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his house into a place of refuge for a crowd of
statue had overshadowed the whole seacoast, and whose might seemed equal to a contest with armies, contract himself to the dimen sions of his small prison, and lie there the helpless slave of the charm of Solomon.
Johnson was in the habit of sifting with extreme severity the evidence for all stories which were merely odd. But when they were not only odd but miraculous, his severity relaxed. He began to be credulous precisely at the point where the most credulous people begin to be skeptical. It is curious to observe, both in his writings and in his conversation, the contrast between the disdainful manner in which he rejects unauthenticated anecdotes, even when they are consistent with the general laws of nature, and the respectful manner in which he mentions the wildest stories relating to the invisible world. A man who told him of a waterspout or a meteoric stone generally had the lie direct given him for his pains. A man who told him of a prediction or a dream wonderfully accomplished, was sure of a courteous hearing. "Johnson," observes Hogarth, “like King David, says in his haste that all men are liars." "His incredulity," says Mrs. Thrale, "amounted almost to disease." She tells us how A person who troubled himself so little he browbeat a gentleman, who gave him an about the smaller grievances of human life, account of a hurricane in the West Indies, and was not likely to be very attentive to the feel-a poor Quaker, who related some strange cirings of others in the ordinary intercourse of cumstance about the red-hot balls fired at the society. He could not understand how a sar-siege of Gibraltar. "It is not so. It cannot casm or a reprimand could make any man be true. Don't tell that story again. You really unhappy. "My dear doctor," said he to cannot think how poor a figure you make in Goldsmith, "what harm does it do to a man to telling it." He once said, half jestingly we call him Holofernes ?" "Poh, ma'am," he suppose, that for six months he refused to exclaimed to Mrs. Carter, "who is the worse credit the fact of the earthquake at Lisbon, for being talked of uncharitably?" Politeness and that he still believed the extent of the calahas been well defined as benevolence in small mity to be greatly exaggerated. Yet he related things. Johnson was impolite, not because he with a grave face how old Mr. Cave of St. wanted benevolence, but because small things John's Gate saw a ghost, and how this ghost appeared smaller to him than to people who was something of a shadowy being. He went had never known what it was to live for four-himself on a ghost-hunt to Cock-lane, and was pence half-penny a day.
The characteristic peculiarity of his intellect was the union of great powers with low prejudices. If we judged of him by the best parts of his mind, we should place him almost as high as he was placed by the idolatry of Boswell; if by the worst parts of his mind, we should place him even below Boswell himself. Where he was not under the influence of some strange scruple, or some domineering passion, which prevented him from boldly and fairly investigating a subject, he was a wary and accurate reasoner, a little too much inclined to skepticism, and a little too fond of paradox. No man was less likely to be imposed upon by fallacies in argument, or by exaggerated statements of fact. But, if, while he was beating down sophisms, and exposing false testimony, some childish prejudices, such as would excite laughter in a well-managed nursery, came across him, he was smitten as if by enchantment. His mind dwindled away under the spell from gigantic elevation to dwarfish littleness. Those who had lately beer. admiring its amplitude and its force, were now as much astonished at its strange narrowness and feebleness, as the fisherman, in the Arabian tale, when he saw the genie, whose
angry with John Wesley for not following up another scent of the same kind with proper spirit and perseverance. He rejects the Celtic genealogies and poems without the least hesi|tation; yet he declares himself willing to believe the stories of the second sight. If he had examined the claims of the Highland seers with half the severity with which he sifted the evidence for the genuineness of Fingal, he would, we suspect, have come away from Scotland with a mind fully made up. In his Lives of the Poets, we find that he is unwilling to give credit to the accounts of Lord Roscommon's early proficiency in his studies; but he tells with great solemnity an absurd romance about some intelligence preternaturally impressed on the mind of that nobleman. He avows himself to be in great doubt about the truth of the story, and ends by warning his readers not wholly to slight such impressions.
