A gentle usher, Vanity by name. — Spenser.
A lady was complaining to a friend of mine of the credulity of people in attending to quack advertisements, and wondering who could be taken in by them —“for that she had never bought but one half-guinea bottle of Dr. ———‘s Elixir of Life, and it had done her no sort of good!” This anecdote seemed to explain pretty well what made it worth the doctor’s while to advertise his wares in every newspaper in the kingdom. He would no doubt be satisfied if every delicate, sceptical invalid in his majesty’s dominions gave his Elixir one trial, merely to show the absurdity of the thing. We affect to laugh at the folly of those who put faith in nostrums, but are willing to see ourselves whether there is any truth in them.
There is a strong tendency in the human mind to flatter itself with secret hopes, with some lucky reservation in our own favour, though reason may point out the grossness of the trick in general; and, besides, there is a wonderful power in words, formed into regular propositions, and printed in capital letters, to draw the assent after them, till we have proof of their fallacy. The ignorant and idle believe what they read, as Scotch philosophers demonstrate the existence of a material world, and other learned propositions, from the evidence of their senses. The ocular proof is all that is wanting in either case. As hypocrisy is said to be the highest compliment to virtue, the art of lying is the strongest acknowledgment of the force of truth. We can hardly believe a thing to be a lie, though we know it to be so. The ‘puff direct,’ even as it stands in the columns of the Times newspaper, branded with the title of Advertisement before it, claims some sort of attention and respect for the merits that it discloses, though we think the candidate for public favour and support has hit upon (perhaps) an injudicious way of laying them before the world. Still there may be something in them; and even the outrageous improbability and extravagance of the statement on the very face of it stagger us, and leave a hankering to inquire farther into it, because we think the advertiser would hardly have the impudence to hazard such barefaced absurdities without some foundation. Such is the strength of the association between words and things in the mind — so much oftener must our credulity have been justified by the event than imposed upon. If every second story we heard was an invention, we should lose our mechanical disposition to trust to the meaning of sounds, just as when we have met with a number of counterfeit pieces of coin, we suspect good ones; but our implicit assent to what we hear is a proof how much more sincerity and good faith there is in the sum total of our dealings with one another than artifice and imposture.
‘To elevate and surprise’ is the great art of quackery and puffing; to raise a lively and exaggerated image in the mind, and take it by surprise before it can recover breath, as it were; so that by having been caught in the trap, it is unwilling to retract entirely — has a secret desire to find itself in the right, and a determination to see whether it is or not. Describe a picture as lofty, imposing, and grand, these words excite certain ideas in the mind like the sound of a trumpet, which are not to be quelled, except by seeing the picture itself, nor even then, if it is viewed by the help of a catalogue, written expressly for the occasion by the artist himself. It is not to be supposed that he would say such things of his picture unless they were allowed by all the world; and he repeats them, on this gentle understanding, till all the world allows them.84 So Reputation runs in a vicious circle, and Merit limps behind it, mortified and abashed at its own insignificance. It has been said that the test of fame or popularity is to consider the number of times your name is repeated by others, or is brought to their recollection in the course of a year. At this rate, a man has his reputation in his own hands, and, by the help of puffing and the press, may forestall the voice of posterity, and stun the ‘groundling’ ear of his contemporaries. A name let off in your hearing continually, with some bouncing epithet affixed to it, startles you like the report of a pistol close at your car: you cannot help the effect upon the imagination, though you know it is perfectly harmless —vox et praeterea nihil. So, if you see the same name staring you in the face in great letters at the corner of every street, you involuntarily think the owner of it must be a great man to occupy so large a space in the eye of the town. The appeal is made, in the first instance, to the senses, but it sinks below the surface into the mind. There are some, indeed, who publish their own disgrace, and make their names a common by-word and nuisance, notoriety being all that they wa though you may laugh in his face, it pays expenses. Parolles and his drum typify many a modern adventurer and court-candidate for unearned laurels and unblushing honours. Of all puffs, lottery puffs are the most ingenious and most innocent. A collection of them would make an amusing Vade mecum. They are still various and the same, with that infinite ruse with which they lull the reader at the outset out of all suspicion. the insinuating turn in the middle, the home-thrust at the ruling passion at last, by which your spare cash is conjured clean out of the pocket in spite of resolution, by the same stale, well-known, thousandth-time repeated artifice of All prizes and No blanks— a self-evident imposition! Nothing, however, can be a stronger proof of the power of fascinating the public judgment through the eye alone. I know a gentleman who amassed a considerable fortune (so as to be able to keep his carriage) by printing nothing but lottery placards and handbills of a colossal size. Another friend of mine (of no mean talents) was applied to (as a snug thing in the way of business) to write regular lottery puffs for a large house in the city, and on having a parcel of samples returned on his hands as done in too severe and terse a style, complained quaintly enough, ’That modest merit never could succeed!