Page images
PDF
EPUB

virtues and amiable weaknesses to his modesty, generosity, hos pitality, and eccentric whims—to the respect of his neighbours, and the affection of his domestics—to his wayward, hopeless, secret passion for his fair enemy, the widow, in which there is more of real romance and true delicacy than in a thousand tales of knighterrantry-(we perceive the hectic flush of his cheek, the faltering of his tongue in speaking of her bewitching airs and the whiteness of her hand")

to the havoc he makes among the game in his neighbourhood to his speech from the bench, to show the Spectator' what is thought of him in the countryto his unwillingness to be put up as a sign-post, and his having his own likeness turned into the Saracen's head-to his gentle reproof of the baggage of a gipsy that tells him he has a widow in his line of life”—10 his doubts as to the existence of witchcraft, and protection of reputed witches-o his account of the family pictures, and his choice of a chaplain to his falling asleep at church, and his reproof of John Williams, as soon as he recovered from his nap, for talking in sermon-time. The characters of Will Wimble and Will Honeycomb are not a w but behind their frien, Sir Rover, in delicacy and fe licity. The delightful simplicity and good-humoured officiousness in the otte are set otr by the graceful attestation and courtly pretension in the other. How long since I first became acquainted with these two characters in the Spectator!' What old-fashioned frends they seem, and yet I am not tired of them, like so many other friends, nor they of me! How airy these abstractions of the poet's pen stream over the dawn of our acquaintance with human lifr' how they glance their faurest colours on the prospect before us! how pure they remain in it to the last, like the rainbow in the evening cloud, which the rude hand of time can neither soul nor dissipate! What a pity that we cannot find the reality, and yet if we did, the dream would be over. I once thought I knew a Will Wimble, and a Will Honeycutab, but they turned out but induffe rently the originals in the Spectator' still read word for wurl, the same that they always dut. We have only to turn to the page, and find them where we left thein! Many of the most rxquisite pwers in the "Tether,' it is to be obsroved, are Adilson's, as the fourt of Hl. 19,' and the 'Personification of

Musical Instruments, with almost all those papers that form regular sets or series. I do not know whether the picture of the family of an old college acquaintance, in the · Tatler,' where the children run to let Mr. Bickerstaff in at the door, and where the one that loses the race that way, turns back to tell the father that he is come; with the nice gradation of incredulity in the little boy, who is got into 'Guy of Warwick,' and the Seven Champions, and who shakes his head at the improbability of Æsop's Fables,' is Steele's or Addison's, though I believe it belongs to the former.* The account of the two sisters, one of whom held up her head higher than ordinary, from having on a pair of flowered garters, and that of the married lady who complained to the "Tatler' of the neglect of her husband, with her answers to some home questions that were put to her, are unquestionably Steele’s. If the “Tatler' is not inferior to the "Spectator' as a record of manners and character, it is very superior to it in the interest of many of the stories. Several of the incidents related there by Steele have never been surpassed in the heart-rending pathos of private distress. I might refer to those of the lover and his mistress, when the theatre, in which they were, caught fire; of the bridegroom, who by accident kills his bride on the day of their marriage; the story of Mr. Eustace and his wife; and the fine dream about his own mistress when a youth. What has given its superior reputation to the 'Spectator,' is the greater gravity of its pretensions, its moral dissertations and critical reasonings, by which I confess myself less edified than by other things, which are thought more lightly of Systems and opinions change, but nature is always true. It is the extremely moral and didactic tone of the Spectator' which makes us apt to think of Addison (according to Mande

• It is Steele's; and the whole paper (No. 95,) observes Mr. Leigh Hunt, is in his most delightful manner. The dream about the mistress, however, is given to Addison by the editors, and the general style of that number is his; though, from the story's being related personally of Bickerstaff, who is also represented as having been at that time in the army, we conclude it to have originally come from Steele, perhaps in the course of conversation. The particular incident is much more like a story of his than of Addison's.

F

ville's sarcasm) as “ a parson in a tie-wig." Many of his moral Essays are, however, exquisitely beautiful and happy. Such are the reflections on cheerfulness, those in Westminster Abbey, on the Royal Exchange, and particularly some very affecting ones on the death of a young lady in the fourth volume. These, it must be allowed, are the perfection of elegant sermonising. His critical Essays are not so good. I prefer Steele's occasional selection of beautiful poetical passages, without any affectation of analysing their beauties, to Addison's fine-spun theories. The best criticism in the spectator,' that on the Cartoons of Raphael, of which Mr. Fuseli has availed himself with great spirit in his Lectures, is by Steele. I owed this acknowledgment to a wnter who has so often put me in good humour with my sell, and everything about me, when few things else could, and when the tomes of casuistry and ecclesiastical history, with which the little duodecimo volumes of the · Tader' werr orerwhelmed and surrounded, in the only library to which I had access when a boy, had tried their tranquillising effects upon me in vain ! had not long ago in my hands, by favour of a friend, an ongmal copy of the quarto edition of the Tatler,' with a list of the subsenbers. It is curious to see some names there which we should hardly think of (that of Sir Isaac Newton is among them.) and also to observe the degree of interest excited by thone withe different persos, which is not determined according to the rules of the Herald's College One bilerary name lasts as long as a whole race of berors and their descendants! The Guardian.' which followed the Spectator,' was, as may be supposed, inferior to it

