The Illustrious Obscure
A SECOND LETTER FROM PAUL POTTER, OF NEW YORK, TO THE DON ROBERTO WAGONERO, COMMORANT OF WASHINGTON, IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA.
22,728, Five Hundred and Fifty-First St.,} New York, June 1, 1858.
DEAR DON BOBUS,—I see that you have been Christian enough to send my last letter to "The Atlantic Monthly," and that the editors of that famous work have confirmed my opinion of their high taste by printing it. Your disposition of my MSS. I do not quarrel with; although it must be regarded in law as an illegal liberty, inasmuch as the Court of Chancery has decided that a man does not part with property in his own letters merely by sending them ; but I ask permission to hint that your conduct will acquire a certain graceful rotundity, if you will remit to me in current funds the munificent sum of money which the whole-souled and gentlemanly proprietors—pardon the verbal habits of my humble calling !—have without doubt already remitted to you. Pecunia prima quærenda,—virtus post nummos. Mind you, I do not expect to be as well paid as Sannazarius.
“Who the deuse was he ?” I hear you growling.
My dear Iberian friend, I really thought that you knew everything; but I find that you have set up for an Admirable Crichton upon an inadequate capital. Know, then, that a great many years ago Sannazarius—never mind who he was,—I do not justly know, myself—wrote an hexastich on the city of Venice, and sent it to the potent Senators of that moist settlement. It was as follows;—
"Viderat Adriacis Venetam Neptunus in undis
Stare urbem et toti ponere jura mnri.
Nunc mihi Tarpeias quantumvis, Jupiter, arces,
Objice, et ilia tui mœnia Martis, ait;
Sic Pelago Tibrim præfers; urbem aspice
Illam homines dices, banc posuisse deos.”
Which may be liberally rendered thus:—
When sea-faring Neptune saw Venice well-founded
And stiffly coercing the Adrian main,
The jolly tar cried, in a rapture unbounded:
“Why, d—ash my eyes, Jove, but I have you again ;
You may boast of your city, and Mars of his walling;
But while I'm afloat, I'll stick to it that mine
Beats yours into rope-yarn, in spite of your bawling,
Just as snuffy old Tiber is flogged by the
And he who the difference cannot discern
Is a lob-sided lubber from bowsprit to stern.
“Very free, indeed !” you will say. It might have been worse, if I had staid at college a year or two longer, or if I had been elevated to a place in the Triennial Catalogue,—thus:
* PAULUS POTTER, LL.D., S. T. D., Barat. V. Gubernator, Lit. Hum. Prof., e Cong., Præses Rerumpub. Fæd., A. B. Yal., M.D. Dart., D.D. Dart., P.D. V. Mon., etc., etc., etc.
I have put myself down stelliger, because it is certain, that, after obtaining all the above honors, if not an inmate of the cold and silent tomb, I should be false to my duties as a member of society, and a nuisance to my fellow-creatures. The little anachronism of translating after being translated you will also pardon; and talking of the tomb, let us return to Sannazarius. I pray that your nicely noble nose may not be offended by the tarry flavor of my version. You will find the Latin in Howell’s "Survey of Venice,” 1651,—a book so thoroughly useless, and so scarce withal, that I am sure it must be in your library. By the way, as you have written travels in all parts of this and other worlds, without so much as stirring from your arm-chair, and have calmly and coolly published the same, I must quote to you the rebuke of Howell, who says, “He would not have adventured upon the remote, outlandish subject, had he not bin himself upon the place ; had he not had practicall conversation with the people of whom he writes.” This veracious person very properly dedicated his book to the saints in Parliament assembled, many of whom had, soon after, ample leisure for perusing the fat folio. Nor is it perfectly certain that you have read the book, although you may own it; since it is your sublime pleasure to collect books like Guiecardini's History, which somebody went to the galleys rather than read through.
But let us return, my dear Bobus, to the money question. Know, then, that the Sannazarian performance above quoted, so different from the language of the malignant and turbaned Turks, filled with rapture the first Senator and the second Senator and all the other Senators mentioned in Act I., Scene 3, of “Othello,” so that, in grand committee, and, for all I know to the contrary, with Brabantio in the chair, they voted to the worthy author a reward of three hundred zechins, or, to state it cambistically in our own beloved Columbian currency, $1,233.20, —this being the highest literary remuneration upon record, if we except the untold sums lavished by “The Now York Blotter” upon the fascinating author of “Steel and Strychnine ; or, the Dagger and the Bowl.” But as we have had enough of Sannazarius, let us leave him with the gentle hope that his check was cashed in specie at the Rialto Bank, and that he made a good use of the money.