‘ Even Lord Byron, as he tells us, has been accused of writing lottery-puffs. There are various ways of playing one’sself off before the public, and keeping one’s name alive. The newspapers, the lamp-posts, the walls of empty houses, the shutters of windows, the blank covers of magazines and reviews, are open to every one. I have heard of a man of literary celebrity sitting in his study writing letters of remonstrance to himself, on the gross defects of a plan of education he had just published, and which remained unsold on the bookseller’s counter. Another feigned himself dead in order to see what would be said of him in the newspapers, and to excite a sensation in this way. A flashy pamphlet has been run to a five-and-thirtieth edition, and thus ensured the writer a ‘deathless date’ among political charlatans, by regularly striking off a new title-page to every fifty or a hundred copies that were sold. This is a vile practice. It is an erroneous idea got abroad (and which I will contradict here) that paragraphs are paid for in the leading journals. It is quite out of the question. A favourable notice of an author, an actress, etc., may be inserted through interest, or to oblige a friend, but it must invariably be done for love, not money!
When I formerly had to do with these sort of critical verdicts, I was generally sent out of the way when any debutant had a friend at court, and was to be tenderly handled. For the rest, or those of robust constitutions, I had carte blanche given me. Sometimes I ran out of the course, to be sure. Poor Perry! what bitter complaints he used to make, that by running-a-muck at lords and Scotchmen I should not leave him a place to dine out at! The expression of his face at these moments, as if he should shortly be without a friend in the world, was truly pitiable. What squabbles we used to have about Kean and Miss Stephens, the only theatrical favourites I ever had! Mrs. Billington had got some notion that Miss Stephens would never make a singer, and it was the torment of Perry’s life (as he told me in confidence) that he could not get any two people to be of the same opinion on any one point. I shall appearance in the Beggar’s Opera. I have reason to remember that article: it was almost the last I ever wrote with any pleasure to myself. I had been down on a visit to my friends near Chertsey, and on my return had stopped at an inn near Kingston-upon-Thames, where I had got the Beggar’s Opera, and had read it over-night. The next day I walked cheerfully to town. It was a fine sunny morning, in the end of autumn, and as I repeated the beautiful song, ‘Life knows no return of Spring,’ I meditated my next day’s criticism, trying to do all the justice I could to so inviting a subject. I was not a little proud of it by anticipation. I had just then begun to stammer out my sentiments on paper, and was in a kind of honeymoon of authorship. But soon after, my final hopes of happiness and of human liberty were blighted nearly at the same time; and since then I have had no pleasure in anything —
And Love himself can flatter me no more.
It was not so ten years since (ten short years since. — Ah! how fast those years run that hurry us away from our last fond dream of bliss!) when I loitered along thy green retreats, O Twickenham! and conned over (with enthusiastic delight) the chequered view which one of thy favourites drew of human life! I deposited my account of the play at the Morning Chronicle office in the afternoon, and went to see Miss Stephens as Polly. Those were happy times, in which she first came out in this character, in Mandane, where she sang the delicious air, ‘If o’er the cruel tyrant, Love’ (so as it can never be sung again), in Love in a Village, where the scene opened with her and Miss Matthews in a painted garden of roses and honeysuckles, and ‘Hope, thou nurse of young Desire’ thrilled from two sweet voices in turn. Oh! may my ears sometimes still drink the same sweet sounds, embalmed with the spirit of youth, of health, and joy, but in the thoughts of an instant, but in a dream of fancy, and I shall hardly need to complain! When I got back, after the play, Perry called out, with his cordial, grating voice, ‘Well, how did she do?’ and on my speaking in high terms, answered, that ‘he had been to dine with his friend the Duke, that some conversation had passed on the subject, he was afraid it was not the thing, it was not the true sostenuto style; but as I had written the article’ (holding my peroration on the Beggar’s Opera carelessly in his hand), ‘it might pass!’ I could perceive that the rogue licked his lips at it, and had already in imagination ‘bought golden opinions of all sorts of people’ by this very criticism, and I had the satisfaction the next day to meet Miss Stephens coming out of the editor’s room, who had been to thank him for his very flattering account of her.
