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that all the waters of formal criticism are powerless to quench.

So much for the more superficial aspect of the Lives, and their attraction for the general reader: for the student of literature and of literary history they have, it is scarcely necessary to say, a more abiding and penetrating interest. For they represent the ripest critical product of an essentially critical age, and they record unerringly the standards upon which one of the most formative periods in the history of English literature proceeded to regulate and to judge itself. Johnson was the literary dictator of his age: he dominated it as few men have dominated their time before or since: and he did so because he was the quintessential representative of his generation, embodying its standards, its methods, even its prejudices and predilections. If, therefore, we want to understand what the culture of the eighteenth century thought of the poetry of its own age and of the ages that preceded it, we shall find that opinion nowhere so clearly nor so authoritatively set forth as in the pages of Johnson's Lives. And the importance of the opinion is increased by the fact that these judgements were pronounced to a generation peculiarly interested in the art of poetry, a generation with whom a cultured taste and the practice of poetry were commonly found to go hand in hand. În the eighteenth century almost every man of culture wrote verse; the ordinary courtesies of invitation and gratitude were expressed in rhyme, and poetry was read and discussed with avidity. We have, therefore, in Johnson's critical judgements the finest expression of its kind uttered in and approved by a generation of men most eagerly interested in the literary art: an expression, accordingly, of the highest value and importance from an historical point of view.

We endeavour, then, before studying the judgements themselves, to place ourselves somewhat in line with the taste and standard of the age, and, as a beginning, we let our eye range over the list of poets included in the volume. In a moment, a singular catalogue of omissions springs

into the memory. As a poet Shakespeare is almost entirely unmentioned, but that, no doubt, was due to the scheme of the series. The prefaces were to serve as preludes to the poetical text, and such an arrangement could not, obviously, include the whole volume of Shakespearean drama. But where is Chaucer? Not only does he fail to figure among the poets separately discussed: he is not even once alluded to by way of critical comparison. Where are Spenser? Herrick? Lovelace? Campion? Crashaw? We soon find that poetry practically begins, in Johnson's judgement, with Waller, and reaches its consummation in Pope. 'To attempt,' he says of the author of The Rape of the Lock, to attempt any further improvement of versification will be dangerous. Art and diligence have now done their best, and what shall be added will be the effort of tedious toil and needless curiosity.' Such a sentence gives the judgement pause; and we now begin to appreciate a certain drawback to the critical standard of an age in which the practice of poetry has become the exercise of every elegant imagination. The fact is that poetry is capable of becoming too much a thing of fashion -to its own undoing. When every man of culture writes verse, the standard of poetic excellence is soon confined to the writing of verse like a man of culture. Sentiment takes the place of passion; grace is esteemed more highly than thought; and all poetry which does not conform to the rules of artifice and elegance is put out of court as inartistic and barbarous.

When Johnson sought a formal definition of poetry, he did not at once hedge himself round with all his own conventions. 'Poetry,' he said, 'is the art of uniting pleasure with truth by calling imagination to the aid of reason'; and, if the definition be used with pliability, it may be made to cover a fairly wide field. But, when he set about to illustrate his idea of 'pleasure' and 'truth,' of 'imagination' and 'reason,' he showed himself (inevitably) to be bound hand and foot by the chains of contemporary definition. With him 'truth' becomes a synonym for morality, 'imagination' another term for

artificial decoration. A single example in each direction will suffice. When he concluded the composition of the Lives, Johnson expressed a hope that they might 'tend to the promotion of piety,' while, when he censured Gray's Bard, he did so on the ground that 'it might have concluded with an action of better example.' And, upon the other hand, when he is brought face to face with the pastoral atmosphere of Lycidas, he finds it 'vulgar and disgusting,' while the elaborate machinery of The Rape of the Lock is praised as a masterpiece of ingenuity and taste. In these passages, better perhaps than anywhere else in the Lives, we can appreciate the standards of eighteenthcentury poetry, and fathom their limitations.

Poetry and criticism, to begin with, were to 'tend to the promotion of piety': here, as so often elsewhere, we have the old conflict between art and morals unflinchingly faced, and art handed over, scrip and scrippage, into the service of morality. It is an old question, and an open one; and the years that have intervened have failed to answer it. But this at least is certain. The value of the resignation of art to morals must depend largely upon the standard of the morality of time, upon the meaning of literary morals to the age; and the age of Johnson was one in which the circle of morality was quite unduly narrowed and beset by prejudice. By morality the eighteenth century understood teaching, doctrine, instruction: it asked that every work of art should convey its own lesson, and point its own homily. In a word, it wanted art to preach, and this is just what art ought not to do. Suggestion, implication, the still small voice-these are the ways of art, which has always avoided the methods alike of the pulpit and the hustings. Johnson felt otherwise. His rich, dominant personality, inured to laying down the law in goodly, outward authority, was all for emphasis and effect. His criticism gained in vigour by these qualities, but it lost, as it was bound to do, in subtlety and sensitiveness.

And when he comes to treat of the proper machinery of poetry, its metaphors and fantasies, the same spirit

steps between the critic and a perfect clarity of vision. His sound, invincible common-sense continually leads him aright in the condemnation of tricks and artifices; when once he is free of the fashion, he can track affection to its lair with a deadly precision. But, when the conventions of his age come into conflict with his judgement, they are sure to carry him into their own lobby: he is bound to vote for the methods in which he was trained from his youth up. This is the secret of his contempt for Lycidas and his enthusiasm over the Lock: the artificial environment of Pope's poem is in the fashion, the pastoral machinery of Milton's is out of date. And Johnson, great, glorious, eloquent child of his age, is forced to follow where the fashions of his time lead him.

'Poetry,' he says, 'is the art of uniting pleasure with truth, by calling imagination to the help of reason.' We do well to keep this definition in our mind while tracing its gradual embodiment and illustration in the Lives that lie before us. Johnson is always firm about the 'pleasure': poetry that gives no pleasure is not for him. For this reason he prefers rhyme to blank verse; for this reason he is always intolerant of a tedious style, of monotony, of a lack of variety in subject or in treatment. Yet, even if he prefers Akenside's blank verse to that of any other poet, his keen ear can appreciate the 'mighty-mouthed harmonies' of Milton, and the softer cadences of Thomson; and in occasional surprises like this, we feel that we are always in the presence of a master of his craft, continually susceptible to the true influences of art, even when they seem to break through the veil of his own conventions. And even if his sense of the uses of imagination is confined, and if reason and the moral sense become too frequently identified, what a feast of reason and a flow of witty common-sense is always at the disposal of his rich and abundant genius! The autocratic judgement is not more characteristic of him than the subtle turn of phrase; he is a master of expression, and a prophet of kindly wisdom. Above all, he shows in every thought and reflection the full-orbed quality of a powerful and manly

character, a typical Englishman of a strenuous and truehearted generation. And when we would praise famous men and the fathers who begat us, this is the sort of man for whom our gratitude beats quickest—a man, in art as in life, incapable of subterfuge and intolerant of untruth; downright and emphatic in expression, but in sympathy human and warm-hearted; a man and a leader of men, whose voice is as eloquent to-day as ever it was in Bolt Court or by Temple Bar, the voice of its age, fearless and resonant, bearing down the years an example of the qualities of head and heart, of taste and piety, that grows only more attractive and more memorable with the passage of time.


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