casual mention and uncertain tradition
Note by A Milnes to the Introduction to The Life Of Dryden

'On reviewing the received accounts of his life and writings I found so much inaccuracy and uncertainty that I soon resolved to take nothing upon trust, but to consider the subject as wholly new.'(Advertisement to Malone's Life of Dryden.)

'Unfortunately this anathema upon all before him in the same career (like that of the hair-dresser, who laments with generous pity the misconduct of your head before you sent for him) attaches itself, in part, upon the celebrated writer of the same life, Dr. Johnson, deceased. But that he is "deceased" can alone account for it; for I doubt whether Malone, valiant as he is, would have written these comments (which are like a wasp's tail in the nose of a giant) upon so irritable a personage.' Essence of Malone, by Minutius Felix, 1800.

In spite of this satire upon the hypercritical industry of Malone, there can be no doubt that Johnson's characteristic aversion from a steady and prolonged exertion of his powers prevented his making a very close investigation of the worth of the casual mention and uncertain tradition. It must always be remembered that the Lives of the Poets was a work undertaken for the booksellers, written to order, and regarded by Johnson as a piece of taskwork.

«LAST» Note «NEXT»