Captain Clutterbuck to the Reverend Dr. Dryasdust
I readily accept of, and reply to the civilities with which you have been pleased to honour me in your obliging letter, and entirely agree with your quotation, of ”Quam bonum et quam jucundum!“ We may indeed esteem ourselves as come of the same family, or, according to our country proverb, as being all one man’s bairns; and there needed no apology on your part, reverend and dear sir, for demanding of me any information which I may be able to supply respecting the subject of your curiosity. The interview which you allude to took place in the course of last winter, and is so deeply imprinted on my recollection, that it requires no effort to collect all its most minute details.
You are aware that the share which I had in introducing the Romance, called THE MONASTERY, to public notice, has given me a sort of character in the literature of our Scottish metropolis. I no longer stand in the outer shop of our bibliopolists, bargaining for the objects of my curiosity with an unrespective shop-lad, hustled among boys who come to buy Corderies and copy-books, and servant girls cheapening a pennyworth of paper, but am cordially welcomed by the bibliopolist himself, with, “Pray, walk into the back-shop, Captain. Boy, get a chair for Captain Clutterbuck. There is the newspaper, Captain — to-day’s paper;” or, “Here is the last new work — there is a folder, make free with the leaves;” or, “Put it in your pocket and carry it home;” or, “We will make a bookseller of you, sir, and you shall have it at trade price.” Or, perhaps if it is the worthy trader’s own publication, his liberality may even extend itself to — “Never mind booking such a trifle to you, sir — it is an over-copy. Pray, mention the work to your reading friends.” I say nothing of the snug well-selected literary party arranged round a turbot, leg of five-year-old mutton, or some such gear, or of the circulation of a quiet bottle of Robert Cockburn’s choicest black — nay, perhaps, of his new ones. All these are comforts reserved to such as are freemen of the corporation of letters, and I have the advantage of enjoying them in perfection. But all things change under the sun; and it is with no ordinary feelings of regret, that, in my annual visits to the metropolis, I now miss the social and warm-hearted welcome of the quick-witted and kindly friend who first introduced me to the public; who had more original wit than would have set up a dozen of professed sayers of good things, and more racy humour than would have made the fortune of as many more. To this great deprivation has been added, I trust for a time only, the loss of another bibliopolical friend, whose vigorous intellect, and liberal ideas, have not only rendered his native country the mart of her own literature, but established there a Court of Letters, which must command respect, even from those most inclined to dissent from many of its canons. The effect of these changes, operated in a great measure by the strong sense and sagacious calculations of an individual, who knew how to avail himself, to an unhoped-for extent, of the various kinds of talent which his country produced, will probably appear more clearly to the generation which shall follow the present.
I entered the shop at the Cross, to enquire after the health of my worthy friend, and learned with satisfaction, that his residence in the south had abated the rigour of the symptoms of his disorder. Availing myself, then, of the privileges to which I have alluded, I strolled onward in that labyrinth of small dark rooms, or crypts, to speak our own antiquarian language, which form the extensive back-settlements of that celebrated publishing-house. Yet, as I proceeded from one obscure recess to another, filled, some of them with old volumes, some with such as, from the equality of their rank on the shelves, I suspected to be the less saleable modern books of the concern, I could not help feeling a holy horror creep upon me, when I thought of the risk of intruding on some ecstatic bard giving vent to his poetical fury; or it might be, on the yet more formidable privacy of a band of critics, in the act of worrying the game which they had just run down. In such a supposed case, I felt by anticipation the horrors of the Highland seers, whom their gift of deuteroscopy compels to witness things unmeet for mortal eye; and who, to use the expression of Collins,
——“heartless, oft, like moody madness, stare,
To see the phantom train their secret work prepare.”
