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piece, and inserted them in his 'Elegiac Ode on the death of his late Majesty;' a transfer which, if it be true that he made it, we may perhaps be allowed to consider as a proof of bis indolence. His elegiac ode it was necessary to hurry forth before the subject had ceased to excite attention; it was, probably, not of sufficient length; and be rather chose to bor, row twenty lines from himself, than to task his fancy any further on a theme of which he was already tired.
Encouraged by the manner in which his elegy was received, he, in 1762, produced. The Contemplatist : a Night Scene.'. That it is wholly destitute of beauties, only stupidity or prejudice can assert. It, nevertheless, sios heavily against good taste. There is in it a large portion of quaintness and affectation; its comparisons are forced; and their perpetual and foreseen recurrence is at once tiresome and ludicrous: they call to the recollection the song of similes by Gay.
Cunningham had now reputation enough to render it probable that his pen might be made useful to those whom, in a moment of perverseness, Dr. Johnson described as the best Mæcenases of literature. He was accordingly invited to London, with a promise of securing to him a handsome income; and, as he was pressed by his friends to accept an offer wbich was supposed to be fraught with benefit, he visited the metropolis, for the purpose of entering into the projected scheme. For the failure of this scheme two different reasons are assigned. Mr. Chalmers attributes it to the bankruptcy of the principal bookseller who was concerned in the project. Another biographer, with more probability, affirms, that the indolence or diffidence of Cunningham had gained such absolute dominion over him, that when he found the solicitations of bis friends too powerful to resist, he privately withdrew himself, and returned to Mr. Bates's company in the country.' Perhaps, also, on a nearer view, he discovered that his additional pecuniary gains would but poorly compensate for the sacrifice of comfort which he must be compelled to make.
This attempt to enlist Cunningham in the service of the booksellers is represented, by Mr. Chalmers, as an attempt to procure him a more easy and honourable employment than he had hitherto followed.' That in the life of a strolling actor there is nothing of dignity, and probably much of hardship, we may readily admit to be true. It may, however, be at least doubted, whether the situation of an author who is under the control of a bookseller is more honourable, or his toil more easy, than that of the wandering player, who declaims to a rustic audience. An employment which subjects genius and erudition to the caprice and insolence of purse-proud stupidity can scarcely be thought dignified; nor can that toil be even comparatively light which keeps the mind for ever on the stretch, and wbich cannot be suspended without producing the double evil of wounded feelings and pecuniary loss. In one point the player has manifestly the advantage: among his auditors he has the chance of meeting with some who are possessed of taste, knowledge, and a liberal mind.
Of the miseries arising to an author from a slavish dependence on a bookseller, Dr. Smollet seems to have formed a much more correct idea than Mr. Chalmers. In his review of Rolt's contemptible history of South America, he says, “The British learning of this age is grown into contempt among other nations, by whom it was formerly revered; and nothing has contributed to this disgrace so much as the inundation of mean performances, undertaken for the emolument of booksellers, who cannot distinguish authors of merit, or if they could, have not sense and spirit to reward them according to their genius and capacity. Without considering the infinite pains and perseverance it must cost a writer to form and digest a proper plan of history; compile materials; compare different accounts; collate authorities; compose and polish the style, and complete the execution of the work; he furnishes him with a few books; bargains with him for two or three guineas a sheet; binds him with articles to finish so many volumes in so many months, in a crowded page and evanescent letter, that he may have stuff enough for his money; insists upon having copy within the first week after he begins to peruse his materials; orders the press to be set a going, and expects to cast off a certain number of sheets weekly, warm from the mint, without correction, revisal, or even deliberation. Nay, the miserable author must perform bis daily task, in spite of cramp, colic, vapours, or vertigo; in spite of head-ach, heart-ach, and Minerva's frowns; otherwise he will lose his character and livelihood, like a tailor who disappoints his customer in a birthday suit.—What can be expected from a wretched author under such terrors and restraints, but a raw, crude, hasty, superficial production, without substance, order, symmetry, or connexion, like the imperfect rudiments of nature in abortion; or those unfinished creatures engendered from the mud of the Nile, which the old philosophy fabled as the effect of equivocal generation?
Having escaped from the honour and ease which had been offered to him, Cunningham remained contented in that which Mr. Chalmers denominates his - abject situation.' He was, in truth, of a singolarly indolent and unaspiring nature, and seems to have been quite satisfied with procuring his daily bread, and the friendship and praises of those who knew bim. Kindness and esteem a man of so placid and benevolent a disposition as he was could scarcely fail to acquire. How little calculated he was to
struggle into public notice will be seen from a letter which, towards the close of the year 1764, he wrote to his friend Philip Lewis, of the Covent Garden Theatre. 'Dear Phil. (says he), we arrived at Scarborough the beginning of this week, and I was agreeably surprised to find a letter from you had been lying a few days in the post office. I reproach myself severely for my general indolence, and much for my particular fault in not writing to you before, as I might readily conclude a letter addressed to you at the theatre would find you. I hope you will excuse me, and not impute my long silence to a want of real friendship for you, or a proper sense of the many marks you have given of yours for me.
* Mr. Davies does me honour by his proposal. I am solicited daily both from Edinburgh and Newcastle to the same purpose, at both which places I think I might depend on general subscriptions (pay in most of the north towns I have a sort of acquainted interest); but I have some diffidence, and, as I observed before, much indolence, so that I have never yet come to a determination.
• I should be happy in a correspondence with Mr. Davies, and as he is supplied with French articles, should like to divert myself with a translation. I am fond, you know, of the French. I remember you liked the “Rose and Butterfly” I imitated from La Motte.
'I am infinitely obliged to you for the trouble you take on my account. You may remember my last expedition to London; I think I may be convinced by it that I am not calculated for the business you mention. Though I scribble (but a little neither) to amuse myself, the moment I considered it as my duty it would cease to be an amusement, and I should of consequence be weary on't. I am not enterprising, and tolerably happy in my present situation.
'I am afraid I shall not compass my collection of
Fugitives” this winter; but after a tedious fit of idleness, I scribbled up an affair, within these few days, which I call “ Ap Apologue.”!
The Apologue’ to which he alludes was published in 1768, and is one of the most finished of his compositions. The fiction is ingenious, and for the greater part well managed, and the thoughts are good and neatly expressed. The speeches of Care, Wisdom, and Poverty, are correctly in character. The moral, however, is defective. The Ass complains to Jupiter that, although he performs his duties, he is badly lodged, badly fed, and cruelly treated; to which Fortune replies, that he is-an ass; and Jupiter adds that he may ameliorate his condition by copying from the lion, the elephant, the horse, and the dog. This is an insult, and not an answer. It implies that the animal is blameworthy for being what he cannot avoid to be, and it advises him to undertake what it would be unnatural to attempt, and impossible to accomplish. All that we can learn from this is, that an ass may be starved and beaten without injustice; a lesson which the kindhearted Cunningham had certainly no intention to inculcate.
The collection of “ Fugitives' was not completed till 1766, when they were published in octavo, by Dodsley, with the title of 'Poems, chiefly Pastoral;' and were received by the public with a degree of favour which must have been gratifying to the writer.
The success which he had obtained did not, however, tempt him, during the last seven years of his life, to come forward again in the character of an author. For a part of this period he formed one of Mr. Digges's company at Edinburgh; and when that gentleman quitted Scotland, Cunningham returned to Newcastle, which, in some measure, he looked upon as bis home. At Newcastle he had rendered considerable service to Mr. Slack, a printer, by assisting