페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

was somewhat remarkable how seldom, on occasion of coming into the company of any new person, one felt any wish or inclination to see him again.

This year the Reverend Dr. Franklin having published a translation of Lucian, inscribed to him the Demonax thus:

“ To Dr. Samuel Johnson, the Demonax of the present age, this piece is inscribed by a sincere admirer of his respectable talents,

The Translator."

Though upon a particular comparison of Demonax and Johnson, there does not seem to be a great deal of similarity between them, this Dedication is a just compliment from the general character given by Lucian of the ancient Sage, αριςον ων οιδμ εγω φιλοσοφων γενομενον, the best philosopher whoin I have ever seen or known.”

In 1781, Johoson at last completed his • Lives of the Poets,' of which he gives this account : Some time in March I finished the Lives of the Poets,' which I wrote in my usual way, dilatorily and hastily, unwilling to work, and working with vigour and haste. In a memorandum previous to this, he says of them : “Written I hope, in such a manner as muy lend to the promotion of piety."

This is the work, which of all Dr. Johnson's writings will perhaps be read most generally, and with most pleasure. Philology aud biography were his favourite pursuits, and those who lived most in intimacy with him, heard him upon all occasions, when there was a proper opportunity, take delight in expaliating upon the various inerits of the English poets : upon the piceties of their characters, and the events of their

progress, through the world which they contributed to illuminate. His mind was so full of that kind of information, and it was so well arranged in his memory, that in performing what he had undertaken in this way, he had little more to do than to put his thoughts upon paper; exhibiting first each poet's life, and then subjoining a critical examination of his genius and works. But when he began to write, the subject swelled in such a manner, that instead of prefaces to each poet, of no more than a few pages, as he had origioally intended, he produced an ample, rich, and most entertaining view of them in every respect. In this he resembled Quintilian, who tells us, that in the composition of his lustitutions of Oratory, “ Latius se tamen aperiente materia, plus quam imponebatur oreris sponte suscepi." The buoksellers, justly sensible of the great additional value of the copy-right, presented him with another hundred pounds, over and above two hundred, for which his agreement was to furnish such prefaces as be thought fit.

This was, however, but a small recompence for such a collection of biography, and such principles and illustrations of criticism, as, if di gested and arranged in one system, by some modero Aristotle or Longinus, might forin a code upon that subject, such as no other natios can shew. As he was so good as to make me a present of the greatest part of the original, and indeed only manuscript of this admirable work, I have an opportunity of observing with wonder the correctoes with which he rapidly struck off sach glowing composition. He may be as. similated to the Lady in Waller, who could impress with “Love at first sight."

Some other nymphs with colours faint,
And pencil slow, may Cupid paint,
And a weak heart in time destroy;
She has a stamp, aod prints tbe boy.

That he, however, had a good deal of trouble, and some ansiety in carrying on the work, we see from a series of letters to Mr. Nichols the printer, whose variety of literary enquiry and obliging disposition, Frendered him useful to Johnson. Mr. Steevens appears, from the papera in my possession, to have supplied hiin with some anecdotes and quotations; and I observed the fair hand of Mrs. Thrale as one of his copyists of select passages. But he was principally indebted to my steady friend Mr. Isaac Reed, of Staple-inn, whose extensive and accurate knowledge of English literary History I do not express with exaggeration, when I say it is wonderful; indeed his labours have proved it to the world; and all who have the pleasure of his acquaintance can bear testimony to the frankness of his communications in private society.

It is not my intention to dwell upon each of Johnson's " Lives of the Poets,” or attempt an analysis of their merits, which, were I able to do it, would take up too much room in this work; yet I shall make a few observations upon some of them, and insert a few various readings,

The Life of Cowley he himself considered as the best of the whole, on account of the dissertation which it contains on the Metaphysical Poets. Dryden, whose critical abilities were equal to his poetical, nad mentioned thein in his excellent Dedication of his Juvenal, but had barely mentioned them. Johnson has exbibited then at large, with such happy illustration from their writings, and in so luminous a manner, that indeed he may be allowed the full merit of novelty, and to have discovered 10 us, as it were, a new playet in the poetical hemisphere.

It is remarked by Johnson, in considering the works of a poet, that amendments are seldom made without soine token of a rent; but I do not find that this is applicable to prose. We shall see that though bis amendments in this work are for the better, there is nothing of the pannus assulus; the texture is uniform ; and indeed, what had been there at first, is very seldom unfit to have remained,

[ocr errors]

Various Readings in the Life of Cowley. “ All [future votaries of] that may hereafter pant for solitude."

“ To conceive and execute the (agitation or perception) pains and the pleasures of other minds."

“ The wide effulgence of [the blazing] a summer noon.

[ocr errors]

In the Life of Waller, Johnson gives a distinct and animated narrative of public affairs in that variegated period, with strong yet uice touches of character; and having a fair opportunity to display his political principles, does it with an unqualified manly confidence, and satisfies his readers how nobly he might have executed a Tory History of his country.

So easy is his style in these Lives, that I do not recollect inore thau three uncommon or learned words; one, when giving an account of the approach of Waller’s mortal disease, he says, he found his legs grow iumid; by usiog the expression his legs suelled, he would have avoided this; and there would have been no impropriety in its being followed by the interesting question to his physician, What that swelling meant ? Another, when he mentions that Pope had emitted proposals; when published or issued, would have been more readily understood ; and a third, when he calls Orrery and Dr. Delany, writers both undoubtedly veracious; when true, honest, or faithful, might have been used. Yet, it must be owned, that none of these are hard or too big words : that custom would make them seem as easy as any others; and that a lata gnage is richer and capable of more beauty of expression, by having a greater variety of synonimes.

