Evaluate Dr. Johnson as a Critic:Dogmatic and Magisterial; Prejudices and Limitations

Dr. Johnson'  Methods Dogmatic and Magisterial: - Dr. Johnson is one of the greatest of literary critics of England. As a critic, his popularity and authority veined with the size of romanticism because his views and opinions suffer form a number of prejudices and limitation. He was a man of his age. He belongs to the school of ‘classic’ or ‘judicial’ criticism as against the ‘Romantics’ or Aesthetic criticism of the next generation. We find him judging by set rules, “rules of old discovered and not devised” in the tradition of Dryden and pope. It is this habit of applying timed rules to the poet vender discussion that makes Johnson the” last great English critic who treated poets, not as men to be understood, but as school boys to be corrected”. His judgment remain essentially dogmatic and traditional and we find him disturbing praise a blame to poets, “with the confident assurance of a school master looking over a boy’s exercise” (John Bailey).

His Prejudices and Limitations: His Critical manner and theories were limited by classical prejudices. He could not appreciate blank verse, and Milton, Gray and Collins certainly do not deserve the judgment that Dr. Johnson passed upon them. The traditionalists in him were art of sympathy with them. “Rationality” and “good sense” were the tests he applied and the excesses of the “metaphysical” or the romantic were alike abhorrent to him. Even Shakespeare, towards whom his tone is much woman, is criticized for his many “excesses”.

Dr. Johnson was singularly deficient in aesthetic sensibility. He had no bear for music and no eye the beauty of nature. He found the music of Lycidas harsh, and “one blade of grass”, for him, “was like another”. He could appreciate only the regular, mechanical and monotonous beat of the ‘heroic couplet’ and blank verse was a verse only to the eyes. All his criticism is marred by his lack of appreciation of those who treat of nature or the life in the midst of nature. Similarly, the highest Heights of poetry were beyond him. Poetry for him was a “cunning craft” and not an expression of the human soul, as a spontaneous over – flow of powerful feeling. Literary prejudices. Johnson was a Tony, and his Tony prejudices colored his literary criticism. He could not appreciate Milton, for the poet was a republican, one who even supported regicide. Johnson’s many prejudices – Literacy, political, religions and personal – make him ingest in his criticism of swift and Milton. “His judgment of gray and Collins is latching in kindness. A thick veil hides the future from his gaze, conceals the coming of Romanticism”. 

His classicism, sane and liberal: Such are Dr. Johnson’s limitations as a critic. But his shortcomings should not blind no to his real greatness. No doubts he is ‘classic’ and, as such, rational, but his outlook is not narrow. His broadness is the classic point of view by a fruitful appeal to the resources of literacy psychology. He constantly appeals to reality and experience, his sound, sturdy commonsense saves him from many of the limitations of the Augustans. In his treatment of the dramatic unities, Johnson almost ceases to be a classic and goes over to the opposite camp, the camp of the ROMANTIC. 

His Sound Scholarship: Among other assents of Johnson as a critic, are his sound scholarship and independence. No doubt he was not so well lead in the classics, but he had dives deep into English literature. He had a store of sound scholarship which guided him and determined his judgment. The lives chosen for the lives of the poets were roughly those with which he was intimately familiar and for most of whom he had a warm sympathy. No prejudices, or preconceived notion and theories prevent him from going straight to the heart of the mother and stating his opinions, directly, forcefully and fearlessly. 

His Independence: Indeed, no critic was ever more independence, or more free from slavery to traditional rules than Dr. Johnson. His measure of literary merit is impartial; the claims of birth a authority fail to sway him. He judges even a Duke with the same standards as the poorest of poetasters. Even the traditional idolatry of Shakespeare fails to awe him. Independence is more necessary, and Dr. Johnson has that independent. He is bold enough to enumerate the taunts of Shakespeare, which he attributes to two causes- carelessness and excess of conceit. 

His Contribution:-Despite his limitations, he is one of the masters of English criticism Dr. Johnson has performed this service for his  subjects which were the English language, Shakespeare and the poets from Cowley to his own day. The publication of his Dictionary makes an epoch in the history of English. After this event English took its place among the literary language of Europe, and both foreignness and Englishmen could now learn the language like scholars and with understanding. He not only codified the floating and uncertain rules of spelling and grammar, but in his preface to the Dictionary also recognized that a language is a living thing, and that it must grow and change like a living being. He thus saved the language from growing rigid and untrue. In this way, he sundered one of the greatest services that corn is rendered to the literature of a nature.

At every step, he tries the dramatist by the tests of time nature and university and finds him supreme. As a matter of fact, Johnson was the first to emphasize, and apply at length the historic and comparative point of view in criticism. He was the first to emphasize that a critic could be most useful. It is in a masterly way that he penetrates the thickest of obscurities raised by Shakespeare’s language and goes straight to the heart of his meanings. 

Despite Johnson’s many limitations as critics of, his ‘Live of the poets’ is one of the greatest monuments and landmarks of English literature. Though there is some unfairness, yet his criticism of poetry is still a thing to be read with interest, profit and admiration. Poetry is an art and a craft as well is inspiration; it has a form and a substance, and the from is as essential as the matter. It is this truth that Johnson makes us see, and in this respect he, “ranks among the matters of criticism”.

Conclusion: Johnson was the chief of his age, and his faults are the faults of the times in which he lived. His merits are entirely his own; they shows how far in advance of his age he really was. No doubt, he attaches great importance to classical technique and rule of composition, but he also appreciates the charm, the evocative power, the pause beauty of the verse or the image. And his style contributes a great deal to the force and effect of his remarks.

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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