WHAT a well-bred age do we live in? Time was, when writers might boldly call in queſtion the abilities of each other, without incurring the cenſure of malignity, or even ſometimes forfeiting their title to diſtinguiſhed urbanity; when the meaneſt individual in the Republick of Letters had a right to bring the charge of ignorance or inattention againſt the proudeſt champion that ever brandiſhed gooſe-quill; when he might cite the accuſed to appear at the bar of the publick, and give teſtimony in plain terms againſt him without ceremony or equivocation. Time was, I ſay, when this impartial tribunal alſo, attentive only to the matter of fact and the evidence laid before it, [Page 2] paſſed ſentence on the convicted without reſpect of perſons, honouring the proſecutor with its thanks and protection, as a friend to juſtice and the intereſts of literature.
How different is the caſe at preſent! when the ſanction of a literary reputation, however obtained, is ſimilar to a certain political privilege, however acquired; though it be notorious that ignorance and partiality operate as powerfully in the one caſe, as bribery and corruption are ſometimes ſuppoſed to do in the other. But when the candidates are once chaired, and their opponents have not influence enough to get them expelled, it is theirs to ſit in judgment on their fellow ſubjects, and give laws to the world of letters.
It is well, however, for the progreſs of Science, and the independency of Wit, that the Seſſion of the Literary Junto is not ſo firmly eſtabliſhed as that of the political. They are both provided, indeed, with their uſhers and ſerjeants reſpectively; but, however tremendous may be the magiſterial authority of the one, nothing can be more ridiculous than the critical mock-majeſty of the other.
The author of the Review of Dr. Johnſon's Shakeſpeare hath, it ſeems, been committed to the cuſtody of theſe literary mirmidons, and formally proceeded againſt for a breach of privilege. The Doctor, we are told, was above being called to account by any private individual whatever; it being the higheſt indignity to the majority even to ſuſpect the inability of a writer, whom they had been pleaſed to vote infallible.
[Page 3] As a friend to the Reviewer, therefore, I take up the pen to defend his cauſe, and aſſert the right of every citizen in the Republick of Letters, to think and write freely. To this I am particularly incited alſo, from a due ſenſe that ſuch freedom is become abſolutely neceſſary to ſupport the preſent intereſts of literature; which are daily drooping under the dead weights of indolence, partiality, and prepoſſeſſion.
I am not inſenſible that theſe obſtacles to the progreſs of ſcience, and the advancement of letters, are commonly called by other names. I well know that, in this age of civility and falſe refinement, mere COURTESY is termed candour, CEREMONY is called politeneſs, QUAINTNESS elegance, PEDANTRY erudition, and DULLNESS decency and decorum. On the other hand, SINCERITY is termed inſult, CENSURE is called cruelty, and WIT and HUMOUR petulance and ill-manners. In the mean time a zeal for truth is looked upon as a kind of canine madneſs; and a heart-felt veneration for true genius and learning is deſpiſed as a literary phrenzy. Thus are we degenerated from our forefathers; from the wits and philoſophers of thoſe ages which produced a Shakeſpeare, a Bacon, a Dryden, and a Milton; whom inſtead of imitating, we exert all our little abilities to depreciate, and level with the diminutive ſtandard of the preſent times. A late noble writer obſerves, reſpecting our moral and political character, that we are now-a-days ſo far from having the virtues of great men, that we have not even their vices; every thing, ſays he, is little, mean, and pitiful among us. This might with greater juſtice be ſaid of our [Page 4] literary character; our taſte for works of real genius, true ſcience, and ſolid erudition, being almoſt dwindled into nothing. In the mean time we ſee the petty pretenders to wit and learning induſtriouſly forming themſelves into parties for the ſupport of each other, becauſe they find themſelves unable to ſtand alone. Imbecillity naturally tends to render people complacent and civil; while the cunning, uſually attendant on ignorance, artfully teaches them to make a merit of their weakneſs, and to impute even their puſillanimity to candour and benevolence.
It is no wonder that a writer, who hath the fortitude alone to attack one of the greateſt of theſe partial and illiberal combinations, ſhould create himſelf a number of enemies; nor is it indeed a wonder that the impartial publick ſhould, for a while, be miſled by the ſelf intereſted clamours, which ſo numerous a body of partiſans may raiſe againſt him. It is boldly preſumed, however, that if the publick ſhould fully and coolly enquire into the real ſtate of the caſe, the motives for ſuch attack, and the merits and demerits of the parties aſſailed and defended, they will not only acquit the Reviewer of the falſe charges of illiberality and malignity brought againſt him; but will be ready to acknowledge that the chaſtiſement Dr. Johnſon hath received at his hands, is no leſs defenſible with regard to its ſeverity, than it is juſtifiable in reſpect to its cauſe.
THERE is nothing which, at firſt ſight, gives us greater offence or diſguſt, than to ſee thoſe perſons or characters, for whom we have been uſed to entertain a certain degree of reſpect, treated with familiarity or contempt. Nor is it at all neceſſary to this end, that ſuch treatment ſhould on their part be merited. It is enough that we are ignorant of their demerits; of which it is afterwards very difficult to convince us, even by the ſtrongeſt teſtimony. We are by no means eaſily reconciled to ſuch an inſtance of our want of ſagacity, as that of having long entertained a favourable opinion, much leſs a kind of reverence, for an object unworthy of it. We are apt to heſitate, therefore, at the moſt flagrant proofs of our miſtake, and even to take offence at any ſuppoſed indignity offered to ſuch characters, as if it in ſome meaſure affected ourſelves.
This hath been remarkably the caſe in the preſent affair of Mr. K's Review of Dr. Johnſon's Shakeſpeare; even thoſe, who could not fail of being convinced of the juſtice of the Reviewer's remarks, finding in themſelves ſomething repugnant to the ludicrous and ſarcaſtical manner in which Mr. K. had thought proper to reprehend this editor. Admitting for the preſent, however, that the cauſe of ſuch reprehenſion was juſt, they [Page 6] cannot fail, on reflection, to impute that repugnance to their prepoſſeſſion in favour of Dr. J. and their ignorance of the Reviewer's having ſtill farther motives for his ſeverity, than appeared on the face of his pamphlet.
The Reviewer, it ſeems, had been ſome years abroad, when he firſt heard of the publication of Dr. Johnſon's Dictionary; a work of which he had formed the higheſt expectations from the ſuppoſed abilities and great reputation of its author. At the ſame time, being apprehenſive that his own application to the uſe of foreign languages might, in ſome meaſure, corrupt that of his native tongue, he procured Dr. J's apparently elaborate performance, in order to correct both his memory and judgment, as either might occaſionally fail him. Having thus, during an interval of ſeveral years, had more frequent occaſions to conſult an Engliſh dictionary, than poſſibly would have happened to him in any other ſituation, he could not fail of being greatly ſurprized and diſappointed at the many palpable and groſs miſtakes which had eſcaped this celebrated lexicographer. He was not ſo unreaſonable to expect, indeed, that, in a work of ſuch extent, a number of trivial, and perhaps ſome important errors, ſhould not eſcape the moſt attentive and induſtrious compiler. He could neither expect, however, nor overlook ſuch an amazing number of blunders and inconſiſtencies in etymology, orthoepy, idiom and grammatical conſtruction, [Page 7] as were to be found in a work, which was boaſted of as a capital undertaking, and recommended to foreigners as a ſtandard of the Engliſh language.
He would have been careleſs of the honour, and wanting to the literature of his country *, had he not every where taken a proper occaſion, therefore, to ſpeak of the defects and imperfections of Dr. Johnſon's Dictionary. At the ſame time, that he might not be thought to depreciate the labours of another, without ſufficient cauſe, he amuſed himſelf occaſionally with forming a table of errata to that performance, intending ſome time or other to offer it to the proprietors; and, in caſe of their refuſal to accept it, to lay it before the publick.
