The English Novel eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 358 pages of information about The English Novel.
as most other things about him.  This phrase or expression is of course artificial to the highest degree:  and it is to it that the reproach of depending on mechanical aids chiefly applies.  And yet laboriously figured, tricked, machined as it is—­easy as once more it may be to prove that it is artifice and not art—­the fact remains that, not merely (perhaps not by any means chiefly) in the stock extract-pieces which everybody knows, but almost everywhere, it is triumphant:  and that English literature would be seriously impoverished without it.  Certainly never was there a style which more fully justified the definition given by Buffon, in Sterne’s own time, of style as “the very man.”  Falsetto, “faking,” vamping, shoddy—­all manner of evil terms may be heaped upon it without the possibility of completely clearing it from them.  To some eyes it underlies them most when it is most ambitious, as in the Le Fevre story and the diatribe against critics.  It leaves the court with all manner of stains on its character.  Only, once more, if it did not exist we should be ignorant of more than one of the most remarkable possibilities of the English language.

Thus, in almost exactly the course of a technical generation—­from the appearance of Pamela in 1740 to that of Humphry Clinker in 1771—­the wain of the novel was solidly built, furnished with four main wheels to move it, and set a-going to travel through the centuries.  In a sense, inasmuch as Humphry Clinker itself, though Smollett’s best work, can hardly be said to show any absolutely new faculties, character, or method, the process was even accomplished in two-thirds of the time, between Pamela and Tristram Shandy.  We shall see in the next chapter how eagerly the examples were taken up:  and how, long before Smollett died, the novel of this and that kind had become one of the most prolific branches of literature.  But, for the moment, the important thing is to repeat that it had been thoroughly and finally started on its high road, in general by Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett; in particular and wayward but promising side-paths by Sterne.



[7] A little of the work to be noticed in this chapter is not strictly eighteenth century, but belongs to the first decade or so of the nineteenth.  But the majority of the contents actually conform to the title, and there is hardly any more convenient or generally applicable heading for the novel before Miss Austen and Scott, excluding the great names dealt with in the last chapter.

It is at last beginning to be recognised in principle, though it is still much too often forgotten in practice, that the minor work of a time is at least as important as the major in determining general literary characteristics and tendencies.  Nor is this anywhere much more

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The English Novel from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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