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Sappho; for the rural lays of a Theocritus or Bion; and for the sublime conceptions of a Sophocles or Homer. The same in prose. Here Isocrates was enabled to display his art, in all the accuracy of periods and the nice counterpoise of diction. Here Demosthenes found materials for that nervous composition, that manly force of unaffected eloquence, which rushed like a torrent, too impetuous to be withstood.
Who were more different in exhibiting their philosophy than Xenophon, Plato, and his disciple Aristotle? Different, I say, in their character of composition; for as to their philosophy itself, it was in reality the same. Aristotle, strict, methodic, and orderly; subtle in thought, sparing in ornament; with little address to the passions or imagination; but exhibiting the whole with such a pregnant brevity that in every sentence we seem to read a page. How exquisitely is this all performed in Greek! Let those who imagine it may be done as well in another language, satisfy themselves, either by attempting to translate him, or by perusing his translations already made by men of learning.
On the contrary, when we read either Xenophon or Plato, nothing of this method and strict order appears. The formal and didactic is wholly dropt. Whatever they may teach, it is without professing to be teachers; a train of dialogue and truly polite address, in which, as in a mirror, we behold human life adorned in all its colours of sentiment and manners.
And yet though these differ in this manner from the Stagyrite, how different are they likewise in character from each other! -Plato, copious, figurative, and majestic intermixing at times the facetious and satiric; enriching his works with tales and fables, and the mystic theology of ancient times. Xenophon, the pattern of perfect simplicity; everywhere smooth, harmonious, and pure; declining the figurative, the marvellous, and the mystic; ascending but rarely into the sublime; nor then so much trusting to the colours of style as to the intrinsic dignity of the sentiment itself.
The language, in the mean time, in which he and Plato wrote appears to suit so accurately with the style of both, that when we read either of the two, we cannot help thinking that it is he alone who has hit its character, and that it could not have appeared so elegant in any other manner.
And this is the Greek tongue, from its propriety and universality made for all that is great and all that is beautiful, in every subject and under every form of writing: Graiis ingenium Graiis dedit ore rotundo Musa loqui.
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D., one of the most eminent of English authors, was born in 1709, at Lichfield, where his father was a bookseller, studied at Pembroke College, Oxford, 1728 to 1731, and after an unsuccessful experiment of teaching school at Edial, near Lichfield, came to London in 1737, and from that year until his death, in 1784, may be considered as an author by profession. In 1762 a pension of £300, conferred by George III., placed him beyond the reach of want. Among his works are: Life of Richard Savage, Lond., 1744, 8vo; Vanity of Human Wishes, 1749; Irene, a Tragedy, Lond., 1749, 8vo; The Rambler, Lond., 1750-52, 2 vols. fol.; The Dictionary of the English Language, Lond., 1755, 2 vols. fol., last edit. by Todd and Latham, Lond., 1870, 4 vols. 4to; The Prince of Abyssinia [Rasselas], Lond., 1759, 2 vols. 18mo; The Idler, Lond., 1761, 2 vols. 12mo; Preface to his Edition of Shakspeare [Lond., 1765, 8 vols. 8vo], Lond., 1765, 8vo, new edit., Lond., 1858, 8vo; A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, Lond., 1775, 8vo; The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, with Critical Observations on their Works, Lond., 1779-81, 10 vols. 12mo (being Prefaces to Bell's Poets, 75 vols. 12mo). See Johnson's Works, Oxf., 1825, 11 vols. 8vo; Poetical Works, Lond., 1785, cr. 8vo; Boswell's Life of Johnson, by Croker, Lond., 1848, 8vo, or 10 vols. fp. 8vo.
"Had Johnson left nothing but his Dictionary one might have traced there a great intellect, a genuine man. Looking to its clearness of definition, its general solidity, honesty, insight, and Dictionaries. There is in it a kind of architecsuccessful method, it may be called the best of all
tural nobleness; it stands there like a great solid square-built edifice, finished, symmetrically complete: you judge that a true Builder did it.”— CARLYLE: Hero- Worship.
"Of the Prefaces to his own or other men's works, it is not necessary to speak in detail. The powerfully written, but promises more than it permost ambitious is that to the Dictionary, which is forms, when it professes to give a history of the English language: for it does very little more than give a series of passages from the writings in the
Anglo-Saxon and English tongues of different ages. The Dictionary itself, with all its faults, still keeps its ground, and has had no successor that could supplant it. The Preface to his Shakspeare, certainly, is far superior to his other introductory discourses, both fuller of matter an I more elaborate. His remarks on the great dramatist are, generally speaking, sound and judicious; many of them may even, on a subject sufficiently hackneyed, be deemed original."-LORD BROUGHAM: Men of Letters Time of George III.