Now, dear Don, in the great case of Virtue vs. Money, I appear for the defendant. Confound Virtue, say I, and the whole tribe of the Virtuous! I am as weary of both as was that sensible Athenian of hearing Aristides called The Just; and if I had been there, and a legal voter, I know into which box my humble oyster-shell would have been plumped. Such was the vile, self-complacent habit of the Athenians, that I suspect the best fellows then were not good fellows at all. And what did the son of Lysimachus make by being recalled from banishment ? He died so poor, that he was buried at the public charge, and left a couple of daughters as out-door pensioners upon public charity. The Athenians, I aver, were a duncified race; and it would have pleased me hugely to have been in the neighborhood when Alcibiades rescinded his dog’s charming tail,— a fine practical protest, although unpleasant to the dog. Virtue may be well enough by way of variety; but for a good, steady, permanent pleasure, commend me to Avarice ! Yes, O my Bobus, I, who was once, as to money, “still in motion of raging waste,” and, like Timon, “senseless of expense,”—I, who have many a time borrowed cash of you with amiable recklessness, and have never asked you to take it back again,—I, who have had many a race with the constable, and have sometimes been overtaken,—I, who have in my callow days spoken disrespectfully of Mammon in several charming copies of verses.—I am waxing sordid. I am for the King of Lydia against Solon. How do I know that the insolent Cyrus was not blandished out of his bloodthirsty intention of roasting his deposed brother by a little cash which the son of Gyges had saved out of the wide, weltering wreck of his wealth, and had concealed in his boots? Royal palms were not wholly free from pruritus even then. Why has this silly world still persisted in putting long ears upon Midas ? I do not know whether he sang better or worse than Apollo ; and I am sure it is much better, and bespeaks more sense, to play the flute ill than to play it well. Depend upon it, his Majesty of Phrygia has been very much abused by the mythologists. With that particular skill of his, during an epidemic of the brevitas pecuniaria, (Angl. shorts,) he would have been just the person to coax into one’s house of accompt, at five minutes before two o’clock in the afternoon, to work a little involuntary transmutation,—to change the coal-scuttle into ingots, and the ruler into a great, gorged, glittering rouleau. So little would his auricular eccentricity have hindered his welcome, that I verily believe he would have been heartily received, if he had come with ensanguined chaps straight from the pillory, and had left both ears nailed to the post.
Don’t talk to me about filthy lucre ! Pray, when would Sheikh Tâhâr, that eminent Koordish saint, have become convinced that he was a great sinner, it they had not carried about the contributionboxes in the little New England churches ? Do you think it has cost nothing to demonstrate to the widows of Scindiah the folly of suttee ? Don’t you know that it has been an expensive work to persuade the Khonds of Goomsoor to give up roasting each other in the name of Heaven? Very fine is Epictetus,— but will he be your bail ? Will Diogenes bring home legs of mutton ? Can you breakfast upon the simple fact that riches have wings and use them ? Can you lunch upon vanitas vanitatum ? Are loaves and fishes intrinsically wicked ? As for Virtue, we have the opinion of Horace himself, that it is viler than the vilest weed, without fortune to support it. Poets, of all men, are supposed to live most easily upon air; and yet, Don Bob, is not a fat poet, like Jamie Thomson, quite likely, although plumper than beseems a bard, to be ten thousand times healthier in his singing than my Lord Byron thinning himself upon cold potatoes and vinegar? Do you think that Ovid cuts a very respectable figure, blubbering on the Euxine shore and sending penitential letters to Augustus and afterward to Tiberius ? He was a poor puppy, and as well deserved to have three wives as any sinner I ever heard of. Don’t you think, that, if the cities of Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Salamis, Rhodes, Argus, and Athens had given over disputing about the birthplace of the author of the “Iliad” and other poems, and had “pooled in” a handsome sum to send him to a blind asylum, it would have been a sensible proceeding? Do you think Milton would have written less sublimely, if he had been more prosperous ? Do you think Otway choking, or Hudibras Butler dying by inches of slow starvation, pleasant to look upon ? Are we to keep any terms with the thin-visaged jade, Poverty, after she has broken down a great soul like John Dryden’s ? That is a very foolish notion which has so long and so universally prevailed, that a poet must, by the necessity of the ease, be poor. David Was reckoned an eminent bard in his day, and he was a king ; and Solomon, another sweet singer, was a king also. Depend upon it, no man sings, or thinks, or, if he be a man, Works, the Worse for being tolerably provided for in basket and pocket-money.