The dramatic and conversational tam which forms the de tinguishing feature and greatest charm of the Spectator' and * Tatler,' is quite lost in the · Rambler,' by Dr. Johnson. There is no reflected light thrown on human life ftumn an assumed character, nor any direct one from a display of the author's own. The Tatler' and Spectator' are, as it were, made up of notre

• The antithetical style and verbal parodoxe which Barke w limnd ef, in which the eputhet in a seeming contradiction to the substantive.com *proud submission" and " signified obedience," are, I think, fint ut found in the Tatler'

and memorandums of the events and incidents of the day, with finished studies after nature, and characters fresh from the life, which the writer moralises upon, and turns to account as they come before him. The 'Rambler' is a collection of moral Essays, or scholastic theses, written on set subjects, and of which the individual characters and incidents are merely artificial illustrations, brought in to give a pretended relief to the dryness of didactic discussion. The 'Rambler' is a splendid and imposing common-place-book of general topics, and rhetorical declamation on the conduct and business of human life. In this sense, there is hardly a reflection that had been suggested on such subjects which is not to be found in this celebrated work, and there is, perhaps, hardly a reflection to be found in it which had not been already suggested and developed by some other author, or in the common course of conversation. The mass of intellec. tual wealth here heaped together is immense, but it is rather the result of gradual accumulation, the produce of the general intellect, labouring in the mine of knowledge and reflection, than dug out of the quarry, and dragged into the light by the industry and sagacity of a single mind. I am not here saying that Dr. Johnson was a man without originality, compared with the ordinary run of men's minds, but he was not a man of original thought or genius, in the sense in which Montaigne or Lord Bacon was. He opened no new vein of precious ore, nor did he light upon any single pebbles of uncommon size and unrivalled lustre. We seldom meet with anything to "give us pause;" he does not set us thinking for the first time. His reflections present themselves like reminiscences; do not disturb the ordinary march of our thoughts; arrest our attention by the stateliness of their appearance, and the costliness of their garb, but pass on and mingle with the throng of our impressions. After closing the volumes of the 'Rambler,' there is nothing that we remember as a new truth gained to the mind, nothing indelibly stamped upon the memory; nor is there any passage that we wish to turn to as embodying any known principle or observation, with such force and beauty that justice can only be done to the idea in the author's own words

. Such, for instance, are many of the passages to be found in Burke, which

shine by their own light, belong to no class, have neither equal nor counterpart, and of which we say that no one but the author could have written them! There is neither the same boldness of design nor mastery of execution in Johnson. In the one, the spark of genius seems to have met with its congenial matter; the shaft is sped: the forked lightning dresses up the face of nature in ghastly smiles, and the loud thunder rolls far away from the ruin that is made. Dr. Johnson's style, on the contrary, resembles rather the rumbling of mimic thunder at one of our theatres; and the light he throws upon a subject is like the dazzling effect of phosphorus, or an ignis fatuus of words There is a wide difference, however, between perfect originality and perfect common-place: neither ideas nor expressions are trite or vulgar because they are not quite new. They are valu able, and ought to be repeated, if they have not become qui common; and Johnson's style both of reasoning and imagery bril the middle rank between startling novelty and vapid commer place. Johnson has as much originality of thinking as Addiesa but then he wants his familiarity of illustration, knowledge cé chararter, and delightful humour - What most distingursbro Dr Johnson from other writers, is the pomp and unifirmity and his style. All his periods are cast in the same mould, are of the same size and shape, and consequently have little fitness t the variety of things he professes to treat of His subjerts ar familiar, but the author is always upon stilts. He has brother ease nor simplicity, and his efforts at playfulness, in part, remmin! one of the lines in Milton :

The elephant To make them sport wreath'd his proboscis lishe." His Letters from Correspondents,' in particular, are more porn pous and unwieldly than what he writes in his own person This want of relaxation and variety of manner has, I think, after the first effects of novelty and surprise were over, bers prejudicial to the matter It takes from the grueral power, Don only to please, but to instruct

. The monotony of style prendre ees un apparent monotony of ideas What is really striking and valuable, is lost in the rain ostentation and circumlocutice

« PreviousContinue »