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tenso thinking would not become the Idler. The first number presents a well-drawn portrait of an Idler, and from that character no deviation could be made. Accordingly, Johnson forgets his austere manner, and plays ua into sense. Ho still continues his lectures on human life, but he adverts to common occurrences, and is often content with the topic of the day. An advertisement in the beginning of the first volume informs us, that twelve entire essays were a contribution from different hands. One of these, No. 33, is the journal of a Senior Fellow at Cambridge, but as Johnson, being himself an original thinker, always revolted from servile imitation, he has printed the piece, with an apology, importing that the journal of a citizen in die Spectator almost precluded the attempt of any subsequent writer. This account of the Idler may be closed, after observing, that the author's mother, being buried on the 23d of January, 1759, there is an admirable paper occasioned by that event, on Saturday the 87th of the same month, No. 41. The reader, if he pleases, may compare it with another fine paper in the Rambler, No. 54, on the conviction that rushes on the mind at the bed of a dying friend.
"Rasselas," says Sir John Hawkins, "is a specimen of our language scarcely to bo paralleled; it is written in a style refined to a degree of immaculate parity, and displays the whole force of turgid eloquence." One cannot but smile at this encomium. Rasselas is undoubtedly both elegant and sublime. It is a view of human life, displayed, it must bo owned, in gloomy colours. The author's natural melancholy, depressed, at the time, by the approaching dissolution of his mother, darkened the picture. A tale, that should keep curiosity awake by the artifice of unexpected incidents, was not the design of a mind pregnant with belter tilings. He, who reads the heads of the chapters will find^that it is not a course of adventures that invites him forward, but a discussion of interesting questions; Reflections on Human life, the History of Imlac, the Man of Learning; a Dissertation upon Poetry; the Character of a wise and happy Man, who discourses with energy on the government of the passions, and on a sudden, when Death deprives him of his daughter, forgets all his maxims of wisdom and the eloquence that adorned them, yielding to the stroke of affliction with all the vehemence of the bitterest anguish. It is by pictures of life, and profound moral reflection, that expectation is engaged and gratified throughout the work. The History of the Mad Astronomer, who imagines that, for fivo years, he possessed the regulation of the weather, and that the sun passed from tropic to tropic by his direction, represents in striking colours the sad effect of a distempered imagination. It becomes the more affecting when we recollect that it proceeds from one who lived in fear of the same dreadful visitation; from one who says emphatically, " Of the uncertainties' in our present state, the most dreadful and alarming is the uncertain continuance of reason." The inquiry into the cause of madness, and the dangerous prevalence of imagination, till in time some particular train of ideas fixes the attention, and the mind recurs constantly to the favourite conception, is carried on in a strain of acute observation; but it leaves us room to think that the author was transcribing
from his own apprehensions. The discourse on the nature of the soul gives us all that philosophy knows, not without a tincture of superstition. It is remarkable that the vanity of human pursuits was, about the same time, the subject that employed both Johnson and Voltaire: but Candide is the work of a lively imagination; and Rasselas, with all its splendour of eloquence, exhibits a gloomy picture. It should, however, be remembered, that the world has known the weeping as well as the laughing philosopher.
The Dictionary does not properly fall within the province of this essay. The preface, however, will be found in this edition. He who reads the close of it, without acknowledging the force of the pathetic and sublime, must have more insensibility in his composition than usually falls to the share of a man. The work itself, though in some instances abuse has been loud, and in others malice has endeavoured to undermine its fame, still remains the Mount Atlas of English Literature.
Though itormi and tempests thunder on its brow,
And oceans break their billows at its feet,
That Johnson was eminently qualified for the office of a commentator on Shakspcare, no man can doubt; but it was an office which he never cordially embraced. The public expected more than he had diligence to perform; and yet his edition has been the ground on which every subsequent commentator has chosen to build. One note for its singularity, may be thought worthy of notice in this place. Hamlet says; "For if the gun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a God-kissing carrion." In this Warburton discovered the origin of evit. Hamlet, he says, breaks off in the middle of the sentence; but the learned commentator knows what he was going to say, and being unwilling to keep the secret, he goes on in a train of philosophical reasoning that leaves the reader in astonishment Johnson, with true piety, adopts the fanciful hypothesis, declaring it to be a noble emendation, which almost sets the critic on a level with the author. The general observations at the end of the several plays, and the preface will be found in this edition. The former, with great elegance and precision, give a summary view of each drama. The preface is a tract of great erudition and philosophical criticism.
