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It being the commonest mode of pro
cedure, I premise a few candid re
marks TO THE READER:
This trifle, begun to please only myself and my own private fancy, was laid on the shelf. But some friends, who had seen it, induced me, by dint of saying they liked it, to put it in print. That is, having come to that very conclusion, I consulted them when it could make no confusion. For (though in the gentlest of ways) they had hinted it was scarce worth the while, I should doubtless have printed it.
I began it, intending a Fable, a frail, slender thing, rhyme-ywinged, with a sting in its tail. But, by addings and alterings not previously planned, - digressions chance-hatched, like birds' eggs in the sand, – and dawdlings to suit every whimsy's demand (always freeing the bird which I held in my hand, for the two perched, perhaps out of reach, in the tree), -it grew by degrees to the size which you see. like the old woman that carried the calf, and my neighbors, like hers, no doubt, wonder and laugh, and when, my strained arms with their grown burthen full, I call it my Fable, they call it a bull.
Having scrawled at full gallop (as far as that goes) in a style that is neither good verse nor bad prose, and being person whom nobody knows, some people will say I am rather more free with my readers than it is becoming to be, that I seem to expect them to wait on my leisure in following wherever I wander at pleasure, that, in short, I take more than a young author's lawful ease. and laugh in a queer way so like Mephistopheles, that the public will doubt,
as they grope through my rhythm, if in truth I am making fun at them or with them.
So the excellent Public is hereby assured that the sale of my book is already secured. For there is not a poet throughout the whole land but will purchase a copy or two out of hand, in the fond expectation of being amused in it, by seeing his betters cut up and abused in it. Now, I find, by a pretty exact calculation, there are something like ten thousand bards in the nation, of that special variety whom the Review and Magazine critics call lofty and true, and about thirty thousand (this tribe is increasing) of the kinds who are termed full of promise and pleasing. The Public will see by a glance at this schedule, that they cannot expect me to be over-sedulous about courting them, since it seems I have got enough fuel made sure of for boiling my pot.
As for such of our poets as find not their names mentioned once in my pages, with praises or blames, let them SEND IN THEIR CARDS, without further DELAY, to my friend G. P. PUTNAM, Esquire, in Broadway, where a list will be kept with the strictest regard to the day and the hour of receiving the card.
Then, taking them up as I chance to have time (that is, if their names can be twisted in rhyme), I will honestly give eac his PROPER POSITION, at the rate of ONE AUTHOR to each NEW EDITION. Thus a PREMIUM is offered sufficiently high (as the magazines say when they tell their best lie) to induce bards to CLUB their resources and buy the balance of every edition, until they have all of them fairly been run through the mill.
One word to such readers (judicious
and wise) as read books with something behind the mere eyes, of whom in the country, perhaps, there are two, including myself, gentle reader, and you. All the characters sketched in this slight jeu d'esprit, though, it may be, they seem, here and there, rather free, and drawn from a Mephistophelian stand-point, are meant to be faithful, and that is the grand point, and none but an owl would feel sore at a rub from a jester who tells you, without any subterfuge, that he sits in Diogenes' tub.
A PRELIMINARY NOTE TO
THE SECOND EDITION, though it well may be reckoned, of all composition, the species at once most delightful and healthy, is a thing which an author, unless he be wealthy and willing to pay for that kind of delight, is not, in all instances, called on to write. Though there are, it is said, who, their spirits to cheer, slip in a new title-page three times a year, and in this way snuff up an imaginary savor of that sweetest of dishes, the popular favor, much as if a starved painter should fall to and treat the Ugolino inside to a picture of meat.
You remember (if not, pray turn over and look) that, in writing the preface which ushered my book, I treated you, excellent Public, not merely with a cool disregard, but downright cavalierly. Now I would not take back the least thing I then said, though I thereby could butter both sides of my bread, for I never could see that an author owed aught to the people he solaced, diverted, or taught; and, as for mere fame, I have long ago learned that the persons by whom it is finally earned are those with whom your verdict weighed not a pin, unsustained by the higher court sitting within.
But I wander from what I intended to say, — that you have, namely, shown such a liberal way of thinking, and so much æsthetic perception of anonymous worth in the handsome reception
you gave to my book, spite of son. private piques (having bought the first thousand in barely two weeks), that I think, past a doubt, if you measured the phiz of yours most devotedly, Wonderful Quiz, you would find that its vertical section was shorter, by an inch and two tenths, or 'twixt that and a quarter.
You have watched a child playing in those wondrous years when belief is not bound to the eyes and the ears, and the vision divine is so clear and unmarred, that each baker of pies in the dirt is a bard ? Give a knife and a shingle, he fits out a fleet, and, on that little mud-puddle over the street, his invention, in purest good faith, will make sail round the globe with a puff of his breath for a gale, will visit in barely ten minutes, all climes, and find Northwestern passages hundreds of times. Or, suppose the young Poet fresh stored with delights from that Bible of childhood, the Arabian Nights, he will turn to a crony and cry, let's play that I am a Genius!” Jacky straightway makes Aladdin's lamp out of a stone, and, for hours, they enjoy each his own supernatural pow, ers. This is all very pretty and pleasant, but then suppose our two urchins have grown into men, and both have turned authors, – one says to his brother, “Let's play we're the American somethings or other, - say Homer or Sophocles, Goethe or Scott (only let them be big enough, no matter what). Come, you shall be Byron or Pope, which you choose : I'll be Cole. ridge, and both shall write mutual reviews.” So they both (as mere strangers) before many days, send each othér a cord of anonymous bays. Each, piling his epithets, smiles in his sleeve to see what his friend can be made to believe ; each, reading the other's unbiased review, thinks Here's pretty high praise, but no more than is true.
