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So millions of the subjects vnto paine
LITERARY RETROSPECTIONS ; Condemned soules about black Pluto Or, some Remarks on the Character came."
and Genius of Johnson. But the invocation, together with the "
THERE is something,” says a manner the King of Death' their respectable and judicious wriprides represt,' though worthy of at ter of the last century, “ so peculiar, tention, must be passed over, as al even in the extravagances of true ready I have insensibly been led to genius, something so seductive even trespass more on your limits than in its wildest flights and vagaries, that the subject deserves. The lines ex the fruits of its very dissipation are tracled are no unfavourable specie more esteemed by readers of taste, men of Markham's muse; and if I am than the most elaborale productions not much mistaken, ought to place of plodding industry.” him above that line of mediocrity in The general truth of this remark which so many of his contemporaries to a person extensively read in the are placed by the author of a very literary records of past ages, will interesting and most amusing work stand in need, perhaps, but of little that has recently appeared on the illustration. Manners and Literature of that age.
A sort of instinctive reverence bas I shall conclude with two stanzas been usually observed to influence of the translation, which I hope you mankind when called to contemplate will think worthy of closing this ac powers in whom Nature's bounty has count of a little volume, the more
been most conspicuous. entitled to regard from its being ap Among the antient Greeks very parently hitherto only known by high honours were decreed for excelname, while it is amongst the earliest ling in genius; whether amongst the performances of an author whose Muses, in epic, lyric, or dramatic character is so well known and whose Poetry ; in the various departments of works are so uncommonly numerous, history, eloquence, and polite litera
Rodomount, to allay the burning . ture; or in their schools of science: ardour of his thirst, drinks of the wa their distinguished votarics ters of Lethe, when he is immediately crowned with the laurels of flattering Julled from the fervour of his fury bý encomium, and the Olympian wreath 'Forgetfulnesse ;' or, according to the decorated the brows of him who rose poem,
in his profession at once to eminence
and fame. “ Sooner he had not toucht the fatall spring,
It will often, however, happen, nay, But all old memory and thought was
it may be said generally to happen, gone,
that the great (whose proverbial iaHis former warre, his rage, his com
gratitude towards Authors has probating,
[done: bably proceeded from the want of the And every acte before that present right discernment of merit, and other Hell he forgat, fiends, furies, and their causes, rather than froin an indiffer
king, (All which in consultation were alone,) the marks of their favour upon that
ence to its claims) liberally bestow And bad decreed, and taken Plutoes species of genius most congenial with crowne,
[downe. their pative habits of thinking ; whilst To make him king, and put old Ditis
a species foreign to those habits But like a man that knowes no former (though confessedly precedent in the age,
seat of literary worth) passes, pero Or infants that forget their mother's haps, with a cold acknowledgment. wombe,
If this be sometimes a characteristick Meeke as a doue, that lyon-like did
of those in whom power and grandeur rage, He finds the way through which he
have imparted the means of extensive first did come,
patronage, it may be thought no less Passes ore Styx like a conuerted sage,
à feature of those in common life, the And so ascending vp by fatall doome, aggregate of whose opinion, it is clear, Once more the aire, and earthly man must chiefly establish or reject the sions won,
contemporary fame of an Author. As Cheering his dead eies with the lining are the prejudices or tastes of the age, sunne."
so respectively will be the mark of Yours, &c. G. H. D. attention shewn to the several species
of genius which widely diversify the which widen the boundaries of the intellectual powers of wao.
little world on which we vegetate, This reflection may be naturally bear our speculations to regions far enough excited upon contemplating, inore remote, and favour pretensions amongst those of numerous other in- of equality with those intelligences, dividuals, the life, character, and the unknown inhabitants of a bigher writings, of Dr. Jounson.
