Imatges de pàgina

it was sure to be refuted by strength of reasoning, and a precision both in idea and expression almost unequalled. When he chose by apt illustration to place the argument of his adversary in a ludicrous light, one was almost inclined to think ridicule the test of truth. He was surprised to be told, but it is certainly true, that, with great powers of mind, wit and humour were his shining talents. That he often argued for the sake of triumph over his adversary, cannot be dissembled. Dr. Rose, of Chiswick, has been heard to tell a friend of his, who thanked him for introducing him to Dr. Johnson, as he had been convinced, in the course of a long dispute, that an opinion, which he had embraced as a settled truth, was no better than a vulgar error. This being reported to Johnson, "Nay," said he, " do not let him be thankful; for he was right, and I was wrong." Like his uncle Andrew, in the ring at Smithfield, Johnson, in a circle of disputants, was determined neither to be thrown nor conquered. Notwithstanding all his piety, self-government, or the command of his passions in conversation, does not seem to have been among his attainments. Whenever he thought the contention was for superiority, he has been known to break out with violence, and even ferocity. When the fray was over, he generally softened into repentance, and, by conciliating measures, took care that no animosity should be left rankling in the breast of his antagonist.

It is observed by the younger Pliny, that in the confines of virtue and great qualities there are generally vices of an opposite nature. In Dr. Johnson not one ingredient can take the name of vice. From his attainments in literature grew the pride of knowledge; and, from his powers of reasoning, the love of disputation and the vainglory of superior vigour. His piety, in some instances, bordered on superstition. He was willing to believe in preternatural agency, and thought it

not more strange that there should be evil spirits than evil men. Even the question about second sight held him in suspense.

Since virtue, or moral goodness, consists in a just conformity of our actions to the relations in which we stand to the Supreme Being and to our fellow-creatures, where shall we find a man who has been, or endeavoured to be, more diligent in the discharge of those essential duties? His first Prayer was composed in 1738; he continued those fervent ejaculations of piety to the end of his life. In his Meditations we see him scrutinising himself with severity, and aiming at perfection unattainable by man. His duty to his neighbour consisted in universal benevolence, and a constant aim at the production of happiness. Who was more sincere and steady in his friendships?

His humanity and generosity, in proportion to his slender income, were unbounded. It has been truly said, that the lame, the blind, and the sorrowful, found in his house a sure retreat. A strict adherence to truth he considered as a sacred obligation, insomuch that, in relating the most minute anecdote, he would not allow himself the smallest addition to embellish his story. The late Mr. Tyers, who knew Dr. Johnson intimately, observed, that "he always talked as if he was talking upon oath." After a long acquaintance with this excellent man, and an attentive retrospect to his whole conduct, such is the light in which he appears to the writer of this essay. The following lines of Horace may be deemed his picture in miniature : —

"Iracundior est paulo, minus aptus acutis

Naribus horum hominum, rideri possit, eo quod
Rusticius tonso toga defluit, et male faxus

In pede calceus hæret; at est bonus, ut melior vir
Non alius quisquam ; at tibi amicus at ingenium ingens;
Inculto latet hoc sub corpore."

"Your friend is passionate, perhaps unfit
For the brisk petulance of modern wit
His hair ill-cut, his robe that awkward fows.
Or his large shoes to raillery expose

The man you love; yet is he not possess'd
Of virtues with which very few are blest?
While underneath this rude, uncouth disguise
A genius of extensive knowledge lies."




582. "London."

As this spirited imitation of Juvenal forms an epoch in our author's literary life, and is one of his best poetical productions, I shall consider it as introductory to an uninterrupted consideration of his compositions in this branch, and to a discussion of his general character as a poet; and this plan I shall pursue with regard to the other numerous departments of literature in which he excelled, and according to the order in which the first in merit of a class shall in succession rise to view; persuaded that, by this mode, the monotony arising from

(1) [From "Essays, critical and historical, illustrative of the Rambler, Adventurer, and Idler:" Part II. "The Literary, Life of Dr. Johnson." 2 vols. 1806

a stricter chronological detail of his various writings, the arrangement hitherto adopted by his biographers, may, in a great measure, be obviated.

Of the three imitators of the third satire of the Roman poet, Boileau, Oldham, and Johnson, the latter is, by many degrees, the most vigorous and poetical. No man, indeed, was better calculated to transfuse the stern invective, the sublime philosophy, and nervous painting of Juvenal, than our author; and his "London," whilst it rivals the original in these respects, is, at the same time, greatly superior to it in purity of illustration, and harmony of versification. The felicity with which he has adapted the imagery and allusions of the Latin poem to modern manners, vices, and events; and the richness and depth of thought which he exhibits when the hint is merely taken from the Roman bard, or when he chooses altogether to desert him, are such as to render this satire the noblest moral poem in our language.

At the period when Johnson wrote his "London," he must, from his peculiar circumstances, have been prone to imbibe all the warmth and indignation of the ancient satirist, who depicts in the boldest colours the unmerited treatment to which indigence is subjected, and the multiform oppressions arising from tyranny and illacquired wealth. He was, indeed, at this time, " steeped up to the lips in poverty," and was likewise a zealous opponent of what he deemed a corrupt administration. It is impossible to read the following passage, one of the finest in the poem, and especially its concluding line, which the author distinguished by capitals, without deeply entering into, and severely sympathising with, the feelings and sufferings of the writer :

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"By numbers here from shame or censure free,
All crimes are safe but hated poverty.

This, only this, the rigid law pursues,
This, only this, provokes the snarling muse.

The sober trader at a tatter'd cloak

Wakes from his dream, and labours for a joke;
With brisker air the silken courtiers gaze,
And turn the varied taunt a thousand ways.
"Of all the griefs that harass the distress'd,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest ;

Fate never wounds more deep the gen'rous heart,
That when a blockhead's insult points the dart.
"Has Heaven reserved, in pity to the poor,

No pathless waste, or undiscover'd shore?
No secret island in the boundless main !
No peaceful desert yet unclaim'd by Spain?
Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore,
And bear oppression's insolence no more.
This mournful truth is every where confess'd,
Slow rises worth, by poverty depress'd."

Of the energy and compression which characterise the sentiment and diction of "London," this last line is a striking example; for the original, though strong in its expression, is less terse and happy :

"Haud facile emergunt, quorum virtutibus obstat
Res angusta domi."

583. "Vanity of Human Wishes."

The "Vanity of Human Wishes," the subject of which is in a great degree founded on the Alcibiades of Plato, possesses not the point and fire which animates the "London." It breathes, however, a strain of calm and dignified philosophy, much more pleasing to the mind, and certainly much more consonant to truth, than the party exaggeration of the prior satire. The poet's choice of modern examples, in place of those brought forward by the ancient bard, is happy and judicious; and he has every where availed himself, and in a style the most impressive, of the solemnity, the pathos, and sublime morality of the Christian code.

To enter into competition with the tenth satire of

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