Many early 19th-century pieces on fiction were anti-novel; fiction could, contemporary pieces on novels asserted, lure readers from pure morals. In “Novels,” Timothy Flint takes the critics to task—before reprinting part of his novel-in-progress, The Shoshonee Valley, published two years later. Flint also addressed “all that is noble and virtuous in our constitution” in his novel for children, The Lost Child.
“Novels,” by Timothy Flint (from The Western Monthly Review, December 1828; pp. 419-424)

Not only the orthodox religious, but some of the most flippant of the liberal editors, have lately joined phalanx to make a crusade against this unfortunate class of books. The whole tirade is mere wretched cant, utterly unworthy of the least pretension to mental enlargement, and fit only for men, who would have presided over a judicature for the trial of witches, or an ecclesiastical legislature to enact ‘blue laws.’ Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Eneid, [sic] Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, are novels—that is to say, fictions to create interest. There have been bad novels. So there have been bad sermons. There have been good and useful ones. Wise and good men will disdain to join in a hue and cry, because some bigots in the dark ages started it, and censorious old ladies put on their spectacles, and joined in the pursuit. There are some people, who despise gambling on principle, without thinking, that the paste-board of playing cards is a sacrilegious [sic] substance. Truth is, that novels are generally useless and bad books. It is equally true that one of the most important vehicles, through which good and virtuous sentiments can be diffused, is this same species of writing. There always have been novels. There always will be. Chivalry, love, romance, the creations of the imagination, aspirations after a happier and better order of things, ought not to be extinguished, if they could be. There is not a doubt in our mind, that Richardson’s Clarissa, and McKenzie’s Man of Feeling, wrought more real tenderness of heart, and virtuous excitement, than any other books published in their age. Every body read them. The orthodox minister in his closet, and the prudish devotee in her dressing chamber, shed tears, and spite of themselves, were softened to better tempers, and went their ways, no doubt, to rail at novels in the pulpit and conventicle again. Time will come, when hypocrisy will be unveiled, when bigots will not dare avail themselves of the cant of a stupid prejudice; when flippant young men will hold themselves disgraced, to decry virtuous love, the only grand reagent in the human bosom, against the perpetually advancing encroachment of avarice, selfishness, and the hardening tendency of the present order of society. God formed us to love, to shed virtuous tears, and ‘to feel another’s wo.’ May it be so, till time is no more. Novels ought to avail of this tendency of human nature; and where they do, seizing the broadest avenues to all that is noble and virtuous in our constitution, no books are so efficient in producing good and right feeling. In one word, a good novel is pre-emi-

p. 420

nently a good book, because it approaches virtuous feeling, through the medium of imagination, love, tenderness, the bright illusions, and the ennobling visions of the morning of life—because it appeals to feelings, which always have had a place in human nature, and always will, till men become vampyres and women pawn brokers. For our part, we shall never cease to sympathize with the young, the unsophisticated, the warm hearted, in whose bosoms innocent impulse carries it over avarice and calculation. We shall advise those dear to us, to read no novels, but such as tend to inspire right views, and to stir the fountains of generous and noble sentiment; and we care not how many they read of that class. Our readers know, that we hold on ‘the even tenor of our way,’ equally regardless of the cant of bigotry on the one hand—or the sneers of vapid and heartless critics on the other. Without further comment, we offer another extract from the ‘Valley of the Shoshonee,’ an unpublished tale, to those, who have found us guilty of the sin of novel writing. …

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