Samuel Johnson and Milton’s ‘Mighty Bone’

Samuel Johnson and Milton’s ‘Mighty Bone’ IN the Hyde Edition of The Letters of Samuel Johnson, Bruce Redford observes of the phrase ‘shorn of his beams’ from the 3 July 1778 letter to James Boswell, SJ accomplishes a triple allusion by quoting a phrase from Milton (Paradise Lost I.596) that appears in Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid (IX.887); the Dryden in turn is quoted under shorn in SJ’s Dictionary.1 The following article examines another serial appropriation of a Miltonic line, one achieving a similar effect, but more than doubling the triplet structure noted by Redford. Johnson quoted from Milton frequently, in both his private and public writings.2 In his 1774 Journey into North Wales, at the climax of an extended comparison of Hawkstone Park and the garden at Ilam, he wrote, Ilam is the fit abode of pastoral virtue, and might properly diffuse its shades over nymphs and swains. Hawkeston[e] can have no fitter inhabitants than Giants of mighty bone, and bold emprise, men of lawless courage and heroic violence. Hawkestone should be described by Milton and Ilam by Parnel.3 This alludes to the fourth vision Michael shows to Adam in Paradise Lost, that of mankind’s future warfare:   Cities of men with lofty gates and towers,   Concourse in arms, fierce faces threatening war,   Giants of mighty bone and bold emprise.4 As with the instance that Redford cites, the reference involves multiple allusions, in this case at least seven. A few years after the Wales Tour, in the 1781 ‘Life of Addison’, Johnson penned this critical disquisition upon Addison’s Campaign, his poem is the work of a man not blinded by the dust of learning: his images are not borrowed merely from books. The superiority which he confers upon his hero is not personal prowess, and ‘mighty bone’, but deliberate intrepidity, a calm command of his passions, and the power of consulting his own mind in the midst of danger. (Yale Works, XXII, 651) Awareness of the earlier text allows us to understand more fully the operational efficacy of its allusive deployment here. Johnson’s mention of ‘men of lawless courage and heroic violence’ expands upon the terseness of ‘mighty bone’ and sharpens the contrast to Marlborough’s ‘deliberate intrepidity’ and ‘calm command’. If there is an oblique subversion of the general’s heroism here—Johnson was no favourer of the Marlboroughs5—the deflation is wittily paralleled by Johnson’s own self-criticism, as he implicitly ‘borrows’ his image from Milton’s book. The intertextual witticism is far from dull and dusty, however; it leavens the paragraph with a creative vitality not often found in literary commentary. In short, Johnson’s ‘mighty bone’ allusion operates in the ‘Life of Addison’ with summoning metaphoric force. Johnson’s affinity for the Milton line manifests much earlier in his career. Nearly a decade before the Wales Tour, in the 1765 Shakespeare Edition, we find, as a gloss to As You Like It (II.iii.7–8),   Adam. Why would you be so fond to overcome   The bony priser of the humourous Duke?   So Milton, ‘Giants of mighty bone’. (Yale Works, VII, 247) Here Johnson suggests the ‘bone’ and ‘emprise’ coalition from Paradise Lost was influenced by Shakespeare, or, at the very least, he uses the former to more cogently illuminate the latter’s lines: ‘emprise’ and ‘priser’ may coincide only verbally, but ‘mighty bone’ and ‘bony’ possess a resemblance bearing semantic power. We find other possible suggestions of Milton’s influence a decade earlier, in the 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, where Johnson quotes the lines under the entries for ‘emprise’, ‘giant’, and ‘mighty’ (def. 7). Under the first of these (‘attempt of danger; undertaking of hazard; enterprise’), he pairs Milton’s verse with this couplet:   Thus, ’till the sun had travell’d half the skies,   Ambush’d we lie, and wait the bold emprise.                   Pope’s Odyssey6 In the Preface to the Dictionary, Johnson wrote, ‘I have sometimes, though rarely, yielded to the temptation of exhibiting a genealogy of sentiments, by shewing how one authour copied the thoughts and diction of another …’ (Yale Works, XVIII, 98). Given that Pope was translating an epic into English and that he therefore would be quite likely to have found Milton a convenient source for his poetic diction, two things at least seem apparent: (1) Pope was influenced by Milton’s verses, and (2) Johnson is implicitly recommending notice of this influence. But this is not the only English translation of an ancient epic to crib the Milton passage. Under the Dictionary entry for ‘quilt’ (v.a.), Johnson offers this:   Entellus for the strife prepares,   Strip’d of his quilted coat, his body bares,   Compos’d of mighty bone.                   