I was sent to see Kean the first night of his performance in Shylock, when there were about a hundred people in the pit; but from his masterly and spirited delivery of the first striking speech, ‘On such a day you called me a dog,’ etc., I perceived it was a hollow thing. So it was given out in the Chronicle; but Perry was continually at me as other people were at him, and was afraid it would not last. It was to no purpose I said it would last: yet I am in the right hitherto. It has been said, ridiculously, that Mr. Kean was written up in the Chronicle. I beg leave to state my opinion that no actor can be written up or down by a paper. An author may be puffed into notice, or damned by criticism, because his book may not have been read. An artist may be overrated, or undeservedly decried, because the public is not much accustomed to see or judge of pictures. But an actor is judged by his peers, the play-going public, and must stand or fall by his own merits or defects. The critic may give the tone or have a casting voice where popular opinion is divided; but he can no more force that opinion either way, or wrest it from its base in common sense and feeling, than he can move Stonehenge. Mr. Kean had, however, physical disadvantages and strong prejudices to encounter, and so far the liberal and independent part of the press might have been of service in helping him to his seat in the public favour. May he long keep it with dignity and firmness!85
It was pretended by the Covent Garden people, and some others at the time, that Mr. Kean’s popularity was a mere effect of love of novelty, a nine days’ wonder, like the rage after Master Betty’s acting, and would be as soon over. The comparison did not hold. Master Betty’s acting was so far wonderful, and drew crowds to see it as a mere singularity, because he was a boy. Mr. Kean was a grown man, and there was no rule or precedent established in the ordinary course of nature why some other man should not appear in tragedy as great as John Kemble. Farther, Master Betty’s acting was a singular phenomenon, but it was also as beautiful as it was singular. I saw him in the part of Douglas, and he seemed almost like ‘some gay creature of the element,’ moving about gracefully, with all the flexibility of youth, and murmuring AEolian sounds with plaintive tenderness. I shall never forget the way in which he repeated the line in which young Norval says, speaking of the fate of two brothers:
And in my mind happy was he that died!
The tones fell and seemed to linger prophetic on my ear. Perhaps the wonder was made greater than it was. Boys at that age can often read remarkably well, and certainly are not without natural grace and sweetness of voice. The Westminster schoolboys are a better company of comedians than we find at most of our theatres. As to the understanding a part like Douglas, at least, I see no difficulty on that score. I myself used to recite the speech in Enfield’s Speaker with good emphasis and discretion when at school, and entered, about the same age, into the wild sweetness of the sentiments in Mrs. Radcliffe’s Romance of the Forest, I am sure, quite as much as I should do now; yet the same experiment has been often tried since and has uniformly failed.86
It was soon after this that Coleridge returned from Italy, and he got one day into a long tirade to explain what a ridiculous farce the whole was, and how all the people abroad wore shocked at the gullibility of the English nation, who on this and every other occasion were open to the artifices of all sorts of quacks, wondering how any persons with the smallest pretensions to common sense could for a moment suppose that a boy could act the characters of men without any of their knowledge, their experience, or their passions. We made some faint resistance, but in vain. The discourse then took a turn, and Coleridge began a laboured eulogy on some promising youth, the son of an English artist, whom he had met in Italy, and who had wandered all over the Campagna with him, whose talents, he assured us, were the admiration of all Rome, and whose early designs had almost all the grace and purity of Raphael’s. At last, some one interrupted the endless theme by saying a little impatiently, ‘Why just now you would not let us believe our own eyes and ears about young Betty, because you have a theory against premature talents, and now you start a boy phenomenon that nobody knows anything about but yourself — a young artist that, you tell us, is to rival Raphael!’ The truth is, we like to have something to admire ourselves, as well as to make other people gape and stare at; but then it must be a discovery of our own, an idol of our own making and setting up:— if others stumble on the discovery before us, or join in crying it up to the skies, we then set to work to prove that this is a vulgar delusion, and show our sagacity and freedom from prejudice by pulling it in pieces with all the coolness imaginable. Whether we blow the bubble or crush it in our hands, vanity and the desire of empty distinction are equally at the bottom of our sanguine credulity or fastidious scepticism. There are some who always fall in with the fashionable prejudice as others affect singularity of opinion on all such points, according as they think they have more or less wit to judge for themselves.
