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HISTORY OF MEN OF GENIUS,
DRAWN FROM THEIR OWN FEELINGS AND CONFESSIONS.
BY THE AUTHOR OF “CURIOSITIES OF LITERATURE."
“Poi che veder voi stessi non potete,
Cina da Pistoia, addressed to the Eyes of his Mistress.
WILLIAM PEARSON & CO., 106 NASSAU STREET.
I Published, in 1795, “an Essay on the Literary Character;" to my own habitual and inherent defects, were superadded those of my youth; the crude production was, however, not ill received, for the edition disappeared ; and the subject was found to be more interesting than the writer.
During the long interval which has elapsed since the first publication, the little volume was often recalled to my recollection, by several, and by some who have since obtained celebrity.; they imagined that their attachment to literary pursuits had been strengthened even by so weak an effort. An extraordinary circumstance has occurred with these opinions ;a copy which has accidentally fallen into my hands, formerly belonged to the great poetical genius of our times; and the singular fact that it was twice read by him in two subsequent years, at Athens, in 1810 and 1811, instantly convinced me that the volume deserved my attention. I tell this fact assuredly, not from any little vanity which it may appear to betray, for the truth is, were I not as liberal and as candid in respect to my own productions, as I hope I am to others, I could not have been gratified by the present circumstance; for the marginal notes of the noble writer convey no flattery—but amidst their pungency and sometimes their truth, the circumstance that a man of genius could, and did read, this slight effusion at two different periods of his life, was a sufficient authority, at least for an author, to return it once more to the anvil ; more knowledge, and more maturity of thought, I may hope, will now fill up the rude sketch of my youth ; its radical defects, those which are inherent in every author, it were unwise for me to hope to remove by suspending the work to a more remote period.
It may be thought that men of genius only should write on men of genius ; as if it were necessary that the physician should be infected with the disease of his patient. He is only an observer, like Sydenham who confined himself to vigilant observation, and the continued experience of tracing the progress of actual cases (and in his department, but not in mine) in the operation of actual remedies. He beautifully says—“Whoever describes a violet exactly as to its colour, taste, smell, form, and other properties, will find the description agree in most particulars with all the violets in the universe.”
Nor do I presume to be any thing more than the historian of genius ; whose humble office is only to tell the virtues and the infirmities of his
heroes. It is the fashion of the present day to raise up dazzling theories of genius; to reason a priori; to promulgate abstract paradoxes; to treat with levity the man of genius, because he is only a man of genius. I have sought for facts, and have often drawn results unsuspected by myself, I have looked into literary history for the literary character. I have always had in my mind an observation of Lord Bolingbroke: "Abstract, or general propositions, though never so true, appear obscure or doubtful to us very often till they are explained by examples; when examples are pointed out to us, there is a kind of appeal, with which we are flattered, made to our senses, as well as to our understandings. The instruction comes then from our authority; we yield to fact when we resist speculation.” This will be truth long after the encyclopedic geniuses of the present age, who write on all subjects, and with most spirit on those they know least about, shall have passed away; and time shall extricale truth from the deadly embrace of sophistry.
THE LITERARY CHARACTER, &c.
riously traced to the president of the Rosicrucians, and not
only the society became celebrated, but abused. DescarOR LITERARY CHARACTERS.
tes, when in Germany, gave himself much trouble to track SINCE the discovery of that art which multiplies at will out the society, that he might consult the great searcher the productions of the human intellect, and spreads them after Truth, but in vain! It did not occur to the young reover the universe in the consequent formation of libraries, former of science in this visionary pursuit, that every phia class or order of men has arisen, who appear throughout losophical inquirer was a brother, and that the extraordiEurope to have derived a generic title in that of literary nary and mysterious personage, was indeed himself! for a characters ; n denomination which, however vague, defines genius of the first order is always the founder of a society, the pursuits of the individual, and serves, at times, to se.
and, wherever he may be, the brotherhood will delight io parate him from other professions.
acknowledge their master. Formed by the same habits, and influenced by the same These Literary Characters are partially described by motives, notwithstanding the difference of talents and tem- Johnson, not without a melancholy colouring. "To talk pers, the opposition of times and places, they have always in private, to think in solitude, to inquire or to answer inpreserved among themselves the most striking family re- quiries, is the business of a scholar. He wanders about semblance. The literary character, from the objects in the world without pomp or terror, and is neither known nor which it concerns itself, is of a more independent and per.
