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well might we suppose that Seneca had penned the incomparable odes of Horace-or Eutropius written the history of the Catilinian war-or Blackmore the Rape of the Lock, as that the writer of the Letters from Spain were the author of Espriella's letters. Should I be deceived in this idea, and should the two productions actually have been the offspring of one man, it is unquestionably the most miraculous event to be found in the history of literature.
Edinburgh Review- Calebs in search of a Wife.
There was a time, and not very long since, when the business of reviewing new publications was, in Great Britain, highly respectable, and as highly useful. Associations of men of talents were formed, who, according to their various tastes and pursuits, parcelled among themselves the different branches of literature-reviewed with candor and liberality the books that appeared under each division-and, separating the wheat from the chaff, were regarded as affording “eyes to the blind" to the generality of purchasers, who could, in nine cases out of ten, rely with safety on the verdict of this high court of literature. I say nine cases out of ten-because even in those times, partiality, prejudice, malice, and other sinister motives, would occasionally interfere; corrupt and bias some individual of the jury; and thus produce an erroneous decision on some of the productions which courted the suffrage of the learned, and the patronage of the public. But the instances of this kind were rare.
For the correctness of this statement, I freely appeal to the recollection and knowledge of those men of reading and taste, who can cast their eyes backward for forty or fifty years-and who have witnessed the general correctness, sound judgment, and impartiality that presided over the decisions of the Monthly and Critical Reviews, formerly almost the only umpires in the literary world. Time has set his seal of approbation on their verdicts generally-and for one that has been repealed, twenty have been confirmed.
But alas! tempora mutantur, et nos "mutamur in illis. At present the scene is deplorably reversed. The reviews, which have sprung up like mushrooms in the night, and which now are, perhaps, almost as numerous as the daily papers, make, with some few illustrious exceptions, a frightful exhibition of nearly all the vile passions, that disgrace and dishonour human nature. Ambition, avarice, malignant hatred, and faction, alternately domineer over many of the hirelings who write for them. There are numberless instances of the most respectable works being loaded with abuse, and consigned to oblivion, because their
authors happened to differ on some abstract points of religion or politics from the writers, or the publishers of the review; for be it observed, that a considerable proportion of the writers being mercenaries, hired for the purpose, they are too generally obliged to be entirely subservient to the views and passions of the proprietors.
I have been led into this investigation and detail, by the perusal, in the last number of The Port Folio, of a critique, extracted from the Edinburgh Review, on a most excellent work, lately published by Hannah Moore, called "Cœlebs, in Search of a Wife.” In the annals of literature, I know of no greater instance of charlatannerie and destitution of truth, than is here exhibited. The accusations brought against the writer, her book, and its principal characters-the opinions and assertions of the reviewer-with his final decision upon the work, are not only not true, but the very reverse of truth. It may seem extraordinary, but it is nevertheless true, that I really cannot persuade myself that the reviewer read Celebs. Perhaps, when he was yawning under the hands of his frizeur, he might have skimmed through a page or two, and from them undertook to decide upon the whole. It reminds me of a story I have somewhere read, of a man who was about purchasing an orchard, in which there was a great diversity of fruits-and sent for a single apple to enable him to judge what sort of fruit it produced. To those acquainted with some of the arcana of the profession of a reviewer, the above opinion will not appear very extravagant. They know that such things are. The nature of the case precludes positive evidence. Presumptive is the highest degree that can be obtained, unless by the confession of the party, which is not to be expected. I hope to convince the reader, that there is very strong presumptive evidence in this case.
When a critic utterly mistates the nature and tendency of a work, and charges opinions and practices upon the principal characters of it, not at all to be found in it-are we not warranted in the belief-is there not as strong presumptive evidence as can be reasonably required, that he has taken his idea of it from hearsay- —or if he has looked into it all, that it must have been in the most cursory and superficial manner? I cannot doubt but every candid person will respond in the affirmative.
It remains for me to prove that the author has thus mistated, and thus falsely accused. I shall produce two or three strong instances in which the authoress is made to express opinions, and to lay down dogmas, which the eyes of Argus could not find in her book—and then a hollow deceptious triumph is pretended over those errors, which are the mere fabrications of the critic, and do not at all appertain to the authoress. This is an ancient trick. But its antiquity does not at all diminish its turpitude. It is somewhat analogous to the practice of cer-`
tain persecutors, who had the objects of their cruelty disfigured with the skins of wild beasts, and then had them hunted to death by bloodhounds.
On the subject of the dramatic art and the theatre, the critic was desirous of making a pompous display of his profound taste and his extensive reading. From the zeal and enthusiasm with which he is animated, a reader would be led to suppose that one of the chief objects of "Celebs" was an attack of the most bigoted and illiberal kind against the theatre and the drama in general, in which the immortal works of Shakspeare-the witty, but gross productions of Wycherley, Behn, Farquhar, Congreve, and Cibber-the laughter-inspiring nonsense of O'Keefe-and the chaste and instructive dramas of Addison, Young, and Cumberland, were all assailed with undiscriminating and Vandalic fury. At such an instance of Gothic ignorance and stupidity, he would naturally and inevitably, if possessed of taste, unite with the reviewer in his denunciation of the folly and illiberality of our authoress, and consign her work to what he would suppose its merited contempt and oblivion. But inexpressibly great would be his error. Let the reviewer, however, speak for himself, lest I be supposed to offer him injustice.
