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for his account of its fascinating influence. He knew it almost by heart. It is the finest work of fiction ever written in any language, said Sir James Mackintosh. He who was our first novelist in point of time, has in fact produced our first novel in point of rank. And not only is this opinion the final outcome of English, it is also the settled faith of French, criticism. The French are our chief rivals in prose fiction; and their opinion of Clarissa is summed up in the saying of Alfred de Musset, that it is the premier roman du monde. The French, indeed, have been more unanimous than ourselves in according the highest praise to Richardson. We in England have been quick to observe whatever was weak in the man or in his works. We have been tickled by the foibles of his vanity; we have been confounded by his notions of gentility; we have been bored by the goody-goodiness of his preaching; and in admiration for the rival who satirised the defects of his earliest work, we have kept back from him the full meed of praise to which he was entitled. If we have had among us men like Samuel Johnson who declared Clarissa to be “the first book in the world for the knowledge it displays of the human heart ;” we have also had men among us, admirers of his rival Fielding (the prose Homer of human nature, as he has been called by one of them), who have been prejudiced enough to see in Richardson only sickliness and cant. The French, on the other hand, scarcely knew the name of Fielding ; their judgment has not been disturbed by rival claims; they have, therefore, nearly without exception regarded Richardson as incomparable, and his chief romance as one of the greatest marvels of art. D'Alembert was, indeed, somewhat cold in his admiration of Clarissa, and Voltaire spoke sneeringly of the author's genius. But D'Alembert was never much given to admiration, and Voltaire, at least in one of his works, paid Richardson the compliment of imitating him in a style as different from his own as can well be conceived. Rousseau, more generous, declared that nothing equal to Clarissa or approaching it was ever written in any language; and on the death of its author, Diderot pronounced his panegyric in terms of the utmost enthusiasm. “O Richardson!” he said, “ genius unique in my eyes! thou shalt form my reading at all times. If through dire necessity, through the need of a friend, or for the education of my children, I am driven to sell my books, I will sell them. But thou wilt remain to me on the same shelf with Moses, Homer, Euripides, and Sophocles, and I will read you by turns. Read Richardson ! Read him constantly. He is divine !” The terms of this eulogy may be extravagant, but there were
many besides Diderot who put Richardson and the Bible together.
Of the man and of his work thus lauded, it is a strange thing to say that, at least in England, they are now but little known. There are scores of circulating libraries throughout the land in which you shall ask for the finest, the most powerful, the most penetrating novel in the English language, and the librarians will tell you that they never heard of it. The fame of Fielding has been more enduring among us than that of Richardson. What novel reader has not heard of Tom Jones? And yet Johnson could say, “Sir, there is more knowledge of the heart in one letter of Richardson's than in all Tom Jones.” If this be exaggeration, still it leaves us in wonder that an author who once commanded such praise, should have at length fallen into utter neglect. The circulating libraries give us the silver and the copper and the brass of modern fiction ; and they forget the most fine gold which is hid in out of the way vaults.
Unfortunately Richardson has a great fault: he is prolix. He gives us, indeed, gold; but the gold is shapen into a goblet so huge that few of us can lift it to our lips. Or, to change the comparison, Clarissa is like the picture of the Primrose family, which was painted so big that it could not be got into the parlour, and was left forlorn in the outhouse. There
is still another cause assigned for the neglect from which this novelist suffers, namely, the want of polish in his style. The French, it is said, are unable to appreciate the want of polish in an English writer, and hence they think more of him than his fellow-countrymen. Richardson is certainly not a graceful writer ; but he is always clear, he is generally vigorous, he can be lively at command, and there is a raciness in his language which serves it in good stead. As a master of style he is no worse than such men as Bunyan and Defoe, who never made any attempt at rhetorical device; who, indeed, knew not what it was to trim or prune a sentence; and who yet spread their branches among us, wide and full of sap, from generation to generation. No: the source of Richardson's weakness lies not in his style, but in a prolixity which would be tiresome, even if he had the perfection of style.
Some critics, indeed, (the elder Disraeli and Lord Jeffrey among them,) make bold to say that prolixity was of the essence of his art, and that we have no right to quarrel with it unless we mean to quarrel with the novelist altogether, and to have none of him. Practically, also, the great mass of English readers have taken the same view, and have quarrelled with him out and out. French critics have thought differently; and here is one great cause of the superior regard in which the French hold Richardson. It has been held in France that the prolixity of which all readers in all countries complain is not essential to the author's idea; and accordingly the French translators made no scruple about the excision of much irrelevant detail from his narrative. The version of Clarissa by the Abbé Prevost, which made the reputation of Richardson in France, and sent the French into the wildest raptures at the mention of his name, was, in fact, an abridgement. We read in the pages of Jules Janin how Diderot glorified the work in the Café Procope, how for a whole month its author was exalted above Voltaire, how the Encyclopædia was neglected for it, how Crébillon paled before it, how Dorat wept in despair, and how the reigning mistress trembled for her empire because she had seen it on the king's table. It was the abridged translation of Prevost that stirred all this and much more enthusiasm. But, even thus shortened, the work was considered too long. In 1764, the publisher Panckoucke proposed to Rousseau that he should seriously undertake a more thoroughgoing abridgement of Clarissa than Prevost (who died the year before) had in his version dared. Rousseau admitted that further abridgement was necessary, and accepted the task; but owing to his imperfect knowledge of English, he demanded his own time for the completion of it. He delayed, and delayed, and never carried out his intention. It was left for