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Poverty Of The Learned
by [?]

Fortune has rarely condescended to be the companion of genius: others find a hundred by-roads to her palace; there is but one open, and that a very indifferent one, for men of letters. Were we to erect an asylum for venerable genius, as we do for the brave and the helpless part of our citizens, it might be inscribed, “An Hospital for Incurables!” When even Fame will not protect the man of genius from Famine, Charity ought. Nor should such an act be considered as a debt incurred by the helpless member, but a just tribute we pay in his person to Genius itself. Even in these enlightened times, many have lived in obscurity, while their reputation was widely spread, and have perished in poverty, while their works were enriching the booksellers.

Of the heroes of modern literature the accounts are as copious as they are sorrowful.

Xylander sold his notes on Dion Cassius for a dinner. He tells us that at the age of eighteen he studied to acquire glory, but at twenty-five he studied to get bread.

Cervantes, the immortal genius of Spain, is supposed to have wanted food; Camoeens, the solitary pride of Portugal, deprived of the necessaries of life, perished in an hospital at Lisbon. This fact has been accidentally preserved in an entry in a copy of the first edition of the Lusiad, in the possession of Lord Holland. It is a note, written by a friar who must have been a witness of the dying scene of the poet, and probably received the volume which now preserves the sad memorial, and which recalled it to his mind, from the hands of the unhappy poet:–“What a lamentable thing to see so great a genius so ill rewarded! I saw him die in an hospital in Lisbon, without having a sheet or shroud, una sauana, to cover him, after having triumphed in the East Indies, and sailed 5500 leagues! What good advice for those who weary themselves night and day in study without profit!” Camoeens, when some fidalgo complained that he had not performed his promise in writing some verses for him, replied, “When I wrote verses I was young, had sufficient food, was a lover, and beloved by many friends and by the ladies; then I felt poetical ardour: now I have no spirits, no peace of mind. See there my Javanese, who asks me for two pieces to purchase firing, and I have them not to give him.” The Portuguese, after his death, bestowed on the man of genius they had starved, the appellation of Great![1] Vondel, the Dutch Shakspeare, after composing a number of popular tragedies, lived in great poverty, and died at ninety years of age; then he had his coffin carried by fourteen poets, who without his genius probably partook of his wretchedness.

The great Tasso was reduced to such a dilemma that he was obliged to borrow a crown for a week’s subsistence. He alludes to his distress when, entreating his cat to assist him, during the night, with the lustre of her eyes–“Non avendo candele per iscrivere i suoi versi!” having no candle to see to write his verses.

When the liberality of Alphonso enabled Ariosto to build a small house, it seems that it was but ill furnished. When told that such a building was not fit for one who had raised so many fine palaces in his writings, he answered, that the structure of words and that of stones was not the same thing. “Che pervi le pietre, e porvi le parole, non e il medesimo!”At Ferrari this house is still shown, “Parva sed apta” he calls it, but exults that it was paid for with his own money. This was in a moment of good humour, which he did not always enjoy; for in his Satires he bitterly complains of the bondage of dependence and poverty. Little thought the poet that the commune would order this small house to be purchased with their own funds, that it might be dedicated to his immortal memory.