1824 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

Bryan Waller Procter, in Effigies Poeticae, or, the Portraits of the British Poets (1824) 94-95.



From a Picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds, late in the possession of Mrs. Piozzi.

We are not hereto inquire into DOCTOR JOHNSON'S qualifications as a critic, into his essays in prose, or his general wisdom. As a poet, it is no slander to say that he was not one of the highest order. His imitation of Juvenal, which is spirited, is decidedly the best of his poetical compositions. His tragedy is tame and without a single dramatic qualification; and his Life of Milton is a sad stain upon his fame. Yet he was, as men go, a great man, a shrewd man, quick in conversation, laborious, high spirited and benevolent. Shall we give up these things or forget them, because he had some infirmities of temper, or some frailties of criticism? — Let us rather call to mind his spirited reply to Lord Chesterfield, his tenderness to his servant, his constant affection to his family, and the general tone of his writings, which almost universally tend to kindness and good feeling. He had the reasoning faculty in very great perfection, and did not allow it to lie idle, as his biographer amply proves. He is said to have carried a poor maimed beggar on his back along Ludgate Hill and Fleet Street, in defiance of the jeers and contempt of idle passengers, and this is alone sufficient to compensate for a folio of faults. The portrait here given is engraved after Sir Joshua Reynolds, and represents the author in his age. It is an undoubted likeness.