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not his apotheosis. The vainest poet of our day dares not venture, like him who has however so gloriously accomplished his own prediction, to say, in so many words, that his own work is more sublime than the royal height of pyramids. Nor, whatever secret compact he may make for its duration, does he openly undertake to promise for his verse, that it shall flow coequal with the rivers, and survive the established forms of the religion of his country. The most venal poetic parasite no longer assures his protector, with "unhappy Dryden," that mankind can no more subsist without his poetry, (the Earl of Middlesex's poetry!) than the world can subsist without the daily course of Divine providence. And it is but justice to the more sober spirit of living literature to observe, that our modesty would revolt (putting our sense and our religion out of the question), were a modern poet to offer even an imperial patron to pick and choose his lodging among the constellations ; or, as some author has expressed it on a similar occasion, “to ask what apartment of the zodiac he would be pleased to occupy."
So far at least our taste is reformed. And may we not venture to hope, from the affinity which should subsist between correct judgment and unadulterated principle, that our ideas of truth and manly integrity are improved also ?
But it is time that I confine myself to the more immediato object of the present address, in which, in avoiding the exploded evil I have been reprobating, I would not affectedly run into the opposite, and perbaps prevailing extreme.
It may not, it is presumed, be thought necessary to apologise for the publication of this collection, by enumerating all the reasons which produced it. “ Desire of friends,” is now become a proverbial satire ; the poet is driven from that once creditable refuge, behind which an unfounded eagerness to appear in print used to shelter itself; and is obliged to abandon the untenable forts and fastnesses of this last citadel of affectation. Dr. Johnson's sarcasm upon one plea will apply to all, and put to fligirt the whole hackneyed train of false excuses .“ If the book were not written to be printed, I presume it was printed to be read.”
These scattered pieces, besides that they had been suffered to pass through successive editions with little or no correction, were, in their original appearance, of all shapes and sizes, and utterly unreducible to any companionable form. Several new pieces are here added, and most of the old ones considerably altered and enlarged.
I should blush to reproduce so many slight productions of my
early youth, did I not find reason to be still more ashamed, that, after a period of so many years, the progress will be found to have been so inconsiderable, and the difference so little apparent.
If I should presume to suggest, as an apology for having still persisted to publish, that of the latter productions, usefulness has been more invariably the object; whereas, in many of the earlier, amusement was more obviously proposed ; if I were inclined to palliate my presumption by pleading
That not in fancy's maze I wander'd long ; it might be retorted, that the implied plea, in favour of the latter publications, exhibits no surer proof of humility in this instance than in the other. That, if in the first it was no evidence of the modesty of the writer to fancy she could amuse; in the last, it furnishes little proof of the modesty of the woman, to fancy that she can instruct. Now, to amuse, or to instruct, or both, is so undeniably the intention of all who obtrude their works on the public, that no preliminary apology, no prefatory humiliation, can quite do away the charge of a certain consciousness of talents which is implied in the very undertaking. The author professes his inability, but he produces his book, and, by the publication itself, controverts his own avowal of alleged incapacity. It is to little purpose that the words are disparaging, while the deed is assuming. Nor will that profession of self-abasement be much regarded which is contradicted by an act that supposes self-confidence.
If, however, there is too seldom found, in the writer of the book, all the humility which the preface announces, he may be allowed to plead an humility which is at least comparative. On this ground may I be permitted to declare, that at no period of my life did I ever feel such unfeigned diffidence at the individual appearance of even the slightest pamphlet, (the slenderness of whose dimensions might carry some excuse for the small proportion of profit or pleasure it conveyed,) as I now feel at sending this, perhaps too voluminous, collection into the world. This self-distrust may naturally be accounted for, by reflecting that this publication is deliberately made, not only at a time of life when I ought best to know my own faults, and the faults of my writings; but is made also at such a distance from the moment in which the several pieces were first struck out, that the mind has had time to cool from the hurry and heat of composition ; the judgment has leisure to operate, and it is the effect of that operation to rectify false notions and to correct rash conclusions. The critic, even of his own works, grows honest, if not acute, at the end of twenty years. The image,
which he had fancied glowed so brightly when it came fresh from the furnace, time has quenched; the spirit, which he thought fixed and essential, has evaporated; many of the ideas which he imposed not only on his reader, but on himself, for originals, more reading and more observation compel him to restore to their owners. And having detected, from the perusal of abler works, either plagiarisms in his own, of which he was not aware, or coincidences which will pass for plagiarisms; and blending with the new judgment of the critic the old indignation of the poet, who of us in this case is not angry with those who have said our good things before us? We not only discover that what we thought we had invented, we have only remembered ; but we find also, that what we had believed to be perfect is full of defects; in that which we had conceived to be pure gold, we discover much tinsel. For the revision, as was observed above, is made at a period when the eye is brought by a due remoteness into that just position which gives a clear and distinct view of things : a remoteness which disperses “ the illusions of vision,” scatters the mists of vanity, reduces objects to their natural size, restores them to their exact shape, makes them appear to the sight such as they are in themselves, and such as perhaps they have long appeared to all except the author.