His dissertation upon the unfitness of poetry for the awful subjects of our holy religion, though I do not entirely agree with him, has all the merit of originality, with uncommon force and reasoning,

Various Readings in the Life of Waller.

"Consented to [the insertion of their names) their own nomination., “[After) paying a fine of ten thousand pounds."

"Congratulating Charles the Second on his coronation recovered right."

“ He that has flattery ready for all whom the vicissitudes of the world happen to exalt, must be confessed to degrade his powers) scorned as a prostituted mind."

“ The characters by which Waller intended to distinguish his writings are (elegance) sprightliness and dignity."

“ Blossoms to be valued only as they (fetch) foretel fruits."
“ Images such as the superficies of nature (easily] readily supplies."

"(His) Some applications [are sometimes) may be thought too remote and unconsequential.”

“His images are sometimes confused) not always distinct."

Against his Life of Milton, the hounds of Whiggism have opened in full cry. But of Milton's great excellence as a poet, where shall we find

such a blazon as by the hand of Johnson ? I shall select only the following passage concerning Paradise Lost;

Fancy can hardly forbear to conjecture with what temper Milton surveyed the silent progress of his work, and marked his reputation stealing its way in a kind of subterraneous current, through fear and silence, I cannot but conceive him calm and confident, little disappointed, not at all dejected, relying on his own merit with steady consciousness, and waiting without impatience, the vicissitudes of opinion, and the impartiality of a future generation,

Indeed even Dr. Towers, who may be considered as one of the warmest zealots of The Revolution Society itself, allows, that Johnson has spoken in the highest terms of the abilities of that great poet, and has bestowed on his principal poetical compositions, the most honourable encomiums.

That a man, who venerated the Church and Monarchy as Johnson did, should speak with a just abhorrence of Miltou as a politician, or rather as a daring foe to good polity, was surely to be expected ; and to those who censure him, I would recommend his commentary on Milton's oelebrated complaint of his situation, when by the lenity of Charles the Second, a lenity of which (as Johnson well observes) the world has had perhaps no other example, he, who had written in justification of the murder of his Sovereign, was safe under an Act of Oblivion. No sooner is he safe than he finds himself in danger, fallen on evil days and evil tongues with darkness and with danger compassed round. This darkness, had his eyes been better employed, had undoubtedly deserved compassion ; but to add the mention of danger, was ungrateful and unjust. He was fallen, indeed on evil days; the time was come in which regicides could no longer boast their wickednesss. But of evil tongues for Milton to complain, required impudence at least equal to his other powers; Milton, whose warmest advocates must allow, that he never spared any asperity of reproach, or brutality of insolence

I have, indeed, often wondered how Milton, an acrimonious and surly Republican. A man who in his domestic relations was so severe and arbitrary, and whose head was filled with the hardest and most dismal tenets of Calvinism, should have been such a poet; should not only have written with sublimity, but with beauty, and even gaiety ; should have exquisitely painted the sweetest sensations of which our nature is capable ; imaged the dellcate raptures of connubial love ; pay, seemed to be animated with all the spirit of revelry. It is a proof that in the human mind the departments of judgement and imagination, perception and temper, may sometimes be divided by strong partitions; and that the light and shade in the same character may be kept so distinct as never to be blended.

In the Life of Milton, Johnson took occasion to maintain his own and the general opinion of the excellence of rhyme over blunk verse, in

English poetry; and quotes this apposite illustration of it by an ingenious critic, that it seems to be verse only to the eye. The gentleman whoni he thus characterises, is (as he told Mr. Seward) Mr. Lock, of Norbury Park, in Surrey, whose knowledge and taste in the fine arts is universilly celebrated ; with whose elegance of manners the writer of the present work has selt himself much impressed, and to whosé virtues a common friend, who has known him long, and is not much addicted to flattery, gives the highest testimony.

Various Readings in the Life of Milton.

“ I cannot find any meaning but this which [his most bigoted advocates] even kindness and reverence coa give.

“[Perhaps no] scarcely any man ever wrote so much, and praised so few. “ A certain (rescue) preservative from oblivion.

“ Let me not be censured for this digression, as (contracted) pedantic or paradoxical.

“ Socrates rather was of opinion, that what we had to learn was how to (obtain and communicate happiness] do good and avoid evil.

“ Its elegance [who can exhibit?) is less attainable.

I could, with pleasure, ex patiate upon the masterly execution of the Life of Dryden, which we have seen was one of Johoson's literary proh jects at an early period, and which it is remarkable, that after desisting from it, from a supposed scantiness of materials, he should at an advanced age, have exhibited so amply.

His defence of that great poet against the illiberal attacks upon him, as if his embracing the Roman Catholic communion had been a timet serving measure, is a piece of reasoning at once able and candid. Indeed, Dryden himself in his · Hind and Panther,' hath given such a picture of his mind, that they who know the anxiety for repose as to the awful subject of our state beyond the grave, though they inay think his opinion ill founded, must think charitably of his sentiment:

“But, gracious God, how well dost thou provide
“ For erring judgements au uperriug guide ?
“ Thy throne is darkness in the abyss of light,
“A blaze of glory that forbids the sight.
"0! teacb me to believe thee thus conceal’d,
“ And search po farther than thyself reveal'd;
< But Her alone for my director take,
* Whom thou hast promis'd never to forsake.
“My thoughtless youth was wing’d with vaju desires;
“My manbood long misled by wand'ring fires,
“ Follow'd false lights; and when their glimpse was gone,
“My pride struck out new sparkles of her owa.
“ Such was I, such by nature still I am;
" Be thine the glory, and be mine tbe shame,
“Good life be now my task : my doubts are done ;
“What more could shock my faith than Three in One.rs

5 D

No. 10

« 이전계속 »