Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

" honour. By this mean practice, indeed, he has acquired " the title of the British Homer, nay, has been preferred “ to Homer and Virgil both, and consequently to every “ other poet of every age and nation. Cowley, Waller, “ Denham, Dryden, Prior, Pope, in comparison with

Milton, have borne no greater proportion, than that of “ dwarfs to a giant, who, now he is reduced to his true “ standard, appears mortal and uninspired, and in abi

lity little superior to the poets above-mentioned, but “ in honesty and open dealing, the best quality of the “ human mind, not inferior, perhaps, to the most unli« censed plagiary that ever wrote.”

In a publication, containing such language, Lauder was able to engage the great critic and moralist, Samuel Johnson, as his confederate; for the preface and postscript to the Effay, from which the preceding paragraph is cited, are confessedly the composition of that elaborate and nervous writer. 1. This confederacy, unbecoming as it may at' first appear, will, on candid reflection, seem rather a credit than a disgrace to Johnson; for we certainly ought to believe that the primary motive, which prompted him to the assistance of Lauder, was that true and noble compassion for indigence, which made himn through life so generously willing to afford all the aid in his power to literary mendicants; but in rendering justice to that laudable charity, which he constantly exercised to the neceffitous, we cannot fail to observe, that his malevolent

Hh 2

prejudices

prejudices against Milton were equally visible on this signal occasion. Had he not been under the influence of such prejudice, could his strong understanding have failed to point out to his associate, what a liberal monitor very justly observed to Lauder, in conviing him of fraud and falfhood, that, allowing his facts to have been true, his inference from them was unfair. Lauder, with an unexampled audacity of imposture, had corrupted the text of the poets, whom he produced as evidence against Milton, by interpolating several verses, which he had taken from a negle&ed Latin transation of the Paradise Loft. Expecting probably to escape both discovery and suspicion by the daring novelty of his deception, and the mental dignity of his patron and coadjutor, he exulted in the idea of blasting the laurels of Milton; but those laurels were proof, indeed, against the furious and repeated Aaihes of malevolence and hoftility. More than one defence of the injured poet appeared; the first, I believe, was a pamphlet by Mr. Richardson, of Clare Hall, printed in 1747, and entitled Zoilomastix, or, a Vindication of Milton, consisting of letters inserted in the miscellany, where the charge of Lauder had made its first appearance; but the complete overthrow of that impoftor was accomplished by Dr. Douglas, the present Bishop of Salisbury, who published, in 1750, a letter addressed to Lord Bath, with the title of “Milton vindicated from the Charge of Plagiarisın ;” a performance that, in many points of view, may be regarded as a real honour to literature

št unites what we find very rarely united in literary contention, great modesty with great fervour ; and magnanimous moderation with the severity of vindictive justice, The author speaks with amiable liberality of Mr. Bowle, in saying, “ that gentleman had first collected materials " for an answer to Lauder,” and “ has the justest claim “ to the honour of being the original detector of this ungenerous critic.”

The writer of this valuable pamphlet gave also an admonition to Johnson, which breathes the manly spirit of intelligence, of justice, and of candour. ' It is to be hoped (he faid)

nay it is to be expected, that the elegant and ner

vous writer, whose judicious sentiments and inimi" table style point out the author of Lauder's preface " and postscript, will no longer allow one to plume him“ self with his feathers, who appeareth so little to have “ deserved his assistance; an assistance which, I am per“ suaded, would never have been communicated had there “! been the least suspicion of those facts, which I have “ been the instrument of conveying to the world in " these sheets, a perusal of which will satisfy our critic, “ who was pleased to submit his book to the judgment “ of the two universities, that it has been examined and “ carefully read at least by some members of the univer

fity of Oxford.” The defence of Milton, which I have mentioned, by Mr. Richardson, proves also, for the honour of Cambridge, that her men of letters were by no means deficient in such regard, as they peculiarly owe to

the

the reputation of the poet, who “ Aames in the van of that poetical host, which has contributed to her

renown.

When the pamphlet of Dr. Douglas had completely unveiled the most impudent of literary frauds, Johnfon, whom his prejudice against Milton could no longer render blind to the unworthiness of Lauder, recoiled from the wretch whom he had too credulously befriended, and finding him as deficient in the truth of facts as he was in propriety of sentiment, and decency of language, made him address to his antagonist, who had convicted him of some forgeries, an ample avowal of more extenfive fraud, and a most humble fupplication for pardon. This expiatory address was dictated by Johnson, whose conduct on the occasion was manly and moral—but it failed to correct his associate, for prejudice against Milton in Lauder arose almost to madness; in Johnson it amounted only to a degree of malevolence, too commonly produced by political disagreement; it had induced him to cherish too eagerly a detractive deception, fabricated to fink an illustrious character, without allowing himfelf the due exercise of his keen understanding to investigate its falsehood, or to perceive its absurdity: Lauder feems to have hoped, for fome time, that a full confession of his offences would restore him to the favour of the public ; for in the year 1751 he ventured to publifh an apolgy, addressed to the Archbishop of Canterbury, soliciting patronage for his projected edition of

the

[ocr errors]

the scarce Latin authors, from whom he had accused Milton of borrowing. The chief purpose of so extraordinary an attack on the renown of the poet, appears to have been a desire, prompted by indigence, to interest the public in the re-appearance of these neglected writers, whom he meant to re-publish. In closing his apology to the Archbishop, he fays, with fingular confidence:

“ As for the interpolations (for which I am so highly “ blamed) when passion is subsided, and the minds of “men can patiently attend to truth, I promise amply to

replace them, with passages equivalent in value that are

genuine, that the public may be convinced that it was " rather passion and resentment, than a penury of evi“ dence, the twentieth part of which has not as yet been

produced, that obliged me to make use of them.”

He printed the collection of Latin poets as he proposed, one volume in 1752, and a second in 1753. The book may be regarded as a literary curiosity, but it seems to have contributed little to the emolument of its miserable editor, who had thoroughly awakened universal indignation ; and as Dr. Douglas observed, in a postscript to his pamphlet, reprinted in 1756, “ The curiosity of the

public to see any of these poems was at an end; the only thing which had stamped a value upon them, was

a supposition that Milton had thought them worthy of “ his imitation. As therefore it now appeared, by the de« tection of Láuder’s-system of forgery, that Milton had " not imitated then, it is no wonder that the design of

“ reprinting 9

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1

« AnteriorContinuar »