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by samuel saunter, esq.


to samuel saunter , esq .

sir ,

IN reading your 22d number, my attention was
taken by some remarks on novels, under the signa-
ture of J. D. I read his letter to Samuel Saunter
more than once, as the subject has always had
some interest with me, but am sorry to confess,
that I do not very clearly comprehend his mean-
ing. It seems, however, to be his purpose to de-
cry the writings of Richardson, and to show, that
Le Sage, Smollet, and Fielding are much better
teachers of morality than he. For this end, he
tells us, that the former exhibits improbable scenes,
characters too perfect for imitation, and exalts the
brilliant and heroic qualities, generosity, benevo-
lence, and compassion, on the ruins of the humble
and unostentatious, but more solid and useful vir-
tues, of prudence, œconomy, justice. The
latter, on the contrary, exhibit manners and cha-
racters, whose prototype is in nature; they place
their personages in scenes, that may actually occur
in real life; by shewing the errors into which pas-
sion may betray us, they tend to render virtue
amiable, and vice odious. This appears to be the
meaning of your correspondent: yet I state this
meaning with diffidence. I suspect myself of mis-
apprehension, not only because the style of J. D.
is not remarkably clear, but because these senti-
ments are very strange in one, who has read either
of the works of any of the authors mentioned.

Let us consider, for a moment, the article of
probability. Yet it is difficult to say any thing on
this head, for where is the standard of probability?
Each one must judge of the fidelity of any portrait,
by his knowledge of the original. How far a nar-
rative truly represents the general lineaments of
human nature, each one must judge, from his op-
portunities of knowing himself and others. It is
by this process that I think myself to have disco-
vered Richardson to be the most perfect, various,
and vivid painter, that ever took pencil in hand;
that no other ever pourtrayed a greater number and
variety of figures, with more vividness, minuteness,
and accuracy. In this opinion I shall not be sur-
prized, if another differ from me; nor do I know
in what way to discuss the question with an adver-
sary. Each one must appeal and rely on his own
experience, nor will nor ought he to admit of any
other decision.

Your correspondent tells us, indeed, that Richard-
son's are “faultless monsters;” by which I would
suppose he would insinuate, that his personages
are too good to be natural. One cannot but smile
at this objection, when we recollect, that there is
only one character in each of his three complicated
pieces, whom the writer intended to represent as

very excellent. None of them are, in a rational
estimate, nor were designed by the author to be,
faultless. Besides these three, all his characters
are examples of that mixture, which J. D. thinks
so beneficial to the reader. As in the persons of
Pamela, Clarissa, and Grandison, the writer in-
tended to exhibit very excellent beings, it was re-
quisite to diversify the scene, by the introduction
of characters, of different degrees and kinds of
merit, compounded in different ways, of good and
bad. In Pamela and Clarissa, indeed, the great
objection has been, that the scene is too full of de-
pravity. Almost all the actors, but one, are selfish,
depraved, and inhuman; one of them, indeed
(Lovelace), to a degree almost surpassing credibi-
lity. There are many, who, judging from their
own hearts, pronounce the wickedness of Lovelace
to be more flagrant than man can ever sink to.
This opinion, though erroneous, is still somewhat
creditable to the character of those, who adopt it.
But what shall we say to those, who, as is natural
to all of us, infer, from their own feelings, that the
transcendent virtue of Grandison is impossible, or,
as they phraze it, out of nature? Unhappy it is,
that so many people should consider any great
effort of disinterestedness and magnanimity, as un-
natural and superhuman.

It is remarkable, that the union of vicious and
agreeable qualities, of crimes and talents, in Love-
lace, has been thought to stand in need of vindica-
tion, on the same grounds as those, which J. D.
adopts in defence of his favourites. The vindica-
tion, indeed, is superfluous: nobody, but one al-
ready depraved beyond the reach of amendment, can
find, in Lovelace, any thing provoking imitation.
The whole texture of the story tends to nothing
but to convince us, that wit and genius become
the more signally disastrous to the possessor, as
they are allied with malice and revenge. If
Richardson's two first works be blameable, as ex-
hibiting too rueful and shocking a picture of human
calamity and wickedness, amply has he atoned for
these faults, by displaying, in his third perform-
ance, the sublime and transporting picture of a
good, great, and wise man. And yet Grandison's
virtues are called forth by the faults and miseries
of others, so that the work is far from being a tissue
of faultless characters, and magnanimous actions.

What J. D. says about Richardson's “contrast
between one virtue and another; a war of duties,
where the cardinal duties are made subordinate to
the shewy and extraordinary ones; filial duty to
love and friendship; prudence, justice, œconomy, to
benevolence, generosity, compassion,” I do not well
know what to make of it. These are the common
objections to the trash of modern novels, but no
one, I imagine, who ever read Richardson, could
dream for a moment that they are applicable to
him; on the contrary, the pictures, which he
draws, are directly opposite to this. The palm is
invariably bestowed by him on the social and do-
mestic virtues, on piety, filial duty, humility, and
charity. The good child, parent, consort, and
friend, are the portraits on which this writer loves
to dwell with complacency. He must be strangely
mistaken, who imagines that Richardson was what

is vulgarly called a sentimentalist. The inunda-
tion of froth and sentiment, in the form of novels,
which cover, in this age, the shelves of our lib-
raries, has taken place in direct contempt and de-
fiance of the precepts and example of Richardson.

