HP Lovecraft described Matthew Lewis’s ribald and scandalous Gothic shocker The Monk (1796) as “too long and too diffuse, and much of its potency is marred by flippancy” even though it contains “many enormously potent strokes”. This is, like most of Lovecraft’s literary criticism, right on the money. I simply lost interest in the story about 300 pages in, and it never even comes close to the power and intensity of Maturin’s awesome Melmoth the Wanderer, or Potocki’s brilliantly complex and multi-layered Manuscript Found In Saragossa. But it does contain, among other things, a hilarious passage in which a nobleman comes upon his servant writing some poetry, and advises him in the following fashion. The odd capitalizations are Lewis’s own. Anyone wishing to venture forth into the public realm with their scribblings (and this includes bloggers such as myself) should take heed of the following!
‘I was going to say, that you cannot employ your time worse than in making verses. An Author, whether good or bad, or between both, is an Animal whom every body is privileged to attack; For though All are not able to write books, all conceive themselves able to judge them. A bad composition carries with it its own punishment, contempt and ridicule. A good one excites envy, and entails upon its Author a thousand mortifications. He finds himself assailed by partial and ill-humoured Criticism: One Man finds fault with the plan, Another with the style, a Third with the precept, which it strives to inculcate; and they who cannot succeed in finding fault with the book, employ themselves in stigmatizing the Author. They maliciously rake out from obscurity every little circumstance, which may throw ridicule upon his private character or conduct, and aim at wounding the Man, since They cannot hurt the Writer. In short to enter the lists of literature is wilfully to expose yourself to the arrows of neglect, ridicule, envy, and disappointment. Whether you write well or ill, be assured that you will not escape from blame; Indeed this circumstance contains a young Author’s chief consolation: He remembers that Lope de Vega and Calderona had unjust and envious Critics, and he modestly conceives himself to be exactly in their predicament. But I am conscious, that all these sage observations are thrown away upon you. Authorship is a mania to conquer which no reasons are sufficiently strong; and you might as easily persuade me not to love, as I persuade you not to write. However, if you cannot help being occasionally seized with a poetical paroxysm, take at least the precaution of communicating your verses to none but those whose partiality for you secures their approbation.'
'Then, my Lord, you do not think these lines tolerable?' said Theodore with an humble and dejected air.
'You mistake my meaning. As I said before, they have pleased me much; But my regard for you makes me partial, and Others might judge them less favourably. I must still remark that even my prejudice in your favour does not blind me so much as to prevent my observing several faults. For instance, you make a terrible confusion of metaphors; You are too apt to make the strength of your lines consist more in the words than sense; Some of the verses only seem introduced in order to rhyme with others; and most of the best ideas are borrowed from other Poets, though possibly you are unconscious of the theft yourself. These faults may occasionally be excused in a work of length; But a short Poem must be correct and perfect.'
'All this is true, Segnor; But you should consider that I only write for pleasure.'
'Your defects are the less excusable. Their incorrectness may be forgiven in those who work for money, who are obliged to compleat a given task in a given time, and are paid according to the bulk, not value of their productions. But in those whom no necessity forces to turn Author, who merely write for fame, and have full leisure to polish their compositions, faults are impardonable, and merit the sharpest arrows of criticism.'