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THERE are three difficulties in authorship; to write any thing worth the publishing-to find honest men to publish it—and to get sensible men to read it. Literature has now become a game; in which the Booksellers are the kings; the Critics, the knaves; the Public, the pack; and the poor Author, the mere table, or thing played upon.
For the last thirty years, the public mind has had such interesting and rapid incidents to witness, and to reflect upon, and must now anticipate some that will be still more momentous, that any thing like dulness or prosing in authorship, will either nauseate, or be refused; the realities of life have pampered the public palate with a diet so stimulating, that vapidity has now become as insipid as water to a dram-drinker, or sober sense to a fanatic.
The attempts however of dulness, are constantly repeated, and as constantly fail. For the misfortune is that the head of dulness, unlike the tail of the torpedo, loses nothing of her benumbing and lethargizing influence, by reiterated discharges; horses may ride over her and mules and asses may trample upon her, but with an exhaustless and a patient perversity, she continues her narcotic operation even to the end. In fact, the press was never so powerful in quantity, and so weak in quality, as at the present day; if applied to it, the simile of Virgil must be reversed, Non trunco sed frondibus efficit umbram.* It is in literature as in finance-much paper and much poverty may coexist.
It may happen that I myself am now committing
The leaves, not the trunk, cast the shadow.-PUB.
the very crime that I think I am censuring, But while justice to my readers compels me to admit that I write, because I have nothing to do, justice to myself induces me to add, that I will cease to write the moment I have nothing to say. Discretion has been termed the better part of valour, and it is more certain that diffidence is the better part of knowledge. Where I am ignorant, and know that I am so, I am silent. That Grecian gave a better reason for his taciturnity, than most authors for their loquacity, who observed, 'What was to the purpose I could not say; and what was not to the purpose I would not say.' And yet Shakspeare has hinted, that even silence is not always commendable: since it may be foolish, if we are wise, but wise if we are foolish. The Grecian's maxim would indeed be a sweeping clause in literature; it would reduce many a giant to a pigny; many a speech to a sentence; and many a folio to a primer. As the fault of our orators is, that they get up to make a speech, rather than to speak; so the great error of our authors is, that they sit down to make a book rather than to write. To combine profundity with perspicuity, wit with judgment, solidity with vivacity, truth with novelty, and all of them with liberalitywho is sufficient for these things? a very serious question; but it is one which authors had much better propose to themselves before publication, than have proposed to them by their editors after it.
I have thrown together in this work, that which is the result of some reading and reflection; if it be but little, I have taken care that the volume which contains it, shall not be large. I plead the privilege which a preface allows to an author for saying thus much of myself; since if a writer be inclined to egotism, a preface is the most proper place for him to be delivered of it; for prefaces are not always read, and dedications seldom; books, says my lord Bacon, should have no patrons but truth and reason. Even the attractive prose of Dryden, could not dignify dedications; and perhaps they ought never to be resorted to,
being as derogatory to the writer, as dull to the reader, and when not prejudicial, at least superfluous. If a book really wants the patronage of a great name, it is a bad book, and if it be a good book, it wants it not. Swift dedicated a volume to Prince Posterity, and there was a manliness in the act. Posterity willj I prove a patron of the soundest judgment, as unwilling to give, as unlikely to receive, adulation. But Posterity is not a very accessible personage; he knows the high value of that which he gives, he therefore is extremely particular as to what he receives. Very few of the presents that are directed to him, reach their destination. Some are too light, others too heavy, since, it is as difficult to throw a straw any distance, as a ton. I have addressed this volume to those who think, and some may accuse me of an ostentatious independence, in presuming to inscribe a book to so small a minority. But a volume addressed to those who think, is in fact addressed to all the world; for although the proportion of those who do think be extremely small, yet every individual flatters himself that he is one of the number. In the present rage for all that is marvellous and interesting, when writers of undoubted talent consider only what will sell, and readers only what will please, it is perhaps a bold experiment to send a volune into the world, whose very faults, (manifold as I fear they are,) will cost more pains to detect, than sciolists would feel inclined to bestow, even if they were sure of discovering nothing but beauties. Some also of my conclusions will no doubt be condemned by those who will not take the trouble of looking into the postulata; for the soundest argument will produce no more conviction in an empty head, than the most superficial declamation; as a feather and a guinea fall with equal velocity in a vacuum.
The following pages, such as they are, have cost me some thought to write, and they may possibly cost others some to read them. Like Demosthenes, who talked Greek to the waves, I have continued my task, with the hope of instructing others with the certainty
of improving myself. Labor ipse voluptas." It is much safer to think what we say, than to say what we think; I have attempted both. This is a work of no party, and my sole wish is, that truth may prevail in the church, and integrity in the state, and that in both, the old adage may be verified, that the men of principle may be the principal men.' Knowledge is indeed as necessary as light, and in this coming age most fairly promises to be as common as water, and as free as air. But as it has been wisely ordained that light should have no colour, water no taste, and air no odour, so knowledge also should be equally pure, and without admixture. If it comes to us through the medium of prejudice, it will be discoloured; through the channels of custom, it will be adulterated; through the gothic walls of the college, or of the cloister, it will smell of the lamp.
He that studies books alone, will know how things ought to be; and he that studies men, will know how things are; and it would have been impossible to have written these pages, without mixing somewhat more freely with the world, than inclination might prompt, or judgment approve. For observation, made in the eloister, or 1. the desert, will generally be as obscure as the one, and as barren as the other: but he that would paint with his pencil, must study originals, and not be over fearful of a little dust. In fact, every author is a far better judge of the pains that his efforts have cost him, than any reader can possibly be; but to what purpose he has taken those pains, this is a question on which his readers will not allow the author a voice, nor even an opinion: from the tribunal of the public there is no appeal, and it is fit that it should be so, otherwise we should not only have rivers of ink expended in bad writing, but oceans more in defending it; for he that writes in a bad style is sure to retort in a worse.
I have availed myself of examples both ancient and pleasure.-PUB.
*Labour is itself a