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Chapter 94

Further proceedings of the College.

This affair was no sooner discussed, than another gentleman exhibited a complaint, signifying, that he had undertaken to translate into English a certain celebrated author, who had been cruelly mangled by former attempts; and that, soon as his design took air, the proprietors of those miserable translations had endeavoured to prejudice his work, by industrious insinuations, contrary to truth and fair dealing, importing, that he did not understand one word of the language which he pretended to translate. This being a case that nearly concerned the greatest part of the audience, it was taken into serious deliberation. Some observed, that it was not only a malicious effort against the plaintiff, but also a spiteful advertisement to the public, tending to promote an inquiry into the abilities of all other translators, few of whom, it was well known, were so qualified as to stand the test of such examination. Others said, that over and above this consideration, which ought to have its due weight with the college, there was a necessity for concerting measures to humble the presumption of booksellers, who had, from time immemorial, taken all opportunities to oppress and enslave their authors; not only by limiting men of genius to the wages of journeymen tailors, without even allowing them one Sabbath in the week, but also in taking such advantages of their necessities as were inconsistent with justice and humanity.

“For example,” said one of the members, “after I myself had acquired a little reputation with the town, I was caressed by one of those tyrants, who professed a friendship for me, and even supplied me with money, according to the exigencies of my situation; so that I looked upon him as the mirror of disinterested benevolence; and had he known my disposition, and treated me accordingly, I should have writ for him upon his own terms. After I had used his friendship in this manner for some time, I happened to have occasion for a small sum of money, and with great confidence made another application to my good friend; when all of a sudden he put a stop to his generosity, refused to accommodate me in the most abrupt and mortifying style; and though I was at that time pretty far advanced in a work for his benefit, which was a sufficient security for what I owed him, he roundly asked, how I proposed to pay the money which I had already borrowed? Thus was I used like a young w — just come upon the town, whom the b — d allows to run into her debt, that she may have it in her power to oppress her at pleasure; and if the sufferer complains, she is treated like the most ungrateful wretch upon earth; and that too with such appearance of reason, as may easily mislead an unconcerned spectator. ‘You unthankful drab!’ she will say, ‘didn’t I take you into my house when you hadn’t a shift to your back, a petticoat to your tail, nor a morsel of bread to put into your belly? Han’t I clothed you from head to foot like a gentlewoman, supported you with board, lodging, and all necessaries, till your own extravagance hath brought you into distress; and now you have the impudence, you nasty, stinking, brimstone bungaway! to say you are hardly dealt with, when I demand no more than my own?’ Thus the w — and the author are equally oppressed, and even left without the melancholy privilege of complaining; so that they are fain to subscribe to such terms as their creditors shall please to impose.”

This illustration operated so powerfully upon the conviction and resentment of the whole college, that revenge was universally denounced against those who had aggrieved the plaintiff; and, after some debate, it was agreed, that he should make a new translation of some other saleable book, in opposition to a former version belonging to the delinquents, and print it in such a small size as would enable him to undersell their property; and that this new translation should be recommended and introduced into the world with the whole art and influence of the society.

