Novels do not force their fair readers to sin, they only instruct them how to sin; the consequences of which are fully detailed, and not in a way calculated to seduce any but weak minds; few of their heroines are happily disposed of.
Sir Anthony Absolute, two or three years before Evelina appeared, spoke the sense of the great body of sober fathers and husbands when he pronounced the circulating library an evergreen tree of diabolical knowledge.
Out of the fictitious book I get the expression of the life, of the times, of the manners, of the merriment, of the dress, the pleasure, the laughter, the ridicules of society. The old times live again. Can the heaviest historian do more for me?
Thackeray and Balzac will make it possible for our descendants to live over again the England and France of to-day. Seen in this light, the novelist has a higher office than merely to amuse his contemporaries.
Do not fear to put novels into the hands of young people as an occasional holiday experiment, but above all, good poetry in all kinds,epic, tragedy, lyric. If we can touch the imagination, we serve them; they will never forget it.
At present, the novels which we owe to English ladies form no small part of the literary glory of our country. No class of works is more honorably distinguished for fine observation, by grace, by delicate wit, by pure moral feeling.
Novels are sweets. All people with healthy literary appetites love them; almost all women; a vast number of clever, hard-headed men. Judges, bishops, chancellors, mathematicians, are notorious novel readers, as well as young boys and girls, and their kind, tender mothers.
Writers of novels and romances in general bring a double loss on their readers,they rob them both of their time and money; representing men, manners and things that never have been, nor are likely to be; either confounding or perverting history and truth, inflating the mind, or committing violence upon the understanding.
A fiction which is designed to inculcate an object wholly alien to the imagination sins against the first law of art; and if a writer of fiction narrow his scope to particulars so positive as polemical controversy in matters ecclesiastical, political or moral, his work may or may not be an able treatise, but it must be a very poor novel.
I suppose as long as novels last, and authors aim at interesting their public, there must always be in the story a virtuous and gallant hero; a wicked monster, his opposite; and a pretty girl, who finds a champion. Bravery and virtue conquer beauty; and vice, after seeming to triumph through a certain number of pages, is sure to be discomfited in the last volume, when justice overtakes him, and honest folks come by their own.
Legitimately produced, and truly inspired, fiction interprets humanity, informs the understanding, and quickens the affections. It reflects ourselves, warns us against prevailing social follies, adds rich specimens to our cabinets of character, dramatizes life for the unimaginative, daguerreotypes it for the unobservant, multiplies experience for the isolated or inactive, and cheers age, retirement and invalidism with an available and harmless solace.
We must have books for recreation and entertainment, as well as books for instruction and for business; the former are agreeable, the latter useful, and the human mind requires both. The cannon law and the codes of Justinian shall have due honor, and reign at the universities; but Homer and Virgil need not therefore be banished. We will cultivate the olive and the vine, but without eradicating the myrtle and the rose.
The importance of the romantic element does not rest upon conjecture. Pleasing testimonies abound. Hannah More traced her earliest impressions of virtue to works of fiction; and Adam Clarke gives a list of tales that won his boyish admiration. Books of entertainment led him to believe in a spiritual world; and he felt sure of having been a coward, but for romances. He declared that he had learned more of his duty to God, his neighbor and himself from Robinson Crusoe than from all the books, except the Bible, that were known to his youth.