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the public or my own. But the former had effectual means of defending themselves, and could, by their coldness, sufficiently check any approach to intrusion; and for myself, I had now for several dedicated my years hours so much to literary labour, that I should have felt difficulty in employing myself otherwise; and so, like Dogberry, I generously bestowed all my tediousness on the public, comforting myself with the reflection, that if posterity should think me undeserving of the favour with which I was regarded by my contemporaries, "they could not but say I had the crown," and had enjoyed for a time that popularity which is so much coveted.
I conceived, however, that I held the distinguished situation I had obtained, however unworthily, rather like the champion of pugilism,1 on the condition of being always ready to show proofs of my skill, than in the manner of the champion of chivalry, who performs his duties only on rare and solemn occasions. I was, in any case, conscious that I could not long hold a situation which the caprice, rather than the judgment, of the public had bestowed upon me, and preferred being deprived of my precedence by some more worthy
[“ In twice five years the 'greatest living poet,'
Is called on to support his claim, or show it,
Don Juan, canto xi. st. 55.]
rival, to sinking into contempt for my indolence, and losing my reputation by what Scottish lawyers call the negative prescription. Accordingly, those who choose to look at the Introduction to Rokeby, in the present edition, will be able to trace the steps by which I declined as a poet to figure as a novelist; as the ballad says, Queen Eleanor sunk at Charing-Cross to rise again at Queenhithe.
It only remains for me to say, that, during my short preeminence of popularity, I faithfully observed the rules of moderation which I had resolved to follow before I began my course as a man of letters. If a man is determined to make a noise in the world, he is as sure to encounter abuse and ridicule, as he who gallops furiously through a village must reckon on being followed by the curs in full cry. Experienced persons know, that in stretching to flog the latter, the rider is very apt to catch a bad fall; nor is an attempt to chastise a malignant critic attended with less danger to the author. On this principle, I let parody, burlesque, and squibs, find their own level; and while the latter hissed most fiercely, I was cautious never to catch them up, as schoolboys do, to throw them back against the naughty boy who fired them off, wisely remembering that they are, in such cases, apt to explode in the handling. Let me add, that my reign1 (since
1 ["Sir Walter reign'd before," &c.
Don Juan, canto xi. st. 57.]
Byron has so called it) was marked by some instances of good-nature as well as patience. I never refused a literary person of merit such services in smoothing his way to the public as were in my power; and I had the advantage, rather an uncommon one with our irritable race, to enjoy general favour, without incurring permanent ill-will, so far as is known to me, among any of my contemporaries.
ABBOTSFORD, April, 1830.