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This and a thousand other such attempts are totally unlike the original, which the writers imagined they were turning into ridicule. There is not similarity enough for burlesque, or even for caricature.
Mr. Colman, in his "Prose on several Occasions," has " A Letter from Lexiphanes, containing Proposals for a Glossary, or Vocabulary of the Vulgar Tongue; intended as a Supplement to a larger Dictionary." It is evidently meant as a sportive sally of ridicule on Johnson, whose style is thus imitated, without being grossly overcharged: :
"It is easy to foresee that the idle and illiterate will complain that I have increased their labours by endeavouring to diminish them; and that I have explained what is more easy by what is more difficult — ignotum per ignotius. I expect, on the other hand, the liberal acknowledgments of the learned. He who is buried in scholastic retirement, secluded from the assemblies of the gay, and remote from the circles of the polite, will at once comprehend the definitions, and be grateful for such a seasonable and necessary elucidation of his mother-tongue."
Annexed to this letter is the following short specimen of the work, thrown together in a vague and desultory manner, not even adhering to alphabetical concatenation.
occasion to a poem, not without characteristical merit, entitled "Ode to Mrs. Thrale, by Samuel Johnson, LL.D., on their supposed approach.. ing Nuptials:" printed for Mr. Faulder in Bond Street. I shall quote as a specimen the first three stanzas:
"If e'er my fingers touch'd the lyre,
In satire fierce, in pleasure gay,
"My dearest lady! view your slave,
Behold him as your very Scrub;
Or govern well-the brewing-tub.
"To rich felicity thus raised,
My bosom glows with amorous fire,
'Tis I myself am Thrale's Entire."- B.
Mrs. Carter, in one of her letters to Mrs. Montagu, says, "I once saw him (Dr. Johnson) very indigné when somebody jested about Mrs. Thrale's marrying himself. The choice would, no doubt, have been singular, but much less exceptionable than that which she has made."- Mrs. Carter's Letters, vol. iii. p. 221. — C.
- Conglomeration and confusion.
"HIGGLEDY PIGGLEDY,"HODGE-PODGE, -A culinary mixture of heterogeneous ingredients : applied metaphorically to all discordant combinations. "TIT FOR TAT, - Adequate retaliation.
"SHILLY SHALLY, Hesitation and irresolution. "FEE! FA! FUM!- Gigantic intonations.
"RIGMAROLE,- Discourse, incoherent and rhapsodical. "CRINCUM-CRANCUM,- Lines of irregularity and involution. Tintinnabulary chimes, used metaphorically to signify despatch and vehemence." (1)
The serious imitators of Johnson's style, whether intentionally or by the imperceptible effect of its strength and animation, are, as I have had already occasion to observe, so many, that I might introduce quotations from a numerous body of writers in our language, since he appeared in the literary world. I shall point out the following:
WILLIAM ROBERTSON, D.D.
"In other parts of the globe, man, in his rudest state, appears as lord of the creation, giving law to various tribes of animals which he has tamed and reduced to subjection. The Tartar follows his prey on the horse which he has reared, or tends his numerous herds which furnish him both with food and clothing; the Arab has rendered the camel docile, and avails himself of its persevering strength; the Laplander has formed the reindeer to be subservient to his will; and even the people of Kamschatka have trained their dogs to labour. This command over the inferior creatures is one of the noblest prerogatives of man, and among the greatest efforts of his wisdom and power. Without this, his dominion is incomplete. He is a monarch who has no subjects; a master without servants; and must perform every operation by the strength of his own arm." (2)
EDWARD GIBBON, ESQ.
"Of all our passions and appetites, the love of power is of the most imperious and unsociable nature, since the pride of one man requires the
(1) On the original publication of Mr. Boswell's own work, the press teemed with parodies, or imitations of his style of reporting Dr. Johnson's conversation but they are now all deservedly forgotten, except one by Mr. Alexander Chalmers, which is executed with so much liveliness and plea santry, and is, in fact, so just a criticism on the lighter portions of this work, that the reader will be, I believe, much pleased to find it preserved. See ante, "Lesson in Biography; or, How to write the Life of one's Friend."-C.
submission of the multitude. In the tumult of civil discord the laws of society lose their force, and their place is seldom supplied by those of humanity. The ardour of contention, the pride of victory, the despair of success, the memory of past injuries, and the fear of future dangers, all contribute to inflame the mind, and to silence the voice of pity." (1)
"My family, mistaking ambition for honour, and rank for dignity, have long planned a splendid connection for me, to which, though my invariable repugnance has stopped any advances, their wishes and their views immovably adhere. I am but too certain they will now listen to no other. I dread, therefore, to make a trial where I despair of success; I know not how to risk a prayer with those who may silence me by a command." (2)
REVEREND MR. NARES. (3)
"In an enlightened and improving age, much perhaps is not to be apprehended from the inroads of mere caprice; at such a period it will generally be perceived that needless irregularity is the worst of all deformities, and that nothing is so truly elegant in language as the simplicity of unviolated analogy. Rules will, therefore, be observed, so far as they are known and acknowledged: but, at the same time, the desire of improvement having been once excited will not remain inactive; and its efforts, unless assisted by knowledge as much as they are prompted by zeal, will not unfrequently be found pernicious; so that the very persons whose intention it is to perfect the instrument of reason wili deprave and disorder it unknowingly. At such a time, then, it becomes peculiarly necessary that the analogy of language should be fully examined and understood; that its rules should be carefully laid down; and that it should be clearly known how much it contains which, being already right, should be defended from change and violation; how much it has that demands amendment; and how much that, for fear of greater inconveniences, must, perhaps, be left unaltered, though irregular."
