Article 8

ART. VIII. Emily, a Moral Tale, including Letters from a Father to his Daughter, upon the most important Subjects. By the Rev. Henry Kett, Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and Author of the Elements of General Knowledge, &c., in two vols. 8vo. London, 1809.

[pp. 314-319] [original article in PDF format]

  1. THIS publication arises, as it should seem, from pure good will and affection to the female sex. The author takes the very judicious precaution of informing us in his preface, that he once wrote a certain book called 'The Elements of General Knowledge,' designed, as he gives us to understand, for the edification of the male part of the creation. He is naturally unwilling to leave any cause for the suspicion that he is less favorably disposed towards the other sex; and accordingly sends forth the present work, designed exclusively for their service.

  2. The volumes are ushered in with a glare of exalted names, which dazzles the critic's eyes almost to blindness. They are dedicated, 'by permission,' to no less than five princesses of this realm. These illustrious ladies, it should seem, are ever ready to aid by their gracious patronage any undertaking, which has for its object the advancement of useful knowledge and sound morality.

  3. And, as far as regards the design of Mr. Kett, we freely allow that this patronage is, on the present occasion, well bestowed. The design of infusing into the minds of females a zest for useful information and polite learning—of guarding their morals by sound practical precepts—of giving a right tone to their feelings and dispositions—of cultivating and refining their tastes—of turning their attention from mere outward accomplishment, to pursuits of real and solid value—is too intimately connected with the general improvements of social life, to be ever deemed of inferior importance. Indeed, there is no feature in the character of the present times, which we contemplate with greater pleasure, than the increased and increasing care employed in training and informing the minds of females through the higher and middling ranks of society.

  4. When however we proceed to consider the execution of the design, we are compelled to express very considerable doubts whether the literary merit of the work at all answers to the illustrious [314] patronage which it has obtained. The tenor of the whole performance is tame, languid and spiritless.—With the qualifications necessary to form a writer of novels Mr. Kett is very slenderly endowed. He exhibits no keen penetration into human nature, no quick and lively powers of catching living manners, or painting nice shades of character. His language is singularly loose and nerveless. His incidents are stale and common; ill chosen, and brought about in a very bungling manner. His success is, we think, greatest in the description of natural scenery. When he aims at the expression of tender sentiment and passion, we often find strained and affected conceit, in the room of simple and natural touches. In the information which he wishes to convey, his inaccuracies and errors (some of which we must notice) are glaring and even ridiculous. His instruction on the subject of moral and religious conduct is the best part of the work, and evinces the best intentions; but it is unfortunately delivered with a grave and repulsive formality, instead of being artfully dressed up and interwoven with the narrative, so as to steal on the attention, and work strongly on the feelings. This is the story.

  5. Emily, daughter of Colonel Lorton, a widowed officer in Cumberland, is educated by her father. She is, of course, exquisitely beautiful. A comely youth, yclept Edward, son of a worthy clergyman, resides in the same neighbourhood. An incident of the truly novel cast makes this pair as loving as can be wished. While they are engaged on a water party, a sudden squall oversets the boat in which Emily is seated. All the rest gain the shore in safety, but she is about to be drowned; when Edward flies to her assistance. No finer incident can be imagined for the purpose of moving soft feelings and tender sympathies!

  6. But fate ordains that they should part. Edward finds it convenient to accept a chaplaincy on board a man-of-war—sails for the Mediterranean—goes to Egypt—visits a tribe of Bedowin Arabs—proceeds to Constantinople, Greece, and Malta.—Emily is invited to London by a Mrs. Wilson, a distant relation of the family. Her father, glad of the opportunity of giving her a little town polish, consents to let her remain there for two years. As our author was desirous of introducing a series of letters from the father to the daughter, some expedient for keeping them separate was indisputably necessary: but we do not think it very probable that an affectionate and careful parent should trust his daughter in the hands of a woman, such as Mrs. Wilson is described to be, of bad principles and dissipated habits. While Emily is engaged on this visit, a scheme is made to marry her to a worthless coxcomb, Sir Lionel Wager. For the purpose of ensuring [315] her compliance, she is induced by Mrs. Wilson to play at faro with him, and becomes his debtor to the amount of 100l. Here again probability is violated. Emily, a young girl, most correctly educated, ought to have been more guarded in her conduct than to contract so enormous a debt, of all means of discharging which she was destitute.

  7. Edward at length returns, and finds Colonel Lorton overwhelmed with pecuniary difficulties. A rich German Baron who had accompanied him to England, opportunely recognizes the Colonel for a former benefactor, and generously steps forward to free him from his embarrassment. Thus all goes right—Edward and Emily are married and happy—the other dramatis personæ are disposed of, and the scene closes.

  8. The story, as the reader sees, is meagre and barren enough—some little episodical incidents are now and then introduced. As the author's main purpose however is to convey information, the management of the plot forms only a secondary consideration. His information is either conveyed in the dialogues between Emily and her father, or in the series of letters before alluded to.

  9. The dialogues are very much in the style of those which are usually appropriated to the nursery. If Mr. Kett has composed them anew, we think that he has taken very unnecessary trouble; he might have found them, by wholesale, in the shop-windows of Mr. Newbery, who has certainly just reason to complain of his officiousness. For what description of female readers he intends them, we cannot say; but we certainly think that many parts of them will not prove very edifying to any young lady who has entered on her teens. For instance, vol. i. p. 35.

