Clara Reeve - PA Criticism Archive

TEI-encoded version

THE Old English Baron, though a novel of but a moderate degree of merit, has been always a great favourite with the novel-reading public, and as such is here introduced; for, though subsequent publications of more elegance and more invention have caused it to slide down from the place it once held; it is still generally agreeable to young people who are fond of the serious and the wonderful; and as it inspires none but noble and proper sentiments, it can do them no harm, except it should make them afraid to go up stairs to bed, by themselves, on a winter's night.

This work is something of a medium between the old romance and the modern novel. The scene is placed in England, in the reigns of Henry the Fifth and Sixth; the manners such as they are supposed to be in chivalrous times. The story is simple and well connected: it turns upon the discovery of a murder, and the consequent restoration of an heir to his title and estate. The opening is striking:—Sir Philip, the old baron, is a fine character; the man-

vol. xxii. a


ners and dialogue of the peasants are sufficiently well executed.

With regard to the wonderful part of the story, the writer does not, like the author of The Castle of Otranto, give unlimited play to her imagination in the supernatural means she employs. She says in her preface, "We can conceive and allow for the appearance of a ghost." The appearances she has introduced are therefore such as, till lately, coincided with the belief, perhaps, of the generality of readers; haunted rooms, presaging dreams, groans, clanking of chains, and apparitions of murdered persons; such ornaments as, the author seems to think, come within the verge—the utmost verge of probability; and to those whose minds are thus properly imbued, the story will be striking. At present we should require these appearances to be more artful, or more singular.

The chief fault of it is, that we foresee the conclusion before we have read twenty pages: but this is not the case with the young and unpractised reader; and those who have read The Old English Baron at an early time of life are generally conscious at a much later period of the impression it once made upon their youthful fancy.

Mrs. Clara Reeve, the author, wrote a variety of novels with different success: her last was Memoirs of Sir Roger de Clarendon, natural Son of Edward the Black Prince; with Anecdotes of the Times. In this work she has shown a good deal of reading, and has exhibited all that could be met with of the ceremonies and usages


of the splendid reign of Edward the Third, joined to that high sense of virtue supposed to belong to the chivalrous times, but for which they are entirely indebted to the writers of romance. Mrs. Reeve also translated, from the Latin, Barclay's Argenis and Parthenis, and published it under the title of The Phœnix, and she wrote The Progress of Romance; an account of works of fiction, interspersed with reflections, in dialogue.

This lady died at Ipswich, in Jan. 1808, at the age of seventy; in very narrow circumstances, notwithstanding she had written so much. She thus expresses herself on some occasion in a letter to a friend: "I have been all my life straitened in my circumstances, and used my pen to support a scanty establishment; yet, to the best of my knowledge, I have drawn it on the side of truth, virtue and morality."  [2] 


[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), 22:i-iii. Mary A. Waters edited this edition for The Criticism Archive. BACK

[2] Ipswich, April 18, 1792. "An Account of Clara Reeve" Monthly Magazine 24 (January 1808): 601. BACK

POETESS ARCHIVE / The Criticism Archive / Essay