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JAMES BARCLAY, Examination of Mr. Kenrick's Review, 1766

JAMES BARCLAY, Examination of Mr. Kenrick's Review, 1766

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JOHNSON



through the concurring circumstances of inattention in the Editor, and

sanguine expectation in the reader, the performance, I am afraid, has

incurred the public censure.

This being a true state of the case, the injured party has certainly a

right to complain, and an open declaration of the general sense would

not have been unjust: But let me add, the manner in which it is conveyed

to Mr. Johnson is UNJUST AND UNWARRANTABLE.

A deference is certainly due to established fame, and decorum to

those members of the community who have been honoured with the

public approbation: IT is A DOWNRIGHT AFFRONT TO NATIONAL

APPROBATION, TO STIGMATISE THAT MAN WITH

IGNORANCE, WHO HAS BEEN SELECTED FROM THE

COLLECTIVE LEARNED AS PECULIARLY DESERVING THEIR

FAVOURS.

Little, I believe, did any person wish to see Mr. Johnson treated with

irreverence, or attacked with malevolence, and still less think to see him

represented as a self-sufficient literary impostor. Will posterity believe

that an obscure man has dared to do this, and prefix his name to the

libel? that he has dared to give the lie to the applause of domestic

seminaries and foreign academies? Such an attempt, I hope, needs no

comment with the friends of candour and merit. Would that Mr. Johnson

were to stand or fall by their determination! But human wishes are not

to transgress the bounds of moral probability; and as the prejudiced,

ignorant, and unwary, arrogate the liberty of decision equally with the

qualified judge, an analysis of the Reviewer’s offences against criticism

and decency is altogether necessary.

I suppose I need not remind the reader that W.Kenrick proposed in his

advertisements, to detect the IGNORANCE AND INDOLENCE of the

late Editor, intending, as it is natural to conclude, to give the reader a

sample of his abusive powers. What could not the public expect from a

writer, who in the most summary manner informed them of that which

a common genius would at least take a volume to demonstrate, viz. Mr.

Johnson’s IGNORANCE? As much struck must they have been at his

ingenuity, who could convert an advertisement into a VIRULENT LIBEL.

It was a natural question in every reader of such prefatory abuse,

Who is this W.Kenrick? What works have proceeded from his pen

sufficient to countenance this unaccountable charge? To these interrogatories, few, very few, could make a satisfactory answer, and the

world was apt to conclude, THAT A MAN WHOM NO BODY KNEW,

HAD ATTACKED A MAN WHOM EVERY BODY KNEW.

190



THE CRITICAL HERITAGE



To obviate these mortifying questions, while the Review was in the

press, the friends of Mr. Kenrick gave out that he was a prime hand in

the Monthly Review, and consequently a man of profound erudition and

extensive abilities: The consequence some may say does not flow from

the premises; but in spite of such infidels, the argument was admitted

by the many as conclusive, and W.Kenrick revered accordingly.

In the space between the advertisement and publication, the friends

of Mr. Johnson suspended their judgments; and though they thought it

passing strange that his learning and ingenuity should pass muster with

Oxford, and Dublin, at home, and the academy Del Crusca abroad, and

at last be insinuated as fictitious by W.Kenrick; yet reasoned they, This

discovery may have been reserved for him alone, and it is unreasonable

to suppose he would dogmatize in the public prints in so uncommon a

manner, without great foundation for his positiveness.

At length the performance appears, with the extraneous

recommendations of a fine type, white paper, and the internal advantages

of petulant raillery. Instead of convincing argument, it fobs us off with

unmeaning sophistry; and instead of its demonstrating the author to be

a critical writer, it betrays him to be the uninteresting RETAILER of trite

silly ABUSIVE ANECDOTES.

It is indeed a matter of great surprise to every liberal reader, to find

such a vast profusion of LITERARY DIRT spattered over the face of

the Reviewer’s performance: Does Mr. Kenrick imagine a few errors of

judgment can authorise the vile epithets and personal abuse with which

he urges his claim? No, surely! Common decency and the general voice

discountenance such proceedings.

But upon what foundation is this general charge of ignorance

supported? Upon the result of a mature examination of Mr. Johnson’s

collective works? By no means; for in them the critic and the scholar

every where plead in his favour, and, if I may use such an argument

coram Aristarcho nostro,1 the christian and moralist.

Mr. Kenrick, it seems, was sensible of the impropriety of such an

important charge proceeding from one with whom the public has not

had any acquaintance in the literary walk: To obviate this, he kindly

informs us, the world is obliged to him for the EPISTLES TO

LORENZO, which no body reads; and a translation of the infidel

Rousseau’s Emilius, which no body ought to read.2

Any man, unhackney’d in the ways of writers, would be led to

1

2



‘Before our Aristarchus’ (the famous Alexandrian critic).

