1785 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

George Butt, "Defence of Dr. Johnson's Character of Milton" General Evening Post (11 January 1785).



DEFENCE OF DR. JOHNSON'S CHARACTER OF MILTON; FROM A DIALOGUE IN THE ELYSIAN SHADES, ATTRIBUTED TO THE REV. MR. BUTT, THE KING'S CHAPLAIN, WHO HAS BEEN MENTIONED AS AN ATTENDANT AT THE DOCTOR'S FUNERAL.

MILTON in his manly days
Possess'd (as well he might) a manly soul.
But JOHNSON, in our days emasculate,
Bulg'd from the fenny flatness of his times,
And tour'd a meteor of such majesty
As MILTON'S self shone in his active age.
If my great friend at MILTON'S moral worth
Smote strong, and nearly shatter'd to the ground
His merits as a man, he left him still
Thron'd on sublimity's sublimest heights,
And seem'd to me the only man whose mind
Found thoughts, found words, suiting the theme august,
Able to bring great MILTON'S stretch of soul,
His noblest work, his holiest poesy,
Full in our view, in seraph-glories dress'd.
This portrait JOHNSON was endow'd to draw;
And, when with SHAKESPEARE I the work survey'd,
We saw the great Archangel into view.
Rising, but not with ruin'd majesty,
And at the mighty Painter's working, bow'd,
Astonish'd at his aweful truth of hand,
His vast capacity of mental sight.
Slaves to the whistle of a glorious name
Marvel, that JOHNSON dar'd from MILTON'S brow
Rend a few ringlets — but the judging few
Know that he leaves his great original
Divinely aweful, one that well may spare
The spoils that candid Wisdom calls her own.