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back on him as strong as ever, and that, some time before his book was sent to the press, he had accepted the situation of draughtsman to his majesty's ship Beagle,' Captain Fitzroy, and sailed on a voyage of discovery, not likely to terminate under four years;'-during which, it is to be hoped, his pen will be kept in requisition as well as his pencil. It is a pity he had not been on the spot to superintend the engravings for the present volume. With the exception of one representing Glass and his government house, they are executed in a style which must be sufficiently mortifying to an artist-author.
ART. VI.—1. Arlington, a Novel. 3 vols. London. 1832.
2. The Contrast, a Novel. 3 vols. London. 1832.
WHEN Richardson records the merest small-talk and the
minutest gestures of Sir Charles Grandison or Clarissa Harlowe, we do not quarrel with his particularity. As critics, considering parts in relation to their wholes, and in the more genial character of novel readers, feeling that great interests are growing upon us, we allow the amplitude of detail as a means, and submit ourselves to that dominion over the fancy which minute description will not fail to acquire, provided always that it be connected with objects of interest. The leaf, we allow, must be painted, in order to paint the tree; and the lace must be painted, in order to pourtray the dowager: and if the subject be worth the pains, and the work of art be in its totality effective, we are bound to give our approval to its indispensable incidents and conditions. But we are under no such obligation in respect of descriptions, however faithful and minute, which have no connexion with any object that we much care to contemplate, and which contribute to the construction of nothing. The painter who should bring before us the counterfeit presentment of a bundle of leaves, or of a certain number of yards of lace, claiming our admiration of the particulars per se, would place us in a very embarrassing situation: and it is under some such difficulty that we have always found ourselves to labour, when required to give our humble tribute of approbation to the sort of book which is commonly called a fashionable novel.
The fault lies as much with the subject of these books as with the writers. It may, indeed, be within the capabilities of genius to make the field of fashionable life, such as it is in the day that is passing over us, yield something of romantic interest,—as what topic is there, which, by a certain alchemy, may not be turned to account? One who
"Knows all qualities with a learned spirit
will find, no doubt, in every mode and form of humanity, what, being developed in the spirit of that knowledge, will worthily engage attention. But he who is possessed of these powers would scarcely choose to cast more than a casual glance upon a walk of life, compared with which, as far as we can collect, none exhibits human nature under an aspect so little interesting, so little various. The subject, therefore, falls into the hands of others-of those who, living the sort of life which they describe, have conformed themselves to its limits; who are but imperfectly acquainted with human nature at large, and can bring no great abundance of light from other spheres, to augment their small peculiar,' and illuminate the somewhat sordid spectacle which they present to our view. It is not, in truth, upon the highways of society that any man will acquire a knowledge of human nature. That narrow view of it which is called knowledge of the world may, indeed, be obtained there; but this commonly excludes more knowledge of human nature than it comprises. All that is best worth knowing in the nature of man; all that of which men of the world are, if not unconscious and incredulous, but little cognizant,-his stronger affections, his profounder passions, his more fixed sympathies, his more fatal antipathies, are most commonly the product of retirement, where imagination and passion are of the most exuberant growth. Populous cities have been reputed to be the chosen abodes of wickedness; but it is in reality only the lesser tribe of vices which have this domicile. Our criminal statistics show, to the disproof of the current opinions upon this matter, that the great majority of tragic crimes are committed by the rural population. It is with them that good and evil appear each in their least diluted form. Hatred and malice, in their unmitigated strength, are rustic passions; and love, as Dr. Johnson reminded Lord Chesterfield, is a native of the rocks.
If, then, the subject of fashionable life be peculiarly unfruitful, and those who treat it for the most part unskilful; if their works be a mere cumulation of particulars, which follow no leading interest, and leave behind them no abiding idea; if there be no principle of art upon which the critic can approve-how is it that the reader does not tire? To this we fear there is no other answer than that a large number of the reading public' think it material to them to be informed, after what manner persons of a certain rank and consequence in society demean themselves towards each other in the minutest particulars; and are willing to misspend their own time in learning the precise model upon which these more distinguished idlers misspend theirs. This is a sad circumstance, and indicates a direction of curiosity in the classes to which it extends, and an engagement of the fancy, than which few things that are supposed to have any connexion with literature
can be less entitled to respect. Far better was it in the time of Mrs. Radcliffe, before that intellectual dawn which was the signal for ghosts to disappear, when the mind of the novel reader was filled with images of moving tapestry and of bleeding nuus. False in taste and puerile in fancy as these tales were, they were, however, imaginative, and to the imagination only did they address themselves. There was nothing in them of that scarce idealized frivolity which, being but too truly drawn from real life by the writers of these fashionable fictions, is the more apt to mix itself with the real life and sentiments of the readers of them.
