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Poems about Johnson’s Dictionary

Know Yourself.
(AFTER REVISING AND ENLARGING THE ENGLISH LEXICON OR DICTIONARY)
Samuel Johnson.
Translated by Arthur Murphy.
(The original, written in Latin, is directly below the translation.)

When Scaliger, whole years of labour past,
Beheld his Lexicon complete at last,
And weary of his task, with wond'ring eyes,
Saw from words piled on words a fabric rise,
He cursed the industry, inertly strong,
In creeping toil that could persist so long,
And if, enraged he cried, Heaven meant to shed
Its keenest vengeance on the guilty head,
The drudgery of words the damn'd would know,
Doom'd to write Lexicons in endless wo.

Yes, you had cause, great Genius, to repent;
"You lost good days that might be better spent;"
You well might grudge the hours of ling'ring pain,
And view your learned labours with disdain.
To you were given the large expanded mind,
The flame of genius, and the taste refined
'Twas yours on eagle wings aloft to soar,
And amidst rolling worlds the Great First Cause explore;
To fix the eras of recorded time,
And live in every age and every clime,
Record the Chiefs, who propt their Country's cause,
Who founded Empires, and established Laws;
To learn whate'er the Sage, with virtue fraught,
Whate'er the Muse of moral wisdom taught.
These were your query; these to you were known
And the world's ample volume was your own.

Yet warn'd by me, ye pigmy Wits, beware,
Nor with immortal Scalinger compare.
For me, though his example strike my view
Oh! not for me his footsteps to pursue.
Whether first Nature, unpropitious, cold,
This clay compounded in a ruder mould;
Or the slow current, loitering at my heart,
No gleam of wit or fancy can impart;
Whate'er the cause, from me no numbers flow
No visions warm me, and no raptures glow.
A mind like Scaliger's, superior still,
No grief could conquer, no misfortunes chill.
Though for the maze of words his native skies
He seem'd to quit, 'twas but again to rise;
To mount once more to the bright source of day,
And view the wonders of th' ethereal way.
The love of Fame his generous bosom fired;
Each Science hail'd him, and each Muse inspired
For him the Sons of Learning trimm'd the bays
And Nations grew harmonious in his praise.

My task perform'd, and all my labours o'er,
For me what lot has Fortune now in store?
The listless will succeeds, that worst disease,
The rack of indolence, the sluggish ease.
Care grows on care, and o'er my aching brain
Black melancholy pours her morbid train.
No kind relief, no lenitive at hand,
I seek at midnight clubs the social band.
But midnight clubs, where wit with noise conspires,
Where Comus revels, and where wine inspires,
Delight no more: I seek my lonely bed,
And call on Sleep to soothe my languid head.
But Sleep from these sad lids flies far away;
I mourn all night, and dread the coming day.
Exhausted, tired, I throw my eyes around,
To find some vacant spot on classic ground;
And soon, vain hope! I form a grand design;
Languor succeeds, and all my powers decline
If Science open not her richest vein,
Without materials all our toil is vain.
A form to rugged stone when Phidias gives.
Beneath his touch a new creation lives.
Remove his marble, and his genius dies;
With nature, then, no breathing statue vies

Whate'er I plan, I feel my powers confined
By Fortune's frown and penury of mind.
I boast no knowledge glean'd with toil and strife,
That bright reward of a well-acted life.
I view myself, while Reason's feeble light
Shoots a pale glimmer through the gloom of night,
While passions, error, phantoms of the brain,
And vain opinions, fill the dark domain;
A dreary void, where fears with grief combined
Waste all within, and desolate the mind.

What then remains? Must I in slow decline
To mute inglorious ease old age resign?
Or, bold Ambition kindling in my breast,
Attempt some arduous task? Or, were it best,
Brooding o'er Lexicons to pass the day,
And in that labour drudge my life away?

ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΥΕΑΤΟΝ
(Post Lexicon Anglicanum auctum et emendatum.)

Lexicon ad finem longo luctamine tandem
Scaliger ut duxit, tenuis pertæsus opellæ,
Vile indignatus studium, nugasque molestas
Ingemit exosus, scribendaque lexica mandat
Damnatis, pœnam pro pœnis omnibus unam.

Ille quidem recte, sublimis, doctus et acer,
Quem decuit majora sequi, majoribus aptum,
Qui veterum modo facta ducum, modo carmina vatum,
Gesserat et quicquid virtus, sapientia quicquid
Dixerat, imperiique vices, cœlique meatus,
Ingentemque animo seclorum volveret orbem.

Fallimur exemplis; temere sibi turba scholarum
Ima tuas credit permitti Scaliger iras.
Quisque suum nórit modulum; tibi, prime virorum,
Ut studiis sperem, aut ausim par esse querelis,
Non mihi sorte datum; lenti seu sanguinis obsint
Frigora, seu nimium longa jacuisse veterno,
Sive mihi mentem dederit natura minorem.

Te sterili functum cura, vocumque salebris
Tuto eluctatum spatiis sapientia dia
Excipit æthereis, ars omnis plaudit amico,
Linguarumque omni terrâ discordia concors
Multiplici reducem circumsonat ore magistrum.

