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Lives of the Poets, Volume 1   By: (1709-1784)

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First Page:

DR. JOHNSON'S WORKS.

LIVES OF THE POETS.

VOL. I.

THE

WORKS

OF

SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.

IN NINE VOLUMES.

VOLUME THE SEVENTH.

MDCCCXXV.

CONTENTS OF THE SEVENTH VOLUME.

THE LIVES OF THE ENGLISH POETS.

Cowley Denham Milton Butler Rochester Roscommon Otway Waller Pomfret Dorset Stepney J. Philips Walsh Dryden Smith Duke King Sprat Halifax Parnell Garth Rowe Addison Hughes Sheffield, duke of Buckinghamshire

PREFATORY NOTICE

TO

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[1]."

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 illiberal and captious method of criticism, of frequent inaccuracies, and of a general haughtiness of manner, indicative of a feeling of superiority over the subjects of his memorial.

In the life of Milton his political prejudices are most apparent. It is not our duty, neither our inclination, in this place, to discuss the accuracy of Johnson's political wisdom. We cannot, however, but respect the integrity with which he clung to the instructions of his youth, amidst poverty, and all those inconveniencies which usually drive men to a discontent with things as they are.

Those who censure him without qualification or reserve, are as bad, or worse, on the opposite side.

They accuse him of narrow minded prejudice, and of bigoted attachment to powers that be with a rancour little befitting the liberality of which they make such vaunting professions. Johnson had a really benevolent heart, but despised and detested the affectation of a sentimental and universal philanthropy, which neglects the practical charities of home and kindred, in its wild and excursive flights after distant and romantic objects... Continue reading book >>




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