Melford is an honourable kind of “walking gentleman”; Lydia, though enamoured, is modest and dignified; Clinker is a worthy son of Bramble, with abundant good humour, and a pleasing vein of Wesleyan Methodism. But the grotesque spelling, rural vanity, and naivete of Winifred Jenkins, with her affection for her kitten, make her the most delightful of this wandering company. After beholding the humours and partaking of the waters of Bath, they follow Smollett’s own Scottish tour, and each character gives his picture of the country which Smollett had left at its lowest ebb of industry and comfort, and found so much more prosperous. The book is a mine for the historian of manners and customs: the novel-reader finds Count Fathom metamorphosed into Mr. Grieve, an exemplary apothecary, “a sincere convert to virtue,” and “unaffectedly pious.”
Apparently a wave of good-nature came over Smollett: he forgave everybody, his own relations even, and he reclaimed his villain. A patron might have played with him. He mellowed in Scotland: Matthew there became less tart, and more tolerant; an actual English Matthew would have behaved quite otherwise. “Humphrey Clinker” is an astonishing book, as the work of an exiled, poor, and dying man. None of his works leaves so admirable an impression of Smollett’s virtues: none has so few of his less amiable qualities.
With the cadet of Bonhill, outworn with living, and with labour, died the burly, brawling, picturesque old English novel of humour and of the road. We have nothing notable in this manner, before the arrival of Mr. Pickwick. An exception will scarcely be made in the interest of Richard Cumberland, who, as Scott says, “has occasionally . . . become disgusting, when he meant to be humorous.” Already Walpole had begun the new “Gothic romance,” and the “Castle of Otranto,” with Miss Burney’s novels, was to lead up to Mrs. Radcliffe and Scott, to Miss Edgeworth and Miss Austen.
Sainte-Beuve says somewhere that it is impossible to speak of “The German Classics.” Perhaps he would not have allowed us to talk of the American classics. American literature is too nearly contemporary. Time has not tried it. But, if America possesses a classic author (and I am not denying that she may have several), that author is decidedly Hawthorne. His renown is unimpeached: his greatness is probably permanent, because he is at once such an original and personal genius, and such a judicious and determined artist.
Hawthorne did not set himself to “compete with life.” He did not make the effort—the proverbially tedious effort—to say everything. To his mind, fiction was not a mirror of commonplace persons, and he was not the analyst of the minutest among their ordinary emotions. Nor did he make a moral, or social, or political purpose the end and aim of his art. Moral as many of his pieces naturally are, we cannot call them didactic. He did not expect, nor intend, to better people by them. He drew the Rev. Arthur Dimmesdale without hoping that his Awful Example would persuade readers to “make a clean breast” of their iniquities and their secrets. It was the moral situation that interested him, not the edifying effect of his picture of that situation upon the minds of novel-readers.