Imagens da página
PDF
ePub

is not less obstructed with disappointment than living. However, for this tribute of applause, you that of ambition.

must expect persecution. You will be reputed the " If you have the misfortune not to excel in your author of scandal which you have never seen, of profession as a poet, repentance must tincture all verses you despise, and of sentiments directly conyour future enjoyments: if you succeed you make trary to your own. In short, you must embark in enemies. You tread a narrow path. Contempt some one party, or all parties will be against you. on one side, and hatred on the other, are ready to “There are among us a number of learned so. seize you upon the slightest deviation.

cieties, where a lady presides, whose wit begins to "But why must I be hated, you will perhaps twinkle when the splendour of her beauty begins reply; why must I be persecuted for having writ- to decline. One or two men of learning compose ten a pleasing poem, for having produced an ap- her ministers of state. These must be flattered, or plauded tragedy, or for otherwise instructing or made enemies by being neglected. Thus, though amusing mankind or myself?

you had the merit of all antiquity united in your “My dear friend, these very successes shall ren- person, you grow old in misery and disgrace. Eveder you miserable for life. Let me suppose your ry place designed for men of letters is filled up by performance has merit; let me suppose you have men of intrigue. Some nobleman's private tutor, surmounted the teasing employments of printing some court flatterer, shall bear away the prize, and and publishing; how will you be able to lull the leave you to anguish and to disappointment." critics, who, like Cerberus, are posted at all the Yet it were well if none but the dunces of socieavenues of literature, and who settle the merits of ty were combined to render the profession of an every new performance? How, I say, will you be author ridiculous or unhappy. Men of the first able to make them open in your favour? There eminence are often found to indulge this illiberal are always three or four literary journals in France, vein of raillery. Two contending writers often, by as many in Holland, each supporting opposite in the opposition of their wit, render their profession terests. The booksellers who guide these periodi- contemptible in the eyes of ignorant persons, who cal compilations, find their account in being severe; should have been taught to admire. And yet, whatthe authors employed by them have wretchedness ever the reader may think of himself, it is at least to add to their natural malignity. The majority two to one but he is a greater blockhead than the may be in your favour, but you may depend on most scribbling dunce he affects to despise. being torn by the rest. Loaded with unmerited The poet's poverty is a standing topic of conscurrility, perhaps you reply; they rejoin; both tempt. His writing for bread is an unpardonable piead at the bar of the public, and both are con- offence. Perhaps of all mankind an author in demned to ridicule.

these times is used most hardly. We keep him “But if you write for the stage, your case is still poor, and yet revile his poverty. Like angry pamore worthy compassion. You are there to be rents who correct their children till they cry, and julged by men whom the custom of the times has then correct them for crying, we reproach him for rendered contemptible. Irritated by their own in- living by his wit, and yet allow him no other means feriority, they exert all their little tyranny upon to live. Fou, revenging upon the author the insults they His taking refuge in garrets and cellars, has of receive from the public. From such men, then, late been violently objected to him, and that by men you are to expect your sentence. Suppose your who I dare hope are more apt to pity than insult piece admitted, acted: one single ill-natured jest his distress. Is poverty the writer's fault? No from the pit is sufficient to cancel all your labours. doubt he knows how to prefer a bottle of chamBut allowing that it succeeds. There are a hun-pagne to the nectar of the neighbouring alehouse, dred squibs flying all abroad to prove that it should or a venison pasty to a plate of potatoes. Want not have succeeded. You shall find your brightest of delicacy is not in him but in us, who deny him scenes burlesqued by the ignorant; and the learned, the opportunity of making an elegant choice. who know a little Greek, and nothing of their na- Wit certainly is the property of those who have tive language, affect to despise you.

it, nor should we be displeased if it is the only pro" But perhaps, with a panting heart, you carry perty a man sometimes has. We must not underpour piece before a woman of quality. She gives rate him who uses it for subsistence, and flies from the labours of your brain to her maid to be cut into the ingratitude of the age even to a bookseller for shreds for curling her hair; while the laced foot- redress. If the profession of an author is to be man, who carries the gaudy livery of luxury, in- laughed at by the stupid, it is certainly better to be sults your appearance, who bear the livery of indi- contemptibly rich than contemptibly poor. For all gence.

the wit that ever adorned the human mind, will at “But granting your excellence has at last forced present no more shield the author's poverty from envy to confess that your works have some merit; ridicule, than his high-topped gloves conceal the this then is all the reward you can expect while unavoidable omissions of his laundress.

