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in vain. His expression concerning it to me was, “I did not then know how to manage it.” His distress became so intolerable, that he applied to Dr. Swinfen, physician in Lichfield, his godfather, and put into his hands a state of his case, written in Latin. Dr. Swinfen was so much struck with the extraordinary acuteness, research, and eloquence of this paper, that in his zeal for his godson he shewed it to several people. His daughter, Mrs. Desmoulins, who was many years humanely supported in Dr. Johnson's house in London, told me, that upon his discovering that Dr. Swinfen had communicated his case, he was so much offended, that he was never afterwards fully reconciled to him. He indeed had good reason to be offended; for though Dr. Swinfen's motive was good, he inconsiderately betrayed a matter deeply interesting and of great delicacy, which had been entrusted to him in confidence; and exposed a complaint of his young friend and patient, which, in the superficial opinion of the generality of mankind, is attended with contempt and disgrace. But let not little men triumph upon knowing that Johnson was an HYPochoNDRIAck, was subject to what the learned, philosophical, and pious Dr. Cheyne has so well treated, under the title of “The English Malady.” Though he suffered severely from it, he was not therefore degraded. The powers of his great mind might be troubled, and their full exercise suspended at times, but the mind itself was ever entire. As a proof of this, it is only necessary to consider, that, when he was at the very worst, he composed that state of his own case, which shewed an uncommon vigour, not only of fancy and taste, but of judgement. I am aware that he himself was too ready to call such a complaint by the name of madness; in conformity with which notion, he has traced its gradations, with exquisite nicety, in one of the chapters of his RAsselAs. But there is surely a clear distinction between a disorder which affects only the imagination and spirits, while the judgement is sound, and a disorder by which the judgement itself is impaired. This distinction was made to me by the late Professor Gaubius of Leyden, physician to the Prince of Orange, in a conversation which I had with him several years ago, and he expanded it thus: “If (said he) a man tells me that he is grievously disturbed, for that he imagines he sees a ruffian coming against him with a drawn sword, though at the same time he is conscious it is a delusion, I pronounce him to have a disordered imagination; but if a man tells me that he sees this, and in consternation calls to me to look at it, I pronounce him to be mad.” It is a common effect of low spirits or melancholy, to make those who are afflicted with it imagine that they are actually suf. fering those evils which happen to be most strongly presented to their minds. Some have fancied themselves to be deprived of the use of their limbs, some to labour under acute diseases, others to be in extreme poverty, when, in truth, there was not the least reality in any of the suppositions; so that when the vapours were dispelled, they were convinced of the delusion. To Johnson, whose supreme enjoyment was the exercise of his reason, the disturbance or obscuration of that faculty was the evil most to be dreaded. Insanity, therefore, was the object of his most dismal apprehension; and he fancied himself seized by it, or approaching to it, at the very time when he was giving proofs of a more than ordinary soundness and vigour of judgement. That his own diseased imagination should have so far deceived him, is strange; but it is stranger still that some of his friends should have given credit to his groundless opinion, when they had such undoubted proofs that it was totally fallacious; though it is by no means surprising that those who wish to depreciate him, should, since his death, have laid hold of this circumstance, and insisted upon it with very unfair aggravation. Amidst the oppression and distraction of a disease which very few have felt in its full extent, but many have experienced in a slighter degree, Johnson, in his writings, and in his conversation, never failed to display all the varieties of intellectual excellence. in his march through this world to a better, his mind still appeared grand and brilliant, and impressed all around him with the truth of Virgil's noble sentiment—“Igneus est ollis vigor et carlestis origo.” The history of his mind as to religion is an important article. I have mentioned the early impressions made upon his tender imagination by his mother, who continued her pious care with assiduity, but, in his opinion, not with judgment. “Sunday (said he) was a heavy day to me when I was a boy. My mother confined me on that day, and made me read “The Whole Duty of Man,” from a great part of which I could derive no instruction. When, for instance, I had read the chapter on theft, which from my infancy I had been taught was wrong, I was no more convinced that theft was wrong than before; so there was no accession of knowledge. A boy should be introduced to such books, by having his attention directed to the arrangement, to the stile, and other excellencies of composition; that the mind being thus engaged by an amusing variety of objects, may not grow weary.” He communicated to me the following particulars upon the subject of his religious progress. “I fell into an inattention to religion, or an indifference about it, in my ninth year. The church at Lichfield, in which we had a seat, wanted reparation, so I was to go and find a seat in other churches; and having bad eyes, and being aukward about this, I used to go and read in the fields on Sunday. This habit continued till my fourteenth year; and still I find a great reluctance to go to church. I then became a sort of lax talker against religion, for I did not much