Dr Johnson's Criticisms
Johnson decided literary questions like a lawyer, not like a legislator.
He never examined foundations where a point was already ruled. His whole
code of criticism rested on pure assumption, for which he sometimes gave
a precedent or authority, but rarely troubled himself to give a reason
drawn from the nature of things. He judged of all works of the imagination
by the standard established among his own contemporaries. Though he
allowed Homer to have been a greater man than Virgil, he seems to have
thought the AEneid to have been a greater poem than the Iliad. Indeed, he
well might have thought so; for he preferred Pope's Iliad to Homer's.
He pronounced that after Hoole's translation of Tasso, Fairfax's would
hardly be reprinted. He could see no merit in our fine old English
ballads, and always spoke with the most provoking contempt of Dr.
Percy's fondness for them.
Of all the great original works which appeared during his time,
Richardson's novels alone excited his admiration. He could see little
or no merit in Tom Jones, in Gulliver's Travels, or in Tristram
Shandy. To Thomson's Castle of Indolence he vouchsafed only a line of
cold commendation--of commendation much colder than what he has bestowed
on The Creation of that portentous bore, Sir Richard Blackmore. Gray
was, in his dialect, a barren rascal. Churchill was a blockhead. The
contempt which he felt for Macpherson was, indeed, just; but it was, we
suspect, just by by chance. He criticized Pope's epitaphs excellently.
But his observations on Shakspeare's plays, and Milton's poems, seem to
us as wretched as if they had been written by Rymer himself, whom we
take to have been the worst critic that ever lived.
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