Many of his sentiments on religious subjects are worthy of a liberal and enlarged mind. He could discern clearly enough the folly and meanness of all bigotry except his own. When he spoke of the scruples of the Puritans, he spoke like a person who had really obtained an insight into the divine philosophy of the New Testament, and who considered
BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON.
skeptical as to the good or evil tendency of
"How small, of all that human hearts endure,
Christianity as a noble scheme of government, tending to promote the happiness and to elevate The horror which the moral nature of man. the sectaries felt for cards, Christmas ale, plumporridge, mince-pies, and dancing-bears, excited his contempt. To the arguments urged by some very worthy people against showy dress, he replied with admirable sense and That part which kings or laws can cause or cure.' spirit, "Let us not be found, when our Master calls us, stripping the lace off our waistcoats, but the spirit of contention from our souls and He had previously put expressions very simitongues. Alas! sir, a man who cannot get to lar into the mouth of Rasselas. It is amusing heaven in a green coat, will not find his way to contrast these passages with the torrents of thither the sooner in a gray one." Yet he was raving abuse which he poured forth against In one of the conversations reported himself under the tyranny of scruples as un- the Long Parliament and the American Conreasonable as those of Hudibras or Ralpho; gress. and carried his zeal for ceremonies and for by Boswell, this strange inconsistency displays "Sir Adam Ferguson," says Boswell, "sugecclesiastical dignities to lengths altogether itself in the most ludicrous manner. inconsistent with reason, or with Christian charity. He has gravely noted down in his gested that luxury corrupts a people and dediary, that he once committed the sin of drink-stroys the spirit of liberty."-JOHNSON. "Sir, ing coffee on Good Friday. In Scotland, he thought it his duty to pass several months without joining in public worship, solely because the ministers of the kirk had not been ordained by bishops. His mode of estimating the piety of his neighbours was somewhat singular. "Campbell," said he, "is a good man-a pious man. I am afraid he has not been in the inside of a church for many years; but he never passes a church without pulling off his hat; this shows he has good principles." Spain and Sicily must surely contain many pious robbers and well-principled assassins. Johnson could easily see that a Roundhead, who named all his children after Solomon's singers, and talked in the House of Commons about seeking the Lord, might be an unprincipled villain, whose religious mummeries only aggravated his guilt. But a man who took off his hat when he passed a church episcopally consecrated, must be a good man, a pious man, a man of good principles. Johnson could easily see that those persons who looked on a dance or a laced waistcoat, as sinful, deemed most ignobly of the attributes of God, and of the ends of revelation. But with what a storm of invective he would have overwhelmed any man who had blamed him for celebrating the close of Lent with sugarless tea and butterless bunns.
that is all visionary, I would not give half a
One of the old philosophers, Lord Bacon tells
The judgments which Johnson passed on books were in his own time regarded with superstitious veneration; and in our time are generally treated with indiscriminate contempt. They are the judgments of a strong but enslaved understanding. The mind of the critic was hedged round by an uninterrupted fence of prejudices and superstitions. Within his narrow limits he displayed a vigour and an activity which ought to have enabled him to clear the barrier that confined him.
Nobody spoke more contemptuously of the cant of patriotism. Nobody saw more clearly the error of those who represented liberty, not as a means, but as an end; and who proposed to themselves, as the object of their pursuit, the prosperity of the state as distinct from the prosperity of the individuals who compose the state. His calm and settled opinion seems to have been that forms of government have little How it chanced that a man who reasoned or no influence on the happiness of society. This opinion, erroneous as it is, ought at least to have preserved him from all intemperance on his premises so ably should assume his on political questions. It did not, however, premises so foolishly, is one of the great mys preserve him from the lowest, fiercest, and teries of human nature. The same inconsist most absurd extravagance of party spirit-ency may be observed in the schoolmen of the from rants which, in every thing but the diction, resembled those of Squire Western. He was, as a politician, half ice and half fire-on the side of his intellect a mere Pococurantefar too apathetic about public affairs-far too
middle ages. Those writers show so much acuteness and force of mind in arguing on their wretched data, that a modern reader is perpetually at a loss to comprehend how such minds came by such dat. Not a flaw in the
superstructure of the theory which they are rearing escapes their vigilance. Yet they are blind to the obvious unsoundness of the foundation. It is the same with some eminent lawyers. Their legal arguments are intellectual prodigies, abounding with the happiest analogies and the most refined distinctions. The principles of their arbitrary science being once admitted, the statute-book and the reports being once assumed as the foundations of jurisprudence, these men must be allowed to be perfect masters of logic. But if a question arises as to the postulates on which their whole system rests, if they are called upon to vindicate the fundamental maxims of that system which they have passed their lives in studying, these very men often talk the language of savages or of children. Those who have listened to a man of this class in his own court, and who have witnessed the skill with which he analyzes and digests a vast mass of evidence, or reconciles a crowd of precedents which at first sight seem contradictory, scarcely know him again when, a few hours later, they hear him speaking on the other side of Westminster Hall in his capacity of legislator. They can scarcely believe that the paltry quirks which are faintly heard through a storm of coughing, and which cannot impose on the plainest country gentleman, can proceed from the same sharp and vigorous intellect which had excited their admiration under the same roof and on the same day.
