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me and such distinguished characters. I can get no farther. Such is the misery of pretensions beyond your situation, and which are not backed by any external symbols of wealth or rank, intelligible to all mankind !
The impertinence of admiration is scarcely more tolerable than the demonstrations of contempt. I have known a person, whom I had never seen before, besiege me all dinner-time with asking, what articles I had written in the Edinburgh Review? I was at last ashamed to answer to my splendid sins in that way. Others will pick out something not yours, and say, they are sure no one else could write it. By the first sentence they can always tell your style. Now I hate my style to be known; as I hate all idiosyncrasy. These obsequious flatterers could not pay me a worse compliment. Then there are those who make a point of reading every thing you write (which is fulsome); while others, more provoking, regularly lend your works to a friend as soon as they receive them. They pretty well know your notions on the different subjects, from having heard you talk about them. Besides, they have a greater value for your personal character than they have for your writings. You explain things better in a common way, when you are not aiming at effect. Others tell
you of the faults they have heard found with your last book, and that they defend your style in general from a charge of obscurity. A friend once told me of a quarrel he had had with a near relation, who denied that I knew how to spell the commonest words. These are comfortable confidential communications, to which authors, who have their friends and excusers, are subject. A gentleman told me, that a lady had objected to my use of the word learneder, as bad grammar. He said, he thought it a pity that I did not take more care, but that the lady was perhaps prejudiced, as her husband held a governmentoffice. I looked for the word, and found it in a motto from Butler. I was piqued, and desired him to tell the fair critic, that the fault was not in me, but in one who had far more wit, more learning, and loyalty than I could pretend to. Then, again, some will pick out the flattest thing of yours they can find, to load it with panegyrics; and others tell you (by way of letting you see how high they rank your capacity), that your best passages are failures. L- has a knack of tasting (or as he would say, palating) the insipid : L. H. has a trick of turning away from the relishing morsels you put on his plate. There is no getting the start of some people. Do what you will, they can
do it better; meet with what success you may, their own good opinion stands them in better stead, and runs before the applause of the world. I once shewed a person of this over-weening turn (with no small triumph I confess) a letter of a very flattering description I had received from the celebrated Count Stendhal, dated Rome. He returned it with a smile of indifference, and said, he had had a letter from Rome himself the day before, from his friend S--! I did not think this “ germane to the matter." G-dw-n pretends I never wrote any thing worth a farthing but my answers to Vetus, and that I fail altogether when I attempt to write an essay, or any thing in a short compass
What can one do in such cases? Shall I confess a weakness?. The only set-off I know to these rebuffs and mortifications, is sometimes in an accidental notice or involuntary mark of distinction from a stranger. I feel the force of Horace’s digito monstrari I like to be pointed out in the street, or to hear people ask in Mr. Powell's court, which is Mr. H ? This is to me a pleasing extension of one's personal identity. Your name so repeated leaves an echo like music on the ear: it stirs the blood like the sound of a trumpet. It shews that other people are curious to see you ; that they think of you, and feel an interest in you without your knowing it. This is a bolster to lean upon; a lining to your poor, shivering, threadbare opinion of yourself. You want some such cordial to exhausted spirits, and relief to the dreariness of abstract speculation. You are something; and, from occupying a place in the thoughts of others, think less contemptuously of yourself. You are the better able to run the gauntlet of prejudice and vulgar abuse. It is pleasant in this way to have your opinion quoted against yourself, and your own sayings repeated to you as good things. I was once talking with an intelligent man in the pit, and criticising Mr. Knight's performance of Filch. “Ah!” he said, “ little Simmons was the fellow to play that character.” He added, “ There was a most excellent remark made upon his acting it in the EXAMINER (I think it was)
That he looked as if he had the gallows in one eye and a pretty girl in the other.” I said nothing, but was in remarkably good humour the rest of the evening. I have seldom been in a company where fives-playing has been talked of, but some one has asked, in the course of it, “ Pray did any one ever see an account of one Cavanagh, that appeared some time back in most of the papers ? Is it known who wrote it?" These are trying moments. I had a triumph over a
person, whose name I will not mention, on the following occasion. I happened to be saying something about Burke, and was expressing my opinion of his talents in no measured terms, when this gentleman interrupted me by saying, he thought, for his part, that Burke had been greatly over-rated, and then added, in a careless way, “ Pray did you read a character of him in the last number of the — ~ ?" "I wrote it!”–I could not resist the antithesis, but was afterwards ashamed of my momentary petulance. Yet no one, that I find, ever spares me.
Some persons seek out and obtrude themselves on public characters, in order, as it might seem, to pick out their failings, and afterwards betray them. Appearances are for it, but truth and a better knowledge of nature are against this interpretation of the matter. Sycophants and flatterers are undesignedly treacherous and fickle. They are prone to admire inordinately at first, and not finding a constant supply of food for this kind of sickly appetite, take a distaste to the object of their idolatry. To be even with themselves for their credulity, they sharpen their wits to spy out faults, and are delighted to find that this answers better than their first employment. It is a course of study, “ lively,