The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 23. Their supremacy in slanderous polemic
The anonymity which he marvellously preserved enabled Junius to maintain that affectation of superiority which distinguished him. Never before were mere scandals and libellous diatribes presented with such an air of haughty integrity and stern contempt for the baseness of jacks-in-office. We have to make an effort in order to remember that this lofty gentleman, above the temptation of “a common bribe,” is really engaged in the baser methods of controversy, and cuts a poor figure beside Johnson and Burke. But, from his impersonal vantage ground, he could deliver his judgments with more authority and more freely display the deliberate artifice of his style. Its general construction will appear from the passage on Grafton which has been quoted above. But he also uses a more shrouded form of innuendo than he there employs. He was very ingenious in composing a sentence, or even a whole period, of double meaning, and in making his real intent peculiarly clear withal. Perfect lucidity, indeed, is one of his chief literary qualities. In his most artificial rhetoric, his meaning is obvious to any reader. His wit, too, is of high quality, in spite of his laboured antitheses. It has outlived the obsolete fashion of its dress. It far transcends any trick of words; as often as not, it depends on a heartless sense of comedy. “I should,” he wrote to the unhappy Sir William Draper, “justly be suspected of acting upon motives of more than common enmity to Lord Granby, if I continued to give you fresh materials or occasion for writing in his defence.” He needs, we feel, defence himself. The best apology, perhaps, that can be offered for him is that he was carrying on an evil tradition and has to be condemned chiefly because of his excellence in a common mode.