ROMANCE proved favourable to the cause of gallantry and heroism during the dark ages, but we, thank heaven! live in more enlightened days: a lover would find occasion to repent of making such rash oaths as the inamoratos of ITALY, of SPAIN, and of PORTUGAL, formerly swore to maintain: we are too independent to permit the possibility of it; nor do we so frequently take the law into our own hands.
Besides, how striking is the contrast between the good old romances of our ancestors, and those of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries! how wide the difference between "AMADIS OF GAUL" and "THE LIBERTINE," between "PALMERIN OF ENGLAND" and "THE SABLE MASK!" or between the metrical romances of those days and of our own, between "MERLIN" and "THE MINSTRELS OF ACRE," between "THE ROMAUNT OF THE ROSE" and "THALABA THE DESTROYER."
I purpose, like KING RICHARD, who in sleep beheld the visions of those whom he had slain, to take a retrospective view of those "tales of centuries ago" (though written by our contemporaries), which once existed; but alas! I cannot boast with RICHARD, that I terminated their existence, nor can I persuade myself that my occupation is "but a dream."
The public, in general, knows but little of the ingenuity of booksellers, and the accommodating disposition of authors, to cater for them: however, those who run may read a notable instance of this in the preface to "THE MONK OF UDOLPHO," written by HORSLEY CURTIES. This romance owes its birth to a most whimsical circumstance—but let the author tell his own story.
"The publisher* of these pages had long advertised a romance under the appellation of ‘THE MONK UDOLPHO,’ † nor had its present founder the most distant idea that the fabric was to be of his rearing, till applied to, in consequence of the death of the intended composer, to retrieve him with the public, whom he must otherwise disappoint; and, not without the strongest reluctance did I (he) assent to undertake a task so arduous, and perhaps injurious to the little fame* I (he) may have acquired by former lucubrations.
"It was my (his) earnest wish that the publisher should procure me (him) a sight of the few sheets, or more properly the outline of the story, intended to elucidate the title-page; but I (he) was answered, that the manuscript had been lost, † and that my (his) own resources were equal to the difficulty, &c."
Thus we find that the author has inverted the order of things; he has given a tale to a title, and not a title to a story; he has given
"to airy nothing
"A local habitation and a name."
Oh! wonderful power of invention!—This reminds me of the bouts rimés of the French—with this exception, that it is infinitely more remarkable, singular, and extravagant: a man of tolerable ingenuity might give verses to rhymes, but the genius of a CURTIES alone could have compassed this unheard-of project!
The romances of this gentleman are intolerably dull and tiresome, for he takes more words to tell a story than the most loquacious and circumstantial of talkative old women: he is as finical and particular in narration, as an old bachelor is in his habits and caprices: he is like a puppy that traverses twice as much ground as circumstances require—or perhaps he rather resembles a traveller, who, losing his way, takes a circuitous course of three miles, instead of a direct road of one only.
But let me bid a hasty adieu to this narrator of "ANCIENT RECORDS*"—this conteur à titres (as I would to an acquaintance whose company and conversation were irksome and offensive to me), and hail the next "genius of romance."
Would that, like the monster BRIAREUS, I could strike a hundred blows in the same instant, and that all the vampers of romance, who merit annihilation, were in my presence!—they are the vermin of literature—their spawn creep to our fire-sides, and cover our tables, our chairs, our sofas and our mantle-pieces; we find them in the bed-chambers of our daughters; nay, not unfrequently are they placed beneath their pillows, to occupy their minds at day-break, or to beguile a sleepless night.
But I have to entreat the reader’s pardon for this burst of indignation: I hope, however, that it will not be deemed an unimportant episode.
Joshua Pickersgill, junior, esq. hath written a romance, entitled "THE THREE BROTHERS." I beg leave to quote the author’s opinion of his own work, which appears in the title-page of his romance; it was intended, I imagine, for poetry, but has no legal claim whatever to such distinction, excepting indeed the terminating jingle of the couplets (which, by the way, are not unfrequently discordant). I am half inclined to think that the reader’s opinion may not, perhaps, be so conscientious and liberal as my own, in even supposing it intended for poetry. Alluding to his romance, he says it is
"A tale of horror! which, but to hear it told,
"Shall freeze the youngest blood to aged cold;
"Appal the soul, like to the author’s, when
"He paus’d, and fear’d the daring of his pen."
