Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

36

The shores of the Mediterranean.

not be distinguished in a man who had nothing else but his
parts'.'

A journey to Italy was still in his thoughts. He said, 'A man
who has not been in Italy, is always conscious of an inferiority,
from his not having seen what it is expected a man should
see. The grand object of travelling is to see the shores of the
Mediterranean. On those shores were the four great Empires
of the world; the Assyrian, the Persian, the Grecian, and
the Roman.-All our religion, almost all our law, almost all
our arts, almost all that sets us above savages, has come to us
from the shores of the Mediterranean.' The General observed,
that 'THE MEDITERRANEAN would be a noble subject for a
poem3.'

We talked of translation. I said, I could not define it, nor could I think of a similitude to illustrate it; but that it appeared to me the translation of poetry could be only imitation. JOHNSON. You may translate books of science exactly. You may also translate history, in so far as it is not embellished with oratory, which is poetical. Poetry, indeed, cannot be translated; and, therefore, it is the poets that preserve languages; for we would not be at the trouble to learn a language, if we could have all that is written in it just as well in a translation. But as the beauties of poetry cannot be preserved in any language

'Lord Shelburne in 1766, at the age of twenty-nine, was appointed Secretary of State in Lord Chatham's ministry. Fitzmaurice's Shelburne, ii. 1. Jeremy Bentham said of him :'His head was not clear. He felt the want of clearness. He had had a most wretched education.' Ib. p. 175.

2 He wrote to Mrs. Thrale on Aug. 14, 1780-'I hope you have no design of stealing away to Italy before the election, nor of leaving me behind you; though I am not only seventy, but seventy-one... But what if I am seventy-two; I remember Sulpitius says of Saint Martin (now that's above your reading), Est animus victor annorum et senectuti cedere nescius. Match me that among your young folks.' Piozzi

[A.D. 1776.

Letters, ii. 177.

3 Lady Hesketh, taking up apparently a thought which Paoli, as reported by Boswell, had thrown out in conversation, proposed to Cowper the Mediterranean for a topic. He replied, "Unless I were a better historian than I am, there would be no proportion between the theme and my ability. It seems, indeed, not to be so properly a subject for one poem, as for a dozen." Southey's Cowper, iii. 15, and vii. 44.

Burke said: 'I do not know how it has happened, that orators have hitherto fared worse in the hands of the translators than even the poets; I never could bear to read a translation of Cicero.' Life of Sir W. Jones, p. 196.

A diffusion of knowledge.

37

except that in which it was originally written, we learn the language.'

"

A gentleman maintained that the art of printing had hurt real learning, by disseminating idle writings.-JOHNSON. Sir, if it had not been for the art of printing, we should now have no learning at all; for books would have perished faster than they could have been transcribed.' This observation seems not just, considering for how many ages books were preserved by writing alone.

Aetat. 67.]

The same gentleman maintained, that a general diffusion of knowledge among a people was a disadvantage; for it made the vulgar rise above their humble sphere. JOHNSON. 'Sir, while knowledge is a distinction, those who are possessed of it will naturally rise above those who are not. Merely to read and write was a distinction at first; but we see when reading and writing have become general, the common people keep their stations. And so, were higher attainments to become general the effect would be the same'.'

'Goldsmith (he said), referred every thing to vanity; his virtues, and his vices too, were from that motive. He was not a social man. He never exchanged mind with you.' We spent the evening at Mr. Hoole's. Mr. Mickle, the excellent translator of The Lusiad, was there. I have preserved little of the conversation of this evening3. Dr. Johnson said, 'Thomson had a true poetical genius, the power of viewing every thing in a poetical light. His fault is such a cloud of words sometimes, that the sense can hardly peep through. Shiels, who compiled Cibber's Lives of the Poets, was one day sitting with me. I took down Thomson, and read aloud a large portion of him, and then asked,-Is not this fine? Shiels having expressed the highest admiration. Well, Sir, (said I,) I have omitted every other line".

