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ITS EFFECTS UPON THE CHARACTER.
view one black memorial of duties unfulfilled, crimes committed, and troubled and unhallowed thoughts.
Ambition is of no sex, though their position in the world, ever since the world began, has generally restricted the ambition of women within very narrow limits; consequently, the propensity, when existing in them, has centered itself in the glory and exaltation of some male relative: but there have been sufficient proofs, where circumstances have been favourable to its development, that the ambition of women is as daring and engrossing in its character as that of men; and when such have occurred, every gentle feeling, every feminine virtue, have been expelled from the breast, as if unworthy to share it with the bold projects and sterner qualities holding sway there. The ambition of women of ordinary condition is, as I have just observed, restricted to trifles; and, as I have elsewhere shewn, those trifles are of magnitude enough to mar the happiness of social life, to undermine the Christian virtues, and to render that hideous which would otherwise have been lovely.
That man's nature and woman's nature is essentially the same, though the former may be exempt from the petty competition of personal vanity, we discover in the envy, hatred, and jealousy which men cherish in their breasts, whenever they compete with one another for the world's applause. Among the members of the professions, the ambition to rise has too often caused men to
forget what is due to the merits and character of their competitors, and to calumniate and injure where they ought to admire and revere. The squabbles and jealousies of literary men have long been notorious; owing to which, an author, it is said, seldom, if ever, receives justice at the hands of his contemporaries. And what shall we say of the votaries of the fine arts, when there is on record the frightful story of Andrea del Castagno, who, having been taught the discovery of painting in oil by Domenico Venetiano, yet, still envious of the merit of the generous friend who confided that great secret to him, with his own hand assassinated him, that he might remain without a rival?
The musical world - I speak less of composers than performers—is deeply infected with the moral taint of envy and detraction. The jealousy of its members is perhaps more irritable and obvious even than that of painters and men of letters; and for this reason: their fame must be immediate, or not at all. They cannot, like the poet, the painter, or the sculptor, live on the hope that posterity will render them that justice, when dead, which is denied them living. Present applause is every thing to them, consequently they feel the more envious of every manifestation of it towards a successful rival.
LITERARY AMBITION. It will perhaps be thought that I expatiate more than is necessary upon the subject of ambition,
since none of that class of readers, to whom I particularly address myself, are likely to come very seriously under its influence. True, there is no great danger of an Alexander or a Semiramis starting up among the rising generation of England, any more than there is of our youthful artists imitating the black crime of Andrea del Castagno; but there is an ambition, nevertheless, which is extending widely, and I fear disasterously, through all ranks, especially amongst the young and enthusiastic: I mean that restless, that intense desire to obtain literary distinction, to whose existence second-rate periodicals and the monthly advertising sheet of numerous publishers, bear testimony.
Is it an ambition harmless to all but those by whom it is indulged? Not entirely so—though the mischief it does to society is light in comparison of the misery it entails on those over whom it
It is in compassion to this misery that I lift up my warning voice: I would, by placing the subject in a clear point of view, avert, if possible, from a highly sensitive and most interesting portion of my species, the long train of ills which they incur by yielding themselves up to projects of literary ambition. I would represent to those youthful aspirants, especially if poeticalfor I am aware that their golden hopes are the offspring of ignorance and inexperience—how little chance there is, in this utilitarian age, of their efforts being crowned with success. I would also, in all kindness, counsel them to examine carefully,
and, if they can, dispassionately, their own qualification. It is very possible to mistake a strong desire to write, for genius; the imitative, for the creative faculty. It is also very possible for those who have not previously prepared themselves by a judicious course of reading, to suppose that they have given birth to original ideas and jumped at conclusions never arrived at before; and the result is a tissue of truisms, “trifling truisms, clothed in great swelling words of vanity,” at which the world smiles in pity or in scorn.
Such mistakes, and they are not infrequent, remind me of a story I once heard of a certain village schoolmaster; a man, it is only justice to state, of much intelligence and ingenuity; who flattered himself that he had made a geometrical discovery which would prove of the utmost importance in navigation, and establish his own fame and fortune, if he could but make it known in the proper quarter. Elated with this brilliant scheme, he repaired to his friend and patron, the squire of the village, and imparted to him, not his secret, but his hopes in relation to it. The squire smiled at what, in the first instance, appeared to him an airy castle; but having a good opinion of the knowledge and ability of his humble friend, he thought it not impossible that he might have hit upon something likely to turn out advantageous both to himself and the public. He, therefore, furnished him with a letter of introduction to a friend in London, through whose interest he obtained an audience of
ANECDOTE OF A VILLAGE SCHOOLMASTER. 119
one of the Lords of the Admiralty. Full of consequence, he explained the nature of his invention, and was listened to throughout with considerate attention, which served to increase his hopes; but what was our poor pedagogue's dismay and confusion when informed that his supposed discovery had been long known and acted upon, and that the instrument he proposed to make was already in the hands of every youth studying navigation! The disappointment was kindly softened to him as much as possible by the praise bestowed upon his ingenuity; nevertheless, his mortification was extreme.
The Spectator complains of the prevalence of the cacoëthes scribendi in his day; for which, he says, there is no effectual cure, but forbidding the patient the use of pen, ink, and paper. What would he say of the present? when every schoolboy and school-girl, capable of inditing a couplet, gets into print. The rapidly acquired success of a few eminent individuals, without a parallel perhaps in any age or country, has in great measure created delusive ambition in the young. They have read indiscriminately, and they write without premeditation; mistaking, as I have said, aptitude of imitation for genius. Even where talent exists, it is marred by precipitancy. Partial parents and complaisant friends laud their crude productions; and thus encouraged, without any of those misgivings as to the result, which a little more knowledge would engender, they rush upon a career which never ought to be entered upon lightly.