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stale, flat, and unprofitable.” Cowper quotes with a concurrence of sentiment the remark of Caraccioli, that "there is something bewitching in authorship, and that he who has once written will write again." “Who shall say,” exclaims Bulwer, in his eloquent and interesting “ Conversations with an ambitious Student in ill health,” whether Rousseau breathing forth his reveries, or Byron tracing the pilgrimage of Childe Harold, did not more powerfully feel the glory of the task, than the sorrow it was to inmortalize ? Must they not have been exalted with an almost divine gladness, by the beauty of their own ideas, the melody of their own murmurs, the wonders of their own art ?” Dr. Johnson, with a truth and nature suggested by his own experience, attributes a similar feeling to the unhappy Prince of Abyssinia. Rasselas uttered his repinings with a plaintive voice, “yet with a look that discovered him to feel some complacence in his own perspicacity, and to receive some solace of the miseries of life, from a consciousness of the delicacy with which he felt, and the eloquence with which he bewailed them.”
The clear and permanent impression of the mind on a printed page is admirably adapted to the gratification of human pride. The author sees the image of his soul to the best advantage, and almost wonders at his own perfections. No youthful beauty contemplates her mirrored figure with more delight.
“ 'Tis pleasant sure to see one's self in print!” He who has once passed into a book, while he exults in his own mental portrait, thus fixed as it were beyond the reach of fate, luxuriates in the anticipated admiration of the world. The printer's types are far more potent than the painter's pencil. The former represent the various movements of the mind—the latter gives the mere external frame, in one attitude and with one expression. There is additional pride in the consciousness, that in the production of the intellectual image the printer is subservient to the author's will, while we are necessarily as passive as
his canvass in the painter's hands.. Our features are entirely at his mercy. We do not share the merit of his performance, though the subject is our own*.
We need not be surprised that even monarchs have been smitten with literary ambition, for satiated with the easy and vulgar influence of adventitious advantages, they naturally desire a species of power more personal and intrinsic, as well as more permanent and extensive. A great author has a wider kingdom and a longer reign than any sovereign upon earth. Shakespeare and Milton would scarcely have exchanged places with the proudest worldly potentates. The sun-lit pinnacles of Parnassus are more glorious than a gilded chair.
No man has so exalted an opinion of his own profession as an author. “ Such a superiority,” says Hume, “do the pursuits of literature possess over every other occupation, that even he who attains but a mediocrity in them, merits the pre-eminence above those that excel the most in the common and vulgar professions.” “An author,” says Cowper, " is an important character. Whatever his merits may be, the mere circumstance of authorship warrants his approach to persons, whom otherwise
There is one advantage, however, in painting over printing, which is, that the productions of the artist are regarded with a deeper feeling of per. sonal interest than those of the author ; because there is no agent, like the printer, between the artist and his admirer. The work comes more directly from the man of genius himself, and the possession of it is more exclusive. There is something inexpressibly moving and delightful in the thought that the precious treasure is your own, and not the world's, and that it was literally and solely the work of the artist's fleshly yet inspired hand. We gaze at and touch the identical canvass on which that hand (perhaps long since mingled with the dust) once strenuously laboured, while we seem to hold direct communion with a being whose earthly glory is almost as imperishable as his spiritual existence. We drink in the loveliness of the same scenery that enchanted the painter's eye.
We share in his enjoyment. This personal interest in an original painting in some respects resembles, though it far exceeds, that which is excited by a celebrated person's autograph. But though a great author's manuscript may be highly interesting, it is of course in every sense less precious than a noble painting. A handwriting, though often in some degree characteristic of the writer's mind, can never be so essentially connected with genius as the work of a painter.
perhaps he could hardly address without being deemed impertinent.” It is this proud feeling, linked to the hope of fame, that makes many an unhappy author persist so passionately in his favorite studies, amidst innumerable privations and inquietudes. “ I know,” says Drummond,
“ That all the Muse's heavenly lays
By toil of spirit are so dearly bought."
