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Anecdotes of Dryden.
probably was very unskilful in giving away, and saved when he should not. But Garrick began to be liberal as soon as he could; and I am of opinion, the reputation of avarice which he has had, has been very lucky for him, and prevented his having many enemies. You despise a man for avarice, but do not hate him. Garrick might have been much better attacked for living with more splendour than is suitable to a player': if they had had the wit to have assaulted him in that quarter, they might have galled him more. But they have kept clamouring about his avarice, which has rescued him from much obloquy and envy.'
Talking of the great difficulty of obtaining authentick information for biography, Johnson told us, 'When I was a young fellow I wanted to write the Life of Dryden, and in order to get materials, I applied to the only two persons then alive who had seen him3; these were old Swinney, and old Cibber. Swinney's information was no more than this, "That at Will's coffee-house Dryden had a particular chair for himself, which was set by the fire in winter, and was then called his winterchair; and that it was carried out for him to the balcony in summer, and was then called his summer-chair." Cibber could tell no more but "That he remembered him a decent old man, arbiter of critical disputes at Will's 5." You are to consider that
'See ante, i. 216, note 2.
2 See ante, March 20, 1776, and Boswell's Hebrides, Sept. 22.
3 Dryden had been dead but thirty-six years when Johnson came to London.
'Owen Mac Swinny, a buffoon; formerly director of the play-house.' Horace Walpole, Letters, i. 118. Walpole records one of his puns. 'Old Horace' had left the House of Commons to fight a duel, and at once 'returned, and was so little moved as to speak immediately upon the Cambrick Bill, which made Swinny say, "That it was a sign he was not ruffled." Ib. p. 233. See also ib. vi. 373 for one of his stories.
5 A more amusing version of the story is in Johnsoniana (ed. 1836, p.
413) on the authority of Mr. Fowke.
Colley Cibber's APOLOGY.
Cibber was then at a great distance from Dryden, had perhaps one leg only in the room, and durst not draw in the other.' BOSWELL. Yet Cibber was a man of observation?' JOHNSON. I think not '.' BOSWELL. 'You will allow his Apology to be well done.' JOHNSON. 'Very well done, to be sure, Sir2. That book is a striking proof of the justice of Pope's remark:
"Each might his several province well command,
BOSWELL. And his plays are good.' JOHNSON. 'Yes; but that was his trade; l'esprit du corps; he had been all his life among players and play-writers. I wondered that he had so little to say in conversation, for he had kept the best company, and learnt all that can be got by the ear. He abused Pindar to me, and then shewed me an Ode of his own, with an absurd
the manners and habits of Dryden.” Johnson gives, in his Life of Dryden (Works, vii. 300), the information that he got from Swinney and Cibber. Dr. Warton, who had written on Pope, found in one of the poet's female-cousins a still more ignorant survivor. 'He had been taught to believe that she could furnish him with valuable information. Incited by all that eagerness which characterised him, he sat close to her, and enquired her consanguinity to Pope. "Pray, Sir," said she, "did not you write a book about my cousin Pope?" "Yes, madam.” They tell me 'twas vastly clever. He wrote a great many plays, did not he?" "I have heard of only one attempt, Madam." "Oh no, I beg your pardon; that was Mr. Shakespeare; I always confound them."' Wooll's Warton, p. 394.
' Johnson told Malone that 'Cibber was much more ignorant even of matters relating to his own profession than he could well have conceived any man to be who had lived nearly sixty years with players, authors, and the most celebrated characters of the age.' Prior's Ma
Aetat. 67.] A contested passage in Horace.
couplet, making a linnet soar on an eagle's wing'. I told him that when the ancients made a simile, they always made it like something real.'
Mr. Wilkes remarked, that 'among all the bold flights of Shakspeare's imagination, the boldest was making Birnamwood march to Dunsinane; creating a wood where there never was a shrub; a wood in Scotland! ha! ha! ha!' And he also observed, that 'the clannish slavery of the Highlands of Scotland was the single exception to Milton's remark of "The Mountain Nymph, sweet Liberty 2," being worshipped in all hilly countries.'-'When I was at Inverary (said he,) on a visit to my old friend, Archibald, Duke of Argyle, his dependents congratulated me on being such a favourite of his Grace. I said, "It is then, gentlemen, truely lucky for me; for if I had displeased the Duke, and he had wished it, there is not a Campbell among you but would have been ready to bring John Wilkes's head to him in a charger. It would have been only
'Off with his head! So much for Aylesbury3.'
I was then member for Aylesbury.'
Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes talked of the contested passage in Horace's Art of Poetry, Difficile est propriè communia dicere.' Mr. Wilkes according to my note, gave the interpretation thus; 'It is difficult to speak with propriety of common things; as, if a poet had to speak of Queen Caroline drinking tea, he must endeavour to avoid the vulgarity of cups and saucers.' But upon reading my note, he tells me that he meant to say, that 'the word communia, being a Roman law term, signifies here things communis juris, that is to say, what have never yet been treated by any body; and this appears clearly from what followed,
Rectiùs Iliacum carmen deducis in actus
Quàm si proferres ignota indictaque primus.”
See page 402 of vol. i. Bos
2 Milton's L'Allegro, 1. 36.
3 'CATESBY. My Liege, the Duke
RICHARD. Off with his head. So
A contested passage in Horace.
