Chapter IX. Period VII. The Eighteenth Century, Pseudo-Classicism And The Beginnings Of Modern Romanticism (Page 5)
'The Vicar,' delightful and refreshing. All in all, however, 'The Deserted Village' is his masterpiece, with its romantic regret, verging on tragedy but softened away from it, and its charming type characterizations, as incisive as those of Chaucer and Dryden, but without any of Dryden's biting satire. In the choice of the rimed couplet for 'The Traveler' and 'The Deserted Village' the influence of pseudo-classicism and of Johnson appears; but Goldsmith's treatment of the form, with his variety in pauses and his simple but fervid eloquence, make it a very different thing from the rimed couplet of either Johnson or Pope. 'The Deserted Village,' it should be added, is not a description of any actual village, but a generalized picture of existing conditions. Men of wealth in England and Ireland were enlarging their sheep pastures and their hunting grounds by buying up land and removing villages, and Goldsmith, like Sir Thomas More, two hundred years earlier, and likewise patriots of all times, deeply regretted the tendency.
PERCY, MACPHERSON, AND CHATTERTON. The appearance of Thomson's 'Winter' in
1726 is commonly taken as conveniently marking the beginning of the Romantic Movement. Another of its conspicuous dates is 1765, the year of the publication of the 'Reliques [pronounced Relics] of Ancient English Poetry' of the enthusiastic antiquarian Thomas (later Bishop) Percy. Percy drew from many sources, of which the most important was a manuscript volume, in which an anonymous seventeenth century collector had copied a large number of old poems and which Percy rescued just in the nick of time, as the maids in the house of one of his friends were beginning to use it as kindling for the fires. His own book consisted of something less than two hundred very miscellaneous poems, ranging in date from the fourteenth century to his own day. Its real importance, however, lies in the fact that it contained a number of the old popular ballads (above, pp. 74 ff). Neither Percy himself nor any one else in his time understood the real nature of these ballads and their essential difference from other poetry, and Percy sometimes tampered with the text and even filled out gaps with stanzas of his own, whose sentimental style is ludicrously inconsistent with the primitive vigor of the originals. But his book, which attained great popularity, marks the beginning of the special study of the ballads and played an important part in the revival of interest in medieval life.
Still greater interest was aroused at the time by the Ossianic poems of James Macpherson. From 1760 to 1763 Macpherson, then a young Highland Scots schoolmaster, published in rapid succession certain fragments of Gaelic verse and certain more extended works in poetical English prose which, he asserted, were part of the originals, discovered by himself, and translations, of the poems of the legendary Scottish bard Ossian, of the third Christian century. These productions won him substantial material rewards in the shape of high political offices throughout the rest of his long life. About the genuineness of the compositions, however, a violent controversy at once arose, and Dr. Johnson was one of the skeptics who vigorously denounced Macpherson as a shameless impostor. The general conviction of scholars of the present day is that while Macpherson may have found some fragments of very ancient Gaelic verse in circulation among the Highlanders, he fabricated most of what he published. These works, however,
'Fingal' and the rest, certainly contributed to the Romantic Movement; and they are not only unique productions, but, in small quantities, still interesting. They can best be described as reflections of the misty scenes of Macpherson's native Highlands--vague impressionistic glimpses, succeeding one another in purposeless repetition, of bands of marching warriors whose weapons intermittently flash and clang through the fog, and of heroic women, white-armed and with flowing hair, exhorting the heroes to the combat or lamenting their fall.
A very minor figure, but one of the most pathetic in the history of English literature, is that of Thomas Chatterton. While he was a boy in Bristol, Chatterton's imagination was possessed by the medieval buildings of the city, and when some old documents fell into his hands he formed the idea of composing similar works in both verse and prose and passing them off as medieval productions which he had discovered. To his imaginary author he gave the name of Thomas Rowley. Entirely successful in deceiving his fellow-townsmen, and filled with a great ambition, Chatterton went to London, where, failing to secure patronage, he committed suicide as the only resource against the begging to which his proud spirit could not submit. This was in 1770, and he was still only eighteen years old. Chatterton's work must be viewed under several aspects. His imitation of the medieval language was necessarily very imperfect and could mislead no one to-day; from this point of view the poems have no permanent significance. The moral side of his action need not be seriously weighed, as Chatterton never reached the age of responsibility and if he had lived would soon have passed from forgery to genuine work. That he might have achieved much is suggested by the evidences of real genius in his boyish output, which probably justify Wordsworth's description, of him as 'the marvelous boy.' That he would have become one of the great English poets, however, is much more open to question.
