Imatges de pàgina
PDF
EPUB

witty man. He was an instance of the truth of the observation, that a man will please more upon the whole by negative qualities than by positive ; by never offending, than by giving a great deal of delight. In the first place men hate more steadily than they love ; and if I have said something to hurt a vain man once, I shall not get the better of this by saying many things to please bin.”

We turn over many dull uninteresting pages, dull probably : as they are not new, and uninteresting as they contain nothing of importance. Mr. E’s remarks on parliamentary speaking are excellent: those who recollect the influence of the minority in the late Russian armament, will be more fully struck with the speaker's judgment and accuracy of distinction. ,

· Mr. E. I don't mean to flatter, but when pofterity reads one of your speeches in parliament, it will be difficult to believe that you took so much pains, knowing with certainty that it could produce no. effect, that not one vote would be gained by it.' E. Waving your, compliment to me, I Mall say in general, that it is very well worth while for a man to take pains to speak well in parliament. A man who has vanity, speaks to display his talents ; and if a man fpeaks well he gradually establishes a certain reputation and consequence in the general opinion, which sooner or later will have its political reward. Besides, though not one vote is gained, a good speech has its effect. Though an act which has been ably opposed passes into a law, yet in its progress it is modelled, it is. softened in fuch a manner, that we see plainly the minifter has been told, that the members attached to him are so sensible of its injustice or absurdity from what they have heard, that it must be altered.' JOHNSON. • And, Sir, there is a gratification of pride. Though we cannot out-vote them we will out-argue them. They thall not do wrong without its being shown both to themselves and to the world.” E. " The house of commons is a mixed body. (I except the minority, which I hold to be pure

Smilingbat I take the whole houfe.) It is a mass by no means pure ; but neither is it wholly corrupt, though there is a larger proportion of corruption in it. There are many members who generally go with the minister, who will not go all leng:hs. There are many honeft well-meaning country gentlemen, who are in parliament only to keep up the consequence of their families. Upon moit of these a good speech will have influence.' JOHNSON.

We are all more or less governed by interest. But interest will not make us do every thing. In a case which admits of doubt, we try to shink on the side which is for our interest, and generally bring ourselves to act accordingly. But the subject must admit

T 4

Hili W

of diversity of colouring; it must receive a colour on that fide, In the house of commons there are members enough who will not vote what is grossly unjust or absurd. No, Sir, there must always be right enough, or appearance of right, to keep wrong in coun, tenance.' BOSWELL. • There is surely always a majority in parliament who have places, or who want to have them, and who therefore will be generally ready to support government without requiring any pretext.' E. • True Sir; that majority will always follow .

Quo clamor vocat et turba faventium.' Boswell. Well now, let us take the common phrase, place, hunters. I thought they had hunted without regard to any thing, just as their huntsman, the ininifter, leads, looking only to the prey J. But taking your metaphor, you know that in hunt. ing there are few so desperately keen as to follow without reserve. Some do not choose to leap hedges and ditches and risk their necks, or gallop over steeps, or even to dirty themselves in bogs and mire', Boswell. • I am glad there are some good, quiet, maderate political hunters. E. 'I believe in any body of men in England I fhould have been in the minority; I have always been in the mi. nority.' P. · The house of commons resembles a private company. How seldom is any man convinced by another's argument; paflion and pride rise against it.' R. “What would be the consequence, if a minister, sure of a majority in the house of commons, should resolve that there should be no sp«aking at all upon his side.' E. • He must soon go out. That has been tried; but it was found it would not do.'

The numerous instances of Johnson's defect in scientific pursuits, in subjects of taste, or occasionally of general infora mation, it is useless to detail. The servility, the itare of wonder, and the astonishment of general indiscriminate admiration, so conspicuous in almost every page of his collector's narrative, have already been the subjects of ridicule in various different forms and publications. We have, however, said that Mr. Boswell is generally lively in his remarks, and sometimes accurate in his comments. If the following passage, which occurs in p. 371 of the second volume, is his own, it shows a correctness of discrimination which must add to the credit of his discernment, Johnson again, in his 720 year, drank wine, and drank it greedily. Every thing, adds our author, about his character and manners, were forcible and violent; there never was any moderation. Many a day did he fast, many a year refrain from wine; but when he did eat, it was yoracioully; when he did drink wine, it was copiously, He could praflise abstinence, but not temperance.' Had Mr. Bore well written an octavo in this style, he might have failed down the stream of time with Johnson ; but even of this splendid sentence, if we recollect rightly, we may say — Alas, matter, it is borrowed.' - Yet we think the short concluding character of Johnson is drawn with great spirit and propri

ety.

His figure was large and well formed, and his countenance of the cait of an ancient statue ; yet his appearance was rendered strange and somewhat uncouth, by convulsive cramps, by the scars of that difemper which it was once imagined the royal touch could cure, and by a slovenly mode of dress. He had the use only of one eye ; yet so much does mind govern and even supply the deficiency of organs, that his visual perceptions, as far as they extended, were uncommonly quick and accurate. So morbid was his temperament, that he never knew the natural joy of a free and vigorous use of his limbs : when he walked, it was like the struggling gait of one in fetters; when he rode, he had no command or direction of his horse, but was carried as if in a balloon. That with his constitution and habits of life he should have lived seventy-five years, is a proof that an inherent vivida vis is a powerful preservative of the human frame.'

