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Johnson's attack on Voltaire.
[A.D. 1765. Though he certainly was not without considerable merit, he wrote with so little regard to decency and principles, and decorum', and in so hasty a manner, that his reputation was neither extensive nor lasting. I remember one evening, when some of his works were mentioned, Dr. Goldsmith said, he had never heard of them; upon which Dr. Johnson observed, 'Sir, he is one of the many who have made themselves publick, without making themselves known2'
A young student of Oxford, of the name of Barclay, wrote an answer to Kenrick's review of Johnson's Shakspeare. Johnson was at first angry that Kenrick's attack should have the credit of an answer. But afterwards, considering the young man's good intention, he kindly noticed him, and probably would have done more, had not the young man died3.
In his Preface to Shakspeare, Johnson treated Voltaire very contemptuously, observing, upon some of his remarks, 'These are the petty criticisms of petty wits". Voltaire, in revenge,
Kenrick later on was the gross libeller of Goldsmith, and the far grosser libeller of Garrick. "When proceedings were commenced against him in the Court of King's Bench [for the libel on Garrick], he made at once the most abject submission and retractation.' Prior's Goldsmith,
In the Garrick Corres. (ii.
341) is a letter addressed to Kenrick, in which Garrick says:-'I could have honoured you by giving the satisfaction of a gentleman, if you could (as Shakespeare says) have screwed your courage to the sticking place, to have taken it.' It is en
dorsed - This was not sent to the scoundrel Dr. Kenrick. . . . It was judged best not to answer any more of Dr. Kenrick's notes, he had behaved so unworthily.'
Johnson had joined Voltaire with Dennis and Rymer. 'Dennis and Rymer think Shakespeare's 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. . . . 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 upon kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds; a poet overmade
made an attack upon Johnson, in one of his numerous literary sallies, which I remember to have read; but there being no general index to his voluminous works, have searched in vain, and therefore cannot quote it'.
Voltaire was an antagonist with whom I thought Johnson should not disdain to contend. I pressed him to answer. said, he perhaps might; but he never did.
Mr. Burney having occasion to write to Johnson for some receipts for subscriptions to his Shakspeare, which Johnson had omitted to deliver when the money was paid, he availed himself of that opportunity of thanking Johnson for the great pleasure which he had received from the perusal of his Preface to Shakspeare; which, although it excited much clamour against him. at first, is now justly ranked among the most excellent of his writings. To this letter Johnson returned the following answer :
looks the casual distinction of country and condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery.' Johnson's Works, v. 109. Johnson had previously attacked Voltaire, in his Memoirs of Frederick the Great. (Ante, i. 435, note 2.) In these Memoirs he writes:-'Voltaire has asserted that a large sum was raised for her [the Queen of Hungary's] succour by voluntary subscriptions of the English ladies. It is the great failing of a strong imagination to catch greedily at wonders. He was misinformed, and was perhaps unwilling to learn, by a second enquiry, a truth less splendid and amusing.' Ib. vi. 455. See post, Oct. 27, 1779.
1 'Voltaire replied in the Dictionnaire Philosophique. (Works, xxxiii. 566.) 'J'ai jeté les yeux sur une édition de Shakespeare, donnée par le sieur Samuel Johnson. J'y ai vu qu'on y traite de petits esprits les étrangers qui sont étonnés que dans les pièces de ce grand Shakespeare un sénateur romain fasse le bouffon; et qu'un roi paraisse sur le théâtre en ivrogne. Je ne veux point soupçonner le sieur Johnson d'être un
mauvais plaisant, et d'aimer trop le
Resolutions at church.
'TO CHARLES BURNEY, ESQ., IN POLAND-STREET.
'I am sorry that your kindness to me has brought upon you so much trouble, though you have taken care to abate that sorrow, by the pleasure which I receive from your approbation. I defend my criticism in the same manner with you. We must confess the faults of our favourite, to gain credit to our praise of his excellencies. He that claims, either in himself or for another, the honours of perfection, will surely injure the reputation which he designs to assist.
'Be pleased to make my compliments to your family.
I am, Sir,
'Your most obliged
'Oct. 16, 1765.'
'And most humble servant,
From one of his journals I transcribed what follows:
'At church, Oct. 65.
"To avoid all singularity'; Bonaventura2.
'To come in before service, and compose my mind by meditation, or by reading some portions of scriptures. Tetty.
'If I can hear the sermon, to attend it, unless attention be more troublesome than useful.
