Produced by Jonathan Ingram, Jayam Subramanian and PG
DR. JOHNSON’S WORKS.
LIVES OF THE POETS.
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
IN NINE VOLUMES.
VOLUME THE SEVENTH.
CONTENTS OF THE SEVENTH VOLUME.
THE LIVES OF THE ENGLISH POETS.
Sheffield, duke of Buckinghamshire
THE LIVES OF THE POETS.
Such was the simple and unpretending advertisement that announced the
Lives of the English Poets; a work that gave to the British nation a new
style of biography. Johnson’s decided taste for this species of writing,
and his familiarity with the works of those whose lives he has recorded,
peculiarly fitted him for the task; but it has been denounced by some as
dogmatical, and even morose; minute critics have detected inaccuracies;
the admirers of particular authors have complained of an insufficiency
of praise to the objects of their fond and exclusive regard; and the
political zealot has affected to decry the staunch and unbending
champion of regal and ecclesiastical rights. Those, again, of high and
imaginative minds, who “lift themselves up to look to the sky of poetry,
and far removed from the dull-making cataract of Nilus, listen to the
planet-like music of poetry;” these accuse Johnson of a heavy and
insensible soul, because he avowed that nature’s “world was brazen, and
that the poets only delivered a golden.”
But in spite of the censures of political opponents, private friends,
and angry critics, it will be acknowledged, by the impartial, and
by every lover of virtue and of truth, that Johnson’s honest heart,
penetrating mind, and powerful intellect, has given to the world
memoirs fraught with what is infinitely more valuable than mere verbal
criticism, or imaginative speculation; he has presented, in his Lives of
the English Poets, the fruits of his long and careful examination of men
and manners, and repeated in his age, with the authoritative voice of
experience, the same dignified lessons of morality, with which he
had instructed his readers in his earlier years. And if these lives
contained few merits of their own, they confessedly amended the
criticism of the nation, and opened the path to a more enlarged and
liberal style of biography than had, before their publication, appeared.
The bold manner in which Johnson delivered what he believed to be the
truth, naturally provoked hostile attack, and we are not prepared to
say, that, in many instances, the strictures passed upon him might not
be just. We will call the attention of our readers to some few of the
charges brought against the work now before us, and then leave it to
their candid and unbiased judgment to decide, whether the deficiencies
pointed out are but as dust in the balance, when brought to weigh
against the sterling excellence with which this last and greatest
production of our Moralist abounds.
He has been accused of indulging a spirit of political animosity, of an