« PreviousContinue »
of all adulation, 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 during their short-lived success, sensible in spite of themselves on what a shifting foundation it rests, 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 authorized, in Andrew Marvell's phrase, as “synodical individuals,” to speak of themselves plurali majestatico. As if literature formed a caste, 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 dye 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
* Especially in this age of personality, this age of literary and political gossiping, when the meanest insects are worshiped 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 patch-work 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. [From The Friend, Essay V. On the Errors of Party Spirit, II, p. 192.-S. C.]
+ If it were worth while to mix together, as ingredients, half the aneedotes which I either myself know to be true, or which I have received from men incapable of intentional falsehood, concerning the characters, qualifications, and motives of our anonymous critics, whose decisions are oracles for our reading public; I might safely borrow the words of the apocryphal Daniel; “ Give me leave, O SOVEREIGN Public, and I shall slay this dragon without sword or staff.” For the compound would be as the "pitch, and sat, and hair, which Daniel took, and did seethe them together, and made lumps thereof; this he put in the dragon's mouth, and so the dragon burst in sunder; and Daniel said, LO, THESE ARE THE GODS YE WORSHIP.
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 men of genius ; and in part from the natural, but not therefore the less partial and unjust distinction, made by the public itself between literary and all other property ;-I believe the prejudice to have arisen, which considers an unusual irascibility concerning the reception of its products as characteristic of genius.
It might correct the moral feelings of a numerous class of readers, to suppose a Review set on foot, the object of which should be to criticize all the chief works presented to the public by our ribbon-weavers, calico-printers, cabinet-makers, and chinamanufacturers ; which should be conducted in the same spirit, and take the same freedom with personal character, as our literary journals. They would scarcely, I think, deny their belief, not only that the genus irritabile would be found to include many other species besides that of bards; but that the irritability of trade would soon reduce the resentments of poets into mere shadow-fights in the comparison. Or is wealth the only rational object of human interest ? Or even if this were admitted, has the poet no property in his works? Or is it a rare, or culpable case, that he who serves at the altar of the Muses, should be compelled to derive his maintenance from the altar, when too he has perhaps deliberately abandoned the fairest prospects of rank and opulence in order to devote himself, an entire and undistracted man, to the instruction or refinement of his fellow-citizens ? Or, should we pass by all higher objects and motives, all disinterested benevolence, and even that ambition of lasting praise which is at once the crutch and ornament, which at once supports and betrays, the infirmity of human virtue,-is the character and property of the man, who labors for our intellectual pleasure, less entitled to a share of our fellow-feeling, than that of the wine-merchant or milliner ? Sensibility indeed, both quick and deep, is not only a characteristic feature, but may be deemed a component part, of genius. But it is not less an essential mark of true genius, that its sensibility is excited by any other cause more powerfully than by its own personal interests ; for this plain reason, that the man of genius lives most in the ideal world,
in which the present is still constituted by the future or the past; and because his feelings have been habitually associated with thoughts and images, to the number, clearness, and vivacity of which the sensation of self is always in an inverse proportion. And yet, should he perchance have occasion to repel some false charge, or to rectify some erroneous censure, nothing is more common than for the many to mistake the general liveliness of his manner and language, whatever is the subject, for the effects of peculiar irritation from its accidental relation to himself.*
For myself, if from my own feelings, or from the less suspicious test of the observations of others, I had been made aware of any literary testiness or jealousy ; I trust, that I should have been, however, neither silly nor arrogant enough to have burthened the imperfection on genius. But an experience—(and I should not need documents in abundance to prove my words, if I added)-a tried experience of twenty years, has taught me, that the original sin of my character consists in a careless indifference to public opinion, and to the attacks of those who influence it; that praise and admiration have become yearly less and less desirable, except as marks of sympathy; nay that it is difficult and distressing to me to think with any interest even about the sale and profit of my works, important as, in my present circumstances, such considerations must needs be. Yet it never occurred to me to believe or fancy, that the quantum of intellectual power bestowed on me by nature or education was in any way connected with this habit of my feelings; or that it needed any other parents or fosterers
* This is one instance among many of deception, by the telling the half of a fact, and omitting the other half, when it is from their mutual counteraction and neutralization, that the whole truth arises, as a tertium aliquid different from either. Thus in Dryden's famous line
Great wit (meaning genius) to madness sure is near allied. Now if the profound sensibility, which is doubtless one of the components of genius, were alone considered, single and unbalanced, it might be fairly described as exposing the individual to a greater chance of mental derangement; but then a more than usual rapidity of association, a more than usual power of passing from thought to thought, and image to image, is a component equally essential; and in the due modification of each by the other the genius itself consists ; so that it would be just as fair to describe the earth, as in imminent danger of exorbitating, or of falling into the sun, according as the assertor of the absurdity confined his attention either to the projectile or to the attractive force exclusively.
