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in a constant progress of improvement. Waller, Denham,Dryden, and Pope had been, according to him, the great reformers. He judged of all works of the imagination, by the standard established among his own contemporaries. Though he allowed Homer to have been a greater man than Virgil, he seems to have thought the Æneid 4 a greater poem than the Iliad.5 Indeed, he well might have thought so; for he preferred Pope's Iliad to Homer's. He could see no merit in our fine old English ballads, and always spoke with the most provoking contempt of Percy's6 fondness for them. Of the great original works of imagination which appeared during his time, Richardson's novels alone excited his admiration. He could see little or no merit in Tom Jones, in Gulliver's Travels, or in Tristrom Shandy. To Thomson's Castle of Indolence, he vouchsafed only a line of cold commendation. Gray was, in his dialect, a barren rascal.7 Churchill was a blockhead. The contempt which he felt for the trash
1 Waller. Edmund Waller (1605- | 3 Dryden. See pages 105, 106. 1687), one of the metaphysical 4 Æneid. Who was its author? school of poetry admired by Jolin- 5 Iliad. Who was its author? Pope has this allusion to
Dr. Thomas Percy him :
(1728-1811) distinguished himself “Waller was smooth, but Dryden taught by his publication of a great colto join
lection called Reliques of English The varying pause, the full resound-Poetry, which rendered immense ing line,
service by showing the beauty and The long majestic march, the energy power of many of the early ballads, divine.”
songs, and other metrical pieces. 2 Denham. Sir John Denham 7 "a barren rascal.” What a (1615–1668) was another poet much verdict to pass on the author of the commended in his day, and forgot- Elegy written in a Country Churchten in ours.
of Macpherson was indeed just; but it was, we suspect, just by chance. He was undoubtedly an excellent judge of compositions fashioned on his own principles ; but when a deeper philosophy was required, when he undertook to pronounce judgment on the works of those great minds which “yield homage only to eternal laws," his failure was ignominious. "He criticised Pope's Epitaphs excellently; but his observations on Shakespeare's plays and Milton's poems seem to us, for the most part, as wretched as if they had been written by Rymer himself, whom we take to have been the worst critic that ever lived.
Johnson, as Mr. Burke most justly observed, appears far greater in Boswell's books than in his own. His conversation appears to have been quite equal to his writings in matter, and far superior to them in manner. When he talked, he clothed his wit and his sense in forcible and natural expressions. As soon as he took his pen in his hand to write for the public, his style became systematically vicious.? All his books are written in a learned language, -in a language which nobody hears from his mother or his nurse; in a language in which nobody ever quarrels, or drives bargains, or makes love; in a language in which nobody ever thinks.
It is clear that Johnson himself did not think in the dialect ' in which he wrote. The expressions which came
1 trash of Macpherson. James Johnson pronounced these forgeMacpherson, a Scotch doctor (1738– ries; but a more favorable view of 1796), published during Johnson's Macpherson is now held. time two poems reputed to be trans 2 When he talked ... vicious. lations from Gaelic originals by a Point out the antithetical terms. certain “Ossian, son of Fingal.” 8 dialect. Give a synonym.
first to his tongue were simple, energetic, and picturesque. When he wrote for publication, he did his sentences out of English into Johnsonese. His letters from the Hebrides to Mrs. Thrale are the original of that work of which the Journey to the Hebrides is the translation; and it is amusing to compare the two versions. “When we were taken up-stairs,” says he in one of his letters, “a dirty fellow bounced out of the bed on which one of us was to lie.” This incident is recorded in the Journey, as follows: “Out of one of the beds on which we were to repose started up, at our entrance, a man black as a Cyclops from the forge.” Sometimes Johnson translated aloud. “The Rehearsal," he said, very unjustly, “has not wit enough to keep it sweet;" then, after a pause, “it has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction.”
Mannerism is pardonable, and is sometimes even agreeable, when the manner, though vicious, is natural. Few readers, for example, would be willing to part with the mannerism of Milton or of Burke. But a mannerism which does not sit easy on the mannerist, which has been adopted on principle, and which can be sustained only by constant effort, is always offensive; and such is the mannerism of Johnson.
As we close this book, the club-room is before us, and the table on which stands the omelet for Nugent, and the lemons for Johnson. There are assembled those
1 The Rehearsal, a comedy writ 2 this book: that is, Boswell's ten by the Duke of Buckingham Life of Johnson. and others, and first produced in 3 the club-room. See the sketch 1671.
of Burke, page 196.
heads which live for ever on the canvas of Reynolds. There are the spectacles of Burke, and the tall, thin form of Langton; the courtly sneer of Beauclerk, and the beaming smile of Garrick ; Gibbon tapping his snuffbox, and Sir Joshua with his trumpet in his ear. In the foreground is that strange figure which is as familiar to us as the figures of those among whom we have been brought up, — the gigantic body, the huge massy face seamed with the scars of disease, the brown coat, the black worsted stockings, the gray wig with the scorched foretop, the dirty hands, the nails bitten and pared to the quick. We see the eyes and mouth moving with convulsive twitches; we see the heavy form rolling; we hear it puffing; and then comes the “Why, sir!” and the “What then, sir?” and the "No, sir;” and the “You don't see your way through the question, sir!”
What a singular destiny has been that of this remarkable man! To be regarded in his own age as a classic, and in ours as a companion! To receive from his contemporaries that full homage which men of genius have in general received only from posterity! To be more intimately known to posterity than other men are known to their contemporaries! That kind of fame which is commonly the most transient is, in his case, the most durable. The reputation of those writings, which he probably expected to be immortal, is every day fading; while those peculiarities of manner and that careless table-talk, the memory of which, he probably thought, would die with him, are likely to be remembered as long as the English language is spoken in any quarter of the globe.
XIII. - RALPH WALDO EMERSON.
LIFE AND WORKS.
The life of a scholar is seldom eventful, and that of the poet-philosopher of Concord was little marked. by the vicissitudes that make the stir and movement of biography. His life was indeed but the unfolding of his spiritual nature, -an unfolding placid, beautiful, as the development of a flower. Of his external experiences, the most marked were his three visits to Europe. The grand climacteric of his year was the winter lecture-tour: for the rest, his days were measured by thought-beats, and Lowell wittily gives us a specimen of his intellectual calendar in the supposed jotting, “October:- Indian Summer : now is the time to get in your early Vedas.”
Emerson's fame, his acceptance by the public, was of a like gentle, almost imperceptible growth. At his first appearance, forty or more years ago, people rubbed their eyes to see what manner of man he could be. To the hard-heads of New England he was both a stumbling-block and foolishness, with his doctrine of transcendentalism and the “over-soul,” and his magiclantern pictures on the mist; while even those who were not mere hard-heads could not forbear asking, “Who is this propounder of Sphinx riddles ?”
As the years passed, however, he came to be understood, first a little, then better, then sympathetically, till in all our centers of culture he had a select following; and all fine-brained and aspiring young men,