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"His best actions are but [convenient] inability of wickedness.
"When once he had engaged himself in disputation, [matter] thoughts flowed in on either
"The abyss of an unideal [emptiness] vacancy. These, like [many other harlots,] the harlots of other men, had his love though not his approbation.
"He [sometimes displays] descends to display his knowledge with pedantick ostentation.
"French words which [were then used in] had then crept into conversation."
The Life of Pope was written by Johnson con amore, both from the early possession which that writer had taken of his mind, and from the pleasure which he must have felt in for ever silencing all attempts to lessen his poetical fame, by demonstrating his excellence, and pronouncing the following triumphant eulogium:"After all this, it is surely superfluous to answer the question that has once been asked, Whether Pope was a poet? otherwise than by asking in return, if Pope be not a poet, where is poetry to be found? To circumscribe poetry by a definition will only show the narrowness of the definer; though a definition which shall exclude Pope will not easily be made. Let us look round upon the present time, and back upon the past; let us inquire to whom the voice of mankind has decreed the wreath of poetry; let their productions be examined, and their claims stated, and the pretensions of Pope will be no more disputed."
I remember once to have heard Johnson say, Sir, a thousand years may elapse before there shall appear another man with a power of versification equal to that of Pope." That power must
undoubtedly be allowed its due share in enhancing the value of his captivating composition.
Johnson who had done liberal justice to Warburton in his edition of Shakspeare, which was published during the life of that powerful writer, with still greater liberality took an opportunity, in the life of Pope, of paying the tribute due to him when he was no longer in "high place," but numbered with the dead".
It seems strange that two such men as Johnson and Warburton, who lived in the same age and country, should not only not have been in any degree of intimacy, but been almost personally unacquainted. But such instances, though we must wonder at them, are not rare. If I am rightly informed, after a careful inquiry, they never met but once, which was at the house of Mrs. French, in London, well known for her elegant assemblies, and bringing eminent characters
6 Of Johnson's conduct towards Warburton a very honourable notice is taken by the Editor of "Tracts by Warburton, and a Warburtonian, not admitted into the Collection of their respective Works," After an able and "fond, though not undistinguishing" consideration of Warburton's character, he says, “In two immortal works, Johnson has stood forth in the foremost rank of his admirers. By the testimony of such a man, impertinence must be abashed, and malignity itself must be softened. Of literary merit, Johnson, as we all know, was a sagacious but a most severe judge. Such was his discernment that he pierced into the most secret springs of human actions: and such was his integrity, that he always weighed the moral characters of his fellow-creatures in the 'balance of the sanctuary.' He was too courageous to propitiate a rival, and too proud to truckle to a superiour. Warburton he knew, as I know him, and as every man of sense and virtue would wish to be known,-I mean, both from his own writings, and from the writings of those who dissented from his principles, or who envied his reputation. But, as to favours, he had never received or asked any from the Bishop of Gloucester: and, if my memory fails me not, he had seen him only once, when they met almost without design, conversed without much effort, and parted without any lasting impression of hatred or affection. Yet, with all the ardour of sympathetick genius, Johnson had done that spontaneously and ably, which, by some writers, had been before attempted injudiciously, and which, by others, from whom more successful attempts might have been expected, has not hitherto been
together. The interview proved to be mutually agreeable.
I am well informed that Warburton said of Johnson, "I admire him, but I cannot bear his style:" and that Johnson being told of this, said, "That is exactly my case as to him." The manner in which he expressed his admiration of the fertility of Warburton's genius and of the variety of his materials, was, "The table is always full, sir. He brings things from the north, and the south, and from every quarter. In his Divine Legation,' you are always entertained. He carries you round and round, without carrying you forward to the point; but then you have no wish to be carried forward." He said to the Reverend Mr. Strahan, "Warburton is perhaps the last man who has written with a mind full of reading and reflection."
It is remarkable that, in the Life of Broome,
done at all. He spoke well of Warburton, without insulting those whom Warburton despised. He suppressed not the imperfections of this extraordinary man, while he endeavoured to do justice to his numerous and transcendental excellences. He defended him when living, amidst the clamours of his enemies; and praised him when dead, amidst the silence of his friends."
