Review of Theodore Cyphon: or, the Benevolent Jew. A Novel (1796)

Review of G. Walker's Theodore Cyphon: or, the Benevolent Jew. A Novel [unsigned]. 3 vols. Crosby, 1796.  Analytical Review 23 (June 1796), 600-01.

     It is with pleasure we distinguish this entertaining novel from the common class of publications of this nature. Yet, it is to be regretted, that a writer, who gives proofs in various parts of his book of possessing no common powers, should have allowed himself the servile imitation he has so glaringly practiced towards two different works -- the popular novel of Caleb Williams, and Cumberland's comedy of the Jew. Our author's style and manner are undoubtedly very inferior to those of the author of "political Justice," but the story, like that of the novel above alluded to, turns on the defects of civil society, the abuses of law, the tricks and outrages which are frequently practiced under legal sanctions, with the resources of an active energetic mind amid calamity and oppression. Liberal sentiments on the subjects of political science, moral philosophy, and religious institutions, are interspersed throughout the narration. The characters are well drawn and not ill supported. Eve, the fair jewess, is one of the most amiable and interesting of the daughters of Jerusalem, the language of her and Shechem is happily appropriate, and gives occasion for the introduction of some beautiful hebrew imagery -- 'the cheeks of Eve glowed with a tint pure as the rose of Carmel.' But, we confess, the conduct of the father and uncle of Theodore appears to us too atrocious to be natural, notwithstanding the example brought forward in the preface of Lady Macclesfield, the barbarous mother of Savage the poet. If crimes be 'only erroneous deductions from right principle,' or mistakes of the understanding, there are few characters in which light and shade are not blended. The grand and obvious maxims of morality are not liable to be grossly mistaken and public opinion holds a rod over the head of insolent wealth and power; neither does the temptation appear adequate, at least in the case of the father, to produce a conduct of such malignant and execrable cruelty. We would likewise hint, that in some of the incidents there is an incongruity and want of probability. What is become of the reward offered for the apprehension of Theodore when he takes shelter in the poorhouse? His wonted caution seems, here, to have been forgotten: and exposed, from the nature of his situation, to the observation of a variety of people, no one appears to have heard of the advertisement which had been posted up in every town and village, or to recognize his person. But upon the whole this novel has great merit, and we have, notwithstanding it's defects, been much interested in the perusal of it. Yet, we would earnestly press it upon the author, to trust in future more to his own powers, and to take no one for his model, whatever may be their excellencies. We would also exhort him to pay greater attention to style and composition. The man, who would write well, must write a human language, observe it's proprieties, and even cultivate it's delicacies. Such words as 'romanticity, rurality, domesticity,' &c. are not english, and require to be translated. The sentences are frequently ill-constructed, awkward, and ungrammatical, consequently obscure. An unaffected, perspicuous style is [601] the first excellence of composition. A dark and gloomy picture is drawn, throughout the work, of human life, and human society -- we hope it is an exaggerated one.