John_Pilkington - CHAPTER XI.

CHAPTER XI.

Frustrations of a Play-Writer. Conclusion of the Work

            Having observed, that all those who give the world their own history, break off at a period of time when they esteem themselves happy, I think, in compliance with so laudable a custom, I must here, for the present, terminate my narrative; and though what I offer in the succeeding pages may have an equal chance of pleasing with the matter that precedes it, yet I here apprize the readers, that they are to expect no more of that connection, that I have hitherto, in spite of the natural tendency of my pen, endeavoured to preserve.—My subscribers will possibly recollect, that, in my proposals for this book, promised them a new comedy, never offered to the stage; I confess I was about five years ago weak enough to make an essay of that kind, before the numerous train of difficulties, occurred to me that attends such an attempt: I foolishly took it into my head, that to write a tolerable play, was to be immediately entitled to the notice and patronage of the Manager, and made no doubt that his own interest would lead him to foster the first efforts of fancy. Filled with these Romantic ideas, and dreaming of nothing but a third night, I wrote a letter to inform Mr. Garrick that I had such a piece; and to know when he would condescend to give me an audience? In answer to which I was honoured with the following message, and I have preserved it with all imaginable care from that time to this, that young gentlemen may, from example, learn to suppress any desire of writing for the stage, till they have secured some interest with the nobility; as I do assure them, that the Grand Seignior is not half so difficult of access, or half so imperious as a manager, on receiving such a tender; and yet, considering that their whole subsistence is drawn from dramatic writings, one would expect some abatement of their dignity on these occasions. [Note: I have been told of managers, that have kept authors dangling after them for years; and when they have died for want in a prison, have modestly adopted their performances.—But this is scarce credible.]

            "Mr. Garrick's compliments to Mr. Pilkington, and he should gladly read his performance, but it is not in his power to bring it out this or the next season, he being engaged to more than he can possibly bring out in that time: Mr. Garrick will willingly peruse it at the end of this season, and, if approved, will let it down to be done in the course of business, and in its turn."

            Here those infatuated with the itch of scribbling, will be taught what they have to expect from the exertion of their faculties; for as this was written in Feb. 1755, I was to wait four months before the play was even looked at, and then to the season after next season, or indeed to perpetuity, before it had any chance of being exhibited. This was to my genius (if I ever had any) what the miser calls a damper: It effectually cloyed my appetite for play-writing, and, in consequence of it, I have thrown the comedy into the condemned hold of my papers; nor can I even hear the sight of it, much less offer it to the perusal of the judicious; concluding, that Mr. Garrick knew by sympathy it was good for nothing, though he never did see a line of it, nor never shall—So help me God.

            Though experience has taught me, that to put a young writer out of countenance, and out of conceit with his productions, is the most delightful province, both of a bookseller and a manager; yet I have never been able, by any means, to account for the causes of it; as it must absolutely run counter to their own expectations of profit; which are generally pretty sanguine. The great Mr. Garrick's behaviour, even to so insignificant a person as myself, proves one part of my assertion; the other will appear from the following little anecdote, equally authentic. Mr. Garrick having, by his indifference, roused my indignation against the inoffensive daughters of Apollo, I wrote a pamphlet in verse, which I very indiscreetly entitled the Poet's Recantation.—I dedicated it to the late munificent Duke of Marlborough, who sent me an answer in his own writing, which, for his sake, will ever be dear to me.—The words are expressly these

            "By the bearer I send five guineas; though I have no fault to find with your poem, yet I must desire it may not be dedicated to me."

