Calamities and Quarrels of Authors
by Isaac D'Israeli
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"Such a superiority do the pursuits of Literature possess above every other occupation, that even he who attains but a mediocrity in them, merits the pre-eminence above those that excel the most in the common and vulgar professions."—HUME.


The Calamities of Authors have often excited the attention of the lovers of literature; and, from the revival of letters to this day, this class of the community, the most ingenious and the most enlightened, have, in all the nations of Europe, been the most honoured, and the least remunerated. Pierius Valerianus, an attendant in the literary court of Leo X., who twice refused a bishopric that he might pursue his studies uninterrupted, was a friend of Authors, and composed a small work, "De Infelicitate Literatorum," which has been frequently reprinted.[1] It forms a catalogue of several Italian literati, his contemporaries; a meagre performance, in which the author shows sometimes a predilection for the marvellous, which happens so rarely in human affairs; and he is so unphilosophical, that he places among the misfortunes of literary men those fatal casualties to which all men are alike liable. Yet even this small volume has its value: for although the historian confines his narrative to his own times, he includes a sufficient number of names to convince us that to devote our life to authorship is not the true means of improving our happiness or our fortune.

At a later period, a congenial work was composed by Theophilus Spizelius, a German divine; his four volumes are after the fashion of his country and his times, which could make even small things ponderous. In 1680 he first published two volumes, entitled "Infelix Literatus," and five years afterwards his "Felicissimus Literatus;" he writes without size, and sermonises without end, and seems to have been so grave a lover of symmetry, that he shapes his Felicities just with the same measure as his Infelicities. These two equalised bundles of hay might have held in suspense the casuistical ass of Sterne, till he had died from want of a motive to choose either. Yet Spizelius is not to be contemned because he is verbose and heavy; he has reflected more deeply than Valerianus, by opening the moral causes of those calamities which he describes.[2]

The chief object of the present work is to ascertain some doubtful yet important points concerning Authors. The title of Author still retains its seduction among our youth, and is consecrated by ages. Yet what affectionate parent would consent to see his son devote himself to his pen as a profession? The studies of a true Author insulate him in society, exacting daily labours; yet he will receive but little encouragement, and less remuneration. It will be found that the most successful Author can obtain no equivalent for the labours of his life. I have endeavoured to ascertain this fact, to develope the causes and to paint the variety of evils that naturally result from the disappointments of genius. Authors themselves never discover this melancholy truth till they have yielded to an impulse, and adopted a profession, too late in life to resist the one, or abandon the other. Whoever labours without hope, a painful state to which Authors are at length reduced, may surely be placed among the most injured class in the community. Most Authors close their lives in apathy or despair, and too many live by means which few of them would not blush to describe.

Besides this perpetual struggle with penury, there are also moral causes which influence the literary character. I have drawn the individual characters and feelings of Authors from their own confessions, or deduced them from the prevalent events of their lives; and often discovered them in their secret history, as it floats on tradition, or lies concealed in authentic and original documents. I would paint what has not been unhappily called the psychological character.[3]

I have limited my inquiries to our own country, and generally to recent times; for researches more curious, and eras more distant, would less forcibly act on our sympathy. If, in attempting to avoid the naked brevity of Valerianus, I have taken a more comprehensive view of several of our Authors, it has been with the hope that I was throwing a new light on their characters, or contributing some fresh materials to our literary history. I feel anxious for the fate of the opinions and the feelings which have arisen in the progress and diversity of this work; but whatever their errors may be, it is to them that my readers at least owe the materials of which it is formed; these materials will be received with consideration, as the confessions and statements of genius itself. In mixing them with my own feelings, let me apply a beautiful apologue of the Hebrews—"The clusters of grapes sent out of Babylon implore favour for the exuberant leaves of the vine; for had there been no leaves, you had lost the grapes."


[1] A modern writer observes, that "Valeriano is chiefly known to the present times by his brief but curious and interesting work, De Literatorum Infelicitate, which has preserved many anecdotes of the principal scholars of the age, not elsewhere to be found."—ROSCOE'S Leo X. vol. iv. p. 175.

[2] There is also a bulky collection of this kind, entitled, Analecta de Calamitate Literatorum, edited by Mencken, the author of Charlataneria Eruditorum.

[3] From the Grecian Psyche, or the soul, the Germans have borrowed this expressive term. They have a Psychological Magazine. Some of our own recent authors have adopted the term peculiarly adapted to the historian of the human mind.



A great author once surprised me by inquiring what I meant by "an Author by Profession." He seemed offended at the supposition that I was creating an odious distinction between authors. I was only placing it among their calamities.

The title of AUTHOR is venerable; and in the ranks of national glory, authors mingle with its heroes and its patriots. It is indeed by our authors that foreigners have been taught most to esteem us; and this remarkably appears in the expression of Gemelli, the Italian traveller round the world, who wrote about the year 1700; for he told all Europe that "he could find nothing amongst us but our writings to distinguish us from the worst of barbarians." But to become an "Author by Profession," is to have no other means of subsistence than such as are extracted from the quill; and no one believes these to be so precarious as they really are, until disappointed, distressed, and thrown out of every pursuit which can maintain independence, the noblest mind is cast into the lot of a doomed labourer.

Literature abounds with instances of "Authors by Profession" accommodating themselves to this condition. By vile artifices of faction and popularity their moral sense is injured, and the literary character sits in that study which he ought to dignify, merely, as one of them sings,

To keep his mutton twirling at the fire.

Another has said, "He is a fool who is a grain honester than the times he lives in."

Let it not, therefore, be conceived that I mean to degrade or vilify the literary character, when I would only separate the Author from those polluters of the press who have turned a vestal into a prostitute; a grotesque race of famished buffoons or laughing assassins; or that populace of unhappy beings, who are driven to perish in their garrets, unknown and unregarded by all, for illusions which even their calamities cannot disperse. Poverty, said an ancient, is a sacred thing—it is, indeed, so sacred, that it creates a sympathy even for those who have incurred it by their folly, or plead by it for their crimes.

The history of our Literature is instructive—let us trace the origin of characters of this sort among us: some of them have happily disappeared, and, whenever great authors obtain their due rights, the calamities of literature will be greatly diminished.

As for the phrase of "Authors by Profession," it is said to be of modern origin; and GUTHRIE, a great dealer in literature, and a political scribe, is thought to have introduced it, as descriptive of a class of writers which he wished to distinguish from the general term. I present the reader with an unpublished letter of Guthrie, in which the phrase will not only be found, but, what is more important, which exhibits the character in its degraded form. It was addressed to a minister.

June 3, 1762.

"My Lord,

"In the year 1745-6, Mr. Pelham, then First Lord of the Treasury, acquainted me, that it was his Majesty's pleasure I should receive, till better provided for, which never has happened, 200l. a-year, to be paid by him and his successors in the Treasury. I was satisfied with the august name made use of, and the appointment has been regularly and quarterly paid me ever since. I have been equally punctual in doing the government all the services that fell within my abilities or sphere of life, especially in those critical situations that call for unanimity in the service of the crown.

"Your Lordship may possibly now suspect that I am an Author by Profession: you are not deceived; and will be less so, if you believe that I am disposed to serve his Majesty under your Lordship's future patronage and protection, with greater zeal, if possible, than ever.

"I have the honour to be, "My Lord, &c., "WILLIAM GUTHRIE."

Unblushing venality! In one part he shouts like a plundering hussar who has carried off his prey; and in the other he bows with the tame suppleness of the "quarterly" Swiss chaffering his halbert for his price;—"to serve his Majesty" for—"his Lordship's future patronage."

Guthrie's notion of "An Author by Profession," entirely derived from his own character, was twofold; literary taskwork, and political degradation. He was to be a gentleman convertible into an historian, at —— per sheet; and, when he had not time to write histories, he chose to sell his name to those he never wrote. These are mysteries of the craft of authorship; in this sense it is only a trade, and a very bad one! But when in his other capacity, this gentleman comes to hire himself to one lord as he had to another, no one can doubt that the stipendiary would change his principles with his livery.[4]

Such have been some of the "Authors by Profession" who have worn the literary mask; for literature was not the first object of their designs. They form a race peculiar to our country. They opened their career in our first great revolution, and flourished during the eventful period of the civil wars. In the form of newspapers, their "Mercuries" and "Diurnals" were political pamphlets.[5] Of these, the Royalists, being the better educated, carried off to their side all the spirit, and only left the foam and dregs for the Parliamentarians; otherwise, in lying, they were just like one another; for "the father of lies" seems to be of no party! Were it desirable to instruct men by a system of political and moral calumny, the complete art might be drawn from these archives of political lying, during their flourishing era. We might discover principles among them which would have humbled the genius of Machiavel himself, and even have taught Mr. Sheridan's more popular scribe, Mr. Puff, a sense of his own inferiority.

It is known that, during the administration of Harley and Walpole, this class of authors swarmed and started up like mustard-seed in a hot-bed. More than fifty thousand pounds were expended among them! Faction, with mad and blind passions, can affix a value on the basest things that serve its purpose.[6] These "Authors by Profession" wrote more assiduously the better they were paid; but as attacks only produced replies and rejoinders, to remunerate them was heightening the fever and feeding the disease. They were all fighting for present pay, with a view of the promised land before them; but they at length became so numerous, and so crowded on one another, that the minister could neither satisfy promised claims nor actual dues. He had not at last the humblest office to bestow, not a commissionership of wine licences, as Tacitus Gordon had: not even a collectorship of the customs in some obscure town, as was the wretched worn-out Oldmixon's pittance;[7] not a crumb for a mouse!

