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miliar, as it is in the power of writing to make us, with the character, the habits, and the appearance of Johnson, and the persons and things with which he is connected. “Every thing about him," says an able critic,1 « his coat, his wig, his figure, his rolling walk, his blinking eye, the outward signs which too clearly marked the approbation of his dinner, his insatiable appetite for fish sauce, and veal pie with plums, his inextinguishable thirst for tea, his trick of touching the posts as he walked, his mysterious practice of treasuring up scraps of orange peel, his morning slumbers, his midnight disputations, his contortions, his mutterings, his gruntings, his puffings, his vigorous, acute, and ready eloquence; his sarcastic wit, his vehemence, his insolence, his fits of tempestuous rage, his queer inmates-old Mr. Levett and blind Mrs. Wil. liams, the cat Hodge, and the negro Frank—all are as familiar to us as the objects by which we have been surrounded.”
In 1773, in company with Mr. Boswell, he made a tour to the Western Islands of Scotland, of which he published an interesting and instructive account. In it he pronounces decidedly against the authenticity of the poems called “Ossian's." The last of his literary labors was his “Lives of the Poets,” which were completed in 1781.2 Though it is a work that, on the whole, is justly considered as one of the ablest contributions to English biography, it must be read with great caution; for the criticisms of Johnson are too often biased by his strong political, religious, and even personal antipathies, as is clearly evinced in the gross injustice he has done to the two greatest poets of the series—Milton3 and Gray. “His indiscriminate hatred of Whig principles; his detestation of blank verse; his dislike of pastoral, lyric, and descriptive poetry; his total want of enthusiasm; and his perpetual efforts to veil the splendor of genius, are frequently lost in the admiration which the blaze and vigor of his intellectual powers so strongly excite. This is, in fact, the work in which the excellencies and defects of Johnson are placed before the reader with their full prominence; in which the lovers of philology and biography, the friends of moral and ethic wisdom, will find
smart repartees, profound remarks, and keen invectives to be found in Boswell's 'inventory of all he said,' as are recorded of any celebrated man. The life and dramatic play of his conversation form a contrast to his written works. His natural powers and undisguised opinions were called out in convivial intercourse. In public, he practised with the foils : in private, he unsbeathed the sword of controversy, and it was "the Ebro's temper.' The eagerness of opposition roused him from his natural sluggishness and acquired timidity; he returned blow for blow; and whether the trial were of argument or wit, none of his rivals could boast much of the encounter. Burke seems to have been the only person who had a chance with him; and it is the unpardonable sin of Boswell's work, that he has purposely omitted their combats of strength and skill. Goldsmith asked, • Does he wind into a subject like a serpent, as Burke does ? And when exhausted with sickness, he himself said, 'If that fellow Burke were here now, he would kill me.''-Hazlitt's English Comic Writers.
1 Read the article in the 53d vol. of the Edinburgh Review, or in Macaulay's Miscellanies, vol. ii. p. 11: also an article, “Johnson and his Biographers," in the 46th vol. of the Quarterly : also, par
new edition of Croker's Boswell, in one large octavo--an invaluable work; Murphy's Life, in the Preface to his Works; a "Memoir" by Sir Walter Scott, in the third volume of his Prose Works; and the “Literary Life of Dr. Johnson," in the 4th vol. of Drake's Essays.
2 “No man can entertain a higher idea of Johnson's intellectual powers as a lexicographer, a teacher, and a moralist, than myself; but poetical criticism was not his province; and though in point of style his .Lives' be superior, perhaps, to any of his preceding compositions, they are innnitely more disgraced by the inexorable partialities of the man."--Drake's “Literary Hours," i. 221. Read, also, a fine article on Johnson in Sir Egerton Brydges's “Imaginative Biography," i. 251.
3 What greater contrast can we conceive than that exhibited in the characters of Milton and Johnson; in the former of whom so predominated the imaginative and the spiritual; in the latter, the Bensuous and the animal.
much to applaud; but in which also the disciples of candor and impartiality, the votaries of creative fancy and of genuine poetry, will have much to regret and much to condemn."
