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indeed immortal, laurels. We would fain explain the woful exhibitions so long made by us in the Drama, by the single error of our having been tempted to try our fortune on this course under the cramping pressure of , French pumps, rather than in the noble buskins of our forefathers, glorious in the dust of a hundred triumphs. Under this impression, we see no reason why we should shrink more in the case of tragic than in any other form of poetical rivalry from Klopstock's challenge. When the clouds roll from before that goal, God grant that our nineteenth century may show us (what, assuredly, our eighteenth cannot) an English dramatic poet, whose name is worthy to be mentioned with the names of Goethe and of Schiller!
POEMS OF MR. ROBERT MONTGOMERY.
The wise men of antiquity loved to convey instruction under the covering of apologue; and, though this practice of theirs is generally thought childish, we shall make no apology for adopting it on the present occasion. A generation which has bought eleven editions of a poem by Mr. Robert Montgomery, may well condescend to listen to a fable of Pilpay.
A pious Brahmin, it is written, made a vow that on a certain day he would sacrifice a sheep, and on the appointed morning he went forth to buy one. There lived in his neighbourhood three rogues who knew of his vow, and laid a scheme for profiting by it. The first met him and said, “Oh, Brahmin, wilt thou buy a sheep 3 I have one fit for sacrifice.”—“It is for that very purpose,” said the holy man, “that I came forth this day.” Then the impostor opened a bag, and brought out of it an unclean beast, an ugly dog, lame and blind. Thereon the Brahmin cried out, “Wretch, who touchest things impure, and utterest things untrue, callest thou that cur a sheep?” —“Truly," answered the other, “it is a sheep of the sinest fleece, and of the sweetest slesh. Oh, Brahmin, it will be an offering most acceptable to the gods.”—“Friend,” said the Brahmin, “either thou or I must be blind.”
Just then one of the accomplices came up. “Praised be the gods,” said this second rogue, “ that I have been saved the trouble of going to the market for a sheep ! This is such a sheep as I wanted. For how much wilt thou sell it 7” When the Brahmin heard this, his mind waved to and fro, like one swinging in the air at a holy festival. “Sir,” said he to the new comer,
“ take heed what thou dost; this is no sheep, but an unclean cur.”—“Oh Brahmin,” said the new comer, ‘‘ thou art drunk or mad!” At this time the third confederate drew near. “Let us ask this man,”
said the Brahmin, “what the creature is, and I will stand by what he shall say.” To this the others agreed ; and the Brahmin called out, “Oh, stranger, what dost thou call this beast?”—“ Surely O, Brahmin,” said the knave, “ it is a fine sheep.” Then the Brahmin said, “Surely the gods have taken away my senses,"—and he asked pardon of him who carried the dog, and bought it for a measure of rice and a pot of ghee, and offered it
' The Omnipresence of the Deity, a Pocm. By Robert Montgomery. London, 1828–vol. li, p. 133. April, 1830.
up to the gods, who, being wroth at this unclean sacrifice, smote him with a sore disease in all his joints. Thus, or nearly thus, if we remember rightly, runs the story of the
Sanscrit AEsop. The moral, like the moral of every sable that is worth the
telling, lies on the surface. The writer evidently means to caution us against
the practices of puffers, a class of people who have more than once talked
the public into the most absurd errors, but who surely never played a more difficult trick, than when they passed Mr. Robert Montgomery off upon the world as a great poet. In an age, in which there are so few readers that a writer cannot subsist on the sum arising from the sale of his works, no man who has not an independent fortune can devote himself to literary pursuits, unless he is as– sisted by patronage. In such an age, accordingly, men of letters too often pass their lives in dangling at the heels of the wealthy and powerful; and all the faults which dependence tends to produce, pass into their character. They become the parasites and slaves of the great. It is melancholy to think how many of the highest and most exquisitely formed of human intellects have been condemned to the ignominious labour of disposing the commonplaces of adulation in new forms, and brightening them into new splendour. Horace, invoking Augustus in the most enthusiastic language of religious veneration,-Statius flattering a tyrant, and the minion of a tyrant, for a morsel of bread, Ariosto versifying the whole genealogy of a niggardly patron —Tasso extolling the heroic virtues of the wretched creature who locked him up in a mad–house,_these are but a few of the instances which might easily be given of the degradation to which those must submit, who, not possessing a competent fortune, are resolved to write when there are scarcely any who read. This evil the progress of the human mind tends to remove. As a taste for books becomes more and more common, the patronage of individuals becomes less and less necessary. In the earlier part of the last century a marked change took place. The tone of literary men, both in this country and in France, became higher and more independent. Pope boasted that he was the “one poet” who had “pleased by manly ways;” he derided the soft dedications with which Halifax had been fed,—asserted his own superiority over the pensioned Boileau,-and gloried in being not the follower, but the friend, of nobles and princes. The explanation of all this is very simple. Pope was the first Englishman who by the mere sale of his writings, realised a sum which enabled him to live in comfort and in perfect inde– pendence. Johnson extols him for the magnanimity which he showed in inscribing his Iliad, not to a minister or a peer, but to Congreve. In our