페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

years.

[ocr errors]

ADAMS. But the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary." JOHNSON. Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to 5 a Frenchman." For the mechanical part he employed six amanuenses. To all these painful labourers Johnson shewed a never-ceasing kindness.

While the Dictionary was going forward, Johnson lived part of the time in Holborn, part in Gough-square, Fleet-street; 10 and he had an upper room fitted up like a counting-house for the purpose, in which he gave to the copyists their several tasks. The words, partly taken from other dictionaries, and partly supplied by himself, having been first written down with spaces left between them, he delivered in writing their ety- 15 mologies, definitions, and various significations. The authorities were copied from the books themselves, in which he had marked the passages with a black-lead pencil. I remember his telling me, that a large portion of it having by mistake been written upon both sides of the paper, so as to be incon- 20 venient for the compositor, it cost him twenty pounds to have it transcribed upon one side only.

O

But his enlarged and lively mind could not be satisfied without more diversity of employment, and the pleasure of animated relaxation. He therefore formed a club in Ivy 25 lane, Paternoster Row, with a view to enjoy literary discussion, and amuse his evening hours. The members associated with him in this little society were, his beloved friend Dr. Richard Bathurst, Mr. Hawkesworth, afterwards well known by his writings, Mr. John Hawkins, an attorney, and 30 a few others of different professions.

In the Gentleman's Magazine he wrote a "Life of Roscommon," which he afterwards inserted amongst his Lives of the English Poets.

Johnson 35

Mr. Dodsley brought out his PRECEPTOR. furnished "The Preface," as also, "The Vision of Theodore, the Hermit, found in his Cell," a most beautiful allegory of

human life, under the figure of ascending the mountain of Existence. Dr. Johnson thought this was the best thing he ever wrote.

In January, 1749, he published "THE VANITY OF HUMAN 5 WISHES, being the Tenth Satire of Juvenal imitated." I have heard him say, that he composed seventy lines of it in one day, without putting one of them upon paper till they were finished. I remember when I once regretted to him that he had not given us more of Juvenal's Satires, he said he 10 probably should give more, for he had them all in his head.

Garrick observed in his sprightly manner, with more vivacity than regard to just discrimination, as is usual with wits, "When Johnson lived much with the Herveys, and saw a good deal of what was passing in life, he wrote his 'London,' which 15 is lively and easy: when he became more retired, he gave us his 'Vanity of Human Wishes,' which is as hard as Greek. Had he gone on to imitate another satire, it would have been as hard as Hebrew."

Garrick being now manager of Drury-lane theatre, kindly 20 and generously made use of it to bring out Johnson's tragedy, which had been long kept back for want of encouragement. But in this benevolent purpose he met with no small difficulty from the temper of Johnson. "Sir, (said he) the fellow wants me to make Mahomet run mad, that he may have an oppor25 tunity of tossing his hands and kicking his heels."

Before the curtain drew up, there were catcalls and whistling, which alarmed Johnson's friends. The Prologue, which was written by himself in a manly strain, soothed the audience, and the play went off tolerably, till it came to the conclusion, 30 when Mrs. Pritchard, the Heroine of the piece, was to be strangled upon the stage, and was to speak two lines with the bow-string round her neck. The audience cried out 'Murder! Murder!' She several times attempted to speak; but in vain. At last she was obliged to go off the stage alive. 35 This passage was afterwards struck out, and she was carried off to be put to death behind the scenes.°

Notwithstanding all the support of such performers as

Garrick, Barry, Mrs. Cibber, Mrs. Pritchard, and every advantage of dress and decoration, the tragedy of Irene did not please the publick. Mr. Garrick's zeal carried it through for nine nights, so that the authour had his three nights' profits. Garrick has complained to me, that Johnson not 5 only had not the faculty of producing the impressions of tragedy, but that he had not the sensibility to perceive them.

When asked how he felt upon the ill success of his tragedy, he replied, "Like the Monument;" meaning that he con- 10 tinued firm and unmoved as that column. "A man (said he) who writes a book, thinks himself wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind; he supposes that he can instruct or amuse them, and the publick to whom he appeals, must, after all, be the judges of his pretensions."

