« ElőzőTovább »
1781. pierced by many passages in this extraordinary work, Ætat.72. particularly by that most affectingone, which describes
the gradual torment suffered by the contemplation of an object of affectionate attachment visibly and certainly decaying into dissolution, must be of a hard and obstinate frame.
To all the otherexcellencies of Night THOUGHTS let me add the great and peculiar one, that they contain not only the noblest sentiments of virtue, and contemplations on immortality, but the Christian Sacrifice, the Divine Propitiation, with all its interesting circumstances, and consolations to “ a wounded spirit,” solemnly and poetically displayed in such imagery and language, as cannot fail to exalt, animate, and soothe the truly pious. No book whatever can be recommended to young personis, with better hopes of seasoning their minds with vital religion, than Young's Night THOUGHTS."
In the Life of Swift, it appears to me that Johnson had a certain degree of prejudice against that extraordinary man, of which I have elsewhere had occasion to speak. Mr. Thomas Sheridan imputed it to a supposed apprehension in Johnson, that Swift had not been sufficiently active in obtaining for him an Irish degree when it was solicited' but of this there was not sufficient evidence; and let me not presume to charge Johnson with injustice, because he did not think so highly of the writings of this authour, as I have done from my youth upwards. Yet that he had an unfavourable bias is evident, were it only from that passage in which he speaks of Swift's practice of saying, as, “ first ridiculous and at last 65 detestable ;” and yet after some examination of cir
1 See Vol. I. page. 108.
1781. cumstances, finds himself obliged to own, that “it S
Ætat. 72. will perhaps appear that he only liked one mode of expence better than another, and saved merely that he might have something to give.”
One observation which Johnson makes in Swift's life, should be often inculcated : “ It may be justly supposed, that there was in his conversation what appears so frequently in his letters, an affectation of familiarity with the great, an ambition of momentary equality, sought and enjoyed by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has established as the barriers between one order of society and another. This transgression of regularity was by himself and his admirers termed greatness of soul; but a great mind disdains to hold any thing by courtesy, and therefore never usurps what a lawful claimant
away. He that encroaches on another's dignity, puts himself in his power ; he is either repelled with helpless indignity, or endured by clemency and condescension.”
Various Readings in the Life of Swift.
Charity may be persuaded to think that it might be written by a man of a peculiar (opinons] characa ter, without ill intention.
“ He did not [disown] deny it.
“[To] by whose kindness it is not unlikely that he was [indebted for] advanced to his benefices.
[With] for this purpose he had recourse to Mr. Harley.
“ Sharpe, when he [represents] describes as the harmless tool of others' hate.'
“ Harley was slow because he was (irresolute] doubtful.
1781. “When (readers were not many] we were not yet Ætat. 72.
a nation of readers.
[Every man who] he that could say he knew him.
Every man of known influence has so many [more] petitions (than) which he [can] cannot grant, that he 'must necessarily offend more than he (can gratify] gratifies
* Ecclesiastical (preferments] benefices.
(As a writer] In his works he has given very dif"ferent speciinens.
“ On all common occasions he habitually [assumes] affects a style of (superiority] arrogance.
By the Comission) neglect of those cereinonies, “ That their merits filled the world [and] or that there was no room for] hope of more.”
I have not confined myself to the order of the 6 Lives,” in making my few remarks. Indeed a different order is observed in the original publication, and in the collection of Johnson's Works. And should it be objected, that many of my various read. ings are inconsiderable, those who make an objection will be pleased to consider, that such small particulars are intended for those who are nicely critical in composition, to whom they will be an acceptable selection.
“ Spence's Anecdotes," which are frequently quoted and referred to in Johnson's “Lives of the Poets,” are in a manuscript collection, made by the Reverend Mr. Joseph Spence, containing a number
[The Rev. Joseph Spence, A. M. Rector of Great Harwood in Buckinghamshire, and Prebendary of Durham, died at Byfleet in Surrey, August 20, 1768. He was a fellow of New College in Oxford, and held the office of Professor of Poetry in that Univer. sity from 1728 to 1738. M.]
of particulars concerning eminent men. To each 1781. anecdote is marked the name of the person on whose
Ætat. 72. authority it is mentioned. This valuable collection is the property of the Duke of Newcastle, who upon the application of Sir Lucas Pepys, was pleased to permit it to be put into the hands of Dr. Johnson, who I am sorry to think made but an awkward return. “ Great assistance (says he) has been given me by Mr. Spence's Collection, of which I consider the communication as a favour worthy of publick acknowledgement;" but he has not owned to whom he was obliged; so that the acknowledgement is unappropriated to his Grace.
While the world in general was filled with admiration of Johnson's " Lives of the Poets." there were narrow circles in which prejudice and resentment were fostered, and from which attacks of different sorts issued against him. By some violent Whigs he was arraigned of injustice to Milton; by some Cambridge men of depreciating Gray; and his expressing with a dignified freedom what he really thought of George, Lord Lyttelton, gave offence to some of the friends of that nobleman, and particularly produced a declaration of war against him from Mrs. Montagu, the ingenious Essayist on Shakspeare, between whom and his Lordship a coinmerce of reciprocal compliments had long been carried on. In
3 From this disreputable class, I except an ingenious, though not satisfactory defence of HAMMOND, which I did not see till lately, by the favour of its authour, my amiable friend, the Reverend Mr. Bevill, who published it without his name. It is a juvenile performance, but elegantly written, with classical enthusiasm of sentiment, and yet with a becoming modesty, and great respect Cor Dr. Johnson,
1781. this war the smallest powers in alliance with him were
of course led to engage, at least on the defensive, and Ætat. 72.
thus I for one, was excluded from the enjoyment of
friend is thus contemplated in the splendour derived from his last and perhaps most admirable work, I introduce him with peculiar propriety as the correspondent of WARREN Hastings! a man whose regard reflects dignity even upon JOHNSON ; a man, the extent of whose abilities was equal to that of his power; and who, by those who are fortunate enough to know him in private life, is adınired for his literature and taste, and beloved for the candour, moderation, and mildness of his character. Were I capable of paying a suitable tribute of admiration to him, I should certainly not withhold it at a momento when it is not possible that I should be suspected of being an interested flatterer. But how weak would be my voice after that of the millions whom he governed. His condescending and obliging compliance with my solicitation, I with humble gratitude acknowledge; and while by publishing his letter to me, accompanying the valuable communication, I do emi. nent honour to my great friend, I shall entirely disre. gard any invidious suggestions, that as I in some
4 January, 1791.