Review of Santa Maria: or, The Mysterious Pregnancy (1797)

Review of J. Fox, Santa Maria: or, The Mysterious Pregnancy [signed 'V.V.'], 3 vols, Kearsley, 1797.  Analytical Review 25 (May 1797), 524.

The romance is a species of composition which, in an advanced age of reason and literature, cannily be tolerated when embellished by a picturesque fancy and heightened by those creative powers of mind, wholly distinct from the ravings of an extravagant imagination, which may be more emphatically termed genius. The illusion must be carefully preserved by a connection, a series, an air of probability, even though in a new world, and among a distinct species of being, or the whole degenerates into pantomime and burlesque. It is usual for the writers of romance to choose a foreign country for their scene of action; and this, well managed, is on many accounts judicious, yet by no means excuses the neglect of local propriety. The author of the Mysterious Pregnancy, not satisfied with affixing to his chapters mottoes from Shakspeare, is perpetually putting into the mouths of italians quotations from this favourite poet; nor does he appear to have informed himself of the manners and customs of Italy. His production is dedicated to the duke of Marlborough, and in a prefatory epistle to the reader much entertainment and novelty is promised: we confess we were a little disappointed as to both; yet the title no doubt is novel, and to the scrupulous reader might suggest some pious but ill-founded alarms. We cannot, perhaps, better characterize Mr. Fox's production, than by a quotation from an humorous poem that appeared, some little time ago, in one of the daily papers.

'A novel now, says Will, is nothing more --

Than an old castle, and a creaking door: --

A distant hovel --

Clanking of chains, a gallery, a light,

Old armor, and a phantom all in white --

And there's a novel.'

     The witty author of the verses alluded to did not, we presume, mean his satire to be universally applied: real talents cannot fail of giving delight in every possible species of composition, and will always form a separate and distinguished class.