페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

to fay, foolish in talking of his children."

Cave, who was ever attentive to the improvement of his Magazine, fhould be more negligent in procuring notes

Account of Dr JOHNSON's Debates in as accurate as he could, during the

the Senate of Lilliput.

N the course of his engagement

1 with Mr Cave, be compofed the

Debates in the Senate of Magna Lilliputia, the first number of which appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine" for June 1738, fometimes with feigned names of the feveral fpeeches, fometimes with denominations formed of the letters of their real names, fo that they might be eafily decyphered. Parliament then kept the prefs in a kind of myfterious awe, which made it neceflary to have recourse to such devices. The debates for fome time were brought home and digefted by Guthrie, and afterwards fent by Mr Cave to Johnfon for his revifion. When Guthrie had attained to a greater variety of employment, and the fpeeches were more and more enriched by the acceffion of Johnson's genius, it was refolved that he should do the whole himfelf, from notes furnished by perfons employed to attend in both Houfes of Parliament. His fole compofition of them began November 19, 1740, and ended February 23, 1742-3. From that time they were written by Hawkesworth to the year 1760. Johnson acknowledged the debates to be fpurious, long after the world had confidered them as genuine ; and fome days previous to his death, declared, that of all his writings they gave him the most uneafinefs. The deceit, however, could not be very pernicious, in the effects of which fo many perfons were in volved. Neither are they fo completely his own compofition as is generally fuppofed. That notes of the fpeeches were taken in the Houfes of Parliament, and given to him, is evident from his own declarations. And it does not appear probable that Mr

time when Johnfon executed this department, than when it was in the hands of Guthrie. It seems at least

most likely, therefore, that the language and illuftrations are Johnson's own, but that the arguments and general arrangements were taken from the feveral fpeeches fpoken in either Houfe.

The eloquence, the force of argument, and the fplendour of language difplayed in the feveral fpeeches, are well known, and univerfally admired. To one who praifed his impartiality, obferving that he had dealt out reafon and eloquence with an equal hand to both. parties, "That is not quite true, Sir, faid Johnson; I faved appearances well enough, but I took care that the WHIG DOGS should not have the best of it." They have been collected in 2 vols. 8vo. 1787.

Remarks on Dr JOHNSON's Letter to

the Earl of CHESTERFIELD.

As the Dictionary drew towards a

conclufion, Chefterfield, who had previously treated Johnson with unpardonable neglect (which was the real caufe of the breach between them, and not the commonly received ftory of Johnson's being denied admittance while Cibber was with his Lordfl.ip.) now as meanly courted a reconciliation with him, in hopes of being immortalized in a dedication.

With this view, he wrote two effays in "The World," in praife of the Dictionary, and, according to Sir John Hawkins, fent Sir Thomas Robinfon to him, for the fame purpose. But Johnfon, who had not renounced the connection, but upon the just grounds of continued neglect, was fenfible, that to listen to an accommodation, would be to exchange dig

fity for a friendship trifling in its value, and precarious in its tenure. He therefore rejected his advances, and fpurned his proffered patronage, by the following letter, dated February 1755, which is preferved here as a model of courtly farcafin, and manly reprehenfion, couched in terms equally refpectful in their form, and cutting in their effence. It affords the nobleft leffon to both authors and patrons that ftands upon record in the annals of literary history.

"I have been lately informed by the proprietor of "The World," that two papers in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your Lordship. To be fo diftinguished, is an honour, which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.

66

When, upon fome flight encouragement, I firft vifited your Lordfhip, I was overpowered, Jike the rest of mankind, by your addrefs, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre, that I might obtain that regard for which I faw the world contending; but I found my attendance fo little encouraged, that neither pride nor modefty would fuffer me to continue it. When I had once addreffed your Lordship in pubFic, I had -exhaufted all the art of pleafing, which a retired and uncourtly fcholar can poffefs. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleafed to have his all neglected, be it ever fo little.

"Seven years, my Lord, have now paffed fiuce I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulfed from your door; during which time, I have been pushing on my work thro' difficulties, of which it is ufelefs to complain, and have brought it at laft to the verge of publication, without one act of affistance, one word of encouragement, or one fmile of favour.

Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.

"The Shepherd in Virgil grew at laft acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.

"Is not a patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man ftruggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help! The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind: but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am folitary and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical afperity, not to confefs obligagations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public fhould confider me as owing that to a patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

66

Having carried on my work thus far, with fo little obligation to any favourer of learning, I fhall not be difappointed though I should conclude it, if lefs be poffible, with lefs; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boafted myself with so much exultatation,--My Lord, your, &c.”

