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mentioned Shakspeare's description of the night before the battle of Agincourt; but it was observed, it had men in it. Mr. Davies suggested the speech of Juliet, in which she figures herself awaking in the tomb of her an. cestors. Some one mentioned the description of Dover cliff. JOHNSON. No, sir; it should be all precipice, ---all vacuum. The crows impede your fall. The dimiuished appearance of the boats, and other circumstances, are all very good description, but do not impress the mind. at once with the horrible idea of immense height. The impression is divided; you pass on by computation from one stage of the tremendous space to another. Had the girl in The Mourning Bride said she could not cast her shoe to the top of one of the pillars in the temple, it would not have aided the idea, but weakened it."
Talking of a barrister who had a bad utterance, some one (to rouse Johnson) wickedly said, that he was unfortunate in not having been taught oratory by Sheridan. JOHNSON. “ Nay, sir, if he had been taught by Sheridan, he would have cleared the room." GARRICK. “ Sheridan has too much vanity to be a good man.”—We shall now see Johuson's mode of defending a man; taking him into his own hands, and discriminating. JOHNSON. “ No, sir. There is, to be sure, in Sheridan, something to reprehend, and every thing to laugh at; but, sir, he is not a bad man. No, sir; were mankind to be divided into good and bad, he would stand considerably within the ranks of good. And, sir, it must be allowed that Sheridan excels in plain declamation, though he can exhibit no character."
I should, perhaps, have suppressed this disquisition concerning a person of whose merit and worth I think with respect, had he not attacked Johnson so outrageously in his Life of Swift, and, at the same time, treated us his admirers as a set of pygmies. He who has provoked the lash of wit cannot complain that he smarts from it.
Mrs. Montague, a lady distinguished for having written an essay on Shakspeare, being mentioned ;-REYNOLDS. “ I think that essay does her honour.” Johnson, “ Yes,
sir; it does her honour, but it would do nobody else hon
I bave, indeed, not read it all. But when I take up the end of a web, and find it packthread, I do not expect, by looking farther, to find embroidery. Sir, I will venture to say, there is not one sentence of true criticism in her book.” GARRICK. “But, sir, surely it shows how much Voltaire has mistaken Sbakspeare, which nobody else has done.” JOHNSON. “ Sir, nobody else has thought it worth while. And what merit is there in that? You may as well praise a schoolmaster for whipping a boy who has construed ill. No, sir, there is no real criticism in it; none showing the beauty of thought, as formed on the workings of the human heart.”
The admirers of this essay* may be offended at the slighting manner in which Johnson spoke of it: but let it be remembered, that he gave his honest opinion, unbiassed by any prejudice, or any proud jealousy of a woman intruding herself into the chair of criticism ; for sir Joshua Reynolds bas told me, that when the essay first came out, and it was not known who had written it, Johnson wondered how șir Joshua could like it. At this time sir Joshua himself had received no information concerning the author, except being assured by one of our most eminent literati, that it was clear its author did not know the Greek tragedies in the original. One day at sir Joshua's table, when it was related that Mrs. Montague, in an excess of compliment to the author of a modern tragedy, had exclaimed, “I tremble for Shakspeare;”.
, . Johnson said, “When Shakspeare has got for his
* Of whom I acknowledge myself to be one, considering it as a piece of the secondary or comparative species of criticism, and not of that profound species which alone Dr. Johnson would allow to be “real criticism.” It is, besides, clearly and elegantly expressed, and has done effectually what it professed to do, namely, vindicated Shakspeare from the misrepresentations of Voltaire; and considering how many young people were misled by his witty, though false observations, Mrs. Montague's essay was of service to Shakspeare with a certain class of readers, and is therefore entitled to praise. Johnson, I am assured, allowed the merit which I have stated, saying, (with reference to Voltaire,) “it is conclusive ad hominem.”—Boswell.
rival, and Mrs. Montague for his defender, he is in a poor state indeed."
Johnson proceeded: “The Scotchman has taken the right method in his Elements of Criticism. I do not mean that he has taught us any thing; but he has told us old things in a new way.” MURPHY. “He seems to have read a great deal of French criticism, and wants to make it his own; as if he had been for years anatomising the heart of man, and peeping into every cranny of it.” GOLDSMITH. " It is easier to write that book than to read it.” JOHNSON. “We have an example of true criticism in Burke's Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful ; and, if I recollect, there is also Du Bos; and Bouhours, who shows all beauty to depend on truth. There is no great merit in telling how many plays have ghosts in them, and how this ghost is better than that. You must show how terrour is impressed on the human beart.—In the description of night in Macbeth, the beetle and the bat detract from the general idea of darkness,-inspissated gloom.”
