Critical Remarks on Sir Charles Grandison, Clarissa, and Pamela (1754) - novelonlinefull.com
You’re reading novel Critical Remarks on Sir Charles Grandison, Clarissa, and Pamela (1754) Part 1 online at NovelOnlineFull.com. Please use the follow button to get notification about the latest chapter next time when you visit NovelOnlineFull.com. Use F11 button to read novel in full-screen(PC only). Drop by anytime you want to read free – fast – latest novel. It’s great if you could leave a comment, share your opinion about the new chapters, new novel with others on the internet. We’ll do our best to bring you the finest, latest novel everyday. Enjoy
Critical Remarks on Sir Charles Grandison, Clarissa, and Pamela (1754).
The present pamphlet was published in February 1754, after six volumes of _Sir Charles Grandison_ had appeared and about a month before the appearance of the seventh and last volume. Though _Grandison_ was technically anonymous, its authorship was generally known, and the pamphlet refers to Richardson by name. Sale's bibliography gives further details (_Samuel Richardson: A Bibliographical Record_, New Haven, 1936, pp. 131-32), including the suggestion of the _Monthly Review_ (X, 159-60) that the author was Alexander Campbell, who also wrote _A Free and Candid Examination of Lord Bolingbroke's Letters on History_ (1753). The pro-Bolingbroke and deistic sentiments of the _Critical Remarks_ lend color to this attribution. Nichols' _Literary Anecdotes_ (II, 277) says under the year 1755 that William Bowyer printed a few copies of two pamphlets on _Grandison_, one by Francis Plumer and one by Dr. John Free. To Plumer is attributed _A Candid Examination of the History of Sir Charles Grandison_ (April 1754; 3rd ed., 1755), and the inference might then be that Free was the author of the _Critical Remarks_, even though the date 1755 given by Nichols is not right, since these two are the only known early _Grandison_ pamphlets. But Free's orthodox religious views seem to eliminate him as a possibility. Whoever the author was, his references to Henry and Sarah Fielding are decidedly friendly, and he speaks well of Mason, Gray, Dodsley, and Pope.
The _Remarks_ represents a type of pamphlet occasionally called forth by works which engaged the general attention of the town, such as the great novels of the period; thus before the _Grandison_ pamphlets we have _Pamela Censured_, _Lettre sur Pamela_, _An Examen of the History of Tom Jones_, _An Essay on the New Species of Writing Founded by Mr.
Fielding_, and _Remarks on Clarissa_. Usually these fugitive essays are hostile to the work they discuss, and represent the attempt of some obscure writer to turn a shilling by exposing for sale a t.i.tle page which might catch the eye with a well known name. The J. Dowse who sold the _Critical Remarks_ was an obscure pamphlet-shop proprietor, not a prominent bookseller. Richardson and his correspondents were of course irritated at both the _Grandison_ pieces: Mrs. Sarah Chapone was indignant at the _Critical Remarks_, venturing the absurd suggestion that Fielding might be the author (Victoria and Albert Museum, Forster Collection, Richardson MSS., XIII, 1, ff. 102-03, letter of 6 April 1754); and Lady Bradshaigh and Richardson considered the more favorable _Candid Examination_ an unfriendly work (Forster Collection, Richardson MSS., XI, ff. 98, 100-02). Yet these obscure publications give an interesting view of some current approaches and reactions before opinion has taken a set form, and help us to get access to the contemporary reading public.
The present author airs some cynical and skeptical views in religion and ethics which are not of great critical interest. His ideas about "sentimental unbelievers" and "political chast.i.ty," his simulated disapproval of contemptuous references to the clergy, the attack on John Hill's _Inspector_ to which he devotes his Postscript--these points are little to our purpose. As to literary opinions, he falls into the usual way of judging fiction by its supposed overt intellectual and moral effects. His admiration for _Clarissa_ is based on his acceptance of the complete idealization of the heroine, and of Richardson's declared intention to show "the distresses that may attend the misconduct both of parents and children in relation to marriage." In formal literary criticism he is pompous and scholastic. He approves the plot of _Clarissa_ in terms of the _Iliad_, but judges subtle and complex characters by an over-simplified standard of decorum and censures Lovelace as an intricate combination of Achilles and Ulysses!
His unnecessary labors to show that Richardson is not really Homeric ill.u.s.trate the sterile application of epic canons to the novel that vitiates much early criticism of fiction.
In general, he represents the reader with pretensions to culture which make him feel superior to Richardson's novels. He thinks they have been attracting too much attention, yet finds himself forced to attend to what he professes to despise. The stories are far too long, he complains, and Richardson pads them to increase the profits of authorship. (The _Candid Examination_ concurs on this point, and both writers agree that _Clarissa_ should have been in five volumes instead of eight.) The _Remarks_ echoes the common complaint that Richardson is responsible for the flood of new fiction, and prophesies that his novels will be merely the first in a succession of ephemeral best sellers. All in all, we have here a fairly common pattern of opinion: _Pamela_ is low and has no sound moral; _Grandison_ is tedious and excessively mannered; _Clarissa_ at its best must be admitted to be supreme, despite moralistic objections to the Mother Sinclair scenes and to the character of Lovelace. The pamphleteer's silences are sometimes significant: Pamela is not condemned as a scheming little minx, and he does not seem to be much interested in her; despite his approval of Fielding and his preference of Allworthy to Grandison, he shows little interest in the Fielding-Richardson opposition, even omitting the Tom Jones-Grandison ant.i.thesis which seemed obvious to many; he pa.s.ses over the admired Italian story, the madness of Clementina, and the issues raised by Sir Charles' proposed marriage with a Catholic; nor does he offer the familiar comment, soon to become a _cliche_, on the excessive idealization of Sir Charles.
