1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Nathaniel Lee

Isaac D'Israeli, "Illusions of Writers in Verse" Calamities of Authors (1812); Works (1881) 5:213-14.



This wonderful susceptibility of praise, to which poets seem more liable than any other class of authors, is indeed their common food; and they could not keep life in them without this nourishment. NAT. LEE, a true poet in all the excesses of poetical feelings — for he was in such raptures at times as to lose his senses-expresses himself in very energetic language on the effects of the praise necessary for poets:—

"Praise," says Lee, "is the greatest encouragement we chamelions can pretend to, or rather the manna that keeps soul and body together; we devour it as if it were angels' food, and vainly think we grow immortal. There is nothing transports a poet, next to love, like commending in the right place."

This, no doubt, is a rare enjoyment, and serves to strengthen his illusions. But the same fervid genius elsewhere confesses, when reproached for his ungoverned fancy, that it brings with itself its own punishment:—

"I cannot be," says this great and unfortunate poet, "so ridiculous a creature to any man as I am to myself; for who should know the house so well as the good man at home? who, when his neighbour comes to see him, still sets the best rooms to view; and, if he be not a wilful ass, keeps the rubbish and lumber in some dark hole, where nobody comes but himself, to mortify at melancholy hours."

Study the admirable preface of POPE, composed at that matured period of life when the fever of fame had passed away, and experience had corrected fancy. It is a calm statement between authors and readers; there is no imagination that colours by a single metaphor, or conceals the real feeling which moved the author on that solemn occasion, of collecting his works for the last time. It is on a full review of the past that this great poet delivers this remarkable sentence:

"I believe, if any one, early in his life, should contemplate the dangerous fate of AUTHORS, he would scarce be of their number on any consideration. The life of a wit is a warfare upon earth; and to pretend to serve the learned world in any way, one must have the constancy of a martyr, and a resolution to suffer for its sake."

All this is so true in literary history, that he who affects to suspect the sincerity of Pope's declaration, may flatter his sagacity, but will do no credit to his knowledge.