Pomp: Book II Chapter I

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?


One thought on “Pomp: Book II Chapter I

  1. tjwnstjd, this raises some pertinent questions. As this is one of the few passages we’ve found within a novel that comments on the novel as a genre, I would like to take some time today or Wednesday to discuss this in more detail.

    Coventry is one of the few writers of this era to use the term “novel” as we often do today. You may of noticed that the other pieces label themselves as “histories,” with a strong emphasis on “biography.” We’ve discussed the way characters embody abstract ideas rather than concentrate on what we today 19th-century literary realism. If the implied reader understands the work is fictive, why do you think so many of our texts still evoke biography as their model?

    We might also think of the point ML raised earlier about the theories that position novels shifting narratives away stories of kings, knights, etc towards other social groups. How would the use of these other genres fit into this view of the genre?

    One small caveat to this post. Keep in mind the tone of this chapter. “Critique” may be too harsh a word for the largely unironic praise of Fielding.

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