sphere, and possibly of a more priviThe idols of their respective ages, leged state of being. Constrained, whilst Pope and Garrick in their dif. however, by the evidence of long and ferent spheres of genius were the sub. mortifying experience, to distrust jects of enthusiastic eulogium, John- these Utopian scheines of mental suson, until long after the publication premacy; these pleasing illusions, of the Rambler, renained unpatro- ihese agreeable chimeras, are often in nized and almost unknown, except an instant dispelled through the inindeed to the circle of literary friends lervention of some bumiliatiog proofs with whom he was in habits of associ- of incapacity; proofs which, even ation, and amongst whom he always amongst the most favoured of the retained a sort of oracular anthority. sons of earth, inculcate a striking On a review, therefore, of the early lesson on the limited nature of the career of this justly.celebrated Critick profoundest and most subtle disquisiand Moralist, one truth must be suffi- tions in which human inquiry can ciently evident, that, however men embark. may emulate each other in awarding It is decreed in nature that the
capathe just honours of merit to a writer cities which fertilize and adorn the of extraordinary epdowments, after mind of man, are varied in an alınost Death bas removed him alike from a infinite gradation. As throughout the sense of their favours and neglects; vast succession of beings who have the mind which disdains to solicit pa. peopled this our globe, it may reasontropage where it is not offered, may ably be presumed that some shades of yet languish in comparative penury, a difference in moral susceptibility and stranger to the comforts which wealth disposition have always prevailed; cau bestow,- thus abundantly realize it is no less evident thai the gifts and ing the justice of Johøson's own endowments of genius are dispensed complaint
on a scale of variety equally great ; “Slow rises worth by poverty oppress’d.” that taste, learning, and science, preWhilst contemplating the mind in sent a field for criticism equally wide, whom beneficent Natare has implant- and equally diversified in its soils and ed powers of a colossal growth, a two- productions. fold sensation of pride and acknow Amidst these gifts and this capacity ledgment excites the feelings: the of imparting knowledge and pleasure latier is usually the sure consequence to their species, those writers who of the pleasures flowing from the pe- have scrupulously endeavoured by the rusal of certain works, the results of worthiest and most laudable aiins to those powers ; whilst the former may promote the welfare and bappiness of be said to emanate from reflecting society, are incomparably more enupon the high “ capacious powers titled to their warıpest testimonies of which human nature occasionally dis- applause, than those the tendency of plays for the benefit and ornament of whose writings is wanifestly calcuher species.
Jated to injure the cause of virtue, Pleased with the fond prospects of and to introduce light views of moralisuperiority and worth which enlarged ty and religion. Instauces in our own, capacity opens to our sight, we proud. as in all other times, have been too ly imbibe notions of importance, view frequent, of talents of the first order, with greater complacency our frail accompanied with a delicacy and and short-sighted reason, and are the discrimination of taste, accomplisheasy converts to a doctrine which up- ments which render such talents far holds the dignity and excellence of more insinuating and dangerous, being the intelligence which animates us. perverted to very unwortby purposes. Vanity and ambitiou are ever unwill. Intellects, which would seein kindly ing to relinquish their favourite thesis bestowed by Heaven for alleviating of the native elevation of humanity; the common lot of life, for adorning wc are easily ioduced to cherish ideas mankind, and reflecting honour on
the country which gave them birth, If it then be found that purity of bave evinced a prompt and ready speculative doctrine and unblemishzeal in thwarting the intentions of ed morals do not always accompany their Donor, and disseminating the each other, although charity may in principles of vice, irreligion, and in- part suppress those faults which truth felicity. Scarcely, in the history of ci cannot wholly conceal; the memory vilized society is there an age (how- of such faults considerably impairs ever pure in its general or national the lustre of a reputation (howev character) wbich bas not supplied in other respects bright), if shaded its frequent individuals, led by views with inconsistencies. wbich may be termed sordid and is Johnson, bowever, after all the noble; whose ill-directed labours have charges which envy, malignity, or a been enlisted in any cause save that difference of literary opinion, has and of moral rectitude, and of whom it inay advance against him, must in may not inaptly be said, in the lan- this respect alone be allowed on all guage of an eloquent and sublime hands to occupy an elevated rank.-Poet,
He laboured in his writings for the
benefit and improvemeot of his coud“ When I behold a genius bright and trymen; and uniformly endeavoured base,
to maintain and illustrate, by an inOf tow'ring talents, but terrestial aims; Methinks I see,
dependence of spirit in his life and thrown from her high sphere,
conversation, those just and animated The glorious fragments of a soul im- lessons of inoral excellence which mortal,
convince and persuade in his works. With rubbish mixt, and glittering in By an unshaken and irreproachable the dust."
