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ESTIMATE of Dr. JOHNSON's CRITICAL ABILITIES.
[From an ESSAY on his LIFE,
R Tyers fays of Dr. Johnfon, that he was fitted by nature for a critic." That he had great powers of discrimination, and often difplayed great critical abilities, mut be acknowledged: but it is at the fame time true, that his criticifins were very far from being always juft. It may, perhaps, be doubted, whether his various perfonal and fyftematical prejudices did not, in a confiderable degree, difqualify him, at leaft in many inftances, for properly discharging the office of a judicious and impartial critic. His decifions feem to have been received with too implicit a reverence by his friends and admirers. Whatever the conceptions of Johnfon were, he could exprefs them with acutenefs and with vigour; and his criticisms were often rendered important, not by the juftnefs of the remarks which they contained, but by the ftrength of the language in which they were delivered. In his Lives of the Poets, he has not done juftice to the productions of Hammod, Gay, or Akenfide; and his rude and arrogant criticifms on the fublime odes of Gray, can be perufed by a reader of true poetical taffe only with difguft, Nor do Johnson's remarks on Milton's Ly. cidas do any honour to his critical abilities. Few men of real taste have been infenfible of its beauties; and Dr. Jofeph Warton obferves, that as Addifon fays, that he who defires to know whether he has a true tafte for history or not, fhould confider whether he is pleaf ed with Livy's manner of telling a
CHARACTER, and WRITINGS.]
ftory; fo, perhaps it may be faid, that he who withes to know whether he has a true tafie for poetry or not, fhould confider, whether he is highly delighted or not with the perufal of Milton's Lycidas." But Dr. Johnfon is of fo different an opinion, that, after a variety of ill-grounded strictures on this piece, he fays, "Surely no man could have fancied that he read Lycidas with pleafure had he not known its author.
"He appears to have had a very unreasonable and ill-founded averfion to blank verfe, and a great diflike to paftoral poetry. He had, indeed, little tafte for rural fcenes: and when he travelled through France with Mr. Thrale, would not even look out of the windows of the carriage, to view the face of the country; and feemed to think the most pleafing profpects unworthy of his attention. Such a man, therefore, could no: be expected to have a very high relith for those poetical compofitions, in which the beauties of nature are described; nor could it reafonably be expected that of fuch compofitions he would be a judicious and impartial critic.
"His life of Dr. Watts is written with great candour; and, perhaps, he might be the more inclined to do juftice to that ingenious divine, though a Diffenter, not only from refpect for his piety, but alfo from fome grateful remembrance of the affittance which he had received from his works, in the compilation of his Dictionary. He has many quotations from Warts, and has incorporated into his Dictionary
tionary not a few of the difinitions which occur in the Logic of that writer. Mr. Courtenay, in the notes to his "Poetical Review of the literary and moral Character of Dr. Johníon," has given eight lines from Watts's poems as a fufficient fpecimen to enable the reader to judge of his poetical merit. But furely to felect a few of the worst lines of an author, who wrote fo much as Dr. Watts did, is not a very candid method of eftimating his merit. If Mr. Courtenay, inftead of the lines which he has felected, had given Dr. Watts's Ode to Lady Sunderland, its elegance and beauty would have been acknowledged by every reader of tafte.
"The Life of Dr. Young, which is inferted among Dr. Johnfon's biographical Prefaces, but of which he was avowedly not the author, is not favourably written. There is in it much zeal for the honour of Dr. Young's fun, who appears, indeed, to have been injuriously treated; but too little regard for the honour of the father. Young had great weakneffes; but he had alfo confiderable virtues, and great literary merit. In the life, however, which is given of him in this collection, his foibles are much more laboriously displayed than his excellencies; and if the fon of Dr. Young be as dutiful as he is reprefented, which I am willling to believe, he cannot be much pleafed at the account which is given of his father in the Liyes of the Poets. Young is, indeed, juftly cenfured for the many instances of adulation which occur in his writings; and his anxiety for preferment was unworthy of his character. But, in other refpects, he is treated with too much ieverity;
and his great work, the Night Thoughts, furely deferved to be fpoken of in better terms than thofe of "the mournful, angry, gloomy Night Thoughts." In justice to the writer of the life of Young, it fhould, however, be observed. that in other places he files the Night Thoughts "extraordinary poems,' and ornaments to our language;' and that in fome parts of this life the ftyle and manner of Johnfon are very happily imitated.
"The principal fault of Johnson, as a biographical writer, feems to have been, too great a propenfity to introduce injurious reflections againft men of refpectable character, and to ftate facts unfavourable to their memory, on flight and infuificient grounds. Biographical it ers in general, are charged wi h the contrary fault, too great a p rtiality in favour of the perons whose lives they undertake to relate. Impartiality fhould certainly be aimed at; and the truth should be given, when it can be obtained. But truth, at left the whole truth, is often not attainable; and, in doubtful cafes, candour and equity feem to dictate that it is beft to err on the favourable fide. No benefit can be derived to the interests either of virtue, or of learning, by inju ious reprefentations of men eminent for genius and literature."
