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catastrophe of the Chinese novel to which we are now to invite the readers attention.
The hero Sa-Yupe,* a young man far more learned and accomplished than Sir Charles, and not less handsome, elegant, and virtuous, after running the gantlet for the space of four volumes, through the long train of cruel fathers, cross uncles, eccentric fortune-tellers, stupid rivals, and knowing chambermaids, which, it seems, form the regular staple of an oriental as well as an occidental novel; besides passing with brilliant success several literary examinations, and making a great deal of first-rate poetry,-achievements which the heroes of our romances, and, we fear we may add, the writers of them, would probably, in most cases, decline attempting,-is finally rewarded for his merit and trouble, with the hands of the two cousins, Houngiu, or Red-Jasper, and Lo-Mengli, Dream-of-a-Peartree, whom he espouses on the same evening, both being by general acknowledgment among the prettiest and most amiable young women, as well as the best poetesses of the Celestial Empire. We are informed by the translator, that the work before us is not singular in this respect; and that this mode of disposing of their heroes and heroines, at the end of the story, is rather a favorite one with the Chinese laborers in this seductive dapartment of the literary vineyard.
Richardson does not appear to have been much alarmed by lady Bradshaigh's bouncing, and is reported as having, in his answer to the letter from which we have made the above extract, thrown out hints that polygamy itself was not so bad a thing, as she seemed to suppose,-a principle more lax than we should have expected from the author of • Pamela' and • Clarissa,' although we have lately been surprised with something of the same kind from so exemplary a character as Milton, and which, as we understand the matter, is vicious as a reply to her ladyship’s objection, since the doublemindedness of Sir Charles must, on our view of the subject, be justified, if at all, as an exception from the general rule, and not as an example of it. However this may be, it is obvious that the question of morality does not come into view in reference to
* In this and the other Chinese words introduced in this article, the vowels express the sounds usually given to them in English ; a as in make, &c. VOL. XXVII.-NO. 61.
a foreign production, which faithfully represents the manners of the country where it is written. The fault, if there be one in this respect, lies with the lawgivers and moralists rather than the poets of China.
Leaving this point, therefore, entirely out of the case, we may inquire with propriety, which of the two systems be preferable for the purpose of poetical machinery, and whether the plan of allowing two heroines to a hero, be equally judicious considering merely the effect of the novel as a work of art—with that of confining him to one, according to the uniform and immemorial practice of the western world. It is generally admitted that the denouement of a story is by far the most difficult part of the fable to manage. Dryden, towards the close of his career, was reduced to such distress on this point, that he is known to have bestowed, in the bitterness of his soul, repeated imprecations on the man who invented fifth acts; and such has been of late the great demand for new novels, that the dealers in this article are evidently reduced to their wits' ends for catastrophes. Sir Walter Scott complains loudly of the straits to which he is driven, for means to disentangle his plots; and it must be owned that some of his productions do but too strongly corroborate the statement. If the Chinese system could be proved to be preferable to ours, or even positively valuable in itself, (and a dispensation could also be obtained on the score of morality) the generation of novel-writers would find, for a time at least, a very sensible alleviation of their present embarrassment, and would be supplied with a new and most convenient and seasonable resource for varying the tenor of their concluding chapters.
But notwithstanding our willingness to consult the accommodation of these meritorious persons, to whom we are all so much indebted for their unwearied efforts to amuse us, we cannot, in conscience, hold up to them much prospect of relief from this quarter; and we are compelled, however reluctantly, to dissent from the opinion of the able and ingenious translator of the work before us, who is evidently inclined to believe that the introduction of the system of a plurality of heroines would have the effect of a sort of discovery in the science of novelwriting, and would tend to throw a new and agreeable light over the whole field of romance; which, as he seems to suppose, is, in its present state, if not absolutely a place of skulls (which are far from being out of the question), rather too liberally watered with tears and blood, to suit the taste of the more nervous and sensitive class of readers. We owe it to the high character of M. Abel Remusat to quote his remarks upon this point, and shall afterwards suggest
, with suitable deference to his superior knowledge and judgment, our reasons for entertaining a different notion.
A union of three persons, cemented by a conformity of taste and character, constitutes,' says M. Remusat, in the opinion of the Chinese, the perfection of earthly happiness, a sort of ideal bliss, reserved by Heaven for peculiar favorites as a suitable reward for their talent and virtue. Looking at the subject under this point of view, their novel-writers not unfrequently arrange matters so as to secure this double felicity to their heroes at the close of the work; and a catastrophe of this kind is regarded as the most satisfactory that can be employed. Without exposing ourselves to the danger incurred by one of the German divines, who was nearly torn to pieces by the mob of Stockholm for defending polygamy, we may venture to remark, that for the mere purposes of art, this system certainly possesses very great advantages. It furnishes the novel-writer with an easy method of giving general satisfaction to all his characters, at the end of the tale, without recurring to the fatal though convenient intervention of consumption and suicide, with us the only resources, when there happens to be a heroine too many. What floods of tears would not the Chinese method have spared to the high-minded Corinna, to the interesting and poetical Clementina! From what bitter pangs would it not have relieved the irresolute Oswald, perhaps even the virtuous Grandison himself!'
