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me a system and it shall be overturned ; but do not harass me with the assiduous importunity of question and inference, as if you were putting interrogatories to a school-boy. I never intended that every word to be found in my dictionary should be considered as a good word.
If my arguments are just, do not reject them as childish; and remember your promise, that you would hear me with impartiality and patience.
JOHNSON. Well : perhaps I may be inclined to allow, that my diction might have been improved in intelligibility, by the removal of such words as those you object to. But where then would have been the cadence of my periods, the pomp of my sonorous phraseology, the
You agreed with me, that in style perspicuity is the first thing to be considered; and that it is to be embellished by attention to the sound, only when that can be done without injury to the sense. But, even with regard to sound,—do you think that Virgil would have been accounted an harmonious poet, if he had continued through the whole Æneid that strain of versification, however elegant and sublime, in which he describes the storm in his first book; or that Homer would have been, in your opinion, to be commended, if he had related the meeting of Penelope and Ulysses, or the parting of Hector and Andromache, with the same thundering impetuosity of numbers, which he employs upon the stone of Sisyphus, or the horses and chariot of Neptune?
JOHNSON. No: I allow, that harmony of style is merely relative, and deserves praise only when it suits the subject: and that the same strain of eloquence, if too long continued, induces languor from its want of diversification, as well as displacency from the appearance of excessive
Is it your opinion, then, that the pompous unifor. mity of diction which we find in the Rambler, can please by its variety; or that it can be adapted to each different subject, when it is equally applied to all :-to the trifling as well as the magnificent, to praise and to censure, to argument and to narrative ? Do you not think, that the same objections may be made to the structure of your style, as to the sound; if both ought to possess, what you have given to neither, variety suited to the subject? And would not one be apt to imagine that an author, who, by the sound and composition of his language, elevates equally sublime and familiar ideas, might run some risk of falling under the imputation of bombast?
JOHNSON. Sir, you grow intolerable :—but when were whigs otherwise ? You still forget that you are not now engaged in disquisition with one of the populace of London. Yet I would not have you imagine, that such arguments can affect or change my mind. No, Sir, if I cease to answer, it is more from lassitude than from conviction.*
And yet my arguments are not, in my judgment, either tedious or inconclusive. But you promised not to be angry or partial; and I know you too well to entertain any serious doubt of your sincerity. A little irony now and then is a good seasoning to conversation. Tell me now, my good Sir, your real opinion ; and let us then amuse ourselves with some topick more suitable to the tranquility of elysium.
* Though Johnson appears to some disadvantage in this Dialogue, it is but just to remark, that the Author held in high veneration the genius, virtues, and learning of that great man; with whoin he had the honour to be acquainted.
JOHNSON. Why, Sir, if you will have it, I may possibly allow, that you are partly in the right. If I had my style to form anew, I should perhaps make it, in a greater degree, elegant without constraint, dignified without ambitious ornament, strong without rigidity, and harmo nious without elaboration.
SOCRATES, JOHNSON, AND A FINE
How vain, and how contradictory, are the joys and the wishes of man! How many inhabitants of the earth are now lamenting the death of Doctor Johnson; while we rejoice in it, as an event that adds so valuable a member to the society of elysium !
JOHNSON Aye; what will become of that pack of yelping authors, now when old Johnson, the whipper-in, is gone from among them?
However they may delight in the remembrance of your elaborate conversation, or the elegant title of a yelping pack which you so politely confer upon them; at least they will allow the name of whipper-in to belong