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the minute details of gossip with which Richardson indulged our curiosity could be interesting to us only if the persons to whom they related were of our own families. But there precisely is the triumph of the novelist : by the life and affectionateness of his portraiture his characters become to us as blood relations.
And yet it cannot be said that the attempt to represent nature with exceeding accuracy, as in the epistolary style of narrative adopted by Richardson, is always felicitous. The author is debarred from scenes which there is no one to describe, and he is ofttimes tempted into incongruities which are as fatal to the probability of his story as were the unities to which Addison submitted, when in his tragedy he brought the conspirators against Cato to plot in Cato's own hall. Thus (to speak first of the restrictions on his choice of subject), when the witch Ulrica stands in the burning tower by the bedside of Front de Bouf and pours her imprecations on the head of the dying parricide, few would stop to consider that no living creature could ever have known what happened about that unhallowed deathbed. No human ear could have heard the mocking laugh which seemed to the suffocating wretch like a chorus of demons. The tower fell, covering in its fall all the guilt and all the unspeakable agony. From a scene of this
kind Richardson was debarred by the necessities of the epistolary method. It could never be described but by an author who takes upon himself the attribute of omniscience. And then again, by keeping to the epistolary plan, the author is compelled to make his correspondents divulge more than is natural. No one ever lifts the veil entirely from the recesses of his heart to reveal its workings to a friend, however loved and however trusted. Lovelace, who, with all his vices and crimes is essentially a prudent man, could not have written letters which would have put it in the power of any of his agents to bring him to justice. If he had employed Tomlinson, Leman, and others, he would have given them their instructions orally, and taken care that no one else was within hearing. Also distresses and perplexities communicated by letter reduce the recipient of the intelligence to the helpless position of the chorus in a Greek play. They are to know, but it is not intended that they should aid; and a thousand trivial reasons have to be invented to account for their incapacity. In letters, too, the verbiage is irksome. We do not care to read the compliments with which they begin and end; nor are we interested in hearing by what conveyance they reach their destination.
Thus the attempt to make the externals of resemblance exact is not always successful. Probably Garrick, who played Macbeth in a bag wig and
ruffles, enchained his audience more than many gifted actors who have been assisted in their efforts by the perfection of costume and scenery.
In spite of all drawbacks-in spite of the restrictions which he accepted and the incongruities to which he was driven-Richardson produced a tale which has about it a more assured air of reality than perhaps any other that ever was written. His success in this way is very remarkable, seeing that he had no pattern to start from, unless it be imagined that he had one in the tales of Defoe and Swift, where adventures and marvels are treated with a realism of detail so effective, that Lord Chatham took the Memoirs of a Cavalier for history; we all know about Mrs. Veal's Ghost; and a story is told of an honest clergyman laying down Gulliver's Travels with the remark, that truly there were things in that book—which—he-for-onecould—not-believe. Richardson, however, followed no one in his path, having been led into it by an accident which I may by-and-by relate. He only followed the strong realistic bent of a true-born Englishman. The tales which in his day dealt with the affections were, in all their pastoral prettiness, artificial, and rarely condescended to the life of beings lower in the social scale than princes and princesses. He had to lead back romance to truth, to nature, and to ordinary life. It had just then reached the utmost
bourne of falsehood. Apparently without an effort he reached an extreme of realism and homeliness which has never been surpassed, and which startled the republic of letters with its prodigious success.
Great though the triumph was of Richardson's dexterity, he has achieved a still greater triumph in the depth of pathos which he has stirred, and in the sublimity of sentiment to which he has soared. Here we touch on the moral grandeur of his work. This, it must be noted, has nothing to do with his habit of moralising-a habit of which all his readers complain, although it is not without excuse. The excuse is, that just as when Hogarth rose among us, pictorial art in England was void of the ethical spirit, —was indeed, in great measure, an offence to the consciences of the people, and he, in order to establish himself in their hearts, tried somewhat ostentatiously to lay bare the moral intent of the lines he drew; so at the same time the fashionable romances were godless and careless, having no sort of connection with the faith which is deepest in the human breast, often indeed being an outrage upon it, and Richardson felt naturally that if he were to establish himself in the hearts of his people, and especially in those of earnest mind, which it should be the artist's highest ambition to affect, he must, like Hogarth, exhibit very pointedly an ethical drift.
It is not, however, in the display of copybook texts and good advice that the moral grandeur of Clarissa consists, but in the depth of tragic interest which it evokes and in the heroic splendour of the action as it draws to the close. There is something remarkable, to begin with, in the fact that the novel is a tragedy—a fact which separates it from nearly all other examples of prose fiction, and which argues on the part of its author an extraordinary intensity of feeling. Prose fiction, as a rule, belongs to a region of sentiment which, however noble or refined, lacks force to bear the weight and agony of tragic evolution, and so, for the most part, it disports itself cheerily in the comedy of life, and spins on to a happy end, attuned to marriage music. Richardson, however, has the confidence to abandon himself to the full swing of passion. He is not afraid to make the story turn upon the perpetration of the most atrocious crime which a man can commit, knowing that while he can strike us with horror at the deed, and wring and rend our hearts for the desolation of the beautiful victim undone in all her youth and innocence, he can soothe the tumult of our feelings by changing pity into worship, as the purity and majesty of the virgin soul is seen to triumph in dishonour, disaster, and death. In the whole world of literature there is nothing like this. I have already quoted phrases