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rior to Joseph Andrews. Yet the characters of Squire Western, Partridge, Thwackum and Square, are admirable efforts of inventive genius.' His Amelia seems a basty 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 hu. mour. His characters are in general not quite so natural as those of Fielding ; but we must except his sea personages, who are unrivalled. 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 bis novels never fail of exciting the most lively interest in his reader. Roderic-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
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 plagi
arisms, of which however he made not the best
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.”
On the modern productions in this walk of literature I am not, for many reasons, disposed to enlarge. I cannot however omit paying a just tribute to the merit of two female writers of the present day. Miss Burney, now Madame D'Arblay, is not without a portion of those talents which distinguished Smollet and Fielding, particularly the art of delineating character, with a better style ; and the ingenuity of Mrs. Radcliffe cannot be too much admired, particularly in the happy solutions which she affords of those tremendous scenes of horror with which she so successfully agitates the feelings of her readers. The Cæcilia of the former, and the Mysteries of Udolpho of the latter, are, in my opinion, their best performances.
It would be trifling to take notice of the
shoals of novels which are annually thrown out upon the public; they are the wretched pro. ductions of brain-sick females just escaped from boarding-schools, or of miserable garretteers, who want genius and learning to gain a liveli. hood in any other department of literature.
Of the serious productions termed novels, the Rasselas of Dr. Johnson deservedly holds the first place; and among the shorter tales, those in the Spectator, Guardian, Rambler, and Adventurer, are excellent. Perhaps one of the best told stories in our language is that of Fi. delia in the Adventurer, by my late estimable friend Mrs. Chapone.
I cannot dismiss this subject without remarking on the excellence of one fictitious narrative, with which I know you to be well acquainted, I mean Robinson Crusoe. Admitting that the author might have received a hint from the adventures of Alexander Selkirk, the merit of the work is entirely independant to the outline of the story. It consists in the excitement which is afforded to industry, and the curious ,exercise of invention, exemplified in the various expedients of the hero for the supply of his necessities in the forlorn situation to which he is reduced. In this view the work is of inestimable value to the young ; and not less so perhaps in the moral and religious reflexions wbich are occasionally interspersed. The delineation of the feelings of the unhappy exile, at certain periods, is the work of a master, and it is the more forcible because perfectly natural.
Shall I mention under this head that extraordinary performance, “Gulliver's Travels ?” It was evidently begun as a jeu d'esprit in ridicule of Dampier's Voyages, and the rage for read. ing the most exaggerated accounts of foreign countries, which at that time prevailed. The author, however, at last extended it to a political satire, and even to a satire on human nature itself. The two first voyages to Lilliput and Brobdignag, undoubtedly display the fancy of the author to the highest advantage. There is something there in which the imagination of the reader can accompany that of the author. When he transforms men into horses, and horses into men, the fiction is too violent, and no picture can be formed in the mind to realize the description. Without this, every effort of imagination must fail in the effect; and I believe most writers turn with disgust from this