tion-of commendation much colder than what he has bestowed on the Creation of that portentous bore, Sir Richard Blackmore. Gray was, in his dialect, a barren rascal. Churchill was a blockhead. The contempt which he felt for the trash of Macpherson was indeed just; but it was, we suspect, just by chance. He despised the Fingal for the very reason which led many men of genius to admire it. He despised it, not because it was essentially com monplace, but because it had a superficial air of originality.
He was undoubtedly an excellent judge of compositions fashioned on his own principles But when a deeper philosophy was requiredwhen he undertook to pronounce judgment on the works of those great minds which "yield homage only to eternal laws"-his failure was ignominious. He criticised Pope's Epitaphs excellently. But his observations on Shakspeare's plays and Milton's poems seem to us as wretched as if they had been written by Rymer himself, whom we take to have been the worst critic that ever lived.
Some of Johnson's whims on literary subjects can be compared only to that strange, nervous feeling which made him uneasy if he had not touched every post between the Mitre tavern and his own lodgings. His preference of Latin epitaphs to English epitaphs is an instance. An English epitaph, he said, would disgrace Smollett. He declared that he would not pollute the walls of Westminster Abbey with an English epitaph on Goldsmith. What reason there can be for celebrating a British writer in Latin which there was not for covering the Roman arches of triumph with Greek inscriptions, or for commemorating the deed of the heroes of Thermopyla in Egyptian hieroglyphics, we are utterly unable to imagine.
Johnson decided literary questions like a lawyer, not like a legislator. He never examined foundations where a point was already ruled. His whole code of criticism rested on pure assumption, for which he sometimes gave a precedent or an authority, but rarely troubled himself to give a reason drawn from the nature of things. He took it for granted that the On men and manners-at least, on the men kind of poetry which flourished in his own and manners of a particular place and a partime, which he had been accustomed to hear | ticular age-Johnson had certainly looked with praised from his childhood, and which he had a most observant and discriminating eye. His himself written with success, was the best kind remarks on the education of children, on marof poetry. In his biographical work he has riage, on the economy of families, on the rules repeatedly laid it down as an undeniable pro- of society, are always striking, and generally position that, during the latter part of the seven-sound. In his writings, indeed, the knowledge teenth century and the earlier part of the eighteenth, English poetry had been in a constant progress of improvement. Waller, Denham, Dryden, and Pope had been, according to him, the great reformers. He judged of all works of the imagination by the standard established among his own contemporaries. Though he allowed Homer to have been a greater man than Virgil, he seems to have thought the Eneid a greater poem than the Iliad. Indeed he well might have thought so, for he preferred Pope's Iliad to Homer's. He pronounced that, after Hoole's translation of Tasso, Fairfax's would hardly be reprinted. He could see no merit in our fine old English ballads, and always spoke with the most provoking contempt of Percy's fondness for them. Of all the great original works which appeared during his time Richardson's novels alone excited his admiraon. He could see little or no merit in Tom Jones, in Gulliver's Travels, or in Tristram Shandy. To Thomson's Castle of Indolence he vouchsafed only a line of cold commenda
of life which he possessed in an eminent degree is very imperfectly exhibited. Like those unfortunate chiefs of the middle ages, who were suffocated by their own chainmail and cloth of gold, his maxims perish under that load of words, which was designed for their ornament and their defence. But it is clear, from the remains of his conversation, that he had more of that homely wisdom which nothing but experience and observation can give, that any writer since the time of Swift. If he had been content to write as he talked, he might have left books on the practical art of living superior to the Directions to Servants.
