BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL,
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ADVENTURES OF ARABELLA.
BY MRS. LENNOX.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
Mrs. Lennox, a very respectable writer, was born at New York. She was a diligent and successful author. She performed a useful service to English literature by translating Sully’s Memoirs, as also Brumoy’s Greek Theatre. She likewise gave to the world Shakespear Illustrated, in three volumes; being a collection of the tales and histories upon which the plays of Shakespear are founded. Her original works are some comedies, and a number of novels, of which latter The Female Quixote and Henrietta are esteemed the best. Her exertions did not place her in easy circumstances, for she died poor in 1804.
The Female Quixote, published in 1752, is an agreeable and ingenious satire upon the old romances; not the more ancient ones of chivalry, but the languishing love romances of the Calprenédes and Scuderis. Arabella, the heroine, is supposed to have been brought up in the country, and secluded, during the life of her father, from all society, but allowed to amuse herself in an old library furnished with the works of those voluminous authors. Of course she ii imbibes their sentiments, and at her father’s death she comes out into the world, possessed of beauty and fortune, but with a profound ignorance of every circumstance of real life and manners. She fancies every man who speaks to her to be secretly in love with her, and is in continual apprehensions of being forcibly carried off. The gardener she imagines to be a prince in disguise, and is extremely shocked when her supposed lover is turned away for stealing carp. Meantime she is beloved by her cousin, an amiable young gentleman and every way suitable to her; nor has she any dislike to her admirer, but that she finds him very deficient in the code of gallantry prescribed by her favourite authors. She insists upon his reading some of them; but not having brought to the task a sufficient degree of attention, he gets into disgrace with her by not knowing that Orontes and are the same person; which betrays that he has not read as far as she had enjoined him. Many other incidents have a good deal of humour. Arabella, for instance, calls a lady’s waiting-maid into her closet, and gravely desires her to relate, according to immemorial custom, the adventures of her lady. The surprise of the waiting-maid is extreme; the more, as her lady happens to have had some adventures of a nature she would not wish to be talked of.
The falsification of history in these romances, which was the fault Boileau chiefly exposed in his satire, is agreeably ridiculed by the incident of a conversation which passes between the heroine and a gentleman who is introduced to her iii as one who possesses a great knowledge of history and of the ancients, and whom she strangely perplexes by questions and anecdotes of Cyrus, and Clelia, and Horatius Cocles, which he cannot explain or answer by any information his reading has furnished him with. The young lady’s cousin is represented as more patient of her extravagancies than most modern lovers would be; but she is painted as amiable, and, like Don Quixote, rational in every respect where her particular whim is not touched.
The work is rather spun out too much, and not very well wound up. The grave moralizing of a clergyman is not the means by which the heroine should have been cured of her reveries. She should have been recovered by the sense of ridicule; by falling into some absurd mistake, or by finding herself on the brink of becoming the prey of some romantic footman, like the ladies in Moliere’s piece of Les Précieuses Ridicules, the ridicule of which has pretty much the same bearing.
The performance of Mrs. Lennox is the best of the various Quixotes which have been written in imitation of the immortal Cervantes, and forms a fair counterpart to it, as it presents a similar extravagance, yet drawn from a later class of authors, and more adapted to female reading. It has also one disadvantage in common with that work, namely, that the satire has now no object. Most young ladies of the present day, instead of requiring to be cured of reading those bulky romances, would acquire iv the first information of their manner from the work designed to ridicule them.
It is observable that Dryden, as Mrs. Lennox asserts, has borrowed characters and incidents in his plays from these works. No doubt there were many things in them to admire; nor is it very improbable that, in the rage for reviving every thing that is old, they may make their appearance again in a modern quarto of hot-pressed paper, with a life and an engraving from the original portrait of Madlle Scudery by Nanteuil, with her elegant verses under it.
The style of Mrs. Lennox is easy, but it does not rise to the elegance attained by many more modern female writers.
Her Henrietta is not without merit. It begins with the incident of two young ladies who are perfect strangers to each other, meeting in a stage-coach, when, after a few minutes conversation, one of them exclaims, “Let us swear an eternal friendship,”—the sentiment and the very words brought forward to ridicule the modern German plays, in the well-known humorous parody of them in The Anti-Jacobin.I.1
SUCH is the power of interest over almost every mind, that no one is long without arguments to prove any position which is ardently wished to be true, or to justify any measures which are dictated by inclination.
By this subtle sophistry of desire, I have been persuaded to hope that this book may, without impropriety, be inscribed to your lordship; but am not certain that my reasons will have the same force upon other understandings.
The dread which a writer feels of the public censure; the still greater dread of neglect; and the eager wish for support and protection, which is impressed by the consciousness of imbecility; are unknown to those who have never adventured into the world; and I am afraid, my lord, equally unknown, to those, who have always found the world ready to applaud them.
It is, therefore, not unlikely, that the design of this address may be mistaken, and the effects of my fear imputed to my vanity: those who see your I.2 lordship’s name prefixed to my performance, will rather condemn my presumption than compassionate my anxiety.
But, whatever be supposed my motive, the praise of judgment cannot be denied me; for to whom can timidity so properly fly for shelter, as to him who has been so long distinguished for candour and humanity? How can vanity be so completely gratified, as by the allowed patronage of him whose judgment has so long given a standard to the national taste? Or by what other means could I so powerfully suppress all opposition, but that of envy, as by declaring myself,
Obliged and most obedient
All French names in the introduction were printed as shown. Possibly the typesetter didn’t have any grave accents to hand.
born in New York
[The Encyclopædia Britannica, in common with most modern sources, says that Charlotte Lennox was born in Gibraltar and went to New York when she was about 10.]
Orontes and Orondates are the same person
[Spelling unchanged. Everywhere else the name is given as Oroondates.]
The grave moralizing of a clergyman
[This is a little unfair. Arabella doesn’t give up her romantic illusions because the clergyman tells her they are sinful. Instead, after a prolonged disputation—in which she sustains herself extremely well—he convinces her that the ideas she got from French novels are simply illogical.]
The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.