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THE GREIT NOVELISTS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.
$ 1. Evolution of Prose Fiction. The Romance and the Novel. $ 2.
DANIEL DEFOE : his life ; his political writings. $ 3. His narratives: Robinson Crusoe and Captain, Singleton. $.4. Colonel Jack, Voll Flanders and Roxana. $ 5. Journal of the Plague Year. Memoirs of a Cavalier. Death of Defoe. $ 6. SAMUEL RICHARDSON : his life. Pamela. $. 7. Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison. § 8. HENRY FIELDING : his life. $_9. Character of his work. § 10. Jonathan Wild, Joseph Andrews, Tom Jones, Amelia. $ 11. TOBIAS SMOLLETT: his lise. $ 12. His novels : Humphrey Clinker. His poetry. 13. Life of LAURENCE STERNE. § 14. His style and humour. Tristram Shandy and the Sentimental Journey. $ 15. OLIVER GOLDSMITH : his life. § 16. His writings. § 17. Minor novelists. Temporary decline of the novel
§ 1. To say that prose fiction came into being during the eighteenth century is hardly true. The art of Richardson and
Fielding, like everything else, follows a line of Evolution evolution. The English novel, properly speaking, of prose fiction.
sprang rather suddenly into life ; at first sight,
there is no evidence of any transition leading to it from the rather indeterminate forms of fiction that were its predecessors. And, as a matter of fact, what transition there is, actually is a reaction. The prose fiction with which the Englishman of the sixteenth and seventeenth century amused himself does not answer to our modern idea of light literature.
Sidney's Arcadia, Lyly's Euphues, are landmarks in Elizabethan
the history of English prose ; but the first was a
collection of impossible episodes strung together on a thread which it requires the utmost courtesy to call a plot ; the other was the merest excuse for a display of style, and needed no imagination, save in so far as the author had to coin his own words. The kind of romance to which Lodge's Rosalynde and Greene's Pandosto belong combined incident of the Sidneian type with the prose of Euphues. Moreover, books like these appealed entirely to the educated and courtly taste of the few. Even the more popular compilations, like Painter's Palace of Pleasure, which borrowed their stories wholesale from the foreign novelists, managed, in the borrowing, to miss the
characteristics which, to modern readers, give Boccaccio and the rest their lively interest ; they extracted the romantic element without catching any reflection of the observation and experience of their originals. Philosophical romances, like the Utopia, do not count; they have no more to do with prose fiction than the charming setting of a Platonic dialogue ; their romantic envelope is merely the sugar coating of their serious intention.
The fact is that prose fiction, in those days, was the merest byway of literature. It was like a country lane on a misty morning ; the travellers who journeyed along it saw nothing on either side or in front. The great high- character
Dramatic way of the Elizabethan era was the drama; and of the there the origin of the eighteenth-century novel is to eighteenth
century be sought. Richardson and Fielding adapted the art of the dramatists to the principle of story-telling; they studied, each in his own way, the dramatic problems of plot and character; they made the reader a spectator, as it were, of a grand and involved stage-play; and, finally, they conducted their drama into intelligible and reasonable surroundings. Hitherto, the characters and scenery of prose fiction had been impossible in real life; there had been tacit agreement that the romance had Unreality
of romance. nothing to do with the “ common and unclean." English fiction of the later Stewart period had consisted of translations from, or imitations—like Roger Boyle's Parthenissa (1654)-of, the interminable novels of D'Urfé, La Calprenède, and Mademoiselle de Scudéri. The Grand Cyrus, the Astrée, and the Princesse de Clèves had roamed on heights inaccessible to ordinary mortals, beside princes who were paragons of manners and delicacy, and talked in the finest strain of moral aphorism to ladies as accomplished as_them lves. This sort of writing had been borrowed by the French from the Castilian novelists and, of course, from the arch-sinner of heroic romance, Montemayor, whose chivalrous extravagances had, as we have seen, an earlier influence on Sidney. Just as Montemayor and his companion paladins of fiction had been ridiculed in Don Quixote, so the voluminous French writers were satirised in Scarron's Roman Comique. But the deathblow to this class of fiction came, not from the destructive criticism of the comic romance, but from the positive growth of a new art, whose object was the dramatic imitation of real life. The English novelists, in short, cast aside the ordinary traditions of romantic scenery and art, distinct princely heroes, and worked on the actual material from the they found ready to hand. They saw the dramatic element in common life, and used it. Fielding disliked Richardson, and Richardson did not understand Fielding; but this was a minor difference of temperament. In the inain point of their art they were at one. They were both students of
The novel as (LHCW
human life ; they both saw, through different glasses, its intense interest ; and the common effect of their work was to give the novel a place beside the drama as a reflector of life, to give the art of Shakespeare a new direction. They substituted the
novel of manners and character for the romance of Importance
adventure ; and we shall see how, when romance eighteenth- revived in the hands of Scott, it received an essential novelists in impulse from their work. To-day there are obvious literary differences between the novel and the romance, history.