Epistles to Lorenzo, published 1756; the Rousseau translation in 1762.



191



JOHNSON



imagine, from the general good reception with which they are received,

that scurrility and paradox are necessary ingredients in every composition,

as most likely to introduce the Author to publick notice. To lead the reader

through the inextricable mazes of a paradox, till you bring him to an

unexpected meaning, like a Chinese Hah! hah! is now become

fashionable. To be esteemed ingenious, we must lay down a proposition,

the palpable absurdity of which stares every body in the face, and then,

—do what? Assault common sense (that obstinate enemy of such

heterodox opinions,) with a storm of logic and a peal of syllogisms. But

where is your application, sneers Mr. Kenrick? —My application? Why,

you have given into this fashion with a witness; and that your pamphlet

might go down the glibber, made it one continued PARADOXICAL

LIBEL. After all, perhaps, some excuse may be urged in extenuation of

‘the heresies of paradox.’ They contribute to set off the writer’s ingenuity

in the eye of the reader, but even this can by no means be predicated of

scurrility, for IT is A RECEIVED AXIOMATICAL TRUTH, THAT

DULNESS AND ABUSE SELDOM MAKE THEIR APPEARANCE

BUT IN THE ABSENCE OF REASON AND ARGUMENTATION. Such

is the frailty of human nature, that when we are hard put to it for fair

disputation, we cannot for the life of us keep clear from the stink-pots of

Billingsgate; imitating in this respect, the ignorant and unequal boxer,

who, when he cannot cope with his adversary by mere honest bruising,

flies for assistance to dirt and other offensive weapons.

Many are the conjectures of the public concerning the reasons for

such ungentleman-like treatment used by the Reviewer towards Dr.

Warburton and Mr. Johnson. He himself declares in his preface, he has

never been disobliged by either of these gentlemen. Shall I hazard a

conjecture, gentle reader, and endeavour to account for such behaviour?

Here it is.

Mr. Johnson, it is well known, joins to the COMPLEAT SCHOLAR,

yes, the compleat scholar, Mr. Kenrick, the BELIEVING CHRISTIAN.

It is well known by those who are acquainted with the creed of the

Reviewer, that to the RAILING author he joins the UNBELIEVING

CAVILLER‚. Here then the difficulty vanishes. The Reviewer thinks it

‚

This supposition is not founded upon hearsay, but a perusal of Mr. Kenrick’s various

performances. His Epistles to Lorenzo proceed upon deistical principles, and those of the

blackest, most detestable nature, —UNIVERSAL SCEPTICISM; for if I mistake not, he

proposes raising an altar to The unknown God—A kindred mode of thinking led him to

the translation of Rousseau’s Emilius, a book pregnant with the most blasphemous notions.

And in the Review before me, he makes such a jest of the language of inspiration, as to

apply it to a ludicrous occasion! Judge, then, reader, if the charge above is ill founded.



192



THE CRITICAL HERITAGE



strange, any man above the degree of a natural, should be found on the

side of CHRISTIANITY; and as it is not likely Mr. Johnson should, on

the instance of Mr. Kenrick, or Lorenzo’s friend, subscribe to the

infidel’s articles of faith, he wants to reduce him to the degree of a

natural: This we know is not very uncommon with gentlemen of Mr.

Kenrick’s kidney, as may be proved from the treatment the bishop of

Gloucester, and his dead friend Pope, received from the hands of the

abusive, the infidel Bolingbroke.3

The Reviewer’s first attack being levelled against the two greatest

supporters our religion can boast, may we not reasonably expect in a

short time, a farther attempt upon other CHURCH CHAMPIONS, until

at length he prove, THAT AS ALL CHRISTIANS ARE FOOLS, so,

NONE BUT A FOOL WOULD BE A CHRISTIAN?

[Barclay provides a page-by-page commentary on Kenrick’s Review. His retort

to Kenrick’s remarks on Johnson’s note on Love’s Labour’s Lost, 1v, iii, 161

(No. 31) will serve as an example.]