valued but by men like himself.' But eminent Genius acmanent nature than those which are perpetually modified complishes a more ample design. He belongs to the world by the change of manners, and are more distinctly nation as much as to a nation ; even the great writer himself, at al. Could we describe the medical, the commercial, or that moment, was not conscious that he was devoting his the legal character of other ages, this portrait of antiquity days to cast the minds o. his own contemporaries, and of would be like a perished picture ; the subject itself would the next age, in the mighty mould of his own, for he was have altered its position in the revolutions of society. It is of that order of men whose individual genins often becomes not so with the literary character. The passion for study; that of a people. A prouder conception rose in the mathe delight in books; the desire of solitude and celebrity'; jestic mind of Milton, of 'that lasting fame and perpelvity the obstructions of life; the nature of their habits and pur of praise, which God and good men have consented shall suits; the triumphs and the disappointments of literary be the reward of those whose published labours advance the glory; all these are as truly described by Cicero and the good of mankind.' younger Pliny, as by Petrarch and Erasmus, and as they Literature has in all ages, encountered adversaries from have been by Hlume and Gibbon. The passion for collect causes sufficiently obvious ; but other pursuits have been ing together the treasures of literature and the miracles of rarely liable to discover enemies among their own votaries. art, was as insatiable a thirst in Atticus as in the French Yet many literary men openly, or msidiously, would lowPeiresc, and in our Cracherodes and Townleys. We er the Literary character, are eager to confuse the ranks trace the feelings of our literary contemporaries in all ages,
in the republic of letters, wanting the virtue wbich knows 10 and every people who have deserved to rank among polish-pay its tribute to Cæsar: while they maliciously confer the ed nations. Such were those literary characters who character of author on that " Ten Thousand," whose rehave stampod ibe images of their minds on their works, cent list is not so much a muster roll of heroes, as a table and that other race, who preserve the circulation of this of population, * intellectual coinage ;
We may allow the political economist In suppose that -Gold of the Dead,
an author is the manufacturer of a certain ware for a very Which Time does still disperse, but not devour.
paltry recompense,” as their seer Adam Sinith has calcija D'Avenant's Gondibert, c. v. s. 38.
lated. It is useless to talk to people who have nothing but
millions in their imagination, and whose choicest works These literary characters now 'constitute an important of art are spinning jennies; whose principle of • labour' body, diffused over enlightened Europe, connected by would have all men alike die in harness ; or, in their carthe secret links of congenial pursuits, and combining often pentry of human nature, would convert them into wheels insensibly to themselves in the same common labours. and screws, to work the perplexed movements of that ideal Ai London, at Paris, and even at Madrid, these men machinery called 'capiial'--these may reasonably doubt feel the same thirxl, which is allayed at the same foun. of the utility of this unproductive' race. Their heatlains; the same authors are read, and the same opinions ed heads and temperate hearts may satisfy themselves that are formed.
'that unprosperous race of men, called men of letters,' Contemporains de tous les hommes,
in a system of political economy, must necessarily occupy Et citoyens de tous les lieux.
their present state in society, much as formerly when a De la Mothe.
scholar and a beggar seem to have been terms very nearly
synonimous.'t But whenever the political economists Thus an invisible brotherhood is existing among us, and shall feel,-a calculation of time which who would dare to those who stand connected with it are not always sensible furnish them with ?-that the happiness and prosperity of of this kindred alliance. Once the world was made uneasy a people include something more permanent and more by rumours of the existence of a society, founded by that evident than the wealth of a nation, they may form extraordinary German, Rosicrucius, designed for the search another notion of the literary character. of truth and the reformation of the sciences. Ils statutes A more formidable class of ingenious men who derived were yet but partinlly promulgated bul many a great princi- their reputation and even their fortune in life from their ple in morals, many a result of science in the concentrated literary character, yet are cold and heartless to the interform of an axiom; and every excellent work which suited the * See a recent biographical account of ten thousand authors. views of the author to preserve anonymous, were myste † Wealth of Natione, v. I, p. 192.