The Author by Theodore S. Fay
CHAPTER II. THE NOVEL.
CHAPTER III. THE PLAY.
Fair pledges of a fruitful tree,
What, were ye born to be
An hour or half's delight,
And so to bid good night?
Your date is not so past,
But you may stay yet here awhile,
To blush and gently smile,
Nor fade at last
"Prudence, whose glass presents the approaching jail,
Poetic justice, with her lifted scale,
Where in nice balance truth with gold she weighs,
And solid pudding against empty praise."
I WALKED out one summer afternoon, to amuse myself after the
troubles of a long and toilsome day, spent in poring over musty volumes
of the law. As I rose from my fatiguing studies, and breathed the
fresh, free air of heaven, I enjoyed that natural cheerfulness which is
always felt when the elastic mind soars from the object to which it has
been bound down, and sports away at pleasure through the regions of
fancy. After having groped among the shadowy labyrinths of ambiguous
science, wearied and bewildered in its mazy path, I rejoiced to be in a
lighter sphere, amid merriment and bustling adventure—where the
brilliant confusion of Broadway gave a livelier character to my
meditations, and the rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed girls who passed by me
imparted a sweeter sensation to my mind.
It had been extremely warm and sultry, but now a light breeze
cooled the air; the pigeons pecked and cooed and sported about in the
shade; a privileged dog might now and then be observed trotting along
behind his master, panting and tired, with his tongue hanging from his
unclosed mouth, and those unpoetical animals in the records of our
Common Council, denominated—hogs, grunted through their long and
dreamless slumber, in all the glory of independence and mud.
It is an old maxim that something may be learned in whatever
situation we are placed. The darkness of a solitary dungeon improves
the contemplative disposition, and the mid-day splendor of the city is
replete with instruction.
The vast and wonderful variety of face and figure which on every
side met my view, afforded an amusement for my ramble, of which I did
not fail to take advantage.
Sometimes brushed by me the smart beau, ready dressed, and polished
for his lady's eye; his new, shining hat, upon a head each particular
hair of which possessed its assigned station, like well disciplined
soldiers at a military post. In dark contrast behind him dragged
the lazy sweep—wrapping his dusky mantle around his gloomy form, the
personification of a moonless night. The man of broad dimensions
waddled before the thin, consumptive, meagre wretch—poverty and
plenty, emblematic of the rapid vicissitudes of life. Bullies, thinking
of thunder and lightning—Dandies, thinking of nothing but
themselves—and fools, thinking of nothing at all, went one after
another before my observing sight. Editors, composing extemporaneous
editorial articles—Players, conning over their half-learned
parts—Lawyers, calculating what no one but lawyers could
calculate—and Doctors in rueful, but resigned anticipation of their
patient's demise, passed by, and disappeared like Macbeth's visions in
the regions of Hecate. Now came a crowd of "Noisy children, just let
loose from school," in high glee at having escaped from the
vicissitudes of their mimic world—some from the troubles of
incomprehensible ancient languages, and lines terrible to scan—and
other young literary Bonapartes, who "had fought and conquered" whole
troops of mathematical problems, who had surmounted obstacles seemingly
insurmountable, and labored far up the rugged hill of science in spite
of the brambles and shadows with which it so plentifully abounds. Then
I beheld the philosopher, in his ordinary habiliments, scrupulously
plain, careful to owe no portion of his celebrity to the vanities of
dress—his brow clouded with a sublime frown, which spoke of
crucibles, air-pumps, powerful acids, and electrical machines—pacing
his steady way, with measured strides—all science and severity from
head to foot. After him came the poet, in a poetical dress, with short
sleeves to his coat, short legs to his pantaloons, and short allowances
for his hunger— his hat was put back from his forehead in negligent
grace—there was no awkwardness in his moving attitudes—no rose
upon his thoughtful cheek—and no cravat around his neck; but
bewildered, Byronlike, and brimfull of imagination, and wrapped up in
splendid visions, invisible to all but himself— through the various
multitude he pursued his unerring career "In lofty madness, meditating
song," The richly dressed, fashionable belle dashed by me like a
blazing meteor, sparkling and flashing in transitory brightness—and
in bashful beauty, like some softly-passing dream, followed the
sylph-like figure of a charming girl, with eyes cast down in the
modesty of merit, and cheeks blushing at the earnest gaze which their
loveliness attracted. It passed away from before me like the evanescent
hopes of youth, and gave place to a person who monopolized all my
attention. It was the short, prim form of a middle-aged, negligently
