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British Museum, and is printed in "The Gentleman's Magazine" for December, 1784.1
Harmonized." He was no croaker; no declaimer against the times. He would not have written, "That we are fallen upon an age in which corruption is not barely universal, is universally confessed." Nor, "Rapine preys on the public without opposition, and perjury betrays it without inquiry." Nor would he, to excite a speedy reformation, have conjured up such phantoms of terror as these:-"A few years longer, and perhaps all endeavours will be in vain. We may be swallowed by an earthquake; we may be delivered to our enemies." This is not Johnsonian.
There are, indeed, in this Dedication several sentences constructed upon the model of those of Johnson. But the imitation of the form, without the spirit of his style, has been so general, that this of itself is not sufficient evidence. Even our newspaper writers aspire to it. In an account of the funeral of Edwin, the comedian, in "The Diary" of Nov. 9, 1790, that son of drollery is thus described: "A man who had so often cheered the sullenness of vacancy, and suspended the approaches of sorrow." And in "The Dublin Evening Post," August 16, 1791, there is the following paragraph: "It is a singular circumstance, that in a city like this, containing 200,000 people, there are three months in the year during which no place of public amusement is open. Long vacation is here a vacation from pleasure, as well as business; nor is there any mode of passing the listless evenings of declining summer, but in the riots of a tavern, or the stupidity of a coffee house."
I have not thought it necessary to specify every copy of verses written by Johnson, it being my intention to publish an authentic edition of all his poetry, with notes.— BOSWELL.
As the letter accompanying this list (which fully supports the observation in the text) was written but a week before Dr. Johnson's death, the reader may not be displeased to find it here preserved :
"TO MR. NICHOLS.
Dec. 6, 1784.
"The late learned Mr. Swinton, having one day remarked that one man, meaning, I suppose, no man but himself, could assign all the parts of the Ancient Universal History to their proper authors, at the request of Sir Robert Chambers or of myself, gave the account which I now transmit to you in his own hand; being willing that of so great a work the history should be known, and that each writer should receive his due proportion of praise from posterity.
"I recommend to you to preserve this scrap of literary intelligence in Mr. Swinton's own hand, or to deposit it in the Museum, that the veracity of this account may never be doubted. am, Sir, your most humble servant, SAM. JOHNSON."
The Cosmogony, and a small part of the History immediately following; by Mr. Sale. To the birth of Abraham; chiefly by Mr. Shelvock.
History of the Jews, Gauls, and Spaniards; by Mr. Psalmanaazar.
Xenophon's Retreat; by the same.
History of the Persians and the Constantinopolitan Empire; by Dr. Campbell.
History of the Romans; by Mr. Bower.-BosWELL.
During his sleepless nights he amused himself by translating into Latin verse, from the Greek, many of the epigrams in The Anthologia. These translations, with some other poems by him in Latin, he gave to his friend Mr. Langton, who, having added a few notes, sold them to the booksellers for a small sum to be given to some of Johnson's relations, which was accordingly done; and they are printed in the collection of his works.
A very erroneous notion has circulated as to Johnson's deficiency in the knowledge of the Greek language, partly owing to the modesty with which, from knowing how much there was to be learnt, he used to mention his own comparative acquisitions. When Mr. Cumberland1 talked to him of the Greek fragments which are so well illustrated in "The Observer," and of the Greek dramatists in general, he candidly acknowledged his insufficiency in that particular branch of Greek literature. Yet it may be said, that though not a great, he was a good Greek scholar. Dr. Charles Burney, the younger, who is universally acknowledged by the best judges, to be one of the few men of this age who are very eminent for their skill in that noble language, has assured me, that Johnson could give a Greek word for almost every English one; and that although not sufficiently conversant in the niceties of the language, he, upon some occasions discovered, even in these, a considerable degree of critical acumen. Mr. Dalzel, professor of Greek at Edinburgh, whose skill in it is unquestionable, mentioned to me, in very liberal terms, the impression which was made upon him by Johnson, in a conversation which they had in London concerning that language. As Johnson, therefore, was undoubtedly one of the first Latin scholars in modern times, let us not deny to his fame some additional splendour from Greek.
