« PreviousContinue »
course from himself, in which he set no bounds to his commendation of Johnston, and spoke with surprise of the esteem in which the learned had hitherto been accustomed to hold the version of Buchanan. The defence of Buchanan against this joint attack of roguery and simplicity, was undertaken by Mr. Love and Mr. Thomas Ruddiman, who not only covered the assailants with confusion, but, by their able expositions of the beauties of Buchanan, raised his version of the Psalms into even higher repute than it before possessed. Poor Benson lived to have a full sense of the folly into which he had been betrayed ; and, in chagrin at the awkward attempt which he had made to gain a name in letters, threw up the pursuit entirely, and would not look at a book for several years before he died.*
* Dr. Warton has endeavoured to rescue Benson from the contempt, with which he is too commonly spoken of. “ He translated,” he says, faithfully, if not very poetically, the second book of the Georgics, with useful notes; he printed elegant editions of Johnston's Psalms; he wrote a discourse on versification ; he rescued his country from the disgrace of having no monument erected to the memory of Milton, in Westminster Abbey; he encouraged and urged Pitt to translate the Æneid, and he gave Dobson £1000 for his Latin translation of Paradise Lost." Notes on the Dunciad.—Another instance of his liberality is recorded, which merits notice. In 1735, a book was published, entitled, “ The Cure of Deism." The author, Mr. Elisha Smith, was at that time confined in the Fleet prison, for a debt of £200. Benson, pleased
Ruddiman, while he maintained the superiority of Buchanan’s translation, was not sparing of due praise to that of Johnston. He was pleased to say, that for elegance and purity of diction, sweetness and smoothness of verse, in short all the ingredients that are required to the composition of a great and masterly poet, Johnston was inferior to none, and
superior to most of the age in which he lived. “ Nay," adds he, “ I will allow farther, that in my judgement he deserves the preference to the far greater part of those that have lived since or before him.”
A more recent critic, Lord Woodhouselee, in his Life of Kaimes, is of opinion, that although Johnston's version “ as a whole is certainly inferior, yet there are a few of his psalms, which in comparison will perhaps be found to excel the corresponding paraphrase of his rival.” He instances particularly the 24th, 30th, 42nd, 74th, 81st, 82nd, 102nd, and, above all, the 137th. The same ingenious critic, in his Essay on the Principles of Translation, commends Johnston for the scrupulous care with which he has uniformly avoided the application to the Almighty, of epithets suited only to the Pagan mythology, an error into which Buchanan has more than once fallen; as, for example, when he transfers the first line of the speech of Venus to Jupiter, in the 10th Æneid, to the address to the Deity, which begins the 4th Psalm.
O pater, O hominum divúmque æterna potestas !
with the work, inquired after the author, and being informed of his unfortunate state, he sent him a handsome letter, enclosing the means for discharging the whole debt, fees, &c
Dr. Beattie, who does not think much of any of the attempts which have been made to transfer the Psalms into a modern poetic dress, condemns Buchanan for a want of emphatic conciseness and unadorned simplicity. “ Jobnston,” be adds, “ is not so verbose, and has, of course, more vigour : but his choice of a couplet which keeps the reader always in mind of the puerile epistles of Ovid, was singularly injudicious.”
Buchanan, whose genius was as remarkable for its versatility as its compass, has employed no fewer than twenty-nine varieties of metre in his version ; but Johnston has confined himself entirely to the elegiac stanza, except in one psalm, the 119th, in which each verse presents a new measure.
The merit of Jobnston's version dwindles, after all, into very narrow limits. What Buchanan had done well before, Johnston has not, on the whole, done so well; and out of a mass of therefore abortive labour, there are only about half a dozen psalms which are worth preserving, as better than those of his rival. Had Johnston been less envious of the fame of Buchanan, he would have benefited his own.
The same genius and toil which he wasted on this fruitless competition, might, if employed on some different and original subject, have conducted him to an undisputed immortality.
Beside the works which have been incidentally mentioned, Johnston wrote a translation of the Song of Solomon into Latin Elegiac Verse ; and “ Musa Aulicæ," or commendatory verses on a number of his most distinguished contemporaries. He also edited the “ Deliciæ Poetarum Scoticorum ;" a work to which he was a large and valuable contributor, and of which Dr. Johnson has been pleased to say, that “it would do honour to any country.”
HAMILTON OF BANGOUR.
“ There have I seen a Hamilton submitting his verses to the correction and criticism of a fair circle, who did not trust alone to beauty the most superior, for the preservation of their empire over mankind.”
Col. Caustic. Lounger, No. 14.
William Hamilton, of Bangour, the poet of the polite world in Scotland, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, was born in 1704. He was descended from an ancient family, of independent circumstances, in Ayrshire ; and, born to elegant society, wanted nothing which a liberal education could supply to render him its ornament. Amidst the lighter dissipations of gay life, he cultivated a taste for literature, and acquired an intimate acquaintance with the best writers, both of modern times and of antiquity. The bent of his own mind was to poetry, and he made some early essays in it, which, being shewn about among his friends, obtained a degree of approbation which incited him to persevere in his court to the Muses. When the rebellion of 1745 broke out, he took the side which most men of generous temperament were apt to take in those days he joined the cause of the Pretender, and celebrated his first suc