Page images

poetry." JOHNSON. "What is that to the purpose, sir? If I say a man is drunk, and you tell me it is owing to his taking much drink, the matter is not mended. No, sir, — 1 has taken to an odd mode. For example, he'd write thus:


'Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,

Wearing out life's evening gray.'

Gray evening is common enough; but evening gray he'd think fine.-Stay;-we'll make out the stanza:

'Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,

Wearing out life's evening gray :
Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell,

What is bliss? and which the way?""

BOSWELL. "But why smite his bosom, sir?" JOHN-
SON. "Why to show he was in earnest," (smiling).
He at an after period added the following stanza:

"Thus I spoke; and speaking sigh'd;

-Scarce repress'd the starting tear;

When the smiling sage replied—

-Come, my lad, and drink some beer 2."

[This has been generally supposed to have been Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore; but the truth is that Thomas Warton is meant, and the parodies were intended to ridicule the style of his poems published in 1777. The first lines of two of his best known odes are marked with that kind of inversion which Johnson laughed at in “hermit hoar” and “evening gray.”


Evening spreads his mantle hoar,”

"Beneath the beech whose branches bare."

(T. Warton's Works, v. i. pp. 130, 146.) But there is no other point of resemblance that the editor can discover.-ED.] As some of my readers may be gratified by reading the progress of this little composition, I shall insert it from my notes. "When Dr. Johnson and I were sitting tête-à-tête at the Mitre tavern, May 9, 1778, he said, 'Where is bliss,' would be better. He then added a ludicrous stanza, but would not repeat it, lest I should take it down. It was somewhat as follows; the last line I am sure I remember:

While I thus

The hoary



Come, my lad, and drink some beer.'

“In spring, 1779, when in better humour, he made the second stanza, as in the text. There was only one variation afterwards made on my suggestion, which was changing hoary in the third line to smiling, both to avoid a sameness with the epithet in the first line, and to describe the hermit in his pleasantry. He was then very well pleased that I should preserve it."-BOSWELL.


Piozzi, p. 49.

I cannot help thinking the first stanza very good solemn poetry, as also the first three lines of the second. Its last line is an excellent burlesque surprise on gloomy sentimental inquiries. And, perhaps, the advice is as good as can be given to a low-spirited dissatisfied being :-" Don't trouble your head with sickly thinking: take a cup, and be merry."


[He had on the first appearance of Warton's poems in this year indulged himself in a similar strain of ridicule. "[Warton's] verses are come out," said Mrs. Thrale: "Yes," replied Johnson, "and this frost has struck them in again. Here are some lines I have written to ridicule them: but remember that I love the fellow dearly,—for all I laugh at him. 'Wheresoe'er I turn my view,

All is strange, yet nothing new:
Endless labour all along,

Endless labour to be wrong:
Phrase that Time has flung away;

Uncouth words in disarray,
Trick'd in antique ruff and bonnet,
Ode, and elegy, and sonnet '.'"'

When he parodied the verses of another eminent writer, it was done with more provocation, and with some merry malice. A serious translation of the same lines, from Euripides, may be found in Burney's History of Music. Here are the burlesque


"Err shall they not, who resolute explore

Time's gloomy backward with judicious eyes;
And scanning right the practices of yore,

Shall deem our hoar progenitors unwise.

[The metre of these lines was no doubt suggested by Warton's "Crusade" and "The Grave of King Arthur," (Works, v. ii. pp. 38, 51); but they are, otherwise, rather a criticism than a parody.-ED.]


[Malone's MS. notes, communicated by Mr. Markland, state that this was "Robert Potter, the translator of Eschylus and Euripides, who wrote a pamphlet against Johnson, in consequence of his criticism on Gray." It may, therefore, be presumed that these verses were made subsequently to that publication, in 1783. Potter died, a prebendary of Norwich, in 1804, æt. eightythree.-ED.]

