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to the most forlorn and abject of the human race. It be-friends the lEOst friendless. It saves from the certain and fatal consequences of infamy and vicious courses, orphan and deserted children.
If we regard national prosperity and the public welfare, it is calculated to increase industry, and it directs that industry in the most useful and necessary channels.
If we regard self-interest, its immediate object is, to protect our persons from assault and murder, our property from depredation, and our peaceful habitations from the desperate fury of midnight incendiaries.
Receipts and Expenses from 1st January to 31st December, 1793.
POVERTY AND DISTRESSES OF MEN OF LETTERS.
The case that next presents itself is that of men of letters.
However we define Genius, it is certain, that those, who possess it, are not always the roost successful men in their pursuits. Whether it be, that a delicacy of taste may, sometimes, produce a fastidiousness, unfavorable to industry; or that an ungovernable imagination is apt to throw off the restraints of judgment, and to start aside from the directions of prudence: or whether men of letters, through their ignorance of the world, are often made subservient to the views of others, and pay, too dearly, the price of their indiscretion: for authors and booksellers are, frequently, like those voracious creatures that devour their own species: each follows a profession, in which the fair trader is not always the most successful man.
However, to do the world justice, it should be acknowledged, that honest men are frequently led into mistakes: and, if a poor author is now and then starved to death, they, at least, should be acquitted of cruelty. When a writer has published a book, he is supposed to have procured a maintenance. Men imagine that his profits keep pace with his reputation; and, who would suppose, that praise has been his only reward?
The more learned a work, the less likely it is to meet a general reception, and consequently, the less likely to be profitable to the author. Among the most useful works on British antiquities, Spelman's Glossary, in folio, holds a respectable rank. Spelman's Archaiologicum, in folio, is a well-known, and a very useful, valuable work on British antiquities. The whole performance, it is said, was offered to the king's printer for five pounds, to be received in books: this small price, however, was refused. Spelman therefore printed the first part at his own expense: and most of the books remained on his hands, till taken off by two booksellers.1
The learned Edmund Castle passed great part of his life, broke a fine constitution, and spent, it is said, twelve thousand pounds, in compiling a very learned Lexicon.1 After the ruin of his health, and the consumption of his property, this celebrated work was, at length published, and most of the books remained on his hands unsold.
There might be shewn instances, in which a respectable list of subscribers, standing at the head of a publication, has been a most unfortunate circumstance for an author. Many readers have begun
1 Bibliotheca Legum;
1 Lexicon Heptaglotton,,
immediately to calculate pounds, shillings, and pence; and supposed, at random, that the author's pockets must be lined with bank notes. They are not aware, honest men, that the writer, during the long period of preparing his work, (which may have been of much thought and deep research) and of bringing it through the press, has not been living on the air: they forget, also, that printers and booksellers follow a profession as well as authors, and that they rarely work out of pure charity.
Will it be prudent in a writer to censure critics? A writer runs no danger, but such as he ought to encounter among real scholars, among critics who possess the powers of discrimination, and the principles of justice. The real critic, if an honest man, does not wilfully mislead the public taste: but he cannot be wantonly unjust; he never studies to assign to oblivion or contempt, any work on science or art, which is elaborate or curious; any production of taste, which is capable of affording innocent and elegant amusement, nor any species of writing which furnishes useful information. But there are those who enter not into the merits of a publication: who examine its character by their own prejudices: who, whatever side of a question they adopt, on any literary topic, decide on the merits of every work in reference to their own creed, or their own interest and passion, who will misrepresent what they do not even understand, and who will venture to condemn what they do not even read. It is certain, that reviews are concerns which have certain powers of occasional exaltation and degradation, an influence with respect both to the writers themselves and their friends, of degradation with respect to those whom they would willingly depress. And whether they should take the side of high church, or low church, or no church, is of no account here, for the writer has in view the principles of no specific publication, the practices of no particular writer, and most assuredly nothing that concerns himself.1 It is only meant to assert generally, that such practices are injurious to men of letters.