"He was certainly unskilled in the knowledge of obsolete customs and expressions. His explanatory notes, therefore, are, generally speaking, the most controvertible of any; but no future editor
will discharge his duty to the public who shall omit a single sentence of this writer's masterly preface, or of his sound and tasteful characters of the text of Shakspeare."-DOUCE: Illust. of Shaksp., Preface.
"One of his most pleasing as well as most lar works, The Lives of the British Poets, which he executed with a degree of critical force and talent which has seldom been concentrated."-SIR WALTER SCOTT: Life of Samuel Johnson.
"Johnson decided literary questions like a lawyer, not like a legislator. He never examined foundations where a point was already ruled. His whole code of criticism rested on pure assumption, for which he sometimes quoted a precedent or authority, but rarely troubled himself to give a reason drawn from the nature of things."-LORD MACAULAY: Edin. Rev., Sept. 1831, and in his Essays.
It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life to be rather driven by the fear of evil than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.
Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom mankind have considered not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from the paths through which learning and genius press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative recompense has yet been granted to very
[We venture to inquire-Who have been more commended for their labours than lexicographers?-E.g.: Da Cange, Hickes, Raynouard, Somner, Suidas, Stephens, before Johnson, Adelung, Bopp, the Grimms, Latham, Littre, Passow, Roquefort, Todd, Webster, Worcester, since Johnson? To what, next to Boswell's pages, does Johnson himself owe most of his reputation? Undoubtedly to his Dictionary.-S. A. A.]
I have, notwithstanding this discouragement, attempted a dictionary of the English language, which, while it was employed in the cultivation of every species of literature, has itself been hitherto neglected; suffered to spread, under the direction of chance, into wild exuberance; resigned to the tyranny of time and fashion; and exposed to the corruptions of ignorance, and caprices
No book was ever turned from one language into another without imparting something of its native idiom; this is the most
mischievous and comprehensive innovation : single words may enter by thousands, and the fabric of the tongue continue the same; but new phraseology changes much at once; it alters not the single stones of the building, but the order of the columns. If an academy should be established for the cultivation of our style-which I, who can never wish to see dependence multiplied, hope the spirit of English liberty will hinder or destroy-let them, instead of compiling grammars and dictionaries, endeavour, with all their influence, to stop the license of translators, whose idleness and ignorance, if it be suffered to proceed, will reduce us to babble a dialect of France.
If the changes that we fear be thus irresistible, what remains but to acquiesce with silence, as in the other insurmountable distresses of humanity. It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure. Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeated; tongues, like gov ernments, have a natural tendency to degeneration: we have long preserved our constitution, let us make some struggles for our language.
In hope of giving longevity to that which its own nature forbids to be immortal, I have devoted this book, the labour of years, to the honour of my country, that we may no longer yield the palm of philology, without a contest. to the nations of the continent. The chief glory of every people arises from its authors: whether I shall add anything by my own writings to the reputation of English literature must be left to time: much of my life has been lost by the pressure of disease; much has been trifled away; much has always been spent in provision for the day that was passing over me; but I shall not think my employment useless or ignoble, if by my assistance, foreign nations and distant ages gain access to the propagators of knowledge, and understand the teachers of truth; if my labours afford light to the repositories of science, and add celebrity to Bacon, to Hooker, to Milton, and to Boyle.
When I am animated by this wish, I look with pleasure on my book, however defective, and deliver it to the world with the spirit of a man that has endeavoured well. That it will immediately become popular, I have not promised to myself: a few wild blunders and risible absurdities, from which no work of such multiplicity was ever free, may for a time furnish folly with laughter, and harden ignorance into contempt; but useful diligence will at last prevail, and there never can be wanting some who distinguish desert, who will consider that no dictionary of a living tongue ever can be
perfect, since, while it is hastening to publication, some words are budding and some falling away; that a whole life cannot be spent upon syntax and etymology, and that even a whole life would not be sufficient; that he whose design includes whatever language can express, must often speak of what he does not understand; that a writer will sometimes be hurried by eagerness to the end, and sometimes faint with weariness under a task which Scaliger compares to the labours of the anvil and the mine; that what is obvious is not always known, and what is known is not always present; that sudden fits of inadvertency will surprise vigilance, slight avocations will reduce attention, and casual eclipses of the mind will darken learning; and that the writer shall often in vain trace his memory at the moment of need for that which yesterday he knew with intuitive readiness, and which will come uncalled into his thoughts to-morrow.