Now whether thou art a "gentle reader" or not, I am firmly persuaded thou dost already fear "the daring of his pen." The gentleman presumes to think these lines poetry, for he thrusts them into the title-page of his book as though they were particularly beautiful and aptly illustrative!—they have neither qualities simple nor compound for poetry; they are neither melodious individually, nor harmonious collectively:—Joshua is certainly one of those unhappy wights described by our immortal dramatic poet, who says that
———"he who hath not music in his soul,
"Is born for treasons, stratagems and spoils."
Oh Joshua! Joshua! what hast thou brought upon thyself! and we are now to think the worst of thee.—He who feels desirous of reading "THE THREE BROTHERS," will find how entirely the author’s mind has been busied with "treasons, stratagems and spoils."
But to speak somewhat seriously. As a romance, this work possesses some interest. Mr. Pickersgill scorns to imitate: he is not one of the "servum pecus," but soars above the many vampers of terrific story: he is a planet, and his contemporaries resemble revolving satellites—like the planets, he is known to every star-gazer—romance reader—but his satellites to a very few. M.G. LEWIS is the moon that rules the present night of romance reading: but as the moon and planets are eclipsed by the blaze of day, so are the works of these nocturnals unnoticed by enlightened readers.
Were it not for Mr. Pickersgill’s affectation, innovation, and unpardonable intrusion of deformed couplets, I should now take my congé of him; but these transgressions are too glaring and palpable, and merit exposure—censure they need not—their exposure is the severest censure that I can pass on them.
From a thing called "LOVE’S EMPIRE."*
"Ha! now I ken his hitherward wing,
"Scent shedding, music murmuring,
"Love’s emperor whom time doth flee,
"Chief lord thro’ air, on earth, in sea,
"O’er dyes and shapes of human face,
"And species of bestial race!
* * * * * *
"Charms so various to inform
"A mind sublim’d ‘bove shrewish storm;
"Generous wit, self-fueled fire,
"That distant glads, but scorches nigher.
* * * * * *
"From this they see his caprice change,
"Thro’ labyrinthian dance they range,
"With godly swim or fairy pace
"Maintain the errant note in chace,
"Till, that outsped, the springhtly feet
"Sport i’ th’ air, and kissing meet."
Perhaps kicking meet would make the above one ray less obscure.
"When heroes brave their horned foe,
"To the fierce circus what frequence go,
"To tourneys of chivalric war,
"To carnival and regatta!!"
But perhaps the reader thinks I am hoaxing him with these extracts, and that they are not the produce of our very enlightened century: now, as I am a plain matter-of-fact mortal, and as I can prove what I assert by demonstration, I shall consider myself much indebted to him if he will turn to pages 59, 60, 61, 62 and 63 of the before-mentioned romance, where he may, if he pleases, peruse that which nearly resembles the state of English poetry in its infancy—with this exception, that I think our verse was never so dreadfully afflicted with the rickets,* as this inimitable poem.
But, to make the reader acquainted with this gentleman’s "affectation," let me submit the following quotations:
"I arose from the bank superior to the tyranny of nature, and engaging her arm within mine, returned to the cottage."
The expression "truth to say" frequently occurs.—"A few steps promoted us through the vestibule."—"Yet so strong was my animosity against the ungrateful fair, that I trembled to behold them, and conceited the holy ground to be profaned by their presence."
"From that morning," said the Italian, his sobs quarrelling with his words, "from that fatal morning unlighted sorrow hath oppressed me."
"The huge misshapen fragments that choked this entrance, were slippery with moss, and splintered so pointedly by the forcible manner in which they had been broke from the mother-stone, that a fall (alluding to the perilous situation of one Claudio) "might have occasioned an imperfect empalement."—Oh horrible! ‘Tis said that the sublime sometimes borders on the ludicrous—This terrific situation was unquestionably intended to convey a sublime picture to the mind, but how powerful must the ludicrous be, when we feel inclined to laugh at a man in so perilous a state!
One more quotation, gentle, patient, indulgent reader, and I will introduce you to Joshua’s "innovations."
"For the Conte was standing with one hand pressed against his forehead with a savage force, which betrayed his secret wish to benumb the ability of his brain."
