(writes Eliza Haywood):
“It is very much by the choice we make of subjects for our entertainment that the refined taste distinguishes itself from the vulgar and more gross. Reading is universally allowed to be one of the most improving as well as agreeable amusements; but then to render it so, one should, among the number of books which are perpetually issuing from the press, endeavor to single out such as promise to be most conducive to those ends. In order to be as little deceived as possible, I, for my part, love to get as well acquainted as I can with an author, before I run the risk of losing my time in perusing his work; and as I doubt not but most people are of this way of thinking, I shall, in imitation of my learned brother (Not her true brother, but Addison and Steele’s Mr. Spectator, of the Spectator journal) of ever precious memory, give some account of what I am, and those concerned with me in this undertaking; and likewise of the chief intent of the lucubrations (writings by candlelight) hereafter communicated, that the reader, on casting his eye over the four or five first pages, may judge how far the book may or may not be qualified to entertain him, and either accept or throw it aside as he thinks proper.” (2468*)
What can we learn from Miss Haywood, you ask? First of all, let it be known once and for all that reading is a delightful entertainment–one that may improve the mind. She reminds us that, at the time she began her journal entitled the Female Spectator, 1744, many, many books were being published. It became necessary, therefore, for readers to choose wisely which books would take up their time. Some would enervate, and others energize the soul. Those are my word choices: enervate versus energize.
From the writer’s perspective, this means that she must consider her audience. She must consider the affect her words might have on her audience. Writers entertain, as well as influence. Nearly three-hundred years after Miss Haywood became the Female Spectator, her words ring true. And they ring with irony. Haywood was a prolific author before she began this journal, a prolific author of some sixty works of popular fiction, many of which were considered highly scandalous and erotic. Well, there’s nothing saying a lady mayn’t be tempered through time and wealth and popularity.
*The Longman Anthology of British Literature: Vol. 1C The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century
p.s. The picture is an irony, in itself, because it is taken from a Daniel Defoe book, Roxana/The Fortunate Mistress, in which Defoe subtly mocks/mimics Eliza Haywood’s Idalia: The Unfortunate Mistress.