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Anecdotes Of Censured Authors
by [?]

It is an ingenious observation made by a journalist of Trevoux, on perusing a criticism not ill written, which pretended to detect several faults in the compositions of Bruyere, that in ancient Rome the great men who triumphed amidst the applauses of those who celebrated their virtues, were at the same time compelled to listen to those who reproached them with their vices. This custom is not less necessary to the republic of letters than it was formerly to the republic of Rome. Without this it is probable that authors would be intoxicated with success, and would then relax in their accustomed vigour; and the multitude who took them for models would, for want of judgment, imitate their defects.

Sterne and Churchill were continually abusing the Reviewers, because they honestly told the one that obscenity was not wit, and obscurity was not sense; and the other that dissonance in poetry did not excel harmony, and that his rhymes were frequently prose lines of ten syllables cut into verse. They applauded their happier efforts. Notwithstanding all this, it is certain that so little discernment exists among common writers and common readers, that the obscenity and flippancy of Sterne, and the bald verse and prosaic poetry of Churchill, were precisely the portion which they selected for imitation. The blemishes of great men are not the less blemishes, but they are, unfortunately, the easiest parts for imitation.

Yet criticism may be too rigorous, and genius too sensible to its direst attacks. Sir John Marsham, having published the first part of his “Chronology,” suffered so much chagrin at the endless controversies which it raised–and some of his critics went so far as to affirm it was designed to be detrimental to revelation–that he burned the second part, which was ready for the press. Pope was observed to writhe with anguish in his chair on hearing mentioned the letter of Cibber, with other temporary attacks; and it is said of Montesquieu, that he was so much affected by the criticisms, true and false, which he daily experienced, that they contributed to hasten his death. Ritson’s extreme irritability closed in lunacy, while ignorant Reviewers, in the shapes of assassins, were haunting his death-bed. In the preface to his “Metrical Romances,” he describes himself as “brought to an end in ill health and low spirits–certain to be insulted by a base and prostitute gang of lurking assassins who stab in the dark, and whose poisoned daggers he has already experienced.” Scott, of Amwell, never recovered from a ludicrous criticism, which I discovered had been written by a physician who never pretended to poetical taste.

Pelisson has recorded a literary anecdote, which forcibly shows the danger of caustic criticism. A young man from a remote province came to Paris with a play, which he considered as a masterpiece. M. L’Etoile was more than just in his merciless criticism. He showed the youthful bard a thousand glaring defects in his chef-d’oeuvre. The humbled country author burnt his tragedy, returned home, took to his chamber, and died of vexation and grief. Of all unfortunate men, one of the unhappiest is a middling author endowed with too lively a sensibility for criticism. Athenaeus, in his tenth book, has given us a lively portrait of this melancholy being. Anaxandrides appeared one day on horseback in the public assembly at Athens, to recite a dithyrambic poem, of which he read a portion. He was a man of fine stature, and wore a purple robe edged with golden fringe. But his complexion was saturnine and melancholy, which was the cause that he never spared his own writings. Whenever he was vanquished by a rival, he immediately gave his compositions to the druggists to be cut into pieces to wrap their articles in, without ever caring to revise his writings. It is owing to this that he destroyed a number of pleasing compositions; age increased his sourness, and every day he became more and more dissatisfied with the awards of his auditors. Hence his “Tereus,” because it failed to obtain the prize, has not reached us, which, with other of his productions, deserved preservation, though they had missed the crown awarded by the public.