comprehension of mind was the mould for his lan- 1750. guage. Had his conceptions been narrower, his ex- Etat. pression would have been easier. His sentences have 41. a dignified march; and, it is certain, that his example has given a general elevation to the language of his country, for many of our best writers have approached very near to him; and, from the influence which he has had upon our composition, scarcely any thing is written now that is not better expressed than was usual before he appeared to lead the national taste.

This circumstance, the truth of which must strike every critical reader, has been so happily enforced by Mr. Courtenay, in his "Moral and Literary Character of Dr. Johnson," that I cannot prevail on myself to withhold it, notwithstanding his, perhaps, too great partiality for one of his friends:

By nature's gifts ordain'd mankind to rule,
"He, like a Titian, form'd his brilliant school;
"And taught congenial spirits to excel,

"While from his lips impressive wisdom fell.
"Our boasted GOLDSMITH felt the sovereign sway;
"From him deriv'd the sweet, yet nervous lay.
"To Fame's proud cliff he bade our Raffaelle rise:
"Hence REYNOLDS' pen with REYNOLDS' pencil vies.
"With Johnson's flame melodious BURNEY glows,
"While the grand strain in smoother cadence flows
"And you, MALONE, to critick learning dear,
"Correct and elegant, refin'd though clear,


By studying him, acquir'd that classick taste,
"Which high in Shakspeare's fane thy statue plac'd
"Near Johnson STEEVENS Stands, on scenick ground,
Acute, laborious, fertile, and profound.

"Ingenious HAWKESWORTH to this school we owe,
"And scarce the pupil from the tutor know.
"Here early parts accomplish'd JONES Sublimes,
"And science blends with Asia's lofty rhymes:

quotations from Brown, in one of the popular Essays written by the Reverend Mr. Knox, master of Tunbridge-school, whom I have set down in my list of those who have sometimes not unsuccessfully imitated Dr. Johnson's style.

[blocks in formation]

1750. "Harmonious JONES! who in his splendid strains "Sings Camdeo's sports, on Agra's flowery plains, "In Hindu fictions while we fondly trace



"Love and the Muses, deck'd with Attick grace.
"Amid these names can BoswELL be forgot,
"Scarce by North Britons now esteem'd a Scot?",
"Who to the sage devoted from his youth,
"Imbib'd from him the sacred love of truth;
"The keen research, the exercise of mind,
"And that best art, the art to know mankind.-
"Nor was his energy confin'd alone
"To friends around his philosophick throne;
"Its influence wide improv'd our letter'd isle,
"And lucid vigour mark'd the general style;
"As Nile's proud waves, swoln from their oozy bed,
"First o'er the neighbouring meads majestick spread;
"Till gathering force, they more and more expand,
"And with new virtue fertilise the land."

Johnson's language, however, must be allowed to be too masculine for the delicate gentleness of female writing. His ladies, therefore, seem strangely formal, even to ridicule; and are well denominated by the names which he has given them, as Misella, Zozima, Properantia, Rhodoclia.

It has of late been the fashion to compare the style of Addison and Johnson, and to depreciate, I think, very unjustly, the style of Addison as nerveless and feeble, because it has not the strength and energy of that of Johnson. Their prose may be balanced like the poetry of Dryden and Pope. Both are excellent, though in different ways. Addison writes with the case of a gentleman. His readers fancy that a wise and accomplished companion is talking to them; so

The following observation in Mr. Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides may sufficiently account for that Gentleman's being "now scarcely esteemed a Scot” by many of his countrymen : « If he [Dr Johnson] was particularly prejudiced against the Scots, it was because they were more in his way; because he thought their success in England rather exceeded the due proportion of their real merit; and because he could not but see in them that nationality which, I believe, no liberalminded Scotchman will deny." Mr. Boswell, indeed, is so free from national prejudices, that he might with equal propriety have been described as"Scarce by South Britons now esteem'd a Scot."


that he insinuates his sentiments and taste into their 1750.
minds by an imperceptible influence. Johnson writes Etat.
like a teacher. He dictates to his readers as if from an 41.
academical chair. They attend with awe and admira-
tion; and his precepts are impressed upon them by his
commanding eloquence. Addison's style, like a light
wine, pleases every body from the first. Johnson's,
like a liquor of more body, seems too strong at first,
but, by degrees, is highly relished; and such is the
melody of his periods, so much do they captivate the
ear, and seize upon the attention, that there is scarcely
any writer, however inconsiderable, who does not aim,
in some degree, at the same species of excellence. But
let us not ungratefully undervalue that beautiful style,
which has pleasingly conveyed to us much instruction
and entertainment. Though comparatively weak, op-
posed to Johnson's Herculean vigour, let us not call it
positively feeble. Let us remember the character of
his style, as given by Johnson himself: "What he at-
tempted, he performed; he is never feeble, and he did
not wish to be energetick; he is never rapid, and he
never stagnates. His sentences have neither studied
amplitude, nor affected brevity: his periods, though not
diligently rounded, are voluble and easy. Whoever
wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse,
and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days
and nights to the volumes of Addison."2

