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“ with a laudable envy of rivalling, ,
eclipsing, and excelling, all who at“ tempted fublimity of sentiment and “ description.”
Could this be a hopeful attempt in so wretched a writer of profe? or does the critic propose to entertain his readers with a miracle, or only with a paradox? Immediately however the critic withdraws Milton from this fixed point of light, and places his fublimity of sentiment and description in contrast with Shakespeare's amiable variety ; and concludes, “ Shakespeare could have wrote like “ Milton, but Milton could never have “ wrote like Shakespeare.”
Does not the Doctor here overturn his own metaphysical system? Shakespeare's
judgement, to have qualified him to write like Milton, must have got the better of his imagination ; a confinement of Shakespeare's powers not half so poffible as that Dr. Johnson should turn Whig.
“ Some may think,” fays the Doctor, in this same poetical scale, “ that I have « under-valued the character of Waller;. “but, in my own opinion, I have rather « over-rated it.”
He has however made ample amends for this lenity in writing Waller's life; and it is a very gentle censure passed upon him by the Critical Reviewers " that the Doctor's remarks on some of “ our best poets, particularly Milton and “ Waller, whose political opinions by no
* For May, 1779.
« means coincided with his own, may be
thought rather too severe."
It was Waller's misfortune (a misfortune only in the scale of Dr. Johnson) to be born of a mother who was sister to the illustrious patriot John Hampden, whom. the Doctor calls the zealot of rebellion, by the same figure of speech which reprefents Christopher Milton, as taught by the law to adhere to king Charles, who was breaking the law every day by a thoufand of those arbitrary acts and oppreffions which make up the description of a tyrant.
It is not eafy to determine which, in this character of Hampden, is the more conspicuous, the zeal of the loyalist, or the manners of the gentleman. The man 3
talks in one place of Milton's brutality. We could wish to have his definition of the term, that we may not injure him in the adoption of it to his own style.
But Milton only, for the present, is our client, and only Milton the prosewriter, who, in that character, must ever be an eye-fore to men of Dr. Johnson's principles; principles that are at enmity with every patron of public liberty, and every pleader for the legal rights of Englishmen, which, in their origin, are neither more nor less than the natural rights of all mankind.
Milton, in contending for these against the tyrant of the day and his abettors, was serious, energetic, and irrefragable. He bore down all the filly sophisms in
favour of despotic power like a torrent, and left his adversaries nothing to reply, but the rhetoric of Billingsgate, from which Lauder, in the end of his pamphlet, intituled, “ King Charles I. vindi- cated, &c.” has collected a nosegay of the choicest flowers ; and pity it was, that he was too early to add his friend Johnson's character of Milton the prosewriter to the favoury bouquet.
When the Doctor found, on some late occafions, that his crude abuse and malicious criticisms would not bring down Milton to the degree of contempt with the public which he had assigned him in the scale of prose-writers.; he fell upon an expedient which has sometimes fuc.5