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mediocrity, with them a certain mediocrity is excellence, and their master-pieces, with a people who have made a greater progress in refinement, are but the works of a pupil.
THE PRODUCTIONS OF THE MIND NOT SEIZABLE
When Crebillon, the French tragic poet, published his Catilina, it was attended with an honour to literature, which though it is probably forgotten (for it was only registered, I think, as the news of the day), it becomes a collector zealous in the cause of literature to preserve. I shall give the circumstance, the petition, and the decree.
At the time Catilina was given to the public, the creditors of the poet had the cruelty to attach the produce of this piece, as well at the bookseller's, who had printed the tragedy, as at the theatre where it was performed. The poet, much irritated at these proceedings, addressed a petition to the King, in which he showed that it was a thing yet unknown, that it should be allowed to class amongst seizable effects the productions of the human mind; that if such a practice was permitted, those who had consecrated their vigils to the studies of literature, and who had made the greatest efforts to render them
selves, by this means, useful to their country, would see themselves in the cruel predicament of not daring to publish works, often precious and interesting to the state; that the greater part of those who devote themselves to literature require for the necessaries of life those succours which they have a right to expect from their labours; and that it never has been suffered in France to seize the fees of lawyers, and other persons of liberal professions.
In answer to this petition, a decree immediately issued from the King's council, commanding a replevy of the arrests and seizures, of which the petitioner complained. This honourable decree was dated 21st May, 1749, and bore the following title: "Decree of the Council of his Majesty, in favour of Mr. Crebillon, author of the tragedy of Catilina, which declares that the productions of the mind are not amongst seizable effects.”
Louis XV. exhibits the noble example of bestowing a mark of consideration to the remains of a man of letters. This King not only testified his esteem of Crebillon by having his works printed at the Louvre, but also by consecrating to his glory - a tomb of marble.
WRITERS who have been unsuccessful in original composition have their other productions immediately decried, whatever merit they might once have been allowed to possess. Yet this is very unjust; an author who has given a wrong direction to his literary powers may perceive at length where he can more securely point them. Experience is as excellent a mistress in the school of literature as in the school of human life. Blackmore's epics are insufferable; yet neither Addison nor Johnson erred when they considered his philosophical poem as a valuable composition. An indifferent poet may exert the art of criticism in a very high degree; and if he cannot himself produce an original work, he may yet be of great service in regulating the happier genius of another. This observation I shall illustrate by the characters of two French critics; the one is the Abbé d'Aubignac, and the other Chapelain.
Boileau opens his Art of Poetry by a precept which though it be common is always important; this critical poet declares, that “ It is in vain a daring author thinks of attaining to the height of Parnassus if he does not feel the secret influence of heaven, and if his natal star has not formed him to be a poet.” This observation he founded on the character of our Abbé; who had excellently written on the economy of dramatic composition. His Pratique du Theatre gained him an extensive reputation. When he produced a tragedy, the world expected a finished piece; it was acted, and reprobated. The author, however, did not acutely feel its bad reception; he every where boasted that he, of all the dramatists, had most scrupulously observed the rules of Aristotle. The Prince de Guemené, famous for his repartees,sarcastically observed, “I do not quarrel with the Abbé D'Aubignac for having so closely followed the precept of Aristotle; but I cannot pardon the precepts of Aristotle, that occasioned the Abbé D’Aubignac to write so wretched a tragedy."
The Pratique du Theatre is not, however, to be despised, because the Tragedy of its author is despicable.
Chapelain's unfortunate epic has rendered him notorious. He had gained, and not undeservedly, great reputation for his critical powers. After a retention of above thirty years, his Pucelle appeared. He immediately became the butt of every unfledged wit, and his former works were eternally condemned ! Insomuch that when Camusat published, after the death of our author, a little volume of extracts from his manuscript letters, it is curious to observe the awkward situation in which he finds himself. In his preface he seems afraid that the very name of Chapelain will be sufficient to repel the reader.
Camusat observes of Chapelain, that “ He found flatierers who assured him his Pucelle ranked above the Æneid; and this Chapelain but feebly denied. However this may be, it would be difficult to make the bad taste which reigns throughout this poem agree with that sound and exact criticism with which he decided on the works of others. So true is it, that genius is very superior to a justness of mind which is sufficient to judge and to advise others." Chapelain was ordered to draw up a critical list of the chief living authors and men of letters in France, for the king. It is extremely impartial, and performed with an analytical skill of their literary characters which could not have been surpassed by an Aristotle or a Boileau.
The talent of judging may exist separately from the power of execution. An amateur may not be an artist, though an artist should be an amateur. And it is for this reason that young authors are not to contemn the precepts of such critics as even the Abbé D'Aubignac, and Chapelain. It is to Walsh, a miserable versifier, that Pope stands indebted for the hint of our poetry then being deficient in correctness and polish; and it is from this fortunate hint that Pope derived his poetical excellence. Dionysius Halicarnassensis has com