Imatges de pÓgina

common life. I traversed the whole compass of his understanding; and, by the acknowledgment of Burke and Reynolds, I distinctly understood the peculiar and transcendent properties of his mighty and virtuous mind. I intended to write his life; I laid by sixty or seventy books for the purpose of writing it in such a manner as would do no discredit to myself. I intended to spread my thoughts over two volumes quarto; and if I had filled three pages, the rest would have followed. Often have I lamented my ill fortune in not building this monument to the fame of Johnson, and let me not be accused of arrogance when I add, my own! (1)

507. "Rasselas."

Dr. Young said of Johnson's " Rasselas," that "it

was a mass of sense."

508. Truth.

The following passage, from Johnson's character of Zachary Mudge, unites the true spirit of Christianity with the soundest wisdom :-" By a solicitous examination of objections, and judicious comparison of opposite arguments, he attained what inquiry never gives but to industry and perspicuity, - a firm and unshaken settlement of conviction. But his firmness was without asperity; for, knowing with how much difficulty truth was sometimes found, he did not wonder that many missed it." (2) The truth of the concluding sentence will be felt by every man of deep reflection; and well does it become those who are not in the habit of reflecting deeply, to weigh its moral and religious importance

(1) [Dr. Parr has recorded the same sentiment in the note prefixed to the list of the thirty-four works which he had set apart to consult in his projected Life of Dr. Johnson : "He will ever have to lament that, amidst his cares, his sorrows, and his anxiety, he did not write the life of his learned and revered friend."Bib. Parr, p. 716.]

(2) [See antè, Vol. VIII. p. 51.J

in mitigating their prejudices, and in restraining their invectives, upon certain difficult and momentous subjects. Glad should I be if this opinion of Johnson's were, in Johnson's words, written, like the motto of Capaneus," in golden letters," and hung up, not only in every dissenting academy, but in every hall of every college in those two noble seminaries which, as Milton says of Athens and Sparta, I revere as "the eyes" of this kingdom.

509. Whig and Tory.

[ocr errors]

To almost every part of Johnson's distinction of a Whig and Tory I assent; there is no part which does not contain judicious remarks and useful information:"A wise Tory and a wise Whig," he says, will, I believe, agree. Their principles are the same, though their modes of thinking are different. A high Tory makes government unintelligible; it is lost in the clouds. A violent Whig makes it impracticable: he is for allowing so much liberty to every man, that there is not power enough to govern any man. The prejudice of the Tory is for establishment; the prejudice of the Whig is for innovation. A Tory does not wish to give more real power to government; but that government should have more reverence. Then they differ as to the church. The Tory is not for giving more legal power to the clergy, but wishes they should have a considerable influence founded on the opinion of mankind: the Whig is for limiting and watching them with a narrow jealousy."

510. Unconscious Similitudes.

An instance of unconscious similitude between an ancient and a modern writer occurs at the moment to my memory, and as I have not seen it noticed in any book, you will excuse me for producing it: Gray,' says Johnson, "in his odes, has a kind of strutting dignity, and is tall by walking on tiptoe." We meet


[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

eloquentiæ virtus, perspicuitas : et quo quisque ingenio minus valet, hoc se magis attollere et dilatare conatur; ut statura breves in digitos eriguntur, et plura infirmi minantur."

I will add another instance. Johnson said of Lord Chesterfield, "He is a wit among lords, and a lord among wits." But he remembered not that Pope had


"A wit with dunces, and a dunce with wits."

Neither of them, perhaps, was conscious that Quintilian had long ago said "Qui stultis eruditi videri volunt, eruditis stulti videntur."

[ocr errors]

511. Johnson described by Gregory Nazianzen.

The following lines I long ago read and marked in the "Anecdota Græca," by Muratorius, as descriptive of Johnson's benevolence, of his ready powers in conversation, and of the instruction it conveyed to his hearers:

Ω μάκαρ ᾧ ξυνὸν πενιης ἄκος, ᾧ πτερόεντες

Μῦθοι, καὶ πηγὴ πᾶσιν ἀρυομένη,

*Ασθματι πάντα λίπες πυμάτῳ.

These lines were written by Gregory Nazianzen upon Amphilochus; and however untractable they may be in the hands of an epitaph writer, they might be managed with success by such a biographer as Johnson deserves, and perhaps has hitherto not had.

512. English Universities.

There are men to whom such an opponent as Dr. Johnson, upon such a topic as the honour of Cambridge and Oxford, might have been an object both of " terror and esteem." Now, in a paper in the Idler, Johnson has employed quite as good sense, in quite as good English, for the credit of our universities, as Gibbon

ture," says he, "is not the essential requisite of the modern academic, I am yet persuaded that Cambridge and Oxford, however degenerated, surpass the fashionable academies of our metropolis, and the gymnasia of foreign countries. The number of learned persons in these celebrated seats is still considerable; and more conveniences and opportunities for study still subsist in them, than in any other place. There is, at least, one very powerful incentive to learning I mean the genius of the place. This is a sort of inspiring deity, which every youth of quick sensibility and ingenious disposition creates to himself, by reflecting that he is placed under those venerable walls where a Hooker and a Hammond, a Bacon and a Newton, once pursued the same course of science, and from whence they soared to the most elevated heights of literary fame. This is that incitement which Tully, according to his own testimony, experienced at Athens, when he contemplated the portico where Socrates sat, and the laurel-grove where Plato disputed. But, there are other circumstances, and of the highest importance, which make our colleges superior to all places of education. These institutions, though somewhat fallen from their primary simplicity, are such as influence, in a particular manner, the moral conduct of their youths; and, in this general depravity of manners and laxity of principles, pure religion is no where more strongly inculcated. English universities render their students virtuous, at least by excluding all opportunities of vice; and, by teaching them the principles of the church of England, confirm them in those of true Christianity." I had reached nearly the end of my observations on Mr. Gibbon, before the sentiments of Dr. Johnson occurred to my mind. I am too discreet, too honest, and perhaps too proud, to be intentionally guilty of plagiarism from any writer whatsoever. But, I am too ingenuous to

dissemble the sincere and exquisite satisfaction that I feel, upon finding that my opinions, and even my own words, on the encouragement of learning, the preservation of morals, and the influence of religion, correspond so nearly with the opinions and the words of such an observer as Dr. Johnson, upon such a question as the merits of the English universities.

513. Literary Merit.

By the testimony of such a man as Johnson, impertinence must be abashed, and malignity itself must be softened. Of literary merit, as we all know, he was a sagacious, but a most severe judge. Such was his discernment, that he pierced into the most secret springs of human actions; and such was his integrity, that he always weighed the moral characters of his fellow creatures in the "balance of the sanctuary." He was too courageous to propitiate a rival, and too proud to truckle to a superior.

514. Johnson's Funeral.

[ocr errors]

In a letter from Charles Burney, the younger, to Dr. Parr, dated Dec. 21. 1784, he says, 66 Yesterday I followed our ever to be lamented friend, Dr. Johnson, to his last mansion: Non omnis moriar - multaque pars mei vitabit Libitinam’- should be engraven on his stone. He died with the same piety with which he lived; and bestowed much pains during his last illness in endeavouring to convince some of his friends, who were in doubt, about the truth of the Christian religion. He has left behind him a collection of small Latin compositions in verse. They are principally translations of collects and Greek epigrams. He was followed to the Abbey by a large troop of friends. Ten mourning

« AnteriorContinua »