The Reviewer's liſt of errors was pretty copious when he returned to England; ſince when, having applied more cloſely to literary matters, he hath increaſed it almoſt tenfold, and that by no means to the honour of Dr. Johnſon's boaſted erudition and profound knowledge of the Engliſh tongue.
This detection of the Lexicographer induced the Reviewer to make a cloſer examination, than he had before done, into the compoſitions of the writer; in which were found the ſame traces of inattention to the idiom of our tongue, and of his imperfect acquaintance with other modern languages. In the mean time, he [Page 8] was found to be eternally aiming at the introduction of Latiniſms, and other vicious modes of expreſſion, by way of enriching our tongue; but thereby corrupting it, as he himſelf ſays of Shakeſpeare, ‘by almoſt every mode of depravation.’
In his productions of imagination, his invention appeared weak and languid. It exerted itſelf, indeed, now and then with tolerable ſucceſs in a dream or viſion; but it was hardly ever wide awake, without ſeeming fatigued with its efforts toward vigility, and involuntarily dropping into a doze again. As to his works of knowledge and judgment, there appeared hardly any trace of the author's acquaintance with the ſciences in any of his writings; nay, even his pretended profundity in morals, and the knowledge of mankind, ſeemed to the Reviewer nothing more than a quaint and affected exhibition of the trite obſervations and hackney'd reflections of others.
His greateſt merit appeared to conſiſt in the labour thrown away on the tawdry glare of deſcription, and the gloſſy, but fading, poliſh of ſtile. Inſtead of producing great and noble images, he ſeldom reached farther than high-ſounding words. Inſtead of new and really elegant turns of thought, his novelty and refinement generally ended in ſome florid alluſion, quaint antitheſis, or fantaſtical preciſeneſs of expreſſion. His verſe ſeemed heavy, cold and ſpiritleſs; and his proſe alternately pompous and puerile.
A farther acquaintance with Dr. Johnſon's literary character, acquired even among and from his own [Page 9] friends, had by no means contributed to remove Mr. K's unfavourable opinion of this writer, when his long-expected edition of Shakeſpeare made its appearance.
Having been already ſo egregiouſly diſappointed as to the philological abilities of Dr. J. the Reviewer's expectations were by no means ſo ſanguine as before. His enthuſiaſtic veneration for Shakeſpeare, however, could not be reſtrained within the bounds of ſilence, on finding this editor had taken every opportunity to depreciate the merit of that incomparable bard; on whom Dr. J. hath, in repeated inſtances, (as is ſhewn in Mr. K's Review) endeavoured to fix the charge of incapacity, folly, vulgarity, immorality and impiety.
To aggravate all this, Dr. J. falls with equal violence on the only commentator on Shakeſpeare, that, by his own confeſſion, hath acquitted himſelf with reputation; charging him with weakneſs, ignorance, meanneſs, faithleſſneſs, petulance and oſtentation.
Thoſe who complain of Mr. K's ſeverity, and charge him with ſcurrility, ill-manners and abuſe, would do well to look through his work, and ſee if they can find any paſſage wherein he hath called Dr. J. mean, faithleſs, immoral or impious.
‘But Shakeſpeare and Theobald are dead, and Dr. Johnſon is alive; the former cannot ſuffer by any thing that is ſaid of them, whereas the latter may be eſſentially hurt by an attack on his reputation.’ This may be urged, indeed, by thoſe who conceive Mr. K's exceſſive zeal for the honour of the dead is leſs excuſable than Dr. J's exceſs of tenderneſs for the reputation of the living. It is very certain that, as they [Page 10] ariſe from different motives, they muſt neceſſarily interfere with, or counteract each other. It is difficult, indeed, to ſay which ſavours moſt of envy and malignity *. We may envy the reputation both of the living and the dead; but can hate only the living. Even hate, however, may ariſe from laudable principles, as honeſt men deteſt knaves, and lovers of truth abhor falſehood: but envy, whether directed to the living or dead, is a mean and odious paſſion. At the ſame time, it muſt be univerſally allowed more brave and honourable, though it may be leſs prudential, to attack the reputation of the living than the dead. Now fortitude hath ever been eſteemed the general concomitant of ingenuouſneſs and candour, which never harbour in envious minds.
So far Mr. K. hath evidently the advantage over Dr. J. Beſides, the friends of the latter, while they charge the former with envy at Dr. J's abilities and reputation, accuſe him at the ſame time with inſufferable ſelf-ſufficiency and vanity. But if the contempt with which he hath treated Dr. J. proceed really from his vanity and ſelf-ſufficiency, there is the leſs room to think him ſubject to the motives of envy; for we never can envy thoſe we truly deſpiſe. The truth, I imagine, is, that Mr. K. neither does the one nor the other by Dr. J. notwithſtanding he hath ſufficiently ſhewn a fixed deteſtation of that editor's literary miſconduct. This deteſtation, as I obſerved before, may nevertheleſs be very juſt and laudable; in which caſe [Page 11] its effects cannot, with any propriety, be imputed to malignity.
As it behoves others, however, to exculpate the Doctor, I ſhall only propoſe a few queſtions to thoſe of his friends, who may chuſe to anſwer them; ſuch anſwers, in my opinion, tending effectually either to clear or convict him of acting from invidious motives.
IT hath been ſaid, with regard to Dr. W-rb-r-t-n, that he abundantly deſerved the ſcurrility and abuſe, which it is pretended Mr. K. hath thrown upon him; ‘becauſe he was the firſt author who introduced ſuch ſoul language into controverſy, which he never failed to beſtow on all his opponents when he dared. But with Dr. Johnſon the caſe is otherwiſe; he never gave any public offence, nor even engaged in any controverſy.’
Thoſe who affirm all this, appear to know but very little of Dr. Johnſon; nay, even to forget the fact for which he is arraigned. Did he give no public offence in the circumſtances attending his edition of Shakeſpeare? [Page 12] Did he not engage in a controverſy with almoſt all his commentators; beſtowing the worſt of foul language on his opponents when he dared; that is, on thoſe who were dead?
The following queries, however, take in a farther retroſpect of Dr. J's literary conduct; the general tenour of which will be found to be tinctured with an invidious diſpoſition, that he was fond of indulging in actions, which his timidity was too great to permit him openly to avow.
- 1. Who encouraged LAUDER in his infamous attempt to charge the author of Paradiſe Loſt with plagiariſm from Maſſenius and others; clapping him on the back while he hopped about the town, exclaiming againſt that axacrable vellain John Milton?
- 2. Who was the manager or editor of the Gentleman's Magazine at that time, and kept out the papers written againſt Lauder for ſeveral months together; for which he afterwards apologized, when the impoſition became flagrant, and the accuſer himſelf, with imparallel'd effrontery, confeſſed the forgery?
- 3. Who recommended ſuch a modeſt gentleman to the lords Cheſterfield and Granville, who honoured him with their protection, and rewarded him with an annuity, till even Dr. J's intereſt could not prevent his being ignominiouſly turned out of doors?
- [Page 13] 4. Who actually wrote Lauder's pamphlet againſt Milton?
- 5. What ingenuous motive could poſſibly induce Dr. J. to join in ſuch an invidious attempt, to depreciate the merit of one of the greateſt poets England had to boaſt?
- 6. Was it not becauſe Milton was, in his private character, a man of republican principles, and an enemy to eccleſiaſtical tyranny and arbitrary power?