"Notwithstanding the errors, and inftances of partiality and mitreprefentation, which occafionally occur in the Lives of the Po ets, they contain fo many accurate and juft obfervations on human nature, fuch original and curious remarks on various literary fubjects, and abound with fo many beau ies of ftyle, that they cannot be perufed by any reader of talle without a great degree of pleafure.
of refpectable characters of diffe rent fects and parties. It was this impartiality which gave offence to Dr. Johnfon.
fides their general merit as compo-
"His Review of Dr. Blackwell's Memoirs of the court of Auguftus, which is printed in Davies's collection, is written with great afperity. Blackwell's fiyle was indeed, in fome refpects, liable to juft exceptions; but it feems fufficiently evident, that the high fentiments of liberty, which are difplayed in Blackwell's book, was a principal caufe of the extreme feverity with which Dr. Johnfon treated him. The Differtation on the Epitaphs of Pope, contains many juft obfervations but few compofitions of this kind will stand the test of fo rigorous a mode of criticifm.
"He could not endure even a tolerable degree of moderation in a writer, when political characters or topics were the fubject of dif cuffion. He spoke of Mr. Granger in abufive terms to Mr. Bofwell, as being a Whig; though the fact was, that if Mr. Granger had any political prejudices, they were rather on the Tory fide. But Mr. Granger was a very amiable man, and poffeffed much candour and ingenuoufnefs of difpofition. He was, therefore inclined to do juftice to those who differed from him either in politics or religion; and this moderation led him to fpeak well
"The style of Johnfon appear fuired to his peculiar character, and mode of thinking. It feems too learned for common readers; and, on the first publication of his Ramblers, many complaints were made of the frequent recurrence of hard words in thofe effays. It was with a view to this accufation against him, that he wrote that effay in the Idler, which contains a defence of the ufe of hard words, and in which he remarks, that “ every author does not write for every reader." He was not ambitious of illiterate readers, and was willing to refign them to thofe writers whole productions were better adapted to their capacities. "Difference of thoughts," fays he, "will produce difference of language. He that thinks with larger extent than another, will want words of larger meaning. He that thinks more fubtilty will feek for terms of more nice difcrimination." It is certain, that paffages fometimes occur in his writings, which are not very intel-, ligible to ordinary readers. Thus, in the preface to his Dictionary, he puts the following question.""
"When the radical idea branch. es out into parallel ramifications, how can a confecutive feries be formed of fenfes in their nature collateral?"
"He was occafionally fond of antithefis and alliteration; and his periods are fometimes too artificial, and his phrafe too remote from the ordinary idiom of our language. But, notwithstanding the peculiarity of his ftyle, he has feldom made ufe of words not to be found in preceding writers. "When com mon
mon words," fays he, "were lefs pleafing to the ear, or lefs diftinct in their fignification, I have familiarized the terms of philofophy by applying them to known objects and popular ideas; but rarely admitted any word not authorized by former writers." He confidered himfelf as having contributed to the improvement of the English language. He fays in his laft Rambler, "I have laboured to refine our language to grammatical purity, and to clear it from colloquial
barbarifms, licentious idioms, and irregular combinations. Something perhaps, I have added to the ele gance of its construction, and fomething to the harmony of its cadence." Whatever may be the faults of his flyle, it has certainly great ftrength and great dignity, and his periods are often highly polifhed; and, perhaps, it wold be difficult to point out any of his contemporaries, by whom the Englifh language was written with equal energy."
OBSERVATIONS on the SULPHUR WELLS at HARROGATE, made in July and Auguft, 1725. By the Right Rev, RICHARD, Lord Billop of LANDAFF, F. R. S.
[From the LXXVI. Volume of the PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS.]
"N 1733, when Dr. Short first published his treatife on Mineral Waters, there were only three fulphur wells at Harrogate; there are now four. I made fome enquiry refpecting the time and occa fion of making the fourth well, and received the following account from an old man, who was himfelf principally concerned in the tranfaction. About forty years ago, a perfon, who, by leafe from the earl of Burlington, had acquired a right of fearching for minerals in the foreft of Knaresborough, made a fhew as if he had a real intention of digging for coal, on the very fpot where the three fulphur wells were fituated. This attempt alarmed the apprehenfions of the innkeepers and others at Harrogate, who were inter fted in the prefervation of the wells: they gave him what legal oppofition they could, and all the illegal that they durft. At length, for the fum of one hundred pounds, which they raised among themfelves, the difpute was compromifed, and the defign, real or pretended, of digging for coal was abandoned. Sulphur water, however, had rifen up where he had begun to dig. They inclofed the place with a little ftone edifice, and putting down a bafon, made a fourth well. By a claufe in the act of Parliament for inclofing Knarefborough forest, paffed in 1770,
it is rendered unlawful for any perfon whatever, to fink any pit, or dig any quarry or mine, whereby the medicinal fprings or waters at Harrogate may be damaged or polluted; fo that no attempts of the kind above mentioned need be apprehended in future.
"This fourth well is that which is nearest to one of the barns of the Crown Inn, being about ten yards diftant from it. In digging a few years fince, the foundation of that barn, they met with fulphur water in feveral places. At a very little diftance from the four wells there are two others of the fame kind; one in the yard of the Halfmoon Inn, difcovered in digging for common water in 1783, and another which breaks out on the fide of the rivulet below that Inn. On the banks of that rivulet I faw feveral other fulphureous fprings : they are easily diftinguifhed by the blackness of the earth over which they flow.
"On the declivity of a hill, about a quarter of a mile to the west of the fulphur wells at Harrogate, there is a bog which has been formed by the rotting of wood: the earth of the rotten wood is in fome places four feet in thicknefs, and there is a ftratum confifting of clay and fmall loofe decaying fand-tones, every where under it. The hill a bove is of grit-ftone. In this bog