OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The progress of the nation page 9

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 <9> 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Amongst the independents, the names of John Clayton and William Bengo Collyer, and amongst the unitarians, Dr. Priestley, Theophilus Lindsay, and Thomas Belsham are conspicuous.

But the most remarkable spread of religion was through the instrumentality of the Wesleyan Methodists. These spread over all the country, through town and village, into places where the ministers of the Establishment had fallen into a spiritual sleep from want of rivalry. In Wales they found a great and almost unoccupied field. In Cornwall, where Wesley had been abused and pelted with stones, they became universal, and still continue to astonish the visitor to that county by their extraordinary numbers, almost every Cornish miner being of that church. Throughout England the spread of methodism has been a most influential cause of the revival of activity and discipline in the established church itself; for it soon became evident that the church must exert itself, or the body of the people, especially in the country and in manufacturing districts, would be absorbed by the Wesleyan interest. There is no question that since the reign of George III. a spirit of vital religion has made great progress, not only in the body of the Establishment, but amid every variety of dissent, and that a much more liberal tone of opinion amongst religious parties exists towards one another now than at that period.

literature and science.

In literature, and the amount of genius in every branch of it, as well as in mechanical skill, no age ever transcended that of George III. Though he and his ministers did their best to repress liberty, they could not restrain the liberty of the mind, and it burst forth on all sides, with almost unexampled power. In fact, throughout Europe, during this period, a great revolution in taste took place. The old French influence and French models, which had prevailed in most countries since the days of Louis XIV., were now abandoned, and there was a return to nature and originality. For a long time writers in all departments, but especially in poetry and works of imagination, had gone on copying one another, instead of going to the great fountain of novelty and truth - the world of woods and hills, and of toe busy mind and action of man-till all was dry and monotonous; and there were those who said gravely that all that was original had appeared - the resources of genius were exhausted. But all over Europe, as if a new breath of life had passed over it from above, there was a movement amongst the dry bones of the past, and new greenness began to spring luxuriantly around the worn stones of barren imitation. There was evidently a new creation, and giants were once more on the earth. " The Reliques of Ancient English Poetry," collected by Percy, the bishop of Dromore, and the publication of the old Scottish ballads by Walter Scott, at once snapt the spell which had bound the intellect since the days of Pope, and opened the sealed eyes of wondering scholars; and they saw, as it were, u a new heaven and a new earth " before them. They once more felt the fresh breath of the air and ocean, smelt the rich odour of the heath and the forest, and the oracles of the heart were re-opened, as they listened again to the whispers of the eternal winds. Once more, as of old to prophets and prophetic kings, there was " a sound of going in the tops of the trees." The veil of custom and of schooldom was rent, and the wide and magnificent universe, with all its beauty of form and intensity of feeling, and glimpses of the upper and inexhaustible heavens, with their music of unimaginable heights and depths, and tones of the infinite, awoke the awed soul to a new heritage of conception and of power. Streams, as it were, of deluging imagination rushed down from the long arid hills, and the nations - even amid the horrors of most desolating wars - rejoiced in the ever on-pouring tide of spiritual emotion. In England, Scott, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Byron, Shelley - in Germany, Goethe, Schiller, Wieland, Richter - in Scandinavia, Tegner, Oehlenschlager, Stagnelius, with a world of lesser lights around them - stood in the glowing beams of a new morning, casting around them the wondrous wealth of a poetry as fresh as it was overflowing. As in poetry, so in prose invention. The novel and romance came forth in totally new forms, and with a life and scope such as they had never yet attained. From Fielding and Sterne to Godwin and Scott, the list of great writers in this department, shed a new glory on the English name. In works of all other kinds the same renovation of mind was conspicuous; history took a prominent place, and science entered on new fields. In noticing the chief of these new acquisitions to our intellectual affluence, let us first introduce the

prose writers.

