페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

This being the first prose work of Johnson, it is a curious object of inquiry how much may be traced in it of that style which marks his subsequent writings with such pecular excellence; with so happy an union of force, vivacity, and perspicuity. I have perused the book with this view, and have found that here, as I believe in every other translation, there is in the work itself no vestige of the translator's own style; for the language of translation being adapted to the thoughts of another person, insensibly follows their cast, and as it were runs into a mould that is ready prepared.

Thus, for instance, taking the first sentence that occurs at the opening of the book, p. 4:

"I lived here above a year, and completed my studies in divinity; in which time some letters were received from the fathers of Ethiopia, with an account that Sultan Segned, Emperor of Abyssinia, was converted to the church of Rome; that many of his subjects had followed his example, and that there was a great want of misssionaries to improve these prosperous beginnings. Every body was very desirous of seconding the zeal of our fathers, and of sending them the assistance they requested; to which we were the more encouraged, because the Emperor's letter informed our Provincial that we might easily enter his dominions by the way of Dancala; but, unhappily, the secretary wrote Geila for Dancala, which cost two of our fathers their lives."

Every one acquainted with Johnson's manner will be sensible that there is nothing of it here; but that this sentence might have been composed by any other man.

But, in the Preface, the Johnsonian style begins to appear; and though use had not yet taught his wing a permanent and equable flight, there are parts of it which exhibit his best manner in full vigour. I had once the pleasure of examining it with Mr. Edmund Burke, who confirmed me in this opinion, by his superior critical sagacity, and was, I remember, much delighted with the following specimen :

"The Portuguese traveller, contrary to the general vein of his countrymen, has amused his reader with no romantic absurdity, or incredible fictions; whatever he relates, whether true or not, is at least probable; and he who tells nothing exceeding the bounds of probability, has a right to demand that they should believe him who cannot contradict him.

"He appears by his modest and unaffected narration, to have described things as he saw them, to have copied nature from the life, and to have consulted his senses, not his imagination. He meets with no basilisks that destroy with their eyes, his crocodiles devour their prey without tears, and his cataracts fall from the rocks without deafening the neighbouring inhabitants.

"The reader will here find no regions cursed with irremediable barrenness, or blest with spontaneous fecundity; no perpetual gloom, or unceasing sunshine; nor are the nations here described, either devoid of all sense of humanity, or consummate in all private or social virtues. Here are no Hottentots without religious policy or articulate language; no Chinese

perfectly polite, and completely skilled in all sciences; he will discover, what will always be discovered by a diligent and impartial inquirer, that wherever human nature is to be found, there is a mixture of vice and virtue, a contest of passion and reason; and that the Creator doth not appear partial in his distributions, but has balanced, in most countries, their particular inconveniences by particular favours."

Here we have an early example of that brilliant and energetic expression, which, upon innumerable occasions in his subsequent life. justly impressed the world with the highest admiration.

Nor can any one, conversant with the writings of Johnson, fail to discern his hand in this passage of the Dedication to John Warren, Esq., of Pembrokeshire, though it is ascribed to Warren the bookseller.

"A generous and elevated mind is distinguished by nothing more certainly than an eminent degree of curiosity; nor is that curiosity ever more agreeably or usefully employed, than in examining the laws and customs of foreign nations. I hope, therefore, the present I now presume to make will not be thought improper, which, however, it is not my business as a dedicator to commend, nor as a bookseller to depreciate."

It is reasonable to suppose, that his having been thus accidentally led to a particular study of the history and manners of Abyssinia, was the remote occasion of his writing, many years afterwards, his admirable philosophical tale, the principal scene of which is laid in that country.2 Johnson returned to Lichfield early in 1734, and in August that year he made an attempt to procure some little subsistence by his pen; for he published proposals for printing by subscription the Latin Poems of "Politian ;"3 Angeli Politiani Poemata Latina, quibus, Notas cum historia Latina poeseos à Petrarchæ ævo ad Politiani tempora deductâ, et vitâ Politiani fusius quam antehac enarratá, addidit SAM. JOHNSON.*

3

It appears that his brother Nathanael had taken up his father's trade; for it is mentioned that "subscriptions are taken in by the Editor, or N. Johnson, bookseller, of Lichfield." Notwithstanding the merit of Johnson, and the cheap price at which this book was offered, there were not subscribers enough to ensure a sufficient sale; so the work never appeared, and probably, never was executed.

