« PreviousContinue »
MANY THINGS IN FEW WORDS;
TO THOSE WHO THINK.
BY THE REV. C. C. COLTON, A. M.
Byron, &c. &c.
6. The noblest study of mankind is man.”
THERE are three difficulties in authorship; to write any thing worth the publishing to find honest men to publish it and to get sensible men to read it. Literature has now become a game; in which the Booksellers are the Kings; the Critics, the Knaves; the Public, the Pack; and the poor Author, the mere Table, or Thing played upon.
For the last thirty years, the public mind has had such interesting and rapid incidents to witness, and to reflect upon, and must now anticipate some that will be still more momentous, that any thing like dulness or prosing in authorship, will either nauseate, or be refused; the realities of life have pampered the public palate with a diet so stimulating, that vapidity has now become as insipid as water to a dram-drinker, or sober sense to a fanatie.
The attempts however of dulness, are constantly repeated, and as constantly fail. For the misfortune is that the Head of Dulness, unlike the tail of the torpedo,* loses nothing of her benumbing and lethargising influence, by reiterated discharges; horses may ride over her, and mules and asses may trample upon her, but with an exhaustless and patient perversity, she continues her narcotic operations even to the end. In fact, the Press was never so powerful in quantity, and so weak in quality, as at the present day; if applied to it, the simile of Virgil must be reversed, “ Non trunco sed frondibus efficit Umbram.” It is in literature as in finance much Paper and much Poverty may co-exist.
* See Humboldt's account of the Gymnous Electricus.
It may happen that I myself am now committing the very crime that I think I am censuring. But while justice to my readers compels me to admit that I write, because I have nothing to do, justice to myself induces me to add, that I will cease to write the moment I have . nothing to say. Discretion has been termed the better part of valour, and it is more certain, that diffidence is the better part of knowledge. Where I am ignorant, and know that I am so, I am silent. That Grecian gave a better reason for his taciturnity, than most authors for their loquacity, who observed, “What was to the purpose I could not say; and what was not to the purpose I would not say.” And yet Shakespeare
I ” has hinted, that even silence is not always 6 commendable :" since it may be foolish if we are wise, but wise if we are foolish. The Grecian's maxim would indeed be a sweeping clause in Literature ; it would reduce many a giant to a pigmy; many a speech to a sentence; and many a folio to a primer. As the fault of our orators is, that they get up to make a speech, rather than to speak ; so the great error of our authors is, that they set down to make a book, rather than to write. To combine profundity with
perspicuity, wit with judgment, solidity with vivacity, truth with novelty, and all of them with liberality—who is sufficient for these things ? a very serious question ; but it is one which authors had much better propose to themselves, before publication, than have proposed to them, by their editors after it.
I have thrown together, in this work, that which is the result of some reading and reflec: tion ; if it be but little, I have taken care that the volume which contains it, shall not be large. 1 plead the privilege which a preface allows to an author, for saying thus much of myself; since if a writer be inclined to egotism, a preface is the most proper place for him to be delivered of it; for prefaces are not always read, and dedi. cations seldom ; books, says my lord Bacon, should have no patrons but truth and reason.Even the attractive prose of Dryden could not dignify dedications, and perhaps they ought never to be resorted to, being as derogatory to the writer, as dull to the reader, and when not prejudicial, at least superfluous. If a book really wants the patronage of a great name, it is a bad book, and if it be a good book, it wants it not. Swift dedicated a volume to Prince Posterity, and there was a manliness in the act.Posterity will prove a patron of the soundest judgment, as unwilling to give, as unlikely to receive, adulation. But posterity is not a very accessible personage ; he knows the high value of that which he gives, he therefore is extremely particular as to what he receives. Very few of the presents that are directed to him, reach