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THE

LIFE

OF

SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL. D.

THURSDAY, Sept. 18. Last night Dr. Johnson had proposed that the crystal lustre, or chandelier, in Dr. Taylor's large room, should be lighted up some time or other. Taylor said it should be lighted up next night. “ That will do very well,” said I, “ for it is Dr. Johnson's birthday.” When we were in the Isle of Sky, Johnson had desired me not to mention his birthday. He did not seem pleased at this time that I mentioned it, and said (somewhat sternly), “ he would not have the lustre lighted the next day.”

Some ladies, who had been present yesterday when I mentioned his birthday, came to dinner to-day, and plagued him unintentionally by wishing him joy. I know not why he disliked having his birthday mentioned, unless it were that it reminded him of his approaching nearer to death, of which he had a constant dread.

[His letter of this date to Mrs. Thrale confirms Ed. this conjecture. [“ TO MRS. THRALE.

Letters,

56 Ashbourne, 18th Sept. 1777. “ Here is another birthday. They come very fast. I am now sixty-eight. To lament the past is vain'; what remains is to look for hope in futurity,

2 요 B

vol. i. p. 370,

VOL. IV.

Letters, vol. i.

p. 370.

" Do

“ Boswell is with us in good humour, and plays his part with his usual vivacity. We are to go in the doctor's vehicle and dine at Derby to-morrow.

you
know

any

thing of Bolt-court? Invite Mr. Levett to dinner, and make inquiry what family he has, and how they proceed. I had a letter lately from Mrs. Williams; Dr. Lewis visits her, and has added ipecacuanha to her bark: but I do not hear much of her amendment. Age is a very stubborn disease. Yet Levett sleeps sound every night. I am sorry for poor Seward's pain, but he may live to be better.

“Mr.[Middleton's "] erection of an urn looks like an intention to bury me alive : I would as willingly see my friend, however benevolent and hospitable, quietly inurned. Let him think for the present of some more acceptable memorial.”]

I mentioned to him a friend of mine who was formerly gloomy from low spirits, and much distressed by the fear of death, but was now uniformly placid, and contemplated his dissolution without any perturbation. “Sir,” said Johnson, “this is only a disordered imagination taking a different turn."

We talked of a collection being made of all the English poets who had published a volume of poems. Johnson told me, “that a Mr. Coxeter, whom he knew, had gone the greatest length towards this; having collected, I think, about five hundred volumes of poets whose works were little known; but that upon his death Tom Osborne bought them, and they were dispersed, which he thought a pity, as it was curious to see any series complete ; and in every volume of poems something good may be found.”

He observed, that a gentleman of eminence in literature had got into a bad style of poetry of late. “He puts,” said he, “a very common thing in a strange dress, till he does not know it himself, and thinks other people do not know it.” BOSWELL.

BOSWELL. “ That is owing to his being so much versant in old English

1 [See ante, vol. iii. p. 153.-ED.] 2 (See ante, vol. i. p. 514-Ed.]

poetry.” JOHNSON. “What is that to the purpose, sir ? If I say a man is drunk, and you tell me it is owing to his taking much drink, the matter is not mended. No, sir, has taken to an odd mode. For example, he'd write thus:

'Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,

Wearing out life's evening gray.' Gray evening is common enough; but evening gray he'd think fine. Stay;-we'll make out the stanza:

'Hermit hoar, in solemn cell,

Wearing out life's evening gray:
Smite thy bosom, sage, and tell,

What is bliss ? and which the way ?!”.

BOSWELL. “But why smite his bosom, sir ?" JohnSON. “Why to show he was in earnest,” (smiling). He at an after period added the following stanza :

“ Thus I spoke ; and speaking sigh'd ;

-Scarce repress'd the starting tear;-
When the smiling sage replied

Come, my lad, and drink some beer ?."

[This has been generally supposed to have been Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore; but the truth is that Thomas Warton is meant, and the parodies were intended to ridicule the style of his poems published in 1777. The first lines of two of his best known odes are marked with that kind of inversion which Johnson laughed at in“ hermit hoarand “evening gray."

“ Evening spreads his mantle hoar," and

" Beneath the beech whose branches bare."

(T. Warton's Works, v. i. pp. 130, 146.) But there is no other point of resemblance that the editor can discover.-Ed.)