- 7. What motive could induce Dr. J. to endeavour, in his Rambler, to leſſen the poetical reputation of the late Mr. Pope, by laboured criticiſms on a few of the moſt admired paſſages in his writings, and on thoſe only?
- 8. Who wrote the ſevere and carping criticiſms on the epitaphs of the ſame author; firſt publiſhed in the Viſitor, and afterwards retailed in the Magazines?
- 9. Who adviſed and aſſiſted the celebrated and ingenious Mrs. Lenox to an attack on the greateſt poet the world ever produced, and that in the moſt eſſential part of his poetical character, in her Shakeſpeare illuſtrated?
- 10. Who wrote Dr. J's New Dictionary of the Engliſh language?
- 11. Whether Dr. J. ever read the Dictionary he is ſuppoſed to have written?
- 12. Whether the capital improvement, intended by that Dictionary, was not the collection of the [Page 14] authorities for, and the illuſtrations of, the uſe of Engliſh words?
- 13. Whether theſe authorities and illuſtrations do not in many hundred places contradict the meaning of the words, as given by the lexicographer?
- 14. Whether the writer hath not almoſt always miſtaken the very meaning of words when he has departed from former dictionaries?
- 15. Whether he hath not, in a conſiderable number of inſtances, given the words without any meaning at all?
- 16. Who wrote the propoſals for publiſhing the laſt edition of Shakeſpeare, and who executed the work, and how?
- 17. Whether indolence be an excuſe for not doing what a man hath publickly undertaken, and is well paid for?
- 18. Whether it be not an inſult to the common ſenſe and common honeſty of mankind, to pretend that the private virtue, even of the moſt ingenious and learned individual upon earth, ſhould exempt him from correction, when he affects to be himſelf exempted from the faithful diſcharge of the common duties of his profeſſion or calling?
- 19. Whether imbecility and indolence be really good-nature and benevolence; and whether, in an age of leſs ceremony and greater ſincerity, the magiſterial ſupineneſs, affected by Dr. J. would not be frankly called pride and idleneſs?
- [Page 15] 20. Whether, if the above queſtions cannot be anſwered, to the honour of Dr. J. what right either he or his friends have to complain of the ſeverity of the chaſtiſement beſtowed on him *?
DR. Johnſon's friends will doubtleſs object, that it is much eaſier to aſk queſtions than to anſwer them, and that injurious inuendoes may be ſafely conveyed in the way of query, even though they ſhould be groundleſs.
I ſhould not have preſumed to aſk thoſe queſtions, however, had not Mr. K. furniſhed me with authenticated materials for making a ſatisfactory reply to every ſingle article, if the Doctor, or his friends, ſhould at any time require it. It was thought proper, in the mean time, to ſtate the merits of Dr. J's literary character rather in a problematical than a [Page 17] peremptory manner, that his partizans might ſolve any difficulties that might ariſe, in the beſt manner they are able. But if they cannot obviate ſuch difficulties, and that very ſoon, it is not to be doubted that the good ſenſe ahd impartiality of the publick will prevail over its former prepoſſeſſions, and determine for me that Dr. J. hath met with no worſe treatment than he deſerves.
How far Mr. K. is defenſible in having inflicted it, is another matter of conſideratioh. If the Reviewer, in the height of his zeal for the honour of Shakeſpeare, hath given too great a looſe to his paſſions, and hath expreſſed himſelf unbecoming a ſcholar and a gentleman, he hath in ſo doing injured his own reputation more than he hath done that of Dr. Johnſon. Nor is it any juſtification of Mr. K's ſcurrility to ſay it is a degree leſs ſcurrilous than that of the Doctors J—n or W—n.
To attack a man, in the warmth of reſentment, however rudely, who is alive and able to defend himſelf, is certainly leſs exceptionable, in point of honour and ſpirit at leaſt, than a premeditated deſign, conceived and executed in cold blood, to ſtrip the dead of thoſe honours which ſucceſſive ages had beſtowed on their memory.
[Page 18] It is to be obſerved alſo, that it is not very eaſy for men of warm paſſions, when affected with their ſubject, to expreſs their reſentment in terms always conſiſtent with the common forms of politeneſs. Experience ſufficiently evinces this, as we may be convinced by turning to almoſt any polemic writings, even on thoſe ſubjects which in a peculiar manner require the appearance at leaſt of the higheſt degree of temper and benevolence.
There is one cireumſtance, indeed, in which the Reviewer ſeems juſtly to have incurred the cenſure of impoliteneſs and want of urbanity. This is the reflection he hath made on a certain natural infirmity of Dr. J. In anſwer to this charge, however, it is to be obſerved, that Mr. K. being perſonally a ſtranger to the Doctor, and having formed the ideas of his character purely on the repreſentations of the Doctor's friends, he really miſtook that infirmity for an affected habit; as thoſe very friends, in repeating Dr. J's bons mots, conſtantly made uſe of the ſame habit or infirmity to heighten the joke; and therefore may be as juſtly ſaid to have ridiculed it themſelves, as it is pretended Mr. K. has done. Nay, the Doctor's acquaintance are ſtill more inexcuſable, as they muſt be ſuppoſed to have known the real ſtate of the caſe, and ought not to have given occaſion for ſuch a miſtake, in a writer who is maſter of ſufficient acrimony of ſtile, without deſcending to ridicule perſonal defects, which he never could conceive to be ridiculous.
[Page 19] Having now done with Dr. Johnſon's demerits, as well as the merits of Mr. K's Review, with regard to its ſeverity in general, I ſhall proceed to take ſome notice of the principal objections that have been made to it by particular writers, eſpecially by the authors of the Critical Review, the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, the Candid Reviewers, and ſome few other volunteer criticks.
To begin with the firſt-mentioned, whoſe inconconſiſtent behaviour with regard to Mr. K's writings, even from the very commencement of their Review, may ſerve to elucidate their pretenſions to impartiality, as well as their capacity to ſit in judgment on works of genius or learning.
THE very ingenious and ingenuous authors of the Critical Review, having had frequent occaſion to exerciſe their critical talents on the writings of Mr. K. it may not be amiſs to take a retroſpect of their former opinion of this writer's genius and abilities; as it may ſerve, in ſome meaſure, to account for that which they affect to entertain at preſent.
[Page 20] When an imperfect edition of Epiſtles to Lorenzo firſt made its appearance in England, theſe criticks, who had not long before entered on their judicial office, approved of them as ſpirited, juſt, poetical, deſcriptive, ſenſible and true *.
In their Review of the ſecond edition, they again confeſſed ‘they could not help admiring the perſpicuity, the ſpirit, the variety of the author's expreſſion and imagery †;’ concluding their ſtrictures with ſaying, ‘We will candidly own our admiration of his genius, both as a poet and metaphyſician §.’
In ſpeaking of the ſame writer's tranſlations, they expreſs themſelves with equal warmth of approbation. —Of that of Rouſſeau's Eloiſa, they ſay, ‘It is but, juſtice to add, that we never peruſed a more ſpirited, juſt and elegant tranſlation than that of Eloiſa, though one of the moſt difficult performances in the French language, as it abounds with turns, ſentiments and idiomatical expreſſions, which will hardly bear being tranſlated into a foreign tongue ‡.’
Will it be believed, when I affirm it, that theſe judicious criticks have, at other times, compared this [Page 21] their admirable genius to Sternhold and Hopkins? or that, in their preſent ſtrictures, they have charged ſo ſenſible, ſo poetical, ſo metaphyſical a writer, with having publiſhed paultry obſervations, and ridiculous abſurdities, in his Review of Dr. Johnſon's Shakeſpeare? Nay, ſo treacherouſly has their ſpleen dealt with their memory, that they have even ventured to pronounce that ‘the Trevoux Dictionary appears to be the ne plus ultra of the French learning’ of the author of the ſpirited, juſt and elegant tranſlation of Eloiſa!
