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ART. III.-The Novels of Charles Brockden Brown. 7 Vols.

12mo. Boston: S. G. Goodrich.

We anticipate no contradiction when we assert, that to the mass of readers, no species of literature is so attractive as novel-writing. This is owing to many causes, some of which are sufficiently obvious to every observer. One of the chief, undoubtedly, is the excitement and consequent gratification of curiosity-a principle of the mind, which, as every one must have experienced, is extremely susceptible of excitement, and when excited, extremely eager for gratification. It is a principle wisely implanted in our nature to quicken our investigating powers, and arouse our energies in pursuit of knowledge, and so effectual is its stimulus in this respect, that its immediate gratification is often the only inducement to the most minute and laborious research. Discoveries of great magnificence and high utility-in science and in art-in mechanics, chemistry, astronomy, geography,-in short, in almost every branch of human investigation,-have resulted from the ardour of pursuit excited by this feeling alone. The impulse which drives men to disregard the dangers and fatigues of exploring unknown countries, in order to ascertain the height of a mountain, the sources of a river, or the site of a city; or to undertake the performance of a tedious and hazardous experiment, or the solution of a difficult problem, for the mere satisfaction of knowing the result, must not only be strong but productive of delight. If this principle is so powerful, therefore, as to overcome the usual reluctance of men to attempt efforts which are laborious and of doubtful success, how great must be its influence in impelling them to inquiries that occasion no fatigue, and in which gratification is certain ?

And here lies the potent charm of novel-reading ;—without labour, without hazard, it affords to the mind the grateful employment of investigating and ascertaining the motives of actions, the issue of adventures, the development of mysteries, and the disentanglement of plots

.: The gratification of curiosity, indeed, forms one of the most pleasing intellectual sensations we can enjoy. And what can more readily excite, or more strongly gratify it, than a wellcontrived series of adventures, skilfully narrated, the actors in which derive additional interest from being of the same nature, feelings and dispositions with ourselves? The work, therefore, which, in its progress, powerfully awakens and agitates the curiosity by the importance, the singularity, and the intricacy of the events it relates, will always be a favourite with the reading world. Such a work is a high-seasoned dish in literature ; it applies itself to the most active of our intellectual appetites, and becomes a luxury, which, when once tasted, cannot be relinquished until all its contents be devoured.

But although indulging curiosity be the principal, it is not the only means of attraction possessed by this species of lite

It has various other modes of communicating pleasure. It can interest by incident, arouse by novelty, and touch by pathos. It makes delineations of nature which we delight to contemplate. It presents views of society, which afford amusement or impart instruction, or yield the advantages of both. It revives pleasant recollections, awakens endearing associations, and fills the mind with animating and salutary reflections. There is, in fact, no scope for the exercise of genius which it does not afford, no field for the admonitions of wisdom which it does not embrace. Invention, memory, judgment, taste, knowledge, have all ample room for the display of their particular powers; and there are novels extant, whose production has called into action the full vigour of all these faculties, and exhibited the powers of literary aptitude in their highest excellence.

Novels of this high order are, indeed, but few. But a species of literature, susceptible of such excellence, cannot be refused an important station among the productions of mind. The vast and undeniable popularity of modern novels, has, indeed, given them such an influence over the opinions and manners of society, that it is no longer in the power of either statesmen or philosophers to view writings of this description with the indifference or contempt, in which, until within these last twenty years, they were usually held. All classes in Europe, from the prince to the pauper, from the archbishop to the sexton, from the fieldmarshal to the sutler, and, in our own country, from the president to the petty constable, read them, relish them, and talk about them, as if they formed one of the prime necessaries of life ;--so that the appearance of a new novel has become an event of consequence in the affairs of mankind, and its merits and demerits are discussed with as much interest and anxiety as the prospects of peace or war, or of a good or bad harvest. Hence it is, that the character of the last Pelham fabrication has occasioned, in this country, as much debate as the Nullification question itself.

It is important, therefore, that works which exercise such a powerful influence over the public mind, should be narrowly watched by the conductors of the periodical press. Their doctrines and tendencies ought to be rigidly scrutinized, and, when found fallacious and corrupt, exposed to public disapprobation with just censure and unshrinking severity. On the other hand, when they advocate correct principles, and strengthen the cause of morality, they should receive from the critical tribunals such VOL. VIII. —No. 16.

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hearty commendation, as may enable them to drive their mischievous competitors from public estimation into deserved contumely and neglect. In a literary point of view, a strict surveillance should also be kept over them; for the same fascinating properties which give them their power over our manners and morals, enable them to wield an immense influence over both the style of our authors and the taste of our readers. Such of them in particular as become unusually popular, ought to have their defects as compositions, whether they consist in insipidity or feebleness, in inaccuracy or inelegance, in exhibitions of ignorance or offences against good taste, pointed out with an unsparing hand, so as to counteract, as far as possible, the evils which their extensive circulation may enable them to effect. An undaunted critic, indeed, cannot have more legitimate objects of attack than the blemishes and blunders of a popular novelist. The praiser accorded to such is generally in the extreme, and while every beauty is selected and noted for the purpose of applause, the most palpable deformities are either overlooked or metamorphosed into perfections. To the propensity for admiring every thing in such authors, whether good or bad, may be justly ascribed a great portion of the unnatural inflation and obscurity, accompanied with stiffness of expression, and incoherence of thought, which characterize the writings of so many of our youthful aspirants to literary distinction.