Yet even his remarks on society, like his re marks on literature, indicate a mind at least as remarkable for narrowness as for strength. He was no master of the great science of human nature. He had studied, not the genus man, but the species Londoner. Nobody was ever so thoroughly conversant with all the forms of life, and all the shades of moral and intellectual character, which were to be seen
BOSWELL'S LIFE OF JOHNSON.
from Islington to the Thames, and from HydePark corner to Mile-end green. But his philosophy stopped at the first turnpike gate. Of the rural life of England he knew nothing; and he took it for granted that everybody who lived in the country was either stupid or miserable. "Country gentlemen," said he, "must be unhappy; for they have not enough to keep their lives in motion." As if all those peculiar habits and associations, which made Fleet Street and Charing Cross the finest views in the world to himself, had been essential parts Of remote countries and of human nature. past times he talked with wild and ignorant presumption. "The Athenians of the age of Demosthenes," he said to Mrs. Thrale, "were a people of brutes, a barbarous people." In conversation with Sir Adam Ferguson he used "The boasted Athenians," similar language. he said, "were barbarians. The inass of every people must be barbarous, where there is no printing." The fact was this: he saw that a Londoner who could not read was a very stupid and brutal fellow: he saw that great refinement of taste and activity of intellect were rarely found in a Londoner who had not read much; and because it was by means of books that people acquired almost all their knowledge in the society with which he was acquainted, he concluded, in defiance of the strongest and clearest evidence, that the human mind can be cultivated by means of books alone. An Athenian citizen might possess very few volumes; and even the largest library to which he had access might be much less valuable than Johnson's bookcase in Bolt Court. But the Athenian might pass every morning in conversation with Socrates, and might hear Pericles speak four or five times every month. He saw the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes; he walked amidst the friezes of Phidias and the paintings of Zeuxis; he knew by heart the choruses of Eschylus; he heard the rhapsodist at the corner of the street reciting the Shield of Achilles, or the Death of Argus; he was a legislator conversant with high questions of alliance, revenue, and war; he was a soldier, trained under a liberal and generous discipline; he was a judge, compelled every day to weigh the effect of opposite arguments. These things were in themselves an education; an education eminently fitted, not indeed, to form exact or profound thinkers, but to give quickness to the perceptions, delicacy to the taste, fluency to the expression, and politeness to the manners. But this Johnson never considered. An Athenian who did not improve his mind by reading, was, in his opinion, much such a person as a Cockney who made his mark; much such a person as black Frank before he went to school, and far inferior to a parish-clerk or a printer's devil.
His friends have allowed that he carried to
over him in conversation. He pronounced
Johnson's visit to the Hebrides introduced
Assuredly one fact, which does not directly affect our own interests, considered in itself, is no better worth knowing than another fact The fact that there is a snake in a pyramid, or the fact that Hannibal crossed the Alps by the Great St. Bernard, are in themselves as un profitable to us as the fact that there is a green blind in a particular house in Threadneed'e
street, or the fact that a Mr. Smith comes into | of those strong plain words, Anglo-Saxon or the city every morning on the top of one of the Norman French, of which the roots lie in the Blackwall stages. But it is certain that those inmost depths of our language; and that he who will not crack the shell of history will never get at the kernel. Johnson, with hasty arrogance, pronounced the kernel worthless, because he saw no value in the shell. The real use of travelling to distant countries, and of studying the annals of past times, is to pre-entitled to rank with the king's English. His serve men from the contraction of mind which those can hardly escape, whose whole communion is with one generation and one neighbourhood, who arrive at conclusions by means of an induction not sufficiently copious, and who therefore constantly confound exceptions with rules, and accidents with essential properties. In short, the real use of travelling, and of studying history, is to keep men from being what Tom Dawson was in fiction, and Samuel Johnson in reality.
