The English Novel eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 291 pages of information about The English Novel.
we shall scarcely find more than one great master, Fielding, and one little masterpiece, Vathek, deserving the adjective “consummate.”  No doubt the obvious explanation—­that the hour was not because the man had not come except in this single case—­is a good one:  but it need not be left in the bare isolation of its fatalism.  There are at least several subsidiary considerations which it is well to advance.  The transition state of manners and language cannot be too often insisted upon:  for this affected the process at both ends, giving the artist in fictitious life an uncertain model to copy and unstable materials to work in.  The deficiency of classical patterns—­at a time which still firmly believed, for the most part, that all good work in literature had been so done by the ancients that it could at best be emulated—­should count for something:  the scanty respect in which the kind was held for something more.  As to one of the most important species, frequent allusions have been made, and in the next chapter full treatment will be given, to the causes which made the historical novel impossible until very late in the century, and decidedly unlikely to be good even then.  Perhaps, without attempting further detail, we may conclude by saying that the productions of this time present, and present inevitably, the nonage and novitiate of a branch of art which hardly possessed any genuine representatives when the century was born and which numbered them, bad and good, by thousands and almost tens of thousands at its death.  In the interval there had been continuous and progressive exercise; there had been some great triumphs; there had been not a little good and pleasant work; and of even the work that was less good and less pleasant one may say that it at least represented experiment, and might save others from failure.



In 1816 Sir Thomas Bernard, baronet, barrister, and philanthropist, published, having it is said written it three years previously, an agreeable dialogue on Old Age, which was very popular, and reached its fifth edition in 1820.  The interlocutors are Bishops Hough and Gibson and Mr. Lyttleton, the supposed time 1740—­the year, by accident or design, of Pamela.  In this the aged and revered “martyr of Magdalen” is mildly reproached by his brother prelate for liking novels.  Hough puts off the reproach as mildly, and in a most academic manner, by saying that he only admits them speciali gratia.  This was in fact the general attitude to the whole kind, not merely in 1740, but after all the work of nearly another life-time as long as Hough’s—­almost in 1816 itself.  Yet when Sir Thomas published his little book, notice to quit, of a double kind, had been served on this fallacy.  Miss Austen’s life was nearly done, and some of her best work had not been published:  but the greater part had.  Scott

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The English Novel from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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