His best points do not follow from his jejune critical principles, but from close reading that forces him at times to admit that he is interested even while he carps and cavils. His predictions about the last volume of _Grandison_ show that the story has at least carried him along. His admiration for the character of Clarissa, though based on his approval of idealization, is really a tribute to Richardson's art, and his qualification that Clarissa is "rather too good, at least too methodically so," is fair enough, as is the comment about Grandison's "showy and ostentatious" benevolence and his excessive variety of accomplishments. The judgment about Richardson's incessant emphasis on s.e.x antic.i.p.ates much later criticism, and is made at first hand, though connected with the stock comment that modern tragedies dwell too exclusively on the pa.s.sion of love. There is truth in the observation that Mr. B-- and Lovelace think nothing can be done with women except by bribery, corruption, and terror, that Richardson is unable to describe a plausible seducer. The author of the _Candid Examination_ seems to take up this cue when he says of the same pair, "I am of Opinion, that neither of the two Gentlemen conducted themselves so, as to overcome an ordinary Share of Virtue" (p. 24). Nevertheless the discussion in the _Critical Remarks_ is thrown out of balance by exaggerated talk about the portrayal of licentious scenes.
One important observation is that _Grandison_ duplicates some of the princ.i.p.al characters in _Clarissa_: Charlotte Grandison is Anna Howe; her much-enduring husband Lord G-- is Mr. Hickman (the writer expands G-- to "Goosecap" on the model of Fielding's Mr. b.o.o.by); Pollexfen is Lovelace. This is self-evident, but may have been suggested by the conversation in which Harriet Byron calls Charlotte "a very Miss Howe,"
while Charlotte refers to Lord G-- as "a very Mr. Hickman" (_Grandison_, 1754, II, 7-8). The _Candid Examination_, in a postscript commenting on the last volume of _Grandison_, repeats the charge of duplication in a rather odd way: "The Conduct and Behaviour of Sir _Charles_ and his Lady, after the Marriage, is an Imitation of that of Mr. B-- and _Pamela_; but does not equal the Original" (p. 42).
The pamphleteer has more to say about Charlotte than about Harriet, Sir Charles, or Clementina, the characters with whom later criticism has been chiefly concerned. Charlotte's "whimsical" or "arch" way evidently got on his nerves. He catches up a phrase which Harriet applies to her, "dear flighty creature," and derisively repeats it several times.
Contemporary readers paid her considerable attention. The _Candid Examination_ names among the fine things in the book "a Profusion of Wit and Fancy in Lady G--'s Conversation and Letters," and thinks that Harriet at times treats her levity too severely (pp. 6, 14-16). The author of _Louisa: Or, Virtue in Distress_ (1760) remarks that Lady G-- is one of the most imitated of Richardson's characters--"I have observed that most of our modern novels abound with a lady G--" (p. x).
There were objections even among Richardson's admirers, however, as by Mrs. Delany: "Miss Grandison is sometimes diverting, has wit and humour, but considering her heart is meant to be a good one, she too often behaves as if it were stark naught" (_Autobiography and Correspondence_, London, 1861, 1 Ser., III, 251). The evidence seems to show that early readers of _Grandison_ did not isolate the princ.i.p.al characters, except perhaps Clementina, but considered them with due reference to the secondary characters and to the whole social context in which they appear.
Finally, this critic is irritated by the conversational and epistolary style which Richardson evolves in the process of "writing to the moment"; he is particularly vexed at the coined or adapted words which are sometimes italicized and dwelt on as characteristic of an individual. He cites only a few, such as Uncle Selby's _scrupulosities_, but he has others in mind, both from _Grandison_ and from Lovelace's letters in _Clarissa_, and wonders whether such words as these will get into the dictionary. (It happened that Johnson was entering words from _Clarissa_ in his _Dictionary_ during these years.) He burlesques an epistle from Charlotte, slipping in a few of Lovelace's locutions as well (pp. 47-48; cf. _Grandison_, 1754, VI, 288). The author of the _Candid Examination_ distinguishes between what he considers the low mawkish talk of some of Richardson's characters, which he condemns (pp. 11-12), and Richardson's freedom in coining words, which he approves (p. 36). These slight instances may serve to remind us that many of Richardson's early readers must have been keenly aware of his innovations in style, and that these developments form an important link in the 1750's between Richardson and the further innovations of Sterne.
The present reproduction is made by permission from a copy in the University of Michigan Library.
_Alan Dugald McKillop_ _The Rice Inst.i.tute_
Critical Remarks, _&c._
I hope you will take nothing amiss that may be said in the following remarks on your compositions; I firmly believe that your motive in writing them was a laudable intention to promote and revive the declining causes of religion and virtue. And when I have said so much, I have surely a right from you to the same favourable interpretation of my design, in publishing these Considerations on them, and endeavouring to shew how far you have fallen short of your commendable purpose.
