Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
A Plain Man on his Daughters Favourite Novels
By Hannah More (17451833)
From The Two Wealthy Farmers
I COULD make neither head nor tail of it; it was neither fish, flesh, nor good red-herring: it was all about my lord, and Sir Harry, and the Captain. But I never met with such nonsensical fellows in my life. Their talk was no more like that of my old landlord, who was a lord you know, nor the captain of our fencibles, than chalk is like cheese. I was fairly taken in at first, and began to think I had got hold of a godly book: for there was a deal about hope and despair, and death, and heaven, and angels, and torments, and everlasting happiness. But when I got a little on, I found there was no meaning in all these words, or if any, it was a bad meaning. Eternal misery, perhaps, only meant a moments disappointment about a bit of a letter; and everlasting happiness meant two people talking nonsense together for five minutes. In short, I never met with such a pack of lies. The people talk such wild gibberish as no folks in their sober senses ever did talk; and the things that happen to them are not like the things that ever happen to me or any of my acquaintance. They are at home one minute, and beyond the sea the next; beggars to-day, and lords to-morrow; waiting-maids in the morning, and duchesses at night. Nothing happens in a natural gradual way, as it does at home; they grow rich by the stroke of a wand, and poor by the magic of a word; the disinherited orphan of this hour is the overgrown heir of the next: now a bride and bridegroom turn out to be a brother and sister, and the brother and sister prove to be no relations at all. You and I, Master Worthy, have worked hard many years, and think it very well to have scraped a trifle of money together; you a few hundreds, I suppose, and I, a few thousands. But one would think every man in these books had the bank of England in his escritoire. Then there is another thing which I never met with in true life. We think it pretty well, you know, if one has got one thing, and another has got another: I will tell you how I mean. You are reckoned sensible, our parson is learned, the squire is rich, I am rather generous, one of your daughters is pretty, and both mine are genteel. But in these books (except here and there one, whom they make worse than Satan himself), every man and womans child of them, are all wise, and witty, and generous, and rich, and handsome, and genteel, and all to the last degree. Nobody is middling, or good in one thing and bad in another, like my live acquaintance; but it is all up to the skies, or down to the dirt. I had rather read Tom Hickathrift, or Jack the Giant Killer, a thousand times.