But I have discovered another illustration of the ludicrous sublime, and cannot for the soul of me keep it to myself.
"The night, which hung heavily upon the face of nature, shuffled with tardiness and pain over the head of Claudio* ."
’Tis said that no idea should be committed to paper which the pencil cannot picture—I defy even Fuseli the extravaganza to canvass this very original thought!
I will now notice a few of the numerous "innovations" of Mr. Pickersgill, jun.
"I was yet unable to subsist her."
"Claudio retrograded a few paces."
"Thus mistaking the fervid seat of his heart, he was rushed forward, riotous in hope, &c."
"Nor until their vocabulary of maledictions was nearly run through, did they quit the cavalier, whom they left environed with massy bars, infrangible to the desperate utmost of human force."
"Terror was the system of Julian, and so fully was the Marquis possessed by it, that he offered to him an adoration such as the Indians intend when they knee the devil."
I have only to lay before the reader a note, which will be found at page 177, vol. 2, of this original romance; the allusion of the former part of it is in no way material; it is to the concluding sentence only that I would direct the reader’s attention.
"The audacious attempt of John Lewis Fiesco to destroy the Dorias and subvert the Genoese Republic, happened in the year 1447, nearly three years after the famous battle of Corisoles; a few months after which this romance is supposed to begin. As this alliance of two events, actually so distant, can only be detected by one somewhat of a chronologist, I perhaps should do better not to mention it: but, in case one so qualified should peruse this work, I feel it satisfactory to prevent his depreciating me as less knowing than I am. Indeed, I wish it were the only wilful fault in these volumes."
Thus we may fairly presume that the romantic Joshua has been indulging his itch for irregular verse, his "affection," and his "innovation," knowing them to be what they are!
Those who read many romances are, I imagine, insensible to the inconsistencies which I am always unfortunate enough to detect, even in works written by men of talents and genius; and thus I am deprived of that interest in the perusal of them, which others enjoy in an intense degree. Sometimes I notice incongruities that the most accommodating and indulgent critic would be at a loss to reconcile: sometimes I read a picturesque description that turns nature into a second state of chaos; and sometimes I meet with an author who does all he can to make the human shape more than divine. Thus is the spell dissolved, nor can it be wondered at if I throw the book from me in disgust.
A romance, entitled "FATAL REVENGE, OR THE FAMILY OF MONTORIO,* " has excited very general interest; the narrative is indeed of the most extravagant and romantic kind; it is told in bold and animated language: the author’s mind in every part of this "tale of terror" appears to have been wound up to a state of ardor and enthusiasm that I have rarely met with. Yet even in this work, which is evidently written by a man of education and very superior abilities, I detected frequent inconsistencies, one of which I will explain.
The mind of Annibal di Montorio, a weak and superstitious young nobleman, is represented to be in that state of fearful anxiety, which Collins has pictured in so masterly a manner in his personification of fear, who is said to start
"Even at the sound himself had made."
This youth is alone, and at midnight in a turret of Montorio-castle, agitated with superstitious terrors: every thing is represented to be so still and silent, that he fears to hear even his own respiration; yet, immediately afterwards, he opens the casement to listen to the tempest raging without!
FRANCIS LATHOM has favoured the world with alternately a novel and a romance for, I believe, the last twenty years; and, from the surprising rapidity with which these fictions have been wrought up, I conceive that this slave to literature lives only upon the produce of his brain. These productions tell sad tales of this gentleman’s abilities: they nourish and support him, no doubt, but they are sickly and wearisome to other people. Yet I must remember that this genius writes for his bread, and that the number of his loaves are multiplied by the number of volumes that he manufactures. Then let me intreat you, gentle, benevolent, and christian reader, to peruse in pity the romances of Francis Lathom, for he no doubt "prays," and I will bear witness that he "works" manfully for "his daily bread."
If six months pass without my seeing in the daily papers a new work advertised, from the pen of FRANCIS LATHOM, author of The Mystery, Astonishment! Men and Manners," &c. &c. &c. I shall verily conclude that he has not consumed with prudence, and in a direct and unvarying proportion, the produce of his latest production; and that his appetite, like that of most dullards, has been infinitely more keen than his wit.
