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ten thousand pounds : but then he has only one ten-guinea piece. What I mean is, that you can shew me no passage where there is simply a description of material objects, without any intermixture of moral notions, which produces such an effect.' A few days later, in conversation with Boswell, he again talked of the passage in Congreve, and said, 'Shakespeare never has six lines together without a fault. Perhaps you may find seven, but this does not refute my general assertion. If I come to an orchard, and say there's no fruit here, and then comes a poring man, who finds two apples and three pears, and tells me, “Sir, you are mistaken, I have found both apples and pears," I should laugh at him : what would that be to the purpose ?' Johnson is not attacking Shakespeare ; he is assuming his greatness, and helping to define it by combating popular follies. He knew well that Shakespeare towers above the greatest writers of the correct school. Corneille is to Shakespeare,' he once said, “as a clipped hedge is to a forest.' But he had small patience with the critics who would have everything for their idol, and who claimed for the forest all the symmetry and neatness of the hedge. "These fellows,' he said, “know not how to blame, nor how to commend.'
In these and suchlike passages we hear Johnson talking in language suitable enough for a literary club. There is nothing sectarian about his praise ; he speaks as an independent man of letters, and will not consent to be sealed of the tribe of Shakespeare. Modern criticism is seldom so free and intimate ; it has more the tone of public exposition and laudation; it seeks to win souls to Shakespeare's poetry, and, for fear of misunderstanding, avoids the mention of his faults. It is always willing to suppose that Shakespeare had good and sufficient reason for what he wrote, and seldom permits itself the temerity of Johnson, who points out, for instance, what decency and probability require in the closing Act of All's Well that Ends Well, and adds : Of all this Shakespeare could not be ignorant, but Shakespeare wanted to conclude his play.'
It would not be difficult to show that much new light has been thrown on parts of Shakespeare's work by the more reverential treatment. Yet perhaps it has obscured as much as it has elucidated. So fixed a habit of appreciation is the death of individuality and taste. Discipleship is a necessary stage in the study of any great poet; it is not a necessary qualification of the mature critic. The acclamation of his following is not so honourable a tribute to a prize-fighter as the respect of his antagonist. In a certain sense Johnson was antagonistic to Shakespeare. His own taste in tragedy may be learned from his note on the scene between Queen Katherine and her attendants at the close of Act IV of Henry VIII: “This scene is, above any other part of Shakespeare's tragedies, and perhaps above any scene of any other poet, tender and pathetick, without gods, or furies, or poisons, or precipices, without the help of romantick circumstances, without improbable sallies of poetical lamentation, and without any throes of tumultuous misery.' But although this describes the kind of drama that Johnson preferred, he can praise, in words that have become a commonplace of criticism, the wildness of romance in The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and can enumerate and admire the touches of judgement and genius' which add horror to the incantation of the witches in Macbeth. Like all great critics, he can understand the excellences of opposite kinds. Indeed, in his defence of Shakespeare's neglect of the unities he passes over to the side of the enemy, and almost becomes a romantic.1
The history of Shakespeare criticism would be shorter than it is if Johnson's views on the emendation of the text had been more extensively adopted. “It has been my settled principle,' he says, 'that the reading of the ancient books is probably true, and therefore is not to be disturbed for the sake of elegance, perspicuity, or mere improvements of the sense. . . . As I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it less ; and after I had printed a few plays, resolved to insert none of my own readings in the text. Upon this caution I now congratulate myself, for every day encreases my doubt of my emendations. A good
· The transformation was completed after his death. I am indebted to Mr. W. P. Ker for pointing out to me that Henri Beyle in his Racine et Shakespeare (1822) translates all that Johnson says on the unities, and appropriates it as the manifesto of the young romantics. “But he told not them that he had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion.'
part of his work on the text consisted in restoring the original readings in place of the plausible conjectures of Pope and Warburton. Yet he sometimes pays to their readings a respect which he would not challenge for his own, and retains them in the text. He adopts Warburton's famous reading in the speech of Hamlet to Polonius: If the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion '-and remarks on it, “ This is a noble emendation, which almost sets the critick on a level with the authour.' Admiration for Warburton's ingenuity caused him to break his own rule, which is sound, and should never be broken. The original reading—' a good kissing carrion '-has a meaning; and therefore, on Johnson's principle, should stand. Its meaning, moreover, is better suited to Hamlet and to Shakespeare than the elaborate mythological argument implied in Warburton's emendation. If the good kissing carrion' be understood by the common analogy of 'good drinking water' or 'good eating apples ', the grimness of the thought exactly falls in with Hamlet's utter disaffection to humanity. Conception is a blessing, but not as your daughter may conceive.' To bring the amended reading into relation with Hamlet's thought Warburton is compelled to write a most elaborate disquisition ; and Johnson might have remembered and applied his own warning: 'I have always suspected that the reading is right, which requires many words to prove it wrong ;
and the emendation wrong, that cannot without so much labour appear to be right.'
Johnson's treatment of his predecessors and rivals is uniformly generous ; he never attempts to raise his own credit on their mistakes and extravagance. Once, when a lady at Miss Hannah More's house talked of his preface to Shakespeare as superior to Pope's: 'I fear not, Madam,' said he, 'the little fellow has done wonders.' Hanmer he speaks of as ' a man, in my opinion, eminently qualified by nature for such studies.' Warburton was fated to suffer at his hands more than any other commentator, but it is plain from the Preface that he had a grateful remembrance of Warburton's kindness to the early Observations on Macbeth. 'He praised me,' Johnson once said, 'at a time when praise was of value to me.' Such praise Johnson never forgot ; but he did not allow it to bias his work as a critic. It may be said that he unduly exalts Warburton at the expense of Theobald (* O, Sir, he'd make two-and-fifty Theobalds, cut into slices'), but it was not only personal gratitude which dictated that judgement. Theobald was, , without doubt, a better scholar and a better editor than Warburton : there can be no question which of the two has done more for the text of Shakespeare. But Warburton was a man of large general powers, who wrote an easy and engaging style. His long, fantastic, unnecessary notes on Shakespeare are, almost without exception, good reading; which is more than can be said of Theobald's. Johnson's regard for the dignity of letters made him too severe on one who was destitute of the literary graces.