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NOTE ON THE WORDS "BALANCE OF MISERY."
[See antè, Vol. VIII. p. 305.]
THE Reverend Mr. Ralph Churton, Fellow of Brazen-Nose College, Oxford, has favoured me with the following remarks on my work, which he is pleased to say, "I have hitherto extolled, and cordially approve :
"The chief part of what I have to observe is contained in the following transcript from a letter to a friend, which, with his concurrence, I copied for this purpose; and, whatever may be the merit or justness of the remarks, you may be sure that being written to a most intimate friend, without any intention that they ever should go further, they are the genuine and undisguised sentiments of the writer :
"Jan. 6. 1792.
"Last week I was reading the second volume of Boswell's Johnson, with increasing esteem for the worthy author, and increasing veneration of the wonderful and excellent man who is the subject of it. The writer throws in, now and then, very properly, some serious religious reflections; but there is one remark, in my mind an obvious and just one, which I think he has not made, that Johnson's morbid melancholy,' and constitutional infirmities, were intended by Providence, like St. Paul's thorn in the flesh, to check intellectual conceit and arrogance; which the consciousness of his extraordinary talents, awake as he was to the voice of praise, might otherwise have generated in a very culpable degree. Another observation strikes me, that in consequence of the same natural indisposition, and habitual sickliness (for he says he scarcely passed one day without pain after his twentieth year), he considered and represented human life as a scene of much greater misery than is generally experienced. There may be persons bowed down with affliction all their days; and there are those, no doubt, whose iniquities rob them of rest; but neither calamities nor crimes, I hope and believe, do so much and so generally abound, as to justify the dark picture of life which Johnson's imagination designed, and his strong pencil delineated. This I am sure, the colouring is far too gloomy for what I have experienced, though, as far as I can remember, I have had more sickness (I do not say more severe, but only more in quan
tity) than falls to the lot of most people. But then daily debility and occasional sickness were far overbalanced by intervenient days, and, perhaps, weeks void of pain, and overflowing with comfort. So that, in short, to return to the subject, human life, as far as I can perceive from expe. rience or observation, is not that state of constant wretchedness which Johnson always insisted it was: which misrepresentation, for such it surely is, his biographer has not corrected, I suppose, because, unhappily, he has himself a large portion of melancholy in his constitution, and fancied the portrait a faithful copy of life.'
"The learned writer then proceeds thus in his letter to me :
"I have conversed with some sensible men on this subject, who all seem to entertain the same sentiments respecting life with those which are expressed or implied in the foregoing paragraph. It might be added, that as the representation here spoken of appears not consistent with fact and experience, so neither does it seem to be countenanced by Scripture. There is, perhaps, no part of the sacred volume which at first sight promises so much to lend its sanction to these dark and desponding notions as the book of Ecclesiastes, which so often, and so emphatically, proclaims the vanity of things sublunary. But the design of this whole book (as it has been justly observed) is not to put us out of conceit with life, but to cure our vain expectations of a complete and perfect happiness in this world: to convince us, that there is no such thing to be found in mere external en. joyments; and to teach us to seek for happiness in the practice of virtue, in the knowledge and love of God, and in the hopes of a better life. For this is the application of all: Let us hear, &c. xii. 13. Not only his duty, but his happiness too: For God, &c. v. 14. See Sherlock on Providence.'
"The New Testament tells us, indeed, and most truly, that' sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof:' and, therefore, wisely forbids us to increase our burden by forebodings of sorrows; but I think it nowhere says, that even our ordinary afflictions are not consistent with a very considerable degree of positive comfort and satisfaction. And, accordingly, one whose sufferings as well as merits were conspicuous assures us, that in proportion as the sufferings of Christ abounded in them, so their consolation also abounded by Christ.' 2 Cor. i. 5. It is needless to cite, as indeed it would be endless even to refer to, the multitude of passages in both Testaments holding out, in the strongest language, promises of blessings, even in this world, to the faithful servants of God. I will only refer to St. Luke, xviii. 29, 30., and 1 Tim. iv. 8.
