Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

In satires, epistles, and odes, would they cope,
Their numbers retreat before Dryden and Pope;
And Johnson, well-arm'd, like a hero of yore,
Has beat forty French, and will beat forty more!

Johnson this year gave at once a proof of his benevolence, quickness of apprehension, and admirable art of composition, in the assistance which he gave to Mr. Zachariah Williams, father of the blind lady whom he had humanely received under his roof. Mr. Williams had followed the profession of physick in Wales; but having a very strong propensity to the study of natural philosophy, had made many ingenious advances towards a discovery of the longitude, and repaired to London in hopes of obtaining the great parliamentary reward. He failed of success; but Johnson having made himself master of his principles and experiments, wrote for him a pamphlet, published in quarto, with the following title: an Account of an Attempt to ascertain the Longitude at Sea, by an exact Theory of the Variation of the Magnetical Needle; with a Table of the Variations at the most remarkable Cities in Europe, from the year 1660 to 1860.† To diffuse it more extensively, it was accompanied with an Italian translation on the opposite page, which it is supposed was the work of Signor Baretti, an Italian of considerable literature, who having come to England a few years before, had been employed in the capacity both of a language master and an author, and formed an intimacy with Dr. Johnson. This pamphlet Johnson presented to the Bodleian library. On a blank leaf of it is pasted a paragraph cut out of a newspaper, containing an account of the death and character of Williams, plainly written by Johnson".

* The number of the French academy employed in settling their language. y This ingenious foreigner, who was a native of Piedmont, came to England about the year 1753, and died in London, May 5, 1789. A very candid and judicious account of him and his works, beginning with the words, "So much asperity," and written, it is believed, by a distinguished dignitary in the church, may be found in the Gentleman's Magazine for that year, p. 469.—Malone.

z "On Saturday the 12th [of July 1755,] about twelve at night, died Mr. Za

In July this year he had formed some scheme of mental improvement, the particular purpose of which does not appear. But we find in his Prayers and Meditations, a prayer entitled, on the Study of Philosophy, as an instrument of living; and after it follows a note, "This study was not pursued."

On the 13th of the same month he wrote in his Journal the following scheme of life, for Sunday: "Having lived," (as he with tenderness of conscience expresses himself,) "not without an habitual reverence for the Sabbath, yet without that attention to its religious duties which christianity requires;"

1. To rise early, and in order to it, to go to sleep early on Saturday.

"2. To use some extraordinary devotion in the morning. "3. To examine the tenour of my life, and particularly the last week; and to mark my advances in religion, or recession from it.

"4. To read the scripture methodically with such helps as are at hand.

"5. To go to church twice.

"6. To read books of divinity, either speculative or practical.

"7. To instruct my family.

"8. To wear off by meditation any worldly soil contracted in the week."

In 1756 Johnson found that the great fame of his Dictionary had not set him above the necessity of "making provision for the day that was passing over him." No

chariah Williams, in his eighty-third year, after an illness of eight months, in full possession of his mental faculties. He has been long known to philosophers and seamen for his skill in magnetism, and his proposal to ascertain the longitude by a peculiar system of the variation of the compass. He was a man of industry indefatigable, of conversation inoffensive, patient of adversity and disease, eminently sober, temperate, and pious; and worthy to have ended life with better fortune."-BosWELL.

a He was so far from being "set above the necessity of making provision for the day that was passing over him," that he appears to have been in this year in great pecuniary distress, having been arrested for debt; on which occasion his

royal or noble patron extended a munificent hand to give independence to the man who had conferred stability on the language of his country. We may feel indignant that there should have been such unworthy neglect; but we must at the same time congratulate ourselves, when we consider, that to this very neglect, operating to rouse the natural indolence of his constitution, we owe many valu-, able productions, which otherwise, perhaps, might never have appeared.

