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To the fame. " DEAR SIR,
“ YOU will receive this by Mr. Baretti, a gentleman particularly intitled to the notice and kindness of the professor of poesy. He has time but for a short stay, and will be glad to have it filled up with as much as he can hear and fee.
“ In recommending another to your favour, I ought not to omit thanks for the kindness which you have shewn to myself. Have you any more notes on Shakspeare? I shall be glad of them. “ I see your pupil' sometimes; his mind is as exalted as his stature.
I am half afraid of him ; but he is no less amiable than formidable. He will, if the forwardness of his spring be not blasted, be a credit to you, and to the University. He brings some of my plays ? with him, which he has my permission to Thew you, on condition you will hide them from every body else.
“ I am, dear Sir, &c. [London,) June 1, 1758.
In 1759, in the month of January, his mother died, at the great age of ninety, an event which deeply affected him, not that “ his mind had acquired no firmness by the contemplation of mortality?,” but that his reverential affection for her was not abated by years, as indeed he retained all his tender feelings even to the latest period of his life. I have been told that he regretted much his not having gone to visit his mother for several years previous to her death. But he was constantly engaged in literary labours, which confined him to London; and though he had not the comfort of seeing his aged parent, he contributed "liberally to her support.
Soon after this event, he wrote his « Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia ;*" concerning the publication of which Sir John Hawkins guesses vaguely and idly, instead of having taken the trouble to inform himself with authentick precision. Not to trouble my readers with a repetition of the Knight's reveries, I have to mention, that the late Mr. Strahan the printer told me that Johnson
1 « Mr. Langton."
2 “ Part of the impression of the Shakspeare, which Dr. Johnson conducted alone, and published by subscription. This edition came out in 1765." Hawkins's Life of Johnson, p. 365.
wrote it, that with the profits he might defray the expence of his mother's funeral, and pay fome little debts which she had left. He told Sir Joshua Ætat. 50 . Reynolds that he composed it in the evenings of one week, sent it to the press in portions as it was written, and had never since read it over. Mr. Strahan, Mr. Johnston, and Mr. Dodney purchased it for a hundred pounds, but afterwards paid him twenty-five pounds more when it came to a second edition.
Considering the large fums which have been received for compilations, and works requiring not much more genius than compilations, we cannot but wonder at the very low price which he was content to receive for this adınirable performance, which, though he had written nothing else, would have rendered his name immortal in the world of literature. None of his writings has been so extensively diffused over Europe ; for it has been translated into most, if not all, of the modern languages. This Tale, with all the charms of oriental imagery, and all the force and beauty of which the English language is capable, leads us through the most important scenes of human life, and shews us that this stage of our being is full of “ vanity and vexation of spirit.” To those who look no further than the present life, or who maintain that human nature has not fallen from the state in which it was created, the instruction of this sublime story will be of no avail. But they who think justly, and feel with strong sensibility, will listen with eagerness and admiration to its truth and wisdom. Voltaire's Candide, written to refute the system of Optimism, which it has accomplished with brilliant success, is wonderfully similar in its plan and conduct to Johnson's RASSELAS; insomuch, that I have heard Johnson say, that if they had not been published so closely one after the other that there was not time for imitation, it would have been in vain to deny that the scheme of that which came latest was taken from the other. Though the proposition illustrated by both these works was the fame, 'namely, that in our present state there is more evil than good, the intention of the writers was very different. Voltaire, I am afraid, meant only by wanton profaneness to obtain a sportive victory over religion, and to discredit the belief of a superintending Providence: Johnson meant, by shewing the unsatisfactory nature of things temporal, to direct the hopes of man to things eternal. Rasselas, as was observed to me by a very accomplished lady, may be considered as a more enlarged and more deeply philosophical discourse in profe, upon the interesting truth, which in his “ Vanity of human Wishes" he had so succeitfully enforced in verse.
The fund of thinking which this work contains is such, that almost every sentence of it may furnish a subject of long meditation. I am not satisfied ifa Bb
year passes without my having read it through ; and at every perusal, my admiration of the mind which produced it is so highly raised, that I can scarcely believe that I had the honour of enjoying the intimacy of such a man.
I restrain myself from quoting passages from this excellent work, or even referring to them, because I should not know what to select, or, rather, what to omit. I shall, however, transcribe one, as it shews how well he could state the arguments of those who believe in the appearance of departed fpirits, a doctrine which it is a mistake to suppose that he himself ever positively held.
“ If all your fear be of apparitions, (said the Prince,) I will promise you fafety: there is no danger from the dead; he that is once buried will be seen
“ That the dead are seen no more (faid Imlac,) I will not undertake to maintain against the concurrent and unvaried testimony of all ages, and of all nations. There is no people, rude or learned, among whom apparitions of the dead are not related and believed. This opinion, which prevails as far as human nature is diffused, could become universal only by its truth; those that never heard of one another, would not have agreed in a tale which nothing but experience can make credible. That it is doubted by single cavillers, can very little weaken the general evidence; and some who deny it with their tongues, confess it by their fears.”