* See ante, ii. 188.

* See ante, ii. 182.

3 See post, under date of Dec. 24, 1783, where mention seems to be made of this evening.

• See ante, note, p. 30. Bos

WELL.
5 Thomson's diction is in the

highest degree florid and luxuriant, such as may be said to be to his images and thoughts "both their lustre and their shade;" such as invest them with splendour, through which, perhaps, they are not always easily discerned.' Johnson's Works, viii. 378. See ante, i. 453, and ii. 63. I related

[ocr errors]

38

Goldsmith and Dodsley.

I related a dispute between Goldsmith and Mr. Robert Dodsley, one day when they and I were dining at Tom Davies's, in 1762. Goldsmith asserted, that there was no poetry produced in this age. Dodsley appealed to his own Collection', and maintained, that though you could not find a palace like Dryden's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day,' you had villages composed of very pretty houses; and he mentioned particularly The Spleen. JOHNSON. I think Dodsley gave up the question. He and Goldsmith said the same thing; only he said it in a softer manner than Goldsmith did; for he acknowledged that there was no poetry, nothing that towered above the common mark. You may find wit and humour in verse, and yet no poetry. Hudibras has a profusion of these; yet it is not to be reckoned a poem. The Spleen, in Dodsley's Collection, on which you say he chiefly rested, is not poetry3. BOSWELL. 'Does not Gray's poetry, Sir, tower above the common mark?' JOHNSON. 'Yes, Sir; but we must attend to the difference between what men in general cannot do if they would, and what every man may do if he would. Sixteen-string Jack towered above the common mark.' BOSWELL. Then, Sir, what is poetry?' JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is; but it is not easy to tell what it is.'

On Friday, April 12, I dined with him at our friend Tom Davies's, where we met Mr. Cradock, of Leicestershire, authour of Zobeide, a tragedy; a very pleasing gentleman, to whom my friend Dr. Farmer's very excellent Essay on the Learning of Shakspeare is addressed; and Dr. Harwood, who has written

1

A Collection of Poems in six volumes by several hands, 1758.

2 Ib. i. 116.

3 Mr. Nicholls says, 'The Spleen was a great favourite with Gray for its wit and originality.' Gray's Works, v. 36. See post, Oct. 10, 1779, where Johnson quotes two lines from it. 'Fling but a stone, the giant dies,' is another line that is not unknown.

A noted highwayman, who after having been several times tried and acquitted, was at last hanged. He was remarkable for foppery in his

[A.D. 1778.

dress, and particularly for wearing a bunch of sixteen strings at the knees of his breeches. BOSWELL.

5 Goldsmith wrote a prologue for it. Horace Walpole wrote on Dec. 14, 1771 (Letters, v. 356):-'There is a new tragedy at Covent Garden called Zobeide, which I am told is very indifferent, though written by a country gentleman.' Cradock in his old age published his own Memoirs.

"Dr. Farmer," said Johnson [speaking of this Essay], "you have done that which never was done and

Aetat. 67.] The purging of the passions.

and published various works; particularly a fantastical translation of the New Testament, in modern phrase', and with a Socinian twist.

C

I introduced Aristotle's doctrine in his Art of Poetry, of 'the κάθαρσις τῶν παθημάτων, the purging of the passions, as the purpose of tragedy. 'But how are the passions to be purged by terrour and pity?' (said I, with an assumed air of ignorance, to incite him to talk, for which it was often necessary to employ some address)3. JOHNSON. Why, Sir, you are to consider what is the meaning of purging in the original sense. It is to expel impurities from the human body. The mind is subject to the same imperfection. The passions are the great movers of human actions; but they are mixed with such impurities, that it is necessary they should be purged or refined by means of terrour and pity. For instance, ambition is a noble passion; but by seeing upon the stage, that a man who is so excessively ambitious as to raise himself by injustice, is punished, we are terrified at the fatal consequences of such a passion. In the same manner a certain degree of resentment is necessary; but if we see that a man carries it too far, we pity the object of it, and are taught to moderate that passion.' My record upon this occasion does great injustice to Johnson's expression, which was so forcible and brilliant, that Mr. Cradock whispered me, ‘O that his words were written in a book'!'

