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BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON.
in the censure bestowed by Johnson on his lordship, whoin he calls “poor Lyttelton,” for returning thanks to the critical reviewers, for having “ kindly commended” his “ Dialogues of the Dead.” Such “acknowledgments," says my friend, “never can be proper, since they must be paid either for flattery or for justice.” In my opinion, the most upright man, who has been tried on a false accusation, may, when he is acquitted, make a bow to his jury. And when those, who are so much the arbiters of literary merit, as in a considerable degree to influence the public opinion, review an author's work, placido lumine, when I I am afraid mankind in general are better pleased with severity, he may surely express a grateful sense of their civility.
Various Readings in the Life of LYTTELTON. “He solaced [himself] his grief by writing a long poem to her memory.
“ The production rather [of a mind that means well, than thinks vigorously) as it seems of leisure than of study, rather effusions than compositions.
“ His last literary [work] production.
“[Found the way] undertook to persuade.” a lady, that, in her opinion, Johnson was “a very seducing man.” Disadvantages of person and manner may be forgotten, where intellectual pleasure is communicated to a susceptible mind; and that Johnson was capable of feeling the most delicate and disinterested attachment appears from the following letter, which is published by Mrs. Thrale, with some others to the same person, of which the excellence is not so apparent : “ TO MISS BOOTHBY.
“ January, 1755. 66 DEAREST MADAM,Though I am afraid your illness leaves you little leisure for the reception of airy civilities, yet I cannot forbear to pay you my congratulations on the new year; and to declare my wishes that your years to come may be many and happy. In this wish, indeed, I include myself, who have none but you on whom my heart reposes ; vet surely I wish your good, even though your situation were such as should permit you to communicate no gratifications, to, dearest, dearest , Madam, your, &c.,
“SAM. JOHNSON.” There is here a slight mistake in the text. It was not Molly Aston, but Hill Boothby, for whose affections Johnson and Lord Lyttelton were rival candidates. See Mrs. Piozzi's Anecdotes, p. 160-1.--Malone. [Johnsoniana, pp. 66, 67.)
As the introduction to his critical examination of the genius and writings of Young, he did Mr. Herbert Croft, then a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, now a clergyman, the honour to adopt a Life of Young, written by that gentleman, who was the friend of Dr. Young's son, and wished to vindicate him from some very erroneous remarks to his prejudice. Mr. Croft's performance was subjected to the revision of Dr. Johnson, as appears from the following note to Mr. John Nichols :'.
“ This life of Dr. Young was written by a friend of his son. What is crossed with black is expunged by the author, what is crossed with red is expunged by me. If you find any thing more that can be well omitted, I shall not be sorry to see it yet shorter."
It has always appeared to me to have a considerable share of merit, and to display a pretty successful imitation of Johnson's style. When I mentioned this to a very eminent literary character,he opposed me vehemently, exclaiming, “No, no, it is not a good imitation of Johnson; it has all his pomp without his force; it has all the nodosities of the oak without its strength.” This was an image so happy, that one might have thought he would have been satisfied with it; but he was not. And setting his mind again to work, he added, with exquisite felicity, “It has all the contortions of the sibyl, without the inspi. ration.”
Mr. Croft very properly guards us against supposing that Young was a gloomy man; and mentions, that “his parish was indebted to the good-humour of the author of the Night Thoughts' for an assembly and a bowlinggreen.” 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 manner, but that he could obtain from him less information than he
Gentleman's Magazine, vol. lv., p. 10. 2 Burke.—Malone.
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 ad. vanced age, and who had retired from life with declared disappointment in his expectations.
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 sundial, with this inscription, Eheu fugaces ! which (speaking with a smile) was sadly verified, for by the next morning my dial had been carried off.”!
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. “The Universal Passion,” says he, “is indeed a very great performance,-his distichs have the weight of solemn senti. ment, and his points the sharpness of resistless truth.”
But I was most anxious concerning Johnson's decision upon “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: “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.”
1 The late Mr. James Ralph told Lord Macartney, that he passed an evening with Dr. Young at Lord Melcombe's (then 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 tine night. The Lord is abroad!"
But there is in this poem not only all that Johnson so well brings in view, but a power of the pathetic 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 excellences 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 language, 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 had 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. 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 him. self in his power; he is either repelled with helpless in. dignity, 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 (opinions] character, without ill intention.
“ He did not (disown] deny it.
“[To] by whose kindness it is not unlikely that he was [indebted for7 advanced to his benefices.
“[With] for this purpose he had recourse to Mr. Harley.
“Sharpe, whom he (represents] describes as “the 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 kuown 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.”