But why should lordlings all our praise engross?
Rise, honest man, and sing the Man of Ross.
To the Scottish reader little more need be said than that the man
alluded to is George Heriot. But for those south of the Tweed, it may
be necessary to add, that the person so named was a wealthy citizen of
Edinburgh, and the King's goldsmith, who followed James to the English
capital, and was so successful in his profession, as to die, in 1624,
extremely wealthy for that period. He had no children; and after
making a full provision for such relations as might have claims upon
him, he left the residue of his fortune to establish an hospital, in
which the sons of Edinburgh freemen are gratuitously brought up and
educated for the station to which their talents may recommend them,
and are finally enabled to enter life under respectable auspices. The
hospital in which this charity is maintained is a noble quadrangle of
the Gothic order, and as ornamental to the city as a building, as the
manner in which the youths are provided for and educated, renders it
useful to the community as an institution. To the honour of those who
have the management, (the Magistrates and Clergy of Edinburgh), the
funds of the Hospital have increased so much under their care, that it
now supports and educates one hundred and thirty youths annually, many
of whom have done honour to their country in different situations.
The founder of such a charity as this may be reasonably supposed to
have walked through life with a steady pace, and an observant eye,
neglecting no opportunity of assisting those who were not possessed of
the experience necessary for their own guidance. In supposing his
efforts directed to the benefit of a young nobleman, misguided by the
aristocratic haughtiness of his own time, and the prevailing tone of
selfish luxury which seems more peculiar to ours, as well as the
seductions of pleasure which are predominant in all, some amusement,
or even some advantage, might, I thought, be derived from the manner
in which I might bring the exertions of this civic Mentor to bear in
his pupil's behalf. I am, I own, no great believer in the moral
utility to be derived from fictitious compositions; yet, if in any
case a word spoken in season may be of advantage to a young person, it
must surely be when it calls upon him to attend to the voice of
principle and self-denial, instead of that of precipitate passion. I
could not, indeed, hope or expect to represent my prudent and
benevolent citizen in a point of view so interesting as that of the
peasant girl, who nobly sacrificed her family affections to the
integrity of her moral character. Still however, something I hoped
might be done not altogether unworthy the fame which George Heriot has
secured by the lasting benefits he has bestowed on his country.
It appeared likely, that out of this simple plot I might weave
something attractive; because the reign of James I., in which George
Heriot flourished, gave unbounded scope to invention in the fable,
while at the same time it afforded greater variety and discrimination
of character than could, with historical consistency, have been
introduced, if the scene had been laid a century earlier. Lady Mary
Wortley Montague has said, with equal truth and taste, that the most
romantic region of every country is that where the mountains unite
themselves with the plains or lowlands. For similiar reasons, it may
be in like manner said, that the most picturesque period of history is
that when the ancient rough and wild manners of a barbarous age are
just becoming innovated upon, and contrasted, by the illumination of
increased or revived learning, and the instructions of renewed or
reformed religion. The strong contrast produced by the opposition of
ancient manners to those which are gradually subduing them, affords
the lights and shadows necessary to give effect to a fictitious
narrative; and while such a period entitles the author to introduce
incidents of a marvellous and improbable character, as arising out of
the turbulent independence and ferocity, belonging to old habits of
violence, still influencing the manners of a people who had been so
lately in a barbarous state; yet, on the other hand, the characters
and sentiments of many of the actors may, with the utmost probability,
be described with great variety of shading and delineation, which
belongs to the newer and more improved period, of which the world has
but lately received the light.
The reign of James I. of England possessed this advantage in a
peculiar degree. Some beams of chivalry, although its planet had been
for some time set, continued to animate and gild the horizon, and
although probably no one acted precisely on its Quixotic dictates, men
and women still talked the chivalrous language of Sir Philip Sydney's
Arcadia; and the ceremonial of the tilt-yard was yet exhibited, though
it now only flourished as a Place de Carrousel. Here and there a high-
spirited Knight of the Bath, witness the too scrupulous Lord Herbert
of Cherbury, was found devoted enough to the vows he had taken, to
imagine himself obliged to compel, by the sword's-point, a fellow-
knight or squire to restore the top-knot of ribbon which he had stolen
from a fair damsel;[Footnote: See Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Memoirs.]
but yet, while men were taking each other's lives on such punctilios
of honour, the hour was already arrived when Bacon was about to teach
the world that they were no longer to reason from authority to fact,
but to establish truth by advancing from fact to fact, till they fixed
an indisputable authority, not from hypothesis, but from experiment.
The state of society in the reign of James I. was also strangely
disturbed, and the license of a part of the community was perpetually
giving rise to acts of blood and violence. The bravo of the Queen's
day, of whom Shakspeare has given us so many varieties, as Bardolph,
Nym, Pistol, Peto, and the other companions of Falstaff, men who had
their humours, or their particular turn of extravaganza, had, since
the commencement of the Low Country wars, given way to a race of
sworders, who used the rapier and dagger, instead of the far less
dangerous sword and buckler; so that a historian says on this subject,
"that private quarrels were nourished, but especially between the
Scots and English; and duels in every street maintained; divers sects
and peculiar titles passed unpunished and unregarded, as the sect of
the Roaring Boys, Bonaventors, Bravadors, Quarterors, and such like,
being persons prodigal, and of great expense, who, having run
themselves into debt, were constrained to run next into factions, to
defend themselves from danger of the law. These received countenance
from divers of the nobility; and the citizens, through lasciviousness
consuming their estates, it was like that the number [of these
desperadoes] would rather increase than diminish; and under these
pretences they entered into many desperate enterprizes, and scarce any
durst walk in the street after nine at night."[Footnote: history of
the First Fourteen Years of King James's Reign. See Somers's Tracts,
edited by Scott, vol. ii. p.266.]