Though the Rambler was not concluded till the year 1752, I shall, under this year, say all that I have to ob

[When Johnson shewed me a proof-sheet of the character of Addison, in which he so highly extols his style, I could not help observing, that it had not been his own model, as no two styles could differ more from each other." Sir, Addison had his style, and I have mine."-When I ventured to ask him, whether the difference did not consist in this, that Addison's style was full of idioms, colloquial phrases, and proverbs; and his own more strictly grammatical, and free from such phraseology and modes of speech as can never be literally translated or understood by foreigners; he allowed the discrimination to be just.-Let any one who doubts it, try to translate one of Addison's Spectators into Latin, French, or Italian; and though so easy, familar, and elegant, to an Englishman, as to give the intellect no trouble; yet he would find the transfusion into another language extremely difficult, if not impossible. But a Rambler, Adventurer, or Idler, of Johnson, would fall into any classical or European language, as easily as if it had been originally conceived in it. B.]

21 shall probably, in another work, maintain the merit of Addison's poetry, which has been very unjustly depreciated.

[ocr errors]


1750. serve upon it. Some of the translations of the mottos by himself, are admirably done. He acknowledges to 41. have received "elegant translations" of many of them from Mr. James Elphinston; and some are very happily translated by a Mr. F. Lewis, of whom I never heard more, except that Johnson thus described him to Mr. Malone: "Sir, he lived in London, and hung loose upon society." The concluding paper of his Rambler is at once dignified and pathetick. I cannot, however, but wish, that he had not ended it with an unnecessary Greek verse, translated* also into an English couplet. It is too much like the conceit of those dramatick poets, who used to conclude each act with a rhyme; and the expression in the first line of his couplet, "Celestial powers," though proper in Pagan poetry, is ill suited to Christianity, with "a conformity" to which he consoles himself. How much better would it have been, to have ended with the prose sentence "I shall never envy the honours which wit and learning obtain in any other cause, if I can be numbered among the writers who have given ardour to virtue, and confidence to truth."

His friend, Dr. Birch, being now engaged in preparing an edition of Ralegh's smaller pieces, Dr. Johrrson wrote the following letter to that gentleman :



"Gough-square, May 12, 1750. "KNOWING that you are now preparing to favour the publick with a new edition of Ralegh's miscellaneous pieces, I have taken the liberty to send you a Manuscript, which fell by chance within my notice. I perceive no proofs of forgery in my examination of it;


[In the Gentleman's Magazine, for October 1752, p. 468, he is styled " the Rev. Francis Lewis, of Chiswick." Lord Macartney, at my request, made some inquiry concerning him at that place, but no intelligence was obtained.

The translations of the mottos supplied by Mr. Elphinston, appeared first in the Edinburgh edition of the Rambler, and in some instances were revised and improved, probably by Johnson, before they were inserted in the London octavo edition. The translations of the mottos affixed to the first thirty numbers of the Rambler, were published, from the Edinburgh edition, in the Gent. Mag. for September 1750, before the work was collected into volumes. M.]

* [Not in the original edition, in folio. M.]

and the owner tells me, that as he has heard, the hand- 1750. writing is Sir Walter's. If you should find reason to Etat. conclude it genuine, it will be a kindness to the owner, 41. a blind person, to recommend it to the booksellers. I am, Sir,

"Your most humble servant,


His just abhorrence of Milton's political notions was ever strong. But this did not prevent his warm admiration of Milton's great poetical merit, to which he has done illustrious justice, beyond all who have written upon the subject. And this year he not only wrote a Prologue, which was spoken by Mr. Garrick before the acting of Comus at Drury-lane theatre, for the benefit of Milton's grand-daughter, but took a very zealous interest in the success of the charity. On the day preceding the performance, he published the following letter in the "General Advertiser," addressed to the printer of that paper:

66 SIR,

"THAT a certain degree of reputation is acquired merely by approving the works of genius, and testifying a regard to the memory of authours, is a truth too evident to be denied; and therefore to ensure a participation of fame with a celebrated poet, many, who would, perhaps, have contributed to starve him when alive, have heaped expensive pageants upon his grave.*

"It must, indeed, be confessed, that this method of becoming known to posterity with honour, is peculiar to the great, or at least to the wealthy; but an opportunity now offers for almost every individual to secure the praise of paying a just regard to the illustrious dead, united with the pleasure of doing good to the living. To assist industrious indigence, struggling with distress and debilitated by age, is a display of virtue, and an acquisition of happiness and honour.

4 Mrs. Williams is probably the person meant.

** {Alluding probably to Mr. Auditor Benson. See the Dunciad, b. iv. M.]

« ElőzőTovább »