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give testimonials of good moral character, and to assist in the promotion of “truth, social order, and loyalty- loyalty in its genuine sense, not only of personal devotion to the sovereign, but of attachment to the laws and institutions of the country.” Such is a brief exposé of the present structure of the society.
Some of the objects before enumerated, such as the publication of inedited works of ancient literature, the "reading interesting papers on history, &c." and a foreign correspondence for the "purpose of literary inquiry, &c.” are unobjectionable things in themselves, and calculated in the aggregate rather to do good than harm; but it may be justly doubted whether individual industry has left any thing in these respects to be performed. The other designs of the society are more open to objection, and are not so well calculated to begin a memorable era in British literature as its founders expect, even if its achievements equal those which the celebrated Academy of France has accomplished for that nation. His Majesty's munificence and good intentions no one will feel inclined to dispute, but it may be justly a question whether their display would not have been more advantageous to the cause of literature, if the stipends had been conferred by royal selection, rather than through the intervention of any society however constituted. This mode would at least have afforded a guarantee for the impartial fulfilment of the royal wishes, and show that the cabals of a society did not interfere in the distribution. For notwithstanding any professions, and sincere professions, perhaps, of the founders of this society, it will inevitably, if it endure, become an instrument of party. All former societies have uniformly become so ; and therefore, though they might have been advantageous in the dawn of a national literature they are worse than useless, nay decidedly mischievous, when established during its meridian splendour, as is the case in the present instance. The Academy of France has uniformly been the corrupt tool of the government, and is deservedly sunk into disrepute. It injured the national literature by attempting to "fix a standard" in each department, by which all writers were to be circumscribed, at a time when, from the great names connected with it, its influence was all-powerful. It chilled the ardour of genius, cramped attempts at novelty, and endeavoured to crush writers that had the independence to contravene any of its arbitary or pedantic enactments. One source of its power arose from "he comparatively unenlightened era of its establishment and the celebrated men that were successively enrolled on its list, under a government which, till a recent period, suffered no independent feeling to exist among the people. In its best times it was a thing of feud, corruption, and abject servility; grovelling courtiers, bigoted priests, and vain nobles, being among its members. Thus its reputation was sustained on the shoulders of a few gifted individuals. It was the creature of despotism, that so well understands how to turn all similar institutions to its own aggrandisement.
But to return to the new Society, projected it may be with the most laudable intentions—is it at all probable, that in a nation like England, where letters have reached the proudest elevation, unsustained by caballing academies or royal donations, that at this moment literary men will bow the head to the dicta of any association whatever ? Can it be supposed that in this most enlightened age, when independence of every sort is in the highest estimation, writers will place themselves in abeyance from a body in which scarcely a name of celebrity in the national literature has appeared, feeling and knowing that public opinion can confer on them, without shackle or compromise of any kind, lasting reputation and pecuniary advantages adequate to their toils, and far greater than
society can offer. The very soul of a high literature is freedom, a freedom owning no authority but the tribunal of the whole nation. No academy in this country will be held in sufficient respect by the public to keep the power in its hands of bestowing eminence on an author by its plaudits, or of sending him into obscurity by its censures. His glorious independence of mind and pen, his obedience to the dictates of his conscience alone, and the pride of principle, render him very justly jealous of any set of men who would seek to extend their influence over his opinions, or make him the means of propagating theirs. It may be asserted as a truth, that the society in its corporate capacity will have no weight with the better class of English writers, let the political tenets of the latter be what they may. In an early announcement of its intentions, it was observed, that without royal protection "literature would continue neutral or adverse to the service of the country.” Here was a pretty plain hint to authors what its advocates thought of our present literature, and hence may be inferred one of the main objects kept in view in its formation. But the literature of this country has attained its magnificence of growth without royal protection, or any other protection than its own irresistible claims afforded. Its professors nurtured it for ages, often amid penury and distress, until it reached a flourishing maturity and spread itself abroad—the admiration of the world, too firmly rooted to require the support of thrones, and too full of vitality to be withered by the insidious care of academies or societies. Is the noblest memento of Britain's glory so vile a thing, that it may be turned or twisted to the use of any faction possessing political power, as Tory, Whig, or Radical, might deem it “ adverse to the service of the country"? Does it not look, after acknowledgements so put forth, as if it had been said by the society, “when British literature was emerging from obscurity, it might well be left to force its way in neglect, but now it is become a mighty instrument in governing mankind-now its glory is gone abroad into all corners of the earth, we must offer it our patronage, enlist it on our side, and finally endeavour to control it.” But it is too late; no bonds will hold its giant limbs, no art confine its proud and towering spirit. It is no longer a suppliant, gazing on coronets and patrons for a baughty protection ; but a laurelled victor, going “ forth conquering and to conquer.” Our literary genius, like our constitution, is essentially free, and, while it flourishes, must remain so. Our better class of writers will not enter a society, where unanimity cannot exist, and the future fate of which may be easily foreseen. Let us suppose Mr. feeling inclined to present an hexameter ode to the society, and to take his place among the associates, bringing his testimonials of learning, loyalty, good moral character, and public principle, in his hand; suppose these latter to be what the society may approve, how would they elect Mr. - whose ideas as “to the promotion of truth, of social order, and loyalty, loyalty in its genuine sense, not only of personal attachment to the sovereign, but of attachment to the laws and institu
tions of the country,” may be very widely different from those of the founder of Pantisocracy? Both of these writers would be most desirable members of such a body; but how can both be elected and the society preserve a unity of design, and amalgamate individuals so diametrically opposite in principle?
