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Voltaire's attack on Johnson.
made an attack upon Johnson, in one of his numerous literary sallies, which I remember to have read; but there being no general index to his voluminous works, have searched in vain, and therefore cannot quote it'.
offended that Menenius, a senator of Rome, should play the buffoon ; and Voltaire, perhaps, thinks decency violated when the Danish usurper is represented as a drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes nature predominate over accident. ... His story requires Romans or kings, but he thinks only on men. He knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all dispositions; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the senate-house for that which the senate-house would certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to show an usurper and a murderer, not only odious, but despicable; he therefore added drunkenness to his other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other men, and that wine exerts its natural power upon kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds; a poet overlooks the casual distinction of country and condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neglects the drapery. Johnson's Works, v. 109. Johnson had previously attacked Voltaire, in his Memoirs of Frederick the Great. (Ante, i. 503, note 2.) In these Memoirs he writes :— Voltaire has asserted that a large sum was raised for her (the Queen of Hungary's] succour by voluntary subscriptions of the English ladies. It is the great failing of a strong imagination to catch greedily at wonders. He was misinformed, and was perhaps unwilling to learn, by a second enquiry, a truth less splendid and amusing. Ib. vi. 455. See post, Oct. 27, 1779.
! • Voltaire replied in the Dictionnaire Philosophique. (Works, xxxiii. 566.) J'ai jeté les yeux sur une édition de Shakespeare, donnée par le sieur Samuel Johnson. J'y ai vu qu'on y traite de petits esprits les étrangers qui sont étonnés que dans les pièces de ce grand Shakespeare un sénateur romain fasse le bouffon ; et qu'un roi paraisse sur le théâtre en ivrogne. Je ne veux point soupçonner le sieur Johnson d'être un mauvais plaisant, et d'aimer trop le vin; mais je trouve un peu extraordinaire qu'il compte la bouffonnerie et l'ivrognerie parmi les beautés du théâtre tragique; la raison qu'il en donne n'est pas moins singulière. Le poète, dit-il, dédaigne ces distinctions accidentelles de conditions et de pays, comme un peintre qui, content d'avoir peint la figure, néglige la draperie. La comparaison serait plus juste, s'il parlait d'un peintre qui, dans un sujet noble, introduirait des grotesques ridicules, peindrait dans la bataille d'Arbelles Alexandrele-Grand monté sur un âne, et la femme de Darius buvant avec des goujats dans un cabaret.' Johnson, perhaps, had this attack in mind
Johnson's letter to Burney.
Voltaire was an antagonist with whom I thought Johnson should not disdain to contend. I pressed him to answer. He said, he perhaps might; but he never did.
Mr. Burney having occasion to write to Johnson for some receipts for subscriptions to his Shakspeare, which Johnson had omitted to deliver when the money was paid', he availed himself of that opportunity of thanking Johnson for the great pleasure which he had received from the perusal of his Preface to Shakspeare; which, although it excited much clamour against him at first, is now justly ranked among the most excellent of his writings. To this letter Johnson returned the following answer :
"To CHARLES BURNEY, ESQ., IN POLAND-STREET. “Sir,
'I am sorry that your kindness to me has brought upon you so much trouble, though you have taken care to abate that sorrow, by the pleasure which I receive from your approbation. I defend my criticism in the same manner with you. We must confess the faults of our favourite, to gain credit to our praise of his excellencies. He that claims, either in himself or for another, the honours of perfection, will surely injure the reputation which he designs to assist. • Be pleased to make my compliments to your family.
'I am, Sir,
* And most humble servant, •Oct. 16, 1765.'
Sam. JOHNSON.' From one of his journals I transcribed what follows: • At church, Oct. —65. "To avoid all singularity'; Bonaventura'.
when, in his Life of Pope (Works, viii. 275), he thus wrote of Voltaire: -- He had been entertained by Pope at his table, when he talked with so much grossness, that Mrs. Pope was driven from the room. Pope discovered by a trick that he was a spy for the court, and never considered him as a man worthy of confidence.'
See post, under May 8, 1781. • See post, ii. 85.
• He was probably proposing to himself the model of this excellent person, who for his piety was named the Seraphic Doctor, BOSTIL.
Resolutions at church.
*To come in before service, and compose my mind by meditation, or by reading some portions of scriptures. Tetty.
'If I can hear the sermon, to attend it, unless attention be more troublesome than useful.
*To consider the act of prayer as a reposal of myself upon GOD, and a resignation of all into his holy hand.'
JOHNSON'S DEBATES IN PARLIAMENT.
(Pages 136 and 174.)
The publication of the 'Debates' in the Gentleman's Magazine began in July 1732. The names of the speakers were not printed in full; Sir Robert Walpole was disguised—if a disguise it can be called—as Sir R-t W-le, and Mr. Pelham as Mr. P-1h-m. Otherwise the report was open and avowed. During the first few years, however, it often happened that no attempt was made to preserve the individuality of the members. Thus in a debate on the number of seamen (Gent. Mag. v. 507), the speeches of the • eight chief speakers' were so combined as to form but three. First come 'the arguments made use of for 30,000 men ;' next an answer to the following effect;' and lastly, “a reply that was in substance as follows.' Each of these three speeches is in the first person, though each is formed of the arguments of two members at least, perhaps of many. In the report of a two days' debate in 1737, in which there were fourteen chief speakers, the substance of thirteen of the speeches was given in three (ib. vii. 746, 775). In July 1736 (ib. vi. 363) we find the beginning of a great change. • To satisfy the impatience of his readers,' the publisher promises to give them occasionally some entire speeches.' He prints one which likely enough had been sent to him by the member who had spoken it, and adds that he shall be grateful for any authentic intelligence in matters of such importance and tenderness as the speeches in Parliament' (ib. p. 365). Cave, in his examination before the House of Lords on April 30, 1747, on a charge of having printed in the Gentleman's Magazine an account of the trial of Lord Lovat, owned that he had had speeches sent him by the members themselves, and had had assistance from some members who have taken notes of other members' speeches' (Parl. Hist. xiv. 60).