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Various Readings in the Life of CONGREVE. “ Congreve's conversation must surely have been at least equally pleasing with his writings.
“It apparently [requires] presupposes a similar knowledge of many characters.
Reciprocation of [similes] conceits. “The dialogue is [quick and various] sparkling.
“Love for Love; a comedy (more drawn from life] of nearer alliance to life.
“The general character of his miscellanies is, that they show little wit and [no] little virtue.
“[Perhaps] certainly he had not the fire requisite for the higher species of lyric poetry.”
Various Readings in the Life of TICKELL. “[Longed] long wished to peruse it. “ At the [accession) arrival of King George.
“Fiction [unnaturally] unskilfully compounded of Grecian deities and Gothic fairies."
Various Readings in the Life of AKENSIDE. “For [another] a different purpose. “ [A furious] an unnecessary and outrageous zeal.
[Something which) what he called and thought liberty. "[A favourer of innovation) lover of contradiction. “Warburton's [censure] objections. “ His rage [for liberty] of patriotism. “Mr. Dyson with [a zeal] an ardour of friendship."
In the Life of LYTTELTON, Johnson seems to have been not favourably disposed towards that nobleman. Mrs. Thrale suggests that he was offended by Molly Aston's preference of his lordship to him.'
Let not my readers smile to think of Johnson's being a candidate for female favour; Mr. Peter Garrick assured me that he was told by a lady, that, in her opinion, Johnson was " very seducing man.” Disadvantages of person and manner may be forgotten, where intellectual pleasure is communicated to a susceptible mind; and that Johnson was capable of feeling the most delicate and disinterested attachment appears from the following letter, which is published by Mrs. Thrale, with some others to the same person, of which the excellence is not so apparent:
" TO MISS BOOTHBY. LETTER 891.
“ January, 1755. “ DEAREST MADAM,—Though I am afraid your illness leaves you little leisure for the recep. tion of airy civilities, yet I cannot forbear to pay you my congratulations on the new year; and to declare my wishes that your years to come may be many and happy. In this wish, indeed, I include myself, who have none but you on whom my heart reposes; yet surely I
I can by no means join in the censure bestowed by Johnson on his lordship, whom he calls “poor Lyttelton,” for returning thanks to the critical reviewers, for having "kindly commended” his “Dialogues of the Dead.” Such "acknowledgments," says my friend,
never can be proper, since they must be paid either for flattery or for justice.” In my opinion, the most upright man, who has been tried on a false accusation, may, when he is acquitted, make a bow to his jury. And when those, who are so much the arbiters of literary merit, as in a considerable degree to influence the public opinion, review an author's work, placido lumine, when I am afraid mankind in general are better pleased with severity, he may surely express a grateful sense of their civility.
Various Readings in the Life of LYTTELTON. “He solaced [himself] his grief by writing a long poem to her memory.
“The production rather [of a mind that means well, than thinks vigorously] as it seems of leisure than of study, rather effusions than compositions.
“ His last literary (work) production.
As the introduction to his critical examination of the genius and writings of Young, he did Mr. Herbert Croft, then a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, now a clergyman,' the honour to adopt a Life of Young, written by that gentleman, who was the friend of Dr. Young's son, and wished to vindicate him from some very erroneous remarks to his prejudice. Mr. Croft's performance was subjected to the revision of Dr. Johnson, as appears from the following note to Mr. John Nichols ::
“ This Life of Dr. Young was written by a friend of his son. What is crossed with black is expunged by the author, what is crossed with red is expunged by me. If you find anything more that can be well omitted, I shall not be sorry to see it yet shorter."
wish your good, even though your situation were such as should permit you to communicate no gratifications to, dearest, dearest Madam, your, &a
SAM. JOHNSON."-B. There is here a slight mistake in the text. It was not Molly Aston, but Hill Boothby, for whose affections Johnson and Lord Lyttelton were rival candidates.-M.
1 Afterwards Sir Herbert Croft, bart. He died at Paris, April 27, 1816. See Gent. Mag for May, 1816.-C.
? Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lv. p. 10.
It has always appeared to me to have a considerable share of merit, and to display a pretty successful imitation of Johnson's style. When I mentioned this to a very eminent literary character, he opposed me vehemently, exclaiming, “No, no, it is not a good imitation of Johnson
it has all his pomp without his force ; it has all the nodosities of the oak without its strength.” This was an image so happy, that one might have thought he would have been satisfied with it ; but he was not. And setting his mind again to work, he added, with exquisite felicity, “ It has all the contortions of the sibyl, without the inspiration.”
Mr. Croft very properly guards us against supposing that Young was a gloomy man; and mentions, that “his parish was indebted to the good-humour of the author of the 'Night Thoughts' for an assembly and a bowling-green.” A letter from a noble foreigner is quoted, in which he is said to have been“ very pleasant in conversation."
