The English Novel eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 291 pages of information about The English Novel.

CHAPTER III

THE FOUR WHEELS OF THE NOVEL WAIN

It does not enter into the plan, because it would be entirely inconsistent with the scale, of the present book to give details of the lives of the novelists, except when they have something special to do with the subject, or when (as in the case of a few minorities who happen to be of some importance) even well-informed readers are likely to be quite ignorant about them.  Accounts, in all degrees of scale and competence, of the lives of Richardson, Fielding, Smollett, and Sterne abound.  It is sufficient—­but in the special circumstances at this point perhaps necessary—­here to sum the facts very briefly in so far as they bear on the main issue.  Richardson (1689-1761), not merely the first to write, but the eldest by much more than his priority in writing, was the son of a Derbyshire tradesman, was educated for some time at Charterhouse, but apprenticed early to a printer—­which trade he pursued with diligence and profit for the rest of his life in London and its immediate neighbourhood.  After his literary success, he gathered round him a circle of ladies and gentlemen interested in literature:  but he never had any first-hand acquaintance with general society of the “gentle” kind, much less with that of the upper classes.  Fielding (1707-1754), on the contrary, was a member (though only as the son of a younger son of a younger son) of a family of great antiquity and distinction, which held an earldom in England and another in Ireland, and was connected as well as it was derived, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, for instance, being the novelist’s cousin.  He was educated at Eton and Leyden:  but his branch of the family being decidedly impecunious, was thrown very much on his own resources.  These were mainly drawn from literature, first as a playwright then as a novelist, journalism and miscellanies coming in.  But he was called to the Bar:  and though he probably did not make much money there, he obtained the poorly paid and hard-worked but rather important position of “Bow Street Magistrate,” which meant that he was head, directly of the London police such as it was, and indirectly of that of the whole kingdom.  His temper was in some ways as aristocratic as his birth:  but though Horace Walpole’s accounts of his fancy for low company are obviously exaggerated, there is no doubt that he was a good deal of what has since been called a “Bohemian.”  His experience of variety in scene was much wider than Richardson’s, although after he came home from Leyden (where he went to study law) it was chiefly confined to London and the south of England (especially Bath, Dorsetshire, where he lived for a time, and the Western Circuit), till his last voyage, in hopeless quest of health, to Lisbon, where he died.  His knowledge of literature, and even what may be called his scholarship, were considerable, and did credit to the public school education of those days.

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The English Novel from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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