Having availed myself of this editor's eulogy on my departed friend, for which I warmly thank him, let me not suffer the lustre of his reputation, honestly acquired by profound learning and vigorous eloquence, to be tarnished by a charge of illiberality. He has been accused of invidiously dragging again into light certain writings of a person respectable by his talents, his learning, his station, and his age, which were published a great many years ago, and have since, it is said, been silently given up by their authour. But when it is considered that these writings were not sins of youth, but deliberate works of one well advanced in life, overflowing at once with flattery to a great man of great interest in the Church, and with unjust and acrimonious abuse of two men of eminent merit; and that, though it would have been unreasonable to expect a humiliating recantation, no apology whatever has been made in the cool of the evening for the oppressive fervour of the heat of the day; no slight relenting indicacation has appeared in any note, or any corner of later publications; is it not fair to understand him as superciliously persevering? When he allows the shafts to remain in the wounds, and will not stretch forth a lenient hand, is it wrong, is it not generous to become an indignant avenger?
Johnson takes notice of Dr. Warburtón using a mode of expression which he himself used, and that not seldom, to the great offence of those who did not know him. Having occasion to mention a note, stating the different parts which were executed by the associated translators of "The Odyssey," he says, "Dr. Warburton told me, in his warm language, that he thought the relation given in the note a lie." The language is warm indeed; and, I must own, cannot be justified in consistency with a decent regard to the established forms of speech. Johnson had accustomed himself to use the word lie, to express a mistake or an errour in relation; in short, when the thing was not so as told, though the relator did not mean to deceive. When he thought there was intentional falsehood in the relator, his ex-, pression was, "He lies, and he knows he lies."
Speaking of Pope's not having been known to excel in conversation, Johnson observes that, "traditional memory retains no sallies of raillery, or sentences of observation; nothing either pointed or solid, wise or merry: and that one apophthegm only is recorded." In this respect, Pope differed widely from Johnson, whose conversation was, perhaps, more admirable than even his writings, however excellent. Mr. Wilkes has, however, favoured me with one repartee of Pope, of which Johnson was not informed. Johnson, after justly censuring him for having "nursed in his mind a foolish disesteem of Kings," tells us, yet a little regard shown him by the Prince of Wales melted his obduracy; and he had not much to say when he was asked by his Royal Highness, how he could love a Prince, while he disliked Kings?" The answer which Pope made, was, "The young lion is harmless, and even playful; but when his claws are full grown he becomes cruel, dreadful, and mischievous."
But although we have no collection of Pope's sayings, it is not therefore to be concluded that he was not agreeable in social intercourse; for Johnson has been heard to say, "that the happiest conversation is that of which nothing is distinctly remembered, but a general effect of pleasing impression." The late Lord Somerville', who saw much both of great and brilliant life, told me that he had dined in company with Pope, and that after dinner the little man, as he called him, drank his bottle of Burgundy, and was exceedingly gay and entertaining.
I cannot withhold from my great friend a censure of at least culpable inattention to a nobleman, who, it has been shown, behaved to him with uncommon politeness. He says, "Except Lord Bathurst, none of Pope's noble friends were such as that a good man would wish to have his intimacy with them known to posterity." This will not apply to Lord Mansfield, who was not ennobled in Pope's lifetime; but Johnson should have recollected that Lord Marchmont was one of those noble friends. He includes his Lordship along with Lord Bolingbroke, in a charge of neglect of the papers which Pope left by his will; when, in truth, as I myself pointed out to him, before he wrote that poet's life, the papers were "committed to the sole care and judgment of Lord Bolingbroke, unless he (Lord Bolingbroke) shall
7 [James Lord Somerville, who died in 1766. M.]
Let me here express my grateful remembrance of Lord Somerville's kindness to me, at a very early period. He was the first person of high rank that took particular notice of me in the way most flattering to a young man fondly ambitious of being distinguished for his literary talents; and by the honour of his encouragement made me think well of myself, and aspire to deserve it better. He had a happy art of communicating his varied knowledge of the world, in short remarks and anecdotes, with a quiet pleasant gravity, that was exceedingly engaging. Never shall I forget the hours which I enjoyed with him at his apartments in the Royal Palace of Holy Rood House, and at his seat near Edinburgh, which he himself had formed with an elegant taste.