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DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD.
I AM happy in this opportunity of expressing my thankfulness for a work, which makes every friend of learning greatly indebted to you; as it gives additional strength and perspicuity to the best language now spoken upon earth.
JOHNSON. No, Sir; if any thanks are to be bestowed on this occasion, it is my business to bestow them. Additional strength that cannot receive, which is not alrea. dy strong; and more perspicuous that cannot be rendered, which is not already clear. The student may inquire, and the dictionary may retain : but, without the previous efforts of the author, in smoothing the rugged paths of grammatical literature, vain were the researches of the studious, and vain the industry of the lexicographer.
ADDISON. But mankind have another cause of gratitude to you. You have endeavoured, and with success, to instruct them in morality, as well as in criticism. Your Rambler
I am sorry to say the style of it is not such as I can highly approve : it is more exceptionable than that of your latter works, your Lives of the Poets in particular. Yet even these have too many of the dulcia vitia, which some old criticks objected to in Seneca, whom I think you resemble in more respects than one. But the matter of the Rambler is in general excellent; if it be not in some places rather too misanthropical.
JOHNSON. Aye, aye, misanthropical! So of me says every one who has viewed the tumults of the human soul only from a distance ; who has perceived the more violent effects of prejudice and passion, without seeing from what causes they might have originated. You, Sir,
passed your time in affluence, prosperity, and ease ; supported by the applause of literature, and the patronage of greatness; you were kind to others, for others were kind to you. My genius bloomed in a desart ; and from that desart it was not drawn, till the winter of life had repressed its vigour, and tarnished its beauty. My days were spent in sickness and in sorrow; agitated by fruitless hope, and chilled by unforeseen disappointment. That from this severity of external circumstances I might acquire a severity of external behaviour, why is it to be wondered? All men have their infirmities, and I had mine. Yet these consequences of adversity did not contaminate my heart; which was ever a friend to the best interests of man. kind, and ever true to the cause of religion and virtue.
I am not ignorant, that the manners of every man are affected by his condition, even as the fruit of a tree receives a tincture from the soil that produces it. Nor am I ignorant of your many virtues, which have secured my esteem and reverence, and will preserve to you the esteem and reverence of all good men, let petty criticks nibble at your character as they please. I know too, that, if there was a little peevishness in your writings and conversation, it must be attributed to bad fortune, and to no badness of heart: which made me speak slightly of those passages in the Rambler with which I am dissatisfied.
JOHNSON. But you threatened to object to my style: did you * not?
ADDISON, I did : I think it has too unwieldy and too uniform a dignity. In composition even excellence itself will tire, if continued without variety. And your very best performances, from too free an use of uncommon words, and from a constant endeavour at quaintness, antithesis and wit, are destitute of that simplicity, without which there can be no true elegance.
JOHNSON. A very delicate observation indeed! and from one at whose hands I had a right to expect it! On whom have I lavished the honours of literary applause more liberally than on you? Have I not said, that “who“ ever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but “ dot coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must “ give his days and his nights to the volumes of Ad“ dison !"
You have indeed bestowed on me greater praise than I deserve. But I can hardly think your praises of my style come from the heart, when I see you so unwil. ling to practise yourself what you recommend to others.
JOHNSON. Sir, I am not accustomed to speak but from the heart; nor will I ever recommend to others what I myself would not practise. I have laboured my style with the greatest attention : I have endeavoured to make it, as I wish it to be, close without obtenebra. tion, perspicuous without languor, and strong without impetuosity.
ADDISON. And my greatest objection to it is, that you have laboured it too much; or at least that its elaborateness is too apparent. It savours more of art than of nature, more of the midnight lamp than of the pure radiance of noon; and in your readers either produces inattention to the sense, while they are occupied in considering the words by which it is expressed; or makes them doubt the sincerity of one, who seems less concerned what he shall say than how he shall say it.