dressed man, who wore an air of drollery, entirely irresistible. As he
passed, maiden purity and philosophic sternness lent the tribute of a
smile, and the little boys paused from the fascinations of their hoops
and marbles to look and laugh. The clouded visage of misfortune, by his
ludicrous appearance, was cheated into a temporary illumination, and in
the wildness of my disenthralled fancy, methought the very birds of the
air, and the beasts of the field, or, in plain English, the pigeons and
the pigs, gave a glance of merry astonishment upon the object of my
His coat (for although he was an author he had a coat) had once been
of handsome black cloth, but its charms had vanished "like fairy gifts
fading away"—many winters had scattered their snows upon the
shoulder-blades and elbows, from the pinnacles of the latter of which
peeped something not very white, concerning which I had my own
peculiar calculation. The collar, I mean of his coat, for that of his
shirt had long since retired to the dignity of private life, beneath
the complicated folds of his slovenly cravat—by the by, it would be
well if some of our political dirty shirt collars would follow
its examples—I say, the collar of his coat, by long acquaintance with
the rim of a hat, venerable on account of its antiquity, had assumed a
gloss which was by no means the gloss of novelty, and a dark brown
waistcoat was buttoned carelessly around a body that seemed emptier
than the head upon which it had depended for support. His pantaloons,
"Weak, but intrepid—sad, but unsubdued," were shrivelled tightly
over a brace of spindleshanks, withered, weary, and forlorn, that would
have put Daddy Longlegs to the blush. Uncleaned pumps covered every
part of his feet but the toes, which came forth to enjoy the fresh
summer breezes, shoes and stockings to the contrary notwithstanding. A
pair of tattered kid gloves, "neat but not gaudy," fluttered about his
hands, so that it would be difficult immediately to discover whether
the glove held the hand or the hand the glove.
But it was not the dress which gained him so many broad stares and
oblique glances, for our city annually receives a great increase of
literary inhabitants, but the air—the "Je ne sais quoi"—the
nameless something—dignity in rags, and self-importance with holes at
the elbow. It was the quintessence of drollery which sat upon his thin,
smirking lip—which was visible on his crooked, copper-tinged, and
snuff-bedaubed organ of smelling, and existed in the small eyes of
As I love to study human nature in person, and have always believed
the world was the best book to read, I formed a determination to become
acquainted with him of the laughable aspect, and proceeded to act in
conformity thereto. I was striving to hit upon some plausible method of
entering into conversation with him, when fate being in a singularly
good humor, took it into her whimsical head to favor my design. As I
walked by him near the end of the pavement, when the multitude were by
no means so numerous, and their place was supplied by the warbling
birds, the bleating lambs, and all those sounds which constitute the
melody of country breezes, with a slight inclination of his pericranium
he turned towards me and spoke.
"Pray, sir, can you favor me with the hour?"
"It is four o'clock," answered I, "I believe—but am not sure;
walk on with me, and we will inquire of yonder gentleman."
"You are excessively good," said he, with a smile, which gave much
more expression to his face—"I am afraid I give you an infinite
degree of trouble; you are enjoying rural felicity, poetically
correct— pray, do not let me interrupt you."
As he spoke the clock struck.
"Fortune favors the deserving," I remarked, as a continuation of the
converse so happily commenced.
He spoke with more familiarity—"Upon my honor, sir, you are very
complimentary: if every body thought of me as you do, or at least, if
they thought as much of my productions, I flatter myself I should have
had a watch for myself."
"I'll warrant me," I replied, "many have the means of ascertaining
time better than yourself, who know not how to use it half so well."
"Sir," said he with a bow, "if you will buckle fortune to my
back—but you don't flatter me—no, no. My excellent, good friend,
you have much more penetration than people in general. Sir, I have been
abused—vilely, wretchedly, da—, but I won't swear—I don't follow
the fashions so much as to make a fool of myself; but on the honor of a
perfect gentleman, I do assure you, sir, I have been very strangely
used, and abused, too."
"I have no doubt, sir," observed I, "but that your biography would
"My biography—you've hit the mark; I wish I had a biographer—a
Dunlap, a Boswell, a Virgil, or a Homer—he should begin his book with
the line —"Multum ille et terris, jactatus et alto, Vi superum
." I have been a very football, sir, for the gods to play with." "
Tantæne animis coelestibus iræ," said I, willing to humor the
pedantry which I already began to discover, "but the race is not always
to the swift, nor the battle to the strong."