The captain of this banditti in the administration of Walpole was Arnall, a young attorney, whose mature genius for scurrilous party-papers broke forth in his tender nonage. This hireling was "The Free Briton," and in "The Gazetteer" Francis Walsingham, Esq., abusing the name of a profound statesman. It is said that he received above ten thousand pounds for his obscure labours; and this patriot was suffered to retire with all the dignity which a pension could confer. He not only wrote for hire, but valued himself on it; proud of the pliancy of his pen and of his principles, he wrote without remorse what his patron was forced to pay for, but to disavow. It was from a knowledge of these "Authors by Profession," writers of a faction in the name of the community, as they have been well described, that our great statesman Pitt fell into an error which he lived to regret. He did not distinguish between authors; he confounded the mercenary with the men of talent and character; and with this contracted view of the political influence of genius, he must have viewed with awe, perhaps with surprise, its mighty labour in the volumes of Burke.

But these "Authors by Profession" sometimes found a retribution of their crimes even from their masters. When the ardent patron was changed into a cold minister, their pen seemed wonderfully to have lost its point, and the feather could not any more tickle. They were flung off, as Shakspeare's striking imagery expresses it, like

An unregarded bulrush on the stream, To rot itself with motion.

Look on the fate and fortune of AMHURST. The life of this "Author by Profession" points a moral. He flourished about the year 1730. He passed through a youth of iniquity, and was expelled from his college for his irregularities: he had exhibited no marks of regeneration when he assailed the university with the periodical paper of the Terrae Filius; a witty Saturnalian effusion on the manners and Toryism of Oxford, where the portraits have an extravagant kind of likeness, and are so false and so true that they were universally relished and individually understood. Amhurst, having lost his character, hastened to reform the morals and politics of the nation. For near twenty years he toiled at "The Craftsman," of which ten thousand are said to have been sold in one day. Admire this patriot! an expelled collegian becomes an outrageous zealot for popular reform, and an intrepid Whig can bend to be yoked to all the drudgery of a faction! Amhurst succeeded in writing out the minister, and writing in Bolingbroke and Pulteney. Now came the hour of gratitude and generosity. His patrons mounted into power—but—they silently dropped the instrument of their ascension. The political prostitute stood shivering at the gate of preferment, which his masters had for ever flung against him. He died broken-hearted, and owed the charity of a grave to his bookseller.

I must add one more striking example of a political author in the case of Dr. JAMES DRAKE, a man of genius, and an excellent writer. He resigned an honourable profession, that of medicine, to adopt a very contrary one, that of becoming an author by profession for a party. As a Tory writer, he dared every extremity of the law, while he evaded it by every subtlety of artifice; he sent a masked lady with his MS. to the printer, who was never discovered, and was once saved by a flaw in the indictment from the simple change of an r for a t, or nor for not;—one of those shameful evasions by which the law, to its perpetual disgrace, so often protects the criminal from punishment. Dr. Drake had the honour of hearing himself censured from the throne; of being imprisoned; of seeing his "Memorials of the Church of England" burned at London, and his "Historia Anglo-Scotica" at Edinburgh. Having enlisted himself in the pay of the booksellers, among other works, I suspect, he condescended to practise some literary impositions. For he has reprinted Father Parson's famous libel against the Earl of Leicester in Elizabeth's reign, under the title of "Secret Memoirs of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, 1706," 8vo, with a preface pretending it was printed from an old MS.

Drake was a lover of literature; he left behind him a version of Herodotus, and a "System of Anatomy," once the most popular and curious of its kind. After all this turmoil of his literary life, neither his masked lady nor the flaws in his indictments availed him. Government brought a writ of error, severely prosecuted him; and, abandoned, as usual, by those for whom he had annihilated a genius which deserved a better fate, his perturbed spirit broke out into a fever, and he died raving against cruel persecutors, and patrons not much more humane.

So much for some of those who have been "Authors by Profession" in one of the twofold capacities which Guthrie designed, that of writing for a minister; the other, that of writing for the bookseller, though far more honourable, is sufficiently calamitous.

In commercial times, the hope of profit is always a stimulating, but a degrading motive; it dims the clearest intellect, it stills the proudest feelings. Habit and prejudice will soon reconcile even genius to the work of money, and to avow the motive without a blush. "An author by profession," at once ingenious and ingenuous, declared that, "till fame appears to be worth more than money, he would always prefer money to fame." JOHNSON had a notion that there existed no motive for writing but money! Yet, crowned heads have sighed with the ambition of authorship, though this great master of the human mind could suppose that on this subject men were not actuated either by the love of glory or of pleasure! FIELDING, an author of great genius and of "the profession," in one of his "Covent-garden Journals" asserts, that "An author, in a country where there is no public provision for men of genius, is not obliged to be a more disinterested patriot than any other. Why is he whose livelihood is in his pen a greater monster in using it to serve himself, than he who uses his tongue for the same purpose?"

But it is a very important question to ask, is this "livelihood in the pen" really such? Authors drudging on in obscurity, and enduring miseries which can never close but with their life—shall this be worth even the humble designation of a "livelihood?" I am not now combating with them whether their taskwork degrades them, but whether they are receiving an equivalent for the violation of their genius, for the weight of the fetters they are wearing, and for the entailed miseries which form an author's sole legacies to his widow and his children. Far from me is the wish to degrade literature by the inquiry; but it will be useful to many a youth of promising talent, who is impatient to abandon all professions for this one, to consider well the calamities in which he will most probably participate.

Among "Authors by Profession" who has displayed a more fruitful genius, and exercised more intense industry, with a loftier sense of his independence, than SMOLLETT? But look into his life and enter into his feelings, and you will be shocked at the disparity of his situation with the genius of the man. His life was a succession of struggles, vexations, and disappointments, yet of success in his writings. Smollett, who is a great poet, though he has written little in verse, and whose rich genius composed the most original pictures of human life, was compelled by his wants to debase his name by selling it to voyages and translations, which he never could have read. When he had worn himself down in the service of the public or the booksellers, there remained not, of all his slender remunerations, in the last stage of life, sufficient to convey him to a cheap country and a restorative air on the Continent. The father may have thought himself fortunate, that the daughter whom he loved with more than common affection was no more to share in his wants; but the husband had by his side the faithful companion of his life, left without a wreck of fortune. Smollett, gradually perishing in a foreign land,[8] neglected by an admiring public, and without fresh resources from the booksellers, who were receiving the income of his works, threw out his injured feelings in the character of Bramble; the warm generosity of his temper, but not his genius, seemed fleeting with his breath. In a foreign land his widow marked by a plain monument the spot of his burial, and she perished in solitude! Yet Smollett dead—soon an ornamented column is raised at the place of his birth,[9] while the grave of the author seemed to multiply the editions of his works. There are indeed grateful feelings in the public at large for a favourite author; but the awful testimony of those feelings, by its gradual progress, must appear beyond the grave! They visit the column consecrated by his name, and his features are most loved, most venerated, in the bust.

Smollett himself shall be the historian of his own heart; this most successful "Author by Profession," who, for his subsistence, composed masterworks of genius, and drudged in the toils of slavery, shall himself tell us what happened, and describe that state between life and death, partaking of both, which obscured his faculties and sickened his lofty spirit.

"Had some of those who were pleased to call themselves my friends been at any pains to deserve the character, and told me ingenuously what I had to expect in the capacity of an author, when I first professed myself of that venerable fraternity, I should in all probability have spared myself the incredible labour and chagrin I have since undergone."

As a relief from literary labour, Smollett once went to revisit his family, and to embrace the mother he loved; but such was the irritation of his mind and the infirmity of his health, exhausted by the hard labours of authorship, that he never passed a more weary summer, nor ever found himself so incapable of indulging the warmest emotions of his heart. On his return, in a letter, he gave this melancholy narrative of himself:—"Between friends, I am now convinced that my brain was in some measure affected; for I had a kind of Coma Vigil upon me from April to November, without intermission. In consideration of this circumstance, I know you will forgive all my peevishness and discontent; tell Mrs. Moore that with regard to me, she has as yet seen nothing but the wrong side of the tapestry." Thus it happens in the life of authors, that they whose comic genius diffuses cheerfulness, create a pleasure which they cannot themselves participate.

The Coma Vigil may be described by a verse of Shakspeare:—

Still-waking sleep! that is not what it is!

Of praise and censure, says Smollett, in a letter to Dr. Moore, "Indeed I am sick of both, and wish to God my circumstances would allow me to consign my pen to oblivion." A wish, as fervently repeated by many "Authors by Profession," who are not so fully entitled as was Smollett to write when he chose, or to have lived in quiet for what he had written. An author's life is therefore too often deprived of all social comfort whether he be the writer for a minister, or a bookseller—but their case requires to be stated.


[4] It has been lately disclosed that HOME, the author of "Douglas," was pensioned by Lord Bute to answer all the papers and pamphlets of the Government, and to be a vigilant defender of the measures of Government.