Me, pensi immunis cum jam mihi reddor inertis
Desidiæ sors dura manet, graviorque labore
Tristis et atra quies, et tardæ tædia vitæ.
Nascuntur curis curæ, vexatque dolorum
Importuna cohors, vacuæ mala somnia mentis.
Nunc clamosa juvant nocturnæ gaudia mensæ,
Nunc loca sola placent; frustra te, Somne, re cumbens
Alme voco, impatiens noctis metuensque diei.
Omnia percurro trepidus, circum omnia lustro,
Si qua usquam pateat melioris semita vitæ,
Nec quid agam invenio; meditatus grandia, cogo:
Notior ipse mihi fieri, incultumque fateri
Pectus, et ingenium vano se robore jactans.
Ingenium, nisi materiem doctrina ministrat,
Cessat inops rerum, ut torpet, si marmoris absit
Copia, Phidiaci fœcunda potentia cœli.
Quicquid agam, quocunque ferar, conatibus obstat
Res angusta domi, et macræ penuria mentis.

Non rationis opes animus, nunc parta recensens
Conspicit aggestas, et se miratur in illis,
Nec sibi de gaza præsens quod postulat usus
Summus adesse jubet celsa dominator ab arce;
Non, operum serie seriem dum computat ævi,
Præteritis fruitur, lætos aut sumit honores
Ipse sui judex, actæ bene munera vitæ;
Sed sua regna videns, loca nocte silentia late
Horret, ubi vanæ species, umbræque fugaces,
Et rerum volitant raræ per inane figuræ.

Quid faciam? tenebrisne pigram damnare senectam
Restat? an accingar studiis gravioribus audax?
Aut, hoc si nimium est, tandem nova lexica poscam?

Transcribed from The Works of Samuel Johnson, LL. D. with an Essay on His Life and Genius, by Arthur Murphy, esq. Third Complete American Edition. In Two Volumes. Vol. 1. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1832. pp. xv, 562-563. Available at Google Books here.


On Johnson's Dictionary.
John Maclaurin Dreghorn.

In love with a pedantic jargon,
Our poets, now a-days, are far gone;
Hence he alone can read their songs
To whom the gift of tongues belongs;
Or who to make him understand,
Keeps Johnson's lexicon at hand,
Which an improper name has got,
He should have dubb'd it Polyglot.

Be warn'd, young poet, and take heed
That Johnson you with caution read;
Always attentively distinguish
The Greek and Latin words from English;
And never use such, as 'tis wise
Not to attempt to nat'ralize.
Suffice this trifling specimen
To make the admonition plain:

Little of anthropopathy1 has he
Than in yon fulgid curricle reclines
Alone, while I, depauperated bard!
The streets pedestrious scour; why with bland voice
Bids he me not his vectitation share?
Alas! he fears my lacerated coat,
And visage pale, with frigorific want,
Would bring dedecoration on his chaise.

Me miserable! that th' Aonian hill
Is not auriferous, nor fit to bear
The farinaceous food, support of bards,
Carnivorous but seldom; that the soil
Which Hippocrene humectates, nothing yields,
But steril laurels, and aquatics sour.
To dulcify th' absinthiated cup
Of life, receiv'd from thy novercal hand,
Shall I have nothing muse? to lenify
Thy heart indurate shall poetic woe
And plaintive ejulation nought avail?

Riches desiderate I never did,
Ev'n when in mood most optative: a farm,
Little, but arboreous, was all I ask'd.
I, when a rustic, would my blatant calves
Well-pleas'd ablactate, and delighted tend
My gemillip'rous sheep, nor scorn to rear
The strutting turkey, and the strepent goose;
Then to dendrology my thoughts I'd turn;
A fav'rite care shou'd horticulture be,
But most of all wou'd geoponics please.

While ambulation thoughtless I protract
The tir'd sun appropinquates to the sea,
And now my arid throat, and latrant guts
Vociferate for supper; but what house
To get it in gives dubitation sad.
O! for a turgid bottle of strong beer,
Mature for imbibition; and O! for —
(Dear object of hiation!) mutton-pye.2

1. This, and all the other hard words that follow, are to be found in the Dictionary.

2. On this burlesque piece being shewn Dr Johnson, when in Edinburgh, along with many others of the same kind, he expressed himself thus, according to his biographer Mr Boswell, "This (said he) is the best. But I could caricature my own style much better myself." Johnson's Life. 8vo. edit. vol. II. p. 236.

Transcribed from: The Works of the Late John Maclaurin, Esq. of Dreghorn: One of the Senators of the College of Justice, and F.R.S. Edinr. In Two Volumes (Edinburgh, 1798), Vol. 1, p.29-31. Available on Google Books here.


On Johnson's Dictionary. 1755.
David Garrick.

TALK of war with a Briton, he'll boldly advance,
That one English solider will beat ten of France;
Would we alter the boast from the sword to the pen,
Our odds are still greater, still greater our men:
In the deep mines of science tho' Frenchmen may toil,
Can their strength be compar'd to Locke, Newton, and Boyle?
Let them rally their heroes, send forth all their pow'rs,
Their verse-men, and prose-men; then match them with ours!
First Shakespeare and Milton, like gods in the fight,
Have put their whole drama and epic to flight;
In satires, epistles, and odes would they cope,
Their numbers retreat before Dryden and Pope;
And Johnson, well arm'd, like a hero of yore,
Has beat forty1 French, and will beat forty more.

1. The number of the French academy employed in settling their language.

Transcribed from The Poetical Works of David Garrick, Esq. Now Collected into Two Volumes with Explanatory Notes. (London, ) Vol. 2. 1785), p. 506. Available at Google Books here.

Cite this page: "Poems about Johnson’s Dictionary." A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: December 17, 2012. http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/?page_id=4408.


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