1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

John Scott of Amwell to James Beattie, 19 May 1782; Forbes, Life and Writings of James Beattie (1806) 2:111.



Did I ever mention Dr. Johnson's prefaces? My friend has doubtless seen that fund of entertainment and information; of striking observations, and useful reflections; of good sense, and of illiberal prejudices; of just and unjust criticism. That a mind, so enlarged as Johnson's in some respects, should be so confined in others, is amazing. The titled scriblers of the last century; the prosaic Denham, the inane and quaint Yalden, and even the Grub-stree Pomfret, meet with all possible favour. Every man who expresses sentiments of religious or political liberty; every man who writes in blank verse, or writes pastoral; and every man contemporary with himself — is sure to meet with no mercy. To Blackmore, I think, he has done but justice. Blackmore, with all his absurdities, was a poet; his poem on the Creation (tedious as it is) sufficiently proves it. Pope and his brother wits were too hard upon Blackmore: it was very well to point out his faults, but ungenerous to stigmatise him as an absolute dunce. Dr. Johnson has very properly estimated the merits of Prior, whose poetical powers were too highly rated by the readers of his own time; though it must be allowed, that much of his Solomon and some of his Henry and Emma, is real poetry. Dyer, Shenstone, Collins, Akenside, and Gray, are the authors whom I most regret as sufferers by Johnson's unjust censure: and what must one think of the critic's taste, who could prefer Dryden's wretched, conceited, Ode on Mrs. Killigrew, to the British Bard of our English Pindar?