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No. IV.--SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27, 1759.
UNCERTAINTY OF LITERARY SUCCESS.
Were I to measure the merit of my present undertaking by its success, or the rapidity of its sale, I might be led to form conclusions by no means favourable to the pride of an author. Should I estimate my fame by its extent, every newspaper and magazine would leave me far behind. Their fame is diffused in a very wide circle, that of some as far as Islington, and some yet farther still: while mine, I sincerely believe, has hardly travelled beyond the sound of Bow-bell; and while the works of others fly like unpinioned swans, I find my own move as heavily as a newplucked goose.
Still, however, I have as much pride as they who have ten times as many readers. It is impossible to repeat all the agreeable delusions in which a disappointed author is apt to find comfort. I conclude, that what my reputation wants in extent, is made up by its solidity: minus juvat gloria lata quam magna. I have great satisfaction in considering the delicacy and discernment of those readers I have, and in ascribing my want of popularity to the ignorance or inattention of those I have not. All the world may forsake an author, but vanity will never forsake him.
Yet, notwithstanding so sincere a confession, I was once induced to show my indignation against the public, by discontinuing my endeavours to please ; and was bravely resolved, like Raleigh, to vex them by burning my manuscript in a passion (1) Upon recollection, however, I consi
(1) [" Sir Walter's History of the Worlde sold very slowlie at first, and the bookseller complayned of it, and told him that he should be a loser by it, which put Sir W. in a passion. He said, that since the world did not understand it, they should not have his second part, which he took before his face and threw into the fire, and burnt it.”--Aubrey MSS.)
dered what set or body of people would be displeased at my rashness. The sun, after so sad an accident, might shine next morning as bright as usual ; men might laugh and sing the next day, and transact business as before, and not a single creature feel any regret but myself.
I reflected upon the story of a minister, who, in the reign of Charles II., upon a certain occasion, resigned all his posts, and retired into the country in a fit of resentment. But, as he had not given the world entirely up with his ambition, he sent a messenger to town, to see how the courtiers would bear his resignation. Upon the messenger's return he was asked, whether there appeared any commotion at court ? To which he replied, There were very great ones. “ Ay,” says the minister, “I knew my friends would make a bustle; all petitioning the king for my restoration, I presume.” “ No, Sir,” replied the messenger, “ they are only petitioning his majesty to be put in your place.” In the same manner, should I retire in indignation, instead of having Apollo in mourning, or the Muses in a fit of the spleen; instead of having the learned world apostrophising at my untimely decease, perhaps all Grubstreet might laugh at my fall, and self-approving dignity might never be able to shield me from ridicule. In short, I am resolved to write on, if it were only to spite them. If the present generation will not hear my voice, hearken, O posterity! to you I call, and from you I expect redress!
! What rapture will it not give to have the Scaligers, Daciers, and Warburtons of future times commenting with admiration upon every line I now write, working away those ignorant creatures who offer to arraign my merit, with all the virulence of learned reproach. (1) Ay, my friends, let
(1) (A similar thought occurs in one of Goldsmith's letters to his friend Bryanton-“I have not yet seen my face reflected in all the lively display of red and white paint on any sign posts in the suburbs. Your handkerchief weavers seem as yet unacquainted with my merits or physiognomy, and the
them feel it : call names, never spare them; they deserve it all, and ten times more. I have been told of a critic, who was crucified at the command of another to the reputation of Homer. That, no doubt, was more than poetical justice, and I shall be perfectly content if those who criticise me are only clapped in the pillory, kept fifteen days upon bread and water, and obliged to run the gantlope through Paternoster-row. The truth is, I can expect happiness from posterity either way. If I write ill, happy in being forgotten; if well, happy in being remembered with respect.