1 The writer must be forgiven while adding that most of his publications are of a nature which do not admit, and could not expect popularity; that they have gone too contrary to the public taste and public opinion. At the same time, where they have been noticed, he is not aware that he has any right or reason to complain. A late publication of his was noticed with much civility in the Monthly Review and the Gentleman's Magazine, and he has his private reasons for acknowledging it here. And this very piece on benevolence, though in a few particulars going so contrary to some principles maintained by the British Critic, yet was mentioned (with the due abatements and regard for their own opinions) with cordial approbation; with evidently an elaborate effort to give it a little consequence. These hints are thrown out without any design on the reader, and without any thing personal in the writer: indeed he should have thought meanly of
But if a man of letters can obtain a patron, he may defy the critic—True. But a patron is not always so easily found, as sought after: and it very often happens, that a writer obtains no patron, till he can either do tolerably well without one, as was the case, we may recollect, with Dr. Johnson, or till disappointments and penury may have almost harassed him out of the world. An able leader in the field of letters, or a fashionable retailer of the day, may be flattered and overpowered with distinctions; while the pioneer of literature is frequently left to perish amidst the rubbish, which he was doomed to remove.
The notice of a great man, it is true, may prove beneficial: but such notice may eventually be the most unfortunate circumstance in a man's life. The Great are sometimes apt to make men of talents their tools, and to expect illiberal compliances, at which a delicate genius may recoil, or an upright conscience may revolt: a vague belief of the importance of such friendship, may lead to mistaken notions prejudicial to the author. And while the world may suppose the poor fellow has found a Mecaenas, he may be fortunate to have escaped a Nero.1
What has been said on this subject may be thought the mere conjectures of one little conversant in the world. Let them pass for mere conjectures: but that authors, even of the first character, are liable to great distresses, whatever the cause be, may be seen by a table of Facts. It is ready made to my hands, and transcribed from The Curiosities Of Literature.1
"Homer, poor and blind, resorted to the public places to recite his verses for a morsel of bread.
"The facetious poet, Plautus, gained a livelihood by assisting a miller.
"Xylander sold his notes on Dion Cassius for a dinner. He tells us, that at the age of eighteen he studied to acquire glory, but at twenty-five he studied to get bread.
"Aldus Minutius was so wretchedly poor, that the expense of removing his library from Venice to Rome made him insolvent.
"To mention those who left nothing behind them to satisfy the undertaker, were an endless task.
"Agrippa died in a workhouse; Cervantes is supposed to
himself, if, while treating on general benevolence, he had given any vent to private feelings of his own.
1 The circumstances alluded to in the above paragraph are illustrated in the Adventures of Hugh Trevor, a well-written novel, by Thomas Holcroft: I refer to the conduct of the patriotic peer, and of the orthodox bishop. Vol. II.
1 Vol. I. p. 29.
have died with hunger; Camoens was deprived of the necessariei of life, and is believed to have perished in the streets.
"The great Tasso was reduced to such a dilemma, that he was obliged to borrow a crown from a friend to subsist through the week. He alludes to his distress in a pretty Sonnet, which he addresses to his cat, entreating her to assist him, during the night, with the lustre of her eyes—
'Noji avendo candele per iscrivere i suoi versi!' having no candle by which he could see to write his verses!
"Ariosto bitterly complains of poverty in his satires: when at length the liberality of Alphonso enabled him to build a small house, it was most miserably furnished! When he was told that such a building was not fit for one who had raised so many fine palaces in his writings, he answered, that the structure of words and that of stones was not the same thing. The reader may be pleased to have his own expressions—' Che porvi le pietre e porvi le parole non e il medesimo /'
"The illustrious Cardinal Bentivoglio, the ornament of Italy and of literature, languished in his old age, in the most distressful poverty; and, having sold his palace, to satisfy his creditors, left nothing behind him but his reputation.
"Le Sage resided in a little cottage on the borders of Paris, and while he supplied the world with their most agreeable romances, never knew what it was to possess any moderate degree of comfort in pecuniary matters.
"De Ryer, a celebrated French poet, was constrained to labor with rapidity, and to live in the cottage of an obscure village. His bookseller bought his heroic verses for one hundred sols the hundred lines, and the smaller ones for fifty sols.
"Dryden, for less than three hundred pounds, sold Tonson ten thousand verses, as may be seen by the agreement which has been published.
"Purchas, who in the reign of our first James, had spent his life in travels and study to form his Relation of the World; when he gave it to the public, for the reward of his labors, was thrown into prison, at the suit of his printer. Yet this was the book, which he informs us in his dedication to Charles the First, his father read every night with great profit and satisfaction.
"John Stow quitted the occupation of a tailor for that of an antiquarian; but his studies placing him in embarrassed circumstances, he acted wisely in resuming the shears. Afterwards he was so fortunate as to meet a patron in Archbishop Parker.
'f It appears in the Harleian MSS. 7524, that Rushworth, the