Johnson, as Mr. Burke most justly observed, appears far greater in Boswell's books than in his own. His conversation appears to have been quite equal to his writings in matter, and far superior to them in manner. When he talked, he clothed his wit and his sense in forcible and natural expressions. As soon as he took his pen in his hand to write for the public, his style became systematically vicious. All his books are written in a learned language-in a language which nobody hears from his mother or his nurse-in a language in which nobody ever quarrels, or drives bargains, or makes love-in a language in which nobody ever thinks. It is clear, that Johnson himself did not think in the dialect in which he wrote. The expressions which came first to his tongue were simple, energetic, and picturesque. When he wrote for publication, he did his sentences out of English into Johnsonese. His letters from the Hebrides to Mrs. Thrale are the original of that work of which the Journey to the Hebrides is the translation; and it is amusing to compare the two versions. "When we were taken up stairs," says he in one of his letters, "a dirty fellow bounced out of the bed on which one of us was to lie." This incident is recorded in the Journey as follows: "Out of one of the beds on which we were to repose, started up, at our entrance, a inan black as a Cyclops from the forge." Sometimes Johnson translated aloud. "The Rehearsal," he said, very unjustly, "has not wit enough to keep it sweet;" then, after a pause, "it has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction."
Mannerism is pardonable, and is sometimes even agreeable, when the manner, though vicious, is natural. Few readers, for example, would be willing to part with the mannerism of Milton or of Burke. But a mannerism which does not sit easy on the mannerist, which has been adopted on principle, and which can be sustained only by constant effort, is always offensive. And such is the mannerism of Johnson.
The characteristic faults of his style are so familiar to all our readers, and have been so often burlesqued, that it is almost superfluous to point them out. It is well known that he made less use than any other eminent writer
felt a vicious partiality for terms which, long after our own speech had been fixed, were borrowed from the Greek and Latin, and which, therefore, even when lawfully naturalized, must be considered as born aliens, not constant practice of padding out a sentence with useless epithets, till it became as stiff as the bust of an exquisite; his antithetical forms of expression, constantly employed even where there is no opposition in the ideas expressed; his big words wasted on little things; his harsh inversions, so widely different from those graceful and easy inversions which give variety, spirit, and sweetness to the expression of our great old writers-all these peculiarities have been imitated by his admirers, and parodied by his assailants, till the public has become sick of the subject.
Goldsmith said to him, very wittily and very justly, "If you were to write a fable about little fishes, doctor, you would make the little fishes talk like whales." No man surely ever had so little talent for personation as Johnson.
Whether he wrote in the character of a disappointed legacy-hunter or an empty town fop, of a crazy virtuoso or a flippant coquette, he wrote in the same pompous and unbending style. His speech, like Sir Piercy Shafton's Euphuistic eloquence, bewrayed him under every disguise. Euphelia and Rhodoclia talk as finely as Imlac the poet, or Seged, Emperor of Ethiopia. The gay Cornelia describes her reception at the country-house of her relations in such terms as these: "I was surprised, after the civilities of my first reception, to find, in stead of the leisure and tranquillity which a rural life always promises, and, if well conducted, might always afford, a confused wildness of care, and a tumultuous hurry of diligence, by which every face was clouded, and every motion agitated." The gentle Tranquilla informs us, that she "had not passed the earlier part of life without the flattery of courtship and the joys of triumph; but had danced the round of gayety amidst the murmurs of envy and the gratulations of applause; had been attended from pleasure to pleasure by the great, the sprightly, and the vain; and had seen her regard solicited by the obsequiousness of gallantry, the gayety of wit, and the timidity of love." Surely Sir John Falstaff himself did not wear his petticoats with a worse grace. The reader may well cry out with honest Sir Hugh Evans, “I like not when a 'oman has a great peard: I spy a great peard under her muffler."
We had something more to say. But our article is already too long; and we must close it. We would fain part in good humour from the hero, from the biographer, and even from the editor, who, ill as he has performed his task, has at least this claim to our gratitude, that he has induced us to read Boswell's book again. As we close it, the club-room is before us, and the table on which stands the omelet for Nugent and the lemons for Johnson. There are assembled those heads which live forever