That your writings have in a great measure corrupted our language and taste, is a truth that cannot be denied. The consequences abundantly shew it. By the extraordinary success you have met with, if you are not to be reckoned a cla.s.sical author, there is certainly a very bad taste prevailing at present. Our language, though capable of great improvements, has, I imagine, been for some time on the decline, and your works have a manifest tendency to hasten that on, and corrupt it still farther. Generally speaking, an odd affected expression is observable through the whole, particularly in the epistles of Bob Lovelace. His many new-coin'd words and phrases, Grandison's _meditatingly_, Uncle Selby's _scrupulosities_; and a vast variety of others, all of the same Stamp, may possibly become Current in common Conversation, be imitated by other writers, or by the laborious industry of some future compiler, transferred into a Dictionary, and sanctioned by your great Authority.
Your success has farther corrupted our taste, by giving birth to an infinite series of other compositions all of the same kind, and equally, if not more, trifling than your's. A catalogue of them would look like a Bible genealogy, and were I to undertake the task of giving it, I should be obliged to invoke the muse, as Homer does before he begins the catalogue of the ships in his second Iliad. How long the currency of such compositions may continue, how many may be annually poured forth from the press, is more than any man can say, without being endued with the spirit of prophesy.
But, without making any such pretensions, I can foretel, that if ever a good taste universally prevails, your romances, as well as all others, will be as universally neglected, and that in any event their fate will not be much better; for what recommends them to the notice of the present age is, their novelty, and their gratifying an idle and insatiable curiosity. In a few years that novelty will wear off, and that Curiosity will be equally gratified by other Compositions, it may be, as trifling, but who will then have the additional charm of novelty, to recommend them. Such, Sir, must be the fate of all works which owe their success to a present capricious humor, and have not real intrinsic worth to support them.
Short-lived then as they are, and must be, in their own nature, it might be thought cruel to hasten them to the grave, could that be effected by any thing I have in my power to say, if they did not prevent the success, and stifle in the birth, works which have a just t.i.tle to life, fame and immortality. Human genius is pretty much the same in all ages and nations, but its exertion, and its displaying itself to advantage, depend on times, accidents, and circ.u.mstances. There are, no doubt, writers in the present age, who, did they meet with proper encouragement, might be capable of producing what would last to posterity, and be read and admired by them. We have some good poets, such as the authors of Elfrida, the Church-yard Elegy, and the Poem on Agriculture; a performance which would have been highly valued in an Augustan age, and is the best, perhaps the only Georgic in our language. By the great manner in which the author has executed the first part of his n.o.ble plan, he has shewn himself sufficiently able for the rest; but by his not prosecuting it, I imagine he has not met with the deserved success. This may possibly be imputed to its coming abroad at an improper time. I remember it was first advertised just when the Memoirs of Sir Charles Grandison were appearing by piece-meal. This was a very injudicious step, for who could be supposed to attend to any thing else, when the lovely Harriet Byron continued in suspence, when the fate of Lady Clementina was undetermined, when it was not yet settled, whether she was to marry Grandison, retire to a Nunnery, or continue crack-brain'd all her lifetime.
After all, I am well-pleased to see Grandison and Harriet fairly buckled. And I hope soon to hear, that the ceremony is performed between the Count de Belvedere and Lady Clementina. I am afraid there could have been no compleat happiness in the matrimonial union of the English Gentleman and the Italian Lady. The marriage state may be aptly enough compared to two fiddles playing in concert: if the one can sound no higher than Tweedle-dum, and the other no lower than Tweedle-dee, there never can be any thing but a perpetual jarring discord and dissonance betwixt them. In the same manner the difference in religious sentiments would have been a great allay in the felicity of that ill.u.s.trious couple.
I now proceed, Sir, to the princ.i.p.al business of this address, which is, to enquire how far your writings have contributed to promote the causes of religion and virtue, for which, as you say, and I believe, they were chiefly intended.
It is, no doubt, the indispensable duty of every writer to promote, as far as lies in his power, in the society, of which he is a member, the advancement of virtue, especially the moral and social duties of mutual good-will and universal benevolence. And as far as the established religious system of a country has the same tendency, so far is every man, who writes a popular treatise, let his private sentiments, with respect to the pretensions it makes to truth and a divine original, be what they will, obliged to recommend it to the belief of the people. It is equally his duty, if not more so, to inculcate on their minds a reverence and regard for the established religious corporation, and to avoid saying or doing any thing which may subject them to ridicule and contempt. It must be owned, that your conduct in these articles, especially the last, cannot be sufficiently commended. Your works are designed for the perusal of people in all ranks, they have had an universal run, and in them you have not only shewn yourself a pious Christian, and a good _Bible-scholar_, but you have made all your heroines the same, and have besides introduced the Characters of several pious and worthy clergymen, and represented them acting in very advantageous lights. For these things, as I observed just now, you cannot be more than enough applauded; and no doubt your writings have in so far produced a good effect; but I am afraid you have not acted consistently throughout, for you have not only brought in your hero Lovelace, but Mr. Moden, the only virtuous male character in your Clarissa, expressing contempt for the clergy. Now, in my opinion, a virtuous man, and we have had several instances of that kind among the ancients, may very consistently despise the public religion, but he will never allow himself to bring the order belonging to it under contempt. In fact, it is the clergy alone who render a public religion useful and valuable, let its divine original be a truth never so evident, it could have no influence upon the people, unless they should be catechized and instructed in it by the clergy; and though we should suppose it downright nonsense, yet that order of men must always be reckoned a venerable and necessary inst.i.tution, in as far as they are teachers of moral duties to the people, and recommend to them the practice of virtue, either by precept or example.
