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part of the work, have in them all the beauties of novelty, at the same time that they have all the graces of nature: they are such as none but a great genius could have thought of; though, upon a perusal of them, they seem to rise, of themselves, from the subject of which he treats. In a word, though they are natural, they are not obvious; which is the true character of all fine writing.”*
In the tenth book, upon the arrival of Sin and Death into the works of the Creation, he observes,—" The following passage, ver. 641, &c., is formed upon that glorious image in Holy Writ, which compares the voice of an innumerable host of angels uttering hallelujahs, to the voice of mighty thunderings, or of many waters." He continues :
“ Though the author, in the whole course of his poem, particularly in the book we are now examining, has infinite allusions to places of Scripture, I have only taken notice in my remarks of such as are of a poetical nature, and which are woven with great beauty into the body of this fable : of this kind is that passage in the present book, where, describing Sin as marching through the works of nature, he adds,
- Behind her Death,
On his pale horse: which alludes to that passage in Scripture, so wonderfully poetical, and terrifying to the ima* Johnson has borrowed this in speaking of Gray's Elegy.
gination :- And I looked, and beheld a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him: and power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with sickness, and with the beasts of the earth.””
Addison concludes his series of eloquent, just, and admirable criticisms thus:
“ I have now finished my observations on a work which does an honour to the English nation. I have taken a general view of it under these four heads,—the fable, the characters, the sentiments, and the language: I have in the next place spoken of the censures which our author may incur under each of these heads; of which I might have enlarged the number if I had been disposed to dwell on so ungrateful a subject. I believe, however, that the severest reader will not find any little fault in heroic poetry, which this author has fallen into, that does not come under one of those heads, among which I have distributed his several blemishes.
“ After having thus treated at large of • Paradise Lost,' I could not think it sufficient to have celebrated this poem in the whole, without descending to particulars : I have therefore endeavoured not only to prove that the poem is beautiful in general, but to point out its particular beauties, and to determine wherein they consist. I have endeavoured to show how some passages are beautiful by being sublime; others by being soft; others by being natural; which of them are recommended by the passion; which by the moral; which by the sentiment; and which by the expression. I have likewise endeavoured to show how the genius of the poet shines by a happy invention, a distant allusion, or judicious imitation; how he had copied or improved Homer or Virgil, and raises his own imaginations by the use he has made of several poetical passages in Scripture. I might have inserted also several passages of Tasso which our author has imitated; but as I do not look upon Tasso to be a sufficient voucher, I would not perplex my reader with such quotations, as might do more honour to the Italian than the English poet. In short, I have endeavoured to particularise those innumerable kinds of beauty, which it would be tedious to recapitulate, but which are essential to poetry; and which may be met with in the works of this great author.”.
I have here cited enough to draw again the attention of the modern reader to an elegant and exquisite author, whom the more recent fame of subsequent critics seems in some degree to have pushed aside ; but who is as superior to Johnson, as Milton is to Pope or Dryden. Addison was not vigorous in his metrical compositions ; but he had a beautiful invention in prose. He was a classical scholar, of far finer taste than Johnson; and if not more profound as a moralist, more rich, more chaste, and, as it seems to me, more original. Johnson's critique on Milton is an instance how much he secretly borrowed. In his • Rambler' is a large proportion of verbiage : he has none of that nice, delicate, and sensitive discrimination which delights in Addison; those touches of the heart; those unforced and mellow observations; those flashes of polished and exquisite humour. He too often dictates as a pedagogue, and silences by his coarseness.
It is not out of place thus to censure him in a « Life of Milton,' whom he has traduced with as much bad taste in literature as malignity of temper. And what is the worth of the praise by which he has affected to counteract his scoffs and his cavils ?-a disguised echo of the encomium of a predecessor, whose principles of poetry he was outraging by the whole tenor of his own judgments through the series of poetical biographies he was then composing. Examine the rules by which Addison has tried the details of execution in the successive books of Paradise Lost :' will the praises or censures of Johnson on the poets whom he has criticised abide these tests? Johnson cared little for poetical invention, for imagery, or for sentiment: his whole idea of excellence lay in what he called ratiocination in verse : thus Dryden and Pope were his supreme favourites.
I remember how he shocked the taste and the creed of the higher and more imaginative classes of his poetical readers, when his · Lives' came out: but he was the fashion of the day; and the attempt was vain to stem the tide. The sensitive were stunned by his coarseness; and the world
lings and the talkers became insolent in their triumph. An epigrammatic point, an observation on life, a stinging couplet, can be felt and repeated by every pert disputant in society: but cite a noble passage from a great poet, and it draws sneers or ridicule!
Johnson's work did great injury to the national taste; and debases it even to this day. Imagination, repressed in its proper issues, has broken out in wrong places : it has become fantastic and distorted ; in seeking not to be obvious, it has become unnatural. In the search for novelty we ought not to feign impossibilities or improbabilities : nothing should be extravagant; nothing over-coloured. We are to imagine what may be ; but which is at the same time grand, beautiful, or pathetic. We are to take advantage of the dim hints of remote history, to fill up the details with the marvellous, the sublime, and the fair. Poetry deals more with the imagination than the understanding; but it must not outrage the understanding. .
Some contend that Johnson had imagination: if he had, it was the imagination of big and vague words: all his · Rasselas' consists of generalisations : it is little more than a series of moral observations; sometimes powerful or plaintive; too often pompous and verbose, where triteness is covered by grandiloquence. On a few occasions he may have been picturesque especially in his · Journey to the Hebrides ;' but very rarely. Sounding words are easily put to.