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wise fabricated the Earse text, or no longer contend against evidence. Macpherson declaimed a few passages to me.
The language sounded melodious enough, but solemnly plaintive and guttural, like the languages of all rude, uncultivated nations.
682. Johnson in the Salisbury Stage. (1) In the year 1783 (says a correspondent), I went in the stage-coach from London to Salisbury. Upon entering it, I perceived three gentlemen, one of whom strongly attracted my notice. He was a corpulent man, with a book in his hand, placed very near to his eyes. He had a large wig, which did not appear to have been combed for an age : his clothes were threadbare. On seating myself in the coach, he lifted up his eyes, and directed them towards me; but in an instant they resumed their former employment. I was immediately struck with his resemblance to the print of Dr. Johnson, given as frontispiece to the “ Lives of the Poets ;” but how to gratify my curiosity I was at a loss. I thought, from all I had heard of Dr. Johnson, that I should discover him if, by any means, I could engage him in conversation. The gentleman by the side of him remarked, “ I wonder, Sir, that you can read in a coach which travels so swiftly: it would make my head ache." “Ay, Sir," replied he, “ books make some people's head ache.” This appeared to me Johnsonian. I knew several persons with whom Dr. Johnson was well acquainted: this was another mode of trying how far my conjecture was right. “Do you know Miss Han. nah More, Sir ? Well, Sir: the best of all the female versifiers.” This phraseology confirmed my former opinion. We now reached Hounslow, and were
(1) [In August 1783, Johnson paid a visit to Mr. Bowles of Heale, near Salisbury. See antè, Vol. VIII. p. 288.]
» 66 The same,
served with our breakfast. Having found that none of my travelling companions knew this gentleman, I plainly put the question, May I take the liberty, Sir, to enquire whether you be not Dr. Johnson ? Sir.” “I am happy,” replied I, “ to congratulate the learned world, that Dr. Johnson, whom the papers lately announced to be dangerously indisposed, is re-established in his health.” “ The civilest young man I ever met with in my life," was his answer. From that moment he became very gracious towards me. I was then preparing to go abroad ; and imagined that I could derive some useful information from a character so eminent for learning. “What book of travels, Sir, would you advise me to read, previously to my setting off upon a tour to France and Italy ?” Why, Sir, as to France, I know no book worth a groat : and as to Italy, Baretti paints the fair side, and Sharp the foul; the truth, perhaps, lies between the two." Every step which brought us nearer to Salisbury increased my pain, at the thought of leaving so interesting a fellowtraveller. I observed that, at dinner, he contented himself with water, as his beverage. I asked him, " Whether he had ever tasted bumbo ?” a West-Indian potation, which is neither more nor less than very strong punch. “No, Sir,” said he.
I made some. He tasted ; and declared, that if ever he drank any thing else than water, it should be bumbo. When the sad moment of separation, at Salisbury, arrived, “Sir,” said he, “ let me see you in London, upon your return to your native country. I am sorry that we must part. I have always looked upon it as the worst condition of man's destiny, that persons are so often torn asunder, just as they become happy in each other's society.”
683. Knox on the Character of Johnson. (1) The illustrious character of Pierre de Corneille in. duced those who approached him to expect something in his manners, address, and conversation, above the common level. They were disappointed; and, in a thousand similar instances, a similar disappointment has taken place. The friends of Corneille, as was natural enough, were uneasy at finding people express their disappointment after an interview with him. wished him to appear as respectable when near as when at a distance; in a personal intimacy, as in the regions of fame. They took the liberty of mentioning to him his defects, his awkward address, his ungentlemanlike behaviour. Corneille heard the enumeration of his faults with great patience; and, when it was concluded, said with a smile, and with a just confidence in himself, “ All this may be very true, but, notwithstanding all this, I am still Pierre de Corneille.”
The numberless defects, infirmities, and faults which the friends of Dr. Johnson have brought to public light, were chiefly what, in less conspicuous men, would be passed over as foibles, or excused as mere peccadilloes ; and, however his enemies may triumph in the exposure, I think he might, if he were alive, imitate Corneille,
“ Notwithstanding all this, I am still Samuel Johnson.”
Few men could stand so fierce a trial as he has done. His gold has been put into the furnace, and, considering the violence of the fire and the frequent repetition of the process, the quantity of dross and alloy is incon. siderable. Let him be considered not absolutely, but comparatively; and let those who are disgusted with him ask themselves, whether their own characters, or those they most admire, would not exhibit some de
(1) [This and the following are from “ Winter Evenings; or Lucubrations,” by Dr. Vicesimus Knox.]
formity, if they were to be analysed with a minute and anxious curiosity. The private conversation of Johnson, the caprice of momentary ill-humour, the weakness of disease, the common infirmities of human nature, have been presented to the public without those alleviating circumstances which probably attended them. And where is the man that has not foibles, weaknesses, follies, and defects of some kind ? And where is the man that has greater virtues, greater abilities, more useful labours, to put into the opposite scale against his defects than Johnson ? Time, however, will place him, notwithstanding all his errors and infirmities, high in the ranks of fame. Posterity will forgive his roughness of manner, his apparent superstition, and his prejudices; and will remember his Dictionary, his moral writings, his biography, his manly vigour of thought, his piety and his charity. They will make allowances for morbid melancholy ; for a life, a great part of which was spent in extreme indigence and labour, and the rest, by a sudden transition, in the midst of affluence, flattery, obsequiousness, submission, and universal renown.
684. Knox on “ Johnson's Prayers and Meditations."
Every one had heard that Dr. Johnson was devout; few entertained an adequate idea of his warmth and scrupulous regularity in the offices of devotion, till the publication of his Prayers and Meditations. They exhibit him in a light in which he has seldom appeared to his readers. He usually puts on a garb of dignity and command. His Rambler is written in the style of authority. His Prefaces to the Poets are dictatorial. The reader is easily induced to believe that pride is a striking feature in his character. But he no sooner opens the book of Prayers and Meditations, than he sees him in a state of true humility : no affectation in the style: no words of unusual occurrence : every expression is such as is well adapted to a frail mortal,
however improved by art or favoured by nature, when he approaches the mercy-seat of the Almighty. The reader is thus, in some degree, gratified by observing a man, who had always appeared to him as a superior mortal, and exempt from human infirmities, feeling and acknowledging with all humility the common weaknesses of all human creatures.
56 the His was
685. Fordyce on the Death and Character of
Dr. Johnson. (1) It hath pleased thee, Almighty Disposer, to number with the silent dead a man of renown, a master in Israel, who had “ the tongue of the learned,” and worshipped thee with fervour “ in the land of the living
pen of a ready writer.” His was the happy power of communicating truth with clearness, and inculcating virtue with energy; of clothing the gravest counsels in the attractive garb of entertainment, and adding dignity to the most obvious maxims of prudence. To him it was given to expose with just discrimination the follies of a frivolous age, and with honest zeal to reprobate its vices.
This shining light raised up by thee, “the Father of lights,” for the honour of thy name, and the benefit of many, thou hast lately seen fit to remove. But blessed be thy Providence for continuing him so long. Blessed be thy Spirit that enriched hin with th eminent gifts, and enabled him to render them useful. In his presence the infidel was awed, the profane stood corrected, and the mouth of the swearer was stopped. In his discourse the majesty of genius impressed the attentive and unprejudiced with a reverence for wisdom; the virtuous and the pious were encouraged by the approbation of superior discernment; and truths, that
(1) [From “ Addresses to the Deity,” by James Fordyce, D.D., 12mo. 1785.]