The reader will very naturally aſk, what can poſſibly be the meaning of ſuch ſtrange inconſiſtency?— I will endeavour to inform him. When the Critical Reviewers were ſo laviſh of their encomiums on Mr. K's writings, they were either ignorant of his private connections, or that he was the author of ſuch writings; and thus may be ſuppoſed to have ſpoken of them to the beſt of their judgment, without partiality or prejudice; Mr. K. however, had no ſooner ſhewn himſelf above being elated with the applauſe of ignorance, and had corrected them for the fallacy of their hypercriticiſms *, than they became immediately his enemies; and that in a more virulent manner, when he was known to give the preference to a rival Review. Such, it is preſumed, are the ſecret ſprings by which theſe tremendous judges of literary merit muſt, in this caſe, appear to be actuated.
PROS. to MIR.I have with ſuch proviſion in mine artSo ſafely order'd that there is no SOUL:No, not ſo much perdition as an hairBetid to any creature in the veſſel, &c.
Though we admit that Warburton's, Theobald's, and Johnſon's remarks on this paſſage are all abſurd; yet, we think, our Reviewer has been ingenious enough to excel them even in abſurdity; for he reads, inſtead of 'there is no SOUL,' 'there is no ILL.' We will venture to ſay, that there is no man of plain ſenſe in the kingdom, who could ſuſpect a depraved reading in this paſſage, as it ſtood originally. Shakeſpeare ſays neither more or leſs, than thatWell may Mr. Kenrick adopt the clench of ILL-BETIDE ſuch commentators.— there is no ſoul—viz. perdition — Nay,not ſo much perdition as an hair,Betid to any creature, &c.
Was ever poor devil ſo caught in the cob-web of his own devices, as this unhappy Critical Reviewer? In the name of common ſenſe what can he mean? For my part, I cannot even gueſs, ſo ſhall leave this ſagacious criticiſm for the reader to explain as he can: obſerving only, in juſtice to Mr. K. that he propoſes his alteration only, in caſe of the ſuppoſed neceſſity of [Page 23] making any alteration at all; which he does by no means affirm. Again,
ARIEL.Not a ſoulBut felt a fever of the mad, and plaidSome tricks of deſperation:
Mr. Kenrick is for ſubſtituting a fever of the mind. Mr. Johnſon is undoubtedly right in reſtoring the old reading. Admitting it not to be quite idiomatical, yet it is poſſeſſed of ſtrength ſufficient to maintain its place againſt mere conjecture. Ex uno diſce omnes. The reſt of his review of this play is of a piece with the ſpecimens here exhibited.
Here the Critical Reviewer's ipſe dixit gives the preference to Dr. Johnſon's reading; but the misfortune is, that what theſe Criticks impute to Mr. K. is the reading of all the modern editions, and not Mr. Kenrick's *; ſo that the reader hath here a moſt notable inſtance of their judgment and impartiality in exhibiting the above two criticiſms as juſt ſpecimens of Mr. K's Review.
They proceed, nevertheleſs, in the ſame magiſterial and dogmatical ſtile to expoſe their own ignorance ſtill farther in the following paſſages. His, ſay they, that is, Mr. K's, "deriving the word feodary from the word foedus, a covenant, is an inſtance of ignorance hardly to be paralleled. The beſt Engliſh writers ſay feodum, inſtead of feudum. A feodary therefore is one who owes ſuit and ſervice [Page 24] to his ſuperior. Warburton's inaccuracy in ſpelling the word feuda, which is the Scottiſh term, inſtead of feoda, has brought our Critick into a blunder. A feodary is no other than a ſervant, an agent; and the very inſtance brought by this Reviewer from Cymbeline confirms it."
The word, whoſe derivation is here diſputed, is, in ſome editions of Shakeſpeare, ſpelt fedary, without the dipthong. Suppoſing Mr. K. to be miſtaken, however, which I do not believe to be the caſe, this inſtance of ignorance, as the critic calls it, is yet to be parallel'd, as he may ſee, by turning to Bailey's Dictionary, corrected and enlarged by Scot; where he will find the ſenſe of the word, and even of the paſſage quoted from Cymbeline, laid down in the ſame manner. Feuda may▪ for ought I know, be a Scottiſh term, and it may in Scotland mean a ſlave or ſervant; but neither Shakeſpeare nor Mr. K. wrote Scotch, but Engliſh; of which it is hardly poſſible for a Scotchman ever to be a compleat maſter.
The next offence theſe criticks take at Mr. K's illuſtration is his philoſophical explanation of the word warps in the famous ſong of Blow thou winter's wind. On which occaſion they expreſs themſelves as follows:
"What a pity it is that this writer's whole diſplay of critical and natural knowledge ſhould be entirely thrown away; ſince nothing is more certain, than that Shakeſpeare meant no more by warping, but fixing or freezing the waters. The alluſion is drawn from the operation of weavers, who warp, that is, fix their worſted or yarn in their looms before they work it."
[Page 25] But, how is it certain that Shakeſpeare meant no more but fixing or freezing; when there is no proof that he meant even that: for, unleſs theſe criticks can produce the teſtimony of one Engliſh writer, or even one Engliſh weaver, to prove that the term warp, as related to the woof, is uſed as a verb, nobody can give into their notion of the alluſion.
—"After all Mr. Kenrick's exultations at the diſcovery of the meaning of the word l'envoy, in Love's Labour loſt, his etymology is but fantaſtical; nor is it juſtified by the Trevoux Dictionary, which ſeems to be the ne plus ultra of his French learning."
Indeed! — In the firſt place, Mr. Critick, you tell a notorious untruth in aſſerting a thing you know nothing of: you have looked, I ſuppoſe, into the Dictionaire de Trevoux, and becauſe you cannot find ſuch etymology juſtified by that work, you flatly affirm it to be fantaſtical, and very logically conclude that, becauſe one Reviewer's French learning extends no farther than the Trevoux Dictionary, another's muſt be confined to the ſame limits. It appears, however, that Mr. K. has at leaſt one dictionary more of French learning, as you call it, than you; for I find in one, that he put not long ſince into my hands, that his etymology of the word envoy is there juſtified in the following words: ‘
I ſhall mention but one more of their criticiſms; as it contains either a proof of their ſaying only what other writers have ſaid before them, or of their readineſs occaſionally to adopt the ſagacity of others in ſilence.‘We ſhall give him credit for his retaining the word knot in the ſame play; but we ſee no authority he has for ſuppoſing the king to be a wounded knot, or bird, ſo called. When we reflect, that he ſteps aſide and conceals himſelf in a buſh, while he diſcovers the lovers, ſo as to be as inviſible as a gnat, the badneſs of the rhimes is removed by reading gnat inſtead of knot; but this is mere conjecture.’
It is really very good of theſe gentlemen to give ſuch a paultry obſerver as Mr. K. credit for any thing; eſpecially as they had nothing better to offer than mere conjecture. But the worſt on it is, that this conjecture was long ago conjectured by Mr. Pope, who adopted the ſame reading for the ſake of the rhime. This, however, it is poſſible theſe criticks on the critick of the editors of Shakeſpeare knew nothing at all about.
