« AnteriorContinuar »
meant to me (for he knows I never provoked it) but profit to himself: one of his points must be to have
He considers that my face and naine are more known than those of many thousands of more consequence in the kingdom; that therefore, right or wrong, a lick at the laureat will always be a sure bait, ad captandum vulgus, to catch him little readers; and that to gratify the unlearned, by now and then interspersing those merry sacrifices of an old acquaintance to their taste, is a piece of quite right poetical craft.
But as a little bad poetry is the greatest crime he lays to my charge, I am willing to subscribe to his opinion of it. That this sort of wit is one of the easiest ways too of pleasing the generality of readers, is evident from the comfortable subsistence which our weekly retailers of politics have been known to pick up, merely by making bold with a government that had unfortunately neglected to find their genius a better employment.
Hence too arises all that flat poverty of censure and invective that so often has a run in our public papers, upon the success of a new author ; when, God knows, there is seldom above one writer, among hundreds in being at the same time, whose satire a man of common sense ought to be moved at. When a master in the art is angry, then indeed, we ought to be alarmed ! How terrible a weapon is satire in the hand of a great genius! Yet even there how liable is prejudice to misuse it! How far, when general, it may reform our morals, or what cruelties it may inflict by being angrily particular, is perhaps above my reach to determine. I shall therefore only beg leave tn interpose what I feel for others, whom it may personally have fallen upon. When I read those mortifying lines of our most eminent author in his character of Atticus(Atticus, whose genius in verse, and whose morality in prose, has been so justly admired)—though I am charmed with the poetry, my imagination is hurt at the severity of it; and though I allow the satirist to have had personal provocation, yet methinks for that very reason, he ought not to have troubled the public with it. For, as it is observed in the 249d Tatler, “ in all terms of reproof, where the sentence appears to arise from personal hatred or passion, it is not then made the cause of mankind, but a misunderstanding between two persons." But if such kind of satire has its incontestable greatness, if its exemplary brightness may not mislead inferior wits into a barbarous imitation of its severity, ther. I have only admired the verses, and exposed myself by bringing them under so scrupulous a reflection. Put the pain which the acrimony of those verses gave me is in some measure allayed, in finding that this inimitable writer, as he advances in years, has since had candour enough to celebrate the same person for his visible merit. Happy genius! whose verse, like the eye of beauty, can heal the deepest wounds with the least glance of favour.
Since I am got so far into this subject, you must give me leave to go through all I have a mind to say upon it; because I am not sure that in a more proper place my memory may be so full of it. I cannot find therefore from what reason satire is allowed more license than comedy, or why either of them (to be admired) ought not to be limited by decency and justice. Let Juvenal and Aristophanes have taken what liberties they please, if the learned have nothing more than their antiquity to justify their laying about them at that enormous rate, I shall wish they had a better excuse for them. The personal ridicule and scurrility thrown upon Socrates, which Plutarch too condemns, and the boldness of Juvenal in writing real names over guilty characters, I cannot think are to be pleaded in right of our modern liberties of the same kind. Facit indignatio versum may be a very spirited expression, and seems to give a reader hopes of a lively entertainment; but I am afraid reproof is in unequal hands, when anger is its executioner; and though an outrageous invective may carry some truth in it, yet it will never have that natural casy credit with us, which we give to the laughing ironies of a cool head. The satire that can smile circum præcordia ludit, and sel. dom fails to bring the reader quite over to his side, whenever ridicule and folly are at variance.
But when a person satirized is used with the extremest rigour, he may sometimes meet with compassion instead of contempt, and throw back the odium that was designed for him, upon the author. When I would therefore disarm the satirist of this indignation, I mean little more than that I would take from him ali private or personal prejudice, and would still leave him as much general vice to scourge as he pleases, and that with as much fire and spirit as art and nature demand to enliven his work and keep his reader awake.
