« 이전계속 »
long awakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much obligation,
My Lord, yours, &c. &c.
Johnson's Dictionary was his greatest labour, so great, indeed, and by that consequence so universally appreciated, that any writer may at this time be spared the trouble of describing either the magnitude of the task, or the acclamations which crowned its appearance. Every scholar knows that praises were showered upon it, and honours heaped upon him; though it ought never to be forgotten that reward was not bestowed as readily or as plentifully as the eminent success of the work amply deserved, On the contrary, it is never to be repeated but with additional shame and indignation, that Johnson had still to struggle so much with adversity, that almost immediately after this splendid donation to the literature of his country, he was under an arrest for the moderate sum of five pounds and eighteen shillings. It is not to be concealed, however, that his price for the Dictionary was, al. together, 15001. but the sum was paid in small fractional parts, which were consumed as they were received, and to no small extent disbursed among clerks and amanuensis. · • Rasselas,' the next of his works in order of composition, produced him 1251. and was fanned from the press by a full gale of popularity and praise ; for though his Dictionary may be better known, Rasselas is of all his works that one which is oftenest read. In 'style and feeling it is eminently Johnsonian ; perhaps no other man has been so successful in transfusing into his pages every sentiment, habit, and turn of thought, as well as of word, for which he was most distinguished'; and thus making his book a faithful black-letter portrait of himself. Rasselas literally abounds with the man. The purpose for which it was published, and the circumstances under which it 'was composed, are also deserving of record. His mother had died leaving some little dcbts unarranged, and Johnson, unable either to discharge them, or even bury her, set himself hastily to work, and finished this beantiful tale during the evenings of one week. The loose portions were sent off to the press every night, as he completed the chapters; and this eloquent treatise of morality, rich in imagery, and splendid in language, was thus hurried before the criticism of the world without a single opportunity for revision or improvement.
In the year 1762, Government at length took notice of his unprovided situation, and put his name on the pension list for 3001. a year. Gratitude for this benefit led him afterwards to publish two or three political pamphlets-tasks far from irksome to his feelings, inasmuch as no servant of the crown could be more sin. cerely attached to those high principles in Church and State, which were so warmly advocated in that day. They were remarkable for that force of style and superiority of observation which are to be found in every thing he has written ; but as to any thing else, his was the cause of intolerance, and its impolicy was proved in the loss of America. Johnson's pamphlets were soon forgotten in the general shame of the nation ; and no man is likely to revive their pretensions to favour, inasmuch as no one can desire declamation against facts.
Johnson's circumstances no sooner became easy, than he rose rapidly in authority as a man of letters. Ere long almost every adventurer in the fertile field was glad to be ushered from the press with some favourable remark from the critical Doctor ; and of those few who were confident enough not to seek his praise, there was, perhaps, not one who did not dread his censure. But, perhaps, the event, above all others, which contributed to exalt him as it were upon a throne of superiority from which to govern the republic of British literature, was the institution of the celebrated literary club, over which, by a sort of tacit compliment, he was allowed to act as president. The most eminent men in politics as well as learning composed its members ; among whom, Burke, Fox, and Sheridan, took the lead, ably supported by Goldsmith, Gibbon, and Sir Joshua Reynolds. To have enjoyed the voluntary deference of such a body of men was honour enough for the course of any life; but Johnson lived for other distinctions. George the III. took occasion to seek an interview with him in the library of Buckingham House; and is represented to have been as much pleased with the impressive respect of his subject, as the subject was delighted with the familiar condescension of the monarch.
There remain three other works by Dr. Johnson to be noticed: the first, his edition of Shakspeare, published in 1765; the second, “A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland,' printed in 1774; and the third, his ‘Lives of the Poets,' completed in 1779. Of these performances, the first, perhaps, has not been as extensively patronised as it deserves; while the last has been even more loudly commended than it really merit. ed: the other has been pronounced the most elaborate specimen of his grandiloquence, but it was never very popular. Other commentators on Shakspeare may have established dates and facts upon clearer evidence, instituted more diligent comparisons, and altogether shewn that they laboured deeper in the stream, but by no one has the beauties of character been so admirably illustrated, or the threads of plot so ably developed, as by Dr. Johnson: his preface is a master-piece of composition. But when he undertook the Lives of the Poets,' he was saturated with writing : the work consequently proceeded slowly, was finished in hurried fits of irksomeness, and is more an instance of extraordinary memory than just investigation. Strong antipathies pervert the honours of several performances recorded in it; and the style is less classical and connected than ought to have marked the summit of his powers - altogether, perhaps, it is more an impetuous and forcible delivery of opinions, than a polished composition of criticism.