Observing the circulation of such books, amongst other indications of that idolatry of rank which infects the middle classes of English society, and of fashion which infects the higher, we have for some time past felt ourselves constrained to inquire, what is that independence which it has been usual to attribute to the people of this country, and by what signs does it make itself known? Political independence we are possessed of; and there is amongst us a nearer approximation to equality of political rights than has been known to exist in any other European nation. But independence of the individual mind seems to be a rarer quality with us than with almost any other community, including even the countries whose political institutions are the most despotic. The truth is, we fear, that free institutions, with all their paramount advantages and blessings, bring also that admixture of evil which belongs to everything human,-that they foster the vain, ambitious, and worldly propensities of mankind, with which genuine independence cannot co-exist. In order to be independent, we must be free, not only from external subjection, but from internal struggles; we must be contented, and at rest. But no sooner do we escape from the curb which external power places upon our proceedings-no sooner are we at liberty to walk as we will in a world which is all before us, than we become enslaved by our own craving and grasping ambition, by eagerness and solicitude
Vain aims, vain ends, inordinate desires.'
In the next place, the distribution of wealth in the various channels and proportions in which it naturally flows and accrues under so free a system of government, produces a scale of social rank which is minutely, but not very distinctly, graduated; most men of the middle classes consider that, by pretensions or exertions, they have it in their power to advance themselves in the estimation of their neighbours at least one degree higher upon it than circumstances have placed them; and if they acquire the one step, there is always another before them which appears equally attainable. The desire to rise in the world, and the shame of sinking in it, are com
mon to all classes, because to all the prospect of advancement is open; and an inordinate feeling of this kind, when once it has become general, will communicate itself, in a greater or less degree, even to humble and unpretending natures, and will scarcely be altogether escaped by the wisest and the least worldly. Whatsoever the world is pleased to consider precious must, however intrinsically worthless, acquire some value even in the eyes of a philosopher; for no man can be so segregated from the world as to defy the influence of its artificial estimates upon the real sources of his happiness. A wise man, for example, may be utterly indifferent to a thousand luxuries or pageantries of wealth for their own sakes; but for want of them he shall find that he is unable to obtain the hand of the woman who might make him happy, inasmuch as the formidable host of relations who have the disposal of her, are far from participating in his philosophy. Thus fictitious wants connect themselves with real ones; reason, as well as imagination, finds it difficult wholly to divide them; and things which pass current in the world for advantages, possess at least an exchangeable, if not an intrinsic value.
Whether from these, or from whatever other causes arising, ambition is certainly more than any other single attribute, the characteristic of English society; bringing with it all its train of low desires and uneasy pretensions. In the highest walk of society, amongst those whose born rank or worldly consideration is unquestionable, it might be expected that, nothing further being to be attained and everything possessed being secure, there would be found at last the charm of confidence and quiescence. But here, as if it were fated that no portion of the community should be exempt from vulgarity, fashion interposes, and those who cannot but have a satisfactory assurance of their aristocratical station, are assailed by distressing doubts and surmises as to their position in fashionable life; the class is ascertained, but the clique is still to be contended for. The pretenders to fashion exhibit over again the affectations and jealousies of the pretenders to consequence; and, in short, human nature, wherever it is wanting in worthy pursuits, benevolent feelings, and independent resources, presents the same indifferent appearance.
This aspect of society, which was formerly, like the deformities. of the prophet of Khorassan, hidden behind a glittering veil, is now made known to every subscriber of every circulating library, -a publicity which was scarcely desirable. It was, indeed, more to be deprecated than many persons, hastily considering the whole subject as not worth a thought, may be disposed to admit, that what is called high life should be exhibited to the world in its least respectable point of view, as it has been by the authors of these publications.
publications. Some of them have affected the character of satirists, whilst others admire, with less disguise, the sentiments and manners which they expose; and in more than one of the novels which, within the last six or eight years, have attained most celebrity, consummate coxcombry appears to have been the writer's ideal of heroism. But even where the sentiments avowed by the authors themselves were sufficiently rational and respectable, petty illiberalities and selfish vanity were still represented as pervading fashionable life in general; and, in no instance that we know of, has a book of this kind been published which was calculated, upon the whole, to convey a favourable impression of the classes of society described in it. The effect upon the public mind is, we are disposed to think, less slight and transitory than might, at first sight, be expected; and we are not without a suspicion that these fugacious volumes have permanently lowered the aristocracy in the estimation of the middle classes.
No inconsiderable contribution to this effect is to be found in the circumstance that members of the aristocracy have themselves come forward to inform against their fraternity, showing themselves ambitious of a kind of distinction which was but little in harmony with popular notions of their sphere and dignity. Lords and ladies have become authors and authoresses for the purpose of representing the daily life of the class to which they belong, and have been ushered into the literary world with much obsequious observance, by the particular department of the press which has it in charge to make merit notorious. Their books have been widely circulated; and those who know how much the respect for rank is a matter of imagination, will judge what it must suffer by the possessors of it being brought into immediate and open contact with the public as the authors of frivolous lucubrations, and the objects of that species of commendation to which we allude. The publications will speedily pass away, those of them that are not gone already-and this whole branch of bookselling cannot last long; but with many simple persons a mystery has been revealed, and a charm has been broken, and they will never again have the same respect for the Great which they once had, though they may very probably forget how it was first impaired.
We certainly see cause to regret this result. Adventitious distinctions and extrinsic superiorities will always exist in civilized society, and the more the imagination is connected with them, the less will they be felt to be odious or grievous. Take away the ideal eminence of birth and rank, and we have left the predominance of wealth, or the predominance of talent. Is purse-pride less apt to be offensive than the pride of birth or of rank? or is