Mr. Johnson owns himself at a loss for the meaning of Knot; and his

opponent, through his sleep, tells him, ‘The Poet meant a bird called a

Knot, alias Avis Canuti.’ Mr. Kenrick! awake, Mr. Kenrick. Rub your

eyes and look about you. You should never sit down to criticise when

you are sleepy, man; you see, what comes of it—Incoherent raving—

When you are broad awake, I shall ask you, Why of all the species of

birds must a water-fowl, and of these the Knot, be picked out for the

King to be changed into? Indeed, Sir, you must shake off this

drowsiness: I have perceived it to be creeping upon you this long time,

but here we catch you napping indeed! Downright sleepy talk; I wish

it may not grow into a lethargy before you doze through the eight

volumes of Mr. Johnson’s Shakespeare. But now you are pretty well

awake, let me ask you, how you came to dream of the Knot? Belike you

sat down to write with a belly full of them: I cannot account any other

way for such an expected meaning for the word—Let us however

endeavour to come at the real signification, fresh and fasting.

3



In Bolingbroke’s Familiar Letter to the most Impudent Man Living, 1749.



193



33. Voltaire, ‘Art Dramatique’, in

Questions sur l’Encyclopédie

1770



Translated from Oeuvres, Paris, 1878, xvii. 397.

Voltaire is classed with Dennis and Rymer in Johnson’s Preface;

their objections to Shakespeare’s portrayal of Romans and kings

are dismissed: ‘These are the petty cavils of petty minds.’ Boswell

remarks: ‘Voltaire, in revenge, made an attack on Johnson…I

pressed him to answer. He said, he perhaps might; but he never

did’ (Life, i. 498–9).



I cast my eyes over an edition of Shakespeare produced by Mr. Samuel

Johnson. I found that he describes as ‘petty minds’ those foreigners who

are astonished to find in plays by the great Shakespeare that ‘a Roman

senator should play the buffoon and a king should appear drunk on the

stage’.1 Far be it from me to suspect that Mr. Johnson is given to clumsy

jokes or is over-addicted to wine; but I find it rather extraordinary that

he should include buffoonery and drunkenness among the beauties of

the tragic theatre; the reason he gives for doing so is not less remarkable.

‘The poet’, he says, ‘overlooks the casual distinction of condition and

country, as a painter who, satisfied with having painted the figure,

neglects the drapery.’ The comparison would have been more accurate

if he had been speaking of a painter who introduced ridiculous clowns

into a noble subject, or portrayed Alexander the Great mounted on an

ass at the battle of Arbela and the wife of Darius drinking with the

rabble in a common tavern.

1



Shakespeare, 65–6.



194



34. Schlegel, Lectures on Dramatic Art and

Literature

1808



Translated by John Black (Bohn edition, 1846), 360–1, 365.

The German translator of Shakespeare and Romantic critic, August

Wilhelm von Schlegel (1767–1845), proposed in his lectures to

rescue Shakespeare from what he regarded as the misguided

criticism of English, mainly eighteenth-century, writers. Johnson

was numbered amongst them. See Introduction, pp. 8, 27.



The English critics are unanimous in their praise of the truth and

uniform consistency of [Shakespeare’s] characters, of his heart-rending

pathos, and his comic wit. Moreover, they extol the beauty and sublimity

of his separate descriptions, images, and expressions. This last is the

most superficial and cheap mode of criticising works of art. Johnson

compares him who should endeavour to recommend this poet by

passages unconnectedly torn from his works, to the pedant in Hierocles,

who exhibited a brick as a sample of his house.1 And yet how little, and

how very unsatisfactorily does he himself speak of the pieces considered

as a whole! Let any man, for instance, bring together the short characters

which he gives at the close of each play, and see if the aggregate will

amount to that sum of admiration which he himself, at his outset, has

stated as the correct standard for the appreciation of the poet. It was,

generally speaking, the prevailing tendency of the time which preceded

our own (and which has shown itself particularly in physical science,)

to consider everything having life as a mere accumulation of dead parts,

to separate what exists only in connexion and cannot otherwise be

conceived, instead of penetrating to the central point and viewing all the

parts as so many irradiations from it. Hence nothing is so rare as a

critic who can elevate himself to the comprehensive contemplation of a

1

Hieroclis Commentaries in Aurea Carmina, ed. P.Needham, 1709, 462. Cf. Johnson,

Shakespeare, 62.



195



JOHNSON



work of art. Shakespeare’s compositions, from the very depth of purpose

displayed in them, have been especially liable to the misfortune of being

misunderstood. Besides, this prosaic species of criticism requires always

that the poetic form should be applied to the details of execution; but

when the plan of the piece is concerned, it never looks for more than

the logical connexion of causes and effects, or some partial and trite

moral by way of application; and all that cannot be reconciled therewith

is declared superfluous, or even a pernicious appendage…. In this they

altogether mistake the rights of poetry and the nature of the romantic

drama, which, for the very reason that it is and ought to be picturesque,

requires richer accompaniments and contrasts for its main groups. In all

Art and Poetry, but more especially in the romantic, the Fancy lays

claims to be considered as an independent mental power governed

according to its own laws….

