One of his contemporaries, Thomas Carlyle, for all his genius, was on one important subject—that of poetry—as much of a bull in a china-shop as Ruskin was in art. Great friends as were he and Tennyson, the famous anecdote a propos of Tennyson’s publication of The Idylls of the King—“all very fine, Alfred, but when are you going to do some work”—and many other such written deliverances suffice to show how absolutely out of court a great tragic humorist and rhetorician may be on an art practised by writers at least as valuable to English literature as himself, say Wordsworth, Shelley, Coleridge, and Keats. Carlyle was a great writer, but the names of these four gentlemen who, according to his standard, never did any “work” have a strangely permanent look about them compared with that of the prophet-journalist of Chelsea and Ecclefechan.
A similar “sage,” another of the great conversational brow-beaters of English literature, Samuel Johnson, though it was his chief business to be a critic of poetry, was hardly more in court on the matter than Carlyle. In fact, Dr. Johnson might with truth be described as the King Bull of all the Bulls of all the China-shops. There was no subject, however remote from his knowledge or experience on which he would hesitate to pronounce, and if necessary bludgeon forth, his opinion. But in his case, there is one important distinction to be made, a distinction that has made him immortal.
He disported his huge bulk about the china-shop with such quaintness, with such engaging sturdiness of character, strangely displaying all the time so unique a wisdom of that world that lies outside and encloses all china-shops, so unparalleled a genius of common sense, oddly linked with that good old-time quality called “the fear of God,” that in his case we felt that the china, after all, didn’t matter, but that Dr. Samuel Johnson, “the great lexicographer,” supremely did. His opinions of Scotsmen or his opinions of poetry in themselves amount to little—though they are far from being without their shrewd insight—and much of the china—such as Milton’s poetry—among which he gambolled, after the manner of Behemoth, chanced to be indestructible. Any china he broke was all to the ultimate good of the china-shop. Yet, if we accept him so, is it not because he was such a wonderful bull in the china-shop of the world?
There have been other such bulls but hardly another so great, and with his name I will, for the moment at least, put personalities aside, and refer to droves rather than to individual bulls. A familiar type of the bull in the china-shop is the modern clergyman, who, apparently, insecure in his status of saint-hood, dissatisfied with that spiritual sphere which so many confiding human beings have given into his keeping, will be forever pushing his way like an unwelcome, yet quite unauthoritative, policeman, into that turmoil of human affairs—of which politics is a