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Literary Journals
by [?]

When writers were not numerous, and readers rare, the unsuccessful author fell insensibly into oblivion; he dissolved away in his own weakness. If he committed the private folly of printing what no one would purchase, he was not arraigned at the public tribunal–and the awful terrors of his day of judgment consisted only in the retributions of his publisher’s final accounts. At length, a taste for literature spread through the body of the people; vanity induced the inexperienced and the ignorant to aspire to literary honours. To oppose these forcible entries into the haunts of the Muses, periodical criticism brandished its formidable weapon; and the fall of many, taught some of our greatest geniuses to rise. Multifarious writings produced multifarious strictures; and public criticism reached to such perfection, that taste was generally diffused, enlightening those whose occupations had otherwise never permitted them to judge of literary compositions.

The invention of REVIEWS, in the form which they have at length gradually assumed, could not have existed but in the most polished ages of literature: for without a constant supply of authors, and a refined spirit of criticism, they could not excite a perpetual interest among the lovers of literature. These publications were long the chronicles of taste and science, presenting the existing state of the public mind, while they formed a ready resource for those idle hours, which men of letters would not pass idly.

Their multiplicity has undoubtedly produced much evil; puerile critics and venal drudges manufacture reviews; hence that shameful discordance of opinion, which is the scorn and scandal of criticism. Passions hostile to the peaceful truths of literature have likewise made tremendous inroads in the republic, and every literary virtue has been lost! In “Calamities of Authors” I have given the history of a literary conspiracy, conducted by a solitary critic, GILBERT STUART, against the historian HENRY.

These works may disgust by vapid panegyric, or gross invective; weary by uniform dulness, or tantalise by superficial knowledge. Sometimes merely written to catch the public attention, a malignity is indulged against authors, to season the caustic leaves. A reviewer has admired those works in private, which he has condemned in his official capacity. But good sense, good temper, and good taste, will ever form an estimable journalist, who will inspire confidence, and give stability to his decisions.

To the lovers of literature these volumes, when they have outlived their year, are not unimportant. They constitute a great portion of literary history, and are indeed the annals of the republic.

To our own reviews, we must add the old foreign journals, which are perhaps even more valuable to the man of letters. Of these the variety is considerable; and many of their writers are now known. They delight our curiosity by opening new views, and light up in observing minds many projects of works, wanted in our own literature. GIBBON feasted on them; and while he turned them over with constant pleasure, derived accurate notions of works, which no student could himself have verified; of many works a notion is sufficient.

The origin of literary journals was the happy project of DENIS DE SALLO, a counsellor in the parliament of Paris. In 1665 appeared his Journal des Scavans. He published his essay in the name of the Sieur de Hedouville, his footman! Was this a mere stroke of humour, or designed to insinuate that the freedom of criticism could only be allowed to his lacquey? The work, however, met with so favourable a reception, that SALLO had the satisfaction of seeing it, the following year, imitated throughout Europe, and his Journal, at the same time, translated into various languages. But as most authors lay themselves open to an acute critic, the animadversions of SALLO were given with such asperity of criticism, and such malignity of wit, that this new journal excited loud murmurs, and the most heart-moving complaints. The learned had their plagiarisms detected, and the wit had his claims disputed. Sarasin called the gazettes of this new Aristarchus, Hebdomadary Flams! Billevesees hebdomadaires! and Menage having published a law book, which Sallo had treated with severe raillery, he entered into a long argument to prove, according to Justinian, that a lawyer is not allowed to defame another lawyer, etc.: Senatori maledicere non licet, remaledicere jus fasque est. Others loudly declaimed against this new species of imperial tyranny, and this attempt to regulate the public opinion by that of an individual. Sallo, after having published only his third volume, felt the irritated wasps of literature thronging so thick about him, that he very gladly abdicated the throne of criticism. The journal is said to have suffered a short interruption by a remonstrance from the nuncio of the pope, for the energy with which Sallo had defended the liberties of the Gallican church.