The same authority assures us farther, that "ancient gentlemen, who
had left their inheritance whole and well furnished with goods and
chattels (having thereupon kept good houses) unto their sons, lived to
see part consumed in riot and excess, and the rest in possibility to
be utterly lost; the holy state of matrimony made but a May-game, by
which divers families had been subverted; brothel houses much
frequented, and even great persons, prostituting their bodies to the
intent to satisfy their lusts, consumed their substance in lascivious
appetites. And of all sorts, such knights and gentlemen, as either
through pride or prodigality--had consumed their substance, repairing
to the city, and to the intent to consume their virtue also, lived
dissolute lives; many of their ladies and daughters, to the intent to
maintain themselves according to their dignity, prostituting their
bodies in shameful manner. Ale-houses, dicing-houses, taverns, and
places of iniquity, beyond manner abounding in most places."
Nor is it only in the pages of a puritanical, perhaps a satirical
writer, that we find so shocking and disgusting a picture of the
coarseness of the beginning of the seventeenth century. On the
contrary, in all the comedies of the age, the principal character for
gaiety and wit is a young heir, who has totally altered the
establishment of the father to whom he has succeeded, and, to use the
old simile, who resembles a fountain, which plays off in idleness and
extravagance the wealth which its careful parents painfully had
assembled in hidden reservoirs.
And yet, while that spirit of general extravagance seemed at work over
a whole kingdom, another and very different sort of men were gradually
forming the staid and resolved characters, which afterwards displayed
themselves during the civil wars, and powerfully regulated and
affected the character of the whole English nation, until, rushing
from one extreme to another, they sunk in a gloomy fanaticism the
splendid traces of the reviving fine arts.
From the quotations which I have produced, the selfish and disgusting
conduct of Lord Dalgarno will not perhaps appear overstrained; nor
will the scenes in Whitefriars and places of similar resort seem too
highly coloured. This indeed is far from being the case. It was in
James I.'s reign that vice first appeared affecting the better classes
in its gross and undisguised depravity. The entertainments and
amusements of Elizabeth's time had an air of that decent restraint
which became the court of a maiden sovereign; and, in that earlier
period, to use the words of Burke, vice lost half its evil by being
deprived of all its grossness. In James's reign, on the contrary, the
coarsest pleasures were publicly and unlimitedly indulged, since,
according to Sir John Harrington, the men wallowed in beastly
delights; and even ladies abandoned their delicacy and rolled about in
intoxication. After a ludicrous account of a mask, in which the actors
had got drunk, and behaved themselves accordingly, he adds, "I have
much marvelled at these strange pageantries, and they do bring to my
recollection what passed of this sort in our Queen's days, in which I
was sometimes an assistant and partaker: but never did I see such lack
of good order and sobriety as I have now done. The gunpowder fright is
got out of all our heads, and we are going on hereabout as if the
devil was contriving every man should blow up himself by wild riot,
excess, and devastation of time and temperance. The great ladies do go
well masqued; and indeed, it be the only show of their modesty to
conceal their countenance, but alack, they meet with such countenance
to uphold their strange doings, that I marvel not at aught that
happens."[Footnote: Harrington's Nugae Antique, vol. ii. p. 352. For
the gross debauchery of the period, too much encouraged by the example
of the monarch, who was, in other respects, neither without talent nor
a good-natured disposition, see Winwood's Memorials, Howell's Letters,
and other Memorials of the time; but particularly, consult the Private
Letters and Correspondence of Steenie, _alias_ Buckingham, with his
reverend Dad and Gossip, King James, which abound with the grossest as
well as the most childish language. The learned Mr. D'Israeli, in an
attempt to vindicate the character of James, has only succeeded in
obtaining for himself the character of a skilful and ingenious
advocate, without much advantage to his royal client]
Such being the state of the court, coarse sensuality brought along
with it its ordinary companion, a brutal degree of undisguised
selfishness, destructive alike of philanthropy and good breeding; both
of which, in their several spheres, depend upon the regard paid by
each individual to the interest as well as the feelings of others. It
is in such a time that the heartless and shameless man of wealth and
power may, like the supposed Lord Dalgarno, brazen out the shame of
his villainies, and affect to triumph in their consequences, so long
as they were personally advantageous to his own pleasures or profit.
Alsatia is elsewhere explained as a cant name for Whitefriars, which,
possessing certain privileges of sanctuary, became for that reason a
nest of those mischievous characters who were generally obnoxious to
the law. These privileges were derived from its having been an
establishment of the Carmelites, or White Friars, founded says Stow,
in his Survey of London, by Sir Patrick Grey, in 1241. Edward I. gave
them a plot of ground in Fleet Street, to build their church upon. The
edifice then erected was rebuilt by Courtney, Earl of Devonshire, in
the reign of Edward. In the time of the Reformation the place retained
its immunities as a sanctuary, and James I. confirmed and added to
them by a charter in 1608. Shadwell was the first author who made some
literary use of Whitefriars, in his play of the Squire of Alsatia,
which turns upon the plot of the Adelphi of Terence.
In this old play, two men of fortune, brothers, educate two young men,
(sons to the one and nephews to the other,) each under his own
separate system of rigour and indulgence. The elder of the subjects of
this experiment, who has been very rigidly brought up, falls at once
into all the vices of the town, is debauched by the cheats and bullies
of Whitefriars, and, in a word, becomes the Squire of Alsatia. The
poet gives, as the natural and congenial inhabitants of the place,
such characters as the reader will find in the note. [Footnote:
"Cheatly, a rascal, who by reason of debts dares not stir out of
Whitefriars, but there inveigles young heirs of entail, and helps them
to goods and money upon great disadvantages, is bound for them, and
shares with them till he undoes them. A lewd, impudent, debauched
fellow, very expert in the cant about town.