think against it; and this lasted till I went to Oxford, where it would not be suffered. When at Oxford, I took up “Law's Serious Call to the Unconverted,' expecting to find it a dull book, (as such books generally are,) and perhaps to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in earnest of religion, after I became capable of rational inquiry.” From this time forward, religion was the predominant object of his thoughts; though, with the just sentiments of a conscientious christian, he lamented that his practice of its duties fell far short of what it ought to be. [1729..] This instance of a mind such as that of Johnson being first disposed, by an unexpected incident, to think with anxiety of the momentous concerns of eternity, and of “what he should do to be saved,” may for ever be produced in opposition to the superficial and sometimes profane contempt that has been thrown upon
* Mrs. Piozzi has given a strange fantastical account of the origin of Dr. Johnson's belies in our most holy religion. “At the age of ten years his mind was disturbed by scruples of infidelity, which preyed upon his spirits, and made him very uneasy, the more so, as he revealed his uneasiness to none, being naturally (as he said) of a sullen temper, and reserved disposition. . He searched, however, diligently, but fruitlessly, for evidence of the truth of revelation; and, at length, recollecting a book he had once seen [I suppose at five years old) in his father's shop, intitled De veritate Religionis, &c., he began to think himself highly culpable for neglecting such a means of information, and took himself severely to task for this sin, adding man acts of voluntary, and, to others, unknown penance. The first opportunity whic offered, of course, he seized the book with avidity; but, on examination, not finding himself scholar enough to peruse its contents, set his heart at rest; and not thinking to enquire whether there were any English books written on the subject, followed his usual amusements, and considered his conscience as lightened of a crime. He redoubled his diligence to learn the language that contained the information he most wished for; but from the pain which guilt [namely, having omitted to read what he did not understand] had given him, he now began to deduce the soul's immortality, [a sensation of pain in this world being an unquestionable proof of existence in an ther] which was the point that belief first stopped at ; and from that moment resolving to be a Christian, became one of the most zealous and pious ones our nation ever produced.”—Anecdotes, p. 17.
This is one of the numerous misrepresentations of this lively lady, which it is worth while to correct; for if credit should be given to such a childish, irrational, and ridiculous statement of the foundation of Dr. Johnson's faith in Christianity, how little credit would be due to it. Mrs. Piozzi seems to wish, that the world should think Dr. Johnson also under the influence of that easy logick, Stet pro ratione voluntas.
Cor. et Ad.—Line Io: For “the Unconverted,” read “a Holy Lise.”
those occasional impressions which it is certain many christians
A certain apprehension, arising from novelty, made him write his first exercise at College twice over; but he never took that trouble with any other composition; and we shall see that his most excellent works were struck off at a heat, with rapid exertion. Yet he appears, from his early notes and memorandums, in my possession, to have at various times attempted, or at least planned, a methodical course of study, according to computation, of which he was all his life fond, as it fixed his attention steadily upon something without, and prevented his mind from preying upon itself. Thus I find in his hand-writing the number of lines in each of two of Euripides's Tragedies, of the Georgicks of Virgil, of the first six books of the AEneid, of Horace's Art of Poetry, of three of the books of Ovid's Metamorphosis, of some parts of Theocritus, and of the tenth Satire of Juvenal; and a table, shewing at the rate of various numbers a day, (I suppose verses to be read) what would be, in each case, the total amount in a week, month, and year. No man had a more ardent love of literature, or a higher respect for it, than Johnson. His apartment in Pembroke College was that upon the second floor, over the gateway. The enthusiasts of learning will ever contemplate it with veneration. One day, while he was sitting in it quite alone, Dr. Panting, then master of the College, whom he called “a fine Jacobite fellow,” overheard him uttering this soliloquy in his strong emphatick voice: “Well, I have a mind to see what is done in other places of learning. I'll go and visit the Universities abroad. I'll go to France and Italy. I'll go to Padua. — And I'll mind my business. For an Athenian blockhead is the worst of all blockheads.” " Dr. Adams told me, that Johnson, while he was at Pembroke College, “was caressed and loved by all about him, was a gay and frolicksome fellow, and passed there the happiest part of his life.” But this is a striking proof of the fallacy of appearances, and how little any of us know of the real internal state even of those whom we see most frequently; for the truth is, that he was then depressed by poverty, and irritated by disease. When I mentioned to him this account as given me by Dr. Adams, he said, “Ah, Sir, I was mad and violent. It was bitterness which they mistook for frolick. I was miserably poor, and I thought to fight my way by my literature and my wit; so I disregarded all power and all authority.” The Bishop of Dromore observes in a letter to me, “The pleasure he took in vexing the tutors and fellows has been often mentioned.
• I had this anecdote from Dr. Adams, and Dr. Johnson confirmed it. Bramston, in his “Man of Taste,” has the same thought:
“Sure, of all blockheads, scholars are the worst.”