Modernity’s Uninvited Guest: Civilization makes progress, but evil persists

Theodore Dalrymple in The City Journal:

Evil It is an unenviable fate for an author to be remembered, if at all, for a devastating review of his principal work by a much greater writer; but such was the fate that befell Soame Jenyns at the pen of Doctor Johnson. The book that occasioned Johnson’s scorn was A Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil, which Jenyns first published anonymously in 1756. Johnson’s review brings to mind Truman Capote’s famous remark about Jack Kerouac’s autobiographical novel, On the Road: that it was not writing, it was typing. For Johnson said of Jenyns: “When this [author] finds himself prompted to another performance, let him consider, whether he is about to disburden his mind, or employ his fingers; and, if I might venture to offer him a subject, I should wish, that he would solve this question: Why he, that has nothing to write, should desire to be a writer?”

In this case, however, the criticism was rather unfair; and Jenyns, by all accounts an amiable man, was mortified and harbored a deep but concealed resentment against Johnson for the rest of his life. After Johnson died, Jenyns published some vengefully scurrilous verses about the great man:

Here lies poor Johnson. Reader, have a care,
Tread lightly, lest you rouse a sleeping bear;
Religious, moral, generous, and humane
He was—but self-sufficient, rude, and vain;
Ill-bred and over-bearing in dispute,
A scholar and a Christian—yet a brute.