"On The Qualifications Necessary For Success"
It is curious to consider the diversity of men's talents, and the causes of their failure or success, which are not less numerous and contradictory than their pursuits in life. Fortune does not always smile on merit: - 'the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong': and even where the candidate for wealth or honours succeeds, it is as often, perhaps, from the qualifications which he wants as from those which he possesses; or the eminence which he is lucky enough to attain, is owing to some faculty or acquirement, which neither he nor any body else suspected. There is a balance of power in the human mind, by which defects frequently assist in furthering our views, as superfluous excellences are converted into the nature of impediments; and again, there is a continual substitution of one talent for another, through which we mistake the appearance for the reality, and judge (by implication) of the means from the end. So a Minister of State wields the House of Commons by his manner alone; while his friends and his foes are equally at a loss to account for his influence, looking for it in vain in the matter or style of his speeches. So the air with which a celebrated barrister waved a white cambrick handkerchief passed for eloquence. So the buffoon is taken for a wit. To be thought wise, it is for the most part only necessary to seem so; and the noisy demagogue is easily translated, by the popular voice, into the orator and patriot. Qualities take their colour from those that are next them, as the cameleon borrows its hue from the nearest object; and unable otherwise to grasp the phantom of our choice or our ambition, we do well to lay violent hands on something else within our reach, which bears a general resemblance to it; and the impression of which, in proportion as the thing itself is cheap and worthless, is likely to be gross, obvious, striking, and effectual. The way to secure success, is to be more anxious about obtaining than about deserving it; the surest hindrance to it is to have too high a standard of refinement in our own minds, or too high an opinion of the discernment of the public. He who is determined not to be satisfied with any thing short of perfection, will never do any thing at all, either to please himself or others. The question is not what we ought to do, but what we can do for the best. An excess of modesty is in fact an excess of pride, and more hurtful to the individual, and less advantageous to society, than the grossest and most unblushing vanity -
Aspiring to be Gods, if angels fell,
Aspiring to be angels, men rebel.
If a celebrated artist in our own day had staid to do justice to his principal figure in a generally admired painting, before he had exhibited it, it would never have seen the light. He has passed on to other things more within his power to accomplish, and more within the competence of the spectators to understand. They see what he has done, which is a great deal - they could not have judged of, or given him credit for the ineffable idea in his own mind, which he might vainly have devoted his whole life in endeavouring to embody. The picture, as it is, is good enough for the age and for the public. If it had been ten times better, its merits would have been thrown away: if it had been ten times better in the more refined and lofty conception of character and sentiment, and had failed in the more palpable appeal to the senses and prejudices of the vulgar, in the usual 'appliances and means to boot,' it would never have done. The work might have been praised by a few, a very few, and the artist himself have pined in penury and neglect. - Mr. Wordsworth has given us the essence of poetry in his works, without the machinery, the apparatus of poetical diction, the theatrical pomp, the conventional ornaments; and we see what he has made of it. The way to fame, through merit alone, is the narrowest, the steepest, the longest, the hardest of all others - (that it is the most certain and lasting, is even a doubt) - the most sterling reputation is, after all, but a species of imposture. As for ordinary cases of success and failure, they depend on the slightest shades of character or turn of accident - 'some trick not worth an egg' -
There's but the twinkling of a star
Betwixt a man of peace and war;
A thief and justice, fool and knave,
A huffing officer and a slave;
A crafty lawyer and pick-pocket,
A great philosopher and a blockhead;
A formal preacher and a player,
A learn'd physician and manslayer.
Men are in numberless instances qualified for certain things, for no other reason than because they are qualified for nothing else. Negative merit is the passport to negative success. In common life, the narrowness of our ideas and appetites is more favourable to the accomplishment of our designs, by confining our attention and ambition to one single object, than a greater enlargement of comprehension or susceptibility of taste, which (as far as the trammels of custom and routine of business are concerned) only operate as diversions to our ensuring the mainchance; and, even in the pursuit of arts and science, a dull plodding fellow will often do better than one of a more mercurial and fiery cast - the mere unconsciousness of his own deficiencies, or of any thing beyond what he himself can do, reconciles him to his mechanical progress, and enables him to perform all that lies in his power with labour and patience. By being content with mediocrity, he advances beyond it; whereas the man of greater taste or genius may be supposed to fling down his pen or pencil in despair, haunted with the idea of unattainable excellence, and ends in being nothing, because he cannot be every thing at once. Those even who have done the greatest things, were not always perhaps the greatest men. To do any given work, a man should not be greater in himself than the work he has to do; the faculties which he has beyond this, will be faculties to let, either not used, or used idly and unprofitably, to hinder, not to help. To do any one thing best, there should be an exclusiveness, a concentration, a bigotry, a blindness of attachment to that one object; so that the widest range of knowledge and most diffusive subtlety of intellect will not uniformly produce the most beneficial results; - and the performance is very frequently in the inverse ratio, not only of the pretensions, as we might superficially conclude, but of the real capacity. A part is greater than the whole: and this old saying seems to hold true in moral and intellectual questions also - in nearly all that relates to the mind of man, which cannot embrace the whole, but only a part.
