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Record 21187

Reading Experience:

' [Johnson said of Goldsmith] "Take him as a poet, his 'Traveller' is a very fine performance; ay, and so is his 'Deserted Village,' were it not sometimes too much the echo of his 'Traveller.' Whether, indeed, we take him as a poet,—as a comick writer,—or as an historian, he stands in the first class." Boswell. "An historian! My dear sir, you surely will not rank his compilation of the Roman History with the works of other historians of this age ?" Johnson. "Why, who are before him?" Boswell. "Hume, —Robertson,—Lord Lyttelton." Johnson. (His antipathy to the Scotch beginning to rise). "I have not read Hume; but, doubtless, Goldsmith's 'History' is better than the [italics] verbiage [end italics] of Robertson, or the foppery of Dalrymple." Boswell. "Will you not admit the superiority of Robertson, in whose 'History' we find such penetration—such painting?" Johnson. "Sir, you must consider how that penetration and that painting are employed. It is not history, it is imagination. He who describes what he never saw draws from fancy. Robertson paints minds as Sir Joshua paints faces in a history piece: he imagines an heroick countenance. You must look upon Robertson's work as romance, and try it by that standard. History it is not. Besides, sir, it is the great excellence of a writer to put into his book as much as his book will hold. Goldsmith has done this in his 'History'. Now Robertson might have put twice as much into his book. Robertson is like a man who has packed gold in wool: the wool takes up more room than the gold. No, sir; I always thought Robertson would be crushed by his own weight,—would be buried under his own ornaments. Goldsmith tells you shortly all you want to know: Robertson detains you a great deal too long. No man will read Robertson's cumbrous detail a second time; but Goldsmith's plain narrative will please again and again. I would say to Robertson what an old tutor of a college said to one of his pupils: 'Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.' Goldsmith's abridgement is better than that of Lucius Florus or Eutropius; and I will venture to say, that if you compare him with Vertot, in the same places of the Roman History, you will find that he excels Vertot."'
Century: 1700-1799
Date: Until: 30 Apr 1773
Country: n/a
Time: n/a
Place: n/a
Type of Experience (Reader):
silent aloud unknown
solitary in company unknown
single serial unknown
Type of Experience (Listener):
solitary in company unknown
single serial unknown

Reader/Listener/Reading Group:

Reader:James Boswell
Age Adult (18-100+)
Gender Male
Date of Birth 29 Oct 1740
Socio-economic group: Professional / academic / merchant / farmer
Occupation: writer and lawyer
Religion: n/a
Country of origin: Scotland
Country of experience: n/a
Listeners present if any:
(e.g. family, servants, friends, workmates)
Additional comments: n/a


Text Being Read:

Author: William Robertson
Title: History of Scotland 1542 - 1603
Genre: History
Form of Text: Print: Book
Publication details: n/a
Provenance: unknown


Source Information:

Record ID: 21187  
Source - Print  
  Author: James Boswell
  Editor: R.W. Chapman
  Title: Life of Johnson
  Place of Publication: Oxford
  Date of Publication: 1980
  Vol: n/a
  Page: 527-8
  Additional comments: n/a

Citation: James Boswell, R.W. Chapman (ed.), Life of Johnson (Oxford, 1980), p. 527-8,, accessed: 24 June 2024

Additional comments:

Originally published 1791. Likely that this is the text in question



Reading Experience Database version 2.0.  Page updated: 27th Apr 2016  3:15pm (GMT)