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a few notes, sold them to the booksellers for a small 1784. sum to be given to some of Johnson's relations, which
Ætat. 75. was accordingly done; and they are printed in the collection of his works.
A very erroneous notion has circulated as to Johnson's deficiency in the knowledge of the Greek language, partly owing to the modesty with which, from knowing how much there was to be learnt, he used to mention his own comparative acquisitions. When Mr. Cumberland? talked to him of the Greek fragments which are so well illustrated in " The Observer,” and of the Greek dramatists in general, he candidly acknowledged his insufficiency in that particular branch of Greek literature. Yet it
be said, that though not a great, he was a good Greek scholar.' Dr. Charles Burney, the younger, who is
i universally acknowledged by the best judges, to be one of the few men of this age who are very eminent for their skill in that noble language, has assured me, that Johnson could give a Greek word for almost every English one; and that although not sufficiently conversant in the niceties of the language, he, upon some occasions discovered, even in these, a considerable degree of critical acumen. Mr. Dalzel, Professor of Greek at Edinburgh, whose skill in it is unquestionable, mentioned to me, in
liberal terms, the impression which was made upon him by Johnson, in a conversation which they had in London concerning that language. As Johnson, therefore,
7 Mr. Cumberland assures me, that he was always treated with great courtesy by Dr. Johnson, who, in his Letters to Mrs. Thrale," Vol. II. p. 68, thus speaks of that learned, ingenious, and accomplished gentleman : “ The want of company is an in convenience, but Mr. Cumberland is a million.".
1784. was undoubtedly one of the first Latin scholars in
modern times, let us not deny to his fame some adÆtat, 75.
ditional splendour from Greek.
I shall now fulfil my promise of exhibiting specimens of various sorts of imitation of Johnson's s'yle.
In the “ Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 1787," there is an “ Essay on the Style of Dr. Samuel Johnson,” by the Reverend Robert Burrows, whose respect for the great object of his criticism is thus evinced in the concluding paragraph: I have singled him out from the whole body of English writers, because his universally acknowledged beauties would be most apt to induce imitation ; and I have treated rather on his faults, than his perfections, because an essay might comprize all the observations I could make upon his faults, while volumes would not be sufficient for a treatise on his perfections."
MR. BURRowes has analysed the composition of Johnson, and pointed out its peculiarities with muck acuteness ; and I would recommend a careful peru, sal of his Essay to those, who being captivated by the union of perspicuity and splendour which the writings of Johnson contain, without having a sufficient portion of his vigour of mind, may be in danger of becoming bad copyists of his manner. I, however, cannot but observe, and I observe it to his credit, that this learned gentleman has himself caught no
We must smile at a little inaccuracy of metaphor in the Preface to the Transactions, which is written by Mr. Burrowes. The critick of the style of Jonson having, with a just zeal for liferature, observed, that the whole pation are called on to exert them. şelves, afterwards says: “ They are called on by every tye which can have a laudable influence on the heart of man."
mean degree of the expansion and harmony, which, independent of all other circumstances, characterise
Ætat. 75' the sentences of Johnson. Thus, in the Preface to the volume in which the Essay appears, we find, “ If it be said that in societies of this sort, too much attention is frequently bestowed on subjects barren and speculative, it may be answered, that no one science is so little connected with the rest, as not to afford many principles whose use may extend considerably beyond the science to which they primarily belong; and that no proposition is so purely theoretical as to be totally incapable of being applied to practical purposes. There is no apparent connection between duration and the cycloidal arch, the properties of which duly attended to, have furnished us with our best regulated methods of measuring time: and he who has made himself master of the nature and affections of the logarithmick curve, is not aware that he has advanced considerably towards ascertaining the proportionable density of the air at its various distances from the surface of the earth."
The ludicrous imitators of Johnson's style are innumerable. Their general method is to accumulate hard words, without considering, that, although he was fond of introducing them occasionally, there is not a single sentence in all his writings where they are crowded together, as in the first verse of the fol. lowing imaginary Ode by him to Mrs. Thrale, which appeared in the newspapers:
9 Johnson's wishing to unite himself with this rich widow, was much talked of, but I believe without foundation. The report, however, gave occasion to a poem, not without characteristical merit, entitled, “Ode to Mrs. Thrale, by Samuel Johnson, LL.D. on their supposed approaching Nuptials ; " printed for Mr. Paulder,
« Cervisial coctor's viduate dame,
Opins't thou his gigantick fame,
Shall, catenated by thy charms,
“ Perennially be thine?”
This, and a thousand other such attempts, are totally unlike the original, which the writers imagined they were turning into ridicule. There is not similarity enough for burlesque, or even for caricature.
Mr. COLMAN, in his “Prose on several occasions," has “ A Letter from LEXIPHANES ; containing Proposals for a Glossary or Vocabulary of the Vulgar Tongue: intended as a Supplement to a larger DicTIONARY.” It is evidently meant as a sportive sally of ridicule on Johnson, whose style is thus imitated, without being grossly overcharged. foresee, that the idle and illiterate will complain that
“ It is easy to I have increased their labours by endeavouring to 1784. diminish them; and that I have explained what is
in Bond-street.--I shall quote as a specimen, the first three stan•
“ If e'er my fingers touch'd the lyre,
« In satire fierce, in pleasure gay ; Shall not my Thralia's smiles inspire ?
“ Shall Sam refuse the sportive lay?
My dearest Lady! view your slave,
“ To rich felicity thus raised,
“ My bosom glows with amorous fire " Porter no longer shall be praised,
« 'Tis I MYSELF am Thrale's Entire."
Ætat. 75. more easy by what is more difficult ignotum per ignotius. I expect, on the other hand, the liberal acknowledgements of the learned. He who is buried in scholastick retirement, secluded from the assemblies of the gay, and remote from the circles of the polite, will at once comprehend the definitions, and be grateful for such a seasonable and necessary elucidation of his mother tongue.” Annexed to this letter is a short specimen of the work, thrown together in a vague and desultory manner, not even adhering to alphabetical concatenation.
The serious imitators of Johnson's style, whether intentionally or by the imperceptible effect of its strength and animation, are, as I have had already occasion to observe, so many, that I might introduce quotations from a numerous body of writers in our language, since he appeared in the literary world. I shall point out the following:
WILLIAM ROBERTSON, D. D.
“ In other parts of the globe, man, in his rudest state, appears as Lord of the creation, giving law to
Higledy piggledy,--Conglomeration and confusion.
Hodge-podge, -A culinary mixture of heterogeneous ingredients : applied metaphorically to all discordant combinations,
“ Tit for Tat, - Adequate retaliation.
Rigmarole,-Discourse, incoherent and rhapsodical,
“ Ding dong ,—Tintinaqulary chimes, used metaphorically to ignify dispatch and vehemence.”.