GENTLEMEN, The liberty which I take in addressing to you the trifling production of a few idle hours, will doubtless move your wonder, and probably your contempt. I will not, however, with the futility of apologies, intrude upon your time, but briefly acknowledge the motives of my temerity; lest, by a premature exercise of that patience which I hope will befriend me, I should lessen its benevolence, and be accessary to my own condemnation.
Without name, without recommendation, and unknown alike to success and disgrace, to whom can I so properly apply for patronage, as to those who publicly profess themselves Inspectors of all literary performances?
The extensive plan of your critical observations — which, not confined to works of utility or ingenuity, is equally open to those of frivolous amusement — and, yet worse than frivolous, dullness — encourages me to seek for your protection, since — perhaps for my sins! — it intitles me to your annotations. To resent, therefore, this offering, however insignificant, would ill become the universality of your undertaking; though not to despise it may, alas! be out of your power.
The language of adulation, and the incense of flattery, though the natural inheritance, and constant resource, from time immemorial, of the Dedicator, to me offer nothing but the wistful regret that I dare not invoke their aid. Sinister views would be imputed to all I could say; since, thus situated, to extol your judgment, would seem the effect of art, and to celebrate your impartiality, be attributing to suspecting it.
As magistrates of the press, and Censors for the public — to which you are bound by the sacred ties of integrity to exert the most spirited impartiality, and to which your suffrages should carry the marks of pure, dauntless, irrefragable truth — to appeal to your MERCY, were to solicit your dishonour; and therefore — though ’tis sweeter than frankincense — more grateful to the senses than all the odorous perfumes of Arabia — and though
It droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath —
I court it not! to your justice alone I am intitled, and by that I must abide. Your engagements are not to the supplicating authors; but to the candid public, which will not fail to crave
The penalty and forfeit of your bond.
No hackneyed writer, inured to abuse, and callous to criticism, here braves your severity; — neither does a half-starved garretteer,
Oblig’d by hunger — and request of friends —
implore your lenity: your examination will be alike unbiassed by partiality and prejudice; — no refractory murmuring will follow your censure, no private interest will be gratified by your praise.
Let not the anxious solicitude with which I recommend myself to your notice, expose me to your derision. Remember, Gentlemen, you were all young writers once, and the most experienced veteran of your corps may, by recollecting his first publication, renovate his first terrors, and learn to allow for mine. For though Courage is one of the noblest virtues of this nether sphere; and though scarcely more requisite in the field of battle, to guard the fighting hero from disgrace, than in the private commerce of the world, to ward off that littleness of soul which leads, by steps imperceptible, to all the base train of the inferior passions, and by which the too timid mind is betrayed into a servility derogatory to the dignity of human nature! yet is it a virtue of no necessity in a situation such as mine; a situation which removes, even from cowardice itself, the sting of ignominy; — for surely that courage may easily be dispensed with, which would rather excite disgust than admiration! Indeed, it is the peculiar privilege of an author, to rob terror of contempt, and pusillanimity of reproach.
Here let me rest — and snatch myself, while I yet am able, from the fascination of EGOTISM:— a monster who has more votaries than ever did homage to the most popular deity of antiquity; and whose singular quality is, that while he excites a blind and involuntary adoration in almost every individual, his influence is universally disallowed, his power universally contemned, and his worship, even by his followers, never mentioned but with abhorence.
In addressing you jointly, I mean but to mark the generous sentiments by which liberal criticism, to the utter annihilation of envy, jealousy, and all selfish views, ought to be distinguished.
I have the honour to be,
Your most obedient
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06