Dryden’s Æneis Although Milton’s name does not appear inside this entry, we have seen enough evidence of Johnson’s use of the Paradise Lost line to deduce for ourselves its exertion of pressure upon Dryden’s text. And we have come full circle. Following the Redford observation noted earlier, which detected Milton’s footprint in Dryden, we may be permitted to acknowledge the discovery of an example of an even greater intertextual insistence. In short, Johnson’s ‘mighty bone’ is a compound allusion, one tethering some of his more important works together with four major authors in the British literary tradition. Its frequent appearance suggests that the Milton passage was a favourite of Johnson’s. Perhaps he liked it for aesthetic reasons, enjoying the pleasing jar between the tactile Anglo-Saxon immediacy of ‘bone’ versus the French verbal remoteness of ‘emprise’. Or perhaps he liked the heroic connotations the line possessed. In Rambler 21, he wrote: The garlands gained by the heroes of literature must be gathered from summits equally difficult to climb with those that bear the civic or triumphal wreaths, they must be worn with equal envy, and guarded with equal care from those hands that are always employed in efforts to tear them away; the only remaining hope is, that their verdure is more lasting, and that they are less likely to fail by time, or less obnoxious to the blasts of accident. (Yale Works, III, 117) Johnson’s writings refer frequently to the ‘heroes of literature’.7 His description in the Preface to Shakespeare, the genius of Shakespeare was not to be depressed by the weight of poverty, nor limited by the narrow conversation to which men in want are inevitably condemned; the incumbrances of his fortune were shaken from his mind, ‘as dewdrops from a lion’s mane’. (Yale Works, VII, 89) may easily be taken as a semi-autobiographical glimpse into his own self-conception—an author born to overcome adversities and to grapple with such mighty precursors as Milton and Shakespeare, Dryden and Pope. Hence, it is not implausible to suggest that the rawboned youth from the Midlands who rose to global and enduring fame by dint of his ambition, wit, and genius might well fancy himself as bold, full of enterprise, and mighty of bone. Footnotes 1 5 vols (Princeton, NJ, 1992–94), III, 119n. My thanks to Robert G. Walker and Christine Jackson-Holzberg for reading over and helpfully commenting upon earlier drafts of this article. 2 For Johnson’s nearly life-long engagement with Milton, see Christine Rees, Johnson’s Milton (Cambridge, 2010). 3 The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, gen. ed. Robert DeMaria, Jr., 23 vols (New Haven, CT, 1958–), I, 175. 4 II, 640–2; Milton: Paradise Lost, ed. Alastair Fowler, 2nd edn. (Harlow, 1997), 509. 5 See, e.g., Johnson’s tapping the Duke for one of his negative examples in The Vanity of Human Wishes: ‘From Marlb’rough’s eyes the streams of dotage flow’ (l.317; Yale Works, VI, 106) and Rambler 13, where he writes of the Duchess, a late female minister of state has been shameless enough to inform the world, that she used, when she wanted to extract any thing from her sovereign, to remind her of Montaigne’s reasoning, who has determined, that to tell a secret to a friend is no breach of fidelity, because the number of persons trusted is not multiplied, a man and his friend being virtually the same. (Yale Works, III, 71) 6 Departing from Johnson, the OED finely discriminates the word into two different senses: Pope, ‘1. An undertaking, enterprise; esp. one of an adventurous or chivalrous nature’, and Milton, ‘2. abstr. Chivalric enterprise, martial prowess’. 7 See, e.g., Rambler 17 (§ 12), 108 (§ 10), 137 (§ 7), and Life of Savage (§ 3). Rambler 154 discusses the writer who ‘wishes to be counted among the benefactors of posterity’ (Yale Works, V, 58). In the Dictionary (1773 revision), Johnson defines ‘hero’ as: ‘2. A man of the highest class in any respect; as, a hero in learning’; in the ‘Life of Gay’ he elaborates on ‘the character of hero’ who ‘believes his powers strong enough to force their own way, commonly [trying] only to please himself’ (Yale Works, XXII, 795). See also Jeffrey Hart, ‘Some Thoughts on Johnson as Hero’, in Magdi Wahba (ed.), Johnsonian Studies (Cairo and Oxford, 1962), 23–36, and Isobel Grundy, Samuel Johnson and the Scale of Greatness (Athens, GA, 1986), ch. 10, ‘Greatness and Heroism’. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Notes and Queries Oxford University Press

Samuel Johnson and Milton’s ‘Mighty Bone’