Still, however, the irresistible impulse of an undefined curiosity drove me on through this succession of darksome chambers, till, like the jeweller of Delhi in the house of the magician Bennaskar, I at length reached a vaulted room, dedicated to secrecy and silence, and beheld, seated by a lamp, and employed in reading a. blotted revise,6 the person, or perhaps I should rather say the Eidolon, or representative Vision of the AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY! You will not be surprised at the filial instinct which enabled me at once to acknowledge the features borne by this venerable apparition, and that I at once bended the knee, with the classical salutation of, Salve, magne parens! The vision, however, cut me short, by pointing to a seat, intimating at the same time, that my presence was not expected, and that he had something to say to me.
I sat down with humble obedience, and endeavoured to note the features of him with whom I now found myself so unexpectedly in society. But on this point I can give your reverence no satisfaction; for, besides the obscurity of the apartment, and the fluttered state of my own nerves, I seemed to myself overwhelmed by a sense of filial awe, which prevented my noting and recording what it is probable the personage before me might most desire to have concealed. Indeed, his figure was so closely veiled and wimpled, either with a mantle, morning-gown, or some such loose garb, that the verses of Spenser might well have been applied —
“Yet, certes, by her face and physnomy,
Whether she man or woman only were,
That could not any creature well descry.”
I must, however, go on as I have begun, to apply the masculine gender; for, notwithstanding very ingenious reasons, and indeed something like positive evidence, have been offered to prove the Author of Waverley to be two ladies of talent, I must abide by the general opinion, that he is of the rougher sex. There are in his writings too many things
“Quae maribus sola tribuuntur,”
to permit me to entertain any doubt on that subject. I will proceed, in the manner of dialogue, to repeat as nearly as I can what passed betwixt us, only observing, that in the course of the conversation, my timidity imperceptibly gave way under the familiarity of his address; and that, in the concluding part of our dialogue, I perhaps argued with fully as much confidence as was beseeming.
Author of Waverley. I was willing to see you, Captain Clutterbuck, being the person of my family whom I have most regard for, since the death of Jedediah Cleishbotham; and I am afraid I may have done you some wrong, in assigning to you The Monastery as a portion of my effects. I have some thoughts of making it up to you, by naming you godfather to this yet unborn babe —(he indicated the proof-sheet with his finger)— But first, touching The Monastery — How says the world — you are abroad and can learn?
Captain Clutterbuck. Hem! hem! — The enquiry is delicate — I have not heard any complaints from the Publishers.
Author. That is the principal matter; but yet an indifferent work is sometimes towed on by those which have left harbour before it, with the breeze in their poop. — What say the Critics?
Captain. There is a general — feeling — that the White Lady is no favourite.
Author. I think she is a failure myself; but rather in execution than conception. Could I have evoked an esprit follet, at the same time fantastic and interesting, capricious and kind; a sort of wildfire of the elements, bound by no fixed laws, or motives of action; faithful and fond, yet teazing and uncertain ——
Captain. If you will pardon the interruption, sir, I think you are describing a pretty woman.
Author. On my word, I believe I am. I must invest my elementary spirits with a little human flesh and blood — they are too fine-drawn for the present taste of the public.
Captain. They object, too, that the object of your Nixie ought to have been more uniformly noble — Her ducking the priest was no Naiad-like amusement.
Author. Ah! they ought to allow for the capriccios of what is, after all, but a better sort of goblin. The bath into which Ariel, the most delicate creation of Shakspeare’s imagination, seduces our jolly friend Trinculo, was not of amber or rose-water. But no one shall find me rowing against the stream. I care not who knows it — I write for general amusement; and, though I never will aim at popularity by what I think unworthy means, I will not, on the other hand, be pertinacious in the defence of my own errors against the voice of the public.
Captain. You abandon, then, in the present work —(looking, in my turn, towards the proof-sheet)— the mystic, and the magical, and the whole system of signs, wonders, and omens? There are no dreams, or presages, or obscure allusions to future events?
