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but even his volumes contain many memorials, and remarks, which are now become interesting. I cannot say much for poor Winstanley; but we sometimes see that contemptible scribbler quoted to this day by respectable authors; because he has intermixed here and there a scrap or two of original information.
If books were to be written by none but by men of the first genius; and nothing were to be said that had been said before, I am afraid that the lovers of new publications must be without a rational amusement, and the trades of printers and booksellers be nearly annihilated.
But this is the cant of a set of beings, who are determined to find fault, and whose interest and whose malignity it gratifies to deal in censure.
Dec. 17, 1808.
No. LVIII.' On the Reception originally given to
Dr. Johnson's Rambler.
“ Not for themselves the toiling artists build,
Not for himself contrives the studious stage:
The ill-nature of the world amuses itself with the vanity of authors, who seek consolation for present neglect by anticipating the applause of posterity. It is true that this anticipation is often a bubble blown
up by the fumes of the writer's brain : but it is equally true that men of the greatest genius, who deserve the highest fame, have frequently no other reward, than the well-founded confidence that Time will do them that justice, which is refused them by their cotemporaries.
I am afraid that excellence in many sorts of literary production is rather repulsive to a large portion of readers, as long as they are left to their own unprejudiced judgments. When at length the opinion of the few has prevailed over that of the many, and a reputation has become generally established, the author's works find an universal circulation, because it is fashionable to possess them, and be acquainted with their contents. Of poor Collins, whose Odes could not obtain a vent for one small edition when he first published them himself, impression after impression has been called for since his death, till the number of copies, which in many varied forms in every year are taken off at the market, is beyond calculation. Sometimes however men live to
in their own time that esteem and praise, which was long withheld from them. The booksellers, who very naturally and almost of course appreciate the merits of an author's labours by their vendibility, held Dr. Johnson in his latter years in the highest degree of favour. At that time whatever flowed from his pen met with the most flattering reception. But it was not always so. His RAMBLER, which is almost all essence of thought, unalloyed by those baser ingredients which so commonly add to the quantity with out adding to the worth of human compositions, experienced at first a general coldness, discouragement, and even censure and ridicule.
The most decisive proof of this will be the following cotemporary extracts from the Correspondence between Mrs. Elizabeth Carter and Miss Talbot. They form a very curious and instructive piece of literary history.
From Miss Talbot, Oct. 20, 1750.
“ The Rambler is to me very entertaining. The Letter from Mr. Frolick has a certain strain of humour, and the last from Rhodoclea will, if he makes use of it, give him an excellent opportunity to introduce humourous descriptions of, and reflections on, the London follies and diversions, of which she may be supposed to write him the sentiments of her full heart, sometimes rejoiced, sometimes mortified and disappointed. Then another should write by way of contrast, who voluntarily spends hers or his in the country, rationally enjoys it, describes its frosty prospects, land or sea, its Christmas mirth, joy, and hospitality. Mr. JohnSON would, I fear, be mortified to hear that people know a paper
of his own by the same mark of somewhat a little excessive, a little exaggerated in the expression. In his Schreech-Owl* were so many merchants discouraged, so many ladies killed, matches broke, poets dismayed! The numbers are too large. Two or three-five or six, is enough in all conscience in most cases.
'Tis else like the Jewish way of
* See No. 59.
speaking, who, to express a man's being rich, say he has 800 ships at sea, and 800 cities on the land.”
From Mrs. Carter, March 30, 1752.
• You will think to be sure that I am determined to call you to an account for all your omissions, when I tell you I was outrageous at your not uttering a sigb of lamentation over the departure of the RAMBLER, nor once mention his farewell paper. For some minutes it put me a good deal out of humour with the world, and more particularly with the great and powerful part of it. To be sure people in a closet are apt to form strange odd ideas, which, as soon as they put their heads out of doors, they find to be utterly inconsistent with that something or other that regulates, or rather confounds, the actions of mankind. In mere speculation it seems mighty absurd that those who govern states, and call themselves politicians, should not eagerly decree laurels and statues, and public support to a genius who contributes all in his power to make them the rulers of reasonable creatures. However, as honours and emoluments are by no means the infallible consequences of such an endeavour, Mr. Johnson is very happy in having proposed to himself that reward to his labours which he is sure not to be disappointed of by the stupidity or ingratitude of mankind.”
From Miss Talbot, April 22, 1752. “ I must beg a thousand pardons, my dear Miss
Carter, for my absolute silence on the death of that excellent person, the RAMBLER. I assure you, I grieved for it most sincerely, and could have dropt a tear over his two concluding papers, if he had not in one or two places of the last commended himself too much; for I knew there were people whose very unjust prejudices against him would be strengthened by them. Indeed 'tis a sad thing that such a paper should have met with discouragement from wise, and learned, and good people too. Many are the disputes it has cost me, and not once did I come off triumphant. I have heard he means to occasionally throw some papers into the Daily Advertiser; but he has not begun yet, as he is in great affliction I hear, poor man, for the loss of his wife.”
From Mrs. Carter, May 9, 1752.
“ I congratulate you, dear Miss Talbot, on your retreat from the hurry and flutter of fashionable visiting to the quiet conversation of wood nymphs and hamadryads, and other good sort of company, who have wrought so happy a reformation in you, and taught you to express yourself with becoming sorrow on the death of the RAMBLER. It must be confessed however that you shewed an heroic spirit in defending his cause against such formidable enemies even in London. Many a battle have I too fought for him in the country, but with very little success. Indeed I was extremely disheartened in my last defcat in argument with a lady of excellent skill in the weapons of plausibility, who so absolutely got the better of me, that after having dis