WILLIAM COWPER. Equally pathetic is the figure of William Cowper
(pronounced either Cowper or Cooper), whose much longer life (1731-1800) and far larger literary production give him a more important actual place than can be claimed for Chatterton, though his natural ability was far less and his significance to-day is chiefly historical. Cowper's career, also, was largely frustrated by the same physical weaknesses which had ruined Collins, present in the later poet in still more distressing degree. Cowper is clearly a transition poet, sharing largely, in a very mild fashion, in some of the main romantic impulses, but largely pseudo-classical in his manner of thought and expression. His life may be briefly summarized. Morbid timidity and equally morbid religious introspection, aggravated by disappointments in love, prevented him as a young man from accepting a very comfortable clerkship in the House of Lords and drove him into intermittent insanity, which closed more darkly about him in his later years. He lived the greater part of his mature life in the household of a Mrs. Unwin, a widow for whom he had a deep affection and whom only his mental affliction prevented him from marrying. A long residence in the wretched village of Olney, where he forced himself to cooperate in all phases of religious work with the village clergyman, the stern enthusiast John Newton, produced their joint collection of 'Olney Hymns,' many of which deservedly remain among the most popular in our church song-books; but it inevitably increased Cowper's disorder. After this he resigned himself to a perfectly simple life, occupied with the writing of poetry, the care of pets, gardening, and carpentry. The bulk of his work consists of long moralizing poems, prosy, prolix, often trivial, and to-day largely unreadable. Same of them are in the rimed couplet and others in blank verse. His blank-verse translation of Homer, published in 1791, is more notable, and 'Alexander Selkirk' and the humorous doggerel 'John Gilpin' are famous; but his most significant poems are a few lyrics and descriptive pieces in which he speaks out his deepest feelings with the utmost pathetic or tragic power. In the expression of different moods of almost intolerable sadness 'On the Receipt of My Mother's Picture' and 'To Mary' (Mrs. Unwin) can scarcely be surpassed, and 'The Castaway' is final as the restrained utterance of morbid religious despair. Even in his long poems, in his minutely loving treatment of Nature he is the most direct precursor of Wordsworth, and he is one of the earliest outspoken opponents of slavery and cruelty to animals. How unsuited in all respects his delicate and sensitive nature was to the harsh experiences of actual life is suggested by Mrs. Browning with vehement sympathy in her poem, 'Cowper's Grave.'
WILLIAM BLAKE. Still another utterly unworldly and frankly abnormal poet, though of a still different temperament, was William Blake (1757-1827), who in many respects is one of the most extreme of all romanticists. Blake, the son of a London retail shopkeeper, received scarcely any book education, but at fourteen he was apprenticed to an engraver, who stimulated his imagination by setting him to work at making drawings in Westminster Abbey and other old churches. His training was completed by study at the Royal Academy of Arts, and for the rest of his life he supported himself, in poverty, with the aid of a devoted wife, by keeping a print-and-engraving shop. Among his own engravings the best known is the famous picture of Chaucer's Canterbury Pilgrims, which is not altogether free from the weird strangeness that distinguished most of his work in all lines. For in spite of his commonplace exterior life Blake was a thorough mystic to whom the angels and spirits that he beheld in trances were at least as real as the material world. When his younger brother died he declared that he saw the released soul mount through the ceiling, clapping its hands in joy. The bulk of his writing consists of a series of 'prophetic books' in verse and prose, works, in part, of genius, but of unbalanced genius, and virtually unintelligible. His lyric poems, some of them composed when he was no more than thirteen years old, are unlike anything else anywhere, and some of them are of the highest quality. Their controlling trait is childlikeness; for Blake remained all his life one of those children of whom is the Kingdom of Heaven. One of their commonest notes is that of childlike delight in the mysterious joy and beauty of the world, a delight sometimes touched, it is true, as in 'The Tiger,' with a maturer consciousness of the wonderful and terrible power behind all the beauty. Blake has intense indignation also for all cruelty and everything which he takes for cruelty, including the shutting up of children in school away from the happy life of out-of-doors. These are the chief sentiments of 'Songs of Innocence.' In
'Songs of Experience' the shadow of relentless fact falls somewhat more perceptibly across the page, though the prevailing ideas are the same. Blake's significant product is very small, but it deserves much greater reputation than it has actually attained. One characteristic external fact should be added. Since Blake's poverty rendered him unable to pay for having his books printed, he himself performed the enormous labor of
engraving them, page by page, often with an ornamental margin about the text.
