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the Western Islands. It is more rich in sentiment than in description; and where the country supplies nothing to arrest the attention of his readers, his fertile mind more than supplies the deficiency. I cannot resist the temptation of transcribing one passage, which displays the author's address in introducing his own reflections, and his exquisite manner of imparting them. The passage relates to his first landing at Icolmbkill, the ancient seat of religion and learning. "We were now treading that illustrious island, which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge, and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery or virtue. That man is little to be envied, whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona!"
It would however be unreasonable to expect that every book of travels should be as highly finished as if it came from the accomplished pen of Dr. Johnson; that would be to lay an embargo upon much useful information. The simple, but admired narrative of Col. Stedman, never fails to interest or amuse.
There is one species of narrative which remains to be noticed. It might be classed as a kind of biography, but it is properly a work of imagination, I mean fictitious narrative. Respecting what is a mere exertion of fancy, scarcely any rules can be established, and in this respect even Aristotle's poetics have done more harm than good, particularly in the rules which he pretends to prescribe for dramatic poetry. So much must depend on the author's peculiar genius, the times in which
he lives, the subject he undertakes, and many other circumstances, that the only process I can properly adopt is to exhibit a short view of the principal writers in this class.*
Fictitious narrative would be of very remote date if we were to admit in our review those which class under the description of poetry. It would then include all the ancient ballads, and even epic poetry itself. But in the present letter I must confine myself to what is strictly prose.
I am disposed myself to place the Cyropædia of Xenophon in the class of fabulous narrations, though some have contended for it as a true history. It appears to me as a narrative intended to support a theory, like the Emilius of Rousseau, of which it undoubtedly serves as the model. The Ephesian Xenophon is the next who furnishes us with a specimen of this kind of writing; for his Ephesian or Loves of Atrocomus and Anthia is unquestionably a romance. The Ethiopics of Heliodorus, or Loves of Theagenes and Chariclea, is another production of the same description. The author is supposed to have been bishop of Tricca, in Thessaly, in the reign of Theodosius. I know of nothing of the kind amongst the Romans, unless we consider as such the obscene and nonsensical rhapsody of Petronius Arbiter.
What were the Milesian and Ionian tales it is impossible to say, as we have no remains of them extant; but in the East this kind of composition was composed probably very early (as I believe many pieces in the Sanscrit will testify), and among the Arabians certainly with great success, as instanced in the charming volumes of Arabian Nights Entertainments.
In all these Eastern productions there is a mixture of the mythology of the times; and the romances of the middle ages are marked by the same character, and
* Since writing the above, however, I have seen some excellent rules for novel writers in the second volume of Mr. Cumberland's Memoirs, p. 259.
might probably derive their origin from the Saracens, who a few years before had overrun a great part of Europe, and were masters of all the science and literature then extant in the world. The common subject of these performances is a long continued contest between a knight and a magician. The latter entangles the former in his spells, but the knight, through the assistance of his tutelary saint, and his mistress, is always ultimately victorious. I do not pretend to be conversant in this antiquated branch of reading. You will find the names of the most celebrated romances in Don Quixote, and, to say the truth, I could furnish you with nothing more.
To that incomparable performance let us therefore pass, for it gave a new direction to this fashion of writing, and was the first example of the humorous or satirical romance. Though intended chiefly as a burlesque on this species of writing, yet it contains many fine specimens of genius, independant of the original plan. There is in it some poetry not of the meanest description; and the stories of Dorothea, Cardenio, &c., afford perhaps the models of those affecting stories which have been produced by modern writers. I have read this delightful work more than once in the original. I must observe that no work loses so much by translation; it is impossible to transfuse the curiosa felicitas of the author, or the peculiar humour of Sancho, into any other language. To those also who have visited the country which the author describes, the work will have a double relish; for in many respects the manners and customs remain exactly the same, as well as the face of the country. I must add that I believe it is the first work of the kind that ever contained a strong delineation of character.
If the "Devil on Crutches" and "Gil Blas" are, as some have asserted, originally Spanish, the mantle of Cervantes seems to have been caught up by some kindred spirits. Admitting, however, that the hints might be taken from the "Diablo Cojuello," and "Don Guzman," yet it must be allowed that M. Le Sage has greatly improved upon his originals. He excels in the
delineation of character, especially in his Gil Blas, which perhaps is the first work extant in the line of fictitious narrative. But it is too generally known and admired to require either commendation or criticism.
Of the novels of Mr. Richardson I have little knowledge. They were too full of trite sentiment, and too tedious, to engage my attention in my youth, and I have not since attempted to read them. Persons of great judgment and taste, however, have agreed that the Clarissa of this author contains many fine passages, and some pathetic scenes worthy of the pen of the most accomplished tragic writer.
Le Sage seems to have been the model on which our admirable Fielding proceeded in this walk of literature. Yet his first essay in fictitious history, and perhaps his best, was originally designed as a burlesque upon the writings of Mr. Richardson, and particularly his Pamela. Perhaps no writer, not Shakspeare himself, has excelled Fielding in the delineation of character. Parson Adams, Barnabas and Trulliber, all three of the same profession, are equally striking, and yet so natural that though few have been ambitious of appearing in the latter characters, the candidates for the honour of representing Parson Adams have greatly out-numbered the cities which contended for the birth of Homer; and in my youth there was scarcely a village in England that did not claim for itself the credit of producing the original from which the portrait was drawn. Tom Jones, which by many is considered as Fielding's first performance, is in my opinion inferior to Joseph Andrews. Yet the characters of Squire Western, Partridge, Thwackum and Square, are admirable efforts of inventive genius. His Amelia seems a hasty performance, and is inferior to the other two, though the character of Justice Thrasher may class with any that has been drawn by the hand of this exquisite master.
Smollett, though not equal to Fielding, is yet possessed of a most excellent vein of humour. His characters are in general not quite so natural as those of Fielding; but we must except his sea personages, who are unri
valled. Perhaps he is not quite equal to his great original, at least as far as respects Tom Jones, in the skill and address of conducting a plot, and winding it up in a dramatic manner; yet his novels never fail of exciting the most lively interest in his reader. Roderick Random is very superior to his Peregrine Pickle, independently of the gross deficiency in moral, which is a censure that justly attaches to the latter work. Indeed Tom Jones is in some measure culpable in this respect; for actual vice is treated too much as venial levity, and exhibited in too amiable and alluring a light not to be injurious to young readers. Humphrey Clinker, though it has little of plot or story, keeps attention alive by the constant display of odd characters well caricatured, and by an uninterrupted flow of genuine humour. No man can read these performances without regretting that the time and genius of Smollett, instead of pursuing a track for which he was so admirably adapted by nature, should have been wasted on the compilation of a dull, and in all respects very indifferent history.
The popularity of Sterne is so far passed away, that it seems like insulting the ashes of the dead to criticize him with severity. Under the class of fictitious narrative it seems as if we could only consider his Tristram Shandy; for in what view to regard the Sentimental Journey, whether as truth or fiction, is difficult to determine; nor does it much signify with respect to so contemptible a performance. I heard it once remarked of this work, "That the author seemed to have acted folly purposely for the sake of recording it." The first pages of his Tristram Shandy are a manifest theft from the Memoirs of Martinus. Scriblerus. Indeed it has been proved that all his best passages are plagiarisms, of which however he made not the best use. I allow him all his merits when I say he had some turn for humour, some taste for the pathetic. But I am convinced that the ephemeral reputation of Tristram Shandy was 'much increased by the obscene allusions, and not a little by what Dr. Blair not unhappily terms "typographical figures."