Imatges de pàgina
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“ grammarians and commenfators; men, who have been copying one another

many hundred years, without any improvement; or, if they have ven“ tured farther, have only applied in a mechanical manner the rules of anti“ ent criticks, to modern writings, and with great labour discovered nothing “ bat their own want of judgement and capacity. As Mr. Johnson penetrates

to the bottom of his subject, by which means his observations are solid " and natural, as well as delicate, so his design is always to bring to light “ something useful and ornamental; whence bis character is the reverse to

theirs, who have eminent abilities in insignificant knowledge, and a great

felicity in finding out trifles. He is no less indutrious to search out the “merit of an author, than sagacious in discerning his errors and defects ; « and takes more pleasure in commending the beauties than exposing the “ blemishes of a laudable writing: like Horace, in a long work, he can bear “ some deformities, and justly lay them on the imperfection of human nature "s which is incapable of fautless productions. When an excellent Drama

appears in publick, and by its intrinsick worth attracts a general applause, “s he is not stung with envy and spleen; nor does he express a savage nature, "in fastening upon the celebrated author, dwelling upon his imaginary de“ fects, and passing over his conspicuous excellences. He treats all writers

upon the same impartial foot ; and is not, like the little criticks, taken up “ entirely in finding out only the beauties of the ancient, and nothing but

the errors of the modern writers. Never did any one express more kird“ ness and good-nature to young and unfinished authors; he promotes their

interests, protects their reputation, extenuates their faults, and sets off their virtues, and by his candour guards them from the severity of his

judgement. He is not like those dry criticks who are morose because they “ cannot write themselves, but is himself master of a good vein in poetry: " and though he does often employ it, yet he has sometimes entertained “ his friends with his unpublished performances.”

The rest of the Lay Monks seem to be but feeble Mortals, in comparison with the gigantic Johnson ;, who yet, with all his abilities, and the help of the fraternity, could drive the publication but to forty papers, which were afterwards collected into a volume, and called in the title A Sequel 10 the Spectators.

Some years afterwards (1716 and 1717) he published two volumes of Essays in prose, which can be commended only as they are written for the highest and noblest purpose, the promotion of religion. Blackmore's prose is not the prose of a poet ; for it is languid, sluggish, and lifeles ; bis diciten

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is neither daring nor exact, his flow neither rapid nor easy, and his periods neither smooth nor strong. His account of Wit will shew with how little clearness he is content to think, and how little his thoughts are recommended by his language.

" As to its efficient cause, Wit owes its production to an extraordinary and

peculiar temperament in the constitution of the possessor of it, in which " is found a concurrence of regular and exalced ferments, and an afluence “ of animal spirits, refined and rectified to a great degree of purity; whence, “ being endowed with vivacity, brightness, and celerity, as well in their re“ Aections as direct motions, they become proper instruments for the sprite" ly operations of the mind; by which means the imagination can with

great facility range the wide field of Nature, contemplate an infinite ya.

riety of objects, and, by observing the similitude and disagreement of their “ several qualities, single out and abstract, and then suit and unite those “ideas which will best serve its purpose. Hence beautiful allusions, sur

prising metaphors, and admirable sentiments, are always ready at hand :" and while the fancy is full of images collected from innumerable objects,

and their different qualities, relations, and habitudes, it can at pleasure “ dress a common notion in a strange but becoming garb ; by which, as be“ fore observed, the same thought will appear a new one, to the great de

light and wonder of the hearer. What we call genius results from this

particular happy complexion in the formation of the first person that enjoys “it, and is Nature's gift, but diversified by various specifick characters and li“mitations, as its active fire is blended and allayed by different proportions " of phlegm, or reduced and regulated by the contrast of opposite ferments, “Therefore, as there happens in the composition of facetious genius a

greater or less, though still an inferior, degree of judgement and prudence, “ one man of wit will be varied and distinguished from another."

In these Essays he took little care to propitiate the wits ; for he scorns to avert their malice at the expence of virtue or of truth.

“ Several, in their books, have many sarcastical and spiteful strokes at re"ligion in general ; while others make themselves pleasant with the princi“ples of the Christian. Of the last kind, this age has seen a most audacious

example in the book entitled A Tale of a Tub. Had this writing been published in a págan or popish nation, who are justly impatient of all in

dignity offered to the established religion of their country, no doubt but " the author would have received the punishment he deserved. But the " fate of this impious buffoon is very different ; for in a protestant king“ dom, zealous of their civil and religious iinmunities, he has not only escaped affronts and the effects of publick resentment, but has been ca

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“ ressed and patronized by persons of great figure, and of all denominations, “ Violent party-men, who differed in all things besides, agrond in their turn

to shew particular respect and friendship to this insolent derider of the “ worship of his country, till at last the reputed writer is not only gone off * with impunity, but triumphs in his dignity and preferment. I do not “ know that any inquiry or search was ever made after this writing, or that

any reward was ever offered for the discovery of the author, or that the « infainous book was ever condemned to be burnt in publick : whether this “ proceeds from the excessive esteem and love that men in power, during " the late reign, liad' for wit, or their defect of zeal and concern for the " Christian religion, will be determined best by those who are best ac

quainted with their character.”.

In another place he speaks with becoming abhorrence of a godless author who has burlesqued a Psalın. This author was supposed to be Pope, who published a reward for any one that would produce the coiner of the accusation, but never denied it; and was afterwards the perpetual and incessant enemy of Blackmore.