Another thing in which I humbly conceive you have been in the wrong, is this: you constantly express a great virulence against those whom you call sentimental unbelievers, and take all opportunities to render them the objects of public odium and detestation. You cannot but be sensible, that such a conduct is contrary to the first and great duties of social virtue. Ought you to quarrel with any man because he is taller or shorter, fairer or blacker than yourself? And yet we can no more help our differing in speculative opinions than in stature or complexion. If you happen to feel the knowledge and perception of divine things supernaturally implanted on your mind, rejoice and be happy, but let not your Wrath arise against those who are not blest with the same sensations. Would you be angry with any man because his eye-sight cannot distinguish objects at such a great distance as yours? Why then quarrel with another for a deficiency of the same kind in spiritual optics? No doubt you will a.s.sert, that the truth of the present religious system may be proved by a long connected chain of demonstrative arguments. But if I might be allowed, without offence, to give my opinion in this matter, as far as you are concerned, I should say, that such an a.s.sertion is in you unbecoming, as well as the conduct you observe in consequence unjust and imprudent. The a.s.sertion is in you unbecoming, because, whatever you may think, the question, whether there was ever a divine revelation given, or a miracle wrought, or whether, supposing such things done, they can be proved to the conviction of a rational unprejudiced man, by moral evidence, and human testimony, requires more learning and judgment than you are possessed of, to determine with any precision. It requires, indeed, the greatest and most universal skill and knowledge in nature and her philosophy, which has not come to your share, as appears from your writings, where, as may easily be perceived, you retail all that little you have pickt up. The more knowledge a man has, he will always be the less a.s.suming; and a positive stiffness, especially in commonly-received opinions, is a certain sign and constant attendant of ignorance. Socrates, the wisest man among the wisest people, after all his researches declared, that all that he knew was, that he knew nothing. Cicero, the greatest master of reason that ever lived, was a professed academic or sceptist. And a learned and virtuous modern, whom I forbear to name, in a letter to an intimate friend, confessed, that the more he thought, he found the more reason to doubt, and had always been more successful in discovering what was false, than what was true. Those ill.u.s.trious three, learned, virtuous, and lovers of their country, to whom it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to add a fourth, were all sentimental unbelievers, and all at the same time inculcated a reverence and regard to the established religions of their respective countries. Nay, all sentimental unbelievers, had they not been provoked by the ill-judged bigotry of their adversaries, would have adhered unanimously to the same maxims. If their unbelief proceeds from a consciousness of the weakness and limited state of the human understanding, the constant result of true learning and philosophy, they will be the more firmly convinced of the great utility and absolute necessity of a public form of worship, and a religious corporation, and uniformly square their conduct accordingly. It was therefore unjust, as well as imprudent, in you, Sir, who are a popular writer, and whose works are read by every body, to endeavour to render sceptical free-thinkers, from their own principles the fastest and sincerest friends to religion in general, the objects of odium and detestation to the believers in that particular religion, which happens to be at present established by law. This, Sir, and I shall say no more, I hope may be said, from general principles, without offence to any party, without determining or declaring my own sentiments, which are in the right, and which in the wrong, with respect to the truth of their opinions.
I now proceed to the last thing proposed in these remarks, to examine how far your compositions have a natural tendency to advance virtue. They are all strictly dramatical, and therefore, whether they have a good or a bad tendency, they must exert themselves with a stronger influence on the minds of those who are affected by them. In all works of this kind, in order to make them truly valuable and useful, all, at least one of these three things ought to be done. First, by the const.i.tution of the plot or the fable, some great and useful moral ought to be enforced and recommended. In the second place, the characters which are introduced ought to be so contrived, that the readers should be induced to imitate their virtues, or avoid their vices. Or, lastly, some one great moral virtue ought to be inculcated, by making it the characteristic of the Hero, or the chief person in the dramatic work. In these, as in every other species of poetry and composition, the divine Homer has excelled all other writers, he reigns unrivalled in them all, and will for ever be without a compet.i.tor; insomuch, that one certain way of judging the merit or demerit of all other authors, is, to enquire how near they have approached, or how far they have fallen short of this standard of perfection in writing. I shall now examine how far you, in your several performances, have succeeded, with respect to these articles, in the same order wherein they are set down.
I have perused your late work, Grandison, carefully, and I hope impartially, with this view, and for my Heart I cannot so much as perceive the least shadow of either plot, fable, or action. If there are any, they certainly lie far out of the reach of my gross observation. Obvious they are not, which they ought to be to the most common reader. It may, indeed, be said, that no certain judgment can be formed of it, in that respect, till the whole is compleated. But it is no difficult matter to make probable conjectures about the contents of the volume still in embrio. We shall probably be entertained with a description of the nuptials between Lady Clementina and the Count de Belvedere; that happy couple, with Signor Jeronymo, and the rest of the Porretta family, will certainly pay a visit to Grandison and his admired Harriet; Beauchamp will be married to _that rogue_ Emily, in whom he already _meditates his future wife_; _the good doctor_ Bartlet may possibly pick up the dowager Lady Beauchamp; but if the dowager Lady should chuse a younger bedfellow, a match may be made up between him and _old aunt_ Nell; or if _old aunt_ Nell should continue obstinately determined against matrimony, the _good doctor_ and _grandmama_ Shirley may go to church together. And now, Sir, though all these desirable events should be happily accomplished, I should still be of the same opinion; nor can I see any moral that could be drawn from them, unless it be this, that men and women, old and young, after a certain ceremony is performed, may go to bed together, without shame or scandal, or any fear of being called to account for so doing by the churchwardens. The plot and fable of your Pamela may indeed be easily enough discovered. They consist in Mr. B.'s attempts to debauch his beautiful waiting-maid; in her resistance, and their happy nuptials. If we look for a moral, we shall find the only one that can be extracted out of it to be very ridiculous, useless, and impertinent; it appears to be this, that when a young gentleman of fortune cannot obtain his ends of a handsome servant girl, he ought to marry her; and that the said girl ought to resist him, in expectation of that event. Thus it is manifest, that these two compositions are equally below criticism, in this article, and, to do you justice, it must be confessed, that your Clarissa is as much above it. When considered in this light, it seems to be entirely Homerical.