"Shamwell, cousin to the Belfords, who, being ruined by Cheatly, is
made a decoy-duck for others, not daring to stir out of Alsatia, where
he lives. Is bound with Cheatly for heirs, and lives upon them a
dissolute debauched life.
"Captain Hackum, a blockheaded bully of Alsatia, a cowardly, impudent,
blustering fellow, formerly a sergeant in Flanders, who has run from
his colours, and retreated into Whitefriars for a very small debt,
where by the Alsatians he is dubb'd a captain, marries one that lets
lodgings, sells cherry-brandy, and is a bawd.
"Scrapeall a hypocritical, repeating, praying, psalm-singing, precise
fellow, pretending to great piety; a godly knave, who joins with
Cheatly, and supplies young heirs with goods, and money."--Dramatis
Personae to the Squire of Alsatia, SHADWELL'S Works, vol. iv.] The
play, as we learn from the dedication to the Earl of Dorset and
Middlesex, was successful above the author's expectations, "no comedy
these many years having filled the theatre so long together. And I had
the great honour," continues Shadwell, "to find so many friends, that
the house was never so full since it was built as upon the third day
of this play, and vast numbers went away that could not be admitted."
[Footnote: Dedication to the Squire of Alsatia, Shadwell's Works, vol.
iv.] From the Squire of Alsatia the author derived some few hints, and
learned the footing on which the bullies and thieves of the Sanctuary
stood with their neighbours, the fiery young students of the Temple,
of which some intimation is given in the dramatic piece.
Such are the materials to which the author stands indebted for the
composition of the Fortunes of Nigel, a novel, which may be perhaps
one of those that are more amusing on a second perusal, than when read
a first time for the sake of the story, the incidents of which are few
The Introductory Epistle is written, in Lucio's phrase, "according to
the trick," and would never have appeared had the writer meditated
making his avowal of the work. As it is the privilege of a masque or
incognito to speak in a feigned voice and assumed character, the
author attempted, while in disguise, some liberties of the same sort;
and while he continues to plead upon the various excuses which the
introduction contains, the present acknowledgment must serve as an
apology for a species of "hoity toity, whisky frisky" pertness of
manner, which, in his avowed character, the author should have
considered as a departure from the rules of civility and good taste.
1st July, 1831.
CAPTAIN CLUTTERBUCK TO THE REVEREND
I readily accept of, and reply to the civilities with which you have
been pleased to honour me in your obliging letter, and entirely agree
with your quotation, of _"Quam bonum et quam jucundum!"_ We may indeed
esteem ourselves as come of the same family, or, according to our
country proverb, as being all one man's bairns; and there needed no
apology on your part, reverend and dear sir, for demanding of me any
information which I may be able to supply respecting the subject of
your curiosity. The interview which you allude to took place in the
course of last winter, and is so deeply imprinted on my recollection,
that it requires no effort to collect all its most minute details.
You are aware that the share which I had in introducing the Romance,
called THE MONASTERY, to public notice, has given me a sort of
character in the literature of our Scottish metropolis. I no longer
stand in the outer shop of our bibliopolists, bargaining for the
objects of my curiosity with an unrespective shop-lad, hustled among
boys who come to buy Corderies and copy-books, and servant girls
cheapening a pennyworth of paper, but am cordially welcomed by the
bibliopolist himself, with, "Pray, walk into the back-shop, Captain.
Boy, get a chair for Captain Clutterbuck. There is the newspaper,
Captain--to-day's paper;" or, "Here is the last new work--there is a
folder, make free with the leaves;" or, "Put it in your pocket and
carry it home;" or, "We will make a bookseller of you, sir, and you
shall have it at trade price." Or, perhaps if it is the worthy
trader's own publication, his liberality may even extend itself to--
"Never mind booking such a trifle to _you_, sir--it is an over-copy.
Pray, mention the work to your reading friends." I say nothing of the
snug well-selected literary party arranged round a turbot, leg of
five-year-old mutton, or some such gear, or of the circulation of a
quiet bottle of Robert Cockburn's choicest black--nay, perhaps, of his
new ones. All these are comforts reserved to such as are freemen of
the corporation of letters, and I have the advantage of enjoying them
in perfection. But all things change under the sun; and it is with no
ordinary feelings of regret, that, in my annual visits to the
metropolis, I now miss the social and warm-hearted welcome of the
quick-witted and kindly friend who first introduced me to the public;
who had more original wit than would have set up a dozen of professed
sayers of good things, and more racy humour than would have made the
fortune of as many more. To this great deprivation has been added, I
trust for a time only, the loss of another bibliopolical friend, whose
vigorous intellect, and liberal ideas, have not only rendered his
native country the mart of her own literature, but established there a
Court of Letters, which must command respect, even from those most
inclined to dissent from many of its canons. The effect of these
changes, operated in a great measure by the strong sense and sagacious
calculations of an individual, who knew how to avail himself, to an
unhoped-for extent, of the various kinds of talent which his country
produced, will probably appear more clearly to the generation which
shall follow the present.
I entered the shop at the Cross, to enquire after the health of my
worthy friend, and learned with satisfaction, that his residence in
the south had abated the rigour of the symptoms of his disorder.
Availing myself, then, of the privileges to which I have alluded, I
strolled onward in that labyrinth of small dark rooms, or _crypts_, to
speak our own antiquarian language, which form the extensive back-
settlements of that celebrated publishing-house. Yet, as I proceeded
from one obscure recess to another, filled, some of them with old
volumes, some with such as, from the equality of their rank on the
shelves, I suspected to be the less saleable modern books of the
concern, I could not help feeling a holy horror creep upon me, when I
thought of the risk of intruding on some ecstatic bard giving vent to
his poetical fury; or it might be, on the yet more formidable privacy
of a band of critics, in the act of worrying the game which they had
just run down. In such a supposed case, I felt by anticipation the
horrors of the Highland seers, whom their gift of deuteroscopy compels
to witness things unmeet for mortal eye; and who, to use the
expression of Collins,
----"heartless, oft, like moody madness, stare,
To see the phantom train their secret work prepare."