Johnson's political pamphlets, whatever was his motive for writing them, whether gratitude for his pension, or the solicitation of men in power, did not support the cause for which they were undertaken. They are written in a style truly harmonious, and with his usual dignity of language. When it is said that he advanced positions repugnant to the common rights of mankind, the virulence of party may be suspected. It is, perhaps, true that in the clamour raised throughout the kingdom, Johnson over-heated his mind; but he was a friend to the rights of man, and he was greatly superior to the littleness of spirit that might incline him to advance what he did not think and firmly believe. In the False. Alarm, though many of the most eminent men in the kingdomconcurred in petitions to the throne, yetJohnson, having well surveyed the mass of the people, has given, with great humour, and no less truth, what may be called, the birth, parentage, and education of a remonstrance. On the subject of Falkland's Islands, the finedissuasive from too hastily involving the world in the calamities of war, must extort applause even from the party that wished, at that time, for the scenes of tumult and commotion. It was in the same pamphlet that Johnson offered battle to Jcnius; a writer, who, by the uncommon elegance of his style, charmed every reader, though his object was to inflame the nation in favour of a faction. Junius fought in the dark; he saw his enemy and had his full blow; while he himself remained safe in obscurity. But let us not, said Johnson, mistake the venom of the shaft for the vigour of the bow. The keen invective which he published on that occasion, promised a paper war between twocombatants, who knew the use of their weapons. A battle between them was as eagerly expected as between Mendoza and Big Ben. But Junius, whatever was his reason, never returned to the field. He laid down his arms, and has, ever since, remained as secret as tne man in the mask in Voltaire's History.
The account of his journey to the Hebrides, or Western Isles of Scotland, is a model for such as shall hereafter relate their travels. The author did not visit that part of the world in the character of an Antiquary, to amuse us with wonders taken from the dark and fabulous ages; nor as a Mathematician, to measure a degree, and settle the longitude and latitude of the several islands. Those, who expected such information, expected what was never intended. In every work regard the writer's end. Johnson went to see men and manners, modes of life, and the progress of civilization. His remarks are so artfully blended with the rapidity and elegance of his narrative, that the reader is inclined to wish, as Johnson did with regard to Gray, that lo travel, and to tell his travels, had been more of his employment.
As to Johnson's Parliamentary Debates, nothing with propriety can be said in this place. They are collected in two volumes by Mr. Stockdale, and the flow of eloquence which runs through the several speeches is sufficiently known.
It will not be useless to mention two more volumes, which may form a proper supplement to this edition. They contain a set of Sermons left for publication by John Taylor, LL. D. The Reverend Mr. Hayes, who ushered these Discourses into the world, has not given them as the composition of Dr. Taylor. All he could say for his departed friend was, that he left them in silence among his papers. Mr. Hayes knew them to be the production of a superior mind; and the writer of these Memoirs owes it to the candour of that elegant scholar, that he is now warranted to give an additional proof of Johnson's ardour in the cause of piety, and every moral duty. The last discourse in the collection was intended to be delivered by Dr. Taylor at the funeral of Johnson's wife; but that reverend gentleman declined the office, because, as he told Mr. Hayes, the praise of the deceased was too much amplified. He, who reads the piece, will find it a beautiful moral lesson, written with temper, and no where over-charged with ambitious ornaments. The rest of the Discourses were the fund, which Dr. Taylor, from time to time carried with him to his pulpit. He had the
largest Bull* in England, and some of the best
We now come to the Lives of the Poets, a work undertaken at the age of seventy, yet the most brilliant, and certainly the most popular, of all our Author's writings. Fortius performance he needed little preparation. Attentive always to the history of letters, and by his own natural bias fond of biography, he was the more willing to embrace the proposition of the Booksellers. He was versed in the whole body of English Poetry, and his rules of criticism were settled with precision. The dissertation, in the Life of Cowley, on the metaphysical Poets of the last century, has the attraction of novelty as well as sound observation. The writers who followed Dr. Donne, went in quest of something better than truth and nature. As Sancho says in Don Quixote, they wanted better bread than is made wiih wheat. They took pains to bewilder themselves, and were ingenious for no other purpose than to err. In Johnson's review of Cowley's works, false wit is detected in all its shapes, and the Gothic taste for glittering conccitSj and far-fetched allusions, is exploded, never, it is hoped, to revive again.