Objectively considered, I say that there is not in this world a sadder sight, one so touchingly suggestive of departed joys, departed never to return, as a pocketbook, flat, planed, exenterated, crushed by the elephantine foot of Fate,—nor is there one so ridiculous, inutile, impertinent, possibly reproachful and disagreeably didactic. Think of it, Don Bob,— for you in your day, as I in mine, have seen it. ’Tis so much leather stripped from the innocent beast, and cured and colored and polished and stamped to no purpose,—with a prodigious show of empty compartments, like banquet-halls deserted. It has a clasp to mount guard over nothing,—a clasp made of steel digged from the bowels of the earth, and smelted and hammered and burnished, only to keep watch and ward after the thief has made his visit leisurely. ’Tis an egregious chaos. ’Tis an absurd vacuum. To make it still more unpleasant, there are your memoranda. You are reminded that upon Thursday last you purchased butter flavous, or chops rosy ; but where is hint, sign, direction, or instruction touching the purchase of either upon Thursday next ? How much would it have helped poor Belisarius, in his sore estate, if he had kept a record of his household expenses, as my friend Minimus does ? By the same token, he sometimes makes odd misentries, pious figurative fictions, in order to save the feelings of Mrs. Minimus, who is auditor-general and comptroller of the household. And speaking of Belisarius, just fancy the hard fate of that gallant and decayed soldier! Figure him left naked by the master whom he had served so well, crying out for a beggarly obolus! Now this, you must know, was one of the least respectable coins of ancient times, being of about the value of one farthing sterling. If the poor man had got his battered old helmet full of them, the ponderous alms would not have driven the wolf gaunt and grinning many paces from his squalid home,—always admitting that he had any home, however squalid, to crawl into at sunset. And how often he crouched and whined, white-headed and bare-headed all day, and did not get a lepton (which was, in value, thirty-one three hundred thirty-sixths of an English farthing) for his pains! 'Tin such a pitiful story, that I am truly glad that the eminent German scholar, Nicotinus of Heidelberg, in his work upon the Greek Particle, has pretty clearly shown (Vol. xxviii. pp. 2850 to 5945) that the story may be regarded as a myth, illustrating the great, eternal, and universal danger of ultimate seediness, in which the most prosperous creatures live. And just think of Napoleon squabbling about wine with Sir Hudson Lowe,—the hero of Areola, without courage enough to hang himself. Now you will notice, my dear friend, that he did not lose his dignity, until, with true British instinct, they took away his cash, and even opened his letters to confiscate his remittances. He should have hidden the imperial spoons in a secret pocket. He should, at least, have saved a sixpence wherewithal to buy Mr. Alison.
You may think, dear Don, that my views are exceedingly sordid. I readily admit that all the philosophy and poetry, and I suppose I must add the morality, of the world are against me. I know that it is prettier to turn up one’s nose at ready cash. I have not found, indeed, that for the poetical pauper, in his proper person, the world, whether sentimental or stolid, has any deep reverence. Will old Jacob Plum, who lives on an unapproachably high avenue,—his house-front and his heart of the same material,—and who made two mints of money in the patent poudrette, come to my shabby little attic in Nassau Street, and ask me to dinner simply because “The Samos (III.) Aristarchean” has spoken with condescending blandness of my poems? I know that Miss Plum dotes upon my productions. I know that she pictures me to herself as a Corydon in sky-blue smalls and broad-brimmed straw hat, playing elegies in five flats, or driving the silly sheep home through the evening shades. Now, whatever else I may be, I am not that. I keep my refinement, for gala-days ; I do not shave, because I would save sixpences; I do not wear purple and fine linen. I should be a woful disappointment to Mistress Plum ; for I like beer with my beef, and a hearteasing tug at my pipe afterwards; and as for the album, we should never get along at all, for I have too much respect for poetry to write it for nothing. But if I have not wholly escaped the shiftlessness and improvidence of my vocation,— if I have never rightly comprehended the noble maxim, “A penny saved is a penny gained,” (which cannot in rigid mathesis be true, because by saving the penny you miss the enjoyment: that is, half-and-half, chops, or cheese, which the penny aforesaid would purchase ; so that the penny saved is no better than pebbles which you may gather by the bushe) upon any shore,)—if I like to haunt Old Tom’s, and talk of polities and poetry with the dear shabby set who nightly gather there, and are so fraternally blind to the holes in each other’s coats,—why it is all a matter between myself and Mrs. Potter, and perhaps the clock. We have a good, stout, manly supper,—no Apician kickshaws, the triumphs of palate-science, —no nightingales' tongues, no