THOMAS GREEN (1769–1825)

MARCH. the 25th. [1797]
          Finished the Italian. This work will maintain, but not extend, Mrs. Radcliffe’s fame as a novelist. It has the same excellencies and defects as her former compositions. In the vivid exhibition of the picturesque of nature, in the delineation of strong and dark character, in the excitation of horror by physical and moral agency, I know not that Mrs. R. has any equal: but she languishes in spinning the thread of the narrative on which these excellencies are strung; natural characters and incidents are feebly represented; probability is often strained without sufficient compensation; and the developement of those mysteries which have kept us stretched so long on the rack of terror and impatience (an unthankful task at best) is lame and impotent. Eleanor and Vivaldi, either in their seperate character or mutual attachment (a wire-drawn theme), touched me but little; but I confess myself to have been deeply and violently impressed, by the midnight examination of the corpse of Bianchi; by the atrocious conference of Schedoni and the Marquesa, in the dim twilight of the Church of San Nicolo; and, above all, by what passed in Spalatro’s solitary dwelling on the sea shore. If Mrs. Radcliffe justly consulted her fame, she would confine herself to fragments. – She and Miss Burney might compose a capital piece between them – Mrs. R. furnishing the landscape, and Miss B. the figures.

SEPTEMBER the 3rd.
          . . . Read Sir Horace Walpole’s Mysterious Mother. There is a gusto of antiquity, and peculiar raciness in this piece, which is quite to my taste: the terrible graces are finely maintained, and the passion of horror is ably prepared, and successfully excited; but the catastrophe is at last worked up to a crisis of distraction, for which no power of thought or language can find adequate expression.

SEP. the 8th.
          . . . There is a very happy ridicule of the prevailing system of terror in certain modern novels, by a ‘Jacobin Novelist,’ in the last Monthly Magazine [see The Terrorist System of Novel-Writing]. It seems hard, but it is true, that original excellence in any department of writing, by provoking scurvy imitation, has a natural tendency to bring disgrace upon itself.

MARCH the 25th. [1800]
          Read Godwin’s St. Leon. In the Preface, he explicitly abjures the doctrine of extinguishing the private affections, which he had inculcated in his Political Justice; and the subsequent pages bear repeated testimony to the sincerity and completeness of his conversion: – yet he professes to see no cause to change the fundamental principle of that Work! I flatter myself with having been instrumental in a little humanizing him; but the volcanic and blasphemous spirit still peeps, occasionally, through a flimsy disguise. His sentiments and expressions are often borrowed; and the account of the interrogatories at the Inquisition, with the decoy employed there, are directly and impudently stolen from Mrs. Radcliffe. In his struggles to be sublime, there is something inexpressibly hideous and revolting: – they are not the exertions of mighty power, but the convulsive throes and ghastly agonies of a distempered sensibility. – After all, too, though one may be amused with the adventures of St. Leon, what impression do they leave upon the mind? They do not indoctrinate the unsatisfactory nature of boundless opulence and immortal youth, as Nourjahad does, – for St. Leon seems rather persecuted by his ill fortune, than by the natural consequences of his supernatural acquisitions. What, then, do they inculcate? – I am quite unable to tell.

[SOURCE: Thomas Green, Extracts from The Diary of a Lover of Literature (Ipswich: John Raw; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1810), pp. 28, 43, 44, 209]

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