« FöregåendeFortsätt »
But the sympathy of the domestic circle is very unlike the cold indifference of the public; they are either crushed at once beneath the unsparing lash of criticism, or swept down the stream of oblivion, amidst an indistinguishable mass of fellow-sufferers.
Poor Keats, the early lost, and tardily appreciated, whose fate is in itself a lesson, exclaims, with the passionate yearning common to ambitious genius,
“ Cannot I create, Cannot I form, cannot I fashion forth
Another world, another universe ?” Then, what bitter consciousness of powers wrongly directed, unprofitably wasted, is expressed in the following lines:
“ There never was a mortal man, who bent
And when dying, at Rome, the victim of disappointed ambition, or, as some say, of ungenerous criticism, he desired that the epitaph inscribed upon his tomb might be,
“Here lies the body of one whose name was writ in water."
We will suppose that a few fare somewhat better; that is, they attain, through the interest of some literary acquaintance, to that climax of glory to the youthful imagination, magazine celebrity. They are praised in a real, printed review! Still, this is but a deceptive triumph; a postponement of the sentence of oblivion that hath gone forth;
OF AN UNSUCCESSFUL LITERARY CAREER. 121
and the sad reverse they are doomed to experience is felt even more severely than a first disappointment would have been. Neglect now appears to them flagrant injustice; and many, I doubt not, sink, either physically or mentally, under a sense of wrong and wretchedness, for which there seems to them to be no remedy but death-no refuge but
Having once tasted of the intoxicating cup, every other appears insipid; and this is one of the most serious evils attending the ambitious pursuits of literature. Once indulged in, every other occupation loses its charm. Existence has but one aim-literary distinction—it is the Aaron's rod that swallows up all the rest. The character, from thus suffering the selfish principle to predominate, becomes egotistic - the sympathies deadened. The love both of God and of his creatures grows lukewarm: the affections are set on things below. Such I pronounce to be the effects upon most young minds and hearts, of lite
There may be some noble exceptions, though I am far from feeling certain that there are any.
It were impossible to view, unconcernedly, the withering of those young, bright hopes-the paralyzing of those dawning energies, which, if judiciously directed, might have ensured individual happiness, and benefited society. These considerations chiefly induce me to express myself
explicitly upon the wisdom of checking as much as possible, in young persons, the desire to write, when that desire is linked, as it usually is, with the wish to publish. I know that it must at the present time, when there is a surplus of almost every kind of literary product, be fruitful in disappointment. I therefore earnestly recommend all fond mothers, at the sacrifice of that natural pride, which a manifestation of literary talent in a child enkindles, to restrain it, and keep it in the back ground, instead of encouraging and proclaiming it. Let neither parent nor child imagine,-because they see in the pages of some leading literary journal little girls of twelve years of age exalted into “infant Sapphos," upon the strength of a few inartistic lines,--that such exaltation is the result of the extraordinary merit of the said little girls ; let them rather view the matter in its true light, as an instance of the reviewer's good nature, and desire to give pleasure to infant innocence. Whether the act be as judicious as it is good natured, is another question.
Even where literary ambition has been gratified to the utmost, the happiness it has conferred seems very equivocal. Byron, in the plenitude of his unexampled success, declared that the censure of the most insignificant had in it a bitterness sufficient to neutralize the sweetness of all the praise he received; and he appeared to turn restive and ungrateful in proportion to the increased measure
FAR FROM SATISFYING.
of incense offered him by the public. As he was the founder, or most distinguished disciple of a school of poetry appealing more to the senses and imagination, than to reason; so also was his dazzling career calculated to mislead and to create a false estimate of fame, more than that of any other individual of modern times. To imitate not only his muse, but his foibles, to be, if not the reigning star of fashionable circles, the glowworm of a humbler sphere, became the actuating motive of the rhyming multitude; and thus, with so low an aim set up as the goal of their wishes, literary ambition became ephemeral, and robbed of whatever dignity it might otherwise have laid claim to.
To be paraded, for a season, as a literary lion; to be the pet of a coterie, liable, like all other pets, to be supplanted; to be invited to write in albums and annuals, to be puffed in newspapers, and exhibited in effigy, in shop windows, is not fame. No-such empty honours are little worth the waste of heart, and brain, and health, and time sacrificed in order to obtain them: they are not even worth the cost of the oil, for their sake consumed in the midnight lamp; and valueless as they are, it is only a few who can command them.
To those who view letters merely as a species of traffic, I can only say, that they can scarcely embark in a less promising speculation. Literature is a lottery, in which the prizes are few, and the
Large sums have been realized,
certainly; but, like the El-Dorado of Spanish America, and the Pagoda-tree of India, that is a tale of the times of old.
In addition to the evils already stated as attendant upon literary ambition, we may reckon the forfeiture of self-respect which it often involves. The food by which it is sustained, is purchased at any cost-flattery, subserviency, no matter what. There is not much less of humiliation in hanging upon
the breath of criticism, or the capricious favour of the public, as if life and soul were at issue, than in that sycophantic attendance upon the great, to which the man, intent upon rising in the political world, submits. Neglect is so formidable to the ambitious, that all measures must be resorted to in order to avert it. From this supposed necessity, we may trace the general deterioration of our lighter literature. Instead of elevating the public taste, the author, greedy of immediate notoriety, descends to its level, and panders to its depraved appetite. He may now be seen diving into the veriest sinks and sewers of moral corruption; haunting the den of the murderer, and lingering at the foot of the gallows, in order to obtain materials for the exciting banquet perpetually called for by his readers. This foul system could not endure for a moment, were authors resolved to rest their hope of fame on a purer and truer foundation, and rather incur the risk of oblivion, than so misuse their powers.