15

He appeared behind the scenes, and even in one of the side boxes, in a scarlet waistcoat, with rich gold lace, and a goldlaced hat. He humourously observed to Mr. Langton, "that when in that dress he could not treat people with the same ease as when in his usual plain clothes." He for a consider- 20 able time used to frequent the Green-Room, and seemed to take delight in dissipating his gloom, by mixing in the sprightly chit-chat of the motley circle then to be found there. Johnson at last denied himself this amusement, from considerations of rigid virtue; saying, "I'll come no more behind your 25 scenes, David; for the silk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous propensities."

In 1750 he came forth in the character for which he was eminently qualified, a majestick teacher of moral and religious wisdom. The vehicle which he chose was that of a 30 periodical paper, which he knew had been, upon former occasions, employed with great success. The Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, were the last of the kind published in England. He gave Sir Joshua Reynolds the following account of its name: "What must be done, Sir, will be done. I was at a 35 loss how to name it. I sat down at night upon my bedside, and resolved that I would not go to sleep till I had fixed its

title. The Rambler seemed the best that occurred, and I took it." •

Many of these discourses, which we should suppose had been laboured with all the slow attention of literary leisure, 5 were written in haste as the moment pressed, without even being read over by him before they were printed. Sir Joshua Reynolds once asked him by what means he had attained his extraordinary accuracy and flow of language. He told him, that he had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on 10 every occasion, and in every company: to impart whatever he knew in the most forcible language he could put it in; and that by constant practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape him, or attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them in the clearest manner, it 15 became habitual to him.

Johnson told me, with an amiable fondness, a little pleasing circumstance relative to this work. Mrs. Johnson, in whose judgement and taste he had great confidence, said to him, after a few numbers of the Rambler had come out, "I thought very 20 well of you before; but I did not imagine you could have written any thing equal to this."

Some of these more solemn papers, I doubt not, particularly attracted the notice of Dr. Young, the authour of "The Night Thoughts." Johnson was pleased when told of the minute 25 attention with which Young had signified his approbation of his Essays.

I will venture to say, that in no writings whatever can be found more bark and steel for the mind. No. 32 on “patience, even under extreme misery," is wonderfully lofty, and as much 30 above the rant of stoicism, as the Sun of Revelation is brighter than the twilight of Pagan philosophy. I never read the following sentence without feeling my frame thrill:-"I think there is some reason for questioning whether the body and mind are not so proportioned, that the one can bear all which 35 can be inflicted on the other; whether virtue cannot stand its ground as long as life, and whether a soul well principled will not be sooner separated than subdued."

[ocr errors]

Several of the characters in the Rambler were drawn so naturally, that a club in one of the towns in Essex imagined themselves to be severally exhibited in it, and were much incensed against a person who, they suspected, had thus made them objects of publick notice; nor were they quieted 5 till authentick assurance was given them, that the Rambler was written by a person who had never heard of any one of them. Some of the characters are believed to have been actually drawn from the life, particularly that of Prospero from Garrick, who never entirely forgave its pointed satire.° 10 It has of late been the fashion to compare the style of Addison and Johnson, and to depreciate, I think, very unjustly, the style of Addison as nerveless and feeble, because it has not the strength and energy of that of Johnson. Let us remember the character of his style, as given by Johnson 15 himself: "What he attempted he performed: he is never feeble, and he did not wish to be energetick; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His sentences have neither studied amplitude, nor affected brevity: his periods, though not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy. Whoever wishes to 20 attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison."

Some of the translations of the mottos are by a Mr. F. Lewis, whom Johnson thus described: "Sir, he lived in 25 London, and hung loose upon society."

Mrs. Anna Williams, daughter of a very ingenious Welsh physician, and a woman of more than ordinary talents and literature, having come to London in hopes of being cured of a cataract in both eyes, was kindly received as a constant 30 visitor at his house while Mrs. Johnson lived; and, after her death, had an apartment from him during the rest of her life.

There was a suspension of Johnson's work during a part of the year 1752; for on the 17th of March, his wife died. To argue from her being much older than Johnson, or any 35 other circumstances, that he could not really love her, is absurd; for love is not a subject of reasoning, but of feel

« 이전계속 »