27 NOVEMBER 1841, Page 17


WE have received a letter from the "real author of Cecil," well- tempered and fair enough, and not altogether deficient in the happy self-confidence only proper to the hero of that fiction. Our "grave middle class" readers will be glad to learn from it, that Cecil has already "reformed more abuses of fashionable life" than they would have believed without some voucher. It is also but right that the purpose of the author should be unfolded to them ; more especially as some persons who have read the first series have not sufficiently succeeded in impressing upon others the true object of Cecil—a didactic novel for persons of quality.


SiR—You have made a blunder in your review of Cecil; and a blunder is a thing into which you are so seldom betrayed, that you must bear to be told of it. Had you begun "Guy Mannering " by the second volume, you would have Been little merit in the work ; and had you commenced " Cecil " with the commencement, you would have perceived the purport of the book to display the influence of aristocratic institutions and abuses upon the growth of human dispositions. Throughout, the boys and girls are made fathers and mothers to the men and women ; and you would have seen that the gilt gingerbread con- tained an alphabet. In the first part, the household high life of England and France was placed in striking contrast. Vide vol, ii. of the first series. You do not damn by faint praise, but praise by damnation, in saying that the style is pert and vapid. Such a style was necessarily assumed as appropriate to the "autobiography of a coxcomb." The classical quotations were another trait of coxcombical affectation. You speak of the "author of Cecil" thrust- ing himself forward like the "author of Pelham." The author of " Cecil" never thrusts himself forward, or he would not have been mistaken for half- a-dozen lords and ladies, or the coarse " Patrician." It is Cecil Denby who thrusts himself forward, because he is a coxcomb. It is a proof of his substan- tiality in the character, (a mere creation,) that you unconsciously revile him RS a real coxcomb, with his characteristic failings, flippancy and impertinence. " Cecil " was intended as a sketchy review of the fashionable manners of the last half-century; and that it is a true one, is attested by its immediate adoption in the circles it purports to describe. "I would fain speak of the foibles of the day," said Sir RICHARD STEELE, "in such a tone that men of pleasure might read tie." This I have accomplished—ay, and reformed more petty abuses of fashionable society than the graver middle classes, who require more solid schooling, would believe. People accustomed to a diet of whipt-cream have no disposition for stronger meats. They have taken their physic without a -wry face in the gilded pills of " Cecil." This letter is addressed to you by the real author of Cecil; who has more value for your literary good opinion than for a favourable "notice." Your lead- ing article reconciles me to your unphilosophical criticism. By the way, you talk of the " scoundrels " in " Cecil, ' as unnatural—which be they ? and up- braid the love-passages as dull, in which the former duper of women becomes, in his turn, (and unconsciously,) a dupe. The love-affairs of the young cox- comb were sprightly enough. But you have had enough, in print and out, of the tediousness of CECIL BANDY. The criticism assumed in joke to Cecil, in the preface, is the celebrated cri- tique of,Tasas upon "Tristram Shandy.' Replying to the question of our author, (since, his object being to lower the morale of his hero, there can be no offence in doing so,) that we think Cecil Denby a very pretty scoundrel in his way, there are two critical points contained in this letter, having a wider interest than the mere personal question between writers and critics, and justifying some remark. The excellent intention of the writer of Cecil cannot now be doubted ; but because a_purpose is. good, it does not follow that it has been accomplished. Not having read the first part of the work, we cannot tell whether the story is. so constructed and the characters so managed as to render it clear that Cecil Denby is entirely the creature of " aristoeratic institu- tions," and not a peculiar disposition, that would have rendered him selfish, heartless, flippant, and impertinent, had he been born to the condition of a man-milliner or a lawyer's clerk. But we incline to conjecture that the latter is the actual case ; one reason being, that we still think Cecil does not give a true general descrip- tion of the circles it purports to describe. It may be true that grave people of the middle class are not qualified to judge of fashion- able manners ; but, as an artist is allowed to speak as to the like- ness in a portrait though be may never have seen the original, so critics may probably be entitled to pass an opinion upon manners of which they have little practical cognizance. But, besides Mr. Square's rule of the fitness of things, we have seen a true likeness in the pages of Mrs. GORE, who has herself, in The Handl- tons, handled the period of which we more immediately speak. And how different her Exclusives from those of Cecil ! how differ- ent the creations of the full-blown corruption of Toryism for its last half-century, in her dandies, especially in Augustus Hamilton!— masterly in his prosperous insolence, profligacy, and courtier meanness ; masterly in his decline ; natural, and for a moment ren- dered just by necessity, in his final interview with his wife, and. doomed at last to fall by an appropriate poetical justice. We are the more inclined to adduce this particular instance, (though ex- amples from Lord NORMANBY and other novelists are not wanting,) because we think the writer of Cecil is neither unacquainted with the picture of Exclusive life in The Hamiltons nor insensible to its- merits. In fact, it struck us in perusing Cecil a Peer, that its au- thor was not altogether unindebted for the slight, sketchy, and some- what indistinct painting of Windsor and London fashionable life, to the more solid and finished pictures of Mrs. Goan. The other question that arises is one regarding structure,— whether the autobiographical is the proper form for a didactic novel, that aims at rectifying the trivial, meaner, and more con- temptible vices, after the fashion of Cecil? And we think not. In the first place, the practitioners are generally fools ; so that the natural character of the hero has to be changed in order to give interest and power to a long work, and even enable the supposed writer to exhibit the point of his actions. Through writing in the first person, all reflections by the author of the book are sacrificed; so are many by the persons of the fiction ; and such as are introduced are done by contrivance. It is a more general objection, and partly con- tained in the former remark, that offenders themselves are not proper judges of their own habitual character and conduct ; nor in autobiographical fictions can a fitting catastrophe to point the moral be naturally introduced. In a critical sense there is a still greater error—want of interest in the subject. "The company of fools," says GOLDSMITH, "may at first make us smile, but at last it never fails of rendering us melancholy." A coxcomb has not of himself weight or variety enough as the principal figure in a piece, especially when kept constantly before the reader by being his own biographer. Either a sense of this, or some instinctive parental tenderness, or both together, will induce writers to elevate unnaturally the character of their hero, giving him sense, smartness, and melo- dramatic virtues. Mr. Pelham, for example, studies BENTHAM and writes commentaries on MILL ; and not only saves a groom's life by his courage and skill in horsemanship, but, to preserve a friend, ventures into a den of thieves, where, but for the ex- ercise of supernatural coolness and valour, Mr. Pelham would have perished and no one have known it. The coxcomb, as the writer intimates, is not so grossly violated in Cecil, but still he is made a person of claptrap virtue and of smart remarks ; mostly untrue indeed, but we do not admit that to pass as an "appropriate affectation." In the pointed sentence, for example, on the death of Philip the Third of Spain by an alleged over-attention to eti- quette, Cecil is made to receive as historical truth an adopted "fiction" of the Curiosities of Literature, in order to perpetrate a refined blunder " appropriate " to his character.