But while a due regard to the interests of both good morals and good authorship, requires that the popularity of an offender against either, should afford no protection from the censure of the critic, justice demands that the neglect with which a meritorious, but less fortunate writer, may be treated, shall be no hinderance to the most zealous commendation of his beauties, Indeed it is the best mark of a sound critic to be able to discover excellence where it was not supposed to exist, and to detect blemishes where superficial observers could find nothing but perfection. To draw merit from the shade, and attract towards it the countenance and encouragement of the world, is a generous and noble act, which we should suppose every critic would be ambitious to perform. But how few of them seem to be actuated by that ambition ! Judging from the general tone of the periodicals which are organs of criticism amongst us, it would seem as if our critics considered their whole business to consist in echoing monotonous eulogies on the celebrated, and ejaculating sneers upon the neglected authors of the day, without any reference whatever to their respective merits. Hence it is, that a great proportion of our criticism has degenerated into a mere reverberation of the encomiums or the censures that may be first issued upon a new work, and which generally proceed from too interested a source to be frequently accurate. Does this state of our criticism arise from the general dishonesty of the critics? We think not. Neither does it arise altogether from their incapacity or ignorance. Its chief source is their indolence. A new book comes out. They read it superficially, or perhaps not at all. - At all events, they will not waste labour in examining it minutely. It becomes popular. They must speak of it in their journals. Their readers expect it. The easiest way they can acquit themselves is for them the best, although, for the cause of literature and morals, it may be the worst. A panegyric, got up, doubtless, by some one interested in the success of the publication, appears. It is copied verbatim into the would-be critic's periodical, with a few introductory editorial remarks in approbation of its opinions, whatever they may be-or in some cases, these opinions are adopted by the editor, and given to the world as his own, by merely changing the phraseology, and throwing, at least, a portion of the criticism into his own language. Thus the original puff, starting, perhaps, from the very press at which the book was printed, goes the rounds of periodical circulation, until, by dint of repetition, it is rendered the fashionable opinion of the day.

We do not believe that the works before us have ever had the advantage of that reverberated puffing just mentioned. At the time they first appeared, the echoing system of criticism was not so prevalent. But there was another, and, perhaps, still greater disadvantage under which they laboured-they were published among ourselves, on this side the Atlantic. They had not, therefore, an opportunity of acquiring any of those mystical charms belonging to all new books that cross the ocean to this country, and which render them so wonderfully fascinating, to our critics first, and then, of course, to their readers.

These novels, therefore, although written by the greatest genius in romance this country has produced, did not become fashionable. No critical trumpets were sounded, at their first appearance, to announce the phenomena to the world; nor did a perpetual chime of editorial bells precede them in a triumphal progress from one end of the Union to the other. To this day they are lying in comparative neglect; and there are a hundred villages in the United States, in which their names have never been pronounced, while there is not one in which Paul Clifford has not read lectures against the rights of property.

But is it to the silence of the critics concerning these works, that the public neglect is to be ascribed? Is there not something in the works themselves that obstructs their general popularity? We must in candour acknowledge that we think there is. They seem to have been written only for the benefit of the “judicious few,”--the judicious few, therefore, monopolize their beauties, which, numerous and splendid as they are, have a peculiarity

about them which none else can enjoy. Shame to those critics, however, that do not belong to this judicious number, who are the favoured sons of literature, endowed with a faculty of discerning and relishing a species of intellectual repast which the multitude cannot understand. Men who cannot appreciate the beauties of Brown's works-who cannot feel and admire the immense power of mind which was required to produce these volumes of profound thought, keen perception, and subtle analysis of human character, are totally unqualified to pass public judgment on works of imagination. Our newspaper critics, indeed, have not been altogether unfriendly to the reputation of Brown. Editors of talent have occasionally introduced a passing notice of him and his works into their columns. But their remarks have generally been brief and cool. We have never seen, in any of our journals, such an earnest and warm recommendation as was calculated to awaken public attention, or was even indicative of the existence of any ardent admiration of these productions in the mind of the editor himself. When those, therefore, who undertake to guide public opinion in literary matters, seem either incapable of entering into the spirit of Brown's compositions, so as to feel and properly appreciate his excellencies, or have expressed their opinions in relation to them with coolness and indifference, it cannot be expected that the mass of the public, whose custom it is to follow the sentiments of others in these matters, will give themselves much trouble about them, or make inquiry after books which those who lead their taste have so slightly recommended.

To the professed critics, therefore, the reputation of Brown owes but little. To whom then is it indebted ?--for a reputation he has, and that too of an enviable, because durable, description. It is not to the million, for with them he never can be popular—his profound but prolix habit of philosophizing forbids that. With whom, then, is he in favour? We shall answer-with those whose favour is the best proof of merit, the intelligent ; the cultivated and the reflecting classes of society—the men who have leisure to think, capacity to judge, candour to acknowledge their sentiments, and influence to give them weight. It is the favourable verdict of such a class which forms the true criterion of merit, and the certain presage of a permanent fame.

Thus the reputation of Brown is limited-it always will be limited—to a narrow circle. But while such a circle exists, and that will be while reflective minds and solid judgments are found among men, so long will his reputation endure, without being eclipsed by any writer of romance equally singular for closeness yet tediousness of reasoning, abruptness yet prolixity of narrative, fervour yet wearisomeness of style. There is something paradoxical in the use we have made of these epithets.

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