The style of very few modern romances suggests a favourable opinion of the writer’s genius: almost every auteur romanesque makes use of the same ingredients in the composition of his work: "Crimine ab uno disce omnes." Some of these legends are compounded of violent and irritable drugs, which occasion transports of an alarming nature; and I know a youth who was affected to that violent degree, by perusing one of them, that he threw the offensive volume into the fire, and his pocket had in consequence to atone for the irritable state of his nerves. But by far the greater part of these "tales of times past," are known to partake most potently of a soporific ingredient called sentimental passion: this I aver I have frequently found irresistible: an author who has no very tender regard for his reputation, may with safety, make use of this drug, for it disarms criticism by wrapping the passive and unconscious mind in the elysium of a sound nap.
The author of "THE MONK" has declined in the public estimation, every since the publication of that which gave him celebrity: a new work from the pen of Mr. Lewis invariably excites a powerful interest in the mind of every one: we remember the sensations with which we perused this very interesting romance, and fondly hope to partake a second time of those terrific incidents which chilled us with their magic influence. But alas! this never more will happen. Mr. Lewis wrote this celebrated tale at an age, when the mind is most susceptible of romantic impressions:—he was then a minor, and on his travels through scenes the most wild, picturesque, and terrific. The bent of his genius had been, no doubt, considerably indulged, by purusing the tales of chivalry, of superstition, and of faery of our own country; but I do not imagine that he had at this time particularly attached himself to the study of German literature. This was the rock on which he split; for almost every subsequent work has been taken, either directly or indirectly, from the German. How chilled by the dull task of translation has that genius become, which once gave birth to the finest pictures of romance!
But, in my admiration of this gentleman’s real genius, I had nearly omitted to notice the animadversions of the author of "THE PURSUITS OF LITERATURE" on "THE MONK."
This gentleman censures Mr. Lewis’s Romance with the utmost severity: he says, that the author has "thrust upon the nation the most open, and unqualified blasphemy, against the very code and volume of our religion." This is very strong language, nor do I think the author is justified in using it.
Because Mr. Lewis has dared to publish an opinion, which, I am persuaded, thousands of christians have entertained before him, he has experienced this writer’s most virulent censure; who, not content with the most "unqualified" severity in his own person, wishes that the law should deal with him as harshly and illiberally as himself.
But let us quote the very passage which has given this man the greatest offence.
"That prudent mother (Elvira), while she admired the beauties of THE SACRED WRITINGS, was convinced, that, unrestricted, no reading more improper could be permitted a young woman. Many of the narratives can only tend to excite ideas the worst calculated for a female breast; every thing is called roundly and plainly by its own name, and the annals of a brothel would scarcely furnish a greater choice of indecent expressions. Yet this is the book, which young women are recommended to study, which is put into the hands of children, able to comprehend little more than those passages of which they had better remain ignorant, and which but too frequently inculcate the first rudiments of vice, and give the first alarm to the still sleeping passions. Of this, Elvira was so fully convinced, that she would have preferred putting into her daughter’s hands Amadis of Gaul, or the valiant champion Tirante the White; and would sooner have authorised her studying the lewd exploits* of Don Galaor, or the lascivious jokes of the Damzel Plazer de mi vida."—I have marked certain passages in italics, as the author of "THE PURSUITS OF LITERATURE" has done so, and in order that the reader may make himself thoroughly acquainted with the real meaning of them—at all events, that meaning which the author considers most censurable.
What I have already asserted, that there are many of a similar opinion with Mr. Lewis, concerning certain narratives and passages in the Sacred Writings, I have only to prove, by mentioning some of those selected works, introductory to the Scriptures, written purposely for young people, many of which have been selected by women of exemplary character, and of acknowledged abilities, among whom Mrs. Trimmer shines conspicuous. I can also mention several men, who appear to have considered works of this kind of the first importance;—Dr. Hunter, the compiler of "SACRED BIOGRAPHY;" the Reverend Mark Anthony Meilan, author of "HOLY WRIT FAMILIARIZED TO JUVENILE CONCEPTIONS;" and Burder, who edited "THE HISTORY OF THE BIBLE."
