« PreviousContinue »
anecdotes, and the occurrences of their own times: the celebrated Huetius has published an entertaining volume upon this plan, De Rebus ad eum pertinentibus. In the fourth class we have the journalists, temporal and spiritual: Elias Ashmole, William Lilly, George Whitefield, John Wesley, and a thousand other old women and fanatick writers of memoirs and meditations."
I mentioned to him that Dr. Hugh Blair, in his lectures on rhetorick and belles-lettres, which I heard him deliver at Edinburgh, had animadverted on the Johnsonian style as too pompous; and attempted to imitate it, by giving a sentence of Addison in the Spectator, No. 411, in the manner of Johnson. When treating of the utility of the pleasures of imagination in preserving us from vice, it is observed of those " who know not how to be idle and innocent,” that “their very first step out of business is into vice or folly;" which Dr. Blair supposed would have been expressed in the Rambler, thus: “their very first step out of the regions of business is into the perturbation of vice, or the vacuity of folly P." JOHNSON. “Sir, these are not the words I should have used. No, sir; the imitators of my style have not hit it. Miss Aikin has done it the best; for she has imitated the sentiment as well as the diction."
• The egotism of autobiography, however, furnishes us not only with entertainment, but with many an instructive lesson. For whatever exhibits to our view the internal workings of the humau mind, must be useful; and this is most effectually done by a man's narrative of his own life, especially when his vanity prompts him to reveal all his emotions. The lives of the celebrated lord Herbert, Benevenuto Cellini, Goldoni, Gilbert Wakefield, and of other eccentric self-memorialists, will illustrate the truth of our remark. Johnson, in his Idler, thus ably treats the subject. “The writer of his own life has at least the first qualification of an historian, the knowledge of the truth; and though it may be plausibly objected, that his temptations to disguise it are equal to his opportunities of knowing it, yet it cannot but be thought, that impartiality may be expected with equal confidence from him that relates the passages of his own life, as from him that delivers the transactions of another. What is collected by conjecture, (and by conjecture only can one man judge of another's motives or sentiments,) is easily modified by fancy or desire ; as objects imperfectly discerned take forms from the hope or fear of the beholder. But that which is fully known cannot be falsified but with reluctance of understanding, and alarm of conscience ; of understanding, the lover of truth ; of conscience, the sentinel of virtue."--En.
p When Dr. Blair published his Lectures, he was invidiously attacked for having omitted his censure on Johnson's style, and, on the contrary, praising it highly. But before that time Johnson's Lives of the Poets had appeared, in
I intend, before this work is concluded, to exhibit specimens of imitation of my friend's style in various modes ; some caricaturing or mimicking it, and some formed upon it, whether intentionally, or with a degree of similarity to it of which, perhaps, the writers were not conscious.
In Baretti's review which he published in Italy under the title of Frusta Letteraria, it is observed, that Dr. Robertsou the historian had formed his style upon that of
il celebre Samuele Johnson.' My friend himself was of that opinion; for he once said to me, in a pleasant humour, “Sir, if Robertson's style be faulty, he owes it to me; that is, having too many words, and those too big ones.”
I read to him a letter which lord Monboddo had written to me, containing some critical remarks upon the style of his Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland. His lordship praised the very fine passage upon landing at Icolmkill9; but his own style being exceedingly dry and
which his style was considerably easier than when he wrote the Rambler. It would, therefore, have been uncandid in Blair, even supposing his criticism to have been just, to have preserved it.-Boswell.
q “We were now treading that illustrious island which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions; whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured ; and would be foolish, if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses, whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future, predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue. The man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.”
Had our tour produced nothing else but this sublime passage, the world must have acknowledged that it was not made in vain. Sir Joseph Banks, the present
hard, he disapproved of the richness of Johnson's language, and of his frequent use of metaphorical expressions. Johnson. “Why, sir, this criticism would be just, if in my style superfluous words, or words too big for the thoughts, could be pointed out; but this I do not believe can be done. For instance, in the passage which lord Monboddo admires, . We were now treading that illustrious region,' the word illustrious contributes nothing to the mere narration; for the fact might be told without it: but it is not, therefore, superfluous; for it wakes the mind to peculiar attention, where something of more than usual importance is to be presented. • Illustrious !—for what? and then the sentence proceeds to expand the circumstances connected with Iona. And, sir, as to metaphorical expression, that is a great excellence in style, when it is used with propriety, for it gives you two ideas for one ;-conveys the meaning more luminously, and generally with a perception of delight.”
He told me, that he had been asked to undertake the new edition of the Biographia Britannica, but had declined it; which he afterwards said to me he regretted. In this regret many will join, because it would have procured us more of Johnson's most delightful species of writing ; and although my friend Dr. Kippis" has hitherto discharged the task judiciously, distinctly, and with more impartiality than might have been expected from a separatist, it were to have been wished that the superintendence of this literary temple of fame had been assigned to a friend to the constitution in church and state.” We should not then have had it too much crowded with obscure dissenting teachers, doubtless men of merit and worth, but not quite to be numbered amongst "the
respectable president of the royal society, told me he was so much struck on reading it, that he clasped his hands together, and remained for some time in an attitude of silent admiration.-BOSWELL.
r After having given to the publick the first five volumes of a new edition of Biographia Britannica, between the years 1778 and 1793, Dr. Kippis died, October 8th, 1795; and the work is not likely to be soon completed.-Malone, most eminent persons who have flourished in Great Britain and Ireland."
