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T A L F O U R D’ S
MISCELLANEOUS WRITING S.
ON BRITISH NOVELS AND ROMANCES, INTRODUCTORY TO A SERIES
OF CRITICISMS ON THE LIVING NOVELISTS.
[New Monthly Magazine.]
We regard the authors of the best novels and romances as among the truest benefactors of their species. Their works have often conveyed, in the most attractive form, lessons of the most genial wisdom. But we do not prize them so much in reference to their immediate aim, or any individual traits of nobleness with which they may inform the thoughts, as for their general tendency to break up that cold and debasing selfishness with which the souls of so large a portion of mankind are encrusted. They give to a vast class, who by no means would be carried beyond the most contracted range of emotion, an interest in things out of themselves, and a perception of grandeur and of beauty, of which otherwise they might ever have lived unconscious. Pity for fictitious sufferings is, indeed, very inferior to that sympathy with the universal heart of man, which inspires real self-sacrifice; but it is better even to be moved by its tenderness, than wholly to be ignorant of the joy of natural tears. How many are there for whom poesy has no charm, and who have derived only from romances those glimpses of disinterested heroism, and ideal beauty, which alone "make them less forlorn,” in their busy career !
The good house-wise, who is employed all her life in the severest
drudgery, has yet some glimmerings of a state and dignity above her station and age, and some dim vision of meek, angelic suffering, when she thinks of the well-thumbed volume of Clarissa Harlowe, which she found, when a girl, in some old recess, and read, with breathless eagerness, at stolen times and moments of hasty joy. The careworn lawyer or politician, encircled with all kinds of petty anxieties, thinks of the Arabian Nights Entertainments, which he devoured in his joyful school-days, and is once more young, and innocent, and happy. If the sternest puritan were acquainted with Parson Adams, or with Dr. Primrose, he could not hate the clergy. If novels are not the deepest teachers of humanity, they have, at least, the widest range. They lend to genius
lighter wings to fly.” They are read where Milton and Shakspeare are only talked of, and where even their names are never heard. They nestle gently beneath the covers of unconscious sophas, are read by fair and glistening eyes, in moments snatched from repose, and beneath counters and shop-boards, minister delights “secret, sweet, and precious." It is possible that, in particular instances, their effects may be baneful; but, on the whole, we are persuaded they are good. The world is not in danger of becoming too romantic. The golden threads of poesy are not too thickly or too closely interwoven with the ordinary web of existence. Sympathy is the first great lesson which man should learn. It will be ill for him if he proceeds no farther; if his emotions are but excited to roll back on his heart; and to be fostered in luxurious quiet. But unless he learns to feel for things in which he has no personal interest, he can achieve nothing generous or noble. This lesson is in reality the universal moral of all excellent romances. How mistaken are those miserable reasoners who object to them as giving false pictures of life—of purity too glossy and etherial -of friendship too deep and confiding—of love which does not shrink at the approach of ill, but looks on tempests and is never shaken,” because with these the world too rarely blossoms! Were these things visionary and unreal, who would break the spell, and bid the delicious enchantment vanish? The soul will not be the worse for thinking too well of its kind, or believing that the highest excellence is within the reach of its exertions. But these things are not