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As I always desire a Preface to the Work of another , I seldom omit to do, in this respect , as I would be done by. The plan of the present Volume requires no explanation : its matter will, I trust, be found conformable to its title.
Of that matter it is scarcely necessary to repeat the defence which I have given in my former publications of a similar nature. I hear, from so many quarters, that modern taste runs in a direction entirely opposite , that I have ceased to hope any impression on the public ear.
But ignorance and conceit are, nevertheless deeply revolting even to the most candid of the intelligent part of mankind. That neither poetry, nor morals, nor politics, nor history, were understood till the present day, seems a most strange assumption. On the part of the mob, this opinion is the belief of blindness : on the part of the disseminators, it is mainly design. Among the eminent moralists and politicians of former days, there are few in whose writings the principles of sub
ordination and government are not such, as the leaders of our own time find inconvenient to their views and ambitions. They call them therefore a set of prejudiced, slavish, unenlightened rhetoricians and pedants.
The poets of the day are as intolerant, as the politicians. They have a theory of their own to establish ; and therefore they do not like to be compared with the practice of those, who obtained fame amongst our ancestors. They seem to think moral truth and good sense inconsistent with genuine poetry. But I deny that these are incompatible with the highest and most splendid fancy and invention. Warmth of colouring, and eloquence of language, arise from the vivid mental presence of the objects which give birth to them. Our forefathers were not in the habit of indulging that factious temperament, which is considered to be the glory of the present epoch.
Nor in those more simple days was Literature fallen into that system of intrigue, mechanism, and trick, by which it is now regularly carried on: by the aid of which the most contemptible witlings are lified into notice , fame, and fortune : – and without which no genius can emerge from obscurity!
In no age perhaps did the mass of mankind make much attempt to judge for themselves. In the present age they do not affect to conceal,
that they are entirely guided by the decision of one of the fashionable Reviews. In what way these Reviews are manufactured; how far the critics are qualified to pronounce judgment; and by what motives they are actuated in the opinions they form ; or at least in the opinions they express, this is not the place and opportunity to discuss at length. If the mask could be withdraun from the face of each respective critic, the decision would in most cases lose all its authority.
In former ages a man rarely ventured to become an author, unless he was at least a scholar , if not a genius. The mechanism into which the making of Books is degraded, in a corrupt and declining state of Society, now takes away all restraint from the most unqualified pretenders. The oracle , that speaks from the dark recesses of the Temple, would, were the curtain withdrawn , be often discovered to be an Ass ! –
It is true that the Genius , and the man of profound erudition, may yet write ; and be content with the praises of the few! But who will deny that the public voice cheers and animates; and that neglect will chill or lessen the noblest and most ardent spirit! It is not by single and fiful efforts, that the greatest mind can develop its own powers ! The firmness and fortitude, which are totally un
affected by the breath of popular opinion, would be worthy of high admiration: — but where are they to be found ? Yet in proportion as we disregard the decision of the mob, are we likely to be worthy of posterity! He, who writes for sale , must write for sympathy with the prejudices of the mob. People will not buy that, which contradicts their favourite opinions. Thus he, whose business is to instruct and to lead, becomes one who for base lucre flatters and confirms the errors and vile barbarous passions of those, whom he professes to undertake to enlighten and improve !
From the moment that the Press became VENAL, it has always appeared to me , that it became an evil rather than a good : and of all vocations, that of Book - MAKING for the sake of profit is one of the most contemptible.
We know that the Public Journals, beginning with Newpapers, are all conducted solely with a view to vendibility. What they insert has no reference to truth or justice : the choice of their matter is made by the test of what will sell most. « Licence they mean,
when they cry, «Liberty ! » For who loves that, must first be wise and good !» (1)
Refined taste is the result not merely of native sensibility ; but of the most cultivated and most extensive experience. If the populace will take