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A contested passage in Horace.
is difficult to appropriate to particular persons qualities which are common to all mankind, as Homer has done.'
Publica materies privati juris erit, si
Non circa vilem patulumque moraberis orbem,
Unde pedem proferre pudor vetat aut operis lex!'
The 'Commentary' thus illustrates it: But the formation of quite new characters is a work of great difficulty and hazard. For here there is no generally received and fixed archetype to work after, but every one judges of common right, according to the extent and comprehension of his own idea; therefore he advises to labour and refit old characters and subjects, particularly those made known and authorised by the practice of Homer and the Epick writers.'
The Note' is,
'Difficile EST PROPRIE COMMUNIA DICERE.' Lambin's Comment is, 'Communia hoc loco appellat Horatius argumenta fabularum à nullo adhuc tractata: et ita, quæ cuivis exposita sunt et in medio quodammodo posita, quasi vacua et à nemine occupata. And that this is the true meaning of communia is evidently fixed by the words ignota indictaque, which are explanatory of it; so that the sense given it in the commentary is unquestionably the right one. Yet, notwithstanding the clearness of the case, a 'late critick has this strange passage: 'Difficile quidem esse propriè communia dicere, hoc est, materiam vulgarem, notam et è medio petitam, ita immutare atque exornare, ut nova et scriptori propria videatur, ultro concedimus; et maximi procul dubio ponderis ista est observatio. Sed omnibus utrinque collatis, et tum difficilis, tum venusti, tam judicii quam ingenii ratione habitâ, major videtur esse gloria fabulam formare penitùs novam, quàm veterem, utcunque mutatam, de novo exhibere.' (Poet. Præl. v. ii. p. 164.) Where, having first put a wrong construction on the word communia, he employs it to introduce an impertinent criticism. For where does the poet prefer the glory of refitting old subjects to that of inventing new ones? The contrary is implied in what he urges about the superiour difficulty of the latter, from which he dissuades his countrymen, only in respect of their abilities and inexperience in these matters; and in order to cultivate in them, which is the main view of the Epistle, a spirit of correctness, by sending them to the old subjects, treated by the Greek writers.
For my own part (with all deference for Dr. Hurd, who thinks the çase clear,) I consider the passage, ‘Difficile est propriè communia dicere,' to be a crux for the criticks on Horace.
The explication which My Lord of Worcester treats with so much WILKES.
The last of the City-Poets.
[A.D. 1776. WILKES. 'We have no City-Poet now: that is an office which has gone into disuse. The last was Elkanah Settle.
contempt, is nevertheless countenanced by authority which I find quoted by the learned Baxter in his edition of Horace: 'Difficile est propriè communia dicere, h. e. res vulgares disertis verbis enarrare, vel humile thema cum dignitate tractare. Difficile est communes res propriis explicare verbis. Vet. Schol.' I was much disappointed to find that the great critick, Dr. Bentley, has no note upon this very difficult passage, as from his vigorous and illuminated mind I should have expected to receive more satisfaction than I have yet had.
Sanadon thus treats of it: 'Propriè communia dicere; c'est à dire, qu'il n'est pas aisé de former à ces personnages d'imagination, des caractêres particuliers et cependant vraisemblables. Comme l'on a eté le maitre de les former tels qu'on a voulu, les fautes que l'on fait en cela sont moins pardonnables. C'est pourquoi Horace conseille de prendre toujours des sujets connus tels que sont par exemple ceux que l'on peut tirer des poèmes d' Homere.'
And Dacier observes upon it, ‘Apres avoir marqué les deux qualités qu'il faut donner aux personnages qu'on invente, il conseille aux Poêtes tragiques, de n'user pas trop facilement de cette liberté quils ont d'en inventer, car il est três difficile de reussir dans ces nouveaux caractères. Il est mal aisé, dit Horace, de traiter proprement, c'st à dire convenablement, des sujets communs; c'est à dire, des sujets inventés, et qui n'ont aucun fondement ni dans l'Histoire ni dans la Fable; et il les appelle communs, parce qu'ils sont en disposition à tout le monde, et que tout le monde a le droit de les inventer, et qu'ils sont, comme on dit, au premier occupant.' See his observations at large on this expression and the following.
After all, I cannot help entertaining some doubt whether the words, Difficile est propriè communia dicere, may not have been thrown in by Horace to form a separate article in a 'choice of difficulties' which a poet has to encounter, who chooses a new subject; in which case it must be uncertain which of the various explanations is the true one, and every reader has a right to decide as it may strike his own fancy. And even should the words be understood as they generally are, to be connected both with what goes before and what comes after, the exact sense cannot be absolutely ascertained; for instance, whether propriè is meant to signify in an appropriated manner, as Dr. Johnson here understands it, or, as it is often used by Cicero, with propriety, or elegantly. In short, it is a rare instance of a defect in perspicuity in an admirable writer, who with almost every species of excellence, is peculiarly remarkable for that quality. The length of this note perhaps requires an apology. Many of my readers, I doubt not, will ad
There is something in names which one cannot help feeling. Now Elkanah Settle sounds so queer, who can expect much from that name? We should have no hesitation to give it for John Dryden, in preference to Elkanah Settle, from the names only, without knowing their different merits'.' JOHNSON. I suppose, Sir, Settle did as well for Aldermen in his time, as John Home could do now. Where did Beckford and Trecothick learn English'?'
mit that a critical discussion of a passage in a favourite classick is very engaging. BOSWELL. Boswell's French in this tedious note is left as he printed it.
