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CONTAINING A GENERAL AND RAPID VIEW

OF THE

STATE AND PROGRESS OF

Literature,

FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC.

For 1803–1804.

For some time previous to the appearance of our last volume, it will be recollected, that a general stagnation had occurred in trade, from the agitation of the public mind, and the ardour that prevailed throughout our fa. youred empire, indignantly to resist the menaces of an implacable enemy, whose boundless ambition forcing him with increased rapidity through his insolent and ynopposed career, induced him to conceive that he might, by a successful invasion of Britain, violate with impunity every sacred principle of the civilised world. The ebullition of patriotism which arose in this country from his reiterated threats had a material effect upon literary pursuits: there were few purchasers for books, because few had time to read them; the loveliest part of the creation, residing at a distance from the metropolis, who had long beguiled the tedium of the winter's evenings with the rational intelligence afforded by reading. had exchanged their favourite amusement for that of preparing gorgeous colours and military ornaments for Their brave relatives; who, by volunteering in their country's cause, had manifested their resolution to abandon, for a time, every domestic comfort by which They were surrounded. On the publication, however, of our volume for 1803, the military enthusiasm to

which we allude, had in a great degree subsided; and peaceful occupations were approximating to their usual standard : the demand for books was renewed, and the numerous and respectable characters, who, either from choice or necessity make literature a profession, had fresh opportunities of exerting their talents for the en. tertainment and edification of the social world. The consequences of this happy change, which we anticipa. ted in the commencement of our former Introductory View, have been attained; and an abundance of literary productions, engendered by genius and fostered by art, have, during the last eighteen months, burst upon · us with the impetuosity of a torrent, that, after a long

detention has forced away the banks by which it was confined. Hence, surrounded as we have been by such a variety of beauties, we have felt no small embarrassment in our choice of fragments, to compose a garland, which should not merely equal, but even excel our former attempts: and when the abundance of materials are considered, together with the contracted limits which we are allowed, a retention of every flower it must appear would have been impossible. But still we feel proud to know, that with what we have collected, no taste can be displeased.

In order to preserve the uniformity which we have already adopted, it will be proper to intimate, that a number of interesting fragments in the present volume have been culled from the productions of

NOVELISTS;

for the mania amongst this class of writers seems by no means to be on the wane; and it is with much pleasure we observe, that, considering them en masse, their wri. tings are by no means of that baleful class which, a few years ago, so materially tended to contaminate the virtuous minds of youth, by the introduction of immoral and irreligious principles. When we consider the influence of works of fancy, so widely circulated, and so extensively perused, this appears to be a subject of no small gratification; for, while we observe that certain

writers of celebrity who, in late revolutionary times, excited the contempt and pity of moralists, on account of their new-fangled sophistry, have seen their error, and atoned for it by the production of works which do credit to their genius, and will prove of service to mans, kind; we also perceive that even the minor novelists, whose volumes fill the shelves of the circulating libraries, have, in their late productions (speaking generally) abandoned that affected cant and sentimentality which once formed so extensive a portion of their component parts.

This change, which we hope will become still more extensive, is an event of no trivial importance, because modern novels have hitherto been found to contain mostly extravagant representations, though offered to the world as a picture of real life; the result of wbich is, that when foreigners form their opinion of our national character from such works, they have good grounds for their satire ; while such a caricature, as is thus afforded, may some time excite the astonishment of posterity at the absurdities of the eighteenth century.

Another class of novel-writers, who sought for ma. terials in the fabulous events of early ages, have also in a great degree disappeared ; and we are no longer inundated with terrific tales of castles, ghosts, and caverns; these flights of the imagination have given place to the more rational subjects of love and courtship, ending like all modern comedies, in the holy state of matrimony: so that the great majority of our lately-published novels may be said to have for their motto the following old couplet:

6 There once did live a lady fair,

And she was in love with a gentleman." But descending from general opinions to particular elucidations, we shall, by passing over such as are harm-, less in their nature and ordinary in their execution, leave ourselves room to specify a few which deserve to hold a distinguished rank in the repositories of fiction.

The active pen of MADAME DE GENLIS, whose suc. cessful efforts to ridicule that propensity for the hora rific, we noticed in our last introduction, (p. xlvi.) has, in her novel called The Depraved Husband , given, we hope, the death-blow to these disorganising principles of the French philosophers, which threatened to break asunder the bonds of morality and piety, throughout the civilised world. In the present instance, her object has been to expose the depravity and licentiousness of such writers, by the introduction, with the happiest effect, of many of their most obnoxious passages, which their authors evidently intended to apply to real life. In short, we have met with no production of this kind more capable of rendering service to the world, by the exposure of false principles, if we except Miss HAMIL. 1 Ton's Modern Philosophers."

We are sorry, however, that we cannot bestow equal praise upon a subsequent work of MADAME DE GENLIS, * The Duchess of La Valliere * ;" which, though it ex. bibits the sufferings arising to such votaries of vice as have not become callous to virtue, yet it may have a bad effect in its ultimate operation, by inculcating the idea that the crime of adultery is diminished, the greater the rank of the parties who commit it. The intention of the indefatigable author was, however, indisputably good, and hence censure would be unjustifiable.

Amongst the fair novelists of our own country, MRS. Le Noir holds a very distinguished rank. Her novel, entitled, Village Anecdotest," is a very interesting production, wherein every incident has the strongest claim to probability; and, notwithstanding an apology for numerous errata, he must be indeed fastidious, who could peruse it without uncommon satisfaction: her translations of French poetry in this novel, also afford an additional proof of her refined taste and ability.

MRS. HUNTER, in a novel, entitled “ Letters from Mrs. Palmerston to her Daughter, has displayed a habit of observation on men and manners, which confers upon her no small credit; while the virtuous tendency of this work cannot fail to afford many useful lessons to the

*Vide Notices, p. 456.

+ Vide Notices, 466.

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