Notwithstanding the plausibility of these considerations and the high authority upon which they are offered, we are satisfied that they involve a material error ; which lies in confounding the interest of the novel reader and writer with that of the personages of the tale, and supposing that everything, which tends directly to promote the immediate comfort and wellbeing of the latter, must also redound to the advantage of the former. This idea, though in our view not only false but directly the reverse of the truth, has been entertained by others as well as M. Remusat, and in particular by the committee of blue-stocking ladies, with whom Richardson was in the habit of taking counsel, as to the conduct of his plots, while he was composing his novels. It is well known that these tender souls implored him, with tears in their eyes, to reform Lovelace and permit him to marry Clarissa. It is also
understood that Mrs Klopstock, a correspondent and kindred spirit of the womankind of Richardson, interceded powerfully with her gifted spouse, in favor of one of the fallen angels called Abaddona, who showed rather more symptoms of remorse than his fellow reprobates,—entreating that he might, by some means to her unknown, be rescued from the gulf of perdition, and after a reasonable period of purgatory reinstated in Paradise. We do not now recollect how far this intercession proved effectual with the author of the · Messiah'; but Richardson was deaf to all remonstrance, and manfully persisted in his original intention of killing Lovelace in a duel, and taking off Clarissa by the usual expedient of consumption. And in this he was no doubt highly judicious; the opposite theory, however amiable in itself and natural to the softer and more compassionate sex, being, as we have observed above, not only incorrect, but directly the reverse of the truth.
It is obvious, in fact, that the writer and reader of novels, far from having any community of interest with the personages, thrive on their distresses, derive consolation and entertainment from their perplexities, and are ruined (as such) by their ultimate success, since that finishes the novel, and with it, for the time being, the novel writer and reader. It would no doubt be a mighty pleasant thing to the parties to marry at the opening of the first scene or first chapter, instead of fighting their way through the five acts that make up a regular play, the four volumes that now constitute the just measure of a novel, the eight and twelve that were required by the sturdier appetites of our grandmothers, or the hundred which, as M. Remusat tells us, are not too much for the patient dames and spinsters of the Celestial Empire, where numbers of all kinds are in general upon a larger scale than with us. This, we say, would be mighty pleasant for the parties; but what, in that case, would become of the novel or the play, the very being of which results from its possessing the requisite number of acts and volumes ? It would be
highly convenient, again, to the parties, after the first obstacles are started, to exchange a few words of explanation, opportunities for which are constantly occurring every ten or twenty pages, and which would generally set things right at once, and remove all further difficulty ; but what, in this case, would become of the rest of the work? The marriage of the lovers must in general terminate the story; for though Richardson has in one case filled up an additional volume, in a very entertaining way, with an account of Lady Grandison's lying in and the young heir's baby-linen, the instance is evidently an exception, and would not bear to be frequently repeated. Far from courting any such premature eclaircissements, it is clearly the duty of the lovers, as faithful servants of the author and the public, to keep out of each other's way, and even, if necessary, to take an oath (as there is reason to suppose they often do), that they will not come to an understanding, lest the piece should finish too soon. Why does not Zaïre show her brother's letter at once to the Sultan, and thus satisfy his doubts and remove bis jealousy? For the plain reason that, in this case, he would be obliged to marry her in the middle of the third act, instead of stabbing her at the end of the fifth. Why does Romeo arrive at the tomb of the Capulets half an hour too late, and why does not the Missionary in Atala’ring his bell five minutes earlier ? Clearly, that the ladies may in each case have time to take their poison, without which there could be no proper catastrophe.
Far from having a community of interests with the characters of the tale, it is evident that the author and reader stand in the same relation towards them with that of a physician towards his patients, or of the spectators in ancient Rome towards a band of fighting gladiators
. The physician feels a great deal of sympathy with the sufferer whom he is attending, laments his situation, and does all he can to relieve him ; but after all, if there were no disease there would be no fee for curing it, and the physician would die instead of the patient. The assembly in a Roman amphitheatre were in the highest degree interested in the desperate struggles and dying agonies of the gladiator; but if he implored compassion, they turned their thumbs upon him at once. The danger to which he was exposed, though death to him, was to them precisely the sport they came to see ; and when he sought to escape from it, they looked upon him as a malefactor that was attempting to deprive them of a legitimate source of pleasure, and punished him as such.
In like manner we sympathize deeply with the sorrows of the heroes and heroines of romance, and it is from the exercise of this sympathy that we derive the pleasure. If they were not distressed, how could we sympathize with them?