1791 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Montagu

James Boswell, in Life of Johnson, 1791; ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 4:74-75.



While the world in general was filled with admiration of Johnson's Lives of the Poets, there were narrow circles in which prejudice and resentment were fostered, and from which attacks of different sorts issued against him. By some violent Whigs he was arraigned of injustice to Milton; by some Cambridge men of depreciating Gray; and by expressing with a dignified freedom what he really thought of George, Lord Lyttelton, gave offence to some of the friends of that nobleman, and particularly produced a declaration of war against him from Mrs. Montagu, the ingenious Essayist on Shakspeare, between whom and his Lordship a commerce of reciprocal compliments had long been carried on. In this war the smaller powers in alliance with him were of course led to engage, at least on the defensive, and thus I for one was excluded from the enjoyment of "A Feast of Reason," such a Mr. Cumberland has described, with a keen, just and delicate pen, in his Observer. These minute inconveniences gave not the least disturbance to Johnson. He nobly said, when I talked to him of the feeble, though shrill outcry which had been raised, "Sir, I considered myself as entrusted with a certain portion of truth. I have given my opinion sincerely; let them shew me where they think me wrong."