This affair being settled to the satisfaction of all present, an author of some character stood up, and craved the advice and assistance of his fellows, in punishing a certain nobleman of great pretensions to taste, who, in consequence of a production which this gentleman had ushered into the world with universal applause, not only desired, but even eagerly courted his acquaintance. “He invited me to his house,” said he, “where I was overwhelmed with civility and professions of friendship. He insisted upon my treating him as an intimate, and calling upon him at all hours, without ceremony; he made me promise to breakfast with him at least three times a week. In short, I looked upon myself as very fortunate, in meeting with such advances from a man of his interest and reputation, who had it in his power to befriend me effectually in my passage through life; and, that I might not give him any cause to think I neglected his friendship, I went to his house in two days, with a view of drinking chocolate, according to appointment; but he had been so much fatigued with dancing at an assembly overnight, that his valet-de-chambre would not venture to wake him so early; and I left my compliments to his lordship, with a performance in manuscript, which he had expressed a most eager desire to peruse. I repeated my visit next morning, that his impatience to see me might not have some violent effect upon his constitution; and received a message from his minister, signifying, that he had been highly entertained with the manuscript I had left, a great part of which he had read, but was at present so busy in contriving a proper dress for a private masquerade, which would be given that same evening, that he could not have the pleasure of my company at breakfast. “This was a feasible excuse, which I admitted accordingly, and in a day or two appeared again, when his lordship was particularly engaged. This might possibly be the case; and therefore I returned the fourth time, in hopes of finding him more at leisure; but he had gone out about half an hour before my arrival, and left my performance with his valet-de-chambre, who assured me, that his lord had perused it with infinite pleasure. Perhaps I might have retired very well satisfied with this declaration, had not I, in my passage through the hall, heard one of the footmen upon the top of the staircase, pronounce with an audible voice, ‘Will your lordship please to be at home when he calls?’ It is not to be supposed that I was pleased at this discovery, which I no sooner made, than, turning to my conductor, ‘I find,’ said I, ‘his lordship is disposed to be abroad to more people than me this morning.’ The fellow, though a valet-de-chambre, blushed at this observation; and I withdrew, not a little irritated at the peer’s disingenuity, and fully resolved to spare him my visits for the future. It was not long after this occasion, that I happened to meet him in the park, and being naturally civil, I could not pass him without a salutation of the hat, which he returned in the most distant manner, though we were both solitary, and not a soul within view, and when that very performance, which he had applauded so warmly, was lately published by subscription, he did not bespeak so much as one copy. I have often reflected with wonder upon this inconsistency of his conduct. I never courted his patronage, nor indeed thought of his name, until he made interest for my acquaintance; and if he was disappointed in my conversation, why did he press me so much to further connection?”

“The case is very clear,” cried the chairman, interrupting him; “he is one of those connoisseurs who set up for taste, and value themselves upon knowing all men of genius, whom they would be thought to assist in their productions. I will lay an even bet with any man, that his lordship on the strength of that slender interview, together with the opportunity of having seen your performance in manuscript, has already hinted to every company in which he is conversant, that you solicited his assistance in retouching the piece, which you have now offered to the public, and that he was pleased to favour you with his advice, but found you obstinately bigoted to your own opinion, in some points relating to those very passages which have not met with the approbation of the town. As for his caresses, there was nothing at all extraordinary in his behaviour. By that time you have lived to my age, you will not be surprised to see a courtier’s promise and performance of a different complexion; not but that I would willingly act as an auxiliary in your resentment.”

The opinion of the president was strengthened by the concurrence of all the members; and all other complaints and memorials being deferred till another sitting, the college proceeded to an exercise of wit, which was generally performed once every fortnight, with a view to promote the expectoration of genius. The subject was occasionally chosen by the chairman, who opened the game with some shrewd remark naturally arising from the conversation; and then the ball was tossed about, from one corner of the room to the other, according to the motions of the spirit.

That the reader may have a just idea of this sport, and of the abilities of those who carried it on, I shall repeat the sallies of this evening, according to the order and succession in which they escaped. One of the members observing that Mr. Metaphor was absent, was told by the person who sat next to him, that the poet had foul weather at home, and could not stir abroad. “What!” said the president, interposing, with the signal upon his countenance, “is he wind-bound, in port?”—“Wine-bound, I suppose,” cried another. “Hooped with wine! a strange metaphor!” said the third. “Not if he has got into a hogshead,” answered the fourth. “The hogshead will sooner get into him,” replied a fifth; “it must be a tun or an ocean.”—“No wonder then, if he should be overwhelmed,” said a sixth. “If he should,” cried a seventh, “he will cast up when his gall breaks.”—“That must be very soon,” roared an eighth, “for it has been long ready to burst.” “No, no,” observed a ninth, “he’ll stick fast at the bottom, take my word for it; he has a natural alacrity in sinking.”—“And yet,” remarked a tenth, “I have seen him in the clouds.”—“Then was he cloudy, I suppose,” cried the eleventh. “So dark,” replied the other, “that his meaning could not be perceived.”—“For all that,” said the twelfth, “he is easily seen through.”—“You talk,” answered the thirteenth, “as if his head was made of glass.”—“No, no,” cried the fourteenth, “his head is made of more durable stuff; it will bend before it breaks.”—“Yet I have seen it broken,” resumed the president. “Did you perceive any wit come out at the whole?” said another. “His wit,” replied the chairman, “is too subtle to be perceived.”

A third mouth was just open, when the exercise was suddenly interrupted by the dreadful cry of “Fire!” which issued from the kitchen, and involved the whole college in confusion. Every man endeavoured to be the first in making his exit, the door and passage were blocked up; each individual was pommelled by the person that happened to be ............

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