Sonnet LXVII. On Doctor Johnson's Unjust Criticisms In His Lives Of The Poets.

A poem by Anna Seward

Cou'd aweful Johnson want poetic ear,
Fancy, or judgment? - no! his splendid strain,
In prose, or rhyme, confutes that plea. - The pain
Which writh'd o'er Garrick's fortunes, shows us clear
Whence all his spleen to GENIUS. - Ill to bear
A Friend's renown, that to his own must reign,
Compar'd, a Meteor's evanescent train,
To Jupiter's fix'd orb, proves that each sneer,
Subtle and fatal to poetic Sense,
Did from insidious ENVY meanly flow,
Illumed with dazzling hues of eloquence,
And Sophist-Wit, that labor to o'er-throw
Th' awards of AGES, and new laws dispense
That lift the mean, and lay the MIGHTY low.

1: When Johnson's Idolaters are hard pressed concerning his injustice in those fallacious though able pages; - when they are reminded that he there tells us the perusal of Milton's Paradise Lost is a task, and never a pleasure; - reminded also of his avowed contempt of that exquisite Poem, the LYCIDAS; - of his declaration that Dryden's absurd Ode on the death of Mrs. Anne Killegrew, written in Cowley's worst manner, is the noblest Ode in this Language; - of his disdain of GRAY as a lyric Poet; of the superior respect he pays to Yalden, Blackmore, and Pomfret; - When these things are urged, his Adorers seek to acquit him of wilful misrepresentation by alledging that he wanted ear for lyric numbers, and taste for the higher graces of POETRY: - but it is impossible so to believe, when we recollect that even his prose abounds with poetic efflorescence, metaphoric conception, and harmonious cadence, which in the highest degree adorn it, without diminishing its strength. We must look for the source of his injustice in the envy of his temper. When Garrick was named a Candidate for admission into the Literary Club, Dr. Johnson told Mr. Thrale he would black-ball him. "Who, Sir? Mr. Garrick! Companion of your Youth! your acknowledged Friend!" "Why, Sir, I love my little David better than any, or all of his Flatterers love him; but surely we ought to sit in a Society like ours, 'unelbow'd by a Gamester, Pimp, or PLAYER." See Supplement to Dr. Johnson's Letters, published by Mrs. Piozzi. The blended hypocrisy and malice of this sally show the man. Johnson knew, at times, how to coax without sincerity as well as to abuse without justice. His seeming fondness for Mrs. C - - of Lichfield, on his visits to that City, and the contempt with which he spoke of her to her Townspeople, was another instance of the same nature.

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