« AnteriorContinuar »
delusion, unconsciously co-operated in the fraud of an impostor, by writing the Preface and Postscript to “ An Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns, in his Paradise Lost,” printed for Messrs Payne and Bouquet, Paternoster-row, 8vo, 1750; a book made up of gross forgeries, and published to impose upon mankind. The contriver of this extraordinary imposture was a man of respectable literary attainments and considerable ingenuity, but of a temper soured by early misfortune, and the failure of repeated attempts to succeed to a professor's chair, and afterwards to the office of librarian in the university of Edinburgh. Among other expedients to enable him to support himself in freedom from the miseries of indigence, he published an edition of Dr Arthur Johnston's version of the Psalms *, for the use of the grammar
* In a collection of poetical paraphrases of sacred scripture, entitled, “ Poetarum Scotorum Musæ Sacræ," &c. 2 tom. 8vo, Edinb. 1739. In the preface to this collection, the editor pronounced a high and honourable panegyric on the great poet, whose just reputation he afterwards endeavoured to subvert.“ Virorum maximus,
schools in Scotland, under the patronage of the General Assembly of the Church ; by the sale of which he expected to improve his little fortune, and establish an annual income. But his credit and his interest were completely blasted, or thought to be blasted, according to his own account, by a distich of Pope, in which he ridicules Mr Benson, who had distinguished himself by his fondness for the same version, of which he printed many fine editions, and places Johnston in a contemptuous comparison with the author of “ Paradise Lost;" to whose memory by erecting monuments and striking coins, he endeavoured to raise himself to fame.
Joannes Miltonus, poeta celeberrimus, non Angliæ modo, soli natalis, verum generis humani ornamentum, cujus eximius liber, Anglicanis versibus conscriptus, vulgo PARADISUS Amissus, immortalis illud ingenii monumentum, cum ipsa fere æternitate perennaturum est opus !Hujus memoriam Anglorum primus, post tantum, proh dolor! ab tanti excessu poetæ intervallum, statua eleganti, nempe in loco celeberrimo, cænobio Westmonasteniensi, posita, regum, principum, antistitum, i'ustriumque Angliæ virorum cæmeterio, vir ornatissimus, Gulielmus Benson prosecutus est. P. x. xiv.
On two unequal crutches propp'd he came,
Pope's mention of Johnston, the object of Mr Benson's extravagant admiration, as a foil to a better poet, condemned, as Lauder affirms, his edition of the unfortunate Latin paraphrast to the shelf. From that time, the reputation of Johnston sunk in the schools; and Buchanan regained, without opposition, his classical pre-eminencet. On this occasion it was natural for his panegyrist not to be pleased; and his resentment, seeking to discharge itself some where, was unhappily directed against Milton; though, in a rational view of his resentment, it would have. been more naturally directed against Pope. Driven by necessity to London, to seek employment as a Latin teacher, he resolved to stigmatise Milton as a plagiary; and commenced the attack on his originality, in 1747, in various communications to the “ Gentle
+ See Dr Irving's “ Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Buchanan,” p. 129, 130, Edinburgh, 8vo, 1907.
man's Magazine,” which escaped detection. His imitation of the moderns he endeavoured to establish, by producing a variety of extracts from “ Paradise Lost,” with analogous passages from several modern, but obscure Latin poets, Masenius, Staphorstius, Taubmannus, Catsius, Quintianus, &c. He had the shameless audacity to interpolate the passages which he ext ucted from these writers with entire lines, either translated from “ Paradise Lost,” or literally taken from Hog's version of that poem. Nobody suspected the fidelity of his quotations; and the impostor, emboldened by the success of his atrocious efforts, ventured to collect " the specimens in favour of this argument," with additions, into a volume, and audaciously dedicated the whole “ To the learned Universities of Oxford and Cambridge,” with this motto,“ Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.” While his work was in the press, the proof sheets were submitted to the inspection of the Ivy-Lane club by Mr Payne the bookseller; “ and I could all along observe,” says Sir John Hawkins, “ that Johnson seemed
to approve, not only of the design, but of the argument, and seemed to exult in the persuasion, that the reputation of Milton was likely to suffer by this discovery. That he was not privy to the imposture I am well persuaded ; but that he wished well to the argument, must be inferred from the Preface, which indubitably was written by Johnson.” If Johnson approved of the design, and assisted the impostor with his masterly pen, it was no longer than while he believed the information to be true; nor can anything be fairly inferred from the Preface, but that he was pleased, as a scholar and a critic, with an investigation which gratified his literary curiosity and love of truth. That he had imbibed strong prejudices against Milton cannot be denied; and it may allowed that his dislike of the politician might incline him to view the supposed discovery of the extensive plagiarism of the poet with some degree of complacency. For his easy faith in believing the imputed calumny, without examination, he is liable to some censure; but it would be unwarrantable to charge the departed moralist