than constitutional indolence, aggravated into languor by illhealth ; the accumulating embarrassments of procrastination ; the mental cowardice, which is the inseparable companion of procrastination, and which makes us anxious to think and converse on any thing rather than on what concerns ourselves; in fine, all those close vexations, whether chargeable on my faults or my fortunes, which leave me but little grief to spare for evils comparatively distant and alien.
Indignation at literary wrongs I leave to men born under happier stars. I can not afford it. But so far from condemning those who can, I deem it a writer's duty, and think it creditable to his heart, to feel and express a resentment proportioned to the grossness of the provocation, and the importance of the object. There is no profession on earth, which requires an attention so early, so long, or so unintermitting as that of poetry; and indeed as that of literary composition in general, if it be such as at all satisfies the demands both of taste and of sound logic. How difficult and delicate a task even the mere mechanism of verse is, may be conjectured from the failure of those, who have attempted poetry late in life. Where then a man has, from his earliest youth, devoted his whole being to an object, which by the admission of all civilized nations in all ages is honorable as a pursuit, and glorious as an attainment; what of all that relates to himself and his family, if only we except his moral character, can have fairer claims to his protection, or more authorize acts of self-defence, than the elaborate products of his intellect and intellectual industry? Prudence itself would command us to show, even if defect or diversion of natural sensibility had prevented us from feeling, a due interest and qualified anxiety for the offspring and representatives of our nobler being. I know it, alas! by woful experience. I have laid too many eggs in the hot sands of this wilderness, the world, with ostrich carelessness and ostrich oblivion. The greater part indeed have been trod under foot, and are forgotten ; but yet no small number have crept forth into life, some to furnish feathers for the caps of others, and still more to plume the shafts in the quivers of my enemies, of them that unprovoked have lain in wait against my soul.
Sic vos, non vobis, mellificatis, apes.'*
precious armfuls, in whatever direction he pressed forward, yet still took up so
THE AUTHOR'S OBLIGATIONS TO CRITICS, AND THE PROBABLE OC
CASION — PRINCIPLES OF MODERN CRITICISM — Mr. SOUTHEY's WORKS AND CHARACTER.
To anonymous critics in reviews, magazines, and news-journals of various name and rank, and to satirists with or without a name, in verse or prose, or in verse-text aided by prose-comment, I do seriously believe and profess, that I owe full two thirds of whatever reputation and publicity I happen to possess. For when the name of an individual has occurred so frequently, in so many works, for so great a length of time, the readers of these works(which with a shelf or two of Beauties, elegant Extracts and Anas, form nine tenths of the reading of the reading Public*)
much more than he could keep together, that those who followed him gleaned more from his continual droppings than he himself brought home; -nay, made stately corn-ricks therewith, while the renper himself was still seen only with his armful of newly-cut sheaves." Works, IV. p. 12.-Ed.)
* For as to the devotees of the circulating libraries, I dare not compliment their pass-time, or rather kill-time, with the name of reading. Call it rather a sort of beggarly day-dreaming, during which the mind of the dreamer furnishes for itself nothing but laziness, and a little mawkish sensibility; while the whole materiel and imagery of the doze is supplied ab ertra by a sort of mental camera obscura manufactured at the printing-office, which pro tempore fixes, reflects, and transmits the moving phantasms of one man's delirium, so as to people the barrenness of a hundred other brains afflicted with the same trance or suspension of all common sense and all definite purpose. We should therefore transfer this species of amusement,
-(if indeed those can be said to retire a musis, who were never in their company, or relaxation be attributable to those, whose bows are never bent)—from the genus, reading, to that comprehensive class characterized by the power of reconciling the two contrary yet co-existing propensities of human nature, namely, indulgence of sloth, and hatred of vacancy. In addition to novels and tales of chivalry in prose or rhyme (by which last I mean neither rhythm nor metre) this genus comprises as its species, gam