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my ink almost blushes from black to red whilst marking such associations of the divine ore with the earthly—but, methinks, 'tis the metal of one of the scales in which we are weighed and found wanting. Poverty is the badge of all our tribe, and its reproach. There is, for instance, a well-known taunt against a humble class of men, who live by their pens, which, girding not at the quality of their work, but the rate of its remuneration, twits them as penny-a-liners! Can the world be aware of the range of the shaft? What pray, was glorious John Milton, upon whom rested an after-glow of the holy inspiration of the sacred writers, like the twilight bequeathed by a mid-summer sun? Why he was, as you may reckon any time in his divine Paradise Lost, not even a ha’penny-a-liner! We have no proof that Shakspeare, the high priest of humanity, was even a farthing-a. liner, and we know that Homer not only sold his lines “gratis for nothing," but gave credit to all eternity! If I wrong the world I beg pardon—but I really believe it invented the phrase of the republic of letters, to insinuate that taking the whole lot of authors together, they have not got a sovereign amongst them!
I have now reduced Literature, as an arithmetician would say, to its lowest terms. I have shown her like Misery,–
For Misery is trodden on by many,
fairly ragged, beggar'd, and down in the dust, having been robbed of her last farthing by a pickpocket (that's a pirate). There she sits, like Diggon Davie—“Her was her while it was daylight, but now her is a most wretched wight,” or rather like a crazy Kate; a laughing-stock for the mob (that's the world), unprotected by the constable (that's the law), threatened by the beadle (that's the law too), repulsed from the workhouse by the overseer (that's the government), and denied any claim on the parish funds. Agricultural distress is a fool to it! One of those counterfeit cranks, to quote from "The English Rogue," "such as pretend to have the falling sickness, and by putting a piece of white soap into the corner of their mouths will make the froth come boiling forth, to cause pity in the beholders.”
If we inquire into the causes of this depression, some must un. doubtedly be laid at the doors of literary men themselves; but perhaps the greater proportion may be traced to the want of any definite ideas amongst people in general, on the following par. ticulars :-1. How an author writes. 2. Why an author writes. 3. What an author writes. And firstly, as to how he writes, upon
which head there is a wonderful diversity of opinions; one thinks that writing is “as easy as lying,” and pictures the author sitting carefully at his desk “ with his glove on,” like Sir Roger de Coverley's poetical ancestor. A second holds that “the easiest reading is d-d hard writing," and imagines Time himself beating his brains over an extempore. A third believes in inspiration, i. e., that metaphors, quotations, classical allusions, historical illustrations, and even dramatic plots—all come to the waking author by intuition ; whilst ready-made poems, like Coleridge's Kubla Khan, are dictated to him in his sleep. Of course the estimate of his desert will rise or fall according to the degree of learned labor attributed to the composition: he who sees in his mind's eye a genius of the lamp, consuming gallons on gallons of midnight oil-will assign a rate of reward, regulated probably by the success of the Hull whalers; whilst the believer in inspiration will doubtless conceive that the author ought to be fed as well as prompted by miracle, and accordingly bid him look up, like the apostle on the old Dutch tiles, for a bullock coming down from heaven in a bundle. 2dly. Why an author writes; and there is as wide a patchwork of opinions on this head as on the former. Some think that he writes for the present—others, that he writes for posterity-and a few, that he writes for antiquity. One believes that he writes for the benefit of the world in general-his own excepted—which is the opinion of the law. A second conceives that he writes for the benefit of booksellers in particular--and this is the trade's opinion. A third takes it for granted that he writes for nobody's benefit but his own—which is the opinion of the green-room. He is supposed to write for fame—for money-for amusement-for political ends-and, by certain schoolmasters, “to improve his mind.” Need it be wondered at, that in this uncertainty as to his motives, the world sometimes perversely gives him anything but
the thing he wants. Thus the rich author, who yearns for fame, gets a pension; the poor one, who hungers for bread, receives a diploma from Aberdeen; the writer for amusement has the plea. sure of a mohawking review in a periodical; and the gentleman in search of a place has an offer from a sentimental milliner ! 