« PreviousContinue »
work which was not written by Addison ; for there was all the world to write that half, yet not a half of that half is good. One of the finest pieces in the English language is the paper on novelty, yet we do not hear it talked of. It was written by Grove, a dissenting teacher.” He would not, I perceived, call him a clergyman, though he was candid enough to allow very great merit to his composition. Mr. Murphy said, he remembered when there were several people alive in London, who enjoyed a considerable reputation merely from having written a paper in the Spectator. He mentioned particularly Mr. Ince, who used to frequeut Tom's coffee-house. “But," said Johnson, "you must consider how highly Steele speaks of Mr. Ince.” He would not allow that the paper on carrying a boy to travel, signed Philip Homebred, which was reported to be written by the lord chancellor Hardwicke, bad merit. He said, “ it was quite vulgar, and had nothing luminous."
Johnson mentioned Dr. Barry's" System of Physick. “He was a man,” said he,“ who had acquired a high reputation in Dublin, came over to England, and brought his reputation with him, but had not great success. His notion was, that pulsation occasions death by attrition; and that, therefore, the way to preserve life is to retard pulsation. But we know that pulsation is strongest in infants, and that we increase in growth while it operates in its reġular course; so it cannot be the cause of destruction.” Soon after this he said something very flattering to Mrs. Thrale, which I do not recollect; but it concluded with wishing her long life. “Sir,” said I, “ if Dr. Barry's system be true, you have now shortened Mrs. Thrale's life, perhaps, some minutes, by accelerating her pulsation.”
On Thursday, April 11th, I dined with him at general Paoli's, in whose house I now resided, and where I had ever afterwards the honour of being entertained with the
Sir Edward Barry, baronet.—Boswell. We cannot find any work by sir Edward Barry under the above title. Johnson must have alluded to the peculiar opinions which that physician was known to have entertained on pulsation. -En.
kindest attention as his constant guest, while I was in London, till I had a house of my own there. I mentioned my having that morning introduced to Mr. Garrick, count Neni, a Flemish nobleman of great rank and fortune, to whom Garrick talked of Abel Drugger as a small part; and related, with pleasant vanity, that a Frenchman, who had seen him in one of his low characters, exclaimed, “ Comment! je ne le crois pas. Ce n'est pas monsieur Garrick, ce grand homme !" Garrick added, with an appearance of grave recollection, “ If I were to begin life again, I think I should not play those low characters.” Upon which I observed, “Sir, you would be in the wrong; for your great excellence is your variety of playing, your representing so well, characters so very differents.” JOHNSON. Garrick, sir, was not in earnest in what he said
1; for, to be sure, his peculiar excellence is his variety: and, perhaps, there is not any one character which has not been as well acted by somebody else, as he could do it.” BosWELL. “ Why then, sir, did he talk so?" JOHNSON.
Why, sir, to make you answer as you did.” BOSWELL. “I don't know, sir; he seemed to dip deep into his mind for the reflection.” JOHNSON. “ He had not far to dip, sir; he had said the same thing, probably, twenty times before.”
Of a nobleman raised at a very early period to high office, he said, “ His parts, sir, are pretty well for a lord; but would 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
5 Some excellent remarks on this subject, interspersed with amusing greenroom anecdotes, may be found in a review of Boader's Life of John Philip Kemble, in the Quarterly Rev. Ixvii. 230. The difference of the French and English management as to the classification of parts and performers is well stated. -ED.
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 poem.”
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 except that in which it was originally written, we learn the language.
A gentleman maintained, that the art of printing bad hurt real learning, by disseminating idle writings.—JOHNSON. “Sir, if it bad 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
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 paturally 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
The author did not recollect, that of the books preserved, (and an infinite number was lost,) all were confined to two languages. In modern times and modern languages, France and Italy alone produce more books in a given time than Greece and Rome; put England, Spain, Germany, and the northern kingdoms out of the question.-BLAKEWAY.
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 evening. 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.'”
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. 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 poetry.” BOSWELL, “ Does not Gray's poetry, sir, tower above the common mark ?" JOHNSON. “. Yes, sir; but we must attend to
u See nole, p. 24.
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.” Bos WELL. “ 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 12th, I dined with him at our friend Tom Davies's, where we met Mr. Cradock, of Leicestershire, author of Zobeide, a tragedy; a very pleasing gentleman, to whom my friend Dr. Farmer's very excellent Essay on the Learning of Shakespeare is addressed ; and Dr. Harwood, who has written and published various works; particularly a fantastical translation of the New Testament, in modern phrase, and with a socinian twist.
I introduced Aristotle's doctrine in his art of poetry, of “kábapois tūv TaOnuatūv, the purging of the passions," as the purpose of tragedy Y. “ But how are the passions to be purged by terrour and pity ?" said I, with an assumed air of
* A noted highwayman, who, after having been several times tried and acquitted, was at last hanged. He was remarkable for foppery in his dress, and particularly for wearing a bunch of sixteen strings at the knees of his breeches.
BosweLL. See Caulfield's Memoirs.-Ed.
y See an ingenious essay on this subject by the late Dr. Moor, Greek professor at Glasgow.-BOSWELL.
See also a learned note on this passage of Aristotle, by Mr. Twining, in his admirable translation of the Poeticks, in which the various explanations of other criticks are considered, and in which Dr. Moor's Essay is particularly discussed.
Whole volumes of commentary have been written on this celebrated definition. Aristotle's meaning may be, perhaps, thus simply unfolded. The exercise of the passions of pity and terror on fictitious subjects, by familiarising the mind to the influence of these feelings, brings it under discipline; and though this exercise may render it more exquisitely sensible, yet, by habituating the mind to the shock of passion, it enables it to express its emotions with less savage perturbation. There is a passage in lord Byron's Sardanapalus, which, though not exactly in point, yet as may tend to illustrate what we have, perhaps, too briefly written above, and is in itself highly poetical, we will partly quote. Myrrha is looking on the heavens at break of day, “ Sunrise and sunset form the haunted epoch of sorrow and of love ; which they who mark not, know not the realms where those twin genii, who chasten and who purify our hearts,”
Act v. Sc. 1.-ED.