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Tales of Fashionable Life
    (Review / Tales of Fashionable Life, by Maria Edgeworth)
  British Critic /JAS, 1813
  vol. 42 (1813): 412-4.
Art. 17. Tales of fashionable Life, by Miss Edgeworth, Author of Practical Education, &c. &c. In six Volumes. Vols. 4, 5, and 6. pp. 1200. 1l. 1s. Johnson. 1812.

The first three volumes of these fashionable tales, were some time since, but slightly reviewed in the British Critic*: and perhaps the three volumes now before us, deserve so trivial a notice. We cannot deny that they are entertaining, with much of original character, and delineation of real life. This is a merit [413] which will infallibly introduce them to all our circulating libraries, notwithstanding their false morality or deficient religion. But the total want of religion in the writings of the Edgeworths is so notorious, that their popularity, we think, will be of short duration; since they who have an immediate interest in the fate of the rising generation will soon, we trust, be awakened to a sense of the deleterious effects of such productions.

The entire omission of religion in the 'Practical Education,' has already been strongly censured in 'the British Critic**:' There, certainly, it ought more particularly to have appeared.

There are some, however, who concurring with us in this opinion, can perceive no defect or fault in a series of tales or novels, from which every religious sentiment is excluded with all possible care; and in which mere men of the world are held up to observation, as amiable, worthy, and imitable characters.

In the mean time, the tales under consideration tend only to confirm us, in our first sentiments. In the 'Emilie de Coulanges,' in particular, there is much silly trifling: we suppose a la mode de Paris. But there is worse than this. What shall we say to the following paragraph? 'Lady Littleton was an elderly lady, who besides possessing superior mental endowments which inspired admiration, and a character which commanded high respect, was blest with an uncommonly placid, benevolent temper. This, (with the Grace of God) enabled her to do, what no other human being had ever accomplished, &c. &c.' Will they who maintain the perfect inoffensiveness of these tales, assert, that there is nothing sarcastic in this sentence? We, cannot read it, as serious. The works of Miss E. whether they extend to twelve hundred or twelve thousand pages, are as a creation without a God. And for 'the Grace of God,' it is surely in her eyes a doctrine involving every absurdity. It seems as if some oblique censure were here intended, a sneer, probably, at Mrs H. More's piety and christianity.

The best of the Tales, is 'the Absentee.' It occupies half of the fifth, and the whole of the sixth volume, and under the revising hand of a More, might easily be rendered an useful as well as an interesting story. That patriotism, which attaching Lord Colambre to Ireland, induced him to settle there, might have been wrought into a sense of duty. His good conduct should have been founded on principles, contrasted with the frivolous dissipation of his mother, and the vacillating mind of his father Lord Clombrony: and the beneficial effects of a country-gentleman's residence on an extensive manor, might have been illustrated in the improving morality of his tenants, under the influence of his religious example. We are glad, however, to hail something [414] like a pious sentiment in Larry Brady's letter, at the close of the Tale. 'My father was dropping down on his knees, but the master would not let him; and observed, 'that posture should only be for his God.' Vol. vi. p. 450. It must be remarked, that this lady's vulgar herd, are, for the most part, religious; though her highest, her most perfect characters, are but virtuous. The inference is unquestionable. In her mind (we fear) all religions, whether the Christian, the Mahometan, or the Pagan, stand upon an equal footing: and the religion of a country, is only the reigning superstition.

*See vol. xxxiv. p. 73.

**Vol. XV. p. 210, &c. [complete]

Provided by Julie A. Shaffer, January 2000