An author who has published his observations on the Life and Writings of Dr. Johnson, speaking of the Lives of the Poets, says, "These com positions abounding in strong and acute remark, and with many fine and even sublime passages, have unquestionably great merit; but if they be regarded merely as containing narrations of the lives, delineations of the characters, and strictures of the several authors, they are far from being always to be depended on." He adds, "The characters are sometimes partial, and there is sometimes too much malignity of misrepresentation, to which, perhaps, may be joined no inconsiderable portion of erroneous criticism." The several clauses of this censure deserve to be answered as fully as the limits of this essay will permit.
In the first place, the facts are related upon the best intelligence, and the best vouchers that could be gleaned, after a great lapse of time. Probability was to be inferred from such materials as could be procured, and no man better understood the nature of historical evidence than Dr. Johnson; no man was more religiously an observer of truth. If his History is any where defective, it must be imputed to the want of better information, and the errors of uncertain tradition.
Ad nos vii tenuis famo- perlabitur aura.
If the strictures on the works of the various authors are not always satisfactory, and if erroneous criticism may sometimes be suspected, who can hope that in matters of taste all shall agree? The instances in which the public mind has differed from the positions advanced by the author, are few in number. It has been said, that justice has not been done to Swift, that Gay and Prior are undervalued; and that Gray has been harshly treated. This charge, perhaps, ought not to be disputed. Johnson, it is well known had conceived a prejudice against
* Sec Johnson*! Letters from Ashbourne, in this edi lion.
Swift. His friends trembled for him when he was writing that life: but were pleased, at last, to see it executed with temper and moderation. As to Prior, it is probable that he gave his real opinion, but an opinion that will not be adopted by men of lively fancy. With regard to Gray, when he condemns the apostrophe, in which Father Thames is desired to tell who drives the hoop, or tosses the ball, and then adds, that Father Thames had no better means of knowing than himself; when he compares the abrupt beginning of the first stanza of the Bard to the ballad of Johnny Armstrong, "Is there ever a man in all Scotland;" there are, perhaps, few friends of Johnson, who would not wish to blot out both the passages. It may be questioned whether the remarks on Pope's Essay on Man can be received without great caution. It has been already mentioned, that Crousaz, a professor in Switzerland, eminent for his Treatise of Logic, started up a professed enemy to that poem. Johnson says, "his mind was one of those, in which philosophy and piety are happily united, lie looked with distrust upon all metaphysical By sterns of theology, and was persuaded, that the positions of Pope were intended to draw mankind away from Revelation, and to represent the whole course of things as a necessary concatenation of indissoluble fatality." This is not the place for a controversy about the Leibnitzian system. Warburton with all the powers of his large and comprehensive mind, published a Vindication of Pope; and yet Johnson says, that "in many passages a religious eye may easily discover expressions not very favourable to morals, or to liberty." This sentence is severe, and, perhaps dogmatical. Crousaz wrote an Examen of The Essay on Man, and afterwards a Commentary on every remarkable passage; and though it now appears that Mrs. Elizabeth Carter translated the foreign Critic, yet it is certain that Johnson encouraged the work, and, perhaps, imbibed those early prejudices which adhered to him to the end of his life. He shuddered at the idea of irreligion. Hence we are told in the Life of Pope, "never were penury of knowledge and vulgarity of sentiment so happily disguised; Pope, in the chair of wisdom tells much that every man knows, and much that he did not know himself; and gives us comfort in the position, that though man's a fool-, yet God is wise; that human advantages are unstable; that our true honour is, not to have a great part, but to act it well; that virtue only is our own, and that happiness is always in our power. The reader, when he meets all this in its new array, no longer knows the talk of his mother and his nurse." But may it not be said, that every system of ethics must or ought to terminate in plain and general maxims for the use of life? and, though in such axioms no discovery is made, does not the beauty of the moral theory consist in the premises, and the chain of reasoning that leads to the conclusion? May not truth, as Johnson himself says, be conveyed to the mind by a new train of intermediate images? Pope's doctrine about the ruling passion does not seem to be refuted, though it is called, in harsh terms, pernicious as well as tending to establish a kind of moral preprinciplo, which canwas too easily
alarmed in the cause of religion. Organized as the human race is, individuals have different inlets of perception, different powers of mind, and different sensations of pleasure and pain.
All spread their charm*, but charms not all alike,
Brumoy says, Pascal from his infancy felt himself a geometrician ; and Vandyke, in like manner, was a painter. Shakspeare, who of all poets, had the deepest insight into human nature, was aware of a prevailing bias in the operations of every mind. By him we are told, "Masterless passion sways us to the mood of what it likes or loathes."