Author. Not a Cock-lane scratch, my son — not one bounce on the drum of Tedworth — not so much as the poor tick of a solitary death-watch in the wainscot. All is clear and above board — a Scots metaphysician might believe every word of it.
Captain. And the story is, I hope, natural and probable; commencing strikingly, proceeding naturally, ending happily — like the course of a famed river, which gushes from the mouth of some obscure and romantic grotto — then gliding on, never pausing, never precipitating its course, visiting, as it were, by natural instinct, whatever worthy subjects of interest are presented by the country through which it passes — widening and deepening in interest as it flows on; and at length arriving at the final catastrophe as at some mighty haven, where ships of all kinds strike sail and yard?
Author. Hey! hey! what the deuce is all this? Why,’tis Ercles’ vein, and it would require some one much more like Hercules than I, to produce a story which should gush, and glide, and never pause, and visit, and widen, and deepen, and all the rest on’t. I should be chin-deep in the grave, man, before I had done with my task; and, in the meanwhile, all the quirks and quiddities which I might have devised for my reader’s amusement, would lie rotting in my gizzard, like Sancho’s suppressed witticisms, when he was under his master’s displeasure. — There never was a novel written on this plan while the world stood.
Captain. Pardon me — Tom Jones.
Author. True, and perhaps Amelia also. Fielding had high notions of the dignity of an art which he may be considered as having founded. He challenges a comparison between the Novel and the Epic. Smollett, Le Sage, and others, emancipating themselves from the strictness of the rules he has laid down, have written rather a history of the miscellaneous adventures which befall an individual in the course of life, than the plot of a regular and connected epopeia, where every step brings us a point nearer to the final catastrophe. These great masters have been satisfied if they amused the reader upon the road; though the conclusion only arrived because the tale must have an end — just as the traveller alights at the inn, because it is evening.
Captain. A very commodious mode of travelling, for the author at least. In short, sir, you are of opinion with Bayes —“What the devil does the plot signify, except to bring in fine things?”
Author. Grant that I were so, and that I should write with sense and spirit a few scenes unlaboured and loosely put together, but which had sufficient interest in them to amuse in one corner the pain of body; in another, to relieve anxiety of mind; in a third place, to unwrinkle a brow bent with the furrows of daily toil; in another, to fill the place of bad thoughts, or to suggest better; in yet another, to induce an idler to study the history of his country; in all, save where the perusal interrupted the discharge of serious duties, to furnish harmless amusement — might not the author of such a work, however inartificially executed, plead for his errors and negligences the excuse of the slave, who, about to be punished for having spread the false report of a victory, saved himself by exclaiming —“Am I to blame, O Athenians, who have given you one happy day?”
Captain. Will your goodness permit me to mention an anecdote of my excellent grandmother?
Author. I see little she can have to do with the subject, Captain Clutterbuck.
Captain. It may come into our dialogue on Bayes’s plan. — The sagacious old lady — rest her soul! — was a good friend to the church, and could never hear a minister maligned by evil tongues, without taking his part warmly. There was one fixed point, however, at which she always abandoned the cause of her reverend protege — it was so soon as she learned he had preached a regular sermon against slanderers and backbiters.
Author. And what is that to the purpose?
Captain. Only that I have heard engineers say, that one may betray the weak point to the enemy, by too much ostentation of fortifying it.
Author. And, once more I pray, what is that to the purpose?
Captain. Nay, then, without farther metaphor, I am afraid this new production, in which your generosity seems willing to give me some concern, will stand much in need of apology, since you think proper to begin your defence before the case is on trial.-The story is hastily huddled up, I will venture a pint of claret.
Author. A pint of port, I suppose you mean?
Captain. I say of claret — good claret of the Monastery. Ah, sir, would you but take the advice of your friends, and try to deserve at least one-half of the public favour you have met with, we might all drink Tokay!
Author. I care not what I drink, so the liquor be wholesome.
Captain. Care for your reputation, then — for your fame.
