« PreviousContinue »
is more common than for the many to mistake the general live. liness of his manner and language, whatever is the subject, for the effects of peculiar irritation from its accidental relation to himself."
For myself, if from my own feelings, or from the less suspicious test of the observations of others, I had been made aware of any literary testiness or jealousy ; I trust, that I should have been, however, neither silly nor arrogant enough to have burdened the imperfection on genius. But an experience—and I should not need documents in abundance to prove my words, if I added)—a tried experience of twenty years, has taught me, that the original sin of my character consists in a careless indifference to public opinion, and to the attacks of those who influence it; that praise and admiration have become yearly less and less de. sirable, except as marks of sympathy; nay that it is difficult and distressing to me to think with any interest even about the sale and profit of my works, important as, in my present circumstances, such considerations must needs he. Yet it never oc. curred to me to believe or faucy, that the quantum of intellectual power bestowed on me by nature or education was in any way connected with this habit of my feelings; or that it needed any other parents or fosterers than constitutional indolence, aggravated into languor by ill-health; the accumulating embarrassments of
11 This is one instance among many of deception, by the telling the half of a fact, and omitting the other half, when it is from their mutual counteraction and neutralization, that the whole truth arises, as a tertium aliquid different from either. Thus in Dryden's famous line,
Great wit (meaning genius) to madness sure is near allied.
Now if the profound sensibility, which is doubtless one of the components of genius, were alone considered, single and unbalanced, it might be fairly described as exposing the individual to a greater chance of mental derangement; but then a more than usual rapidity of association, a more than usual power of passing from thought to thought, and image to image, is a component equally essential; and in the due modification of each by the other the genius itself consists; so that it would be just as fair to describe the earth, as in imminent danger of exorbitating, or of falling into the sun, according as the assertor of the absurdity confined his attention either to the projectile or to the attractive force exclusively.
procrastination; the mental cowardice, which is the inseparable companion of procrastination, and which makes us anxious to think and converse on anything rather than on what concerns ourselves: in fine, all those close vexations, whether chargeable on my faults or my fortunes, which leave me but little grief to spare for evils comparatively distant and alien.
Indignation at literary wrongs I leave to men born under happier stars. I cannot afford it. But so far from condemning those who can, 1 deem it a writer's duty, and think it creditable to his heart, to feel and express a resentment proportioned to the grossness of the provocation, and the importance of the object. There is no profession on earth, which requires an attention so early, so long, or so unintermitting as that of poetry; and indeed as that of literary composition in general, if it be such as at all satisfies the demands both of taste and of sound logic. How diffi. cult and delicate a task even the mere mechanism of verse is, may be conjectured from the failure of those, who have attempted poetry late in life. Where then a man has, from his earliest youth, devoted his whole being to an object, which by the ad. mission of all civilized nations in all ages is honorable as a pursuit, and glorious as an attainment; what of all that relates to himself and his family, if only we except his moral character, can have fairer claims to his protection, or more authorize acts of selfdefence, than the elaborate products of his intellect and intellectual industry? Prudence itself would command us to show, even if defect or diversion of natural sensibility had prevented us from feeling, a due interest and qualified anxiety for the offspring and representatives of our nobler being. I know it, alas! by woeful experience. I have laid too many eggs in the hot sands of this wilderness, the world, with ostrich carelessness, and ostrich ob. livion. The greater part indeed have been trod under foot, and are forgotten ; but yet no small number have crept forth into life, some to furnish feathers for the caps of others, and still more to plume the shafts in the quivers of my enemies, of them that unprovoked have lain in wait against my soul.
Sic vos, non vobis, mellificatis, apes !
12 [“ He was one of those who with long and large arm still collected precious armfuls, in whatever direction he pressed forward, yet still took up so much more than he could keep together, that those who followed him gleaned more from his continual droppings than he himself brought home ;-nay, made stately corn-ricks therewith, while the reaper himself was still seen only with his armful of newly-cut sheaves.” Lit. Rem. i. Ed.]