Johnfon, however, acknowledged to Mr Langton, that "he did once receive ten pounds from Lord Chefterfield, but that, as that was fo inconfiderable a fum, he thought the mention of it could not properly find place in a letter of the kind that this was." Chesterfield read the letter to Dodfley with an air of indifference, "fmiled at the feveral paffages, and obferved how well they were expreffed." He excufed his neglect of Johnfon, by saying, "that he had heard he had changed his lodgings, and did hot know where he lived;" and declared, "that he would have turned off the beft fervant he ever had, if he had known he denied him to a man who would have been always more than welcome.' OfChesterfield's

affability

[ocr errors]

e

affability and eafinefs of accefs, e. fpecially to literary men, the evi. dence is unquestionable; but, from the character which he gave of Johnfon, in his "Letters to his Son," [Let. 112.] and the difference in their manners, little union or friendship could be looked for between them. Certain it is, however, that Johnfon remained under an obligation to Chefterfield to the value of ten pounds.

Obfervations on Dr JOHNSON's Pen Sion.

IN 1792, Fortune who had hitherto left him to ftruggle with the inconveniences of a precarious fubfiftence, arifing entirely from his own labours, gave him that independence which his talents and virtues long before ought to have obtained for him. In the month of July he was graced with a penfion of L. 300 per annum, by the King, as a recompence for the honour which the excellence of his writings, and the be nefit which their moral tendency had been of to these kingdoms. He obtained it by the interference of Lord Bute, then firft Lord Commiffioner of the Treasury, upon the suggestion of Mr Wedderburn, now Lord Loughborough, at the inftance of Mr Sheridan and Mr Murphy. For this independence he paid the ufual tax. Envy and refentment foon made him the mark to shoot their arrows at. Some appeared to think themselves more entitled to royal favour, and

others recollected his political opinions, and fentiments of the reigning family. By fome he was cenfured as an apoftate, and by others ridiculed for becoming a penfioner. The "North Briton" fupplied himself with arguments against the Minifter for rewarding a Tory and a Jacobite, and Churchill fatirized his political verfatility with the most poignant feverity.

How to all principles untrue,

Not fix'd to old friends, nor to new;

He damns the penfion which he takes,
And loves the Stuart he forfakes.

By this acceptance of the King's bounty, he had undoubtedly fubjected himself to the appellation of a penfioner, to which he had annexed on ignominious definition in his Dietionary. He had received a favour from two Scotchmen, against whofe country he had joined in the rabble cry of indifcriminating invective. It was thus that even-handed Juftice commended the poifoned chalice to his own lips, and compelled him to an awkward, though not unpleasant penance, for indulging in a fplenetic prejudice, equally unworthy of his understanding and his heart.

The affair itfelf was equally honourable to the giver and the receiver. The offer was clogged with no ftipulations for party services, and accepted under no implied idea of being recompenfed by political writings. It was perfectly understood by all parties, that the penfion was merely honorary. It is true that Johnfon did afterwards write political pamphlets in favour of adminiftration; but it was at a period long fubfequent to the grant of his penfion, and in fupport of a minister to whom he owed no perfonal obligation. It was for the establishment of opinions, which, however uncon ftitutional, he had uniformly held, and publicly avowed.

Critique on Dr JOHNSON's Shakespeare. IN October 1765, he gave to the

world his edition of The Plays of William Shakspeare, with the Corrections and Illuftrations of various Com mentators; to which are added, Notes by Samuel Johnson, in 8 vols. 8vo; which, as far as it fell fhort of affording that ample fatisfaction which was expected from it, may be afcribed to his not having " read the books which the author read, traced his knowledge to the fource, and com

pared

pared his copies with their originals;" a promife he gave, but was not able to perform. Sir John Hawkins thinks it a meagre work; he complains of the paucity of the notes, of Johnfon's want of induftry, and indeed unfitnefs for the office of a Scholiaft, It was treated with great illiberality by Dr Kenrick, in the firft part of a "Review" of it, which was never completed. It is to be admitted, that he has neither fo fully reformed the text, by accurate collations of the first editions, nor fo fairly illuftrated his author, in his notes, by quotations from the "writ. ers who lived at the fame time, im mediately preceded, or immediately followed him," as has been done by other able and ingenious critics, who have followed him, Mr Steevens, Mr Capel, Mr Malone, Mr Reed, &c. whofe labours have left little to add to the commentaries on Shak fpeare. But what he did as a com mentator, has no small share of merit, though his refearches were not fo ample, and his investigations fo acute as they might have been. He has enriched his edition with a concife account of each play, and of its cha racteristic excellence. In the faga city of his emendatory criticifms, and the happiness of his interpretations of obfcure paffages, he furpaffes every editor of this poet. Mr Malone confeffes," that Johnfon's vigorous and comprehenfive understanding threw more light on his author, than all his predeceffors had done." His Preface has been pronounced by Mr Malone, to be the finest compofition in our language; and having regard to its fubject and extent, it certainly would be difficult to name one poffeffing a fuperior claim to fuch fuperlative praife. Whether we confider the beauty and vigour of its compofition, the abundance and claffical felection of its allufions, the juftnefs of the general precepts of criticifm, and its accurate estimate of the excellen

cies or defects of his author, it is equally admirable. He feems to raise his talents upon a level with thofe of his poet, upon whofe work he fits as a critical judge, to rival, by the luftre of his praifes, the fplendour of the original, and to follow this eagle of Britith poetry through all his gyres, with as keen an eye, and upon as ftrong a wing. The Preface to his Dictionary, correct as it is, muft yield the palm of excellence to that prefixed to his Shakspeare; but it yields it only because the fubject was lefs favourable to the full difplay of his powers.