[5] I have elsewhere portrayed the personal characters of the hireling chiefs of these paper wars: the versatile and unprincipled Marchmont Needham, the Cobbett of his day; the factious Sir Roger L'Estrange; and the bantering and profligate Sir John Birkenhead.

[6] An ample view of these lucubrations is exhibited in the early volumes of the Gentleman's Magazine.

[7] It was said of this man that "he had submitted to labour at the press, like a horse in a mill, till he became as blind and as wretched." To show the extent of the conscience of this class of writers, and to what lengths mere party-writers can proceed, when duly encouraged, Oldmixon, who was a Whig historian, if a violent party-writer ought ever to be dignified by so venerable a title, unmercifully rigid to all other historians, was himself guilty of the crimes with which he so loudly accused others. He charged three eminent persons with interpolating Lord Clarendon's History; this charge was afterwards disproved by the passages being produced in his Lordship's own handwriting, which had been fortunately preserved; and yet this accuser of interpolation, when employed by Bishop Kennett to publish his collection of our historians, made no scruple of falsifying numerous passages in Daniel's Chronicle, which makes the first edition of that collection of no value.

[8] Smollett died in a small abode in the neighbourhood of Leghorn, where he had resided some time in the hope of recovering his shattered health; and where he wrote his "Humphrey Clinker." His friends had tried in vain to procure for him the appointment of consul to any one of the ports of the Mediterranean. He is buried in the English cemetery at Leghorn.—ED.

[9] It stands opposite Dalquhurn House, where he was born, near the village of Renton, Dumbartonshire. Had Smollett lived a few more years, he would have been entitled to an estate of about 1000l. a year. There is also a cenotaph to his memory on the banks of Leven-water, which he has consecrated in one of his best poems.—ED.



JOHNSON has dignified the booksellers as "the patrons of literature," which was generous in that great author, who had written well and lived but ill all his life on that patronage. Eminent booksellers, in their constant intercourse with the most enlightened class of the community, that is, with the best authors and the best readers, partake of the intelligence around them; their great capitals, too, are productive of good and evil in literature; useful when they carry on great works, and pernicious when they sanction indifferent ones. Yet are they but commercial men. A trader can never be deemed a patron, for it would be romantic to purchase what is not saleable; and where no favour is conferred, there is no patronage.

Authors continue poor, and booksellers become opulent; an extraordinary result! Booksellers are not agents for authors, but proprietors of their works; so that the perpetual revenues of literature are solely in the possession of the trade.

Is it then wonderful that even successful authors are indigent? They are heirs to fortunes, but by a strange singularity they are disinherited at their birth; for, on the publication of their works, these cease to be their own property. Let that natural property be secured, and a good book would be an inheritance, a leasehold or a freehold, as you choose it; it might at least last out a generation, and descend to the author's blood, were they permitted to live on their father's glory, as in all other property they do on his industry.[10] Something of this nature has been instituted in France, where the descendants of Corneille and Moliere retain a claim on the theatres whenever the dramas of their great ancestors are performed. In that country, literature has ever received peculiar honours—it was there decreed, in the affair of Crebillon, that literary productions are not seizable by creditors.[11]

The history of literary property in this country might form as ludicrous a narrative as Lucian's "true history." It was a long while doubtful whether any such thing existed, at the very time when booksellers were assigning over the perpetual copyrights of books, and making them the subject of family settlements for the provision of their wives and children! When Tonson, in 1739, obtained an injunction to restrain another bookseller from printing Milton's "Paradise Lost," he brought into court as a proof of his title an assignment of the original copyright, made over by the sublime poet in 1667, which was read. Milton received for this assignment the sum which we all know—Tonson and all his family and assignees rode in their carriages with the profits of the five-pound epic.[12]

The verbal and tasteless lawyers, not many years past, with legal metaphysics, wrangled like the schoolmen, inquiring of each other, "whether the style and ideas of an author were tangible things; or if these were a property, how is possession to be taken, or any act of occupancy made on mere intellectual ideas." Nothing, said they, can be an object of property but which has a corporeal substance; the air and the light, to which they compared an author's ideas, are common to all; ideas in the MS. state were compared to birds in a cage; while the author confines them in his own dominion, none but he has a right to let them fly; but the moment he allows the bird to escape from his hand, it is no violation of property in any one to make it his own. And to prove that there existed no property after publication, they found an analogy in the gathering of acorns, or in seizing on a vacant piece of ground; and thus degrading that most refined piece of art formed in the highest state of society, a literary production, they brought us back to a state of nature; and seem to have concluded that literary property was purely ideal; a phantom which, as its author could neither grasp nor confine to himself, he must entirely depend on the public benevolence for his reward.[13]

The Ideas, that is, the work of an author, are "tangible things." "There are works," to quote the words of a near and dear relative, "which require great learning, great industry, great labour, and great capital, in their preparation. They assume a palpable form. You may fill warehouses with them, and freight ships; and the tenure by which they are held is superior to that of all other property, for it is original. It is tenure which does not exist in a doubtful title; which does not spring from any adventitious circumstances; it is not found—it is not purchased—it is not prescriptive—it is original; so it is the most natural of all titles, because it is the most simple and least artificial. It is paramount and sovereign, because it is a tenure by creation."[14]

There were indeed some more generous spirits and better philosophers fortunately found on the same bench; and the identity of a literary composition was resolved into its sentiments and language, besides what was more obviously valuable to some persons, the print and paper. On this slight principle was issued the profound award which accorded a certain term of years to any work, however immortal. They could not diminish the immortality of a book, but only its reward. In all the litigations respecting literary property, authors were little considered—except some honourable testimonies due to genius, from the sense of WILLES, and the eloquence of MANSFIELD. Literary property was still disputed, like the rights of a parish common. An honest printer, who could not always write grammar, had the shrewdness to make a bold effort in this scramble, and perceiving that even by this last favourable award all literary property would necessarily centre with the booksellers, now stood forward for his own body—the printers. This rough advocate observed that "a few persons who call themselves booksellers, about the number of twenty-five, have kept the monopoly of books and copies in their hands, to the entire exclusion of all others, but more especially the printers, whom they have always held it a rule never to let become purchasers in copy." Not a word for the authors! As for them, they were doomed by both parties as the fat oblation: they indeed sent forth some meek bleatings; but what were AUTHORS, between judges, booksellers, and printers? the sacrificed among the sacrificers!

All this was reasoning in a circle. LITERARY PROPERTY in our nation arose from a new state of society. These lawyers could never develope its nature by wild analogies, nor discover it in any common-law right; for our common law, composed of immemorial customs, could never have had in its contemplation an object which could not have existed in barbarous periods. Literature, in its enlarged spirit, certainly never entered into the thoughts or attention of our rude ancestors. All their views were bounded by the necessaries of life; and as yet they had no conception of the impalpable, invisible, yet sovereign dominion of the human mind—enough for our rough heroes was that of the seas! Before the reign of Henry VIII. great authors composed occasionally a book in Latin, which none but other great authors cared for, and which the people could not read. In the reign of Elizabeth, ROGER ASCHAM appeared—one of those men of genius born to create a new era in the history of their nation. The first English author who may be regarded as the founder of our prose style was Roger Ascham, the venerable parent of our native literature. At a time when our scholars affected to contemn the vernacular idiom, and in their Latin works were losing their better fame, that of being understood by all their countrymen, Ascham boldly avowed the design of setting an example, in his own words, TO SPEAK AS THE COMMON PEOPLE, TO THINK AS WISE MEN. His pristine English is still forcible without pedantry, and still beautiful without ornament.[15] The illustrious BACON condescended to follow this new example in the most popular of his works. This change in our literature was like a revelation; these men taught us our language in books. We became a reading people; and then the demand for books naturally produced a new order of authors, who traded in literature. It was then, so early as in the Elizabethan age, that literary property may be said to derive its obscure origin in this nation. It was protected in an indirect manner by the licensers of the press; for although that was a mere political institution, only designed to prevent seditious and irreligious publications, yet, as no book could be printed without a licence, there was honour enough in the licensers not to allow other publishers to infringe on the privilege granted to the first claimant. In Queen Anne's time, when the office of licensers was extinguished, a more liberal genius was rising in the nation, and literary property received a more definite and a more powerful protection. A limited term was granted to every author to reap the fruits of his labours; and Lord Hardwicke pronounced this statute "a universal patent for authors." Yet, subsequently, the subject of literary property involved discussion; even at so late a period as in 1769 it was still to be litigated. It was then granted that originally an author had at common law a property in his work, but that the act of Anne took away all copyright after the expiration of the terms it permitted.

As the matter now stands, let us address an arithmetical age—but my pen hesitates to bring down my subject to an argument fitted to "these coster-monger times."[16] On the present principle of literary property, it results that an author disposes of a leasehold property of twenty-eight years, often for less than the price of one year's purchase! How many living authors are the sad witnesses of this fact, who, like so many Esaus, have sold their inheritance for a meal! I leave the whole school of Adam Smith to calm their calculating emotions concerning "that unprosperous race of men" (sometimes this master-seer calls them "unproductive") "commonly called men of letters," who are pretty much in the situation which lawyers and physicians would be in, were these, as he tells us, in that state when "a scholar and a beggar seem to have been very nearly synonymous terms"—and this melancholy fact that man of genius discovered, without the feather of his pen brushing away a tear from his lid—without one spontaneous and indignant groan!