peacocks" brains, no French follies,—but just a rasher or so, in its naked, and elegant simplicity. Montaigne’s cook, who treated of his art with a settled countenance and magisterial gravity, would have turned his nose skyward at our humble repast; and he would have east like scorn upon that to which Milton with such charming grace invited his friend, in one of those matchless sonnets which make us weep to think that the author did not write a hundred of them. But Montaigne’s cook may follow his first master, the late Cardinal Caraffa, to that place where there will always be fire for his saucepans ! The epicures of Old Tom’s would deal very crisply with that spit-bearing Italian, or his shade, should it appear to them. We are not very polished, but most of us could give hints to men richer than we can hope to be of a wiser use of money than the world is in any danger of witnessing. There is Old Sanders, the proof-reader,— “illegitimate S.” we call him,—who knows where there is an exquisite black-letter Chaucer which he pants to possess, and which he would possess, were it not for a fear of Mrs. Sanders and a tender love of the little Sanderses. There is young Smooch,—he who smashed the Fly-Gallery in "The Mahlstick” newspaper, and was not for a moment taken in by the new Titian. There is Crosshateh, who has the marvellous etching by Rembrandt, of which there are only three copies in the world, and which he will not sell,—no, Sir,—not to the British Museum. There is Mr. Brevier Lead, who has in my time successively and successfully smitten and smashed all the potentates, big and little, of Europe, and who has in his museum a wooden model of the Alsop bomb. Give them money, and Sanders will rebuild and refurnish the Alexandrian Library,—Smooch will bid every young painter in America reset his palette and try again,—and Brevier Lead will be fool enough to start a newspaper upon his own account, and, while his purse holds out to bleed, will make it a good one. But until all these high and mighty things happen,—until we come into our property,—we must make the best of matters. I know a clever Broadway publisher, who, if I were able to meet the expenses, would bring out my minor poems in all the pomp of creamlaid paper, and with all the circumstance of velvet binding, with illustrations by Darley, and with favorable notices in all the newspapers. I should cut a fine figure, metaphorically, if not arithmetically speaking; whereas my farthing rush-light is now sputtering, clinkering, and guttering to waste, and all because I have not a pair of silver snuffers. If you wish me to move the world, produce your lever ! Your wealthy bard has at least audience; and if he cannot sing, he may thank his own hoarse throat, and not the Destinies.
For myself, dear Don Bob, having come into my inheritance of oblivion while living,—having in vain called upon Fame to sound the trumpet, which I am sure is so obstinately plugged that it will never syllable my name,—having resolutely determined to be nobody,—I do not waste my sympathy upon myself, but generously bestow it upon a mob of fine fellows in all ages, who deserved, but did not grasp, a better fortune. All that live in human recollection are but a handful to the tribes that have been forgotten. You will be kind enough, my sardonic friend, to repress your sneers. I tell you that a great many worthy gentlemen and ladies have been shouldered out of the Pantheon who deserved at least a corner, and who would not while living have given sixpence to insure immortality, so certain were they of monuments harder than brass. The murrain among the poets is the severest. For, in the first place, a fine butterfly may have a pin stuck through his stomach even while living. There are Bavius and Mævius, who have been laughed at since Virgil wrote his Third Eclogue. Now why does the world laugh ? What does the world know of either? They were siupid and malevolent, were they ? Pray, how do you know that they were ? You have Virgil’s word for it. But how do you know that Virgil was just ? It might have been the east wind ; it might have been an indigestion ; it might have been Virgil's vanity ; it might have been all a mistake. When a man has once been thoroughly laughed down, people take his stupidity for granted; and although he may grow as wise as Solomon, living he is considered a fool, dying he is regarded as a fool, and dead he is remembered as a fool. Do you not suppose that very respectable folk were pilloried in the “Dunciad” ? My own opinion is, that a person must have had some merit, or he would not have been put there at all. How many of those who laugh at Dennis and Shadwell know anything of either ? And let me ask you if the Pope set had such a superabundance of heart, that you would have been willing, with childlike confidence, to submit your own verses to their criticism? For myself, I am free to say that I have no patience with satirists. I never knew a just one. I never heard of a fair one. They are a mean, malicious, murdering tribe,—they are a supercilious, dogmatical, envious, suspicious company,—knocking down their fellow-creatures in the name of Virtue for their own gratification,—mere Mohawks, kept by family influence out of the lockup.
