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which you lay so great a stress, was not the desideratum in Johnson's virtue. He was no cold moralist; it was obedience, meekness, and universal benevolence, whose absence from his heart, driven away by the turbulent fierceness and jealousy of his unbridled passions, filled with so much horror the darkness of the grave. Those glowing aspirations in religion, which are termed enthusiasm, cannot be rationally considered as a test of its truth. Every, religion has had its martyrs. I verily believe Johnson would have stood that trial for a system to whose precepts he yet disdained to bend his proud and stubborn heart. How different from his was the death-bed of that sweet Excellence, whom he abused at Dilly's, by the name of the “ odious wench !!!
Those were shocking suicides which you mentioned. Alas! that vice increases.' Infidelity, pride, and extravagance are its' general sources; but why an atheist, who groans not under the oppression of poverty and pain, should prefer annihilation to existence, it is difficult to guess. Ennui, whatever discontent it may create, would, one should suppose, be inconsistent with that degree of stimulus which subdues the natural love of life, even where it has nothing new or interesting to present. Next to genuine piety, the love of science is the best preservative against human
misery. Where it exists, novel and interesting objects can never be wanting to shorten the longest summer day. You and I may experience misery, my friend, but we shall never feel the touch of the mental torpedo.
Court Dewes, Esg*.
March 30, 1785. Yes, my dear Sir, our great Laureat is indeed a critic, who, if not unexceptionably judicious, does infinite honour to a profession which so many disgrace. His illustrations and decisions are generally the result of a penetrating judgment and a refined taste, united with a long, industrious, and fortunate study of the poetic art. This admirable work, his edition of Milton's Juvenile Poems, with that great mass of fine criticism contained in the notes, ought to recal the opinions of the public from the anarchy into which
* Now deceased. He resided at Welsbourn, near Stratfordupon-Avon ;-a refined gentleman and an excellent scholar.
they have been thrown concerning the claims of the British poets, by the misleading sophistry of Johnson in his Lives, and by the fastidious trash of his modern imitators. While the former perplex and dazzle the ingenious, the latter destroy every thing like taste and feeling in the common reader. Thus is the science, and thus are its votaries, “ fallen on evil days and evil tongues.” May the powers of Mr Warton clear the times from their darkness.
Admirable as this work is, it often carries the charge of imitation upon Milton vastly too far, and sometimes to a ridiculous excess. Among many real proofs which it brings, that Comus frequently imitates Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess, one cannot but smile when such charges of plagiarism as the following are brought against a great bard:
“ Canst thou not tell me of a gentle pair.”—Comus.
So Fletcher's Faithful Shepherdess,
* A gentle pair have promised equal love.”
Mr Warton adds,“ other petty pilferings of the same sort might be pointed out, which prove Milton's familiarity with Fletcher's play.”
Now, if an author may be convicted of theft | upon such evidences, it will be impossible for the
most original genius to produce ten, perhaps two lines, that shall not be equally exposed with Milton's, in this instance, to the charge of pilfering. I thought of the mote and the beam, when I saw Mr Warton observing—that “ Milton's expression,' clad in complete steel,' is supposed to have been borrowed from Hamlet;"—that“critics must shew their reading by quoting books'; but that it was merely an expression, in common use, to signify being armed from head to foot.”
Now, certainly, “ clad in complete steel,” is a more striking arrangement of words, and has much more probability of having been borrowed from Shakespeare, than that the simple and usual expression, “gentle pair,” should have been stolen from Fletcher.
When passages from various writers resemble each other, we inpute such resemblance, according to the degree of its strength, either to coincidence, imitation, or plagiarism. Even the best critics, as Mr Warton evinces in his own example, are too apt to charge ideas and expressions upon imitation and theft, which might fairly be supposed to result from a coincidence.
However, if Mr Warton be too prone to believe that the rich and plenteous imagination of Milton was perpetually stooping to glean from others, he has fully convicted Pope of “ sprink
ling over his Eloisa with epithets and phrases of new form and sound, pilfered from Comus and Il Penseroso :
“ And storied windows, richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light.”—Il Pen.
« And the dim windows shed a solemn light.”—Elo. to A.
“ By grots and caverns, shaggʻd with horrid shade."---Comus.
“ Ye grots and caverns, shagg’d with horrid thorn !”---Eloisa.
With other instances as flagrant. Here, indeed, is likeness too strong to be the offspring of coincidence; and, indeed, it is often so in many of Milton's passages.
Mr Warton demonstrates, that the general plan of L’Allegro, Il Penseroso, was suggested to Milton by a now-forgotten work of one Burton. Curious is the examination of those rough materials of Burton's, upon which Milton has built such a beauteous edifice.
Mr Warton's two last notes on L'Allegro, Il Penseroso, are some of the most exquisite writing I ever beheld; and the last sentence but one in his preface, is of the sublimest species that oratory has been known to produce. I read them with the same thrill of delight, that the poetry on which they comment inspires ; but by what: miracle of misconception is it, that he pronounces Milton to have had a bad ear!!