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Aetat. 56.]

Mrs. Thrale.

573

entertaining them. He understood and valued Johnson, without remission, from their first acquaintance to the day of his death. Mrs. Thrale was enchanted with Johnson's conversation, for its own sake, and had also a very allowable vanity in appearing to be honoured with the attention of so celebrated a man.

Nothing could be more fortunate for Johnson than this connection'. He had at Mr. Thrale's all the comforts and even luxuries of life; his melancholy was diverted, and his irregular habits lessened' by association with an agreeable and well-ordered family. He was treated with the utmost respect, and even affection. The vivacity of Mrs. Thrale's literary talk roused him to cheerfulness and exertion, even when they were alone. But this was not often the case; for he found here a constant succession of what gave him the highest enjoyment: the society of the learned, the witty, and the eminent in every way, who were assembled in numerous companies”, called forth his wonderful powers, and gratified him with admiration, to which no man could be insensible.

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Johnson wrote to Mrs. Thrale on Oct. 13, 1777 :—'I cannot but think on your kindness and my master's. Life has upon the whole fallen short, very short, of my early expectation; but the acquisition of such a friendship, at an age when new friendships are seldom acquired, is something better than the general course of things gives man a right to expect. . I think on it with great delight; I am not very apt to be delighted.' Piozzi Letters, ii. 7. Johnson's friends suffered from this connection. See post, March 20, 1778, where it is said that ‘at Streatham he was in a great measure absorbed from the society of his old friends.'

• Yet one year he recorded :— March 3, I have never, I thank God, since new year's day deviated from the practice of rising. In this practice I persisted till I went to Mr. Thrale's sometime before Midsummer; the irregularity of that family broke my habit of rising. I was there till after Michaelmas.' Hawkins's Johnson, p. 458, note. Hawkins places this in 1765; but Johnson states (Pr.and Med. p. 71), 'I returned from Streatham, Oct. 1, —66, having lived there more than three months.'

3 Boswell wrote to Temple in 1775:21 am at present in a tourbillon of conversations; but how come you to throw in the Thrales

574

Johnson's SHAKSPEARE published. [A.D. 1765.

In the October of this year' he at length gave to the world his edition of Shakspeare", which, if it had no other merit but that of producing his Preface', in which the excellencies and defects of that immortal bard are displayed with a masterly hand, the nation would have had no reason to complain. A blind indiscriminate admiration of Shakspeare had exposed the British nation to the ridicule of foreigners'. Johnson, by

among the Reynoldses and the Beauclerks? Mr. Thrale is a worthy, sensible man, and has the wits much about his house ; but he is not one himself. Perhaps you mean Mrs. Thrale.' Letters of Boswell, p. 192. Murphy (Life, p. 141) says :— It was late in life before Johnson had the habit of mixing, otherwise than occasionally, with polite company. At Mr. Thrale's he saw a constant succession of well-accomplished visitors. In that society he began to wear off the rugged points of his own character. The time was then expected when he was to cease being what George Garrick, brother to the celebrated actor, called him the first time he heard him converse, " A TREMENDOUS COMPANION."'

· Johnson wrote to Dr. Warton on Oct. 9:— Mrs. Warton uses me hardly in supposing that I could forget so much kindness and civility as she showed me at Winchester.' Wooll's Warton, p. 309. Malone on this remarks: • It appears that Johnson spent some time with that gentleman at Winchester in this year.' I believe that Johnson is speaking of the year 1762, when, on his way to Devonshire, he passed two nights in that town. See Taylor's Reynolds, i. 214.

It was in 1745 that he published his Observations on Macbeth, as a specimen of his projected edition (ante, p. 202). In 1756 he issued Proposals undertaking that his work should be published before Christmas, 1757 (p. 369). On June 21, 1757, he writes :—I am printing my new edition of Shakspeare' (p. 373). On Dec. 24 of the same year he says, 'I shall publish about March' (p. 375). On March 8, 1758, he writes :-* It will be published before summer. ... I have printed many of the plays' (p. 379). In June of the same year Langton took some of the plays to Oxford (p. 390). Churchill's Ghost (Parts 1 and 2) was published in the spring of 1762 (p. 370). On July 20, 1762, Johnson wrote to Baretti, ‘I intend that you shall soon receive Shakspeare' (p. 427). In October 1765 it was published.

