Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

Dedications.

Some authors excelled in this species of literary artifice. The Italian Doni dedicated each of his letters in a book called La Libraria, to persons whose name began with the first letter of the epistle, and dedicated the whole collection in another epistle; so that the book, which only consisted of forty-five pages, was dedicated to above twenty persons. This is carrying literary mendicity pretty high. Politi, the editor of the Martyrologium Romanum, published at Rome in 1751, has improved on the idea of Doni; for to the 365 days of the year of this Martyrology he has prefixed to each an epistle dedicatory. It is fortunate to have a large circle of acquaintance, though they should not be worthy of being saints. Galland, the translator of the Arabian Nights, prefixed a dedication to each tale which he gave; had he finished the “one thousand and one,” he would have surpassed even the Martyrologist.

Mademoiselle Scudery tells a remarkable expedient of an ingenious trader in this line — One Rangouze made a collection of letters which he printed without numbering them. By this means the bookbinder put that letter which the author ordered him first; so that all the persons to whom he presented this book, seeing their names at the head, considered they had received a particular compliment. An Italian physician, having written on Hippocrates’s Aphorisms, dedicated each book of his Commentaries to one of his friends, and the index to another!

More than one of our own authors have dedications in the same spirit. It was an expedient to procure dedicatory fees: for publishing books by subscription was then an art undiscovered. One prefixed a different dedication to a certain number of printed copies, and addressed them to every great man he knew, who he thought relished a morsel of flattery, and would pay handsomely for a coarse luxury. Sir Balthazar Gerbier, in his “Counsel to Builders,” has made up half the work with forty-two dedications, which he excuses by the example of Antonio Perez; but in these dedications Perez scatters a heap of curious things, for he was a very universal genius. Perez, once secretary of state to Philip II. of Spain, dedicates his “Obras,” first to “Nuestro sanctissimo Padre,” and “Al Sacro Collegio,” then follows one to “Henry IV.,” and then one still more embracing, “A Todos.” Fuller, in his “Church History,” has with admirable contrivance introduced twelve title-pages, besides the general one, and as many particular dedications, and no less than fifty or sixty of those by inscriptions which are addressed to his benefactors; a circumstance which Heylin in his severity did not overlook; for “making his work bigger by forty sheets at the least; and he was so ambitious of the number of his patrons, that having but four leaves at the end of his History, he discovers a particular benefactress to inscribe them to!” This unlucky lady, the patroness of four leaves, Heylin compares to Roscius Regulus, who accepted the consular dignity for that part of the day on which Cecina by a decree of the senate was degraded from it, which occasioned Regulus to be ridiculed by the people all his life after, as the consul of half a day.

The price for the dedication of a play was at length fixed, from five to ten guineas from the Revolution to the time of George I., when it rose to twenty; but sometimes a bargain was to be struck when the author and the play were alike indifferent. Sometimes the party haggled about the price, or the statue while stepping into his niche would turn round on the author to assist his invention. A patron of Peter Motteux, dissatisfied with Peter’s colder temperament, actually composed the superlative dedication to himself, and completed the misery of the apparent author by subscribing it with his name. This circumstance was so notorious at the time, that it occasioned a satirical dialogue between Motteux and his patron Heveningham. The patron, in his zeal to omit no possible distinction that might attach to him, had given one circumstance which no one but himself could have known.

Patron

.

I must confess I was to blame,

That one particular to name;

The rest could never have been known

I made the style so like thy own.

Poet

.

I beg your pardon, Sir, for that.

Patron

.

Why d —— e what would you be at?

I writ below myself, you sot!

Avoiding figures, tropes, what not;

For fear I should my fancy raise

Above the level of thy plays!

Warton notices the common practice, about the reign of Elizabeth, of an author’s dedicating a work at once to a number of the nobility. Chapman’s Translation of Homer has sixteen sonnets addressed to lords and ladies. Henry Lock, in a collection of two hundred religious sonnets, mingles with such heavenly works the terrestrial composition of a number of sonnets to his noble patrons; and not to multiply more instances, our great poet Spenser, in compliance with this disgraceful custom, or rather in obedience to the established tyranny of patronage, has prefixed to the Faery Queen fifteen of these adulatory pieces, which in every respect are the meanest of his compositions. At this period all men, as well as writers, looked up to the peers as if they were beings on whose smiles or frowns all sublunary good and evil depended. At a much later period, Elkanah Settle sent copies round to the chief party, for he wrote for both parties, accompanied by addresses to extort pecuniary presents in return. He had latterly one standard Elegy, and one Epithalamium, printed off with blanks, which by ingeniously filling up with the printed names of any great person who died or was married; no one who was going out of life, or was entering into it, could pass scot-free.

One of the most singular anecdotes respecting Dedications in English bibliography is that of the Polyglot Bible of Dr. Castell. Cromwell, much to his honour, patronized that great labour, and allowed the paper to be imported free of all duties, both of excise and custom. It was published under the protectorate, but many copies had not been disposed of ere Charles II. ascended the throne. Dr. Castell had dedicated the work gratefully to Oliver, by mentioning him with peculiar respect in the preface, but he wavered with Richard Cromwell. At the Restoration, he cancelled the two last leaves, and supplied their places with three others, which softened down the republican strains, and blotted Oliver’s name out of the book of life! The differences in what are now called the republican and the loyal copies have amused the curious collectors; and the former being very scarce, are most sought after. I have seen the republican. In the loyal copies the patrons of the work are mentioned, but their titles are essentially changed; Serenissimus, Illustrissimus, and Honoratissimus, were epithets that dared not shew themselves under the levelling influence of the great fanatic republican.

It is a curious literary folly, not of an individual but of the Spanish nation, who, when the laws of Castile were reduced into a code under the reign of Alfonso X. surnamed the Wise, divided the work into seven volumes; that they might be dedicated to the seven letters which formed the name of his majesty!

Never was a gigantic baby of adulation so crammed with the soft pap of Dedications as Cardinal Richelieu. French flattery even exceeded itself. — Among the vast number of very extraordinary dedications to this man, in which the Divinity itself is disrobed of its attributes to bestow them on this miserable creature of vanity, I suspect that even the following one is not the most blasphemous he received. “Who has seen your face without being seized by those softened terrors which made the prophets shudder when God showed the beams of his glory! But as He whom they dared not to approach in the burning bush, and in the noise of thunders, appeared to them sometimes in the freshness of the zephyrs, so the softness of your august countenance dissipates at the same time, and changes into dew, the small vapours which cover its majesty.” One of these herd of dedicators, after the death of Richelieu, suppressed in a second edition his hyperbolical panegyric, and as a punishment to himself, dedicated the work to Jesus Christ!

The same taste characterises our own dedications in the reigns of Charles II. and James II. The great Dryden has carried it to an excessive height; and nothing is more usual than to compare the patron with the Divinity — and at times a fair inference may be drawn that the former was more in the author’s mind than God himself! A Welsh bishop made an apology to James I. for preferring the Deity — to his Majesty! Dryden’s extravagant dedications were the vices of the time more than of the man; they were loaded with flattery, and no disgrace was annexed to such an exercise of men’s talents; the contest being who should go farthest in the most graceful way, and with the best turns of expression.

An ingenious dedication was contrived by Sir Simon Degge, who dedicated “the Parson’s Counsellor” to Woods, Bishop of Lichfield. Degge highly complimented the bishop on having most nobly restored the church, which had been demolished in the civil wars, and was rebuilt but left unfinished by Bishop Hacket. At the time he wrote the dedication, Woods had not turned a single stone, and it is said, that much against his will he did something, from having been so publicly reminded of it by this ironical dedication.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37