I do not think (to give an instance or two of what I mean) that Milton's mind was (so to speak) greater than the Paradise Lost; it was just big enough to fill that mighty mould, the shrine contained the Godhead. Shakespear's genius was, I should say, greater than any thing he has done, because it still soared free and unconfined beyond whatever he undertook - ran over, and could not be 'constrained by mastery' of his subject. Goldsmith, in his Retaliation, celebrates Burke as one who was kept back in his dazzling, wayward career, by the supererogation of his talents -
Though equal to all things, for all things unfit,
Too nice for a statesman, too proud for a wit.
Dr. Johnson, in Boswell's Life, tells us that the only person whose conversation he ever sought for improvement was George Psalmanazar: yet who knows any thing of this extraordinary man now, but that he wrote about twenty volumes of the Universal History - invented a Formosan alphabet and vocabulary - being a really learned man, contrived to pass for an impostor, and died no one knows how or where! The well known author [William Godwin] of the Enquiry concerning Political Justice, in conversation has not a word to throw at a dog; all the stores of his understanding or genius he reserves for his books, and he has need of them, otherwise there would be hiatus in manuscriptis. He says little, and that little were better left alone, being both dull and nonsensical; his talk is as flat as a pancake, there is no leaven in it, he has not dough enough to make a loaf and a cake; he has no idea of any thing till he is wound up, like a clock, not to speak, but to write, and then he seems like a person risen from sleep or from the dead. The author of the Diversions of Purley, on the other hand, besides being the inventor of the theory of grammar, was a politician, a wit, a master of conversation, and overflowing with an interminable babble - that fellow had cut and come again in him, and
'Tongue with a garnish of brains;'
but it only served as an excuse to cheat posterity of the definition of a verb, by one of those conversational ruses de guerre by which he put off his guests at Wimbledon with some teazing equivoque which he would explain the next time they met - and made him die at last with a nostrum in his mouth! The late Professor Porson was said to be a match for the Member for Old Sarum [William Pitt] in argument and raillery: - he was a profound scholar, and had wit at will - yet what did it come to? His jests have evaporated with the marks of the wine on the tavern table; the page of Thucydides or Aeschylus, which was stamped on his brain, and which he could read there with equal facility backwards or forwards, is contained, after his death, as it was while he lived, just as well in the volume on the library shelf. The man [Samuel Taylor Coleridge] of perhaps the greatest ability now living is the one who has not only done the least, but who is actually incapable of ever doing any thing worthy of him - unless he had a hundred hands to write with, and a hundred mouths to utter all that it hath entered into his heart to conceive, and centuries before him to embody the endless volume of his waking dreams. Cloud rolls over cloud; one train of thought suggests and is driven away by another; theory after theory is spun out of the bowels of his brain, not like the spider's web, compact and round, a citadel and a snare, built for mischief and for use; but, like the gossamer, stretched out and entangled without end, clinging to every casual object, flitting in the idle air, and glittering only in the ray of fancy. No subject can come amiss to him, and he is alike attracted and alike indifferent to all - he is not tied down to any one in particular - but floats from one to another, his mind every where finding its level, and feeling no limit but that of thought - now soaring with its head above the stars, now treading with fairy feet among flowers, now winnowing the air with winged words - passing from Duns Scotus to Jacob Behmen, from the Kantean philosophy to a conundrum, and from the Apocalypse to an acrostic - taking in the whole range of poetry, paining, wit, history, politics, metaphysics, criticism, and private scandal - every question giving birth to some new thought, and every thought 'discoursed in eloquent music,' that lives only in the ear of fools, or in the report of absent friends. Set him to write a book, and he belies all that has been ever said about him -
Ten thousand great ideas filled his mind,
But with the clouds they fled, and left no trace behind.