But, allowing the society to be at present unconnected with politics, it cannot long remain so; and shall we not, by and by, see it exert the same sort of influence that we have seen rule similar institutions, both in this and other countries—we certainly shall. It may safely be averred, that at no very distant period writers of the greatest learning and the most brilliant genius would fail of success, were they to be candidates for admission, not being of the political state party governing at the time. The experience of the past has uniformly shewn this to be the case, and it is natural it should be so where bishops and judges direct. But what have objects purely literary, to which such societies should be confined, to do with political opinions ? Neither Milton, nor Marvel, nor Sidney, could be members of such a body; but Cibber and Settle might. What then becomes of the integrity of an institution, that, under the mask of supporting literature, is the concealed prop of a political party, and excludes from its advantages for causes which have no connexion with the ostensible object of its establishment. This having been uniformly the case in bodies similarly constituted, there must indeed be saving virtue, in the present society, if it be exempt from such mischief in a country where party runs so high. Other academies have been founded with as fair professions as the present, by those who have well understood the advantage of maintaining an ascendancy over literary men, of arranging them on their side of a question, and of using them as a shield in contests totally unconnected with literary matters. The very laws and rules of such societies have been generally pernicious to genius ; being grounded on the theory of the schoolmen of past times and the pedantry of monkish colleges, they have proved uncongenial to that portion of literature which is truly generous, and would now only tend to retard that freedom of thought which is increasing from the wider diffusion of knowledge, rendered permanent by the art of printing. A literary society, properly so called, should hold forth no qualification or disqualification as to members, but what was purely literary; yet the spirit of societies both of literature and art have never exhibited this consistency. Raphael himself would suffer to-morrow the fate of Barry in the English Academy of Painting, were he a living member and equally imprudent in the use of an hasty expression ;-but what mischief would such an exclusion do to Raphael in his art ? his pencil would be as graceful as ever, and his Paintings as much admired. It is precisely the same in an Academy of Literature, that forgets its genuine object to display its impotent resentment for offences unconnected with its control. But the strenuous advocates of the society have said that the great object in view is to “ render the pursuit of literature honourable in itself and beneficial in its results to society." And this it proposes to achieve by giving a hundred a year to twenty writers whom the society may judge entitled to the same! Men cannot be rendered more honourable by being made more dependent; this is not the way to attain the object, nor will any
society in this country, however respectable in rank, render the pursuit of literature more honourable than it is at present or more beneficial in its results. Our literature is formed; our writers that are worthy of it are well supported, and stand high in the public esteem. The society may have a high opinion of the merits of one production, not a dozen copies of which may be sold; while another quite heterodox according to its perspicuous decisions, may be returning wealth and fame to the author. How in such a case can the society help itself, or talk of its foresight and infallibility in literary affairs amid a frequent recurrence of such instances,-and what will the world think of them? As to any thing it can effect for the national literature, we are equally in the dark. The literature of England cannot stand on higher ground than it occupies at present; the works of the society in this respect will be works of supererogation. It cannot compile a better Dictionary than Johnson's, or Todd's Johnson; still less can it improve our lexicography; it must first take high ground in the opinion of the nation, and establish itself at the summit of British literature de facto, before it can become an example to be copied. It cannot engross all the genius of the country, nor adequately reward it; this must still be left to the public. It cannot fix a standard of taste in language; the best authors must always be the efficient guides in this respect; and a free nation will not suffer improvement to be at a stand. It cannot mark out new subjects for the higher class of writers; this must be left to individual fancy and feeling. In short, its honorary donations can only act as incitements to young writers, who have still to learn that their most valuable reward, as regards reputation, is to be obtained through the public, and the highest
pecuniary advantage through their bookseller.