Mr. Langton, who frequently visited him, informs me that there was an air of benevolence in his manner, but that he could obtain from him less information than he had hoped to receive from one who had lived so much in intercourse with the brightest men of what has been called the Augustan age of England ; and that he showed a degree of eager curiosity concerning the common occurrences that were then passing, which appeared somewhat remarkable in a man of such intellectual stores, of such an advanced age, and who had retired from life with declared disappointment in his expectations.
An instance at once of his pensive turn of mind, and his cheerfulness of temper, appeared in a little story, which he himself told Mr. Langton, when they were walking in his garden : “Here” (said he) I had put a handsome sun-dial, with this inscription, ' Eheu
fugaces ! which' (speaking with a smile,) was sadly verified, for by the next morning my dial had been carried off.” :
1 Mr. Burke.-M.
2 The late Mr. James Ralph told Lord Macartney, that he passed an evening with Dr. Young at Lord Melcombe's (then Mr. Doddington), at Hammersmith. The doctor happening to go out into the garden, Mr. Doddiugton observed to him, on his return, that it was a dreadful night, as in truth it was, there being a violent storm of rain and wind. “ No, sir,“ replied the doctor, “it is a very fine night. The Lord is abroad!"
YOUNG'S “ NIGHT THOUGHTS."
It gives me much pleasure to observe, that however Johnson may have casually talked, yet when he sits, as “an ardent judge zealous to his trust, giving sentence" upon the excellent works of Young, he allows them the high praise to which they are justly entitled. "The Universal Passion,” says he, “is indeed a very great performance,— his distichs have the weight of solid sentiment, and his points the sharpness of resistless truth."
But I was most anxious concerning Johnson's decision upon ' Night Thoughts,” which I esteem as a mass of the grandest and richest poetry that human genius has ever produced ; and was delighted to find this character of that work : " In his Night Thoughts,' he has exhibited a very wide display of original poetry, variegated with deep reflection and striking allusions : a wilderness of thought, in which the fertility of fancy scatters flowers of every hne and of every odour. This is one of the few poems in which blank verse could not be changed for rhyme, but with disadvantage.” And afterwards, “ Particular lines are not to be regarded ; the
power is in the whole ; and in the whole there is a magnificence like that ascribed to Chinese plantation, the magnificence of vast extent and endless diversity."
But there is in this poem not only all that Johnson so well brings in view, but a power of the pathetic beyond almost any example that I have seen. He who does not feel his nerves shaken and his heart pierced by many passages in this extraordinary work, particularly by that most affecting one, which describes the gradnal torment suffered by the contemplation of an object of affectionate attachment visibly and certainly decaying into dissolution, must be of a hard and obstinate frame.
To all the other excellencies of “Night Thoughts” let me add the great and peculiar one,-that they contain not only the noblest sentiments of virtue and contemplations on immortality, but the Christian sacrifice, the divine propitiation, with all its interesting circumstances, and consolations to a “wounded spirit,” solemnly and poetically displayed in such imagery and language, as cannot fail to exalt, animate, and soothe the truly pious. No book whatever can be recommended to young persons, with better hopes of seasoning their minds with vital religion, than “Young's Night Thoughts."
In the Life of Swift, it appears to me that Johnson had a certain degree of prejudice against that extraordinary man, of which I have elsewhere had occasion to speak. Mr. Thomas Sheridan imputed it to a snpposed apprehension in Johnson, that Swift had not been sufficiently active in obtaining for him an Irish degree when it was solicited ; but of this there was not sufficient evidence; and let me not presume to charge Johnson with injustice, because he did not think so highly of the writings of this author, as I have done from my youth upwards. Yet that he had an unfavourable bias is evident, were it only from that passage in which he speaks of Swift's practice of saving, as "first ridiculous, and at last detestable ;" and yet, after some examination of circumstances, finds himself obliged to own, that “it will perhaps appear that he only liked one mode of expense better than another, and saved merely that he might have something to give."
One observation which Johnson makes in Swift's life should be often inculcated : “It may be justly supposed, that there was in his conversation what appears so frequently in his letters, an affectation of familiarity with the great, and ambition of momentary equality, sought and enjoyed by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has established as the barriers between one order of society and another. This transgression of regularity was by himself and his admirers termed greatness of soul ; but a great mind disdains to hold anything by courtesy, and therefore never usurps what a lawful claimant may take away.
He that encroaches on another's dignity, puts himself in his power ; he is either repelled with helpless indignity, or endured by clemency and condescension."
Various Readings in the Life of SWIFT.
“Charity may be persuaded to think that it might be written by a man of a peculiar (opinions] character, without ill intention.
“He did not [disown) deny it.
“[To] by whose kindness it is not unlikely that he was [indebted for] advanced to his benefices. “[With] for this purpose he had recourse to Mr. Harley.
Sharpe, whom he [represents] describes as the harmless tool of others hate.'
“Harley was slow because he was (irresolute] doubtful.