Authors may exclaim, "we ask for justice, not charity." They would not need to require any favour, nor claim any other than that protection which an enlightened government, in its wisdom and its justice, must bestow. They would leave to the public disposition the sole appreciation of their works; their book must make its own fortune; a bad work may be cried up, and a good work may be cried down; but Faction will soon lose its voice, and Truth acquire one. The cause we are pleading is not the calamities of indifferent writers, but of those whose utility or whose genius long survives that limited term which has been so hardly wrenched from the penurious hand of verbal lawyers. Every lover of literature, and every votary of humanity has long felt indignant at that sordid state and all those secret sorrows to which men of the finest genius, or of sublime industry, are reduced and degraded in society. Johnson himself, who rejected that perpetuity of literary property which some enthusiasts seemed to claim at the time the subject was undergoing the discussion of the judges, is, however, for extending the copyright to a century. Could authors secure this, their natural right, literature would acquire a permanent and a nobler reward; for great authors would then be distinguished by the very profits they would receive from that obscure multitude whose common disgraces they frequently participate, notwithstanding the superiority of their own genius. Johnson himself will serve as a proof of the incompetent remuneration of literary property. He undertook and he performed an Herculean labour, which employed him so many years that the price he obtained was exhausted before the work was concluded—the wages did not even last as long as the labour! Where, then, is the author to look forward, when such works are undertaken, for a provision for his family, or for his future existence? It would naturally arise from the work itself, were authors not the most ill-treated and oppressed class of the community. The daughter of MILTON need not have craved the alms of the admirers of her father, if the right of authors had been better protected; his own "Paradise Lost" had then been her better portion and her most honourable inheritance. The children of BURNS would have required no subscriptions; that annual tribute which the public pay to the genius of their parent was their due, and would have been their fortune.

Authors now submit to have a shorter life than their own celebrity. While the book markets of Europe are supplied with the writings of English authors, and they have a wider diffusion in America than at home, it seems a national ingratitude to limit the existence of works for their authors to a short number of years, and then to seize on their possession for ever.


[10] The following facts will show the value of literary property; immense profits and cheap purchases! The manuscript of "Robinson Crusoe" ran through the whole trade, and no one would print it; the bookseller who did purchase it, who, it is said, was not remarkable for his discernment, but for a speculative turn, got a thousand guineas by it. How many have the booksellers since accumulated? Burn's "Justice" was disposed of by its author for a trifle, as well as Buchan's "Domestic Medicine;" these works yield annual incomes. Goldsmith's "Vicar of Wakefield" was sold in the hour of distress, with little distinction from any other work in that class of composition; and "Evelina" produced five guineas from the niggardly trader. Dr. Johnson fixed the price of his "Biography of the Poets" at two hundred guineas; and Mr. Malone observes, the booksellers in the course of twenty-five years have probably got five thousand. I could add a great number of facts of this nature which relate to living writers; the profits of their own works for two or three years would rescue them from the horrors and humiliation of pauperism. It is, perhaps, useful to record, that, while the compositions of genius are but slightly remunerated, though sometimes as productive as "the household stuff" of literature, the latter is rewarded with princely magnificence. At the sale of the Robinsons, the copyright of "Vyse's Spelling-book" was sold at the enormous price of 2200l., with an annuity of fifty guineas to the author!

[11] The circumstance, with the poet's dignified petition, and the King's honourable decree, are preserved in "Curiosities of Literature," vol. i. p. 406.

[12] The elder Tonson's portrait represents him in his gown and cap, holding in his right hand a volume lettered "Paradise Lost"—such a favourite object was Milton and copyright! Jacob Tonson was the founder of a race who long honoured literature. His rise in life is curious. He was at first unable to pay twenty pounds for a play by Dryden, and joined with another bookseller to advance that sum; the play sold, and Tonson was afterwards enabled to purchase the succeeding ones. He and his nephew died worth two hundred thousand pounds.—Much old Tonson owed to his own industry; but he was a mere trader. He and Dryden had frequent bickerings; he insisted on receiving 10,000 verses for two hundred and sixty-eight pounds, and poor Dryden threw in the finest Ode in the language towards the number. He would pay in the base coin which was then current; which was a loss to the poet. Tonson once complained to Dryden, that he had only received 1446 lines of his translation of Ovid for his Miscellany for fifty guineas, when he had calculated at the rate of 1518 lines for forty guineas; he gives the poet a piece of critical reasoning, that he considered he had a better bargain with "Juvenal," which is reckoned "not so easy to translate as Ovid." In these times such a mere trader in literature has disappeared.

[13] Sir James Burrows' Reports on the question concerning Literary Property, 4to. London, 1773.

[14] Mirror of Parliament, 3529.

[15] See "Amenities of Literature" for an account of this author.

[16] A coster-monger, or Costard-monger, is a dealer in apples, which are so called because they are shaped like a costard, i.e. a man's head. Steevens.—Johnson explains the phrase eloquently: "In these times when the prevalence of trade has produced that meanness, that rates the merit of everything by money."


The natural rights and properties of AUTHORS not having been sufficiently protected, they are defrauded, not indeed of their fame, though they may not always live to witness it, but of their uninterrupted profits, which might save them from their frequent degradation in society. That act of Anne which confers on them some right of property, acknowledges that works of learned men have been carried on "too often to the ruin of them and their families."

Hence we trace a literary calamity which the public endure in those "Authors by Profession," who, finding often too late in life that it is the worst profession, are not scrupulous to live by some means or other. "I must live," cried one of the brotherhood, shrugging his shoulders in his misery, and almost blushing for a libel he had just printed—"I do not see the necessity," was the dignified reply. Trade was certainly not the origin of authorship. Most of our great authors have written from a more impetuous impulse than that of a mechanic; urged by a loftier motive than that of humouring the popular taste, they have not lowered themselves by writing down to the public, but have raised the public to them. Untasked, they composed at propitious intervals; and feeling, not labour, was in their last, as in their first page.

When we became a reading people, books were to be suited to popular tastes, and then that trade was opened that leads to the workhouse. A new race sprang up, that, like Ascham, "spoke as the common people;" but would not, like Ascham, "think as wise men." The founders of "Authors by Profession" appear as far back as in the Elizabethan age. Then there were some roguish wits, who, taking advantage of the public humour, and yielding their principle to their pen, lived to write, and wrote to live; loose livers and loose writers!—like Autolycus, they ran to the fair, with baskets of hasty manufactures, fit for clowns and maidens.[17]

Even then flourished the craft of authorship, and the mysteries of bookselling. ROBERT GREENE, the master-wit, wrote "The Art of Coney-catching," or Cheatery, in which he was an adept; he died of a surfeit of Rhenish and pickled herrings, at a fatal banquet of authors;—and left as his legacy among the "Authors by Profession" "A Groatsworth of Wit, bought with a Million of Repentance." One died of another kind of surfeit. Another was assassinated in a brothel. But the list of the calamities of all these worthies have as great variety as those of the Seven Champions.[18] Nor were the stationers, or book-venders, as the publishers of books were first designated, at a fault in the mysteries of "coney-catching." Deceptive and vaunting title-pages were practised to such excess, that TOM NASH, an "Author by Profession," never fastidiously modest, blushed at the title of his "Pierce Pennilesse," which the publisher had flourished in the first edition, like "a tedious mountebank." The booksellers forged great names to recommend their works, and passed off in currency their base metal stamped with a royal head. "It was an usual thing in those days," says honest Anthony Wood, "to set a great name to a book or books, by the sharking booksellers or snivelling writers, to get bread."

Such authors as these are unfortunate, before they are criminal; they often tire out their youth before they discover that "Author by Profession" is a denomination ridiculously assumed, for it is none! The first efforts of men of genius are usually honourable ones; but too often they suffer that genius to be debased. Many who would have composed history have turned voluminous party-writers; many a noble satirist has become a hungry libeller. Men who are starved in society, hold to it but loosely. They are the children of Nemesis! they avenge themselves—and with the Satan of MILTON they exclaim,

Evil, be thou my good!

Never were their feelings more vehemently echoed than by this Nash—the creature of genius, of famine, and despair. He lived indeed in the age of Elizabeth, but writes as if he had lived in our own. He proclaimed himself to the world as Pierce Pennilesse, and on a retrospect of his literary life, observes that he had "sat up late and rose early, contended with the cold, and conversed with scarcitie;" he says, "all my labours turned to losse,—I was despised and neglected, my paines not regarded, or slightly rewarded, and I myself, in prime of my best wit, laid open to povertie. Whereupon I accused my fortune, railed on my patrons, bit my pen, rent my papers, and raged."—And then comes the after-reflection, which so frequently provokes the anger of genius: "How many base men that wanted those parts I had, enjoyed content at will, and had wealth at command! I called to mind a cobbler that was worth five hundred pounds; an hostler that had built a goodly inn; a carman in a leather pilche that had whipt a thousand pound out of his horse's tail—and have I more than these? thought I to myself; am I better born? am I better brought up? yea, and better favoured! and yet am I a beggar? How am I crost, or whence is this curse? Even from hence, the men that should employ such as I am, are enamoured of their own wits, though they be never so scurvie; that a scrivener is better paid than a scholar; and men of art must seek to live among cormorants, or be kept under by dunces, who count it policy to keep them bare to follow their books the better." And then, Nash thus utters the cries of—


Why is't damnation to despair and die When life is my true happiness' disease? My soul! my soul! thy safety makes me fly The faulty means that might my pain appease; Divines and dying men may talk of hell; But in my heart her several torments dwell.

