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A Project For The Employment Of Authors
by [?]

It was long ago observed by Virgil, and, I suppose, by many before him, that “bees do not make honey for their own use;” the sweets which they collect in their laborious excursions, and store up in their hives with so much skill, are seized by those who have contributed neither toil nor art to the collection; and the poor animal is either destroyed by the invader, or left to shift without a supply. The condition is nearly the same of the gatherer of honey, and the gatherer of knowledge. The bee and the author work alike for others, and often lose the profit of their labour. The case, therefore, of authors, however hitherto neglected, may claim regard. Every body of men is important, according to the joint proportion of their usefulness and their number. Individuals, however they may excel, cannot hope to be considered, singly, as of great weight in the political balance; and multitudes, though they may, merely by their bulk, demand some notice, are yet not of much value, unless they contribute to ease the burden of society, by cooperating to its prosperity.

Of the men, whose condition we are now examining, the usefulness never was disputed; they are known to be the great disseminators of knowledge, and guardians of the commonwealth; and, of late, their number has been so much increased, that they are become a very conspicuous part of the nation. It is not now, as in former times, when men studied long, and passed through the severities of discipline, and the probation of publick trials, before they presumed to think themselves qualified for instructers of their countrymen; there is found a nearer way to fame and erudition, and the inclosures of literature are thrown open to every man whom idleness disposes to loiter, or whom pride inclines to set himself to view. The sailor publishes his journal, the farmer writes the process of his annual labour; he that succeeds in his trade, thinks his wealth a proof of his understanding, and boldly tutors the publick; he that fails, considers his miscarriage as the consequence of a capacity too great for the business of a shop, and amuses himself in the Fleet with writing or translating. The last century imagined, that a man, composing in his chariot, was a new object of curiosity; but how much would the wonder have been increased by a footman studying behind it[2]! There is now no class of men without its authors, from the peer to the thrasher; nor can the sons of literature be confined any longer to Grub street or Moorfields; they are spread over all the town, and all the country, and fill every stage of habitation, from the cellar to the garret.

It is well known, that the price of commodities must always fall, as the quantity is increased, and that no trade can allow its professors to be multiplied beyond a certain number. The great misery of writers proceeds from their multitude. We easily perceive, that in a nation of clothiers, no man could have any cloth to make but for his own back; that in a community of bakers every man must use his own bread; and what can be the case of a nation of authors, but that every man must be content to read his book to himself? For, surely, it is vain to hope, that of men labouring at the same occupation, any will prefer the work of his neighbour to his own; yet this expectation, wild as it is, seems to be indulged by many of the writing race, and, therefore, it can be no wonder, that like all other men, who suffer their minds to form inconsiderate hopes, they are harassed and dejected with frequent disappointments.

If I were to form an adage of misery, or fix the lowest point to which humanity could fall, I should be tempted to name the life of an author. Many universal comparisons there are by which misery is expressed. We talk of a man teased like a bear at the stake, tormented like a toad under a harrow, or hunted like a dog with a stick at his tail; all these are, indeed, states of uneasiness, but what are they to the life of an author; of an author worried by criticks, tormented by his bookseller, and hunted by his creditors! Yet such must be the case of many among the retailers of knowledge, while they continue thus to swarm over the land; and, whether it be by propagation or contagion, produce new writers to heighten the general distress, to increase confusion, and hasten famine.