Page:Samuel Johnson (1911).djvu/24

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xviii
INTRODUCTION

clusion; ask how many modern essayists have enough logic to lead them anywhere. Wisdom doubtless is a better thing than wit; but when we read the rambling polysyllables of our modern books and magazines, I think it is much clearer that we have lost the wit than it is that we have found the wisdom.

If we pass from the style to the substance of Johnson's criticisms, we find a further rebuke to our own time. The fallacy in the mere notion of progress or "evolution" is simply this; that as human history really goes one has only to be old-fashioned long enough to be in the very newest fashion. If there were a lady old enough and vain enough to wear an Empire dress since the marriage of Marie Louise, she would have had the first and nearest adumbration of a hobble skirt. If one ancient polytheist had survived long enough he might have lived to hear an Oxford don say to me at a dinner-party that perhaps we are not living in a Universe, but in a Multiverse. This same law, that by lagging behind the times one can generally get in front of them; has operated to the advantage of Johnson. Johnson happened to grow up in an old tradition in the early eighteenth century, before his friend Garrick and others had made the great Shakespeare boom. He