I come now to the more ſerious part of the offence, which theſe criticks have both taken and given, with regard to Mr. K's performance. This is the paſſage immediately ſucceeding the above; in which, admitting [Page 27] that Dr. J's note is a vile one, they proceed to inſinuate that Mr. K. in his reprehenſion of it, hath forfeited his pretenſions to honour, ſpirit and virtue. Nay, reader, don't laugh; it is really the Critical Reviewers, who, in this very article, "have entered their caveat againſt illiberal criticiſm," and talk about honour and virtue; even thoſe, whoſe criticiſm hath heretofore been deemed l—s, and as ſuch puniſhed accordingly. You will ſay, perhaps, that they are reformed; that they have ſince authorized their printer to pay fifty pounds, out of his own pocket, to any perſon who can bring legal proof of their having taken money for the inſertion of partial characters of books and authors, although they own it has been offered them *. What an inſtance this laſt of their integrity, impartiality and virtue! — Very true, indeed, and I firmly believe that they never did take any pecuniary bribe on this account; for, though I am acquainted with many mercenary bookſellers, and as many vain authors, yet I don't know one, whom I think fool enough to value the beſt character they could give of his performance at three farthings. I will not contradict them poſitively indeed, and ſay that not one ſuch is to be found; but [Page 28] it happens extremely unlucky that theſe criticks, in thinking to do themſelves honour, ſhould confeſs a thing that cannot fail to entail on them diſgrace. They own that money hath been offered them, though they had ſo much virtue as to refuſe to take it. Does not this circumſtance alone ſufficiently evince what opinion the perſons, offering the bribe, muſt have of thoſe to whom it was offered? — Oh! fie! fie! for ſhame! never make this confeſſion again, whether true or falſe, as you value your very exiſtence. Virtus poſt mortem may ſerve well enough for a motto to the atchievement of a dead cheeſemonger; but the virtue even of a Critical Reviewer is not worth a groat to an author, who is damned while he is alive.
For decency's ſake be a little conſiſtent; and, for the future, beware of extolling the works of ſtrangers to the ſkies, and of endeavouring afterwards to drag them down again, when you find ſuch writers know too much to be vain of your praiſes, and are too ſincere to become your friends. In vain may your hodmandod * of a printer diſplay his brawny muſcles, and threaten to avenge your cauſe by his ſkill in the athletic ſciences. You have yourſelves given Mr. K. the apellation of a Tartar; and can you imagine he is to intimidated by the frowns of a Saracen's head? Let not [Page 29] your diſcreet hearts think it. Are there not ways and means to curb the inſolence of ruffians, and guard [Page 30] againſt the malice of aſſaſſins? Have we not Hyren here! Farewel — be adviſed and proſper.
EVERY body knows who was the original Sylvanus Urban, honeſt Cave, who, little as he knew of literature or ſcience himſelf, had yet ſo much knowledge and diſcretion as to ſet a juſt value on his friends and correſpondents, and behave to them at leaſt with gratitude and common decency. When the neceſſity, indeed, of employing perſons of ſuperior genius and learning obliged him to lean on ſome right-hand-man, he could not always be accountable for what he was urged to do by others. In time Sylvanus Urban became [Page 31] a mere ſhadow; and the good-will of his friends was liable to be perverted by the caprice, ignorance, or ill-will of his journeymen-editors. How far the preſent Sylvanus is his own friend, in admitting of ſuch a perverſion, time hath already evinced in ſome degree, and will daily exhibit more plainly. Before I proceed any farther, however, I ſhall inſert Mr. Urban's account of Mr. K's Review.
This piece is written with a malignity for which it is very difficult to account, as the authour declares that he is a ſtranger to Dr. Johnſon, and never received any offence from him. If his ill-will ariſes from envy of the literary honour Dr. Johnſon has acquired, or the mark of diſtinction he has received from his ſovereign, he is too much an object of pity to move any other paſſion in the breaſt either of Dr. Johnſon, or his friends *. He has treated the biſhop of Glouceſter with the ſame acrimony that he has treated Dr. Johnſon, yet he declares he has himſelf ſome literary reputation which he would not wantonly hazard, being the author of two tranſlations from the French, beſides ſeveral anonymous pieces, which, he ſays himſelf, are too numerous to be good †.
[Page 32] This work conſiſts principally of ſeveral conjectures‡, which he has ſubſtituted for the conjectures of the Biſhop and Dr. Johnſon, frequently with as much confidence as if they were truths received by revelation, and confirmed by miracle §; of theſe we ſhall give ſuch a ſpecimen as will [Page 33] enable the reader to judge of the reſt, beginning where the author begins, that our impartiality may not be brought into queſtion.
Would not any indifferent perſons, who ſhould read the above paſſage, imagine at leaſt that the writer of it never once heard of the Reviewer, or his writings, in his life? But are not Dr. H—h and Mr. H—y the editors and managers of the Gentleman's Magazine? And is it poſſible that neither of theſe gentlemen remember that Mr. K. hath been an occaſional contributor to their work from a very ſchool-boy? And is this a ſpecimen of the manners with which they treat a correſpondent, for whom they have more than once expreſſed the higheſt regard; and for whoſe valuable contributions (as they have called them) they have even offered pecuniary gratifications, which he never condeſcended to accept? I have now in my hands ſufficient proofs of what is here intimated, and the Gentleman's Magazine affords various others of the acknowledged value of the papers Mr. K. hath ſent it, reſpecting very different branches of ſcience and literature.
Can the managers of that work be ſo mean and ſelf-intereſted, as to treat Mr. K. in this ſcandalous manner, becauſe he has of late years been induced to favour other periodical works of the like kind? They can have no other motive, unleſs it be their cloſer attachment to Dr. J. But, however they may have been [Page 34] obliged to that gentleman, and whatever opinion they may have of his literary abilities, are candour, truth and juſtice, all to give way to their partiality for him? Are the talents and reputations of the Doctors Johnſon and H—h ſo very bulky, that thoſe both of the dead and the living muſt be mangled, mutilated and depreſſed, in order to allow them room enough to vapour in? Surely the recent loſs of a Lloyd and a Churchill might have rendered them a little more at eaſe in ſo wide a world! But, no. They are determined to have the univerſe to themſelves and their partizans; condemning every one to defamation or obſcurity, who does not enliſt under the banner of the coloſſus *.
[Page 35] They are here given to know, however, that Mr. K. deteſts all combinations in literature, as much as he deſpiſes the monopoliſts of fame. Let thoſe, who find themſelves unable to ſtand alone, combine to ſupport each other. Mr. K. will go hand in hand with any fair and open enquirer after literary or ſcientific improvement: but he is neither ſo young and weak as to need the help of leading-ſtrings, nor ſo old and feeble as to require the aſſiſtance of crutches. But to proceed.
Mr. Urban pretends, even after thus throwing out the moſt infamous and groundleſs inſinuations concerning the motives for Mr. K's Review, to ſelect ſuch a ſpecimen of it, as may enable the reader to judge of the reſt, without calling his impartiality in queſtion. What theſe ſpecimens are, may be ſeen at the bottom of the page *; and how far they will juſtify his impartiality [Page 36] is left to the reader to determine, after having compared them with Mr. K's Review.
[Page 37] As to the inſinuations themſelves, they are indeed too invidious and contemptible to require any other anſwer than may be deduced from the foregoing pages of this defence. But if Mr. Urban, and his brother criticks, will admit no man to have modeſty or virtue but Dr. J. in whom even indolence and inſolence is partially conceived to be ſuch, they may know that Mr. K. [Page 38] hath at leaſt pride enough to be above envying any man, and induſtry enough to ſtand in no need of that charity whieh idleneſſ muſt accept of or ſtarve †.
All the world knows the Adventurer languiſhed for a penſion, and long pined away at the diſappointment: nor will even his reputation ſupply its place, notwithſtanding [Page 39] he may ſet an additional value on it *. But it is not for perſons of ſuch confined talents, and puſillanimous diſpoſitions, to judge of the motives and actions of writers of more extenſive knowledge and more manly abilities.
