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From others only do we derive our knowledge that Milton, in his latter day, had his scorners and detractors; and even in his day of youth and hope, that he had enemies would have been unknown to us, had they not been likewise thë enemies of his country.
I am well aware, that in advanced stages of literature, when there exist many and excellent models, a high degree of talent, combined with taste and judgement, and employed in works of imagination, will acquire for a man the name of a great genius ; though even that analogon of genius, which, in certain states of society, may even render his writings more popular than the absolute reality could have done, would be sought for in vain in the mind and temper of the author himself. Yet even in instances of this kind,'a close examination will often detect, that the irritability, which has been attributed to the author's genius as its cause, did really originate in an ill conformation of body, obtuse pain, or constitutional defect of pleasurable sensation. What is charged to the author, belongs to the man, who would probably have been still more impatient, but for the humanizing influences of the very pursuit, which yet bears the blame of his irritability.
How then are we to explain the easy credence generally given to this charge, if the charge itself be not, as we have endeavoured to show, supported by experience? This seems to me of no very difficult solution. In whatever country literature is widely diffused, there will be many who mistake an intense desire to possess the reputation of poetic genius, for the actual powers, and original tendencies which constitute it. But men, whose dearest wishes are fixed on objects wholly out of their own power, become in all cases more or less impatient and prone to anger. Besides, though it may be paradoxical to assert, that a man can know one thing, and believe the opposite, yet assuredly, a vain person may have so habitually indulged the wish, and persevered in the attempt to appear what he is not, as to become himself one of his own proselytes. Still, as this counterfeit and artificial persuasion must differ, even in the person's own feelings, from a real sense of inward power, what can be more natural, than that this difference should betray itself in suspicious and jealous irritability? Even as the flowery sod, which covers a hollow, may be often detected by its shaking and trembling : But, alas! the multitude of books, and the general diffusion of literature, have produced other, and more lamentable effects in the world of letters, and such as are abundant to explain, tho' by no means to justify, the contempt with which the best grounded complaints of injured tion, and put them on their guard. And hence individuals below mediocrity not less in natural power than in acquired knowledge ; nay, bunglers that had failed in the lowest mechanic crafts, and whose presumption is in due proportion to their want of sense and sensibility; men, who being first scriblers from idleness and ignorance next become libellers from envy and malevolence; have been able to drive a successful trade in the employment of the booksellers, nay have raised themselves into temporary name and reputation with the public at large, by that most powerful of all adulation,
times with undiminished admiration, and without once relecting, that “ αςρα φαεινην αμφι σεληνην φαινετ’ αριπρεπεα” (i. e. the stars around, or near the full moon, shine preeminently bright) conveys a just and happy image of a moonlight sky: while it is difficult to determine whether in the lines,
“Around her throne the vivid planets roll,
And stars unnumber'd gild the glowing pole,” the sense, or the diction be the more absurd. My answer was ; that tho' I had derived peculiar advantages from my school discipline, and tho' my general theory of poetry was the same then as now, I had yet experienced the same sensations myself, and felt almost as if I had been newly couched, when by Mr. Wordsworth's conversation, I had been induced to re-examine with impartial strictness Grey's celebrated elegy. I had long before detected the defects in " the Bard ;” but “ the Elegy” I had considered as proof against all fair attacks; and to this day I cannot read either, without delight, and a portion of enthusiasm. At all events, whatever pleasure I may have lost by the clearer perception of the faults in certain passages, has been more than repaid to me, by the additional delight with which I read the remainder.
the appeal to the bad and malignant passions of mankind." But as it is the nature of scorn, envy, and all malignant propensities to require a quick change of objects, such writers are sure, sooner or later to awake from their dream of vanity to disappointment and neglect with embittered and envenomed feelings. Even du
Especially 6 in this AGE OF PERSONALITY, this age literary and political GOSSIPING, when the meanest insects are worshipped with a sort of Egyptian superstition, if only the brainless head be atoned for by the sting of personal malignity in the tail! When the most vapid satires have become the objects of a keen public interest, purely from the number of contemporary characters named in the patchwork notes (which possess, however, the comparative merit of being more poetical than the text) and because, to increase the stimulus, the author has sagaciously left his own name for whispers and conjectures ! In an age, when even sermons are published with a double appendix stuffed with names—in a generation so transformed from the characteristic reserve of Britons, that from the ephemeral sheet of a London newspaper, to the everlasting Scotch Professorial Quarto, almost every publication exhibits or flatters the epidemic distemper; that the very " last year's rebuses” in the Ladies Diary, are answered in a serious elegy " on my father's death" with the name and habitat of the elegiac Edipus subscribed ; and “ other ingenious solutions were likewise given" to the said rebuses—not as heretofore by Crito, Philander, A, B, Y, &c, but by fifty or sixty plain English sirnames at full length with their several places of abode ! In an age, when a bashful Philalethes, or Phileleutheros is as rare on the title-pages, and among the signatures of our magazines, as a real name used to be in the days of our shy and notice-shunning grandfathers! When (more exquisite than all) I see an Epic Poem (spirits of Maro and Mæonides make ready to welcome your new compeer!) advertised with the special recommendation, that the said Epic Poem contains more than an hundred names of living persons."
FRIEND No. 10.
ring their short-lived success, sensible in spite of themselves on what a shifting foundation it rested, they resent the mere refusal of praise, as a robbery, and at the justest censures kindle at once into violent and undisciplined abuse; till the acute disease changing into chronical, the more deadly as the less violent, they become the fit instruments of literary detraction, and moral slander. They are then no longer to be questioned without exposing the complainant to ridicule, because, forsooth, they are anonymous critics, and authorised as “ synodical individuals”* to speak of themselves plurali majestatico! As if literature formed a cast, like that of the PARAs in Hindostan, who, however maltreated, must not dare to deem themselves wronged! As if that, which in all other cases adds a deeper die to slander, the circumstance of its being anonymous, here acted only to make the slanderer inviolable! Thus, in part, from the accidental tempers of individuals (men of undoubted talent, but not men of genius) tempers rendered yet more irritable by their desire to appear men of genius; but still more effectively by the excesses of the mere counterfeits both of talent and genius ; the number too being so incomparably greater of those who are thought to be, than of those who really are
* A phrase of Andrew Marvel's.