I cordially unite with the author of "THE PURSUITS" in one respect—the obscenity of "THE MONK" cannot be censured with too much severity; and I wish that the "Attorney-General would set forth the several obscene passages, and conclude that they are an offence against the King’s peace."*
Of ROSA MATILDA I have but few words to say. How the absurd trash of this fair "libertine" has obtained so much notice, I cannot divine. How absurd, how ludicrous, how contemptible are sentiments of morality and religion from the pen of such a weak enthusiast!—But I have not patience to remain a minute longer in her company, and I am sure the reader will gladly bid adieu to this "chartered LIBERTINE."*
A celebrated French Historical Romance Writer of our own day is very anxious, on all occasions, that the reader should not do what she herself has done, that is, confound historical with fictitious incidents. To effect this, she particularises that which she takes from authentic sources, thus—"Historique." Does she imagine for one moment, that, after closing the book, the reader can separate those incidents that are historical, from those which are invented?—then why trouble herself to point out what is historical and what fictitious?—but is it not rather probable that the reader will retain a recollection of that, which is the most interesting and romantic (and it usually happens that such incidents are of imagination), and, connecting such events with historical characters, imagine that to be historical which is invented, and forget entirely that which is true?
I was not, therefore, surprised at the exclamation of a French critic, who, on taking up one of Madame Genlis’s latest historical Romances, said—"Encore un Roman Historique!"
I imagine that, presuming upon a name (and Madame Genlis’s name is a passport through the hands of many), she has committed herself to selection rather than invention.* An historical subject is always within her reach, nor has she occasion "to fancy, contrast, and combine" characters, for they also are ready and fit for use: she has only to foist in a few incidents (the less probable the better), put sentiments and words into the hearts and mouths of people who never felt or uttered them, and then she has conjured up (not with the wand of a genius, but with the tool of a literary mechanic) an historical romance!
The modern system of book-making ought to be put down; it mars genius that is tempted to engage in it, disgusts men of taste, and puts bread into the mouths of those who have no brains. Historical romances are manufactured weekly—French novels* and tales of romance translated and published as originals—and old novels republished+, without being acknowledged as such.
Heaven knows! we have more authors now than ever: if a father writes, the son is straightway attacked with the cacoethes scribendi, and thinks to become—a greater man than his father!—As for the female part of the community, I verily believe that every third woman in these happy united kingdoms, considers herself a genius—nay, I have heard, and readily believe it, that there are many thick-headed female dames of fortune who sacrifice hundreds to establish—the reign of dullness and of folly!
The title-page of this work informs the public that they are to expect a Satirical Novel! And, in spite of the London satirists’ invectives, in spite of the fanatic vilifyings of the soi-disant (ephemeral) satirist of Bristol, the following volumes are avowed to be written by THE AUTHOR OF "THE PRIVATE HISTORY OF THE COURT OF ENGLAND!"
Various conjectures having arisen as to the writer of that work, the Author, who has reasons for yet concealing her name, will affix the REAL initials of that name to this advertisement.
Her merits, as a writer, are but small; the mercy, the forbearance of a BRITISH PUBLIC, ample; to such she looks up for support and protection: and she thanks the Satirist, who, while he pointed out her errors with severity, yet declared that the person who penned one certain chapter in the PRIVATE HISTORY OF THE COURT OF ENGLAND, "had talents for writing a work that might defy criticism!"
In one part of this novel, which is now offered to the world, to shew the effects of romance-reading on the weak and ductile mind of youth, the Author has, while endeavouring to keep morality strictly in view, interspersed the pages with a few authentic allusions. Our modern writers of romance blend HISTORY and fiction: in that, she has shewn herself an imitator; and, particularly in her notes, she has copied from that renowned French authoress and times-serving lady, the female reformist of the education of Princes, the advocate of French liberty, and now the flexible attendant on the despotic Court of NAPOLEAN! Like that celebrated lady, all authentic facts she has marked in the margin, "Historique."
It is an adventurous task to oppose satire to satire: before true criticism, tempered with that politeness and gentleness due to her sex, the Author humbly bends; the pseudo critics she defies and laughs at.
While she utterly detests all prudish hypocrisy and grimace, she truly venerates virtue and morality; and trusts her writings will ever be found replete with such precepts, as youth may peruse without danger, and such diversity of ideas as may amuse the leisure-hours of the experienced.
S.G.* * * *,