adherence to what he believed the
path of rectitude, he strove to susThe multiplied jitstances of this in- tain, amidst the difficulties which attellectual prostitution may have had tend unpatronized merit, and the its effect in reflecting a double lustre cheerless prospects which a scanty upon endowments of an extraordinary and precarious subsistence holdsforth, kind, expended for the moral advan- thatexalted dignity of thinking, which tage of their fellow-men; the tribute misfortunes have been found inorefreof applause which genius demands is quently to subdue, than to strengthen. then unbroken by any painful remi It has been observed by writers who piscence of folly or depravity-the well knew the human heart, and who glow of acknowledgment is mingled had deeply studied the various mingwith the most lively testimonies of ling causes which often combine in esteem.
determining the judgments of manThe well-known Author who is the kind—that a contemporary, or even a subject of the present speculation, succeeding generation, is by no means may be justly said to illustrate both the best qualitied duly to estimate the the positions here advanced.
worth, or pronounce the panegyric, of Well calculated to favour the no a celebrated individual. Johnson is tion of the soul's elevation and capa. yet alive in the memory of the world; city, he may likewise be held forth ihe age wbich succeeded bim can on the whole as an estimable example scarcely be said to have passed away. of the strictest moral worth, and un The eccentricities which marked his deviating rectitude of principle. He personal character, the paradoxical may even with propriety be said to strangeness which sometimes accomclaim a juster title to consistency of panied his literary opinions, and the character than most of those who dogmatism with which he defended have embarked in the same line of any cause which humour or caprice professional life and literary inter- tempted him to espouse, are thought
Tbose persons, for example, the fair subjects of satire and animadwho have solicitously courted noto- version; the various foibles of his riety, have generally encountered the public, social, or domestic life are eye of many in society who have wish. yet, it may be said, the occasional ed to ascertain whether their conduct iheme of conversation and censure. in private life strictly accords with As, on the one hand, amongst certain the sentiments which fill and animate of his friends, his critical decisions their writings.
have been contemplated as almost GENT. MAG. January, 1818.
oracular, and his moral apophthegms feel it a first duty to bestow. At treasured up with all the pride of though, therefore, the well-earned fond recollection; so, on the other, laurels of this distinguished ornaamong the great majority of bis ment of British Literature have incountrymen, his name has lived in deed thus been abundant, many comtheir remembrances, as associated bioing causes bave prevented his fame with qualities in the highest degree from attaining generally that pinnaunamiable, and scarcely consistent cle of greatness, which, nevertheless, with those pretensions of worth wbich in the eyes of his admirers, nay in the yet have been geverally acknowledg- eyes of impartial posterity, is bis just ed by all: amongst this latter class, award. those whose ages do'not permit them Viewed apart from the celebrity to speak from actual observation, or which he has acquired and must ever cogoizanee of the things they depre- retain in elegant and philosopbical cate, imbibe their sentiments from criticism, Jobpson rises still higher others, or form a hasly and errone as a Moralist. He is an original, who ous judgment from a perusal of bio- thinks for bimself, and delivers his graphical anecdotes and sketches, opinions upon the important concerns which in some shape or another have of social and relative happiness with crept into most works of contempo- a pative and spontaneous energy of rary or succeeding date. Jealous of thought, which, as it was not formed his high name, they eagerly preserve by the systems of others, scruples not the memory of these minor foils of occasionally to advance new doctrines character ;--foils which with ordinary in the face of established authorities. minds seem to question the justness It was highly important to the geof his celebrity; not considering that neral cause of virtue, and likewise of they were, unfortunately rather the religion, that they found an advocate effect of early prejudice contracted in in talents of such capacity, and a education, of a native roughness mind of so extraordinary a grasp. tinctured with constitutional melan- The same energies, bad they been choly, than of any caprice or per prostituted to vicious or ignoble versity of disposition, or a depariure ends, might have been the occasion from those principles which he con.
of very fatal consequences.