Scarcely had he finished his “Lives of the Poets,” when in May, 1781, he lost his long-tried friend Mr. Thrale, in whose house he had been a constant resident for fifteen years: and the next year deprived him of his old and faithful friend Dr. Robert Levett,' upon whose character he wrote the beautiful and touching verses which do so much honor to his heart. But his own end was drawing near. In June, 1783, he had a paralytic stroke, which for some hours deprived him of the power of speech. From this, however, he recovered, but towards the end of the year he was seized with a violent fit of asthma, accompanied with dropsical swellings of the legs. These affections subsided by the beginning of the next year; but towards the autumn they so increased, that all hopes of his recovery were at an end. He had always entertained a great dread of death, and his hours of health were imbittered by his apprehensions of dissolution. But when he saw his end actually approaching, he became entirely resigned, strong in his faith in Christ, joyful in the hope of his own salvation, and anxious for the salvation of his friends. “On the evening of the 13th of December, 1784, and in the 75th year of his age, he expired so calmly, that the persons who were sitting in the room only knew that he had ceased to breathe, by the sudden failure of the sound which had for some days accompanied his respiration."
The great characteristic of Dr. Johnson was uncommon vigor and logical precision of intellect. His reasoning was sound, dexterous, and acute; his thoughts striking and original; and his imagination vivid. In conversation his style was keen and pointed, and his language appropriate; and he displayed such a comprehensive view of his subject, such accuracy of perception, such lucidity of discrimination, and such facility of illustration, as to throw light upon every question, however intricate, and to prove the best of all prac. tical guides in the customary occurrences of life.
Besides these great qualities, he possessed others of a most humiliating littleness. In many respects he seemed a different person at different times. He was intolerant of particular principles, which he would not allow to be discussed within his hearing; of particular nations, and particular individuals. He was superstitious; and his mind was at an early period narrowed upon many questions, religious and political. He was open to flattery, hard to please, easy to offend,' impetuous and irritable. « The characteristic peculiarity of Johnson's intellect," says a writer in the Edinburgh Review, “was the union of great powers with low prejudices. If we judged of him by the best parts of his mind, we should place him almost as high as he was placed by the idolatry of Boswell; if by the worst parts of his mind, we should place him even below Boswell himself.” This short and imperfect view of his character would convey a wrong impression, did we not add, that he was steady and inflexible in maintaining the obligations of religion, a sincere and zealous Christian, and possessed of a most kind and benevolent heart.3
1 This Dr. Levett “was the constant companion of Johnson at his morning's meal for near forty years. He was a practitioner of physic among the lower orders of people in London : his fees were small, but his business was extensive, and he always walked. This good man lived in great obscurity, though continually and most conscientiously employed in mitigating the sorrows of poverty and disease."
2 On nis dying bed, he particularly exhorted Sir Joshua Reynolds “to read the Bible, and to keep holy the Sabbath-day;" that is, not to paint on that day.
8 The Earl of Eglintoune, of remarkable elegance of manners, once remarked at a supper party
THE VOYAGE OF LIFE. •Life,” says Seneca, “is a voyage, in the progress of which we are perpetually changing our scenes; we first leave childhood behind us, then youth, then the years of ripened manhood, then the better and more pleasing part of old age.” The perusal of this passage having incited in me a train of reflections on the state of man, the incessant fluctuation of his wishes, the gradual change of his disposition to all external objects, and the thoughtlessness with which he floats along the stream of time, I sunk into a slumber amidst my meditations; and, on a sudden, found my ears filled with the tumult of labor, the shouts of alacrity, the shrieks of alarm, the whistle of winds, and the dash of waters.
My astonishment for a time repressed my curiosity ; but soon recovering myself so far as to inquire whither we were going, and what was the cause of such clamor and confusion, I was told that they were launching out into the ocean of life; that we had already passed the straits of infancy, in which multitudes had perished, some by the weakness and fragility of their vessels, and more by the folly, perverseness, or negligence of those who undertook to steer them; and that we were now on the main sea, abandoned to the winds and billows, without any other means of security than the care of the pilot, whom it was always in our power to choose among great numbers that offered their direction and assistance.
I then looked round with anxious eagerness; and first turning my eyes behind me, saw a stream flowing through flowery islands, which every one that sailed along seemed to behold with pleasure; but no sooner touched, than the current, which, though not noisy or turbulent, was yet irresistible, bore him away. Beyond these islands all was darkness, nor could any of the passengers describe the shore at which he first embarked.
Before me, and on each side, was an expanse of waters violently agitated, and covered with so thick a mist, that the most perspicacious eye could see but a little way. It appeared to be full of rocks and whirlpools, for many sunk unexpectedly while they were courting the gale with full sails, and insulting those whom they had left behind. So numerous, indeed, were the dangers, and so thick the darkness, that no caution could confer security. Yet there were many, who, by false intelligence, be
at Boswell's, that he regretted that Johnson had not been educated with more refinement and lived more in polished society. "No, no, my lord," said Baretti, " do with him what you would, he would always have been a bear." "True," answered the Earl with a smile, “but then he would have been a dancing bear."
