Famous Reviews eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 678 pages of information about Famous Reviews.

[1] Hansard’s “House of Lord’s Debates,” July 15, 1864 [2] “Quarterly Review,” vol. cxv. p. 560


[From The Quarterly Review, July, 1814]

Waverley; or, ’tis Sixty Years since. 3 vols. 12mo.  Edinburgh, 1814.

We have had so many occasions to invite our readers’ attention to that species of composition called Novels, and have so often stated our general views of the principles of this very agreeable branch of literature, that we shall venture on the consideration of our present subject with but a few observations, and those applicable to a class of novels, of which it is a favourable specimen.

The earlier novelists wrote at periods when society was not perfectly formed, and we find that their picture of life was an embodying of their own conceptions of the “beau ideal.”—­Heroes all generosity and ladies all chastity, exalted above the vulgarities of society and nature, maintain, through eternal folios, their visionary virtues, without the stain of any moral frailty, or the degradation of any human necessities.  But this high-flown style went out of fashion as the great mass of mankind became more informed of each other’s feelings and concerns, and as a nearer intercourse taught them that the real course of human life is a conflict of duty and desire, of virtue and passion, of right and wrong; in the description of which it is difficult to say whether uniform virtue or unredeemed vice would be in the greater degree tedious and absurd.

The novelists next endeavoured to exhibit a general view of society.  The characters in Gil Blas and Tom Jones are not individuals so much as specimens of the human race; and these delightful works have been, are, and ever will be popular, because they present lively and accurate delineations of the workings of the human soul, and that every man who reads them is obliged to confess to himself, that in similar circumstances with the personages of Le Sage and Fielding, he would probably have acted in the way in which they are described to have done.

From this species the transition to a third was natural.  The first class was theory—­it was improved into a generic description, and that again led the way to a more particular classification—­a copying not of man in general, but of men of a peculiar nation, profession, or temper, or, to go a step further—­of individuals.

Thus Alcander and Cyrus could never have existed in human society—­they are neither French, nor English, nor Italian, because it is only allegorically that they are men.  Tom Jones might have been a Frenchman, and Gil Blas an Englishman, because the essence of their characters is human nature, and the personal situation of the individual is almost indifferent to the success of the object which the author proposed to himself:  while, on the other hand, the characters of the most popular novels of

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