Politicks being mentioned, he said, “This petitioning is a new mode of distressing government, and a mighty easy
I will undertake to get petitions either against quarter guineas or half guineas, with the help of a little hot wine. There must be no yielding to encourage this. The object is not important enough. We are not to blow up balf a dozen palaces, because one cottage is burning."
The conversation then took another turn. Johnson. “ It is amazing what ignorance of certain points one sometimes finds in men of eminence. A wit about town, who wrote Latin bawdy verses, asked me, how it happened that England and Scotland, which were once two kingdoms, were now one:-and sir Fletcher Norton did not seem to know that there were such publications as the reviews."
“ The ballad of Hardyknute has no great merit, if it be really ancienty. People talk of nature. But mere
y It is unquestionably a modern fiction. It was written by sir John Bruce of Kinross, and first published at Edinburgh in folio, 1719. See Percy's Reliques of ancient English Poetry, vol. ii. p. 96. 111, 4th edit.-Malone.
obvious nature may be exhibited with very little power of mind."
On Thursday, October 19, I passed the evening with him at his house. He advised me to complete a dictionary of words peculiar to Scotland, of which I showed him a specimen. “Sir," said he, “ Ray has made a collection of north-country words. By collecting those of your country, you will do a useful thing towards the history of the language.” He bade me also go on with collections which I was making upon the antiquities of Scotland. “Make a large book; a folio.” Boswell. “ But of what use will it be, sir?" JOHNSON. “Never mind the use: do it.”
I complained that he had not mentioned Garrick in his Preface to Shakspeare; and asked him if he did not admire him. JOHNSON. “Yes, as a poor player, who frets
· and struts his hour upon the stage ;'-—as a shadow.” BosWELL. “But has he not brought Shakspeare into notice?"
, JOHNSON. “Sir, to allow that, would be to lampoon the age. Many of Shakspeare's plays are the worse for being acted : Macbeth, for instance." BOSWELL. “What, sir, is nothing gained by decoration and action ? Indeed, I do wish that you had mentioned Garrick.” JOHNSON. “My dear sir, had I mentioned him, I must have mentioned many more; Mrs. Pritchard, Mrs. Cibber,—nay, and Mr. Cibber too; he too altered Shakspeare.” BosWELL. “You have read his apology, sir?" JOHNSON. “Yes, it is very entertaining. But as for Cibber himself, taking from his conversation all that he ought not to have said, he was
a poor creature. I remember when he brought me one of his odes, to have my opinion of it; I could not bear such nonsense, and would not let him read it to the end; so little respect had I for that great man ! (laughing.) Yet I remember Richardson wondering that I could treat him with familiarity.”
I mentioned to him that I had seen the execution of several convicts at Tyburn two days before, and that none of them seemed to be under any concern. Johnson.
“ Most of them, sir, have never thought at all." BosWELL. • But is not the fear of death natural to man ?” JOHNSON. “So much so, sir, that the whole of life is but keeping away the thoughts of it." He then, in a low and earnest tone, talked of his meditating upon the awful hour of his own dissolution, and in what manner he should conduct himself npon that occasion : “ I know not,” said he, “ whether I should wish to have a friend by me, or have it all between God and myself.”
Talking of our feeling for the distresses of others ;JOHNSON. “Why, sir, there is much noise made about it, but it is greatly exaggerated. No, sir, we have a certain degree of feeling to prompt us to do good; more than that, Providence does not intend. It would be misery to no purpose.” BOSWELL." But suppose now,
., sir, that one of your intimate friends were apprehended for an offence for which he might be hanged.” JOHNSON. “I should do what I could to bail him, and give him any other assistance; but if he were once fairly hanged, I should not suffer.” BOSWELL. * Wonld you
, eat your dinner that day, sir?" JOHNSON. “ Yes, sir ; and eat it as if he were eating with me. Wby, there's Baretti, who is to be tried for his life to-morrow; friends have risen up for him on every side; yet if he should be hanged, none of them will eat a slice of plum-pudding the less. Sir, that sympathetick feeling goes a very little way in depressing the mind.”
I told him that I had dined lately at Foote’s, who showed me a letter which he had received from Tom Davies, telling him that he had not been able to sleep from the concern he felt on account of “ this sad affair of Baretti,” begging of him to try if he could suggest any thing that might be of service; and, at the same time, recommending to him an industrious young man who kept a pickle-shop. JOHNSON. “Aye, sir, here you have a specimen of human sympathy; a friend hanged, and a cucumber pickled. We know not whether Baretti or the pickle-man has kept Davies from sleep; nor does he know