페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

resigned the task of instructing his three lads, and resolved to try if he would be accepted for an instructor of the world. He left his wife at Lichfield, and proceeded to the metropolis in company with Garrick, who was on his way to Mr. Colson, a schoolmaster at Rochester. The Rabbins are reported to respect the smallest piece of paper, lest it should have written upon it words of wisdom. The instance of these two men is a lesson to extend the rule to human beings. That was the year,' Johnson once said at a dinner-party to Garrick, when I came to London with twopence-halfpenny in my pocket, and thou, Davy, with threehalfpence in thine.' Who that could have seen them entering the city moneyless and friendless could have suspected that the names of both were to be in everybody's mouth--that one was to be the greatest author and the other the greatest actor of his age? Johnson had spent some of his vacant hours at Edial in preparing for the venture. He there commenced • Irene;' and Mr. Walmesley, his Lichfield friend, states in a letter to Colson that his object in going to London was to try his fate with the play, and expresses an expectation that he will turn out a great tragedy-writer.' But as yet three acts only were composed, and in the meanwhile his intention was to seek employment in translating from the Latin or the French. He thought of the literary calling with juvenile enthusiasm ; and when he first saw St. John's Gate, where the Gentleman's Magazine' was printed, ‘he beheld it with reverence.' Calling soon after on one Wilcox, a bookseller, he told him that he wished to obtain a livelihood as an author. Wilcox eyed attentively his powerful frame, and, with a significant look, said, “You had better buy a porter's knot,' Such are the different colours in which objects appear to hope and experience. He had not long to wait before he too well understood the meaning of the bookseller's warning gesture and advice.

For the few authors whose names are familiar to the world, there are, as in every calling, myriads who are never heard of beyond their private circle. They have swarmed from the hour when printing and reading became common; but as Pope and his contemporaries were the first to drag the tribe of underlings into public view, many circumstances are often assumed to have been peculiar to that time which had long been the standing condition of things. Swift, in his Hospital for Incurables, calculates that provision must be made for at least forty thousand incurable scribblers,' and adds, with his usual savage satire,' that, if there were not great reason to hope that many of that class would properly be admitted among the incurable fools, he should

strenuously

a

[ocr errors]

strenuously intercede to have the number increased by ten or twenty thousand more. Those who reflect upon the prodigious mass of printed matter, beyond all power of computation, which is daily issued to the world, must perceive how small a part of it can be the production of learning and talent. In the last century the authorlings,' as he terms them, are stated by Smollett to have been the refuse of the usual professions; and the accurate Johnson himself testifies that they had seldom any claim to their trade, except that they had tried some other without success.' Fielding gives evidence to the same effect. No other ability, he says, was required than that of the writing-master, no other stock in trade than a pen, a little ink, and a small quantity of paper. Ignorance, which would have been helpless if it had stood alone, was rendered marketable by impudence. In Smollett's description of some of the fraternity-characters which are known to have been taken from living representatives—the man who has been expelled from the University for atheism, and prosecuted for a blasphemer, writes a refutation of the infidelity of Bolingbroke; the Scotchman teaches pronunciation; the cockney who has never seen a field of wheat compiles a treatise on agriculture; and the debtor publishes travels in Europe and part of Asia without having set foot beyond the liberties of the King's Bench. • The translators, Lintot told Pope,' were the saddest pack of rogues in the world, and in a hungry fit would swear they understood all the languages in the universe.' It was common for them, in fact, to make versions without comprehending one syllable of the original. The frauds were endless. Some of these impostors, when excluded from the world in prisons, invented news for the journals; some affixed to their trash the names of popular authors, or put forth second parts of popular books. An Irishman, mentioned by Smollett, wrote a pamphlet in vindication of the minister of the day, and then published an answer, in which he assumed that the writer of the first pamphlet was the minister himself, and addressed him throughout as your lordship’ with such solemn assurance that the politicians were deceived, and devoured 'the flimsy reveries of an ignorant garreteer' as a controversy between the Premier and the leader of the Opposition. Many of their practices were only modes of beggary. They sold tickets for prospective benefitnights when a play should be performed which was not accepted, and often not composed. More frequently still, they eked out a subsistence by the aid of subscriptions to works of which they never intended to pen a line. Cooke, the translator of Hesiod, lived for twenty years upon a projected translation of Plautus.

These

6

These methods were too easy not to become universal ; and to stop solicitation people of rank bound themselves to one another to forfeit a considerable sum if they ever purchased a ticket or subscribed to a book. Johnson, Goldsmith, and Fielding have all mentioned this strange defensive alliance of the rich against the clamorous importunity of the pauper portion of the literary republic. Their condition was indeed deplorable. Johnson in his prosperous days repeated to Boswell the lines in which Virgil describes the entrance to Hell, and bid him observe that all the horrors which the poet had accumulated to characterise the infernal regions were the concomitants of a printing-housethe toil, the grief, the revengeful cares, the apprehensions, the hunger, the poverty, the diseases, the sad old age, and the miserable death. Not a few of the most indefatigable writers for the press were in jails; many were without a roof to cover them. One of the reasons which Johnson assigns for Savage's habit of staying till unseasonable hours at the parties to which he was invited, and exhausting the kindness of his entertainers, was, that he had to spend the remainder of the night in the street. If he entered a house to sleep, it was a mean lodging frequented by the lowest of the rabble, who were vile in their language, profligate in their habits, and filthy in their persons. Constantly his finances did not permit bim to purchase this cheap and degrading accommodation, and his bed was in winter the ashes of a glasshouse, and in summer the projecting stall of a shop, or beneath the portico of a church. In appearance the author was