The Author's obligations to Critics, and the probable occasion-Principles
of odern Criticism-Mr. Southey's works and character. To anonymous critics in reviews, magazines, and news-journals of various name and rank, and to satirists with or without a name, in verse or prose, or in verse-text aided by prose-com. ment, I do seriously believe and profess, that I owe full twothirds of whatever reputation and publicity I happen to possess. For when the name of an individual has occurred so frequently, in so many works, for so great a length of time, the readers of these works—which with a shelf or two of Beauties, elegant Extracts, and Anas, form nine-tenths of the reading of the read. ing Public')—cannot but be familiar with the name, without dis.
i For as to the devotees of the circulating libraries, I dare not compliment their pass-time, or rather kill-time, with the name of reading. Call it rather a sort of beggarly day-dreaming, during which the mind of the dreamer furnishes for itself nothing but laziness, and a little mawkish sensibility; while the whole materiel and imagery of the dose is supplied ab extra by a sort of mental camera obscura manufactured at the printing office, which pro tempore fixes, reflects, and transmits the moving phantasms of one man's delirium, so as to people the barrenness of a hundred other brains afflicted with the same trance or suspension of all common sense and all definite purpose. We should therefore transfer this species of amusement-(if, indeed, those can be said to retire a musis, who were never in their company, or relaxation be attributable to those whose bows are never bent)—from the genus, reading, to that comprehensive class characterized by the power of reconciling the two contrary yet co-existing propensities of human nature, namely, indulgence of sloth, and hatred of vacancy. In addition to novels and tales of chivalry in prose or rhyme (by which last I mean neither rhythm nor metre) this genus comprises as its species, gaming, swinging, or swaying on a chair or gate ; spitting over a bridge ; smoking ; snuff-taking ; tête-à-tête quarrels after dinner between husband and wife ; conning word by word all the advertisements of a daily newspaper in a public house on a rainy day, &c., &c., &c.
tinctly remembering whether it was introduced for eulogy or for censure. And this becomes the more likely, if (as I believe) the habit of perusing periodical works may be properly added to Averroes' catalogue of Anti-Mnemonics, or weakeners of the memory.' But where this has not been the case, yet the reader will be apt to suspect, that there must be something more than usually strong and extensive in a reputation, that could either require or stand so merciless and long-continued a cannonading. Without any feeling of anger therefore—(for which, indeed, on my own account, I have no pretext)-I may yet be allowed to cxpress some degree of surprise, that, after having run the cri. tical gauntlet for a certain class of faults which I had, nothing having come before the judgment-seat in the interim, I should, year after year, quarter after quarter, month after month-(not to mention sundry petty periodicals of still quicker revolution, “or weekly or diurnal ”)—have been, for at least seventeen years consecutively, dragged forth by them into the foremost ranks of the proscribed, and forced to abide the brunt of abuse, for faults directly opposite, and which I certainly had not. How shall I explain this ?
Whatever may have been the case with others, I certainly cannot attribute this persecution to personal dislike, or to envy, or to feelings of vindictive animosity. Not to the former, for, with the exception of a very few who are my intimate friends, and were so before they were known as authors, I have had
2 [The true polyonomous appellative of Averroes was Abul Walid Mohammed Ebn Achmed Ebn Mohammed Ebn Raschid. He was born at Cordova about 1150, and died in Morocco in 1206 or 1207. Ed.]
3 Ex. gr. Pediculos e capillis excerptos in arenam jacere incontusos ; eating of unripe fruit; gazing on the clouds, and (in genere) on movable things suspended in the air; riding among a multitude of camels; frequent laughter; listening to a series of jests and humorous anecdotes, -as when (so to modernize the learned Saracen's meaning) one man's droll story of an Irishman inevitably occasions another's droll story of a Scotchman, which again, by the same sort of conjunction disjunctive, leads to some étourderie of a Welshman, and that again to some sly hit of a Yorkshireman ;-the habit of reading tomb-stones in church-yards, &c. By the by, this catalogue, strange as it may appear, is not insusceptible of a sound psychological commentary.