That divine poet, in his Iliad, has inculcated by one fable, and in the continuation of one action, two great and n.o.ble morals. The first is, that discord among chiefs or allies engaged in a confederacy, ruins their common designs, and renders them unsuccessful; and the second, that concord and agreement secure them prosperity in all their undertakings.
In the same manner, in the first part of Clarissa, we find the bad consequences of the cruel treatment of parents towards their children, and forcing their inclinations in marriage; and in the second part, we see a fine example of the pernicious effects of a young lady's reposing confidence or engaging in correspondence with a man of profligate and debauched principles. I do not at present recollect any composition which, view'd in this light, can be compared with the Iliad and Clarissa. The morals of the first are of the utmost importance in public life, and those of the last in private life. If the little states and republicks of Greece, for whom Homer's poems were originally calculated, had adhered uniformly to their maxims, they would have been invincible, and must have subsisted to this day in all their glory and splendor. In the same manner, if the morals contained, and so admirably enforced by example, in your Clarissa, had their due weight, a vast variety of mischiefs and miseries in private life would be prevented. There is nothing in which parents are apter to stretch their authority too far, than in the article of marriage; there is nothing in which they pay less regard to the happiness of their children; nothing in which they allow less to the influence of pa.s.sion and inclination in them; and nothing in which they are more sway'd by the dirty grovling pa.s.sions of vanity, pride, and avarice, themselves. On the other hand, there is nothing in which young ladies, even of the greatest modesty and discretion, more readily fall into errors. It is pretty certain, that where they are allowed freely to follow their own bia.s.s, they generally prefer either real or reputed rakes, to men of a regular life and more sober deportment. I have often been puzzled in endeavouring to account for this conduct in the female world, so entirely contrary to what all of them think their real and most valuable interests. I have sometimes been tempted to impute it to the truth of this satyrical maxim in the poet,
That _every woman is at heart a rake_,
and that, custom and education having deterred them from the practice, they cannot help loving the theory in themselves, and preferring the practice in others. But I rather incline to attribute it to a cruel and unjust policy in the other s.e.x, who have deceived and bubbled them in this, as well as several other articles, and have persuaded them of the truth of this notable maxim, that rakes make the best husbands, than which, as experience abundantly testifies, nothing can be more false. A rake, indeed, may be a good husband while the honey-moon lasts, for so long, perhaps, may novelty have a charm; but when that is ended, the l.u.s.t of variety, the distinguishing characteristic of a rake, haunts him incessantly, like a ghost, and soon extinguishes all his principles of love, justice, and generosity. It is true, indeed, the proverb goes, that a reformed rake makes the best husband. It may be so, but then it is a truth of equal importance with this, that a pick-pocket going to the gallows is an honest man. His hands are tied behind him, and he has it not in his power to be otherwise; in the same manner a reformed rake is honest, because he has lost the ability to be otherwise, and he naturally fondles and doats upon his wife, that she may overlook deficiencies in more essential articles. He acts entirely from the same principles with those profuse and liberal old keepers, who are said to pay for what they cannot do.
Should we now examine how you have succeeded in contriving your characters, so as to be fit objects of imitation, if virtuous, and if vicious, so as to be proper examples for deterring others from the like practices, we shall find the princ.i.p.al ones extremely faulty, generally quite dest.i.tute of poetical probability, and in a word, far short of the Homeric standard. Homer's characters are for the most part drawn beyond the life; but the art with which he has reduced them to truth, and probability, is surprising. He has prodigiously exaggerated the bodily strength of Ajax, but then he has rendered all probable, by representing him of dull and heavy intellects. For it is a fact, that, with bulky unwieldy force, we generally connect the idea of a slow understanding. How consistently prudent is Ulysses, thro' the whole of his character; we never see him err thro'
rashness, but rather commit faults, thro' an over caution.
How wonderfully are we reconciled to the great garrulity of the venerable Nestor, which would be inexcusable, did we not reflect, at the same time, on his extreme old age, of which the poet never fails to remind us? How readily do we excuse the ferocity of Achilles, when we reflect that the generous youth prefers a short life, with fame and reputation, to a length of days, with peace and happiness? How artfully are we prevented from being shocked at his cruelty, in slaughtering without distinction, or remorse, all who come in his way? When we are told that he himself is acting under the certainty of meeting his death before the Trojan Wall?