2 As some of my readers may be gratified by reading the progress of this little composition, I shall insert it from my notes. “When Dr. Johnson and I were sitting tête-à-tête at the Mitre tavern, May 9, 1778, he said, "Where is bliss,' would be better. He then added a ludicrous stanza, but would not repeat it, lest I should take it down. It was somewhat as follows; the last line I am sure I remember : • While I thus

cried,

seer, The hoary

replied, Come, my lad, and drink some beer.' “In spring, 1779, when in better humour, he made the second stanza, as in the text. There was only one variation afterwards made on my suggestion, which was changing houry in the third line to smiling, both to avoid a sameness with the epithet in the first line, and to describe the hermit in his pleasantry, He was then very well pleased that I should preserve it.”-BOSWELI..

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I cannot help thinking the first stanza very good solemn poetry, as also the first three lines of the second. Its last line is an excellent burlesque surprise on gloomy sentimental inquiries. And, perhaps, the advice is as good as can be given to a low-spirited dissatisfied being :—“Don't trouble your head with sickly thinking: take a cup, and be merry.

[He had on the first appearance of Warton's poems in this year indulged himself in a similar strain of ridicule. “[Warton's] verses are come out,” said Mrs. Thrale: “ Yes,” replied Johnson, “and this frost has struck them in again. Here are some lines I have written to ridicule them: but remember that I love the fellow dearly,—for all I laugh at him.

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• Wheresoe'er I turn my view,
All is strange, yet nothing new :
Endless labour all along,
Endless labour to be wrong:
Phrase that Time has flung away ;
Uncouth words in disarray,
Trick'd in antique ruff and bonnet,
Ode, and elegy, and sonnet'.'»

When he parodied the verses of another eminent writer, it was done with more provocation, and with some merry malice. A serious translation of the same lines, from Euripides, may be found in Burney's History of Music. Here are the burlesque

ones :

“ Err shall they not, who resolute explore

Time's gloomy backward with judicious eyes ;
And scanning right the practices of yore,
Shall deem our hoar progenitors unwise.

· [The metre of these lines was no doubt suggested by Warton's “ Crusade” and « The Grave of King Arthur," (Works, v. ii. pp. 38, 52); but they are, otherwise, rather a criticism than a parody.-ED.] 2 (Malone's MS. notes, communicated by Mr. Markland, state that this

“ Robert Potter, the translator of Æschylus and Euripides, who wrote a pamphlet against Johnson, in consequence of his criticism on Gray.” It may, therefore, be presumed that these verses were made subsequently to that pub. lication, in 1783. Potter died, a prebendary of Norwich, in 1804, æt. eighty. three..Ed.]

was

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“ They to the dome where smoke with curling play

Announced the dinner to the regions round,
Summond the singer blithe, and harper gay,

And aided wine with dulcet-streaming sound.
“ The better use of notes, or sweet or shrill,

By quiv'ring string, or modulated wind;
Trumpet or lyre-to their arch bosoms chill,

Admission ne'er had sought, or could not find.
« Oh! send them to the sullen mansions dun,

Her baleful eyes where Sorrow rolls around;
Where gloom-enamour'd Mischief loves to dwell,

And Murder, all blood-bolter'd, schemes the wound.
“ When cates luxuriant pile the spacious dish,

And purple nectar glads the festive hour;
The guest, without a want, without a wish,
Can yield no room to Music's soothing power."

Some of the old legendary stories put in verse by modern writers provoked him to caricature them thus one day at Streatham; but they are already wellknown.

66 The tender infant, meek and mild,

Fell down upon the stone;
The nurse took up the squealing child,

But still the child squeal'd on.”

A famous ballad also, beginning Rio verde, Rio verde, when Mrs. Piozzi commended the translation of it, he said he could do it better himself--as thus :

“ Glassy water, glassy water,

Down whose current, clear and strong,
Chiefs confused in mutual slaughter,
Moor and Christian roll along."

But, sir,” said she, “ this is not ridiculous at all.” Why no," replied he, “why should I always write

(This alludes to Bishop Percy and his “Hermit of Warkworth.”—Ed.] ? (No doubt the translation by Bishop Percy:

66 Gentle river, gentle river,

Lo, thy streams are stain’d with gore;
Many a brave and noble captain

Floats along thy willow'd shore." Neither of these pretended translations give any idea of the peculiar simplicity of the original. -Ed.]

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