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is to be added to the Life of Smith. I shall be au home to revise the two sheets of Milton. March 1. 1779.
“ Please to get me the last edition of Hughes's Letters; and try to get Dennis upon Blackmore and upon Cato, and any thing of the same writer against Pope. Our materials are defective.
“ As Waller professed to have imitated Fairfax, do you think a few pages of Fairfax would enrich our edi. tion ? Few readers have seen it, and it may please them. But it is not necessary.
" An Account of the Lives and Works of some of the most eminent English Poets, by, &c. “The English Poets, biographically and critically considered, by Sam. Johnson. Let Mr. Nichols take his choice, or make another to his mind. May, 1781.
“ You somehow forgot the advertisement for the new edition. It was not enclosed. Of Gay's Letters I see not that any use can be made, for they give no information of any thing. That he was a member of a philosophical society is something ; but surely he could be out a corresponding member. However, not having his life here, I know not how to put it in, and it is of little importance.” (1)
Mr. Steevens appears, from the papers in my possession, to have supplied him with some anecdotes and quotations; and I observe the fair hand (2) of Mrs. Thrale as one of his copyists of select passages.
(1) See several more in “ The Gentleman's Magazine, 1785. The editor of that miscellany, in which Johnson wrote for several years, seems justly to think that every fragment of so great a man is worthy of being preserved.
(2) A fair hand, in more than one sense — her writing is an almost perfect specimen of calligraphy; and this power remained unimpaired to the last years of her long life. — C.
But he was principally indebted to my steady friend, Mr. Isaac Reed, of Staples-inn,whose extensive and accurate knowledge of English literary history I do not express with exaggeration, when I say it is wonderful : indeed, his labours have proved it to the world; and all who have the pleasure of his acquaintance can bear testimony to the frankness of his communications in private society.
It is not my intention to dwell upon each of Johnson's " Lives of the Poets,” or attempt an analysis of their merits, which, were I able to do it, would take up too much room in this work; yet I shall make a few observations upon some of them, and insert a few various readings.
The Life of Cowley he himself considered as the best of the whole, on account of the dissertation which it contains on the Metaphysical Poets. (1)
Dryden, whose critical abilities were equal to his poetical, had mentioned them in his excellent Dedication of his Juvenal, but had barely mentioned them. Johnson has exhibited them at large, with such happy illustration from their writings, and in so luminous a manner, that indeed he
be allowed the full merit of novelty, and to have discovered to us, as it were, a new planet in the poetical hemisphere.
It is remarked by Johnson, in considering the works of a poet (?), that “ amendments are seldom
(1) Hawkins says, that he also gave it the preference, as cono taining a nicer investigation and discrimination of the character. istics of wit, than is elsewhere to be found. - C.
(2) Life of Sheffield
made without some token of a rent;" but I do not find that this is applicable to prose. (1) We shall see, that though his amendments in this work are for the better, there is nothing of the pannus assutus ; the texture is uniform; and indeed, what had been there at first, is very seldom unfit to have remained.
Various Readings (2) in the Life of Cowley. “ All [future votaries of] that may hereafter pant for solitude.
6. To conceive and execute the [agitation or perception] pains and the pleasures of other minds.
“The wide effulgence of [the blazing] a summer noon.”
In the Life of WALLER, Johnson gives a distinct and animated narrative of public affairs in that variegated period, with strong yet nice touches of character; and having a fair opportunity to display his political principles, does it with an unqualified manly confidence, and satisfies his readers how nobly he might have executed a Tory History of his country. So
easy is his style in these Lives, that I do not recollect more than three uncommon or learned words: one, when giving an account of the approach of Waller's mortal disease, he says, “ he found his legs grow tumid ;" by using the expression his legs
(1) See, however, p. 9. of this volume, where the same remark is made, and Johnson is there speaking of prose. In his Life of Dryden, his observations on the opera of « King Arthur” fur. nish a striking instance of the truth of this remark, — M.
(2) The original reading is enclosed in brackets, and the present one is printed in italics.
swelled, he would have avoided this; and there would have been no impropriety in its being followed by the interesting question to his physician, “ What that swelling meant ? ' Another, when he mentions that Pope had emitted proposals ; when published or issued would have been more readily understood ; and a third, when he calls Orrery and Dr. Delaney writers both undoubtedly veracious ; when true, honest, or faithful, might have been used. Yet, it must be owned, that none of these are hard or too big words; that custom would make them seem as easy as any others; and that a language is richer and capable of more beauty of expression, by having a greater variety of synonymes.
His dissertation upon the unfitness of poetry for the awful subjects of our holy religion, though I do not entirely agree with him, has all the merit of originality, with uncommon force and reasoning.
Various Readings in the Life of WALLER - Consented to (the insertion of their names] their own nomination.
[After] paying a fine of ten thousand pounds. “ Congratulating Charles the Second on his [coronation] recovered right.
“ He that has flattery ready for all whom the vicissitudes of the world happen to exalt, must be [confessed to degrade his powers] scorned as a prostituted mind.
“ The characters by which Waller intended to dis. tinguish his writings are [elegance] sprightliness and dignity.
“ Blossoms to be valued only as they [fetch] foreteli fruits
Images such as the superficies of nature [easily] readily supplies.
“[His] Some applications [are sometimes] may be thought too remote and unconsequential.
“ His images are (sometimes confused] not always distinct."
Against his Life of Milton, the hounds of whiggism have opened in full cry. But of Milton's great excellence as a poet, where shall we find such a blazon as by the hand of Johnson? I shall select only the following passage concerning “ Paradise Lost:
“ Fancy can hardly forbear to conjecture with what temper Milton surveyed the silent progress of his work, and marked his reputation stealing its way in a kind of subterraneous current, through fear and silence. I cannot but conceive him calm and confident, little disappointed, not at all dejected, relying on his own merit with steady consciousness, and waiting, without impatience, the vicissitudes of opinion, and the impartiality of a future generation.” Indeed even Dr. Towers, who may
be considered as one of the warmest zealots of The Revolution Society itself, allows, that “Johnson has spoken in the highest terms of the abilities of that great poet, and has bestowed on his principal poetical compositions the most honourable encomiums.” (1)
(1) See “ An Essay on the Life, Character, and Writings of Dr. Samuel Johnson,” London, 1787; which is very well writ. ten, making a proper allowance for the democratical bigotry of its author ; whom I cannot however but admire for his liberality in speaking thus of my illustrious friend :
“ He possessed extraordinary powers of understanding, which were much cultivated by study, and still more by meditation and reflection. His memory was remarkably retentive, his imagination uncommonly vigorons