THE MYSTERIOUS WARNING (1796)
ELIZA PARSONS (d. 1811)
Gothic novels by women were sometimes dedicated to royal and aristocratic patrons. For example, Anna Maria Mackenzie’s Mysteries Elucidated was dedicated to Her Royal Highness Caroline, Princess of Wales, in 1795, and Ann Radcliffe dedicated the fourth edition of Romance of the Forest to the Duchess of Leeds in 1794. Such dedications were sometimes graciously allowed in order to ensure a large subscription, perhaps to help a widowed novelist care for a large family. Regina Maria Roche’s Contrast (1828) was published by subscription to relieve her destitution, and dedicated to HRH the Princess Augusta Sophia. Such dedications were also used to establish the unimpeachable respectability of the novelists, despite the sometimes horrific content of their work. Eliza Parsons uses the opportunity of her dedication to The Mysterious Warning (one of the seven ‘horrid’ novels listed in Austen’s Northanger Abbey; see also The Castle of Wolfenbach) to defend the morality of her work.
Copyright 2000, 2022 Rictor Norton
HER ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE PRINCESS OF WALES.
That respect, which High Birth, exalted Station, and personal Charms, exacts, is generally paid without discrimination, because they are adventitious circumstances from whence no merit can be derived to the possessor: But when added to these, we see the most brilliant accomplishments, a graciousness of manners, a condescending sweetness, that implies a wish to be distinguished more by goodness than greatness; then, indeed, we cheerfully tender the homage of our hearts, and feel the highest gratification when uniting admiration with respect, we love and reverence the same object.
To this voluntary homage your Royal Highness is more peculiarly entitled; the dignified features in your character are affability, and that condescension, which, from the pre-eminence of your situation, have irresistible claims upon the mind, confirms the fascination of the eye, and has insured to you, Madam, the affection of a grateful and admiring people.
The suffrage or praise of an obscure individual can be no ways interesting to your Royal Highness; happily your virtues and graces speak for themselves, and require no officious herald to blazon them to the world.
Under this conviction I repress my own feelings, and have only to acknowledge, with equal pride and gratitude, the lively sense I entertain of the distinguished honour conferred on me, in being permitted to inscribe the following Work to your Royal Highness; though I have not the presumption to hope you can derive much amusement from the perusal. The few pretensions I have to merit are merely negative ones: I have never written a line tending to corrupt the heart, sully the imagination, or mislead the judgment of my young Readers.
With the most profound respect, and every sentiment that admiration and gratitude can inspire, I have the honour to remain,
Your Royal Highness’s
And most devoted,
Leicester-Square, No. 22,
Nov. 15, 1795.
The Author of the following Work feels herself under the necessity of apologiz[i]ng to her numerous Friends, for the too frequent demands she makes on their indulgence. Conscious of her deficiency in talents, inclination has no share in her feeble attempts to entertain the Public: She obtrudes neither from vanity or confidence, and shrinks from the severity of criticism, in the hope that her insignificance may protect her from the pointed darts of ridicule. To wit and humour, the effervescence of a lively imagination and a happy turn of mind, she can make no pretensions; her former works have been thought to dwell too much on scenes of horror, and melancholy events; she cannot refute the charge: Perhaps her writings take their colouring from her mind; when the heart is not at ease, it is incapable of communicating cheerful ideas to the descriptive pen; therefore she wisely declines an attempt she is unequal to, of diverting her Readers.
Dulness is a defect of the head, and is pardonable. Wit, and spirited talents, are too often apt to run riot; their redundancy may sometimes draw vicious characters, and describe profligacy of manners in such seducing glowing colours, as to affect the imagination, to catch the attention of young people, into whose hands works of this kind frequently fall, and may have the dangerous tendency to lessen the horror they ought to feel at vice, and the detestation such characters should inspire.
The Author of this Work is a Parent; as such, she has been strictly observant that her writings should never offend against delicacy or common sense. She has never dictated one page, or suggested one idea inimical to the precepts of virtue, or that should suffuse the cheek of innocence with a blush. Here rests her merit; she has no other claims, and throws herself on the mercy of liberal and candid minds.
[SOURCE: Eliza Parsons, The Mysterious Warning, A German Tale, 4 vols (London: Printed for William Lane, at the Minerva-Press, 1796), pp. 14; 12 (new page numbering sequence)]
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