« ElőzőTovább »
William Wycherley Efq;
PROSE and VERSE
ORN as I am with Age, and harrass'd by Fortune, I find many
of my Vices still faithfully troublesome, and amongst the rest that impertinent Itch of Scribbling, which has betray'd so many Authors to Ridicule, and almost undone our Notions of Reason and common Sense: Tho' at the same Time, I must own, the Lust of Writing, like a Man's other Lewdness, should forsake us in our State of Impotence: But we grow most vicious when we have least Power left to be so; as Beggars become most importunate, the more strenuoufly we deny them.
That Scribendi Cacoethes, which, we find, obtained so generally in the Times of Paganism, (and, I think, our Christianity has reformed few of our Imperfections;) was intolerable enough even when Necessity held the Tables, and a Fear of Starving propagated Impertinence; but how much more insupportable is it in the present Age, for Men with full Pockets, plump Cheeks, and round unthinking Faces to let their Vanity and Nonsense make them Law-givers; and in the Conceit of Self-sufficiency, and the Depth of their wise Ignorance, to prescribe to the World the Art of Wifdom, as if the Mysteries of Knowledge were comprised in the narrow Compass of their own Reading, and Understanding? And yet the Contagion of Writing is become so general, that as it does not barely take its Growth from Poverty and mean Circumstances, so neither is Inability, or a Dearth of Sense, any Bar to its Progress. There is a Sort of Vanity which runs thro' the Humane Species, and inclines us strongly to an Ambition of being remarkable, tho' to our Scandal. We aim at Immortality fo scurvily in our Works, as if we labour'd to be inroll'd in the black List of Fame, like the Fellow that set fire to the Temple of Ephesus, to get a Name from his Rascality:
The Two Vanities, of much Profit, and much Reputation, have been Mothers to most of the Great or Silly things that have been performed in the World. Honesty, perhaps, or a mistaken Hope of reforming the Age, may have set some Hands to Work: but Lucre and Praise have been generally the first Principles. I have always found the most Zealous Patriots busie in accumulating a Fortune to enrich their Posterity; and Authors, that have pretended to be most useful in their Productions, laying up a Stock of Fame to secure themselves from being forgotten after they are buried. Whatever Humility we superficially profess in our Conduct
, it is but an artificial Cloak to our Pride; and we are ever fond of being distinguish’d, and pointed out, even when we most affect Obscurity. -Pulchrum eft digito monstrari, & dicier, Hic est, says Juvenal.
'Tis brave to walk the Streets, and have the Croud
The Town with Pride confefs his happy Vein. But besides this Ambition of being personally remark'd, there is another Species of Vanity attached to the whole Herd of Scribblers, and that is, an Itch of being thought the Originals. They set themselves so much above the Imputation of writing by President, or owing a Hint to their Predecessors in the Science, that they insinuate all they write to be their Own; that they soar only on the Wings of their own Natural Genius, and owe no Support to Antiquity or Imitation; tho', perhaps, they have ransack'd all the distant Stores of Learning, and drawn half the Beauties of their Books from the Wit of former Ages: And then, to throw Dust in the Eyes of their Readers, and prevent them from making any Discoveries into their Thefts, they rail at the very Authors they have robb’d, and endeavour to bring those into Contempt from whom they have borrowed all their Merit. For, to our Infamy be it spoken, it is grown into a Custom for the Moderns to fall foul upon the Ancients after they have suck'd them dry, as Children beat their Nurse by the Strength they have drawn from her, when she has no more to give them.
The Injustice of these Accusations generally arises from a Fondness to Ourselves, which prompts us to begin our own Recommendations, that the World, giving us Credit for a Character on our Words, may entertain an Opinion of us as good as that we owe to our own Partiality. But we are deceiv'd by this Maxim, if we will suppose that Mankind are thus to be taken in. If we speak well, or ill, of our selves, we shew but less of our Wit the more we would shew it: For, if we speak well of Ourselves, we but provoke the World, which loves Contradiction, into a Scrutiny of our Faults; if we speak ill of Ourselves, 'tis understood that we do it, but that others might think well of us. Now to publish our Imperfections is Impudence, and seems as we would glory in them; and to make known our Virtues is likewise Impudence; so turns our Desire of Reputation to our Miscredit, and defames Ourselves and Sense most by our Affectation of Praise. If an Author have Oftentation enough to acquaint his Readers how much they are in Debt to him, what Discoveries he has made, or what Errors he has refuted, he is sure to have his boasted Merit put in the Scale, and to be weigh'd with Prejudice. If, on the other hand, with a concealed Pride, which he would gloss over with Modesty, he tells them how unequal he is to the Task he has undertaken, and that he is satisfied he must expect their severest Censures, they are immediately so good-natur'd as to take him at his Word, and damn him ex ore suô for Rashness and Impertinence. So that the Bully-Scribbler, like the Bully in Company, is beat out of his Bravadoes only for assuming them; and the Coward-Scribbler, like the Coward in Company, is beat for raising the Dispute, and then not daring to defend it.
