« ForrigeFortsæt »
broke college, Oxford. Misfortunes in trade happened to the elder Johnson, and Samuel was compelled to leave the university without a degree. He was
Dr Johnson's Room in Pembroke College. a short time usher in a school at Market Bosworth; but marrying a widow, Mrs Porter (whose age was double his own), he set up a private academy near his native city. He had only three pupils, one of whom was David Garrick. After an unsuccessful career of a year and a-half, Johnson went to London, accompanied by Garrick. He now commenced author by profession, contributing essays, reviews, &c., to the Gentleman's Magazine. In 1738 appeared his London, a satire; in 1744 his Life of Savage; in 1749 The Vanity of Human Wishes, an imitation of Juvenal's tenth Satire, and the tragedy of Irene; in 1750-52 the Rambler, published in numbers; in 1755 his Dictionary of the English Language, which had engaged him above seven years; in 1758-60 the Idler, another series of essays; in 1759 Rasselas; in 1775 the Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland; and in 1781 the Lives of the Poets. The high church and Tory predilections of Johnson led him to embark on the troubled sea of party politics, and he wrote some vigorous pamphlets in defence of the ministry and against the claims of the Americans. His degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him first by Trinity college, Dublin, and afterwards by the university of Oxford. His majesty, in 1762, settled upon him an annuity of £300 per annum. Johnson died on the 13th of December 1784.
As an illustration of Johnson's character, and incidentally of his prose style, we subjoin his celebrated letter to Lord Chesterfield. The courtly nobleman had made great professions to the retired scholar, but afterwards neglected him for some years. When his 'Dictionary' was on the eve of publication, Chesterfield (hoping the work might be dedicated to him) attempted to conciliate the author by writing two papers in the periodical called 'The World,' in recommendation of the work. Johnson thought all was false and hollow,' and penned his indignant letter. He did Chesterfield injustice in the affair, as from a collation of the facts and circumstances is now apparent; but as a keen and dignified expression of wounded pride and surly independence, the composition is inimitable :
February 7, 1755.
My Lord-I have been lately informed by the proprietor of the World,' that two papers, in which myDictionary' is recommended to the public, were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour, which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.
When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre; that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your lordship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.
Seven years, my lord, have now passed since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before. The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.
Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron which providence has enabled me to do for myself.
Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself most humble, most obedient servant-SAM. JOHNSON. with so much exultation, my lord-Your lordship's
The poetry of Johnson forms but a small portion of the history of his mind or of his works. His imitations of Juvenal are, however, among the best imitations of a classic author which we possess;. and Gray has pronounced an opinion, that London (the first in time, and by far the inferior of the two) has all the ease and all the spirit of an original.' Pope also admired the composition. In The Vanity of Human Wishes, Johnson departs more from his original, and takes wider views of human nature, society, and manners. His pictures of Wolsey and Charles of Sweden have a strength and magnificence that would do honour to Dryden, while the historical and philosophic paintings are contrasted by reflections on the cares, vicissitudes, and sorrows of life, so profound, so true, and touching, that they may justly be denominated mottoes of the heart.' Sir Walter Scott has termed this poem 'a satire, the deep and pathetic morality of which has often extracted tears from those whose eyes wander dry over pages professedly sentimental.' Johnson was too prone to indulge in dark and melancholy views of human life; yet those who have experienced its disappointments and afflictions,. must subscribe to the
severe morality and pathos with which the contem- Our supple tribes repress their patriot throats, plative poet
Expatiates free o'er all this scene of man. The peculiarity of Juvenal, according to Johnson's own definition, is a mixture of gaiety and stateliness, of pointed sentences and declamatory grandeur.' He had less reflection and less moral dignity than his English imitator.
The other poetical pieces of Johnson are short and occasional; but his beautiful Prologue on the opening of Drury Lane, and his lines on the death of Levett, are in his best manner.
[From the Vanity of Human Wishes.]
Let observation, with extensive view,
But scarce observed, the knowing and the bold,
Let history tell where rival kings command, And dubious title shakes the maddened land; When statutes glean the refuse of the sword, How much more safe the vassal than the lord; Low skulks the hind beneath the rage of power, And leaves the wealthy traitor in the Tower, Untouched his cottage, and his slumbers sound, Though confiscation's vultures hover round.
Unnumbered suppliants crowd preferment's gate, Athirst for wealth, and burning to be great; Delusive fortune hears the incessant call, They mount, they shine, evaporate, and fall. On every stage, the foes of peace attend, Hate dogs their flight, and insult mocks their end. Love ends with hope, the sinking statesman's door Pours in the morning worshipper no more; For growing names the weekly scribbler lies, To growing wealth the dedicator flies; From every room descends the painted face, That hung the bright palladium of the place, And smoked in kitchens, or in auctions sold, To better features yields the frame of gold; For now no more we trace in every line Heroic worth, benevolence divine; The form distorted justifies the fall, And detestation rids the indignant wall.