ROBERT BURNS. Blake, deeply romantic as he is by nature, virtually stands by himself, apart from any movement or group, and the same is equally true of the somewhat earlier lyrist in whom eighteenth century poetry culminates, namely Robert Burns. Burns, the oldest of the seven children of two sturdy Scotch peasants of the best type, was born in 1759 in Ayrshire, just beyond the northwest border of England. In spite of extreme poverty, the father joined with some of his neighbors in securing the services of a teacher for their children, and the household possessed a few good books, including Shakspere and Pope, whose influence on the future poet was great. But the lot of the family was unusually hard. The father's health failed early and from childhood the boys were obliged to do men's work in the field. Robert later declared, probably with some bitter exaggeration, that his life had combined 'the cheerless gloom of a hermit with the unceasing moil of a galley slave.' His genius, however, like his exuberant spirit, could not be crushed out. His mother had familiarized him from the beginning with the songs and ballads of which the country was full, and though he is said at first to have had so little ear for music that he could scarcely distinguish one tune from another, he soon began to compose songs (words) of his own as he followed the plough. In the greatness of his later success his debt to the current body of song and music should not be overlooked. He is only the last of a long succession of rural Scottish song-writers; he composed his own songs to accompany popular airs; and many of them are directly based on fragments of earlier songs. None the less his work rises immeasurably above all that had gone before it.
The story of Burns' mature life is the pathetic one of a very vigorous nature in which genius, essential manliness, and good impulses struggled against and were finally overcome by violent passions, aggravated by the bitterness of poverty and repeated disappointments. His first effort, at eighteen, to better his condition, by the study of surveying at a neighboring town, resulted chiefly in throwing him into contact with bad companions; a venture in the business of flax-dressing ended in disaster; and the same ill-fortune attended the several successive attempts which he made at general farming. He became unfortunately embroiled also with the Church, which (the Presbyterian denomination) exercised a very strict control in Scotland. Compelled to do public penance for some of his offenses, his keen wit could not fail to be struck by the inconsistency between the rigid doctrines and the lives of some of the men who were proceeding against him; and he commemorated the feud in his series of overwhelming but painfully flippant satires.
His brief period of dazzling public success dawned suddenly out of the darkest moment of his fortunes. At the age of twenty-seven, abandoning the hope which he had already begun to cherish of becoming the national poet of Scotland, he had determined in despair to emigrate to Jamaica to become an overseer on a plantation. (That this chief poet of democracy, the author of
'A Man's a Man for a' That,' could have planned to become a slave-driver suggests how closely the most genuine human sympathies are limited by habit and circumstances.) To secure the money for his voyage Burns had published his poems in a little volume. This won instantaneous and universal popularity, and Burns, turning back at the last moment, responded to the suggestion of some of the great people of Edinburgh that he should come to that city and see what could be done for him. At first the experiment seemed fortunate, for the natural good breeding with which this untrained countryman bore himself for a winter as the petted lion of the society of fashion and learning (the University) was remarkable. None the less the situation was unnatural and necessarily temporary, and unluckily Burns formed associations also with such boon companions of the lower sort as had hitherto been his undoing. After a year Edinburgh dropped him, thus supplying substantial fuel for his ingrained poor man's jealousy and rancor at the privileged classes. Too near his goal to resume the idea of emigrating, he returned to his native moors, rented another farm, and married Jean Armour, one of the several heroines of his love-poems. The only material outcome of his period of public favor was an appointment as internal revenue collector, an unpopular and uncongenial office which he accepted with reluctance and exercised with leniency. It required him to occupy much of his time in riding about the country, and contributed to his final failure as a farmer. After the latter event he removed to the neighboring market-town of Dumfries, where he again renewed his companionship with unworthy associates. At last prospects for promotion in the revenue service began to open to him, but it was too late; his naturally robust constitution had given way to over-work and dissipation, and he died in 1796 at the age of thirty-seven.
Burns' place among poets is perfectly clear. It is chiefly that of a song-writer, perhaps the greatest songwriter of the world. At work in the fields or in his garret or kitchen after the long day's work was done, he composed songs because he could not help it, because his emotion was irresistibly stirred by the beauty and life of the birds and flowers, the snatch of a melody which kept running through his mind, or the memory of the girl with whom he had last talked. And his feelings expressed themselves with spontaneous simplicity, genuineness, and ease. He is a thoroughly romantic poet, though wholly by the grace of nature, not at all from any conscious intention--he wrote as the inspiration moved him, not in accordance with any theory of art. The range of his subjects and emotions is nearly or quite complete--love; comradeship; married affection, as in
'John Anderson, My Jo'; reflective sentiment; feeling for nature; sympathy with animals; vigorous patriotism, as in 'Scots Wha Hae' (and Burns did much to revive the feeling of Scots for Scotland); deep tragedy and pathos; instinctive happiness; delightful humor; and the others. It should be clearly recognized, however, that this achievement, supreme as it is in its own way, does not suffice to place Burns among the greatest poets. The brief lyrical outbreaks of the song-writer are no more to be compared with the sustained creative power and knowledge of life and character which make the great dramatist or narrative poet than the bird's song is to be compared with an opera of Wagner. But such comparisons need not be pressed; and the song of bird or poet appeals instantly to every normal hearer, while the drama or narrative poem requires at least some special accessories and training. Burns' significant production, also, is not altogether limited to songs. 'The Cotter's Saturday Night' (in Spenser's stanza) is one of the perfect descriptive poems of lyrical sentiment; and some of Burns' meditative poems and poetical epistles to acquaintances are delightful in a free-and-easy fashion. The exuberant power in the religious satires and the narrative 'Tam o' Shanter' is undeniable, but they belong to a lower order of work.