time, this would scarcely be a subject for praise. Nobody is astonished when Mr. Moore pays a compliment of this kind to Sir Walter Scott, or Sir Walter Scott to Mr. Moore. The idea of either of those gentlemen looking out for some lord who would be likely to give him a few guineas in return for a sulsome dedication, seems laughably incongruous. Yet this is exactly what Dryden or Otway would have done; and it would be hard to blame them for it. Otway is said to have been choked with a piece of bread which he devoured in the rage of hunger; and, whether this story be true or false, he was beyond all question miserably poor. Dryden, at near seventy, when at the head of the literary men of England, without equal or second, received three hundred pounds for his Fables,—a collection of ten thousand verses, -and such verses as no man then living, except himself, could have produced. Pope, at thirty, had laid up between six and seven thousand pounds,-the fruits of his poetry. It was not, we suspect, because he had a higher spirit, or a more scrupulous conscience, than his predecessors, but because he had a larger income, that he kept up the dignity of the literary character so much better than they had done. From the time of Pope to the present day, the readers have been constantly becoming more and more numerous; and the writers, consequently, nore and more independent. It is assuredly a great evil, that men fitted by their talents and acquirements to enlighten and charm the world, should be reduced to the necessity of flattering wicked and foolish patrons in return for the very sustenance of life. But though we heartily rejoice that this evil is removed, we cannot but see with concern that another evil has succeeded to it. The public is now the patron, and a most liberal patron. All that the rich and powerful bestowed on authors from the time of Maecenas to that of Harley would not, we apprehend, make up a sum equal to that which has been paid by English booksellers to authors during the last thirty years. Men of letters have accordingly ceased to court individuals, and have begun to court the public. They formerly used flattery. They now use puffing. Whether the old or the new vice be the worse, whether those who formerly lavished insincere praise on others, or those who now contrive by every art of beggary and bribery to stun the public with praises of themselves, disgrace their vocation the more deeply,–we shall not attempt to decide. But of this we are sure, that it is high time to make a stand against the new trickery. The puffing of books is now so shamefully and so successfully practised, that it is the duty of all who are anxious for the purity of the national taste, or for the honour of the literary character, to join in discountenancing it. All the pens that ever were employed in magnifying Bish's lucky office, Romanis's sleecy hosiery, Packwood's razor strops, and Rowland's Kalydor, all the placard-bearers of Dr. Eady, all the wall-chalkers of Day and Martin, seem to have taken service with the poets and novelists of this generation. Devices which in the lowest trades are considered as disreputable, are adopted without scruple, and improved upon with a despicable ingenuity, by people engaged in a pursuit which never was, and never will be, considered as a mere trade by any man of honour and virtue. A butcher of the higher class disdains to ticket his meat. A mercer of the higher class would be ashamed to hang up papers in his window inviting the passers—by to look at the stock of a bankrupt, all of the first quality, and going for half the value. We expect some reserve, some decent pride, in our hatter and our bootmaker. But no artifice by which notoriety can be obtained is thought too abject for a man of letters. It is amusing to think over the history of most of the publications which have had a run during the last few years. The publisher is often the publisher of some periodical work. In this periodical work the first flourish of trumpets is sounded. The peal is then echoed and re-echoed by all the other periodical works over which the publisher or the author, or the author's coterie, may have any influence. The newspapers are for a fortnight filled with puffs of all the various kinds which Sheridan recounted, —direct, oblique, and collusive. Sometimes the praise is laid on thick for simple-minded people. “Pathetic,” “sublime,” “splendid,” “graceful, brilliant wit,” “exquisite humour,” and other phrases equally slattering, fall in a shower as thick and as sweet as the sugar plums at a Roman carnival. Sometimes greater art is used. A sinecure has been offered to the writer if he would suppress his work, or if he would even soften down a few of his incomparable portraits. A distinguished military and political character has challenged the inimitable satirist of the vices of the great; and the puffer is glad to learn that the parties have been bound over to keep the peace. Sometimes it is thought expedient that the puffer should put on a grave face, and utter his panegyric in the form of admonition! “Such attacks on private character cannot be too much condemned. Even the exuberant wit of our author, and the irresistible power of his withering sarcasm, are no excuses for that utter disregard which he manifests for the feelings of others. We cannot but wonder that a writer of such transcendent talents, a writer who is evidently no stranger to the kindly charities and sensibilities of our nature, should show so little tenderness to the foibles of noble and distinguished individuals, with whom it is clear, from every page of his work, that he must have been constantly mingling in society.” These are but tame and feeble imitations of the paragraphs with which the daily papers are filled whenever an attorney's clerk or an apothecary's assistant undertakes to tell the public, in bad English and worse Prench, how people tie their