In short, Homer is possessed of this peculiar secret, to contrive and add such circ.u.mstances that render all his characters probable, and to blend vices and virtues of a similar quality so together, as to render them all uniformly consistent. And now tho' I confess, with pleasure, that you are far from being dest.i.tute of merit, in some of the characters you draw, yet you seem to be intirely unacquainted with this secret. In order to ill.u.s.trate my a.s.sertion, I shall run thro' your princ.i.p.al characters in a cursory and desultory manner.
In Grandison, you have endeavoured to give an example of universal goodness and benevolence. But I am afraid you have strained and stretched that character too far; you have furnished him with too great a variety of accomplishments, some of them destructive, at least not so consistent with the princ.i.p.al and most shining virtue. _The man is every thing_, as Lucy or Harriet says; which no man ever was, or will be. Homer in the Odyssey, and in the character of Euemaeus, has given an example of universal benevolence; but then he represents him an entire rustic, living constantly in the country, shunning all public concourse of men, the court especially, and never going thither, but when obliged to supply the riotous luxury and extravagance of the suitors. Mr. Fielding has imitated these circ.u.mstances, as far as was consistent with our manners, in the character of Allworthy, and has with admirable judgment denied him an university education, made him a great lover of retirement, seldom absent from his country seat, never at the metropolis but when called by business, and constantly leaving it, when that was over. The ingenious auth.o.r.ess of David Simple, perhaps the best moral romance that we have, in which there is not one loose expression, one impure, one unchaste idea; from the perusal of which, no man can rise unimproved, has represented, her hero, a character likewise of universal benevolence, agreeably to the part he was to act; of tender years, quite unimproved by education, unexperienced, and ignorant of the ways of the world. Should we now consider the matter a little deeply, we shall find a reason in nature for the practice of these just painters of men and manners.
A human creature, in a simple unimproved state, is naturally generous and benevolent; but when he comes abroad into the world, and observes the universal depravity of morals, and the narrow selfishness that every where prevail, according to his particular temper or circ.u.mstances, he is either contaminated by the example, or contracts a misanthropical disposition, and hates or despises the greatest part of his species. There may be, and no doubt there are, men who have seen the world, who have been conversant, even in courts, during their whole lives, who yet have retained and exercised humane and benevolent dispositions; but such characters are very rare, and, for the reasons above specified, never can be poetically probable. Such, Sir, is your Grandison; he seems never to have enjoyed retirement, to have been abroad almost all his life-time, to have seen all the courts in Europe, and been conversant, with the great, rich, and powerful, in all nations. You represent him likewise to be a man universally learned, and tell us, at the same time, in capital letters, that SIR CH. GRAN. is a CHRISTIAN; and that too, in the strictest and most bigotted sense of the word; for he refuses the woman he loves, for a difference in religious principles. This, in my humble opinion, is likewise an inconsistency, for universal learning naturally leads to scepticism, and the most useful, as well as solid branch of human knowledge, consists in knowing how little can be known. There are several other inconsistencies in his character, particularly in some of his duelling stories; besides, at any rate, his benevolence has something showy and ostentatious in it; nothing in short of that graceful and beautiful nature which appears in Fielding's Allworthy.
The character of Lovelace is yet more inconsistent, still more deficient in poetical probability, and indeed intirely contradictory to Homer and nature. In all Homer's works, there are not two characters between whom there is a greater contrast and opposition, than between those of Achilles and Ulysses. They enjoy no quality in common, but that of valour; and the valour of the one is as different from that of the other, as can well be imagin'd; for they all along partake of their general characters, and are consistent with them. But you, Sir, who, in the mouth of Harriet Byron and that _dear flighty creature_ Lady G. sometimes take upon you to criticize that great master of nature, shew that you have either never studied him, or profited very little by him; for in this one character of Lovelace, you have united these two dissimilar and discordant characters of Achilles and Ulysses; you have given him all the fierceness, cruelty, and contempt of laws, impetuosity, rashness, in short, all the furious ungovernable pa.s.sions of the one, and have at the same time provided him with all the cunning, craft, dissimulation, and command over his pa.s.sions, which so much distinguish the other. How to reconcile to probability, or even to possibility, the existence of such opposite and contradictory qualities in one human bosom, is a task which I leave to you.
The fine, or rather the _naughty gentleman_, in your Pamela, to whom Mr. Fielding very properly gives the sirname of b.o.o.by, is indeed one of the greatest bubbles, and blunderers that one can meet withal. You have informed us, that he had been a great rake, and had debauched several women; 'tis well you have done so, but he certainly had made little proficiency in that laudable science, for, from his whole behaviour towards his Pamela, one should be apt to think him the meerest novice in the world. He opens trenches before her properly enough, by giving her silk stockings and fine cloaths to feed her pride and vanity; but when he comes to make a more direct attack in the summer-house, how sheepishly does he act, and what blunders does he not commit? He attempts to kiss her, the girl, as is natural, struggles, and grows angry; he lets her go, and bribes her, with five guineas, to keep the secret. This was knocking his project in the head at once; and had he been guilty of no other blunders, as he was of innumerable, was sufficient to ruin his cause with her for ever. He was not to expect, that a girl, piously educated, would surrender at the very first, especially to a summons given in so blunt and indelicate a manner; on the contrary, he ought to have laid his account with meeting a good deal of anger and resistance; to have born all, with patience, and laughed off his attempt for an innocent frolic; and if she threatened to inform Mrs.