In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed; and though no book was ever spared out of tenderness to the author, and the world is little solicitous to know whence proceeded the faults of that which it condemns, yet it may gratify curiosity to inform it, that the English dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned, and without any patronage of the great; not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amid inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow. It may repress the triumph of malignant criticism to observe, that if our language is not here fully displayed, I have only failed in an attempt which no human powers have hitherto completed. If the lexicons of ancient tongues, now immutably fixed, and comprised in a few volumes, be yet, after the toil of successive ages, inadequate and delusive; if the aggregated knowledge and co-operating diligence of the Italian academicians did not secure them from the censure of Beni; if the embodied critics of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its economy, and give their second edition another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds. I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise.
From the Preface to The Dictionary of the
Shakespeare is, above all writers, at least above all modern writers, the poet of nature; the poet that holds up to his readers a faithful mirror of manners and of life. His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or professions, which can operate but upon small numbers; or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary opinions: they are the genuine progeny of common humanity, such as the world will always supply, and observation will always find. His persons act and think by the influence of those general passions and principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole system of life is continued in motion. In the writings of other poets a character is too often an individual; in those of Shakespeare it is commonly a species.
It is from this wide extension of design that so much instruction is derived. It is this which fills the plays of Shakespeare with practical axioms and domestic wisdom. It was said of Euripides that every verse was a precept; and it may be said of Shakespeare that from his works may be collected a system of civil and economical prudence. Yet his real power is not shown in the splendour of particular passages, but by the progress of his fable and the tenour of his dialogue; and he that tries to recommend him by select quotations will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen.
It will not easily be imagined how much Shakespeare excels in accommodating his sentiments to real life, but by comparing him with other authors. It was observed of the ancient schools of declamation, that the more diligently they were frequented the more was the student disqualified for the world, because he found nothing there which he should ever meet in any other place. The same remark may be applied to every stage but that of Shakespeare. The theatre, when it is under any other direc tion, is peopled by such characters as were never seen, conversing in a language which was never heard, upon topics which will never arise in the commerce of mankind. But the dialogue of this author is often so evidently determined by the incident which produces it, and is pursued with so much ease and simplicity, that it seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but to have been gleaned by diligent selection out of common conversation and common occurrences.
Upon every other stage the universal agent is love, by whose power all good and evil is
distributed, and every action quickened or retarded. To bring a lover, a lady, and a rival into the fable; to entangle them in contradictory obligations, perplex them with oppositions of interest, and harass them with violence of desires inconsistent with each other; to make them meet in rapture, and part in agony; to fill their mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous sorrow; to distress them as nothing human ever was distressed; to deliver them as nothing human ever was delivered; is the business of a modern dramatist. For this, probability is violated, life is misrepresented, and language is depraved. But love is only one of many passions; and as it has no greater influence upon the sum of life, it has little operation in the dramas of a poet who caught his ideas from the living world, and exhibited only what he saw before him. He knew that any other passion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was a cause of happiness or calamity. Characters thus ample and general were not easily discriminated and preserved; yet perhaps no poet ever kept his personages more distinct from each other. I will not say with Pope, that every speech may be assigned to the proper speaker, because many speeches there are which have nothing characteristical but, perhaps, though some may be equally adapted to every person, it will be difficult to find any that can be properly transferred from the present possessor to another claimant. The choice is right, when there is reason for choice.
Other dramatists can only gain attention by hyperbolical or aggravated characters, by fabulous and unexampled excellence or depravity, as the writers of barbarous romances invigorated the reader by a giant and a dwarf; and he that should form his expectations of human affairs from the play, or from the tale, would be equally deceived.
Shakespeare has no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men who act and speak as the reader thinks that he should himself have spoken or acted on the same occasion: even where the agency is supernatural, the dialogue is level with life. Other writers disguise the most natural passions and most frequent incidents; so that he who contemplates them in the book will not know them in the world: Shakespeare approximates the remote, and familiarizes the wonderful: the event which he represents will not happen; but, if it were possible, its effects would probably be such as he has assigned; and it may be said that he has not only shown human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it would be found in trials to which it cannot be exposed.
This therefore is the praise of Shakespeare: that his drama is the mirror of life; that he
who has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms which other writers raise up before him, may here be cured of his delirious ecstacies, by reading human sentiments in human language, by scenes from which a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.
His adherence to general nature has exposed him to the censure of critics who form their judgments upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rymer think his Romans not sufficiently Roman; and Voltaire censures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis is offended that Menenius, a senator of Rome, should play the buffoon; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency violated when the Danish usurper is represented as a drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes nature predominate over accident; and if he preserves the essential character is not very careful of distinctions superinduced and adventitious. His story requires Romans or Kings, but he thinks only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all dispositions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the senate-house for that which the senate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to show an usurper and a murderer not only odious but despicable; he therefore added drunkenness to his other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exerts its natural power over kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds: a poet overlooks the casual distinction of country and condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.
