« EelmineJätka »
tating information wherever it was wanted, and trying his faculties by Latin translations from the Greek poets. Nothing was so much the subject of alarm with him, as the decay of memory and judgment, of which, however, to the last he never betrayed the least symptom.
In Midsummer 1784, he acquired sufficient strength to go for the last time into Derbyshire. During his absence, his friends, who were anxious for the preser. vation of so valuable a life, endeavoured to procure some addition to his pension, that he might be enabled to try the efficacy of a tour to the southern part of the continent. Application was accordingly made to the lord chancellor Thurlow, who seconded it in the proper quarter, but without success. He evinced, however, his high respect for Johnson, by offering to advance the sum of five hundred pounds, and Johnson, when the circumstance was communicated, thanked his lordship in a letter, elevated beyond the common expressions of gratitude, by a dignity of sentiment congenial to the feelings of his noble and liberal correspondent. Dr. Brock. lesby also made a similar offer, although of a lesser sum; and such indeed was the estimation in which Johnson was held, that nothing would have been wanting which money or affection could procure, either to protract his days, or to make them comfortable.
But these offers were not accepted. The scheme of a continental tour, which he once thought necessary, was never much encouraged by his physicians, and bad it promised greater effects, was now beyond his strength. The dropsy and asthma were making hasty approaches, and although he longed for life, and was aoxiously desirous that every means might be used to gain another day, he soon became con. vinced that no hopes were left. During this period, he was alternately resigned to die, and tenacious of life, tranquil in the views of eternity, and disturbed by gloomy apprehensions, but at last his mivd was soothed with the consolatory hopes of religion, and although the love of life occasionally recurred, he adjusted his worldly concerns with composure and exactness, as one who was conscious that he was soon to give an account. On Monday the 13th of December, he tried to obtain a temporary relief by puncturing his legs, as had been before performed by the surgeon, but no discharge followed the operation, and about seven o'clock in the evening he breathed his last, so gently, that some time elapsed before his death was perceived.
On the 20th, his body was interred with great solemnity in Westminster Abbey, close to the grave of his friend Garrick. Of the other honours paid to his memory,
may suffice to say that they were more in number and quality than were ever paid to any man of literature. It was his singular fate that the age, which he contributed to improve, repaid him by a veneration of which we have no ex. ample in the annals of literature; and that when his failings as well as his virtues were exhibited without disguise and without partiality, he continued to be revered by the majority of the nation, and is now, after scrutiny and censure have done their worst, enrolled among the greatest names in the history of English genius.
But to delincate the character of Johnson is a task which the present writer wishes to decline. Five large editions of Mr. Boswell's Life have familiarized Johnson to the knowledge of the public so intimately, that it would be impossible to advance any thing with which every reader is not already acquainted. The suffrages of the nation have been taken, and the question is finally decided. On mature consideration, there appears no reason to depart from the generally re. ceived opinions as to the rank Johnson holds among men of genius and virtue, a rank which those who yet capriciously dwell on his failings, will find it difficult to disturb. His errours have been brought forward with no spariog hand both by his friends and his enemies, yet when every fair deduction is made from the re. puted excellence of his character as a man and a writer, enough, in my opinion, will remain to gratify the partiality of his admirers, and to perpetuate the public esteći.
It is unpleasant, however, to quit a subject which the more it is revolved, serves to gladden the mind with pleasing recollections. There are surely circumstances in the history of Johnson which compel admiration in defiance of prejudice or enry. That a man of obscure birth, of maoners by no means prepossessing, whose person was forbidding, whose voice was rough, inharmonious and terrifying, whose temper was frequently harsh and overbearing; that such a man should have forced his way into the society of a greater number of eminent characters than perhaps ever gathered round an individual ; that he should not only have gained but increased their respect to a degree of enthusiasm, and preserved it unabated for so long a series of years; that men of all ranks in life, and of the highest degrees of mental excellence, should have thought it a duty, and found it a pleasure, not only to tolerate his occasional roughness, but to study his humour, and submit to his controul, to listen to him with the submission of a scholar, and consult him with the hopes of a client; all this surely affords the strongest presumption that such a man was remarkable beyond the usual standard of human excel. lence. Nor is this inference inconsistent with the truth, for it appears that whaterer merit may be attributed to his works, he was perhaps yet more to be envied in conversation, where he exhibited an inexhaustible fertility of imagination, an elegance and acuteness of argument, and a ready wit, such as never appear to hare been combined in one man. And it is not too much to say, that whatever opinion was entertained by those who knew him only in his writiogs, it never could have risen to that pitch of admiration which has been excited by the labours of his industrious biographer.