Author. My fame? — I will answer you as a very ingenious, able, and experienced friend, being counsel for the notorious Jem MacCoul, replied to the opposite side of the bar, when they laid weight on his client’s refusing to answer certain queries, which they said any man who had a regard for his reputation would not hesitate to reply to. “My client,” said he-by the way, Jem was standing behind him at the time, and a rich scene it was-“is so unfortunate as to have no regard for his reputation; and I should deal very uncandidly with the Court, should I say he had any that was worth his attention.”-I am, though from very different reasons, in Jem’s happy state of indifference. Let fame follow those who have a substantial shape. A shadow-and an impersonal author is nothing better-can cast no shade.
Captain. You are not now, perhaps, so impersonal as here-tofore. These Letters to the Member for the University of Oxford — Author. Show the wit, genius, and delicacy of the author, which I heartily wish to see engaged on a subject of more importance; and show, besides, that the preservation of my character of incongnito has engaged early talent in the discussion of a curious question of evidence. But a cause, however ingeniously pleaded, is not therefore gained. You may remember, the neatly-wrought chain of circumstantial evidence, so artificially brought forward to prove Sir Philip Francis’s title to the Letters of Junius, seemed at first irrefragable; yet the influence of the reasoning has passed away, and Junius, in the general opinion, is as much unknown as ever. But on this subject I will not be soothed or provoked into saying one word more. To say who I am not, would be one step towards saying who I am; and as I desire not, any more than a certain justice of peace mentioned by Shenstone, the noise or report such things make in the world, I shall continue to be silent on a subject, which, in my opinion, is very undeserving the noise that has been made about it, and still more unworthy of the serious employment of such ingenuity as has been displayed by the young letter-writer.
Captain. But allowing, my dear sir, that you care not for your personal reputation, or for that of any literary person upon whose shoulders your faults may be visited, allow me to say, that common gratitude to the public, which has received you so kindly, and to the critics, who have treated you so leniently, ought to induce you to bestow more pains on your story.
Author. I do entreat you, my son, as Dr. Johnson would have said, “free your mind from cant.” For the critics, they have their business, and I mine; as the nursery proverb goes —
“The children in Holland take pleasure in making What the children in England take pleasure in breaking.”
I am their humble jackal, too busy in providing food for them, to have time for considering whether they swallow or reject it. — To the public, I stand pretty nearly in the relation of the postman who leaves a packet at the door of an individual. If it contains pleasing intelligence, a billet from a mistress, a letter from an absent son, a remittance from a correspondent supposed to be bankrupt — the letter is acceptably welcome, and read and re-read, folded up, filed, and safely deposited in the bureau. If the contents are disagreeable, if it comes from a dun or from a bore, the correspondent is cursed, the letter is thrown into the fire, and the expense of postage is heartily regretted; while all the time the bearer of the dispatches is, in either case, as little thought on as the snow of last Christmas. The utmost extent of kindness between the author and the public which can really exist, is, that the world are disposed to be somewhat indulgent to the succeeding works of an original favourite, were it but on account of the habit which the public mind has acquired; while the author very naturally thinks well of their taste, who have so liberally applauded his productions. But I deny there is any call for gratitude, properly so called, either on one side or the other.
Captain. Respect to yourself, then, ought to teach caution.
Author. Ay, if caution could augment the chance of my success. But, to confess to you the truth, the works and passages in which I have succeeded, have uniformly been written with the greatest rapidity; and when I have seen some of these placed in opposition with others, and commended as more highly finished, I could appeal to pen and standish, that the parts in which I have come feebly off, were by much the more laboured. Besides, I doubt the beneficial effect of too much delay, both on account of the author and the public. A man should strike while the iron is hot, and hoist sail while the wind is fair. If a successful author keep not the stage, another instantly takes his ground. If a writer lie by for ten years ere he produces a second work, he is superseded by others; or, if the age is so poor of genius that this does not happen, his own reputation becomes his greatest obstacle. The public will expect the new work to be ten times better than its predecessor; the author will expect it should be ten times more popular, and ’tis a hundred to ten that both are disappointed.
