페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

1744.

Ætat. 35

patronise him, and even admit him as a guest in his familys. Lastly, it ‘inust ever appear very suspicious, that three different accounts of the Life of Richard Savage, one published in “ The Plain Dealer,” in 1724, another in 1727, and another by the powerful pen of Johnson, in 1749, and all of them while Lady Macclesfield was alive, should, notwithstanding the severe attacks upon her, have been suffered to pass without any publick and effectual contradiction.

I have thus endeavoured to sum up the evidence upon the case, as fairly as I can; and the result feems to be, that the world must vibrate in a state of uncertainty as to what was the truth.

This digression, I trust, will not be censured, as it relates to a matter exceedingly curious, and very intimately connected with Johnson, both as a man and an authour.

He this year wrote the “ Preface to the Harleian Miscellany.*" The selection of the pamphlets of which it was composed was made by Mr. Oldys, a man of eager curiosity and indefatigable diligence, who first exerted that spirit of

s Trusting to Savage’s information, Johnson represents this unhappy man's being received as a companion by Lord Tyrconnel, and pensioned by his Lordship, as if posteriour to Savage's conviction and pardon. But I am assured, that Savage had received the voluntary bounty of Lord Tyrconnel, and had been dismissed by him long before the murder was committed, and that his Lordhip was very inftrumental in procuring Savage's pardon, by his intercession with the Queen, through Lady Hertford. If, therefore, he had been desirous of preventing any publication by Savage, he would have left him to his fate. Indeed I must observe, that although Johnson mentions that Lord Tyrconnel's patronage of Savage was “ upon his promise to lay aside his design of exposing the cruelty of his mother," the great biographer has forgotten that he himself has mentioned, that Savage's story had been told several years before in “ The Plain Dealer,” from which he quotes this strong faying of the generous Sir Richard Steele, that “the inhumanity of his mother had given him a right to find every good man his father.” At the fame time it must be acknowledged, that Lady Macclesfield and her relations might still with that her story should not be brought into more conspicuous notice by the satirical pen of Savage.

6 Miss Mason, after having forfeited the title of Lady Macclesfield by divorce, was married to Colonel Brett, and, it is said, was well known in all the polite circles. Colley Cibber, I am informed, had so high an opinion of her taste and judgement as to genteel life and manners, that he submitted every scene of his “ Careless Husband,” to Mrs. Brett's revisal and correction. Colonel Brett was reported to be too free in his gallantry with his Lady's maid. Mrs. Brett came into a room one day in her own house, and found the Colonel and her maid both fast asleep in two chairs. She tied a white handkerchief 'round her husband's neck, which was a sufficient proof that she had discovered his intrigue ; but she never at any time took notice of it to him. This incident, as I am told, gave occafion to the well-wrought scene of Sir Charles and Lady Easy and Edging. 3

inquiry

1745.

inquiry into the literature of the old English writers, by which the works of our great dramatick poet have of late been so signally illustrated.

Ætat. 36 In 1745 he published a pamphlet entitled “ Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, with Remarks on Sir T. H's (Sir Thomas Hanmer's) Edition of Shakspeare. *” To which he affixed, proposals for a new edition of that poet.

As we do not trace any thing else published by him during the course of this year, we may conjecture that he was occupied entirely with that work. But the little encouragement which was given by the publick to his

anonymous proposals for the execution of a task which Warburton was known to have undertaken, probably damped his ardour. His pamphlet, however, was highly esteemed, and was fortunate enough to obtain the approbation even of the supercilious Warburton himself, who, in the Preface to his Shakspeare published two years afterwards, thus mentioned it: “As to all those things which have been published under the titles of Flays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on Shakspeare, if you except fome critical notes on Macbeth, given as a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius, the rest are absolutely below a serious notice.”

Of this Aattering distinction shewn to him by Warburton, a very grateful remembrance was ever entertained by Johnson, who said, “ He praised me at a time when praise was of value to me.”

In 1746 it is probable that he was still employed upon his Shakspeare, which 1746. perhaps he laid aside for a time, upon account of the high expectations which were formed of Warburton's edition of that great poet. It is somewhat curious, that his literary career appears to have been almost totally suspended in the years 1745 and 1746, those years which were marked by a civil war in Great-Britain, when a rash attempt was made to restore the House of Stuart to the throne. That he had a tenderness for that unfortunate House, is well known; and some may fancifully imagine, that a sympathethick anxiety impeded the exertion of his intellectual powers: but I am inclined to think, that he was, during this time, sketching the outlines of his great philological work.

None of his letters during those years are extant, so far as I can discover. This is much to be regretted. It might afford fome entertainment to see how he then expressed himself to his private friends, concerning state affairs. Dr. Adams informs me, that “ at this time a favourite object which he had in contemplation was · The Life of Alfred,' in which, from the warmth with

1747

DR. JOHNSON. which he spoke about it, he would, I believe, had he been master of his Ætat. 38. own will, have engaged himself, rather than on any other subject.”