Jervis, to have bidden her do so, and told her, that he would kiss Mrs. Jervis and her both. In which case she never would have opened her lips about the matter; in every succeeding attempt, he would have met with less and less resistance, till at last he might have accomplished his desires, before Miss Pamela had certainly known what he would be at. But by his offering to bribe her to silence, he betrayed all his designs, and informed her she had a secret to keep, which unless she had been const.i.tutionally vicious, it was imposible for her not to disclose. Mr. b.o.o.by shews likewise the utmost ignorance of human nature, in thinking to gain his ends with a young and innocent girl by the force of money. All young girls are taught to put a value on their virginity, and unless debauched by their own s.e.x, they never will part with it, but to those they like. None but well-disciplin'd ladies of the town are to be gained upon by meer money; and Mr. b.o.o.by, by the whole of his conduct, appears to be nothing but a downright Covent-garden rake. He was resolved to have Pamela, and marriage was indeed the only way left for him. This your first performance concludes with that happy event, and having sold well, I imagine you was induced to continue the story. But had I undertaken that task, without violating the probability or the consistency of the characters, I should have introduced Parson Williams very fairly making a cuckold of b.o.o.by, and providing him with an heir to his estate, which is the way all such b.o.o.bies ought to be treated, and a proper catastrophe for all such preposterous matches.
Your three Heroines are, Pamela, Harriet, and Clarissa, ladies all renowned for chast.i.ty and _Bible-scholarship_.
The chast.i.ty of the first was from beginning to end never well attackt, and the defence she made is so far from being extraordinary, that had she surrendered at discretion, it ought to have been reckoned miraculous. There is nothing very characteristic about Harriet, yet is she a good sort of a girl enough, especially as times go. _The men are sunk, and the women barely swim_, saith the lively Charlotte Grandison. But the character of Clarissa is, indeed, admirable throughout the whole. Nature and propriety are not only strictly observed, but we see the greatest n.o.bleness of soul, generosity of sentiments, filial affection, delicacy, modesty, and every female virtue, finely maintained and consistently conspicuous all along. The circ.u.mstances which induced her n.o.ble and generous spirit to contract a liking for Lovelace, are finely imagin'd; her delicacy and reserve, her disgust at his teazing ways, after she was in his power, are naturally to be expected from a woman of her superior accomplishments. There is something excessively pathetic, and even sublime, in her first address to him, after she was betrayed; her constant refusal of his proffer'd hand, her resignation to her fate, and her behaviour to her hard-hearted relations, are all equally n.o.ble, and all natural in a Clarissa. Her character, in short, is such, that unless one should be hunting for faults, scarce any can be found; and perhaps it is owing to such a disposition in me, that I cannot help observing she is rather too good, at least too methodically so: The division of her time, and her diary had been better omitted; all such things detract from the nature and simplicity of a character. The characters of her family are finely marked and distinguished, and well adapted for bringing on the catastrophe. There is something likewise extremely n.o.ble and generous in the friendship between Clarissa and Miss Howe. But I must here observe, that in this, your capital performance, you seem in a good measure to have exhausted your invention with respect to characters. For instance, that _dear flighty creature_ Lady G. is nothing else but a second edition of _Madam Howe's lively daughter_. They are both wits, and have both high notions of female prerogative, and the pre-eminence of their own s.e.x over the other; they had both like to have run away with too worthless fellows, and both afterwards treated two honest well-meaning men, during the time of their courtship, like dogs; and both, I imagine, for all these reasons, will be great favourites with the female part of your readers.
Pollexfen and his crew very much resemble Lovelace and his Beelzebubs; and Grandmamma Shirley is nothing else but a _second mamma_ Horton; as Lord Goosecap is another Hickman.
It would take up too much time to animadvert upon all the rest of your male and female characters. I shall only observe in general, that you seem to have succeeded better in your subordinate ones, than in the princ.i.p.al; the divine Clarissa, as you justly call her, always excepted. Though some are faulty, yet many appear to be well marked and distinguished.
The third and last thing that is to be done in an epic or dramatic composition is, to inculcate some one great moral virtue, by making it the characteristic of the hero or the chief person. Thus Homer, in his Odyssey, proposes Ulysses as an example of prudence he professes to sing,
??? a?d?a p???t??p??.
_The man for wisdom's various arts renown'd._
And Virgil, in the person of aeneas, gives an example of piety to the G.o.ds, he sings the pious aeneas. In the same manner, in the memoirs of Sir Cha. Grandison you propose an example of benevolence, and in Pamela of chast.i.ty; you celebrate the benevolent Grandison and the chaste Pamela.
I have already, in the two foregoing articles, given my opinion sufficiently of the first, and shall here say somewhat more of the latter, and enquire a little into the nature of chast.i.ty.
