« PrejšnjaNaprej »
many blessings, and inflict many calamities; that there is scarcely an individual who may not consider them as immediately or mediately influencing his life, as they are chief instruments of conveying knowledge, and transmitting sentiments; and almost every man learns, by their means, all that is right or wrong in his sentiments and conduct.
If letters were considered only as means of pleasure, it might well be doubted, in what degree of estimation they should be held; but when they are referred to necessity, the controversy is at an end; it soon appears, that though they may sometimes incommode us, yet human life would scarcely rise, without them, above the common existence of animal nature; we might, indeed, breathe and eat in universal ignorance, but must want all that gives pleasure or security, all the embellishments and delights, and most of the conveniencies, and comforts of our present condition. Literature is a kind of intellectual light, which, like the light of the sun, may sometimes enable us to see what we do not like; but who would wish to escape unpleasing objects, by condemning himself to perpetual darkness?
Since, therefore, letters are thus indispensably necessary; since we cannot persuade ourselves to lose their benefits, for the sake of escaping their mischiefs, it is worth our serious inquiry, how their benefits may be increased, and their mischiefs lessened; by what means the harvest of our studies may afford us more corn and less chaff; and how the roses of the gardens of science may gratify us more with their fragrance, and prick us less with their thorns.
I shall not, at present, mention the more formidable evils which the misapplication of literature produces, nor speak of churches infected with heresy, states inflamed with sedition, or schools infatuated with hypothetical fictions. These are evils which mankind have always lamented, and which, till mankind grow wise and modest, they must, I am afraid, continue to lament, without hope of remedy. I shall now touch only on some lighter and less extensive evils, yet such, as are sufficiently heavy to
those that feel them, and are, of late, so widely diffused, as to deserve, though, perhaps, not the notice of the legislature, yet the consideration of those whose benevolence inclines them to a voluntary care of publick happiness.
It was long ago observed by Virgil, and, I suppose, by many before him, that "bees do not make honey for their own use;" the sweets which they collect in their laborious excursions, and store up in their hives with so much skill, are seized by those who have contributed neither toil nor art to the collection; and the poor animal is either destroyed by the invader, or left to shift without a supply. The condition is nearly the same of the gatherer of honey, and the gatherer of knowledge. The bee and the author work alike for others, and often lose the profit of their labour. The case, therefore, of authors, however hitherto neglected, may claim regard. Every body of men is inportant, according to the joint proportion of their usefulness and their number. Individuals, however they may excel, cannot hope to be considered, singly, as of great weight in the political balance; and multitudes, though they may, merely by their bulk, demand some notice, are yet not of much value, unless they contribute to ease the burden of society, by cooperating to its prosperity.
Of the men, whose condition we are now examining, the usefulness never was disputed; they are known to be the great disseminators of knowledge, and guardians of the commonwealth; and, of late, their number has been so much increased, that they are become a very conspicuous part of the nation. It is not now, as in former times, when men studied long, and passed through the severities of discipline, and the probation of publick trials, before they presumed to think themselves qualified for instructers of their countrymen; there is found a nearer way to fame and erudition, and the inclosures of literature are thrown open to every man whom idleness disposes to loiter, or whom pride inclines to set himself to view. The sailor publishes his journal, the farmer writes the process of his annual labour; he that succeeds in his trade, thinks his wealth a proof of
his understanding, and boldly tutors the publick; he that fails, considers his miscarriage as the consequence of a capacity too great for the business of a shop, and amuses himself in the Fleet with writing or translating. The last century imagined, that a man, composing in his chariot, was a new object of curiosity; but how much would the wonder have been increased by a footman studying behind it! There is now no class of men without its authors, from the peer to the thrasher; nor can the sons of literature be confined any longer to Grub street or Moorfields; they are spread over all the town, and all the country, and fill every stage of habitation, from the cellar to the garret.
