Page images
PDF
[ocr errors][ocr errors][graphic]
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic]
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

The conseiousness that he is writing for a small community is as a millstone round the neck of an author. He may have more readers in a narrow than in an extended circle; but it is not to this that we allude—it is to the constant recurrence of the feeling, that he can not preserve an incognito; that to be anonymous is not to be unknown; that he cannot separate the author from the man in the minds of his readers; that there is no impervious veil of mystery to shroud him from the vulgar gaze; that he is self-manifested in all that he commits to paper, and that his dicta are only of value in proportion to the estimate which each reader, in his own little world, may form of the individual's capacity to instruct him : these are the feelings, which act so gallingly upon his spirit, whenever he takes up the pen with a desire to instruct or to inform society. The public writer in such a situation, knows full well that there are many, who will dispute his right to be an instructor; that many think him a very poor creature, for some private reasons of their own ; and that that there are few people, who like to be dictated to at all when they know who is the dictator (an unknown dogmatist they can endure because he does not attack their self-love so directly)—he knows this and the knowledge is accompanied with an embarrassment, which pains at the same time that it fetters. But this is not all; as his writings are known he must be very careful indeed what he writes; for there are a multitude of readers, whose discernment is only to be equalled by their charity, and who not only discover an author's motives for writing in a particular strain, but discover also that those motives are corrupt. People know something of his private history and trace his own feelings in all that he writes. It is not enough even that his compositions should assume a form of fictitious narrative and that ideal speakers should be introduced, whose sentiments must be consistent with their characters:–oh! no, if there be anything of a doubtful morality in these sentiments, they are instantly said to be the sentiments of the writer, and then the causes, which have conduced to such a tone of sentiment, are discovered and dilated upon with a degree of candour and good-nature, which must be delightfully exhilarating to the disciples of that school, which the wit of Brinsley Sheridan has immortalized,

These remarks have a close application to the difficulties under which a writer labours in our Indian community. Almost every body in Calcutta knows the names and perhaps the persons of each writer in the different periodicals; they know more than this, they know his character, his history, his means, his way of life, but this would be nothing if they did not know his style in such a manner as to identify every article se writes, and to forbid the preservation of an incognito. The editorial we is but a transparent veil, through which all see Mr. , or Mr. * * *; and it is most true, though it may seem strange, that the opinions of an unknown writer, of whose general powers, and of whose honesty and integrity the reader can have no knowledge whatever, are received with far more respect than those of an author, with whom we are acquainted, either personally or by report, although our knowledge of the individual may have had no othe eflect than that of implanting within us a deeply-rooted conviction of his excellence, intellectual and moral. One person will not think much of a writer, who happened to be, many years ago at college, inferior to him in scholastic attainments; another will recognize in a particular writer a junior officer, and will not admit of intellectual, where there is not military precedence: a third will say, that A. is un-educated, or B, quite a boy, or C. too fond of society - and thus deny their right to set themselves up as public instructors; but all this is exceedingly unfair, exceedingly mortifying, and exceedingly embarrassing. The writings, not the writers, should be canvassed. If an article contain dangerous or un-sound opinions, let it be attacked with all violence; let its arguments be rebutted and overthrown in any mode, however truculent, by the supporters of the opposite cause; but let not the individual be attacked —let the person be kept sacred. It has nothing to do with the merits of the question that Mr. Jones is a drunkard, or Mr. Brown an atheist, or that Mr. Thompson has been confined in a mad-house. Party rancour, not political but literary, in this our City-of-Palaces, has for some time been raging most fearfully. Would to God that we could see it extinguished :

[graphic]

To apply these observations more immediately to the matter now under our consideration. A public writer is invited to prepare for a certain periodical, a biographical notice of a cotemporary. He undertakes the task, but at the same time he is well aware that upon the appearance of his biography, his authorship of the article will be identified not only by the biographized individual himself, int by all that individual's associates, by every literary man in the community, and indeed by the majority of his readers. He must be prepared, therefore, to have his motives as well as his opinions canvassed : whatever may be the tone of the article he has written, he is sure to have his sincerity questioned by some party or other. If he has spoken unfavorably or even luke-warmly, of his cotemporary's writings, the charge of envy is laid at his door; if on the other hand he has bestowed on them generous laudations, it is either said that he is one of the author's personal friends and is afraid of a schism if he were to give an honest opinion, or else that he has some object in view—some purpose to answer— perhaps that he expects on a future occasion to be paid back for his flattery in kind. Immediately that the work appears it is said “Oh I this is 's article ; and dines with * * * three times a week,” or “ — is paying his addresses to * * *'s daughter,” or owes him money, or borrows his horses, or is his cousin: some reason or other is sure to be found for the eulogistic nature of the review; and just as many kindly motives, should the notice be unfavorable, are readily discovered by the discerning enquirer. We are perfectly aware of all this ; but we acknowledge that we are but little affected by it. We intend to write just what we think; and we leave our friends to find out our motives. We must premise, however, for their information, that we neither owe D. L. R. any money, nor do we dine with him three times a week, nor are we paying our addresses to his daughter, nor in the habit of borrowing his horses. That we are D. L. R.'s friend we readily and proudly acknowledge. If we were not so we should be litle fit to write this account of him ; for as with things so is it with persons, a writer must have some acquaintance with that which he undertakes to describe, or his description will be, most probably, a failure.