If a little varnishing and daubing, a little puffing and quacking, and giving yourself a good name, and getting a friend to speak a word for you, is excusable in any profession, it is, I think, in that of painting. Painting is an occult science, and requires a little ostentation and mock-gravity in the professor. A man may here rival Katterfelto, ‘with his hair on end at his own wonders, wondering for his bread’; for, if he does not, he may in the end go without it. He may ride on a high-trotting horse, in green spectacles, and attract notice to his person anyhow he can, if he only works hard at his profession. If ‘it only is when he is out he is acting,’ let him make the fools stare, but give others something worth looking at. Good Mr. Carver and Gilder, good Mr. Printer’s Devil, good Mr. Billsticker, ‘do me your offices’ unmolested! Painting is a plain ground, and requires a great many heraldic quarterings and facings to set it off. Lay on, and do not spare. No man’s merit can be fairly judged of if he is not known; and how can he be known if he keeps entirely in the background?87 A great name in art goes but a little way, is chilled as it creeps along the surface of the world without something to revive and make it blaze up with fresh splendour. Fame is here almost obscurity. It is long before your name affixed to a sterling design will be spelt out by an undiscerning regardless public. Have it proclaimed, therefore, as a necessary precaution, by sound of trumpet at the corners of the street, let it be stuck as a label in your mouth, carry it on a placard at your back. Otherwise, the world will never trouble themselves about you, or will very soon forget you. A celebrated artist of the present day, whose name is engraved at the bottom of some of the most touching specimens of English art, once had a frame-maker call on him, who, on entering his room, exclaimed with some surprise, ‘What, are you a painter, sir?’ The other made answer, a little startled in his turn, ‘Why, didn’t you know that? Did you never see my name at the bottom of prints?’ He could not recollect that he had. ‘And yet you sell picture-frames and prints?’—‘Yes.’—‘What painter’s names, then, did he recollect: did he know West’s?’ ‘Oh! yes.’—‘And Opie’s?’ ‘Yes.’—‘And Fuseli’s?’ ‘Oh! yes.’—‘But you never heard of me?’ ‘I cannot say that I ever did!’ It was plain from this conversation that Mr. Northcote had not kept company enough with picture-dealers and newspaper critics. On another occasion, a country gentleman, who was sitting to him for his portrait, asked him if he had any pictures in the Exhibition at Somerset House, and on his replying in the affirmative, desired to know what they were. He mentioned, among others, The Marriage of Two Children; on which the gentleman expressed great surprise, and said that was the very picture his wife was always teasing him to go and have another look at, though he had never noticed the painter’s name. When the public are so eager to be amused, and care so little who it is that amuses them, it is not amiss to remind them of it now and then; or even to have a starling taught to repeat the name, to which they owe such misprised obligations, in their drowsy ears. On any other principle I cannot conceive how painters (not without genius or industry) can fling themselves at the head of the public in the manner they do, having lives written of themselves, busts made of themselves, prints stuck in the shop-windows of themselves, and their names placed in ‘the first row of the rubric,’ with those of Rubens, Raphael, and Michael Angelo, swearing by themselves or their proxies that these glorified spirits would do well to leave the abodes of the blest in order to stand in mute wonder and with uplifted hands before some production of theirs which is yet hardly dry! Oh! whatever you do, leave that string untouched. It will jar the rash and unhallowed hand that meddles with it. Profane not the mighty dead by mixing them up with the uncanonised living. Leave yourself a reversion in immortality, beyond the noisy clamour of the day. Do not quite lose your respect for public opinion by making it in all cases a palpable cheat, the echo of your own lungs that are hoarse with calling on the world to admire. Do not think to bully posterity, or to cozen your contemporaries. Be not always anticipating the effect of your picture on the town — think more about deserving success than commanding it. In issuing so many promissory notes upon the bank of fame, do not forget you have to pay in sterling gold. Believe that there is something in the pursuit of high art, beyond the manufacture of a paragraph or the collection of receipts at the door of an exhibition. Venerate art as art. Study the works of others, and inquire into those of nature. Gaze at beauty. Become great by great efforts, and not by pompous pretensions. Do not think the world was blind to merit before your time, nor make the reputation of great geniuses the stalking-horse to your vanity. You have done enough to insure yourself attention: you have now only to do something to deserve it, and to make good all that you have aspired to do.