Critique on Raffelas, Prince of Abyssinia.

THE HE applaufe given to the hiftory of Raffelas, has been such as muft fatisfy an author the most avaricious of fame. It has been tranflated into various modern languages, and received the admiration of Europe.

Such a reception demonftrates great beauties in the work; and there is no doubt that great beauties do exist there. The language enchants us with harmony; the arguments are acute and ingenious; the reflections novel, yet juft. It aftonishes with the fublimity of its fentiments, and at the fertility of its illuftrations, and delights with the abundance and propriety of its imagery. The fund of thinking which it contains, is fuch, that almost every fentence of it may furnish a fubject of long meditation. But it is not without its faults. It is barren of interefting incidents, and deflitute of originality, or diftinction of characters. There is little difference in the manner of thinking and reafoning of the philofopher and the female, of the prince and the waiting woman. Nekayah and Imlac, Raffelas and Pekuah, are all equally argomentative, abftracted, eloquent, and obftinate. Of that dark catalogue of calamities, which are def

[ocr errors]

cribed as incident to the feveral fitu- To avert the impending danger, Ma

ations of life which he contemplates, fome are not the neceffary confequence of the fituation, but of the temper; and others are not thofe which are most generally or feverely felt there. The moral that he feeks to inculcate, that there is no fuch thing as happiness, is one ungrateful to the human heart. If he could fucceed in establishing it, it would cripple every incitement to virtue, and pally every ftimulus to action. It would leave man contented to be drifted down the stream of life, without an object or an end; to lofe attainable excellence for the want of exertion, and fink under furmountable difficulties, without a ftruggle. Though there may not be permanent happiness in the gratification of our wishes, there is much in our expectations that they will be gratified. Hope is the fweet and innocent folace of our frail natures. It is the staff of the unhappy, and however feeble its fupport, it is immoral and unkind to wreft it from our hands.

homet, in a full affembly of the gran-
dees, "catching with one hand," as
Knolles expreffes it," the fair Greek
by the hair of her head, and drawing
his faulchion with the other, he, at
one blow, ftruck off her head, to the
great terror of them all; and having
fo done, faid unto them, "Now, by
this, judge whether your emperor is
able to bridle his affections or not."
The ftory is fimple, and it remained
for Johnfon to amplify it with pro-
per episodes, and give it complica-
tion and variety. But he has alter-
ed the character and catastrophe,
which he found in the hiftorian, fo
as to diminish the dramatic effect.
Many faults may be found with the
conduct of the fable. The principal
one is, that the plot is double, and
has the most striking faults of fuch a
fable; for it divides the spectator's
attention and regard between cha-
rafters, whofe interefts are oppofite,
and whofe happiness or mifery is
made to depend upon the fame events.
We cannot hope the efcape of De-
metrius and Afpafia, without dread-
ing the condemnation of Irene; and,

Critique on Dr JOHNSON'S Tragedy of our wishes as to each, operating in

Irene.

IS tragedy of Irene may be conH fidered as the greatest effort of his genius. It is a legitimate dramatic compofition. The unities of time, place, and action, are strictly observe ed.

The diction is nervous, rich, and elegant; but fplendid language, and melodious numbers, will make a fine poem, not a tragedy. The fubftance of the flory is thortly this:

In 1453, Mahomet the Great, first Emperor of the Turks, laid fiege to Conftantinople, and having reduced the place, became enamoured of a fair Greek, whofe name was Irene. The fultan invited her to embrace the law of Mahomet, and to grace his throne. Enraged at this intended marriage, the janizaries formed a Confpiracy to dethrone the emperor.

contradiction, must diminish our concern for both. The catastrophe, which is made to depend upon the fate of Irene, is meanly worked up. It is brought about too fuddenly, without a due connection with preparatory incidents, and at the very moment when we have not leifure to contemplate it, and are alone interefted for the escape of Demetrius and Afpafia. We neither anticipate it with fufficient perfpicuity, nor confider it with folemnity, fo as to be affected, upon its occurence, with genuine dramatic grief or terror. The characters of the piece have nothing difcriminative. They are not reprefentations of different tempers, palfions, and minds, but of different degrees of virtue and vice. They are fo naked of peculiarity, that we can

not

« 이전계속 »