We find him again this year at Birmingham, and there is preserved

1 See "Rambler," No. 103, "Curiosity is the thirst of the soul," &c.-BOSWELL. 2 "Rasselas."

3 May we not trace a fanciful similarity between Politian and Johnson? Huetius, speaking of Paulus Pelissonius Fontanerius, says, "— in quo Natura, ut olim in Angelo Politiano, deformitatem oris excellentis ingenii præstantiâ compensavit." Comment. de reb. ad eum pertin. Edit. Amstel., 1718, p. 200.-Boswell.

4 The book was to contain raore than thirty sheets, the price to be two shillings and sixpence at the time of subscribing, and two shillings and sixpence at the delivery of a perfect book in quires.-Boswell.

the following letter from him to Mr. Edward Cave,1 the original compiler and editor of the "Gentleman's Magazine :"

"TO MR. CAVE.

"SIR,

Nov. 25, 1734.

"As you appear no less sensible than your readers of the defects of your poetical article, you will not be displeased, if, in order to the improvement of it,

I communicate to you the sentiments of

a person, who will undertake on reasonable terms, sometimes to fill a column.

"His opinion is, that the public would not give you a bad reception, if, beside the current wit of the month, which a critical examination would generally reduce to a narrow compass, you admitted not only poems, inscriptions, &c., never printed before, which he will sometimes supply you with, but likewise short literary dissertations in Latin or English, critical remarks on authors, ancient or modern, forgotten poems, that deserve revival, or loose pieces, like Floyer's2 worth preserving. By this method, your literary article, for so it might be called, will, he thinks, be better recommended to the public than by low jests, awkward buffoonery, or the dull scurrilities of either party.

[graphic]

EDWARD CAVE.

"If such a correspondence will be agreeable to you, be pleased to inform me in two posts, what the conditions are on which you shall expect it. Your late offer3 gives me no reason to distrust your generosity. If you engage in any literary projects besides this paper, I have other designs to impart, if I could be secure from having others reap the advantage of what I should hint.

"Your letter by being directed to S. Smith, to be left at the Castle, in Birmingham, Warwickshire, will reach

"Your humble servant."

Mr. Cave has put a note to this letter, "Answered, Dec. 2." But whether anything was done in consequence of it we are not informed. Johnson had, from his early youth, been sensible to the influence of

1 Miss Cave, the grand-niece of Mr. Edward Cave, has obligingly shown me the originals of this and the other letters of Dr. Johnson to him, which were first published in the "Gentleman's Magazine," with notes by Mr. John Nichols, the worthy and indefatigable editor of that valuable miscellany, signed N.; some of which I shall occasionally transcribe in the course of this work.-BOSWELL.

2 Sir John Floyer's Treatise on Cold Baths. "Gentleman's Magazine," 1734, p. 197.

-BOSWELL.

3 A prize of fifty pounds for the best poem "on Life, Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell." See "Gentleman's Magazine," vol. iv. p. 560.-NICHOLS.

female charms. When at Stourbridge school, he was much enamoured of Olivia Lloyd, a young quaker, to whom he wrote a copy of verses, which I have not been able to recover; but with what facility and elegance he could warble the amorous lay, will appear from the following lines which he wrote for his friend Mr. Edmund Hector:

VERSES to a LADY, on receiving from her a SPRIG of MYRTLE.

"What hopes, what terrors does thy gift create,
Ambiguous emblem of uncertain fate!
The myrtle, ensign of supreme command,
Consign'd by Venus to Melissa's hand;
Not less capricious than a reigning fair,
Now grants, and now rejects a lover's prayer.
In myrtle shades oft sings the happy swain,
In myrtle shades despairing ghosts complain;
The myrtle crowns the happy lovers' heads,
The unhappy lover's grave the myrtle spreads;
Oh then the meaning of thy gift impart,
And ease the throbbings of an anxious heart!
Soon must this bough, as you shall fix his doom,
Adorn Philander's head, or grace his tomb."2

He also wrote some amatory verses, before he left Staffordshire, which our author appears not to have seen. They were addressed "To Miss Hickman, playing on the Spinet." At the back of this early poetical effusion, of which the original copy, in Johnson's handwriting, was obligingly communicated to me by Mr. John Taylor, is the following attestation:

"Written by the late Dr. Samuel Johnson, on my mother, then Miss Hickman, playing on the Spinet. J. Turton."

Dr. Turton, the physician, the writer of this certificate, who tied in April, 1805, in his 71st year, was born in 1735. The verses in question therefore, which have been printed in some late editions of Johnson's poems, must have been written before that year.-Miss Hickman, it is believed, was a lady of Staffordshire.