Many of Burns' poems are in the Lowland Scots dialect; a few are wholly in ordinary English; and some combine the two idioms. It is an interesting question whether Burns wins distinctly greater success in one than in the other. In spite of his prevailing literary honesty, it may be observed, his English shows some slight traces of the effort to imitate Pope and the feeling that the pseudo-classical style with its elegance was really the highest--a feeling which renders some of his letters painfully affected.
[Footnote: For the sake of brevity the sternly realistic poet George Crabbe is here omitted.]
THE NOVEL. We have traced the literary production of the eighteenth century in many different forms, but it still remains to speak of one of the most important, the novel, which in the modern meaning of the word had its origin not long before 1750. Springing at that time into apparently sudden popularity, it replaced the drama as the predominant form of literature and has continued such ever since. The reasons are not hard to discover. The drama is naturally the most popular literary form in periods like the Elizabethan when the ability (or inclination) to read is not general, when men are dominated by the zest for action, and when cities have become sufficiently large to keep the theaters well filled. It is also the natural form in such a period as that of the Restoration, when literary life centers about a frivolous upper class who demand an easy and social form of entertainment. But the condition is very different when, as in the eighteenth and still more in the nineteenth century, the habit of reading, and some recognition of its educating influence, had spread throughout almost all classes and throughout the country, creating a public far too large, too scattered, and too varied to gain access to the London and provincial theaters or to find all their needs supplied by a somewhat artificial literary form. The novel, on the other hand, gives a much fuller portrayal of life than does the drama, and allows the much more detailed analysis of characters and situations which the modern mind has come more and more to demand.
The novel, which for our present purpose must be taken to include the romance, is, of course, only a particular and highly developed kind of long story, one of the latest members of the family of fiction, or the larger family of narrative, in prose and verse. The medieval romances, for example, included most of the elements of the novel, even, sometimes, psychological analysis; but the romances usually lacked the unity, the complex and careful structure, the thorough portrayal of character, and the serious attention to the real problems of life which in a general way distinguish the modern novel. Much the same is true of the Elizabethan
'novels,' which, besides, were generally short as well as of small intellectual and ethical caliber. During the Restoration period and a little later there began to appear several kinds of works which perhaps looked more definitely toward the later novel. Bunyan's religious allegories may likely enough have had a real influence on it, and there were a few English tales and romances of chivalry (above, pages 184-5), and a few more realistic pieces of fiction. The habit of journal writing and the letters about London life sent by some persons in the city to their friends in the country should also be mentioned. The De Coverly papers in
'The Spectator' approach distinctly toward the novel. They give real presentation of both characters and setting (social life) and lack only connected treatment of the story (of Sir Roger). Defoe's fictions, picaresque tales of adventure, come still closer, but lack the deeper artistic and moral purpose and treatment suggested a moment ago. The case is not very different with Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels,' which, besides, is primarily a satire. Substantially, therefore, all the materials were now ready, awaiting only the fortunate hand which should arrange and shape them into a real novel. This proved to be the hand of a rather unlikely person, the outwardly commonplace printer, Samuel Richardson.
SAMUEL RICHARDSON. It is difficult, because of the sentimental nature of the period and the man, to tell the story of Richardson's career without an appearance of farcical burlesque. Born in 1689, in Derbyshire, he early gave proof of his special endowments by delighting his childish companions with stories, and, a little later, by becoming the composer of the love letters of various young women. His command of language and an insistent tendency to moralize seemed to mark him out for the ministry, but his father was unable to pay for the necessary education and apprenticed him to a London printer. Possessed of great fidelity and all the quieter virtues, he rose steadily and became in time the prosperous head of his own printing house, a model citizen, and the father of a large family of children. Before he reached middle life he was a valetudinarian. His household gradually became a constant visiting place for a number of young ladies toward whom he adopted a fatherly attitude and who without knowing it were helping him to prepare for his artistic success.
