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A History of English Romanticism in the Eighteenth

Both Wartons were personal friends of Dr


Both

Wartons were personal friends of Dr. Johnson; they were members of the Literary Club and contributors to the _Idler_ and the _Adventurer_. Thomas interested himself to get Johnson the Master's degree from Oxford, where the doctor made him a visit. Some correspondence between them is given in Boswell. Johnson maintained in public a respectful attitude toward the critical and historical work of the Wartons; but he had no sympathy with their antiquarian enthusiasm or their liking for old English poetry. In private he ridiculed Thomas' verses, and summed them up in the manner ensuing:

"Whereso'er I turn my view, All is strange yet nothing new; Endless labor all along, Endless labor to be wrong; Phrase that time has flung away, Uncouth words in disarray, Tricked in antique ruff and bonnet, Ode and elegy and sonnet."

And although he added, "Remember that I love the fellow dearly, for all I laugh at him," this saving clause failed to soothe the poet's indignant breast, when he heard that the doctor had ridiculed his lines. An estrangement resulted which Johnson is said to have spoken of even with tears, saying "that Tom Warton was the only man of genius he ever knew who wanted a heart."

Goldsmith, too, belonged to the conservative party, though Mr. Perry[12] detects romantic touches in "The Deserted Village," such as the line,

justify;"> "Where wild Altama murmurs to their woe,"

or

"On Torno's cliffs or Pambamarca's side."

In his "Enquiry into the Present State of Polite Learning" (1759) Goldsmith pronounces the age one of literary decay; he deplores the vogue of blank verse--which he calls an "erroneous innovation"--and the "disgusting solemnity of manner" that it has brought into fashion. He complains of the revival of old plays upon the stage. "Old pieces are revived, and scarcely any new ones admitted. . . The public are again obliged to ruminate over those ashes of absurdity which were disgusting to our ancestors even in an age of ignorance. . . What must be done? Only sit down contented, cry up all that comes before us and advance even the absurdities of Shakspere. Let the reader suspend his censure; I admire the beauties of this great father of our stage as much as they deserve, but could wish, for the honor of our country, and for his own too, that many of his scenes were forgotten. A man blind of one eye should always be painted in profile. Let the spectator who assists at any of these new revived pieces only ask himself whether he would approve such a performance, if written by a modern poet. I fear he will find that much of his applause proceeds merely from the sound of a name and an empty veneration for antiquity. In fact, the revival of those _pieces of forced humor, far-fetched conceit and unnatural hyperbole which have been ascribed to Shakspere_, is rather gibbeting than raising a statue to his memory."

The words that I have italicized make it evident that what Goldsmith was really finding fault with was the restoration of the original text of Shakspere's plays, in place of the garbled versions that had hitherto been acted. This restoration was largely due to Garrick, but Goldsmith's language implies that the reform was demanded by public opinion and by the increasing "veneration for antiquity." The next passage shows that the new school had its _claque_, which rallied to the support of the old British drama as the French romanticists did, nearly a century later, to the support of Victor Hugo's _melodrames_.[13]

"What strange vamped comedies, farcical tragedies, or what shall I call them--speaking pantomimes have we not of late seen?. . . The piece pleases our critics because it talks Old English; and it pleases the galleries because it has ribaldry. . . A prologue generally precedes the piece, to inform us that it was composed by Shakspere or old Ben, or somebody else who took them for his model. A face of iron could not have the assurance to avow dislike; the theater has its partisans who understand the force of combinations trained up to vociferation, clapping of hands and clattering of sticks; and though a man might have strength sufficient to overcome a lion in single combat, he may run the risk of being devoured by an army of ants."


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