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felicity, “ It has all the contortions of the sibyl, without the inspiration."
Mr. Croft very properly guards us against supposing that Young was a gloomy man ; and meritions, that “ his parish was
indebted to the good-humour of the author of the · Night Thoughts' for an assembly and a bowling-green.” A letter from a noble foreigner is quoted, in which he is said to have been “ very pleasant in conversation.”.
Mr. Langton, who frequently visited him, informs me that there was an air of benevolence in his man. ner, but that he could obtain from him less information than he had hoped to receive from one who had lived so much in intercourse with the brightest men of what has been called the Augustan age of England; and that he showed a degree of eager curiosity concerning the common occurrences that were then passing, which appeared somewhat remarkable in a man of such intellectual stores, of such an advanced age, and who had retired from life with declared disappointment in his expect ations.
An instance at once of his pensive turn of mind, and his cheerfulness of temper, appeared in a little story, which he himself told to Mr. Langton, when they were walking in his garden: “Here (said he) I had put a handsome sun-dial, with this inscription, Eheu fugaces ! which (speaking with a smile) was sadly verified, for by the next morning my dial had been carried off. (1)
(1) The late Mr. James Ralph told Lord Macartney, that he passed an evening with Dr. Young at Lord Melcombe's (then
It gives me much pleasure to observe, that however Johnson may have casually talked, yet when he sits, as an ardent judge zealous to his trust, giving sentence" upon the excellent works of Young, he allows them the high praise to which they are justly entitled.
66 The Universal Passion,” says he, “is indeed a very great performance, - his distichs have the weight of solid sentiment, and his points the sharpness of resistless truth.” But I was most anxious concerning Johnson's
Night Thoughts,” which I esteem as a mass of the grandest and richest poetry that human genius has ever produced; and was delighted to find this character of that work : 6 In his · Night Thoughts,' he has exhibited a very wide display of original poetry, variegated with deep reflection and striking allusions : a wilderness of thought, in which the fertility of fancy scatters flowers of every hue and of every odour. This is one of the few poems in which blank verse could not be changed for rhyme, but with disadvantage." And afterwards, “ Particular lines are not to be regarded; the power is in the whole ; and in the whole there is a magnificence like that ascribed to Chinese plantation, the magnificence of vast extent and endless diversity.”
But there is in this poem not only all that Johnson so well brings in view, but a power of the pa
Mr. Doddington), at Hammersmith. The doctor happening to go out into the garden, Mr. Doddington observed to him, on his return, that it was a dreadful night, as in truth it was, there being a violent storm of rain and wind. “ No, Sir," replied the doctor, “it is a very fine night. The Lord is abroad!
thetic beyond almost any example that I have seen. He who does not feel his nerves shaken and his heart pierced by many passages in this extraordinary work, particularly by that most affecting one, which describes the gradual torment suffered by the contemplation of an object of affectionate attachment visibly and certainly decaying into dissolution, must be of a hard and obstinate frame.
To all the other excellencies of “ Night Thoughts' let me add the great and peculiar one, - that they contain not only the noblest sentiments of virtue and contemplations on immortality, but the Christian sacrifice, the divine propitiation, with all its interesting circumstances, and consolations to a wounded spirit,” solemnly and poetically displayed in such imagery and ianguage, as cannot fail to exalt, animate, and soothe the truly pious. No book whatever can be recommended to young persons, with better hopes of seasoning their minds with vital religion, than “ Young's Night Thoughts."
In the Life of Swift, it appears to me that Johnson had a certain degree of prejudice against that extraordinary man, of which I have elsewhere had occasion to speak. Mr. Thomas Sheridan imputed it to a supposed apprehension in Johnson, that Swift nad not been sufficiently active in obtaining for him an Irish degree when it was solicited ("); but of this there was not sufficient evidence; and let me not presume to charge Johnson with injustice, because he did not think so highly of the writings of this author, as I have done from my youth upwards. (1) See antè, Vol. I.
Yet that he had an unfavourable bias is evident, were it only from that passage in which he speaks of Swift's practice of saving, as “ first ridiculous, and at last detestable ;” and yet, after some examination of circumstances, finds himself obliged to own, that “ it will perhaps appear that he only liked one mode of expense better than another, and saved merely that he might have something to give."
One observation which Johnson makes in Swift's life should be often inculcated : “ It may be justly supposed, that there was in his conversation what appears so frequently in his letters, an affectation of familiarity with the great, an ambition of momentary equality, sought and enjoyed by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has established as the barriers between one order of society and another. This transgression of regularity was by himself and his admirers termed greatness of soul; but a great mind disdains to hold any thing by courtesy, and therefore never usurps what a lawful claimant may take away.
He that encroaches on another's dignity, puts himself in his power; he is either repelled with helpless indignity, or endured by clemency and condescension.”
Various Readings in the Life of Swift.
Charity may be persuaded to think that it might be written by a man of a peculiar Copinions] character, 'Without ill intention.
“ He did not (disown] deny it.
“[To] by whose kindness it is not unlikely that he was [indebted for] advanced to his benefices.
“[With] for this purpose he had recourse to Mr. Harley.
“ Sharpe, whom he [represents] describes as harmless tool of others' hate.'
Harley was slow because he was (irresolute] doubtful. “ When [readers were not many] we were not yet a nation of readers.
(Every man who] he that could say he knew him.
Every man of known influence has so many [more] petitions [than] which she can] cannot grant, that he must necessarily offend more than he (can gratify] gratifies.
« Ecclesiastical (preferments] benefices.
[As a writer] In his works he has given very different specimens.
« On all common occasions he habitually (assumes] affects a style of (superiority] arrogance.
“ By the Comission] neglect of those ceremonies.
" That their merits filled the world [and] or that there was no [room for] hope of more.”
I have not confined myself to the order of the “ Lives,” in making my few remarks. Indeed a different order is observed in the original publication, and in the collection of Johnson's works. And should it be objected, that many of my
various readings are inconsiderable, those who make an objection will be pleased to consider, that such small particulars are intended for those who are nicely critical in composition, to whom they will be an acceptable selection. (1)
(1) Mr. Chalmers here records a curious literary anecdote -that when a new and enlarged edition of the “ Lives of the Poets” was published in 1783, Mr. Nichols, in justice to the purchasers of the preceding editions, printed the additions in a Reparate pamphlet, and advertised that it might be bad gratis