« PreviousContinue »
himfelf accordingly to examine the fheets with attention; and found them, not without fome furprise, to contain a methodical criticism upon Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard;" executed in a manner fomewhat outré, and containing Obfervations on certain other Poems of Gray, together with allufions to certain Analyses of them, which were referred to as preceding this particular Criticism, but which were not to be found in these fheets. A fudden thought now entered his head, and one which fome will perhaps think he too hastily adopted. Having been lately reading Dr. J-hn-n's Criticism on Gray (a work which afforded him infinite amufement), and the Doctor's manner being then ftrongly impreffed on his mind, he fancied he perceived a resemblance betwixt the style and mode of Criticifm difplayed in the Doctor's Strictures on Gray's other Poems, and that adopted in the Criti.cifm now before him. The leges judicandi were the fame; and the Editor was led to fancy it poffible, that the Obfervations on the Elegy written in a Country Church-yard, were composed by Dr. J-hn-n, printed off for publication, along with the other parts of the Criticifm on Gray, but afterwards withdrawn; from the fufpicion that a cenfure fo free, of one of the most popular productions in the English language, might be ill-received by the Public.
Full of this idea, the Editor formed the refolution of reftoring to his Fellow-Readers what feemed to him to have been needlessly taken away; and thus to gratify their palates with a difh that one meets not with every day.
What his riper fentiments upon this subject are, the Editor does not chufe to fay, The Public are in poffeffion of the evidence, both external and internal; and they are left to judge for themselves. It is, however, but fair to admit, that there are fome circumstances which are rather unfavourable to the idea, that this Criticism on Gray's Elegy is the genuine production of Dr. J-hn-n. Although it is not difficult to conceive, that means might have been found to get the proof-sheets of this work tranfinitted fucceffively to Ireland (as the proof fheets of other works have been) in due course of poft; and although the cafe of an + Author of
The great number of proprietors (in all thirty-fix) whofe names, in eight files, marfhalled in the form of the CUNEUS, defend the title-page of Dr. J-hn-n's amufing work, though calculated to ftrike terror in after pirates, may have even contributed to render easy the first trefpafs. Secrecy and Prudence diftributed among thirty-fix men, become little elfe than names. "In the "multitude of counsellors there is fafety:" The cafe is different with copy-holders.
+ It is faid to be a vouched anecdote of the Author of "Effays and Treatises on several Subjects," that he revoked and deftroyed certain Effays, which he had already got printed off, and in which he found reafon to fufpect that he had taken his ground rather too hastily.
note, as well as of boldness, withdrawing a printed work, previous to the day of publication, is not without precedent in the annals of literature; yet the boldness of Dr. J-hn-n is fo COLOSSAL, and his juft confidence in the propriety of his own tafte, and the foundnefs of his critical creed, fo completely INEBRANLABLE, that one may be juftified in doubting, whether it could be poffible for him to bring himself to cancel, from prudence, that which he had once printed off for publication. So stands the argument on one fide: but παλι λόγῳ ἶσος λογος axela; "for every Rebutter, there is a Surἀντικείται; Rebutter;" as the fhrewd Sextus has told us.
But whatever may be the Editor's opinion with respect to the authenticity of the Tract now offered to the Public, he finds himself at full liberty to acknowledge, that he has more than once repented of the refolution he had formed to reprint it. He foon found that the sheets were in fome places fo faint and blotted, and in others fo erafed and torn, that it was impoffible to prefent it for publication, unless in a manuscript copy, taken with much pains, and in which it would be neceffary to call in the aid of conjecture towards completing the fenfe by fupplement and interpolation. Difficult as this appeared in profpect, he found it ftill more difficult in execution: but, though he was often tempted to abandon his enterprize, Perfeve
Perfeverance at laft bore him through the labour he had undertaken. How he has acquitted himself in it, it belongs not to him to say. He may have committed mistakes; but he has committed none that he poffeffed the means of avoiding. In one or two proper names, he is not fure but he may have fupplied the defaced characters incorrectly.
From what has been now stated, this Tract mult neceffarily be fuppofed to meet the Public eye, in a ftate fomewhat different from that in which it came from the pen of its fuppofed Author. The characteristic peculiarities of the Writer, and that poignancy which diftinguishes all his productions, muft naturally be found in it, in a difguifed and flattened ftate; and the Strictures must have loft, of course, " part of what Temple would call their Race; a word which, applied to wines, in its primitive fenfe, means "the flavour of the foil,"
It was once intended to print the Criticism in a manner resembling the editions of Feftus, which diftinguish, by a difference of character, the unimpaired paffages in the original, from the fupplements and interpolations. But technical reafons were adduced against this mode; to which the Editor was obliged to yield, as he was not able to refute them. In place of this contrivance he had fubftituted another, which would have equally gratified the curiofity of the
the Lovers of the IMITATIVE ARTS, for whose entertainment this Publication was meant. In imitation of Mr. Brooke Boothby, he meant to have depofited the Original in the British Mufeum, for the inspection of the curious. But, alas! the late dreadful conflagration, which extended itself in part to his chambers, deprived him of the power of executing what he had planned. The zeal and activity of friends, which faved all his valuable property, overlooked these dirty fheets. The Editor foon after faw their remains. They had died a gentle death. The flame feemed juft to have reached them at the time its violence was fpent; for they lay undiffipated in a drawer half open, and which was little more than finged. The characters were in part legible, being marked in a pale white, fpreading over a dark ground; furnishing at once a proof of identity, and claiming a joint appropriation of the character which the Poet had applied exclufively to man:
"EVEN IN OUR ASHES LIVE THEIR WONTED FIRES."
Lincoln's Inn, 15th Jan. 1783.