The History of Tom Jones HTML version
Containing Twelve Hours.
Of those who lawfully may, and of those who may not, write such histories as
Among other good uses for which I have thought proper to institute these several
introductory chapters, I have considered them as a kind of mark or stamp, which
may hereafter enable a very indifferent reader to distinguish what is true and
genuine in this historic kind of writing, from what is false and counterfeit. Indeed,
it seems likely that some such mark may shortly become necessary, since the
favourable reception which two or three authors have lately procured for their
works of this nature from the public, will probably serve as an encouragement to
many others to undertake the like. Thus a swarm of foolish novels and monstrous
romances will be produced, either to the great impoverishing of booksellers, or to
the great loss of time and depravation of morals in the reader; nay, often to the
spreading of scandal and calumny, and to the prejudice of the characters of
many worthy and honest people.
I question not but the ingenious author of the Spectator was principally induced
to prefix Greek and Latin mottos to every paper, from the same consideration of
guarding against the pursuit of those scribblers, who having no talents of a writer
but what is taught by the writing-master, are yet nowise afraid nor ashamed to
assume the same titles with the greatest genius, than their good brother in the
fable was of braying in the lion's skin.
By the device therefore of his motto, it became impracticable for any man to
presume to imitate the Spectators, without understanding at least one sentence
in the learned languages. In the same manner I have now secured myself from
the imitation of those who are utterly incapable of any degree of reflection, and
whose learning is not equal to an essay.
I would not be here understood to insinuate, that the greatest merit of such
historical productions can ever lie in these introductory chapters; but, in fact,
those parts which contain mere narrative only, afford much more encouragement
to the pen of an imitator, than those which are composed of observation and
reflection. Here I mean such imitators as Rowe was of Shakespear, or as Horace
hints some of the Romans were of Cato, by bare feet and sour faces.
To invent good stories, and to tell them well, are possibly very rare talents, and
yet I have observed few persons who have scrupled to aim at both: and if we
examine the romances and novels with which the world abounds, I think we may
fairly conclude, that most of the authors would not have attempted to show their
teeth (if the expression may be allowed me) in any other way of writing; nor could
indeed have strung together a dozen sentences on any other subject whatever.
Scribimus indocti doctique passim,[*]
[*] --Each desperate blockhead dares to write: Verse is the trade of every living