When he was not quite fifty his great reputation among his acquaintances as a letter-writer led some publishers to invite him to prepare a series of
'Familiar [that is, Friendly] Letters' as models for inexperienced young people. Complying, Richardson discovered the possibilities of the letter form as a means of telling stories, and hence proceeded to write his first novel, 'Pamela, [Footnote: He wrongly placed the accent on the first syllable.] or Virtue Rewarded,' which was published in 1740. It attained enormous success, which he followed up by writing his masterpiece,
'Clarissa Harlowe' (1747-8), and then 'The History of Sir Charles Grandison' (1753). He spent his latter years, as has been aptly said, in a sort of perpetual tea-party, surrounded by bevies of admiring ladies, and largely occupied with a vast feminine correspondence, chiefly concerning his novels. He died of apoplexy in 1761.
At this distance of time it is easy to summarize the main traits of Richardson's novels.
1. He gave form to the modern novel by shaping it according to a definite plot with carefully selected incidents which all contributed directly to the outcome. In this respect his practice was decidedly stricter than that of most of his English successors down to the present time. Indeed, he avowedly constructed his novels on the plan of dramas, while later novelists, in the desire to present a broader picture of life, have generally allowed themselves greater range of scenes and a larger number of characters. In the instinct for suspense, also, no one has surpassed Richardson; his stories are intense, not to say sensational, and once launched upon them we follow with the keenest interest to the outcome.
2. Nevertheless, he is always prolix. That the novels as published varied in length from four to eight volumes is not really significant, since these were the very small volumes which (as a source of extra profit) were to be the regular form for novels until after the time of Scott. Even 'Clarissa,' the longest, is not longer than some novels of our own day. Yet they do much exceed the average in length and would undoubtedly gain by condensation. Richardson, it may be added, produced each of them in the space of a few months, writing, evidently, with the utmost fluency, and with little need for revision.
3. Most permanently important, perhaps, of all Richardson's contributions, was his creation of complex characters, such as had thitherto appeared not in English novels but only in the drama. In characterization Richardson's great strength lay with his women--he knew the feminine mind and spirit through and through. His first heroine, Pamela, is a plebeian serving-maid, and his second, Clarissa, a fine-spirited young lady of the wealthy class, but both are perfectly and completely true and living, throughout all their terribly complex and trying experiences. Men, on the other hand, those beyond his own particular circle, Richardson understood only from the outside. Annoyed by criticisms to this effect, he attempted in the hero of his last book to present a true gentleman, but the result is only a mechanical ideal figure of perfection whose wooden joints creak painfully as he moves slowly about under the heavy load of his sternly self-conscious goodness and dignity.
4. Richardson's success in his own time was perhaps chiefly due to his striking with exaggerated emphasis the note of tender sentiment to which the spirit of his generation was so over-ready to respond. The substance of his books consists chiefly of the sufferings of his heroines under ingeniously harrowing persecution at the hands of remorseless scoundrels. Pamela, with her serving-maid's practical efficiency, proves able to take care of herself, but the story of the high-bred and noble-minded Clarissa is, with all possible deductions, one of the most deeply-moving tragedies ever committed to paper. The effect in Richardson's own time may easily be imagined; but it is also a matter of record that his novels were commonly read aloud in the family circle (a thing which some of their incidents would render impossible at the present day) and that sometimes when the emotional strain became too great the various listeners would retire to their own rooms to cry out their grief. Richardson appealed directly, then, to the prevailing taste of his generation, and no one did more than he to confirm its hold on the next generation, not only in England, but also in France and Germany.
5. We have not yet mentioned what according to Richardson's own reiterated statement was his main purpose in writing, namely, the conveying of moral and religious instruction. He is extremely anxious to demonstrate to his readers that goodness pays and that wickedness does not, generally even in this world (though in 'Clarissa' his artistic sense refuses to be turned aside from the inevitable tragic outcome). The spiritual vulgarity of the doctrine, so far as material things are concerned, is clearly illustrated in the mechanically virtuous Pamela, who, even in the midst of the most outrageous besetments of Squire B----, is hoping with all her soul for the triumph which is actually destined for her, of becoming his wife and so rising high above her original humble station. Moreover, Richardson often goes far and tritely out of his way in his preaching. At their worst, however, his sentimentality and moralizing were preferable to the coarseness which disgraced the works of some of his immediate successors.
