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Smollett. - Difference between him and Fielding. - 'Peregrine
NOVELS AND NOVELISTS
FICTION IN RELATION TO FACT-INFORMATION TO BE GLEANED FROM NOVELS.-GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LAST CENTURY.-ITS COARSENESS.-RELIGION.-LOVE.-INFLUENCE OF THE AGE UPON WOMEN.-THE ESSAYISTS.-HOGARTH.-PROGRESS OF REFINEMENT.-DANGER OF MISTAKING SATIRE AND CARICATURE FOR TRUTH.
My object in the following work is to make use of fiction as the exponent of fact, and to show what information is to be gleaned as to the habits and manners and social life of our ancestors from the novels of the last century. If I may be pardoned a legal metaphor, I shall summon the heroes and heroines as well as the authors into court, that they may give evidence as witnesses of a state of society that has passed away-and of which it is difficult now in the many wonderful changes that have since taken place to form a right idea. We may read histories of Eng
land, and be familiar with the pages of Cunningham, Belsham, Adolphus, Hume, and Smollett (I mean Smollett, as an historian), and yet be almost entirely ignorant of the manners and habits and mode of life of our forefathers: of their houses and dress: their domestic arrangements and amusements: of the state of religion and morality and all that goes to make up the character of a people. As one of our greatest novelists has said: "Out of the fictitious book I get the expression of the life, of the times, of the manners, of the merriment, of the dress, the pleasures, the laughter, the ridicules of society—the old times live again, and I travel in the old country of England. Can the heaviest historian do more for me?" * I answer, not half so much. The historian tells us of Court factions and political intrigues, and the struggles of an Oligarchy of great families for power-of the Walpoles and Newcastles, and Grenvilles and Pitts-of foreign wars and domestic treason-but little of the condition of the peasantry and life of the people, and absolutely nothing of the state of society in the period. Paradoxical as it may seem, there can be no doubt that fiction is often more truthful than fact. By this I mean that a more correct idea of a period may be formed from a story where the person*Thackeray, 'English Humorists,' p. 113.