To be more serious, new fashions, follies, and ambition of every author at last into avarice. He vices, make new monitors necessary in every age. finds that he has written many years, that the pubAn author may be considered as a merciful sub- lic are scarcely acquainted even with his name; he stitute to the legislature. He acts not by punishing despairs of applause, and turns to profit which incrimes, but preventing them. However virtuous rites him. Ele finds that money procures all those the present age, there may be still growing employ- advantages, that respect, and that case, which he ment for ridicule or reproof, for persuasion or satire. vainly expected from fame. Thus the man who, If the author be therefore still so necessary among under the protection of the great, might have done us, let us treat him with proper consideration as a honour to humanity when only patronized by the child of the public, not a rent-charge on the com- bookseller, becomes a thing little superior to the munity. And indeed a child of the public he is in all fellow who works at the press. 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 ap

CHAPTER X. proaches of cunning; his sensibility, to the slightest invasions of contempt. Though possessed of for

or the Marks of Literary Decay in France and England titude to stand unmoved the expected bursts of an earthquake, yet of feelings so exquisitely poignant Tue faults already mentioned are such as learnas to agonize under the slightest disappointment. ing is often found to flourish under; but there is Broken rest, tasteless meals, and causeless anxiety, one of a much more dangerous nature, which has shorten his life, or render it unfit for active em- begun to fix itself among us. I mean criticism, ployment: prolonged vigils and intense application which may properly be called the natural destroyer still further contract his span, and make his time of polite learning. We have seen that critics, or glide insensibly away. Let us not, then, aggravate those whose only business is to write books upon those natural inconveniences by neglect; we have other books, are always more numerous, as learning had sufficient instances of this kind already. Sale is more diffused; and experience has shown, that inand Moore will suffice for one age at least. But stead of promoting its interest, which they profess they are dead, and their sorrows are over. The to do, they generally injure it. This decay which neglected author of the Persian eclogues, which, criticism produces may be deplored, but can scarcely however inaccurate, excel any in our language, is be remedied, as the man who writes against the still alive,-happy, if insensible of our neglect, not critics is obliged to add himself to the number. raging at our ingratitude.* It is enough that the Other depravations in the republic of letters, such age has already produced instances of men press-as affectation in some popular writer leading others ing foremost in the lists of fame, and worthy of bet- into vicious imitation; political struggles in the ter times; schooled by continued adversity into a state; a depravity of morals among the people; illhatred of their kind; flying from thought to drunk- directed encouragement, or no encouragement from enness; yielding to the united pressure of labour, the great, -these have been often found to co-opepenury, and sorrow; sinking unheeded, without rate in the decline of literature; and it has someone friend to drop a tear on their unattended obse- times declined, as in modern Italy, without them; quies, and indebted to charity for a grave. but an increase of criticism has always portended

The author, when unpatronized by the great, a decay. Of all misfortunes therefore in the comhas naturally recourse to the bookseller. There monwealth of letters, this of judging from rule, can not be perhaps imagined a combination more and not from feeling, is the most severe. At such prejudicial to taste than this. It is the interest of a tribunal no work of original merit can please. the one to allow as little for writing, and of the Sublimity, if carried to an exalted height, approachother to write as much as possible. Accordingly, es burlesque, and humour sinks into vulgarity. tedious compilations and periodical magazines are The person who can not feel may ridicule both as the result of their joint endeavours. In these cir- such, and bring rules to corroborate his assertion. cumstances, the author bids adieu to fame, writes There is, in short, no excellence in writing that for bread, and for that only imagination is seldom such judges may not place among the neighbouring called in. He sits down to address the venal muse defects. Rules render the reader more difficult to with the most phlegmatic apathy; and, as we are be pleased, and abridge the author's power of pleastold of the Russians, courts his mistress by falling ing. asleep in her lap. His reputation never spreads in If we turn to either country, we shall perceive a wider circle than that of the trade, who generally evident symptoms of this natural decay beginning value him, not for the fineness of his compositions, to appear. Upon a moderate calculation, there but the quantity he works off in a given time. seems to be as many volumes of criticism published

A long habit of writing for bread thus turns the in those countries, as of all other kinds of polito Our author bere alludes to the insanity of Collins.

