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His name is the last in the list of those men of humour who have formed the themes of the discourses which you have heard so kindly.
Long before I had ever hoped for such an audience, or dreamed of the possibility of the good fortune which has brought me so many friends, I was at issue with some of my literary brethren upon a point —which they held from tradition I think rather than experience—that our profession was neglected in this country; and that men of letters were ill-received and held in slight esteem. It would hardly be grateful of me now to alter my old opinion that we do meet with goodwill and kindness, with generous helping hands in the time of our necessity, with cordial and friendly recognition. What claim had any one of these of whom I have been speaking, but genius? What return of gratitude, fame, affection, did it not bring to all ?
What punishment befell those who were unfortunate among them, but that which follows reckless habits and careless lives ? For these faults a wit must suffer like the dullest prodigal that ever ran in debt. He must pay the tailor if he wears the coat ; his children must go in rags if he spends his money at the tavern; he can't come to London and be made Lord Chancellor if he stops on the road and gambles away his last shilling at Dublin. And he must pay the social penalty of these follies too, and expect that the world will shun the man of bad habits, that women will avoid the man of loose life, that prudent folks will close their doors as a precaution, and before a demand should be made on their pockets by the needy prodigal. With what difficulty had any one of these men to contend, save that eternal and mechanical one of want of means and lack of capital, and of which thousands of young lawyers, young doctors, young soldiers and sailors, of inventors, manufacturers, shopkeepers, have to complain? Hearts as brave and resolute as ever beat in the breast of any wit or poet, sicken and break daily in the vain endeavour and unavailing struggle against life's difficulty. Don't we see daily ruined inventors, greyhaired midshipmen, baulked heroes, blighted curates, barristers pining a hungry life out in chambers, the attorneys never mounting to their
garrets, whilst scores of them are rapping at the door of the successful quack below? If these suffer, who is the author, that he should be exempt? Let us bear our ills with the same constancy with which others endure them, accept our manly part in life, hold our own, and ask no more. I can conceive of no kings or laws causing or curing Goldsmith's improvidence, or Fielding's fatal love of pleasure, or Dick Steele's mania for running races with the constable. You never can outrun that sure-footed officer-not by any swiftness or by dodges devised by any genius, however great ; and he carries off the Tatler to the spunging-house, or taps the Citizen of the World on the shoulder as he would any other mortal.
Does society look down on a man because he is an author ? I suppose if people want a buffoon they tolerate him only in so far as he is amusing ; it can hardly be expected that they should respect him as an equal. Is there to be a guard of honour provided for the author of the last new novel or poem ? how long is he to reign, and keep other potentates out of possession ? He retires, grumbles, and prints a lamentation that literature is despised. If Captain A. is left out of Lady B.'s parties he does not state that the army is despised : if Lord C. no longer asks Counsellor D. to dinner, Counsellor D. does not announce that the bar is insulted. He is not fair to society if he enters it with this suspicion hankering about him ; if he is doubtful about his reception, how hold up his head honestly, and look frankly in the face that world about which he is full of suspicion ? Is he place-hunting, and thinking in his mind that he ought to be made an Ambassador, like Prior, or a Secretary of State, like Addison ? his pretence of equality falls to the ground at once: he is scheming for a patron, not shaking the hand of a friend, when he meets the world. Treat such a man as he deserves ; laugh at his buffoonery, and give him a dinner and a bon jour; laugh at his self-sufficiency and absurd assumptions of superiority, and his equally ludicrous airs of martyrdom: laugh at his flattery and his scheming, and buy it, if it's worth the having. Let the wag have his dinner and the hireling his pay, if you want him, and make a profound bow to the grand homme
incompris, and the boisterous martyr, and show him the door. The great world, the great aggregate experience, has its good sense, as it has its good humour. It detects a pretender, as it trusts a loyal heart. It is kind in the main : how should it be otherwise than kind, when it is so wise and clear-headed ? To any literary man who says, “It despises my profession,” I say, with all my might—no, no, no. It may pass over your individual case—how many a brave fellow has failed in the race, and perished unknown in the struggle !—but it treats you as you merit in the main. If you serve it, it is not unthankful ; if you please, it is pleased; if you cringe to it, it detects you, and scorns you
if you are mean; it returns your cheerfulness with its good humour; it deals not ungenerously with your weaknesses; it recognizes most kindly your merits ; it gives you a fair place and fair play. To any one of those men of whom we have spoken was it in the main ungrateful? A king might refuse Goldsmith a pension, as a publisher might keep his masterpiece and the delight of all the world in his desk for two years; but it was mistake, and not ill-will. Noble and illustrious names of Swift, and Pope, and Addison ! dear and honoured memories of Goldsmith and Fielding ! kind friends, teachers, benefactors ! who shall say that our country, which continues to bring you such an unceasing tribute of applause, admiration, love, sympathy, does not do honour to the literary calling in the honour which it bestows upon you !
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