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any body asks
1769. well or ill drest."
Well, let me tell you, (sad Ætat. 60.
Goldsmith,)when my taylor brought home my bloomcoloured coat, he said, “Sir, I have a favour to beg When
who made your clothes, be pleased to mention John Filby, at the Harrow, in Water-lane.' Johnson. Why, Sir, that was because he knew the strange colour would attract crouds to gaze at it, and thus they might hear of him, and see how well he could make a coat even of so absurd a colour.”
After dinner our conversation first turned upon Pope. Johnson said, his characters of men were adınirably drawn, those of women not so well. He repeated to us, in his forcible melodious manner, the concluding lines of the Dunciad.
While he was talking loudly in praise of those lines one of the company ventured to say, - Too fine for such a poem :-a poem on what " Johnson, (with a disdainful look,) “ Why, on dunces. It was worth while being a dunce then. Ah, Sir, hadst thou lived in those days! It is not worth while being a dunce now, when there are no wits.” Bickerstaff observed, as a peculiar circumstance, that Pope's fame was higher when he was alive than it was then. Johnson said, his Pastorais were poor things, though the versification was fine. He told us, with high satisfaction, the anecdote of Pope's enquiring who was the authour of his “ London,” and saying, he will be soon deterré. He observed, that in Dryden's poetry there were passages drawn from a profundity which Pope could never reach. He repeated some fine lines on love, by the former, (which I have now forgotten,) and gave great applause to the character of Zimri. Goldsmith said, that Pope's character of Addison shewed a deep knowledge of the human heart. Johnson said, that the description of the 1769. temple, in “ The Mourning Bride,"4 was the finest ætat. 60. poetical passage he had ever read; he recollected none in Shakspeare equal to it.—" But, (said Garrick, all alarmed for the God of his idolatry,') we know not the extent and variety of his powers. We are to suppose there are such passages in his works. Shakspeare must not suffer from the badness of our memories.” Johnson, diverted by this enthusiastick jealousy, went on with great ardour : “ No, Sir Congreve has nature ;” (smiling on the tragick eagerness of Garrick ;) but composing himself, he added, “ Sir, this is not comparing Congreve on the whole with Shakspeare on the whole ; but only maintaining that Congreve has one finer passage than any that can be found in Shakspeare. Sir, a man may have no more than ten guineas in the world, but he may have those ten guineas in one piece; and so may have a finer piece than a man who has ten thousand pound: but then he has only one ten-guinea piece. -What I mean is, that you can shew me no passage where there is simply a description of material ob. jects, without any intermixture of moral notions, which produces such an effect.” Mr. Murphy mentioned Shakspeare's description of the night before the battle of Agincourt ; but it was observed it had men in it.
Mr. Davies suggested the speech of Juliet, in which she figures herself awaking in the tomb of her ancestors. Some one mentioned the
4 [Act ii. sc. 3. M.] [In Congreve's description there seems to be an intermixture of moral notions ; as the affecting power of the passage arises from the vivid impression of the described objects on the mind of the speaker : “And shoots a chilness," &c. K.]
1769. description of Dover Cliff. Johnson. “ No, Sir;
it should be all precipice,--all vacuum. The crows Ætat. 60.
impede your fall. The diminished appearance of the boats, and other circumstances, are all very good description ; but do not impress the mind at once with the horrible idea of immense height. The impression is divided ; you pass on by computation, from one stage of the tremendous space to another. Had the girl in · The Mourning Bride' said, she could not cast her shoe to the top of one of the pillars in the temple, it would not have aided the idea, but weakened it.”
Talking of a Barrister who had a bad utterance, some one, (to rouse Johnson,) wickedly said, that he was unfortunate in not having been taught oratory by Sheridan. JOHNSON.“ Nay, Sir, if he had been taught by Sheridan, he would have cleared the room.” GARRICK. “ Sheridan has too much vanity to be a good man.”—We shall now see Johnson's mode of defending a man; taking him into his own hands, and discriminating. Johnson. “
JOHNSON. “ No, Sir. There is, to be sure, in Sheridan, something to reprehend and every thing to laugh at; but, Sir, he is not a bad man. No, Sir; were mankind to be divided into good and bad, he would stand considerably within the ranks of good. And, Sir, it must be allowed that Sheridan excels in plain declamation, though he can exhibit no character.”
I should, perhaps, have suppressed this disquisition concerning a person of whose merit and worth I think with respect, had he not attacked Johnson so outrageously in his Life of Swift, and, at the same time, treated us his admirers as a set of pigmies. He who has provoked the lash of wit, cannot complain that he smarts from it.
Mrs. Montague, a lady distinguished for having 1769. written an Essay on Shakspeare, being mentioned ; Ætat.co. --Reynolds, “ I think that essay does her honour.” JOHNSON. “ Yes, Sir; it does her honour, but it would do nobody else honour. I have, indeed, not read it all. But when I take up the end of a web, and find it packthread, I do not expect, by looking further to find embroidery. Sir, I will venture to say, there is not one sentence of true criticism in her book." GARRICK. “ But, Sir, surely it shews how much Voltaire has mistaken Shakspeare, which nobody else has done.” Johnson. “Sir, nobody else has thought it worth while. And what merit is there in that? You may as well praise a schoolmaster for whipping a boy who has construed ill. No, Sir, there is no real criticism in it: none shewing the beauty of thought, as formed on the workings of the human heart."
The admirers of this Essay may be offended at the slighting manner in which Johnson spoke of it: but let it be remembered, that he gave his honest opinion unbiassed by any prejudice, or any proud jealousy
6 Of whom I acknowledge myself to be one, considering it as a piece of the secondary or comparative species of criticism ; and not of that profound species which alone Dr. Johnson would allow to be " real criticism." It is, besides, clearly and elegantly expres, sed, and has done effectually what it professed to do, namely, vindicated Shakspeare from the misrepresentations of Voltaire ; and considering how many young people were misled by his witty, though false observations, Mrs. Montagu's Essay was of service to Shakspeare with a certain class of readers, and is, therefore, entitled to praise. Johnson, I am assured, allowed the merit which I have stated, saying, (with reference to Voltaire, “it is conclu, sive ad hominem."
1 9. of a woman intruding herself into the chair of criti
cism; for Sir Joshua Reynolds has told me, that Ætat. 6o.
when the Essay first came out, and it was not known who had written it, Johnson wondered how Sir Joshua could like it. At this time Sir Joshua himself had received no information concerning the authour, except being assured by one of our most eminent literati, that it was clear its authour did not know the Greek tragedies in the original. One day at Sir Joshua's table, when it was related that Mrs. Montagu, in an excess of compliment to the authour of a modern tragedy, had exclaimed, “ I tremble for Shakspeare ;" Johnson said, “ When Shakspeare
for his rival, and Mrs. Montagu for his defender, he is in a poor state indeed.”
Johnson proceeded : “ The Scotchman has taken the right method in his ' Elements of Criticism.' I do not mean that he has taught us any thing ; but he has told us old things in a new way.” Murphy. “ He seems to have read a great deal of French cri. ticism, and wants to make it his own; as if he had been for years anatomising the heart of man, and peeping into every cranny of it.” GOLDSMITH. “ It is easier to write that book, than to read it.” JOHN
“ We have an example of true criticism in Burke's .Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful ;' and, if I recollect, there is also Du Bos; and Bouhours, who shews all beauty to depend on truth. There is no great merit in telling how many plays have ghosts in them, and how this Ghost is better than that. You must shew how terrour is impressed on the human heart.- In the description of night in Macbeth, the beetle and the bat detract from the general idea of darkness,-inspissated gloom.”