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 readers for solid reality; that, dealing with European manners, they tended to confuse and dissatisfy republican youth. In the face of such censure, native novelists appeared late and apologetically, armed for the most part with the triple plea that the tale was true, the tendency heavenward, and the scene devoutly American. Before 1800 the sweeping philippic of the older school had been forced to share the field of criticism with occasional efforts to distinguish good novels from bad. No critical game was more frequently played than that which compared Fielding and Richardson. Fielding got some robust preference, Smollett had his imitators, and Sterne fathered much “sensibility,” but until Scott had definitely set a new mode for the world, the potent influence in American fiction was Richardson. The amiable ladies who produced most of these early novels commonly held, like Mrs. Rowson, that their knowledge of life had been “simply gleaned from pure nature,” 1 because they dealt with facts which had come under their own observation, but like other amateurs they saw in nature what art had assured them would be there. Nature and Richardson they found the same. Whatever bias they gave this Richardsonian universe was due to a pervading consciousness of the sex which read their novels. The result was a highly domestic world, limited in outlook, where the talk was of careless husbands, grief for dead children, the peril of many childbirths, the sentiment and the religion which enabled women to endure their sex's destiny. Over all hangs the furious menace of the seducer, who appears in such multitudes that one can defend the age only by blaming its brutality less than the pathetic example of Clarissa Harlowe. Thus early did the American novel acquire the permanent background of neutral domestic fiction against which the notable figures stand out. A few of the early names have a shade of distinction. Mrs. Sarah Wentworth Morton (1759-1846), a “Lady of Boston,” produced the first regular novel, The power of sympathy (1789). Its two volumes of stilted letters caused a scandal and were promptly suppressed, but they called forth a much better novel, The Coquette (1797), by Mrs. Hannah Webster Foster (1759-1840). Based upon the tragic and widely known career of Elizabeth Whitman of Hartford, it saw
1 Preface to Mentoria.
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