitting down to the composition of works, in which their tact or their licence would be of little use. Not like their predecessors, who, as we have said, were contented with fifteen or twenty pounds for a novel in three volumes, they are able to bargain successfully for their three or four hundred pounds; and, once favourites with the publisher, are as well off as if they possessed the cap of Fortunatus.
But though circumstances have thus called into vogue a class of writers who are incessantly sowing the field of literature with tares, and though we should think it a very useless task to attempt the reformation of either a fashionable author, or a fashionable publisher, we are not inclined to imagine that the evil is without a remedy, or that it will long continue in equal force. If, however, it be ever lessened, the improvement must be effected by the good sense of the public itself, by its learning to reject that which adds a canker to a tree already corrupt, and to seek its amusement where it can be found without danger. There are states of society in which novel reading, and such like employments of time, are as natural as drinking French wines, and eating desserts; and he would be a wretched philosopher who should reason upon it as if it were an accidental vice, instead of the necessary consequence of the particular condition of certain ranks of society. Amusement must be had and provided, but it is their choice of amusements, rather than any strongly marked virtues or vices which shews men to be virtuous or vicious; it is, still further, in the choice of certain objects of the same class that the nicer distinctions of character may be perceived. It so happens, that at present, a taste in literary matters prevails in England, which has led to the patronage of the worst and the most inferior kind of fictitious composition. Now, it is not the call for amusement, even the lightest kind of amusement, nor the passion for novel reading, we would attempt to destroy, but the viciousness of taste which has made the fashionable amusement directly dangerous to good manners, and novel reading subversive of correct feeling. This is not to be done by taking arms against the public, and putting them upon the defensive, as if we were determined to rob them of their baubles, and drive them at the point of the bayonet from their theatres, but by demonstrating to them their mistake, and proving, that more amusement, and of a better kind, may be obtained by the employment of a more delicate and discriminating judgment. Let the public be convinced of this,-let them be
shown that fashionable slander repeated usque ad nauseam, the disgusting details of an adulterer's progress, and all the insipid inventions of a tale of ton, are the materials which only the most inferior novelist would select. Let them be convinced that it is themselves only who have nursed this kind of writers into confidence, and that if they withdraw their patronage from them, the purses of the west-end publishers will soon fill the market with productions of a choicer kind. Let this be done, and circulating libraries will be deserted, and the occupation of half the novelwriters in the United Kingdom be gone, if a vast improvement be not made in their style and choice of subjects.
We believe there are some signs of a disposition of this kind beginning to rise in the public mind, and we would have the warning taken by those whom it most concerns. We have no expectation of seeing the licence, at present reigning, giving way to any sudden fastidiousness, or Della Cruscan nicety; but we do expect to see such a reformation of literary taste as will utterly extirpate, and blot out the remembrance of, a very large tribe of novel-writers and their works. We should willingly lend a hand in bringing about such an event. We should rejoice in seeing such a resuscitation of strong vigorous feeling in the English mind, as would render the greater part of fashionable novels, prominent and full of flaring witticisms as they are, too tame and insipid to give amusement. It would be, in our minds, a glorious sign of better days for literature in general, a prognostication that the old noble spirit of poetry was about to stir again the heart of the land, and that we were returning to a devouter worship of truth and nature.
We should be inclined to add a word or two on the moral part of this subject, but we will not insult the understanding of our readers by such a procedure. We must believe, that they who have given themselves up to the perusal of the novels of the day, or put them into the hands of others, could never mistake, but were indifferent to, their tendency; that they never examined them but in regard to their amusing qualities, and finding all they expected in them of this nature, were content and satisfied. We can never for a moment imagine that the wives and daughters of our English gentlemen were suffered to read them, after the lessons they convey were correctly considered, or that they were put on a drawing-room table after they had been compared with any thing in the study. We incline to suppose that all this was done before a thought was taken as to their fitness to succeed Æsop's Fables, or Mrs. Hannah More's Sacred Dramas, in the course of juvenile study; that they were purchased, or hired, on the faith of a newspaper laudation, and left to produce what effects they might on the tender feelings and budding virtues of sentimental mothers and romantic daughters. We are quite aware that, in either preaching or reviewing, the parson and the critic would be losing their time to point out the weak