'To consider the act of prayer as a reposal of myself upon GOD, and a resignation of all into his holy hand.'
1 See post, ii. 74.
2 He was probably proposing to himself the model of this excellent
person, who for his piety was named the Seraphic Doctor. BOSWELL.
JOHNSON'S DEBATES IN PARLIAMENT.
(Pages 118 and 150.)
THE publication of the 'Debates' in the Gentleman's Magazine began in July 1732. The names of the speakers were not printed in full; Sir Robert Walpole was disguised-if a disguise it can be called-as Sir R-t W-le, and Mr. Pelham as Mr. P-lh-m. Otherwise the report was open and avowed. During the first few years, however, it often happened that no attempt was made to preserve the individuality of the members. Thus in a debate on the number of seamen (Gent. Mag. v. 507), the speeches of the 'eight chief speakers' were so combined as to form but three. First come the arguments made use of for 30,000. men ;' next, 'an answer to the following effect;' and lastly, 'a reply that was in substance as follows.' Each of these three speeches is in the first person, though each is formed of the arguments of two members at least, perhaps of many. In the report of a two days' debate in 1737, in which there were fourteen chief speakers, the substance of thirteen of the speeches was given in three (ib. vii. 746, 775). In July 1736 (ib. vi. 363) we find the beginning of a great change. To satisfy the impatience of his readers,' the publisher promises to give them occasionally some entire speeches.' He prints one which likely enough had been sent to him by the member who had spoken it, and adds that he shall be grateful for any authentic intelligence in matters of such importance and tenderness as the speeches in Parliament' (ib. p. 365). Cave, in his examination before the House of Lords on April 30, 1747, on a charge of having printed in the Gentleman's Magazine an account of the trial of Lord Lovat, owned that he had had speeches sent him by the members themselves, and had had assistance from some members who have taken notes of other members' speeches' (Parl. Hist. xiv. 60).
It was chiefly in the numbers of the Magazine for the latter half of each year that the publication took place. The parliamentary recess was the busy time for reporters and printers. It was commonly believed
that the resolution on the Journals of the House of Commons against publishing any of its proceedings was only in force while parliament was sitting. But on April 13, 1738, it was unanimously resolved 'that it is an high indignity to, and a notorious breach of the privilege of this House to give any account of the debates, as well during the recess as the sitting of parliament' (Parl. Hist. x. 812). It was admitted that this privilege expired at the end of every parliament. When the dissolution had come every one might publish what he pleased. With the House of Lords it was far otherwise, for it is a Court of Record, and as such its rights and privileges never die. It may punish a printer for printing any part of its proceedings for thirty or forty years back' (ib. p. 807). Mr. Winnington, when speaking to this resolution of April 13, said that if they did not put a speedy stop to this practice of reporting "they will have every word that is spoken here by gentlemen misrepresented by fellows who thrust themselves into our gallery' (ib. p. 806). Walpole complained that he had been made to speak the very reverse of what he meant. He had read debates wherein all the wit, the learning, and the argument had been thrown into one side, and on the other nothing but what was low, mean, and ridiculous' (ib. p. 809). Later on, Johnson in his reports 'saved appearances tolerably well; but took care that the WHIG DOGS should not have the best of it' (Murphy's Johnson, p. 45).
It was but a few days after he became a contributor to the Magasine that this resolution was passed. Parliament rose on May 20, and in the June number the reports of the debates of the Senate of Lilliput began. To his fertile mind was very likely due this humorous expedient by which the resolution of the House was mocked. That he wrote the introduction in which is narrated the voyage of Captain Gulliver's grandson to Lilliputia can scarcely be doubted. It bears all the marks of his early style. The Lords become Hurgoes, and the Commons Clinabs, Walpole becomes Walelop, Pulteney Pulnub, and Pitt Ptit; otherwise the report is much as it had been. At the end of the volume for 1739 was given a key to all the names. The London Magazine had boldly taken the lead. In the May number, which was published at the close of the month, and therefore after parliament had risen, began the report of the proceedings and debates of a political and learned club of young noblemen and gentlemen, who hoped one day to enter parliament, and who therefore, the better to qualify themselves for their high position, only debated questions that were there discussed. To the speakers were given the names of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Thus we find the Hon. Marcus Cato and the Right Hon. M. Tullius Cicero. By the key that was published in 1742 Cicero was seen to be Walpole, and Cato, Pulteney. What risks the publishers.