I observed, the great defect of the tragedy of Othello was, that

before; that is, you have completely finished a controversy beyond all further doubt." "There are some critics," answered Farmer, "who will adhere to their old opinions." "Ah!" said Johnson, “that may be true; for the limbs will quiver and move when the soul is gone."' Northcote's Reynolds, i. 152. Farmer was Master of Emanuel College, Cambridge (ante, i. 368). In a letter dated Oct. 3, 1786, published in Romilly's Life (i. 332), it is said :Shakespeare and black letter muster strong at Emanuel.'

39

''When Johnson once glanced at this Liberal Translation of the New

Testament, and saw how Dr. Harwood had turned Jesus wept into Jesus, the Saviour of the world, burst into a flood of tears, he contemptuously threw the book aside, exclaiming, "Puppy!" The author, Dr. Edward Harwood, is not to be confounded with Dr. Thomas Harwood, the historian of Lichfield.' Croker's Boswell, p. 836.

2 See an ingenious Essay on this subject by the late Dr. Moor, Greek Professor at Glasgow. Boswell. 3 See ante, i. 6, note 2.

4

"Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!' Job xix. 23.

The moral of OTHELLO.

it had not a moral; for that no man could resist the circumstances of suspicion which were artfully suggested to Othello's mind. JOHNSON. In the first place, Sir, we learn from Othello this very useful moral, not to make an unequal match; in the second place, we learn not to yield too readily to suspicion. The handkerchief is merely a trick, though a very pretty trick; but there are no other circumstances of reasonable suspicion, except what is related by Iago of Cassio's warm expressions concerning Desdemona in his sleep; and that depended entirely upon the assertion of one man'. No, Sir, I think Othello has more moral than almost any play.'

40

Talking of a penurious gentleman of our acquaintance, Johnson said, 'Sir, he is narrow, not so much from avarice, as from impotence to spend his money. He cannot find in his heart to pour out a bottle of wine; but he would not much care if it should sour.'

[A.D. 1776.

He said, he wished to see John Dennis's Critical Works, collected. Davies said they would not sell. Dr. Johnson seemed to think otherwise 2.

Davies said of a well-known dramatick authour, that 'he lived upon potted stories, and that he made his way as Hannibal did, by vinegar; having begun by attacking people; particularly the players3.'

He reminded Dr. Johnson of Mr. Murphy's having paid him

'The gradual progress which Iago makes in the Moor's conviction, and the circumstances which he employs to inflame him, are so artfully natural, that, though it will perhaps not be said of him as he says of himself, that he is "a man not easily jealous," yet we cannot but pity him, when at last we find him "perplexed in the extreme."' Johnson's Works, v. 178.

2 Of Dennis's criticism of Addison's Cato, he says:-'He found and shewed many faults; he shewed them indeed with anger, but he found them with acuteness, such as ought to rescue his criticism from oblivion.' Ib. vii. 457. In a note

on 'thunder rumbling from the mustard-bowl' (The Dunciad, ii. 226) it is said:-'Whether Mr. Dennis was the inventor of that improvement, I know not; but it is certain that, being once at a tragedy of a new author, he fell into a great passion at hearing some, and cried, "S'death! that is my thunder." See D'Israeli's Calamities of Authors, i. 135, for an amplification of this story.

3 Sir James Mackintosh thought Cumberland was meant. I am now satisfied that it was Arthur Murphy. CROKER. The fact that Murphy's name is found close to the story renders it more likely that Mr. Croker is right.

[ocr errors]

the

« ElőzőTovább »