Now there is _________, who never had an idea in his life, and who therefore has never been prevented by the fastidious refinements of self-knowledge, or the dangerous seductions of the Muse, from succeeding in a number of things which he has attempted, to the utmost extent of his dulness, and contrary to the advice and opinion of all his friends. He has written a book without being able to spell, by dint of asking questions - has painted draperies with great exactness, which have passed for finished portraits - daubs in an unaccountable figure or two, with a back-ground, and on due deliberation calls it history - he is dubbed an Associate after being twenty times black-balled, wins his way to the highest honours of the Academy, through all the gradations of discomfiture and disgrace, and may end in being made a foreign Count! And yet (such is the principle of distributive justice in matters of taste) he is just where he was. Non ex quovis lingo fit Mercurius. Having once got an idea of _________, it is impossible that any thing he can do should ever alter it - though he were to paint like Raphael and Michael Angelo, no one in the secret would give him credit for it, and 'though he had all knowledge, and could speak with the tongues of angels,' yet without genius he would be nothing. The original sin of being what he is, renders his good works and most meritorious efforts null and void. 'You cannot gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles.' Nature still prevails over art. You look at _________, as you do at a curious machine, which performs certain puzzling operations, and as your surprise ceases, gradually unfolds other powers which you would little expect - but do what it will, it is but a machine still; the thing is without a soul!
Respice finem, is the great rule in all practical pursuits: to attain our journey's end, we should look little to the right or to the left; the knowledge of excellence as often deters and distracts, as it stimulates the mind to exertion; and hence we may see some reason, why the general diffusion of taste and liberal arts is not always accompanied with an increase of individual genius.
As there is a degree of dulness and phlegm, which, in the long run, sometimes succeeds better than the more noble and aspiring impulses of our nature (as the beagle by its sure tracing overtakes the bounding stag), so there is a degree of animal spirits and showy accomplishment, which enables its possessors 'to get the start of the majestic world,' and bear the palm alone. How often do we see vivacity and impertinence mistaken for wit; fluency for argument; sound for sense; a loud or musical voice for eloquence! Impudence again is an equivalent for courage; and the assumption of merit and the possession of it are too often considered as one and the same thing. On the other hand, simplicity of manner reduces the person who cannot so far forego his native disposition as by any effort to shake it off, to perfect insignificance in the eyes of the vulgar, who, if you do not seem to doubt your own pretensions, will never question them; and on the same principle, if you do not try to palm yourself on them for what you are not, will never be persuaded you can be any thing. Admiration, like mocking, is catching: and the good opinion which gets abroad of us begins at home. If a man is not as much astonished at his own acquirements, as proud of and as delighted with the bauble, as others would be if put into sudden possession of it, they hold that true desert and he must be strangers to each other: if he entertains an idea beyond his own immediate profession or pursuit, they think very wisely he can know nothing at all: if he does not play off the quack or the coxcomb upon them at every step, they are confident he is a dunce and a fellow of no pretensions. It has been sometimes made a matter of surprise that Mr. Pitt did not talk politics out of the House; or that Mr. Fox conversed like any one else on common subjects; or that Walter Scott is fonder of an old Scotch ditty or antiquarian record, than of listening to the praises of the Author of Waverley. On the contrary, I cannot conceive how any one who feels conscious of certain powers, should always be labouring to convince others of the fact; or how a person, to whom their exercise is as familiar as the breath he draws, should think it worth his while to convince them of what to him must seem so very simple, and at the same time, so very evident. I should not wonder, however, if the author of the Scotch Novels laid an undue stress on the praises of the Monastery. We nurse the ricketty child, and prop up our want of self-confidence by the opinion of friends. A man (unless he is a fool) is never vain, but when he stands in need of the tribute of adulation to strengthen the hollowness of his pretensions; nor conceited, but when he can find no one to flatter him, and is obliged secretly to pamper his good opinion of himself, to make up for the want of sympathy in others. A damned author has the highest sense of his own merits, and an inexpressible contempt for the judgment of his contemporaries; in the same manner that an actor who is hissed or hooted from the stage, creeps into exquisite favour with himself, in proportion to the blindness and injustice of the public. A prose-writer, who has been severely handled in the Reviews, will try to persuade himself that there is nobody else who can write a word of English: and we have seen a poet of our time, whose works have been much, but not (as he though) sufficiently admired, undertake formally to prove, that no poet, who deserved the name of one, was ever popular in his life-time, or scarcely after his death!
