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JOHNSON'S ENGLISH STYLE.
- he joined the company of illustrious dead that sleep in silence under the stones of Westminster Abbey. On Monday the 13th of December 1784 his last breath was drawn, at his own house in London.
Dr. Johnson's English style demands a few words. So peculiar is it, and such a swarm of imitators grew up during the half century of his greatest fame, that a special name-Johnsonese-has been often used to denote the march of its ponderous classic words. Yet it was not original, and not a many-toned style. There were in our literature, earlier than Dr.Johnson’s day, writers who far outdid their Fleet Street disciple in recruiting our native ranks with heavy-armed warriors from the Greek phalanx and the Latin legion. Of these writers Sir Thomas Browne was perhaps the chief. Goldy, as the great Samuel loved to call the author of the “ Deserted Village,” got many a sore blow from the Doctor's conversational sledge-hammer; but he certainly contrived to get within the Doctor's guard and hit him home, when he said, “ If you were to write a fable about little fishes, Doctor, you would make the little fishes talk like whales." Macaulay tells us that when Johnson 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 a translation; and it is amusing to compare the two versions.
“When we were taken up stairs,” says be 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 man black as a Cyclops from the forge.” Sometimes Johnson translated aloud. 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."
One of the most natural pieces of English that ever came from Johnson's pen, was his letter to Lord Chesterfield, written in a proud and angry mood to reject the offered patronage of that nobleman. We subjoin it, in preference to heavier specimens of Johnson's style.
LETTER TO LORD CHESTERFIELD.
February 7th, 1755. MY LORD,
I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of The World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your Lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive or in what terms to acknowledge.
When, with some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of inankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre,—that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your Lord. ship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.
Seven years, my Lord, have now passed since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing ou my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before. The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks. Is not a patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help?
The notice you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity, not to confess obligations when no benefit has been received ; or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.
Hlaving carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if Jess be possible, with less ; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation,
WILLIAM SHENSTONE, born in 1714, at Leasowes in Shropshire, after receiving his higher education at Pembroke College, Oxford, retired to spend his days upon those acres, of which his father's death had left him master. His chief works are the Schoolmistress, “a descriptive sketch, after the manner of Spenser;" and the Pastoral Ballad, which is considered the finest English specimen of its class. Shenstone died at Leasowes in 1763.
WILLIAM COLLINS, one of our finest writers of the Ode, was the son of a hatter at Chichester, and was born there in 1721. He enjoyed the advantage of a classical education at Winchester, and at Magdalen College, Oxford. The Passions, and his Odes to Liberty and Evening, are his finest lyrical pieces. His Oriental Eclogues, written at college, afford a specimen of his powers in another style—that of descriptive writing. After a short life, clouded with many disappointments, Collins sank into a nervous weakness, which continued until his death in 1759.
MARK AKENSIDE wrote the Pleasures of Imagination. He was the son of a butcher at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he was born in 1721. In 1744 he took his degree of M.D. at Leyden. His great poem had already appeared. He enjoyed some practice as a
POETS OF THE SEVENTB ERA.
physician; but his chief support was derived from the liberality of a friend. Akenside died somewhat suddenly in 1770 of putrid sore throat.
The WARTONS, a father and two sons, were poets and poetical critics during part of the last century. The father was Professor of Poetry at Oxford,-- an office which was also held by his second son, Thomas, (1728–1790.) Thomas Warton's chief poem was The Pleasures of Melancholy, published when he was only nineteen; but his greatest work was his History of English Poetry. He became poet-laureate in 1785. An elder brother, Joseph, who was head-master of Winchester School and afterwards a prebend of St. Paul's, also wrote poems, but of inferior merit. His Ode to Fancy may be considered a favourable specimen of his style.
John HOME, a well-known dramatist, was born at Leith in 1722. He became minister of Athelstaneford, but when he wrote the tragedy of Douglas, he had to resign his living. Lord Bute having conferred on him a sinecure office and a pension, together worth about £600 a year, on this comfortable income he enjoyed the best literary society of the Scottish capital. Of all his works, Douglas alone has lived. Home died in 1808.
WILLIAM Mason, born in Yorkshire in 1725, was a close friend of the poet Gray, whose acquaintance he made at Cambridge. Mason wrote many odes and dramas; but The English Garden, a blank-verse poem in four books, was his chief composition. After the death of Gray he edited the Poems, and published the Life and Letters of his friend. Mason died in 1797.
THOMAS PERCY, Bishop of Dromore, deserves our gratitude for his collection of ballads, published in 1765 under the title of Reliques of English Poetry. These old songs, revived and often supplemented by the collector, gave a strong impulse to the genius of Scott and other poets. Percy, a Shropshire man, lived from 1728 until 1811. Before obtaining the bishopric of Dromore he was Dean of Carlisle.
ERASMUS DARWIN, the poet-laureate of botany, was born in 1731, at Elston near Newark Having received his education
POETS OF THE SEVENTH ERA.
at Cambridge, and taken a medical degree at Edinburgh, he began to practise as a physician at Lichfield. His principal poem, The Botanic Garden, appeared in three parts between 1781 and 1792. His reputation as a poet has greatly declined. He died in 1802.
WILLIAM FALCONER, born at Edinburgh in 1732, was the son of a barber. His early life at sea prepared him for the composition of his fine poem, The Shipwreck. The “Britannia," of which he was second mate, was wrecked off Cape Colonna. He was afterwards a midshipman and purser in the Royal Navy. In 1769 or early in 1770, the “ Aurora," on board of which he was then serving, foundered, with the loss of all hands, it is supposed, in the Mozambique Channel. Thus the poet of The Shipwreck died amid the waves, whose power he so finely painted.
JAMES BEATTIE, born in 1735, at Laurencekirk in Kincardineshire, was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen. His fame as a poet rests upon The Minstrel, published in 1771. Written in the Spenserian stanza, it depicts beautifully the opening character of Edwin, a young village poet. Beattie, who became at an early age Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic at Marischal College, died of paralysis in 1803.
JAMES MACPHERSON, a Scottish Chatterton of maturer growth who did not commit suicide, was born in 1738, at Kingussie in Inverness-shire, and was educated at Aberdeen. In 1762 and 1763 he gave to the world two epic poems, Fingal and Temora, which he professed to have translated from materials discovered in the Highlands of Scotland. The opinion generally received now is, that he discovered them in his own desk, written on his own paper with his own pen. They present, in forid and highly coloured prose, stirring pictures of old Celtic life. Many years of Macpherson's life were spent in London as a political writer. At Belleville, a property which he bought in his native parish, he died in 1796.
CHARLES CHURCHILL, born in Westminster in 1731, was a dissipated and disgraced clergyman, who wrote biting and fluid poetry of an inferior order. The Rosciad, Night, and the Prophecy of Famine are among his most noted works. He died of fever at Boulogne in 1764.