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PRIZES OPEN TO THEM.
arise; and patrons that paid for dedications, either in money or places had become scarce.
"Men of quality have mended that fault," says Asmodeus, "and thereby done acceptable service to the pubIlic, which before was continually pestered with "wretched performances; the greatest part of the "books being formerly written for the lucre of their "dedications." In England, moreover, there was special cause for the departure at this juncture from the established usage of long generations. Neither George the First nor George the Second could speak English, and as few Englishmen spoke German, the language of the court became, of necessity, a kind of bastard Latin. The sovereign despised the literature of which he was himself ignorant, and the court was too polite not to follow the example of the sovereign. If, then, literary men had not learned to wean themselves from the system that had prevailed, with good results, from the time of Aristotle to their own day—and there was then little hope of successful endeavour by other means-how could it be expected that literature could thrive?
The presumption that the great prizes are no longer within the reach of the class amidst which they fell in the days of Anne, is as groundless as the notion that the profession of letters was ruined by Pope and his Dunciad. A literary man's chance
of success is as great now as it ever was.
It is true he does not, nor should he, obtain political and ecclesiastical preferment solely by virtue of the literary ability he may have evinced; but if he possesses the qualifications which in this country are expected of aspirants to posts of dignity and high emolument, his literary merit will undoubtedly aid him in the accomplishment of his desires. The truth is, literary men have lost no opportunity they ever possessed of advancing themselves; but, on the contrary, have attained to positions they had not hitherto occupied. Against Addison, who became Secretary of State, may be placed Mr. Disraeli, who has become leader of the House of Commons; and if Swift became "all but a bishop," by reason of his literary abilities, we have, at the present moment, two archbishops who would, I think, have had less chance of the great preferment they enjoy had they not displayed eminent literary ability. From an organized literary guild or the establishment of an academy, were the idea practicable, I can anticipate little benefit either for literature or its professors. Its decrees would be inoperative, however unanimously concocted: What would be the effect, then, of the legislative measures of a board, composed of literary homœopaths, allopaths, apprentices, vendors of patent medicines, one is quite unable to predict. Every man's literary
THEIR DECREASING IMPORTANCE. 9
power is proportioned to his desert, and so is his personal weight. If he is endowed with those personal qualities which fit for social intercourse, what is to prevent him exercising them and gaining the influence he covets? But, from a delusion, incomprehensible by others, that something is owing from society to their vocation as a vocation, the most meagrely equipped professors are disappointed at not receiving the consideration that is due only to those of their brethren, who, to the highest literary culture, have united successful literary performance. They consequently blame the public for their own nonsuccess, or sit down to revile Mr. Tupper, partly because they have never read his productions, but chiefly because his books have gone through a provokingly large number of editions.
There is, however, a specific reason, not usually considered, for the continually decreasing importance of literary men. Those who write books are so numerous that they are no longer prodigies in the eyes of their neighbours. What all can do none reverences. Even the poet is fast losing the prestige that once attached to his office; and there are signs that the time is not far distant when he will be regarded in a light not different from that in which any other of the world's workers are regarded. The aim and object of art being to give pleasure, the artist,
whether he expresses himself in words, or on canvas, or in marble, must learn to renounce the high pretensions he successfully advanced when he really discharged the functions of a teacher. The sooner he sees the necessity for this, the better will it be for us and for him. If a man has anything to say, let him say it in the clearest and most direct way he is able. The manner is unimportant. A well-dressed man must not be confounded with a good man. What is said will more and more become of greater importance than how it is said; and the advance made in civilization by our generation will hereafter be judged by the value we attach to the form of a speaker and writer. Metrical composition is no longer required to enable us to preserve what is worthy of preservation, any more than plays are necessary to teach us history, or pictures to give us a narrative of the chief events in the Scriptures. People have already ceased to consider a writer synonymous with a wise man; and although they still express surprise that Sir Thomas Browne or Sir Matthew Hale, and other of our elder writers, were unable to see impropriety in customs common to their day, and thus implicitly avow their disappointment that those worthies were not better than the time in which they lived, similar illogicality is seldom exhibited with respect to men of our own era. Nobody now expects Mr.
Dickens to be in advance of his age because he is the most popular author of the time. But numerous writers still delude themselves with the belief that they are intellectually superior to those who abstain from writing, and demand recognition accordingly. Men who write elaborate essays "concerning' nothing, or, in tortuous phraseology meant for style, spin out nothing "concerning" everything, cannot reasonably, however, expect the reward due only to great achievements in literature, simply because they belong to the same profession as those who have accomplished them,-any more than a small retail tobacconist in Whitechapel can expect the social importance of a wholesale dealer in the city. And yet they do.
When the elder Dumas, appearing as a witness before a court of justice, was asked his profession, he is reported to have said, in a tone of modesty that did not conceal his magnificent self-conceit, "Monsieur, je dirais auteur dramatique, si je n'étais dans la patrie de Corneille." Whereupon the President, with true French irony, replied, "Mais, Monsieur, il y a des degrés,”—a reply that is, unfortunately, as applicable to not a few English men of letters as to the gorgeous Frenchman.
I never heard of a poor money-lender flattering himself he was a millionaire because he was of