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for centuries, has been engrossed by party and faction; "by the madness of many for the gain of a few;" by civil wars, religious dissensions, trade and commerce, and the arts of accumulating wealth. Amidst such attentions, who can wonder that cold praise has been often the only reward of merit? In this country Doctor Nathaniel Hodges, who, like the good bishop of Marseilles, drew purer breath amidst the contagion of the plague in London, and, during the whole time, continued in the city, administering medical assistance, was suffered, as Johnson used to relate with tears in his eyes, to die for debt in a gaol. In this country, the man who brought the New River to London was ruined by that noble project; and in this country Otway died for want on Tower-hill; Butler, the great author of Hudibras, whose name can only die with the English language, was left to languish in poverty, the particulars of his life almost unknown, and scarce a vestige of him left except his immortal poem. Had there been an Academy of Literature, the lives, at least, of those celebrated persons would have been written
for the benefit of posterity. Swift, it seems, had the idea of such an institution, and proposed it to Lord Oxford ; but Whig and Tory were more important objects. It is needless to dissemble, that Dr. Johnson, in the Life of Roscommon, talks of the inutility of such a project. "In this country," he 66 says, an Academy could be expected to do but little. If an academician's place were profitable, it would be given by interest; if attendance were gratuitous, it would be rarely paid, and no man would endure the least disgust. Unanimity is impossible, and debate would separate the assembly." To this it may be sufficient to answer, that the Royal Society has not been dissolved by sullen disgust; and the modern Academy at Somerset-house has already performed much, and promises more. Unanimity is not necessary to such an assembly. On the contrary, by difference of opinion, and collision of sentiment, the cause of literature would thrive and flourish. The true principles of criticism, the secret of fine writing, the investigation of antiquities, and other interesting subjects, might occasion a clash of opinions; but in that contention truth would receive
illustration, and the essays of the several members would supply the Memoirs of the Academy. "But," says Dr. Johnson, suppose the philological decree made and promulgated, what would be its authority? In absolute government there is sometimes a general reverence paid to all that has the sanction of power, the countenance of greatness. How little this is the state of our country needs not to be told. The edicts of an English academy would probably be read by many, only that they may be sure to disobey them. The present manners of the nation would deride authority, and therefore nothing is left, but that every writer should criticize himself." This surely is not conclusive. It is by the standard of the best writers that every man settles for himself his plan of legitimate composition; and since the authority of superior genius is acknowledged, that authority, which the individual obtains, would not be lessened by an association with others of distinguished ability. It may, therefore, be inferred, that an Academy of Literature would be an establishment highly useful, and an honour to literature. In such an institution profitable places
would not be wanted. Vatis avarus haud facile est animus; and the minister, who shall find leisure from party and faction to carry such a scheme into execution, will, in all probability, be respected by posterity as the Mæcenas of letters.
We now take leave of Dr. Johnson as an author. Four volumes of his Lives of the Poets were published in 1778, and the work was completed in 1781. Should biography fall again into disuse, there will not always be a Johnson to look back through a century, and give a body of critical and moral instruction. In April 1781, he lost his friend Mr. Thrale. His own words, in his diary, will best tell that melancholy event. "On Wednesday, the 11th of April, was buried my dear friend Mr. Thrale, who died on Wednesday the 4th, and with him were buried many of my hopes and pleasures. About five, I think, on Wednesday morning he expired. I felt almost the last flutter of his pulse, and looked for the last time upon the face, that, for fifteen years before, had never been turned upon me but with respect and benignity. Farewell: may God, that delighteth in mercy, have had
mercy on thee! I had constantly prayed for him before his death. The decease of him, from whose friendship I had obtained many opportunities of amusement, and to whom I turned my thoughts as to a refuge from misfortunes, has left me heavy. But my business is with myself." From the close of his last work, the malady, that persecuted him through life, came upon him with alarming severity, and his constitution declined apace. In 1782 his old friend Levet expired without warning, and without a groan. Events like these reminded Johnson of his own mortality. He continued his visits to Mrs. Thrale at Streatham, to the 7th day of October, 1782, when having first composed a prayer for the happiness of a family, with whom he had for many years enjoyed the pleasures and comforts of life, he removed to his own house in town. He says he was up early in the morning, and read fortuitously in the Gospel, which was his parting use of the library. The merit of the family is manifested by the sense he had of it, and we see his heart overflowing with gratitude. He leaves the place with regret, and casts a lingering look behind.