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The value of that innate spirit of Imitation, which acts as the main-spring of all our actions, there can be nobody who will deny. This is the principle by which we follow the footsteps of all the great and admirable characters who have gone before us; by this we emulate the fame of the illustrious, and the worthy character of the virtuous. It is too much to be regretted, however, that we are as frequently inclined to imitate the failings and defects, as the virtues and good qualities, of those who attract our admiration. This subject has occupied, and will occupy, the pen of many who are better suited for the task by authority and talents, and to such let it be resigned. It is my intention to confine my views of the subject to the almost absurd degree of imitation practised in what the booksellers call “ the literary world.”
Within the last fifty years, the mania of writing, from the increase of education, has risen to an extraordinary height. Hence it follows, that the number of authors has marvellously increased, and the consequent dearth of subjects has given a greater impulse to the spirit of imitation. In some unhappy hour auto-biography was planned, and for a time succeeded, since which, the press has absolutely swarmed with the lives and reminiscences of almost unheard-of characters, written by themselves for the sole purpose of proving that he or she could write and spell.
From the interest also taken in voyages and travels, there is scarcely a man who goes out of the beaten road pursued by every-day tourists, who does not publish his travels. We are, no doubt, indebted to this source for much valuable information which would otherwise be wanting, and many have been rewarded with success sufficient to compensate all their labours. But, incited by the example of these, how many publish tours, with neither matter to render them valuable, nor talent to embellish them. For the proof of my assertion, read the advertisements that daily deluge the papers ; witness the “ Residences in the South of France,?? the “ Tours in Germany,” the letters from all quarters of the globe, that, after their appearance, having been duly noticed in the Literary Gazette, are heard of no more.
But it is in Works of Fiction that this race of authors find the best field for the exercise of their imitative powers. Let one work of this description be successful, and, within a year, fifty imitations will appear. Who, for instance, while Mrs. Radcliffe held undisputed sway. over the novelists of the time, ever thought of writing; or even of reading, any thing but German castles and sentiment, the softness of the skies, and the ferocity of the Italian banditti. Her works, as incomparably the best of the kind, had some claim upon our admiration, but her followers (and they were many), who had not even elegance in their style to compensate the want of originality, were fully worthy of the oblivion into which they have at length fallen. By the multitude of romances in this style, the public taste was for a time so vitiated, that we allowed the most absurd and improbable fictions to be
forced down our throats by the aid of horror and mystery. In fact, after a potent dose of this kind of reading, we scarcely dared to walk across the room from dread of ruffians concealed behind the curtains, or open an old box lest we should find a mouldering skeleton, with the necessary accompaniment of a rusty dagger, sufficiently stained with blood to satisfy the imagination of the most romantic,
We have lately abounded in works of a very opposite nature ; namely, those which, drawing their characters and scenes from private life, in some measure satirize the reigning follies and fashionable vices of the day. Those which first appeared, unquestionably had merit, and, in some measure, were a revival of the school of Sir Charles Grandison, except that, for the stiff civility and ceremonious bows of the baronet, they substituted the easy manners of the modern man of the world. But this seemed too easy a ground to remain long undisputed by the imitative tribe, who threaten to deluge us with books, which, while their sole claims to favour lie in the highsounding names of their dramatis personæ, give a false picture of the scenes they pretend to represent, with neither spirit in the dialogue, nor wit in their attempts at satire, to recommend them to notice. It might be amusing to trace the adventures (though not so numerous as those of "A Guinea”) of a book of this nature, from its first announcement as a true description of the manners of
High Life ;” after being attributed to Lady S, Or. G--; after being applauded by some, and criticized by more, Reviews, to its final fall into its proper sphere, the circulating library of a watering place, where it vainly attempts to dispel the ennui of those whom chance may drive to such an unprofitable resource.
THE POSTMAN.-No. III.
Dear Mr. Bouverie; I can assure you that your new Publication has given rise to some of the most ludicrous and unfounded opinions that the most ingenious and oldest practitioners in the art of fiction could possibly have circulated : you are represented in a pleasing variety of ways, manners, and shapes, by a crowd of wondering readers; and, which is the most amusing of all, no two of them corresponding with each other; indeed I think it is a problem very likely to baffle the endeavours of so many inquisitive and prying dispositions : the destination of an armament equipping in the ports of France or Spain could not have set the arts of imagination more completely to work than they are at this moment, nor would it be possible for a more unfathomable mystery to conceal their purposes, than that attached to the proceed. ings of Bartholomew Bouverie.
Constant applications are made to Etonians from their friends, all anxious to know who Bartholomew can be ; and to give you and your readers some idea of the sensation which your Publication has excited, permit me to send for your perusal the following correspondence which passed between a young Etonian and his mother.
“ Dear William ; “No doubt you are in full possession of all the particulars concerning your new Publication, entitled The Eton Miscellany, conducted by Mr. B. Bouverie, which I should conjecture to be a feigned name, but we have heard so many, and opposite reports, that I determined to write to you to clear up all doubts' concerning the matter : your father, my dear William, delights in the very idea of Eton again giving to the public what, some few years since, gained such universal satisfaction ; and as you well know him to be a patron of literature, especially where Eton is concerned, he has desired' me to tell you to order The Eton Miscellany to be sent down to us regularly, as the Numbers come out; and to give us a full and just description of Mr. B. Bouverie. I hope my dear William, that in process of time, and with proper application, you will, in your turn, be an ornament to Eton, not only by performing the routine of school business, but, like your predecessors, by showing yourself capable of advancing the interests of Eton, and securing your own praise ; all which, my dear William, I'most sincerely hope for, and
“ Believe me to be
“Your very affectionate Mother, “ Langford Hall, June 20, 1827.
Eton, June 22, 1827. Dear Mamma; “You are very much mistaken if you think I know who Bartholomew Bouverie is ; I do assure you it puzzles me more than the hardest lesson I have learnt since I came to Eton; and even if I had any suspicions, I scarcely dare speak them, for it would be thought great impudence in