site logo

Patronage Of Authors

In the reigns of William III., of Anne, and of George I., even such men

as Congreve and Addison could scarcely have been able to live like

gentlemen by the mere sale of their writings. But the deficiency of the

natural demand for literature was, at the close of the seventeenth, and

at the beginning of the eighteenth century, more than made up by the

artificial encouragement--by a vast system of bounties and premiums.

ere was, perhaps, never a time at which the rewards of literary merit

were so splendid--at which men who could write well found such easy

admittance into the most distinguished society, and to the highest

honours of the state. The chiefs of both the great parties into which

the kingdom was divided, patronized literature with emulous munificence.

Congreve, when he had scarcely attained his majority, was rewarded for

his first comedy with places which made him independent for life. Rowe

was not only poet laureate, but land-surveyor of the Customs in the port

of London, clerk of the council to the Prince of Wales, and secretary

of the Presentations to the Lord Chancellor. Hughes was secretary

to the Commissioners of the Peace. Ambrose Phillips was judge of the

Prerogative Court in Ireland. Locke was Commissioner of Appeals and of

the Board of Trade. Newton was Master of the Mint. Stepney and Prior

were employed in embassies of high dignity and importance. Gay, who

commenced life as apprentice to a silk-mercer, became a secretary of

Legation at five-and-twenty. It was to a poem on the death of Charles II.,

and to "the City and Country Mouse," that Montague owed his introduction

into public life, his earldom, his garter, and his auditorship of the

Exchequer. Swift, but for the unconquerable prejudice of the queen,

would have been a bishop. Oxford, with his white staff in his hand,

passed through the crowd of his suitors to welcome Parnell, when that

ingenious writer deserted the Whigs. Steele was a Commissioner of

Stamps, and a member of Parliament. Arthur Mainwaring was a Commissioner

of the Customs, and Auditor of the Imprest. Tickell was secretary to the

Lords Justices of Ireland. Addison was Secretary of State.

But soon after the succession of the throne of Hanover, a change took

place. The supreme power passed to a man who cared little for poetry

or eloquence. Walpole paid little attention to books, and felt little

respect for authors. One of the coarse jokes of his friend, Sir Charles

Hanbury Williams, was far more pleasing to him than Thomson's Seasons

or Richardson's Pamela.

* * * * *