Fashionable gallant works. First Volume. Venice; on the 1st January 1782, and Volume II on the 16th of January.
Mr. Pietro Valvasense begins to carry out the endeavour we have mentioned in last month’s Novelle Letterarie [TN: the Literary News section of the Giornale Enciclopedico], and its beginning allows us to envision good hopes about its outcomes. The two little volumes that we are presently announcing contain the first Part and a section of the second from a Novel titled Amelia, written by the famous English Fielding, author of the renowned Tom Jones. There are two kinds of people to whom this might perhaps appear of little interest, now that the love of the preposterous and the frenzy of analysis have corrupted or destroyed good taste in this respect. Bizarre Novels, which were published in Italy more than elsewhere, have so lured the people who were principally destined to this type of reading about extravagant adventures, improbable events, unbelievable situations, wonderful falsehoods, that simplicity and naturalness cannot fare well with them; and on the other hand those arid thinkers who embellish themselves by constantly having the words facts and reality in their mouths, and who summarizing Julia, Phaedra, Zaira, and (98) reducing them to skeletons, believe themselves to be allowed to judge with cold minds and rigid reasoning these examples of an interesting art, deprive themselves of the pleasure of illusion, never put their hands to their hearts, and thus remain insensitive to that beauty of detail, to those rushes of feeling, to that charm of eloquence that the soul only can evaluate, and that while appearing to be secondary, become to those who can understand them the foremost objects of a Work of this kind. Let us try to make a similar analysis. The New Heloise is none other than a girl who lets herself be seduced by her tutor, remains in love with him for her entire life, and chooses a stoic husband as the confidant of her affections. Racine’s masterpiece only presents us with a stepmother who is in love with her stepson, and deceives an old husband, and kills herself in order not to be killed when her lies have caused the death of the one who neglected her. Zaira is an inexperienced young woman, torn between a man’s love and the fear of Hell, who is killed by a Turk out of jealousy. — Anyone is capable of doing this sort of scrutiny: but unhappy is the one who does not let himself be carried away with a tender, sensitive, unhappy lover, and admire a naif bride and a virtuous mother; (99) who is unable to cry over the remorses of the wretched victim of a star-crossed and incited passion; who does not feel within their soul what a tumultuous and terrible fight the two strongest passions in the human heart must entertain, and is not shaken by the torments that they must arise in the daughter of the Lusignanis! These insensitive people will find Amelia’s adventures commonplace: as for us, we confess that we were moved by them, and that, in the part of them which we have under our eyes, we have found interest, suavity, well-chosen shades, naturalness. In accounting for this Work, we’d better follow events as they unfold, since we cannot see their sequence and aim if not in their progression. An amiable youth full of beauty, of graces, of merit is arrested one night in London, because while helping a man attacked by two enemies he had caused some clamour, and broken a night watch’s lantern. Led to prison, he sees arriving there shortly after him a beautiful and magnificent young woman, who pays to obtain from the Warden a separate room from the other criminals. Fanton had believed to recognize in her a young lady from a noble and rich family, with whom he had struck an acquaintance while in the Province, but the name of Mistress Versan by which she was called, and having (100) heard her imprisoned because of a murder make him believe he has been mistaken. She is in fact none other than Miss Matthews, who, having recognized and called him, fills him with surprise as much as she is with sadness. Fanton is ecstatic when, believing her to be horrified by the crime she is being blamed for, he hears her applauding herself frenziedly for it. We do not yet know whether Miss Matthews is an episode in this Story or one of its main objects, but here are her adventures, which she tells to her young friend. A very strong inclination, that led Miss Matthews’ heart towards him, would have changed into passion, if another object that was occupying his heart and that he then married had not held back a soul that did not find itself pleased. This soul ready for love had not been able to resist to the amiable charms, the graces, the seductions of a certain Lieutenant of Dragoons, who, having established in that Province a long time after Fanton’s departure, had become a familiar presence in the house of her father, a great lover of the homeland’s defenders. Mistress Carrey, a friend of her sister, having come from London to see her, had tried to make the young Summers fall in love with her, and he, artfully employing the powerful whip of jealousy, aided by beauty, by a thousand (101) graces, had conquered Miss Matthews’ heart to such a point, that. . . a fatal moment arrived, she could not resist to the strength of love, the flattery, the promises, the ardour of excited senses, she was weak, and did not have the strength not to continue being so after that; it is very true that the only difficult step is the first, and that a woman, once subjugated, throws herself into new disadvantages to assure herself that the first actions were not to her detriment, and have not made her less amiable to the one whom she dominates and who dominates her. Miss Matthews had the fatal experience of this; her imprudent acts had given her reason to wish that her father gave his consent, although he had other ideas for her, to her union with Summers; this, on the other hand, kept backing out of it, when suddenly, and with apparent affliction lets her know that his Regiment was destined to another province, and that he had to leave. What could the wretched one do in order to force him to marry her, but disclose everything to her father? The wicked one added scorn to rejection, the unhappy woman fainted, and her delirium made the truth known to her father. Summers moved away from the province, but the good father, having forgiven his daughter, called him back, and having promised him the many advantages that could only have convinced the cruel one, (102) after deceptions, difficulties and cold-hearted acts made him return where his beauty and his influence made everything he did be forgiven by a disheartened woman in love. But what a blow was in store for her! The announcements [?] were laid out, the wedding close to its celebration, when Miss Matthews finds out that Summers was married. There are no expressions that can convey the state of the wretched victim of a monster; yet he