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But this is no more than what is common to all of that profession: Gadbury!, Poor Robin, Dove, Wing, and several others do yearly publish their almanacs though several of them have been dead since before the Revolution. Now the natural reason of this I take to be, that whereas it is the privilege of authors to live after their death, almanac-makers are alone excluded, because their dissertations, treating only upon the minutes as they pass, become useless as those go off. In consideration of which, time, whose registers they are, gives them a lease in reversion, to continue their works after death.

I should not have given the public or myself the trouble of this vindication if my name had not been made use of by several persons to whom I never lent it; one of which, a few days ago, was pleased to father on me a new set of predictions. But I think these are things too serious to be trifled with. It grieved me to the heart, when I saw my labours, which had cost me so much thought and watching, bawled about by the common hawkers of Grub-street, which I only intended for the weighty consideration of the gravest persons. This prejudiced the world so much at first, that several of my friends had the assurance to ask me whether I were in jest? to which I only answered coldly, "that the event would show". But it is the talent of our age and nation to turn things of the greatest importance into ridicule. When the end of the year had verified all my predictions, out comes Mr. Partridge's almanac, disputing the point of his death; so that I am employed, like the general who was forced to kill his enemies twice over, whom a necromancer had raised to life. If Mr. Partridge have practised the same experiment upon himself, and be

1 A contemporary almanac-maker, whose life was written by Partridge. Poor Robin's Almanac lasted from 1662 to 1828. The others are advertised in the Daily Courant in 1705.

again alive, long may he continue so; that does not the least contradict my veracity: but I think I have clearly proved, by invincible demonstration, that he died, at farthest, within half an hour of the time I foretold, and not four hours sooner, as the above-mentioned author, in his Letter to a Lord, has maliciously suggested, with design to blast my credit, by charging me with so gross a mistake.

HENRY FIELDING.

(1707-1754.) XXIV. THE COMMONWEALTH OF LETTERS.

TH

Ουκ αγαθόν πολυκοιρανίη, είς κoίρανος έστω,
Εις Βασιλεύς, και έδωκε Κρόνου παίς αγκυλυμήτεω
Σκηπτρον τήδε θέμιστας, ένα σφίσιν εμβασιλεύη.-Homer.

Here is not allowed
That worst of tyrants, an usurping crowd.
To one sole monarch Jove commits the sway;

His are the laws, and him let all obey.-Pope. HOUGH of the three forms of government acknow

ledged in the schools all have been very warmly opposed and as warmly defended, yet in this point the different advocates will, I believe, very readily agree, that there is not one of the three which is not greatly to be preferred to total anarchy-a state in which there is no subordination, no lawful power, and no settled government, but where every man is at liberty to act in whatever manner it pleaseth him best.

As this is in reality a most deplorable state, I have long lamented, with great anguish of heart, that it is at present the case of a very large body of people in this kingdom -an assertion which, as it may surprise most of my readers, I will make haste to explain, by declaring that I mean the fraternity of the quill, that body of men to whom the public assign the name of authors.

However absurd politicians may have been pleased to represent the imperium in imperio, it will here, I doubt not, be found on a strict examination to be extremely necessary, the commonwealth of literature being indeed totally distinct from the greater commonwealth, and no more dependent upon it than the kingdom of England is on that of France. Of this our legislature seems to have been at all times sensible, as they have never attempted any provision for the regulation or correction of this body. In one instance, it is true, there are (I should rather, I believe, say there were) some laws to restrain them; for writers, if I am not mistaken, have been formerly punished for blasphemy against God and libels against the government; nay, I have been told that to slander the reputation of private persons was once thought unlawful here as well as among the Romans, who, as Horace tells us, had a severe law for this purpose.

In promulging these laws (whatever may be the reason of suffering them to grow obsolete) the state seems to have acted very wisely, as such kind of writings are really of most mischievous consequence to the public; but, alas! there are many abuses, many horrid evils, daily springing up in the commonwealth of literature, which appear to affect only that commonwealth, at least immediately, of which none of the political legislators have ever taken any notice, nor hath any civil court of judicature ever pretended to any cognizance of them. Nonsense and dulness are no crimes in foro civili; no man can be questioned for bad verses in Westminster Hall; and, amongst the many indictments for battery, not one can be produced for breaking poor Priscian's head”, though it is done almost every day.

iTo commit a grammatical error, Priscian being a famous grammarian in the time of Justinian. Cf. Hudibras, Pt. II. Can. 2. 1. 223.

" And hold no sin so deeply red,
As that of breaking Priscian's head."

But though immediately, as I have said, these evils do not affect the greater commonwealth, yet, as they tend to the utter ruin of the lesser, so they have a remote evil consequence, even on the state itself; which seems, by having left them unprovided for, to have remitted them, for the sake of convenience, to the government of laws and to the superintendence of magistrates of this lesser commonwealth, and never to have foreseen or suspected that dreadful state of anarchy which at present prevails in this lesser empire-an empire which hath formerly made so great a figure in this kingdom, and that, indeed, almost within our own memories.

It may appear strange that none of our English historians have spoken clearly and distinctly of this lesser empire; but this may be well accounted for when we consider that all these histories have been written by two sorts of persons—that is to say, either politicians or lawyers. Now, the former of these have had their imaginations so entirely filled with the affairs of the greater empire that it is no wonder the business of the lesser should have totally escaped their observation. And as to the lawyers, they are well known to have been very little acquainted with the commonwealth of literature, and to have always acted and written in defiance to its laws.

From these reasons it is very difficult to fix, with certainty, the exact period when this commonwealth first began among us. Indeed, if the originals of all the greater empires upon earth, and even of our own, be wrapped in such obscurity that they elude the inquiries of the most diligent sifters of antiquity, we cannot be surprised that this fate should attend our little empire, opposed as it hath been by the pen of the lawyer, overlooked by the eye of the historian, and never once smelt after by the nose of the antiquary.

In the earliest ages the literary state seems to have

been an ecclesiastical democracy, for the clergy are then said to have had all the learning among them; and the great reverence paid at that time to it by the laity appears from hence, that whoever could prove in a court of justice that he belonged to this state, by only reading a single verse in the Testament, was vested with the highest privileges, and might do almost what he pleased, even commit murder with impunity. And this privilege was called the benefit of the clergy.

This commonwealth, however, can scarce be said to have been in any flourishing state of old time even among the clergy themselves; inasmuch as we are told that a rector of a parish, going to law with his parishioners about paying the church, quoted this authority from St. Peter, Paveant illi, non paveam ego, which he construed thus : “They are to pave the church, and not I". And this, by a judge who was likewise an ecclesiastic, was allowed to be very good law.

The nobility had clearly no ancient connection with this commonwealth, nor would submit to be bound by any of its laws; witness that provision in an old act of parliament, “That a nobleman shall be entitled to the benefit of his clergy” (the privilege above-mentioned) “even though he cannot read”. Nay, the whole body of the laity, though they gave such honours to this commonwealth, appear to have been very few of them under its jurisdiction, as appears by a law cited by Judge Rolls in his Abridgment, with the reason which he gives for it: “The command of the sheriff,” says this writer, “to his officer, by word of mouth and without writing, is good; for it may be that neither the sheriff nor his officer can write or read.

But not to dwell on these obscure times, when so very little authentic can be found concerning this commonwealth, let us come at once to the days of Henry the

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