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effect of this threat was that Johnson reiterated the charge of forgeryo in the most contemptuous terms, and walked about, during some time, with a cudgel, which, if the impostor had not been too wise to en5 counter it, would assuredly have descended upon him, to borrow the sublime language of his own epic poem, 6 like a hammer on the red son of the furnace.” Of other assailants Johnson took no notice what

He had early resolved never to be drawn into 10 controversy; and he adhered to his resolution with

a steadfastness which is the more extraordinary, because he was, both intellectually and morally, of the stuff of which controversialists are made.

In conversation, he was a singularly eager, acute, and 15 pertinacious disputant. When at a loss for good

reasons, he had recourse to sophistry ; and when heated by altercation, he made unsparing use of sarcasm and invective. But when he took his pen

in his hand, his whole character seemed to be changed. 20 A hundred bad writers misrepresented him and re

viled him ; but not one of the hundred could boast of having been thought by him worthy of a refutation, or even of a retort. The Kenricks, Campbells,

MacNicols, and Hendersonso did their best to annoy 25 him, in the hope that he would give them importance by answering them. But the reader will in vain search his works for any allusion to Kenrick or Campbell, to MacNicol or Henderson. One Scotchman, bent on vindicating the fame of Scotch learning, defied him to the combat in a detestable Latin 5 hexameter.

"Maxime, si tu vis, cupio contendere tecum."O

But Johnson took no notice of the challenge. He had learned, both from his own observation and from literary history, in which he was deeply read, that the to place of books in the public estimation is fixed, not by what is written about them, but by what is written in them; and that an author whose works are likely to live is very unwise if he stoops to wrangle with detractors whose works are certain to die.

He always 15 maintained that fame was a shuttlecock which could be kept up only by being beaten back, as well as beaten forward, and which would soon fall if there were only one battledore. No saying was oftener in his mouth than that fine apophthegm of Bentley, that 20 no man was ever written down but by himself.

Unhappily, a few months after the appearance of the Journey to the Hebrides, Johnson did what none of his envious assailants could have done, and to a

certain extent succeeded in writing himself down. The disputes between England and her American colonies had reached a point at which no amicable adjustment was possible. Civil war was evidently 5 impending; and the ministers seem to have thought that the eloquence of Johnson might with advantage be employed to inflame the nation against the opposition here, and against the rebels beyond the Atlantic.

He had already written two or three tracts in defence 10 of the foreign and domestic policy of the government;

and those tracts, though hardly worthy of him, were much superior to the crowd of pamphlets which lay on the counters of Almon and Stockdale. But his

Taxation no Tyrannyo was a pitiable failure. The 15 very title was a silly phrase, which can have been

recommended to his choice by nothing but a jingling alliteration which he ought to have despised. The arguments were such as boys use in debating

societies. The pleasantry was as awkward as the 20 gambols of a hippopotamus. Even Boswell was forced

to own that, in this unfortunate piece, he could detect no trace of his master's powers. The general opinion was that the strong faculties which had produced

the Dictionary and the Rambler were beginning to 2; feel the effect of time and of disease, and that the


old man would best consult his credit by writing no more.

But this was a great mistake. Johnson had failed, not because his mind was less vigorous than when he wrote Rasselas in the evenings of a week, but because 5 he had foolishly chosen, or suffered others to choose for him, a subject such as he would at no time have been competent to treat. He was in no sense a states

He never willingly read or thought or talked about affairs of state. He loved biography, literary 10 history, the history of manners; but political history was positively distasteful to him. The question at issue between the colonies and the mother country was a question about which he had really nothing to say. He failed, therefore, as the greatest men must 15 fail when they attempt to do that for which they are unfit; as Burke would have failed if Burke had tried to write comedies like those of Sheridano; as Reynolds would have failed if Reynolds had tried to paint landscapes like those of Wilson.° Happily, Johnson soon 20 had an opportunity of proving most signally that his failure was not to be ascribed to intellectual decay.

On Easter Eve, 1777, some persons, deputed by a meeting which consisted of forty of the first booksellers in London, called upon him. Though he had 25 some scruples about doing business at that season, he received his visitors with much civility. They came to inform him that a new edition of the English poets, from Cowleyo downwards, was in contemplation, and to 5 ask him to furnish short biographical prefaces. He readily undertook the task, a task for which he was pre-eminently qualified. His knowledge of the literary history of England since the Restoration was unri

valled. That knowledge he had derived partly from 10 books, and partly from sources which had long been

closed; from old Grub Street traditions; from the talk of forgotten poetasters and pamphleteers who had long been lying in parish vaults; from the recol

lections of such men as Gilbert Walmesley, who had 15 conversed with the wits of Buttono; Cibber, who had

mutilated the plays of two generations of dramatists; Orrery, who had been admitted to the society of Swifto; and Savage, who had rendered services of no very hon

ourable kind to Pope. The biographer therefore sate 20 down to his task with a mind full of matter. He had

at first intended to give only a paragraph to every minor poet, and only four or five pages to the greatest

But the flood of anecdote and criticism overflowed the narrow channel. The work, which was 25 originally meant to consist only of a few sheets,


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