But the society is not to be supported entirely by government, but also by private subscription. Subscribers are to be considered Fellows, so at least it appears from the proceedings published. From these fellows the officers and council are chosen, and by them will every matter of importance ultimately be decided. Numbers who may become subscribers will be eager to get their money's worth of interference in the transactions of the society. Sir Wm. Curtis, for example, laying aside the study of Mrs. Rundle for that of a less palatable, but somewhat higher, order of reading, may, with the Bishop of one hand, and Mr. Deputy Kilderkin on the other, assiste, as the French say, at the deliberations on the merits of the candidates for the medals. Even the Lord Chancellor himself may be seated ris d ris with Liston, and shaking his ambrosial curls in the terrors of judicial procrastination over a work of doubtful merit, postpone the consideration of the unhappy author's doom to another meeting. Can such be a state of things to which writers of celebrity will submit, when the tribunal of the nation is open to them, and may it not be boldly pronounced that the road to reputation will be still found to lie that way? The establishment of the society tends also to the contraction and narrowness of every thing connected with literary pursuits. Till now, an English author had “the world before him where to choose” his guides and supporters; yet soon, if the society can become paramount, he must not look beyond its pale. The spirit of our literature
must be subdued and reined in ; it must proceed only by measured steps; no noble action and graceful curvetting must be tolerated; but the laws of the manège must restrain every grace“ beyond the reach of art," every motion of which the rusty curb of the College forbids the use.
In a Royal Academy of Literature all the members should be literary men of some celebrity, to be qualified for the business for which they are embodied. Fortunately, the society's influence over the public mind, to any great extent, is not very likely to happen, and therefore much evil need not be dreaded from its anathemas by writers independent of it, should they still continue “neutral, or adverse to the service of the country." Even our Royal Academy of Painting consists of artists ; but that of Literature will be essentially composed of subscribers. A Lord Chief Justice out of his place in court is generally but a negative sort of a personage, as a literary umpire more especially. The spirit of lawyers and literary men is as opposite as the poles. Perhaps it is thought a sufficient qualification for a member to have had a certain quantum of Greek and Latin flogged into him in his school-days, and to have kept terms at College. If so, we may congratulate ourselves on our hereditary literati, as a German academy did once on its hereditary mathematicians; thus we have, at last, a royal road to literature. This absurdity is self-evident; but if we must have such a society, let it be openly formed on the principle of absolute power, now so much in vogue in Europe, and well calculated to fetter the mind and make it subservient to its dictates. It is better that Government should at once nominate forty individuals (the Bourbon complement for a literary academy,) and consign over to them the exclusive practice of literary affairs, as it has consigned physic to the academy in Warwick Lane. None should publish a book without a diploma from the legitimate forty; fixed rules should be acted upon in writing tragedy, comedy, history, &c. Then, by rigidly enforcing the execution of this law, letters would speedily descend to so low a level that they would cease to occupy public attention, and no longer excite the apprehensions of our Holy Allies. There is a very un-English feeling abroad, that, instead of showing liberality and expansion of mind, seeks to circumscribe every thing by arbitary control. Our literary renown owes nothing to dogmas or academicians; though occasionally coloured at times too much by a reigning fashion, it was ever free as air—its coruscations had an unbounded space in which to radiate, and owed their splendours to nature, not to the pyrotechnical displays of the laboratory. The support of an academy to our literature in its present state, is that of a reed propping a flourishing oak. The French had scarcely any literature before the foundation of their academy, and therefore there is no similarity in the two cases, nor is it desirable there should be any. We shall soon discover that if this institution do not fall to pieces of itself, it will become a mere thing of party, and that the best introduction to it will be through the minister's closet—it will become the rallying point of his supporters, and will enlarge the sphere of meanness, corruption, and intrigue. We have many writers
, , at present, and there will then be a rapid accumulation of them, that will use the pen on any side and for any party, or for all, if they find it