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Anecdotes Of Censured Authors
by [?]

Batteux having been chosen by the French government for the compilation of elementary hooks for the Military School, is said to have felt their unfavourable reception so acutely, that he became a prey to excessive grief. The lamentable death of Dr. Hawkesworth was occasioned by a similar circumstance. Government had consigned to his care the compilation of the voyages that pass under his name: how he succeeded is well known. He felt the public reception so sensibly, that he preferred the oblivion of death to the mortifying recollections of life.[1]

On this interesting subject Fontenelle, in his “Eloge sur Newton,” has made the following observation:–“Newton was more desirous of remaining unknown than of having the calm of life disturbed by those literary storms which genius and science attract about those who rise to eminence.” In one of his letters we learn that his “Treatise on Optics” being ready for the press, several premature objections which appeared made him abandon its publication. “I should reproach myself,” he said, “for my imprudence, if I were to lose a thing so real as my ease to run after a shadow.” But this shadow he did not miss: it did not cost him the ease he so much loved, and it had for him as much reality as ease itself. I refer to Bayle, in his curious article, “Hipponax,” note F. To these instances we may add the fate of the Abbe Cassagne, a man of learning, and not destitute of talents. He was intended for one of the preachers at court; but he had hardly made himself known in the pulpit, when he was struck by the lightning of Boileau’s muse. He felt so acutely the caustic verses, that they rendered him almost incapable of literary exertion; in the prime of life he became melancholy, and shortly afterwards died insane. A modern painter, it is known, never recovered from the biting ridicule of a popular, but malignant wit. Cummyns, a celebrated quaker, confessed he died of an anonymous letter in a public paper, which, said he, “fastened on my heart, and threw me into this slow fever.” Racine, who died of his extreme sensibility to a royal rebuke, confessed that the pain which one severe criticism inflicted outweighed all the applause he could receive. The feathered arrow of an epigram has sometimes been wet with the heart’s blood of its victim. Fortune has been lost, reputation destroyed, and every charity of life extinguished, by the inhumanity of inconsiderate wit.

Literary history, even of our own days, records the fate of several who may be said to have died of Criticism.[2] But there is more sense and infinite humour in the mode which Phaedrus adopted to answer the cavillers of his age. When he first published his Fables, the taste for conciseness and simplicity were so much on the decline, that they were both objected to him as faults. He used his critics as they deserved. To those who objected against the conciseness of his style, he tells a long tedious story (Lib. iii. Fab. 10, ver. 59), and treats those who condemned the simplicity of his style with a run of bombast verses, that have a great many noisy elevated words in them, without any sense at the bottom–this in Lib. iv. Fab. 6.


[Footnote 1: The doctor was paid 6000l. to prepare the narrative of the Voyages of Captain Cook from the rough notes. He indulged in much pruriency of description, and occasional remarks savouring of infidelity. They were loudly and generally condemned, and he died soon afterwards.]

[Footnote 2: Keats is the most melancholy instance. The effect of the severe criticism in the Quarterly Review upon his writings, is said by Shelley to have “appeared like madness, and he was with difficulty prevented from suicide.” He never recovered its baneful effect; and when he died in Rome, desired his epitaph might be, “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” The tombstone in the Protestant cemetery is nameless, and simply records that “A young English poet” lies there.]