1765 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

C. M., "On Shakespear's Commentators" St. James's Chronicle (21 December 1765).



Grammarians dull! and Commentators,
Ye wrangling, noisy, vain Debators,
Quit, quit the Pedant's Art;
Whilst each by Pride, or Folly led,
With Learning, Reading, crams his Head,
He petrifies his Heart.

Shakespeare, by Syntax Rules to bind?
And fetter that unbounded Mind?
How weak the Thought, and vain!
Though Grammar in his Page is crost,
Yet ne'er in one Idea lost,
And Sense you're sure to gain.

Language and Manners daily change
In every Clime, nor think it strange
What we uncouth may deem,
Might, in the Living Author's Days,
Be thought fit Monuments of Praise,
Of Honour and Esteem.

Examine Virgil, Homer's Page,
Envy and Wonder of each Age,
And then you'll quickly find
Their noble Fire, above all Rules,
Contemns the Shackles of the Schools,
While Syntax limps behind.

Such Writers! (to themselves a Law)
Free Licence claim, from Rules you draw
From them; — in Feeling trust
Poets of Nature! and the Heart!
To try such Bards by Rules of Art,
Is foolish and unjust.

Shakespeare's best Comment would you know,
In Spite of Envy, will I shew;
Justice shall own it good:
See Garrick! and in him you'll own
Shakespeare's strong Sense is clearly shewn,
Each Tittle understood.