« ElőzőTovább »
etical object than a prince in his coronation robes. His taste in landscape gardening was honoured with the approbation of Horace Walpole, and he spent £1,000 upon a grotto, which incurred the ridicule of Johnson. Of that indescribable something, that 'greatness' which causes Dryden to uplift a lofty head from the deep pit of his corruption, neither Pope's character nor his style bears any trace. But still, both as a poet and a man we must give place, and even high place, to Pope. About the poetry there can be no question. A man with his wit, and faculty of expression, and infinite painstaking, is not to be evicted from his ancient homestead in the affections and memories of his people by a rabble of critics, or even a posse of poets. As for the man, he was ever eager and interested in life. Beneath all his faults — for which he had more excuse than a whole congregation of the righteous need ever hope to muster for their own shortcomings — we recognise humanity, and we forgive much to humanity, knowing how much need there is for humanity to forgive us. Indifference, known by its hard heart and its callous temper, is the only unpardonable sin. Pope never committed it. He had much to put up with. We have much to put up with — in him. He has given enormous pleasure to generations of men, and will continue so to do. We can never give him any pleasure. The least we can do is to smile pleasantly as we replace him upon his shelf, and say, as we truthfully may, • There was a great deal of human nature in Alexander Pope.'
If we should ever take occasion to say of Dr. Johnson's Preface to Shakspeare what he himself said of a similar production of the poet Rowe, “that it does not discover much profundity or penetration,' we ought in common fairness always to add that nobody else has ever written about Shakspeare one-half so entertainingly. If this statement be questioned, let the doubter, before reviling me, re-read the Preface, and if, after he has done so, he still demurs, we shall be content to withdraw the observation, which, indeed, has only been made for the purpose of introducing a quotation from the Preface itself.
In that document, Dr. Johnson, with his unrivalled stateliness, writes as follows:“The poet of whose works I have undertaken the revision may now begin to
assume the dignity of an ancient, and claim the privilege of established fame and prescriptive veneration. He has long outlived his century, the term commonly fixed as the test of literary merit.'
The whirligig of time has brought in his revenges. The Doctor himself has been dead his century. He died on the 13th of December, 1784. Come, let us criticise him.
Our qualifications for this high office need not be investigated curiously.
Criticism,' writes Johnson in the both Idler, 'is a study by which men grow important and formidable at a very small expense. The power of invention has been conferred by nature upon few, and the labour of learning those sciences which may by mere labour be obtained, is too great to be willingly endured; but every man can exert such judgment as he has upon the works of others; and he whom nature has made weak, and idleness keeps ignorant, may yet support his vanity by the name of a critick.'
To proceed with our task by the method of comparison is to pursue a course open to grave objection, yet it is forced upon us when we find, as we lately did, a writer in the Times newspaper, in the course of a not very discriminating review of Mr. Froude's recent volumes, casually remarking, as if it admitted of no more doubt than the day's price of consols, that Carlyle was a greater man than Johnson. It is a good thing to be positive. To be positive in your opinions and selfish in your habits is the best recipe, if not for happiness, at all events for that far more attainable commodity, comfort, with which we are acquainted. “A noisy man,' sang poor Cowper, who could not bear anything louder than the hissing of a tea-urn, a noisy man is always in the right,' and a positive man can seldom be proved wrong. Still, in literature it is very desirable to preserve a moderate measure of independence, and we, therefore, make bold to ask whether it is as plain as the old hill of Howth,' that Carlyle was a greater man than Johnson? Is not the precise contrary the truth? No abuse of Carlyle need be looked for here or from me. When a man of genius and of letters happens to have any striking virtues, such as purity, tem