ered merely as loose incognitos of Byron; and there is every reason to believe that he meant them to be 80 considered. The wonders of the outer world, the Tagus, with the mighty fleets of England riding on its bosom, the towers of Cintra overhanging the shaggy forest of cork-trees and willows, the glaring marble of Pentelicus, the banks of the Rhine, the glaciers of Clarens, the sweet Lake of Leman, the dell of Egeria, with its summer-birds and rustling lizards, the shapeless ruins of Rome, overgrown with ivy and wall-flowers, the stars, the sea, the mountains—all were mere accessaries—the background to one dark and melancholy figure.

Never had any writer so vast a command of the whole eloquence of scorn, misanthropy and despair. That Marah was never dry. No art could sweeten, no draughts could exhaust, its perennial waters of bitterness. Never was there such variety in monotony as that of Byron. From maniac laughter to piercing lamentation, there was not a single note of human anguish of which he was not master. Year after year, and month after month, he continued to repeat that to be wretched is the destiny of all; that to be eminently wretched, is the destiny of the eminent; that all the desires by which we are cursed lead alike to misery ;-if they are not gratified, to the misery of disappointment; if they are gratified, to the misery of satiety. His principal heroes are men who have arrived by different roads at the same goal of despair, who are sick of life, who are at war with society, who are supported in their anguish only by an unconquerable pride, resembling that of Prometheus on the rock, or of Satan in the burning marl ; who can master their agonies by the force of their will, and who, to the last, defy the whole power of earth and heaven. He always de. scribed himself as a man of the same kind with his favorite creations, as a man whose heart had been withered, whose capacity for happiness was gone, and could not be restored; but whose invincible spirit dared the worst that could befall him here or hereafter.


We are not sure that there is in the whole history of the human intellect so strange a phenomenon as this book. Many of the greatest men that ever lived have written biography. Boswell was one of the smallest men that ever lived ; and he has beaten them all. He was, if we are lo give any credit to his own account, or to the united testimony of all who knew him, a man of the meanest and feeblest intellect. Johnson described him as a fellow who bad missed his only chance of immortality, by not having been alive when the Dunciad was written. Beauclerk used his name as a proverbial expression for a bore. He was the laughing-stock of the whole of that brilliant society which has owed to him the greater part of its fame. He was always laying himself at the feet of some eminent man, and begging to be spit upon and trampled upon. He was always earning some ridiculous nickname, and then “binding it as a crown unto him,"—not merely in metaphor, but literally. He exhibited himself, at the Shakspeare Jubilee, to all the crowd which fill. ed Stratford-on-Avon, with a placard around his hat, bearing the inscription of Corsica Boswell. In his Tour, he proclaimed to all the world, that at Edinburgh he was known by the appellation of Paoli Boswell. Servile and impertinent—shallow and pedantic-a bigot and a sot-bloated with family pride, and eternally blustering about the dignity of a born gentleman, yet stooping to be a talebearer, an eavesdropper, a common butt in the taverns of London-so curious to know everybody who was talked about, that, Tory and High Churchman as he was, he manoeuvred, we have been told, for an introduction to Tom Paine—so vain of the most childish distinctions, that, when he had been to court, he drove to the office where his book was being printed without changing his clothes, and bummoned all the printer's devils to admire his new ruffles and sword ;-such was this man :-and such he was content and proud to be. Everything which another man would have hidden-everything, the publication of which would have made another man hang himself, was matter of gay and clamorous exultation to his weak and diseased mind. What silly things he said—what bitter retorts he provoked -how at one place he was troubled with evil presentiments which came to nothing--how at another place, on waking from a drunken dose, he read the prayer-book, and took a hair of the dog that had bitten him-how he went to see men hanged, and came away maudlin-how he added five hundred pounds to the fortune of one of his babies, because she was not frightened at Johnson's ugly face—how he was frightened out of his wits at sea—and how

the sailors quieted him as they would have quieted a child-how tipsy he was at Lady Cork's one evening, and how much his merriment annoyed the ladies—how impertinent he was to the Duchess of Argyle, and with what stately contempt she put down his impertinence-how Colonel Macleod sneered to his face at his impudent obtrusivenesshow his father and the very wife of his bosom laughed and fretted at his fooleries ;-all these things he proclaimed to all the world, as if they had been subjects for pride and ostentatious rejoicing. All the caprices of his temper, all the illusions of his vanity, all his hypochondriac whimsies, all his castles in the air, he displayed with a cool self-complacency, a perfect unconsciousness that he was making a fool of himself, to which it is impossible to find a parallel in the whole history of mankind. He has used many people ill, but assuredly he has used nobody so ill as himself.

That such a man should have written one of the best books in the world, is strange enough.

In his early years he had occasionally seen the great; but he had seen them as a beggar. He now came among them as a companion. The demand for amusement and instruction had, during the course of twenty years, been gradually increasing. The price of literary labor had risen ; and those rising men of letters, with whom Johnson was henceforth to associate, were for the most part persons widely different from those who had walked about with him all night in the streets, for want of a lodging. Burke, Robertson, the Wartons, Gray, Mason, Gibbon, Adam Smith, Beattie, Sir William Jones, Goldsmith, and Churchill, were the most distinguished wiiters of what may be called the second generation of the Jobpsonian age. Of these men, Churchill was the only one in whom we can trace the stronger lineaments of that character, which, when Jolinson first came up to London, was common among authors. Of the rest, scarcely any had felt the pressure of severe poverty. All had been early admitted into the most respectable society on an equal footing. They were men of quite a different species from the dependants of Curll and Osborne.

Johnson came among them the solitary specimen of a past age-the last survivor of a genuine race of Grub street hacks; the last of that generation of authors whose abject misery and whose dissolute manner's had furnished inexhaustible matter to the satirical genius of Pope. From nature, he had received an uncouth figure, a diseased constitution, and an irritable temper. The manner in which the earlier years of his manhood had been passed, had given to his demeanor, and even to his moral character, some peculiarities, appalling to the civilised beings who were the companions of his old age.

The perverse irregularity of his hours, the slovenliness of his person, his fits of strenuous exertion, interrupted by long intervals of sluggishness; his strange abstinence, and his equally strange voracity; his active benevolence, contrasted with the constant rudeness and the occasional ferocity of his manners, , in society, made him, in the opinion of those with whom he lived during the last twenty years of his life, a complete original. An original he was, un

« ElőzőTovább »