If any of Dr.J's partizans think they can defend him, in the late outrage he hath committed againſt the memory and reputation of Shakeſpeare, let them ſtand forth boldly, and they ſhall be received like men. But this, it ſeems, is not enough for the refined and elegant writers of the preſent age: they muſt be treated with tenderneſs, with gentility, with ſweatmeat and ſugar-candy I warrant ye, like fine ladies and peeking children.—Out upon ſuch a pack of finicking fribbles; with hearts in their bellies no bigger than pins heads, and thoſe even minnikins; mere dealers in frippery in the rag-fair of Literature! It is certainly a wonderful inſtance of a man's ſelf-ſufficiency to think himſelf able to encounter ſuch diminitive opponents as theſe! Here, as Falſtaff ſays, is no vanity. Dean Swift uſed to ſay of himſelf, that he was too proud to be vain. I will venture, in this particular caſe, to ſay the ſame of the Reviewer of Dr. Johnſon's Shakeſpeare: and ſo, Maſter Sylvanus, good night to your Urbanity; and, to ſupper with what appetite you may.
IT is ſomething remarkable that, among all the writers, who have drawn the pen on the preſent occaſion, againſt Mr. K. not one of them hath ventured to take the part of Dr. J. The critical Reviewers, we have ſeen, give him up entirely; even Mr. Urban himſelf ſays nothing in his defence. The pretended acrimony of Mr. K's manner, indeed, is diſapproved by all parties; but this I have already endeavoured to juſtify. I ſhall proceed, therefore, to enquire how far thoſe, which are as yet unnoticed, are juſtifiable in their manner of treating Mr. K.—To begin with the Candid Reviewers. Theſe honeſt gentlemen, who have borrowed the whole of Mr. K's preface, as they did the month before the greater part of Dr. J's, have given ſuch an inconſiſtent and motley account of the Reviewer's performance, that it is very difficult to ſay whether they have moſt praiſed or cenſured it.
In its favour they ſometimes admit, that "the matter of it does demand the higheſt approbation." That "Dr. Johnſon will find himſelf unable to reply to it."—That "Mr. Kenrick has very ſufficiently ſhewn that Dr. Johnſon has played booty throughout his boaſted edition."—That "Mr. K. hath improved upon Dr. J."—That "they agree with Mr. K. that [Page 41] Shakeſpeare ſtill ſtands as much in need of a new edition as ever."—That "he hath happily ſucceeded in giving, by means of an eaſy interpretation, a conſiſtent meaning to ſeveral paſſages, in regard to which other interpreters have run after far-fetched explications."—That "they entirely agree with him in the ſimple ſenſe he gives to words, and join with him in wondering how Warburton and others could ever puzzle themſelves ſo much about them," &c. &c.
In its disfavour, they inſinuate that "Mr. K. has Committed blunders as well as other men, who bragged as much, witneſs poor Dr. Warburton."—That "Mr. K. has ſometimes miſapprehended his author's meaning, as well as Dr. Johnſon."—That "future obſervers will improve on Mr. K, and that he is therefore not fit to publiſh an edition of Shakeſpeare."—That "Mr. K. inſtead of profiting by his own admonitions, ſometimes commits the ſame faults he blames in others."— That they cannot help expreſſing "their admiration at the bleſſed effects which metaphyſics and philoſophy have upon criticiſm in poetry!" intimating thereby that Mr. K. is too much of a philoſopher to know any thing of poetry.—That Mr. K. diſplays great inability in tracing out the beauty of poetic images, and that his remarks are ridiculous.
I ſhall not enter upon a confutation of the aſſertions of theſe critics; the inſtances in which they preſume to differ from Mr. K. being, to the laſt degree, abſurd and contemptible; as the reader may conclude from their affirming, in the courſe of their critical inveſtigation, that Shakeſpeare had no knowledge of a [Page 42] climax, which they are pleaſed to term a rhetorical gorgon-faced word. They have ſagaciouſly diſcovered alſo that Shakeſpeare acted, with very little judgment, in the execution of one of his greateſt maſter-pieces of art. But this is ſufficient with regard to their literary ſtrictures: I come now to their perſonal ones; and here they charge Mr. K. with having deſcended to make uſe of "ſcurrility, abuſive and even low-lived * petulance," with "ribaldry," with "bragging," with "foul language," with "being habituated to abuſive bluſtering," with "wanting a penſion to ſtop his mouth," with "being a voracious boreas," with "being a literary bruiſer," with "fighting tooth and nail [Page 43] like dogs and bears," and finally with "being a whimſical, lynx-eyed, critico-poetico-metaphyſico-magico philoſopher."
The reader will judge for himſelf how far a ſet of critics, who are ſo admirably well ſkilled in calling names, are to be credited in charging any writer with ſcurrility, petulance, ribaldry and foul-language; words, I can aſſure him, that are not to be found in Mr. K's Review! But it is not only againſt ſuch critics, as pretend to have read his performance, that Mr. K. hath juſt cauſe of complaint. There are thoſe who condemn both him and his Review, without ſeeing or knowing any thing of either, except what is told them by Dr. Johnſon's partizans. Nay, ſeveral of theſe candid and impartial gentry began to rail openly in the public news-papers, at ſight of Mr. K's advertiſement only. The terms of this, truly, were highly indecent; it was a kind of high-treaſon, a ſpecies of impiety, even to imagine Dr. Johnſon could be ignorant or inattentive. One would have thought him placed at the head of literature, as the Roman pontiff is at the head of his church, and with the ſame pretenſions to infallibility. Every body, forſooth, was expected to kiſs pope Johnſon's toe, even at the hazard of having their fore-teeth kicked out by his holineſs's brutality. But Mr. K. had never any inclination to be treated in ſo groſs a manner, as that in which he had heard Dr. J. had taken the liberty to behave towards ſome perſons of the firſt rank in the world of ſcience and letters. It was reſerved for him, indeed, to pay the doctor in his own coin, and avenge the repeated inſults received [Page 44] by injured modeſty. To appeal to fact, however, in ſupport of what is above aſſerted, Mr. K's Review was hardly publiſhed before a letter, ſigned J. May, appeared in the London Chronicle, evidently founded on the advertiſement only, in which Mr. K. was charged in groſs terms with making uſe of FOUL-MOUTHED language, of want of decency, good-manners, and I know not what.—What a fine-mouthed, ſmooth-tongued, poliſhed generation is the preſent! This Mr. Sweet-lips was pleaſed to ſay, "Whatever judgment the public may entertain of the late edition of Shakeſpeare, the editor is too well known, to have the charge of ignorance ſo eaſily admitted againſt him."— Doubtleſs he is; and it would in no ſhape have anſwered the Reviewer's end for the public to have been ſatisfied by his advertiſement without reading his book.—By the readineſs, however, with which Mr. May, and indeed all Dr. J's friends, ſeem to give up the editor of Shakeſpeare, there is great reaſon to preſume Mr. K. did not promiſe more in the news-papers than he effected in his pamphlet. So that it appears Dr. J. is not ſo well known as this gentleman ſuppoſes. His name, indeed, is in every body's mouth, and it is poſſible there are few of thoſe, whom, from their fondneſs for fine writers, we may with propriety enough call fine readers, who have not yawned with drowſy admiration over thoſe quaint and inſipid performances, Irene and the Idler. But theſe works ſupport but a ſmall part of Dr. Johnſon's literary reputation: the foundation of which is laid ſo deep in the rubbiſh of erudition, that it is impoſſible [Page 45] for ſuch ſuperficial readers to diſcover it. Like the ſpectator of the inviſible cock, however, Mr. May ſeems to be very ſure it is there.—This ſame Mr. J. May, alſo, takes farther upon him to aſk ‘who is this W. K. who ſo rudely ſteps forth from — nobody knows where, to attack a gentleman of known literary abilities?’ —This gentleman muſt have very few connections, and know little of what is doing, in the literary world, to have any occaſion to aſk ſuch a queſtion. For, whoever he be, or whereever he comes from, Mr. K. may certainly ſay with propriety to HIM, Not to know me argues thyſelf unknown. But perhaps this gentleman, like the editor of Lloyd's Chronicle, and ſome other writers, who affected, on the like occaſion, to ſpeak of one Mr. K. as if an utter ſtranger to his exiſtence, may only know him too well, having before ſmarted from the juſt ſeverity of his critical pen. If ſo, Mr. May is anſwered; if not, and he was really deſirous of knowing ſomething of Mr. K. he may have, in ſome meaſure, gratified his curioſity in the peruſal of the foregoing ſheets.