But this difficulty and labour, as he himself confesses, in no degree restrained his ardour of composition. It is said that Milton would not desist from his literary avocations, though warned by his physicians of the certain loss of his sight. He preferred his fame to his comfort.
To create those mighty works that are meant for an immortality on earth is an object of exultation, compared to which, the dignities and triumphs of kings and conquerors would seem valueless and vulgar. It is a proud and glorious thing, and may elevate our conceptions of the spiritual part of our nature, to know that the wealth of even one happy hour's inspiration may circulate, like a vein of gold, through the various strata of society, and enrich remotest ages! Even the utter extinction of his mortal being is an event of comparative indifference to the impassioned poet, who inflames his eager soul with the hope of a never-dying name, and the exalting thought, that he may stir the vast sea of human hearts, when the crowd of his contemporaries shall be utterly forgotten, and his own material frame shall have long mouldered in the grave. It is an aspiration of this glorious nature that swells the breast of Wordsworth, when he fervently exclaims;
“ Blessings be with them—and eternal praise,
Who gave us nobler loves and nobler cares-
It is a mournful reflection that the poet's laurel is often steeped in tears, and that it acquires its richest bloom upon
grave. And yet if a great poet could anticipate his future fame, and enjoy its full influence and maturity in his life-time, his lot would perhaps be too dazzling for humanity to bear. If the mighty Milton could revisit the scenes of his earthly pilgrimage, glorified by his halo of eternal fame, he would be almost worshipped as a god. Mankind would prostrate themselves at his feet.
There is something so ethereal in the associations connected with poetic fame, that a personal intercourse with the bard himself is usually attended with surprise and disappointment. We forget the vast difference between mind and matter-the jewel and the casket. The mortal frame seems to dwarf the spirit. We see the soul dimly through so gross a medium. Authors, unlike other objects, grow larger as they recede into the distance; and their knowledge of human nature ought to suggest to them the imprudence of too near an approach to the common crowd. Their books are far more imposing than their persons. Fame is a complete abstraction, and even great men should remember the vulgar proverb, that familiarity breeds contempt.' We ordinarily observe, that if an author be more loved in his private circle than by the world, he is also less admired. The friends and associates of a man of genius are generally amongst the last to discover his intellectual greatness, and are usually surprised at his influence with the public, which they attribute to some unaccountable delusion. In private life the poet is not always poetical, nor the philosopher wise. In fact, the intense excitement of their intellectual habits renders them proportionably nerveless and relaxed in their domestic and social hours. They appear to a manifest disadvantage in society, because, while others abandon their whole being to more transient interests and less refined enjoy. ments, and concentrating such energies as they may possess upon the things about them, appear keen and animated, the man of genius, wearied perhaps by the secret toil of thought, cannot wholly disengage his mind from the higher aspirations which still haunt and agitate it like a remembered dream. He is compelled from the fear of ridicule or misapprehension to check the natural workings of his mind, to avoid his dearest and most familiar topics, and to assume an air of interest in matters respecting which he is in reality indifferent. As in society he acts an uncongenial part, he is awkward and restrained, and cannot be expected to exhibit the same ease and vivacity as those who riot in their own proper element, and give expression to the genuine dictates of their hearts. It is only when men of genius meet with kindred spirits—when mind meets mind in sparkling collision, that their vast superiority to the crowd becomes marked and obvious,
The conversation of literary men, though it may turn on their favorite subjects, is not exclusive or professional. It usually involves the universal interests of humanity; and all intelligent persons, of whatever class, who have studied external nature, or the human heart, or have indulged in contemplations upon the mysteries of our being, may listen to literary men with sympathy and delight. They are not only accustomed to give a higher tone to their conversation, and to choose topics of more general interest than are introduced into ordinary society, but their habit of composition facilitates the perspicuous arrangement and expression of their ideas, and guards them from the ambiguity and the want of method which in the case of less practised thinkers often destroy the effect of the most important communications. In addition to this logical order of ideas and transparency of diction, which are characteristic of literary conversation, it is usually impregnated with a spirit and fervour that would seem utterly inconsistent with the frigidity of common intercourse. They who have once been accustomed to
“Such celestial colloquies sublime”