Captain. This may justify a certain degree of rapidity in publication, but not that which is proverbially said to be no speed. You should take time at least to arrange your story.
Author. That is a sore point with me, my son. Believe me, I have not been fool enough to neglect ordinary precautions. I have repeatedly laid down my future work to scale, divided it into volumes and chapters, and endeavoured to construct a story which I meant should evolve itself gradually and strikingly, maintain suspense, and stimulate curiosity; and which, finally, should terminate in a striking catastrophe. But I think there is a demon who seats himself on the feather of my pen when I begin to write, and leads it astray from the purpose. Characters expand under my hand; incidents are multiplied; the story lingers, while the materials increase; my regular mansion turns out a Gothic anomaly, and the work is closed long before I have attained the point I proposed.
Captain. Resolution and determined forbearance might remedy that evil.
Author. Alas! my dear sir, you do not know the force of paternal affection. When I light on such a character as Bailie Jarvie, or Dalgetty, my imagination brightens, and my conception becomes clearer at every step which I take in his company, although it leads me many a weary mile away from the regular road, and forces me leap hedge and ditch to get back into the route again. If I resist the temptation, as you advise me, my thoughts become prosy, flat, and dull; I write painfully to myself, and under a consciousness of flagging which makes me flag still more; the sunshine with which fancy had invested the incidents, departs from them, and leaves every thing dull and gloomy. I am no more the same author I was in my better mood, than the dog in a wheel, condemned to go round and round for hours, is like the same dog merrily chasing his own tail, and gambolling in all the frolic of unrestrained freedom. In short, sir, on such occasions, I think I am bewitched.
Captain. Nay, sir, if you plead sorcery, there is no more to be said — he must needs go whom the devil drives. And this, I suppose, sir, is the reason why you do not make the theatrical attempt to which you have been so often urged?
Author. It may pass for one good reason for not writing a play, that I cannot form a plot. But the truth is, that the idea adopted by too favourable judges, of my having some aptitude for that department of poetry, has been much founded on those scraps of old plays, which, being taken from a source inaccessible to collectors, they have hastily considered the offspring of my mother-wit. Now, the manner in which I became possessed of these fragments is so extraordinary, that I cannot help telling it to you.
You must know, that, some twenty years since, I went down to visit an old friend in Worcestershire, who had served with me in the —— Dragoons.
Captain. Then you have served, sir?
Author. I have — or I have not, which signifies the same thing — Captain is a good travelling name. — I found my friend’s house unexpectedly crowded with guests, and, as usual, was condemned — the mansion being an old one — to the haunted apartment. I have, as a great modern said, seen too many ghosts to believe in them, so betook myself seriously to my repose, lulled by the wind rustling among the lime-trees, the branches of which chequered the moonlight which fell on the floor through the diamonded casement, when, behold, a darker shadow interposed itself, and I beheld visibly on the floor of the apartment —
Captain. The White Lady of Avenel, I suppose? — You have told the very story before.
Author. No — I beheld a female form, with mob-cap, bib, and apron, sleeves tucked up to the elbow, a dredging-box in the one hand, and in the other a sauce-ladle. I concluded, of course, that it was my friend’s cook-maid walking in her sleep; and as I knew he had a value for Sally, who could toss a pancake with any girl in the country, I got up to conduct her safely to the door. But as I approached her, she said — “Hold, sir! I am not what you take me for;”— words which seemed so opposite to the circumstances, that I should not have much minded them, had it not been for the peculiarly hollow sound in which they were uttered. —“Know, then,” she said, in the same unearthly accents, “that I am the spirit of Betty Barnes.”—“Who hanged herself for love of the stage-coachman,” thought I; “this is a proper spot of work!”— “Of that unhappy Elizabeth or Betty Barnes, long cook-maid to Mr. Warburton, the painful collector, but ah! the too careless custodier, of the largest collection of ancient plays ever known — of most of which the titles only are left to gladden the Prolegomena of the Variorum Shakspeare. Yes, stranger, it was these ill-fated hands That consigned to grease and conflagration the scores of small quartos, which, did they now exist, would drive the whole Roxburghe Club out of their senses — it was these unhappy pickers and stealers that singed fat fowls and wiped dirty trenchers with the lost works of Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Jonson, Webster — what shall I say? — even of Shakspeare himself!”