I shall now fulfil my promise of exhibiting specimens of various sorts of imitation of Johnson's style.
In "The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 1787," there is an "Essay on the Style of Dr. Samuel Johnson," by the Rev. Robert Burrowes, whose respect for the great object of his criticism is thus evinced in the concluding paragraph :
"I have singled him out from the great body of the English writers, because his universally acknowledged beauties would be most apt to induce imitation; and I have treated rather on his faults than his perfections, because an essay
1 Mr. Cumberland assures me, that he was always treated with great courtesy by Dr. Johnson, who, in his " Letters to Mrs. Thrale," vol. ii. p. 68, thus speaks of that learned, ingenious, and accomplished gentleman: "The want of company is an inconvenience, but Mr. Cumberland is a million."-BoswELL.
2 We must smile at a little inaccuracy of metaphor in the Preface to the Transactions, which is written by Mr. Burrowes. The critic of the style of Johnson having, with a just zeal for literature, observed, that the whole nation are called on to exert themselves, afterwards says: "They are called on by every tie which can have a laudable influence on the heart of man."-BoswELL..
might comprise all the observations I could make upon his faults, while volumes would not be sufficient for a treatise on his perfections.'
Mr. Burrowes has analyzed the composition of Johnson, and pointed out its peculiarities with much acuteness; and I would recommend a careful perusal of his Essay to those, who being captivated by the union of perspicuity and splendour which the writings of Johnson contain, without having a sufficient portion of his vigour of mind, may be in danger of becoming bad copyists of his manner. I, however, cannot but observe, and I observe it to his credit, that this learned gentleman has himself caught no mean degree of the expansion and harmony, which, independent of all other circumstances, characterize the sentences of Johnson. Thus, in the preface to the volume in which the Essay appears, we find―
'If it be said that in societies of this sort, too much attention is frequently bestowed on subjects barren and speculative, it may be answered, that no one science is so little connected with the rest, as not to afford many principles whose use may extend considerably beyond the science to which they primarily belong; and that no proposition is so purely theoretical as to be totally incapable of being applied to practical purposes. There is no apparent connexion between duration and the cycloidal arch, the properties of which duly attended to, have furnished us with our best regulated methods of measuring time; and he who has made himself master of the nature and affections of the logarithmic curve, is not aware that he has advanced considerably towards ascertaining the proportionable density of the air at its various distances from the surface of the earth."
The ludicrous imitators of Johnson's style are innumerable. Their general method is to accumulate hard words, without considering that, although he was fond of introducing them occasionally, there is not a single sentence in all his writings where they are crowded together, as in the first verse of the following imaginary ode by him to Mrs. Thrale,1 which appeared in the newspapers :
1 Johnson's wishing to unite himself with this rich widow was much talked of, but I believe without foundation. The report, however, gave occasion to a poem, not without characteristical merit, entitled, "Ode to Mrs. Thrale, by Samuel Johnson, LL.D., on their supposed approaching Nuptials :" printed for Mr. Faulder, in Bond-street. I shall quote
as a specimen, the first three stanzas.
"If e'er my fingers touch'd the lyre,
In satire fierce, in pleasure gay;
"To rich felicity thus raised,
My bosom glows with amorous fire,
Porter no longer shall be praised,
'Tis I myself am Thrale's Entire BosWELL.
"Cervisial coctor's viduate dame,
This, and a thousand other such attempts, are totally unlike the original, which the writers imagined they were turning into ridicule. There is not similarity enough for burlesque, or even for caricature.
Mr. Colman, in his "Prose on several Occasions," has "A Letter from Lexiphanes; containing Proposals for a Glossary or Vocabulary of the Vulgar Tongue: intended as a supplement to a larger Dictionary.' It is evidently meant as a sportive sally of ridicule on Johnson, whose style is thus imitated, without being grossly overcharged :—
"It is easy to foresee that the idle and illiterate will complain that I have increased their labours by endeavouring to diminish them; and that I have explained what is more easy by what is more difficult―ignotum per ignotius. I expect, on the other hand, the liberal acknowledgments of the learned. He who is buried in scholastic retirement, secluded from the assemblies of the gay, and remote from the circles of the polite, will at once comprehend the definitions, and be grateful for such a seasonable and necessary elucidation of his mother-tongue."
