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might trace the effect, which the greatest skill in select and ornamented language, exquisite attention to the euphony and harmony of verse, judicious personification of abstract terms peculiarly adapted to lyrical composition, highly-wrought metaphorical language, and splendid and sublime imagery, have produced in lyric poetry, when directed by the genius of Gray. He, therefore, who should attempt to take a critical review of the English poets, and form his decision of the originality of their powers from any one principle or application of their art, would, of course, egregiously fail in his estimation of their general character. Of poetry it may be said, as Quinctilian said of oratory : “ Plures sunt eloquentiæ facies; sed stultissimum est quærere, ad quam recturus se sit orator, cum omnis species, quæ modo recta est, habeat usum.”
VII. It may be thought necessary to say something to the admirers of Gray, concerning the silence which is held on Dr. Johnson's criticisms on the poet. This has proceeded from the conviction that most of the particular objections, all indeed of
at least, it possesses that effect. Atterbury praises Waller for his rhymes being not only good, but new : and Dr. Warton remarks, that "we have compositions where new and uncommon rhymes are introduced. One or two writers, however, I cannot forbear mentioning, who have been studious of this beauty. They are Parnell, Pitt in his translation of Vida, West in his Pindar, Thomson in his Castla of Indolence.” Essay on Pope, vol. i. p. 149,
any importance, have long since been answered by those,* who wrote with that avowed intention. What remain, are rather general objections, often unsupported by arguments, and which have lost much of their weight, since the prejudice and partialities of their author have been acknowledged. The observations of Dr. Johnson on the poetry of Gray, bear few marks of severe scrutiny, or mature decision; but seem rather the productions of a mind deeply prejudiced against the poetry of the author ; loosely scattering expressions of dislike and contempt; anxious to find objections, and careless of the grounds on which they were founded. Under this impression, all the talents and acuteness of Dr. Johnson must fail in commanding our confidence, in the stability of his criticism. We shall look in vain for that openness, and candour, which can make the most searching remarks, of service both to the author, and the reader; and we have no hesitation in saying, that his is not the severity of the judge, but the misrepresentation of the adver
* Mr. Potter, the translator of Æschylus, Mr. Fitzthomas, (see A. Seward's Letters, ii. p. 148), · A Yorkshire Freeholder,' Mr. G. Wakefield, Mr. P. Stockdale; not to mention the publication of Professor Young of Glasgow, and Monthly Review, (Greathead's Poems) 1796, vol. ii. p. 101. Mr. Tindal, Author of the Hist. of Evesham, wrote Strictures or Remarks on Johnson's Life, and Critical Observ.on the Works of Gray, 1782, a work of which I have heard the late Bp. Hurd said: “It was the best defence he had ever seen against the attacks of that Goliath of Literature.” VOL. II.
sary.* Dr. Johnson, however, did not stand single in his expressions of dislike to the poetry of Gray. Goldsmith, I have heard, spoke of it in terms of great contempt in his familiar conversation; and alluded to it in the same manner, in the preface to his edition of Parnell.t But if we suppose that Dr. Johnson and others were not prejudiced against the poetry of their contemporary, it remains then only to presume, that they did not esteem or feel
* It is fair to confute a critic from his own writings. The two following passages will perhaps shew how much the same person differs from himself, when an author and a critic.-On the Ode to Eton College, Dr. Johnson says, “ The Prospect of Eton College suggests nothing to Gray, which every beholder does not equally think and feel. His supplication to Father Thames, to tell him who drives the hoop or tosses the ball, is useless and puerile. Father Thames had no better means of knowing than himself.”—Are we by this rule of criticism to judge the following passage, in the twentieth chapter of Rasselas? “ As they were sitting together, the princess cast her eyes upon the river that flowed before her: * Answer,' said she, 'great Father of Waters, thou that rollest thy floods through eighty nations, to the invocation of the daughter of thy native king. Tell me, if thou waterest, through all thy course, a single habitation, from which thou dost not hear the murmurs of complaint.' If the reader is now desirous to see the critic criticized by the author, he may turn to Walpole's Works, vol. v. p. 394, and find Gray's opinion of Dr. Johnson's Translation of Juvenal ; and which passage I have quoted in the Life.
+ See the Life of Parnell, p. xxviii. Goldsmith does not mention Gray by name ; but it is well known that he alluded to him. “Parnell is happy in the selection of his images, and scrupulously careful in the choice of his subthe beauties of that species of composition, in which the genius of Gray delighted. Dr. Johnson certainly most admired that kind of poetry, in which he himself so eminently excelled ; and which, like the works of Dryden, contained sound sense, quick and ready observation, and moral eloquence, in fine harmonious couplets ;* without borrowing much embellishment from the fancy, or much sublimity from the imagination. In the Lives of the Poets, the school of Dryden and Pope, the school of strong sense, shrewd wit, close expression, is every where admired; while the beautiful imagery, pathetic sentiment, and magnificent creations of the lyric muse, as displayed in the poems of Gray, or of Collins, are slighted and depressed. I could not believe, that Dr. Johnson so severely and unjustly jects. His productions bear no resemblance to those tawdry things which it has for some time been the fashion to admire; in writing which, the poet sits down without any plan, and heaps up splendid images without any selection; when the reader grows dizzy with praise and admiration, and yet soon grows weary, he can scarce tell why.” This alludes, I believe, to the Elegy; and there is much more of this reflection in the preface, which it is hardly worth while to transcribe, as the book is very common in which it is to be found. See also the Vicar of Wakefield.
• There is a severe censure thrown on the Elegy, in a collection which Goldsmith published under the title of the Beauties of English Poetry; I remember, when I was young, to have heard Goldsmith converse on several subjects of Literature, and make some oblique and severe reflections on the fashionable Poetry.” Knox's Essays, vii. p. 188.
* See Warton on Pope, vol. i. p. 173.
criticized what he sincerely admired; but I think, that he might feel some degree of spleen, in hearing others extol, what he could not approve; and enjoy, what he was not capable of relishing; and it happened in this, as in most cases of a similar nature, that an opposition of sentiments occasioned a warmth of expression; and the more he heard the poems of Gray approved, the more closely he clung to his own opinions; and more severely expressed his contempt of his adversaries ; by lowering, in the eyes of the public, the Bard whom they looked up to with admiration and delight.
It is perhaps almost unnecessary to observe, that he who peruses the Lives of the Poets by Dr. Johnson, will certainly discover in them the same marks of that great writer's penetration and sagacity which distinguished the productions of his earlier
* The same clearness of thought and profundity of judgment which he brought to the examination of all subjects critical and moral : and by which he was enabled to dispel much error and obscurity, even upon those questions which had not formed his favourite objects of enquiry, or been submitted to his accustomed investigation. He seldom indeed fails to inform, even where he is unable to persuade: and if he does not convince us of the general truth of his arguments, he at least instructs by the particular force of his rea
See his Prayers and Meditations, by A. Strahan, p. 198, 220, 12mo.