NOVELS AND ROMANCES (1802)
It has been proposed as a question, whether the reading of romances and novels only (to the exclusion of all other books) or whether no reading of any kind whatever would be productive of the worst consequences. I have considered this question over and over again, and maturely weighed every pro and con that occurred to me on the subject. It is urged by the 'ante-novelists' that romances and novels serve only to estrange the minds of youth (specially of females) from their own affairs, and transmit them to those of which they read: so that, while totally absorbed in lamenting and condoling with the melancholy situation of a Julia, an Emily, or a Matilda, or lost in the admiration of the glorious deeds of some all-perfect novel hero, they neglect both their own interests, and the several duties which they owe to parent, friend, or brother. That such is but too often the case, I am sorry to be obliged to confess. Yet, though a great part of our modern novels are flimsy productions, without either good writing or good sense, others mere catchpenny trash, and some immoral and even impious; though the press teems with Midnight Bells, Black Castles, and Haunted Towers, Mysterious Monks, &c. &c. with a long train of ghosts, phantoms, &c. yet I am inclined to think that many excellent precepts and morals are inculcated in by far the greatest part of them; and that the rest are to be censured rather as being absurd, improbable, and ill-written, than tending to corrupt the mind. (I except some few, such as the Monk, by Mr. Lewis, which is not only immoral, but blasphemous, cum paucis aliis.) For example those written by the ingenious and amiable Mrs. Anne [sic] Radcliffe, and Dr. Moore's Edward, Zeluco, &c. which are not only commendable, but thank-worthy; possess, in my opinion, the powers of pleasing and instructing at the same time: a rare coalition! The latter particularly paints life in accurate colours, and from the various actions and opinions of the characters, deduces morals the most wholesome and unexceptionable. I might mention several others of hardly inferior merits, but let these suffice. Such productions as these are doubly excellent; because, while they inculcate the best morals, they give the readers an accurate knowledge of life and manners; of which it is highly proper young people should have a correct idea. For a young unsophisticated person just entering upon life, imbibes with eagerness whatever principles he first becomes acquainted with; and if these should happen to have a bad tendency, what would become of him, if his mind had not been guarded against them, by some previous insight into the sophistry and fallacy of the world, which are duly exposed in the works before mentioned? But if we consider the other side of the question, and suppose a person, who, having never looked into a book, consequently can have no taste for reading, what a plodding, insensible, and worldly-minded mortal do we behold! Such a person may, possibly, make his way through the world with tolerable success, but can never have any pretensions to the character of a gentleman. He may meet with the applause of those of his own stamp (among the 'common herd;') but by the sensible and discerning his education will be considered as an everlasting monument to his own and his parents' folly. I am, Mr. Editor, yours, as I hope I ever shall be, with all due respect.
[SOURCE: Rimelli, 'Novels and Romances', Monthly Mirror, 14 (August 1802), pp. 812]
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