There is nothing that floats a man sooner into the tide of reputation, or oftener passes current for genius, than what might be called constitutional talent. A man without his, whatever may be his worth or real powers, will no more get on in the world than a leaden Mercury will fly into the air; as any pretender with it, and with no one quality beside to recommend him, will be sure either to blunder upon success, or will set failure at defiance. By constitutional talent I mean, in general, the warmth and vigour given to a man's ideas and pursuits by his bodily stamina, by mere physical organization. A weak mind in a sound body is better, or at least more profitable, than a sound mind in a weak and crazy conformation. How many instances might I quote! Let a man have a quick circulation, a good digestion, the bulk, and thews, and sinews of a man, and the alacrity, the unthinking confidence inspired by these; and without an atom, a shadow of the mens divinior, he shall strut and swagger and vapour and jostle his way through life, and have the upper-hand of those who are his betters in every thing but health and strength. His jests shall be echoed with loud laughter, because his own lungs begin to crow like chanticleer, before he has uttered them; while a little hectic nervous humourist shall stammer out an admirable conceit that is damned in the doubtful delivery - vox faucibus haesit. - The first shall tell a story as long as his arm, without interruption, while the latter stops short in his attempts from mere weakness of chest: the one shall be empty and noisy and successful in argument, putting forth the most common-place things 'with a confident brow and a throng of words, that come with more than impudent sauciness from him,' while the latter shrinks from an observation 'too deep for his hearers,' into the delicacy and unnoticed retirement of his own mind. The one shall never feel the want of intellectual resources, because he can back his opinions with his person; the other shall lose the advantages of mental superiority, seek to anticipate contempt by giving offence, court mortification in despair of popularity, and even in the midst of public and private admiration, extorted slowly by incontrovertible proofs of genius, shall never get rid of the awkward, uneasy sense of personal weakness and insignificance, contracted by early and long-continued habit. What imports the inward to the outward man, when it is the last that is the general and inevitable butt of ridicule or object of admiration? - It has been said that a good face is a letter of recommendation. But the finest face will not carry a man far, unless it is set upon an active body, and a stout pair of shoulders. The countenance is the index of a man's talents and attainments: his figure is the criterion of his progress through life. We may have seen faces that spoke 'a soul as fair -
'Bright as the children of yon azure sheen' -
yet that met with but an indifferent reception in the world - and that being supported by a couple of spindle-shanks and a weak stomach, in fulfilling what was expected of them,
'Fell flat, and shamed their worshippers.'
Hence the successes of such persons did not correspond with their deserts. There was a natural contradiction between the physiognomy of their minds and bodies! The phrase, 'a good-looking man,' means different things in town and country; and artists have a separate standard of beauty from other people. A country-squire is thought good-looking, who is in good condition like his horse: a country-farmer, to take the neighbours' eyes, must seem stall-fed, like the prize-ox; they ask, 'how he cuts up in the caul, how he tallows in the kidneys.' The letter-of-recommendation face, in general, is not one that expresses the finer movements of thought or of the soul, but that makes part of a vigorous and healthy form. It is one in which Cupid and Mars take up their quarters, rather than Saturn or Mercury. It may be objected here that some of the greatest favourites of fortune have been little men. 'A little man, but of high fancy,' is Sterne's description of Mr. Hammond Shandy. But then they have been possessed of strong fibres and an iron constitution. The late Mr. West said, that Buonaparte was the best-made man he ever saw in his life. In other cases, the gauntlet of contempt which a puny body and a fiery spirit are forced to run, may determine the possessors to aim at great actions; indignation may make men heroes as well as poets, and thus revenge them on the niggardliness of nature and the prejudices of the world. I remember Mr. Wordsworth's saying, that he thought ingenious poets had been of small and delicate frames, like Pope; but that the greatest (such as Shakespear and Milton) had been healthy, and cast in a larger and handsomer mould. So were Titian, Raphael, and Michael Angelo. This is one of the few observations of Mr. Wordsworth's I recollect worth quoting, and I accordingly set it down as his, because I understand he is tenacious on that point.
