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the world from Adam to Macadam, and show us what you can bring forth.
You have, you admit, no first-rate. That you have, notwithstanding, a few men of real genius, we admit. You have Collins, Wordsworth, and one or two more; but it is our opinion, and we venture to say it is the opinion of all mankind, that all these would have been worth fifty times more than they are, had they been compelled to take a hearty part in the active business of life. As for Byron, we cannot permit you to claim him as a subject of triumph. He permitted some wounds of vanity (inflicted by base hands) to drive bim out of the society for which he was born, and from the duties which his rank entailed on him. But even as it was, he only went from good company to bad, and bestowed on eternal journeyings, pistol-practisings, and gin-twist, the time which might have been, with at least as much advantage to his genius, bestowed upon the proper occupations of an English landlord and legislator. Do you suppose that his genius was more benefited by his secluded intercourse with Miss Guiccioli, than it would have been by a flirtation of equal intensity, carried on in Kensington Gardens, &c.? Do you seriously opine, that he wrote better poems by drinking toddy with Medwin, &c., than he would have done, had he staid at home to imbibe sound constitutional port in Albemarle Street, or balmy Lafitte in Whitehall? Was Hollands safer for a man of genius than Holland house? Is the solitary indulgence of chewing more suitable to a man of genius than the soul-soothing conviviality of the cigarium?-But these refined people will not look whither their own theory would carry them.
Having in this way done their utmost to persuade young persons of the class we have indicated, to cut themselves off from the ordinary occupations of life as unworthy of genius, the next thing is to protract their delusion, by leading them to undervalue entirely the reception which their efforts in the walk to which they have thus exclusively devoted themselves, may happen to meet with from the public. This, however meant, is, in its effects, the most genuine cruelty. But let us see how the Leader (too good for the place) of the MOPING SCHOOL enunciates his dogma:
“There is something so perverse in our human destiny, that it seldom happens that the attainment of our desires satisfies us, even when they are rational. We wish for honourable fame, it seldom comes; but if it comes, we find scarce any enjoyment in it; it turns out to be a shadow. The absence of it is a grief, its présence is no happiness.
“It does not alwas fall on those who deserve it; witness Milton, who was very little noticed, and still less praised by his contemporaries; a neglect for which it is idle to attempt to account, by ascribing it to the prejudices entertained against his political character, because, till the Restoration, his politics would have recommended, not depressed, bim; and yet the neglect of his poetry was always the same, though his Comus, &c. had been published at least twenty-five years before the return of Charles II. At the same time, numerous contemptible versifiers on both sides were in possession of great celebrity.”
Again “He who has not the public with him will not have friends sincerely with him: he must be every thing to himself. I dare say that Milton had not a friend in his own day who thought him equal to Cowley, or even to Waller; and that he look. ed down upon them, when such opinions were unguardedly let out, not perhaps directly, but by inference froin the tone of their conversations, with calm but pitying complacence."
« Sometimes fame falls where it is merited, as in Lord Byron's case; but nol often! Lord Byron had, perhaps, a greater excess of it than ever happened to a real poet in his life; and it was the more extraordinary, because it was unwilling and extorted fame."
Again “ Collins burnt all the copies of his inimitable Odes, because they would not sell; and Warton's History of English Poetry, after forty years, is not yet reprinted; and was long, I believe, a drug in the market. At the same time, Hayley's Triumphs of Temper went through several rapid editions.”
Again, more concisely still: “If the vox populi be the vox Dei, then the vor Dei is as uncertain as the blowing of the wind, which blows from the north to-day and from the south to morrow.”