which are increased by the artificial terms of criticism. But, when all is said and done, when the romantic method has been contrasted with the realistic, it is found that they stand on a common platform--the dramatic interest of life. Their differences are only incidental. But the difference between the eighteenth-century novelists and their predecessors was fundamental and decisive : their art was a reaction from the unnatural ; they made fiction, up to their time the vehicle of the unreal, the mirror of reality ; and, in so doing, they were the cause of the most important of all literary revolutions.
§ 2. There were, however, among the writers of the later half of the seventeenth century a few who, if they did nothing as
novelists in the proper sense, at all events did their best to improve the art of narrative. Mrs. Aphra
Behn had written a few romances which, although fiction.
not masterpieces, were unusually good for the age, and RICHARD HEAD (1637 ?-1686 ?) had, in Charles II's reign, written a novel of adventure called The English Rogue (1665).
But a more skilled master of narrative was DANIEL DANIEL
DEFOE. Defoe has received the title of the founder (1661-1731).
of the English novel, principally on account of the
admirable tale which is known to every Englishman -Robinson Crusoe. But, in reality, with or without Defoe, the novel would have had an independent existence. His position is unique and difficult to define. He was by no means a master of his own language; no one wrote English more loosely or with less deliberate sense of style. On the other hand, he always knew what he was writing about, and brought to his fictions an accuracy and imagination which, combined, rendered him a master in realistic description. As a realist, to use the modern phrase, he has no rival in any language, and on this account he deserves a place among the novelists.
Defoe's life is little more than a résumé of the political history of his time. From first to last he was mixed up, not too
creditably, with politics ; in the eyes of his contemLife of Defoe.
poraries, he was the able, versatile pamphleteer.
His father was a butcher in the City, and, being a dissenter, intended that his son should enter the Nonconformist ministry. But, although Defoe continued all his life a staunch Whig and dissenter, and, in his closing years, wrote religious
manuals which were popular for many years after his death, he decided to go into trade. He was by no means a man of business, and, as hose-factor and tile-maker, he was a failure. It is probable that he neglected everything to follow the course of politics. As early as 1685 he joined the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion, and had to go abroad to save his neck. Later on, in 1703, when Parliament was persecuting the sectarians, he ruined a flourishing business in pantiles by writing a satire called The Shortest Way with the Dissenters. With that admirable skill of imagination which, in after years, enabled him to write Robinson Crusoe, he adopted the tone of a violent Tory, and urged the Government to resort to the stake, the pillory, and the halter. At first the “high-flying” party, as they were called, applauded this vigorous proposal ; but, when it gradually leaked out that the poem-which, by the way, is singularly devoid of poetry—was a burlesque on their own attitude, their fury knew no bounds. Defoe was thrown into prison, and his brick-kilns at Tilbury went to ruin. He was liberated in 1704 by Harley's influence, and, from that time forward, devoted himself to political service. In prison he had begun to publish a Whig newspaper called the Review, and his chief business after his release was its continuation. At the same time he was active journalism.