Still, however, the irresistible impulse of an undefined curiosity
drove me on through this succession of darksome chambers, till, like
the jeweller of Delhi in the house of the magician Bennaskar, I at
length reached a vaulted room, dedicated to secrecy and silence, and
beheld, seated by a lamp, and employed in reading a. blotted _revise_,
[Footnote: The uninitiated must be informed, that a second proof-sheet
is so called.] the person, or perhaps I should rather say the Eidolon,
or representative Vision of the AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY! You will not be
surprised at the filial instinct which enabled me at once to
acknowledge the features borne by this venerable apparition, and that
I at once bended the knee, with the classical salutation of, _Salve,
magne parens!_ The vision, however, cut me short, by pointing to a
seat, intimating at the same time, that my presence was not expected,
and that he had something to say to me.
I sat down with humble obedience, and endeavoured to note the features
of him with whom I now found myself so unexpectedly in society. But on
this point I can give your reverence no satisfaction; for, besides the
obscurity of the apartment, and the fluttered state of my own nerves,
I seemed to myself overwhelmed by a sense of filial awe, which
prevented my noting and recording what it is probable the personage
before me might most desire to have concealed. Indeed, his figure was
so closely veiled and wimpled, either with a mantle, morning-gown, or
some such loose garb, that the verses of Spenser might well have been
"Yet, certes, by her face and physnomy,
Whether she man or woman only were,
That could not any creature well descry."
I must, however, go on as I have begun, to apply the masculine gender;
for, notwithstanding very ingenious reasons, and indeed something like
positive evidence, have been offered to prove the Author of Waverley
to be two ladies of talent, I must abide by the general opinion, that
he is of the rougher sex. There are in his writings too many things
"Quae maribus sola tribuuntur,"
to permit me to entertain any doubt on that subject. I will proceed,
in the manner of dialogue, to repeat as nearly as I can what passed
betwixt us, only observing, that in the course of the conversation, my
timidity imperceptibly gave way under the familiarity of his address;
and that, in the concluding part of our dialogue, I perhaps argued
with fully as much confidence as was beseeming.
_Author of Waverley._ I was willing to see you, Captain Clutterbuck,
being the person of my family whom I have most regard for, since the
death of Jedediah Cleishbotham; and I am afraid I may have done you
some wrong, in assigning to you The Monastery as a portion of my
effects. I have some thoughts of making it up to you, by naming you
godfather to this yet unborn babe--(he indicated the proof-sheet with
his finger)--But first, touching The Monastery--How says the world--
you are abroad and can learn?
_Captain Clutterbuck._ Hem! hem!--The enquiry is delicate--I have not
heard any complaints from the Publishers.
_Author._ That is the principal matter; but yet an indifferent work is
sometimes towed on by those which have left harbour before it, with
the breeze in their poop.--What say the Critics?
_Captain._ There is a general--feeling--that the White Lady is no
_Author._ I think she is a failure myself; but rather in execution
than conception. Could I have evoked an _esprit follet_, at the same
time fantastic and interesting, capricious and kind; a sort of
wildfire of the elements, bound by no fixed laws, or motives of
action; faithful and fond, yet teazing and uncertain----
_Captain._ If you will pardon the interruption, sir, I think you are
describing a pretty woman.
_Author._ On my word, I believe I am. I must invest my elementary
spirits with a little human flesh and blood--they are too fine-drawn
for the present taste of the public.
_Captain._ They object, too, that the object of your Nixie ought to
have been more uniformly noble--Her ducking the priest was no Naiad-
_Author._ Ah! they ought to allow for the capriccios of what is, after
all, but a better sort of goblin. The bath into which Ariel, the most
delicate creation of Shakspeare's imagination, seduces our jolly
friend Trinculo, was not of amber or rose-water. But no one shall find
me rowing against the stream. I care not who knows it--I write for
general amusement; and, though I never will aim at popularity by what
I think unworthy means, I will not, on the other hand, be pertinacious
in the defence of my own errors against the voice of the public.
_Captain._ You abandon, then, in the present work--(looking, in my
turn, towards the proof-sheet)--the mystic, and the magical, and the
whole system of signs, wonders, and omens? There are no dreams, or
presages, or obscure allusions to future events?
_Author._ Not a Cock-lane scratch, my son--not one bounce on the drum
of Tedworth--not so much as the poor tick of a solitary death-watch in
the wainscot. All is clear and above board--a Scots metaphysician
might believe every word of it.
_Captain._ And the story is, I hope, natural and probable; commencing
strikingly, proceeding naturally, ending happily--like the course of a
famed river, which gushes from the mouth of some obscure and romantic
grotto--then gliding on, never pausing, never precipitating its
course, visiting, as it were, by natural instinct, whatever worthy
subjects of interest are presented by the country through which it
passes--widening and deepening in interest as it flows on; and at
length arriving at the final catastrophe as at some mighty haven,
where ships of all kinds strike sail and yard?
_Author._ Hey! hey! what the deuce is all this? Why,'tis Ercles' vein,
and it would require some one much more like Hercules than I, to
produce a story which should gush, and glide, and never pause, and
visit, and widen, and deepen, and all the rest on't. I should be chin-
deep in the grave, man, before I had done with my task; and, in the
meanwhile, all the quirks and quiddities which I might have devised
for my reader's amusement, would lie rotting in my gizzard, like
Sancho's suppressed witticisms, when he was under his master's
displeasure.--There never was a novel written on this plan while the
_Captain._ Pardon me--Tom Jones.
