ROBERT POTTER, Inquiry, 1783
Just Criticism, directed by superior learning and judgement, and tempered with candor, must at all times have an happy influence on the public taste, and of course be favourable to the interests and credit of literature…. Every age is not so happy as to produce an Addison; yet the present age owes much to the vigorous and manly understanding of Dr. Johnson: this truly respectable writer was early and deservedly distinguished by his great abilities, and the public has so long been habituated to receive and submit to his decisions, that they are now by many considered as infallible. Some years ago he wrote the life of Savage, a man neither amiable nor virtuous, but of a singular character formed from singular circumstances of distress, which never happened before, probably will never happen again in the life of any other man: undeserved distress has a claim to pity; and pity has always in it some mixture of love, which wishes to palliate the failings of the unfortunate sufferer; Dr. Johnson has the feelings of humanity warm at his honest heart; he has therefore with a free and spirited indignation stigmatized the unnatural mother, and to her unrelenting cruelty ultimately refers the faults of the unhappy son, faults which truth would not allow him to suppress, nor his virtue incline him to defend. In his account of Savage as a Poet, he places his genius in the fairest light, and makes just apologies for his inaccuracies. This little tract was written with an animated glow of sentiment, a vigorous and clear expression, and a pleasing candor sometimes perhaps stretched a little beyond the line of
judgement: it pleased; it must always please: no wonder then that the public expressed no small degree of satisfaction, when it was known that this celebrated author was engaged in writing the Lives of the most eminent English Poets, with critical observations on their works; much was expected from his knowledge and judgement; but high raised expectations are frequently disappointed: in these volumes, amidst the many just observations, the solid sense, and deep penetration which even his enemies must admire, his warmest friends find some passages which they must wish unwritten or obliterated.