Annexed to this letter is a short specimen of the work, thrown together in a vague and desultory manner, not even adhering to alphabetical concatenation.1
The serious imitators of Johnson's style, whether intentionally or by the imperceptible effect of its strength and animation, are, as I have had already occasion to observe, so many, that I might introduce quotations from a numerous body of writers in our language, since he appeared in the literary world. I shall point out the following:
WILLIAM ROBERTSON, D.D.
"In other parts of the globe, man, in his rudest state, appears as Lord of the creation, giving law to various tribes of animals which he has tamed and reduced to subjection. The Tartar follows his prey on the horse which he has reared, or tends his numerous herds which furnish him both with food and
1" Higgledy-piggledy,-Conglomeration and confusion.
Hodge-podge,-A culinary mixture of heterogeneous ingredients; applied metaphori cally to all discordant combinations.
Tit for Tat,-Adequate retaliation.
"Shilly Shally,-Hesitation and irresolution.
"Fee! fa! fum!-Gigantic intonations.
Rigmarole,-Discourse, incoherent and rhapsodical.
Crincum-crancum,-Lines of irregularity and involution.
Ding dong,-Tintinabulary chimes, used metaphorically to signify dispatch and vehe
clothing; the Arab has rendered the camel docile, and avails himself of its persevering strength; the Laplander has formed the reindeer to be subservient to his will; and even the people of Kamschatka have trained their dogs to labour. This command over the inferior creatures is one of the noblest prerogatives of man, and among the greatest efforts of his wisdom and power. Without this, his dominion is incomplete. He is a monarch who has no subjects; a master without servants; and must perform every operation by the strength of his own arm,'
EDWARD GIBBON, ESQ.
"Of all our passions and appetites, the love of power is of the most imperious and unsociable nature, since the pride of one man requires the submission of the multitude. In the tumult of civil discord the laws of society lose their force, and their place is seldom supplied by those of humanity. The ardour of contention, the pride of victory, the despair of success, the memory of past injuries, and the fear of future dangers, all contribute to inflame the mind, and to silence the voice of pity."2
"My family, mistaking ambition for honour, and rank for dignity, have long planned a splendid connection for me, to which, though my invariable repugnance has stopped any advances, their wishes and their views immovably adhere. I am but too certain they will now listen to no other. I dread, therefore, to make a trial where I despair of success; I know not how to risk a prayer with those who may silence me by a command.”8
REVEREND MR. NARES.4
"In an enlightened and improving age, much perhaps is not to be apprehended from the inroads of mere caprice; at such a period it will generally be perceived, that needless irregularity is the worst of all deformities, and that nothing is so truly elegant in language as the simplicity of unviolated analogy.— Rules will, therefore, be observed, so far as they are known and acknowledged : but, at the same time, the desire of improvement having been once excited will not remain inactive; and its efforts, unless assisted by knowledge, as much as they are prompted by zeal, will not unfrequently be found pernicious; so that the very persons whose intention it is to perfect the instrument of reason, will deprave and disorder it unknowingly. At such a time, then, it becomes peculiarly necessary that the analogy of language should be fully examined and understood;
I "History of America," vol. i. quarto, p. 332.-BOSWELL.
266 Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," vol. i. chap. iv.-Boswell. 3" Cecilia," book vii. chap. i.-BOSWELL.
4 The passage which I quote is taken from that gentleman's" Elements of Orthoepy; containing a distinct View of the whole Analogy of the English Language, so far as relates to Pronunciation, Accent, and Quantity," London, 1784. I beg leave to offer my particular acknowledgments to the author of a work of uncommon merit and great utility. I know no book which contains, in the same compass, more learning, polite literature, sound sense, accuracy of arrangement, and perspicuity of expression.— BOSWELL.