The next gentleman I ſhall take notice of (which ſhall be the laſt, as there would be no end of purſuing anonymous writers) is one Mr. Hypercriticus, who, about the ſame time, without ever having ſeen Mr. K's book, was incited to publiſh, among other ſagacious reflections, the following wiſe ſentences. ‘From the very ſhort time ſince the publication of Mr. Johnſon's edition of Shakeſpeare, and from the very rapid [Page 46] * progreſs of Mr. Kenrick's remarks thereon, I believe they muſt be crude and imperfect.’ Believe! quoth he, Is not this very candid and ingenuous? But he proceeds to give a reaſon for the faith that is in him. ‘For to paſs a right judgment on books (ſays Longinus) requires a great length of time, and a perfect knowledge of the ſubject.’ Well, and what then? The writings of Shakeſpeare might have been the object of Mr. K's ſtudy for years, and he might thence have acquired (at leaſt for what Hypercriticus knew to the contrary) a perfect knowledge of the ſubject; and if ſo, no longer time would be requiſite for him to point out Dr. Johnſon's miſtakes, than was neceſſary to read his book. But, ſays this gentleman, ‘I ſuppoſe Mr. K. is a critick by intuition; one who, in regard to books, ſees into the merit of the whole, by reading only a part.’ As we had before a believe here we have a ſuppoſe. Are not theſe very pretty grounds to proceed on, to the condemnation of a writer unread. But how, if what I juſt now aſſerted be true, that Shakeſpeare's writings have been many years the favourite object of Mr. K's reading and ſtudy; how, if he hath long ſince accumulated materials for an edition of that poet, as [Page 47] is alſo true; I ſay, how, Mr. Hypercriticus, in this caſe, can you juſtify your precipitate cenſures, and what becomes of your ſuppoſe? And to ſuppoſe for once it was not ſo, ſurely Mr. K. might, as you ſay, judge of the whole by reading a part, with as much propriety as you judge of his performance by reading only his advertiſement in the news-papers? Why might not he be, without a ſuppoſe, a critick intuitively as well as you? But "ſarcaſm, you ſay, is unmannerly." I wiſh, that where you learned to be ſo very mannerly, you had only learned alſo to be equally ingenuous; you would have ſaved me the trouble, and yourſelf the mortification, of this reprehenſion. I ſay the ſame to all the reſt of the mannerly, candid, decent, delicate partizans of Dr. Johnſon, who have, on this occaſion, been attempting to box in mufflers, or throwing dirt with their gloves on. As to the former, Mr. K. is too hardy to feel their puny efforts to offend him; and, as to the latter he cannot help ſmiling to ſee, how eaſily their pellets dry and rub out, while they themſelves are begrimed up to the ears, in vainly endeavouring to beſpatter him.
Having now done with particular altercation, I ſhould here leave both Mr. K. and Dr. J. to ſtand or fall by the judgment of the publick, had there not been ſome ſtrictures let fall in ſome of the papers levelled againſt Mr. K. charging him with as great a want of modeſty, as he hath done Dr. J. with want of knowledge. I ſhall therefore beg leave to ſay a word or two on both theſe topicks, viz. on the modeſty of men of letters, and on literary knowledge.
OF all kinds of modeſty, whether real or affected, perhaps that of Authors is the moſt ſingular. A modeſt Author! It is a kind of contradiction in terms, and ſounds to my ear exactly like the expreſſion of a modeſt ſtrumpet. There is no doubt that a man may be a modeſt man before he commence writer, as a gentleman may be an honeſt gentleman before he be made miniſter-of-ſtate, or as even a butcher may have ſome bowels of compaſſion before he turn bum-bailiff; but no ſooner are they initiated into the routine of their reſpective offices, than modeſty, honeſty, and humanity take flight and leave them.
This is ſevere, you will ſay.—It is ſo; but it is nevertheleſs founded in truth, and may be applied to many writers now living, and probably likely to live ſo long as they can get any thing by proſtituting either their talents or reputation.
Certain it is, that a cloſer parallel can hardly be drawn between any two known characters, than between a common ſcribbler and a common ſtrumpet. How baſhfully doth the young enamorato of the muſes look at you, when you ſpeak to him about publiſhing his firſt production; even as an innocent countrywench bluſhes up to the eyes, when you firſt talk of untying her garter! But when they have been a while tumbled over in the ſheets, the virgin-modeſty [Page 49] of both is pretty equal. There is this difference between them, indeed, that the one grows bold by loſing reputation, and the other by gaining it. This difference, however, does not in the leaſt alter their conduct or appearance when they come upon the town: the reputation then aimed at by both, being very different from what they either loſt or gained. The one ſeeks not to improve his talents any more than the other her charms; but both apply aſſiduouſly to diſplay and make the moſt of what they poſſeſs; and if they covet fame, it is generally with a ſecondary view to the venal purpoſes of proſtitution *. Is it poſſible that ſuch characters can have any real modeſty, however neceſſary they may find it to aſſume its appearance, artfully to impoſe on the world?
Not but that there are degrees, both in venality and impudence; ſo that as a demi-rep may be comparatively modeſt and diſintereſted, ſo may an author. But to drop the compariſon; as there are many writers of a more liberal ſtamp than to come under any denomination that will rank them in this parallel; writers, who, while they labour to inſtruct and entertain the publick, labour equally to improve themſelves, and to render their future writings more valuable from the encouragement [Page 50] given to the preſent, I muſt own I cannot help thinking that ſuch writers debaſe themſelves greatly, whenever they affect the falſe modeſty of unexperienced tyros, or deſigning ignorants. There is a ſpecies of aſſurance in men of real knowledge, which may be ſaid, without impropriety, to be conſiſtent with the modeſty becoming their character, as they could not poſſibly diveſt themſelves of it without evident hypocriſy and affectation. As to authors by profeſſion, they muſt neceſſarily either diſplay their aſſurance by inſiſting on their own merit, or, in fact, confeſs themſelves bunglers, or impoſtors. And indeed why ſhould they not? If an artiſt diſcover any mode of mechanical operation, or execute a piece of mechaniſm, which is an improvement on what others have done before him, or what nobody can execute but himſelf, who charges him with want of modeſty in boldly aſſerting his own pre-eminence? Why then ſhould a critick, a philoſopher, an hiſtorian, or a poet, be thought too aſſuming in laying publick claim to that merit, which they actually poſſeſs? What ſhould we think of an artizan or manufacturer, who ſhould, in his advertiſements and ſhop-bills, modeſtly affect a diffidence of being able to give his cuſtomers ſatisfaction, having himſelf a mean opinion of his own abilities? Should we not conclude, without heſitation, that he was either a knave or fool, or both? Yet how common is it to meet with authors, who have been many years in trade, ridiculouſly affecting to think meanly of productions, which they nevertheleſs importunately obtrude on the publick, and make us pay for at as high [Page 51] a price as poſſible? Yet many of theſe writers have the character of being modeſt men. In my opinion, however, I think it an inſtance of very great impudence, to ſay no worſe of it, for a man to offer me a commodity at a great price, and to tell me at the ſame time he thinks it good for little. For what is this, in fact, but to tell me that he thinks me as great a fool as he confeſſes himſelf to be a knave?