The concluding lines of this early copy of verses have much of the vigour of Johnson's poetry in his maturer years :—

"When old Timotheus struck the vocal string,
Ambitious fury fir'd the Grecian king:
Unbounded projects lab'ring in his mind,
He pants for room, in one poor world confin'd.
Thus wak'd to rage by music's dreadful power,
He bids the sword destroy, the flame devour.
Had Stella's gentle touches mov'd the lyre,
Soon had the monarch felt a nobler fire;
No more delighted with disastrous war,
Ambitious only now to please the fair,
Resign'd his thirst of empire to her charms,
And found a thousand worlds in Stella's arms."

MALONE.

2 Mrs. Piozzi gives the following account of this little composition from Dr. Johnson's own relation to her, on her inquiring whether it was rightly attributed to him. "I think it is now, just forty years ago, that a young fellow had a sprig of myrtle given him by a girl he courted, and asked me to write him some verses that he might present her in return. I promised, but forgot; and when he called for his lines at the time agreed on-'Sit still a moment,' says I, 'dear Mund, and I'll fetch them thee'-so stepped aside for five minutes, and wrote the nonsense you now keep such a stir about."-Anecdotes, p. 34.

His juvenile attachments to the fair sex were, however, very transient ; and it is certain, that he formed no criminal connection whatsoever. Mr. Hector, who lived with him in his younger days in the utmost intimacy and social freedom, has assured me, that even at that ardent season his conduct was strictly virtuous in that respect; and that though he loved to exhilarate himself with wine, he never knew him intoxicated but once.

In a man whom religious education has secured from licentious indulgences, the passion of love, when once it has seized him, is exceedingly strong; being unimpaired by dissipation and totally concentrated in one object. This was experienced by Johnson, when he became the fervent admirer of Mrs. Porter, after her first husband's death.1 Miss Porter told me, that when he was first introduced to her mother, his appearance was very forbidding; he was then lean and lank, so that his

In my first edition I was induced to doubt the authenticity of this account, by the following circumstantial statement in a letter to me from Miss Seward, of Lichfield :-"I know those verses were addressed to Lucy Porter, when he was enamoured of her in his boyish days, two or three years before he had seen her mother, his future wife. He wrote them at my grandfather's, and gave them to Lucy in the presence of my mother, to whom he showed them on the instant. She used to repeat them to me, when I asked her for the Verses Dr. Johnson gave her" On a Sprig of Myrtle" which he had stolen or begged from her bosom. We all know honest Lucy Porter to have been incapable of the mean vanity of applying to herself a compliment not intended for her." Such was this lady's statement, which I make no doubt she supposed to be correct; but it shows how dangerous it is to trust too implicitly to traditional testimony and ingenious inference; for Mr. Hector has lately assured me that Mrs. Piozzi's account is in this instance accurate, and that he was the person for whom Johnson wrote those verses, which have been erroneously ascribed to Mr. Hammond.

I am obliged in so many instances to notice Mrs. Piozzi's incorrectness of relation, that I gladly seize this opportunity of acknowledging, that however often, she is not always înaccurate.

The author having been drawn into a controversy with Miss Anna Seward, in consequence of the preceding statement (which may be found in the "Gentleman's Magazine," vols. Ixiii. and Ixiv.), received the following letter from Mr. Edmund Hector, on the subject:

"DEAR SIR,

"I am sorry to see you are engaged in altercation with a lady who seems unwilling to be convinced of her errors. Surely it would be more ingenuous to acknowledge than to

persevere.

"Lately, in looking over some papers I meant to burn, I found the original manuscript of 'The Myrtle,' with the date on it, 1731, which I have enclosed.

"The true history (which I could swear to) is as follows:-Mr. Morgan Graves, the elder brother of a worthy clergyman near Bath, with whom I was acquainted, waited upon a lady in this neighbourhood, who at parting presented him the branch. He showed it me, and wished much to return the compliment in verse. I applied to Johnson, who was with me, and in about half an hour dictated the verses which I sent to my friend.

"I most solemnly declare, at that time, Johnson was an entire stranger to the Porter family; and it was almost two years after that I introduced him to the acquaintance of Porter, whom I bought my clothes of.

"If you intend to convince this obstinate woman, and to exhibit to the public the truth of 'your narrative, you are at liberty to make what use you please of this statement.

"I hope you will pardon me for taking up so much of your time. Wishing you multos et felices annos, I shall subscribe myself Your obliged humble servant,

"E. HECTOR, Birmingham, Jan. 9, 1794."-BOSWELL.

1 It appears, from Mr. Hector's letter, that Johnson became acquainted with her three years before he married her.-MALONE.

« 이전계속 »