"Aha! sir," he exclaimed with a gentle squeeze of my hand, "I know
what you are—some kindred spirit—one of those kind, high beings who
come upon this world `like angel visits, few and far between. ' I see
it, sir, in your eye," continued he, with a gesture that might have
spurred even Miss Kemble to new exertions. "I see it in your eye—
charity, benevolence, affection, philosophy, and science. Ah! my dear
sir, I know you are better than the rest of mankind; you've done a
great deal of good in the world, and will do a great deal more—
"You portioned maids—apprenticed orphans blest—
The old who labor, and the young who rest:
Is there a contest? enter but your door,
Balked are the courts, and contest is no more;
Despairing quacks with curses fled the place,
And vile attorneys, now a useless race."
"Sir?" ejaculated I, not very well pleased with this last slash at
my beloved profession—
—"Or, perhaps," continued he with increasing rapidity of speech,
"you are a lawyer, my dear sir,—the grand path to political
glory—sweet occupation; to put out the strong arm, and save drowning
innocence; to hurl the thunderbolt of eloquence against proud and
wealthy oppression; to weave a charm of safety around defenceless
beauty; and catch clumsy, and otherwise unconquerable power in your
mazy net of law—Pray, sir, can you lend me a shilling?"
I handed him the money, and he turned to be off, when I seized him
by the arm, and asked him where he was going? He laid one hand upon his
receptacle for food, and with the other pointed to a tavern, before
which hung the sign "Entertainment for Man and Horse."
"My dinner—my dinner—my dinner!" said he, "I haven't eaten a
particle these three weeks; poverty and poetry, sir, go arm and arm,
sworn friends and companions, through this vale of tears; one starves
the body and the other rarefies the soul— my way has been rough and
rugged as the Rock-away turnpike road, and misfortune jerks me along as
if life went upon badly made cog-wheels. Will you be so kind as to lend
me another shilling? I want a dinner for once in my life—beefsteaks
and onions, butter, gravy, and potatoes—
"Hæc olim meminisse juvabit." It will be a grand era in my
There was something so exquisitely whimsical in the fellow's
demeanor, that I determined to spend the afternoon in his company. I
never shall forget the look and squeeze which he bestowed upon me when
I proposed that we should adjourn to the inn, and dine together at my
expense. He seized hold of my hand, and drew himself up erect in all
the enthusiasm of poetic madness—
"Sir," said he, informing me that he could not speak, with a
rapidity of pronunciation, which reminded me of a horse running
away—"Sir, Mr. a-a-a—my dear, dear friend—my tongue falters— I
can't speak—I'm dumb—gratitude has shut up the sluices of my heart;
and the cataract of my oratorical powers is dried up—pro tem.
But it will come directly—Stop till I get in the house— "Arma
virumque cano." that is to say, I'll tell you my history; but just
at this moment," continued he, smacking his lips, and his little eyes
dilating with the eager anticipation of epicurean delights, yet to
come—"just at this crisis,
"Oh! guide me from this horrid scene,
These high arched walks, and alleys green." then with a slight
pause and smile,
"Let's run the race—he be the winner,
Who gets there first, and eats his dinner."
As he spoke, he pulled me forcibly by the arm, and I found myself in
a neat, clean room, with the hungry poet fastened close to my side.
The conversation which occurred between us, and the history of his
literary vicissitudes, must be the subject of the next chapter.
CHAPTER II. THE NOVEL.
"Now mayors and shrieves all hushed and satiate lay,
Yet eat in dreams the custard of the day,
While pensive poets painful vigils keep,
Sleepless themselves, to give their readers sleep."
Though no spirit is so lofty but that starvation can bend it, yet in
the tranquillity of our replenished bodies we are always wicked enough
to enjoy the extravagant emotions which agitate authors and other
hungry individuals, when by any strange variety of life they happen to
get a good dinner.
My friend, who had delighted me with his volubility of speech, no
sooner perceived that the preparations were ended, than he fell upon
his defenceless prize like a lion on his prey. Poetry and prose,
fanciful quotations and lofty ideas, for a time were banished from his
busy brain. Our conversation, the whole burthen of which had at first
been borne by him, was now lost in the superior fascinations of
beefsteak and onions; and a few unintelligible monosyllables, uttered
from a mouth crammed full of various articles, were the only attempts
made toward an interchange of soul.