On Saturday, September 20th, after breakfast, when Taylor was gone out to his farm, Dr. Johnson and I had a serious conversation by ourselves on melancholy and madness; which he was, I always thought, erroneously inclined to confound together. Melancholy, like “great wit,” may be, “near allied to madness;" but there is, in my opinion, a distinct separation between them. When he talked of madness, he was to be understood as speaking of those who were in any great degree disturbed, or as it is commonly expressed, “ troubled in mind.”
" troubled in mind.” Some of the an
$ In this censure, which has been carelessly uttered, I carelessly joined. But in justice to Dr. Kippis, who, with that manly candid good temper which marks his character, set me right, I now with pleasure retract it; and I desire it may be particularly observed, as pointed out by him to me, that “The new lives of dissenting divines, in the first four volumes of the second edition of the Biographia Britannica, are those of John Abernethy, Thomas Amory, George Benson, Hugh Broughton the learned puritan, Simon Browne, Joseph Boyse of Dublin, Thomas Cartwright the learned puritan, and Samuel Chandler. The only doubt I have ever heard suggested is, whether there should have been an article Dr. Amory. But I was convinced, and am still convinced, that he was entitled to one, from the reality of his learning, and the excellent and candid nature of his practical writings.
“ The new lives of clergymen of the church of England, in the same four volumes, are as follow: John Balguy, Edward Bentham, George Berkeley bishop of Cloyne, William Berriman, Thomas Birch, William Borlase, Thomas Bott, James Bradley, Thomas Broughton, John Brown, John Burton, Joseph Butler bishop of Durham, Thomas Carte, Edward Castell, Edmund Chishull, Charles Churchill, William Clarke, Robert Clayton bishop of Clogher, John Conybeare bishop of Bristol, George Costard, and Samuel Croxall.-'I am not conscious,' says Dr. Kippis,' of any partiality in conducting the work. I would not willingly insert a dissenting minister that does not justly deserve to be noticed, or omit an established clergyman that does. At the same time, I shall not be deterred from introducing dissenters into the Biographia, when I am satisfied that they are entitled to that distinction, from their writings, learning, and merit.""
Let me add, that the expression “a friend to the constitution in church and state,” was not meant by me as any reflection upon this reverend gentleman, as if he were an enemy to the political constitution of his country, as established at the revolution, but, from my steady and avowed predilection for a tory, was quoted from Johnson's Dictionary, where that distinction is so defined.Boswell.
cient philosophers held, that all deviations from right reason were madness; and whoever wishes to see the opinions both of ancients and moderns upon this subject, collected and illustrated with a variety of curious facts, may read Dr. Arnold's very entertaining work .
Johnson said, “A madman loves to be with people whom he fears ; not as a dog fears the lash; but of whom he stands in awe.” I was struck with the justice of this observation. To be with those of whom a person whose mind is wavering and dejected, stands in awe, represses and composes an uneasy tumult of spirits “, and consoles him with the contemplation of something steady, and at least comparatively great.
He added, “ Madmen are all sensual in the lower stages of the distemper. They are eager for gratifications to sooth their minds, and divert their attention from the misery which they suffer; but when they grow very ill, pleasure is too weak for them, and they seek for pain *. Employment, sir, and hardships, prevent melancholy. I suppose in all our army in America there was not one man who went mad.”
We entered seriously upon a question of much import
+ Observations on Insanity, by Thomas Arnold, M. D. London, 1782. See notes to vol. i. p. 293, of Johnson's works, and the authors there referred to, and vol. i. p. 35, of these memoirs.—ED.
u Cardan composed his mind tending to madness, (or rather actually mad, for such he seems in his writings, learned as they are,) by exciting voluntary pain. V. Card. Op. et Vit.-Kearney.
x We read in the gospels, that those unfortunate persons who were possessed with evil spirits, (which, after all, I think is the most probable cause of madness, as was first suggested to me by my respectable friend sir John Pringle,) had recourse to pain, tearing themselves, and jumping sometimes into the fire, sometimes into the water. Mr. Seward has furnished me with a remarkable anecdote in confirmation of Dr. Johnson's observation. A tradesman who had acquired a large fortune in London, retired from business, and went to live at Worcester. His mind being without its usual occupation, and having nothing else to supply its place, preyed upon itself, so that existence was a torment to him. At last he was seized with the stone; and a friend who found him in one of its se fits, having expressed his concern, No, no, sir,” said he, “ don't pity me; what I now feel is ease, compared with that torture of mind from which it relieves me.”-BOSWELL.