It remains to inquire whether in the lives before us the characters are partial, and too often drawn with malignity of misrepresentation. To prove this it is alleged, that Johnson has misre
fircsented the circumstance relative to the translation of the first Iliad, and maliciously ascribed that performance to Addison, instead of Tickell, with too much reliance on the testimony of Pope, taken from the account in the papers left by Mr. Spence. For a refutation of the fallacy imputed to Addison, we are referred to a note in the Biographia Britannica, written by the late Judge Blackstone, who, it is said, examined the whole matter with accuracy, and found that the first regular statement of the accusation against Addison was published by RufFhcad, in his Life of Pope, from the materials which he received from Dr. Warburton. But with all due deference to the learned Judge, whose talents deserve all praise, this account is by no means accurate.
Sir Richard Steele, in a dedication of the Comedy of the Drummer to Mr. Congreve, gave the first insight into that business. He says, in a style of anger and resentment, " If that gentleman (Mr. Tickell) thinks himself injured, I will allow I have wronged him upon this issue, that (if the reputed translator of the first book of Homer shall please to give us another book) there shall appear another good judge of poetry, besides Mr. Alexander Pope, who shall like it." The authority of Steele outweighs all opinions founded on vain conjecture, and, indeed, seems to be decisive, since we do not find that Tickell, though warmly pressed, thought proper to vin • dicate himself.
But the grand proof of Johnson's malignity is the manner in which he has treated the character and conduct of Milton. To enforce this charge has wearied sophistry, and exhausted the invention of a party. What they cannot deny, they palliate; what they cannot prove, they say is probable. But why all this rage against Dr. Johnson? Addison, before him, had said of Milton:
Oh! had the Poet ne'er profaned his pen,
And had not Johnson an equal right to avow his sentiments? Do his enemies claim a privilege to abuse whatever is valuable to Englishmen, either in Church or State? and must the liberty of Dn
Licensed Printing be denied to the friends of the British constitution?
It is unnecessary to pursue the argument through all its artifices, since, dismantled of ornament and seducing language, the plain truth may be stated in a narrow compass. Johnson knew that Milton was a republican; he says, "an acrimonious and surly republican, for which it is not known that he gave any better reason than that a popular government was the most frugal; for, the trappings of a monarchy would set up an ordinary commonwealth." Johnson knew that Milton talked aloud "of the danger of Re-admitting Kincship in this nation ;" and when Milton adds, "that a commonwealth was commended, or rather enjoined, by our Saviour himself, to all Christians, not without a remarkable disallowance, and the brand of Gentilism Vpon Kingship," Johnson thought him no better than a wild enthusiast He knew as well as Milton, "that the happiness of a nation must needs be firmest and certainest in a full and free council of their own electing, where no single person but reason only sways;" but the example of all the republics, recorded in the annals of mankind, gave him no room to hope that ReaSon only would be heard. He knew that the republican form of government, having little or no complication, and no consonance of parts, by a nice mechanism forming a regular whole, was too simple to be beautiful even in theory. In practice, it perhaps never existed. In its most flourishing state, at Athens, Rome, and Carthage, it was a constant scene of tumult and commotion. From the mischiefs of a wild democracy, the progress has ever been to the dominion of an aristocracy: and the word aristocracy fatally includes the boldest and most turbulent citizens, who rise by their crimes, and call themselves the best men in the state. By intrigue, by cabal, and faction, a pernicious oligarchy is sure to succeed, and end at last in the tyranny of a single ruler. Tacitus, the great masterof political wisdom, saw, under the mixed authority of king, nobles, and people, a better form of government than Milton's boasted republic; and what Tacitus admired in theory, but despaired of enjoying, Johnson saw established in this country. He knew that it had been overturned by the rage of frantic men ,- but he knew that, after the iron rod of Cromwell's usurpation, the constitution was once more restored to its first principles. Monarchy was established, and this country was regenerated. It was regenerated a second time at the Revolution: the rights of men were then defined, and the blessings of good order and civil liberty have been ever since diffused through the whole community
The peace and happiness of society were what Dr. Johnson had at heart. He knew that Milton called his defence of the Regicides a defence of the people of England, but, however glossed and varnished, he thought it an apology for murder. Had the men, who, under a show of liberty, brought their king to the scaffold, proved by their subsequent conduct, that the public good inspired their actions, the end might have given some sanction to the means; but usurpation and slavery followed. Milton undertook the office of secretary under the despotic power of Cromwoll, offering the incense of adulation to his mas
ter, with the titles of Director of public Councils, the Leader of unconqucred Armies, the Father oj his Country. Milton declared at the same time, that nothing is more pleasing to God, or more agreeable to reason, than that the highest mind should have the sovereign power. In this strain of servile flattery Milton gives us the right divine of tyrants. But it seems, in the same piece, he exhorts Cromwell "not to desert those great principles of liberty which he had professed to espouse; for, it would be a grievous enormity, if, after having successfully opposed tyranny, he should himself act the part of a tyrant, and betray the cause that he had defended." This desertion of every honest principle the advocate for liberty lived to see. Cromwell acted the tyrant; and with vile hypocrisy, told the people, that he had consulted the Lord, and the Lord would have it so. Milton took an underpart in the tragedy. Did that become the defender of the people of England? Brutus saw his country enslaved ; he struck the blow for freedom, and he died with honour in the cause. Had he lived to be a secretary under Tiberius, what would now be said of his memory?