Before the conclusion of the reign of George II. a new school of fiction had appeared. De Foe had, besides his romance of " Robinson Crusoe," made an opening into that inexhaustible field of incident and character existing in actual life in his " Colonel Jack," "Moll Flanders," "Roxana." and other novels, which Fielding and Richardson so vastly extended. Fielding, too, died six years before the commencement of this reign, and Richardson in the first year of it. But. their works were in full circulation, and extended their influence far into this period. They have, therefore, been left to be noticed here in connection with the class of writers to whom they gave origin, and to whom they properly belong. Richardson seems to have originated the true novel of real life in his " Pamela," which was the history of a servant, written with that verisimilitude that belongs to biography. This was commenced in 1740, and brought to a conclusion in 1741. The extraordinary sensation which it created was sufficient proof that the author had struck into the very heart of nature, and not only knew where the seat of human passion lay, but had the highest command over it. It was not, in fact, from books and education, but from native insight and acute observation, that he drew his power. He was born in Derbyshire, and received his education at a common day-school. He was then apprenticed as a printer in London, and established himself as a master in that business, which he continued to pursue with great success. His " Pamela " ran through five editions in the first year. In 1748 appeared his " Clarissa Harlowe," and wonderfully extended his reputation, which reached its full blaze in his " Sir Charles Grandison," in 1753. In all these works he showed himself a perfect analyst of the human heart, and detector of the greatest niceties of character. Though he could have known little or nothing of aristocratic life, yet, trusting to the sure guidance of nature, he drew ladies and gentlemen, and made them act and converse as the first ladies and gentlemen of the age would have been proud to act and speak. A more finished gentleman than Sir Charles Grandison, or correct lady than Miss Byron, were never delineated. The only thing was, that, not being deeply versed in the debaucheries and vulgarisms of the so-called high life of the time, he drew it as much purer and better than it was. It is in the pages of Fielding and Smollett that we must seek for the darker and more real character of the age. Richardson has drawn his Grandison in immense advance of his period. In all the nobler sentiments and Christian principles, many of which have only recently made themselves laws of society, he shows himself a clear and sincere believer, by the conduct of Sir Charles. He represents him as refusing to fight a duel, and as asserting a code of honour very different to the diabolical so-called code of the day. The fault of Richardson was his prolixity. He develops his plot, and draws all his characters, and works out his narrative with the minutest strokes. It is this which prevents him being read now. Who could wade through a novel of nine volumes? Yet these were devoured by the readers of that time with an avidity that not even the novels of Sir Walter Scott were waited for in the height of his popularity.

Fielding commenced his career by an attempt, in "Joseph Andrews," to caricature the " Pamela" of Richardson. He represented Joseph as Pamela's brother; but he had not proceeded far when he became too much interested in his own creation to make a mere parody of him. This novel he produced in 1742, the year after the completion of Richardson's " Pamela." The following year he gave to the world " Jonathan Wild;" in 1749, "Tom Jones;" and in 1751, but three years before his death, at the age of only forty- seven, his " Amelia." But, besides a novelist, Fielding was a dramatic writer, a political writer, and the editor of four successive periodicals - " The Champion," " The True Patriot," " The Jacobite Journal," and " The Covent Garden Journal." Fielding, unlike Richardson, was educated at Eton, and afterwards at Leyden. He had fortune, but he dissipated it; and had the opportunity of seeing both high and low life, by his rank as a gentleman and his office as a police-magistrate. His novels are masterly productions. His squire Western and parson Adams, and his other characters are genuine originals; and they are made to act and talk with a raciness of humour and a flow of wit that might even yet render them popular, if their excessive grossness did not repel even the least squeamish reader of this age. It is, indeed, the misfortune of Fielding, Sterne, and Smollett, that they lived in so coarse and debauched an epoch; their very fidelity now renders them repulsive. Richardson and Fielding were the Dickens and Thackeray of their day. In Fielding, the colder nature and the more satiric tone make the resemblance to Thackeray the more striking,

