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Such romances at length were regarded as pernicious to good sense, taste, and literature. It was in this light they were considered by Boileau, after he had indulged in them in his youth.

A celebrated Jesuit pronounced an oration against these works. The rhetorician exaggerates and hurls his thunders on flowers. He entreats the magistrates not to suffer foreign romances to be scattered amongst the people, but to lay on them heavy penalties, as on prohibited goods; and represents this prevailing taste as being more pestilential than the plague itself. He has drawn a striking picture of a family devoted to romance-reading; he there describes women occupied day and night with their perusal; children just escaped from the lap of their nurse grasping in their little hands the fairy tales; and a country squire seated in an old arm-chair, reading to his family the most wonderful passages of the ancient works of chivalry.

These romances went out of fashion with our square-cocked hats: they had exhausted the patience of the public, and from them sprung NOVELS. They attempted to allure attention by this inviting title, and reducing their works from ten to two volumes. The name of romance, including imaginary heroes and extravagant passions, disgusted; and they substituted scenes of domestic life, and touched our common feelings by pictures of real nature. Heroes were not now taken from the throne: they were sometimes even sought after amongst the lowest ranks of the people. Scarron seems to allude sarcastically to this degradation of the heroes of Fiction: for in hinting at a new comic history he had projected, he tells us that he gave it up suddenly because he had “heard that his hero had just been hanged at Mans.”

NOVELS, as they were long manufactured, form a library of illiterate authors for illiterate readers; but as they are created by genius, are precious to the philosopher. They paint the character of an individual or the manners of the age more perfectly than any other species of composition: it is in novels we observe as it were passing under our eyes the refined frivolity of the French; the gloomy and disordered sensibility of the German; and the petty intrigues of the modern Italian in some Venetian Novels. We have shown the world that we possess writers of the first order in this delightful province of Fiction and of Truth; for every Fiction invented naturally, must be true. After the abundant invective poured on this class of books, it is time to settle for ever the controversy, by asserting that these works of fiction are among the most instructive of every polished nation, and must contain all the useful truths of human life, if composed with genius. They are pictures of the passions, useful to our youth to contemplate. That acute philosopher, Adam Smith, has given an opinion most favourable to NOVELS. “The poets and romance writers who best paint the refinements and delicacies of love and friendship, and of all other private and domestic affections, Racine and Voltaire, Richardson Marivaux, and Riccoboni, are in this case much better instructors than Zeno, Chrysippus, or Epictetus.”

The history of romances has been recently given by Mr. Dunlop, with many pleasing details; but this work should be accompanied by the learned Lenglet du Fresnoy’s “Bibliotheque des Romans,” published under the name of M. le C. Gordon de Percel; which will be found useful for immediate reference for titles, dates, and a copious catalogue of romances and novels to the year 1734.


[Footnote 117: Since the above was written, many other volumes have been published illustrative of this branch of literature. The Bannatyne and Maitland Club and the Camden and Percy Societies have printed Metrical Romances entire.]

[Footnote 118: This famed lay has been magnificently published in Germany, where it is now considered as the native epic of the ancient kingdom. Its scenes have been delineated by the greatest of their artists, who have thus given a world-wide reputation to a poem comparatively unknown when the first edition of this work was printed.]

[Footnote 119: These early novels have been collected and published by Mr. J. P. Collier, under the title of Shakespeare’s Library. They form the foundation of some of the great Poet’s best dramas.]

[Footnote 120: They were ridiculed in a French burlesque Romance of the Shepherd Lysis, translated by Davis, and published 1660. Don Quixote, when dying, made up his mind, if he recovered, to turn shepherd, in imitation of some of the romance-heroes, who thus finished their career. This old “anti-romance” works out this notion by a mad reader of pastorals, who assumes the shepherd habit and tends a few wretched sheep at St. Cloud.]