Johnson has objected to Shakespeare that his pathos is not always

natural and free from affectation.2 There are, it is true, passages, though

comparatively speaking very few, where his poetry exceeds the bounds

of actual dialogue, where a too soaring imagination, a too luxuriant wit,

rendered a complete dramatic forgetfulness of himself impossible. With

this exception, the censure originated in a fanciless way of thinking, to

which everything appears unnatural that does not consort with its own

tame insipidity. Hence an idea has been formed of simple and natural

pathos, which consists in exclamations destitute of imagery and nowise

elevated above everyday life. But energetical passions electrify all the

mental powers, and will consequently, in highly-favoured natures, give

utterance to themselves in ingenious and figurative expressions. It has

often been remarked that indignation makes a man witty; and as despair

occasionally breaks out into laughter, it may sometimes also give vent

to itself in antithetical comparisons.

2



Shakespeare, 74.



196



35. Coleridge on Johnson’s Shakespeare

1811–16



The first two extracts are taken from Coleridge’s ‘Lectures on

Shakespeare and Milton’, (Nos. 6 and 12), delivered November

1811–January 1812 (Coleridge’s Essays and Lectures on

Shakespeare…, 1907, 413–4, 477–8); the third comes from a letter

to Daniel Stuart, 13 May 1816 (Letters from the Lake Poets to

Daniel Stuart, 1889, 262–3).



I have been induced to offer these remarks, in order to obviate an

objection made against Shakespeare on the ground of the multitude of

his conceits.1 I do not pretend to justify every conceit…. The notion

against which I declare war is, that when ever a conceit is met with it

is unnatural. People who entertain this opinion forget, that had they lived

in the age of Shakespeare, they would have deemed them natural.

Dryden in his translation of Juvenal has used the words ‘Look round

the world,’2 which are a literal version of the original; but Dr. Johnson

has swelled and expanded this expression into the following couplet:—

Let observation, with extensive view,

Survey mankind from China to Peru;

Vanity of Human Wishes.



mere bombast and tautology; as much as to say, ‘Let observation with

extensive observation observe mankind extensively.’3

Had Dr. Johnson lived in the time of Shakespeare, or even of Dryden,

he would never have been guilty of such an outrage upon common sense

and common language; and if people would, in idea, throw

themselves back a couple of centuries, they would find that conceits,

and even puns, were very allowable, because very natural. Puns often

arise out of a mingled sense of injury, and contempt of the person in

1



Cf. Johnson, Shakespeare, 74.

Tenth Satire of Juvenal, l. 1 (‘Look round the Habitable World’).

3

Coleridge apparently relished this jibe; he repeated it on at least four other occasions.

See Shakespearean Criticism, ii. 170; Letters, iv. 1031; Miscellaneous Criticism, ed. T.M.

Raysor, 1936, 225–6, 439.

2



197



JOHNSON



flicting it, and, as it seems to me, it is a natural way of expressing that

mixed feeling. I could point out puns in Shakespeare, where they appear

almost as if the first openings of the mouth of nature—where nothing

else could so properly be said.

Another objection has been taken by Dr. Johnson, and Shakespeare

has been taxed very severely. I refer to the scene where Hamlet enters

and finds his uncle praying, and refuses to take his life, excepting when

he is in the height of his iniquity. To assail him at such a moment of

confession and repentance, Hamlet declares,

Why, this is hire and salary, not revenge.

Act III, Scene 3.



He therefore forbears, and postpones his uncle’s death, until he can

catch him in some act

That has no relish of salvation in’t.



This conduct, and this sentiment, Dr. Johnson has pronounced to be so

atrocious and horrible, as to be unfit to be put into the mouth of a human

being.4 The fact, however, is that Dr. Johnson did not understand the

character of Hamlet, and censured accordingly: the determination to

allow the guilty King to escape at such a moment is only part of the

indecision and irresoluteness of the hero.

It is among the feebleness of our nature, that we are often to a certain

degree acted on by stories gravely asserted, of which we yet do most

religiously disbelieve every syllable. Nay, which perhaps, we happen to

know to be false. The truth is, that images and thoughts possess a power

in and of themselves, independent of that act of the judgement or

understanding by which we affirm or deny the existence of a reality

correspondent to them. Such is the ordinary state of the mind in

dreams…. Add to this a voluntary lending of the Will to this suspension

of one of its own operations (i.e. that of comparison and consequent

decision concerning the reality of any sensuous Impression) and you

have the true theory of stage illusion—equally distant from the absurd

notion of the French critics, who ground their principles on the principle

of an absolute delusion, and of Dr. Johnson who would persuade us

that our judgements are as broad awake during the most masterly

representation of the deepest scenes of Othello, as a philosopher

would be during the exhibition of a magic lanthorn with Punch and

4



Shakespeare, 990.



