Monthly Review (essay date 1800)
SOURCE: Monthly Review 31 (January 1800): 82.
[In the following review of Hays's The Victim of Prejudice, the protagonist Mary Raymond is depicted as a character worthy of both love and pity owing to the disreputable circumstances surrounding her birth and history.]
Mary, the heroine of this little tale, is, to the credit of the author's pencil, a spirited and affecting sketch, but somewhat out of nature; and the principle which it is designed to inculcate by no means follows from the premises. By the novels which issue from this school, love, which is a transient passion, is to be complimented, in all cases, at the expence of the regulations and institutions of society; and a respect for virtue and decorum is to be classed in the list of vulgar prejudices. Love, which is generally our happiness, may and will sometimes be our misery. The wisest and the best are often the slaves and victims of circumstances:—Mary is one of those victims,—though amiable, noble, and virtuous, the circumstances of her birth prevented her from being the most eligible match for a man of virtue having virtuous connections, and wishing to have a virtuous offspring. Descended from a mother who was both a prostitute and a murderer, and who expiated her crimes on the gallows, shall we term the objection of the Hon. Mr. Pelham's father to the marriage of his son with her a mere prejudice? Must not William Pelham himself, had he been permitted to marry the lovely and amiable Mary, have had cause to blush when the children who might have been the fruit of their union came to inquire into the history of their mother? According to the fixed laws of nature, we suffer from the vices of our parents; and this, with every wise man, will be a very strong motive to virtue; since the evil resulting from a deviation from her paths will not terminate in ourselves. We must love and pity such a character as Mary Raymond: but her misery results rather from a general sentiment of detestation of atrocious crimes, than from any act which is entitled to the appellation of tyranny.