You will easier make a tragedy out of the Iliad than on any JOHNSON. 'He means that it is
subject not handled before.'
'My very pleasant friend himself, as well as others who remember old stories, will no doubt be surprised, when I observe that John Wilkes here shews himself to be of the WARBURTONIAN SCHOOL. It is nevertheless true, as appears from Dr. Hurd the Bishop of Worcester's very elegant commentary and notes on the 'Epistola ad Pisones?
It is necessary to a fair consideration of the question, that the whole passage in which the words occur should be kept in view : 'Si quid inexpertum scena committis, et audes
tice of Homer and the Epick writers.' The 'Note' is,
'Difficile EST PROPRIE COMMUNIA DICERE.' Lambin's Comment is, 'Communia hoc loco appellat Horatius argumenta fabularum à nullo adhuc tractata: et ita, quæ cuivis exposita sunt et in medio quodammodo posita, quasi vacua et à nemine occupata. And that this is the true meaning of communia is evidently fixed by the words ignota indictaque, which are explanatory of it; so that the sense given it in the commentary is unquestionably the right one. Yet, notwithstanding the clearness of the case, a late critick has this strange passage: 'Difficile quidem esse propriè communia dicere, hoc est, materiam vulgarem, notam et è medio petitam,ita immutare atque exornare, ut nova et scriptori propria videatur, ultro concedimus; et maximi procul dubio ponderis ista est observatio. Sed omnibus utrinque collatis, et tum difficilis, tum venusti, tam judicii quam ingenii ratione habitâ, major videtur esse gloria fabulam formare penitùs novam, quàm veterem, utcunque mutatam, de novo exhibere. (Poet. Præl. v. ii. p. 164.) Where, having first put a wrong construction on the word communia, he employs it to introduce an impertinent criticism. For where does the poet prefer the glory of refitting old subjects to that of inventing new ones? The contrary is implied in what he urges about the superiour difficulty of the latter, from which he dissuades his countrymen, only in respect of their abilities and inexperience in these matters; and in order to cultivate in them, which is the main view of the Epistle, a spirit of correctness, by sending them to the old subjects, treated by the Greek writers.'
For my own part (with all defer
The last of the City-Poets.
difficult to appropriate to particular persons qualities which are common to all mankind, as Homer has done.'
WILKES. 'We have no City-Poet now: that is an office
ence for Dr. Hurd, who thinks the case clear,) I consider the passage, 'Difficile est propriè communia dicere,' to be a crux for the criticks on Horace.
The explication which My Lord of Worcester treats with so much contempt, is nevertheless countenanced by authority which I find quoted by the learned Baxter in his edition of Horace: 'Difficile est propriè communia dicere, h. e. res vulgares disertis verbis enarrare, vel humile thema cum dignitate tractare. Difficile est communes res propriis explicare verbis. Vet. Schol.' I was much disappointed to find that the great critick, Dr. Bentley, has no note upon this very difficult passage, as from his vigorous and illuminated mind I should have expected to receive more satisfaction than I have yet had.
Sanadon thus treats of it: 'Propriè communia dicere; c'est à dire, qu'il n'est pas aisé de former à ces personnages d'imagination, des caractères particuliers et cependant
vraisemblables. Comme l'on a eté le maitre de les former tels qu'on a voulu, les fautes que l'on fait en cela sont moins pardonnables. C'est pourquoi Horace conseille de prendre toujours des sujets connus tels que sont par exemple ceux que l'on peut tirer des poèmes d' Homere.
And Dacier observes upon it, 'Apres avoir marqué les deux qualités qu'il faut donner aux personnages qu'on invente, il conseille aux Poétes tragiques, de n'user pas trop facilement de cette liberté quils ont d'en inventer, car il est três difficile de reussir dans ces nouveaux caractêres. Il est mal aisé, dit Horace, de traiter proprement, c'st à dire
convenablement, des sujets communs; c'est à dire, des sujets inventés, et qui n'ont aucun fondement ni dans l'Histoire ni dans la Fable; et il les appelle communs, parce qu'ils sont en disposition à tout le monde, et que tout le monde a le droit de les inventer, et qu'ils sont, comme on dit, au premier occupant. See his observations at large on this expression and the following.
After all, I cannot help entertaining some doubt whether the words, Difficile est propriè communia dicere, may not have been thrown in by Horace to form a separate article in a 'choice of difficulties' which a poet has to encounter, who chooses a new subject; in which case it must be uncertain which of the various explanations is the true one, and every reader has a right to decide as it may strike his own fancy. And even should the words be understood as they generally are, to be connected both with what goes before and what comes after, the exact sense cannot be absolutely ascertained; for instance, whether propriè is meant to signify in an appropriated manner, as Dr. Johnson here understands it, or, as it is often used by Cicero, with propriety, or elegantly. In short, it is a rare instance of a defect in perspicuity in an admirable writer, who with almost every species of excellence, is peculiarly remarkable for that quality. The length of this note perhaps requires an apology. Many of my readers, I doubt not, will admit that a critical discussion of a passage in a favourite classick is very engaging. BOSWELL. Boswell's French in this tedious note is left as he printed it.