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The Progress of Romance

By Clara Reeve

  • Transcription and correction: Elizabeth Ricketts, Tonya Howe
  • Correction, editorial commentary, and markup: Incomplete

  • THE
    PROGRESS of ROMANCE
    THROUGH
    TIMES, COUNTRIES, AND MANNERS;
    WITH
    REMARKS
    ON THE GOOD AND BAD EFFECTS OF
    IT, ON THEM RESPECTIVELY;
    IN A COURSE OF
    EVENING CONVERSATIONS.
    BY C. R. AUTHOR OF
    THE ENGLISH BARON, THE TWO MENTORS, &C.
    IN TWO VOLUMES.
    VOL. I.

    It hath bene through all ages ever seene,
    That with the praise of arms and chevalrie,
    The prize of beauty still hath ioyned bene,
    And that for reasons speciall privitee,
    For either doth on other much relie:
    For he me seemes most fit the faire to serve,
    That can her best defend from villanie,
    And she most fit his service doth deserve,
    That fairest is, and from her faith will never swerve.
    SPENSER'S Faery Queene. Book 4. Canto 5. Stanza 1.

    PRINTED FOR THE AUTHOR,
    BY W. KEYMER, COLCHESTER, AND SOLD BY HIM;
    SOLD ALSO BY G. G. J. AND J. ROBINSON,
    IN PATER-NOSTER ROW, LONDON.
    MDCCLXXXV.
    [end page titlepage]

    Evening VII

    Hortensius, Sophronia, Euphrasia

    Hort.

    We have now, I presume, done with the Romances, and are expecting your investigation of Novels.

    Euph.

    It is now that I begin to be sensible in how arduous an undertaking I have engaged, and to fear I shall leave it unfinished.

    Hort.

    Have no fears, Madam; we shall not suffer you to leave off presently. We expect the completion of the plan you have given us.

    Soph.

    If I judge rightly, the conclusion is yet a great way off.

    Euph.

    This is one of the circumstances that frighten me. If I skim over the subject lightly it will be doing nothing; and if I am too minute I may grow dull and tedious, and tire my hearers.

    [end page 108]Hort.

    You must aim at the medium you recommended to us.

    Euph.

    What Goddess, or what Muse must I invoke to guide me through these vast, unexplored regions of fancy?—regions inhabited by wisdom and folly,—by wit and stupidity,—by religion and profaneness,—by morality and licentiousness.—How shall I separate and distinguish the various and opposite qualities of these strange concomitants?—point out some as the objects of admiration and respect, and others of abhorrence and contempt?

    Hort.

    The subject warms you already, and when that is the case, you will never be heard coldly.—Go on and prosper.

    Euph.

    In this fairy land are many Castles of various Architecture.—Some are built in the air, and have no foundation at all,— others are composed of such heavy materials, that their own weight sinks them into the earth, where they lie buried under their own ru- ins, and leave not a trace behind,—a third sort are built upon areal and solid foundation, [end page 109] and and remain impregnable against all the attacks of Criticism, and perhaps even of time itself.

    Soph.

    So so!—we are indeed got into Fairy-land; it is here that I expect to meet with many of my acquaintance, and I shall challenge them whenever I do.

    Euph.

    I hope that you will assist my labours.—I will drop the metaphor, and tell you that I mean to take notice only of the most eminent works of this kind:—to pass over others slightly and leave the worst in the depths of Oblivion.

    The word Novel in all languages signifies something new. It was first used to distinguish these works from Romance, though they have lately been confounded together and are frequently mistaken for each other.

    Soph.

    But how will you draw the line of distinction, so as to separate them effectually, and prevent future mistakes?

    Euph.

    I will attempt this distinction, and I presume if it is properly done it will be fol- lowed,—If not, you are but where you were before. [end page 110] The Romance is an heroic fable, which treats of fabulous persons and things.—The Novel is a picture of real life and manners, and of the times in which it is written. The Romance in lofty and elevated language, describes what never happened nor is likely to happen.—The Novel gives a familiar relation of such things, as pass every day before our eyes, such as may happen to our friend, or to ourselves; and the perfection of it, is to represent every scene, in so easy and natural a manner, and to make them appear so probable, as to deceive us into a persuasion (at least while we are reading) that all is real, until we are affected by the joys or distresses, of the persons in the story, as if they were our own.