The enthusiasm of his attack began at length to abate, and the fire
of anticipated delight to give way to an expression less anxious and
fluctuating. The discomfited steak lay before him mangled and in ruins.
The onions shed a fainter perfume from the half-cleared dish—and the
potatoes were done in the strictest sense of the word. The sated author
threw himself back in his chair, and exclaimed, "The deed is done—the
dinner is eaten—Fidus Achates—my beloved friend—I feel I
know not how—a strange combination of various sensations gives me a
new confidence to brave the storms of life, or to look back upon the
dangers already passed. And now, that I am comparatively composed, and
have time to think, you will do me the favor to answer me, what in the
name of all that's beautiful in prose, poetry, or real life, induced
you to give this strange conclusion to a hungry day?"
"Because," I replied, "your face pleased me more than all the others
which I saw—there was talent and taste in your very dress."
"Ah come," said he, casting a slight glance upon his well-worn
garments, "that won't do—I am perfectly aware that my external
appearance is by no means prepossessing, but what of that? `she must
marry me and not my clothes.' I cannot help it, if fate, in her
unequal distribution of mutual effects, gives you a pair of breeches
whose use is to come—and me one whose value has passed
—I don't feel ashamed of what a superior power has done for me. It
is the mark of merit to be poor. Homer was poor—Johnson was
poor—and I am poor. Besides, a rich man cannot enter into the kingdom
of heaven—that's flat."
"If poverty," said I, "is a passport through the happy gates,
"Then," interrupted he, "I should have been there as soon as I
commenced my literary life; for though self-praise is no
recommendation, I flatter myself I am as poor as any man in New-York,
and what's more, I confess it—I'm proud of it"—
"After dinner," said I.
"Oh, you're a wag—but rich or poor, I've had my hopes and
disappointments as well as the rest of mankind. Sunshine and shadow
have chased each other over my path—and now, by your kindness, I am
warming myself in the rays of benevolence and friendship. Ah, it is a
treat for me, I do assure you, to find the true feeling of
generosity—the real, genuine virtue, cleansed from the ore of vanity
and ostentation, and so unlike the pompous charity of the common world,
"Not to the skies in useless columns tost,
Or in proud falls magnificently lost,
But clear and artless pouring through the plain,
Health to the sick and solace to the swain."
"You are the man of my mind, and to you I will speak my sorrows,
although my parched lips almost refuse them utterance"—and he cast a
sidelong glance at an empty bottle which stood near us on a table. I
took the hint, and called for some wine. He swallowed a glass full,
smacked his lips, and assuming a serious and important air, thus
commenced the narrative of his literary horrors:
"Sir, my name is William Lackwit, Esquire. I am an author, whose
greatest failure has been in not getting his works into notice, but a
fatal oblivion seemed always to engulf my productions in its lethean
stream—and fate, I do sincerely believe, has been trying upon me some
philosophical experiment, to see how many privations human nature could
bear. I have been tossed about, sir, like a juggler's ball—and in all
the poetical labyrinths in which I have been lost, memory cannot behold
One solitary resting place,
Nor bring me back one branch of grace.