Yet, considering things in a prudential light, perhaps I was mistaken in designing my paper as an agreeable relaxation to the studious, or a help to conversation among the gay ; instead of addressing it to such, I should have written down to the taste and apprehension of the many, and sought for reputation on the broad road. Literary fame, I now find, like religious, generally begins among the vulgar. As for the polite, they are so very polite, as never to applaud upon any account. One of these, with a face screwed up into affectation, tells you, that fools may admire, but men of sense only approve. (1) Thus, lest he should rise in rapture at any thing new, he keeps down every passion but pride and self-importance ; approves with phlegm, and the poor author is damned in the taking a pinch of snuff. Another has written a book himself, and being condemned for a dunce, he turns a sort of king's evidence in criticism, and now becomes the terror of every offender. A third,
very snuff-box makers appear to have forgot their respect. Tell them all from me, they are a set of gothic, barbarous, ignorant scoundrels. There will come a day, no doubt it will—I beg you may live only a couple of hundred years longer only to see the day—when the Scaligers and Daciers of the age will vindicate my character, give learned editions of my labours, and bless the times with copious comments on the text. - See Life, ch. vii.]
(1) " Yet let not cach gay turn thy rapture move;
For fools admire, but men of sense approve."-Pore.)
possessed of full-grown reputation, shades off every beam of favour from those who endeavour to grow beneath him, and keeps down that merit which, but for his influence, might rise into equal eminence. While others, still worse, peruse old books for their amusement, and new books only to condemn; so that the public seem heartily sick of all but the business of the day, and read every thing now with as little attention as they examine the faces of the passing crowd.
From these considerations I was once determined to throw off all connexions with taste, and fairly address my countrymen in the same engaging style and manner with other perio dical pamphlets, much more in vogue than probably nine shall ever be. To effect this, I had thoughts of changing the title into that of the “Royal Bee,” the “ Antigallican Bee,” or the “ Bee's Magazine.” I had laid in a proper stock of popular topics, such as encomiums on the king of Prussia, invectives against the queen of Hungary and the French, the necessity of a militia, our undoubted sovereignty of the seas, reflections upon the present state of affairs, a dissertation upon liberty, some seasonable thoughts upon the intended bridge of Blackfriars, (1) and an address to Britons. The history of an old woman whose teeth
three inches long, an ode upon our victories, a rebus, an acrostic upon Miss Peggy P., and a journal of the weather. All this, together with four extraordinary pages of letter press, a beautiful map of England, and two prints curiously coloured from nature, I fancied might touch their very souls. I was actually beginning an address to the people, when my pride at last overcame my prudence, and determined me to endeavour to please by the goodness of my entertainment, rather than by the magnificence of my sign.
(1) (The question whether semicircular or elliptical arches were preferable, was at this time warmly agitated in all the public journals. son took part in the controversy, and wrote three papers in the Gazetteer in opposition to the elliptical form.]
The Spectator, and many succeeding essayists, frequently inform us of the numerous compliments paid them in the course of their lucubrations ; of the frequent encouragements they met to inspire them with ardour, and increase their eagerness to please. I have received my letters as well as they ; but alas! not congratulatory ones; not assuring me of success and favour ; but preguant with bodings that might shake even fortitude itself.
One gentleman assures me, he intends to throw away no more threepences in purchasing the “ Bee," and what is still more dismal, he will not recommend me as a poor author wanting encouragement to his neighbourhood, which it seems is very numerous. Were my soul set upon threepences, what anxiety might not such a denunciation produce! But such does not happen to be the present motive of publication : I write partly to show my good-nature, and partly to show my vanity; nor will I lay down the pen till I am satisfied one way or another.
Others have disliked the title and the motto of my paper, point out a mistake in the one, and assure me the other has been consigned to dulness by anticipation. All this may be true ; but what is that to me ? Titles and mottoes to books are like escutcheons and dignities in the hands of a king. The wise sometimes condescend to accept of them; but none but a fool will imagine them of any real importance. We ought to depend upon intrinsic merit, and not the slender helps of title : “ Nam quæ non fecimus ipsi, vix ea nostra voco." (1)
For my part, I am ever ready to mistrust a promising title, and have, at some expense, been instructed not to hearken to the voice of an advertisement, let it plead never so loudly, or never so long. A countryman coming one day
(1) [" The deeds of long-descended ancestors
Are but by grace of imputation ours."--GARTH.)