    Hort.

    You have well distinguished, and it is necessary to make this distinction.—I clearly perceive the difference between the Romance and Novel, and am surprized they should be confounded together.

    Euph.

    I have sometimes thought it has been done insidiously, by those who endea- [end page 111] vour to render all writings of both kinds contemptible.

    Soph.

    I have generally observed that men of learning have spoken of them with the greatest disdain, especially collegians.

    Euph.

    Take care what you say my friend, they are a set of men who are not to be offended with impunity. Yet they deal in Romances, though of a different kind.—Some have taken up an opinion upon trust in others whose judgment they prefer to their own.— Others having seen a few of the worst or dullest among them, have judged of all the rest by them;—just as some men affect to despise our sex, because they have only conversed with the worst part of it.

    Hort.

    You sex knows how to retort upon ours, and to punish us for our offences against you.—Proceed however.

    Euph.

    The Italians were the first that excelled in Novel-writing.—I cannot ascertain the date of any of their earliest Novels. Cynthio Giraldi, and the Decameron of Boccace[end page 112] are are some of the first, and served as a model to many that were written afterwards.

    Hort.

    One Original work of Genius, always produces a swarm of imitations.

    Euph.

    Cervantes published his exemplary Novels in the year 1613.—They are twelve in number, and their titles are as follows: - The little Gipsey—The liberal Lover—The Force of Blood—Ricconete and Cotadillo—The Spanish English Lady—The Glass Doctor—The jealous Estramaduran—The illustrious Chambermaid—The two Ladies—The Lady Cornelia—The deceitful Marriage— I mention these by name, because (though they are well known) they have been introduced into other works and ascribed to other Authors. Cervantes boasts in his Preface, that he was the first that ever wrote Novels in the Spanish language, which is a proof that he intended them as a different species, from all his other works.

    Hort.

    I make no doubt that the seed once sown, produced as plentiful a crop there, as it did in the rest of Europe.

    [end page 113]Euph.

    No, I think not.—It went on fair and softly in Spain, but in France it multiplied to infinity, as it has since done in England.—The first Novels in France were those of Scarron, who probably took the hint from Cervantes.—His Novels were soon buried and forgotten, his best work is called le Roman Comique, which I imagine he intended as a kind of Burlesque on the heroic Romance, for otherwise, it is more properly a Novel, than his other pieces.—It is very badly translated into English, by the Title of the Comical Romance, whereas it ought to be the Theatrical Romance, being the Adventures of a company of strolling players;—.under all its disadvantages; it is still natural, lively, and entertaining. I have read an early Novel translated from the French, which was much admired in in its day, called Zayde.

    Euph.

    I thank you for reminding me of it. —It was written by M. Segrais, and the Treatise on the Origin of Romance by M. Huet: was prefixed to it-in it the good Bishop pays [end page 114] as many compliments to M. Segrais, as he does to M. D'Urfe and Madamois. Scudery.

    Soph.

    But give us your opinion of Zayde?

    Euph.

    It is superior to Scarron's Novels, but I think, not equal to those of Cervantes; which have all strong marks of his Genius and spirit.

    Soph.

    Allow me to remind you of the Princess of Cleves, the Captives, Ines de Castro, and I shall recollect others of the fame date.

    Euph.

    You oblige me.—All the last are within the limits of mediocrity, but the Princess of Cleves is of worse tendency, for it influences young minds in favour of a certain fatality in love matters, which encourages them to plead errors of the imagination, for faults of the heart, which if indulged will undermine both their virtue and peace.

    Soph.

    You have not mentioned le Sage?

    Euph.

    Le Sage is indeed a writer of note, he is the Author of the Devil upon Two Sticks, (as the Diable Boitu is absurdly translated,) of the Bachelor of Salamanca, and of Gil Blas, which is a Novel of first rate merit.

    [end page 115]Hort.

    There I agree with you.—Voltaire who never praises without good reason, speaks of it and its Author in these terms.—" Son " Gil Bias est demeure, parcequ'il y a du naturel."

