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Yet it were well if none but the dunces of society were combined to render the profession of an author ridiculous or unhappy. Men of the first eminence are often found to indulge this illiberal vein of raillery. Two contending writers often, by the opposition of their wit, render their profession contemptible in the eyes of ignorant persons, who should have been taught to admire. And yet, whatever the reader may think of himself, it is at least two to one but he is a greater blockhead than the most scribbling dunce he affects to despise.
The poet's poverty is a standing topic of contempt. His writing for bread is an unpardonable offence. Perhaps of all mankind an author in these times is used most hardly. We keep him poor, and yet revile his poverty. Like angry parents who correct their children till they cry, and then correct them for crying, we reproach him for living by his wit, and yet allow him no other means to live.
His taking refuge in garrets and cellars, has of late been violently objected to him, and that by men, who I dare hope are more apt to pity than insult his distress. Is poverty the writer's fault? No doubt he knows how to prefer a bottle of champagne to the nectar of the neighboring ale-house, or a venison pasty to a plate of potatoes. Want of delicacy is not in him but in us, who deny him the opportunity of making an elegant choice.
Wit certainly is the property of those who have it, nor should we be displeased if it is the only property a man sometimes has. We must not underrate him who uses it for subsistence, and flies from the ingratitude of the age even to a bookseller for redress. If the profession of an author is to be laughed at by the stupid, it is certainly better to be contemptibly rich than contemptibly poor. For all the wit that ever adorned the human mind will at present no more shield the author's poverty from ridicule, than his hightopped gloves conceal the unavoidable omissions of his laundress
To be more serious, new fashions, follies, and vices, make new monitors necessary in every age. An author may be considered as a merciful substitute to the legislature. He acts not by punishing crimes, but preventing them. However virtuous the present age, there may be still growing employment for ridicule or reproof, for persuasion or satire. If the author be therefore still so necessary among us, let us treat him with
consideration as a child of the public, not a rent-charge on the commmunity. And indeed a child of the public he is in all respects; for while so well able to direct others, how incapable is he frequently found of guiding himself! His simplicity exposes him to all the insidious approaches of cunning; his sensibility, to the slightest invasions of contempt. Though possessed of fortitude to stand unmoved the expected bursts of an earthquake, yet of feelings so exquisitely poignant as to agonize under the slightest disappointment. Broken rest, tasteless meals, and causeless anxiety shorten his life, or render it unfit for active employment; prolonged vigils and intense application still farther contract his span, and make his time glide insensibly away. Let us not, then, aggravate those natural inconveniences by neglect; we have had sufficient instances of this kind already. Sale* and Mooret will suffice for one age at least. But they are dead, and their sorrows
The neglected author of the Persian Eclogues, which, however inaccurate, excel any in our language, is still alive: happy, if insensible of our neglect, not raging at our ingratitude !* It is enough that the age has already produced instances of men pressing foremost in the lists of fame, and worthy of better times; schooled by continued adversity into a hatred of their kind, flying from thought to drunkenness, yielding to the united pressure of labor, penury, and sorrow, sinking unheeded, without one friend to drop a tear on their unattended obsequies, and indebted to charity for a grave.
* [George Sale, the translator of the Koran, and one of the authors of the Universal History and the General Dictionary. He was supposed to understand the Oriental languages better than any other man in England. "I have compared,” says Mr. Edward Wortley Montague, “his translation with the Alcoran, and I own I am astonished at his ability and accuracy; for I do not find it in any way short of the true meaning and energy of the original; but the elegance of the Arabic cannot be translated." He died in 1736.]
+ [Edward Moore, author of · Fables for the Female Sex,' and projector of the periodical work, entitled The World.' He died in 1757, while the last number, in which he details the imaginary death of the author, was passing through the press.)
The author, when unpatronized by the great, has naturally recourse to the bookseller. There cannot perhaps be imagined a combination more prejudicial to taste than this. It is the interest of the one to allow as little for writing, and of the other to write as much, as possible. Accordingly, tedious compilations and periodical magazines are the result of their joint endeavors.