But of all Mohawks, Time is the fiercest. If I were upon the high road to fame, if I had honestly determined to win immortality or perish in the attempt, I should look upon the gentleman with no clothing except a scanty forelock, and with no personal property save his scythe and hour-glass, as my greatest enemy,— and I should behold the perpetual efforts made to kill him with perfect complacency. This, I know, is not regarded as a strictly moral act; for this murderer of murderers is very much caressed by those who, in the name of Moses, would send a poor devil to his hempen destiny for striking an unlucky blow. How continually is it beaten upon the juvenile tympanum, —"Be careful of Time,”— “Time is money,”—“Make much of Time”! Certainly, I do not know what ho has done to merit consideration so tender. The best that can be said of old Edax Rerum is that he has an unfailing appetite, and is not very fastidious about his provender,—and that, if he does take heavy toll of the wheat, he also rids the world of no small amount of chaff. But 'tis such a prodigious maw !
You think, Don Bob, that you know the name of every man who has distinguished himself since the days of Deucalion and Pyrrha. Let us see how much you know. I believe that in your day you had something to do with the new edition of the Aldine Poets. I therefore ask you, in the name of an outraged gentleman, who is too dead to say much for himself, why you left out of the series my friend Mr. Robert Baston. You have used Baston very ill. Baston was an English poet. Baston lived in the fourteenth century, and wove verses in Nottingham. When proud Edward went to Scotland, he took Baston along with him to sing his victories. Unhappily, Bruce caged the bird, and compelled him to amend his finest poems by striking out "Edward,” wherever the name of that revered monarch occurred, and inserting "Robert,” which, as I have said, he was obliged to do,—and a very ridiculous mess the process must have made of Mr. Baston's productions. This is all I know of Baston; but is not this enough to melt the toughest heart? No wonder he prologued his piping after the following dismal fashion:—
“In dreary verse my rhymes I make,
Bewailing whilst such theme I take.”
However, Baston was a monk of the Carmelite species, and I hope he bore his agonies with religious bravery.
And now let us make a skip down to Charles Aleyn, temp. Charles I. “of blessed memory.” A Sidney collegian of Cambridge, he began life as an usher in the celebrated school of Thomas Farnably,— another great man of whom you never heard, O Don !—a famous school, in Goldsmith’s Rents, near Red-Cross Street, in the Parish of St. Giles, Cripplegate. Those were stirring times; but Aleyn managed to write, before he died, in 1640, a rousing great poem, intituled, “The Battailes of Crescey and Poictiers, under the Fortunes and Valour of King Edward the Third of that Name, and his Sonne, Edward, Prince of Wales, surnamed The Black.” 8vo. 1633, Let me give you a taste of his quality, in the following elaborate catalogue of the curiosities of a battle-field:—
“Here a hand severed, there an ear was cropped;
Here a chap fallen, and there an eye put out;
Here was an arm lopped off, there a nose dropped;
Here half a man, and there a less piece fought;
Like to dismembered statues they did stand,
Which had been mangled by Time’s iron hand."
This is prosaic enough, and might have been written by a surgical student; but this is better:—
"The artificial wood of spears was wet
With yet warm blood; and trembling in the wind,
Did rattle like the thorns which Nature set
On the rough hide of an armed porcupine;
Or looked like the trees which dropped gore,
Plucked from the tomb of slaughtered Polydore.”
So much for Mr. Charles Aleyn.
But it is at the theatre, as you may well believe, that poets live and die most like the blithesome grasshoppers. The poor players, marvellous compounds of tin, feathers, and tiffany, fret but a brief hour; but the playwright, less considered alive, is sooner defunct. I have not Dodsley’s Plays by me, but, if my memory does not deceive me, not one of them keeps the stage ; nor did dear Charles Lamb make many in love with that huge heap in the British Museum. Alas! all these good people, now grown so rusty, fusty, and forgotten, might have rolled under their tongues, as a sweet morsel, those lines which civil Abraham Cowley sent to Leviathan Hobbes:—
“To things immortal Time can do no wrong;
And that which never is to die forever must be young."