Ah worthless wit, to train me to this woe! Deceitful arts that nourish discontent! Ill thrive the folly that bewitch'd me so! Vain thoughts, adieu! for now I will repent; And yet my wants persuade me to proceed, Since none take pity of a scholar's need!—

Forgive me, God, although I curse my birth, And ban the air wherein I breathe a wretch! For misery hath daunted all my mirth— Without redress complains my careless verse, And Midas' ears relent not at my moan! In some far land will I my griefs rehearse, 'Mongst them that will be moved when I shall groan! England, adieu! the soil that brought me forth! Adieu, unkinde! where skill is nothing worth!

Such was the miserable cry of an "Author by Profession" in the reign of Elizabeth. Nash not only renounces his country in his despair—and hesitates on "the faulty means" which have appeased the pangs of many of his unhappy brothers, but he proves also the weakness of the moral principle among these men of genius; for he promises, if any Maecenas will bind him by his bounty, he will do him "as much honour as any poet of my beardless years in England—but," he adds, "if he be sent away with a flea in his ear, let him look that I will rail on him soundly; not for an hour or a day, while the injury is fresh in my memory, but in some elaborate polished poem, which I will leave to the world when I am dead, to be a living image to times to come of his beggarly parsimony." Poets might imagine that CHATTERTON had written all this, about the time he struck a balance of his profit and loss by the death of Beckford the Lord Mayor, in which he concludes with "I am glad he is dead by 3l. 13s. 6d."[19]


[17] An abundance of these amusing tracts eagerly bought up in their day, but which came in the following generation to the ballad-stalls, are in the present enshrined in the cabinets of the curious. Such are the revolutions of literature! [It is by no means uncommon to find them realise sums at the rate of a guinea a page; but it is to be solely attributed to their extreme rarity; for in many instances the reprints of such tracts are worthless.]

[18] Poverty and the gaol alternated with tavern carouses or the place of honour among the wild young gallants at the playhouses. They were gentlemen or beggars as daily circumstances ordained. When this was the case with such authors as Greene, Peele, and Massinger, we need not wonder at finding "a whole knot" of writers in infinitely worse plight, who lived (or starved) by writing ballads and pamphlets on temporary subjects. In a brief tract, called "The Downfall of Temporising Poets," published 1641, they are said to be "an indifferent strong corporation, twenty-three of you sufficient writers, besides Martin Parker," who was the great ballad and pamphlet writer of the day. The shifts they were put to, and the difficulties of their living, is denoted in the reply of one of the characters in this tract, who on being asked if he has money, replies "Money? I wonder where you ever see poets have money two days together; I sold a copy last night, and have spent the money; and now have another copy to sell, but nobody will buy it."—ED.

[19] Chatterton had written a political essay for "The North Briton," which opened with the preluding flourish of "A spirited people freeing themselves from insupportable slavery:" it was, however, though accepted, not printed, on account of the Lord Mayor's death. The patriot thus calculated the death of his great patron!

L s. d. Lost by his death in this Essay 1 11 6 Gained in Elegies L2 2 —— in Essays 3 3 —— 5 5 0 ————- Am glad he is dead by L3 13 6



It must be confessed, that before "Authors by Profession" had fallen into the hands of the booksellers, they endured peculiar grievances. They were pitiable retainers of some great family. The miseries of such an author, and the insolence and penuriousness of his patrons, who would not return the poetry they liked and would not pay for, may be traced in the eventful life of THOMAS CHURCHYARD, a poet of the age of Elizabeth, one of those unfortunate men who have written poetry all their days, and lived a long life to complete the misfortune. His muse was so fertile, that his works pass all enumeration. He courted numerous patrons, who valued the poetry, while they left the poet to his own miserable contemplations. In a long catalogue of his works, which this poet has himself given, he adds a few memoranda, as he proceeds, a little ludicrous, but very melancholy. He wrote a book which he could never afterwards recover from one of his patrons, and adds, "all which book was in as good verse as ever I made; an honourable knight dwelling in the Black Friers can witness the same, because I read it unto him." Another accorded him the same remuneration—on which he adds, "An infinite number of other songs and sonnets given where they cannot be recovered, nor purchase any favour when they are craved." Still, however, he announces "Twelve long Tales for Christmas, dedicated to twelve honourable lords." Well might Churchyard write his own sad life, under the title of "The Tragicall Discourse of the Haplesse Man's Life."[20]

It will not be easy to parallel this pathetic description of the wretched age of a poor neglected poet mourning over a youth vainly spent.

High time it is to haste my carcase hence: Youth stole away and felt no kind of joy, And age he left in travail ever since; The wanton days that made me nice and coy Were but a dream, a shadow, and a toy—

I look in glass, and find my cheeks so lean That every hour I do but wish me dead; Now back bends down, and forwards falls the head, And hollow eyes in wrinkled brow doth shroud As though two stars were creeping under cloud.

The lips wax cold, and look both pale and thin, The teeth fall out as nutts forsook the shell, The bare bald head but shows where hair hath been, The lively joints wax weary, stiff, and still, The ready tongue now falters in his tale; The courage quails as strength decays and goes....

The thatcher hath a cottage poor you see: The shepherd knows where he shall sleep at night; The daily drudge from cares can quiet be: Thus fortune sends some rest to every wight; And I was born to house and land by right....

Well, ere my breath my body do forsake My spirit I bequeath to God above; My books, my scrawls, and songs that I did make, I leave with friends that freely did me love....

Now, friends, shake hands, I must be gone, my boys! Our mirth takes end, our triumph all is done; Our tickling talk, our sports and merry toys Do glide away like shadow of the sun. Another comes when I my race have run, Shall pass the time with you in better plight, And find good cause of greater things to write.

Yet Churchyard was no contemptible bard; he composed a national poem, "The Worthiness of Wales," which has been reprinted, and will be still dear to his "Fatherland," as the Hollanders expressively denote their natal spot. He wrote in the "Mirrour of Magistrates," the Life of Wolsey, which has parts of great dignity; and the Life of Jane Shore, which was much noticed in his day, for a severe critic of the times writes:

Hath not Shore's wife, although a light-skirt she, Given him a chaste, long, lasting memorie?

Churchyard, and the miseries of his poetical life, are alluded to by Spenser. He is old Palemon in "Colin Clout's come Home again." Spenser is supposed to describe this laborious writer for half a century, whose melancholy pipe, in his old age, may make the reader "rew:"

Yet he himself may rewed be more right, That sung so long untill quite hoarse he grew.

His epitaph, preserved by Camden, is extremely instructive to all poets, could epitaphs instruct them:—

Poverty and poetry his tomb doth inclose; Wherefore, good neighbours, be merry in prose.

It appears also by a confession of Tom Nash, that an author would then, pressed by the res angusta domi, when "the bottom of his purse was turned upward," submit to compose pieces for gentlemen who aspired to authorship. He tells us on some occasion, that he was then in the country composing poetry for some country squire;—and says, "I am faine to let my plow stand still in the midst of a furrow, to follow these Senior Fantasticos, to whose amorous villanellas[21] I prostitute my pen," and this, too, "twice or thrice in a month;" and he complains that it is "poverty which alone maketh me so unconstant to my determined studies, trudging from place to place to and fro, and prosecuting the means to keep me from idlenesse." An author was then much like a vagrant.

Even at a later period, in the reign of the literary James, great authors were reduced to a state of mendicity, and lived on alms, although their lives and their fortunes had been consumed in forming national labours. The antiquary STOWE exhibits a striking example of the rewards conferred on such valued authors. Stowe had devoted his life, and exhausted his patrimony, in the study of English antiquities; he had travelled on foot throughout the kingdom, inspecting all monuments of antiquity, and rescuing what he could from the dispersed libraries of the monasteries. His stupendous collections, in his own handwriting, still exist, to provoke the feeble industry of literary loiterers. He felt through life the enthusiasm of study; and seated in his monkish library, living with the dead more than with the living, he was still a student of taste: for Spenser the poet visited the library of Stowe; and the first good edition of Chaucer was made so chiefly by the labours of our author. Late in life, worn-out with study and the cares of poverty, neglected by that proud metropolis of which he had been the historian, his good-humour did not desert him; for being afflicted with sharp pains in his aged feet, he observed that "his affliction lay in that part which formerly he had made so much use of." Many a mile had he wandered and much had he expended, for those treasures of antiquities which had exhausted his fortune, and with which he had formed works of great public utility. It was in his eightieth year that Stowe at length received a public acknowledgment of his services, which will appear to us of a very extraordinary nature. He was so reduced in his circumstances that he petitioned James I. for a licence to collect alms for himself! "as a recompense for his labours and travel of forty-five years, in setting forth the Chronicles of England, and eight years taken up in the Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, towards his relief now in his old age; having left his former means of living, and only employing himself for the service and good of his country." Letters-patent under the great seal were granted. After no penurious commendations of Stowe's labours, he is permitted "to gather the benevolence of well-disposed people within this realm of England; to ask, gather, and take the alms of all our loving subjects." These letters-patent were to be published by the clergy from their pulpits; they produced so little, that they were renewed for another twelvemonth: one entire parish in the city contributed seven shillings and sixpence! Such, then, was the patronage received by Stowe, to be a licensed beggar throughout the kingdom for one twelvemonth! Such was the public remuneration of a man who had been useful to his nation, but not to himself!