In 1783 Johnson suffered a dangerous attack of paralysis, and though the robustness of his constitution overcame the disorder, yet a train of severe afflictions resulted from it, which seated themselves upon his health. He expressed a wish to visit Italy, and his friends exerted themselves to procure an addition to his pension, that he might travel with ease. But the application was unsuccessful: he struggled on with complicated disorders until, after several violent struggles, they triumphed over his life at the period already mentioned in his epitaph. His death was lamented with that concern to which the estimation he was held in, strongly entitled his memory; and his corpse was followed to a grave, under the statue of Shakspeare, in Westminster Abbey, by a train of mourners, talented, numerous, and respectable, as the wide circle of his gifted admirers naturally supplied.
Johnson was a tall man, with large bony limbs, a strength more than common, and in early life an activity far superior to the promise of such a form. His face, though naturally well proportioned, was disfigured by scrofula, or King's evil, through which he also lost the sight of one of his eyes in infancy, and was ever after subjected to an affection similar to St. Vitus's dance. The effect which an appearance thus strongly marked was likely to produce, he greatly augmented by his general manner. He was grave in his deportment, yet rude in his address; and possessed a loud voice, which he clelivered in a slow deliberate utterance, but with an overbearing impetuosity. Vehemently addicted to argumentation, he was impatient of contradiction, and unmerciful in victory. In Lord Chesterfield's letters to his son, we find him delineated in these terms :-“ There is a man whose moral character, deep learning, and superior parts, I acknowledge and respect, but whom it is so impossible for me to love, that I am almost in a fever when I am in his company. His figure, without being de formed, seems made to disgrace or ridicule the common structure of the human body : his legs and arms are never in the position which, according to the situation of his body, they ought to be in, but constantly employed in committing acts of hostility upon the Graces. He throws any where but down bis throat, whatever he means to drink, and only mangler what he means to carve. Inattentive to all the regards of social life, he mistimes or misplaces every thing. He disputes with heat, and indiscriminately, mindless of the rank, character, and situation of those with whom he disputes. Absolutely ignorant of the several gradations of familiarity or respect, he is exactly the same to his superiors, his equals, and his inferiors : and therefore, by a necessary consequence, absurd to two of the three. Is it possible to love such a man? No: the utmost I can do for him is to consider him a respectable Hottentot."
This passage was meant for a portrait, but almost amounts to a caricature, and was so nervously provoked, that its traits are to be credited with great caution. Johnson publicly declared that he expected to find Chesterfield a lord amongst wits, but discovered he was only a wit amongst lords. This sarcasm, and the defiance of his letter concerning the Dictionary, must naturally be supposed to have engendered some of the venom which commonly forks retaliation; and, after all, perhaps Goldsmith's opinion came nearest to the truth;—" he had nothing of the bear about him but his skin” (and growl). All those who knew him, and observed his private conduct, concur in stating that his heart was tenderly susceptible of charity, gratitude, and every kind
emotion. His purse was ever open to almsgiving, and his house, as far as its convenience permitted, was an asylum for the unhappy, on whom he is reported to have at times expended his income with a greater liberality than the general dictates of prudence could have warranted. Early in life, when his circumstances were very narrow, he received into his household Miss Williams, a lady, blind, destitute, but full of talent, and much attached to his wife, and ever after afforded her that protection which enabled her to support life. The savings of his industry, amounting to 15001., as he left no relatives, he bequeathed to a black servant, Francis Barber, for whom he had always expressed great consideration, and whoni he, in general, treated with the familiarity of an humble friend.
To describe the classical reputation of Dr. Johnson can hardly be necessary, for where is the English reader who does not know that it was supereminent ? As a biographer, a critic, a moralist a philologist, and a novelist, he ranks in the very first class of writers; and in those other branches of literature upon which be adventured, though not with equal distinction, such as poems, tragedy, and political tracts, his merits are uniformly powerful. His “Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland' is considered to afford the most finished specimen of that grandiloquent style for which he is famous : his “Lives of the Poets' have perhaps been the most loudly praised of all his productions; but the little novel of • Rasselas' seems to deserve the greatest popularity, for it is at once masterly and pleasing. The 'Rambler' is one of the strong. est bases upon which his fame is supported, the Dictionary exalted him to the unprecedented style of Colossus of our Literature, and the Preface to his edition of Shakspeare is admitted upon all hands to constitute the finest example of critical compo. sition within the ample scope of our language. The mere formal honours with which these noble labours were crowned, consisted of a degree of M.A. procured from the University of Oxford, through the interest of Mr. Warton, to grace the first appearance of his Dictionary; a degree of Doctor of Laws, awarded by a diploma from the University of Dublin, in 1765, ob egregiam scriptorum elegantiam et utilitatem, and a similar degree reconferred by the University of Oxford in 1774.
There is no writer in our language whose style has been so