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first volume, has descended by the female line among our nobility and most ancient gentry.
No. XIX. On the conduct of the Censura Literaria.
"Jactat inæqualem Matho me fecisse libellum,
TO THE RUMINATOR.
As I have never yet corresponded with you, I ought perhaps still to have waited till I had something more important to communicate. But as there is no end to procrastination, I embrace the impulse of the moment to send you a paper of scraps -and miscellaneous remarks. When a man wanders about in the circles of literature without design, or particular occupation, he hears such jarring opinions, and contradictory dogmas, as to produce nothing but confusion in a mind that is not wellpoised. I have for instance heard such opposite judgments regarding the line of conduct which your work ought to pursue, that, if I had not habituated myself to a slow admission of the most plausible sentiments, I should have changed my ideas almost every day. I shall not give way to the observations I could make either on those who would admit nothing but black-letter, and the rarest books; or on those who will endure nothing but modern matter. It would be easy to indulge some just sarcasm on both; but I forbear. The truth is, Sir, that
wisdom and genius depend not on ancient or modern phraseology. The narrow mind, which confines them to either, deserves a name, which I will not give it.
All the fashionable artifices of writing which the mob cannot distinguish from real merit, are the meteors of a day. Genius shines with a steady light through the mists and disguises of time. Conversant as your pursuits must make you, not only with those productions which have survived the wreck of ages, but with those works, which, though now forgotten, possessed a temporary reputation, you would do well to exert those critical powers, which I fear you are too apt to neglect, in analysing the qualities, which have tended to insure a permanent favour. Do not put yourself on a par with collectors, who waste their time and money in running after what is merely rare! You well know, that, in nine cases out of ten, its rarity arises from its want of merit!
With regard to your Essays, I hear it remarked, that they are not sufficiently confined to subjects of literature; or of a nature sufficiently consonant with the primary purpose of your work. And I must admit that there is some justice in the remark. Yet I endeavour to plead for you, that these censurers are a little too severe. I ask if any thing, which attempts to develope niceties of the poetical character can be deemed foreign to the views of such a publication. I ask them to point out to me more than two papers in all your Ruminators, which do not involve some literary topics. And when I press them hard, I find that their main ob
jections are founded on a misconception of your
I have no hesitation to say, that whenever you have departed from that plan it has been for the worse. You begun with criticism, and composition, and a rational mixture of English literature, both ancient and modern. You ought never to have descended to rival mere collectors, and makers of catalogues! The contempt between you will be mutual. You may rely on it, that, if you cannot trace the history of some black-letter penny pamphlet as well as they can, till it ends in some lucky possessor at the price of ten guineas, they will feel a sovereign scorn both for your knowledge and your genius! They will every where express their wonder at the impudence of a man, who has not been seen bidding madly for rare articles at every booksale for the last five years, presuming to write on subjects of our ancient literature.
And do you suppose that, if you plead your love of the Muse, it will avail you at all? What signifies it to them, if you lose the long day in woodland solitudes, dreaming of the splendour of past ages, realising in your fancy all the glories of the times of chivalry, and marshalling the Fairy Knights of Spenser in golden visions? These occupations will not enable you to tell the peculiar marks, or minute variations of a liber rariss. or help you in the wonderful discovery of an unknown Caxton! Do not give heed to the exploded doctrine that to criticise a poet requires something of congenial feeling. A collector, it seems, can do it well; but, no doubt, a maker of catalogues can do it best of all!!
But still, Sir, you must not be dismayed. They, who are not within the reach of this sale-mania, have other rules of judging; they expect occasional remarks on the intrinsic merits of the pieces registered, which you perhaps, may be a little better qualified for, than some of these title-page-dealers! but which I am sorry to say that you yourself, either from indolence, or some other cause, which you ought not to indulge, too much neglect. You appear to have given way to many things contrary to your better taste; and to have suffered yourself to be led out of the path, of which you had the command, into others, where you have many superiors, and still more rivals.
Consider no original remarks on any part of literature foreign to your purpose; exercise those arts of composition, for which your nature and habits have qualified you; and do not lower yourself to a level with transcribers, and mere bibliographers. Though a few London book-worms may not like your work so well, be assured the public will like it
While I thus indulge in unsought advice to you, I cannot refrain from touching on another point. Among all the periodical publications, which have any concern with criticism, there is one which characterizes yours, and which I warn yon to preserve. You stand independent; you are known to be actuated only by a pure and disinterested love of your subject; and you stand free therefore from all suspicion of sophistry, and corrupt praise or blame. If you take a single step, or enter into a single connection, which will destroy that confidence, your
work is lost. Whoever differs from you now, knows at least that the opinions you convey to the public are honest.
Since the days of Ritson, there has been a fashion of admitting claims to a high reputation on the mere grounds of industry, without a particle of taste, or feeling; and still less of genius!--Were the materials of Ritson transferred to another work, every thing would be transferred: transfer all the materials of Warton, and the best part of him still remains! Do not therefore run a race with such men as Ritson; but exert your own faculties; and we care not whether the book you write upon, is thirty or three hundred years old! But you are idle, very idle! You seem never to write, except when your feelings are touched:
"Facit indignatio versum !"
It has been often observed, that there are many little functions in literature level to very common capacities, and acquirements; but of which the public will not easily endure the performance by any but those who are qualified to do better things. It will not easily suffer persons to enter the domains of Parnassus, and adorn themselves with faded flowers, which have been reared, and cropped, and thrown away by their superiors! It generally turns with neglect from such pretenders!
Let me entreat you then to rely upon yourself; move "right onward" unfatigued and undismayed; throw your mind upon your page; give us more such articles as those on the Douglas Cause; and do not be persuaded that it is a mere question rela