"I was cast upon the world when about seventeen years of age, and
possessing a vast share of vanity, which, by the by, is the staff of an
author's life, I determined to write for a living. Animated by the fame
of great men who had lived before me, I plunged deeply into literary
madness, and fell a victim to the present prevailing epidemic, the cacoethes scribendi, which is now sweeping many young gentlemen
from professional existence. I wrote for the newspapers, but made no
noise—heard no approbation— and `last but not least,' received no
pay. Sometimes, perchance, a very particularly complaisant friend would
laud the little offsprings of my pen; but it did not gain me bread and
butter, and could not satisfy the cravings of hungry nature. With a
full heart and an empty stomach, I relinquished my attempt, and bade
farewell to my sweet lyre, in a manner that, I thought, could not fail
of attracting universal sympathy. I walked out the next morning,
expecting to meet many a softened heart and friendly hand, but the
bell-man heaved his unaltered cry as he did the day before; the carts
rattled along with their usual thundering rapidity; the busy crowd
shuffled by me as if I was not in existence; and the sun shone upon the
earth, and the changing clouds floated through the air, exactly as they
were wont to do before I determined to shed no more music upon an
"At length I recovered from my disappointment, and issued a little
paper of my own; but it dropped dead from the press, as silently as
falls the unnoticed flake of snow: no buzz of admiration followed me as
I went; no pretty black-eyed girl whispered `that's he' as I
passed; and if any applause was elicited by my effort, it was so still,
and so slily managed, that one would scarcely have supposed it was
"Something must be done, thought I—while the great reward of
literary fame played far off before my imagination, a glorious prize,
to reach which no exertion would be too great—I walked to my little
room, where a remnant of my family's possessions enabled me to keep my
chin above the ocean of life. In the solitary silence of my tattered
and ill-furnished apartment, I sat me down upon a broken bench, and
lost myself in `rumination sad' as to what course I should next
pursue. Suddenly, and like a flash of lightning, an idea struck me with
almost force enough to knock me down—I'll write a novel— I'll take
the public whether they will or not— `fortuna favet integros,'
and if fame won't come to me, I'll go to fame. I don't wonder that I
did not succeed before. The public want something sublime, and I'll
give it to them wholesale. I'll come upon them by surprise; I'll
combine the beauties of Addison with the satire of Swift, Goldsmith's
sweetness and Pope's fire. I'll have darkness and storm, battle,
treachery, murder, thunder, and lightning: it must take. The
author of a novel like this will make an immense fortune. Old ivy-grown
castles, moonlight landscapes, Spanish feathers, and Italian serenades,
floated in brilliant confusion through my enamoured fancy. Daggers and
despair, eloquence, passion, and fire, mingled in a delightful cloud of
imagination, and heaved and changed in the dim and dreary distance like
a magnificent vision of enchantment, which only wanted the breath of my
genius to fan it into shape and exquisite beauty.
"At it I went, `tooth and nail,' and watched over my young offspring
with as much fondness as the mother bends over the cradle that contains
her only boy. Already I began to hold up my head, and think how
differently people would look at me if they only knew who I was, and
what I was about to do. The splendid dresses, the ten dollar beaver
hats turned upside in a basin of water, the handsome canes, and
polished Wellington boots, which daily obtruded themselves upon my
eager eye, as if in mockery of my miserable apparel, I began to look
upon as objects already my own. Was I thirsty and hungry while musing
on the variety of macaronies and cream-tarts, cocoanut-cakes and
coffee, in a confectioner's shop? `Only wait,' thought I to myself,
`only wait till I get out my new novel.' Was my coat threadbare and my
hat old, only wait for my new novel. Did a coach and four dash by me,
footman taking his ease behind, and driver with new hat and white top
boots? Drive away, coachee, thought I, drive away, but only wait for my
new novel. Extreme impatience kept me on pins and needles till my work
was done. 'Twas indeed `a consummation devoutly to be wished.' A kind
of restless anticipation kept me in continual excitement till the
development of my greatness, or what was the same thing, the
publication of my work.
"At length it was finished, and off it went, two volumes duodecimo,
with a modest blue cover, and its name on the back. Long enough,
thought I, have I labored in obscurity, but now—I pulled up my collar
(it was a long time ago) and walked majestically along in all the pride
of greatness incog.
"Alas! alas! 'twas but a dagger of the mind. It dazzled for a moment
before my enraptured sight, and left me again to descend into the
nothingness from which, in fancy, I had risen. Although it was printed
and published, with a preface artfully acknowledging it to be unworthy
public patronage; although I wrote a puff myself—do you know what a
"An author's opinion of his own works, expressed in a daily paper,
by himself or his friends," I answered.
"Right," continued he, "although I wrote a puff myself, informing
the public that rumors were afloat that the new novel, which created
such a sensation both abroad and at home, was from the well-known pen
of the celebrated William Lackwit, Esq., poet, editor, orator, and
author in general—although I paid the editor of one of our most
fashionable evening papers six shillings for reading it himself, and
six and sixpence for recommending it to the perusal of his subscribers,
`credat Judoeus appellas'—it `went dead,' as the Irishman
says; a newspaper squib, a little pop-gun of a thing, first brought it
into disrepute, and a few would-be critics ridiculed it to death.
Herbert and Rogers, merchant tailors, lost a customer and I a fortune,
and my unhappy book was used to carry greasy sausages and bad butter to
the illiterate herd, who took more care of their stomachs than of their
heads, and liked meat better than mind. Oh! that ever I was an author:
oh! that ever I panted after literary fame. I have chased the rainbow
reputation over crag and cliff. I have waded through rivers of
distress, and braved storms of poverty and scorn, to get one grasp at
the beautiful vision; and though I see it yet, as lovely and as bright
as ever, yet still it is as cheating, and still as far from my reach.