As to Fielding and Smollet, I must willingly
admit the pretensions of the former to the praise
of a faithful copyist of nature. In his three works,
the course of events and the completion of the
personages are sufficiently probable; yet, if the
excellence of the character be any proof of its im-
probability, I am afraid that Fielding will be as open
to objection as Richardson. In Alworthy, Ame-
lia, and Joseph Andrews, the author has evidently
given us his notions of a perfect character. Thus
it appears, that the principal personages, in two
of his pieces, and a very important one in his third
and greatest performance, are the “faultless mon-
sters,” whom J. D. so much condemns. I will
leave your correspondent to prove what pernicious
and immoral influence such models of purity, mag-
nanimity, and generosity must have upon the
reader; but I think he must confess, if he has read
both authors, that the objection arising from this
source is just as applicable to Fielding, as to

It is unlucky for your correspondent, that the
objection he urges against Richardson and his
followers, is only applicable to his favourites.
Fielding's heroes, if Jones and Amelia's husband
deserve that exclusive name, are only saved from
contempt and aversion, by the courage, generosity,
and candour which distinguish them. These qua-
lities there are, that, in spite of their follies and
vices, make them regarded, by some, with com-
placency and approbation, and constitute the dan-
ger there is of being led, by their example, to pre-
fer these shewy and brilliant qualities, to the solid
and humble merits of “prudence, justice, and

As to Smollet, he is far inferior to the other, in
every thing but wit. His characters, for the most
part, are oaricatures, whose greatest merit lies in
their power to make us laugh at their humour and
extravagance. It would be difficult to point out a
more profligate and hurtful book than “Peregrine
Pickle.” “Roderick Random” is a tissue of low
adventures; the history of a man without steadi-
ness or principle, and who can be, by turns, a
gambler, heiress-hunter, sharper, sailor, and sol-
dier, and I know not what, and who, at last, be-
comes sober and rich, in a way from which the
reader can derive no useful instruction. In “Count
Fathom,” there is still prevailing the same spirit
of low adventure and chicane. The count is a
mere cheat and ruffian. “Sir Launcelot Greaves,”
with abundance of coarse, vulgar, and otherwise
exceptionable scenes, is the most moral and in-
structive of all Smollet's works. It is, however, a
very lame imitation of Cervantes.

As to the usefulness of these several perform-
ances, we must consider, that the tendency of a
book of this kind does not consist so much in the
good or bad, the prosperous or adverse nature, the
oftiness or lowness of the incidents and charac-
ters, but in the light in which the author places

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all these; the inferences which his contrivance
and arrangement naturally suggest. How differ-
ently will the same story be told by a pure and a
profligate narrator? How will the same event in-
culcate opposite lessons, according to the light in
which different hands exhibit it? Without enter-
ing into metaphysical inquiries into the “why”
and the “wherefore,” it is evident, that the ten-
dency of fictitious narrations, and, in truth, of nar-
ratives of all kinds, depends upon the judgment,
the taste, and the views of the narrator.

Smollet's wit and genius were considerable, but
his moral discernment was far from being unex-
ceptionable, and his taste far from being pure. He
apparently delights in vulgar and profligate com-
pany, and of simple and sublime virtue he knows
nothing. “The impulses of sentiment,” “a
thoughtless generosity,” seem to be the height of
his ken. The plain, sober, uniform excellence of
reason or religion, are not to be looked for in his

Fielding is coarse, vulgar, and indelicate; re-
cruiting officers, courtezans, sharpers, and adven-
turers, are too much the company to his liking.
An ale-house kitchen, the humours of a landlady
and chambermaid, are the scenes most congenial
to his experience and taste. The pure and the
sound mind will extract wisdom from every thing,
and Fielding and Smollet will ever be valued by
judicious readers, for their wit, their strong and
vivid portraits of human characters, and the testi-
mony which their ingenious narrations, with more or
less energy, afford to the beauty and the usefulness
of virtue: but the approbation which, with regard
to them, will be qualified and moderate, will soar
into something like rapture, at the pathetic and
varied eloquence, the moral grandeur and sublimity
of Richardson. In him, they will behold the op-
posite extremes of vice and virtue depicted with
equal energy; the tenants of the cottage and the
palace, the convent and the brothel, pourtrayed
with equal truth; and the human character copi-
ously and vividly painted, as it is modified by the
differences of sex, rank, age, fortune, religion, and
country. What chiefly provokes their wonder is,
that he, who can descend so low, can, by turns,
ascend so high; can realize, with equal exactness
and force, the feelings of greatness and meanness;
of riches and poverty; of humility and arrogance;
of man and woman; of servant and master; and of
vice and virtue.

If, by some strange alternative, the existence of
the works of Richardson should become incom-
patible with that of the productions of all other
moralists and inventors, I should not hesitate to
say.... “Let Richardson remain, though all others

And now, with a full knowledge of all the ridi-
cule and pity, which such a declaration must draw
upon me, I conclude with begging your excuse, and
craving a place for

H. E.

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