6. Lastly must be mentioned the form of his novels. They all consist of series of letters, which constitute the correspondence between some of the principal characters, the great majority being written in each case by the heroine. This method of telling a story requires special concessions from the reader; but even more than the other first-personal method, exemplified in 'Robinson Crusoe,' it has the great advantage of giving the most intimate possible revelation of the imaginary writer's mind and situation. Richardson handles it with very great skill, though in his anxiety that his chief characters may not be misunderstood he occasionally commits the artistic blunder of inserting footnotes to explain their real motives.
Richardson, then, must on the whole be called the first of the great English novelists--a striking case of a man in whom one special endowment proved much weightier than a large number of absurdities and littlenesses.
HENRY FIELDING. Sharply opposed to Richardson stands his later contemporary and rival, Henry Fielding. Fielding was born of an aristocratic family in Somersetshire in 1707. At Eton School and the University of Leyden (in Holland) he won distinction, but at the age of twenty he found himself, a vigorous young man with instincts for fine society, stranded in London without any tangible means of support. He turned to the drama and during the next dozen years produced many careless and ephemeral farces, burlesques, and light plays, which, however, were not without value as preparation for his novels. Meanwhile he had other activities--spent the money which his wife brought him at marriage in an extravagant experiment as gentleman-farmer; studied law and was admitted to the bar; and conducted various literary periodicals. His attacks on the government in his plays helped to produce the severe licensing act which put an end to his dramatic work and that of many other light playwrights. When Richardson's 'Pamela' appeared Fielding was disgusted with what seemed to him its hypocritical silliness, and in vigorous artistic indignation he proceeded to write 'The History of Joseph Andrews,' representing Joseph as the brother of Pamela and as a serving-man, honest, like her, in difficult circumstances. Beginning in a spirit of sheer burlesque, Fielding soon became interested in his characters, and in the actual result produced a rough but masterful picture of contemporary life. The coarse Parson Trulliber and the admirable Parson Adams are among the famous characters of fiction. But even in the later part of the book Fielding did not altogether abandon his ridicule of Richardson. He introduced among the characters the 'Squire B----' of
'Pamela,' only filling out the blank by calling him 'Squire Booby,' and taking pains to make him correspondingly ridiculous.
Fielding now began to pay the penalty for his youthful dissipations in failing health, but he continued to write with great expenditure of time and energy. 'The History of Jonathan Wild the Great,' a notorious ruffian whose life Defoe also had narrated, aims to show that great military conquerors are only bandits and cutthroats really no more praiseworthy than the humbler individuals who are hanged without ceremony. Fielding's masterpiece, 'The History of Tom Jones,' followed hard after Richardson's
'Clarissa,' in 1749. His last novel, 'Amelia,' is a half autobiographic account of his own follies. His second marriage, to his first wife's maid, was intended, as he frankly said, to provide a nurse for himself and a mother for his children, but his later years were largely occupied with heroic work as a police justice in Westminster, where, at the sacrifice of what health remained to him, he rooted out a specially dangerous band of robbers. Sailing for recuperation, but too late, to Lisbon, he died there at the age of forty-seven, in 1754.
The chief characteristics of Fielding's nature and novels, mostly directly opposite or complementary to those of Richardson, are these:
1. He is a broad realist, giving to his romantic actions a very prominent background of actual contemporary life. The portrayal is very illuminating; we learn from Fielding a great deal, almost everything, one is inclined to say, about conditions in both country and city in his time--about the state of travel, country inns, city jails, and many other things; but with his vigorous masculine nature he makes abundant use of the coarser facts of life and character which a finer art avoids. However, he is extremely human and sympathetic; in view of their large and generous naturalness the defects of his character and works are at least pardonable.
2. His structure is that of the rambling picaresque story of adventure, not lacking, in his case, in definite progress toward a clearly-designed end, but admitting many digressions and many really irrelevant elements. The number of his characters, especially in 'Tom Jones,' is enormous. Indeed, the usual conception of a novel in his day, as the word 'History,' which was generally included in the title, indicates, was that of the complete story of the life of the hero or heroine, at least up to the time of marriage. It is virtually the old idea of the chronicle-history play. Fielding himself repeatedly speaks of his masterpiece as an 'epic.'
3. His point of view is primarily humorous. He avowedly imitates the manner of Cervantes in 'Don Quixote' and repeatedly insists that he is writing a
mock-epic. His very genuine and clear-sighted indignation at social abuses expresses itself through his omnipresent irony and satire, and however serious the situations he almost always keeps the ridiculous side in sight. He offends some modern readers by refusing to take his art in any aspect over-seriously; especially, he constantly asserts and exercises his
'right' to break off his story and chat quizzically about questions of art or conduct in a whole chapter at a time.