My next trial was of a higher nature, which, after we have again
partaken of your excellent Madeira, I will relate to you"—
And he proceeded to describe that which I shall lay before the
indulgent reader in the next chapter.
CHAPTER III. THE PLAY.
"Fierce champion, Fortitude, that knows no fears
Of hisses, blows, or want, or loss of ears;
Calm Temperance, whose blessings those partake,
Who hunger and who thirst for scribbling's sake."
My eccentric companion proceeded in his story, gathering new
animation as he recapitulated the battles which he had fought, and the
victories which he might have won.
"For a long time, sir, after the melancholy catastrophe of my novel,
I was completely discouraged. I felt an indifference towards the world.
I had soared so high upon the wings of hope that the fall almost broke
my heart; but soon the disappointment began to lose its bitterness, and
I received a consolation (which, wicked as it was, I could not repress)
in discovering that hundreds of unsuccessful authors were exactly in my
condition: then I remembered that as great fame, once acquired, would
be everlasting, I could not expect to acquire it without immense
trouble and assiduous application. Gradually I shook off the hateful
fetters of gloomy despair, and, like some deluded slave, to a false
woman's charms, I allowed cheating hope to lead me captive again. My
brain began to effervesce with exuberance of imagination, and gave
promise of something more exquisite still. Novelwriting was out of the
question: I had manufactured one, and if the public did not like it,
they might let it alone; and so they did—the more shame for them.
"I felt as proud as Lucifer in my defeat, and was resolved never to
compliment with another the world who had used my last so villanously.
No, thought I, I'll write a play, and give Shakspeare and Otway a
little rest. If I cannot get in the great temple one way, I'll try
another; and, with increasing avidity, I went at it again. It was not
long before I began to entertain the idea that my mind was peculiarly
adapted for dramatic writing. I was not formed to wade through the dull
drudgery of novel descriptions—to expatiate upon little rivulets,
tinkling among big rocks—and amorous breezes making love to
sentimental green trees. In my present avocation, the azure heavens,
the frowning mountain, the broad ocean, the shadowy forest, and `all
that sort of thing,' would fall beneath the painter's care: skies would
be manufactured to give light to my heroes, and cities would sprout up,
in which they could act their adventures. My play would present a great
field for triumph, and `young, blushing Merit, and neglected Worth,'
must be seen, and consequently admired. Now would the embodied visions
of my fancy go to the hearts of the public through their ears, as well
as their eyes, and genius would wing its sparkling way amid the
thundering acclamations of thousands of admiring spectators. `Now,'
said I to myself, `I have the eel of glory by the tail, and it shall
not escape me, slippery as it is.'
"With a perseverance which elicited praise from myself, if from
nobody else, I mounted my Pegasus, and jogged along this newly
discovered road to immortality. The external and common world melted
from my mind when I sat down to my task, and, although it was
evanescent as poets' pleasures generally are, few men enjoyed more
happiness than I—as the tattered trappings of my poor garret seemed
dipped in the enchanting magnificence of my dreams, and I rioted in
visions of white paper snow-storms, and dramatic thunder and lightning.
I sought every opportunity for stage effect—to have trap-doors and
dungeons, unexpected assassinations, and resurrections more unexpected
"My undertaking seemed very easy at first, but I soon found myself
bewildered amid difficulties seriously alarming. At one time I brought
a whole army of soldiers on the stage, and made them fight a prodigious
battle, without discovering, till half the poor fellows were slain,
that the whole affair had taken place in a lady's chamber! This was
easily remedied, but I experienced infinitely more trouble with the
next. I had formed a hero, in whom were concentrated all the virtues,
beauties, and accomplishments of human kind: a real Sir William
Wallace—gigantic in person and mind—who never opened his lips but
to speak blank verse—who did not know that there was such a person as
Fear on the face of the globe, and could put a whole army to flight by
just offering to draw his sword. It was my design artfully to lead him
into the greatest extremes of danger, and then artfully to lead him out
again; but, in the paroxysm of my enthusiasm, I at length got him into
a scrape from which no human power could possibly extricate him.