Like every dramatic antiquary, my ardent curiosity after some play named in the Book of the Master of Revels, had often been checked by finding the object of my research numbered amongst the holocaust of victims which this unhappy woman had sacrificed to the God of Good Cheer. It is no wonder then, that, like the Hermit of Parnell,
“I broke the bands of fear, and madly cried,
‘You careless jade!’— But scarce the words began,
When Betty brandish’d high her saucing-pan.”
“Beware,” she said, “you do not, by your ill-timed anger, cut off the opportunity I yet have to indemnify the world for the errors of my ignorance. In yonder coal-hole, not used for many a year, repose the few greasy and blackened fragments of the elder Drama which were not totally destroyed. Do thou then”— Why, what do you stare at, Captain? By my soul, it is true; as my friend Major Longbow says, “What should I tell you a lie for?”
Captain. Lie, sir! Nay, Heaven forbid I should apply the word to a person so veracious. You are only inclined to chase your tail a little this morning, that’s all. Had you not better reserve this legend to form an introduction to “Three Recovered Dramas,” or so?
Author. You are quite right — habit’s a strange thing, my son. I had forgot whom I was speaking to. Yes, Plays for the closet, not for the stage —
Captain. Right, and so you are sure to be acted; for the managers, while thousands of volunteers are desirous of serving them, are wonderfully partial to pressed men.
Author. I am a living witness, having been, like a second Laberius, made a dramatist whether I would or not. I believe my muse would be Terry-fied into treading the stage, even if I should write a sermon.
Captain. Truly, if you did, I am afraid folks might make a farce of it; and, therefore, should you change your style, I still advise a volume of dramas like Lord Byron’s.
Author. No, his lordship is a cut above me — I won’t run my horse against his, if I can help myself. But there is my friend Allan has written just such a play as I might write myself, in a very sunny day, and with one of Bramah’s extra-patent pens. I cannot make neat work without such appurtenances.
Captain. Do you mean Allan Ramsay?
Author. No, nor Barbara Allan either. I mean Allan Cunningham, who has just published his tragedy of Sir Marmaduke Maxwell, full of merry-making and murdering, kissing and cutting of throats, and passages which lead to nothing, and which are very pretty passages for all that. Not a glimpse of probability is there about the plot, but so much animation in particular passages, and such a vein of poetry through the whole, as I dearly wish I could infuse into my Culinary Remains, should I ever be tempted to publish them. With a popular impress, people would read and admire the beauties of Allan — as it is, they may perhaps only note his defects — or, what is worse, not note him at all. — But never mind them, honest Allan; you are a credit to Caledonia for all that. — There are some lyrical effusions of his, too, which you would do well to read, Captain. “It’s hame, and it’s hame,” is equal to Burns.
Captain. I will take the hint. The club at Kennaquhair are turned fastidious since Catalan! visited the Abbey. My “Poortith Cauld” has been received both poorly and coldly, and “the Banks of Bonnie Doon” have been positively coughed down — Tempora mutantur.
Author. They cannot stand still, they will change with all of us. What then?
“A man’s a man for a’ that.”
But the hour of parting approaches.
Captain. You are determined to proceed then in your own system? Are you aware that an unworthy motive may be assigned for this rapid succession of publication? You will be supposed to work merely for the lucre of gain.