Notes and Queries , Volume Advance Article (2) – Apr 16, 2018

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Abstract

IN the Hyde Edition of The Letters of Samuel Johnson, Bruce Redford observes of the phrase ‘shorn of his beams’ from the 3 July 1778 letter to James Boswell, SJ accomplishes a triple allusion by quoting a phrase from Milton (Paradise Lost I.596) that appears in Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid (IX.887); the Dryden in turn is quoted under shorn in SJ’s Dictionary.1 The following article examines another serial appropriation of a Miltonic line, one achieving a similar effect, but more than doubling the triplet structure noted by Redford. Johnson quoted from Milton frequently, in both his private and public writings.2 In his 1774 Journey into North Wales, at the climax of an extended comparison of Hawkstone Park and the garden at Ilam, he wrote, Ilam is the fit abode of pastoral virtue, and might properly diffuse its shades over nymphs and swains. Hawkeston[e] can have no fitter inhabitants than Giants of mighty bone, and bold emprise, men of lawless courage and heroic violence. Hawkestone should be described by Milton and Ilam by Parnel.3 This alludes to the fourth vision Michael shows to Adam in Paradise Lost, that of mankind’s future warfare:   Cities of men with lofty gates and towers,   Concourse in arms, fierce faces threatening war,   Giants of mighty bone and bold emprise.4 As with the instance that Redford cites, the reference involves multiple allusions, in this case at least seven. A few years after the Wales Tour, in the 1781 ‘Life of Addison’, Johnson penned this critical disquisition upon Addison’s Campaign, his poem is the work of a man not blinded by the dust of learning: his images are not borrowed merely from books. The superiority which he confers upon his hero is not personal prowess, and ‘mighty bone’, but deliberate intrepidity, a calm command of his passions, and the power of consulting his own mind in the midst of danger. (Yale Works, XXII, 651) Awareness of the earlier text allows us to understand more fully the operational efficacy of its allusive deployment here. Johnson’s mention of ‘men of lawless courage and heroic violence’ expands upon the terseness of ‘mighty bone’ and sharpens the contrast to Marlborough’s ‘deliberate intrepidity’ and ‘calm command’. If there is an oblique subversion of the general’s heroism here—Johnson was no favourer of the Marlboroughs5—the deflation is wittily paralleled by Johnson’s own self-criticism, as he implicitly ‘borrows’ his image from Milton’s book. The intertextual witticism is far from dull and dusty, however; it leavens the paragraph with a creative vitality not often found in literary commentary. In short, Johnson’s ‘mighty bone’ allusion operates in the ‘Life of Addison’ with summoning metaphoric force. Johnson’s affinity for the Milton line manifests much earlier in his career. Nearly a decade before the Wales Tour, in the 1765 Shakespeare Edition, we find, as a gloss to As You Like It (II.iii.7–8),   Adam. Why would you be so fond to overcome   The bony priser of the humourous Duke?   So Milton, ‘Giants of mighty bone’. (Yale Works, VII, 247) Here Johnson suggests the ‘bone’ and ‘emprise’ coalition from Paradise Lost was influenced by Shakespeare, or, at the very least, he uses the former to more cogently illuminate the latter’s lines: ‘emprise’ and ‘priser’ may coincide only verbally, but ‘mighty bone’ and ‘bony’ possess a resemblance bearing semantic power. We find other possible suggestions of Milton’s influence a decade earlier, in the 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, where Johnson quotes the lines under the entries for ‘emprise’, ‘giant’, and ‘mighty’ (def. 7). Under the first of these (‘attempt of danger; undertaking of hazard; enterprise’), he pairs Milton’s verse with this couplet:   Thus, ’till the sun had travell’d half the skies,   Ambush’d we lie, and wait the bold emprise.                   Pope’s Odyssey6 In the Preface to the Dictionary, Johnson wrote, ‘I have sometimes, though rarely, yielded to the temptation of exhibiting a genealogy of sentiments, by shewing how one authour copied the thoughts and diction of another …’ (Yale Works, XVIII, 98). Given that Pope was translating an epic into English and that he therefore would be quite likely to have found Milton a convenient source for his poetic diction, two things at least seem apparent: (1) Pope was influenced by Milton’s verses, and (2) Johnson is implicitly recommending notice of this influence. But this is not the only English translation of an ancient epic to crib the Milton passage. Under the Dictionary entry for ‘quilt’ (v.a.), Johnson offers this:   Entellus for the strife prepares,   Strip’d of his quilted coat, his body bares,   Compos’d of mighty bone.                   