Alas! they had great first nights and glorious third nights,—lords and ladies smiled and the groundlings were affable, —they lived in a paradise of compliment and cash,—and then were no better off than the garreteer who took his damnation comfortably early upon the first night, and ran back to his den to whimper with mortification and to tremble with cold. There is worthy Mr. Shakspeare, of whom an amiable writer kindly said, in 1723,—“There is certainly a great deal of entertainment in his comical humors, and a pleasing and welldistinguished variety in those characters which he thought fit to meddle with. His images are indeed everywhere so lively, that the thing he would represent stands full before you, and you possess every part of it. His sentiments are great and natural, and his expression just, and raised in proportion to the subject and occasion.” You may laugh at this as much as you please, Don Bob; but I think it quite as sensible as many of the criticisms of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.,—as that one of his, for instance, upon "Measure for Measure,” which I never read without a feeling of personal injury. I should like to know if it is writing criticism to write,— Of this play, the light or comic part is very natural and pleasing; but the grave, scenes, if a few passages be excepted, have more labor than elegance.” Now, if old Boltcourt had written instead, as be might have done, if the fit had been on him,— “Of this play, the heavy or tragic part is very natural and pleasing; but the comic scenes, if a few passages be excepted, have more labor than elegance,”—his remark would have been quite as sonorous, and just a little nearer the truth. For my own part, I think there is nothing finer in all Shakspeare than the interview between Angelo and Isabella, in the Second Act, or that exquisite outburst of the latter, afterward, "Not with fond shekels of the tested gold,” which is a line the sugar of which you can sensibly taste as you read it. Incledon used to wish that his old music-master could come down from heaven to Norwich, and could take the coach up to London to hear that d—d Jew sing,—referring thus civilly to the respectable John Braham. I have sometimes wished that Shakspearo could make a similar descent, and face his critics. Ah ! how much he could tell us over a single bottle of Rosa Solis at some new "Mermaid" extemporized for the occasion ! What wild work would he make with the commentators long before we had exhausted the ordinate cups! and how, after we had come to the inordinate, would he be with difficulty prevented from marching at once to break the windows of his latest glossator ! If anything could make one sick of "the next age," it would be? the shabby treatment which the Avonian has received. I do not wonder that the illustrious authors of "Salmagundi" said,—"We bequeathe our first volume to future generations,— and much good may it do them! Heaven grant they may be able to read it!” Seeing that contemporary fame is the most profitable,—that you can eat it, and drink it, and wear it upon your back,—I own that it is the kind for which I have the most absolute partiality. It is surely better to be spoken well of by your neighbors, who do know you, than by those who do not know you, and who, if they commend, may do so by sheer accident.
You never heard of Mr. Horden, of Charles Knipe, of Thomas Lupon, of Edward Revet? Great men all, in their day ! So there was Mr. John Smith,— clarum et venerabile nomen !—who in 1677 wrote a comedy called "Cytherea; or, the Enamoring Girdle.” So there was Mr. Swinney, who wrote one play called “The Quacks.” So there was Mr. John Tutchin, 1685, who wrote “The Unfortunate Shepherd.” So there is Mr. William Smith, Mr. H. Smith, author of "The Princess of Parma,” and Mr. Edmund Smith, 1710, author of “Phedra and Hippolytus,” who is buried in Wiltshire, under a Latin inscription as long as my arm. There is Thomas Yalden, D.D., 1690, who helped Dryden and Congreve in the translation of Ovid, who wrote a Hymn to Morning, commencing vigorously thus:— and who was a great friend of Addison, which is the best I know of him. He might have been, like Sir Philip Sidney, “scholar, soldier, lover, saint,”—for Doctors of Divinity have been all four,—but I declare that I have told you all I have learned about him.
