Imatges de pÓgina

before, he had breathed his last. I am now writing in the room where his venerable remains exhibit a spectacle, the interesting solemnity of which, difficult as it would be in any sort to find terms to express, so to you, my dear Sir, whose own sensations will paint it so strongly, it would be of all men the most superfluous to attempt to

662. Johnson and Burke compared. (1)

The distinguishing excellence of Johnson's manner, both in speaking and writing, consists in the apt and lively illustrations by example, with which, in his vigorous sallies, he enforces his just and acute remarks on human life and manners, in all their modes and representations: the character and charm of his style, is a happy choice of dignified and appropriate expressions, and that masterly involution of phrase, by which he contrives to bolt the prominent idea strongly on the mind. Burke's felicity is in a different sphere: it lies in the diversified allusions to all arts and to all sciences, by which, as he pours along his redundant tide of eloquence and reason, he reflects a light and interest on every topic which he treats; in a promptitude to catch the language and transpose the feelings of passion; and in the unrestrained and ready use of a style, the most flexible and the most accommodating to all topics, "from grave to gay, from lively to severe," that perhaps any writer, in any language, ever attained. "Ipsæ res verba rapiunt." As opposed to each other, condensation might perhaps be regarded as the distinguishing characteristic of the former, and expansion of the latter.

663. Preface to Shakspeare.

It would be difficult to find in the English language, of equal variety and length, four such compositions as

(1) [This and the nine following are from "The Diary of a Lover of Literature," by T. Green of Ipswich, 4to, 1810; and since continued in the Gentleman's Magazine.]

Burke's Speech to the Electors of Bristol, Johnson's Preface to Shakspeare, Parr's Dedication to Hurd, and Lowth's Letter to Warburton.

664. "Panting Time."

Johnson, perhaps, caught his "panting Time toiled after him in vain," from Young's "And leave praise panting in the distant vale."

665. "The Happy Valley."

Looked over Rennell's Memoir of his Map of Hindostan. The secluded valley of Cashmere, forming, between the parallels of 34° and 35°, an oval hollow eighty miles by fifty; blooming with perennial spring, refreshed with cascades and streams and lakes, and enriched with mountainous ridges towering into the regions of eternal snow, was perhaps Johnson's prototype for the Happy Valley of Amhara in "Rasselas."


666. Gray.

It is curious to hear Gray, in his tenth letter to Horace Walpole, say, "The same man's verses" (Johnson's, at the opening of Garrick's theatre)" are not bad"— of one who was destined afterwards to sit in imperial judgment on him and all his tribe.

667. Johnson's Conversation.

Had a long and interesting conversation with [Sir James] Mackintosh. Spoke highly of Johnson's prompt and vigorous powers in conversation, and, on this ground, of Boswell's Life of him: Burke, he said, agreed with him; and affirmed, that this work was a greater monument to Johnson's fame, than all his writings put together.

668. " Pleasures of Hope."

Read Campbell's Pleasures of Hope. The beautiful allusion with which this poem opens, is borrowed

from one in Johnson's collections for the "Rambler; which, I believe, he never employed, but which was certainly too good to be lost. (1)

669. Dr. Bernard.

Mr. Monney told me he had often met Johnson, and imitated his manner very happily. Johnson came on a visit to the president of his college (Jesus) at Oxford, Dr. Bernard. Dr. Bernard ventured to put a joke upon Johnson; but being terrified by a tremendous snarl, "Indeed, indeed, Doctor, believe me," said he, "I meant nothing." "Sir," said Johnson, "if you mean nothing, say nothing!" and was quiet for the rest of the evening.

670. Johnson's "Letters."

Johnson's Letters to Mrs. Thrale raise him, if pos sible, still higher than ever in my esteem and veneration. His wonderful insight into the real springs of human actions is often apparent where he trifles most; and when he summons his powers, he pours new and unexpected light, even on the clearest and most obvious topics. His fertility of logical invention is probably unrivalled.

671. Boswell.

Boswell, from his open, communicative, good-humoured vanity, which leads him to display events and feelings that other men, of more sound judgment, though slighter pretensions, would have studiously concealed, has depressed himself below his just level in public estimation. His information is extensive; his talents far from despicable; and he seems so exactly adapted, even by his very foibles, that we might almost suppose him purposely created to be the chronicler of

(1) [See antè, Vol. I. p. 238.]

Johnson. A pleasing and instructive pocket-companion might be formed by a judicious selection from his copious repertory of Johnson's talk.

672. "Vesuvius Cæsar."

I have (says Mr. W. E. Surtees) heard my grandmother, a daughter, by his first wife, of the Dean of Ossory (who married secondly Miss Charlotte Cotterell, see Vol. II. p. 152.), speak of Dr. Johnson, as having frequently seen him in her youth. On one occasion, probably about 1762-3, he spent a day or two in the country with her father, and went with the family to see the house of a rich merchant. The owner all bows and smiles - seemed to exult in the opportunity of displaying his costly articles of virtù to his visitor, and, in going through their catalogue, observed, "And this, Dr. Johnson, is Vesuvius Cæsar." My grandmother, then but a girl, could not suppress a titter, when the Doctor turned round, and thus, alike to the discomfiture of the merchant and herself, sternly rebuked her aloud, "What is the child laughing at? Ignorance is a subject for pity -not for laughter."

673. Story-telling. (1)

Dr. Johnson, having had a general invitation from Lord Lansdowne to see Bow-wood, his Lordship's seat in Wiltshire, he accordingly made him a visit, in company with Cumming, the Quaker, a character at that time well known as the projector of the conquest of Senegal. They arrived about dinner-time, and were received with such respect and good-breeding, that the Doctor joined in the conversation with much pleasantry and good-humour. He told several stories of his acquaintance with literary characters, and in particular repeated the last part of his celebrated letter to Lord Ches

(1) [This and the eight following are from the European Magazine, edited at the time by Isaac Reed, Esq.]

terfield, desiring to be dismissed from all further patronage. Whilst "the feast of reason and the flow of soul" was thus enjoying, a gentleman of Lord Lansdowne's acquaintance from London happened to arrive; but being too late for dinner, his Lordship was making his apologies, and added, "But you have lost a better thing than dinner, in not being here time enough to hear Dr. Johnson repeat his charming letter to Lord Chesterfield, though I dare say the Doctor will be kind enough to give it to us again." "Indeed, my Lord," says the Doctor (who began to growl the moment the subject was mentioned), "I will not: I told the story just for my own amusement, but I will not be dragged in as storyteller to a company."

674. Pomponius Gauricus.

Dr. Johnson had planned a book on the model of Robinson Crusoe. Pomponius Gauricus, a learned Neapolitan, who had dabbled in alchemy, &c., suddenly disappeared in the year 1530, and was heard of no more. The supposed life of this man the Doctor had resolved to write. "I will not," said he, "shipwreck my hero on an uninhabited island, but will carry him up to the summit of San Pelegrini, the highest of the Apennines; where he shall be made his own biographer, passing his time among the goat-herds," &c.

675. Character of Boswell.

Boswell was a man of excellent natural parts, on which he had engrafted a great deal of general knowledge. His talents as a man of company were much heightened by his extreme cheerfulness and good nature. Mr. Burke said of him, that he had no merit in possessing that agreeable faculty, and that a man might as well assume to himself merit in possessing an excellent constitution. Mr. Boswell professed the Scotch

« AnteriorContinua »