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To fix the æras of recorded time,
And live in ev'ry age and ev'ry clime;
Record the chiefs, who propt their country's cause;
"Yet warn'd by me, ye pigmy Wits, beware,
"A mind like Scaliger's, superior still,
No grief could conquer, no misfortune chill.
"My task perform'd, and all my labours o'er,
I seek, at midnight clubs, the social band;
But midnight clubs, where wit with noise conspires, Where Comus revels, and where wine inspires,
Delight no more: I seek my lonely bed,
"Whate'er I plan, I feel my powers confined
I view myself, while Reason's feeble light
Shoots a pale glimmer through the gloom of night,
"What then remains? Must I in slow decline
Such is the picture for which Dr. Johnson sat to himself. He gives the prominent features of his character; his lassitude, his morbid melancholy, his love of fame, his dejection, his tavern parties, and his wandering reveries, Vacua mala somnia mentis, abou:
(1) [This spirited translation, or rather imitation, is by Mr. Murphy.]
which so much has been written; all are painted in miniature, but in vivid colours, by his own hand. His idea of writing more dictionaries was not merely said in verse. Mr. Hamilton, who was at that time an eminent printer, and well acquainted with Dr. Johnson, remembers that he engaged in a Commercial Dictionary, and, as appears by the receipts in his possession, was paid his price for several sheets; but he soon relinquished the undertaking.
578. Boswell's Introduction to Johnson.
Upon one occasion, I went with Dr. Johnson into the shop of Davies, the bookseller, in Russell Street, Covent Garden. Davies came running to him almost out of breath with joy: "The Scots gentleman is come, Sir; his principal wish is to see you; he is now in the back parlour." "Well, well, I'll see the gentleman," said Johnson. He walked towards the room. Mr. Boswell was the person. I followed with no small curiosity. "I find," said Mr. Boswell, "that I am come to London at a bad time, when great popular prejudice has gone forth against us North Britons; but, when I am talking to you, I am talking to a large and liberal mind, and you know that I cannot help coming from Scotland." "Sir," said Johnson, "no more can the rest of your countrymen." (1)
579. Dread of Death.
For many years, when he was not disposed to enter into the conversation going forward, whoever sat near his chair might hear him repeating, from Shakspeare,—
"Ay, but to die and go we know not where;
(1) [Mr. Boswell's account of this introduction is very dif. terent from the above. See antè, Vol. 11. p. 163.]
This sensible warm motion to become
And from Milton,
"Who would lose, For fear of pain, this intellectual being!"
580. Essex-Head Club.
Johnson, being in December 1783 eased of his dropsy, began to entertain hopes that the vigour of his constitution was not entirely broken. For the sake of conversing with his friends, he established a conversation-club, to meet on every Wednesday evening; and, to serve a man whom he had known in Mr. Thrale's household for many years, the place was fixed at his house in Essex Street near the Temple. To answer the malignant remarks of Sir John Hawkins, on this subject (1), were a wretched waste of time. Professing to be Johnson's friend, that biographer has raised more objections to his character than all the enemies to that excellent man. Sir John had a root of bitterness that "put rancours in the vessel of his peace.' Fielding," he says, 66 was the inventor of a cant phrase, Goodness of heart, which means little more than the virtue of a horse or a dog." He should have known that kind affections are the essence of virtue; they are the will of God implanted in our nature, to aid and strengthen moral obligation; they incite to action; a sense of benevolence is no less necessary than a sense of duty. Good affections are an ornament not only to an author but to his writings. He who shows himself upon a cold scent for opportunities to bark and snarl throughout a volume of six hundred pages, may, if he will, pretend to moralise; but "goodness of heart," or, to
(1) [See antè, Vol. VIII. p. 250.]
use the politer phrase, the "virtue of a horse or a dog," would redound more to his honour.
581. Character of Johnson.
If we now look back, as from an eminence, to view the scenes of life and the literary labours in which Dr. Johnson was engaged, we may be able to delineate the features of the man, and to form an estimate of his genius. As a man, Dr. Johnson stands displayed in open daylight. Nothing remains undiscovered. Whatever he said is known; and, without allowing him the usual privilege of hazarding sentiments, and advancing positions, for mere amusement, or the pleasure of discussion, criticism has endeavoured to make him answerable for what, perhaps, he never seriously thought. His Diary, which has been printed, discovers still more. We have before us the very heart of the man, with all his inward consciousness. And yet, neither in the open paths of life, nor in his secret recesses, has any one vice been discovered. We see him reviewing every year of his life, and severely censuring himself, for not keeping resolutions, which morbid melancholy and other bodily infirmities rendered impracticable. We see him for every little defect imposing on himself voluntary penance, and to the last, amidst paroxysms and remissions of illness, forming plans of study and resolutions to amend his life. (1) Many of his scruples may be called weaknesses; but they are the weaknesses of a good, a pious, and most excellent man.
Johnson was born a logician; one of those to whom only books of logic are said to be of use. In consequence of his skill in that art, he loved argumentation. No man thought more profoundly, nor with such acute discernment. A fallacy could not stand before him :
(1) On the subject of voluntary penance; see the Rambler No. 110.