What, perhaps, most provokes the Severity of the Criticks, is that we have a Sečt of Writers, who are continually dabbling, and yet would be thought to go to Work by Inspiration; as the Quakers lay the Nonsence they preach on the Spirit, and make their Fustian pass for Illumination.
In short, there is such a Train of Inconveniencies attending on the Trade, and such a Number of Rocks not to be avoided by its Profeffors, that, against my own Practice, I would advise the young Adventurers to clap in their Sails, and never hazard the Voyage. It is much safer, if we can help it, not to write at all; and next to That, to write as little as we needs must; for there is no greater Sign, in my Opinion, of a little Wit than a great Book. Besides, one great Mischief pursues all Compositions, and that is, that no Man can please the few Wife who would please the Many. Now he who makes it his Aim to please the few Wise, must consequently be damn'd by the Vulgar, and undoe his Bookseller: And he who writes down to the Level of Blockheads, may, possibly, have his worthy Labours vended, to the Conviction of his own good Sense, and the Contempt of all good Judges. I believe I may add, that a Number are expos'd by the Calamity of mis
( 107 )
taking their own Genius's: We either run into a Study, for which Nature has not qualified us; or are for fighting out all the Weapons in Wit, without knowing at which our Force and Excellence chiefly lie. This Ignorance of our Talents has spoil'd many a good Satyrift by throwing him into the Epick; and made as many execrable dull Poets, who might have made a Figure in attempting History. Another Vice, which likewise is of the Growth of Ignorance, is a Vanity of expressing our selves in obfolete Terms, and out of the Road of polite Conversation; of drawing down Words, perhaps good in themselves, that have not been heard since our Forefathers wore Ruffs and Shoeftrings : Whereas fine Words out of Use are as ridiculous as fine Cloaths out of Fashion. What is still more barbarous, is, that every Scribbler thinks he has the Priviledge of minting Words and Phrafes, of tossing about Metaphors at Discretion, and making his own Jargon the Standard of a Language: These are Fops in Literature, that make as awkard a Figure as Apes in Humane Cloathing. It is only the Business of great Wits to legitimate Words and Modes of Speech, as it is of great Gallants to invent and introduce the Modes and Fashions of Garb.
As great a Discouragement to Writing as any, is, what Terence complain'd of near two Thousand Years ago, That all Subjects have been worn Threadbare to our hands: Nihil jam eft dictum, quod non dictum eft prius; so that every Writer is accused of writing nothing new. Were there a tolerable Expectation of any good Performances, I could find in my Heart to demurr to this Objection in Favour of the Press: For tho' the Matter that a Writer treats of be not new, the Disposition, Method, or Uses of it may be new; as it is the same Ball which good and bad Gamesters play with, but one forces or places it better than another, by a different Art, Use, or Disposal of it.
But now that I have raised so many Objections, and found so many Faults, it
may be expected that I should make some Apologies for my But I think it both Vanity and Meanness to enter into a Justification; and I know besides that there are in the World more Censurers than Criticks; and a Number of Poets that are no Wits. My Pretensions are but small in the Province of Poetry, and the Title of Poet is the least of my Ambition; for I have found Poetry and Poets such different Things, that the Men who were most proud of the Profession, have been most asham'd of the Name. What I have produced of late Years, Want of Health, and too much Leisure must in part be answerable for: I made my Study, like a young Wife, the Amusement of my Melancholly; and it cannot be wonder'd, if I should desire to cherish its Issue; for ill Authors, like indulgent Parents, are most fond of their weakest Off-springs; and therefore all are fondest of those begotten in their Age.
M A XI MS
I. UR Natural Imperfections are never more our Shame, than when
by Art we endeavour to hide them, or improve them into Perfections: For we are pitied, while we go lame because we can't help it; but laugh’d at for pretending to dance, when we are oblig'd to hobble.
II. Old Men cry they are weary of the World, when 'tis but because the World is weary of them; as they would seem to be tir'd of their Mistresses, when they are past enjoying them.
III. Men often associate to become more Enemies than Friends to each other, professing Faith but out of Treachery, and working themselves into Trust with a Purpose to betray it.
IV. Men, cheating Women first into the Intrigue, teach them after to cheat them out of it; as Cullies, enter'd at Play to their Loss, learn the Art of cozening by being first cozen'd.
Pride is rather the Downfal of Honour, than the Support of it; and Men always maintain it best by Humility, as Women do theirs by Modesty.