Johnson, after describing Settle's attack on Dryden, continues (Works, vii. 277) :—'Such are the revolutions of fame, or such is the prevalence of fashion, that the man whose works have not yet been thought to deserve the care of collecting them, who died forgotten in an hospital, and whose latter years were spent in contriving shows for fairs... might with truth have had inscribed upon his stone:— "Here lies the Rival and Antagonist of Dryden."' Pope introduces him in The Dunciad, i. 87, in the description of the Lord Mayor's Show :
Pomps without guilt, of bloodless swords and maces,
Glad chains, warm furs, broad banners and broad faces.
Now night descending the proud scene was o'er,
But lived in Settle's numbers one day more.'
In the third book the ghost of Settle acts the part of guide in the Elysian shade.
'Johnson implies, no doubt, that they were both Americans by birth. Trecothick was in the American trade, but he was not an American. Walpole's Memoirs of the Reign of George III, iii. 184, note. Of Beckford Walpole says:- Under a jovial style of good humour he was tyrannic in Jamaica, his native country.' Ib. iv. 156. He came over to England when young and was educated in Westminster School. Stephens's Horne Tooke, ii. 278. Cowper describes 'a jocular altercation that passed when I was once in the gallery [of the House], between Mr. Rigby and the late Alderman Beckford. The latter was a very incorrect speaker, and the former, I imagine, not a very accurate scholar. He ventured, however, upon a quotation from Terence, and delivered it thus, Sine Scelere et Baccho friget venus. The Alderman interrupted him, was very severe upon his mistake, and restored Ceres to her place in the sentence. Mr. Rigby replied, that he was obliged to his worthy friend for teaching him Latin, and would take the first opportunity to return the favour by teaching him
Old jokes against Scotland.
Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they should choose it. JOHNSON. Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The Scotch would not know it to be barren.' BOSWELL. 'Come, come, he is flattering the English. You have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and drink enough there.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the inhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home.' All these quick and lively sallies were said sportively, quite in jest, and with a smile, which showed that he meant only wit. Upon this topick he and Mr. Wilkes could perfectly assimilate; here was a bond of union between them, and I was conscious that as both of them had visited Caledonia, both were fully satisfied of the strange narrow ignorance of those who imagine that it is a land of famine'. But they amused themselves with persevering in the old jokes. When I claimed a superiority for Scotland over England in one respect, that no man can be arrested there for a debt merely because another swears it against him; but there must first be the judgement of a court of law ascertaining its justice; and that a seizure of the person, before judgement is obtained, can take place only, if his creditor should swear that he is about to fly from the country, or, as it is technically expressed, is in meditatione fuga: WILKES. That, I should think, may be safely sworn of all the Scotch nation.' JOHNSON. (to Mr. Wilkes) 'You must know, Sir, I lately took my friend Boswell and shewed
English.' Southey's Cowper, iii. 317. Lord Chatham, in the House of Lords, said of Trecothick:-'I do not know in office a more upright magistrate, nor in private life a worthier man.' Parl. Hist. xvi. 1101. See post, Sept. 23, 1777.
'Oft have I heard thee mourn the wretched lot
Of the poor, mean, despised, insulted Scot,
Who, might calm reason credit idle tales,
Churchill's Prophecy of Famine, Poems, i. 105.
Old England lost and found.
him genuine civilised life in an English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield, my native city, that he might see for once real civility': for you know he lives among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London.' WILKES. Except when he is with grave, sober, decent people like you and me.' JOHNSON. (smiling) 'And we ashamed of him.'
They were quite frank and easy. Johnson told the story' of his asking Mrs. Macaulay to allow her footman to sit down with them, to prove the ridiculousness of the argument for the equality of mankind; and he said to me afterwards, with a nod of satisfaction, You saw Mr. Wilkes acquiesced.' Wilkes talked with all imaginable freedom of the ludicrous title given to the Attorney-General, Diabolus Regis; adding, 'I have reason to know something about that officer; for I was prosecuted for a libel.' Johnson, who many people would have supposed must have been furiously angry at hearing this talked of so lightly, said not a word. He was now, indeed, a 'good-humoured fellow'.'
After dinner we had an accession of Mrs. Knowles', the Quaker lady, well known for her various talents, and of Mr. Alderman Lee. Amidst some patriotick groans, somebody (I think the Alderman) said, 'Poor old England is lost.' JOHNSON. Sir, it is not so much to be lamented that Old England is lost, as that the Scotch have found it.' WILKES. 'Had Lord Bute governed Scotland only, I should not have taken the trouble to write his eulogy, and dedicate Mortimer to him".'
' For Johnson's praise of Lichfield see ante, March 23, 1776. For the use of the word civility, see ante, ii. 178.
See ante, i. 518.
3 See ante, April 18, 1775.
See post, April 15, 1778.
It would not become me to expatiate on this strong and pointed remark, in which a very great deal of meaning is condensed. Bos
''Mr. Wilkes's second political essay was an ironical dedication to the Earl of Bute of Ben Jonson's play, The Fall of Mortimer. "Let me entreat your Lordship," he wrote, "to assist your friend [Mr. Mur