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CHAPTER X.

LITERARY SOCIETY.

SMITH.

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JOHNSON.

GOLD

TAKING THE FORM OF CLIQUES.
MISS BURNEY; HER EVELINA' AND 'CAMILLA.' MRS. PIOZZI.

MISS SEWARD AND THE EDGEWORTHS.

DARWIN; HIS POEMS.

DAY;

HIS SANDFORD AND MERTON.'

MISS

SEWARD'S WORKS AND LETTERS. SIR WALTER SCOTT'S TRIBUTE TO HER

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FALSE TASTE IN HER POEMS AND IN THOSE OF DARWIN.

GOLDSMITH AS A NOVELIST.

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CHAPTER X.

WE are an exclusive people, and even in our literary associations, have been, in all modern times, prone to nurture our own pet littérateurs, to feed and flatter them, to write them up, and to write those who rival them, down. We are

a people of party spirit, and become, in letters, as well as in politics, partisans; hence, far even in the depths of seclusion, has the spirit of coterie penetrated.

For some years it flourished in the large house at Streatham, which Fanny Burney has turned inside and outside, and exposed to our view, and Goldsmith, Mrs. Montagu and Mrs. Carter, Fanny Burney, and all the Burneys, Boswell, and Madam Piozzi, sat under the shadow of that

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'Oak, wide spreading o'er the shrubs below,

That round his roots with puny foliage blow.'

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Amongst a crowd so well known, and so witty, let us pause only on two of those who have left us, amid their other contributions to the Literature of Society,' the Vicar of Wakefield' and 'Evelina.' Not that we would willingly write those titles of works so justly celebrated in the same sentence. The Vicar of Wakefield' is the production of a genius wholly untrammelled by the con

VOL. II.

S

258

"
THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD.'

ventionalities of society. Whatever Goldsmith was as a man, as a writer he was truthful and earnest. The kind heart, returning in the seclusion of the closet to the simplicity of early life, poured itself out as freely in the tale of domestic adversity in touching prose, as in the pensive, rather than mournful strains of the Deserted Village;' there can be but one opinion, that whether we consider the framework of the story, or the language in which it is clothed, or the reflections and pictures which arise in the course of the narrative, or the humour and force of the conversation, we may pronounce the Vicar of Wakefield' to be the most beautiful story in our language.

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Its scenes are taken from that mode of existence which is at once the most picturesque and the most peculiarly English. No country except England presents the interior of the modest parsonage; and the aspect of the husband, father, priest, and gentleman, in one, is peculiar to our island. It is true that the Lutheran clergy, happily for themselves, can marry, and can behold around them, without shame, those olive branches which never seem to flourish in more luxuriant shoots than in the home of a parsonage; but the Lutheran clergy are taken from a different class to our pastors, and they have not the delicacy of the semi-aristocratic clergy of our country. The Vicar of Wakefield in all his simplicity is a perfect gentleman; his dignity is not abashed by the visits of men of fortune and condition; his wife is, in her way, as ambitious in preserving her refinements, as any woman of the world. His daughters are not milkmaids, but blooming beauties; his son George is a youth of spirit, and a gentleman, and Moses, the inimitable Moses, is rather an oddity than a vulgarian. The medium state of the clergy then, and of the rural clergy now, is hit off admirably by Goldsmith.

Then the tale, how full of incident, yet of very probable

FANNY BURNEY'S WORKS.

259

incident; how it enlists our best feelings in its progress; how it challenges our sympathies, and our imitation. Despairingly we admit that the Vicar of Wakefield' has never been equalled by any later effort of the pen.

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Such is its power over the heart, so salient its merits, that even on the French stage, to which the story was adapted a few years since, it commanded the applause, and drew forth the tears of an audience prone neither to applaud nor to weep. Yet it may readily be supposed how, like a fine dish of game, en fricassée, it was tricked out, and transformed; how far more prosing, than amusing, it was thought essential to make the Vicar; what a double-distilled villain Thornhill became on the stage of the Odeon and the Vaudeville, on both of which it was performed; and how coquettish and artificial the two daughters turned out. The only character perfectly given was Moses, a part, which, with their native comprehension of humour, the French perfectly estimated.

Since, after the settling down of a tempest, one seeks for long suspended pleasures, so, the novels of Fanny Burney, appearing at a period when there was a lull in the political world, after the insurrection of 1745, and before the Gordon riots, gave great pleasure to the world, and gained the authoress a degree of renown that seems quite incomprehensible in our time. Evelina,' produced at an early age— (respect to a disputed point, contested as it has been almost to fury, forbids us to say how early)—' Evelina' seems, according to her own account, to have been the only topic of the metropolis, from St. James's to the Borough. And it must indeed have had a most extraordinary success to have brought the obscure girl from the recesses of St. Martin's Lane into all the splendours of Grosvenor Square, and to all the honour of sharing half Dr. Johnson's dinners with him at Streatham.

The extreme novelty of 'Evelina,' its delicacy and purity,

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