a hardly superior to the common paupers with whom he was compelled to consort. Until he got his pension, the dress of Johnson was literally that of a beggar. One of Smollett's geniuses, who writes novels for five pounds a volume, is reduced to the fragments of a pair of shoes, and displays his ingenuity in running away with his publisher's boots. It was with these publishers as with the authors. Only two or three, out of scores, had the feelings and education of gentlemen, and the rest were usually insolent and grasping. Mr. Wilson, in ‘Joseph Andrews,' is represented as translating for a bookseller till he has contracted a distemper by his sedentary life, in which no part of his body was exercised except his right arm, and when he is incapacitated by sickness his employer denounces him to the trade • for an idle fellow.' But it must be admitted that the wrongs were not all on one side, though in the contest between sharper and sharper the bookseller could commonly exercise the greater injustice, because he had the power of the purse. As if it was not sufficient to be scouted and derided by the

rest

6

[ocr errors]

rest of mankind, the world of authorlings was torn to pieces by intestine factions, and each man did his best to bring his brethren into contempt.

• Beasts of all kinds their fellows spare

Bear lives at amity with bear.' But the literary bear saw rivals in his brother bears instead of allies. A painter once confessed to Johnson that no professor of the art ever loved a person who pursued the same craft. Envy is a common concomitant of vanity, even where there is no direct emulation; and people are found base enough to hate rising merit for no other reason than because it is rising. The passion was sure therefore to operate with great intensity among a class the nature of whose calling made them candidates both for bread and praise, and who believed that every crumb of either which was bestowed upon their brethren of the quill was so much subtracted from themselves. Swift, Johnson, Smollettall the geniuses who were familiar with the scribbling race-were thus led to regard envy as among the most corrupting and widespread of vices, and in the opinion of Fielding it was the reason why there were no worse men than bad writers. The malice I bore this fellow,' the great novelist makes a poet say of a contemporary poet, “is inconceivable to any but an author, and an unsuccessful one. I never could bear to hear him well spoken of, and I writ anonymous satires against him, though I had received obligations from him. The whole clan of underlings who fed at the table of Smollett and existed by his patronage traduced his character and abused his works, and, as they were no less treacherous to one another than to their benefactor, each was eager to betray the rest to him. Some even of those who had attained to fame are reported by Johnson to have employed the meanest artifices to degrade their superiors and keep down their followers. The jealousy which troubled Goldsmith was in a great degree due to his having been trained in this unhappy school. If a distinction was to be made where almost all were malignant, the critic was entitled to the bad pre-eminence. Swift had defined him to be a discoverer and collector of faults '-one who made it his business to drag out lurking errors like Cacus from his den, to multiply them like Hydra's heads, and rake them together like Augeas's dung. These detractors swarmed, he said, most about the noblest writers, as a rat was attracted to the best cheese, or a wasp to the fairest fruit; and he pronounced that to follow the craft would cost a man all the good qualities of his mind. The race had not improved when Johnson began his literary career. He described them as a class of beings who

stood

mony

stood sentinels in the avenues of Fame for the purpose of 'hindering the reception of every work of learning or genius,' and whose acrimony was excited by the mere pain of hearing others praised. There was not the same severity in their virtue that there was in their pens. Johnson relates that some had been pacified by claret and a supper, and others with praise; and Lintot a few years earlier had told Pope that his mode of disarming them was to invite them to eat a slice of beef and pudding. The authors themselves were those who exulted most in the defamation of authors, just as Fielding says that the rabble took such immense pleasure in seeing men hanged, that they forgot while they were enjoying the spectacle that it was in all probability to be their own fate.

Few of those who rose to permanent eminence in the eighteenth century had been compelled to join the mob of writers. Men like Addison found patrons, and, if they had not, were in a position to keep clear of the haunts of pauperism. Swift had his livings, Young had his fellowship, Akenside his practice, Gray his patri

and his professorship. Pope lived with his family, and wrote his works in the comfortable ease of a domestic circle. Smollett, whose independent means were small, yet managed to have a good house and a plentiful table, and was attacked by Goldsmith for despising authorship and valuing riches. Collins for a short time starved with the authors, but was soon released by a legacy. The peculiarity of the case of Johnson and of Goldsmith is, that, until they had worked their own way unaided to fame, they were mingled undistinguishably with the herd of despised drudgeswith scribes whose ordinary effusions, according to Fielding, were blasphemy, treason, and indecency--with men who were ready to write anything for hire, and who took care by their conduct to justify their abject condition. The greatness of Johnson can only be fully understood by considering the circumstances under which it was displayed. He was like a piece of gold hid among a pile of half-pence, and he came out unsoiled by the contact.

What money Johnson earned, or how he earned it, when he first visited London, is not known. He arrived at the beginning of March, 1757. He afterwards withdrew to Greenwich, where he continued • Irene. In the latter part of the summer he went back to Mrs. Johnson at Lichfield, and there completed his tragedy. At the close of the year he returned to the metropolis, taking his wife with him. His expectations were doubtless centered in his play, to which he had devoted an amount of toil which was contrary to his usual habits, and which he never bestowed on any other production. He may be sup

posed

« 이전계속 »