Page images

one word of my own, but adopt those of an eminent friend,' which he uttered with an abrupt felicity, superior to all studied compositions:- "He has made a chasm, which not only nothing can fill up, but which nothing has a tendency to fill up. Johnson is dead. Let us go to the next best there is nobody; no man can be said to put you in mind of Johnson."


As Johnson had abundant homage paid to him during his life, so no writer in this nation ever had such an accumulation of literary honours after his death. A sermon upon that event was preached in St. Mary's Church, Oxford, before the University, by the Rev. Mr. Agutter, of Magdalen College. The Lives, the Memoirs, the Essays, both in prose and verse, which have been published concerning him, would make many volumes. The numerous attacks too upon him I consider as part of his consequence, upon the principle which he himself so well knew and asserted. Many who trembled at his presence were forward in assault, when they no longer apprehended danger. When one of his little pragmatical foes was invidi

venerable tutor and diocesan, Dr. John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells: "who hath given me some helps, more hopes, all encouragements in my best studies: to whom I never came but I grew more religious; from whom I never went, but I parted better instructed. Of him, therefore, my acquaintance, my friend, my instructor, if I speak much, it were not to be marvelled; if I speak frankly, it is not to be blamed; and though I speak partially, it were to be pardoned."-Nuga Antiquæ, vol. i. p. 136. There is one circumstance in Sir John's character of Bishop Still, which is peculiarly applicable to Johnson: "He became so famous a disputer, that the learnedest were even afraid to dispute with him; and he, finding his own strength, could not stick to warn them in their arguments to take heed to their answers, like a perfect fencer that will tell aforehand in which button he will give the venew, or like a cunning chess-player that will appoint aforehand with which pawn and in what place he will give the mate."-Ibid.

The late Right Hon. William Gerrard Hamilton, who had been intimately acquainted with Dr. Johnson near thirty years. He died in Lozdon, July 16, 1796, in his sixty-eighth year.-M.

2 Beside the Dedications to him by Dr. Goldsmith, the Rev. Dr. Franklin, and the Rev. Mr. Wilson, which I have mentioned according to their dates, there was one by a lady, of a versification of "Aningait and Ajut," and one by the ingenious Mr. Walker, of his " Rhetorical Grammar." I have introduced into this work several compliments paid to him in the writings of his contemporaries; but the number of them is so great, that we may fairly say that there was almost a general tribute. Let me not be forgetful of the honour done to him by Colonel Myddleton, of Gwaynynog, near Denbigh; who, on the banks of a rivulet in his park, where Johnson delighted to stand and repeat verses, erected an urn with an inscription.

3 It is not yet published. In a letter to me, Mr. Agutter says, "My sermon before the University was more engaged with Dr. Johnson's moral than his intellectual character. It particularly examined his fear of death, and suggested several reasons for the apprehensions of the good, and the indifference of the infidel, in their last hours; this was illustrated by contrasting the death of Dr. Johnson and Mr. Hume: the text was, Job, xxi. 22-26."

ously snarling at his fame, at Sir Joshua Reynold's table, the Reverend Dr. Parr exclaimed, with his usual bold animation, “Ay, now that the old lion is dead, every ass thinks he may kick at him.”

A monument for him, in Westminster Abbey, was resolved upon soon after his death, and was supported by a most respectable contribution; but the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's having come to a resolution of admitting monuments there upon a liberal and magnificent plan, that cathedral was afterwards fixed on, as a place in which a cenotaph should be erected to his memory: and in the cathedral of his native city of Lichfield, a smaller one is to be erected.1 To compose his epitaph, could not but excite the warmest competition of genius. If laudari à laudato viro be praise which is highly estimable, I should not forgive myself were I to omit the following sepulchral verses on the author of the ENGLISH DICTIONARY, written by the Right Honourable Henry Flood :

1 This monument has since been erected. It consists of a medallion, with a tablet beneath, on which is this inscription:

The friends of SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.

A Native of Lichfield,
Erected this Monument,
As a tribute of respect

To the Memory of a man of extensive learning,

A distinguished moral writer, and a sincere Christian.

He died Dec. 13, 1784, aged 75.-M.

The Rev. Dr. Parr, on being requested to undertake it, thus expressed himself in a letter to William Seward, Esq.: "I leave this mighty task to some hardier and some abler writer. The variety and splendour of Johnson's attainments, the peculiarities of his character, his private virtues, and his literary publications, fill me with confusion and dismay, when I reflect upon the confined and difficult species of composition, in which alone they can be expressed with propriety, upon this monument." But I understand that this great scholar, and warm admirer of Johnson, has yielded to repeated solicitations, and executed the very difficult undertaking.