4. His knowledge of character, that of a generous-hearted man of the world, is sound but not subtile, and is deeper in the case of men than of women, especially in the case of men who resemble himself. Tom Jones is virtually Henry Fielding in his youth and is thoroughly lifelike, but Squire Allworthy, intended as an example of benevolent perfection, is no less of a pale abstraction than Sir Charles Grandison. The women, cleverly as their typical feminine traits are brought out, are really viewed only from without.
THE OTHER SENTIMENTALISTS AND REALISTS. Richardson and Fielding set in motion two currents, of sentimentalism and realism, respectively, which flowed vigorously in the novel during the next generation, and indeed
(since they are of the essence of life), have continued, with various modifications, down to our own time. Of the succeeding realists the most important is Tobias Smollett, a Scottish ex-physician of violent and brutal nature, who began to produce his picaresque stories of adventure during the lifetime of Fielding. He made ferociously unqualified attacks on the statesmen of his day, and in spite of much power, the coarseness of his works renders them now almost unreadable. But he performed one definite service; in 'Roderick Random,' drawing on his early experiences as a ship's surgeon, he inaugurated the out-and-out sea story, that is the story which takes place not, like 'Robinson Crusoe,' in small part, but mainly, on board ship. Prominent, on the other hand, among the sentimentalists is Laurence Sterne, who, inappropriately enough, was a clergyman, the author of 'Tristram Shandy.' This book is quite unlike anything else ever written. Sterne published it in nine successive volumes during almost as many years, and he made a point of almost complete formlessness and every sort of whimsicality. The hero is not born until the third volume, the story mostly relates to other people and things, pages are left blank to be filled out by the reader--no grotesque device or sudden trick can be too fantastic for Sterne. But he has the gift of delicate pathos and humor, and certain episodes in the book are justly famous, such as the one where Uncle Toby carefully puts a fly out of the window, refusing to 'hurt a hair of its head,' on the ground that 'the world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me.' The best of all the sentimental stories is Goldsmith's 'Vicar of Wakefield' (1766), of which we have already spoken (above, page 244). With its kindly humor, its single-hearted wholesomeness, and its delightful figure of Dr. Primrose it remains, in spite of its artlessness, one of the permanent landmarks of English fiction.
HISTORICAL AND 'GOTHIC' ROMANCES. Stories which purported to reproduce the life of the Past were not unknown in England in the seventeenth century, but the real beginning of the historical novel and romance belongs to the later part of the eighteenth century. The extravagance of romantic writers at that time, further, created a sort of subspecies called in its day and since the 'Gothic' romance. These 'Gothic' stories are nominally located in the Middle Ages, but their main object is not to give an accurate picture of medieval life, but to arouse terror in the reader, by means of a fantastic apparatus of gloomy castles, somber villains, distressed and sentimental heroines, and supernatural mystery. The form was inaugurated by Horace Walpole, the son of the former Prime Minister, who built near Twickenham (Pope's home) a pseudo-medieval house which he named Strawberry Hill, where he posed as a center of the medieval revival. Walpole's 'Castle of 'Otranto,' published in 1764, is an utterly absurd little story, but its novelty at the time, and the author's prestige, gave it a great vogue. The really best 'Gothic' romances are the long ones written by Mrs. Ann Radcliffe in the last decade of the century, of which 'The Mysteries of Udolpho,' in particular, was popular for two generations. Mrs. Radcliffe's books overflow with sentimentality, but display real power, especially in imaginative description. Of the more truly historical romances the best were the 'Thaddeus of Warsaw' and 'Scottish Chiefs' of Miss Jane Porter, which appeared in the first decade of the nineteenth century. None of all these historical and 'Gothic' romances attains the rank of great or permanent literature, but they were historically important, largely because they prepared the way for the novels of Walter Scott, which would hardly have come into being without them, and which show clear signs of the influence of even their most exaggerated features.
NOVELS OF PURPOSE. Still another sort of novel was that which began to be written in the latter part of the century with the object of exposing some particular abuse in society. The first representatives of the class aimed, imitating the French sentimentalist Rousseau, to improve education, and in accordance with the sentimental Revolutionary misconception which held that all sin and sorrow result from the corruptions of civilization, often held up the primitive savage as a model of all the kindly virtues. The most important of the novels of purpose, however, were more thorough-going attacks on society composed by radical revolutionists, and the least forgotten is the 'Caleb Williams' of William Godwin (1794), which is intended to demonstrate that class-distinctions result in hopeless moral confusion and disaster.