Now, let us look for a moment at the examples which Sir Egerton has produced. Milton, in the first place, was, it seems, nobody in his own time. On the contrary, his intellectual power was acknowledged by every body who was capable of understanding any thing of the matter. He was known and celebrated all over Europe as one of the first of men, and he held in his own country the high office of conductor of all the foreign correspondence of Oliver Cromwell! But the Paradise Lost was not popular when it was first published, and therefore no poet ought to reverence the opinion of the public! Did it never occur to Sir Egerton, that the age in which Milton's poetry was overlooked was an age in which every thing that had any connexion with the imaginative faculties of man was despised by those who had the guidance of the public mind in England? Was he ignorant, that if Milton, as a poet, was little thought of, then Homer, Shakspeare, every great poet the world had ever known, was equally the object of contemptuous indifference to the sour and malignant spirit of predominating fanaticism! Did he not know that that was the time also in which the Parliament of England sold by auction, to foreigners, the most magnificent collection of pictures and statues that England has ever yet possessed, because they preferred a few paltry thousands to all the works of genius that humanity had ever treasured? As for Cowley and Waller, they were never popular until after the Restoration; they were both genuine poets, moreover, at the worst; and if it be true (which we prodigiously doubt) that they were more popular poets than Milton even then, what would this prove, except the intensity to which political feelings predominated, in an age which had witnessed the decapitation of an English king, by the hands of a cold-blooded faction, from which all Milton's genius had not been able to keep him aloof? What lesson' can any poet of these peaceful days gather from this obvious anomaly?
Collins is another of his examples. It seems his Odes did not sell well just at first, and he burnt the lumber copies! The fact is, that Collins died at thirty-six, within a very few years after his Odes were first published. Considering the very small extent of his poetical productions, and the very small class of readers for whom they were, or ever could be adapted, we think it no wonder at all that he should not have become in a moment the possessor of any very high and commanding degree of popularity. He was admired, however, by Samuel Johnson, and by all the best judges of his time; and we beg to ask whether he is now, or whether it is at all likely that Collins ever will be, a popular author with more than a very small circle of highly refined readers. He did not play for the great game, and he did not win it.
But “ sometimes fame falls where it is merited, as in Lord Byron's case, but noT OFTEN!” Here is the thunderbolt indeed. Not often!-Did Æschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Pindar, Aristophanes, Menander, Aristotle, Plato, Demosthenes—did none of these men deserve the instant and consummate fame which their works brought them? Were Lucretius, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, Cæsar, &c. &c., all neglected classics? Was Dante-was Petrarch, “the friend of princes” —was Ariosto—was Tasso neglected? Was not Chaucer the favourite of Edward?-was it not“ the sweet swan of Ayon" that winged
those flights upon the banks of Thames,
That so did take Eliza and our James?" Were Dryden, Pope, Swift, Addison, Johnson, Burke—were they all mere exceptions to the rule, that contemporary fame falls “ not often” on those who merit it?
The fact is, that all our great English authors have been, as authors, eminently successful, with, at the utmost, the one exception, already (if it be one) sufficiently accounted for, of Milton. Chaucer made a fortune—the best test of fame; so did Spenser (though he lost it afterwards). Shakspeare died the richest man in Stratford upon Avon, and in the best house thereof. His granddaughter was a great heiress, and married into a great family, and it was in “the house that Will built" that Maria Henrietta held her court when she stayed at Stratford. Dryden was an imprudent man; yet even he made by his writings, upon an average, £500 a year, from the time he commenced authorship till the day of his death; and that, if one thinks of the time, was no inconsiderable sum. In fact, it was quite equal to £1500 at present. Pope died as rich as a Jew-Swift ditto. Addison became a secretary of state through his literature only. Johnson did not make a fortune, only because he was the most indolent great man that ever the world saw.
At all events these men, and an innumerable company besides, had abundance of contemporary fame; and is it against this cloud
Vol. VII. No. 37.---Museum.
of witnesses that we are to have a single, at the best second-class, poet like Collins, ay, or fifty Collinses, set up, as proving that the public may be right occasionally, but is almost always wrong?
We believe the fact to be, that the public has, in all ages of the world, erred much more on the generous side than the other; and that for any one given example of under-rated merit, we could, if it were worth our while, produce, at half an hour's notice, a hundred examples of over-rated merit. Pause, ye young men of genius, ere ye lay to your souls the flattering unction of Sir Egerton. Believe, if ye will, in the general, that
“ There is nothing more magnificent than that calm self-confidence which, judging rightly of its own powers and merits, goes calmly on, not only without a cheer, but in defiance of daily impediments and unappeasable opposition;" but do not quite so easily set it down that there is any thing of the “calmly magnificent” about those efforts of your own genius which nobody cheers, those aspirations which meet with nothing but “ daily impediments and unappeasable opposition."
We mentioned in the outset, that one of their favourite notions was, that a poct could do no good except by painting directly from himself. This is continually recurred to.