Notwithstanding the high admiration of Rasselas, I will not maintain that the “ morbid melancholy” in Johnson's constitution may not, perhaps, have made life appear to him more insipid and unhappy than it generally is; for I am sure that he had less enjoyment from it than I have. Yet, whatever additional shade his own particular sensations may have thrown on his reprefentation of life, attentive observation and close inquiry have convinced me, that there is too much of reality in the gloomy picture. The truth, however, is, that we judge of the happiness and misery of life differently at different times, according to the state of our changeable frame. I always remember a remark made to me by a Turkish lady, educated in France, “ Ma foi, Monsieur, notre bonheur depend du façon que notre sang circule.” This have I learnt from a pretty hard course of experience, and would, from sincere benevolence, impress upon all who honour this book with a perusal, that until a steady conviction is obtained, that the present life is an imperfect state, and only a passage to a better, if we comply with the divine scheme of progrefsive improvement; and also that it is a part of the mysterious plan of Providence, that intellectual beings must “ be made perfect through suffering ;" there will be a continual recurrence of disappointment and uneasiness. But if we walk with hope in the mid-day fun” of revelation, our temper and
1759. disposition will be such, that the comforts and enjoyments in our way will be Ætat. 5o. relished, while we patiently support the inconveniencies and pains. After much speculation and various reasonings, I acknowledge myself convinced of the truth of Voltaire's conclusion, “Apres tout c'est un monde pasable.” But we must not think too deeply:
“ Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise,” is, in many respects, more than poetically just. Let us cultivate, under the command of good principles, “ La theorie des sensations agréables ;” and, as Mr. Burke once admirably counselled a grave and anxious gentleman,“ live pleasant."
The effect of Rasselas, and of Johnson's other moral tales, is thus beautia fully illustrated by Mr. Courtenay :
“ Impressive truth, in splendid fiction drest,
u When round the bark the swelling surges sweepo."
Literary and moral Character of Dr. Johnson. 5 This paper was in such high estimation before it was collected into volumes, that it was seized on with avidity by various publishers of newspapers and magazines, to enrich their publications. Johnson, to put a stop to this unfair proceeding, wrote for the Universal Chronicle the following advertisement, in which there is, perhaps, more pomp of words than the occasion demanded :
“ London, January 5, 1759. Advertisement. The proprietors of the paper entitled - The Idler,' having found that those essays are inserted in the newspapers and magazines with fo little regard to justice or decency, that the Universal Chronicle, in which they first appear, is not always mentioned, think it necessary to declare to the publishers of those collections, that however patiently they have hitherto endured these injuries, made yet more injurious by contempt, they have now determined to endure them no longer. They have already seen effays, for which a very large price is paid, transferred, with the most shameless rapacity, into the weekly or monthly compilations, and their right, at least for the present, alienated from them, before they could themselves be said to enjoy it. But they would not willingly be thought to want tenderness, even for men by whom no tenderness hath been shewn. The past is without remedy, and thall be without
B b 2
He, however, from that liberality which never failed, when called upon to affist other labourers in literature, found time to translate for Mrs. Lennox's English version of Brumoy, “A Dissertation on the Greek Comedy,t” and the General Conclusion of the book.+
I would ascribe to this year the following letter to a son of one of his early friends at Lichfield, Mr. Joseph Simpson, Barrister and authour of a tract entitled “ Reflections on the Study of the Law.”
TO JOSEPH SIMPSON, Esq. « DEAR SIR,
“ YOUR father's inexorability not only grieves but amazes me: he is your father : he was always accounted a wise man; nor do I remember any thing to the disadvantage of his good nature ; but in his refusal to affift you there is neither good-nature, fatherhood, nor wisdom. It is the practice of good-nature to overlook faults which have already, by the consequences, punished the delinquent. It is natural for a father to think more favourably than others of his children ; and it is always wise to give assistance while a little help will prevent the necessity of greater.
“ If you married imprudently, you miscarried at your own hazard, at an age when you had a right of choice. It would be hard if the man might not choose his own wife, who has a right to plead before the Judges of his country.
“ If your imprudence has ended in difficulties and inconveniences, you are yourself to support them; and, with the help of a little better health, you would support them and conquer them. Surely, that want which accident and sickness produces, is to be supported in every region of humanity, though there were neither friends nor fathers in the world. You have certainly from your father the highest claim of charity, though none of right; and therefore
resentment. But those who have been thus busy with their fickles in the fields of their neighbours, are henceforward to take notice, that the time of impunity is at an end. Whoever shall, without our leave, lay the hand of rapine upon our papers, is to expect that we shall vindicate our due, by the means which justice prescribes, and which are warranted by the immemorial prescriptions of honourable trade. We shall lay hold, in our turn, on their copies, degrade them from the pomp of wide margin and diffuse typography, contract them into a narrow space, and sell them at an humble price; yet not with a view of growing rich by confiscations, for we think not much better of money got by punishment than by crimes. We shall, therefore, when our losses are repaid, give what profit shall remain to the Magdalens ; for we know not who can be more properly taxed for the support of penitent prostitutes, than prostitutes in whom there yet appears neither penitence nor shame,"