198



THE CRITICAL HERITAGE



Joan, and Pull Devil Pull Baker, &c on its painted Slides. Now as

extremes always meet, this dogma of our dogmatic critic and soporific

Irenist would lead by inevitable consequence to that very doctrine of the

unities maintained by the French Belle Lettrists, which it was the object

of his strangely overrated contradictory and most illogical Preface to

Shakespear, to overthrow.



36. Hazlitt, Characters of Shakespear’s Plays

1817



Extracts from the Preface to Characters of Shakespear’s Plays,

1817, xv–xxiii. See Introduction, pp. 8, 27.



[quotes from Schlegel’s Lectures, ‘by far the best account of the plays of

Shakespear that has hitherto appeared.’]



We have the rather availed ourselves of this testimony of a foreign critic

in behalf of Shakespear, because our own countryman, Dr. Johnson, has

not been so favourable to him. It may be said of Shakespear, that ‘those

who are not for him are against him’: for indifference is here the height

of injustice. We may sometimes, in order ‘to do a great right, do a little

wrong.’1 An overstrained enthusiasm is more pardonable with respect

to Shakespear than the want of it; for our admiration cannot easily

surpass his genius. We have a high respect for Dr. Johnson’s character

and understanding, mixed with something like personal attachment: but

he was neither a poet nor a judge of poetry. He might in one sense be

a judge of poetry as it falls within the limits and rules of prose, but not

as it is poetry. Least of all was he qualified to be a judge of Shakespear,

who ‘alone is high fantastical.’2 Let those who have a prejudice against

Johnson read Boswell’s Life of him: as those whom he has prejudiced

against Shakespear should read his Irene. We do not say that a man to

be a critic must necessarily be a poet: but to be a good critic, he ought

1

2



Merchant of Venice, 1v. i. 216.

Twelfth Night, 1. i. 15.



199



JOHNSON



not to be a bad poet. Such poetry as a man deliberately writes, such,

and such only will he like. Dr. Johnson’s Preface to his edition of

Shakespear looks like a laborious attempt to bury the characteristic

merits of his author under a load of cumbrous phraseology, and to weigh

his excellences and defects in equal scales, stuffed full of ‘swelling

figures and sonorous epithets.’3 Nor could it well be otherwise; Dr.

Johnson’s general powers of reasoning overlaid his critical susceptibility.

All his ideas were cast in a given mould, in a set form: they were made

out by rule and system, by climax, inference, and antithesis:—

Shakespear’s were the reverse. Johnson’s understanding dealt only in

round numbers: the fractions were lost upon him. He reduced everything

to the common standard of conventional propriety; and the most

exquisite refinement or sublimity produced an effect on his mind, only

as they could be translated into the language of measured prose. To him

an excess of beauty was a fault; for it appeared to him like an

excrescence; and his imagination was dazzled by the blaze of light. His

writings neither shone with the beams of native genius, nor reflected

them. The shifting shapes of fancy, the rainbow hues of things, made no

impression on him: he seized only on the permanent and tangible. He had

no idea of natural objects but ‘such as he could measure with a two-foot

rule, or tell upon ten fingers’:4 he judged of human nature in the same

way, by mood and figure: he saw only the definite, the positive, and the

practical, the average forms of things, not their striking differences—their

classes, not their degrees. He was a man of strong common sense and

practical wisdom, rather than of genius or feeling. He retained the regular,

habitual impressions of actual objects, but he could not follow the rapid

flights of fancy, or the strong movements of passion. That is, he was to

the poet what the painter of still life is to the painter of history. Common

sense sympathises with the impressions of things on ordinary minds in

ordinary circumstances: genius catches the glancing combinations

presented to the eye of fancy, under the influence of passion. It is the

province of the didactic reasoner to take cognizance of those results of

human nature which are constantly repeated and always the same, which

follow one another in regular succession, which are acted upon by large

classes of men, and embodied in received customs, laws, language, and

institutions; and it was in arranging, comparing, and arguing on these kind

of general results, that Johnson’s excellence lay. But he could not quit his

hold of the common-place and mechanical, and apply the general rule

3

4



Shakespeare, 74.

Burke, Second Letter on a Regicide Peace, 1796, para. 7.



200



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