Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 7. Thomas Holcroft: Autobiography, Novels

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XIII. The Growth of the Later Novel

§ 7. Thomas Holcroft: Autobiography, Novels

His friend and senior, Holcroft, possessed both humour and passion, as his plays and his possibly “doctored” Autobiography show; nor is humour absent from his first novel Alwyn (1780), which, however, does not really belong to the class we are discussing, but is a lively semi-picaresque working up of the author’s odd, youthful experiences on the stage and elsewhere. The much later Anna St. Ives (1792) and Hugh Trevor (1794) are similar in general temper to Caleb Williams and, indeed, to Political Justice itself, of which some would have Holcroft to have been the real inspirer. Unfortunately, the interest, which, as was said above, must be allowed to Godwin’s chief novel has never, it is believed, been discovered by any recent reader in these two long and dull vindications, by means of fiction, of the liberty, equality and fraternity, claptrap; though, at the time, they undoubtedly interested and affected minds in a state of exaltation such as Coleridge’s and Southey’s. Holcroft’s very considerable dramatic faculty, and his varied experience of life, still enable him, especially in Anna St. Ives, to intersperse some scenes of a rather livelier character than the rest; but it is very questionable whether it is worth anyone’s while to seek them out in a desert of dreary declamation and propagandist puppet-mongering.