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Lives of the Poets, Vol. 1 by Samuel Johnson

Part 10 out of 10

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and the passage thus adjusted:

Must above Tasso's lofty flights prevail,
Succeed where Spenser, and ev'n Milton, fail.

Amendments are seldom made without some token of a rent: _lofty_ does not
suit Tasso so well as Milton.

One celebrated line seems to be borrowed. The essay calls a perfect

A faultless monster which the world ne'er saw.

Scaliger, in his poems, terms Virgil "sine labe monstrum." Sheffield can
scarcely be supposed to have read Scaliger's poetry; perhaps he found the
words in a quotation.

Of this essay, which Dryden has exalted so highly, it may be justly
said, that the precepts are judicious, sometimes new, and often happily
expressed; but there are, after all the emendations, many weak lines, and
some strange appearances of negligence; as, when he gives the laws of
elegy, he insists upon connexion and coherence; without which, says he,

'Tis epigram, 'tis point, 'tis what you will;
But not an elegy, nor writ with skill,
No Panegyrick, nor a Cooper's Hill.

Who would not suppose that Waller's Panegyrick and Denham's Cooper's Hill
were elegies?

His verses are often insipid; but his memoirs are lively and agreeable;
he had the perspicuity and elegance of an historian, but not the fire and
fancy of a poet.

[Footnote 207: His mother was Elizabeth, one of the daughters of Lionel
Cranfield, earl of Middlesex. M.]

[Footnote 208: In the earliest editions of the duke's works he is styled
duke of Buckingham; and Walpole, in his Catalogue of Noble Authors,
mentions a wish, cherished by Sheffield, to be confounded with his
predecessor in the title; "but he would more easily," remarks Walpole,
sarcastically, "have been mistaken with the other Buckingham, if he had
not written at all." Burnet also, and other authorities, speak of him
under the title of duke of Buckingham. His epitaph, being in Latin, will
not settle the point. It is to be regretted, therefore, that Johnson
adduced no better evidence for his doubt than his own unsupported
assertion. ED.]

[Footnote 209: "The life of this peer takes up fourteen pages and a half
in folio, in the General Dictionary, where it has little pretensions to
occupy a couple: but his pious relict was always purchasing places for
him, herself, and their son, in every suburb of the temple of fame; a
tenure, against which, of all others, quo-warrantos are sure to take
place. The author of the article in the dictionary calls the duke one of
the most beautiful prose writers, and greatest poets, of his age: which
is also, he says, proved by the finest writers, his contemporaries;
certificates that have little weight, where the merit is not proved by
the author's own works. It is certain, that his grace's compositions in
prose have nothing extraordinary in them; his poetry is most indifferent,
and the greatest part of both is already fallen into total neglect."
Walpole's Noble Authors, vol. i. p. 436 of his works.]


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