« PreviousContinue »
That a man, who venerated the church and monarchy as Johnson did, should speak with a just abhorrence of Milton 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 celebrated 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 dangers 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 wickedness. 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
and his judgment keen and penetrating. He had a strong sense of the im. portance of religion; his piety was sincere, and sometimes ardent; and his zeal for the interests of virtue was often manifested in his conversation and in his writings. The same energy which was displayed in his literary productions was exhibited also in his conversation, which was various, striking, and instructive; and perhaps no man ever equalled him for nervous and pointed repartees. His Dictionary, his Moral Essays, and his produce tions in polite literature, will convey useful instruction, and elegant enter tainment, as long as the language in which they are written shall be under stood.”
acrimonious and surly republican (1),” "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 delicate raptures of connubial love; nay, seemed to be animated with all the spirit of revelry. It is a proof that in the human mind the departments of judgment 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. (2)
In the Life of Milton, Johnson took occasion to maintain his own and the general opinion of the excellence of rhyme over blank 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. (3) The gentleman whom he thus characterises is (as he told Mr. Seward) Mr. Lock, of Norbury Park, in Surrey, whose knowledge
(1) Johnson's Life of Milton. (2) Mr. Malone thinks it is rather a proof that he felt nothing of those cheerful sensations which he has described: that on these topics it is the poet, and not the man, that writes.
(3) One of the most natural instances of the effect of blank verse occurred to the late Earl of Hopeton. His lordship ob served one of his shepherds poring in the fields upon Milton's “ Paradise Lost;” and having asked him what book it was, the man answered, “ An't please your lordship, this is a very odd sort of an author: he would fain rhyme, but cannot get at it."
and taste in the fine arts is universally celebrated ; with whose elegance of manners the writer of the present work has felt himself much impressed, and to whose virtues a common friend, who has known him long and is not much addicted to flattery, gives the highest testimony.
Parious Readings in the Life of Milton. “I cannot find any meaning but this which [his most bigoted advocates] even kindness and reverence can 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, expatiate upon the masterly execution of the Life of DRYDEN, which we have seen (1) was one of Johnson's literary projects 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 time-serving riea
(1) See antè, Vol. VI. p. 199. - C.
sure, is a piece of reasoning at once able and candia. 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 may think his opinion ill-founded, must think charitably of his sentiment:
“ But, gracious God, how well dost thou provide
For erring judgments an unerring guide !
What more could shock my faith than Three in One?" In drawing Dryden's character, Johnson has given, though I suppose unintentionally, some touches of his own. Thus : power
predominated in his intellectual operations was rather strong reason than quick sensibility. Upon all occasions that were presented, he studied rather than felt; and produced sentiments not such as nature enforces, but meditation supplies. With the simple and elemental passions, as they spring separate in the mind, he seems not much acquainted. He is, therefore, with all his variety of excellence, not often pathetic, and had so little sensibility of
the power of effusions purely natural, that he did pot esteem them in others.” It may indeed be observed, that in all the numerous writings of Johnson, whether in prose or verse, and even in his tragedy, of which the subject is the distress of an unfortunate princess, there is not a single passage that ever drew a tear. (1)
Various Readings in the Life of DRYDEN. “ The reason of this general perusal, Addison has attempted to [find in] derive from the delight which the minds feels in the investigation of secrets.
“ His best actions are but [convenient] inability of wickedness.
- When once he had engaged himself in disputation, [matter] thoughts flowed in on either side.
" The abyss of an un-ideal [emptiness] vacancy.
" These, like [many other harlots], the harlots of other men, had his love though not his approbation.
“ He (sometimes displays] descends to display his knowledge with pedantic ostentation.
“ French words which [were then used in] had then crept into conversation.”
The Life of Pope (?) was written by Johnson con amore, both from the early possession which
(1) It seems to me, that there are many pathetic passages in Johnson's works, both prose and verse. — KEARNEY. — The deep and pathetic morality of the Vanity of Human Wishes, has often extracted tears from those whose eyes wander dry over the pages of professed sentimentality. - WALTER Scott.
(2) “ Mr. D’Israeli,” as Mr. Chalmers observes, “has in the third volume of his Literary Curiosities,' favoured the public with an original memorandum of Dr. Johnson's, of hints for the Life of Pope, written down as they were suggested to his mind in the course of his researches. This is none of the least of those gratifications which Mr. D’Israeli has so frequentl administered to the overs of literary history."