"Upon the whole, setting aside instances of great and lasting bodily pain, of minds peculiarly oppressed by melancholy, and of severe temporal calamities, from which extraordinary cases we surely should not form our estimate of the general tenor and complexion of life; excluding these from the account, I am convinced that as well the gracious constitution of things which Providence has ordained, as the declarations of Scripture and the actual experience of individuals, authorise the sincere Christian to hope that his humble and constant endeavours to perform his duty, che
quered as the best life is with many failings, will be crowned with a greater degree of present peace, serenity, and comfort, than he could reasonably permit himself to expect, if he measured his views and judged of life from the opinion of Dr. Johnson, often and energetically expressed in the memoirs of him, without any animadversion or censure by his ingenious biographer. If he himself, upon reviewing the subject, shall see the matter in this light, he will, in an octavo edition, which is eagerly expected, make such additional remarks or corrections as he shall judge fit; lest the impressions which these discouraging passages may leave on the reader's mind should in a degree hinder what otherwise the whole spirit and energy of the work tends, and, I hope, successfully, to promote,-pure morality and true religion."
Though I have, in some degree, obviated any reflections against my illustrious friend's dark views of life, when considering, in the course of this work, his "Rambler" and his "Rasselas," I am obliged to Mr. Churton for complying with my request of his permission to insert his remarks, being conscious of the weight of what he judiciously suggests as to the melancholy in my own constitution. His more pleasing views of life, I hope, are just. Valeant quantum valere possunt. Mr. Churton concludes his letter to me in these words:
"Once, and only once, I had the satisfaction of seeing your illustrious friend; and as I feel a particular regard for all whom he distinguished with his esteem and friendship, so I derive much pleasure from reflecting that I once beheld, though but transiently, near our college gate, one whose works will for ever delight and improve the world, who was a sincere and zealous son of the church of England, an honour to his country, and an ornament to human nature."
His letter was accompanied with a present from himself of his "Sermons at the Bampton Lecture," and from his friend, Dr. Townson, the venerable rector of Malpas, in Cheshire, of his "Discourses on the Gospels," together with the following extract of a letter from that excellent person, who is now gone to receive the reward of his labours: "Mr. Boswell is not only very entertaining in his works, but they are so replete with moral and religious sentiments, without an instance, as far as I know, of a contrary tendency, that I cannot help having a great esteem for him; and if you think such a trifle as a copy of the Discourses, ex dono authoris, would be acceptable
to him, I should be happy to give him this small testimony of my regard." Such spontaneous testimonies of approbation from such men, without any personal acquaintance with me, are truly valuable and encouraging.
CATALOGUE OR LIST OF DESIGNS.
[Referred to in Vol. VIII. p. 388.]
A SMALL book of precepts and directions for piety; the hint taken from the directions in Morton's Exercise.
PHILOSOPHY, HISTORY, AND LITERATURE IN GENERAL.
History of Criticism, as it relates to judging of authors, from Aristotle to the present age. An account of the rise and improvements of that art: of the different opinions of authors, ancient and modern.
Translation of the History of Herodian.
New edition of Fairfax's Translation of Tasso, with notes, glossary, &c.
Chaucer, a new edition of him, from manuscripts and old editions, with various readings, conjectures, remarks on his language, and the changes it had undergone from the earliest times to his age, and from his to the present; with notes explanatory of customs, &c. and references to Boccace, and other authors, from whom he has borrowed, with an account of the
liberties he has taken in telling the stories; his life, and an exact etymological glossary.
Aristotle's Rhetoric, a translation of it into English.
A Collection of Letters, translated from the modern writers with some account of the several authors.
Oldham's Poems, with notes, historical and critical.
Roscommon's Poems, with notes.
Lives of the Philosophers, written with a polite air, in such a manner as may divert as well as instruct.
History of the Heathen Mythology, with an explication of the fables, both allegorical and historical; with references to the poets.
History of the State of Venice, in a compendious manner. Aristotle's Ethics, an English translation of them, with
Geographical Dictionary from the French. [Utrecht.] MS. Hierocles upon Pythagoras, translated into English, perhaps with notes. This is done by Norris. [Nov. 9th, 1752.]
A book of Letters, upon all kinds of subjects.
Claudian, a new edition of his works, cum notis variorum, in the manner of Burman.
Tully's Tusculan questions, a translation of them.
Tully's De Naturâ Deorum, a translation of those books. Benzo's New History of the New World, to be translated. Machiavel's History of Florence, to be translated.
History of the Revival of Learning in Europe, containing an account of whatever contributed to the restoration of literature; such as controversies, printing, the destruction of the Greek empire, the encouragement of great men, with the lives of the most eminent patrons, and most eminent early professors of all kinds of learning in different countries.
A Body of Chronology, in verse, with historical notes. [Nov. 9th, 1752.] MS.
A Table of the Spectators, Tatlers, and Guardians, distinguished by figures into six degrees of value, with notes giving the reasons of preference or degradation.