Review of A Gossip’s Story, and a Legendary Tale (1797)

Review of A Gossip’s Story, and a Legendary Tale. By the Author of Advantages of Education. [signed 'V.V.']. 2 vols., Longman, 1796. Analytical Review 25 (January 1797), 25-26. 

‘Example moves, where precept fails,

And sermons are less read than tales.’

  It requires but little knowledge of the human mind to discover, that the most effectual method of giving instruction, is by interesting the imagination and engaging the affections. Reason conveys the knowledge of truth and falsehood, but, while it shows us the means of attaining happiness and avoiding misery, it must awaken sentiment and feeling before it can operate as a motive to action. If novels, romances, and fables, be held as an inferiour and insignificant species of literary composition, it must be by those who have paid little attention to the human heart: principles are disseminated and propagated, by writings of this nature, with peculiar facility and effect: they fall into the hands of the young, whose minds, unoccupied by previous impression, are ductile, and whose feelings are susceptible and ardent. Superior writers begin to be aware of this truth, and seem inclined to rescue, from the hands of the illiterate and the interested, this obvious and popular method of influencing the sentiments and opinions of the rising generation, by whom reform, whether moral or political, must be effected.

        The writer of the present production, without attempting those higher investigations of principle and action, which exercise the understanding, and stimulate it’s dormant faculties, is yet entitled to praise.

        In a simple, interesting, and well-written story, are exemplified the unhappy consequences, which result from false views of life, in a mind, though amiable and ingenuous, yet destitute of vigour or stability; solicitous to excel, and desirous to be happy, but sinking under fancied  [26] evils, and destroying it’s own peace, by the very means which it takes to secure it.

        ‘I have looked through life,’ says the author, ‘with deep attention, and foresee no evils likely to ensue from impressing upon the minds of youth, as soon, and as deeply as possible, just notions of the journey they are about to take, and just opinions of their fellow-travellers.

        ‘The world is truly described as a mutable scene, and man as a variable being, whose virtues are mingled and blended with errors and imperfections. Conscious of our own failings, we ought to be indulgent to the faults of others. 

        ‘Upon the basis of mutual wants, general imperfection, and universal kindred, should the fair structure of candour and benevolence be erected.’

         Such is our author’s morality. The principle, upon which her story chiefly turns, is that of displaying the small causes which too often destroy matrimonial felicity, and domestic peace; in the enumeration of which, unaffected good sense and humanity are manifested. The Legendary Tale, the poetry of which does not rise above mediocrity, contains a gothic history of heroic friendship and generosity. Several smaller pieces of poetry are interspersed throughout the work.