neckcloths and eat their dinners in Grosvenor Square. The editors of the higher and more respectable newspapers usually prefix the words “Advertisement,” or “From a Correspondent,” to such paragraphs. But this makes little difference. The panegyric is extracted, and the significant heading omitted. The fulsome eulogy makes its ap— pearance on the covers of all the Reviews and Magazines, with “Times” or “Globe” affixed, though the editors of the Times and the Globe have no more to do with it than with Mr. Goss's way of making old rakes young again. That people who live by personal slander should practise these arts, is not surprising. Those who stoop to write calumnious books may well stoop to puff them;—and that the basest of all trades should be carried on in the basest of all manners, is quite proper, and as it should be : but how any man, who has the least self-respect, the least regard for his own personal dignity, can condescend to persecute the public with this Rag-fair impor— tunity, we do not understand. Extreme poverty may, indeed, in some degree, be an excuse for employing these shifts, as it may be an excuse for stealing a leg of mutton. But we really think that a man of spirit and delicacy would quite as soon satisfy his wants in the one way as in the other. .. It is no excuse for an author, that the praises of journalists are procured by the money or influence of his publisher, and not by his own. It is his business to take such precautions as may prevent others from doing what must degrade him. It is for his honour as a gentleman, and, if he is really a man of talents, it will eventually be for his honour and interest as a writer, that his works should come before the public, recommended by their own merits alone, and should be discussed with perfect freedom. If his objects be really such as he may own without shame, he will find that they will, in the long run, be better attained by suffering the voice of criticism to be fairly heard. At present, we too often see a writer attempting to obtain literary fame as Soakspeare's usurper obtains sovereignty. The publisher plays Buckingham to the author's Richard. Some few creatures of the conspiracy are dexterously disposed here and there in the crowd. It is the business of these hirelings to throw up their caps, and clap their hands, and utter their vivas. The rabble at first stare and wonder, and at last join in shouting for shouling's sake; and thus a crown is placed on a head which has no right to it, by the huzzas of a few servile dependants. The opinion of the great body of the reading public is very materially influenced, even by the unsupported assertions of those who assume a right to criticise. Nor is the public altogether to blame on this account. Most, even of those who have really a great enjoyment in reading, are in the same state, with respect to a book, in which a man, who has never given particular attention to the art of painting, is with respect to a picture. Every man who has the least sensibility or imagination, derives a certain pleasure from pictures. Yet a man of the highest and sinest intellect might, unless he had formed his taste by contemplating the best pictures, be easily persuaded by a knot of connoisseurs that the worst daub in Somerset-house was a miracle of art. If he deserves to be laughed at, it is not for his ignorance of pictures, but for his ignorance of men. He knows that there is a delicacy of taste in painting which he does not possess; that he cannot discriminate hands, as practised judges can; that he is not familiar with the sinest models; that he has never looked at them with close attention; and that, when the general effect of a piece has pleased him or displeased him, he has never troubled himself to ascertain why. When, therefore, people whom he thinks more competent to judge than himself, and of whose sincerity he entertains no doubt, assure him that a particular work is exquisitely beautiful, he takes it for granted that they must be in the right. He returns to the examination, resolved to find or imagine beauties; and if he can work himself up into something like admiration, he exults in his own proficiency. Just such is the manner in which nine readers out of ten judge of a book. They are ashamed to dislike what men, who speak as having authority, declare to be good. At present, however contemptible a poem or a novel may be, there is not the least difficulty in procuring favourable notices of it from all sorts of publications, daily, weekly, and monthly. In the mean time, little or nothing is said on the other side. The author and the publisher are interested in crying up the book. Nobody has any very strong interest in crying it down. Those who are best fitted to guide the public opinion, think it beneath them to expose mere nonsense, and comfort themselves by reflecting that such popularity cannot last. This contemptuous lenity has been carried too far. It is perfectly true, that reputations which have been forced into an unnatural bloom, fade almost as soon as they have expanded; nor have we any apprehensions that puffing will ever raise any scribbler to the rank of a classic. It is, indeed, amusing to turn over some late volumes of periodical works, and to see how many immortal productions have, within a few months, been gathered to the Poems of Blackmore and the novels of Mrs. Behn; how many “profound views of human nature,” and “exquisite delineations of fashionable manners,” and “vernal, and sunny, and refreshing thoughts,” and “high imaginings," and “young breathings,” and “embodyings,” and “pinings,” and “minglings with the beauty of the universe,” and “harmonies which dissolve the soul in a passionate sense of loveliness and divinity,” the world has contrived to forget. The names of the books and the writers are buried in as deep an oblivion as the name of the builder of Stonehenge. Some of the well-pussed “fashion