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“ As the personages of Shakspeare act upon principles arising from genuine passion, very little modified by particular forms, their pleasures and vexations are communicable to all times and to all places; they are natural, and therefore durable; the adventitious peculiarities of personal habits are only superficial dyes, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet soon fading to a dim tinct, without any remains of former lustre; and the dis crimination of true passion are the colours of nature; they per vade the whole mass, and can only perish with the body that exhibits them. The accidental compositions of heterogeneous modes are dissolved by the chance that combined them ; but the uniform simplicity of primitive qualities neither admits increase nor suffers decay. The sand heaped by one flood is scattered by another, but the rock always continues in its place. The stream of time, which is continually washing the dissoluble fabrics of other poets, passes without injury by the adamant of Shakspeare.”
593. “ Lives of the Poets." The effect of the critical biography of Johnson on the literary world, and on the public at large, has been very considerable, and, in many respects, beneficial. It has excited a laudable attention to preserve the memory of those, who have, by intellectual exertions, contributed to our instruction and amusement; whereas, previous to the appearance of our author's “Lives,” biography, with few exceptions, had been confined to military and political characters : it has given rise, also, to much discussion and research into the merits and defects of our national poets; and the edition to which it was annexed, has led the way to several subsequent collection on an improved and more extended scale.
594. Johnson's " Letters." The Letters of Johnson place him before us stripped of all disguise; they teach us to love as well as to admire the man and are frequently written with a pathos and an ardour of affection, which impress us with a much more amiable idea of the writer, than can be drawn from any portion of his more elaborated works.
595. Johnson's Sermons. The Sermons of Johnson, twenty-five in number, were part of the stock which his friend Dr. Taylor carried with him to the pulpit. As compositions, they are little inferior to any of his best works ; and they inculcate, without enthusiasm or dogmatism, the purest precepts and doctrines of religion and morality.
596. “Prayers and Meditations. It is in the Prayers and Meditations of Johnson that we become acquainted with the inward heart of the inan. He had left them for publication, under the idea that they were calculated to do good ; and depraved, indeed, must be that individual who rises unbenefited from their perusal. The contrast between the language of this little volume, and the style of the Rambler, is striking in the extreme, and a strong proof of the judgment, the humility, and the piety of the author. With a deep sense of human frailty and individual error, he addresses the throne of mercy in a strain remarkable for its simplicity and plainness; but which, though totally stripped of the decorations of art, possesses a native dignity, approaching to that which we receive from our most excellent liturgy
ANECDOTES, OPINIONS, AND REMARKS,
BY VARIOUS PERSONS.
597. Osborne knocked down with a Folio. (1) Tom OSBORNE, the bookseller, was one of “ that mercantile rugged race to which the delicacy of the poet is sometimes exposed" (2); as the following anecdote will more fully evince. Mr. Johnson being engaged by him to translate a work of some consequence, he thought it a respect which he owed his own talents, as well as the credit of his employer, to be as circumspect in the performance of it as possible. In consequence of which, the work went on, according to Osborne's ideas, rather slowly: in consequence, he frequently spoke to Johnson of this circumstance; and, being a man of a coarse mind, sometimes by his expressions made him feel the situation of dependence. Johnson, however, seemed to take no notice of him, but went on according to the plan which he had prescribed tu himself. Osborne, irritated by what he thought an unnecessary delay, went one day into the room where Johnson was sitting, and abused him in the most illiberal manner : amongst other things, he told Johnson, “ he had been much mistaken in his man ; that he was recommended to him as a good scholar, and
(1) Nos. 596–607. are from the “ Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D." 8vo., published by G. Kearsley, in 1785. For Boswell's favourable notice of this little work see antè, Vol. VIII. p. 44.]
(2) Johnson's Life of Dryden,
a ready hand: but he doubted both; for that Tom such-a-one would have turned out the work much sooner ; and that being the case, the probability was, that by this here time the first edition would have moved off.” Johnson heard him for some time unmoved ; but, at last, losing all patience, he seized a huge folio, which he was at that time consulting, and, aiming a blow at the bookseller's head, succeeded so forcibly, as to send him sprawling to the floor. Osborne alarmed the family with his cries; but Johnson, clapping his foot on his breast, would not let him stir till he had exposed him in that situation ; and then left him, with this triumphant expression : “ Lie there, thou son of dulness, ignorance, and obscurity !” (1)
598. Savage. Johnson was not unacquainted with Savage's frailties; but, as he, a short time before his death, said to a friend, on this subject, “ he knew his heart, and that was never intentionally abandoned ; for, though he generally mistook the love for the practice of virtue, he was at all times a true and sincere believer."
599. Trotter's Portrait of Johnson. The head at the front of this book is esteemed a good likeness of Johnson ; indeed, so much so, that when the Doctor saw the drawing, he exclaimed, “Well, thou art an ugly fellow; but still, I believe thou art like the original.” The Doctor sat for this picture to Mr. Trotter, in February, 1782, at the request of Mr. Kearsley, who had just furnished him with a list of all
(1) [" The identical book with which Johnson knocked down Osborne (Biblia Græca Septuaginta, fol. 1594. Frankfort; the note written by the Rev.- Mills) I saw in February, 1812, at Cambridge, in the possession of J. Thorpe, bookseller; whose catalogue, since published, contains particulars authenticating this assertion.” - Nichols : Lit. Anec, viii, p. 446. VOL. X.
his works ; for he confessed he had forgot more than half what he had written. His face, however, was capable of great expression, both in respect to intelligence and mildness; as all those can witness who have seen him in the flow of conversation, or under the influence of grateful feelings.
600. Hawkesworth's “ Ode on Life.” Sometime previous to Hawkesworth's publication of his beautiful “ Ode on Life," he carried it down with him to a friend's house in the country to retouch. Johnson was of this party; and, as Hawkesworth and the Doctor lived upon the most intimate terms, the former read it to him for his opinion. “Why, Sir, ” says Johnson, “ I can't well determine on a first hearing ; read it again, second thoughts are best." Hawkesworth did so; after which Johnson read it himself, and approved of it very highly. Next morning at breakfast, the subject of the poem being renewed, Johnson, after again expressing his approbation of it, said he had but one objection to make to it, which was, that he doubted its originality. Hawkesworth, alarmed at this, challenged him to the proof, when the Doctor repeated the whole of the poem, with only the omission of a few lines. “What do you say to that, Hawkey ?” said the Doctor. “Only this,” replied the other, “ that I shall never repeat any thing I write before you again; for you have a memory that would convict any author of plagiarism in any court of literature in the world.” I have now the poem before me, and I find it contains no less than sixty-eight lines.
601. Projected Dictionary of Commerce. Soon after the publication of the English Dictionary, Johnson made a proposal to a number of booksellers, convened for that purpose, of writing a Dictionary of Trade and Commerce. This proposal went round the