« ElőzőTovább »
to declare, that he deserved his great success, because on all applications for charity he gave more than was asked.
was asked. After Garrick's death he never talked of him without a tear in his eyes. He offered, if Mrs. Garrick would desire it of him, to be the editor of his works and the historian of his life. It has been mentioned that on his death-bed he thought of writing a Latin inscription to the memory of his friend. Numbers are still living who know these facts, and still remember with gratitude the friendship which he showed to them with unaltered affection for a number of years. His humanity and generosity, in proportion to his slender income, were unbounded. It has been truly said, that the lame, the blind, and the sorrowful, found in his house a sure retreat. A strict adherence to truth he considered as a sacred obligation, insomuch that, in relating the most minute anecdote, he would not allow himself the smallest addition to embellish his story. The late Mr. Tyers, who knew Dr. Johnson intimately, observed, “ that he always talked as if he was talking upon oath.” After a long acquaintance with this excellent man, and an attentive retrospect to his whole conduct, such is the light in which he appears to the writer of this essay. The following lines of Horace may be deemed his picture in miniature :
Iracundior est paulo, minus aptus acutis
It remains to give a review of Johnson's works; and this, it is imagined, will not be unwelcome to the reader.
Like Milton and Addison, he seems to have been fond of his Latin poetry. Those compositions show that he was an early scholar; but his verses have not the graceful ease that gave so much suavity to the
* Your friend is passionate, perhaps unfit
For the brisk petulance of modern wit.
Francis's Hor. Book i. Sat. 3.
poems of Addison. The translation of the Messiah labours under two disadvantages; it is first compared with Pope's inimitable performance,
and afterwards with the Pollio of Virgil. It may appear trifling to remark, that he has made the letter o, in the word Virgo, long and short in the same line ; Virgo, Virgo parit. But the translation has great merit, and some admirable lines. In the odes there is a sweet flexibility, particularly, To his worthy friend Dr. Laurence; on himself at the theatre, March 8, 1771; the Ode in the isle of Sky; and that to Mrs. Thrale from the same place.
His English poetry is such as leaves room to think, if he had devoted himself to the Muses, that he would have been the rival of Pope. His first production in this kind was London, a poem in imitation of the third satire of Juvenal. The vices of the metropolis are placed in the room of ancient manners. The author had heated his mind with the ardour of Juvenal, and, having the skill to polish his numbers, he became a sharp
accuser of the times. The Vanity of Human Wishes is an imitation of the tenth satire of the same author. Though it is translated by Dryden, Johnson's imitation approaches nearest to the spirit of the original. The subject is taken from the Alcibiades of Plato, and has an intermixture of the sentiments of Socrates concerning the object of prayers offered
to the Deity. The general proposition is, that good and evil are so little understood by mankind, that their wishes when granted are always destructive. This is exemplified in a variety of instances, such as riches, state-preferment, eloquence, military glory, long life, and the advantages of form and beauty. Juvenal's conclusion is worthy of a Christian poet, and such a pen as Johnson's. “ Let us,” he says, it to the Gods to judge what is fittest for us. Man is dearer to his Creator than to himself. If we must pray for special favour, let it be for a sound mind in a sound body. Let us pray for fortitude, that we may think the labours of Hercules and all his sufferings preferable to a life of luxury and the soft repose of Sardanapalus. This is a blessing within the reach of every man ; this we can give ourselves. It is virtue, and virtue only, that can make us happy.”
In the translation the zeal of the Christian conspired with the warmth and energy of the poet; but Juvenal is not eclipsed. For the various characters in the original the reader is pleased, in the English poem, to meet with Cardinal Wolsey, Buckingham stabbed by Felton, Lord Strafford, Clarendon, Charles XII. of Sweden; and for Tully and Demosthenes, Lydiat, Galileo, and Archbishop Laud. It is owing to Johnson's delight in biography that the name of Lydiat is called forth from obscurity. It may, therefore, not be useless to tell, that Lydiat was a learned divine and mathematician in the beginning of the last century. He attacked the doctrine of Aristotle and Scaliger, and wrote a number of sermons on the harmony of the Evangelists. With all his merit, he lay in the prison of Bocardo at Oxford, till Bishop Usher, Laud, and others, paid his debts. He petitioned Charles I. to be sent to Ethiopia to procure manuscripts. Having spoken in favour of monarchy and bishops, he was plundered by the Puritans, and twice carried away a prisoner from his rectory. He died very poor in 1646.