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66 The great
" that is not to the purpose of our argument : " that will as much prove that he can play upon “ the fiddle as well as Giardini, as that he is an & eminent Grecian." GOLDSMITH. " est musical performers have but small emolu“ ments. Giardini, I am told, does not get above “ seven hundred a year." JOHNSON. " That is « indeed but little for a man to get, that does best " that which so many endeavonir to do. There is “ nothing, I think, in which the power of art is “ shewn so much as in playing on the fiddle.
In "all other things we can do something at first.
Any man will forge a bar of iron, if you give “ him a hammer, not so well as a smith, but to
lerably. A man will saw a piece of wood, and “ make a box, though a clumsy one; but give “ him a fiddle, and a fiddle-stick, and he can do u nothing."
As we are considering here the conversation of an eminent moralist, we may once more notice the timid and anxious manner with which he spoke of death and religion. Mr Boswell remarks, that on one occasion, at Oxford, in the year 1784, Dr Johnson surprised a stranger not a little by acknowledging, with a look of horror, that he was much oppressed with the fear of death.
amiable Dr Adams suggested, that God was in “ finitely good.” Johnson. " That he is infinitely « good, as far as the perfection of his nature will « allow, I certainly believe ; but it is necessary “ for good, upon the whole, that individuals should “ be punished. As to an individual, therefore, "he is not infinitely good; and as I cannot be
sure that I have fulfilled the conditions on which
« The be one
“ salvation is granted, I am afraid I
may “ of those who shall be damned.” (Looking dismally. ).-Dr ADAMS. “ What do you mean by “ damned?” JOHNSON, (passionately and loudly.) “ Sent to hell, Sir, and punished everlastingly. Dr ADAMS. “I don't believe that doctrine,»> JOHNSON. “ Hold, Sir;
believe that some “ will be punished at all ?” Dr ADAMS. 66 Be
ing excluded from heaven will be a punishment, “ yet there may be no greater positive suffering." Johnson. “ Well, Sir, but if you
de “gree of punishment, there is an end of your ar
gument ; for infinite goodnes, simply consider“ed, would inflict no punishment whatever. “ There is not infinite goodness, physically con« sidered ; morally, there is.” BOSWELL.
* But may not a man attain to such a degree of $ hope, as not to be uneasy from the fear of « death ?” JOHNSON. “ A man may have “ such a degree of hope as to keep him quiet. s. You see I am not quiet, from the vehemence "" with which I talk ; but I do not despair.' Mrs ADAMS. “ You seem, Sir, to forget the me“ rits of our Redeemer.” JOHNSON. “ Madam, "I do not forget the merits of
Redeemer; " but
Redeemer has said, that he will set some on his right hand, and some his left." He was in a gloomy agitation, and said, “ I'll have “ no more on't."
Upon Johnson's talents, as a writer, it seems unnecessary to make any remarks, because in this respect his merits have been fully appreciated by the world. He is to be considered as a poet, a prose writer, and as a philologist. He indulged, at an early period, the inclination for poetry, which, with or without a capacity, is so frequent ly found in young persons. The superiority of his efforts was such as gives reason to suppose, that had he persevered in that field of intellectual exertion, he might have proved a rival to the reputation of Pope. His first production of this sort, bearing the title of “ London," was an imit. ation, as already mentioned, of the Third Satire of Juvenal, and of works of the same sort by Mr Pope. The vices of the British metropolis were substituted for those of ancient Rome; and Johnson appeared in the character of a severe accuser of the times. The “Vanity of Human Wishes," his next poem, was in imitation of the Tenth Sa. tire of Juvenal. The subject was suitable to the character of Johnson's mind. The leading pro- ; position contained in it is similar to that which Johnson, at a future period, illustrated in his Romance of Rasselas, that good and evil are ill understood, and that the gratification of human wishes uniformly terminates in disappointment. The last words of Juvenal's satire, which Johnson imitated, have been thus translated :
“ leave it to the gods to judge what is « fittest for us. Man is dearer to his Creator than “ to himself. If we must pray for special favour, « let it be for a sound mind in a sound body ; let
for fortitude, that we may think the « labours of Hercules, and all his sufferings, pre« ferable to a life of luxury, and the soft repose
of “ Sardonapalus. This is a blessing within the « reach of every man; this we can give our “selves. It is virtue, and virtue only, that can
6 Let us,”
“ make us happy.” These poems, considered as didactic pieces, possessed great merit, and gained for Johnson a considerable degree of reputation. It is to be observed, however, as a singular fact, that Johnson's poetry, considered as such, appears greatly inferior in fire, in imagery, and in energy, to his prose writings. His tragedy of Irene is founded on the following story, related in Knolles' History of the Turks: “ In 1453, “ Mahomet laid siege to Constantinople, and
having reduced the place, became enamoured of “ a fair Greek, whose name was Irene. The “ Sultan invited her to embrace the law of the
prophet, and to grace his throne. Enraged at “ this intended marriage, the Janizaries formed a
conspiracy to dethrone the Emperor. To avert " the impending danger, Mahomet, in a full assem
bly of the grandees, catching with one hand," as Kuolles relates it, “ the fair Greek by the hair of “ her head, and drawing his falchion with the “ other, he at one blow struck off her head, to the “ great terror of them all ; and having so done, “ said unto them, Now, by this, judge whether
your Emperor is able to bridle his affections or not."
”—The tragedy, which Johnson formed out of that story, may be perused with sufficient pleasure as a descriptive poem; but it contains no vivid and discriminating exhibition of human characters and passions, brought into action by interesting situations. The description which he himself gives of Addison's tragedy of Cato, may without impropriety be applied to Irene.
6 It is ra“ther a poem in dialogue than a drama, rather a "succession of just sentiments, in elegant lan
guage, than a represention of natural affections ; "" nothing excites or assuages emotion. The “ events are expected without solicitude, and are “ remembered without joy or sorrow.
Of the agents we have no care ; we consider not what “they are doing, nor what they are suffering
wish only to know what they have to say. " It is unaffecting elegance, and chill philosophy.”
Johnson's two great works, upon which his reputation chiefly rests, were carried on at the same time, that is to say, his Dictionary and the Rambler. The world was justly astonished by the magnitude of the first of these works, and the wonderful power of application which it implied, when considered as produced by an individual. Previous to that period, the French academy had employed forty of their members to prepare a dictionary to fix their language; but in Britain the task had been executed by one man, unprotected by Government, and supported merely by the enterprising spirit of a few booksellers in Lon. don.-This circumstance induced Garrick to write the following epigram
On Jobnson's Dictionary.
Talk of war with a Briton, he'll boldly advance