CONSIDERING the number of grave, learned and divine authors, that become so cheap a purchase at every stall, it might be a matter of wonder how a book, of this size and price, could have made its way into the republic of letters; or how a young man, with so small a share of merit, and so much smaller degree of interest, could have obtained such a number of noble adventurers to deposit half a guinea, for a work they had never seen, and of which, from the title, they could have but little conception; after having, as themselves repeatedly assured me, been considerable losers by subscribing to books, which never were even written, much less intended for publication. If any, or perhaps the greatest part of my benefactors, imagined that might be the case with me, how amiable, how generous, how condescending was it in them, to contribute to the support of a family, merely on a probability that the son of Mrs. Pilkington might have some merit? This single circumstance may clear the present age of imputations that have been thrown on some former ones, that they "suffered these great geniuses to want, whose writings are now the highest delights of retirement." My success has occasioned a learned gentleman of my acquaintance, who is very misanthropic in his disposition, to declare, that "if anything could reconcile him to entertain a tolerable opinion of mankind, it would be the notice and favour I have found amongst them."
The number of books daily published for instruction, by persons qualified through great parts and study to bestow it, are, I hope, sufficient to answer their upright intentions: 'tis a character I confess myself unequal to in every respect; having as much occasion for it as most men; therefore the reader is to expect nothing in the following pages but entertainment. If I can give that in a rational and inoffensive manner, so as to kill two winter afternoons, I see no reason any of my subscribers will have to regret their purchase, as two Italian operas would cost the same money, for which they have nothing afterwards to show; whereas, after this has been read, the binding, gilding, and lettering, will render it a pretty ornament to a library.
As I before mentioned, the infinite goodness of the nobility and gentry, in contributing to this undertaking, with so great a hazard of having nothing for their money, I hope my having fulfilled my engagements will entitle me to this further indulgence; that no subscriber who has any pity for the circumstances of the author, or who meant his subscription as the relief of indigence, as well as the encouragement of literature, will lend this book to any person whatsoever, who is capable to purchase because that will be gratifying their curiosity at my expense.
I must likewise entreat that no nobleman, gentleman or lady, will form a judgment of the production of my pen, from whatever accounts may be given of this Work in the Monthly, Literary, or Critical Reviews. Every person of taste and elegance must certainly be the best judge of what pleases him, without taking the insignificant nod of a book-seller, or the invidious grin of a ragged critic, for the model of their dislike or approbation. I think this matter cannot be better closed than with a quotation from Swift.
Till blockheads blame, and judges praise,
The poet cannot claim the bays;
On me when dunces are satiric,
I take it for a panegyric;
Hated by fools, and fools to hate,
Be that my motto, and my fate.
Writers who have had too much modesty, or perhaps too little money, to pay a large sum for printing their own productions, have had recourse to the learned for what they termed a subscription, or a deposit of so much money, as might encourage an author to proceed, without being run into a prison on the one hand, or becoming the dupe of a bookseller on the other; dreadful alternative!—Mr. Pope very, happily succeeded, and some others of less note, whose works are yet worth preserving.
A set of people (who watch every occasion to impose on the credulity of mankind, and who are called schemers, but more properly sharpers) observed this; and likewise, that an author seldom published more than a title page, and a subscription receipt: they immediately set their imaginations at work, to compile different titles for books never penned, and to extract subscriptions from all the known encouragers of literature.
Poor merit was unapprised of this villainous artifice, to sap the foundations of her public credit; so that when she personally appeared, with a modesty inseparable from herself, she was rejected with indignity.
Perhaps the author's modesty will be called in question, for the inference he is about to draw; but as this Preface is intended for the good of those who really mean to write, and publish what they propose, he will stand the shock of censure.
His proposal was honoured with most of the names now on the list: he sent it to a nobleman, distinguished as a judge and patron of the muses: the nobleman immediately sent out a subscription; but recollecting how often he had been cheated, sent his footman after the person who received it, the length of a street, and obliged him to return the money, saying withal, he would enquire further about it.
The author, mortified at being compelled to refund, sent the following question to his Lordship directly.
Will he whose power a L——n inspired,
With every excellence on earth admired,
Cease with his bounty to refresh the earth;
Because her bosom gave a villain birth?
Or shall the patron of the muses train,
By honest industry be sued in vain,
Because some wretch to perfidy inclined,
Dared to deceive the friend of human kind?
His Lordship subscribed.