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famine would there be among the hawkers, printers, booksellers, and authors! It would be like Dr. B-s's dropping his cloak, with the whole congregation hanging upon the skirts of it. To enumerate some of these my doughty antagonists, I was threatened to he answered weekly Tit for Tat: I was undermined by the Whisperer, haunted by Tom Brown's Ghost, scolded at by a Female Tatler, and slandered by another of the same character, under the title of Atalantis. I have been annotated, retattled, examined, and condoled: but, it being my standing maxim never to speak ill of the dead, I shall let these authors rest in peace, and take great pleasure in thinking that I have sometimes been the means of their getting a belly-full. When I see myself thus surrounded by such formidable enemies, I often think of the Knight of the Red Cross in Spencer's Den of Error, who, after he has cut off the dragon's head, and left it wallowing in a flood of ink, sees a thousand monstrous reptiles making their attempts upon him, one with many heads, another with none, and all of them without eyes.
"The same so sore annoyed has the knight,
That well nigh choked with the deadly stink,
His forces fail, he can no longer fight;
Whose courage when the fiend perceived to shrink,
Her fruitful cursed spawn of serpents small,
When ruddy Phoebus gins to welk in west,
All striving to infix their feeble stings,
That from their noyance he nowhere can rest;
He brusheth oft, and oft doth mar their murmurings."
If ever I should want such a fry of little authors to attend me, I shall think my paper in a very decaying condition. They are like ivy about an oak, which adorns the tree at the same time that it eats into it; or like a great man's equipage, that do honour to the person on whom they feed. For my part, when I see myself thus attacked, I do not consider my antagonists as malicious, but hungry, and therefore am resolved never to take any notice of them.
As for those who detract from my labours without being prompted to it by an empty stomach, in return to their censures I shall take pains to excel, and never fail to persuade myself, that their enmity is nothing but their envy or ignor
Give me leave to conclude, like an old man and a moralist, with a fable.
The owls, bats, and several other birds of night, were one day got together in a thick shade, where they abused their neighbours in a very sociable manner. This satire at last fell upon the sun, whom they all agreed to be very troublesome, impertinent, and inquisitive. Upon which the sun, who overheard them, spoke to them after this manner : Gentlemen, I wonder how you dare abuse one that you know could in an instant scorch you up, and burn every mother's son of you: but the only answer I shall give you, or the revenge I shall take of you, is, to shine on.”
No. 239. THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19, 1710.
-Mecum certasse feretur. OVID.
From my own Apartment, October 18.
Ir is ridiculous for any man to criticise on the works of another, who has not distinguished himself by his own performances. A judge would make but an indifferent figure who had never been known at the bar. Cicero was reputed the greatest orator of his age and country before he wrote a book De Oratore; and Horace the greatest poet before he published his Art of Poetry. The observation arises naturally in any one who casts his eye upon this last-mentioned author, where he will find the criticisms placed in the latter end of his book, that is, after the finest odes and satires in the Latin tongue.
A modern, whose name I shall not mention, because I would not make a silly paper sell, was born a critic and an examiner, and, like one of the race of the serpent's teeth, came into the world with a sword in his hand. His works put me in mind of the story that is told of a German monk, who was taking a catalogue of a friend's library, and meeting with a Hebrew
book in it, entered it under the title of, "A book that has the begining where the end should be." This author, in the last of his crudities, has amassed together a heap of quotations, to prove that Horace and Virgil were both of them modester men than myself, and if his works were to live as long as mine, they might possibly give posterity a notion that Isaac Bickerstaffe was a very conceited old fellow, and as vain a man as either Tully or Sir Francis Bacon. Had this serious writer fallen upon me only, I could have overlooked it, but to see Cicero abused, is, I must confess, what I cannot bear. The censure he passes upon this great man runs thus: "The itch of being very abusive, is almost inseparable from vain-glory. Tully has these two faults in so high a degree, that nothing but his being the best writer in the world can make amends for them." The scurrilous
wretch goes on to say I am as bad as Tully. His words are these: And yet the Tatler, in his paper of September 26, has outdone him in both. He speaks of himself with more arrogance, and with more insolence of others." I am afraid, by his discourse, this gentleman has no more read Plutarch than he has Tully. If he had, he would have observed a passage in that historian, wherein he has with great delicacy distinguished between two passions which are usually complicated in human nature, and which an ordinary writer would not have thought of separating. Not having my Greek spectacles by me, I shall quote the passage word for word as I find it translated to my hand. "Nevertheless, though he was intemperately fond of his own praise, yet he was very free from envying others, and most liberally profuse in commending both the ancients and his contemporaries, as is to be understood by his writings; and many of those sayings are still recorded, as that concerning Aristotle, 'That he was a river of flowing gold.' Of Plato's dialogue, 'That if Jupiter were to speak, he would discourse as he did.' Theophrastus he was wont to call his peculiar delight; and being asked which of Demosthenes his orations he liked best? He answered, The longest.'
