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St. Vitus's dance, his rolling walk, his blinking eye, the outward signs which too clearly marked his approbation of his dinner, his insatiable appetite for fish-sauce and veal-pic with plums, his inextinguishable thirst for tea, his trick of touching tl.e posts as he walked, his mysterious practice of treasuring up scraps of orangepeel, his morning slumbers, his midnight disputations, his contortions, his mutterings, his gruntings, his puffings, his vigorous, acute, and ready eloquence, his sarcastic wit, his vehemence, his insolence, his fits of tempestuous rage, his queer inmates, old Mr. Levett and blind Mrs. Williams, the cat Hodge and the negro Frank-all are familiar to us as the objects by which we have been surrounded from childhood.
2. 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.
3. It is clear that Johnson himself did not think in the dialect in which he wrote. The expressions which came first to his congue 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 Fourney to the Hebrides is the translation; and it is amusing to compare the two versions. “When we were taken upstairs,” 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 Fourney 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."
4. 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.
5. The characteristic faults of his style are so familiar to all our readers, and have been so often burlesqued, that it is almost superfluous to point them out. It is well known that he made less use than any other eminent writer of those strong plain words, Anglo-Saxon or Norman-French, of which the roots lie in the inmost depths of our language ; and that he felt a vicious partiality for terms which, long after our own speech had been fixed, were borrowed from the Greek and Latin, and which therefore, even when lawfully naturalized, must be considered as born aliens, not entitled to rank with the king's English. His constant practice of padding out a sentence with useless epithets, till it became as stiff as the bust of an exquisite ; his antithetical forms of expression, constantly employed even where there is no opposition in the ideas expressed ; his big words wasted on little things; his harsh inversions, so widely different from those graceful and easy inversions which give variety, spirit, and sweet. ness to the expression of our great old writers—all these peculiarities have been imitated by his admirers and parodied by his assailants, till the public has become sick of the subject.
6. Goldsmith said to him, very wittily and very justly, “ If you were to write a fable about little fishes, doctor, you would make the little fishes talk like whales.” No man surely ever had so little talent for personation as Johnson. Whether he wrote in the character of a disappointed legacy-hunter or an empty town fop, of a crazy virtuoso or a flippant coquette, he wrote in the same pompous and unbending style. His speech, like Sir Piercy Shafton's euphuistic eloquence, bewrayed him under every disguise. Euphelia and Rhodoclea talk as finely as Imlac the poet, or Seged, Emperor of Ethiopia. The gay Cornelia describes her reception at the country-house of her relations in such terms as these : “ I was surprised, after the civilities of my first reception, to find, instead of the leisure and tranquillity
which a rural life always promises, and, if well conducted, might always afford, a confused wildness of care, and a tumultuous hurry of diligence, by which every face was clouded, and every motion agitated.” The gentle Tranquilla informs us that she * had not passed the earlier part of life without the flattery of courtship and the joys of triumph ; but had danced the round of gayety amidst the murmurs of envy and the gratulations of applause, had been attended from pleasure to pleasure by the great, the sprightly, and the vain, and had seen her regard solicited by the obsequiousness of gallantry, the gayety of wit, and the timidity of love." Surely Sir John Falstaff himself did not wear his petticoats with a worse grace. The reader may well cry out, with honest Sir Hugh Evans, “ I like not when a 'oman has a great peard : I spy a great peard under her muffler.”
7. As we close Boswell's 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 heads which live forever 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 !”.
8. 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.
1.-COWLEY AND HIS CONTEMPORARIES.
[INTRODUCTION.—The following extract is from Johnson's Lives of the Poets, from which already two selections have been made-the Characteriza. tion of Shakespeare, page 1, and the Parallel between Pope and Dryden, page 147. “Much of Johnson's criticism,” says Leslie Stephen, "is pretty nearly obsolete ; but the child of his old age-the Lives of the Poets a book in which criticism and biography are combined, is an admirable performance in spite of serious defects. It is the work that best reflects his mind, and intelligent readers who have once made its acquaintance will be apt to turn it into a familiar companion."]
1. Cowley, like other poets who have written with narrow views, and, instead of tracing intellectual pleasures in the mind of man, paid their court to temporary prejudices, has been at one time too much praised, and too much neglected at another.
2. Wit, like all other things subject by their nature to the s choice of man, has its changes and fashions, and at different times takes different forms. About the beginning of the seven
NOTES. - Line 1. Cowley. Abraham |
Cowley (1618-1667) was the
His moral pleases, not his pointed wis,
The “epic” and “Pindaric" art is in allusion to Cowley's two representative works - the Davideis, an epic poem on the life and troubles of David ; and Pindaric Odes, a collection replete with beauties and with blemishes.
LITERARY ANALYSIS.-1-4. Cowley ... another. To what class, rhetorically, does the first sentence belong ?-Point out two examples of antithesis in this sentence.
5-10. Wit ... account. In paragraph 2 which sentence is complex, and which compound ?
teenth century appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical poets, of whom, in a criticism on the works of Cowley, it is not improper to give some account.
10 3. The metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole endeavor ; but, unluckily resolving to show it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry* they only wrote verses ;* and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear; for the modulation was so im- 15 perfect that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.
4. If the father of criticism has rightly denominated poetry an imitative art, these writers will, without great wrong, lose their right to the name of poets, for they cannot be said to have im- 20 itated anything: they neither copied nature from life, neither painted the forms of matter, nor represented the operations of intellect.
5. Those, however, who deny them to be poets, allow them to
8, 9. the metaphysical poets. Besides questioned, and perhaps the
Cowley, the two principal poets name, the fantastic school (equiv-
LITERARY ANALYSIS.-11-17. The metaphysical ... syllables. Point out an example of antithesis in this sentence.
13, 14. poetry ... verses. What is the distinction between “poetry" and "verses?" (See Defs, 4, 10.)-Give the derivation of each of these words.
14, 15. stood the trial of the finger, etc. Explain this expression.
16. only. Improve the position of this word by placing it nearer the adver. bial plıcase which it modifies.
20, 21. they cannot be said to have imitated anything. What three particular statements are used to amplify and illustrate this general statement ?-Note the felicitous use of three verbs nearly synonymous with “represented.”
24-27. Those ... poetry. In this paragraph point out two pairs of verbs contrasted in meaning.