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BOSWELL'S “ LIFE OF JOHNSON."

347

A.D.

steady light, is that May day in 1762 on which he received the happy news that the king had conferred on him a pension of £300 - a year. Thenceforward he wrote less, but talked con- 1762 tinually. We know all about the Johnson of this later period. The Johnson who starved with Savage, is a dim shadow; but the burly Doctor who lived in Bolt Court, and thought no English or Scottish landscape at all comparable to the mud-splashed pavement and soot-stained houses of Fleet Street, is almost a living reality, with whom any evening we please we may sit for hours to hear him talk. We know even how he ate his dinner-with flushed face and the veins swollen on his broad forehead. We know that he puffed, and grunted, and contradicted everybody, reviling as fools, and blockheads, and barren rascals all who dared to differ from his Literary Highness. We know that he had secret stores of orange-peel, hoarded we know not whyand that he never was happy unless he had touched every post he passed in the streets, when walking to and from his house. We know that he bore marks of scrofula, and was troubled with St. Vitus's dance. And we know that he sheltered with unchanging kindness in his house a peevish old doctor, a blind old woman, and a negro, with some of whom it was often hard to bear. We know no other author as this old man is known. For in 1763 he became acquainted with James Boswell, Esquire, a Scottish advocate of shallow brain but imperturbable conceit, the thickness of whose mental skin enabled him to enjoy the great Englishman's society, in spite of sneers and insults hurled by day and night at his empty head. Not a perfect vacuum, however, was that head; for one fixed idea possessed it—admiration of Samuel Johnson, and the resolve to lose no words that fell from his idolized lips. Nearly every night when Boswell went home he wrote out what he remembered of the evening's talk; and these notes grew ultimately into his great Life of Johnson. To this fussy, foolish man, the but and buffoon of the distinguished society into which he had pushed himself, we owe a book which is justly held to be the best biography in the English language. Of other men, whose lives have been written, we possess pictures; of Johnson we have

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THE LIVES OF THE POETS.”

a photograph,accurate in every line and descending to the minutest details of his person and his habits. Having spoken thus far of the man, we shall shortly sum up the chief events of his closing life, and leave the full story to be gathered from the pages of Boswell's marvellous book.

His degree of LL.D., conferred in 1765 by the University of Dublin, was confirmed some years later by his own Alma Mater. In 1765 he published his edition of Shakspere, the preface to which is one of the best specimens of his prose we have. In the autumn of 1773 he made a tour through eastern Scotland and the Hebrides; and from his Letters to Mrs. Thrale he afterwards constructed his Journey to the Hebrides. In 1775 he visited Paris.

The Lives of the Poets, finished in 1781, formed the last of his important works. Beginning with Cowley, he writes of the leading poets down to his own day. His unfair view of Milton has been already noticed. In truth, Johnson seems never to have felt the full meaning of the word “poet." He was himself a master of pentameter rhymes, smooth, lofty, full-sounding; and we strongly suspect that the skilful manufacture of such appeared to him the highest flight of poetic genius. If he had any poetic fancy at all, it must have been of the clumsiest and palest kind, grey with London smoke and smothered in Latin polysyllables. Let no young reader take his knowledge of the English poets from Johnson's Lives, if he would know the true proportions of our bards. Some of his dwarfs are giants; many of his giants have dwindled into dwarfs.

Burke, Garrick, Gibbon, Reynolds, Goldsmith, and many others of the first men in London, were the constant associates of great King Samuel. Of these, Garrick was the only man who had known him almost from the first. The Thrales—a rich brewer and his wife-opened their hospitable house to the Doctor in his declining years. Streatham became more his home than the lonely chambers in Bolt Court. Here he drank countless cups of tea, had his friends from London out to see him, and was, in fact, a second master of the house. But the end was creeping on. One friend after another dropped into the grave. And after two years of compliated disorders-paralysis, dropsy, asthma, and the old melancholy

JOHNSON'S ENGLISH STYLE.

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- he joined the company of illustrious dead that sleep in silence under the stones of Westminster Abbey. On Monday the 13th of December 1784 his last breath was drawn, at his own house in London.

Dr. Johnson's English style demands a few words. So peculiar is it, and such a swarm of imitators grew up during the half century of his greatest fame, that a special name—Johnsonese—has been often used to denote the march of its ponderous classic words. Yet it was not original, and not a many-toned style. There were in our literature, earlier than Dr. Johnson's day, writers who far outdid their Fleet Street disciple in recruiting our native ranks with heavy-armed warriors from the Greek phalanx and the Latin legion. Of these writers Sir Thomas Browne was perhaps the chief. Goldy, as the great Samuel loved to call the author of the “Deserted Village,” got many a sore blow from the Doctor's conversational sledge-hammer; but he certainly contrived to get within the Doctor's guard and hit him home, when he said, “ If you were to write a fable about little fishes, Doctor, you would make the little fishes talk like whales.Macaulay tells us that when Johnson wrote for publication, he did his sentences out of English into Johnsonese. His Letters from the Hebrides to Mrs. Thrale are the original of that work, of which the “Journey to the Hebrides” is a translation; and it is amusing to compare the two versions.

“ When we were taken up stairs," says be in one of his letters, “a dirty fellow bounced out of the bed on which one of us was to lie.” This incident is recorded in the Journey as follows: “Out of one of the beds, on which we were to repose, started up, at our entrance, a man black as a Cyclops from the forge.” Sometimes Johnson translated aloud. “ The Rehearsal,” he said, very unjustly, “has not wit enough to keep it sweet.” Then, after a pause, “ It has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction.”

One of the most natural pieces of English that ever came from Johnson's pen, was his letter to Lord Chesterfield, written in a proud and angry mood to reject the offered patronage of that nobleman. We subjoin it, in preference to heavier specimens of Johnson's style.

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LETTER TO LORD CHESTERFIELD.

February 7th, 1753. My LORD,

I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of The World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your Lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive or in what terms to acknowledge.

When, with some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre,—that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your Lord. ship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.

Seven years, my Lord, have now passed since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing ou my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before. The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks. Is not a patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help?

The notice you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind ; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity, not to confess obligations when no benefit has been received; or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

Llaving carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less ; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation,

My Lord,
Your Lordship’s most humble, most obedient Servant,

SAJ. JOHNSON.

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WILLIAM SHENSTONE, born in 1714, at Leasowes in Shropshire, after receiving his higher education at Pembroke College, Oxford, retired to spend his days upon those acres, of which his father's death had left him master. His chief works are the Schoolmistress, "a descriptive sketch, after the manner of Spenser;" and the Pastoral Ballad, which is considered the finest English specimen of its class. Shenstone died at Leasowes in 1763.

WILLIAM COLLINS, one of our finest writers of the Ode, was the son of a hátter at Chichester, and was born there in 1721. He enjoyed the advantage of a classical education at Winchester, and at Magdalen College, Oxford. The Passions, and his Odes to Liberty and Evening, are his finest lyrical pieces. His Oriental Eclogues, written at college, afford a specimen of his powers in another style—that of descriptive writing. After a short life, clouded with many disappointments, Collins sank into a nervous weakness, which continued until his death in 1759.

MARK AKENSIDE wrote the Pleasures of Imagination. the son of a butcher at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where he was born in 1721. In 1744 he took his degree of M.D. at Leyden. His great poem had already appeared. He enjoyed some practice as a

He was

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