MISS BURNEY AND THE FEMININE NOVEL OF MANNERS. The most permanent results of the latter part of the century in fiction were attained by three women who introduced and successively continued the novel which depicts, from the woman's point of view, with delicate satire, and at first in the hope of accomplishing some reform, or at least of showing the beauty of virtue and morality, the contemporary manners of well-to-do 'society.' The first of these authoresses was Miss Frances Burney, who later became Madame D'Arblay, but is generally referred to familiarly as Fanny Burney.
The unassuming daughter of a talented and much-esteemed musician, acquainted in her own home with many persons of distinction, such as Garrick and Sir Joshua Reynolds, and given from girlhood to the private writing of stories and of a since famous Diary, Miss Burney composed her
'Evelina' in leisure intervals during a number of years, and published it when she was twenty-five, in 1778. It recounts, in the Richardsonian letter form, the experiences of a country girl of good breeding and ideally fine character who is introduced into the life of London high society, is incidentally brought into contact with disagreeable people of various types, and soon achieves a great triumph by being acknowledged as the daughter of a repentant and wealthy man of fashion and by marrying an impossibly perfect young gentleman, also of great wealth. Structure and substance in 'Evelina' are alike somewhat amateurish in comparison with the novels of the next century; but it does manifest, together with some lack of knowledge of the real world, genuine understanding of the core, at least, of many sorts of character; it presents artificial society life with a light and pleasing touch; and it brought into the novel a welcome atmosphere of womanly purity and delicacy. 'Evelina' was received with great applause and Miss Burney wrote other books, but they are without importance. Her success won her the friendship of Dr. Johnson and the position of one of the Queen's waiting women, a sort of gilded slavery which she endured for five years. She was married in middle-age to a French emigrant officer, Monsieur D'Arblay, and lived in France and England until the age of nearly ninety, latterly an inactive but much respected figure among the writers of a younger generation.
MISS EDGEWORTH. Much more voluminous and varied was the work of Miss Burney's successor, Maria Edgeworth, who devoted a great part of her long life (1767-1849) to active benevolence and to attendance on her father, an eccentric and pedantic English gentleman who lived mostly on his estate in Ireland and who exercised the privilege of revising or otherwise meddling with most of her books. In the majority of her works Miss Edgeworth followed Miss Burney, writing of the experiences of young ladies in fashionable London life. In these novels her purpose was more obviously moral than Miss Burney's--she aimed to make clear the folly of frivolity and dissipation; and she also wrote moral tales for children which though they now seem old-fashioned were long and widely popular. Since she had a first-hand knowledge of both Ireland and England, she laid the scenes of some of her books partly in both countries, thereby creating what was later called 'the international novel.' Her most distinctive achievement, however, was the introduction of the real Irishman (as distinct from the humorous caricature) into fiction. Scott testified that it was her example that suggested to him the similar portrayal of Scottish character and life.
JANE AUSTEN. Much the greatest of this trio of authoresses is the last, Jane Austen, who perhaps belongs as much to the nineteenth century as the eighteenth. The daughter of a clergyman, she past an absolutely uneventful life of forty-two years (1775-1817) in various villages and towns in Southern England. She had finished her masterpiece, 'Pride and Prejudice,' at the age of twenty-two, but was unable for more than a dozen years to find a publisher for this and her other earlier works. When at last they were brought out she resumed her writing, but the total number of her novels is only six. Her field, also, is more limited than that of any other great English novelist; for she deliberately restricted herself, with excellent judgment, to portraying what she knew at first-hand, namely the life of the well-to-do classes of her own 'provincial' region. Moreover, her theme is always love; desirable marriage for themselves or their children seems to be the single object of almost all her characters; and she always conducts her heroine successfully to this goal. Her artistic achievement, like herself, is so well-bred and unobtrusive that a hasty reader may easily fail to appreciate it. Her understanding of character is almost perfect, her sense for structure and dramatic scenes (quiet ones) equally good, and her quiet and delightful humor and irony all-pervasive. Scott, with customary generosity, praised her 'power of rendering ordinary things and characters interesting from the truth of her portrayal,' in favorable contrast with his own facility in 'the Big Bow-Wow strain.' Nevertheless the assertion of some present-day critics that she is the greatest of all English authoresses is certainly extravagant. Her novels, though masterly in their own field and style, do not have the fulness of description or the elaboration of action which add beauty and power to most later ones, and her lack of a sense for the greater issues of life denies her legitimate comparison with such a writer as George Eliot.
SUMMARY. The variety of the literary influences in eighteenth century England was so great that the century can scarcely be called a literary unit; yet as a whole it contrasts clearly enough both with that which goes before and with that which follows. Certainly its total contribution to English literature was great and varied.Next