erudition united. Paris sends forth not less than

four literary journals every month, the Année-Lit- and was persecuted by the critics as long as he livtërcire and the Feuille by Freron, the Journal ed. Thus novelty, one of the greatest beauties in Etranger by the Chevalier D'Arc, and Le Mer-poetry, must be avoided, or the connoisseur be discure by Marmontel. We have two literary reviews pleased. It is one of the chief privileges, however, in London, with critical newspapers and magazines of genius, to fly from the herd of imitators by some without number. The compilers of these resem-happy singularity; for should he stand still, his ble the commoners of Rome; they are all for level-heavy pursuers will at length certainly come up, ling property, not by increasing their own, but by and fairly dispute the victory. diminishing that of others. The man who has any The ingenious Mr. Hogarth used to assert, that good-nature in his disposition must, however, be every one except the connoisseur was a judge of somewhat displeased to see distinguished reputations painting. The same may be asserted of writing : often the sport of ignorance,—to see by one false the public, in general, set the whole piece in the pleasantry, the future peace of a worthy man's life proper point of view; the critic lays his eye close disturbed, and this only, because he has unsuccess- to all its minuteness, and condemns or approves in fully attempted to instruct or amuse us. Though detail. And this may be the reason why so many ill-nature is far from being wit, yet it is generally writers at present are apt to appeal from the tribulaughed at as such. The critic enjoys the triumph, nal of criticism to that of the people. and ascribes to his parts what is only due to his ef- From a desire in the critic, of grafting the spirit frontery. I fire with indignation, when I see per- of ancient languages upon the English, has proceedsons wholly destitute of education and genius in- ed, of late, several disagreeable instances of pedantdent to the press, and thus turn book-makers, adding ry. Among the number, I think we may reckon to the sin of criticism the sin of ignorance also; blank verse. Nothing but the greatest sublimity whose trade is a bad one, and who are bad work- of subject can render such a measure pleasing; men in the trade.

however, we now see it used upon the most trivial When I consider those industrious men as in- occasions. It has particularly found its way into debted to the works of others for a precarious sub- our didactic poetry, and is likely to bring that spesistence, when I see them coming down at stated cies of composition into disrepute for which the intervals to rummaga the bookseller's counter for English are deservedly famous. materials to work upon, it raises a smile though Those who are acquainted with writing, know mired with pity. It reminds me of an animal call- that our language runs almost naturally into blank ed by naturalists the soldier. This little creature, verse. The writers of our novels, romances, and says the historian, is passionately fond of a shell, all of this class who have no notion of style, natubut not being supplied with one by nature, has re- rally hobble into this unharmonious measure. If course to the deserted shell of some other. I have rhymes, therefore, be more difficult, for that very seen these harmless reptiles, continues he, come reason I would have our poets write in rhyme. down once a-year from the mountains, rank and Such a restriction upon the thought of a good poet, file, cover the whole shore, and ply busily about, often lifts and increases the vehemence of every each in quest of a shell to please it. Nothing can sentiment; for fancy, like a fountain, plays highbe more amusing than their industry upon this oc- est by diminishing the aperture. But rhymes, it casion. One shell is too big, another too little: they will be said, are a remnant of monkish stupidity, enter and keep possession sometimes for a good an innovation upon the poctry of the ancients. while, until one is, at last, found entirely to please. They are but indifferently acquainted with antiWhen all are thus properly equipped, they march quity who make the assertion. Rhymes are proup again to the mountains, and live in their new bably of older date than either the Greek or Latin acquisition till under a necessity of changing. dactyl and spondee. The Celtic, which is allowed

There is indeed scarcely an error of which our to be the first language spoken in Europe, has ever present writers are guilty, that does not arise from preserved them, as we may find in the Edda of Icetheir opposing systems; there is scarcely an error land, and the Irish carols, still sung among the orithat criticism can not be brought to excuse. From ginal inhabitants of that island. Olaus Wormias this proceeds the affected security of our odes, the gives us some of the Teutonic poetry in this way; tuneless flow of our blank verse, the pompous epi- and Pontoppidan, bishop of Bergen, some of the thet, laboured diction, and every other deviation Norwegian. In short, this jingle of sounds is alfrom common sense, which procures the poet the most natural to mankind, at least it is so to our lanapplause of the month: he is praised by all, read guage, if we may judge from many unsuccessful by a few, and soon forgotten.