Such was the first age of Patronage, which branched out in the last century into an age of Subscriptions, when an author levied contributions before his work appeared; a mode which inundated our literature with a great portion of its worthless volumes: of these the most remarkable are the splendid publications of Richard Blome; they may be called fictitious works; for they are only mutilated transcripts from Camden and Speed, but richly ornamented, and pompously printed, which this literary adventurer, said to have been a gentleman, loaded the world with, by the aid of his subscribers. Another age was that of Dedications,[22] when the author was to lift his tiny patron to the skies, in an inverse ratio as he lowered himself, in this public exhibition. Sometimes the party haggled about the price;[23] or the statue, while stepping into his niche, would turn round on the author to assist his invention. A patron of Peter Motteux, dissatisfied with Peter's colder temperament, composed the superlative dedication to himself, and completed the misery of the author by subscribing it with Motteux's name![24] Worse fared it when authors were the unlucky hawkers of their own works; of which I shall give a remarkable instance in MYLES DAVIES, a learned man maddened by want and indignation.

The subject before us exhibits one of the most singular spectacles in these volumes; that of a scholar of extensive erudition, whose life seems to have passed in the study of languages and the sciences, while his faculties appear to have been disordered from the simplicity of his nature, and driven to madness by indigence and insult. He formed the wild resolution of becoming a mendicant author, the hawker of his own works; and by this mode endured all the aggravated sufferings, the great and the petty insults of all ranks of society, and even sometimes from men of learning themselves, who denied a mendicant author the sympathy of a brother.

MYLES DAVIES and his works are imperfectly known to the most curious of our literary collectors. His name has scarcely reached a few; the author and his works are equally extraordinary, and claim a right to be preserved in this treatise on the "Calamities of Authors."

Our author commenced printing a work, difficult, from its miscellaneous character, to describe; of which the volumes appeared at different periods. The early and the most valuable volumes were the first and second; they are a kind of bibliographical, biographical, and critical work, on English Authors. They all bear a general title of "Athenae Britannicae."[25]

Collectors have sometimes met with a very curious volume, entitled "Icon Libellorum," and sometimes the same book, under another title—"A Critical History of Pamphlets." This rare book forms the first volume of the "Athenae Britannicae." The author was Myles Davies, whose biography is quite unknown: he may now be his own biographer. He was a Welsh clergyman, a vehement foe to Popery, Arianism, and Socinianism, of the most fervent loyalty to George I. and the Hanoverian succession; a scholar, skilled in Greek and Latin, and in all the modern languages. Quitting his native spot with political disgust, he changed his character in the metropolis, for he subscribes himself "Counsellor-at-Law." In an evil hour he commenced author, not only surrounded by his books, but with the more urgent companions of a wife and family; and with that childlike simplicity which sometimes marks the mind of a retired scholar, we perceive him imagining that his immense reading would prove a source, not easily exhausted, for their subsistence.

From the first volumes of his series much curious literary history may be extracted, amidst the loose and wandering elements of this literary chaos. In his dedication to the Prince he professes "to represent writers and writings in a catoptrick view."

The preface to the second volume opens his plan; and nothing as yet indicates those rambling humours which his subsequent labours exhibit.

As he proceeded in forming these volumes, I suspect, either that his mind became a little disordered, or that he discovered that mere literature found but penurious patrons in "the Few;" for, attempting to gain over all classes of society, he varied his investigations, and courted attention, by writing on law, physic, divinity, as well as literary topics. By his account—

"The avarice of booksellers, and the stinginess of hard-hearted patrons, had driven him into a cursed company of door-keeping herds, to meet the irrational brutality of those uneducated mischievous animals called footmen, house-porters, poetasters, mumpers, apothecaries, attorneys, and such like beasts of prey," who were, like himself, sometimes barred up for hours in the menagerie of a great man's antechamber. In his addresses to Drs. Mead and Freind, he declares—"My misfortunes drive me to publish my writings for a poor livelihood; and nothing but the utmost necessity could make any man in his senses to endeavour at it, in a method so burthensome to the modesty and education of a scholar."

In French he dedicates to George I.; and in the Harleian MSS. I discovered a long letter to the Earl of Oxford, by our author, in French, with a Latin ode. Never was more innocent bribery proffered to a minister! He composed what he calls Stricturae Pindaricae on the "Mughouses," then political clubs;[26] celebrates English authors in the same odes, and inserts a political Latin drama, called "Pallas Anglicana." Maevius and Bavius were never more indefatigable! The author's intellect gradually discovers its confusion amidst the loud cries of penury and despair.

To paint the distresses of an author soliciting alms for a book which he presents—and which, whatever may be its value, comes at least as an evidence that the suppliant is a learned man—is a case so uncommon, that the invention of the novelist seems necessary to fill up the picture. But Myles Davies is an artist in his own simple narrative.

Our author has given the names of several of his unwilling customers:—

"Those squeeze-farthing and hoard-penny ignoramus doctors, with several great personages who formed excuses for not accepting my books; or they would receive them, but give nothing for them; or else deny they had them, or remembered anything of them; and so gave me nothing for my last present of books, though they kept them gratis et ingratiis.

"But his Grace of the Dutch extraction in Holland (said to be akin to Mynheer Vander B—nck) had a peculiar grace in receiving my present of books and odes, which, being bundled up together with a letter and ode upon his Graceship, and carried in by his porter, I was bid to call for an answer five years hence. I asked the porter what he meant by that? I suppose, said he, four or five days hence; but it proved five or six months after, before I could get any answer, though I had writ five or six letters in French with fresh odes upon his Graceship, and an account where I lived, and what noblemen had accepted of my present. I attended about the door three or four times a week all that time constantly from twelve to four or five o'clock in the evening; and walking under the fore windows of the parlours, once that time his and her Grace came after dinner to stare at me, with open windows and shut mouths, but filled with fair water, which they spouted with so much dexterity that they twisted the water through their teeth and mouth-skrew, to flash near my face, and yet just to miss me, though my nose could not well miss the natural flavour of the orange-water showering so very near me. Her Grace began the water-work, but not very gracefully, especially for an English lady of her description, airs, and qualities, to make a stranger her spitting-post, who had been guilty of no other offence than to offer her husband some writings.—His Grace followed, yet first stood looking so wistfully towards me, that I verily thought he had a mind to throw me a guinea or two for all these indignities, and two or three months' then sleeveless waiting upon him—and accordingly I advanced to address his Grace to remember the poor author; but, instead of an answer, he immediately undams his mouth, out fly whole showers of lymphatic rockets, which had like to have put out my mortal eyes."

Still he was not disheartened, and still applied for his bundle of books, which were returned to him at length unopened, with "half a guinea upon top of the cargo," and "with a desire to receive no more. I plucked up courage, murmuring within myself—

'Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito.'"

He sarcastically observes,

"As I was still jogging on homewards, I thought that a great many were called their Graces, not for any grace or favour they had truly deserved with God or man, but for the same reason of contraries, that the Parcae or Destinies, were so called, because they spared none, or were not truly the Parcae, quia non parcebant."

Our indigent and indignant author, by the faithfulness of his representations, mingles with his anger some ludicrous scenes of literary mendicity.

"I can't choose (now I am upon the fatal subject) but make one observation or two more upon the various rencontres and adventures I met withall, in presenting my books to those who were likely to accept of them for their own information, or for that of helping a poor scholar, or for their own vanity or ostentation.

"Some parsons would hollow to raise the whole house and posse of the domestics to raise a poor crown; at last all that flutter ends in sending Jack or Tom out to change a guinea, and then 'tis reckoned over half-a-dozen times before the fatal crown can be picked out, which must be taken as it is given, with all the parade of almsgiving, and so to be received with all the active and passive ceremonial of mendication and alms-receiving—as if the books, printing and paper, were worth nothing at all, and as if it were the greatest charity for them to touch them or let them be in the house; 'For I shall never read them,' says one of the five-shilling-piece chaps; 'I have no time to look in them,' says another; ''Tis so much money lost,' says a grave dean; 'My eyes being so bad,' said a bishop, 'that I can scarce read at all.' 'What do you want with me?' said another; 'Sir, I presented you the other day with my Athenae Britannicae, being the last part published.' 'I don't want books, take them again; I don't understand what they mean.' 'The title is very plain,' said I, 'and they are writ mostly in English.' 'I'll give you a crown for both the volumes.' 'They stand me, sir, in more than that, and 'tis for a bare subsistence I present or sell them; how shall I live?' 'I care not a farthing for that; live or die, 'tis all one to me.' 'Damn my master!' said Jack, ''twas but last night he was commending your books and your learning to the skies; and now he would not care if you were starving before his eyes; nay, he often makes game at your clothes, though he thinks you the greatest scholar in England.'"

Such was the life of a learned mendicant author! The scenes which are here exhibited appear to have disordered an intellect which had never been firm; in vain our author attempted to adapt his talents to all orders of men, still "To the crazy ship all winds are contrary."