In 1747 it is supposed that the Gentleman's Magazine for May was enriched by him with five short poetical pieces, distinguished by three asterisks. The first is a translation, or rather a paraphrase, of a Latin Epitaph on Sir Thomas Hanmer. Whether the Latin was his, or not, I have never heard, though I should think it probably was, if it be certain that he wrote the English ; as to which my only cause of doubt is, that his Nighting character of Hanmer as an editor, in his “ Observations on Macbeth,” is very different from that in the Epitaph. It may be faid, that there is the same contrariety between the character in the Observations, and that in his own Preface to Shakspeare; but a considerable time elapfed between the one publication and the other, whereas the Observations and the Epitaph came close together. The others are, “ To Miss - on her giving the Authour a gold and silk net-work Purse of her own weaving;” “Stella in Mourning;” “ The Winter's Walk ;” “ An Ode;" and, “ To Lyce, an elderly Lady.” I am not positive that all these were his productions; but as “ The Winter's Walk,” has never been controverted to be his, and all of them have the same mark, it is reasonable to conclude that they are all written by the fame hand. Yet to the Ode, in which we find a paffage very characteristick of him, being a learned description of the gout,

Unhappy, whom to beds of pain

« Arthritick tyranny consigns;” there is the following note : “ The authour being ill of the gout:” but Johnson was not attacked with that distemper till at a very late period of his life. May not this, however, be a poetical fiction ? Why may not a poet suppose himself to have the gout, as well as suppose himself to be in love, of which we have innumerable instances, and which has been admirably ridiculed by Johnson in his “Life of Cowley?” I have also some difficulty to believe that he could produce such a group of conceits as appear in the verses to Lyce, in which he claims for this ancient personage as good a right to be assimilated to heaven, as nymphs whom other poets have fattered; he therefore ironically ascribes to her the attributes of the sky, in such stanzas as this:

“ Her teeth the night with darkness dies,

“ She's sarr'd with pimples o'er ;
“ Her tongue like nimble lightning plies,
" And can with thunder roar.'

But

1747

Ætat. 38.

But as at a very advanced age he could condescend to trifle in namby pamby rhymes to please Mrs. Thrale and her daughter, he may have, in his earlier years, composed such a piece as this.

It is remarkable, that in this first edition of “ The Winter's Walk,” the concluding line is much more Johnsonian than it was afterwards printed; for in subsequent editions after praying Stella to “ snatch him to her arms,” he says,

“ And field me from the ills of life.”

Whereas in the first edition it is

« And hide me from the sight of life.” A horrour at life in general is more consonant with Johnson's habitual gloomy cast of thought.

I have heard him repeat with great energy the following verses, which appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine for April this year ; but I have no authority to say they were his own. Indeed one of the best criticks of our age suggests to me, that the word indifferently being used in the sense of without concern, renders it improbable that they should have been his composition.

On Lord Lovat's Execution.

Pity'd by gentle minds KILMARNOCK died;
« The brave, BALMERINO, were on thy side ;
“ Radcliffe, unhappy in his crimes of youth,
“ Steady in what he still mistook for truth,
“ Beheld his death so decently unmov’d,
“ The soft lamented, and the brave approv'd.

But Lovat's fate indifferently we view,
“ True to no King, to no religion true:
“ No fair forgets the ruin he has done ;
« No child laments the tyrant of his fon;
“ No tory pities, thinking what he was ;
“ No whig compassions, for he left the cause;
“ The brave regret not, for he was not brave;
“ The honest mourn not, knowing him a knave ·!”

This 2 These verses are somewhat too severe on the extraordinary person who is the chief figure in them, for he was undoubtedly brave. His pleasantry during his folemn trial (in which, by the

1747

This
year

his old pupil and friend, David Garrick, having become joint Etat. 38. patentee and manager of Drury-lane theatre, Johnson honoured his opening of

it with a Prologue, * which for just and manly dramatick criticism, on the whole range of the English stage, as well as for poetical excellence, is unrivalled. Like the celebrated Epilogue to the “ Distressed Mother," it was, during the season, often called for by the audience. The most striking and brilliant passages of it have been so often repeated, and are so well recollected by all the lovers of the drama and of poetry, that it would be superfluous to point them out. In the Gentleman's Magazine for December this year, he inserted an “Ode on Winter,” which is, I think, an admirable specimen of his genius for lyrick poetry.

But the year 1747 is distinguished as the epoch, when Johnson's arduous and important work, his DictIONARY OF THE English LANGUAGE, was announced to the world, by the publication of its Plan or Prospectus.

How long this immense undertaking had been the object of his contemplation, I do not know. I once asked him by what means he had attained to that astonishing knowledge of our language, by which he was enabled to realise a design of such extent, and accumulated difficulty. He told me, that “ it was not the effect of particular study; but that it had grown up in his mind insensibly.” I have been informed by Mr. James DodNey, that several years before this period, when Johnson was one day sitting in his brother Robert's shop, he heard his brother suggest to him, that a Dictionary of the English Language would be a work that would be well received by the publick; that Johnson seemed at first to catch at the proposition, but, after a pause, said, in his abrupt decisive manner, “ I believe I shall not undertake it.” That he, however, had bestowed much thought upon the subject, before he published his “ Plan,” is evident from the enlarged, clear, and accurate views which it exhibits; and we find him mentioning in that tract, that many of the writers whose testimonies were to be produced as authorities, were selected by Pope, which proves that he had been furnished, probably by Mr. Robert Dodsley, with whatever hints that eminent poet had contributed

way, I have heard Mr. David Hume observe, that we have one of the very few speeches of Mr. Murray, now Earl of Mansfield, authentically given) was very remarkable. When asked if he had any questions to put to Sir Everard Fawkener, who was one of the strongest witnesses against him, he answered, “ I only wish him joy of his young wife.” And after sentence of death in the horrible terms in cases of treason was pronounced upon him, and he was retiring from the bar, he said, “ Fare you well, my Lords, we shall not all meet again in one place.” He behaved with perfect composure at his execution, and called out “ Dulce et decorum eft pro patriâ mori."

towards

« 이전계속 »