But will not Britain hear the last appeal,
Sign her foes' doom, or guard her favourites' zeal? Through freedom's sons no more remonstrance rings, Degrading nobles and controlling kings;
And ask no questions but the price of votes;
In full-blown dignity, see Wolsey stand,
Speak thou, whose thoughts at humble peace repine, Shall Wolsey's wealth, with Wolsey's end be thine? Or liv'st thou now, with safer pride content, The wisest Justice on the banks of Trent? For why did Wolsey near the steeps of fate, On weak foundations raise the enormous weight? Why, but to sink beneath misfortune's blow, With louder ruin to the gulfs below.
What gave great Villiers to the assassin's knife, And fixed disease on Harley's closing life? What murdered Wentworth, and what exiled Hyde, By kings protected, and to kings allied? What, but their wish indulged in courts to shine, And power too great to keep, or to resign!
The festal blazes, the triumphal show, The ravished standard, and the captive foe, The senate's thanks, the gazettes pompous tale, With force resistless o'er the brave prevail. Such bribes the rapid Greek o'er Asia whirled, For such the steady Romans shook the world; For such in distant lands the Britons shine, And stain with blood the Danube or the Rhine; This power has praise, that virtue scarce can warm, Till fame supplies the universal charm. Yet reason frowns on war's unequal game, Where wasted nations raise a single name, And mortgaged states their grandsires wreaths regret, From age to age in everlasting debt;
Wreaths which at last the dear-bought right convey
On what foundations stands the warrior's pride,
No dangers fright him, and no labours tire;
Peace courts his hand, but spreads her charms in vain;
The vanquished hero leaves his broken bands,
He left the name, at which the world grew pale,
All times their scenes of pompous woes afford,
Till rude resistance lops the spreading god;
Enlarge my life with multitude of days,
In health, and sickness, thus the suppliant prays;
In vain their gifts the bounteous seasons pour,
No sounds, alas! would touch the impervious ear,
Nor lute nor lyre his feeble powers attend,
And scarce a legacy can bribe to hear;
The watchful guests still hint the last offence,
But grant the virtues of a temperate prime,
Yet even on this her load misfortune flings,
But few there are whom hours like these await,
To show how admirably Johnson has imitated this part of Juvenal, applying to the modern hero, Charles XII., what the Roman satirist directed against Hannibal, we subjoin a literal version of the words of Juvenal:-'Weigh Hannibal-Must dull suspense corrupt the stagnant mind? how many pounds' weight will you find in that consummate general? This is the man whom Africa, washed by the Moorish sea, and stretching to the warm Nile, cannot contain. Again, in addition to Ethiopia, and other elephant-breeding countries, Spain is added to his empire. He jumps over the Pyrenees: in vain nature opposed to him the Alps with their snows; he severed the rocks, and rent the mountains with vinegar. Now he reaches Italy, yet he determines to go farther: "Nothing is done," says he, "unless with our Punic soldiers we break down their gates, and I plant my standard in the midst of Saburra (street). O what a figure, and what a fine picture he would make, the one-eyed general, carried by the Getulian brute! What, after all, was the end of it? Alas for glory! this very man is routed, and flies headlong into banishment, and there the great and wonderful commander sits like a poor dependent at the palace door of a king, till it please the Bithynian tyrant to awake. That life, which had so long disturbed all human affairs, was brought to an end, not by swords, nor stones, nor darts, but by that redresser of Canna, and avenger of the blood that had been shed-a ring. Go, madman; hurry over the savage Alps, to please the schoolboys, and become their subject of declamation!"'*
It will be recollected that Hannibal, to prevent his falling into the hands of the Romans, swallowed poison, which he carried in a ring on his finger.
Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
Prologue spoken by Mr Garrick, at the opening of the
When Learning's triumph o'er her barbarous foes
Then Jonson came, instructed from the school,
For those who durst not censure, scarce could praise.
The wits of Charles found easier ways to fame,
Then crushed by rules, and weakened as refined,
And Pantomime and song confirmed her sway.
Perhaps (for who can guess the effects of chance?)
Hard is his lot, that, here by fortune placed,
To chase the charms of sound, the pomp of show,
On the Death of Dr Robert Levett-1782.
Condemned to hope's delusive mine,
Of every friendless name the friend.
Yet still he fills affection's eye,
Obscurely wise and coarsely kind; Nor, lettered arrogance, deny
Thy praise to merit unrefined. When fainting nature called for aid, And hovering death prepared the blow, His vigorous remedy displayed
The power of art without the show.