[20] This author, now little known but to the student of our rarer early poets, was a native of Shrewsbury, and had served in the army. He wrote a large number of poetical pieces, all now of the greatest rarity; their names have been preserved by that industrious antiquary Joseph Ritson, in his Bibliographia Poetica. The principal one was termed "The Worthiness of Wales," and is written in laudation of the Principality. He was frequently employed to supply verses for Court Masques and Pageantry. He composed "all the devises, pastimes, and plays at Norwich" when Queen Elizabeth was entertained there; as well as gratulatory verses to her at Woodstock. He speaks of his mind as "never free from studie," and his body "seldom void of toyle"—"and yet both of them neither brought greate benefits to the life, nor blessing to the soule" he adds, in the words of a man whose hope deferred has made his heart sick!—ED.

[21] Villanellas, or rather "Villanescas, are properly country rustic songs, but commonly taken for ingenious ones made in imitation of them."—PINEDA.

[22] This practice of dedications had indeed flourished before; for authors had even prefixed numerous dedications to the same work, or dedicated to different patrons the separate divisions. Fuller's "Church History" is disgraced by the introduction of twelve title-pages, besides the general one; with as many particular dedications, and no less than fifty or sixty inscriptions, addressed to benefactors; for which he is severely censured by Heylin. It was an expedient to procure dedication fees; for publishing books by subscription was an art not then discovered.

[23] The price of the dedication of a play was even fixed, from five to ten guineas, from the Revolution to the time of George I., when it rose to twenty—but sometimes a bargain was to be struck—when the author and the play were alike indifferent. Even on these terms could vanity be gratified with the coarse luxury of panegyric, of which every one knew the price.

[24] This circumstance was so notorious at the time, that it occasioned a poetical satire in a dialogue between Motteux and his patron Henningham—preserved in that vast flower-bed or dunghill, for it is both, of "Poems on Affairs of State," vol. ii. 251. The patron, in his zeal to omit no possible distinction that could attach to him, had given one circumstance which no one but himself could have known, and which he thus regrets:


I must confess I was to blame That one particular to name; The rest could never have been known, I made the style so like thy own.


I beg your pardon, Sir, for that!


Why d——e what would you be at? I writ below myself, you sot! Avoiding figures, tropes, what not; For fear I should my fancy raise Above the level of thy plays!"

[25] "Athenae Britannicae, or a Critical History of the Oxford and Cambridge Writers and Writings, with those of the Dissenters and Romanists, as well as other Authors and Worthies, both Domestic and Foreign, both Ancient and Modern. Together with an occasional freedom of thought, in criticising and comparing the parallel qualifications of the most eminent authors and their performances, both in MS. and print, both at home and abroad. By M. D. London, 1716." On the first volume of this series, Dr. Farmer, a bloodhound of unfailing scent in curious and obscure English books, has written on the leaf "This is the only copy I have met with." Even the great bibliographer, Baker, of Cambridge, never met but with three volumes (the edition at the British Museum is in seven), sent him as a great curiosity by the Earl of Oxford, and now deposited in his collection at St. John's College. Baker has written this memorandum in the first volume: "Few copies were printed, so the work has become scarce, and for that reason will be valued. The book in the greatest part is borrowed from modern historians, but yet contains some things more uncommon, and not easily to be met with." How superlatively rare must be the English volumes which the eyes of Farmer and Baker never lighted on!

[26] These clubs are described in Macky's "Journey through England," 1724. He says they were formed to uphold the Royalist party on the accession of King George I. "This induced a set of gentlemen to establish Mughouses in all the corners of this great city, for well-affected tradesmen to meet and keep up the spirit of loyalty to the Protestant succession," and to be ready to join their forces for the suppression of the other party. "Many an encounter they had, till at last the Parliament was obliged by a law to put an end to this city strife, which had this good effect, that upon the pulling down of the Mughouse in Salisbury Court, for which some boys were hanged on this act, the city has not been troubled with them since." It was the custom in these houses to allow no other drink but ale to be consumed, which was brought in mugs of earthenware; a chairman was elected, and he called on the members of the company for songs, which were generally party ballads of a strongly-worded kind, as may be seen in the small collection printed in 1716, entitled "A Collection of State Songs, Poems, &c., published since the Rebellion, and sung in the several Mughouses in the cities of London and Westminster."—ED.



The mind of COWLEY was beautiful, but a querulous tenderness in his nature breathes not only through his works, but influenced his habits and his views of human affairs. His temper and his genius would have opened to us, had not the strange decision of Sprat and Clifford withdrawn that full correspondence of his heart which he had carried on many years. These letters were suppressed because, as Bishop Sprat acknowledges, "in this kind of prose Mr. Cowley was excellent! They had a domestical plainness, and a peculiar kind of familiarity." And then the florid writer runs off, that, "in letters, where the souls of men should appear undressed, in that negligent habit they may be fit to be seen by one or two in a chamber, but not to go abroad into the streets." A false criticism: which not only has proved to be so since their time by Mason's "Memoirs of Gray," but which these friends of Cowley might have themselves perceived, if they had recollected that the Letters of Cicero to Atticus form the most delightful chronicles of the heart—and the most authentic memorials of the man. Peck obtained one letter of Cowley's, preserved by Johnson, and it exhibits a remarkable picture of the miseries of his poetical solitude. It is, perhaps, not too late to inquire whether this correspondence was destroyed as well as suppressed? Would Sprat and Clifford have burned what they have told us they so much admired?[27]

Fortunately for our literary sympathy, the fatal error of these fastidious critics has been in some degree repaired by the admirable genius himself whom they have injured. When Cowley retreated from society, he determined to draw up an apology for his conduct, and to have dedicated it to his patron, Lord St. Albans. His death interrupted the entire design; but his Essays, which Pope so finely calls "the language of his heart," are evidently parts of these precious Confessions. All of Cowley's tenderest and undisguised feelings have therefore not perished. These Essays now form a species of composition in our language, a mixture of prose and verse—the man with the poet—the self-painter has sat to himself, and, with the utmost simplicity, has copied out the image of his soul.

Why has this poet twice called himself the melancholy Cowley? He employed no poetical cheville[28] for the metre of a verse which his own feelings inspired.

Cowley, at the beginning of the Civil War, joined the Royalists at Oxford; followed the queen to Paris; yielded his days and his nights to an employment of the highest confidence, that of deciphering the royal correspondence; he transacted their business, and, almost divorcing himself from his neglected muse, he yielded up for them the tranquillity so necessary to the existence of a poet. From his earliest days he tells us how the poetic affections had stamped themselves on his heart, "like letters cut into the bark of a young tree, which, with the tree, will grow proportionably."

He describes his feelings at the court:—

"I saw plainly all the paint of that kind of life the nearer I came to it—that beauty which I did not fall in love with when, for aught I knew, it was real, was not like to bewitch or entice me when I saw it was adulterate. I met with several great persons whom I liked very well, but could not perceive that any part of their greatness was to be liked or desired. I was in a crowd of good company, in business of great and honourable trust; I eat at the best table, and enjoyed the best conveniences that ought to be desired by a man of my condition; yet I could not abstain from renewing my old schoolboy's wish, in a copy of verses to the same effect:—

Well then! I now do plainly see, This busie world and I shall ne'er agree!"

After several years' absence from his native country, at a most critical period, he was sent over to mix with that trusty band of loyalists, who, in secrecy and in silence, were devoting themselves to the royal cause. Cowley was seized on by the ruling powers. At this moment he published a preface to his works, which some of his party interpreted as a relaxation of his loyalty. He has been fully defended. Cowley, with all his delicacy of temper, wished sincerely to retire from all parties; and saw enough among the fiery zealots of his own, to grow disgusted even with Royalists.

His wish for retirement has been half censured as cowardice by Johnson; but there was a tenderness of feeling which had ill-formed Cowley for the cunning of party intriguers, and the company of little villains. About this time he might have truly distinguished himself as "The melancholy Cowley."

I am only tracing his literary history for the purpose of this work: but I cannot pass without noticing the fact, that this abused man, whom his enemies were calumniating, was at this moment, under the disguise of a doctor of physic, occupied by the novel studies of botany and medicine; and as all science in the mind of the poet naturally becomes poetry, he composed his books on plants in Latin verse.

At length came the Restoration, which the poet zealously celebrated in his "Ode" on that occasion. Both Charles the First and Second had promised to reward his fidelity with the mastership of the Savoy; but, Wood says, "he lost it by certain persons enemies of the muses." Wood has said no more; and none of Cowley's biographers have thrown any light on the circumstance: perhaps we may discover this literary calamity.

That Cowley caught no warmth from that promised sunshine which the new monarch was to scatter in prodigal gaiety, has been distinctly told by the poet himself; his muse, in "The Complaint," having reproached him thus:—

Thou young prodigal, who didst so loosely waste Of all thy youthful years, the good estate— Thou changeling then, bewitch'd with noise and show, Wouldst into courts and cities from me go— Go, renegado, cast up thy account— Behold the public storm is spent at last; The sovereign is toss'd at sea no more, And thou, with all the noble company, Art got at last to shore— But whilst thy fellow-voyagers I see, All march'd up to possess the promis'd land; Thou still alone (alas!) dost gaping stand Upon the naked beach, upon the barren sand.

