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More of Samuel Johnson's critical opinions.

In my recently published Samuel Johnson's Critical Opinions: A Reexamination (1995) I urged readers to send critical opinions I had overlooked to the now apparently defunct Johnsonian News Letter. In the course of further extensive work on Johnson and Boswell I have come upon a few further critical opinions. I offer them now with apologies to the University of Delaware Press, member of Associated University Presses, my publishers.

1. 'He [Johnson] said Bayle's Dictionary was a very useful work to consult for those who love the biographical part of literature; which he said he loved most' (Boswell's London Journal, 293).

2. 'He [Johnson] said that [John] Campbell who wrote the Lives of the Admirals is a man of much knowledge and a very good share of imagination.' And 'He [Johnson] said that Campbell's Hermippus Redivivus is very entertaining as an account of the Rosicrusian philosophy, and furnishing some history of the human mind. If it were merely imaginary, it would be nothing at all' (London Journal, 287).

3. 'Dr Johnson looked at a Latin paraphrase of the song of Moses, written by him [Dr John M'Pherson] . . . and said "It does him honour; he has a great deal of Latin, and good Latin". (Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, ed. R. W. Chapman, 339).

4. Samuel Johnson thought Jack the Giant-Killer, Parismus and Parismenus, and The Seven Champions of Christendom 'fitter' for children 'than Mrs. Barbauld and Mrs. Trimmer' (Life, ed. Hill-Powell, IV, 8, n. 3).

5. 'Sir, of the objects which the Society of Arts have chiefly in view, the chymical effects of bodies operating upon other bodies, he [Dr Robert Dossie] knows more than almost any man' [Dossie's three-volume Memoirs of Agriculture and Other Oeconomical Arts was published in 1762 82] (Life, IV. 11, n. 2).

6. 'She [Elizabeth I, Queen of England] has learning enough to have given dignity to a bishop' (Life, IV, 13).

7. 'Sir, [Tom] Davies has learning enough to give credit to a clergyman' (Life, IV, 13). 8. 'Being asked if [Joshua] Barnes knew a good deal of Greek, he answered, "I doubt, Sir, he was inoculus inter caecos"' (Life, IV, 19).

9. Samuel Johnson was praised for the superiority of his biographical writings over those of his contemporaries. 'I believe that is true. The dogs don't know how to write trifles with dignity' (Life, IV, 34 n. 5).

10. 'Your book [Reyd. T. Wilson, An Archaeological Dictionary (a short title)] was evidently wanted, and will, I hope, find its way into the school, to which, however I do not confine it; for no man has so much skill in ancient rites and practices as not to want it' (Life, IV, 162).

11. 'He [Johnson] said of a performance that had lately come out [James Elphinston's Martial], "Sir, if you search all the mad-houses in England, you would not find ten men who would write so, and think it sense"' (Life, IV, 170 and n. 2).

12. 'Tell Dr. [James] Harrington that I wish he would publish another volume of the "Nugae antiquae"; it is a very pretty book' (Life, IV, 180).

13. Johnson asked who would read through the three large volumes of Captain James Cook's 'Voyages to the South Seas'. 'A man had better work his way before the mast, than read them through; they will be eaten by rats and mice, before they are read through. There can be little entertainment in such books; one set of Savages is like another' (Life, IV, 308). Yet he owned 'Cook's voyages, 2 v. 1777' (Samuel Johnson's Library. An Annotated Guide, ed. D. J. Greene, 50).

14. Johnson on John Gay's Blackeyed Susan: 'Why pretend it is a poem about a tar and a wapping wench when they talk like Lord George Graham and a Lady?' (Private Papers of James Boswell, XVIII, 23).

15. 'Mr. Johnson told me he had read his [Thomas Pennant's] Tour [in Scotland] all through [my emphasis], and was well entertained by it' (Private Papers, VI, 93). Compare Life, III, 271, the considerably watered-down 'Johnson praised Pennant very highly.'

16. Johnson said, of Isaac Bickerstaffe's play The Hypocrite, that 'he did not think the character just as to the Methodists, but it was very just as to the Nonjurors' (Private Papers, X, 50-1).

17. Johnson said Dr Walter Harte's 'Book [The History of Gustavus Adolphus] did very well in German [translated in 2 volumes in 1760, 1761]. Indeed it was not English' (Private Papers, IX, 179). Compare Life (IV, 78), 'Mr. Eliot, with whom Dr. Walter Harte had travelled, talked to us of his "History of Gustavus Adolphus", which he said was a very good book in the German translation.' Did Boswell forget who was responsible for the quip? Did Johnson read German?

The names of Pierre Bayle, Isaac Bickerstaffe, John Campbell, Captain James Cook, Tom Davies, Dr Robert Dossic, Elizabeth I (Queen of England), James Harrington, Dr John McPherson, and the Reverend Mr Thomas Wilson should be added to the list of those upon whom or upon whose works Johnson expressed a critical opinion.

ARTHUR SHERBO Michigan State University
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Author:Sherbo, Arthur
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Dec 1, 1998
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