"Celebs and Lucilla, her optimus and optima never dance, and never go to the play. They not only stay away from the comedies of Congreve and Farquhar, for which they may easily be forgiven, but they never go see Mrs. Siddons in the Gamester and Jane Shore. The finest exhibition of talent, and the most beautiful moral lessons are interdicted at the theatre. There is something in the word "Playhouse," which seems so closely connected, in the minds of these people, with sin and Satan, that it stands, in their vocabulary, for every species of abomination. And yet why? Where is every feeling more roused in favour of virtue than at a good play? Where is goodness so feelingly, so enthusiastically learnt? What so solemn as to see the most excellent passions of the human heart called forth by a great actor, animated by a great poet? To hear Siddons repeat what Shakspeare wrote ? To behold the child and his mother, the noble and the poor, the monarch and his subjects, all ages and all ranks convulsed with one common passion, wrung with one common anguish, and, with loud sobs and cries, doing homage to the God who made their hearts? What wretched infatuation to interdict such amusements as these! What a blessing that mankind can be allured from sensual gratification, and find relaxation and pleasure in such pursuits!"
On this single point I would have no hesitation to rest the merits of the case. Here is a strong, clear, and pointed accusation brought forward. I do not, by any means, enter into a discussion of the ques
tion, which has been so often agitated, and on which excellent men have been arrayed on both sides-I mean the question of the advantages and disadvantages of theatrical representations generally; but our object is to ascertain whether Calebs or Lucilla had this abhorrence of "dancing or going to the play-house"-whether they had any conscientious scruples against "hearing Siddons repeat what Shakespeare wrote," or whether the "word playhouse was so closely connected with sin and Satan, in their minds, that it stood in their vocabulary for every species of abomination." On this point I join issue with the critic, and on this I am willing to stand or fall.
With what wonder, with what indignation must the reader learn, that, in all the discursive range of conversation, of the most diversified kind, in which Lucilla was engaged, embracing an infinite variety of the most interesting topics relative to morals and manners, neither dancing nor the playhouse" are once introduced, nor even glanced at—so far is she, at least, from "connecting the word playhouse with sin," and making it synonimous "with every species of abomination!" Surely, it required a very uncommon combination of malignity, effrontery, and folly, thus to fabricate a charge so totally without the shadow of foundation-a charge so easily refuted. Instances of such imposture may, I admit, have occurred before in the republic of letters; but, except Lauder's vile attack upon the manes of Milton, I know of nothing half so base. This is more profligate; as Lauder might have hoped, from the difficulty of detection, in his references to antiquated authors, to have escaped triumphantly. But our reviewer could hardly have expected to avoid disgrace, in so gross a misrepresentation of a book in almost every person's hands.
The theatre and balls are, it is true, once introduced. Mrs. Ranby, a woman who, with very gross defects of character, has deluded herself into the belief of possessing an extraordinary degree of sanctity, in eulogizing her daughters, thus addresses Cœlebs:
"There, Sir, are three girls, who will make excellent wives: they were never at a ball or a play in their lives; and yet, though I say it, that should not say it, they are as accomplished as any ladies at St. James's."
On this Celebs says,
"I cordially approved the former part of her assertion, and bowed in silence to the latter."
The declaration of Mrs. Ranby consists of three several points. 1st. That her daughters would make excellent wives; 2d, that they had never been at a ball or a play; and 3d, that they were as accom
plished as any ladies at St. James's. Whether the "cordial approbation" of the hero had reference to the first or second point may be made a matter of dispute. The sentence unquestionably wants precision. But even admitting it to refer exclusively to the second, it is the only instance in which Celebs hazarded an opinion on this topic, and indubitably this does not warrant the ranting effusions of the critic respecting Shakespeare and Siddons, "the interdiction of the theatre," the synonimy of the playhouse" with "every species of abomination," and its "connexion with sin and Satan." Not to repeat what I have already stated, that Lucilla Stanley, who is equally the subject of the reviewer's ire on this point, has not lisped a single word, in any way, respecting either "dancing or the theatre."
"Lucilla is totally uninteresting; so is Mr. Stanley; Dr. Barlow still worse; and Calebs a mere clod or dolt."
"The excellent Mr. Stanley is uniformly paltry and narrow, always trembling at the idea of being entertained, and thinking no Christian safe who is not dull."
So far the reviewer. This decision is as totally groundless as the other; but it requires more detail to prove its falsehood. I begin with Mr. Stanley. I have no other way than to quote some of his sentiments, and leave the decision to the reader.
"It is to preserve them from evils which I deprecate,” said Mr. Stanley, "that I would consign the most engaging subjects to the best hands, and raise the taste of our youth, by allowing a little of their leisure, and of their leisure only, to such amusements." Vol. II. 21.
"I adopt none of the metaphysical subtilties, none of the abstruse niceties of any party: nor do I imitate either in the reprobation of the other, believing that heaven is peopled with the humble and the conscientious out of every class of real Christians." II. 111.
In giving an account of the management of his daughters, Mr. Stanley says,
“Jane has a fine ear and a pretty voice, and will sing and play well enough for any girl who is not to make music her profession. One or two of the others sing agreeably. The little one, who brought you the last nosegay, has a strong turn for natural history: and we all of us generally botanize little of an evening, which gives a fresh interest to our walk. She will soon draw plants and flowers pretty accurately. Louisa has also some taste for designing, and takes tolerable sketches from nature. These we encourage, because they are solitary pleasures, and want no witnesses.. each girl is furnished with some one source of independent amusement.” II. 123.