And yet, if a writer were to uſe the ſame arguments in the preface of his book, to ſet off his works to advantage, as an artizan or manufacturer is allowed to do his, in his ſhop or warehouſe, he would of courſe be condemned for want of modeſty. Thus we ſee a very modeſt man may incur the obloquy of being an impudent author; and a very impudent author acquire the reputation of being a modeſt man.
The true ſtate of this matter ſeems to be this. Ignorance and impudence as generally go together as innocence and modeſty; but ignorance being often the companion, and ſometimes even the guardian, of innocence, it is no wonder that impudence ſhould put on the appearance of modeſty, in order to make us take mere ignorance for pure innocence.
Knowledge as naturally inſpires fortitude, as truth abominates hypocriſy. How abſurd is it then to require men of real abilities to affect that diffidence and ignorance to which they muſt neceſſarily be ſtrangers! At the ſame time, what can we think of thoſe writers, who, after being long hackneyed in the ways of men, and of their profeſſion; who, after ſetting themſelves up even at the head of that profeſſion, pretend [Page 52] to tremble while they write, to bow down with reverential awe to ſuperior learning, to kiſs the rod of correction, &c. &c. What, I ſay, can we think of ſuch writers, but that, ſenſible of their own ignorance or imbecillity, they are cajoling the publick in a manner that deſerves the name of the higheſt impudence.
Much more modeſt and manly is it for a writer of years and experience, to aſſert boldly and confidently what he hath good reaſon to think he knows *; and openly to defy every groundleſs imputation or inſinuation of ignorance.
IT hath been frequently obſerved, that the knowledge of words is not the knowledge of things. Indeed the diſtinction between the ſcholar and the man of ſcience is now become general. It is nevertheleſs certain, that a man cannot be a conſiderable proficient in philology, particularly with regard to the modern languages, without having made ſome acquiſitions in ſcience. It is not my intent, however, to expatiate here on this diſtinction, or to enhance the preference due to ſcience above mere literature; my intention being [Page 53] only to throw out a few ſhort obſervations on literary knowledge in general.
‘Be not vain of thy learning, child, ſaid my grandfather to me when I was a boy; I have lived to forget more than thou haſt learned in thy whole life.’ All this was very true; and yet I thought myſelf, nevertheleſs, as good a ſcholar as my grandfather: for when we were ſometimes both at a loſs for a word or two of Greek, I found the only difference between us was, that I turned to the Lexicon for thoſe I never knew, and he for thoſe he could not remember: but my copia verborum was nevertheleſs equal to his.
Now it would be a matter of ſome importance to determine, whether a man can with propriety be ſaid to know what he cannot remember, even though he ſhould have formerly had it perfectly impreſſed in his memory?
I am afraid that we ſhall go nigh to be laughed at by the vulgar, ſhould we admit that a man may be ſaid to know what he hath forgot, and can't tell us if we ask him. And yet, if he ſhould recollect it half-an-hour hence, without any body's telling him in the mean time, ſurely he muſt have had ſuch knowledge in him at the time of his being asked; ſince it does not appear that he had by any external means acquired it ſince.
This would afford a curious and ſubtle diſquſition; but, as I have not time to enter here into a profound inveſtigation of all the difficulties that ſuggeſt themſelves concerning it, I ſhall only make an application of it to the [Page 54] learning of the two laſt editors of Shakeſpeare, and leave the reader to make it out as well as he can.
Mr. K. hath proved, in ſeveral parts of his Review of Dr. J's edition, that the ſaid editor either did not then know, or had forgot the meaning of ſeveral words and paſſages, which it is plain the Doctor muſt have formerly known, and probably would have recollected ſome odd time or other. I ſhall inſtance only one or two. In one the very learned Doctors J. and W. both appear not to know the meaning of the word convene; Dr. W. objecting to Shakeſpeare's proper uſe of it, and Dr. J. adopting the ſaid objection: and yet Mr. K. hath juſtified Shakeſpeare, and convicted both the editors on the authority of Dr. J's own Dictionary.
Again, in regard to the uſe of the old phraſe, taken with the manner, both theſe learned editors flatly contradict themſelves; aſſerting in one volume that it is uſed one way, and in another volume that it is uſed differently.
Dr. J's friends will ſay, "O, no — he certainly knew better." Knew better? when? What, when he was told of the blunder, I ſuppoſe? Surely that man may juſtly be called ignorant, whoſe knowledge, how great ſoever, is out of the way when it is wanted!
Will it be ſaid, theſe are not inſtances of ignorance but inattention? Pray what is inattention? Do you [Page 55] mean to ſay that the Doctor did not read theſe paſſages, or that he read them when he was aſleep?
If he read them, and was wide awake, theſe miſtakes could never have happened from inattention, but muſt have been derived from forgetfulneſs; which, according to the arguments above adduced, muſt be a ſpecies at leaſt of ignorance.
But the criticks will poſſibly aſk me, what I mean by being wide awake, and by Dr. J's reading theſe paſſages? They will ſay, perhaps, that they know as well as I, that, when a commentator reads a paſſage over, he muſt comprehend it ſome way or other, right or wrong; and that no inattention, in that caſe, can prevent the operation of his judgment reſpecting the words that lie before him; ſo that, if he then miſtakes, it muſt be through ignorance. ‘But this was not the caſe; (it may be ſaid) Dr. J. could never dream that Dr. W. could be miſtaken ſo grosſly in matters ſo clear and obvious, and therefore copied thoſe paſſages implicitly from Dr. W's Comment: ſo that it was nothing more than inattention. ’
Call you this method of proceeding inattention? It is ſuch wilful negligence, that your friend Dr. J. will hardly be obliged to you for thus defending him from the charge of ignorance; for ſurely, if we may not call it want of knowledge, we muſt call it want of— ſomething elſe, which a man of acknowledged virtue ſhould not be without. What would a ſimilar conduct to this, be called in any of the common concerns of life? Happy is it, undoubtedly, for the preſent race of authors, that they ALL, being penſioned, [Page 56] can ſubſiſt and provide for their families, without being obliged to publiſh their works by ſubſcription; for, after ſuch flagrant inſtances of inattention, and that in a writer of the firſt reputation for learning and virtue, what encouragement can any other, of leſs note, or leſs reputed virtue, ever hope to meet with?
The late Mr. Fielding, ſpeaking ſomewhere of thoſe gentlemen, who had tied themſelves up, as it was then called, from ſubſcribing to works of genius and literature, expreſſes his reſentment againſt them, by ſaying, it is a pity they were not tied up in good earneſt; but what do thoſe authors deſerve, who firſt gave occaſion for people entering into ſuch illiberal engagements?
And what doth Dr. J. in particular deſerve, for having obtruded on the world the worſt Commentary of Shakeſpeare that ever appeared? and, at the ſame time, for having, by his procraſtination and neglect, ſo effectually diſguſted the publick with editors and ſubſcriptions, that it is preſumed the ableſt commentator in the kingdom would find little encouragement for a ſimilar undertaking? notwithſtanding, as the criticks juſtly obſerve, SHAKESPEARE ſtands NOW in more need of a NEW EDITION than ever.