Ilis death formed a very remarkable era in the literary world. For a consider. able time, the periodical journals, as well as general conversation, were eagerly occupied on an event which was the subject of universal regret; and every man hastened with such contributions as memory supplied, to illustrate a character in which all took a lively interest. Numerons anecdotes were published, some authentic and some imaginary, and the general wish to know more of Johnson was for some years insatiable.
At length the proprietors of his printed works met to consider of a complete and uniform edition ; but as it was feared that the curiosity which follows departed genius might soon abate, some doubt was entertained of the policy of a collection of pieces, the best of which were already in the hands of the public in various forms; but this was fortunately over-raled, and in the course of the last year (1806) these collected works were printed for the fourth time, and will probably be long considered as a standard book in every library. Less fortunately, however, sit
John Hawkins, who was one of Johnson's executors, and professed to be in possession of materials for his life, was engaged to write that life, as well as to colJect his works. They accordingly appeared in 1787, in eleven volumes 8vo. Of the Life it is unnecessary to add any thing to the censure so generally passed. Sir Joho spoke his mind, perhaps honestly, but his judgment must have been as defec. tive as his memory, when he decided with soʻmuch prejudice and so little taste or caodour, on the merits of his author, and of other eminent persons, whom, as a critic humoronsly said " he brought to be tried at the Middlesex quarter sessions.” Jo collecting the works, he inserted some which no man could suspect to be Johnson's, while he omitted other pieces that had been acknowledged. A more correct arrange:nent, however, has been since adopted.
Two years before this edition appeared, Mr. Boswell published his Tour to the Hebrides, and exhibited such a sample of Dr. Johnson's conversation-talents as raised very high expectations from the Life which he then announced to be in a state of preparation. Mr. Boswell's acquaiotance with Dr. Johnson commenced in the year 1769, and from that time he appears to have meditated what he at length executed, the most complete and striking portrait ever exhibited of any human being. His Tour having shown the manner in which he was to proceed, Johnson's friends willingly contributed every document they could collect from memory or writing, and Mr. Boswell, who meditated one volume only, was soon obliged to extend his work to two bulky quartos. These were published in 1791, and bought up with an avidity, which their wonderful variety of entertain. ment, vivacity, anecdote and sentiment, amply justified. Four very large editions have since appeared, and it seems to be one of those very sorlunate and fascinating books of which the public is not likely to tire.
Mr. Boswell, indeed, has proved, contrary to the common opinion, and by means which will not soon be repeated, that the life of a mere scholar may be rendered more instructive, more entertaining, and more interesting, than that of any other human being. And although the “ confidence of private conversa. tion” has been thought to be sometimes violated in this work, for which no apo. Jogy is here intended, yet the world seems agreed to forgive this failing in consider ration of the pleasure it has afforded ; that wonderful variety of subjects, of wit, sentiment, and anecdote, with which it abounds; and above all the valuable instruction it presents on many of the most important duties of life. It must be allowed that it created some enemies to Dr. Johoson among those who were not enemies before this disclosure of his sentiments. Vanity has been sometimes hurt, and ranity has taken its usual revenge. It is generally agreed, however, that Mr. Boswell's account of his illustrious friend is impartial : he conceals no fail. ing that revenge or animosity has since been able to discover; all his foibles of manner and conversation are faithfully recorded, and recorded so frequently that it is easier to form a just estimate of doctor Johnson than of any eminent character in the whole range of biographys.
One singular effect was produced by this extraordinary book. When it was determined to discard sir John Hawkins's Life of Johnson, application was made to Mr. Murphy to furnish another to be prefixed to the second edition of the works
5 British Essayists, Preface to the Rambler, vol. xix, C.
published in 1793. This Mr. Murphy executed under the title (which he had used in the case of Fielding) of An Essay on the Life and Genius of Dr. Johnson ; but he had conceived a prejudice of jealousy of Mr. Boswell's fame, and notwithstanding the latter had strengthened his narrative by every possible proof, Murphy persisted in taking his facts from the very inaccurate narrative of sir John Hawkins, and the more flippant anecdotes published by Mrs. Piozzi. Jo his Essay, therefore, it is not wonderful that many circumstances are grossly, and considering that proofs were within his reach, we may add, wilfully misrepresented 6.
