A journey from this world to the next, by Henry Fielding

Chapter XXIV

Julian recounts what happened to him while he was a poet.

“Rome was now the seat of my nativity, where I was born of a family more remarkable for honor than riches. I was intended for the church, and had a pretty good education; but my father dying while I was young, and leaving me nothing, for he had wasted his whole patrimony, I was forced to enter myself in the order of mendicants.

“When I was at school I had a knack of rhyming, which I unhappily mistook for genius, and indulged to my cost; for my verses drew on me only ridicule, and I was in contempt called the poet.

“This humor pursued me through my life. My first composition after I left school was a panegyric on pope Alexander IV, who then pretended a project of dethroning the king of Sicily. On this subject I composed a poem of about fifteen thousand lines, which with much difficulty I got to be presented to his holiness, of whom I expected great preferment as my reward; but I was cruelly disappointed: for when I had waited a year, without hearing any of the commendations I had flattered myself with receiving, and being now able to contain no longer, I applied to a Jesuit who was my relation, and had the pope’s ear, to know what his holiness’s opinion was of my work: he coldly answered me that he was at that time busied in concerns of too much importance to attend the reading of poems.

“However dissatisfied I might be, and really was, with this reception, and however angry I was with the pope? for whose understanding I entertained an immoderate contempt, I was not yet discouraged from a second attempt. Accordingly, I soon after produced another work, entitled, The Trojan Horse. This was an allegorical work, in which the church was introduced into the world in the same manner as that machine had been into Troy. The priests were the soldiers in its belly, and the heathen superstition the city to be destroyed by them. This poem was written in Latin. I remember some of the lines:—

Mundanos scandit fatalis machina muros,

Farta sacerdotum turmis: exinde per alvum

Visi exire omnes, maguo cum murmure olentes.

Non aliter quam cum llumanis furibundus ab antris

It sonus et nares simul aura invadit hiantes.

Mille scatent et mille alii; trepidare timore

Ethnica gens coepit: falsi per inane volantes

Effugere Dei — Desertaque templa relinquunt.

Jam magnum crepitavit equus, mox orbis et alti

Ingemuere poli: tunc tu pater, ultimus omnium

Maxime Alexander, ventrem maturus equinum

Deseris, heu proles meliori digne parente.”

“I believe Julian, had I not stopped him, would have gone through the whole poem (for, as I observed in most of the characters he related, the affections he had enjoyed while he personated them on earth still made some impression on him); but I begged him to omit the sequel of the poem, and proceed with his history. He then recollected himself, and, smiling at the observation which by intuition he perceived I had made, continued his narration as follows:—

“I confess to you,” says he, “that the delight in repeating our own works is so predominant in a poet, that I find nothing can totally root it out of the soul. Happy would it be for those persons if their hearers could be delighted in the same manner: but alas! hence that ingens solitudo complained of by Horace: for the vanity of mankind is so much greedier and more general than their avarice, that no beggar is so ill received by them as he who solicits their praise.

“This I sufficiently experienced in the character of a poet; for my company was shunned (I believe on this account chiefly) by my whole house: nay, there were few who would submit to hearing me read my poetry, even at the price of sharing in my provisions. The only person who gave me audience was a brother poet; he indeed fed me with commendation very liberally: but, as I was forced to hear and commend in my turn, I perhaps bought his attention dear enough.

“Well, sir, if my expectations of the reward I hoped from my first poem had balked me, I had now still greater reason to complain; for, instead of being preferred or commended for the second, I was enjoined a very severe penance by my superior, for ludicrously comparing the pope to a f — t. My poetry was now the jest of every company, except some few who spoke of it with detestation; and I found that, instead of recommending me to preferment, it had effectually barred me from all probability of attaining it.

“These discouragements had now induced me to lay down my pen and write no more. But, as Juvenal says,

— Si discedas, Laqueo tenet ambitiosi

Consuetudo mali.

“I was an example of the truth of this assertion, for I soon betook myself again to my muse. Indeed, a poet hath the same happiness with a man who is dotingly fond of an ugly woman. The one enjoys his muse, and the other his mistress, with a pleasure very little abated by the esteem of the world, and only undervalues their taste for not corresponding with his own.

“It is unnecessary to mention any more of my poems; they had all the same fate; and though in reality some of my latter pieces deserved (I may now speak it without the imputation of vanity) a better success, as I had the character of a bad writer, I found it impossible ever to obtain the reputation of a good one. Had I possessed the merit of Homer I could have hoped for no applause; since it must have been a profound secret; for no one would now read a syllable of my writings.

“The poets of my age were, as I believe you know, not very famous. However, there was one of some credit at that time, though I have the consolation to know his works are all perished long ago. The malice, envy, and hatred I bore this man are inconceivable to any but an author, and an unsuccessful one; I never could bear to hear him well spoken of, and writ anonymous satires against him, though I had received obligations from him; indeed I believe it would have been an absolute impossibility for him at any rate to have made me sincerely his friend.

“I have heard an observation which was made by some one of later days, that there are no worse men than bad authors. A remark of the same kind hath been made on ugly women, and the truth of both stands on one and the same reason, viz., that they are both tainted with that cursed and detestable vice of envy; which, as it is the greatest torment to the mind it inhabits, so is it capable of introducing into it a total corruption, and of inspiring it to the commission of the most horrid crimes imaginable.

“My life was but short; for I soon pined myself to death with the vice I just now mentioned. Minos told me I was infinitely too bad for Elysium; and as for the other place, the devil had sworn he would never entertain a poet for Orpheus’s sake: so I was forced to return again to the place from whence I came.”

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