    'E. What is concord?
    C. It is the agreement of one word with another in gender, number, case, and person.
    E. How many concords are there?
    C. Three. The first consists, &c. &c.
    E. How do stops mark the different parts of time?
    C. The comma represents the shortest pause, the semicolon,' &c.

  10. Of accuracy in conveying instruction, Mr. Kett appears to be no very extraordinary master. He tells us, p. 74, that 'China cups and saucers are made of a fine sort of clay called porcelain.' Now any common dictionary would have informed him that the term porcelain is derived from a Portuguese word, signifying 'a cup,' and is the name of the manufactured article, not of the clay from which it is made.

  11. He recommends very earnestly the study of geography; but [316] seems to employ for his own private use charts of a new and peculiar construction. Thus he finds, by looking steadfastly on the map (vol. i. p. 73) that the Isthmus of Suez joins Europe to Africa.

  12. Again, in detailing (vol. ii. p. 215) a voyage from the Mediterranean towards the Black Sea, he says—

    'They passed the rocky islands of Marmora, through the narrow sea of that name. Nothing could exceed the grandeur of the varied prospects, as they sailed up the Hellespont, or sea of the Dardanelles,—Olympus topped with snow, famed by the poets as the residence of the heathen gods, appeared elevated far above the long range of the Asiatic mountains.'

    Now we do most shrewdly suspect that the author mistakes, in this passage, the sea of Marmora for the Dardanelles. The sea of Marmora is not narrow, as he describes it, but comparatively wide; the ancient Hellespont is not called the sea, but the Strait of the Dardanelles; and in the voyage from the Mediterranean towards Constantinople, the act of passing the 'rocky island of Marmora' is consequent to that of sailing up the Dardanelles.

  13. Again, we more than suspect that he blunders between two Mount Olympuses. The Olympus seen from the Dardanelles is, certainly, one of the Asiatic mountains; but that which was 'famed by the poets as the residence of the heathen gods,' is situated in the North of ancient Thessaly.

  14. When the same travellers arrive at Constantinople, they make an important discovery.—They inform us (p. 216) that 'this city is, by way of eminence, very properly called the port, as it possesses superior advantages for commerce and navigation.'—A stroke of singular originality!—we certainly had conceived that the term 'Porte' (La porte), which is used to denominate the seat of the Turkish government, was taken from the 'gate' of the grand palace of the Vizir, the place where all public business is transacted. We now recant our error—believe that the true reading is, not Porte, but Port—and are convinced that 'La porte sublime' means 'a sublime harbour for ships.'

  15. Amongst the sciences which Mr. Kett kindly undertakes to teach, is the theory of the tides.—And we regret exceedingly that he did not live in the days of Aristotle, as he might have prevented that desperate plunge into the Euripus, which deprived the world of this great philosopher. But let us hear Mr. Kett.

    'E. What is the cause of the tides?
    C. They are caused by the attraction of the sun, and more particularly [317] of the moon: when the moon is nearest to the earth, or as the astronomers say, in conjunction with it, the tides rise highest; and when she is farthest off, or in opposition to the earth, they are the lowest.
    E. What is a spring tide?
    C. It happens by the sea being raised in certain places many feet above the natural level, at the new and full moon, when the sun and the moon are in conjunction, that is, are nearest to each other.
    E. What is a neap tide, and when does it happen?
    C. It is a low tide, and it happens when the moon is in her quarters, and of course in opposition to the sun.'—Vol. i. p. 139.

    Amongst the numerous treatises on this subject, we cannot recollect a passage comparable for precision of language and clearness of ideas to the above specimen. Mr. Kett speaks from the authority of 'the astronomers.'—We remember a few years ago a hair-dresser who gave lectures in the metropolis, to confute Newton.—Is he among them?—As there is in these passages some novelty and display of ingenuity, we give Mr. Kett credit for not taking the merit to himself.—In the last of these sentences he will probably startle our readers, who learned their philosophy in the schools exploded by Mr. Kett, and who probably continue to imagine that the moon is at the full when she is in opposition to the sun.

  16. After all, what can we conclude? Does Mr. Kett pay his female readers so bad a compliment, as to think information of this very moderate quality sufficiently good for them? or has he purposely scattered these seeming blunders over his work, in order to prove their sagacity in detecting them? or are they real and palpable blunders, arising from sheer honest ignorance and stupidity?—We must leave our readers to form their own opinions.

  17. There is a chapter on the subject of letter-writing—and a specimen of pompous affectation is attempted in the following style—a lover is supposed to be addressing his mistress.

    'Impel me not, I supplicate, to the abyss of desperation; emancipate me from the tortuosities of agonizing dubitation; nor drive me, O cogitation pre-eminently terrific, to seek on the ramification of a tree, or in the voraginous profundity of a stream, the privation of my vitality.'—Vol. ii. p. 25.

    This is so injudicious and absurd, as to lose all its effect. It is utterly impossible to conceive that such a specimen could really proceed from any combination of ignorance and affectation whatever.

  18. It is by no means our wish, in what we have said, to deter our [318] female readers from attempting to peruse this publication. They will find in it, combined with some gross blunders, many useful and instructive hints on subjects connected with their conduct in life, and their intercourse with the world. We can assure them with the fullest confidence that they will encounter nothing tending to vitiate their principles, to generate an indisposition to serious reading, or to fill their heads with romantic follies; and we recommend it to their notice, in preference to the sickening trash, which usually drivels from the Minerva press. In the worst event, we can assure them, from our own experience, that, if they have the misfortune to be bad sleepers, and are afraid of having recourse to the more violent opiates, they will find, in many parts of these volumes, a substitute at once simple, innocent, and effectual.