As it sidered as sacred. To peruse the reipains, however, the character and amusing and eventful biography of an genius of Jobpson have not only exindividual celebrated in active and so- hibited, for the instruction of suc. cial life, is a task of more easy accom. ceeding generations, the finest speplishment to the generality of man cimens of eloquence, in association kind, than to glean the varied fields or alliance with pure and elevated of criticism, or climb the heights of morality; but have opposed, it may science. Casual readers, therefore, be said, a bright and fortunate connaturally recur to what, with most trast to the lives, characters, and pleasure, is attended with least trou- writings of many of our Gallic neighble; and hence, oftentimes form their bours of contemporary fame. If the estimate, and even their literary es- genius of France has shone forth with timate, rather from these objection. resplendent lustre amidst the literaable traits, which occupy a prominent ture of modern times; if her Rousfeature in Johnson, than from the seaus, her Diderots, and her D'Alemsterling weight and real excellence of berts, have occasionally drawn his works. Among those, likewise, the eyes of most learned societies, who can discern and appreciate his both foreigo and domestic; if the various literary beauties, the dog brilliant and multifarious talents of matic intolerance with wbich bis opi- her Voltaires be the theme of stupions are too frequently accompa- died panegyric, not only in her own nied, the dictatorial tone which he soil, but in every other country of occasionally assumed, and the strange Continental Europe which has any pleasure which, in the true spirit of pretensions to literary eminence : hyper - criticism he discovered, of an Englishman, with the honest glow sometimes eliciting faults where all of enthusiasm risiog in his bosom, other minds must discover beauties, will parallel their abilities (enlisted, have considerably moderated that ad as they often are, in the service of miration which they would otherwise infidelity and moral seduction) with
the genius and mental resources of yet honourably conspicuous, and enJohnson. Accompanied with innate titled to our most grateful acknowdignity and independence of mind, ledgments. His Lives of Eminent ennobled by innate worth and inte. Persons, the production of his earlier grity, be will not besitate to assign years, and which, combined with other to their possessor more exalted ho- circumstances, were the instruments nours than all the laurels which have which raised him to notoriety, and hung so thickly round their brows founded the basis of his future fame, have ever acquired for these dis- may, for literary excellence, and prociples of an imposing system of Phi- priety of style, be termed models for losophy. If the fame of the latter the imitation of Biographers. Alhas coosiderably eclipsed that of the though perhaps less nervous and anformer on the wide theatre of Eu- tithetical than that of the Lives of rope, this, among other concurring the English Poets, they yet exhibit causes, may have been produced by greater simplicity and ease. Perthe superior talent which they re- spicuous and pure, these compositions spectively possessed of flattering the unite in a high degree dignity with passions of human nature, in conci- elegance; beauty of arrangement, and liating the regards of power, and in harmony of period, are so happily administering agreeable flattery to combined, that the reader at once sources from whence they were pretty feels his interest excited, and his apsure to draw with accumulated inte. probation secured ; concise, yet on rest in return.
the other band sufficiently luminous, The stern features of Johnson's the Author in Darration strikes at mind were incapable of being accomo principal events, neglectiog the remodated to the exigences of time and view of subordinate matter; bis chief policy—a more disinterested and ele- aim, after having imparted requisite vated feeling pointed to nobler ends. information on those poiots, seems
As the national character, and like- rather to be to delineate character, wise the native literature, of this our than to heap together occucrences in Isle, must be acknowledged, upon a the detail. These performances, in fair review, to differ essentially from conjunction the Lives of the that of France in its grand leading English Poets, must long remain features ; so that distinction perhaps among the most finished biographibas no where appeared more signally cal sketches in the language. conspicuous, than in that particular His merits as a Lexicographer are walk in which our great Moralist well known, and scarcely capable, shune, or more exemplified than in perhaps, of being further illustrated his life and labours. Separated only to a British publick. With vowearied by a narrow channel of Ocean, while pains and perseverance, unpatronized the natural and moral influences of by the great, and unassisted by the her climate engendered and matured learned, his truly valuable Dictionary, a universality of intellectual accom a literary achievement unprecedented plishınent in Voltaire the fine dis- in the appals of philology, at length criminating powers and manliness of crowned his labours by its appearthought of our own country formed How far his abilities qualified a proper contrast in the invigorated him for the task he undertook, and mind of Johnson.
how far his industry was successfully As a Moralist and Critic, the fame applied, will be clearly apparent to of the Author of Rasselas has rank- the candid examiner. He has done ed emiuently and proverbially high; more for the perfectibility of the lanhe bas been allowed in many respects guage, and advanced deeper into etyto stand unrivaled amid the pumer- inological siudies, than any author, ous competitors in the same line, or, perhaps, than the united efforts who, it is the just boast of British Li- of any set of authors, before or since terature, have united and advanced his time. His derivations usually disour dame to immortality, and rival cover research and judgment, his vaed the proudest claims of Antiquity. rious definitions are for the most part As a Biographer and Philologer, or accurate and just, and the quotations Lexicographer, however, amidst the be adduces in their support apt and other characters be has adorned, he luminous. If truth is constrained to stands, if not equally distinguished, admit that he has sometimes failed