As Dr. Johnson has been introduced in the present collection as an English poet, it may be necessary to take some notice of the poems now presented to the reader. They are what have been published in his works, and no doubts, as far as the present writer knows, have ever been entertained of their authenticity. What he might have produced, if he had devoted himself to the Muses, it is not easy to determine. That he had not the essentials of a poet of the higher order must, I think, be allowed; but as a moral poet, his acknowledged pieces stand in a very high rank. Like Pope, he preferred reason to fancy, and his two imitations of Juvenal are not only equal to any thing that writer has produced, in the happy delineation of living manners, and in elegance of versification, but are perhaps su• perior to any compositions of the kind in our language. His Irene is remarkable for splendour of language, richness of sentiment, and harmony of numbers, but as a tragedy it is radically defective : it excites neither interest or passion. Of his lesser pieces, the Prologue on Opening the Theatre in 1747, and that for the benefit of Milton's grand-daughter, are perfect models of elegant and manly address. His odes are defective in imagination and description ; he always undervalued this species of poetry, and certainly has not improved it. A few of his translations are more happily executed, particularly the Dove of Anacreon. The poem on the death of his humble friend Leret is one of those pathetic appeals to the heart which are irresistible.
6 The principal of these are corrected in notes appended to the last edition of Johnson's wurks. Murphy's narrative was in truth little more than what was compiled in 1787, from sir John Hawkins, by the Monthly Reviewers, whose style and reflections he has in general copied verbatim, without a word of acknowledgment, C.
Yet still my calmer thoughts his choice comLONDON ;
I praise the hermit, but regret the friend,
Resolv'd at length from vice and London far
To breathe in distant fields a purer air,
And fix'd on Cambria's solitary shore,
Give to St. David one true Briton more.
a For who would leave, unbrib'd, Hibernia's Tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus ut teneat se? Juv.
Or change the rocks of Scotland for the Strand? "Tho'grief and fondness in my breast rebel,
There none are swept by sudden fate away, When injur'd Thales a bids the town farewell,
But all, whom hunger spares, with age decay:
Here malice, rapine, accident, conspire,
And now a rabble rages, now a fire ;
Their ambush here relentless ruffians lay,
And here the fell attorney prowls for prey ; Laudo, tamen, vacuis quod sedem figere Cumis
Here falling houses thunder on your head, Destinet, atque unum civem donare Sibyllæ.
And here a female atheist talks you dead. Sir John Hawkins says, that by Thales we 4 While Thales waits the wherry that conare here to understand Savage. Mr. Boswell as
tains serts that this is entirely groundless, and adds,“ 1 Of dissipated wealth the small remains, have been assured that Dr. Jolinson said, he was
On Thames's banks, in silent thought we stond not so much as acquainted with Savage when he
Where Greenwich smiles upon the silver flood; wrote bis London." This, added to the circum- Struck with the seat that gave Eliza 6 birth, stance of the date (for Savage did not set out for We kneel, and kiss the consecrated earth; Wales till July 1739) might be decisive, if, un
In pleasing dreams the blissful age renew, fortunately for Mr. Boswell, he had not a few And call Britannia's glories back to view; pages after, given us some highly complimenta- Behold her cross triumphant on the main, ry lines which he was assured were written by The guard of commerce, and the dread of Spain, Dr. Johnson," Ad Ricardum Savage, in April Ere inasquerades debauch'd, excise oppress’d, 1738, about a month before London was publish or English honour grew a standing jest. ed. This surely implies previous acquaintance with Savage, for Dr. Johnson would not have 3-Ego vel Prochytam præpono Sub'irræ, praised a stranger in such terms, and gives a Nam quid tam miserum, tam solum vidimus, ut very strong probability to sir John Hawkins's conjecture. That Savage did not set out for Deterius credas horrere incendia, lapsus Wales until the following year, is a matter of Tectorum assiduos, & mille pericula sæva little consequence, as the intention of such a Urbis, & Augusto recitantes mense poetas ? jonrney would justify the lines alluding to it. 4 Sed, dum tota domus rhedâ componitur unâ, See Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. i. p. 100, and Substitit ad veteres arcus.P. 139. 8vo. edit. 1804. C.
5 Queen Elizabeth, born at Greenwich,