A distinguished author in “The Mirror ”(*), a periodical paper published at Edinburgh, has imitated Johnson very closely. Thus, in No. 16. :—
(1) Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. i. chap. 4.
(2) Cecilia, book vii. chap. i.
(3) The passage which I quote is taken from that gentleman's" Elements of Orthoëpy; containing a distinct View of the whole Analogy of the English Language, so far as relates to Pronunciation, Accent, and Quantity;" London, 1784. I beg leave to offer my particular acknowledgments to the author of a work of uncommon merit and great utility. I know no book which contains, in the same compass, more learning, polite literature, sound sense, accuracy of arrangement, and perspicuity of expression.
(4) That collection was presented to Dr. Johnson, I believe, by its authors; and I heard him speak very well of it.
"The effects of the return of spring have been frequently remarked, as well in relation to the human mind as to the animal and vegetable world. The reviving power of this season has been traced from the fields to the herds that inhabit them, and from the lower classes of beings up to man. Gladness and joy are described as prevailing through universal nature, animating the low of the cattle, the carol of the birds, and the pipe of the shepherd."
The Reverend Dr. Knox, master of Tunbridge school, appears to have the imitari aveo of Johnson's style perpetually in his mind; and to his assiduous, though not servile, study of it, we may partly ascribe the extensive popularity of his writings. (1)
In his "Essays, Moral and Literary," No. 3., we find the following passage : —
"The polish of external grace may indeed be deferred till the approach of manhood. When solidity is obtained by pursuing the modes prescribed by our forefathers, then may the file be used. The firm substance will bear attrition, and the lustre then acquired will be durable."
There is, however, one in No. 11. which is blown up into such tumidity as to be truly ludicrous. The writer means to tell us, that members of Parliament who have run in debt by extravagance will sell their votes to avoid an arrest (2), which he thus expresses: —
"They who build houses and collect costly pictures and furniture with
(1) It were to be wished that he had imitated that great man in every respect, and had not followed the example of Dr. Adam Smith, in ungraciously attacking his venerable Alma Mater, Oxford. It must, however, be observed, that he is much less to blame than Smith: he only objects to certain particulars; Smith to the whole institution; though indebted for much of his learning to an exhibition which he enjoyed for many years at Baliol College. Neither of them, however, will do any hurt to the noblest university in the world. While I animadvert on what appears to me exceptionable in some of the works of Dr. Knox, I cannot refuse due praise to others of his productions; particularly his sermons, and to the spirit with which he maintains, against presumptuous heretics, the consolatory doctrines peculiar to the Christian Revelation. This he has done in a manner equally strenuous and conciliating. Neither ought I to omit mentioning a remarkable instance of his candour. Notwithstanding the wide difference of our opinions upon the important subject of university education, in a letter to me concerning this work, he thus expresses himself: "I thank you for the very great entertainment your Life of Johnson gives me. It is a most valuable work. Yours is a new species of biography. Happy for Johnson that he had so able a recorder of his wit and wisdom.'
(2) Dr. Knox, in his " Moral and Literary" abstraction, may be excused for not knowing the political regulations of his country. No senator can be in the hands of a bailiff.
the money of an honest artisan or mechanic will be very glad of emancipation from the hands of a bailiff by a sale of their senatorial suffrage."
But I think the most perfect imitation of Johnson is a professed one, entitled " A Criticism on Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard" (1), said to be written by Mr. Young, professor of Greek, at Glasgow, and of which let him have the credit, unless a better title can be shown. It has not only the particularities of Johnson's style, but that very species of literary discussion and illustration for which he was eminent. Having already quoted so much from others, I shall refer the curious to this performance, with an assurance of much entertainment.
Yet whatever merit there may be in any imitations of Johnson's style, every good judge must see that they are obviously different from the original; for all of them are either deficient in its force, or overloaded with its peculiarities; and the powerful sentiment to which it is suited is not to be found.
(1) It seems to me to be one of the most insipid and unmeaning volumes ever published. I cannot make out whether it was meant for jest or earnest; but it fails either way, for it has neither pleasantry nor sense. Johnson saw this work, and thus writes of it:-"Of the imitation of my style, in a criticism on Gray's Churchyard, I forgot to make mention. The author is, I believe, utterly unknown, for Mr. Steevens cannot hunt him out. I know little of it, for though it was sent me, I never cut the leaves open. I had a letter with it, representing it to me as my own work; in such an account to the public there may be humour, but to myself it was neither serious nor comical. I suspect the writer to be wrong-headed. to the noise which it makes, I never heard it, and am inclined to believe that few attacks either of ridicule or invective make much noise but by the help of those that they provoke."- Letter to Thrale, July 5. 1783. — C.