attempts to throw it off. There never was an unbeaten path trodden by I should not have employed so much time in opthe poet that the critic did not endeavour to reclaim posing this erroneous innovation, if it were not apt him, by calling his attempt innovation. This might to introduce another in its train; I mean, a disgustbe instanced in Dante, who first followed nature, ling manner of solemnity into our poetry; and, as the prose writer has been ever found to follow the poet, mour in this, as it is an accident to which human it must consequently banish in both all that agreea- nature is subject, and may be any man's case: bat ble trifling, which, if I may so express it, often should I represent this man without his nose as deceives us into instruction. The finest senti- extremely curious in the choice of his snuff-box, ment and the most weighty truth may put on a we here see him guilty of an absurdity of which pleasant face, and it is even virtuous to jest when we imagine it impossible for ourselves to be guilty, serious advice must be disgusting. But instead of and therefore applaud our own good sense on the this, the most trifling performance among us now comparison. Thus, then, the pleasure we receive assumes all the didactic stiffness of wisdom. The from wit turns to the admiration of another; that most diminutive son of fame or of famine has his which we feel from humour, centres in the admiwc and his us, his firstlys and his secondlys, as ration of ourselves. The poet, therefore, must methodical as if bound in cow-hide, and closed with place the object he would have the subject of huclasps of brass. Were these monthly reviews and mour in a state of inferiority; in other words, the magazines frothy, pert, or absurd, they might find subject of humour must be low. some pardon; but to be dull and dronish is an en- The solemnity worn by many of our modern croachment on the prerogative of a folio. These writers, is, I fear, often the mask of dulness; for things should be considered as pills to purge melan- certain it is, it seems to fit every author who pleases choly; they should be made up in our splenetic cli- to put it on. By the complexion of many of our mate to be taken as physic, and not so as to be used late publications, one might be apt to cry out with when we take it.

Cicero, Cirem mehercule non puto esse qui his However, by the power of one single monosyl- temporibus ridere possit : on my conscience, I belable, our critics have almost got the victory over lieve we have all forgot to laugh in these days. Such humour amongst us. Does the poct paint the ab- writers probably make no distinction between what surdities of the vulgar, then he is low; does he ex- is praised and what is pleasing: between those comaggerate the features of folly, to render it more mendations which the reader pays his own discernthoroughly ridiculous, he is then very low. In ment, and those which are the genuine result of short, they have proscribed the comic or satirical his sensations. It were to be wished, therefore, muse from every walk but high life, which, though that we no longer found pleasure with the inflated abounding in fools as well as the humblest station, style that has for some years been looked upon is by no means so fruitful in absurdity. Among as fine writing, and which every young writer is well-bred fools we may despise much, but have lit- now obliged to adopt, if he chooses to be read. We tle to laugh at; nature seems to present us with a should now dispense with loaded epithet and dressuniversal blank of silk, ribands, smiles, and whis- ing up trifles with dignity. For, to use an obvipers. Absurdity is the poct's game, and good- ous instance, it is not those who make the greatest breeding is the nice concealment of absurdities. noise with their wares in the streets that have most The truth is, the critic generally mistakes hu- to sell. Let us, instead of writing finely, try to mour for wit, which is a very different excellence. write naturally; not hunt after lofty expressions to Wit raises human nature above its level; humour deliver mean ideas, nor be for ever gaping, when acts a contrary part, and equally depresses it. To we only mean to deliver a whisper. expect exalted humour is a contradiction in terms; and the critic, by demanding an impossibility from the comic poet, has, in effect, banished new comedy

CHAPTER XI. from the stage. But to put the same thought in a different light, when an unexpected similitude in

of the Stage. two objects strikes the imagination; in other words, Our theatre has been generally confessed to when a thing is wittily expressed, all our pleasure share in this general decline, though partaking of turns into admiration of the artist, who had fancy the show and decoration of the Italian opera with enough to draw the picture. When a thing is the propriety and declamation of French performhumorously described, our burst of laughter pro- ance. The stage also is more magnificent with us ceeds from a very different cause; we compare the than any other in Europe, and the people in geneabsurdity of the character represented with our own, ral fonder of theatrical entertainment. Yet still, as and triumph in our conscious superiority. No na- our pleasures, as well as more important concerns, tural defect can be a cause of laughter, because it are generally managed by party, the stage has felt is a misfortune to which ourselves are liable. A its influence. The managers, and all who espouse defect of this kind changes the passion into pity or their side, are for decoration and ornament ; the horror. We only laugh at those instances of mo- critic, and all who have studied French decorum, ral absurdity, to which we are conscious we our are for regularity and declamation. Thus it is alselves are not liable. For instance, should I de- most impossible to please both parties; and the poscribe a man as wanting his nose, there is no hu- et

, by attempting it, finds himself often incapable of

pleasing either. If he introduces stage pomp, the much as they deserve, but could wish, for the honcritic consigns his performance to the vulgar; if he our of our country, and for his honour too, that indulges in recital and simplicity, it is accused of many of his scenes were forgotten. A man blind insipidity, or dry affectation.