"His enemies, determined not to give so terrible a fellow the
slightest chance of escape, had confined him in a tremendous dungeon,
deep, and walled around on all sides, by lofty rocks and mountains
totally impenetrable. To this dreadful abode there was only one little
entrance, which was strictly guarded by a band of soldiers, who were
ordered never to take their eyes off the door, and always to keep their
guns cocked. Now here was a predicament, and I knew not what to do. The
whole of the preceding was so beautifully managed, that to cut it out
would be impossible. Yet there he was, poor youth, without the
slenderest hope of freedom, cooped up among everlasting mountains,
beneath which Atlas himself might have groaned in vain. What was I to
do? He must be released. The audience would expect it, as a common
civility, that I would not murder him before their eyes. It would have
been ungenteel to a degree. At length I hit it, after having conceived
almost inconceivable plans, and vainly attempted to manage ponderous
ideas which were too heavy for my use. I proposed to introduce a
ghost—a spirit, which would at once please the pit, and be a powerful
friend to the imprisoned soldier.
"At the dead of the night, when he sat ruminating on the
vicissitudes of life, and spouting extemporaneous blank-verse
soliloquies, (at which I had spent many midnight hours,) the genius of
the mountain comes down in a thunder cloud, and thus addresses the
pensive hero. You will be pleased to observe the rude and natural
dignity of language, which it was a great point with me to preserve.
Hero of earth, thine eyes look red with weeping.
(laying his hand upon his sword.) Who says he e'er saw
Nay, hold thy tongue, and shut thy wide-oped jaw: I come to save
thee, if thou wilt be saved.
I will not perish, if I help it can; But who will cleave these
cursed rocks apart, And give me leave to leave this cursed place, Where
lizards crawl athwart my sinking flesh, And bullfrogs jump, and toads
do leap about?
I—I can do whate'er I have a mind: I am the genius of this
lonesome place, And I do think you might more manners have, Than thus
to speak to him that is your host.
If thou art really what thou seem'st to be, Just let me out of this
infernal hole. Oh! my dear fellow, take me hence away— `My soul's in
arms, impatient for the fray!' Take me from deeds I've often thought
upon, Down deep in dreadful dungeons darkly done!
"The alliteration in the last line melts the tender heart of the
genius: he waves his hand in the air; his cloudy throne streams
thunder and lightning from every side; instantaneously a convulsion
ensues; the stage becomes the scene of general conflagration; a number
of small imps, and little devils, fiery-breathed dragons, and red-nosed
salamanders, are seen sporting about in the confusion, till the whole
explodes, and out walks my man through a prodigious crack in the
mountain, which heals up after him as he goes along. The consternation
of the guards may be imagined, but unless I had the MS. here, I could
not attempt to describe it.
"At length it was written, rehearsed, and advertised, and its name,
in great capitals, stared from every brick wall and wooden fence in the
"Delightful anticipations of immortality began to throng upon my
mind, and I could almost hear the various theatre cries of `bravo,'
`encore,' and `author.' With some trouble, I had prepared a very
handsome speech, to be spoken when I should be called out, and
practised bowing before a looking-glass with great success. Indeed, by
the time the evening of representation arrived, I was prepared for
every triumph which fate could have in store for me; and I had vowed an
unalterable determination not to lose my firmness of mind in the
heaviest flood of prosperity that could possibly pour in upon me.
"The evening arrived—a fine, cool, moonlight night. The stars
twinkled upon me as I hastened to the theatre, as if congratulating me
from their lofty stations in the sky, and the most refreshing breezes
played around my head, methought, whispering soft nonsense in my ear. I
walked with a proud step to the door, entered majestically, and took my
"The house was already thronged with ladies and gentlemen, with
their various appendages of quizzing-glasses and bamboo canes; and
frequent murmurs of impatience buzzed around, by which I felt extremely
flattered. The end of my troubles seemed already at hand, and I thought
Fame, on her adamantine tablet, had already written `William Lackwit,
Esquire, Author in general,' in letters too indelible for time itself
to erase. Fear faded away in the dazzling brilliancy of that smiling
multitude, and my soul floated about in its delicious element of
triumphant hope, with a sensation such as arises after a good dose of
"Alas! `'twas but a dream!' I soon perceived that fortune frowned on
my efforts, and had taken the most undisguised method of blasting my
hopes. A most diabolical influenza had for some time raged in the city,
which on this very evening seemed at its height. A convulsion of
coughing kept the whole audience in incessant confusion; and with the
most harrowing apprehensions, I listened to noises of every
description, from the faint, sneeze-like effusion of some little girl's
throat, to the deeptoned and far-sounding bellow of the portly
alderman. Besides this, I had the pleasure to observe some of my most
devoted enemies scattered, as if intentionally, through the critical
pit, scowling in tenfold blackness upon the scene, and apparently
waiting in composed hatred, an opportunity to give me `the goose.'