political in many other ways, writing occasional pamphlets, investigating marvels, and generally taking an interest in everything that was going on round him. It is impossible to lose sight of the fact that this man, who, on the surface, was so bluff and honest, condescended, in the service of his party, to the most unworthy means, and for many years acted as the worst kind of press reptile, insinuating himself, in the interest of the Whigs, and by false pretences, into the control of Tory newspapers. This fact in itself proves nothing. Defoe was one of the lower circle of journalists whose methods were consistently underhand, who had to serve unscrupulous and corrupt ministries and, as a matter of course, do their dirty work. But any student of Defoe will detect, in all his work and life, a preference for duplicity and an indifference to right and wrong which agreed very ill with his religious profession. He never gained caste among his contemporaries. Pope, Swift, and the great Tory society of letters looked down on him as a poor scribbler. But the Whigs employed him in important political services, sending him, for example, on a confidential mission to Edinburgh at the time of the Union. If we put aside his unquestionable dishonesty, the bulk of his political writing which remains to us is straightforward and practical in Style of his tone. Its style is essentially plain and homely, the political style of a popular writer whose pen may be called into action at any moment. It lacks humour, but for this want it compensates by a superfluity of shrewdness. In all his minor and practical writings--his account of Great Britain, for example, and his projects for the improvement of London-he shows a remarkable foresight which, at times, amounts to the gift of
prophecy. Swift, who, as a prose writer, is so imHis literary measurably Defoe's superior, had nothing of Defoe's istics.
fertility in practical matters. In practice, Defoe had
failed as a tradesman : theoretically, no one understood trade better or wrote so convincingly with the pen of a keen-witted, far-sighted man of business. This, with his unrivalled power of throwing dust in his readers' eyes, is his prevailing literary characteristic; and, side by side with his faculty for deceiving other people, goes his faculty for deceiving himself, and believing that he was an honest man while he was playing the part of a rogue.
§ 3. Defoe's books and occasional pamphlets reach an appalling number-probably, if we had everything he wrote, to
between three and four hundred separate publicaDefoe's narratives. tions. At present, we have access to something like
two hundred and fifty ; and, from this number, the narratives claim the first and, indeed, from a literary point of view, the only place. They all have the same characteristics. They profess to be autobiographies; they are related with the utmost attention to circumstantial detail, and with the same deliberate appearance of verisimilitude; and they are put forward with an intention of morality which is strictly modified by their author's evident respect for worldly prosperity. The most famous of them all was, so far as its publication is
concerned, the earliest—Robinson Crusoe, the three “Robin
parts of which appeared in 1719 and 1720. Defoe's son Crusoe" (1719).
political career was, at this time, a thing of the past,
and he was living with his family—his wife was dead ---at Stoke Newington. There can be very little doubt that, in the construction of his tale, Defoe employed the information which he had obtained some years previously from a sailor named Alexander Selkirk. This adventurer had been marooned by his captain on the deserted island of Juan Fernandez, where he lived for some years in complete solitude, becoming little more than a savage and losing the use of language, until he was eventually taken off the island by the same captain who had landed him there. He gradually recovered his speech and civilisation, and became the owner of a contemporary reputation. There is proof positive that Defoe, whose indefatigable curiosity led him to every new marvel, met and conversed with him at a house in Bristol ; and it is probable that out of this interview came the suggestion for Robinson Crusoe. The story-or rather, succession of incidents—is well known, and all that is necessary to discuss here is the reason for its popularity. The apparent truth of the narrative is visible at once. Defoe loses himself utterly in Crusoe. There is no reference to himself even as the editor of these adventures; the narrative belongs entirely to Crusoe, and it is very doubtful whether the great majority of