The toil of every day supplied.
The single talent well employed.
His frame was firm-his powers were bright,
No cold gradations of decay,
None of our poets have lived more under the 'skiey influences' of imagination than that exquisite but ill-fated bard, COLLINS. His works are imbued with a fine ethereal fancy and purity of taste; and though, like the poems of Gray, they are small in number and amount, they are rich in vivid imagery and beautiful description. His history is brief but painful. William Collins was the son of a respectable tradesman, a hatter, at Chichester, where he was born on Christmas day, 1720. In his 'Ode to Pity,' the poet alludes to his native plains,' which are bounded by the South Down hills, and to the small river Arun, one of the streams of Sussex, near which Otway, also, was born.
But wherefore need I wander wide
Deserted stream and mute!
Wild Arun, too, has heard thy strains,
Been soothed by Pity's lute.
Collins received a learned education, in which he was aided by pecuniary assistance from his uncle, Colonel Martin, stationed with his regiment in Flanders. While at Magdalen college, Oxford, he published his Oriental Eclogues, which, to the disgrace of the university and the literary public, were wholly neglected. Meeting shortly afterwards with some repulse or indignity at the university, he suddenly quitted Oxford, and repaired to London, full of high hopes and magnificent schemes. His learning was extensive, but he wanted steadiness of purpose and application. Two years afterwards, in 1746, he published his Odes, which were purchased by Millar the bookseller, but failed to attract attention. Collins sunk under the disappointment, and became still more indolent and dissipated. The fine promise of his youth, his ardour and ambition, melted away under this baneful and depressing influence. Once again, however, he strung his lyre with poetical enthusiasm. Thomson died in 1747: Collins seems to have known and loved him, and he
honoured his memory with an Ode, which is cer-
Prevailing poet, whose undoubting mind
Collins, in the course of one generation, without any adventitious aid to bring them into notice, were acknowledged to be the best of their kind in the language. Silently and imperceptibly they had risen by their own buoyancy, and their power was felt by every reader who had any true poetic feeling.' This popularity seems still to be on the increase, though the want of human interest and of action in Collins's poetry prevent its being generally read. The Eclogues' are free from the occasional obscurity and remoteness of conception that in part pervade the Odes,' and they charm by their figurative language and descriptions, the simplicity and beauty of their dialogues and sentiments, and their musical versification. The desert scene in Hassan, The time shall come when I perhaps may tread the Camel Driver, is a finished picture-impressive Your lowly glens o'erhung with spreading broom; and even appalling in its reality. The Ode on the Or o'er your stretching heaths by Fancy led; Passions, and that on Evening, are the finest of The former is a magnificent Or o'er your mountains creep in awful gloom! his lyrical works. Then will I dress once more the faded flower, gallery of allegorical paintings; and the poetical Where Jonson sat in Drummond's classic shade; diction is equally rich with the conception. No Or crop from Teviotdale each lyric flower, And mourn on Yarrow's banks where Willy's laid. poet has made more use of metaphors and personiIn the midst of the poet's difficulties and distresses, fication. He has individualised even metaphysical his uncle died and left him £2000; 'a sum,' says pursuits, which he terms the shadowy tribes of Johnson, which Collins could scarcely think ex- Mind." Pity is presented with 'eyes of dewy light' haustible, and which he did not live to exhaust.'-a felicitous epithet; and Danger is described with He repaid Millar the bookseller the loss sustained the boldness and distinctness of sculpture--Danger, whose limbs of giant mould by the publication of his 'Odes;' and buying up the What mortal eye can fixed behold? remaining copies, committed them all to the flames. Who stalks his round, a hideous form, He became still more irregular in his habits, and Howling amidst the midnight storm, sank into a state of nervous imbecility. All hope Or throws him on the ridgy steep and exertion had fled. Johnson met him one day, Of some loose hanging rock to sleep. carrying with him as he travelled an English Testament. I have but one book,' said Collins, but it is the best.' In his latter days he was tended by his sister in Chichester; but it was necessary at one time to confine him in a lunatic asylum. He used, when at liberty, to wander day and night among the aisles and cloisters of Chichester cathedral, accompanying the music with loud sobs and moans. Death at length came to his relief, and in 1756-at the early age of thirty-six, ten years after the publication of his immortal works-his troubled and melancholy career was terminated: it affords one of the most touching examples of accomplished youth and genius, linked to personal humiliation and calamity, that throws its lights and shades on our literary annals.
Collins's Monument in Chichester Cathedral. Mr Southey has remarked, that, though utterly neglected on their first appearance, the 'Odes' of
Eclogue II.-Hassan; or the Camel Driver.
In silent horror, o'er the boundless waste,
Ye mute companions of my toils, that bear