There is a silent and systematic assumption of superiority which is as barefaced and unprincipled an imposture as the most impudent puffing. You may, by a tacit or avowed censure on all other arts, on all works of art, on all other pretensions, tastes, talents, but your own, produce a complete ostracism in the world of intellect, and leave yourself and your own performances alone standing, a mighty monument in an universal waste and wreck of genius. By cutting away the rude block and removing the rubbish from around it, the idol may be effectually exposed to view, placed on its pedestal of pride, without any other assistance. This method is more inexcusable than the other. For there is no egotism or vanity so hateful as that which strikes at our satisfaction in everything else, and derives its nourishment from preying, like the vampire, on the carcase of others’ reputation. I would rather, in a word, that a man should talk for ever of himself with vapid, senseless assurance, than preserve a malignant, heartless silence when the merit of a rival is mentioned. I have seen instances of both, and can judge pretty well between them.
There is no great harm in putting forward one’s own pretensions (of whatever kind) if this does not bear a sour, malignant aspect towards others. Every one sets himself off to the best advantage he can, and tries to steal a march upon public opinion. In this sense, too, ‘all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ Life itself is a piece of harmless quackery. A great house over your head is of no use but to announce the great man within. Dress, equipage, title, livery-servants are only so many quack advertisements and assumptions of the question of merit. The star that glitters at the breast would be worth nothing but as a badge of personal distinction; and the crown itself is but a symbol of the virtues which the possessor inherits from a long line of illustrious ancestors! How much honour and honesty have been forfeited to be graced with a title or a ribbon; how much genius and worth have sunk to the grave without an escutcheon and without an epitaph!
As men of rank and fortune keep lackeys to reinforce their claims to self-respect, so men of genius sometimes surround themselves with a coterie of admirers to increase their reputation with the public. These proneurs, or satellites, repeat all their good things, laugh loud at all their jokes, and remember all their oracular decrees. They are their shadows and echoes. They talk of them in all companies, and bring back word of all that has been said about them. They hawk the good qualities of their patrons as shopmen and barkers tease you to buy goods. I have no notion of this vanity at second-hand; nor can I see how this servile testimony from inferiors (‘some followers of mine own’) can be a proof of merit. It may soothe the ear, but that it should impose on the understanding, I own, surprises me; yet there are persons who cannot exist without a cortege of this kind about them, in which they smiling read the opinion of the world, in the midst of all sorts of rancorous abuse and hostility, as Otho called for his mirror in the Illyrian field. One good thing is, that this evil, in some degree, cures itself; and when a man has been nearly ruined by a herd of these sycophants, he finds them leaving him, like thriftless dependants, for some more eligible situation, carrying away with them all the tattle they can pick up, and some left-off suit of finery. The same proneness to adulation which made them lick the dust before one idol makes them bow as low to the rising Sun; they are as lavish of detraction as they were prurient with praise; and the protege and admirer of the editor of the ——— figures in Blackwood’s train. The man is a lackey, and it is of little consequence whose livery he wears!
I would advise those who volunteer the office of puffing to go the whole length of it. No half-measures will do. Lay it on thick and threefold, or not at all. If you are once harnessed into that vehicle, it will be in vain for you to think of stopping. You must drive to the devil at once. The mighty Tamburlane, to whose car you are yoked, cries out:
Holloa, you pamper’d jades of Asia,
Can you not drive but twenty miles a day?
He has you on the hip, for you have pledged your taste and judgment to his genius. Never fear but he will drive this wedge. If you are once screwed into such a machine, you must extricate yourself by main force. No hyperboles are too much: any drawback, any admiration on this side idolatry, is high treason. It is an unpardonable offence to say that the last production of your patron is not so good as the one before it, or that a performer shines more in one character than another. I remember once hearing a player declare that he never looked into any newspapers or magazines on account of the abuse that was always levelled at himself in them, though there were not less than three persons in company who made it their business through these conduit pipes of fame to ‘cry him up to the top of the compass.’ This sort of expectation is a little exigeante!