manages to obtain her pardon; confesses his guilt, ascribes it as an excuse to his coldness, cries, grieves, he is lovable, is found again to be a charmer, but not an inconstant one, self-respect is less mortified, the lover then forgives. It is not enough: pleased by the fact that the incurable illness which plagues Summers’ wife puts her in the position of being soon able to take her place, seduced by the one who dominates her, without the courage to confess to her father what should have kept her from him, she agrees to flee with him, waiting for death to authorize their union. Her father dies of sorrow; alternately torn by remorses and transported by love she spends a year with Summers, who, at the end of it, fakes an Aunt’s death in order to get away from her, writes to her in the beginning, then neglects her, and leaves her in the most horrible sadness. Her landlady’s daughter (103), in order to distract her, takes her almost forcedly to the Theatre; in one of the most distinct boxes together with two stunning and brilliant women she catches sight of Mistress Carrey, whom she already hated; but what is the wretched one’s reaction upon seeing Summers appear there, when she believed him to be far away from London! Mistress Carrey’s riches had determined him to marry her, since his wife had recently passed away. To what excesses can a desperate love and a wounded honour lead a passionate and mortified woman? Miss Matthews, out of herself and crazed, asks to be brought to Summers’ house, stabs him almost right under his new wife’s eyes, sees him covered in his own blood, is arrested, scorns danger, does not feel anything but the pleasure of vengeance; and when, as she is reasoning with the amiable Fanton, the warden, in order to comfort her, brings her the news that Summers is not dead and that if he gets better she can be absolved, the furious woman despairs over having to save her life by sacrificing her vengeance. Whatever appearance in this tale may make us pity Miss Matthews, some suspicions can be formulated with regard to her character, her behaviour before meeting Summers, and a possibility for excusing him can be glimpsed here; we will see later on whether the interest in this Story or the (104) Author’s reflections which follow it have a more solid foundation. As for us, we have lingered on these adventures upon the doubt that they might not be a mere episode, but an essential part of the Story. Miss Matthews demands from Fanton that he tell what has happened to him as well after their parting. This section of the Novel is less rich in bizarre events, and its main merit lies in those details that few are able to convey in an interesting way. Fanton, who should have been the richest gentleman in his province because of the deaths of his father and one of his brothers, finds his properties in such a state of devastation because of their disarray, that he was forced to pawn the lands to a relative for twenty years in order to pay back his debts, and to enlist in the army. Having entered a Regiment as a Volunteer, after a Campaign he obtained a Company. He met Mistress Harris, a friend of her mother’s, and her two daughters. Having become familiar in that house, Miss Amelia’s charms, graces, and sweetness make him encounter love for the first time, and she found him as intriguing as he found her lovable. Knowing himself to be far too inferior, because of his circumstances, to that prospect (105) which Mistress Harry was in search of for her rich daughter, he made all efforts, because of an excess of sensibility, to keep his feelings hidden from Amelia, but love cannot keep him for long. During an interesting conversation, not only this young woman detects his feelings, but her mother, who, already suspicious, was furtively listening to them, confirms her fears, and demands from Fanton that he move away from the house until Amelia is married. This virtuous young man bends to this demand, indeed he decides to leave London, when he suddenly suffers an illness and his concerns change appearance. Doctor Harrison, an apparently strict and surly man, but in fact a man full of virtue, of humanity and of true generosity, having been informed of the infatuation between Fanton and Amelia, had warned his cousin Mistress Harry about it so that she could send Fanton away, but having then heard about his submission, his tactful behaviour, he had been so struck by it that he had induced Amelia’s mother to abandon her idea to marry Amelia to a lord, and to give her hand in marriage to Fanton. He goes to look for the unlucky youth, takes on a bizarre, insulting tone, to then surprise him with the news of his happiness. He believes to have her in the palm of his hand, when a letter from his cousin calls him back to the province, because his only sister, whom he loves dearly (106), is about to die; and his absence leaves time to the volatile Mistress Harry to change her mind, and again want a Lord for her daughter, and force her to marry Milord Nesby. A letter from Dr. Harrison, who is made furious by this failure to keep the promise, calls back Fanton; he returns after having buried his poor sister; Mistress Harry led Amelia to a country house with the idea of keeping her there until her wedding to Milord. Fanton goes there, warns Amelia with a note, she joins him in the garden, the lovers have the most tender meeting, when they hear her mother running to look for them in a fury, having found Fanton’s note on Amelia’s desk. Love, fear and desperation infuse them with courage, the support of the virtuous relative who wishes nothing more than their marriage makes them see less guilt in a bold step, they flee, and take refuge in the house of Amelia’s nurse, where they send word about their location to Dr. Harrison. He was with Mistress Harry (who had rushed to London to look for the fugitives) when the Messenger arrives, and imprudently delivers his message in front of her. Dr. Harrison, unyielding up to that point to his cousin’s pleas, upon seeing the lovers exposed changes his tone, employs remonstrations, appeals, (107) advice, speaks to her heart, wins it over, and they leave together to comfort the unhappy lovers, who are almost struck dead at the news of Mistress Harry’s arrival. Their anxiety, however, is followed by happiness, and they happily remain at the country house from which they had fled in desperation. The wedding is concluded; Amelia’s tender apprehension drives her mother to the decision of keeping her husband next to her, making him abandon his own Regiment to enter the Guards’ one. In the end of the second volume we fear the consequences of the jealousy of Amelia’s sister, who, greedy and self-absorbed, quivers upon seeing that her mother, knowing her to be richly provided for by an aunt, prepares to benefit Amelia over her; since Betsy was hoping that he would abandon this thought after a wedding so distant from the hopes she had for her daughter.