Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

If we apply to authors themselves for an account of their state, it will appear very little to deserve envy; for they have in all ages been addicted to complaint. The neglect of learning, the ingratisude of the present age, and the abfurd preference by which ignorance and dullness often obtain favour and rewards, have been from age to age topicks of invective ; and few have left their names to posterity, without some appeal to future candour from the perverseness and malice of their own times.

I have, nevertheless, been often inclined to doubt, whetheç authors, however querulous, are in reality more miserable than their fellow mortals.

The present life is to all a state of infelicity; every man, like an author, believes himself to meric more than he obtains, and solaces the present with the prospect of the future; others, indeed, suffer those disappointments in silence, of which the writer complains, to Thew how well he has learnt the art of lamentation.

There is at least one gleam of felicity, of which few writers have missed the enjoyment: he whose hopes have so far overpowered his fears, as that he has resolved to stand forth a candidate for fame, feldom fails to amuse himself, before his appearance, with pleasing scenes of aff?uence or honour ; while his fortune is yet under the regulation of fancy, he easily models it to his wish, suffers no thoughts of criticks or rivals to intrude upon his mind, but counts over the bounties of patronage, or listens to the voice of praise.

Some there are, that talk very luxuriously of the second period of an author's happiness, and tell of

the

the tumultuous raptures of invention, when the mind riots in imagery, and the choice stands suspended between different sentiments.

These pleasures, I believe, may sometimes be indulged to those, who come to a subject of disquisitions with minds full of ideas, and with fancies so vigorous, as easily to excite, select, and arrange them. To write is, indeed, no unpleasing employment, when one sentiment readily produces another, and both ideas and expressions present themselves at the first summons : but fuch happiness, the greatest genius does not always obtain; and common writers know it only to such a degree, as to credit its porfibility. Composition is, for the most part, an effort of now diligence and feady perfeverance, to which the mind is dragged by neceflity or resolution, and from which the attention is every moment starting to more delightful amulements.

It frequently happens, that a design which, when considered it a distance, gave flattering hopes of facility, mocks us in the execution with unexpected tiiliculties; ihe mind which, while it considered it in the grols, imagined itself amply furnished with materials, sinds sometimes an unexpected barrenness and vacuity, and wonders whether all thofe ideas are vanished, which a little before seemed struggling for ciniffion.

Sometimes many thoughts present themselves ; but fo confused and unconnected, that they are not without difficulty reduced to method, or concatenated, in a regular and dependent series : the mind falls at once into 3 labyrinth, of which neither the beginning nor end can be discovered, and toils and truggles without progress or extrication.

It very

It is alerted by Horace, that " if matter be once “ got together, words will be found with little • difficulty ;” a position which, though sufficiently plausible to be inserted in poetical precepts, is by no means strictly and philosophically true. If words were naturally and necessarily consequential to sentiments, it would always follow, that he who has most knowledge must have most eloquence, and that every man would clearly express what he fully underftood: yet we find, that to think, and discourse, are often the qualities of different persons : and many books might surely be produced, where just and noble sentiments are degraded and obscured by unsuitable diction.

Words, therefore, as well as things, claim the çare of an author. Indeed of, many authors, and those not useless or contemptible, words are almost the only care : many make it their study, not to much to strike out new sentiments, as to recommend those which are already known to more favourable notice by fairer decorations; but every man, whether he copies or invents, whether he delivers his own thoughts or those of another, has often found himself deficient in the power of expression, big with ideas which he could not utter, obliged to ransack his memory for terms adequate to his conceptions, and at last unable to impress upon his reader the image existing in his own mind.

It is one of the common distresses of a writer, to be within a word of a happy period, to want only a single epithet to give amplification its full force, to require only a correspondent term in order to finish a paragraph with elegance, and make one of its 6

members

members answer to the other: but these deficiencies cannot always be fupplied ; and after a long study and vexation, the passage is turned anew, and the web unwoven that was so nearly finished.

But when thoughts and words are collected and adjusted, and the whole composition at last concluded, it feldom gratifies the author, when he comes coolly and deliberately to review it, with the hopes which had been excited in the fury of the perforinance : novelty always captivates the mind; as our thoughts rise fresh upon us, we readily believe them just and original, which, when the pleasure of production is over, we find to be mean and common, or borrowed from the works of others, and supplied by memory rather than invention.

But though it should happen that the writer finds no such faults in his performance, he is still to remember, that he looks upon it with partial eyes ; and when he confiders, how much men who could judge of others with great exactness, have often failed of judging of themselves, he will be afraid of deciding too haftily in his own favour, or of allowing himself to contemplate with too much complacence, treasure that has not yet been brought to the test, nor pafted the only trial that can stamp its value.

From the publick, and only from the publick, is he to await a confirmation of his claim, and a final jurification of self-esteem ; but the publick is not easily persuaded to favour an author. If mankind were left to judge for themselves, it is reasonable to imagine, that of such writings, at least, as describe the movements of the human passions, and of which every inan carries the archetype within him, a just

opinion

opinion would be formed; but whoever has remarked the fate of books, must have found it governed by other causes, than general consent arising from gea neral conviction. If a new performance happens not to fall into the hands of some, who have courage to tell, and authority to propagate their opinion, it often remains long in obscurity, and perishes unknown and unexamined. A few, a very few, commonly constitute the taste of the time; the judgment which they have once pronounced, some are too lazy to discuss, and some too timorous to contradict : it may however be, I think, observed, that their power is greater to depress than exalt, as inankind are more credulous of censure than of praise.

This perversion of the publick judgment is not to be ralhly numbered amongst the miseries of an author; since it commonly serves, after miscarriage, to reconcile him to himself. Because the world has sometimes passed an unjust sentence, he readily concludes the sentence unjust by which his performance is condemned; because some have been exalted above their merits by partiality, he is sure to ascribe the success of a rival, not to the merit of his work, but the zeal of his patrons. Upon the whole, as the author seems to share all the common miseries of life, he appears to partake likewise of its lenitives and abatements.

[blocks in formation]
« ZurückWeiter »