One fashionable mode of acquiring reputation is by patronising it. This may be from various motives — real good nature, good taste, vanity, or pride. I shall only speak of the spurious ones in this place. The quack and the would-be patron are well met. The house of the latter is a sort of curiosity shop or menagerie, where all sorts of intellectual pretenders and grotesques, musical children, arithmetical prodigies, occult philosophers, lecturers, accoucheurs, apes, chemists, fiddlers, and buffoons are to be seen for the asking, and are shown to the company for nothing. The folding doors are thrown open, and display a collection that the world cannot parallel again. There may be a few persons of common sense and established reputation, rari nantes in gurgite vasto, otherwise it is a mere scramble or lottery. The professed encourager of virtu and letters, being disappointed of the great names, sends out into the highways for the halt, the lame, and the blind, for all who pretend to distinction, defects, and obliquities, for all the disposable vanity or affectation floating on the town, in hopes that, among so many oddities, chance may bring some jewel or treasure to his door, which he may have the good fortune to appropriate in some way to his own use, or the credit of displaying to others. The art is to encourage rising genius — to bring forward doubtful and unnoticed merit. You thus get a set of novices and raw pretenders about you, whose actual productions do not interfere with your self-love, and whose future efforts may reflect credit on your singular sagacity and faculty for finding out talent in the germ; and in the next place, by having them completely in your power, you are at liberty to dismiss them whenever you will, and to supply the deficiency by a new set of wondering, unwashed faces in a rapid succession; an ‘aiery of children,’ embryo actors, artists, poets, or philosophers. Like unfledged birds, they are hatched, nursed, and fed by hand: this gives room for a vast deal of management, meddling, care, and condescending solicitude; but the instant the callow brood are fledged, they are driven from the nest, and forced to shift for themselves in the wide world. One sterling production decides the question between them and their patrons, and from that time they become the property of the public. Thus a succession of importunate, hungry, idle, overweening candidates for fame are encouraged by these fickle keepers, only to be betrayed, and left to starve or beg, or pine in obscurity, while the man of merit and respectability is neglected, discountenanced, and stigmatised, because he will not lend himself as a tool to this system of splendid imposition, or pamper the luxury and weaknesses of the Vulgar Great. When a young artist is too independent to subscribe to the dogmas of his superiors, or fulfils their predictions and prognostics of wonderful contingent talent too soon, so as to get out of leading-strings, and lean on public opinion for partial support, exceptions are taken to his dress, dialect, or manners, and he is expelled the circle with a character for ingratitude and treachery. None can procure toleration long but those who do not contradict the opinions or excite the jealousy of their betters. One independent step is an appeal from them to the public, their natural and hated rivals, and annuls the contract between them, which implies ostentatious countenance on the one part and servile submission on the other. But enough of this.
The patronage of men of talent, even when it proceeds from vanity, is often carried on with a spirit of generosity and magnificence, as long as these are in difficulties and a state of dependence; but as the principle of action in this case is a love of power, the complacency in the object of friendly regard ceases with the opportunity or necessity for the same manifest display of power; and when the unfortunate protege is just coming to land, and expects a last helping hand, he is, to his surprise, pushed back, in order that he may be saved from drowning once more. You are not hailed ashore, as you had supposed, by these kind friends, as a mutual triumph after all your struggles and their exertions in your behalf. It is a piece of presumption in you to be seen walking on terra firma: you are required, at the risk of their friendship, to be always swimming in troubled waters, that they may have the credit of throwing out ropes, and sending out lifeboats to you, without ever bringing you ashore. Your successes, your reputation, which you think would please them, as justifying their good opinion, are coldly received, and looked at askance, because they remove your dependence on them: if you are under a cloud, they do all they can to keep you there by their goodwill: they are so sensible of your gratitude that they wish your obligations never to cease, and take care you shall owe no one else a good turn; and provided you are compelled or contented to remain always in poverty, obscurity, and disgrace, they will continue your very good friends and humble servants to command, to the end of the chapter. The tenure of these indentures is hard. Such persons will wilfully forfeit the gratitude created by years of friendship, by refusing to perform the last act of kindness that is likely ever to be demanded of them: will lend you money, if you have no chance of repaying them: will give you their good word, if nobody will believe it; and the only thing they do not forgive is an attempt or probability on your part of being able to repay your obligations. There is something disinterested in all this: at least, it does not show a cowardly or mercenary disposition, but it savours too much of arrogance and arbitrary pretension. It throws a damning light on this question, to consider who are mostly the subjects of the patronage of the great, and in the habit of receiving cards of invitation to splendid dinners. I confess, for one, I am not on the list; at which I do not grieve much, nor wonder at all. Authors, in general, are not in much request. Dr. Johnson was asked why he was not more frequently invited out; and he said, ‘Because great lords and ladies do not like to have their mouths stopped.’ Garrick was not in this predicament: he could amuse the company in the drawing-room by imitating the great moralist and lexicographer, and make the negro-boy in the courtyard die with laughing to see him take off the swelling airs and strut of the turkey-cock. This was clever and amusing, but it did not involve an opinion, it did not lead to a difference of sentiment, in which the owner of the house might be found in the wrong. Players, singers, dancers, are hand and glove with the great. They embellish, and have an eclat in their names, but do not come into collision. Eminent portrait-painters, again, are tolerated, because they come into personal contact with the great; and sculptors hold equality with lords when they have a certain quantity of solid marble in their workshops to answer for the solidity of their pretensions. People of fashion and property must have something to show for their patronage, something visible or tangible. A sentiment is a visionary thing; an argument may lead to dangerous consequences, and those who are likely to broach either one or the other ate not, therefore, fit for good company in general. Poets and men of genius who find their way there, soon find their way out. They are not of that ilk, with some exceptions. Painters who come in contact with majesty get on by servility or buffoonery, by letting themselves down in some way. Sir Joshua was never a favourite at court. He kept too much at a distance. Beechey gained a vast deal of favour by familiarity, and lost it by taking too great freedoms.88 West ingratiated himself in the same quarter by means of practices as little creditable to himself as his august employer, namely, by playing the hypocrite, and professing sentiments the reverse of those he naturally felt. Kings (I know not how justly) have been said to be lovers of low company and low conversation. They are also said to be fond of dirty practical jokes. If the fact is so, the reason is as follows. From the elevation of their rank, aided by pride and flattery, they look down on the rest of mankind, and would not be thought to have all their advantages for nothing. They wish to maintain the same precedence in private life that belongs to them as a matter of outward ceremony. This pretension they cannot keep up by fair means; for in wit or argument they are not superior to the common run of men. They therefore answer a repartee by a practical joke, which turns the laugh against others, and cannot be retaliated with safety. That is, they avail themselves of the privilege of their situation to take liberties, and degrade those about them, as they can only keep up the idea of their own dignity by proportionably lowering their company.
84 It is calculated that West cleared some hundred pounds by the catalogues that were sold of his great picture of Death riding on the Pale Horse.
85 I cannot say how in this respect it might have fared if a Mr. Mudford, a fat gentleman, who might not have ‘liked yon lean and hungry Roscius,’ had continued in the theatrical department of Mr. Perry’s paper at the time of this actor’s first appearance; but I had been put upon this duty just before, and afterwards Mr. Mudford’s spare talents were not in much request. This, I believe, is the reason why he takes pains every now and then to inform the readers of the Courier that it is impossible for any one to understand a word that I write.
86 I (not very long ago) had the pleasure of spending an evening with Mr. Betty, when we had some ‘good talk’ about the good old times of acting. I wanted to insinuate that I had been a sneaking admirer, but could not bring it in. As, however, we were putting on our greatcoats downstairs I ventured to break the ice by saying, ‘There is one actor of that period of whom we have not made honourable mention, I mean Master Betty.’ ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘I have forgot all that.’ I replied, that he might, but that I could not forget the pleasure I had had in seeing him. On which he turned off, and, shaking his sides heartily, and with no measured demand upon his lungs, called out, ‘Oh, memory! memory!’ in a way that showed he felt the full force of the allusion. I found afterwards that the subject did not offend, and we were to have drunk some Burton ale together the following evening, but were prevented. I hope he will consider that the engagement still stands good.
87 Sir Joshua, who was not a vain man, purchased a tawdry sheriff’s carriage, soon after he took his house in Leicester Fields, and desired his sister to ride about in it, in order that people might ask, ‘Whose it was?’ and the answer would be, ‘It belongs to the great painter!’
88 Sharp became a great favourite of the king on the following occasion. It was the custom, when the king went through the lobbies of the palace, for those who preceded him to cry out, ‘Sharp, sharp, look sharp!’ in order to clear the way. Mr. Sharp, who was waiting in a room just by (preparing some colours), hearing his name repeated so urgently, ran out in great haste, and came up with all his force against the king, who was passing the door at the time. The young artist was knocked down in the encounter, and the attendants were in the greatest consternation; but the king laughed heartily at the adventure, and took great notice of the unfortunate subject of it from that time forward.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51