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ON PUBLICATIONS. • It is not unamusing to consider the several apologies that people make when they commence authors. It is taken for granted that, on every publication, there is at least a seeming violation of modesty; a presumption, on the writer's side, that he is able to instruct or to entertain the world; which implies a supposition that he can communicate, what they cannot draw from their own reflections.
To remove any prejudice this might occasion, has been the general intent of prefaces. Some we find extremely solicitous to claim acquaintance with their reader; addressing him by the most tender and endearing appellations. He is in general styled the most loving, candid, and courteous creature that ever breathed; with a view, doubtless, that he will deserve the compliment; and that his favour may be secured at the expense of his better judgment. Mean and idle expectation! The accidental elopements and adventures of a composition; the danger of an imperfect and surreptitious publication; the pressing and indiscreet instances of friends; the pious and well-meant frauds of acquaintance; with the irresistible commands of persons in high life; have been excuses often substituted in place of the real motives, vanity and hunger. The most allowable reasons for appearing thus in public are, either the advantage or amusement of our fellow-creatures, or our own private emolument and reputation. A man possessed of intellectual talents would be more blameable in confining them to his own private use, than the mean-spirited miser, that did the same by his money. The latter is indeed obliged to bid adieu to what he communicates; the former enjoys his treasures while even be renders others the better for them. A composition that enters the world with a view of improving or amusing it (I mean only, amusing it in a polite or innocent way) has a claim to our utmost indulgence, even tho' it fail of the effect intended. When a writer's private interest appears the motive of his publication, the reader has a larger scope for accusation, if he be a sufferer. Whoever pays for thoughts, which this kind of writers may be said to vend, has room enough to complain, if he be disappointed of his bargain. He has no revenge, but ridicule; and, contrary to the practice in other cases, to make the worst of a bad bargain. . ; When the love of fame acts on a man of genius the case appears to stand thus. The generality of the world, distinguished by the name of readers, observe, with a reluctance not unnatural, a person raising himself above them. All men have some desire of fame, and fame is grounded on comparison. Every one then is somewhat inclined to dispute his title to a superiority; and to disallow his pretensions on the discovery of a flaw. Indeed, a fine writer, like a luminous body, may be beneficial to the person he enlightens; but it is plain, he renders the capacity of the other more discernable.--Examination, how
ever, is a sort of turnpike in the way to fame, where, tho' a writer be a while detained, and part with a trifle from his pocket, he finds in return a more commodious and easy road to the temple. When, therefore, a man is conscious of ability to serve his country, or believes himself possessed of it (for there is no previous test on this occasion) he has no room to hesitate, or need to make apology.-When self-interest inclines a man to print, he should consider that the purchaser expects a penny-worth for his penny; and has reason to asperse his honesty if he find himself deceived.--Also, that it is possible to publish a book of no value, which is too frequently the product of such mercenary people. When fame is the principal object of our devotion, it should be considered whether our character be like to gain in point of wit, what it will probably lose in point of modesty: otherwise, we shall be censured of vanity more than famed for genius; and depress our char: acter while we strive to raise it. After all, there is a propensity in some to communicate their thoughts without any view at all: the more sanguine of these employ the press; the less lively are contented with being impertinent in conversation.
ON THE TEST OF POPULAR OPINION. I happen to fall into company with a citizen, a courtier, and an academic. Says the citizen, I am told continually of taste, refinement, and politeness; but methinks the vulgar and illiterate generally approve the same productions with the connoisseurs. One rarely finds a landscape, a building, or a play, that has charms for the critic exclusive of the mechanic. But, on the other hand, one readily remarks students who labour to be dull, depraving their native relish by the very means they use to refine it. The vulgar may not indeed be capable of giving the reasons why a composition pleases them. That mechanical distinction they leave to the connoisseur. But they are at all times, methinks, judges of the beauty of an effect, a part of knowledge in most respects allowedly more genteel than that of the operator.
Says the courtier, I cannot answer for every individual instance: but I think, moderately speaking, the vulgar are generally in the wrong. If they happen to be otherwise, it is principally owing to their implicit reliance on the skill of their superiors: and this has sometimes been strangely effectual in making them imagine they relish perfection. In short, if ever they judge well, it is at the time they least presume to frame opinions for themselves.
It is true they will pretend to taste an object which they know their betters do. But then they consider some person's judgment as a certain standard or rule; they find the object exactly tally; and this demonstrated appearance of beauty affords them some small degree of satisfaction. It is the saine with regard to the appetite, from which the metaphor of taste is borrowed. "Such a soup or olio,' say they, is much in vogue; and if you do not like it, you must learn to like it.' But in poetry, for instance, it is urged that the vulgar discover the same beauties with the man of reading, Now half or more of the beauties of poetry depend on metaphor or allusion, neither of which, by a mind uncultivated, can be applied to their proper coun.