Tobias Smollett, before he appeared as a novelist, following in the new track opened by Fielding rather than by Richardson, had figured as poet, dramatist, and satirist. He was originally a surgeon from Dumbartonshire, and having been surgeon's mate on board of a man of war, and then living as an author in London, he had seen a great variety of life and character, and, having a model given him, he threw his productions forth in a rapid succession. His first novel was " Roderick Random," which appeared in 1748, the same year as Richardson's " Clarissa," and a year preceding perhaps the greatest of Fielding's works, " Tom Jones." Then came, in rapid sequence, " Peregrine Pickle," " Count Fathom," " Sir Launcelot Greaves," and " Humphrey Clinker." Whilst writing these he was busy translating "Don Quixote" - a work after his own heart - travelling and writing travels, editing " The Briton," and continuing " Hume's History of England." In his novels Smollett displayed a deep knowledge of character, and a humour still more broad and coarse than that of Fielding. In Smollett the infusion of indecency may be said to have reached its acme. In fact, there is no more striking evidence of the vast progress made in this country since the commencement of the reign of George III., in refinement of manners and delicacy of sentiment, than the contrast between the coarseness and obscenity of these early writers and the novelists of the present day. The picture which they present of the rude vice, the low tastes, the debauched habits, the general drunkenness, and the ribaldry and profanity of language in those holding the position of gentlemen, and even of ladies, strikes us now with amazement and loathing.

The next novelist who appeared was of a very different school. Richardson was a careful and elaborate anatomist of character; Fielding and Smollett were master painters of life and manners, and threw in strong dashes of wit and humour; but they had little sentiment. In Laurence Sterne came forth a sentimentalist, who, whilst he melted his readers by tender touches of pathos, could scarcely conceal from them that he was laughing at them in his sleeve. The mixture of feeling, wit, double entendre, and humour of the most subtle and refined kind, and that in a clergyman, produced the oddest, and yet the most vivid, impressions on the reader. The effect was surprise, pleasure, wonder, and no little misgiving; but the novelty and charm of this original style were so great that they carried all before them, but not without the most violent censures from the press on his indecencies, especially considering his position as a clergyman. Sterne was the grandson of that Richard Sterne, a native of Mansfield, in Nottinghamshire, who was chaplain to archbishop Laud, and attended him on the scaffold. His grandson, our author, was the son of a lieutenant in the army, and was born at Clonmel, in Ireland, his grandfather having then become archbishop of York. Sterne, therefore, on taking orders, was on the way 5f preferment, and received the rectory of Stillington and the perpetual curacy of Coxwold, both in Yorkshire. There he wrote not only sermons, but satire, particularly his " History of a Watchcoat." But it was his novel of " Tristram Shandy " which brought him into sudden popularity. After this, his " Sentimental Journey " completed his reputation; and his Maria and her lamb, his uncle Toby, corporal Trim, Yorick, doctor Slop, the widow Wadman, and his lesser characters, became the possessors " for a long period of the tears and laughter of the nation.

But it was not till 1766 that the public became possessed of what may be called the first domestic novel, in Goldsmith's " Vicar of Wakefield." The works of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett, had been rather novels of general life than of the home life of England, but this work was a narrative of such every day kind as might occur in any little nook in the country, amid the humblest and simplest of people. It was a picture of those chequered scenes that the lowliest existence presents: the simple, pious pastor, in the midst of his family, easily imposed on and led into difficulties; the heartless rake, bringing disgrace and sorrow where all had been sunshine before; the struggles and the triumphs of worth, which had no wealth or high rank to emblazon it; and all mingled and quickened by a humour bo genial and unstudied that it worked on the heart like the charms of nature herself. No work ever so deeply influenced the literary mind of this country. The productions which it has originated are legion, and yet it stands sui generis amongst them all. The question may seem to lack sequence, yet we may ask legitimately whether there would have been a " Pickwick " if there had not been a " Vicar of Wakefield? " yet the same elements are the regnant ones in both - actual life, depending on no aristocratic gilding, but on the mingled simplicity, goodness, and racy humour of their actors. Goldsmith seems never to have attempted a second story on the same model, though he was so voluminous and miscellaneous a writer, a successful essayist, dramatist, historian, and doer of all work.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 <9> 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Pictures for The progress of the nation page 9

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About