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APRIL 1808....... JULY 1808.
TO BE CONTINUED QUARTERLY.
JUDEX DAMNATUR CUM NOCEN ABSOLVITUR.
PRINTED BY D. WILLISON, CRAIG'S CLOSE,
FOR ARCHIBALD CONSTABLE & CO. EDINBURGH,
JOHN MURRAY, 32. FLEET-STREET,
CONTENTS OF No. XXIII.
ART. I. Marmion; a Tale of Flodden Field. By Walter Scott, Esq. 4to. pp. 500. Edinburgh and London, 1808.
HERE is a kind of right of primogeniture among books, as well as among men; and it is difficult for an author, who has obtained great fame by a first publication, not to appear to fall off in a second-especially if his original success could be imputed, in any degree, to the novelty of his plan of composition. The public is always indulgent to untried talents; and is even apt to exaggerate a little the value of what it receives without any previous expectation. But, for this advance of kindness, it usually exacts a most usurious return in the end. When the poor author comes back, he is no longer received as a benefactor, but a debtor. In return for the credit it formerly gave him, the world now conceives that it has a just claim on him for excellence, and becomes impertinently scrupulous as to the quality of the coin in which it is to be paid.
The just amount of this claim plainly cannot be for more than the rate of excellence which he had reached in his former production; but, in estimating this rate, various errors are perpetually committed, which increase the difficulties of the task which is thus imposed on him. In the first place, the comparative amount of his past and present merits can only be ascertained by the uncertain standard of his reader's feelings; and these must always be less lively with regard to a second performance; which, with every other excellence of the first, must necessarily want the powerful recommendations of novelty and surprise, and, consequently, fall very far short of the effect produced by their strong cooperation. In the second place, it may be observed, in general, that wherever our impression of any work is favourable on the whole, its excellence is constantly exaggerated, in those vague and habitual recollections which form the basis of subsequent VOL. XII. NO. 23. comparisons.