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298

WAITING ON A MANAGER.

his guest roaring for fresh punch at five o'clock in the morning."

Through such a life some, like Samuel Johnson, struggled up to competence and fame; but by far the greater number perished prematurely, worn out with the toils and fiery fevers of the rugged and perilous way; and there was not a man of those who passed safely through the furnace, but bore the deep scars of the burning with him to the grave.

Men who lived thus on the verge of starvation, would not, as we may

well
suppose, be

very nice in their taste, or very choice in the expressions which they hurled at a political or literary foe. They needed to be kept in order; and many brethren of the literary craft were, therefore, no strangers in the eighteenth century to the pillory and the scourge.

When an author had finished a play, his first care was to carry the precious manuscript to the most likely manager he knew; and to this great man he confided it with many low bows and cringing civilities. Weeks-perhaps months-passed by; and the theatrical season drew near its close. Still no missive from the theatre. With fear and trembling the threadbare, haggard author presents himself at the stage door, and is ushered, after some delay, into the presence of the autocrat. He humbly ventures to remind His Dramatic Highness of the play left there many months ago; and is rewarded for the sickening suspense he has endured, and the abject humility he has had to assume in making his approaches to the presence, by the cool assurance that such a thing has been utterly forgotten until that moment. And sure enough, after tumbling over heaps of similar papers, the dusty manuscript is found lying as it was left, tied up with the very red string which the wretched dramatist had begged from his landlady to encircle the all-important roll. He is a lucky man if this second reminder induces the manager to read and accept the play; the chances are that it is returned unread, with the consolatory remark that dozens of authors have been so treated during the season. If he has heart and pluck enough to persist, the only hope of really getting his work put on the stage, is to curry favour with some nobleman's

DANCING ATTENDANCE ON A GREAT MAN.

299

valet, who may induce his Lordship to read the play and recommend it to a manager. One poor fellow, who had danced attendance thus upon a leading London manager for many months, at last grew sick of the constant drain upon his temper and his patience, and demanded his play again. It could not be found. Fruitless search was made,-it was gone. And when the broken-spirited literary hack ventured to complain of such treatment, the irritated manager, thrusting his hands into a drawer, drew out a bundle of manuscript plays with, “ Choose any three of these for your miserable scribble, and let me hear no more of it or you.”

Equally trying to the spirit, and yet more galling in the abject humility it demanded, was the hanging on at a great man's door, or the waiting in a great man's hall to pluck my Lord by the sleeve as he passed to his carriage, and beg à subscription for a forthcoming volume of poetry or prosc. Success in such an undertaking depended much upon the number of half-crowns the poor author could afford to invest in buying the good-will of the porter or confidential footman of His Grace or Sir John. Not even the highest literary man was free from this humiliation of cringing before the great. No book appeared without a fulsome dedication or flattering apostrophe addressed to some person of quality, as the phrase then went, whose footman came smirking to the author's dingy room a few days after publication with a present of five, or ten, or twenty guincas--the sum varying according to the amount of flattery laid on the belauded name, or perhaps oftener according to the run of luck which the gratified fashionable had happened to meet at the card-table of the night before.

In such miserable ways alone could the author of the eighteenth century eke out the poor pittance which the booksellers of the time—Tonson, Lintot, or Curll—could or did afford to pay for original works. But we must not suppose, as we might be led to suppose if we judged alone from the works of disappointed authors, that

every London bookseller of the day was a kind of trading ogre, who fattened on the blood and brains of the writers he employed. The sale of books in general was small and slow. The circle of book-readers was narrow; but still narrower was the 300

READING IN THE SHOP.

circle of book-buyers. Indeed many men never bought books at all; but when any work came out of which they wished to get a sight, they went to the bookseller's shop day after day, and for a small subscription obtained leave to read at the counter. Marking their page where they left off in the afternoon, they came back again and again, until the volume was finished. This practice, which crowded. the shops and stalls of the booksellers a hundred years ago with a floating population of readers, laid the foundation of those useful circulating libraries and reading-clubs which so abound in modern days.

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EVERY one has read Thomson's Seasons; comparatively few have read his Castle of Indolence. Yet the latter is the finer piece of literary workmanship. The subject of the former comes home to every heart,—we like to find our own thoughts and feelings pictured in the books we read ; and so the poem of the Seasons, displaying in glittering blank-verse the changeful beauty of the year, has come to be read by old and young, and loved by all.

The poet's father was minister of Ednam in Roxburghshire; and there in 1700 James was born. Having received his elementary education at the Grammar School of Jedburgh, he became a student in the University of Edinburgh. Nothing of importance marked his progress there, until one day in the Divinity classroom he paraphrased a psalm in language so brilliantly figurative as to excite the wonder of the class and draw forth a rebuke from the professor, who cautioned him against the use of such highflown diction in the pulpit. This was the turning-point in the youth's career; forthwith he abandoned his studies for the Church, wrote poetry more diligently than before, and, upon the slightest encouragement from a friend, went to seek his fortune

among

the literary men of London.

A raw Scotchman, newly landed in London streets, was then the butt of every Cockney witling, and the sure prey of every city thief. Thomson did not escape; for as he gaped along the street, his letters of introduction, which he had carefully knotted into his handkerchief, were stolen from his pocket. But he did not de

a

302

PUBLICATION OF

THE SEASONS.”

A.D.

spair. When his poem of Winter, of which his friend Mallet

thought very highly, was finished, le offered the manu1726 script to several booksellers without success; until at last

a Mr. Millar bought it for three guineas. It appeared in

1726. Poets in those days, if they desired success, were forced, as we have just seen,

dance attendance on the great. Having selected some rich or powerful man, they wrote a dedication, crammed with compliments, which often drew from the flattered magnate a purse of guineas, far outweighing the niggard pay they got from their booksellers. Thomson in this way

received twenty guineas from Sir Spencer Compton. Quickly "Winter" grew into public favour. One literary amateur and another read it, and buzzed the praises of the new poet everywhere. The panorama of the completed Seasons soon followed this success. Thomson tried his pen, too, upon tragedy; but Sophonisba perished from the stage in a few nights, killed by the echo of one weak line.

"O Sophonisba! Sophonisba, O! wrote the poor poet;

"O Jemmy Thomson! Jemmy Thomson, O!" cried some critical mocking-bird; and the mischief was done, for all London rang with a ready laugh.

In 1731 Thomson set out for the Continent, as tutor to the son of Sir Charles Talbot, afterwards Lord Chancellor. Having traveiled through France, Switzerland, and Italy with his pupil

, he returned to England and published a poem on Liberty, which he wrongly considered to be his greatest work. About the same time he received from his patron Talbot the easy place of Secretary of Briefs in Chancery. When the Chancellor died, the Secretary lost office; although it is said that he might have retained it by soliciting the favour of the incoming minister. The loss of this appointment drove the poet again to pen-work. He wrote for the stage two tragedies, which proved failures. But the Prince of Wales granted him a yearly pension of £100; and he was, besides, made Sur veyor-General of the Leeward Islands, from which office, after paying a man to do the work, he drew about £300 a year.

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