            As I owed the receipt of many unmerited favours to Sir Edward Montagu (who is an honourable branch of that illustrious family. and who retains the last, and only surviving spark of that generosity, that endeared to the world, a Churchill, a Spencer, a Tyrconnel, and an Ormond; the possession of whose virtues, is as inherent to him, as their descent of blood,) I entreated permission to place my fugitive essay under the sanction of his name; and though he did not absolutely give me the liberty of doing, it in his polite letter, yet as he did not thereby positively prohibit it, I resolved, at all events, to lay hold of that occasion of appearing on the same page with a gentleman so universally beloved; and as Sir Edward was so kind to enclose five guineas in his letter, I thought myself with that sum, and the Duke's liberality, qualified to look a bookseller in the face. Therefore, instigated by vanity, and not having the fear of a repulse before my eyes, I went to one in the city, with whom I had some former dealings, and desired him to publish the pamphlet. He hummed over the title, shook his head, and returning it, told me he was too much taken up with other things, but would recommend me to Mr. Robinson in Ludgate-Street to whom he gave me a note; though I was well dressed and had no symptom of the garreteer in my aspect—He came out after a full half hour's pause, and with an ironical smile on his countenance, said, well, Sir, what may your commands be? (Though he knew from the note that was sent to him.) I delivered the manuscript submissively into his hands, and told him I desired to have it published. Published, Sir, said he, ha, ha, ha—you are a young author I find; why it is not printed yet; but it won't do for me, Sir, your humble servant, ha, ha, ha, and so left me to my meditations. Nothing but being ipso facto master of ten pound ten could have made me persevere in this business. He never read a tittle of it before he made that abrupt conclusion; therefore I fancied that stupidity and dullness must have been written on my visage, or it would be impossible I should meet two such rebukes.—To this identical Mr. Robinson my mother told me she had communicated her first volume, long before she went to Ireland; and he gave it as his opinion, that it would not answer the expense of paper and print; for, Madam, said he, what's one Doctor Vanlewen, or one Parson Pilkington to us? Or who can be entertained with anecdotes and characters of persons utterly unknown in this part of the world?—How much even a bookseller might be mistaken for once, the great sale of her productions has declared.

 

            The third and last effort, to get a fair hearing for my piece, was made in this manner: I went to a printer with the money in my hand, who instantly set a chair at the fireside for me. Sir, said I, shaking the guineas, will you please to read this? Yes, Sir, said he, but—Nay, Sir, but me no buts, read it; at this I jingled the cash.—Well, well, pretty enough, pretty well indeed, said he-But, Sir, what am I to do with this? It's out of my way to purchase anything. Sir, it's not out of your way to take money, I hope? No; Sir, by no means. Then, Sir, in a few words, if you print this, I'll pay you for it. Oh! your most humble servant, Sir,—it shall be elegantly done. I suppose, Sir, you mean to pay before-hand, because—Nay, Sir, make no apology, I have the money here. Why the truth is, Sir, we have so many reams to send to pastry-cooks every month, that it would amaze you, and faith some smart pretty things too; but the age is depraved, Sir; ah, Sir, the age is tasteless. A bargain being thus concluded, to the satisfaction of both parties, the piece soon after made its appearance, and the writer of the Monthly Review, took notice of it in this manner;

 

The POET'S RECANTATION, &c.

            What right this gentleman has to call himself a poet we don't know, except his claim is extrajudice from the Rev. Mr. Matthew, or his mother the ingenious Lætitia Pilkington; however, the youth tags his rhymes dapperly enough.

            Pleased that I had not a severer censure passed on my piece, I was once more reconciled to the Muses; to give my readers some idea of it, I transcribe from memory a few of the lines, as I can't endure to keep a copy of anything I write—The first part was declaiming against the nine, and only used as an introduction to subsequent thoughts.

 

Oh Marlborough, did a soul like thine
In every noble bosom shine
Were every peer in Britain graced
With like munificence and taste,
Dejected merit would be sought,
And genius cherished as it ought
Or could Northumberland impart
The various virtues of his heart,
They might amend perverse mankind,
Yet leave sufficient stock behind.

 

A great man's porter, I insist,
Must still be a physiognomist,
And taught by instinct to declare
What motive brings each mortal there,
No men alive can tell you better
The real purport of a letter;
And some from dire experience know
'Tis by this general rule they go.

 

In England, Italy or Greece,
Few poets' clothes are of a piece;
Though pitying providence had lent
A coat and hat for their content;
Though with a countenance serene
They viewed their shirt and neckcloth clean,
The porter spies, in heat of talking,
A gaping chasm in their stocking;
Or if by chance the stocking's whole,
Be sure the shoe's without a sole:
From whence he, cautiously discreet,
Commences judgment at the feet;
And if the bard is faulty there,
The porter leaves him to despair.

 

In early youth they thought it good
To bid me pray for daily food;
So I, from day to day, was fed,
And just received diurnal bread;
Ye great this last petition hear,
And grant me bread for all the year.

 

Prev   Next