Hazlitt says, that “it is often harder to praise a friend than an enemy." But, we must confess, that we have never found much difficulty in bestowing praise on our friends. He says in another place, that, “to speak highly of one, with whom we are intimate, is a species of egotism;” if it be so, we are sadly afraid that we must prove ourselves to be egotists, in this month's magazine. But our readers will have already wearied of this long exordium, and will be longing to hear something of their friend D. L. R. Let us commence then without further periphrasis and tell them all that we know concerning one, who has afforded so much delight and instruction to the community of British India.

David Lestea Richardson, was born, we believe, in the first year of the present century, so that he is now about thirty-seven years of age. His Father, (Colonel David Thomas Richardson, of the Bengal Establishment,) was lost on his passage home to Europe about thirty years ago. He was not destitute of literary talent, as may be seen by his contributions, to the Asiatic Researches, and being an excellent oriental linguist, he occasionally amused

[ocr errors]

himself by translating passages of Eastern poetry, which he rendered into English verse with a considerable degree of felicity. We have seen a translation by him of one of Qoodrut's odes, which was published in the Weekly Review, and which struck us as being an elegant version of a somewhat philosophic poem. D. L. R. entered the service in 1819 and first appeared as a poet in the following year, when he began to send his verses to the Calcutta Journal, which was then under Buckingham's editorial management. To these contributions he affixed the triple initials, now so familiar to all Indian readers. In 1822, he published in Calcutta a small volume of poems, with his name in full on the title-page; of this publication he is, we believe, at the present time considerably ashamed : but few are the poets who, in the zenith of their fame, do not look back with supreme contempt on the first sprouts of their juvenile muse. In 1824, D. L. R. went to Europe on medical certificate. His first impressions on reaching Eugland he has recorded in his works with a truthfulness most touchingly beautiful. We need in this place but allude to the Essay on Children and the poem entitled The Return from Erile; it will be our province to speak of them fully anon. In 1825, D. L. R. published in London a volume entitled Sonnets and other Poems. This work was received, as it deserved to be, with an uncommon share of public favour. Reviewers, both metropolitan and provincial, almost without an exception, agreed in their laudations of Richardson's poetry. The public press has been rarely so unanimous in their opinions of an individual work. Indeed, as a proof of this volume's popularity, we may mention, that Messrs. Jones and Co., applied to the author for permission to include it in their well-known diamond-edition of the British poets; a compliment, which will be better understood, when it is stated, that Richardson is the only living bard whose works are included in the collection. This edition of D. L. R.'s poems, appeared in 1827, about which time he bethought himself of establishing in the metropolis a periodical, to be called the London Weekly Review. On this speculation he expended a large portion of his patrimony, which was far from being inconsiderable. His uncle, Colonel Sherwood of the Artillery, who was likewise the poet's guardian, had often said to him, “You are the richest Ensign in India; if you go houne, you will return a beggar." The Colonel's prediction was almost verified. D. L. R. established the Weekly Review, of which he was sole proprietor. He edited it in conjunction with Mr. St. John, author of the Anatomy of Society, Margaret Ravenscroft, and some works of oriental travel. Hazlitt, Bowring, Roscoe, Moir, Pringle, and many other eminent writers were amongst the contributors to this journal; and, it was, undoubtedly, the most talented and the most honest weekly periodical that ever issued from the London press. The undertaking prospered, as it deserved ; indeed, it was so successful, that John Murray was anxious to purchase a half-share in the proprietorship of the work. This, D. L. R. most imprudently declined: had he accepted the proposal, the chances are, that he would never have returned to India, but have been now living in England, upon the profits of his half share; for D. L. R. is about as bad a man of business as John Murray is a good one, and nothing but a connexion with such a person as the latter, could have enabled Richardson to carry on with profit to himself an extensive undertaking like that of the London Weekly Review. This was certainly the greatest mistake D. L. R. ever made in his life; and, subsequently, he bitterly repented of it. . In 1828, it may be remembered by many, the literary world was agitated by several extensive failures amongst the leading book-sellers of the country. In this number were a considerable portion of those houses, who had supported the Weekly Review by their advertisements, a circumstance which considerably lessened the profits arising from the work. This was a critical period too with D. L. R.; his time of furlough had nearly expired, and it became imperative upon him to take some decisive steps as to his future establishment in life. He was disheartened by a variety of circumstances, all chiefly resulting from his inexperience in the details of busi. ness; and he began to think that he had better return to his old profession in India. He carried on the London Weekly Review until the conclusion of the year 1828, when he sold it to Mr. Colburn, reserving to himself a certain share in the concern, the proceeds from which were to be increased in the same

[graphic]
« PreviousContinue »