    —It is written in such a manner as to please all times and all people.—He speaks also of Novels written by Count Antony Hamilton, which were as lively as Scarron’s, without their Buffoonery.—Are you acquainted with his writings ?

    Euph.

    I have read his Memoirs of the Count de Grammont, which are written with the vivacity of a wit, and the ease of a fine gentleman; they are somewhat exceptionable on the score of morals, and yet as little as can be expected from the Memoirs of a licentious court, that of Charles the Second, and the life of a man of pleasure like the Count de Grammont. I do not reckon this among the Novels, because it has truth for its foundation, though indeed highly embellished.—Of his Novels I know nothing, tho' I have made a strict enquiry after them, and I conjecture that they never were popular.

    [end page 116]Soph.

    I remember a book called La Belle Assemble, that was very much read formerly, and I think it was well spoken of.

    Euph.

    It was written some time after the books we have named, and it is a very unexceptionable and entertaining work of its kind. It carries marks of imitation of Boccace's Decameron, and some of the stories are too far out of the limits of probability. Let us next consider some of the early Novels of our own country.

    We had early translations of the best Novels of all other Countries, but for a long time produced very few of our own. One of the earliest I know of is the Cyprian Academy, by Robert Baron in the reign of Charles the First.—Among our early Novel-writers we must reckon Mrs. Behn.—There are strong marks of Genius in all this lady's works, but unhappily, there are some parts of them, very improper to be read by, or recommended to virtuous minds, and especially to youth.—She wrote in an age, and to a court of licentious manners, and perhaps we ought to ascribe to [end page 117] these causes the loose turn of her stories.—Let us do justice to her merits, and cast the veil of compassion over her faults.—She died in the year 1689, and lies buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.—The inscription will shew how high she stood in estimation at that time.

    Hort.

    Are you not partial to the sex of this Genius ?—when you excuse in her, what you would not to a man ?

    Euph.

    Perhaps I may, and you must excuse me if I am so, especially as this lady had many fine and amiable qualities, besides her genius for writing.

    Soph.

    Pray let her rest in peace,—you were speaking of the inscription on her monument, I do not remember it.

    Euph.

    It is as follows:
    Mrs. APHRA BEHN, 1689.
    Here lies a proof that wit can never be
    Defence enough against mortality. Let me add that Mrs. Behn will not be forgotten, so long as the Tragedy of Oroonoko, is acted, it was from her story of that illustri- [end page 118] ous African, that Mr. Southern wrote that play, and the most affecting parts of it are taken almost literally from her.

    Hort.

    Peace be to her manes !—I shall not disturb her, or her works.

    Euph.

    I shall not recommend them to your perusal Hortensius.

    The next female writer of this class is Mrs. Manley, whose works are still more exceptionable than Mrs. Behn's, and as much inferior to them in point of merit.—She hoarded up all the public and private scandal within her reach, and poured it forth, in a work too well known in the last age, though almost forgotten in the present ; a work that partakes of the style of the Romance, and the Novel. I forbear the name, and further observations on it, as Mrs. Manley's works are sinking gradually into oblivion. I am sorry to fay they were once in fashion, which obliges me to mention them, otherwise I had rather be spared the pain of disgracing an Author of my own sex.

    [end page 119]Soph.

    It must be confessed that these books of the last age, were of worse tendency than any of those of the present.

    Euph.

    My dear friend, there were bad books at all times, for those who sought for them.—Let us pass them over in silence.

    Hort.

    No not yet.—Let me help your memory to one more Lady-Author of the same class.—Mrs. Heywood.—She has the fame claim upon you as those you have last mentioned.

    Euph.

    I had intended to have mentioned Mrs. Heywood though in a different way, but I find you will not suffer any part of her character to escape you.

    Hort.

    Why should she be spared any more than the others ?

    Euph.

    Because she repented of her faults, and employed the latter part of her life in expiating the offences of the former.—There is reason to believe that the examples of the two ladies we have spoken of, seduced Mrs.Heywood into the fame track; she certainly wrote some amorous novels in her youth, and [end page 120] also two books of the fame kind as Mrs.Manley's capital work, all of which I hope are forgotten.

    Hort.

    I fear they will not be so fortunate, they will be known to posterity by the infamous immortality, conferred upon them by Pope in his Dunciad.

    Euph.