3 To prevent any misconception on this subject, Mr. Malone, by whom these lines were obligingly communicated, requests me to add the following remark:

"In justice to the late Mr. Flood, now himself wanting, and highly meriting, an epitaph from his country, to which his transcendent talents did the highest honour, as well as the most important service, it should be observed, that these lines were by no means intended as a regular monumental inscription for Dr. Johnson. Had he undertaken to write an appropriate and discriminative epitaph for that excellent and extraordinary man, those who knew Mr. Flood's vigour of mind will have no doubt that he would have produced one worthy of his illustrious subject. But the fact was merely this: In December, 1789, after a large subscription had been made for Dr. Johnson's monument, to which Mr. Flood liberally contributed, Mr. Malone happened to call on him at his house in Berners Street, and the conversation turning on the proposed monument, Mr. Malone maintained that the epitaph, by whomsoever it should be written, ought to be in Latin. Mr. Flood thought differently. The next morning,

"No need of Latin or of Greek to grace

Our JOHNSON's memory, or inscribe his grave;
His native language claims this mournful space,
To pay the immortality he gave."


in a postscript to a note on another subject, he mentioned that he continued of the same opinion as on the preceding day, and subjoined the lines above given."

1 Dr. Johnson's monument, consisting of a colossal figure leaning against a column (but not very strongly resembling him), has since the death of Mr. Boswell been placed in St. Paul's Cathedral, having been first opened to public view, Feb. 23, 1796. The epitaph was written by the Rev. Dr. Parr, and is as follows:


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]







On one side of the monument:





On a scroll in his hand are the following words:

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]



The subscription for this monument, which cost eleven hundred guineas, was begun by the Literary Club, and completed by the aid of Johnson's other friends and admirers.-M.


THE character of SAMUEL JOHNSON has, I trust, been so developed in the course of this work, that they who have honoured it with a perusal may be considered as well acquainted with him. As, however, it may be expected that I should collect into one view the capital and distinguishing features of this extraordinary man, I shall endeavour to acquit myself of that part of my biographical undertaking,' however difficult it may be to do that which many of my readers will do better for themselves.

His figure was large and well formed, and his countenance of the cast of an ancient statue; yet his appearance was rendered strange and somewhat uncouth, by convulsive cramps, by the scars of that distemper which it was once imagined the royal touch could cure, and by a slovenly mode of dress. He had the use only of one eye; yet so much does mind govern, and even supply the deficiency of organs, that his visual perceptions, as far as they extended, were uncommonly quick and accurate. So morbid was his temperament, that he never knew the natural joy of a free and vigorous use of his limbs when he walked, it was like the struggling gait of one in fetters; when he rode, he had no command or direction of his horse, but was carried as if in a balloon. That with his constitution and habits of life he should have lived seventy-five years, is a proof that an inherent vivida vis is a powerful preservative of the human frame.

Man is, in general, made up of contradictory qualities; and these will ever show themselves in strange succession, where a consistency in appearance at least, if not in reality, has not been attained by long habits of philosophical discipline. In proportion to the native vigour of the mind, the contradictory qualities will be

1 As I do not see any reason to give a different character of my illustrious friend now from what I formerly gave, the greatest part of the sketch of him in my "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides" is here adopted.

the more prominent, and more difficult to be adjusted; and, therefore, we are not to wonder that Johnson exhibited an eminent example of this remark, which I have made upon human nature. At differ ent times he seemed a different man in some respects; not, how、 ever, in any great or essential article, upon which he had fully employed his mind, and settled certain principles of duty, but only in his manners, and in the display of argument and fancy in his talk. He was prone to superstition, but not to credulity. Though his imagination might incline him to a belief of the marvellous and mysterious, his vigorous reason examined the evidence with jealousy. He was a sincere and zealous Christian, of the high Church of England and monarchical principles, which he would not tamely suffer to be questioned; and had, perhaps, at an early period, narrowed his mind somewhat too much, both as to religion and politics. His being impressed with the danger of extreme latitude in either, though he was of a very independent spirit, occasioned his appearing somewhat unfavourable to the prevalence of that noble freedom of sentiment which is the best possession of man. Nor can it be denied that he had many prejudices; which, however, frequently suggested many of his pointed sayings, that rather show a playfulness of fancy than any settled malignity. He was steady and inflexible in maintaining the obligations of religion and morality, both from a regard for the order of society and from a veneration for the Great Source of all order; correct, nay stern in his taste; hard to please, and easily offended; impetuous and irritable in his temper, but of a most humane and benevolent heart,' which showed itself not only in a most liberal charity, as far as his circumstances would allow, but in a thousand instances of active benevolence. He was afflicted with a bodily disease, which made him often restless and fretful, and with a constitutional melancholy, the clouds of which darkened the brightness of his fancy, and gave a gloomy cast to his whole course of thinking: we, therefore, ought not to wonder at

1 In the "Olla Podrida," a collection of essays published at Oxford, there is an admirable paper upon the character of Johnson written by the Rev. Dr. Horne, the late excellent Bishop of Norwich. The following passage is eminently happy :-" To reject wisdom, because the person of him who communicates it is uncouth, and his manners are inelegant; what is it, but to throw away a pine-apple, and assign for a reason the roughness of its coat?"

« PreviousContinue »