According to Mr. Seward (Anec. ii. 464), · Adam Smith styled it the most manly piece of criticism that was ever published in any country.' George III, at all events, did not share in this blind admiration.

candidly

Aetat. 56.]

Praise of Shakspeare.

575

candidly admitting the faults of his poet, had the more credit in bestowing on him deserved and indisputable praise; and doubtless none of all his panegyrists have done him half so much honour. Their praise was, like that of a counsel, upon his own side of the cause: Johnson's was like the grave, wellconsidered, and impartial opinion of the judge, which falls from his lips with weight, and is received with reverence. What he did as a commentator has no small share of merit, though his researches were not so ample, and his investigations so acute as they might have been, which we now certainly know from the labours of other able and ingenious criticks who have followed him'. He has enriched his edition with a concise account of each play, and of its characteristick excellence. Many of his notes have illustrated obscurities in the text, and placed passages eminent for beauty in a more conspicuous light; and he has in general exhibited such a mode of annotation, as may be beneficial to all subsequent editors'.

Was there ever,' cried he, “such stuff as great part of Shakespeare ? only one must not say so. But what think you? What? Is there not sad stuff? What? What ?' · Yes, indeed, I think so, Sir, though mixed with such excellencies that—' 'O!' cried he, laughing goodhumouredly, 'I know it is not to be said ! but it's true. Only it's Shakespeare, and nobody dare abuse him.' Mme. D'Arblay's Diary,

ii. 398.

" That Johnson did not slur his work, as has been often said, we have the best of all evidence-his own word. “I have, indeed,' he writes (Works, V. 152), 'disappointed no opinion more than my own; yet I have endeavoured to perform my task with no slight solicitude. Not a single passage in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt , which I have not attempted to restore; or obscure which I have not attempted to illustrate.'

* Steevens wrote to Garrick :—To say the truth, the errors of Warburton and Johnson are often more meritorious than such corrections of them as the obscure industry of Mr. Farmer and myself can furnish. Disdaining crutches, they have sometimes had a fall; but it is my duty to remember, that I, for my part, could not have kept on my legs at all without them.' Garrick Corres. ii. 130. Johnson's preface and notes are distinguished by clearness of thought and diction, and by masterly common sense.' Cambridge Shakespeare, i. xxxvi.

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Dr. Kenrick.

(A.D. 1765.

His Shakspeare was virulently attacked by Mr. William Kenrick, who obtained the degree of LL.D. from a Scotch University, and wrote for the booksellers in a great variety of branches. 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 known'.'

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 died'.

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,

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'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, i. 294. 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 endorsed :-*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.'

' Ephraim Chambers, in the epitaph that he made for himself (ante, P. 253, note 3), had described himself as multis pervulgatus paucis notus.' Gent. Mag. X. 262.

* See Boswell's Hebrides, Oct. 1, 1773.

• 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

made

Aetat. 56.)

Voltaire's attack on Johnson.

577

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'.

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 overlooks 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. 503, 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 vin; mais je trouve un peu extraordinaire qu'il compte la bouffonnerie et l'ivrognerie parmi les beautés du théâtre tragique; la raison qu'il en donne n'est pas moins singulière. Le poète, dit-il, dédaigne ces distinctions accidentelles de conditions et de pays, comme un peintre qui, content d'avoir peint la figure, néglige la draperie. La comparaison serait plus juste, s'il parlait d'un peintre qui, dans un sujet noble, introduirait des grotesques ridicules, peindrait dans la bataille d'Arbelles Alexandrele-Grand monté sur un âne, et la femme de Darius buvant avec des goujats dans un cabaret.' Johnson, perhaps, had this attack in mind 1.-37

Voltaire

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