Author. Supposing that I did permit the great advantages which must be derived from success in literature, to join with other motives in inducing me to come more frequently before the public — that emolument is the voluntary tax which the public pays for a certain species of literary amusement — it is extorted from no one, and paid, I presume, by those only who can afford it, and who receive gratification in proportion to the expense. If the capital sum which these volumes have put into circulation be a very large one, has it contributed to my indulgences only? or can I not say to hundreds, from honest Duncan the paper-manufacturer, to the most snivelling of the printer’s devils, “Didst thou not share? Hadst thou not fifteen pence?” I profess I think our Modern Athens much obliged to me for having established such an extensive manufacture; and when universal suffrage comes in fashion, I intend to stand for a seat in the House on the interest of all the unwashed artificers connected with literature.
Captain. This would be called the language of a calico-manufacturer.
Author. Cant again, my dear son — there is lime in this sack, too — nothing but sophistication in this world! I do say it, in spite of Adam Smith and his followers, that a successful author is a productive labourer, and that his works constitute as effectual a part of the public wealth, as that which is created by any other manufacture. If a new commodity, having an actually intrinsic and commercial value, be the result of the operation, why are the author’s bales of books to be esteemed a less profitable part of the public stock than the goods of any other manufacturer? I speak with reference to the diffusion of the wealth arising to the public, and the degree of industry which even such a trifling work as the present must stimulate and reward, before the volumes leave the publisher’s shop. Without me it could not exist, and to this extent I am a benefactor to the country. As for my own emolument, it is won by my toil, and I account myself answerable to Heaven only for the mode in which I expend it. The candid may hope it is not all dedicated to selfish purposes; and, without much pretensions to merit in him who disburses it, a part may “wander, heaven-directed, to the poor.”
Captain. Yet it is generally held base to write from the mere motives of gain.
Author. It would be base to do so exclusively, or even to make it a principal motive for literary exertion. Nay, I will venture to say, that no work of imagination, proceeding from the mere consideration of a certain sum of copy-money, ever did, or ever will, succeed. So the lawyer who pleads, the soldier who fights, the physician who prescribes, the clergyman — if such there be — who preaches, without any zeal for his profession, or without any sense of its dignity, and merely on account of the fee, pay, or stipend, degrade themselves to the rank of sordid mechanics. Accordingly, in the case of two of the learned faculties at least, their services are considered as unappreciable, and are acknowledged, not by any exact estimate of the services rendered, but by a honorarium, or voluntary acknowledgment. But let a client or patient make the experiment of omitting this little ceremony of the honorarium, which is cense to be a thing entirely out of consideration between them, and mark how the learned gentleman will look upon his case. Cant set apart, it is the same thing with literary emolument. No man of sense, in any rank of life, is, or ought to be, above accepting a just recompense for his time, and a reasonable share of the capital which owes its very existence to his exertions. When Czar Peter wrought in the trenches, he took the pay of a common soldier; and nobles, statesmen, and divines, the most distinguished of their time, have not scorned to square accounts with their bookseller.
“O if it were a mean thing,
The gentles would not use it;
And if it were ungodly,
The clergy would refuse it.”
Author. You say well. But no man of honour, genius, or spirit, would make the mere love of gain, the chief, far less the only, purpose of his labours. For myself, I am not displeased to find the game a winning one; yet while I pleased the public, I should probably continue it merely for the pleasure of playing; for I have felt as strongly as most folks that love of composition, which is perhaps the strongest of all instincts, driving the author to the pen, the painter to the pallet, often without either the chance of fame or the prospect of reward. Perhaps I have said too much of this. I might, perhaps, with as much truth as most people, exculpate myself from the charge of being either of a greedy or mercenary disposition; but I am not, therefore, hypocrite enough to disclaim the ordinary motives, on account of which the whole world around me is toiling unremittingly, to the sacrifice of ease, comfort, health, and life. I do not affect the disinterestedness of that ingenious association of gentlemen mentioned by Goldsmith, who sold their magazine for sixpence a-piece, merely for their own amusement.