_Author._ True, and perhaps Amelia also. Fielding had high notions of
the dignity of an art which he may be considered as having founded. He
challenges a comparison between the Novel and the Epic. Smollett, Le
Sage, and others, emancipating themselves from the strictness of the
rules he has laid down, have written rather a history of the
miscellaneous adventures which befall an individual in the course of
life, than the plot of a regular and connected epopeia, where every
step brings us a point nearer to the final catastrophe. These great
masters have been satisfied if they amused the reader upon the road;
though the conclusion only arrived because the tale must have an end--
just as the traveller alights at the inn, because it is evening.
_Captain._ A very commodious mode of travelling, for the author at
least. In short, sir, you are of opinion with Bayes--"What the devil
does the plot signify, except to bring in fine things?"
_Author._ Grant that I were so, and that I should write with sense and
spirit a few scenes unlaboured and loosely put together, but which had
sufficient interest in them to amuse in one corner the pain of body;
in another, to relieve anxiety of mind; in a third place, to unwrinkle
a brow bent with the furrows of daily toil; in another, to fill the
place of bad thoughts, or to suggest better; in yet another, to induce
an idler to study the history of his country; in all, save where the
perusal interrupted the discharge of serious duties, to furnish
harmless amusement,--might not the author of such a work, however
inartificially executed, plead for his errors and negligences the
excuse of the slave, who, about to be punished for having spread the
false report of a victory, saved himself by exclaiming--"Am I to
blame, O Athenians, who have given you one happy day?"
_Captain._ Will your goodness permit me to mention an anecdote of my
_Author._ I see little she can have to do with the subject, Captain
_Captain._ It may come into our dialogue on Bayes's plan.--The
sagacious old lady--rest her soul!--was a good friend to the church,
and could never hear a minister maligned by evil tongues, without
taking his part warmly. There was one fixed point, however, at which
she always abandoned the cause of her reverend _protege_--it was so
soon as she learned he had preached a regular sermon against
slanderers and backbiters.
_Author._ And what is that to the purpose?
_Captain._ Only that I have heard engineers say, that one may betray
the weak point to the enemy, by too much ostentation of fortifying it.
_Author._ And, once more I pray, what is that to the purpose?
_Captain._ Nay, then, without farther metaphor, I am afraid this new
production, in which your generosity seems willing to give me some
concern, will stand much in need of apology, since you think proper to
begin your defence before the case is on trial.-The story is hastily
huddled up, I will venture a pint of claret.
_Author._ A pint of port, I suppose you mean?
_Captain._ I say of claret--good claret of the Monastery. Ah, sir,
would you but take the advice of your friends, and try to deserve at
least one-half of the public favour you have met with, we might all
_Author._ I care not what I drink, so the liquor be wholesome.
_Captain._ Care for your reputation, then,--for your fame.
_Author._ My fame?--I will answer you as a very ingenious, able, and
experienced friend, being counsel for the notorious Jem MacCoul,
replied to the opposite side of the bar, when they laid weight on his
client's refusing to answer certain queries, which they said any man
who had a regard for his reputation would not hesitate to reply to.
"My client," said he-by the way, Jem was standing behind him at the
time, and a rich scene it was-"is so unfortunate as to have no regard
for his reputation; and I should deal very uncandidly with the Court,
should I say he had any that was worth his attention."-I am, though
from very different reasons, in Jem's happy state of indifference. Let
fame follow those who have a substantial shape. A shadow-and an
impersonal author is nothing better-can cast no shade.
_Captain._ You are not now, perhaps, so impersonal as here-tofore.
These Letters to the Member for the University of Oxford--_Author._
Show the wit, genius, and delicacy of the author, which I heartily
wish to see engaged on a subject of more importance; and show,
besides, that the preservation of my character of _incongnito_ has
engaged early talent in the discussion of a curious question of
evidence. But a cause, however ingeniously pleaded, is not therefore
gained. You may remember, the neatly-wrought chain of circumstantial
evidence, so artificially brought forward to prove Sir Philip
Francis's title to the Letters of Junius, seemed at first
irrefragable; yet the influence of the reasoning has passed away, and
Junius, in the general opinion, is as much unknown as ever. But on
this subject I will not be soothed or provoked into saying one word
more. To say who I am not, would be one step towards saying who I am;
and as I desire not, any more than a certain justice of peace
mentioned by Shenstone, the noise or report such things make in the
world, I shall continue to be silent on a subject, which, in my
opinion, is very undeserving the noise that has been made about it,
and still more unworthy of the serious employment of such ingenuity as
has been displayed by the young letter-writer.
_Captain._ But allowing, my dear sir, that you care not for your
personal reputation, or for that of any literary person upon whose
shoulders your faults may be visited, allow me to say, that common
gratitude to the public, which has received you so kindly, and to the
critics, who have treated you so leniently, ought to induce you to
bestow more pains on your story.
_Author._ I do entreat you, my son, as Dr. Johnson would have said,
"free your mind from cant." For the critics, they have their business,
and I mine; as the nursery proverb goes--
"The children in Holland take pleasure in making What the children in
England take pleasure in breaking."
