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language. The Welsh and the Irish were more cultivated. In Earse there was not in the world a single manuscript a hundred years
old. Martin, who, in the last century, published an Account of the Western Islands, mentions Irish, but never Earse, manuscripts, to be found in the islands in his time. The bards could not read ; if they could, they might probably have written. But the bard was a barbarian among barbarians, and, knowing nothing himself, lived with others that knew no more. If there is a manuscript from which the translation was made, in what age was it written, and where is it? If it was collected from oral recitation, it could only be in detached parts and scattered fragments : the whole is too long to be remembered.” Who put it together in its present form? For these, and such like reasons, Johnson calls the whole an imposture. He
“ The editor, or author, never could show the original, nor can it be shown by any other. To revenge reasonable incredulity, by refusing evidence, is a degree of insolence with which the world is not yet acquainted; and stubborn audacity is the last refuge of guilt.” This reasoning carries with
it great weight. It roused the resentment of Mr. Macpherson. He sent a threatening letter to the author ; and Johnson answered him in the rough phrase of stern defiance. The two heroes frowned at a distance, but never came to action.
In the year 1777, the misfortunes of Dr. Dodd excited his compassion. He wrote a speech for that unhappy man, when called up to receive judgment of death ; besides two petitions, one to the King, and another to the Queen; and a sermon to be preached by Dodd to the convicts in Newgate. It may appear trifling to add, that about the same time he wrote a prologue to the comedy of A Word to the Wise, written by Hugh Kelly. The play, some years before, had been damned by a party on the first night. It was revived for the benefit of the author's widow. Mrs. Piozzi relates, that when Johnson was rallied for these exertions, so close to one another, his answer was, “ When they come to me with a dying parson, and a dead staymaker, what can a man do ?" We come now to the last of his literary labours. At the request of the booksellers he undertook the Lives of the Poets. The first publication was in 1779, and the whole was completed in 1781. In a memorandum of that
he says, some time in March he finished the Lives of the Poets, which he wrote in his usual way, dilatorily and hastily, unwilling to work, yet working with vigour and haste. In another place, he hopes they are written in such a manner as may tend to the promotion of piety. That the history of so many men, who, in their different degrees, made themselves conspicuous in their time, was not written recently after their deaths, seems to be an omission that does no honour to the republic of letters. Their contemporaries in general looked on with calm indifference, and suffered Wit and Genius to vanish out of the world in total silence, unregarded, and unlamented. Was there no friend to pay the tribute of a tear? No just observer of life, to record the virtues of the deceased ? Was even Envy silent ? It seemed to have been agreed, that if an author's works survived, the history of the man was to give no moral lesson to after-ages. If tradition told us that Ben Jonson went to the Devil Ta
vern; that Shakspeare stole deer, and held the stirrup at playhouse doors; that Dryden frequented Button's Coffee-house ; curiosity was lulled asleep, and Biography forgot the best part of her function, which is to instruct mankind by examples taken from the school of life. This task remained for Dr. Johnson, when years had rolled
when the channels of information were, for the most
and little remained besides doubtful anecdote, uncertain tradition, and vague report.
Nunc situs informis premit et deserta Vetustas."
The value of biography has been better understood in other ages, and in other countries. Tacitus informs us, that to record the lives and characters of illustrious men was the practice of the Roman authors, in the early periods of the Republic. In France the example has been followed. Fontenelle, D'Alembert, and Monsieur Thomas, have left models in this kind of composition. They have embalmed the dead. But it is true, that they had incitements and advantages, even at a distant day, which could not, by
any diligence, be obtained by Dr. Johnson. The wits of France had ample materials. They lived in a nation of critics, who had at heart the honour done to their country by their poets, their heroes, and their philosophers. They had, besides, an Academy of Belles Lettres, where genius was cultivated, refined, and encouraged. They had the tracts, the essays, and dissertations, which remain in the Memoires of the Academy, and they had the speeches of the several members, delivered at their first admission to a seat in that learned assembly. In those speeches the new academician did ample justice to the memory of his predecessor; and though his harangue was decorated with the colours of eloquence, and was, for that reason, called panegyric, yet being pronounced before qualified judges, who knew the talents, the conduct, and morals of the deceased, the speaker could not, with propriety, wander into the regions of fiction. The truth was known, before it was adorned. The Academy saw the marble, before the artist polished it. But this country has had no Academy of Literature. The public mind,