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On a subsequent occasion, he said, " I was angry with Hurd about Cowley, for having published a selection of his works; but, upon better consideration, I think there is no impropriety in a man's publishing as much as he chooses of any author, if he does not put the rest out of the way. A man, for instance, may print the odes of Horace alone." He now seemed to be in a more indulgent homour than when this subject was discussed between him and Mr. Murphy.
Johnson one day gave high praise to Dr. Bentley's verses in Dodsley's collection, which he recited with his usual energy. Dr. Adam Smith, who was present, observed, in his decisive professorial manner, “ Very well—very well.” JOHNSON. “ Yes, they are very well, sir; but you may observe in what manner they are well. They are the forcible verses of a man of a strong mind, but not accustomed to write verse ; for there is some cucoathness in the expression.”
Boswell related a dispute between Goldsmith and Mr. Robert Dodsley, one day when they and he were dining at Tom Davies's, in 1762. Goldsmith asserted, that there was no poetry produced in this age. Dodsley appealed to his own Collection, and maintained, that though you could not find a palace like Dryden's Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, you had vil. lages composed of very pretty houses; and he mentioned particularly, The Spleen.” JOHNSON. “I think Dodsley gave up the question. He aud Goldsmith said the same thing; only he said it in a softer maimer than Goldsmith did; for he acknowledged that there was no poetry, nothing that towered above the common mark. You may find wit
and humour in verse, and yet no poetry. Hudibras has a profusion of these ; yet it is not to be reckoned a poem. The Spleen, in Dodsley's collection, on which you say he chiefly rested, is not poetry." Boswell.. “ Does not Gray's poetry, sir, tower above the common mark ?" JOHNSON. “ Yes, sir; but we must attend to the difference between what men in general cannot do if they would, and what every man may do if he would. Sixteen-string Jack towered above the common mark.” BosweLL. " Then, sir, what is poetry?” JOHNSON. “ Why, sir, it is much easier to say what it is not. We all know what light is, but it is not easy to tell what it is."
Boswell. “You have read Cibber's Apology, sir?" JOHNSON. “Yes, it is very entertaining; but, as for Cibber himself, taking from his conversation all that he ought not to have said, he was a poor creature. I-reinember, when he brought me one of his odes, to have my opinion of it, I could not bear such nonsense, and would not let him read it to the end; so little respect had I for that great man! (laughing.) Yet, I remember Richardson wondering that I could treat him with familiarity."
Apother time : “ Colley Cibber, sir, was by no means a block head; but, by arrogating to himself too niych, he was in danger of losing that degree of estimation to which he was entitled. His friends gave out that he intended his Birth-day Odes should be bad; but that was not the case, sir; for he kept them many months by him, and, a few years before he died, he showed me one of them, with great solicitude to render it as perfect as might be; and I made some corrections, to which he was not very willing to submit. I remember the following couplets in allusion to the king and himself:
Ferch'd on the eagle's soaring wing,
Şir, he had heard something of the fabulous tale of the wren sitting upon the eagle's wing, and he bad applied it to a linnet. Cibber's familiar style, however, was better than that which Whitehead has assumed. Grand nonsense is insupportable. Whitehead is but a little man to inscribe verses to players.
Sir, I do not think Gray a first-rate poet. He has not a bold imagination, nor much command of words. The obscurity in which he has involved himself will not persuade us that he is sublime. His Elegy in a Church.Yard has a happy selection of images, but I don't like what are called his great things. His ode, which begins
Ruin seize thee, ruthless king!
Confusion on thy banners w uit!
has been celebrated for its abruptness, and plungiug into the subject all at once. But such arts as these have no merit, unless when they are original. We admire them only once; and this abruptness, has nothing new in it: nay, we have it in the old song of Johnny Armstrong :
Is there ever a man in all Scotland,
From the highest estate to the lowest degree, &c.
And thep, sir,
Yes, there is a man in Westmoreland,
And Johnny Armstrong they do him call.
There now, you plunge at once into the subject. You have no previous narration to lead you to it.The two next lines in that ode are, I think, very good :
Though, fann'd by conquest's crimson wing,
They mock the air with idle state.”
Bopnell Thornton had just published a burlesque Ode on St. Cecilia's Day, adapted to the ancient British music, viz. the salt-box, the Jew's harp, the marrow-bones and cleaver, the humstrum or hurdygurdy, &c. Johnson praised its humour, and seemed much diverted with it. He repeated the following passage :
In strains more exalted the salt-box shall join,
* “ In 1769, I set for Smart and Newbury, Thornton's burlesque Ode on St. Cecilia's day. It was performed at Ranelagh in masks, to a very crowded audience, as I was told ; for I then resided in Norfolk. Beard sung the saltbox song, which was admirably accompanied on that ins
He told Boswell he had often looked into the poems of a pretty voluminous writer, Mr. (now Dr.) John Ogilvie, one of the Presbyterian ministers of Scotland, which had lately come out, but could fiud no thinking in them. BOSWELL. “ Is there not imagination in then, sir? JOHNSON. “ Why, sir, there is in them what was imagination ; but it is no more imagination in him, thay sound is sound in the echo : and his diction too is not his own, We have long ago seen white-robed innocence, and flower-be. spangled meads."
He said : “ Thomson, I think, had as much of the poet about him as most writers. Every thing appeared to him through the medium of his fa. vourite pursuit. He could not have viewed those two candles burning but with a poetical eye,"
Another time: “ Thomson had a true poetical genius, the power of viewing every thing in a poetical light. His fault is such a cloud of words sometimes, that the sense can hardly peep through."
Buchanan, he said, was a very fine poet ; and observed, that he was the first who complimented a lady, by ascribing to her the different perfections of the heathen goddesses; but that Johnston im. proved upon this, by making his lady at the same time free from their defects. He dwelt upon Ba. chavan's elegant verses to Mary queen of Scots,
strument by Brent, the fencing-master, and father of Miss Brent, the celebrated singer; Skeggs on the broomstick, as bassoon ; and a remarkable performer on the Jew's-harp.• Buzzing twangs the iron lyre.' Cleavers were cast in bell. metal for this entertainment. All the performers of the old woman's oratory, employed by Foove, were, I believe, emaployed at Ranelagh on this occasion."-Burney.