I am their humble jackal, too busy in providing food for them, to have
time for considering whether they swallow or reject it.--To the
public, I stand pretty nearly in the relation of the postman who
leaves a packet at the door of an individual. If it contains pleasing
intelligence, a billet from a mistress, a letter from an absent son, a
remittance from a correspondent supposed to be bankrupt,--the letter
is acceptably welcome, and read and re-read, folded up, filed, and
safely deposited in the bureau. If the contents are disagreeable, if
it comes from a dun or from a bore, the correspondent is cursed, the
letter is thrown into the fire, and the expense of postage is heartily
regretted; while all the time the bearer of the dispatches is, in
either case, as little thought on as the snow of last Christmas. The
utmost extent of kindness between the author and the public which can
really exist, is, that the world are disposed to be somewhat indulgent
to the succeeding works of an original favourite, were it but on
account of the habit which the public mind has acquired; while the
author very naturally thinks well of _their_ taste, who have so
liberally applauded _his_ productions. But I deny there is any call
for gratitude, properly so called, either on one side or the other.
_Captain._ Respect to yourself, then, ought to teach caution.
_Author._ Ay, if caution could augment the chance of my success. But,
to confess to you the truth, the works and passages in which I have
succeeded, have uniformly been written with the greatest rapidity; and
when I have seen some of these placed in opposition with others, and
commended as more highly finished, I could appeal to pen and standish,
that the parts in which I have come feebly off, were by much the more
laboured. Besides, I doubt the beneficial effect of too much delay,
both on account of the author and the public. A man should strike
while the iron is hot, and hoist sail while the wind is fair. If a
successful author keep not the stage, another instantly takes his
ground. If a writer lie by for ten years ere he produces a second
work, he is superseded by others; or, if the age is so poor of genius
that this does not happen, his own reputation becomes his greatest
obstacle. The public will expect the new work to be ten times better
than its predecessor; the author will expect it should be ten times
more popular, and 'tis a hundred to ten that both are disappointed.
_Captain_. This may justify a certain degree of rapidity in
publication, but not that which is proverbially said to be no speed.
You should take time at least to arrange your story.
_Author_. That is a sore point with me, my son. Believe me, I have not
been fool enough to neglect ordinary precautions. I have repeatedly
laid down my future work to scale, divided it into volumes and
chapters, and endeavoured to construct a story which I meant should
evolve itself gradually and strikingly, maintain suspense, and
stimulate curiosity; and which, finally, should terminate in a
striking catastrophe. But I think there is a demon who seats himself
on the feather of my pen when I begin to write, and leads it astray
from the purpose. Characters expand under my hand; incidents are
multiplied; the story lingers, while the materials increase; my
regular mansion turns out a Gothic anomaly, and the work is closed
long before I have attained the point I proposed.
_Captain_. Resolution and determined forbearance might remedy that
_Author_. Alas! my dear sir, you do not know the force of paternal
affection. When I light on such a character as Bailie Jarvie, or
Dalgetty, my imagination brightens, and my conception becomes clearer
at every step which I take in his company, although it leads me many a
weary mile away from the regular road, and forces me leap hedge and
ditch to get back into the route again. If I resist the temptation, as
you advise me, my thoughts become prosy, flat, and dull; I write
painfully to myself, and under a consciousness of flagging which makes
me flag still more; the sunshine with which fancy had invested the
incidents, departs from them, and leaves every thing dull and gloomy.
I am no more the same author I was in my better mood, than the dog in
a wheel, condemned to go round and round for hours, is like the same
dog merrily chasing his own tail, and gambolling in all the frolic of
unrestrained freedom. In short, sir, on such occasions, I think I am
_Captain_. Nay, sir, if you plead sorcery, there is no more to be
said--he must needs go whom the devil drives. And this, I suppose,
sir, is the reason why you do not make the theatrical attempt to which
you have been so often urged?
_Author_. It may pass for one good reason for not writing a play, that
I cannot form a plot. But the truth is, that the idea adopted by too
favourable judges, of my having some aptitude for that department of
poetry, has been much founded on those scraps of old plays, which,
being taken from a source inaccessible to collectors, they have
hastily considered the offspring of my mother-wit. Now, the manner in
which I became possessed of these fragments is so extraordinary, that
I cannot help telling it to you.
You must know, that, some twenty years since, I went down to visit an
old friend in Worcestershire, who had served with me in the----
_Captain._ Then you _have_ served, sir?
_Author._ I have--or I have not, which signifies the same thing--
Captain is a good travelling name.--I found my friend's house
unexpectedly crowded with guests, and, as usual, was condemned--the
mansion being an old one--to the _haunted apartment._ I have, as a
great modern said, seen too many ghosts to believe in them, so betook
myself seriously to my repose, lulled by the wind rustling among the
lime-trees, the branches of which chequered the moonlight which fell
on the floor through the diamonded casement, when, behold, a darker
shadow interposed itself, and I beheld visibly on the floor of the
_Captain._ The White Lady of Avenel, I suppose?--You have told the
very story before.
_Author._ No--I beheld a female form, with mob-cap, bib, and apron,
sleeves tucked up to the elbow, a dredging-box in the one hand, and in
the other a sauce-ladle. I concluded, of course, that it was my
friend's cook-maid walking in her sleep; and as I knew he had a value
for Sally, who could toss a pancake with any girl in the country, I
got up to conduct her safely to the door. But as I approached her, she
said,--"Hold, sir! I am not what you take me for;"--words which seemed
so opposite to the circumstances, that I should not have much minded
them, had it not been for the peculiarly hollow sound in which they
were uttered.--"Know, then," she said, in the same unearthly accents,
"that I am the spirit of Betty Barnes."--"Who hanged herself for love
of the stage-coachman," thought I; "this is a proper spot of work!"--
"Of that unhappy Elizabeth or Betty Barnes, long cook-maid to Mr.
