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If we apply to authors themselves for an account of their state, it will appear very little to deferve envy; for they have in all ages been addicted to complaint. The neglect of learning, the ingratitude of the prefent age, and the abfurd preference by which ignorance and dullness often obtain favour. and rewards, have been from age to age topicks of invective; and few have left their names to pofterity, without fome appeal to future candour from the perverseness and malice of their own times.
I have, nevertheless, been often inclined to doubt, whether authors, however querulous, are in reality more miferable than their fellow mortals. The prefent life is to all a state of infelicity; every man, · like an author, believes himself to merit more than he obtains, and folaces the prefent with the profpect of the future; others, indeed, fuffer those difappointments in filence, of which the writer complains, to fhew how well he has learnt the art of lamentation.
There is at least one gleam of felicity, of which few writers haye miffed the enjoyment: he whose hopes have so far overpowered his fears, as that he has refolved to ftand forth a candidate for fame, feldom fails to amufe himself, before his appearance, with pleasing scenes of affluence or honour; while his fortune is yet under the regulation of fancy, he eafily models it to his wifh, fuffers no thoughts of criticks or rivals to intrude upon his mind, but counts over the bounties of patronage, or liftens to the voice of praise.
Some there are, that talk very luxuriously of the fecond period of an author's happiness, and tell of
the tumultuous raptures of invention, when the mind riots in imagery, and the choice ftands fufpended between different fentiments.
Thefe pleasures, I believe, may fometimes be indulged to thofe, who come to a fubject of difquifitions with minds full of ideas, and with fancies fo vigorous, as eafily to excite, felect, and arrange them. To write is, indeed, no unpleafing employment, when one fentiment readily produces another, and both ideas and expreffions prefent themfelves at the first fummons: but fuch happiness, the greatest genius does not always obtain; and common writers know it only to fuch a degree, as to credit its poffibility. Compofition is, for the most part, an effort of flow diligence and fteady perfeverance, to which the mind is dragged by neceffity or refolution, and from which the attention is every moment ftarting to more delightful amufements.
It frequently happens, that a design which, when confidered at a distance, gave flattering hopes of facility, mocks us in the execution with unexpected difficulties; the mind which, while it confidered it in the grofs, imagined itfelf amply furnished with materials, finds fometimes an unexpected barrenness and vacuity, and wonders whether all thofe ideas are vanished, which a little before feemed ftruggling for
Sometimes many thoughts prefent themselves; but fo confufed and unconnected, that they are not without difficulty reduced to method, or concatenated, in a regular and dependent feries: the mind' falls at once into a labyrinth, of which neither the beginning nor end can be difcovered, and toils and ruggles without progrefs or extrication.
It is afferted by Horace, that if matter be once got together, words will be found with very little. difficulty;" a pofition which, though fufficiently plaufible to be inferted in poetical precepts, is by no means ftrictly and philofophically true. If words were naturally and neceffarily confequential to fentiments, it would always follow, that he who has most knowledge must have moft eloquence, and that every man would clearly exprefs what he fully underftood: yet we find, that to think, and difcourse, are often the qualities of different perfons: and many books might furely be produced, where juft and noble fentiments are degraded and obfcured by unfuitable diction.
Words, therefore, as well as things, claim the care of an author. Indeed of many authors, and those not ufelefs or contemptible, words are almost the only care: many make it their ftudy, not fu much to ftrike out new fentiments, as to recommend those which are already known to more favourable notice by fairer decorations; but every man, whether he copies or invents, whether he delivers his own thoughts or thofe of another, has often found himfelf deficient in the power of expreffion, big with ideas which he could not utter, obliged to ranfack his memory for terms adequate to his conceptions, and at laft unable to imprefs upon his reader the image exifting in his own mind.
It is one of the common diftreffes of a writer, to be within a word of a happy period, to want only a fingle epithet to give amplification its full force, to require only a correfpondent term in order to finish a paragraph with elegance, and make one of its
members anfwer to the other: but thefe deficiencies cannot always be fupplied; and after a long ftudy and vexation, the paffage is turned anew, and the web unwoven that was fo nearly finished.
But when thoughts and words are collected and adjusted, and the whole compofition at laft concluded, it feldom gratifies the author, when he comes coolly and deliberately to review it, with the hopes which had been excited in the fury of the performance novelty always captivates the mind; as our thoughts rife fresh upon us, we readily believe them juft and original, which, when the pleasure of production is over, we find to be mean and common, or borrowed from the works of others, and supplied by memory rather than invention.
But though it fhould happen that the writer finds no fuch faults in his performance, he is ftill to remember, that he looks upon it with partial eyes; and when he confiders, how much men who could judge of others with great exactnefs, have often failed of judging of themfelves, he will be afraid of deciding too haftily in his own favour, or of allowing himfelf to contemplate with too much complacence, treafure that has not yet been brought to the teft, nor paffed the only trial that can ftamp its value.
From the publick, and only from the publick, is he to await a confirmation of his claim, and a final juftification of felf-esteem; but the publick is not cafily perfuaded to favour an author. If mankind. were left to judge for themfelves, it is reasonable to imagine, that of fuch writings, at least, as defcribe the movements of the human paffions, and of which every man carries the archetype within him, a juft
opinion would be formed; but whoever has remarked the fate of books, must have found it governed by other causes, than general confent arifing from general conviction. If a new performance happens not to fall into the hands of fome, who have courage to tell, and authority to propagate their opinion, it often remains long in obfcurity, and perifhes unknown and unexamined. A few, a very few, commonly constitute the tafte of the time; the judgment which they have once pronounced, fome are too lazy to difcufs, and fome too timorous to contradict it may however be, I think, obferved, that their power is greater to deprefs than exalt, as mankind are more credulous of cenfure than of praise.
This perversion of the publick judgment is not to be rafhly numbered amongst the miseries of an author; fince it commonly ferves, after miscarriage, to reconcile him to himself. Because the world has fometimes paffed an unjuft fentence, he readily concludes the fentence unjust by which his performance is condemned; because fome have been exalted above their merits by partiality, he is sure to ascribe the fuccefs of a rival, not to the merit of his work, but the zeal of his patrons. Upon the whole, as the author feems to fhare all the common miferies of life, he appears to partake likewife of its lenitives and abatements.