He had spent, during the progress of the work, the money for which he had contracted to write his Dictionary. We have seen that the reward of his labour was only fifteen hundred and seventy-five pounds; and when the expense of amanuenses and paper, and other articles are deducted, his clear profit was very inconsiderable. I once said to him, "I am sorry, sir, you did not get more for your Dictionary." His answer was, "I am sorry too. But it was very well. The booksellers are generous, liberal-minded men." He, upon all occasions, did ample jus tice to their character in this respect. He considered them as the patrons of literature; and, indeed, although they have eventually been considerable gainers by his Dictionary, it is to them that we owe its having been undertaken and carried through at the risk of great expense, for they were not absolutely sure of being indemnified.

b

On the first day of this year we find from his private

friend, Samuel Richardson, became his surety. See a letter from Johnson to him on that subject, dated Feb. 19, 1756. Richardson's Correspondence, vol. v. p. 283. Dr. Johnson made another application to Mr. Richardson, in a letter dated March 16, of the same year, stating that he was arrested for 5l. 18s. Mr. Richardson sent six guineas. See Murphy's Life of Johnson. It appeared first in the Gent. Mag. about 1786-7.

b In April in this year, Johnson wrote a letter to Dr. Joseph Warton, in consequence of having read a few pages of that gentleman's newly-published Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope. The only paragraph in it that respects Johnson's personal history is this: "For my part I have not lately done much. I have been ill in the winter, and my eye has been inflamed; but I please myself with the hopes of doing many things, with which I have long pleased and deceived myself!" Memoirs of Dr. J. Warton, etc. 4to. 1806.MALONE.

devotions, that he had then recovered from sickness, and in February, that his eye was restored to its used. The pious gratitude with which he acknowledges mercies upon every occasion is very edifying; as is the humble submission which he breathes when it is the will of his heavenly Father to try him with afflictions. As such dispositions become the state of man here, and are the true effects of religious discipline, we cannot but venerate in Johnson one of the most exercised minds that our holy religion hath ever formed. If there be any thoughtless enough to suppose such exercise the weakness of a great understanding, let them look up to Johnson, and be convinced that what he so earnestly practised must have a rational foundation.

His works this year were, an abstract or epitome, in octavo, of his folio Dictionary, and a few essays in a monthly publication, entitled, the Universal Visiter.Christopher Smart, with whose unhappy vacillation of mind he sincerely sympathized, was one of the stated undertakers of this miscellany; and it was to assist him that Johnson sometimes employed his pen. All the essays

marked with two asterisks have been ascribed to him; but I am confident, from internal evidence, that of these neither the Life of Chaucer, Reflections on the State of Portugal, nor an Essay on Architecture, were written by him. I am equally confident, upon the same evidence, that he wrote, Further Thoughts on Agriculture;+ being the sequel of a very inferiour essay on the same subject, and which, though carried on as if by the same hand, is both in thinking and expression so far above it, and so strikingly peculiar, as to leave no doubt of its true parent; and that he also wrote a Dissertation on the State of Literature and Authors, and a Dissertation on the Epitaphs written by Pope. The last of these, indeed, he afterwards added to his Idler. Why the essays truly written by him are

*

d Ibid. p. 212.

• Prayers and Meditations, vol. ix. p. 211. * See this luminous tract in Johnson's works, vol. v. p. 315, and the observations of the Edinburgh Review upon it.-ED.

marked in the same manner with some which he did not write, I cannot explain; but with deference to those who have ascribed to him the three essays which I have rejected, they want all the characteristical marks of Johnsonian composition.

He engaged also to superintend and contribute largely to another monthly publication, entitled the Literary Magazine, or Universal Review;* the first number of which came out in May this year. What were his emoluments from this undertaking, and what other writers were emHe continued to ployed in it, I have not discovered. write in it, with intermissions, till the fifteenth number; and I think that he never gave better proofs of the force, acuteness, and vivacity of his mind, than in this miscellany, whether we consider his original essays, or his reviews of the works of others. The Preliminary Address to the publick, is a proof how this great man could embellish, with the graces of superiour composition, even so trite a thing as the plan of a magazine.

His original essays are, an Introduction to the Political State of Great Britain;+ Remarks on the Militia Bill; Observations on his Britannick Majesty's Treaties with the Empress of Russia and the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel; † Observations on the present State of Affairs; and, Memoirs of Frederick the Third, King of Prussia. In all these he displays extensive political knowledge and sagacity, expressed with uncommon energy and perspicuity, without any of those words which he sometimes took a pleasure in adopting, in imitation of sir Thomas Browne; of whose Christian Morals he this year gave an edition, with his Life* prefixed to it, which is one of Johnson's best biographical performances. In one instance only in these essays has he indulged his Brownism. Dr. Robertson the historian mentioned it to me, as having at once convinced him that Johnson was the author of the Memoirs of the King of Prussia. Speak

The first number came out on April 15, the second in May. They were published unlike the other magazines, on the 15th of each month.

« AnteriorContinuar »