Books Fatal to Their Authors

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Excerpt To record the woes of authors and to discourse de libris fatalibus seems deliberately to court the displeasure of that fickle mistress who presides over the destinies of writers and their works. Fortune awaits the aspiring scribe with many wiles, and oft treats him sorely. If she enrich any, it is but to make them subject of her sport. If she raise others, it is but to pleasure herself with their ruins. What she adorned but yesterday is to-day her pastime, and if we now permit her to adorn and crown us, we must to-morrow suffer her to crush and tear us to pieces. To-day her sovereign power is limited: she can but let loose a host of angry critics upon us; she can but scoff at us, take away our literary reputation, and turn away the eyes of a public as fickle as herself from our pages. Surely that were hard enough! Can Fortune pluck a more galling dart from her quiver, and dip the point in more envenomed bitterness? Yes, those whose hard lot is here recorded have suffered more terrible wounds than these. They have lost liberty, and even life, on account of their works. The cherished offspring of their brains have, like unnatural children, turned against their parents, causing them to be put to death. _Fools many of them—nay, it is surprising how many of this illustrious family have peopled the world, and they can boast of many authors' names which figure on their genealogical tree—men who might have lived happy, contented, and useful lives were it not for their insane cacoethes scribendi. And hereby they show their folly. If only they had been content to write plain and ordinary commonplaces which every one believed, and which caused every honest fellow who had a grain of sense in his head to exclaim, "How true that is!" all would have been well. But they must needs write something original, something different from other men's thoughts; and immediately the censors and critics began to spy out heresy, or laxity of morals, and the fools were dealt with according to their folly. There used to be special houses of correction in those days, mad- houses built upon an approved system, for the special treatment of cases of this kind; mediaeval dungeons, an occasional application of the rack, and other gentle instruments of torture of an inventive age, were wonderfully efficacious in curing a man of his folly. Nor was there any special limit to the time during which the treatment lasted. And in case of a dangerous fit of folly, there were always a few faggots ready, or a sharpened axe, to put a finishing stroke to other and more gentle remedies._ One species of folly was especially effective in procuring the attention of the critics of the day, and that was satirical writing. They could not tolerate that style—no, not for a moment; and many an author has had his cap and bells, aye, and the lining too, severed from the rest of his motley, simply because he would go and play with Satyrs instead of keeping company with plain and simple folk. Far separated from the crowd of fools, save only in their fate, were those who amid the mists of error saw the light of Truth, and strove to tell men of her graces and perfections....
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