[“ How little can we venture to exult in any intellectual powers or literary attainments, when we consider the condition of poor Collins ! I knew him a few years ago full of hopes and full of projects, versed many languages, high in fancy, and strong in retention. This busy and forcible mind is now under the government of those who lately would not have been able to comprehend the least and most narrow of its designs. What do you hear of him? are there any hopes of his recovery? or is he to pass the remainder of his life in misery and degradation-perhaps with complete consciousness of his calamity ?" -Dr. Johnson to Dr. Warton, March, 1754.
“What becomes of poor dear Collins ? I wrote him a letter which he never answered. That man is no common loss. The moralists all talk of the uncertainty of fortune, and the transitoriness of beauty ; but it is yet more dreadful to consider that the powers of the mind are equally liable to change, that understanding may make its appearance and depart, that it may blaze and expire.”—The same to the same, April, 1756.
“ The latter part of the life of Collins cannot be remembered but with pity and sadness. He languished some years under that depression of mind which enchains the faculties without destroying them, and leaves reason the knowledge of right without the power of pursuing it. He was for some time an inmate of a house of lunatics, and afterwards retired to the care of his sister in Chichester, where death, in 1756, came to his relief.”—Johnson, Lives of the Poels )
In these circumstances, the author bids adieu to fame; writes for bread, and for that only imagination is seldom called in. He sits down to address the venal muse with the most phlegmatic apathy; and as we are told of the Russian, courts his mistress by falling asleep in her lap. His reputation never spreads in a wider circle than that of the trade," who generally value him, not for the fineness of his compositions, but the quantity he works off in a given time.
A long habit of writing for bread thus turns the ambition of every author at last into avarice. He finds that he has written many years, that the public are scarcely acquainted even with his name; he despairs of applause, and turns to profit which invites him. He finds that money procures all those advantages, that respect, and that ease, which he vainly expected from fame. Thus the man who, under the protection of the great, might have done honor to humanity, when only patronized by the bookseller, becomes a thing little superior to the fellow who works at the press.
OF THE MARKS OF LITERARY DECAY IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND.
The faults already mentioned are such as learning is often found to flourish under; but there is one of a much more dangerous nature, which has begun to fix itself among us. I mean criticism; which may properly be called the natural destroyer of polite learning. We have seen chat critics, or those whose only business is to write books upon other books, are always more numerous as learning is more diffused ; and experience has shown, that instead of promoting its interest, which they profess to do they generally injure it. This decay which criticism produces may be deplored but can scarcely be remedied; as the man who writes against the critics is obliged to add himself to the number. Other deprivations in the republic of letters, such as affectation in some popular writer leading others into vicious imitation; political struggles in the state; a depravity of morals among thc people ; ill-directed encouragement, or no encouragement from the great,--these have been often found to co-operate in the decline of literature; and it has sometimes declined, as in modern Italy, without them; but an increase of criticism has always portended a decay. Of all misfortunes, therefore, in the commonwealth of letters, this of judging from rule, and not from feeling, is the most severe. At such a tribunal no work of original merit can please. Sublimity, if carried to an exalted height, approaches burlesque, and humor sinks into vulgarity. The person who cannot feel may ridicule both as such, and bring rules to corroborate his assertion. There is, in short, no excellence in writing that such judges may not place among the neighboring defects. Rules render the reader more difficult to be pleased, and abridge the author's power of pleasing.
If we turn to either country, we shall perceive evident symptoms of this natural decay beginning to appear. Upon a moderate calculation, there seems to be as many volumes of criticism published in those countries, as of all other kinds of polite erudition united. Paris sends forth not less than four literary journals every month, the ' Année Litteraire,'* and the “Feuille' by Fréron, the Journal Etrangère' by the Chevalier D Arc, and "Le Mercure' by Marmontel. We have two literary reviews in London, with critical newspapers and Magazines without number. The compilers of these resemble the commoners of Rome; they are all for levelling property, not by increasing their own, but by
* [The Monthly Review, established in 1749, and the Critical, in 1756.)