3dly. What an author writes. The world is so much of a Champollion, that it can understand hieroglyphics, if nothing else; it can comprehend outward visible signs, and grapple with a tangible emblem. It knows that a man on a table stands for patriotism, a man in the pulpit for religion, and so on, but it is a little obtuse as to what it reads in King Cadmus's types. A book hangs out no sign. Thus persons will go through a chapter, enforcing some principal duty of man towards his Maker or his neighbor, without discovering that, in all but the name, they have been reading a sermon. A solid mahogany pulpit is wanting to such a perception. They will con over an essay, glowing with the most ardent love of liberty, instinct with the noblest patriotism, and replete with the soundest maxims of polity, without the remotest notion that, except its being delivered upon paper instead of viva voce, they have been attending to a speech. As for dreaming of the author as a being who could sit in Parliament, and uphold the same sentiments, they would as soon think of chairing an abstract idea. They must see a bona fide wagon, with its true blue orange or green flag, to arrive at such a conclusion. The material keeps the upperhand. Hence the sight of a substantial Vicar may suggest the necessity of a parsonage and a glebe ; but the author is, according to the proverb, “out of sight, out of mind”-a spirituality not to be associated with such tangible temporalities as bread and cheese. He is condemned par contumace, to dine, tête-à-tête, with the Barme. cide or Duke Humphrey, whilst, for want of a visible hustings, or velvet cushion, the small still voice of his pages is never conceived of as coming from a patriot, a statesman, a priest, or a prophet. As a case in point: there is a short poem by Southey, called the “Battle of Blenheim,” which from the text of some poor fellow's skull who fell in the great victory
For many a thousand bodies there
takes occasion to ask what they killed each other for ? and what good came of it in the end? These few quaint verses contain the very essence of a primary Quaker doctrine; yet lacking the tangible sign—a drab coat or a broad-brimmed hat-no member of the sect ever yet discovered that, in all but the garb, the peace-loving author was a Friend, moved by the spirit, and holding forth in verse in a strain worthy of the great Fox himself! Is such poetry, then, a vanity, or something worthy of all quakerly patronage? Verily, if the copyright had been valued at a thousand pounds the Society ought to have purchased itprinted the poem as a tract--and distributed it by tens of thousands, yea, hundreds of thousands, till every fighting man in the army and
navy had a copy, including the marines. The Society, however, has done nothing of the kind; and it has only acted like society in general towards literature, by regarding it as a vanity or a luxury rather than as a grand moral engine, capable of advancing the spiritual as well as the temporal interests of mankind. It has looked upon poets and their kind as common men, and not as spirits that, like the ascending and descending angels in Jacob's vision, hold commerce with the sky itself, and help to maintain the intercourse between earth and heaven.
I have yet a few comments to offer on the charges usually preferred against literary men, but shall reserve them for another and concluding letter.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE ATHENÆUM :
My dear Sir,--Now to the sins which have been laid at the doors, or tied to the knockers, of literary men: those offences which are to palliate or excuse such public slights and neglects as I have set forth ; or may be, such private ones as selling a presentation copy, perhaps a dedicatory one, as a booksellei would sell the Keepsake, with the author's autograph letters without the delicacy of waiting for his death, or the policy; for,
as Crabbe says, one's writings then fetch a better price, because there can be no more of them—at a sale of Evans’s. Literary men, then, have been charged with being eccentric—and so are comets. They were not created to belong to that mob of undis. tinguishable-call them not stars, but sparks--constituting the Milky Way. It is a taunt, as old as Chesterfield's Letters, that they are not polished—no more was that Chesterfield's son. They do not dress fashionably, for, if they could afford it, they know better, in a race for immortal fame, than to be outsiders. Some, it has been alleged, have run through their estates, which might have been easily traversed at a walk; and one and all have neglected to save half-a-crown out of sixpence a day. Their disinterestedness has been called imprudence, and their generosity extravagance, by parties who bestow their charity like miser Mould.* The only charge,-not a blank charge,--that has been discharged against them, their poverty, has been made a crime, and, what is worse, a crime of their own seeking. They have not, it is true, been notorious for hoarding or funding—the last would, in fact, require the creation of a stock on purpose for them—the Short Annuities. They have never any weight in the city, or anywhere else; in cash temperature their pockets are always at Zero. They are not the “ warm with,” but the “cold without ;' but it is to their credit,-if they have any credit,—that they have not worshipped Plutus. The Muse and Mammon never were in partnership; and it would be a desperate speculation indeed to take to literature as the means of amassing money. He would be a simple Dick Whittington indeed who expected to find its ways paved with philosopher's stones ; he must have Dantzic water, with its gold leaf in his head, who thinks to find Castaly a Pactolus; ass indeed must he be who dreams of browsing on Parnassus, like those asses which feed on an herb—(a sort of mint ?)--that turns their very teeth to gold. A line-maker, gifted with brains the gods have made
* An illiterate personage, who always volunteered to go round with the hat, but was suspected of sparing his own pocket. Overhearing, one day, a hint to that effect, he made the following speech :-“Other gentlemen puts down what they thinks proper, and so do I. Charity's a private concern, and what I gives is nothing to nobody.”