In love, in war, in conversation, in business, confidence and resolution are the principal things. Hence the poet's reasoning:
'For women, born to be controll'd,
Affect the loud, the vain, the bold.'
Nor is this peculiar to them, but runs all through life. It is the opinion we appear to entertain of ourselves, from which (thinking we must be the best judges of our own merits) others accept their idea of us on trust. It is taken for granted that every one pretends to the utmost he can do, and he who pretends to little, is supposed capable of nothing. The humility of our approaches to power or beauty ensures a repulse, and the repulse makes us unwilling to renew the application; for there is pride as well as humility in this habitual backwardness and reserve. If you do not bully the world, they will be sure to insult over you, because they think they can do it with impunity. They insist upon the arrogant assumption of superiority somewhere, and if you do not prevent them, they will practise it on you. Some one must top the part of Captain in the play. Servility however chimes in, and plays Scrub in the farce. Men patronise the fawning and obsequious, as they submit to the vain and boastful. It is the air of modesty and independence, which will neither be put upon itself, nor put upon others, that they cannot endure - that excites all the indignation they should feel for pompous affectation, and all the contempt they do not show to meanness and duplicity. Our indolence, and perhaps our envy take part with our cowardice and vanity in all this. The obtrusive claims of empty ostentation, played off like the ring on the finger, fluttering and sparkling in our sight, relieve us from the irksome task of seeking out obscure merit: the scroll of virtues written on the bold front, or triumphing in the laughing eye, save us the trouble of sifting the evidence and deciding for ourselves: besides, our self-love receives a less sensible shock from encountering the mere semblance than the solid substance of worth; folly chuckles to find the blockhead put over the wise man's head, and cunning winks to see the knave, by his own good leave, transformed into a saint.
'Doubtless, the pleasure is as great
In being cheated, as to cheat.'
In all cases, there seems a sort of compromise, a principle of collusion between imposture and credulity. If you ask what sort of adventurers have swindled tradesmen of their goods, you will find they are all likely men, with plausible manners or a handsome equipage, hired on purpose: - if you ask what sort of gallants have robbed women of their hearts, you will find they are those who have jilted hundreds before, from which the willing fair conceives the project of fixing the truant to herself - so the bird flutters its idle wings in the jaws of destruction, and the foolish moth rushes into the flame that consumes it! There is no trusting to appearances, we are told; but this maxim is of no avail, for men are the eager dupes of them. Life, it has been said, is 'the art of being well deceived;' and accordingly, hypocrisy seems to be the great business of mankind. The game of fortune is, for the most part, set up with counters; so that he who will not cut in because he has no gold in his pocket, must sit out above half his time, and lose his chance of sweeping the tables. Delicacy is, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, considered as rusticity; and sincerity of purpose is the greatest affront that can be offered to society. To insist on simple truth, is to disqualify yourself for place or patronage - the less you deserve, the more merit in their encouraging you; and he who, in the struggle for distinction, trusts to realities and not to appearances, will in the end find himself the object of universal hatred and scorn. A man who thinks to gain and keep the public ear by the force of style, will find it very up-hill work; if you wish to pass for a great author, you ought not to look as if you were ignorant that you had ever written a sentence or discovered a single truth. If you keep your own secret, be assured the world will keep it for you. A writer, whom I know very well, cannot gain an admission to Drury-lane Theatre, because he does not lounge into the lobbies, or sup at the Shakespear - nay, the same person having written upwards of sixty columns of original matter on politics, criticism, belles-lettres, and virtù in a respectable Morning Paper, in a single half-year, was, at the end of that period, on applying for a renewal of his engagement, told by the Editor 'he might give in a specimen of what he could do!' One would think sixty columns of the Morning Chronicle were a sufficient specimen of what a man could do. But while this person was thinking of his next answer to Vetus, or his account of Mr. Kean's performance of Hamlet, he had neglected 'to point the toe,' to hold up his head higher than usual (having acquired a habit of poring over books when young), and to get a new velvet collar to an old-fashioned great coat. These are 'the graceful ornaments to the columns of a newspaper - the Corinthian capitals of a polished style!' This unprofitable servant of the press found no difference in himself before or after he became known to the readers of the Morning Chronicle, and it accordingly made no difference in his appearance or pretensions. 'Don't you remember,' says Gray, in one of his letters, 'Lord C and Lord M who are now great statesmen,, little dirty boys playing at cricket? For my own part, I don't feel myself a bit taller, or older, or wiser, than I did then.' It is no wonder that a poet, who thought in this manner of himself, was hunted from college to college, - has left us so few precious specimens of his fine powers, and shrunk from his reputation into a silent grave!