It is well known, that the price of commodities must always fall, as the quantity is increased, and that no trade can allow its professors to be multiplied beyond a certain. number. The great misery of writers proceeds from their multitude. We easily perceive, that in a nation of clothiers, no man could have any cloth to make but for his own back; that in a community of bakers every man must use his own bread; and what can be the case of a nation of authors, but that every man must be content to read his book to himself? For, surely, it is vain to hope, that of men labouring at the same occupation, any will prefer the work of his neighbour to his own; yet this expectation, wild as it is, seems to be indulged by many of the writing race, and, therefore, it can be no wonder, that like all other men, who suffer their minds to form inconsiderate hopes, they are harassed and dejected with frequent disappointments.
If I were to form an adage of misery, or fix the lowest point to which humanity could fall, I should be tempted to name the life of an author. Many universal comparisons there are by which misery is expressed. We talk of a man teased like a bear at the stake, tormented like a toad under a harrow, or hunted like a dog with a stick at his tail; all these are, indeed, states of uneasiness, but what are they to the life of an author; of an author worried by cri
1 Dodsley's 's Muse in Livery was composed under these circumstances. well's Life, ii.
ticks, tormented by his bookseller, and hunted by his creditors! Yet such must be the case of many among the retailers of knowledge, while they continue thus to swarm over the land; and, whether it be by propagation or contagion, produce new writers to heighten the general distress, to increase confusion, and hasten famine.
Having long studied the varieties of life, I can guess by every man's walk, or air, to what state of the community he belongs. Every man has noted the legs of a tailor, and the gait of a seaman; and a little extension of his physiognomical acquisitions will teach him to distinguish the countenance of an author. It is my practice, when I am in want of amusement, to place myself for an hour at Temple-bar, or any other narrow pass much frequented, and examine, one by one, the looks of the passengers; and I have commonly found, that, between the hours of eleven and four, every sixth man is an author. to be seen very early in the morning, or ing, but about dinner time they are all in motion, and have one uniform eagerness in their faces, which gives little opportunity of discerning their hopes or fears, their pleasures or their pains.
They are seldom late in the even
But, in the afternoon, when they have all dined, or composed themselves to pass the day without a dinner, their passions have full play, and I can perceive one man wondering at the stupidity of the publick, by which his new book has been totally neglected; another cursing the French who fright away literary curiosity by their threats of an invasion; another swearing at his bookseller, who will advance no money without copy; another perusing, as he walks, his publisher's bill; another murmuring at an unanswerable criticism; another determining to write no more to a generation of barbarians; and another resolving to try, once again, whether he cannot awaken the drowsy world to a sense of his merit.
It sometintes happens, that there may be remarked among them a smile of complacence, or a strut of elevation; but, if these favourites of fortune are carefully
watched for a few days, they seldom fail to show the transitoriness of human felicity; the crest falls, the gaiety is ended, and there appear evident tokens of a successful rival, or a fickle patron.
But of all authors, those are the most wretched, who exhibit their productions on the theatre, and who are to propitiate first the manager, and then the publick. Many an humble visitant have I followed to the doors of these lords of the drama, seen him touch the knocker with a shaking hand, and, after long deliberation, adventure to solicit entrance by a single knock; but I never staid to see them come out from their audience, because my heart is tender, and being subject to frights in bed, I would not willingly dream of an author.
That the number of authors is disproportionate to the maintenance, which the publick seems willing to assign them; that there is neither praise nor meat for all who write, is apparent from this; that, like wolves in long winters, they are forced to prey on one another. The reviewers and critical reviewers, the remarkers and examiners, can satisfy their hunger only by devouring their brethren. I am far from imagining that they are naturally more ravenous or blood-thirsty than those on whom they fall with so much violence and fury; but they are hungry, and hunger must be satisfied; and these savages, when their bellies are full, will fawn on those whom they now bite.
The result of all these considerations amounts only to this, that the number of writers must at last be lessened, but by what method this great design can be accomplished, is not easily discovered. It was lately proposed, that every man who kept a dog should pay a certain tax, which, as the contriver of ways and means very judiciously observed, would either destroy the dogs, or bring in money. Perhaps, it might be proper to lay some such tax upon authors, only the payment must be lessened in proportion as the animal, upon which it is raised, is less necessary; for many a man that would pay for his dog, wil