The censure which he has incurred by mixing comic and tragic scenes, as it extends to all his works, deserves more consideration. Let the fact be first stated, and then examined.
Shakespeare's plays are not, in the rigorous and critical sense, either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind: exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion, and innumerable modes of combination; and expressing the course of the world, in which the loss of one is the gain of another; in which, at the same time, the reveller is hastening to his wine, and the mourner burying his friend: in which the malignity of one is sometimes defeated by the frolic of another; and many mischiefs and many benefits are done and hindered without design.
Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties the ancient poets, according to the laws which custom had prescribed, selected some the crimes of men, and some
their absurdities; some the momentous vicissitudes of life, and some the lighter occurrences; some the terrors of distress, and some the gaieties of prosperity. Thus rose the two modes of imitation, known by the names of tragedy and comedy, compositions intended to promote different ends by contrary means, and considered as so little allied, that I do not recollect among the Greeks or Romans a single writer who attempted both.
Shakespeare has united the powers of exciting laughter and sorrow, not only in one mind, but in one composition. Almost all his plays are divided between serious and ludicrous characters; and in the successive evolutions of the design, sometimes produce seriousness and sorrow, and sometimes levity and laughter.
That this is a practice contrary to the rules of criticism will be readily allowed; but there is always an appeal open from criticism to nature. The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing. That the mingled drama may convey all the instruction of tragedy or comedy cannot be denied, because it includes both in its alternations of exhibi- | tion, and approaches nearer than either to the appearance of life, by showing how great machinations and slender designs may promote or obviate one another, and the high and low co-operate in the general system by unavoidable concatenation. It is objected, that by this change of scenes the passions are interrupted in their progression, and that the principal event, being not advanced by a due graduation of preparatory incidents, wants at least the power to move, which constitutes the perfection of dramatic poetry. This reasoning is so specious that it is received as true even by those who in daily experience feel it to be false. The interchanges of mingled scenes seldom fail to produce the intended vicissitudes of passion. Fiction cannot move so much but that the attention may be easily transferred; and though it must be allowed that pleasing melancholy be sometimes interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet let it be considered that melancholy is often not pleasing, and that the disturbance of one man may be the relief of another; that different auditors have different habitudes; and that upon the whole, all pleasure consists in variety.
Preface to Johnson's edition of Shakespeare, 1765.
POPE'S TRANSLATION OF HOMER. The train of my disquisition has now conducted me to that poetical wonder, the translation of the "Iliad"; a performance which no age nor nation can pretend to equal. To the Greeks translation was almost unknown;
it was totally unknown to the inhabitants of Greece. They had no resource to the barbarians for poetical beauties, but sought for everything in Homer, where, indeed, there is but little which they might not find. The Italians have been very diligent translators; but I can hear of no version, unless perhaps Anguillara's Ovid may be excepted, which is read with eagerness. The Iliad of Salvini every reader may discover to be punctiliously exact; but it seems to be the work of a linguist skilfully pedantic; and his countrymen, the proper judges of its power to please, reject it with disgust. Their predecessors, the Romans, have left some specimens of translation behind them, and that employment must have had some credit in which Tully and Germanicus engaged; but unless we suppose, what is perhaps true, that the plays of Terence were versions of Menander, nothing translated seems ever to have risen to high reputation. The French, in the meridian hour of their learning, were very laudably industrious to enrich their own language with the wisdom of the ancients; but found themselves reduced, by whatever necessity, to turn the Greek and Roman poetry into prose. Whoever could read an author could translate him. From such rivals little can be feared.
The chief help of Pope in this audacious undertaking was drawn from the versions of Dryden. Virgil had borrowed much of his imagery from Homer; and part of the debt was now paid back by the translator. Pope searched the pages of Dryden for happy combinations of heroic diction; but it will not be denied that he added much to what he found. He cultivated our language with so much diligence and art that he has left in his "Homer" a treasure of poetical elegancies to posterity. His version may be said to have tuned the English tongue; for since its appearance no writer, however deficient in other powers, has wanted melody. Such a series of lines, so elaborately corrected, and so sweetly modulated, took possession of the public ear; the vulgar was enamoured of the poem, and the learned wondered at the translation. But in the most general applause discordant voices will always be heard. It has been objected by some, who wish to be numbered among the sons of learning, that Pope's version of Homer is not Homerical; that it exhibits no resemblance of the original and characteristic manner of the Father of Poetry, as it wants his artless grandeur, his unaffected majesty.
[Bentley was one of these. He and Pope. soon after the publication of Homer, met at Dr. Mead's at dinner; when Pope, desirous of his opinion of the translation, addressed