'I never knew a man of genius a coxcomb in dress,' said a man of genius and a sloven in dress. I do know a man of genius who is a coxcomb in his dress, and in every thing else. But let that pass.
'C'est un mauvais métier que celui de médire.'
I also know an artist who has at least the ambition and the boldness of genius, who has been reproached with being a coxcomb, and with affecting singularity in his dress and demeanour. If he is a coxcomb that way, he is not so in himself, but a rattling hair-brained fellow, with a great deal of unconstrained gaiety, and impetuous (not to say turbulent) life of mind! Happy it is when a man's exuberance of self-love flies off to the circumference of a broad-brimmed hat, descends to the toes of his shoes, or carries itself off with the peculiarity of his gait, or even vents itself in a little professional quackery; - and when he seems to think sometimes of you, sometimes of himself, and sometimes of others, and you do not feel it necessary to pay to him all the finical devotion, or to submit to be treated with the scornful neglect of a proud beauty, or some Prince Prettyman. It is well to be something besides the coxcomb, for our own sake as well as that of others; but to be born wholly without this faculty or gift of Providence, a man had better have had a stone tied about his neck, and been cast into the sea.
In general, the consciousness of internal power lead rather to a disregard of, than a studied attention to external appearance. The wear and tear of the mind does not improve the sleekness of the skin, or the elasticity of the muscles. The burthen of thought weighs down the body like a porter's burthen. A man cannot stand so upright or move so briskly under it as if he had nothing to carry in his head or on his shoulders. The rose on the cheek and the canker at the heart do not flourish at the same time; and he who has much to think of, must take many things to heart; for thought and feeling are one. He who can truly say, Nihil humani a me alienum puto, has a world of cares on his hands, which nobody knows any thing of but himself. This is not one of the least miseries of a studious life. The common herd do not by any means give him full credit for his gratuitous sympathy with their concerns; but are struck with his lack-lustre eye and wasted appearance. They cannot translate the expression of his countenance out of the vulgate; they mistake the knitting of his brows for the frown of displeasure, the paleness of study for the languor of sickness, the furrows of thought for the regular approaches of old age. They read his looks, not his books; have no clue to penetrate the last recesses of the mind, and attribute the height of abstraction to more than an ordinary share of stupidity. 'Mr. never seems to take the slightest interest in any thing,' is a remark I have often heard made in a whisper. People do not like your philosopher at all, for he does not look, say, or think as they do; and they respect him still less. The majority go by personal appearances, not by proofs of intellectual power; and they are quite right in his, for they are better judges of the one than of the other. There is a large party who undervalue Mr. Kean's acting, (and very properly, as far as they are concerned,) for they can see that he is a little ill-made man, but they are incapable of entering into the depth and height of the passion in his Othello. A nobleman of high rank, sense, and merit, who had accepted an order of knighthood, on being challenged for so doing by a friend, as a thing rather degrading to him than otherwise, made answer - 'What you say, may be very true; but I am a little man, and am sometimes jostled, and treated with very little ceremony in walking along the streets; now the advantage of this new honour will be that when people see the star at my breast, they will every one made way for me with the greatest respect.' Pope bent himself double and ruined his constitution by over-study when young. He was hardly indemnified by all his posthumous fame, 'the flattery that soothes the dull cold ear of death,' nor by the admiration of his friends, nor the friendship of the great, for the distortion of his person, the want of robust health, and the insignificant figure he made in the eyes of strangers, and of Lady Mary Wortley Montague. Not only was his diminutive and mis-shapen form against him in such trivial toys, but it was made a set-off and a bar to his poetical pretensions by his brother-poets, who ingeniously converted the initial and final letters of his name into the invidious appellation A.P.E. He probably had the passage made under-ground from his garden to his grotto, that he might not be rudely gazed at in crossing the road by some untutored clown; and perhaps started to see the worm he trod upon writhed into his own form, like Elshie the Black Dwarf. Let those who think the mind everything and the body nothing, 'ere we have shuffled off this mortal coil,' read that fine moral fiction, or the real story of David Ritchie - believe and tremble!2
