Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Johnson > Johnson and Boswell > The weight of his words carried by the strength of his thought
  His literary growth, and advance in ease of style Ill success of his Parodists  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

VIII. Johnson and Boswell.

§ 30. The weight of his words carried by the strength of his thought.


At the same time, his style became more easy. The Latin element is at its greatest in The Rambler. He was then engaged on his Dictionary. But he always tended to use long words most when he wrote in haste; and his revision was towards simplicity. 34  He used them in conversation, where alone he allowed himself the liberty of a daring coinage. They were in no sense an embroidery, but part of the very texture of his thought. “Difference of thoughts,” he said, “will produce difference of language. He that thinks with more extent than another will want words of larger meaning; he that thinks with subtlety will seek for terms of more nice discrimination.” 35  As we read him and accustom our minds to move with his, we cease to notice the diction. The strength of his thought carries the weight of his words. His meaning is never mistaken, though it may not be fully grasped at a glance; for he puts much in small compass, and the precision of his language requires careful reading for its just appreciation. “Familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious”; “vanity produced a grotto where necessity enforced a passage”—could the thought be put more pointedly, or adequately, or shortly? When Latin diction cannot be changed without loss, or without affecting the tenor of the thought, it has made good its right. His humour and irony found an aid in the dignified phraseology. But he also used simple words. Wit is “that which he that never found it wonders how he missed”; “what he does best he soon ceases to do”; “a rage for saying something when there is nothing to be said”—these, also, are typical of his style. The letter to Chesterfield reaches its climax in the homeliest of English: “till I am known, and do not want it.”   48

Note 34. See, in addition to the alterations in The Rambler, the corrections in The Lives of the Poets as given in Boswell’s lists. [ back ]
Note 35Idler, No. 70. [ back ]

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  His literary growth, and advance in ease of style Ill success of his Parodists  
 
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