· He was afflicted with a bodily disease which made him restless and fretful, and with a constitutional melancholy, the clouds of which darkened the brightness of his fancy, and gave a gloomy caft to his whole course of thinking: we therefore ought not to wonder at his fallies of impatience and passion at any time, espe. cially when provoked by obtrusive ignorance or presuming petulance; and allowance must be made for his uttering halty and satirical fallies, even against his best friends. And surely, when it is considered that “amidit sickness and forrow.' he exerted his faculties in so many works for the benefit of mankind, and parti. cularly that he achieved the great and admirable Dictionary of our language, we must be astonished at his resolution. The solemn text of " him to whom much is given, much will be requir. ed,' seems to have been ever present to his mind in a rigorous sense, and to have made him dissatisfied with his labours and acts of goodness, however comparatively great; so that the unavoidable consciousness of his superiority was in that respect a cause of disquiet. He suffered so much from this, and from the gloom which perpetually haunted him, and made solitude frightful, that it may be said of him, “If in this life only he had hope, he was of all men most miserable.' He loved praise when it was brought to him ; but was too proud to seek for it. He was somewhat fuse

ceptible ceptible of Battery. As he was general and unconfined in his tudics, he cannot be considered as master of any one particular science; but he had accumulated a vast and various collection of learning and knowledge, which was so arranged in his mind, as to be ever in readinets to be brougót forth. But his fuperiority over other learned men condiit.d chiefly in what may be called the art of thinking, the art of using his mind; a certain continual power of leizing the useful fubftance of all thac he knew, and exbibiting it in a clear and forcible manner; so that knowledge which we often see lo be no better than lumber in men of dull understanding, was in him true, evident, and actual wisdom. His meral precepts are practical ; for they are drawn from an intimate acquaintance with human nature. His maxims carry con. viétion ; for they are founded on the basis of common sense. His mind was so full of imagery, that he might have been perpetually a poet; yet it is remarkable, that however rich his prose is in that s:spect, the poetical pieces which he wrote were in general Do: fo, but rather strong sentiment and acute observation, cone seved in good verfe, particularly in heroic couplets. Though vfually grave and even aweful in his deportment, he possessed uncominon and peculiar powers of wit and humour; he frequently indulged himfelf in colloquial pleafantry; and the heartiett merriment was often enjoyed in his company ; with this great advan-tage, that as it was entirely free from any poisonous tincture of vice or impiety, it was falutary for those who thared in it. He had accuftomed himfelf to fuch accuracy in his common conversatioo, that he at all times delivered himself wiih a force, and elegant choice of expreffion, the effe&t of which was aided by his having a load voice, and a flow deliberate utterance. He united a most logica) head with a most fertile imagination, which gave him an extraordinary advantage in arguing; for he could reason close or wide, as he saw best for the moment."

It is scarcely necessary for us to add any thing respecting Johnson's character. We have said enough of his general knowledge, his comprehensive views, and the accuracy of his intellectual attainments. The morbid melancholy may be the subject of some remarks, as human reason may seem to be degraded by imperfections inseparable from the constitution of finite beings; and the lustre of a character, which notwithstanding some spots, spots occasionally of magnitude, is singularly brilliant, may be sullied. This may, however, rea quire a short discussion.

Whatever be the arguments in favour of free-will, of volition unrestrained by the force and prevalence of motives, it must be allowed that the effects of reason on the human mind are not at all times and on all subjects equally powerful, Nor

hich habis general feelicarly allied to land, those para

is this always the consequence of early prejudice or precon. ceived opinion: it is a part of the conftitution of the human mind, which, with a kind of prismatic power, will reflect some rays and retain others. It is very conspicuous in different the arts and sciences, which persons of a peculiar genius can never attain : it is observable also, that some will retain, with a fixed perseverance ideas which others imperfectly conceive or foon lose. This was the case with Johnson: educated early in the doctrines of the church of England, those parts of her tenets which are most nearly allied to Calvinism, were congenial to his general feelings ; and they made an impression which habits confirmed, and which reason, if ever exerted, could not efface. In him, probably, they were fixed before reason dawned, and gave an irritability to his mind on these subjects, which, on the lightest vibration, would occasion pain, and rouse him to violence. In what these peculiar states of mind confist, it is impossible to ascertain; and it is sufficient, as in the natural world, to refer any occurrence to a general law. But when this peculiar irritability is established, and when, from indulgence, it has arisen to any considerable degree, the disease almost amounts to a partial madness : on the peculiar subjects, terrors and apprehensions hurry away the unhappy sufferer, and reason or resolution has no longer any power. At the latter part of Johnson's life these terrors had a confiderable effect, nor was their influence lost till disease had weakened his powers and blunted his feelings -Mr. Bofwell has sufficiently shown the absurdity of the fufpicion, that Johnson endeavoured to shorten his sufferings by a voluntary death. The attempt was only to do more perfectly what he feared the timidity of the surgeon would not allow him to execute properly: yet his whole conduct showed an unmanly irresolu: tion to protract the last scene, the scene which man, born to die, muft certainly at some time act; which no wise man would wish to haften, nor, when the period is arrived, weakly endeavour to shun. .

We wish we could add, that some other parts of Johnson's character were as effectually defended. The application for an increase of his pension, when the lamp of life glimmered on its socket, and his own fortune was amply fufficient to have enabled him to seek a more genial clime, was a meanness which eloquence or argument cannot gloss over or refute. The disposal of his effects was another error: it was more; it was unkindness and ingratitude. But these are faults which we only point out to prevent his example from becoming contagions : in the general character they are blots, but they are not connected with his literary fame: they obscure his brilliancy in

some

« AnteriorContinua »