    Mr. Pope was severe in his castigations, but let us be just to merit of every kind. Mrs. Heywood had the singular good fortune to recover a lost reputation, and the yet greater honour to atone for her errors.— She devoted the remainder of her life and labours to the service of virtue. Mrs. Heywood was one of the most voluminous female writers that ever England produced, none of her latter works are destitute of merit, though they do not rise to the highest pitch of excellence.—Betsey Thoughtless is reckoned her best Novel; but those works by which she is most likely to be known to posterity, are the Female Spectator, and the Invisible Spy.—this lady died so lately as the year 1758.

    [end page 121]Soph.

    I have heard it often said that Mr.Pope was too severe in his treatment of this lady, it was supposed that she had given some private offence, which he resented publicly as was too much his way.

    Hort

    That is very likely, for he was not of a forgiving disposition.—If I have been too severe also, you ladies must forgive me in behalf of your sex.

    Euph.

    Truth is sometimes severe.—Mrs. Heywood's wit and ingenuity were never denied. I would be the last to vindicate her faults, but the first to celebrate her return to virtue, and her atonement for them.

    Soph.

    May her first writings be forgotten, and the last survive to do her honour!

    Euph.

    Let us proceed to other writers.— As I purpose in future to take notice only of such Novels as are originals, or else os extraordinary merit, I must beg your allowance for all trifling slips of memory, for errors in chronology, and all other mistakes of equal consequence.—I must also have leave to mention English and Foreign books indifferently, just [end page 122] as they happen to rise to my memory, and observation.

    Hort.

    It is but just that you should have these, and every other allowance you can require, we have already laid a heavy tax upon you.

    Euph.

    You fee I have many helps from my notes, and I hope to receive further assistance from you both.—I will proceed with my progress. The life of Cleveland, natural son of Oliver Cromwell, is one of the old Novels, if I may be allowed the expression, I do not certainly know the Author, nor yet the date of the first edition.—When a Novel came out but seldom, it was eagerly received and generally read, this was at the time called a work of uncommon merit, but it will not bear a comparison with those that have been written since. There is originality and regularity in it. The incidents are too much of the marvellous kind, but some .of the scenes are very pathetic, and there is business enough to keep the reader's attention constantly awake, [end page 123] and above all other merit, it has a moral tendency.

    Hort.

    I have heard this book ascribed to Daniel de Foe, who as I think was also the Author of Robinson Crusoe.

    Euph.

    His title to the last mentioned is not quite clear.—It is said that he was trusted with a manuscript of Alexander Selkirk's, who met with an adventure of the same kind as Crusoe's, and that he stole his materials from thence, and then returned the manuscript to the Author—When Selkirk's book was published, it was taken but little notice of; it had more truth, but less Romance, and beside, the curiosity of the public was gratified, and they looked on Crusoe as the Original, and Selkirk as the copy only.

    Hort.

    That was hard indeed, but I fear not unprecedented; you will give us your opinion of the book, exclusive of this circumstance.

    Euph.

    Robinson Crusoe was published in the year 1720.—Gaudentio di Lucca in 1725. I shall speak of these two books together, [end page 124] because there is a strong resemblance between them, the same marks of Originality appear in both.—They both give account of unknown or rather of Ideal countries, but in so natural and probable a manner, that they carry the reader with them wherever they please, in the midst of the most extraordinary occurrences. Gaudentio di Lucca is written by the pen of a master, it is imputed to Bishop Berkely, and is not unworthy of that truly venerable man.—There is a greatness of design, and a depth of penetration into the causes of the health and prosperity of a state, and of the moral evils that first weaken and undermine, and finally cause the ruin of it.—The vast consequence of the good or bad education of youth, on which depends the health, vigour, and happiness of a nation.—These circumstances gives this book a manifest superiority to the other, in many other respects they are both equally entitled to our plaudit.—But what gives a still higher value to these two books, they are evidently written to promote the cause of religion and virtue, and may safely [end page 125] be put into the hands of youth.—Such books cannot be too strongly recommended, as under the disguise of fiction, warm the heart with the love of virtue, and by that means, excite the reader to the practice of it.

    Hort.