It may be urged that there is a remedy for all this in the appeal from the ignorant many to the enlightened few. But the few who are judges of what is called real and solid merit, are not forward to communicate their occult discoveries to others; they are withheld partly by envy, and partly by pusillanimity. The strongest minds are by rights the most independent and ingenious: but then they are competitors in the lists, and jealous of the prize. The prudent (and the wise are prudent!) only add their hearty applause to the acclamations of the multitude, which they can neither silence nor dispute. So Mr. Gifford dedicated those verses to Mr. Hoppner, when securely seated on the heights of fame and fortune, which before he thought might have savoured too much of flattery or friendship. Those even who have the sagacity to discover it, seldom volunteer to introduce obscure merit into publicity, so as to endanger their own pretensions: they praise the world's idols, and bow down at the altars which they cannot overturn by violence or undermine by stealth! Suppose literary men to be the judges and vouchers for literary merit: - but it may sometimes happen that a literary man (however high in genius or in fame) has no passion but the love of distinction, and hates every person or thing that interferes with his inadmissible and exorbitant claims. Dead to every other interest, he is alive to that, and starts up, like a serpent when trod upon, out of the slumber of wounded pride. The cold slime of indifference is turned into rank poison at the sight of your approach to an equality or competition with himself. If he is an old acquaintance, he would keep you always where you were, under his feet to be trampled on: if a new one, he wonders he never heard of you before. As you become known, he expresses a greater contempt for you, and grows more captious and uneasy. The more you strive to merit his good word, the farther you are from it. Such characters will not only sneer at your well-meant endeavours, and keep silent as to your good qualities, but are out of countenance, 'quite chop-fallen,' if they find you have a cup of water, or a crust of bread. It is only when you are in a jail, starved or dead, that their exclusive pretensions are safe, or their Argus-eyed suspicions laid asleep. This is a true copy, nor is it taken from one sitting, or a single subject. - An author now-a-days, to succeed, must be something more than an author, - a nobleman, or rich plebeian: the simple literary character is not enough. 'Such a poor forked animal,' as a mere poet or philosopher turned loose upon public opinion, has no chance against the flocks of bats and owls that instantly assail him. It is name, it is wealth, it is title and influence that mollifies the tender-hearted Cerberus of criticism - first, by placing the honorary candidate for fame out of the reach of Grub-street malice; secondly, by holding out the prospect of a dinner or a vacant office to successful sycophancy. This is the reason why a certain Magazine praises Percy Bysshe Shelley, and villifies 'Johnny Keats:'3 they know very well that they cannot ruin the one in fortune as well as in fame, but they may ruin the other in both, deprive him of a livelihood together with his good name, send him to Coventry, and into the Rules of a prison; and this is a double incitement to the exercise of their laudable and legitimate vocation. We do not hear that they plead the good-natured motive of the Editor of the Quarterly Review, that 'they did it for his good,' because some one, in consequence of that critic's abuse, had sent the author a present of five-and-twenty pounds! One of these writers went so far, in a sort of general profession of literary servility, as to declare broadly that there had been no great English poet, and that no one had a right to pretend to the character of a man of genius in this country, who was not of patrician birth - or connections by marriage! This hook was well baited.
These are the doctrines that enrich the shops,
That pass with reputation through the land,
And bring their authors an immortal name.
It is the sympathy of the public with the spite, jealousy, and irritable humours of the writers, that nourishes this disease in the public mind; this, this 'embalms and spices to the April day again,' what otherwise 'the spital and the lazar-house would heave the gorge at!'
2 Hazlitt placed this footnote: "It is more desirable to be the handsomest than the wisest man in Majesty's dominions, for there are more people who have eyes than understandings. Sir John Suckling tell us that
He prized black eyes and a lucky hit
At bowls, above all the trophies of wit.
In like manner, I [Hazlitt] would be permitted to say, that I am somewhat sick of this trade of authorship, where the critics look askance at one's best-meant efforts, but am still fond of those athletic exercises, where they do not keep two scores to mark the game, with Whig and Tory notches. The accomplishments of the body are obvious and clear to all: those of the mind are recondite and doubtful, and therefore grudgingly acknowledged, or held up as the sport of prejudice, spite, and folly."
3 Hazlitt placed this footnote: "Written in June 1820."