Warburton, the painful collector, but ah! the too careless custodier,
of the largest collection of ancient plays ever known--of most of
which the titles only are left to gladden the Prolegomena of the
Variorum Shakspeare. Yes, stranger, it was these ill-fated hands That
consigned to grease and conflagration the scores of small quartos,
which, did they now exist, would drive the whole Roxburghe Club out of
their senses--it was these unhappy pickers and stealers that singed
fat fowls and wiped dirty trenchers with the lost works of Beaumont
and Fletcher, Massinger, Jonson, Webster--what shall I say?--even of
Like every dramatic antiquary, my ardent curiosity after some play
named in the Book of the Master of Revels, had often been checked by
finding the object of my research numbered amongst the holocaust of
victims which this unhappy woman had sacrificed to the God of Good
Cheer. It is no wonder then, that, like the Hermit of Parnell,
"I broke the bands of fear, and madly cried,
'You careless jade!'--But scarce the words began,
When Betty brandish'd high her saucing-pan."
"Beware," she said, "you do not, by your ill-timed anger, cut off the
opportunity I yet have to indemnify the world for the errors of my
ignorance. In yonder coal-hole, not used for many a year, repose the
few greasy and blackened fragments of the elder Drama which were not
totally destroyed. Do thou then"--Why, what do you stare at, Captain?
By my soul, it is true; as my friend Major Longbow says, "What should
I tell you a lie for?"
_Captain._ Lie, sir! Nay, Heaven forbid I should apply the word to a
person so veracious. You are only inclined to chase your tail a little
this morning, that's all. Had you not better reserve this legend to
form an introduction to "Three Recovered Dramas," or so?
_Author._ You are quite right--habit's a strange thing, my son. I had
forgot whom I was speaking to. Yes, Plays for the closet, not for the
_Captain._ Right, and so you are sure to be acted; for the managers,
while thousands of volunteers are desirous of serving them, are
wonderfully partial to pressed men.
_Author._ I am a living witness, having been, like a second Laberius,
made a dramatist whether I would or not. I believe my muse would be
_Terry_-fied into treading the stage, even if I should write a sermon.
_Captain._ Truly, if you did, I am afraid folks might make a farce of
it; and, therefore, should you change your style, I still advise a
volume of dramas like Lord Byron's.
_Author._ No, his lordship is a cut above me--I won't run my horse
against his, if I can help myself. But there is my friend Allan has
written just such a play as I might write myself, in a very sunny day,
and with one of Bramah's extra-patent pens. I cannot make neat work
without such appurtenances.
_Captain._ Do you mean Allan Ramsay?
_Author._ No, nor Barbara Allan either. I mean Allan Cunningham, who
has just published his tragedy of Sir Marmaduke Maxwell, full of
merry-making and murdering, kissing and cutting of throats, and
passages which lead to nothing, and which are very pretty passages for
all that. Not a glimpse of probability is there about the plot, but so
much animation in particular passages, and such a vein of poetry
through the whole, as I dearly wish I could infuse into my Culinary
Remains, should I ever be tempted to publish them. With a popular
impress, people would read and admire the beauties of Allan--as it is,
they may perhaps only note his defects--or, what is worse, not note
him at all.--But never mind them, honest Allan; you are a credit to
Caledonia for all that.--There are some lyrical effusions of his, too,
which you would do well to read, Captain. "It's hame, and it's hame,"
is equal to Burns.
_Captain._ I will take the hint. The club at Kennaquhair are turned
fastidious since Catalan! visited the Abbey. My "Poortith Cauld" has
been received both poorly and coldly, and "the Banks of Bonnie Doon"
have been positively coughed down--_Tempora mutantur._
_Author._ They cannot stand still, they will change with all of us.
"A man's a man for a' that."
But the hour of parting approaches.
_Captain._ You are determined to proceed then in your own system? Are
you aware that an unworthy motive may be assigned for this rapid
succession of publication? You will be supposed to work merely for the
lucre of gain.
_Author._ Supposing that I did permit the great advantages which must
be derived from success in literature, to join with other motives in
inducing me to come more frequently before the public,--that emolument
is the voluntary tax which the public pays for a certain species of
literary amusement--it is extorted from no one, and paid, I presume,
by those only who can afford it, and who receive gratification in
proportion to the expense. If the capital sum which these volumes have
put into circulation be a very large one, has it contributed to my
indulgences only? or can I not say to hundreds, from honest Duncan the
paper-manufacturer, to the most snivelling of the printer's devils,
"Didst thou not share? Hadst thou not fifteen pence?" I profess I
think our Modern Athens much obliged to me for having established such
an extensive manufacture; and when universal suffrage comes in
fashion, I intend to stand for a seat in the House on the interest of
all the unwashed artificers connected with literature.
_Captain._ This would be called the language of a calico-manufacturer.
_Author._ Cant again, my dear son--there is lime in this sack, too--
nothing but sophistication in this world! I do say it, in spite of
Adam Smith and his followers, that a successful author is a productive
labourer, and that his works constitute as effectual a part of the
public wealth, as that which is created by any other manufacture. If a
new commodity, having an actually intrinsic and commercial value, be
the result of the operation, why are the author's bales of books to be
esteemed a less profitable part of the public stock than the goods of
any other manufacturer? I speak with reference to the diffusion of the
wealth arising to the public, and the degree of industry which even
such a trifling work as the present must stimulate and reward, before
the volumes leave the publisher's shop. Without me it could not exist,
and to this extent I am a benefactor to the country. As for my own
emolument, it is won by my toil, and I account myself answerable to
Heaven only for the mode in which I expend it. The candid may hope it
is not all dedicated to selfish purposes; and, without much
pretensions to merit in him who disburses it, a part may "wander,
heaven-directed, to the poor."
_Captain._ Yet it is generally held base to write from the mere
motives of gain.
