1811 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

Richard Cumberland, in Retrospection, a Poem (1811) 20-22.



Conscious of all the peril I incur,
I must now leave my cause to future time,
And rest in humble hope, that what I've said
Posterity will sanction. Sixty years
I've worn the livery of the true-born Muse;
She is my rightful mistress; her I serve:
Witches and goblins must be chas'd away,
And truth and nature and the genuine taste
For classic purity must be restor'd,
Ere men shall listen to the measur'd strains
Of her melodious heav'n-strung harp again.

But what is all this vision, and with whom
Do I converse? — With shadows. They are gone;
They vanish — I am left to pass my days
With a new generation, far remov'd
From these, whom in my fancy I beheld.
Yes, ye departed Worthies, I have mourn'd
For all, and some have follow'd to the grave.
When Garrick was surrender'd to the dust
I stood by Johnson, and beheld the tears
Roll down his reverend cheeks; and oh! beware,
All ye who knew him not, how ye decide
Upon a heart with charity replete
And human kindness, tho' with brow austere
And stern rebuke sometimes he would reprove
The vanities and vices of mankind:
'Twas such the champion of the truth should be,
And such he was. The world hath ample cause
To prize his virtues and to mourn his loss.
His piety was humble; from his heart
The pray'r went up in silence, or at most
Scarce murmur'd on his lips: 'Twas so I deem
The lowly Publican address'd his God.

But other tones and other teachers now
Are coming into use: we are so wise,
That wisdom cannot mend us; we must run
To dunces for instruction, as we do
To mountebanks for med'cine. Nothing serves
To elevate our souls so high tow'rds Hea'n
As nonsense and bad English, bellow'd forth
With lungs stentorian and uplifted arms,
Not quite like Raphael's painting of St. Paul;
Yet less unlike than in their preaching they
To that inspir'd Apostle, or the mob,
That hears them, to Athenians — Each to each
Is fitted: so they teach, and we are taught.