Captain. I have but one thing more to hint. — The world say you will run yourself out.
Author. The world say true: and what then? When they dance no longer, I will no longer pipe; and I shall not want flappers enough to remind me of the apoplexy.
Captain. And what will become of us then, your poor family? We shall fall into contempt and oblivion.
Author. Like many a poor fellow, already overwhelmed with the number of his family, I cannot help going on to increase it —”’Tis my vocation, Hal.”— Such of you as deserve oblivion — perhaps the whole of you — may be consigned to it. At any rate, you have been read in your day, which is more than can be said of some of your contemporaries, of less fortune and more merit. They cannot say but that you had the crown. It is always something to have engaged the public attention for seven years. Had I only written Waverley, I should have long since been, according to the established phrase, “the ingenious author of a novel much admired at the time.” I believe, on my soul, that the reputation of Waverley is sustained very much by the praises of those, who may be inclined to prefer that tale to its successors.
Captain. You are willing, then, to barter future reputation for present popularity?
Author. Meliora spero. Horace himself expected not to survive in all his works — I may hope to live in some of mine; — non omnis moriar. It is some consolation to reflect, that the best authors in all countries have been the most voluminous; and it has often happened, that those who have been best received in their own time, have also continued to be acceptable to posterity. I do not think so ill of the present generation, as to suppose that its present favour necessarily infers future condemnation.
Captain. Were all to act on such principles, the public would be inundated.
Author Once more, my dear son, beware of cant. You speak as if the public were obliged to read books merely because they are printed — your friends the booksellers would thank you to make the proposition good. The most serious grievance attending such inundations as you talk of, is, that they make rags dear. The multiplicity of publications does the present age no harm, and may greatly advantage that which is to succeed us.
Captain. I do not see how that is to happen.
Author. The complaints in the time of Elizabeth and James, of the alarming fertility of the press, were as loud as they are at present — yet look at the shore over which the inundation of that age flowed, and it resembles now the Rich Strand of the Faery Queen —
——“Besrrew’d all with rich array,
Of pearl and precious stones of great assay;
And all the gravel mix’d with golden ore.”
Believe me, that even in the most neglected works of the present age, the next may discover treasures.
Captain. Some books will defy all alchemy.
Author. They will be but few in number; since, as for the writers, who are possessed of no merit at all, unless indeed they publish their works at their own expense, like Sir Richard Blackmore, their power of annoying the public will be soon limited by the difficulty of finding undertaking booksellers.
Captain. You are incorrigible. Are there no bounds to your audacity?
Author. There are the sacred and eternal boundaries of honour and virtue. My course is like the enchanted chamber of Britomart —
“Where as she look’d about, she did behold
How over that same door was likewise writ,
Be Bold — Be Bold, and everywhere Be Bold.
Whereat she mused, and could not construe it;
At last she spied at that room’s upper end
Another iron door, on which was writ —
BE NOT TOO BOLD.”
Captain. Well, you must take the risk of proceeding on your own principles.
Author. Do you act on yours, and take care you do not stay idling here till the dinner hour is over. — I will add this work to your patrimony, valeat quantum.
Here our dialogue terminated; for a little sooty-faced Apollyon from the Canongate came to demand the proof-sheet on the part of Mr. M’Corkindale; and I heard Mr. C. rebuking Mr. F. in another compartment of the same labyrinth I have described, for suffering any one to penetrate so far into the penetralia of their temple.
I leave it to you to form your own opinion concerning the import of this dialogue, and I cannot but believe I shall meet the wishes of our common parent in prefixing this letter to the work which it concerns.
I am, reverend and dear Sir,
Very sincerely and affectionately
Story? Lord bless you! I have none to tell, sir.
Poetry of the Antijacobin.
6The uninitiated must be informed, that a second proof-sheet is so called.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00