of one eye should always be painted in profile. Let From the nature, therefore, of our theatre, and the spectator, who assists at any of these newly-rethe genius of our country, it is extremely difficult vived pieces, only ask himself whether he would for a dramatic poet to please his audience. But approve such a performance if written by a modern happy would he be, were these the only difficulties poet? I fear he will find that much of his applause he had to encounter; there are many other more proceeds merely from the sound of a name, and an dangerous combinations against the little wit of the empty veneration for antiquity. In fact, the reviage. Our poet's performance must undergo a pro- val of those pieces of forced humour, far-fetched cess truly chemical before it is presented to the pub-conceit

, and unnatural hyperbole, which have been lic. It must be tried in the manager's fire, strain-ascribed to Shakspeare, is rather gibbeting than ed through a licenser, suffer from repeated correc- raising a statue to his memory; it is rather a trick tions, till it may be a mere caput mortuum when it to the actor, who thinks it safest acting in exaggearrives before the public,

rated characters, and who, by outstepping nature, The success, however, of pieces upon the stage chooses to exhibit the ridiculous outré of a harlewould be of little moment, did it not influence the quin under the sanction of that venerable name. success of the same piece in the closet. Nay, I What strange vamped comedies, farcical tragethink it would be more for the interests of virtue, dies, or what shall I call them, speaking pantoif stage performances were read, not acted; made mimes, have we not of late seen? No matter what rather our companions in the cabinet than on the the play may be, it is the actor who draws an auditheatre. While we are readers, every moral senti- ence. He throws life into all; all are in spirits and ment strikes us in all its beauty, but the love scenes merry, in at one door and out at another; the are frigid, tawdry, and disgusting. When we are spectator, in a fool's paradise, knows not what all spectators, all the persuasives to vice receive an ad- this means, till the last act concludes in matrimoditional lustre. The love scene is aggravated, the ny. The piece pleases our critics, because it talks obscenity heightened, the best actors figure in the old English; and it pleases the galleries, because it most debauched characters, while the parts of mo- has ribaldry. True taste or even common sense rality, as they are called, are thrown to some mouth- are out of the question. ing machine, who puts even virtue out of counte- But great art must be sometimes used before they nance by his wretched imitation.

can thus impose upon the public. To this purpose, But whatever be the incentives to vice which are a prologue written with some spirit generally prefound at the theatre, public pleasures are generally cedes the piece, to inform us that it was composed less guilty than solitary ones. To make our soli- by Shakspeare, or old Ben, or somebody else who tary satisfactions truly innocent, the actor is useful, took them for his model. A face of iron could not as by his means the poet's work makes its way have the assurance to avow dislike; the theatre has from the stage to the closet; for all must allow, that its partisans who understand the force of combinathe reader receives more benefit by perusing a well- tions, trained up to vociferation, clapping of hands written play, than by seeing it acted.

and clattering of sticks: and though a man might But how is this rule inverted on our theatres at have strength sufficient to overcome a lion in sinpresent? Old pieces are revived, and scarcely any gle combat, he may run the risk of being devoured new ones admitted. The actor is ever in our eye, by an army of ants. and the poet seldom permitted to appear; the pub- I am not insensible, that third nights are disalic are again obliged to ruminate over those hashes greeable drawbacks upon the annual profits of of absurdity, which were disgusting to our ances- the stage. I am confident it is much more to the tors even in an age of ignorance; and the stage, in- manager's advantage to furbish up all the lumber stead of serving the people, is made subservient to which the good sense of our ancestors, but for his the interests of avarice.

care, had consigned to oblivion. It is not with him, We seem to be pretty much in the situation of therefore, but with the public I would expostulate; travellers at a Scotch inn;-vile entertainment is they have a right to demand respect, and surely served up, complained of, and sent down; up comes those newly-revived plays are no instances of the worse, and that also is changed; and every change manager's deference. makes our wretched cheer more unsavoury. What I have been informed that no new play can be must be done? only sit down contented, cry up all admitted upon our theatres unless the author that comes before us, and admire even the absurdi- chooses to wait some years, or, to use the phrase in ties of Shakspeare.

fashion, till it comes to be played in turn. A poet Let the reader suspend his censure. I admire thus can never expect to contract a familiarity with the beauties of this great father of our stage as the stage, by which alone be can hope to succeed;

« AnteriorContinuar »