_Author._ It would be base to do so exclusively, or even to make it a
principal motive for literary exertion. Nay, I will venture to say,
that no work of imagination, proceeding from the mere consideration of
a certain sum of copy-money, ever did, or ever will, succeed. So the
lawyer who pleads, the soldier who fights, the physician who
prescribes, the clergyman--if such there be--who preaches, without any
zeal for his profession, or without any sense of its dignity, and
merely on account of the fee, pay, or stipend, degrade themselves to
the rank of sordid mechanics. Accordingly, in the case of two of the
learned faculties at least, their services are considered as
unappreciable, and are acknowledged, not by any exact estimate of the
services rendered, but by a _honorarium,_ or voluntary acknowledgment.
But let a client or patient make the experiment of omitting this
little ceremony of the honorarium, which is _cense_ to be a thing
entirely out of consideration between them, and mark how the learned
gentleman will look upon his case. Cant set apart, it is the same
thing with literary emolument. No man of sense, in any rank of life,
is, or ought to be, above accepting a just recompense for his time,
and a reasonable share of the capital which owes its very existence to
his exertions. When Czar Peter wrought in the trenches, he took the
pay of a common soldier; and nobles, statesmen, and divines, the most
distinguished of their time, have not scorned to square accounts with
"O if it were a mean thing,
The gentles would not use it;
And if it were ungodly,
The clergy would refuse it."
_Author._ You say well. But no man of honour, genius, or spirit, would
make the mere love of gain, the chief, far less the only, purpose of
his labours. For myself, I am not displeased to find the game a
winning one; yet while I pleased the public, I should probably
continue it merely for the pleasure of playing; for I have felt as
strongly as most folks that love of composition, which is perhaps the
strongest of all instincts, driving the author to the pen, the painter
to the pallet, often without either the chance of fame or the prospect
of reward. Perhaps I have said too much of this. I might, perhaps,
with as much truth as most people, exculpate myself from the charge of
being either of a greedy or mercenary disposition; but I am not,
therefore, hypocrite enough to disclaim the ordinary motives, on
account of which the whole world around me is toiling unremittingly,
to the sacrifice of ease, comfort, health, and life. I do not affect
the disinterestedness of that ingenious association of gentlemen
mentioned by Goldsmith, who sold their magazine for sixpence a-piece,
merely for their own amusement.
_Captain._ I have but one thing more to hint.--The world say you will
run yourself out.
_Author._ The world say true: and what then? When they dance no
longer, I will no longer pipe; and I shall not want flappers enough to
remind me of the apoplexy.
_Captain._ And what will become of us then, your poor family? We shall
fall into contempt and oblivion.
_Author._ Like many a poor fellow, already overwhelmed with the number
of his family, I cannot help going on to increase it--"'Tis my
vocation, Hal."--Such of you as deserve oblivion--perhaps the whole of
you--may be consigned to it. At any rate, you have been read in your
day, which is more than can be said of some of your contemporaries, of
less fortune and more merit. They cannot say but that you _had_ the
crown. It is always something to have engaged the public attention for
seven years. Had I only written Waverley, I should have long since
been, according to the established phrase, "the ingenious author of a
novel much admired at the time." I believe, on my soul, that the
reputation of Waverley is sustained very much by the praises of those,
who may be inclined to prefer that tale to its successors.
_Captain._ You are willing, then, to barter future reputation for
_Author. Meliora spero._ Horace himself expected not to survive in all
his works--I may hope to live in some of mine;--_non omnis moriar._ It
is some consolation to reflect, that the best authors in all countries
have been the most voluminous; and it has often happened, that those
who have been best received in their own time, have also continued to
be acceptable to posterity. I do not think so ill of the present
generation, as to suppose that its present favour necessarily infers
_Captain._ Were all to act on such principles, the public would be
_Author_ Once more, my dear son, beware of cant. You speak as if the
public were obliged to read books merely because they are printed--
your friends the booksellers would thank you to make the proposition
good. The most serious grievance attending such inundations as you
talk of, is, that they make rags dear. The multiplicity of
publications does the present age no harm, and may greatly advantage
that which is to succeed us.
_Captain._ I do not see how that is to happen.
_Author._ The complaints in the time of Elizabeth and James, of the
alarming fertility of the press, were as loud as they are at present--
yet look at the shore over which the inundation of that age flowed,
and it resembles now the Rich Strand of the Faery Queen--
----"Besrrew'd all with rich array,
Of pearl and precious stones of great assay;
And all the gravel mix'd with golden ore."
Believe me, that even in the most neglected works of the present age,
the next may discover treasures.
_Captain._ Some books will defy all alchemy.
_Author._ They will be but few in number; since, as for the writers,
who are possessed of no merit at all, unless indeed they publish their
works at their own expense, like Sir Richard Blackmore, their power of
annoying the public will be soon limited by the difficulty of finding
_Captain._ You are incorrigible. Are there no bounds to your audacity?
_Author._ There are the sacred and eternal boundaries of honour and
virtue. My course is like the enchanted chamber of Britomart--
"Where as she look'd about, she did behold
How over that same door was likewise writ,
_Be Bold--Be Bold,_ and everywhere _Be Bold._
Whereat she mused, and could not construe it;
At last she spied at that room's upper end
Another iron door, on which was writ--
BE NOT TOO BOLD."
_Captain._ Well, you must take the risk of proceeding on your own
_Author._ Do you act on yours, and take care you do not stay idling
here till the dinner hour is over.--I will add this work to your
patrimony, _valeat quantum._
Here our dialogue terminated; for a little sooty-faced Apollyon from
the Canongate came to demand the proof-sheet on the part of Mr.
M'Corkindale; and I heard Mr. C. rebuking Mr. F. in another
compartment of the same labyrinth I have described, for suffering any
one to penetrate so far into the _penetralia_ of their temple.
I leave it to you to form your own opinion concerning the import of
this dialogue, and I cannot but believe I shall meet the wishes of our
common parent in prefixing this letter to the work which it concerns.
I am, reverend and dear Sir,
Very sincerely and affectionately
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