But still, it seems, the prostitution with which Milton is charged, since it cannot be defended, is to be retorted on the character of Johnson. For this purpose a book has been published, called Remarks on Dr. Johnson's Life of Milton; to which are added Milton's Tractate of Education, and Areopagitica. In this laboured tract we are told, "There is one performance ascribed to the pen of the Doctor, where the prostitution is of so singular a nature, that it would be difficult to select an adequate motive for it out of the mountainous heap of conjectural causes of human passions or human caprice. It is the speech of the late unhappy Dr. William Dodd, when he was about to hear the sentence of the law pronounced upon him, in consequence of an indictment for forgery. The voice of the public has given the honour of manufacturing this speech to Dr. Johnson ; and the style and figuration of the speech itself confirm the imputation. But it is hardly possible to divine what could be his motive for accepting the office. A man, to express the precise state of mind of another, about to be destined to an ignominious death for a capital crime, should, one would imagine, have some consciousness, that he himself had incurred some guilt of the same kind." In all the schools of sophistry is there to be found so vile an argument? In the purlieus of Grub-street is there such another mouthful of dirt? In the whole quiver of malice is there so envenomed a shaft?
After this it is to be hoped, that a certain class of men will talk no more of Johnson's malignity. The last apology for Milton is that he acted according to his principles. But Johnson thought those principles detestable; pernicious to the constitution in Church and State, destructive of the peace of society, and hostile to the great fabric of civil policy, which the wisdom of ages has taught every Briton to revere, to love and cherish. He reckoned Milton in that class of men of whom the Roman historian says, when they want, by a sudden convulsion, to overturn the government, they roar and clamour for liberty; if they succeed, they destroy liberty itself. Ut imperhan evertant, libertatem praferunt; si perverteritit, libertaitm ipiam aggreditnhcr. Such were the sentiments of Dr. Johnson; and it may be asked, in the language of Bolingbroke, "Are these sentiments, which any man, who is bom a Briton, in any circumstances, in any situation, ought to be ashamed or afraid to avow?" Johnson has done ample justice to Milton's poetry: the Criticism on Paradise Lost is a sublime composition. Had he thought the author as good and picas a citizen as Dr. Watts, he would have been ready, notwithstanding his non-conformity, to do equal honour to the memory of the man.
It is now time to close this Essay, which the author fears has been drawn too much into length. In the progress of the work, feeble as it may be, he thought himself performing the last human office to the memory of a friend, whom he loved, esteemed, and honoured.
Hli saltan accumulem donis, et fuogar fatal
The author of these Memoirs has been anxluus to give the features of the man, and the true
character of the author. He has not suffered the hand of partiality to colour his excellencies with too much warmth; nor has he endeavoured to throw his singularities too much into the shade. Dr. Johnson's failings may well be forgiven for the sake of his virtues. His defects were spots in the sun. His piety, his kind affections, and the goodness of his heart, present an example worthy of imitation. His works still remain a monument of genius and of learning. Had he written nothing but what is contained in this edition, the quantity shows a life spent in study and meditation. If to this be added the labour of his Dictionary and other various productions, it may be fairly allowed, as he used to say of himself, that he has written his share. In the volumes here presented to the public, the reader will find a perpetual source of pleasure and instruction. With due precautions authors may learn to grace their style with elegance, harmony, and precision; they may be taught to think with vigour and perspicuity; and to crown the whole, by a diligent attention to these books, all may advance in virtue.