Dryden’s Æneis Although Milton’s name does not appear inside this entry, we have seen enough evidence of Johnson’s use of the Paradise Lost line to deduce for ourselves its exertion of pressure upon Dryden’s text. And we have come full circle. Following the Redford observation noted earlier, which detected Milton’s footprint in Dryden, we may be permitted to acknowledge the discovery of an example of an even greater intertextual insistence. In short, Johnson’s ‘mighty bone’ is a compound allusion, one tethering some of his more important works together with four major authors in the British literary tradition. Its frequent appearance suggests that the Milton passage was a favourite of Johnson’s. Perhaps he liked it for aesthetic reasons, enjoying the pleasing jar between the tactile Anglo-Saxon immediacy of ‘bone’ versus the French verbal remoteness of ‘emprise’. Or perhaps he liked the heroic connotations the line possessed. In Rambler 21, he wrote: The garlands gained by the heroes of literature must be gathered from summits equally difficult to climb with those that bear the civic or triumphal wreaths, they must be worn with equal envy, and guarded with equal care from those hands that are always employed in efforts to tear them away; the only remaining hope is, that their verdure is more lasting, and that they are less likely to fail by time, or less obnoxious to the blasts of accident. (Yale Works, III, 117) Johnson’s writings refer frequently to the ‘heroes of literature’.7 His description in the Preface to Shakespeare, the genius of Shakespeare was not to be depressed by the weight of poverty, nor limited by the narrow conversation to which men in want are inevitably condemned; the incumbrances of his fortune were shaken from his mind, ‘as dewdrops from a lion’s mane’. (Yale Works, VII, 89) may easily be taken as a semi-autobiographical glimpse into his own self-conception—an author born to overcome adversities and to grapple with such mighty precursors as Milton and Shakespeare, Dryden and Pope. Hence, it is not implausible to suggest that the rawboned youth from the Midlands who rose to global and enduring fame by dint of his ambition, wit, and genius might well fancy himself as bold, full of enterprise, and mighty of bone. Footnotes 1 5 vols (Princeton, NJ, 1992–94), III, 119n. My thanks to Robert G. Walker and Christine Jackson-Holzberg for reading over and helpfully commenting upon earlier drafts of this article. 2 For Johnson’s nearly life-long engagement with Milton, see Christine Rees, Johnson’s Milton (Cambridge, 2010). 3 The Yale Edition of the Works of Samuel Johnson, gen. ed. Robert DeMaria, Jr., 23 vols (New Haven, CT, 1958–), I, 175. 4 II, 640–2; Milton: Paradise Lost, ed. Alastair Fowler, 2nd edn. (Harlow, 1997), 509. 5 See, e.g., Johnson’s tapping the Duke for one of his negative examples in The Vanity of Human Wishes: ‘From Marlb’rough’s eyes the streams of dotage flow’ (l.317; Yale Works, VI, 106) and Rambler 13, where he writes of the Duchess, a late female minister of state has been shameless enough to inform the world, that she used, when she wanted to extract any thing from her sovereign, to remind her of Montaigne’s reasoning, who has determined, that to tell a secret to a friend is no breach of fidelity, because the number of persons trusted is not multiplied, a man and his friend being virtually the same. (Yale Works, III, 71) 6 Departing from Johnson, the OED finely discriminates the word into two different senses: Pope, ‘1. An undertaking, enterprise; esp. one of an adventurous or chivalrous nature’, and Milton, ‘2. abstr. Chivalric enterprise, martial prowess’. 7 See, e.g., Rambler 17 (§ 12), 108 (§ 10), 137 (§ 7), and Life of Savage (§ 3). Rambler 154 discusses the writer who ‘wishes to be counted among the benefactors of posterity’ (Yale Works, V, 58). In the Dictionary (1773 revision), Johnson defines ‘hero’ as: ‘2. A man of the highest class in any respect; as, a hero in learning’; in the ‘Life of Gay’ he elaborates on ‘the character of hero’ who ‘believes his powers strong enough to force their own way, commonly [trying] only to please himself’ (Yale Works, XXII, 795). See also Jeffrey Hart, ‘Some Thoughts on Johnson as Hero’, in Magdi Wahba (ed.), Johnsonian Studies (Cairo and Oxford, 1962), 23–36, and Isobel Grundy, Samuel Johnson and the Scale of Greatness (Athens, GA, 1986), ch. 10, ‘Greatness and Heroism’. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Published: Apr 16, 2018

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