Classicks on Italy, and Oral Tradition

James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson:

“I mentioned Addison’s having borrowed many of his classical remarks from Leandro Alberti. Mr. Beauclerk said, ‘It was alledged that he had borrowed also from another Italian authour.’ JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, all who go to look for what the Classicks have said of Italy, must find the same passages; and I should think it would be one of the first things the Italians would do on the revival of learning, to collect all that the Roman authors have said of their country.’

Ossian being mentioned;–JOHNSON. ‘Supposing the Irish and Erse languages to be the same, which I do not believe, yet as there is no reason to suppose that the inhabitants of the Highlands and Hebrides ever wrote their native language, it is not to be credited that a long poem was preserved among them. If we had no evidence of the art of writing being practised in one of the counties of England, we should not believe that a long poem was preserved there, though in the neighbouring counties, where the same language was spoken, the inhabitants could write.’ BEAUCLERK. ‘The ballad of Lilliburlero was once in the mouths of all the people of this country, and is said to have had a great effect in bringing about the Revolution. Yet I question whether any body can repeat it now; which shews how improbable it is that much poetry should be preserved by tradition.'”

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