One of his Essays is 'upon the Spleen, which is treated by him so much to his own satisfaction, that he has published the same thoughts in the same words ; first in the Lay Monastery; then in the Essay; and then in the Preface to a Medical Treatise on the Spleen. One passage, which I have found already twice, I will here exhibit, because I think it better imagined, and better expressed, than could be expected from the common tenour of his prose:

“ - As the several combinations of splenetic madness and folly produce “ an infinite variety of irregular understanding, so the amicable accommoda" tion and alliance between several virtues and vices produce an equal di“ versity in the dispositions and manners of mankind; whence it comes to

pass, that as many monstrous and absurd productions are found in the “ moral as in the intellectual world. How surprising is it to observe among “the least culpable men, some whose minds are attracted by heaven and “ earth, with a seeming equal force ; some who are proud of humility; “ others who are censorious and uncharitable, yet self-denying and devout;

some who join contempt of the world with sordid avarice; and others, “who preserve a great degree of piety, with ill-nature and ungoverned “ passions ; nor are instances of this inconsistent mixture less frequent among “ bad men, where we often, with admiration, see persons at once gene

rous and unjust, impious lovers of their country, and flagitious heroes, good-natured sharpers, immoral men of honour, and libertines who “ will sooner die than change their religion ; and though it is true that

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repugnant coalitions of so high a degree are found but in a part of mankind “yet none of the whole mass, either good or bad, are intirely exempted " from some absurd mixture.”

He about this time (Aug. 22, 1716) became one of the Elects of the College of Physicians; and was soon after (Oct. 1.) chosen Censor. He seems to have arrived late, whatever was the reason, at his medical honours.

Having succeeded so well in his book on Creation, by which he established the great principle of all Religion, he thought his undertaking imperfect, unless he likewise enforced the truth of Revelation ; and for that. purpose added another poem on Redemption. He had likewise written, before his Creation, three books on the Nature of Man.

The lovers of musical devotion have always wished for a more happy metrical version than they have yet obtained of the book of Psalms: this wish the piety of Blackmore led him to gratify ; and he produced (1721) a new Version of the Psalms of David, fitted to the Tunes used in Churches ; which, being recommended by the archbishops and many bishops, obtained a licence for its admission into publick worship; but no admission has it yet obtained, nor has it any right to come where Brady and Tate have got possession. Blackmore's name must be added to those of many others, who, by the same attempt, have obtained only the praise of meaning well.

He was not yet deterred from heroick poetry ; there was another monarch of this island, for he did not fetch his herces from foreign countries, whom be considered as worthy of the Epic muse, and he dignified Alfred (1723) with twelve books. But the opinion of the nation was now settled ; a hero introduced by Blackmore was not likely to find either respect or kindness ; Alfred took his place by Eliza in silence and darkness : benevolence was ashamed to favour, and malice was weary of insulting. Of his four Epic Poems, the first had such reputation and popularity as enraged the criticks; the second was at least known enough to be ridiculed; the two last had neither friends nor enemies.

Contempt is a kind of gangrene, which if it seizes one part of a character corrupts all the rest by degrees. Blackmore, being despised as a poet, was in time neglected as a physician ; his practice, which was once invidiously great, forsook him in the latter part of his life ; but being by nature, or by principle, averse from idleness, he employed his unwelcome leisure in writing books on physick, and reaching others to cure those whom he could himself cure no longer. I know not whether I can enumerate all the. treatises by which he has endeavoured to diffuse the art of healing ; for there is scarcely any distemper, of dreadful name, which he has not taught the reader how to oppose. He has written on the small-pox, with a vehe

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ment invective against inoculation; on consumptions, the spleen, the gout, the rheumatism, the king's-evil, the dropsy, the jaundice, the stone, the diabetes, and the plague.

Of those books, if I had read them, it could not be expected that I should be able to give a critical account. I have been told that there is something in them of vexation and discontent, discovered by a perpetual attempt to degrade physick from its sublimiry, and to represent it as attainable without much previous or concomitant learning. By the transient glances which I have thrown upon them, I have observed an affected contempt of the Ancients, and a supercilious derision of transmitted knowledge. Of this index cent arrogance the following quotation from his preface to the Treatise on the Small-pox will afford a specimen: in which, when the reader finds, wha I fear is true, that when he was censuring Hippocrates he did not kaow the difference between aphorism and apophthegm, he will not pay much regard to his determinations concerning ancient learning.

“ As for this book of Aphorisms, it is like my lord Bacon's of the same “sitle, a book of jests, or a grave collection of trite and trifling observati “ons; of which though many are true and certain, yet they signify nos " thing, and may afford diversion, but no instruction ; most of them being “ much inferior to the sayings of the wise men of Greece, which yet are so

low and mean, that we are entertained every day with more valuable sen"timents at the table conversation of ingenious and learned men.

I am unwilling, however, to leave him in total disgrace, and will therefore quote from another Preface a passage less reprehensible.

:Some gentlemen have been disingenuous and unjust to me, by wresting 4. and forcing my meaning in the Preface to another book, as if I con« demned and exposed all learning, though they knew I declared that I " greatly honoured and esteemned all men of superior literature and erudi" tion; and that'l only undervalued false or superficial learning, that sig

nifies nothing for the service of mankind; and that, as to physick, I exs pressly affirmed that learning must be joined with native genius to make " a physician of the first rank; but if those talents are separated, I asserted, "5 and do still insist, that a man of native sagacity and diligence will prove 2 " more able and usefal practiser, than a heavy notional scholar, encumbered "s with a heap of confused ideas."

He was not only a poet and a physician, but produced likewise a work of a different kind, A true and impartial History of the Conspiracy against King William of glorious Memory, in the year 1695. This I have never seen, but stippose it at least compiled with integrity. He engaged likewise in theological controversy, and wrote two books against the Arians ; Just Prejudices against the Arian Hypothesis ; and Modern Arians unmasked. Another of his works is Natural Theology or Moral Duties considered a part

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