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ultations, "This will deserve the thanks of posterity!" And when their adversaries, as it much more frequently falls out, have outnumbered and overthrown them, they will say, with an air of revenge and a kind of gloomy triumph, Posterity will curse you for this."
It is common among men, under the influence of any kind of phrensy, to believe that all the world has the same odd notions that disorder their own imaginations. Did these unhappy men, these deluded patriots, know how little we are concerned about posterity, they would never attempt to fright us with their curses, or tempt us to a neglect of our own interest by a prospect of their gratitude.
But so strong is their infatuation, that they seem to have forgotten even the primary law of self-preservation; for they sacrifice, without scruple, every flattering hope, every darling enjoyment, and every satisfaction of life, to this ruling passion, and appear, in every step, to consult not so much their own advantage, as that of posterity.
Strange delusion! that can confine all their thoughts to a race of men whom they neither know, nor can know; from whom nothing is to be feared, nor any thing expected; who cannot even bribe a special jury, nor have so much as a single riband to bestow.
This fondness for posterity is a kind of madness which at Rome was once almost epidemical, and infected even the women and the children. It reigned there till the entire destruction of Carthage; after which it began to be less general, and in a few years afterwards a remedy was discovered, by which it was almost entirely extinguished.
In England it never prevailed in any such degree: some few of the ancient barons seem, indeed, to have been disordered by it; but the contagion has been, for the most part, timely checked, and our ladies have been generally free.
But there has been, in every age, a set of men, much admired and reverenced, who have affected to be always talking of posterity, and have laid out their lives upon the com
position of poems, for the sake of being applauded by this imaginary generation.
The present poets I reckon amongst the most inexorable enemies of our most excellent ministry, and much doubt whether any method will effect the cure of a distemper, which, in this class of men, may be termed, not an accidental disease, but a defect in their original frame and constitution.
Mr. Brooke, a name I mention with all the detestation suitable to my character, could not forbear discovering this depravity of his mind in his very prologue, which is filled with sentiments so wild, and so much unheard of among those who frequent levees and courts, that I much doubt, whether the zealous licenser proceeded any further in his examination of his performance.
He might easily perceive that a man,
Who bade his moral beam through every age,
was too much a bigot to exploded notions, to compose a play which he could license without manifest hazard of his office, a hazard which no man would incur untainted with the love of posterity.
We cannot, therefore, wonder that an author, wholly possessed by this passion, should vent his resentment for the licenser's just refusal, in virulent advertisements, insolent complaints, and scurrilous assertions of his rights and privileges, and proceed, in defiance of authority, to solicit a subscription.
This temper, which I have been describing, is almost always complicated with ideas of the high prerogatives of human nature, of a sacred unalienable birthright, which no man has conferred upon us, and which neither kings can take, nor senates give away; which we may justly assert whenever and by whomsoever it is attacked; and which, if ever it should happen to be lost, we may take the first opportunity to recover.
The natural consequence of these chimeras is contempt of authority, and an irreverence for any superiority but
what is founded upon merit; and their notions of merit are very peculiar, for it is among them no great proof of merit to be wealthy and powerful, to wear a garter or a star, to command a regiment or a senate, to have the ear of the minister or of the king, or to possess any of those virtues. and excellencies, which, among us, entitle a man to little less than worship and prostration.
We may, therefore, easily conceive that Mr. Brooke thought himself entitled to be importunate for a license, because, in his own opinion, he deserved one, and to complain thus loudly at the repulse he met with.
His complaints will have, I hope, but little weight with the publick; since the opinions of the sect in which he is enlisted are exposed, and shown to be evidently and demonstrably opposite to that system of subordination and dependence, to which we are indebted for the present tranquillity of the nation, and that cheerfulness and readiness with which the two houses concur in all our designs.
I shall, however, to silence him entirely, or at least to show those of our party that he ought to be silent, consider singly every instance of hardship and oppression which he has dared to publish in the papers, and to publish in such a manner, that I hope no man will condemn me for want of candour in becoming an advocate for the ministry,. if I can consider his advertisements as nothing less than AN APPEAL TO HIS COUNTRY.
Let me be forgiven if I cannot speak with temper of such insolence as this: is a man without title, pension, or place, to suspect the impartiality or the judgment of those who are entrusted with the administration of publick affairs? Is he, when the law is not strictly observed in regard to him, to think himself aggrieved, to tell his sentiments in print, assert his claim to better usage, and fly for redress to another tribunal?
If such practices are permitted, I will not venture to foretell the effects of them; the ministry may soon be convinced, that such sufferers will find compassion, and that
it is safer not to bear hard upon them, than to allow them to complain.
The power of licensing, in general, being firmly established by an act of parliament, our poet has not attempted to call in question, but contents himself with censuring the manner in which it has been executed; so that I am not now engaged to assert the licenser's authority, but to defend his conduct.
The poet seems to think himself aggrieved, because the licenser kept his tragedy in his hands one-and-twenty days, whereas the law allows him to detain it only four
Where will the insolence of the malecontents end? how are such unreasonable expectations possibly to be satisfied? Was it ever known that a man exalted into a high station, dismissed a suppliant in the time limited by law? Ought not Mr. Brooke to think himself happy that his play was not detained longer? If he had been kept a year in suspense, what redress could he have obtained? Let the poets remember, when they appear before the licenser, or his deputy, that they stand at the tribunal, from which there is no appeal permitted, and where nothing will so well become them as reverence and submission.
Mr. Brooke mentions, in his preface, his knowledge of the laws of his own country: had he extended his inquiries to the civil law, he could have found a full justification of the licenser's conduct, "Boni judicis est ampliare suam
If then it be "the business of a good judge to enlarge his authority," was it not in the licenser the utmost clemency and forbearance, to extend fourteen days only to twenty-one?
I suppose this great man's inclination to perform, at least, this duty of a good judge, is not questioned by any, either of his friends or enemies. I may, therefore, venture to hope, that he will extend his power by proper degrees, and that I shall live to see a malecontent writer earnestly
soliciting for the copy of a play, which he had delivered to the licenser twenty years before.
"I waited," says he, "often on the licenser, and with the utmost importunity entreated an answer." Let Mr. Brooke consider, whether that importunity was not a sufficient reason for the disappointment. Let him reflect how much more decent it had been to have waited the leisure of a great man, than to have pressed upon him with repeated petitions, and to have intruded upon those precious moments which he has dedicated to the service of his country.
Mr. Brooke was, doubtless, led into this improper manner of acting, by an erroneous notion that the grant of a license was not an act of favour, but of justice; a mistake into which he could not have fallen, but from a supine inattention to the design of the statute, which was only to bring poets into subjection and dependence, not to encourage good writers, but to discourage all.
There lies no obligation upon the licenser to grant his sanction to a play, however excellent; nor can Mr. Brooke demand any reparation, whatever applause his performance may meet with.
Another grievance is, that the licenser assigned no reason for his refusal. This is a higher strain of insolence than any of the former. Is it for a poet to demand a licenser's reason for his proceedings? Is he not rather to acquiesce in the decision of authority, and conclude, that there are reasons which he cannot comprehend?
Unhappy would it be for men in power, were they always obliged to publish the motives of their conduct. What is power, but the liberty of acting without being accountable? The advocates for the licensing act have alleged, that the lord chamberlain has always had authority to prohibit the representation of a play for just reasons. Why then did we call in all our force to procure an act of parliament? Was it to enable him to do what he has always done? to confirm an authority which no man attempted to impair, or pretended to dispute?