« PreviousContinue »
his time, however, at last, to vindicate my claims, and as these entertainers of the public, as they call themselves, have partly lived upon me for some years, let me now try if I cannot live a little upon myself. I would desire, in this case, to imitate the fat man whom I have fomewhere heard of in a whipwreck, who, when the sailors, prest by famine, were taking Rices from his pofteriors to satisfy their hunger, infifted, with great justice, on having the first cut for himself. Yet, after all, I cannot be angry
who take it into their heads to think that whatever I write is worth reprinting, particularly when I consider how great a majority will think it scarce we reading Trifling and superficial, are terms of reproach that are easily objected, and that carry an air of penetration in the observer. These faults have been objected to the following Esays; and it must be owned, in some measure, that the charge is true. However, I could have made them more metaphysical, had I thought fit; but I would ask, whether, in a short essay, it is not necessary to be superficial? Before we have
prepared to enter into the depths of a subject, in the usual forms, we have got to the bottom of our fcanty page, and thus lose the honours of a victory by too tedious a preparation for the combat.
There is another fault in this collection of trifles, which I fear will not be so easily pardoned. It will be alledged that the humour of them (if any be found) is ftale and hackneyed. This may be true enough, as matters now ftand ; but I may with
truth affert, that the humour was new when I wrote it.
Since that time, indeed, many of the topics which were first started here, have been hunted down, and many of the thoughts blown upon. In fact, these Essays were considered as quietly laid in the grave of oblivion; and our modern compilers, like fextons and executioners, think it their undoubted right to pillage the dead.
However, whatever right I have to complain of the public, they can, as yet, have no just reason to complain of me. If I have written dull Effays, they have hitherto treated them as dull Efsays. Thus far we are at leaft upon a par; and until they think fit to make me their humble debtor by praise, I am refol. ved not to lose a fingle inch of my self-importance. Instead, therefore, of attempting to establish a credit amongft them, it will perhaps be wiser to apply, to some more diftant correspondent; and as my drafts are in fome danger of being protested at home, it may not be imprudent, upon this occafion, to draw my bills upon pofterity. “ Mr. Pofterity“ Sir, Nine hundred and ninety-nine years after e fight hereof, pay the bearer, or order, a thou“ fand pounds worth of praise, free from all de“ ductions whatsoever, it being a commodity that “ will then be ferviceable to him, and place it to to the account of," &c.
9 lainy %432 E S S A Y S.
E S S A V 1.
The Author's Modesty. Bookfellers. Authors owe
their Success partly to merit, partly to fortunate Circumstances. Story of the deformed Traveller.
*HERE is not, perhaps, a more whimGcal
figure in nature, than a man of real modesty who assumes an air of impudence; who, while his. heart beats with anxiety, ftudies ease, and affects good-humour. In this situation, however, every unexperienced writer finds himself. Impreffed with the terrors of the tribunał before which he is going to appear, his natural humour is turned to pertness, and for real wit he is obliged to substitute vivacity. For
my part, as I was never diitinguished for address, and have often even blundered in making my bow, I am at a loss whether to be merry or sad on this folemn occafion. Should I modestly decline
all merit, it is too probable the hafty reader may take me at my word. If, on the other hand, like labourers in the Magazine trade, I humbly presume to promise an epitome of all the good things that were ever faid or written, those readers I most desire to please may forsake me.
My bookfeller, in this dilemma, perceiving my embarrassment, instantly offered his assistance and advice: “ You must know, Sir," says he, *f the republic of letters is at presont divided into *6 feveral classes. One writer excels at a plan, or a "
title-page; another works away the body of the cs book; and a third is a dab at an index. Thus,
a Magizine is not the result of any single man's indufry; but goes through as many hands as a
new pin, before it is fit for the public. I fancy, ór Sir,”. continues he, “ I can provide an eminent óc hand, and upon moderate terms, to draw up a
promising plan to smooth up our readers a little, ** and pay them, as. Colonel Charteris paid his se“ raglio, at the rate of three half-pence in hand, e and three shillings more in promises."
Hewas proceeding in his advice, which, however, I thought proper to decline, by assuring him, that as I intended to pursue no'fixed method, so it was impossible to form any regular plan : determined never to be tedious in order to be logical, wherever pleafore presented, I was resolved to follow.
It will be improper, therefore, to pall the reader's curiosity, by lessening his surprize; or anticipate any pleasure I am able to procure him, by saying whah hall come next. Happy, could any effort of mine
buc but repress one criminal pleasure, or but for a moment fill up an interval of anxiety; how gladly would I lead mankind from the vain prospects of life, the prospects of innocence and ease, where every breeze breathes health, and every found is but the echo of tranquility!
But, whatever may be the merit of his intentions, every writer is now convinced that he must be chiefly indebted to good fortune for finding readers willing to allow him any degree of reputation. It has been remarked, that almost every character which has excited either attention or pity, has owed part of its success to merit, and part to an happy concurrence of circumstances in its favour. Had Cæsar or Cromwell exchanged countries, the one might have been a serjeant, and the other an exciseman. So it is with wit, which generally fucceeds more from being happily addressed, than from its native poignancy. A jest calculated to spread at a gaming-table, may be received with perfect indifference, should it happen to drop in a mackarel-boat. We have all feen dunces triumph in foine companies, where men of real humour were disregarded, by a general combination in favour of stupidity. To drive the observation as far as it will go, should the labours of a writer, who designs his performances for readers of a more refined appetite, fall into the hands of a devourer of compia lations, what can he expect but contempt and confufion? If his merits are to be determined by judges who estimate the value of a book from its bulk, or its frontispiece, every rival muft acquire an easy fup riority, who with persuasive eloquence promises four AG