British Fiction, 18001829

LEWIS, Alethea Brereton. Microcosm, The (1801)

Contemporary Reviews

Critical Review, 2nd ser. 33 (Dec 1801): 460.

We are so much puzzled by Mrs. John and Mrs. George, by children and grand-children, in the course of this work, that we could scarcely proceed without an abstract of the genealogy of the Spencers, the Percivals, and the Abingdons. We regretted this the more, as the author’s descriptive talents are above mediocrity, and his plot is artfully enveloped. Could he have repressed his exuberance, he might have formed a pleasing tale in about two, instead of five, volumes.

The author of Vicissitudes in genteel Life should, however, have been better informed than to have brought the lord-chancellor to a private house, and invested him there with all his judicial powers. But we know not how to draw his indictment; for he will infallibly escape conviction, by saying that he has not depicted the vicissitudes of high life. Genteel and gentleman are now words so hackneyed and misapplied, that we scarcely can discover their limits. A want of knowledge of human nature, and of life in general, are, however, too conspicuous in the present volumes.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 5 vols 12mo; price 1l. Sewed. Publisher: Mawman.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 35 (Aug 1801): 428–29.

We experience great satisfaction when it is in our power to announce the appearance of a novel, of which we can approve the tendency and applaud the execution. It is too frequently our lot to peruse and pass judgement on works of this class, which leave an unsatisfactory and melancholy impression on the mind, from the gloomy views of human nature which they exhibit, or from the interest which they excite in behalf of characters whose principles and conduct we must condemn. Not such, however, was the effect [428/429] produced by the present volume. The long established rules of morality and religion are here respected and upheld; and we are called to bestow our love and esteem, only when reason gives the sanction of her approbation. Notwithstanding that the adventures are extended to five volumes, and that the narrative is frequently interrupted by digressions, it possesses sufficient interest to reward an attentive perusal. The style is lively, without being flippant, and the language is generally correct and perspicuous. We frequently meet, also, with an archness of observation and a propriety of sentiment in the digressive parts, which carry with them a sufficient apology for the breaks which they cause in the narrative; and the author manifestly possesses considerable skill in drawing and discriminating characters.

Having thus pointed out the merits of this work, we have now to state its principal faults; which appear to be the introduction of too many characters, and too great an intricacy of plot. We think that these objections might have been obviated, if the author had possessed the resolution to deviate from a practice which he describes in the preface:

‘It is a misfortune to me, perhaps a greater to my readers, that I never am able to transcribe what I have written. My first copy has always been my last. Could I write over again the following volumes, I should probably make great alterations in them; but the task would be extreme: indeed not practicable. The work must be sent into the world, if sent at all, “with all its faults upon its head.”

We conceive that it is a duty which every author owes to the public, frequently to revise and reconsider his work before he sends it to the press; and he does not contribute to the permanency of his own reputation, when he sends it “with all its imperfections on its head,” instead of exerting his best efforts to remove them. We hope that the writer of the Microcosm will not be seduced, in future, into a compliance with so indolent a practice, by the false éclat which may appear to attach to the adoption of it.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 5 vols 12mo; price 1l. Sewed. Publisher: Mawman.

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