« ZurückWeiter »
Epistle III. Of the Nature and State of Man, with Respect to Society 271 Epistle IV. Of the Nature and State of Man with Respect to Happinefs
The Univerfal Prayer
Epiftle I. Of the Knowledge and Characters of Men
Epiftle III. Of the Ufe of Riches
Epiftle IV. Of the Ufe of Riches
Epistle V. To Mr. Addison, occafioned by his Dialogues on Medals
I AM inclined to think, that both the writers of books and the readers of them are generally not a little unreasonable in their expectations. The firft feem to fancy that the world must approve whatever they produce, and the latter to imagine that authors are obliged to please them at any rate. Methinks, as on the one hand, no fingle man is born with a right of controuling the opinions of all the reft; fo on the other, the world has no title to demand, that the whole care and time of any particular person fhould be facrificed to its entertainment. Therefore I cannot but believe that writers and readers are under equal obligations, for as much fame, or pleafure, as each affords the other.
Every one acknowledges, it would be a wild notion to expect perfection in any work of man: and yet one would think the contrary was taken for granted, by the judgment commonly paffed upon poems. A critic fupposes he has done his part, if he proves a writer to have failed in an expreffion, or erred in any particular point: and can it then be wondered at, if the poets in general feem refolved not to own themselves in any error? For as long as one fide will make no allowances, the other will be brought to no acknowledgments.
I am afraid this extreme zeal on both fides is ill-placed; Poetry and Criticifm being by no means the univerfal concern of the world, but only the affair of idle men who write in their clofets, and of idle men who read there.
Yet fure upon the whole, a bad author deferves better ufage than a bad critic: for a writer's endeavour, VOL. I.
for the most part, is to please his readers, and he fails merely through the misfortune of an ill judgment; but fuch a critic's is to put them out of humour; a defign he could never go upon without both that and an ill temper.
I think a good deal may be said to extenuate the fault of bad poets. What we call a Genius, is hard to be diftinguished by a man himself, from a ftrong inclination: and if his genius be ever fo great, he cannot at firft discover it any other way, than by giving way to that prevalent propenfity which renders him the more liable to be miftaken. The only method he has, is to make the experiment by writing, and appealing to the judgment of others: now if he happens to write ill (which is certainly no fin in itself) he is immediately made an object of ridicule. I wish we had the humanity to reflect, that even the worft authors might, in their endeavour to please us, deserve something at our hands. We have no caufe to quarrel with them but for their obftinacy in perfifting to write; and this too may admit of alleviating circumftances. Their particular friends may be either ignorant, or infincere; and the reft of the world in general is too well-bred to fhock them with a truth, which generally their bookfellers are the first that inform them of. This happens not 'till they have spent too much of their time, to apply to any profeffion which might better fit their talents; and 'till fuch talents as they have are fo far difcredited as to be but of finall ferwice to them. For (what is the hardest case imaginable) the reputation of a man generally depends upon the first fteps he makes in the world; and people will establish their opinion of us, from what we do at that feafon when we have leaft judgment to direct us.
On the other hand, a good poet no fooner communicates his works with the fame defire of information, but it is imagined he is a vain young creature given, up to the ambition of fame; when perhaps the poor man is all the while trembling with the fear of being ridiculous.
If he is made to hope he may please the world, he falls under very unlucky circumftances: for, from the moment he prints, he muft expect to hear no more truth, than if he were a prince, or a beauty. If he has not very good fenfe (and indeed there are twenty men of wit for one man of fenfe) his living thus in a courfe of flattery may put him in no fmall danger of becoming a coxcomb': if he has, he will confequently have fo much diffidence as not to reap any great fatisfaction from his praife; fince, if it be given to his face, it can scarce be distinguished from flattery, and if in his abfehce, it is hard to be certain of it. Were he fure to be commended by the best and most knowing, he is as fure of being envied by the worst and most ignorant, which are the majority; for it is with a fine genius, as with a fine fashion, all those are displeased at it who are not able to follow it : and it is to be feared that efteem will feldom do any man fo much good, as ill-will does him harm. Then there is a third clafs of people who make the largest part of mankind, thofe of ordinary or indifferent capacities; and these (to a man) will hate, or fufpect him: a hundred honeft gentlemen will dread him as a wit, and a hundred innocent women as a fatirift. In a word, whatever be his fate in poetry, it is ten to one but he must give up all the reasonable aims of life for it. There are indeed fome advantages accruing from a genius to poetry, and they are all I can think of: the agreeable power of selfamusement when a man is idle or alone; the privilege of being admitted into the beft company; and the freedom of faying as many careless things as other people, without being so severely remarked upon.
I believe, if any one, early in his life, fhould contemplate the dangerous fate of authors, he would scarce be of their number on any confideration. The life of a wit is a warfare upon earth; and the prefent spirit of the learned world is fuch, that to attempt to ferve it (any way) one must have the conftancy of a martyr, and a refolution to fuffer for its fake. I could wish people
would believe, what I am pretty certain they will not, that I have been much lefs concerned about fame than I durft declare 'till this occafion, when methinks I fhould find more credit than I could heretofore, fince my writings have had their fate already, and it is too late to think of prepoffeffing the reader in their favour. I would plead it as fome merit in me, that the world has never been prepared for these trifles by prefaces, biaffed by recommendations, dazzled with the names of great patrons, wheedled with fine reafons and pretences, or troubled with excuses. I confefs it was want of confideration that made me an author; I writ because it amufed me; I corrected because it was as pleasant to me to correct as to write; and I published becaufe I was told I might please fuch as it was a credit to pleafe. To what degree I have done this I am really ignorant; I had too much fondness for my productions to judge of them at first, and too much judgment to be pleafed with them at laft. But I have reason to think they can have no reputation which will continue long, or which deserves to do so: for they have always fallen fhort not only of what I read of others, but even of my own ideas of poetry,
If any one should imagine I am not in earnest, I defire him to reflect, that the antients (to fay the leaft of them) had as much genius as we; and that to take more pains, and employ more time, cannot fail to produce more complete pieces. They conftantly applied themfelves not only to that art, but to that fingle branch of an art, to which their talent was most powerfully bent; and it was the bufinefs of their lives to correct and finish their works for pofterity. If we can pretend to have used the fame industry, let us expect the fame immortality though if we took the fame care, we should still lie under a further misfortune; they writ in languages that became univerfal and everlafting, while ours are extremely limited both in extent and in duration. A mighty foundation for our pride! when the utmost we