"They to the dome where smoke with curling play
Announced the dinner to the regions round,
Summon'd the singer blithe, and harper gay,
And aided wine with dulcet-streaming sound.
"The better use of notes, or sweet or shrill,
By quiv'ring string, or modulated wind;
Trumpet or lyre-to their arch bosoms chill,
Admission ne'er had sought, or could not find.
"Oh! send them to the sullen mansions dun,
Her baleful eyes where Sorrow rolls around;
Where gloom-enamour'd Mischief loves to dwell,
And Murder, all blood-bolter'd, schemes the wound.
"When cates luxuriant pile the spacious dish,
And purple nectar glads the festive hour;
The guest, without a want, without a wish,
Can yield no room to Music's soothing power."

Some of the old legendary stories put in verse by mo-
dern writers1 provoked him to caricature them thus
one day at Streatham; but they are already well-


p. 50.

[merged small][ocr errors]

A famous ballad also, beginning Rio verde, Rio verde, when Mrs. Piozzi commended the translation of it, he said he could do it better himself-as thus:

"Glassy water, glassy water,

Down whose current, clear and strong,

Chiefs confused in mutual slaughter,

Moor and Christian roll along."

"But, sir," said she, "this is not ridiculous at all." "Why no," replied he, "why should I always write


[This alludes to Bishop Percy and his "Hermit of Warkworth."-ED.] [No doubt the translation by Bishop Percy:

"Gentle river, gentle river,

Lo, thy streams are stain'd with gore;

Many a brave and noble captain

Floats along thy willow'd shore."

Neither of these pretended translations give any idea of the peculiar simplicity

of the original.-Ed.]

Piozzi, ridiculously? perhaps because I made those verses

p. 51.

to imitate [Warton] 1."

Mrs. Piozzi gives another comical instance of ca

ricatura imitation.

of Lopez de Vega,

Some one praising these verses

"Se acquien los leones vence
Vence una muger hermosa,
O el de flaco averguençe

O ella di ser mas furiosa,"

more than he thought they deserved, Dr. Johnson instantly observed, "that they were founded on a trivial conceit; and that conceit ill-explained, and ill-expressed beside. The lady, we all know, does not conquer in the same manner as the lion does: 'tis a mere play of words," added he, " and you might as well say, that

"If the man who turnips cries,
Cry not when his father dies,
"Tis a proof that he had rather
Have a turnip than his father."

And this humour is of the same sort with which he answered the friend who commended the following line:

"Who rules o'er freemen should himself be free."

"To be sure," said Dr. Johnson,

"Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat."

This readiness of finding a parallel, or making one, was shown by him perpetually in the course of conversation. When the French verses of a certain pantomime were quoted thus,

[Mrs. Piozzi had here added the verses cited by Boswell, "Hermit hoar,” exactly as he has given them; which is remarkable, because her book appeared so long before his.-ED.]


"Je suis Cassandre descendue des cieux,

Pour vous faire entendre, mesdames et messieurs,
Que je suis Cassandre descendue des cieux ;”

he cried out gaily and suddenly, almost in a moment,

"I am Cassandra come down from the sky,

To tell each by-stander what none can deny,

That I am Cassandra come down from the sky."

The pretty Italian verses too, at the end of Baretti's book, called "Easy Phraseology," he did all' improviso, in the same manner:

"Viva! viva la padrona!
Tutta bella, e tutta buona,
La padrona e un angiolella
Tutta buona e tutta bella;
Tutta bella e tutta buona;
Viva! viva la padrona!"

"Long may live my lovely Hetty!
Always young and always pretty,
Always pretty, always young,
Live my lovely Hetty long!
Always young and always pretty;

Long may live my lovely Hetty!"

The famous distich too, of an Italian improvisatore, who, when the Duke of Modena ran away from the comet in the year 1742 or 1743,

"Se al venir vestro i principi sen' vanno
Deh venga ogni di-durate un anno ;"

"which," said he, "would do just as well in our language thus:

If at your coming princes disappear,

Comets! come every day—and stay a year.'

When some one in company commended the verses of M. de Benserade à son Lit:

"Theatre des ris et des pleurs,
Lit! ou je nais, et ou je meurs,
Tu nous fais voir comment voisins,
Sont nos plaisirs, et nos chagrins."

[The reader will recollect that Mrs. Thrale's name was Hester.-ED.]


p. 52.

« PreviousContinue »