“ Had Lord Byron's mind been only accustomed to a narrow extent of scenery, instead of what was at once most varied and most magnificent, his poetical inven. tions could never have possessed the splendour and sublimity which show such astonishing powers. Action and interest characterize his poetical inventions, as they characterize his life; all he writes is vivid emotion, and often burning passion. The figures come forth from the canvass, and stand embodied, with breath on their lips, and the blood trembling through their veins. The author knew by experience so much of what he painted, that his imagination always raised something like reality.”
Now, what does all this come to? Are Lord Byron's murders, &c. a bit more Vraisemblables, horrible, black, appalling, than those of Shakspeare, who, honest man, never, that we know of, saw any thing even of happy old England but what lies between Warwick Castle and Ludgate Hill? Is it not obvious that the intended compliment, were it merited, would turn out to be a virtual sneer? Is he not the greatest poet who can from imagination alone achieve the most? But, after all, what did Byron ever see of the characters that he has represented ? He wrote about blood and daggers—but we doubt if ever he witnessed the shedding of any thing more deadly than champagne. He enjoyed himself extremely in the Levant, for he was very fond of fine scenery, pretty women, pretty horses, and a real quid of tobacco.
The high contempt professed by our author and his friends for the vox populi, is naturally accompanied on the part of Sir Egerton Brydges with a sovereign disgust for almost every thing that happens, in our own particular time, to be excessively popular. Lord Byron (and he is dead) seems to be the solitary exception; and novels are par excellence the objects of utter scorn. Take the following specimen, which, but for other things to be hereafter noticed, might almost, we think, convict the writer of lunacy
“What novel has outlasted the manners of its age? Who now reads Fielding, Smollet, Richardson, Mackenzie, Burney, Radcliffe, Charlotte Smith? Who reads Boccacio, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, Gulliver, Robinson Crusoe ? Pompous editions of them are sometimes printed to look handsome on library shelves; but nobody luoks into them, unless to inspect a new set of illustrative engravings. Nothing continues to be read for generations (not even history), but standard poetry of pure and rich ore.”
Who reads Cervantes, Fielding, Gil Blas, Gulliver, Bocoacio, Julia de Roubigne, or Robinson Crusoe? But in truth this is too solemn folly. Who does not, expect the Mopers?
Wit is popular, it seems; and wit itself falls under the ban of Balaam.
“ Edward Philips calls Epigram the fag end of poetry; and we were always taught at school to consider Martial in the meanest class of genius; but it is al. ways found, even among boys, to be the taste of those who have sharp practical understandings, and are adapted to the collision of society:
“There is no reason why a good thing should not be told in the most effective mode. But all literature, and all experience, prove that the worth and integrity of the matter is always sacrificed, where there is this sort of attention to the manner. Truth is never regarded, nor the genuineness of the ore, which is worked into these artful shapes. An inferior class of literati are thus brought forward, and given a sway which ought not to belong to thein,--and men of the world are substituted for men of genius. These may be clever men, men of quick abilities, and lively adroit use of their abilities, but this does not constitute genius. Sheri. dan was a man of most extraordinary cleverness and pointed wit; what proof has he left of his genius?” Did Sir Egerton ever read the Critic? But take him with his
Was not Homer the founder of comic satire, (if Aris. totle may be believed?) Did not Euripides write the Cyclops as well as the Medea? Who drew Benedick and Falstaff? Who wrote Candide? Who wrote Don Juan? We are almost ashamed of ourselves.
But upon what principles do those who never read Cervantes, Swift, and Boccacio, write in their own proper persons? The whole of this book is full of such things as the following. Look back to the title of the work as we copied it, and pray consider them.
“My headache continues, but my task must not be abandoned. The mind, however, is at the mercy of this frail, material tenement, and can work but imperfectly when the frame is deranged. The instant the intellect becomes clouded, a feeling of degradation falls upon the sensitive spirit.
Again"Positive illness has not often interrupted me in these letters,—but it has come upon me yesterday and to-day. My hand trembles, and I cannot make distinct syllables hut slowly and with difficulty. A burning fever has been upon all my frame for six-and-thirty hours: it is a little abated; and I return to my task lest the spell should be broken.”
What think ye of this for a whole letter?” “For twenty successive days I have continued to write these letters. I must not break the spell,--and therefore register these few lines; though so much otherwise occupied that I cannot spare time for more.”
The following is, if possible, still more exquisite.