THE SPIRIT OF SAM!

One of the real foulweather friends of Phoenix Ark Press wrote yesterday to remind us of the argument we had had (that led to a suprising friendship) and our fury at the power that people can excercise over others, often both selfishly and so irresponsibly. It is what started Phoenix Ark Press and what gives us huge sympathy for people caught up in systems and situations that deprive them of a voice. There can be nothing worse for a writer either.

Perhaps it has a deal to do with Capitalism too, certainly today’s terrible disconnections, or the force of money’s and ambition’s ‘ unseen hand’ over individual lives and the cynical political behaviour in companies too, but maybe human nature was always reliably depressing. No one wants hand outs, and the spirit of The Friends of Phoenix Ark Press is about engagement, sharing some attempt to fight back, and a true story. Survival is the only thing that makes the money important, and to get a book out in a form some readers would like to see it, but anyone who cares about stories and books can be a friend of the Press.

Yet again ‘Lady C’, a pen name, has given a generous rallying cry to the Friends’ blog then, but reminded us of the magnificent indignation that inspired one of the greatest fighters for language, Samuel Johnson. So his famous letter of utter contempt to the Earl of Chesterfield is published again here, with an insistance that the arrogant and contemptuous ‘great’ in our case should never have become our own ignorant, loveless US publisher! It speaks for itself:

Samuel Johnson’s letter 7th February 1755
To The Right Honourable The Earl Of Chesterfield

My Lord,

I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of The World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.
When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre, that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your Lordship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.

Seven years, my lord, have now passed, since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.
The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.

Is not a patron my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it: till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which providence has enabled me to do for myself.

Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation,
My Lord,
Your lordship’s most humble, most obedient servant,
SAM. JOHNSON.

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