1775 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Scott of Amwell

James Boswell, 1775; Life of Johnson (1791); ed. G. B. Hill (1891) 2:402-03.



Mr. Scott of Amwell's Elegies were lying in the room. Dr. Johnson observed, "They are very well; but such as twenty people might write." Upon this I took occasion to controvert Horace's maxim:

Mediocritas esse poetis
Non Di, non homines, no concessere columnae;

For here (I observed) was a very middle-rate poet who pleased many readers, and therefore poetry of a middle sort was entitled to some esteem; nor could I see why poetry should not, like every thing else, have different gradations of value. Johnson repeated the common remark, that "as there is no necessity for our having poetry at all, it being merely a luxury, an instrument of pleasure, it can have no value, unless when exquisite in its kind." I declared myself not satisfied. "Why then, sir," said he, "you and Horace must settle it." He was not much in the humour of talking.