The influence of custom, habit, and education, over human minds is prodigious and inconceivable. It is so great and extensive, that perhaps it is utterly impossible to determine what principles or conceptions we receive from nature, and what from the other sources. All women of honour and condition among civilized nations imagine, that what are called virgin delicacy and reserve, female chast.i.ty and modesty, are not only fit and proper, but natural and inherent in their s.e.x. Fit and proper they certainly are, as the universal consent of all ages and nations shews; and besides, that fitness and propriety is founded on the nature of things, but natural and inherent they are not, as is equally manifest from experience. In ancient Greece, where the women were remarkable both for continence before marriage, and fidelity after it, customs prevailed diametrically opposite to all our most established notions of modesty and delicacy. It was customary among them, for the women to perform the offices of rubbers, sweaters, and cuppers to the men, when bathing; nor was this the employment of the servants, or female slaves, but of young ladies of the highest rank and quality. Thus, in the third Odyssey, when Telemachus is entertained at Nestor's palace, his youngest daughter,
_Sweet Polycaste, takes the pleasing toil,_ _To bathe the prince, and pour the fragrant oil._
How would Clarissa's delicacy have been shock'd and disgusted, had brother James laid his commands upon her to rub down Mr. Solmes! nor would that office have been in the least less disagreeable, had she been to perform it on the handsome person of Bob Lovelace; she would have sooner died, than have done it to either. Again, in the sixth Odyssey, when Ulysses, awakened by the noise which Nausicaa and her nymphs make at their sports, comes quite naked out of her hiding place; the nymphs, indeed, run away, not at the sight of a naked man, but for fear of an enemy, while the princess stays, and, without betraying the least disgust or uneasiness at his appearance, holds a long conversation with him, calls back her fugitive companions, and reprimands them very sharply for their timorousness. Had such an adventure, Sir, happened to your Harriet, how do you think she would have behaved? she who was not able, without the utmost palpitation, nor unless her trembling hand had been guided, to sign the marriage articles with her beloved Grandison.
Instead of giving a.s.sistance to the naked hero, she would have wanted help herself; the _dear creature_ would have fainted away. Among the northern nations in America, who lead a simple life, and where conjugal fidelity is very strictly observed, it is customary for parents to provide their guests with companions for the night in the persons of their daughters. They reckon it a necessary branch of hospitable duty, and the young ladies think themselves affronted, if their embraces are rejected. Had Pamela and Clarissa been bred up near the great lake of Hurons, they would have gone to bed to b.o.o.by and Lovelace, without any scruple, had they come to their father's houses, in the character of English envoys; and had an Iroquois damsel received her education in Northamptonshire, under the wings of grandmamma Shirley, and kept company constantly with Lucy and Nancy Selby, she would have been as delicate as Harriet herself. From whence does this mighty difference proceed, among creatures of the same species, all endued with the same pa.s.sions, appet.i.tes, and desires? Undoubtedly from custom, habit, and education; and the reason that women of candid and open dispositions, who can freely examine into themselves, are never sensible of it, and cannot make the discovery, is this; they feel these principles immoveably rooted in their minds, and they had received them so early, that they never remember the time when they had them not.
This chast.i.ty, this delicacy, _&c._ may probably enough be termed political; some people have reckoned it the meer invention of the statesman or politician; but, as I observed before, its fitness and propriety are founded on the nature of things and of human society. In all societies there are families, inheritances, and distinctions of ranks and orders. To keep these separate and distinct, to prevent them from falling into confusion, on all which the good oeconomy and internal happiness of the state much depend, the chast.i.ty and continence of women are absolutely and indispensably necessary. Therefore it has been universally agreed, to educate the s.e.x in the principles leading to that continence, and to make their honour and reputation consist in adhering to them. In women of condition, in short in all above a certain rank, the inconveniencies of deviating from these principles are always very observable, and sensibly felt; particular families are hurt, orders are confused, inheritances are uncertain, the example is bad, and the scandal great. Therefore in all such we perceive this political chast.i.ty strongly to prevail; but in the rank below them we find it, for obvious reasons, exerting no great influence. However it has so far exerted its influence, that it has universally become customary for the woman to deny, and of course it must be the prerogative of the man to ask. This has rendered a greater indulgence necessary, and introduced a greater lat.i.tude in the practice of the male s.e.x, with respect to amours. But I am afraid they have stretched this indulgence too far, indeed far beyond what the oeconomy of nature requires, and much farther than is confident with public utility. I may likewise add, that the fair s.e.x have been too remiss, that they have suffered themselves to be outwitted, and allowed the other s.e.x to carry this inequality in their manners to too great a length. Nothing certainly appears more inconsistent, than that the same action which brings the greatest disgrace and ruin, the utmost shame and infamy on the woman, should not at all affect the man, though the most guilty, as he is always the temptor and seducer. Nay, it is unjust to the highest degree; for compliance and weakness are the worst that can be laid to the charge of the one, whereas the other can seldom be excused from premeditated villainy. Many undergo capital punishments daily for crimes much less attrocious in their own nature, and much less destructive to the interests of Society. For what can be in itself more infamous, than to rob a creature of its most valuable possession, and then abandon it to a life of vice and a death of misery? If there be in nature a tender and delicate pa.s.sion, love is certainly such. Yet how different and inconsistent is the conduct of the s.e.xes in this article. A man who loves a woman with an honourable intention, rejects her with abhorrence, if he has a suspicion that she has been blown upon by another, especially a person of a subordinate rank. A woman again, who is addressed by the man she loves, makes no objection, and feels little uneasiness, even at the certainty of his prost.i.tuting his person to all the women of the town. Nay, if he has the reputation of having ruined two or three of rank and character, so far from hurting, that generally recommends him to her favour. These are facts incontestable, they can be accounted for by no principle in nature, they are quite contrary to all the maxims of delicacy, but prove at the same time the prodigious force of habit and custom.
This is a thing undoubtedly wrong, and perhaps the women are rather more to blame than the men. In all general affairs, indeed, in all matters of consequence, the male s.e.x must ever lead, and the other follow; but surely they have something in their power, were they to exert themselves.