Well, we laugh at them both, and yet make no great fuss when the same farce is acted to benefit us. Even I, who, if asked, scarce a month since, what Fudge mean?, should have
answered, the dear Public's critical judgment, begin to think sharp-witted Horace spoke sooth when he said, that the Public sometimes hit the truth.
In reading these lines, you perhaps have a vision of a person in pretty good health and condition, and yet, since I put forth my primary edition, I have been crushed, scorched, withered, used up and put down (by Smith with the cordial assistance of Brown), in all, if you put any faith in my rhymes, to the number of ninety-five several times, and, while I am writing, - I tremble to think of it, for I may at this moment be just on the brink of it, - Molybdostom, angry at being omitted, has begun a critique, - am I not to be pitied?
Now I shall not crush them since, indeed, for that matter, no pressure I know of could render them flatter; nor wither, nor scorch them,
- no action of fire could make either them or their articles drier ; nor waste time in putting them down - I am thinking not their own self-inflation will keep them from sinking; for there's this contradiction about the whole bevy, though without the least weight, they are awfully heavy. No, my dear honest bore, surdo fabulam narras, they are no more to me than a rat in the arras. I can walk with the Doctor, get facts from the Don, or draw out the Lambish quintessence of John, and feel nothing more than a half-comic sorrow, to think that they all will be lying to-morrow tossed carelessly up on the waste-paper shelves, and forgotten by all but their half-dozen selves. Once snug in my attic, my fire in a roar, I leave the whole pack of them outside the door. With Hakluyt or Purchas I wander away to the black northern seas or barbaric Cathay; get fou with O'Shanter, and sober me then with that builder of brick-kilnish dramas, rare Ben ; snuff Herbert, as holy as a flower on a grave; with Fletcher wax tender, o'er Chap
• The wise Scandinavians probably called their bards by the queer-looking title of Scald, in a delicate way, as it were, just to hint to the world th, hot water they always per into.
man grow brave; with Marlowe or Kyd take a fine poet-rave; in Very, most Hebrew of Saxons, find peace : with Lycidas welter on vext Irish seas; with Webster grow wild, and climb earthward again, down by mystical Browne's Jacob's-ladder-like brain, to that spiritual Pepys (Cotton's version) Montaigne ; find a new depth in Wordsworth, undreamed of before, - that divinely inspired, wise, deep, tender, grand, - bore. Or, out of my study, the scholar thrown off, Nature holds up her shield 'gainst the sneer and the scoff ; the landscape, forever consoling and kind, pours her wine and her oil on the smarts of the mind. The waterfalls, scattering its vanishing gems; the tall grove of hemlocks, with moss on their stems, like plashes of sunlight; the pond in the woods, where no foot but mine and the bittern's intrudes; these are all my kind neighbors, and leave me no wish to say aught to you all, my poor critics, but — pish! I have buried the hatchet: I am twisting an allumette out of one of you now, and relighting my calumet. In your private capacities, come when you please, I will give you my hand and a fresh pipe apiece.
As I ran through the leaves of my poor little book, to take a fond author's first tremulous look, it was quite an excitement to hunt the errata, sprawled in as birds' tracks are in some kinds of strata (only these made things crookeder)Fancy an heir, that a father had seen born well-featured and fair, turning suddenly, wry-nosed, clubfooted, squint-eyed, hair-lipped, wapper-jawed, carrot haired, from a pride become an aversion, - my case was yet worse. A club-foot (by way of a change? in a verse, I might have forgiven, an o's being wry, a limp in an e, or a cock in an i, - but to have the sweet babe of my brain served in pi! I am not queasy-stomached, but such a Thyestean banquet as that was quite out of the question.
In the edition now issued, no pains are neglected, and my verses, as oratorg say, stand corrected. Yet some blun
ders remain of the public's own make, which I wish to correct for my personal sake. For instance, a character drawn in pure fun and condensing the traits of a dozen in one, has been, as I hear, by some persons applied to a good friend of mine, whom to stab in the side, as we walked along chatting and joking together, would not be my way. 1 can hardly tell whether a question will ever arise in which he and I should
any strange fortune agree, but meanwhile my esteem for him grows as I know him, and, though not the best judge on earth of a poem, he knows what it is he is saying and why, and is honest and fearless, two good points which I have not found so rife I can
easily smother my love for them, whether on my side or t'other.
For my other anonymi, you may be sure that I know what is meant by a caricature, and what by a portrait. There are those who think it is capital fun to be spattering their ink on quiet, unquarrelsome folk, but the minute the game changes sides and the others begin it, they see something savage and horrible in it. As for me I respect neither women nor men for gender nor own any sex in a pen. I choose just to hint to some causeless unfriends that, as far as I know, there are always two ends (and one of them heaviest, too) to a staff, and two parties also to every good laugh.