Page:Studies of a Biographer 3.djvu/161

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149
WILLIAM GODWIN'S NOVELS

Godwin is still a publicist of his time, given to reflections upon 'nature' and 'the dignity of man,' and the abstract truths or platitudes which were then popular in political discussions. He condescends to become a novelist in the interests of his doctrine, but cannot stoop so far as quite to throw aside his stilts. His actors are not quite men nor quite abstract qualities, but human beings seen as in a darkened mirror, or at such a distance that the individual peculiarities are blurred into indistinctness. Making the necessary omissions, however, and admitting his style to be appropriate to his end, we can accept his good, solid, straightforward utterance as effective enough in its kind.

Caleb Williams might be compared with Mrs. Clive's very striking Paul Ferroll. Ferroll combines the murderer and the polished gentleman far more intelligibly than Falkland, and refuses to let an innocent person suffer in his place. Godwin's book has, however, a certain advantage from the fervour due to his intended moral. The moral, it is true, eludes him. It reminds one of Lowell's description of an orator who tries in vain to get his subject properly laid down. He makes desperate attempts, wanders off in many direc-