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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Review of the Novel ‘Granby’
By Sydney Smith (1771–1845)
 
THE MAIN question as to a novel is, Did it amuse? Were you surprised at dinner coming so soon? did you mistake eleven for ten, and twelve for eleven? were you too late to dress? and did you sit up beyond the usual hour? If a novel produces these effects, it is good; if it does not,—story, language, love, scandal itself, cannot save it. It is only meant to please; and it must do that, or it does nothing. Now, ‘Granby’ 1 seems to us to answer this test extremely well: it produces unpunctuality, makes the reader too late for dinner, impatient of contradiction, and inattentive,—even if a bishop is making an observation, or a gentleman lately from the Pyramids or the Upper Cataracts is let loose upon the drawing-room. The objection indeed to these compositions, when they are well done, is, that it is impossible to do anything or perform any human duty while we are engaged in them. Who can read Mr. Hallam’s ‘Middle Ages,’ or extract the root of an impossible quantity, or draw up a bond, when he is in the middle of Mr. Trebeck and Lady Charlotte Duncan? How can the boy’s lesson be heard, about the Jove-nourished Achilles, or his six miserable verses upon Dido be corrected, when Henry Granby and Mr. Courtenay are both making love to Miss Jermyn? Common life palls in the middle of these artificial scenes. All is emotion when the book is open; all dull, flat, and feeble, when it is shut.  1
  Granby, a young man of no profession, living with an old uncle in the country, falls in love with Miss Jermyn, and Miss Jermyn with him; but Sir Thomas and Lady Jermyn, as the young gentleman is not rich, having discovered by long living in the world, and patient observation of its ways, that young people are commonly Malthus-proof and have children, and that young and old must eat, very naturally do what they can to discourage the union. The young people, however, both go to town; meet at balls; flutter, blush, look and cannot speak; speak and cannot look; suspect, misinterpret, are sad and mad, peevish and jealous, fond and foolish: but the passion, after all, seems less near to its accomplishment at the end of the season than the beginning. The uncle of Granby, however, dies, and leaves to his nephew a statement, accompanied with the requisite proofs, that Mr. Tyrrel, the supposed son of Lord Malton, is illegitimate, and that he, Granby, is the heir to Lord Malton’s fortune. The second volume is now far advanced, and it is time for Lord Malton to die. Accordingly Mr. Lister very judiciously dispatches him; Granby inherits the estate; his virtues (for what shows off virtue like land?) are discovered by the Jermyns; and they marry in the last act.  2
  Upon this slender story, the author has succeeded in making a very agreeable and interesting novel: and he has succeeded, we think, chiefly by the very easy and natural picture of manners as they really exist among the upper classes; by the description of new characters, judiciously drawn and faithfully preserved; and by the introduction of many striking and well-managed incidents. And we are particularly struck throughout the whole with the discretion and good sense of the author. He is never nimious; there is nothing in excess: there is a good deal of fancy and a great deal of spirit at work, but a directing and superintending judgment rarely quits him….  3
  Tremendous is the power of a novelist! If four or five men are in a room, and show a disposition to break the peace, no human magistrate (not even Mr. Justice Bayley) could do more than bind them over to keep the peace, and commit them if they refused. But the writer of the novel stands with a pen in his hand, and can run any of them through the body,—can knock down any one individual and keep the others upon their legs; or like the last scene in the first tragedy written by a young man of genius, can put them all to death. Now, an author possessing such extraordinary privileges should not have allowed Mr. Tyrrel to strike Granby. This is ill managed; particularly as Granby does not return the blow, or turn him out of the house. Nobody should suffer his hero to have a black eye, or to be pulled by the nose. The Iliad would never have come down to these times if Agamemnon had given Achilles a box on the ear. We should have trembled for the Æneid if any Tyrian nobleman had kicked the pious Æneas in the fourth book. Æneas may have deserved it; but he could not have founded the Roman Empire after so distressing an accident.  4
 
Note 1. ‘Granby,’ a novel by Thomas Henry Lister, noticed by Sydney Smith in the Edinburgh Review of February 1826. [back]
 
 
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