A Dissertation upon Nothing.
That great Master of human Nature, the ingenious Author of Tom Jones, who justly styles himself King of Biographers, published an Edict in his last Work, declaring, that no Person hereafter should presume to write a Novel, without prefixing a prefatory Chapter to every Book, under the Penalty of being deemed a Block-head. This introductory Chapter, he says, is the best Mark of Genius, and surest Criterion of an Author’s Parts; for by it the most indifferent Reader may be enabled to distinguish what is true and genuine in this historic kind of Writing, from what is false and counterfeit: And he supposes the Authors of theSpectators were induced to prefix Latin and Greek Mottos to every Paper, from the same Consideration of guarding against the Pursuit of Scribblers; because by this Device it became impracticable for any Man to presume to imitate the Spectators, without understanding at least one Sentence in the learned Languages.
In compliance therefore with the Edict of this royal Biographer, I shall beg Leave, in the Entrance of this second Book of our History, to detain the Reader with an introductory Chapter upon Nothing ; being the most proper Subject I can recollect at present for such an initial Section; which I hope will testify my Loyalty to the great Lawgiver abovementioned, and also dispose the Reader to a favourable Opinion of my historic Abilities.
What is Coventry trying to achieve here? Is he, for example, critiquing Henry Fielding for limiting the definition of a novel? Could use of Greek and Latin suggest a traditionalist view of literature? Why, specifically, does Coventry choose to write on “nothing”? How is the genre that Coventry is writing in related to biography or history?