British Fiction, 18001829

LITTLEJOHN, P. Mistake, The (1800)

Contemporary Reviews

Critical Review, 2nd ser. 31 (Mar 1801): 355.

When the parent of a literary bantling pleads poverty to the world as his motive, it hurts the feeling critic’s mind to be forced to deny them both protection. Yet how, but by speaking the truth, is he to fulfil his engagement with the public?—If the farrier’s boy will quit his horse-shoe, and conceit himself fit for a higher business, whose fault is it that he lack the comforts, or even necessaries of life? Surely the goldsmith is not bound in charity to admit him into his shop, and permit him to waste his metal, in order to gratify his vanity. On the contrary, he cannot do him so great a service as by earnestly persuading him to return instantly to that calling for which alone he is qualified. The author of the work before us tells us that it will prove more than a joke to him if it do not succeed. In sincerity we are sorry for it, but we cannot give countenance to a writer who is so ignorant of his mother tongue as to call the ‘heart and the language’ synonymous. Let the reader take the following sample, and judge for himself.

“Was I permitted, by the strong evidence of my own conviction, to doubt the fair statement here before us,” exclaimed Edmund, after a deep silence, “still might my bosom again become tranquil; still might a sense of Charlotte’s progressive perfections charm me into composure; but truth, like the elementary bolt, commissioned by its electrical force to the quick destruction of some lofty spreading tree, strikes deep to the very centre of my hopes,—dries up the foliage of my fancy,—and leaves me a parched and withered ruins.” P.49.

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 3 vols 12mo; price 12s. Boards. Publisher: Hurst.

Monthly Review, 2nd ser. 35 (July 1801): 331–32.

The author of this tale modestly assures us that it contains nothing which may be literally termed new, and that the characters boast not of originality. We fear, however, that that diffidence of Mr. Littlejohn has rendered him blind to his own merits: because, [331/332] in our opinion, there is much of what is new in the work, and much which he may safely call his own. For instance, what can be more novel and original than the following passages, in which he talks (page 4th, 1st vol.) ‘of hours passed in a giddy round of fashionable intemperance, till the tender incitations of a husband became lost in the conflict’: (p. 23.)—‘prognosticating that genuine affection was concerned;—(P. 105.) ‘Dimming the native lustre of his eye with a cast of piteous eccentricity!”—(p. 116.) of ‘displaying a flag in a kind of terrorum’; (p. 121.) of ‘the mortification of the disappointment adding force to the erasible particles’;—and (p. 161.) ‘of other etceteras.’

Novelty and originality, also, are not here confined to words and phrases, but are conspicuous in the situations of the dramatis personæ, and in the poetical excursions of the writer’s fancy. Can we look for a more novel situation than that of a gentleman fainting away, and supported by a lady into whose arms he fell? (vide p. 170. vol. 3d) ‘he uttered a tremulous sigh, and but for the timely exertion of Mrs. Fairfax would have sunk on the floor, she supported him in her arms, and her maid, whom her cries brought to her assistance, administered a volatile essence, which soon again brought back pulsation.’—We have often heard of “disarming by a look,” and have generally regarded it as a mere metaphorical expression: but we see it actually exemplified in this work: (Page 234, vol. 3.) ‘Fairfax had been but stunned by the blow, and soon recovered sufficiently to see his situation—he started to his feet, and in order to impede their flight, produced a pistol;—he presented it, but in doing it his eye met the sever frown of Edmund. A pang of conscious guilt enerved his arm, and the instrument fell from his hand.’—We shall quote one more passage, as a specimen of this gentleman’s poetical capacity: (p. 49. vol. i.) ‘but truth, like the elementary bolt, commissioned by its electrical force to the quick destruction of some lofty spreading tree, strikes deep to the very centre of my hopes,—dries up the foliage of my fancy,—and leaves me a parched and withered ruins [sic]!!

In chusing the profession of an author, Mr. Littlejohn has certainly made a ‘Mistake,’ and we apprehend that he may find the consequences of it to be ‘beyond a joke.’

Notes: Listed under ‘Monthly Catalogue: Novels’. Format: 3 vols 12mo; price 12s. Boards. Publisher: Hurst &c.

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