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His Shakspeare was virulently attacked by Mr. William Kenrick, who obtained the degree of LL.D. from a Scotch University, and wrote for the booksellers in a great variety of branches. Though he certainly was not without considerable merit, he wrote with so little regard to decency and principles, and decorum', and in so hasty a manner, that his reputation was neither extensive nor lasting. I remember one evening, when some of his works were mentioned, Dr. Goldsmith said, he had never heard of them; upon which Dr. Johnson observed, 'Sir, he is one of the many who have made themselves publick, without making themselves known".'
A young student of Oxford, of the name of Barclay, wrote an answer to Kenrick's review of Johnson's Shakspeare. Johnson was at first angry that Kenrick's attack should have the credit of an answer. But afterwards, considering the young man's good intention, he kindly noticed him, and probably would have done more, had not the young man died3.
In his Preface to Shakspeare, Johnson treated Voltaire very contemptuously, observing, upon some of his remarks,' These are the petty criticisms of petty wits'.' Voltaire, in revenge,
1 Kenrick later on was the gross libeller of Goldsmith, and the far grosser libeller of Garrick. When proceedings were commenced against him in the Court of King's Bench [for the libel on Garrick], he made at once the most abject submission and retractation.' Prior's Goldsmith, i. 294. In the Garrick Corres. (ii. 341) is a letter addressed to Kenrick, in which Garrick says:-'I could have honoured you by giving the satisfaction of a gentleman, if you could (as Shakespeare says) have screwed your courage to the sticking place, to have taken it.' It is endorsed :- This was not sent to the scoundrel Dr. Kenrick.... It was judged best not to answer any more of Dr. Kenrick's notes, he had behaved so unworthily.'
' Ephraim Chambers, in the epitaph that he made for himself (ante, p. 253, note 3), had described himself as multis pervulgatus paucis notus.' Gent. Mag. x. 262.
" See Boswell's Hebrides, Oct. 1, 1773.
Johnson had joined Voltaire with Dennis and Rymer. 'Dennis and Rymer think Shakespeare's Romans not sufficiently Roman; and Voltaire censures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is
Voltaire's attack on Johnson.
made an attack upon Johnson, in one of his numerous literary sallies, which I remember to have read; but there being no general index to his voluminous works, have searched in vain, and therefore cannot quote it'.
offended that Menenius, a senator of Rome, should play the buffoon; and Voltaire, perhaps, thinks decency violated when the Danish usurper is represented as a drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes nature predominate over accident. . . . His story requires Romans or kings, but he thinks only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all dispositions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the senate-house for that which the senate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to show an usurper and a murderer, not only odious, but despicable; he therefore added drunkenness to his other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exerts its natural power upon kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds; a poet overlooks the casual distinction of country and condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.' Johnson's Works, v. 109. Johnson had previously attacked Voltaire, in his Memoirs of Frederick the Great. (Ante, i. 503, note 2.) In these Memoirs he writes:- Voltaire has asserted that a large sum was raised for her [the Queen of Hungary's] succour by voluntary subscriptions of the English ladies. It is the great failing of a strong imagination to catch greedily at wonders. He was misinformed, and was perhaps unwilling to learn, by a second enquiry, a truth less splendid and amusing.' Ib. vi. 455. See post, Oct. 27, 1779.
'Voltaire replied in the Dictionnaire Philosophique. (Works, xxxiii. 566.) 'J'ai jeté les yeux sur une édition de Shakespeare, donnée par le sieur Samuel Johnson. J'y ai vu qu'on y traite de petits esprits les étrangers qui sont étonnés que dans les pièces de ce grand Shakespeare un sénateur romain fasse le bouffon; et qu'un roi paraisse sur le théâtre en ivrogne. Je ne veux point soupçonner le sieur Johnson d'être un mauvais plaisant, et d'aimer trop le vin; mais je trouve un peu extraordinaire qu'il compte la bouffonnerie et l'ivrognerie parmi les beautés du théâtre tragique; la raison qu'il en donne n'est pas moins singulière. Le poète, dit-il, dédaigne ces distinctions accidentelles de conditions et de pays, comme un peintre qui, content d'avoir peint la figure, néglige la draperie. La comparaison serait plus juste, s'il parlait d'un peintre qui, dans un sujet noble, introduirait des grotesques ridicules, peindrait dans la bataille d'Arbelles Alexandrele-Grand monté sur un âne, et la femme de Darius buvant avec des ~oujats dans un cabaret.' Johnson, perhaps, had this attack in mind I.-37 Voltaire
Johnson's letter to Burney.
Voltaire was an antagonist with whom I thought Johnson should not disdain to contend. I pressed him to answer. He said, he perhaps might; but he never did.
Mr. Burney having occasion to write to Johnson for some receipts for subscriptions to his Shakspeare, which Johnson had omitted to deliver when the money was paid', he availed himself of that opportunity of thanking Johnson for the great pleasure which he had received from the perusal of his Preface to Shakspeare; which, although it excited much clamour against him at first, is now justly ranked among the most excellent of his writings. To this letter Johnson returned the following answer:
'TO CHARLES BURNEY, ESQ., IN POLAND-STREET.
'I am sorry that your kindness to me has brought upon you so much trouble, though you have taken care to abate that sorrow, by the pleasure which I receive from your approbation. I defend my criticism in the same manner with you. We must confess the faults of our favourite, to gain credit to our praise of his excellencies. He that claims, either in himself or for another, the honours of perfection, will surely injure the reputation which he designs to assist. 'Be pleased to make my compliments to your family.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most obliged
'And most humble servant, 'Oct. 16, 1765.' 'SAM. JOHNSON.' From one of his journals I transcribed what follows:
'At church, Oct. -65.
'To avoid all singularity'; Bonaventura3.
when, in his Life of Pope (Works, viii. 275), he thus wrote of Voltaire: 'He had been entertained by Pope at his table, when he talked with so much grossness, that Mrs. Pope was driven from the room. Pope discovered by a trick that he was a spy for the court, and never considered him as a man worthy of confidence.'
1 See post, under May 8, 1781.
See post, ii. 85.
• He was probably proposing to himself the model of this excellent person, who for his piety was named the Seraphic Doctor. BOSWELL.
Resolutions at church.
'To come in before service, and compose my mind by meditation, or by reading some portions of scriptures.
'If I can hear the sermon, to attend it, unless attention be more troublesome than useful.
'To consider the act of prayer as a reposal of myself upon GOD, and a resignation of all into his holy hand.'