"And as for eminent men of his own time, either for eloquence or philosophy, there was not one of them whom he did not, by writing or speaking favourably of, render more
Thus the critic tells us, that Cicero was excessively vain
glorious and abusive; Plutarch, that he was vain, but not abusive. Let the reader believe which of them he pleases.
After this he complains to the world that I call him names; and that in my passion I said, "He was a flea, a louse, an owl, a bat, a small wit, a scribbler, and a nibbler.” When he has thus bespoken his reader's pity, he falls into that admirable vein of mirth, which I shall set down at length, it being an exquisite piece of raillery, and written in great gaiety of heart. "After this list of names, (viz. flea, louse, owl, bat, &c.,) I was surprised to hear him say, that he has hitherto kept his temper pretty well; I wonder how he will write when he has lost his temper? I suppose, as he now is very angry and unmannerly, he will then be exceedingly courteous and good-humoured." If I can outlive this raillery, I shall be able to bear anything.
There is a method of criticism made use of by this author, (for I shall take care how I call him a scribbler again,) which may turn into ridicule any work that was ever written, wherein there is a variety of thoughts: this the reader will observe in the following words; "He (meaning me) is so intent upon being something extraordinary, that he scarce knows what he would be; and is as fruitful in his similes as a brother of his whom I lately took notice of. In the compass of a few lines he compares himself to a fox, to Daniel Burgess, to the Knight of the Red Cross, to an oak with ivy about it, and to a great man with an equipage." I think myself as much honoured by being joined in this part of his paper with the gentleman 1 whom he here calls my brother, as I am in the beginning of it, by being mentioned with Horace and Virgil.
It is very hard that a man cannot publish ten papers without stealing from himself; but to show you that this is only a knack of writing, and that the author is got into a certain road of criticism, I shall set down his remarks on the works of the gentleman whom he here glances upon, as they stand on his 6th paper, and desire the reader to compare them with the foregoing passage upon mine.
"In thirty lines his patron is a river, the Primum Mobile, a Pilot, a Victim, the Sun, Anything, and Nothing. He bestows increase, conceals his source, makes the machine
1 Dr. Garth.
move, teaches to steer, expiates our offences, raises vapours, and looks larger as he sets."1
What poem can be safe from this sort of criticism? I think I was never in my life so much offended as at a wag whom I once met with in a coffee-house: he had in his hand one of the miscellanies, and was reading the following short copy of verses, which, without flattery to the author,2 is (I think) as beautiful in its kind as any one in the English tongue.
Flavia the least and slightest toy,
This fan in meaner hands would prove
An engine of small force in love;
But she with such an air and mien,
Directs its wanton motions so,
That it wounds more than Cupid's bow:
Gives coolness to the matchless dame,
To every other breast a flame.
When this coxcomb had done reading them, "Heyday! (says he,) what instrument is this that Flavia employs in such a manner as is not to be told, or safely seen? In ten lines it is a toy, a Cupid's bow, a fan, and an engine in love. It has wanton motions, it wounds, it cools, and inflames."
Such criticisms make a man of sense sick, and a fool merry. The next paragraph of the paper we are talking of, falls upon somebody whom I am at a loss to guess at: but I find the whole invective turns upon a man who (it seems) has been imprisoned for debt. Whoever he was, I most heartily pity him; but at the same time must put the Examiner in mind, that notwithstanding he is a critic, he still ought to remember he is a Christian. Poverty was never thought a proper subject for ridicule; and I do not remember that I ever met with a satire upon a beggar.
As for those little retortings of my own expressions, of being dull by design, witty in October, shining, excelling, and so forth; they are the common cavils of every witling, who has no other method of showing his parts, but by little variations and repetitions of the man's words whom he attacks.
But the truth of it is, the paper before me, not only in this particular, but in its very essence, is like Ovid's echo: 1 Dr. Garth's verses to my Lord Treasurer.
2 The author.] Dr. Atterbury.