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that it was equally impossible to reclaim the patients, who sued for reception, from poverty, or from poetry. To be sincere, were I to send you an account of the lives of the Western poets, either ancient or modern, I fancy you would think me employed in collecting materials for an history of human wretchedness.
Homer is the first poet and beggar of note among the ancients; he was blind, and sung his ballads about the streets; but it is observed, that his moutlı was more frequently filled with verses than with bread. Plautus the comic poet was better off; he had two trades, he was a poet for his diversion, and helped to turn a mill in order to gain a livelihood. Terence was a slave, and Boethius died in gaol.
Among the Italians, Paulo Burghese, almost as good a poet as Tasso, knew fourteen different trades, and yet died because he could get employment in
Tasso himself, who had the most amiable character of all poets, has often been obliged to borrow a crown from some friend, in order to pay for a month's subsistence ; he has left us a pretty sonnet, addressed to his cat, in which he begs the light of her eyes to write by, being too poor to afford himself a candle. But Bentivoglio, poor Bentivoglio! chiefly demands our pity. His comedies will last with the Italian language ; he dissipated a noble fortune in acts of charity and benevolence; but falling into misery in his old age, was refused to be admitted into an hospital which he himself had erected.
. In Spain it is said, the great Cervantes died of hunger; and it is certain, that the famous Camoens ended his days in an hospital.
If we turn to France, we shall there find even stronger instances of the ingratitude of the public. Vaugelas, one of the politest writers, and one of the honestest men of his time, was surnamed the Owl,
from his being obliged to keep within all day, and venture out only by night, through fear of his credi
His last will is very remarkable ; after having bequeathed all his worldly substance to the discharging his debts, he goes on thus : but as there still may remain some creditors unpaid, even after all that I have shall have been disposed of, in such a case, it is my Jast will, that my body should be sold to the surgeons to the best advantage, and that the purchase should go to the discharging those debts which I owe to society; so that if I could not, while living, at least when dead, I may be useful.
Cassander was one of the greatest geniuses of his time, yet all his merit could not procure him a bare subsistence. Being by degrees driven into an hatred of all mankind from the little pity he found amongst them, he even ventured at last ungratefully to impute his calamities to Providence. In his last agonies when the priest intreated him to rely on the justice of heaven, and ask mercy from him that made him ; If God, replies he, has shown me no justice here, what reason have I to expect any from him hereafter ? But being answered, that a suspension of justice was no argument that should induce us to doubt of its reality ; let me intreat you, continued his confessor, by all that is dear, to be reconciled to God, your father, your maker, and friend. No, replied the exasperated wretch, you know the manner in which he left me to live ; (and pointing to the straw on which he was stretched,) and you see the manner in which he leaves me to die!
But the sufferings of the poet in other countries is nothing when compared to his distresses here ; the names of Spencer and Otway, Butler and Dryden, are every day mentioned as a national reproach, some them lived in a state of precarious indigence, and others literally died of hunger
At present the few poets of England no longer depend on the great for subsistence, they have now no other patrons but the public, and the public, collectively considered, is a good, and a generous master. It is, indeed, too frequently mistaken as to the merits of every candidate for favour ; but to make amends, it is never mistaken long. A performance indeed may be forced for a time into reputation, but destitute of real merit it soon sinks ; time, the touchstone of what is truly valuable, will soon discover the fraud, and an author should never arrogate to himself any share of success, till his works have been read at least ten years with satisfaction.
A man of letters at present, whose works are valuable, is perfectly sensible of their value. Every polite member of the community by buying what he writes, contributes to reward him. The ridicule therefore of living in a garret, might have been wit in the last age, but continues such no longer, because no longer true. A writer of real merit now may easily be rich if his heart be set only on fortune : and for those who have no merit, it is but fit that such should remain in merited obscurity. He may now refuse an invitation to dinner, without fearing to incur his patron's displeasure, or to starve by remaining at home. He may now venture to appear in company with just such clothes as other men generally wear, and talk even to princes with all the conscious superiority of wisdom. Though he cannot boast of fortune here, yet he can bravely assert the dignity of independence.
FROM THE SAME.
HAVE interested myself so long in all the concerns of this people, that I am almost become an Englishman ; I now begin to read with pleasure of their taking towns, or gaining battles, and secretly wish disappointment to all the enemies of Britain. Yet still my regard to mankind fills me with concern for their contentions. I could wish to see the disturbances of Europe once more amicably adjusted ; I am an enemy to nothing in this good world but war; I hate fighting between rival states ; I hate it between man and man; I hate fighting even between women.
I already informed you, that while Europe was at variance, we were also threatened from the stage with an irreconcileable opposition, and that our singing women were resolved to sing at each other to the end of the season. () my friend, those fears were just. They are not only determined to sing at each other to the end of the season, but what is worse, to sing the same song, and what is still more insupportable, to make us pay for hearing.
If they be for war, for my part I should advise them to have a public congress, and there fairly squall at each other. What signifies sounding the trumpet of defiance at a distance, and calling in the town to fight their battles. I would have them come boldly into one of the most open and frequented streets, face to face, and there try their skill in quavering.
However this may be, resolved I am that they shall not touch one single piece of silver more of minc. Though I have ears for music, thanks to Heaven, they are not altogether asses' ears. What! Polly and the
Pick-pocket to night, Polly and the Pick-pocket tomorrow night, and Polly and the Pick-pocket again! I want patience. I will hear no more. My soul is out of tune, ail jarring discord, and confusion. Rest, rest ye dear three clinking shillings in my pocket's bottom ; the music you make is more harmonious to my spirit, than cat-gut, rosin, or all the nightingales that ever chirruped in petticoats.
But what raises my indignation to the greatest degree is, that this piping does not only pester me on the stage, but is my punishment in private conversation. What is it to me, whether the fine pipe of one, or the great manner of the other, be preferable ? what care I if one has a better top, or the other a nobler bottom ? how am I concerned if one sings from the stomach, or the other sings with a snap? Yet paltry as these matters are, they make a subject of debate wherever I go, and this musical dispute, especially among the fair sex, almost always ends in a very unmusical altercation.
Sure the spirit of contention is mixed into the very constitution of the people ; divisions among the inhabitants of other countries arise only from their higher concerns, but subjects the most contemptible are made an affair of party here, the spirit is carried even into their amusements. The very ladies, whose duty should seem to allay the impetuosity of the opposite sex, become themselves party champions, engage in the thickest of the fight, scold at each other, and show their courage, even at the expense of their lovers and their beauty.
There are even a numerous set of poets who help to keep up the contention, and write for the stage. Mistake me not, I do not mean pieces to be acted upon it, but panegyrical verses on the performers, for that is the most universal method of writing for the