Meditation raged high, as I observed these significant and threatening
appearances, and I could scarcely have been in greater trepidation if I
had been attacked with hydrophobia itself.
"The curtain rose soon, and my first characters appeared; but, fire
and fury! I did not recognize them myself!
"The play proceeded, and a scene ensued which gentlest moderation
might denominate `murder, most foul.' My dear sir, you can have no idea
of it. They had cut out my most beautiful sentiments. The very
identical remarks which I had intended should bring the house down,
were gone, and `left not a trace behind.' One recited a speech which
was intended to have been spoken by another, and he spouted one that
should not have been spoken at all. My finest specimens of rhetoric
failed, from their clumsy manner of delivery, and all my wit missed
fire. Oh! if you could have seen them, like a pack of wild bulls in a
garden of flowers, breaking rudely over all those delicate bushes of
poetry, and trampling down the sweetest roses in the field of
literature. The prettily turned expressions, which should have been
carefully breathed upon the audience, with a softened voice and pensive
eye, were bawled out in an unvaried, monotonous tone of voice, and a
face as passionless as a barber's block. The whole play was destroyed.
" `There was nip, and snip, and cut, and slish, and slash,' till the
first act ended, and then was a slight hiss. `Cold drops of sweat stood
on my trembling flesh;' but I pulled my hat fiercely over my beating
brow, and, angry and desperate, prepared for the brooding storm. On my
mountain scene I laid my principal dependence; and if that failed me,
`then welcome despair.' At last it came: there was the dungeon and a
man in it, with a wig, which covered the greatest part of his real
hair, and a face sublimely cut and slashed over with a piece of coal.
Instead of the beautiful countenance which had gleamed upon me in my
poetic vision, there was a thin, hump-backed little fellow, with a
tremendous pair of red whiskers, and a pug nose! My fac-simile of Sir
William Wallace with red whiskers and a pug nose!! Sir, it threw me
into one of the most violent fevers I ever had. Besides all these, `his
face was dirty, and his hands unwashed; ' and he proceeded to give such
a bombastic flourish of his arm, and his voice rose to such a high
pitch, that he was hailed with loud laughter, and shouts of `Make a
bow, Johnny—make a bow,' till my head reeled in delirious despair.
"But the language and stage effect might redeem the errors of the
actor, and I remained in a delightful agony for the result. Lazy time
at length brought it upon the stage; but oh, ye gods! what a fall was
there! As the thunder-cloud and genius were floating gracefully down,
one of the ropes cracked, and the enchanter of the cavern hurt his nose
against the floor, notwithstanding a huge pair of gilt pasteboard
wings, which spread themselves at his shoulders. He got up, however,
and went on till the explosion was to have taken place: then he waved
his wand, with an air which was not intended to have been resisted;
but, miserabile dictu! the crack would not open, and Bamaloosa
trotted off by one of the side-scenes, amidst hoots of derision from
every part of the house.
"The green curtain fell. A universal hiss, from `the many-headed
monster of the pit,' rung heavily in my ears. I had seen my poor play
murdered and damned in one night, and it was enough to quench all
future hopes of literary eminence. I rushed, desperate, from the spot,
not choosing to stay for the farce; and, in the confusion of
unsuccessful genius, I kicked two little red-headed fellows into the
gutter for asking of me a check.
"In the anguish of my disappointment, I dreamed a combination of
every thing horrible, to tantalize and terrify my poor, tired brain;
and I arose with a head-ach and a heart-ach, and no very great opinion
of any one in the world, but myself.
"You have convinced me that generosity has not taken French leave of
every bosom, and I shall always look back upon the moments I have spent
with you as bright exceptions to those of my past life. And, now,"
continued he, pocketing the remaining bone, putting a couple of
potatoes in his bosom, and taking a long draught of wine—"and now, I
trust, we are square: you have provided me a dinner, and I have treated
you to `a feast of reason and a flow of soul.' If I see you again, `I
shall remember you were bountiful;' if not, God bless you and yours."
He gave me a hearty shake by the hand, and darted from the room. I
caught a glimpse of his figure as he passed the window—and saw the
poor author no more.