“Parent of Day! whose beauteous beams of light
Sprang from the darksome womb of
It is grievous to me, dear Bobus, a man of notorious gallantry, to find that the ladies, after consenting to smirch their rosy fingers with Erebean ink, are among the first who are discarded. If you will go into the College Library, Mr. Sibley will show you a charming copy of the works of Mrs. Belm, with a roguish, rakish, tempting little portrait of the writer prefixed. Poor Mrs. Behn was a notability as well as a notoriety in her day; and when I have great leisure for the work, I mean to write her life and do her justice. The task would have been worthy of De Foe ; but, with a little help from you, I hope to do it passably. Poor Aphra! poet, dramatist, intriguant strumpet ! Worthy of no better fate, take ray benison of light laughter and of tears ! Then there is Mrs. Elizabeth Singer, who was living in 1723, who selected as the subject of her work nothing less than the Creation, and who was a woman of great religion. Her poem commences patronizingly thus:—
“Hail! mighty Maker of the Universe!
My song shall still thy glorious deeds rehearse.
Thy praise, whatever subject others choose,
Shall be the lofty theme of my aspiring
Elizabeth was a Somersetshire woman, a clothier’s daughter; and if she had thrown away her lyre and gone back to the distaff, I do not think Parnassus would have broken its heart. Then there is our fair friend, Mrs. Molesworth. Her father was a Right Honorable Irish peer of the same name, who had some acquaintance, if not a friendlier connection, with John Locke. Her Muse was rather high-skirted, as you may believe, when you read this epitaph:—
“O’er this marble drop a tear!
Here lies fair Rosalinde;
All mankind was pleased with her,
And she with all mankind."
Let me introduce you to one more lady. This is Mrs. Wiseman, dear Don ! She was of "poor, but honest” parentage; and if she did wash the dishes of Mr. Recorder Wright of Oxford, she did better than my Lady Hamilton or my Lady Blessington of later times. Mrs. Wiseman read novels and plays, and, of course, during the intervals of domestic drudgery, began to write a drama, which she finished after she went to London. It was of high-sounding title, for it was called, "Antioehus the Great; or, the Fatal Relapse.” Who relapsed so fatally— whether Antiochus with his confidant, or his wife with her confidante, or Ptolemy Pater with his confidant, or Epiphanes with his confidant—is more than I can tell. Indeed, I am not sure that I know which Antiochus was honored by Mrs. Wiseman’s Muse. Whether it was Antiochus Soter, or Antiochus Theos, or Antiochus the Great, or Antiochus the Epiphanous or Illustrious, or Antiochus Eupator, or Antiochus Eutheus, or Antiochus Sidetes, or Antiochus Grypus, or Antiochus Cyzenicus, or Antiochus Pius,—the greatest rogue of the whole dynasty,—or Antiochus Asiaticus, who “used up” the family entirely in Syria—is more than I can tell. Indeed, Antiochus was such a favorite name with kings, that, without seeing the play,—and I have not seen it,—I cannot inform you which Antiochus we are talking about. Possibly it was the Antiochus who went into a fever for the love of Stratonice; and if so, please to notice that this was the wicked Antiochus Soter, the son of Seleucus, and the scapegrace who married his mother-in-law, by the advice of the family-doctor, while his fond father stood tearfully by and gave away the bride. After such a scandalous piece of business, I shall have nothing more to do with the family, but shall gladly return to our talented friend, Mrs. Wiseman. She brought out her work at the Theatre Royal in 1706, "with applause”; and the play, I am glad to inform you, brought in money, so that an enterprising young vintner, by the name of Holt, besought her hand, and won it. With the profits of “Antioehus” they established a tavern in Westminster, and the charming Wiseman with her own hand drew pots of half-and-half, or mixed punch for the company. I should very much like to see two-thirds of our many poet-esses doing the same thing.
But enough, probably too much, of this skimble-skamble ! If you will look into a copy of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, (Worcester’s edition,) you will find the names of nearly a thousand English authors cited in alphabetical order as authorities. Of these it is safe to say that not more than one hundred are remembered by the general reader. Such is Fame ! Such is the jade who leads us up hill and down, through jungles and morasses, into deep waters and into swamps, through thick weather and thin, under blue skies and brown ones, in heat and in cold, hungry and thirsty and ragged, and heart-sore and foot-sore, now hopeful and now hopeless, now striding and now stumbling, now exultant and now despairing, now singing, now sighing, and now swearing, up to her dilapidated old temple. And when we get there, we find Dr. Beattie, in a Scotch wig, washing the face of young Edwin ! A man of your pounds would be a fool to undertake the journey ; but if you will be such a fool, you must go without the company of
Your terrestrial friend,