“To obviate all the reflections which have gone round the world to Johnson's prejudice, by apply. ing to him the epithet of a bear, let me impress upon my readers a just and happy saying of my
knew him well :- Johnson, to be sure, has a roughness in his manner; bu. no man alive has a more tender heart. HE HAS NOTHING OF THE BEAR BUT ILIS SKIN.'"--Borwell.
trayed their followers into whirlpools, or by violence pushed those whom they found in their way against the rocks.
The current was invariable and insurmountable ; but though it was impossible to sail against it, or to return to the place that was once passed, yet it was not so violent as to allow no opportunities for dexterity or courage, since, though none could retreat back from danger, yet they might often avoid it by oblique direction.
It was, however, not very common to steer with much care or prudence ; for by some universal infatuation, every man appeared to think himself safe, though he saw his consorts every moment sinking round him; and no sooner had the waves closed over them, than their fate and misconduct were forgotten ; the voyage was pursued with the same jocund confidence ; every man congratulated himself upon the soundness of his vessel, and believed himself able to stem the whirlpool in which his friend was swallowed, or glide over the rocks on which he was dashed: nor was it often observed that the sight of a wreck made any man change his course: if he turned aside for a moment, he soon forgot the rudder, and left himself again to the disposal of chance.
This negligence did not proceed from indifference, or from weariness of their present condition; for not one of those who thus rushed upon destruction, failed, when he was sinking, to call loudly upon his associates for that help which could not now be given him; and many spent their last moments in cautioning others against the folly by which they were intercepted in the midst of their course. Their benevolence was sometimes praised, but their admonitions were unregarded.
The vessels in which we had embarked, being confessedly unequal to the turbulence of the stream of life, were visibly impaired in the course of the voyage; so that every passenger was certain, that how long soever he might, by favorable accidents, or by incessant vigilance, be preserved, he must sink at last.
This necessity of perishing might have been expected to sadden the gay, and intimidate the daring, at least to keep the melancholy and timorous in perpetual torments, and hinder them from any enjoyment of the varieties and gratifications which nature offered them as the solace of their labor; yet in effect none seemed less to expect destruction than those to whom it was most dreadful; they all had the art of concealing their dangers from themselves; and those who knew their inability to bear the sight of the terrors that embarrassed their way, took care never to look forward, but found some amusement for the present moment, and generally entertained themselves by playing with Hope, who was the constant associate of the voyage of life.
Yet all that Hope ventured to promise, even to those whom she favoreū most, was, not that they should escape, but that they should sink last; and with this promise every one was satisfied, though he laughed at the rest for seeming to believe it. Hope, indeed, apparently mocked the credulity of her companions ; for in proportion as their vessels grew leaky, she redoubled her assurances of safety; and none were more busy in making provisions for a long voyage, than they whom all but themselves saw likely to perish soon by irreparable decay. '
In the midst of the current of life was the gulf of Intemperance, a dreadful whirlpool, interspersed with rocks, of which the pointed crags were concealed under water, and the tops covered with herbage, on which Ease spread couches of repose, and with shades where Pleasure warbled the song of invitation. Within sight of these rocks all who sailed on the ocean of life must necessarily pass. Reason, indeed, was always at hand to steer the passengers through a narrow outlet by which they might escape ; but very few could, by her entreaties or remonstrances, be induced to put the rudder into her hand, without stipulating that she should approach so near unto the rocks of Pleasure, that they might solace themselves with a short enjoyment of that delicious region, after which they always determined to pursue their course without any other deviation.
Reason was too often prevailed upon so far by these promises, as to venture her charge within the eddy of the gulf of Intemperance, where, indeed, the circum volution was weak, but yet interrupted the course of the vessel, and drew it, by insensible rotations, towards the centre. She then repented her temerity, and with all her force endeavored to retreat; but the draught of the gulf was generally too strong to be overcome; and the passenger, having danced in circles with a pleasing and giddy velocity, was at last overwhelmed and lost. Those few whom Reason was able to extricate, generally suffered so many shocks upon the points which shot out from the rocks of Pleasure, that they were unable to continue their course with the same strength and facility as before, but floated along timorously and feebly, endangered by every breeze, and shattered by every ruffle of the water, till they sunk, by slow degrees, after long struggles and innumerable expedients, "always repining at their own folly, and warning others against the first approach to the gulf of Intemperance.
There were artists who professed to repair the breaches and stop the leaks of the vessels which had been shattered on the rocks of Pleasure. Many appeared to have great confidence in their skill, and some, indeed, were preserved by it from sinking who had received only a single blow; but I remarked that few vessels lasted long which had been much repaired, nor was it found that the artists themselves continued aficat longer than those who had least of their assistance.