[Review of Peregrine Pickle]
By John Cleland
The Monthly Review;
New Literary Journal.
An Account, with proper Abstracts of,
or Extracts from, the NEW BOOKS and
PAMPHLETS, published in Great-Britain
and Ireland, as they come out:
Occasional Articles from Abroad.
The SECOND EDITION.
Printed for R. GRIFFITHS, at the Dunciad, in the Strand.
M DCC LIX.
ART. LIV. The ADVENTURES of PERIGRINE PICKLE, in which are included the MEMOIRS of a Lady of QUALITY. Printed for the AUTHOR, and sold by WILSON in the Strand. (Price bound 12s. 4 vols.)
COmplaints are daily made, not without reason, of the number of useless books, with which town and country are drenched and surfeited. How many productions do we see continually foisted upon the publick, under the faction of deceitful title-pages, and against which we have more cause of complaint than merely from our being drawn in by false tokens, or on account of the loss of our money and time bestowed upon them: for to say nothing of these works which carry their own condemnation with them, (such as lewd or profane subjects, the spawn of indigence, of profligacy, or both united) what are so may worthless frivolous pieces as we constantly see brought out, but the marks of that declension of wit and taste, which is perhaps more justly the reproach of the public than the authors who have been forced to consult, and conform to, its vitiated palate? Serious and useful works are scarce read, and hardly any thing of morality goes down, unless ticketed with the label of amusement. Hence that flood of novels, tales, romances, and other monsters of the imagination, which have been either wretchedly translated, or even more unhappily imitated, from the French, whose literary levity we have not been ashamed to adopt, and to encourage the propagation of so depraved a taste. But this forced and unnatural transplantation could not long thrive in a country, of which the faculty of thinking, and thinking deeply, was once, and it is to be hoped, has not yet entimely ceased to be, the national characteristic.
The necessity then of borrowing from truth its colour at least, in favor of function, a point so justly recommended by Horace , and common-sense, occurred, at length, to some of our writers, who tried to experiment with success. To this new species of writing, the title of biography, humorously, and of course not improperly, assumed by the first ingenious author, has been however too lightly continued, since it certainly conveys a false idea. Pictures of fancy are not called portrait-painting, and no body who distinguishes terms will allow the title of biographer, which can only [end page 355] mean a writer of real lives, such as Plutarch , Nepos , &c. to be well applied to the authors of Tom Jones , Roderick Random , David Simple , &c. who may be more justly styled comic-romance-writers. This piece of verbal criticism is the less insignificant, as it is owing to the mistake of a writer of great wit and humor, who likewise calls this a life-writing age, which may be true too, and yet not applicable to it, on most of the examples he quotes for the grounds of this epithet.
If this epithet too is used by way of ridiculing, or exploding this species of writing, (unless when too detestably em- ployed in the service of lewdness and immorality, to deserve no more than being ridiculed) the censure does not seems entirely well warranted. There are perhaps no works of entertainment more susceptible of improvement or public utility, than such as are thus calculated to convey instruction, under the passport of amusement. How many readers may be taught to pursue good, and to avoid evil, to refine their morals, and to detest vice, who are profitably decoyed into the perusal of these writings by the pleasure they expect to be paid with for their attention, who would not care to be dragged through a dry, didactic system of morality; or who would, from a love of truth universally impressed on mankind, despise inventions which do not at least pay truth the homepage of imitation? To judge then candidly and impartially of works of this fort, and to fix their standard, their mint may be tried by that short and excellent test, which Horace, perhaps the greatest, the wisest wit of any age, suggests to us in that so often quoted expression of utile dulci .
If we consider then in general, before we come to partitular application, the true use of these writings, it is rather to be concluded that we have so few of them, than that there are too many. For as the matter of them is chiefly taken from nature, from adventures, real or imaginary, but familiar, practical, and probable to be met with in the course of common life, they may serve as pilot’s charts, or maps of those parts of the world, which every one may chance to travel through; and in this light they are pubic benefits. Whereas romances and novels which turn upon characters out of nature, monsters of perfection, feats of chivalry, fairy-enchantments, and the whole train of the marvelous absurd, transport the reader unprofitably into the clouds, where he is sure to find no solid footing, or into [end page 356] those wilds of fancy, which go for ever out of the way of all human paths.
No comparison that affords such variety of just applications, as that of human life to a voyage, can ever disgust by its staleness, or repetition. And where is the traveller who would complain of the number of maps, or journals, designed to point him out his way through the number of different roads that choice or chance may engage him in? The objections That the number may bewilder, or the falsity, or insufficiency may mislead him, are of little or no avail, compared to the utility which may redound from them, since hardly a case occurs in these piece, in which nature and probability have been consulted, but by its appositeness, or similarity, at least may afford respectively salutary hints, or instructions. And as to the last objection, it is easily refuted, by remarking, in pursuance of the same metaphor, that it would be vain and ridiculous to condemn the use of maps, or charts, because some are laid down by unskilful or treacherous artists. Something in all productions of this sort must be left to judgment: and if fools have not the gift, and are sometimes, in such reading, hurt by the want of it; such a consideration surely says but little against works, from benefiting by which, only fools are excluded: and even that is a misfortune to which nature has made them as insensible as they are incorrigible.
The author of the adventures of Peregrine Pickle, had before given, in those of Roderick Random, a specimen of his talents for this species of writing, which had been so well received by the public, as to encourage his entering on the present work.
The first volume is chiefly taken up with introductory accounts of the family of Peregrine Pickle, who is the hero of the piece, of incidents which preceded his birth--His boyish pranks--His mother’s capricious aversion to him, which, after a fruitless appeal to his own father, who is too much wife-ridden to do his son natural justice, throws him into an entire dependence on his uncle--His falling in love With Emilia, the consequences of this passion, and several juvenile follies, and adventures, till he arrives at a competent age for setting out on his travels to France.
In this volume, the author seems to have aimed more at proportioning his style to his subject, in imitation of Lazarillo de Tormes, Guzman d’ Alfarache, Gil Blas de Santillane, [end page 357] and Scarron’s Comic Romance, than he has respected the delicacy of those readers, who call every thing Low that is not taken from high-life, which is, however, rarely susceptible of that humor and drollery which occur in the more familiar walks of common life. But, to pronounce with an air of decision, that he has every where preserved propriety and nature, would sound more towards interested commendation that genuine criticism. Citations give the fairest play to all parties, and as the first volume lies the openest to the accusation of being Low, the following images, which are at least not selected from amongst the highest, may give a reasonable idea of the rest of the volume, however they may flatten to the reader by being thus detached from the body of the story. [end page 358]
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