That I have added to the mass of general knowledge by one original idea, or to the stock of virtue by one original sentiment, I do not presume to hope. But that I have laboured assiduously to make that kind of knowledge which is most indispensable to common life, familiar to the unlearned, and acceptable to the young ; that I have laboured to inculcate into both, the love and practice of that virtue of which they had before derived the principles from higher sources, I will not deny to have attempted.
To what is called learning I have never had any pretension. Life and manners have been the objects of my unwearied observa
every kind of study and habit has more or less recommended itself to my mind, as it has had more or less reference to these objects. Considering this world as a scene of much action, and of little comparative knowledge—not as a stage for exhibition, or a retreat for speculation, but as a field on which the business which is to determine the concerns of eternity is to be transacted ; as a place of low regard as an end, but of unspeakable importance as a means ; a scene of short experiment, but lasting responsibility; I have been contented to pursue myself, and to present to others (to my own sex chiefly,) those truths, which, if obvious and familiar, are yet practical, and of general application ; things which, if of
little show, are yet of some use ; and which, if their separate value be not great, yet their aggregate importance is not inconsiderable. I have pursued, not that which demands skill, and insures renown, but
That which before us lies in daily life. If I have been favoured with a measure of success, which has as much exceeded my expectations as my desert, I ascribe it partly to a disposition in the public mind to encourage, in these days of alarm, attack, and agitation, any productions of which the tendency is favourable to good order and Christian morals, even though the merit of the execution by no means keeps pace with that of the principle. In some instances I trust I have written seasonably, when I have not been able to write well. Several pieces, perhaps of small value in themselves, have helped to supply, in some inferior degree, the exigence of the moment; and have had the advantage, not of superseding the necessity, or the appearance, of abler writings, but of exciting abler writers; who, seeing how little I had been able to say on topics upon which much might be said, have more than supplied my deficiencies, by filling up what I had only superficially sketched out. On that which had only a temporary use I do not aspire to build a lasting reputation.
In the progress of ages, and after the gradual accumulation of literary productions, the human mind—I speak not of the scholar, or the philosopher, but of the multitude,—the human mind, Athenian in this one propensity, the desire to hear and to tell some new thing, will reject, or overlook, or grow weary even of the standard works of the most established authors; while it will peruse with interest the current volume or popular pamphlet of the day. This hunger after novelty, by the way, is an instrument of inconceivable importance, placed by Providence in the hands of every writer; and should strike him forcibly with the duty of turning this sharp appetite to good account, by appeasing it with sound and wholesome aliment. It is not, perhaps, that the work in actual circulation is comparable to many works which are neglected; but it
And let the fortunate author militant, of moderate abilities, who is banqueting on his transient, and perhaps accidental popularity, use that popularity wisely; and, bearing in mind that he himself must expect to be neglected in his turn, let him thankfully seize his little season of fugitive renown; let him devote his ephemeral importance, conscientiously to throw into the common stock his quota of harmless pleasure or of moral profit. Let him unaffectedly rate his humble but not unuseful labours, at their just price, nor despondingly conclude that he has written altogether in
vain, though he do not see a public revolution of manners succeed, as he had perhaps too fondly flattered himself, to the publication of his book. Let him not despair, if, though he have had many readers, he has had but few converts. Nor let him, on the other hand, be elated by a celebrity which he may owe more to his novelty than to his genius, more to a happy combination in the circumstances of the times, than to his own skill or care; and, most of all, to his having diligently observed, that
There is a tide in the affairs of men ; and to his having, accordingly, launched his bark at the favourable flow.
The well-intentioned and well-principled author, who has uniformly thrown all his weight, though that weight be but small, into the right scale, may have contributed his fair proportion to that great work of reformation, which will, I trust, unless a total subversion of manners should take place, be always carrying on in the world ; but which the joint concurrence of the wisdom of ages will find it hard to accomplish. Such an author may have been, in his season and degree, the accepted agent of that Providence who works by many and different instruments, by various and successive means; in the same manner as, in the manual labour of the mechanic, it is not by a few ponderous strokes that great operations are effected, but by a patient and incessant following up of the blow,-by reiterated and unwearied returns to the same object; in the same manner as, in the division of labour, many hands of moderate strength and ability may, by co-operation, do that which a very powerful individual might have failed to accomplish. It is the privilege of few authors to contribute largely to the general good, but almost every one may contribute something. No book perhaps is perfectly neutral ; nor are the effects of any altogether indifferent. From all our reading there will be a bias on the actings of the mind, though with a greater or less degree of inclination, according to the degree of impression made, by the nature of the subject, the ability of the writer, and the disposition of the reader. And though, as was above observed, the whole may produce no general effect, proportionate to the hopes of the author, yet some truth may be picked out from among many that are neglected,-some single sentiment may be seized on for present use, --some detached • principle may be treasured up for future practice.
If in the records of classic story we are told, that “ the most superb and lasting monument that was ever consecrated to beauty, was that to which every lover carried a tribute ;" then,