« AnteriorContinuar »
fear but he will drive this wedge. If you are once screwed into such a machine, you must extricate yourself by main force. No hyperboles are too much: any drawback, any admiration on this side idolatry, is high treason. It is an unpardonable offence to say that the last production of your patron is not so good as the one before it; or that a performer shines more in one character than another. I remember once hearing a player declare that he never looked into any newspapers or magazines on account of the abuse that was always levelled at himself in them, though there were not less than three persons in company, who made it their business through these conduit pipes of fame to “ cry him up to the top of the compass.” This sort of expectation is a little exigeante!
One fashionable mode of acquiring reputation is by patronising it. This may be from various motives, real good nature, good taste, vanity, or pride. I shall only speak of the spurious ones in this place. The quack and the would-be patron are well met. The house of the latter is a sort of curiosity-shop or menagerie, where all sort of intellectual pretenders and grotesques, musical children, arithmetical prodigies, occult philosophers, lecturers, accoucheurs, apes, chemists, fiddlers, and buffoons are to be seen for
the asking, and are shown to the company for nothing. The folding-doors are thrown open, and display a collection that the world cannot parallel again. There may be a few persons of common sense and established reputation, rari nantes in gurgite vasto, otherwise it is a mere scramble or lottery. The professed encourager of virtù and letters, being disappointed of the great names, sends out into the highways for the halt, the lame, and the blind, for all who pretend to distinction, defects, and obliquities, for all the disposable vanity or affectation floating on the town, in hopes that, among so many oddities, chance may bring some jewel or treasure to his door, which he may have the good fortune to appropriate in some way to his own use, or the credit of displaying to others. The art is to encourage rising genius—to bring forward doubtful and unnoticed merit. You thus get a set of novices and raw pretenders about you, whose actual productions do not interfere with your self love, and whose future efforts may reflect credit on your singular sagacity and faculty for finding out talent in the germ ; and in the next place, by having them completely in your power, you are at liberty to dismiss them whenever you will, and to supply the deficiency by a new set of wondering, unwashed faces, in a rapid
succession; an“ aiery of children,” embryo actors, artists, poets, or philosophers. Like unfledged birds they are hatched, nursed, and fed by hand; this gives room for a vast deal of management, meddling, care, and condescending solicitude, but the instant the callow brood are fledged, they are driven from the nest, and forced to shift for themselves in the wide world. One sterling production decides the question between them and their patrons, and from that time they become the property of the public. Thus a succession of importunate, hungry, idle, over-weening candidates for fame, are encouraged by these fickle keepers, only to be betrayed, and left to starve or beg, or pine in obscurity, while the man of merit and respectability is neglected, discountenanced, and stigmatised, because he will not lend himself as a tool to this system of splendid imposition, or pamper the luxury and weaknesses of the Vulgar Great. When a young artist is too independent to subscribe to the dogmas of his superiors, or fulfils their predictions and prognostics of wonderful contingent talent too soon, so as to get out of leading strings, and lean on public opinion for partial support, exceptions are taken to his dress, dialect, or manners, and he is expelled the circle with a character for ingratitude
and treachery. None can procure toleration long but those who do not contradict the opi. nions, or excite the jealousy of their betters. One independent step is an appeal from them to the public, their natural and hated rivals, and annuls the contract between them, which implies ostentatious countenance on the one part, and servile submission on the other. But enough of this.
The patronage of men of talent, even when it proceeds from vanity, is often carried on with a spirit of generosity and magnificence, as long as these are in difficulties and a state of dependence: but as the principle of action in this case is a love of power, the complacency in the object of friendly regard ceases with the opportunity or necessity for the same manifest display of power; and when the unfortunate protegé is just coming to land, and expects a last helping hand, he iš, to his surprise, pushed back, in order that he may be saved from drowning once more. You are not hauled ashore, as you had supposed, by these kind friends, as a mutual triumph after all your struggles and their exertions in your behalf. It is a piece of presumption in you to be seen walking on terrafirma: you are required, at the risk of their friendship, to be always swimming in troubled waters, that they may have the credit of throw
ing out ropes, and sending out life-boats to you, without ever bringing you ashore. Your successes, your reputation, which you think would please them, as justifying their good opinion, are coldly received, and looked at askance, because they remove your dependence on them : if you are under a cloud, they do all they can to keep you there by their good-will: they are so sensible of your gratitude that they wish your obligations never to cease, and take care you shall owe no one else a good turn; and provided you are compelled or contented to remain always in poverty, obscurity, and disgrace, they will continue your very good friends and humble servants to command, to the end of the chapter. The tenure of these indentures is hard. Such persons will wilfully forfeit the gratitude created by years of friendship, by refusing to perform the last act of kindness that is likely ever to be demanded of them: will lend you money, if you have no chance of repaying them ; will give you their good word, if nobody will believe it; and the only thing they do not forgive is an attempt or probability on your part, of being able to repay your obligations. There is something disinterested in all this : at least, it does not show a cowardly or mercenary disposition, but it savours too much