But neglect was not all Cowley had to endure; the royal party seemed disposed to calumniate him. When Cowley was young he had hastily composed the comedy of "The Guardian;" a piece which served the cause of loyalty. After the Restoration, he rewrote it under the title of "Cutter of Coleman Street;" a comedy which may still be read with equal curiosity and interest: a spirited picture of the peculiar characters which appeared at the Revolution. It was not only ill received by a faction, but by those vermin of a new court, who, without merit themselves, put in their claims, by crying down those who, with great merit, are not in favour. All these to a man accused the author of having written a satire against the king's party. And this wretched party prevailed, too long for the author's repose, but not for his fame.[29] Many years afterwards this comedy became popular. Dryden, who was present at the representation, tells us that Cowley "received the news of his ill success not with so much firmness as might have been expected from so great a man." Cowley was in truth a great man, and a greatly injured man. His sensibility and delicacy of temper were of another texture than Dryden's. What at that moment did Cowley experience, when he beheld himself neglected, calumniated, and, in his last appeal to public favour, found himself still a victim to a vile faction, who, to court their common master, were trampling on their honest brother?

We shall find an unbroken chain of evidence, clearly demonstrating the agony of his literary feelings. The cynical Wood tells us that, "not finding that preferment he expected, while others for their money carried away most places, he retired discontented into Surrey." And his panegyrist, Sprat, describes him as "weary of the vexations and formalities of an active condition—he had been perplexed with a long compliance with foreign manners. He was satiated with the arts of a court, which sort of life, though his virtue made it innocent to him, yet nothing could make it quiet. These were the reasons that moved him to follow the violent inclination of his own mind," &c. I doubt if either the sarcastic antiquary or the rhetorical panegyrist have developed the simple truth of Cowley's "violent inclination of his own mind." He does it himself more openly in that beautiful picture of an injured poet, in "The Complaint," an ode warm with individual feeling, but which Johnson coldly passes over, by telling us that "it met the usual fortune of complaints, and seems to have excited more contempt than pity."

Thus the biographers of Cowley have told us nothing, and the poet himself has probably not told us all. To these calumnies respecting Cowley's comedy, raised up by those whom Wood designates as "enemies of the muses," it would appear that others were added of a deeper dye, and in malignant whispers distilled into the ear of royalty. Cowley, in an ode, had commemorated the genius of Brutus, with all the enthusiasm of a votary of liberty. After the king's return, when Cowley solicited some reward for his sufferings and services in the royal cause, the chancellor is said to have turned on him with a severe countenance, saying, "Mr. Cowley, your pardon is your reward!" It seems that ode was then considered to be of a dangerous tendency among half the nation; Brutus would be the model of enthusiasts, who were sullenly bending their neck under the yoke of royalty. Charles II. feared the attempt of desperate men; and he might have forgiven Rochester a loose pasquinade, but not Cowley a solemn invocation. This fact, then, is said to have been the true cause of the despondency so prevalent in the latter poetry of "the melancholy Cowley." And hence the indiscretion of the muse, in a single flight, condemned her to a painful, rather than a voluntary solitude; and made the poet complain of "barren praise" and "neglected verse."[30]

While this anecdote harmonises with better known facts, it throws some light on the outcry raised against the comedy, which seems to have been but an echo of some preceding one. Cowley retreated into solitude, where he found none of the agrestic charms of the landscapes of his muse. When in the world, Sprat says, "he had never wanted for constant health and strength of body;" but, thrown into solitude, he carried with him a wounded spirit—the Ode of Brutus and the condemnation of his comedy were the dark spirits that haunted his cottage. Ill health soon succeeded low spirits—he pined in dejection, and perished a victim of the finest and most injured feelings.

But before we leave the melancholy Cowley, he shall speak the feelings, which here are not exaggerated. In this Chronicle of Literary Calamity no passage ought to be more memorable than the solemn confession of one of the most amiable of men and poets.

Thus he expresses himself in the preface to his "Cutter of Coleman Street."

"We are therefore wonderful wise men, and have a fine business of it; we, who spend our time in poetry. I do sometimes laugh, and am often angry with myself, when I think on it; and if I had a son inclined by nature to the same folly, I believe I should bind him from it by the strictest conjurations of a paternal blessing. For what can be more ridiculous than to labour to give men delight, whilst they labour, on their part, most earnestly to take offence?"

And thus he closes the preface, in all the solemn expression of injured feelings:—"This I do affirm, that from all which I have written, I never received the least benefit or the least advantage; but, on the contrary, have felt sometimes the effects of malice and misfortune!"

Cowley's ashes were deposited between those of Chaucer and Spenser; a marble monument was erected by a duke; and his eulogy was pronounced, on the day of his death, from the lips of royalty. The learned wrote, and the tuneful wept: well might the neglected bard, in his retirement, compose an epitaph on himself, living there "entombed, though not dead."

To this ambiguous state of existence he applies a conceit, not inelegant, from the tenderness of its imagery:

Hic sparge flores, sparge breves rosas, Nam vita gaudet mortua floribus; Herbisque odoratis corona Vatis adhuc cinerem calentem.


Here scatter flowers and short-lived roses bring. For life, though dead, enjoys the flowers of spring; With breathing wreaths of fragrant herbs adorn The yet warm embers in the poet's urn.


[27] My researches could never obtain more than one letter of Cowley's—it is but an elegant trifle—returning thanks to his friend Evelyn for some seeds and plants. "The Garden" of Evelyn is immortalised in a delightful Ode of Cowley's, as well as by Evelyn himself. Even in this small note we may discover the touch of Cowley. The original is in Astle's collection.


"Barn Elms, March 23, 1663.

"SIR,—There is nothing more pleasant than to see kindness in a person for whom we have great esteem and respect: no, not the sight of your garden in May, or even the having such an one; which makes me more obliged to return you my most humble thanks for the testimonies I have lately received of you, both by your letter and your presents. I have already sowed such of your seeds as I thought most proper upon a hot-bed; but cannot find in all my books a catalogue of these plants which require that culture, nor of such as must be set in pots; which defects, and all others, I hope shortly to see supplied, as I hope shortly to see your work of Horticulture finished and published; and long to be in all things your disciple, as I am in all things now,

"Sir, your most humble and most obedient Servant, "A. COWLEY."

[Barn Elms, from whence this letter is dated, was the first country residence of Cowley. It lies low on the banks of the Thames, and here the poet was first seized with a fever, which obliged him to remove; but he chose an equally improper locality for a man of his temperament, in Chertsey, where he died from the effects of a severe cold.]

Such were the ordinary letters which passed between two men whom it would be difficult to parallel for their elegant tastes and gentle dispositions. Evelyn's beautiful retreat at Sayes Court, at Deptford, is described by a contemporary as "a garden exquisite and most boscaresque, and, as it were, an exemplar of his book of Forest-trees." It was the entertainment and wonder of the greatest men of those times, and inspired the following lines of Cowley, to Evelyn and his lady, who excelled in the arts her husband loved; for she designed the frontispiece to his version of Lucretius—

"In books and gardens thou hast placed aright (Things well which thou dost understand, And both dost make with thy laborious hand) Thy noble innocent delight; And in thy virtuous wife, where thou again dost meet Both pleasures more refined and sweet; The fairest garden in her looks, And in her mind the wisest books."

[28] A term the French apply to those botches which bad poets use to make out their metre.

[29] This comedy was first presented very hurriedly for the amusement of Prince Charles as he passed through Cambridge to York. Cowley himself describes it, then, as "neither made nor acted, but rough-drawn by him, and repeated by his scholars" for this temporary purpose. After the Restoration he endeavoured to do more justice to his juvenile work, by remodelling it, and producing it at the Duke of York's theatre. But as many of the characters necessarily retained the features of the older play, and times had changed; it was easy to affix a false stigma to the poet's pictures of the old Cavaliers; and the play was universally condemned as a satire on the Royalists. It was reproduced with success at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, as long afterwards as the year 1730.—ED.

[30] The anecdote, probably little known, may be found in "The Judgment of Dr. Prideaux in Condemning the Murder of Julius Caesar by the Conspirators as a most villanous act, maintained," 1721, p. 41.


I must place the author of "The Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors," who himself now ornaments that roll, among those who have participated in the misfortunes of literature.

HORACE WALPOLE was the inheritor of a name the most popular in Europe;[31] he moved in the higher circles of society; and fortune had never denied him the ample gratification of his lively tastes in the elegant arts, and in curious knowledge. These were particular advantages. But Horace Walpole panted with a secret desire for literary celebrity; a full sense of his distinguished rank long suppressed the desire of venturing the name he bore to the uncertain fame of an author, and the caprice of vulgar critics. At length he pretended to shun authors, and to slight the honours of authorship. The cause of this contempt has been attributed to the perpetual consideration of his rank. But was this bitter contempt of so early a date? Was Horace Walpole a Socrates before his time? was he born that prodigy of indifference, to despise the secret object he languished to possess? His early associates were not only noblemen, but literary noblemen; and need he have been so petulantly fastidious at bearing the venerable title of author, when he saw Lyttleton, Chesterfield, and other peers, proud of wearing the blue riband of literature? No! it was after he had become an author that he contemned authorship: and it was not the precocity of his sagacity, but the maturity of his experience, that made him willing enough to undervalue literary honours, which were not sufficient to satisfy his desires.

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