Against all this it may be objected, that these are laws which none but phlegmatic writers will observe, and only men of eminence should give. I grant it, and therefore only submit them to writers of better judgment. I pretend not to restrain others from choosing what I do not like; they are welcome too (if they please) to think I offer these rules more from an incapacity to break them, than from a moral humanity. Let it be so! Still, that will not weaken the strength of what I have asserted, if my assertion be true. And though I allow that provocation is not apt to weigh ont its resentments by drachms and scruples, I shall still think that no public revenge can be honourable, where it is not limited by justice; and if honour is insatiable in its revenge, it loses what it contends for, and sinks itself, if not into cruelty, at least into vain glory.
This so singular concern which I have shown for others, may naturally lead you to ask me, what I feel for myself, when I am unfavourably trea elaborate authors of our daily papers. Shall I be sincere, and own my frailty ? Its usual effect is to make me vain : for I consider, if I were quite good for nothing, these piddlers in wit would not be concerned to take me to pieces, or (not to be quite so vain) when they inoderately charge me with only ignorance or dulness, I see nothing in that which an honest man need be ashamed of. There is many a good sou. who from those sweet slumbers of the brain are never awakened by the least harmful thought : and I am sometimes tempted to think those retailers of wit may be of the same class; that what they write proceeds not from malice, but industry; and that I ought no more to reproach them, than I would a lawyer that pleads against me for his fee; that their detraction, like dung thrown upon a meadow, though it may seem at first to deform the prospect, in a little time it will disappear of itself, and leave an involuntary crop of praise behind it.
When they confine themselves to a sober criticism upon what I write, if their censure is just, what answer can I make to it? If it is unjust, why should I suppose that a sensible reader will not see it, as well as myself? Or, admit I were able to expose them by a laughing reply, will not that reply beget a rejoinder? And though they might be gainers, by having the worst on't, in a paper war, that is no temptation for me to come into it. Or (to make both sides less considerable) would not my bearing ill-language from a chimney-sweeper do me less harm, than it would be to box with him, though I were sure to beat him? Nor indeed is the little reputation I have as an author worth the trouble of a defence. Then, as no criticism can possibly make me worse than I really am, so nothing I can say of myself can possibly make me better. When therefore a determined critic comes armed with wit and outrage, to take from me that small pittance I have, I would no more dispute with him, than I would resist a gentleman of the road, to save a little pocket-money. Men that are in want themselves, seldom make a conscience of taking it from others. Whoever thinks I have too much, is welcome to what share of it he pleases : nay, to make him more mercifui (as I partly guess the worst he can say of what I now write) I will prevent even the imputation of his doing me injustice, and honestly say it myself, viz. that of all the assurances I was ever guilty of, this of writing my own life is the most hardy-I beg his pardon — impudent is what I should have said ;-that through every page there runs a vein of vanity and impertinence which no French ensign's mé. moires ever came up to; but as this is a common error, I presume the terms of doating trifler, old fool, or conceited coxcomb, will carry contempt enough for an iinpartial censor to bestow on me;-that my style is unequal, pert, and frothy; patched and party-coloured like the coat of an harlequin, low and pompous, crammed with epithets, strewed with scraps of secondhand Latin from common quotations; frequently aiming at wit, without ever hitting the mark; a mere ragout tossed up from the offals of other authors ; my subject below all pens but my own, which, whenever I keep to, is flatly daubed by one eternal egotism; that I want nothing but wit, to be an as accomplished a coxcomb here, as ever I attempted to expose on the theatre; nay, that this very confession is no more a sign of my modesty, than it is a proof of ray judgment, that, in short, you may roundly tell me, that Cinna (or Cibber) vult videri pauper, et est panper.
When humble Cinna cries, I'm poor and low,
he is really so. Well, sir Critic! and what of all this? Now I have laid myself at your feet, what will you do with me? Expose me? Why, dear sir, does not every man that writes expose himself? Can you make me more ridiculous than nature has made me? You could not sure suppose, that I would lose the pleasure of writing, because you might possibly judge me a blockhead, or perhaps might pleasantly tell other people they oughi to think me so too. Will not they judge as well from what I say, as what you say? If then you attack me merely to divert yourself, your excuse for writing will be no better than mine. But perhaps you may want bread : if that be the case, eren go io dinner, in God's name!
If our best authors, when teased by these triflers,