    A warm plaudit you have given them,—I remember to have read Robinson Crusoe when very young, but I have forgot it, and ever since I have looked upon it as a book for children only; but I will read it again upon your recommendation, and judge of its merits.

    Euph.

    That is the certain consequence of putting these books too soon into the hands of children.—I will be bold to fay a youth who reads them at a proper age, will never forget them.—Let me also beg you will read Gaudentio di Lucca.

    Hort.

    I will certainly read them both at my best leisure.

    Soph.

    But let me beg you to get the old Edition of Crusoe, for this is one of the books, which Fanaticism has laid her paw upon, and altered it to her own tenets, and she has added some of her own reveries at the end of it, [end page 126] called Visions of the Angelical World.—If Hortensius should once dip into that part of it, it would entirely discredit our recommendation.

    Euph.

    You say true, I will get him the old Edition, which is the best.

    Hort.

    Pray do you' call these Books Romances or Novels?

    Euph.

    They partake of the nature of both but I consider them as of a different species from either, as works singular and Original. —I shall have occasion to place some later works under this class. But it is time for us to adjourn till next Thursday.

    Hort.

    I shall not fail to meet you.

    Soph.

    At my house.—No other engagement shall prevent it.

    Hort.

    Agreed,—none could give me equal pleasure.

    Euph.

    You are always my kind and indulgent friends, and your approbation is the crown of my labours.

    [end page 127]
    Edmund Spenser (1552/53-1599) was an important English poet of the Renaissance period. He is most well-known for his epic allegorical poem, The Faerie Queene. The image above, known as the Kinnouil Portrait, depicts a gentleman thought to be Spenser. Image via Philip Mould Ltd, Historical Portraits Database. Spenser's most famous work, The Faerie Queene, is a lengthy--but unfinished--allegorical epic poem. Books 1-3 were published in 1590, and books 4-6, in 1596. The Faerie Queene showcases Spenser's "serious view of the capacity of the romance form to act as a paradigm of human experience: the moral life as quest, pilgrimage, aspiration; as eternal war with an enemy, still to be known; and as encounter, crisis, the moment of illumination—in short, as ethics, with the added dimensions of mystery, terror, love, and victory and with all the generous virtues exalted" (Encyclopedia Brittanica, "Edmund Spenser"). The image above is the title page of the 1596 edition of The Faerie Queene. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Book 4 of The Faerie Queene focuses on friendship. Click the link to view Book 4, digitized by Luminarium and part of the Renascence Editions. Note on GiraldiNote on the DecameronNote on BocaccioNote on CervantesNote on Cervantes' Exemplary NovelsNote on Cervantes' preface to his Exemplary Novels, where he writes "My genius and my inclination prompt me to this kind of writing; the more so as I consider (and with truth) that I am the first who has written novels in the Spanish language, though many have hitherto appeared among us, all of them translated from foreign authors. But these are my own, neither imitated nor stolen from anyone; my genius has engendered them, my pen has brought them forth, and they are growing up in the arms of the press" (10). Clicking the link will take you to the source.Note on ScarronNote on Roman ComiqueNote on ZaydeNote on Treatise on the Origin of Romance by M. HuetNote on d'UrfeyNote on ScuderyNote on Princess of ClevesNote on Devil upon Two SticksNote on Gil BlasNote on VoltaireNote on Antony HamiltonNote on La Belle AssembleeNote on BehnNote on Westminster AbbeyNote on Southern's OroonokoNote on SouthernNote on ManleyNote on HaywoodNote on the infamous immortality conferred upon Manley and Haywood by Pope in The Dunciad.Note on PopeNote on The History of Miss Betsy ThoughtlessNote on The Female SpectatorNote on The Invisible SpyNote on DefoeNote on Robinson CrusoeNote on 'theft' of Selkirk's storyNote on SelkirkNote on Gaudentio di LuccaNote on Bishop BerkeleyNote on 'new edition' of Crusoe with addendum

    Sources

  • Colchester: Printed for the author by W. Keymer. 1785. 2 v. in 1. 19 cm. . The page images are sourced from this first edition, here bound in one volume, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington DC.
  • Public domain electronic facsimile copy: HathiTrust. 24 October 2014. Link .
  • More information on available editions is available through the English Short Title Catalog and Eighteenth-Century Book Tracker.

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