Mrs. Lennox - PA Criticism Archive

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Mrs. Lennox, a very respectable writer, was born at New York. She was a diligent and successful author. She performed a useful service to English literature by translating Sully's Memoirs, as also Brumoy's Greek Theatre. [2]  She likewise gave to the world Shakespear Illustrated, in three volumes; being a collection of the tales and histories upon which the plays of Shakespear are founded. Her original works are some comedies, and a number of novels, of which latter The Female Quixote and Henrietta are esteemed the best. Her exertions did not place her in easy circumstances, for she died poor in 1804.

The Female Quixote, published in 1752, is an agreeable and ingenious satire upon the old romances; not the more ancient ones of chivalry, but the languishing love romances of the Calprenédes and Scuderis. Arabella, the heroine, is supposed to have been brought up in the country, and secluded, during the life of her father, from all society, but allowed to amuse herself in an old library furnished with the works of those voluminous authors. Of course she

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imbibes their sentiments, and at her father's death she comes out into the world, possessed of beauty and fortune, but with a profound ignorance of every circumstance of real life and manners. She fancies every man who speaks to her to be secretly in love with her, and is in continual apprehensions of being forcibly carried off. The gardener she imagines to be a prince in disguise, and is extremely shocked when her supposed lover is turned away for stealing carp. Meantime she is beloved by her cousin, an amiable young gentleman and every way suitable to her; nor has she any dislike to her admirer, but that she finds him very deficient in the code of gallantry prescribed by her favourite authors. She insists upon his reading some of them; but not having brought to the task a sufficient degree of attention, he gets into disgrace with her by not knowing that Orontes and Orondates are the same person; which betrays that he has not read as far as she had enjoined him. Many other incidents have a good deal of humour. Arabella, for instance, calls a lady's waiting-maid into her closet, and gravely desires her to relate, according to immemorial custom, the adventures of her lady. The surprise of the waiting-maid is extreme; the more, as her lady happens to have had some adventures of a nature she would not wish to be talked of.

The falsification of history in these romances, which was the fault Boileau chiefly exposed in his satire, is agreeably ridiculed by the incident of a conversation which passes between the heroine and a gentleman who is introduced to her


as one who possesses a great knowledge of history and of the ancients, and whom she strangely perplexes by questions and anecdotes of Cyrus, and Cletia, and Horatius Cocles, [3]  which he cannot explain or answer by any information his reading has furnished him with. The young lady's cousin is represented as more patient of her extravagancies than most modern lovers would be; but she is painted as amiable, and, like Don Quixote, rational in every respect where her particular whim is not touched.

The work is rather spun out too much, and not very well wound up. The grave moralizing of a clergyman is not the means by which the heroine should have been cured of her reveries. She should have been recovered by the sense of ridicule; by falling into some absurd mistake, or by finding herself on the brink of becoming the prey of some romantic footman, like the ladies in Moliere's piece of Les Précieuses Ridicules, the ridicule of which has pretty much the same bearing.

The performance of Mrs. Lennox is the best of the various Quixotes which have been written in imitation of the immortal Cervantes, and forms a fair counterpart to it, as it presents a similar extravagance, yet drawn from a later class of authors, and more adapted to female reading. It has also one disadvantage in common with that work, namely, that the satire has now no object. Most young ladies of the present day, instead of requiring to be cured of reading those bulky romances, would acquire


the first information of their manner from the work designed to ridicule them.

It is observable that Dryden, as Mrs. Lennox asserts, has borrowed characters and incidents in his plays from these works. No doubt there were many things in them to admire; nor is it very improbable that, in the rage for reviving every thing that is old, they may make their appearance again in a modern quarto of hot-pressed paper, with a life and an engraving from the original portrait of Madlle Scudery by Nanteuil, with her elegant verses under it.

The style of Mrs. Lennox is easy, but it does not rise to the elegance attained by many more modern female writers.

Her Henrietta is not without merit. It begins with the incident of two young ladies who are perfect strangers to each other, meeting in a stage-coach, when, after a few minutes conversation, one of them exclaims, "Let us swear an eternal friendship,"—the sentiment and the very words brought forward to ridicule the modern German plays, in the well-known humorous parody of them in The Anti-Jacobin! [4] 


[1] The British Novelists; with an Essay; and Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, by Mrs. Barbauld, 50 Vols. (London: Printed for F.C. and J. Rivington; W. Otridge and Son; A. Strahan; T. Payne; G. Robinson; W. Lowndes; Wilkie and Robinson; Scatcherd and Letterman; J. Walker; Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe; R. Lea; J. Nunn; Lackington and Co.; Clarke and Son; C. Law; Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme; Cadell and Davies; E. Jeffery; J.K. Newman; Crosby and Co.; J. Carpenter; S. Bagster; T. Booth; J. Murray; J. and J. Richardson; Black, Parry, and Kingsbury; J. Harding; R. Phillips; J. Mawman; J. Booker; J. Asperne; R. Baldwin; Mathews and Leigh; J. Faulder; Johnson and Co.; Sherwood and Co.; J. Miller; W. Creech, Edinburgh; and Wilson and Son, York, 1810), 24:i-iv. Mary A. Waters edited this edition for The Criticism Archive. BACK

[2] Lennox published her translation, Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke of Sully in 1751, while her translation of Brumoy's Le Théâtre des Grecs (1730) appeared as The Greek Theatre of Father Brumoy in 1759. BACK

[3] Characters in the various French fictions that Lennox's novel spoofs, based on historical figures. BACK

[4] From "The Rovers; or, the Double Arrangement" (Anti-Jacobin; or, Weekly Examiner no. 31 [11 June 1798]), a parody of German drama, especially that of Friedrich Schiller. BACK

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