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all those who have even superficially studied the literary history of the latter half of the eighteenth century, are acquainted. Without professing the idolatrous veneration for him which is entertained by many in this country as well as in England, I firmly believe that his Rambler alone displays a more intimate knowledge of human nature—a more complete development of the mazes and intricacies of the human heart—and more striking examples to allure to virtue and deter from vice, than perhaps any other human production.
Yet the mighty Johnson was absolutely blind to the most striking defect of his character.—This striking defect was rudeness, of which his friends occasionally felt the effects. In a familiar conversation with his humble companion James Boswell, " I think myself" —says he, " a very polite man." The reader may very readily conceive my astonishment at reading this declaration. I rubbed my eyes, under the apprehension that I had made a mistake. But I found I had not—and that this curious proof of human weakness, exhibited by so great a man, was actually recorded in page 50 of the third volume of the American edition of the works of the great Philologist.
Had I met"with a claim on the part of general Arnold to loyalty —of Elwes to liberality—of Hume or Voltaire to religious piety—of Julius Caesar to meekness and freedom from ambition—or of Caligula or Nero to kindness and humanity, it would not appear much more surprising, than Johnson's unqualified pretensions to the character not merely of a polite—but " a very polite man."
Of his almost total disregard of the fundamental rules of politeness, Boswell, notwithstanding his veneration for the doctor, and zealous, and uniform defence of his character, has recorded numberless instances. It displayed itself on nearly every occasion wherein any person dared to maintain an opinion opposite to his. No degree of respectability of character—no ties of friendship—no rank—not even sex itself could secure persons guilty of this offence from having their feelings outraged, frequently in a very gross manner.
For the doctor, however, some apology may be made, and I do not feel disposed to pass it over in silence. He was so long regarded as an oracle by the large and very enlightened circle of the literati by whom he was surrounded, and who by a slavish submission accustomed him to the exercise of the most arbitrary authority over their minds, that despotism produced on him the same deleterious effects it has ever done in the political world.
It cannot be necessary to quote many instances to prove that Johnson was not " a very polite man." I shall confine myself to a single case, which is to be found in the very page which contains the doctor's boast of his politeness. Johnson and his friend Boswcll were in a company not accustomed to the dictatorship of the authorof the Rambler,and who therefore did not treat him with the deference and submission he was wont to receive from his friends. There is not, however, the slightest reason to believe that he experienced any indecorous or uncivil usage. But his oracular dictatorship not being passively submitted to, he was put into an ill humour, and quarrelled with Boswell in the most unhandsome manner, so that B. had almost resolved to abandon him forever. To gratify the reader, I shall state the transaction in Boswell's own words:—" Upon some imaginary offence from me, he attacked me with such rudeness, that I was vexed and angry; because it gave those persons an opportunity of enlarging upon his supposed severity and ill treatment of his best friends. I was so much hurt, and had my pride so much roused, that I kept away from him a week; and perhaps might have kept away much longer, nay gone to Scotland without seeing him again, had we not fortunately met, and been reconciled."
The most extraordinary instance of etymology that I have ever seen, or perhaps that can be produced (not excepting Junius or Skinner's far-famed derivation—" lucus, a grove, a non. lucendo") is to be found in Boswell's life of Johnson. In a conversation which the celebrated lexicographer had on the uncertainty of etymology, and the wonderful changes which words underwent, he stated, to illustrate his position, that jour, the French word for a day, was derived from the Latin Dies. This naturally excited the astonishment of his hearers, who could not conceive him to be serious, and supposed it was one of his customary assertions, hazarded as usual to confute his antagonist, and that
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he did not himself believe what he had declared. They were mistaken. The doctor was perfectly serious, and convinced them all of the correctness of his opinion. From dies, a day, he said, came diurnus,daily. This was corrupted into the Italian giurno— and from thence, by an easy transition, came the French jour.
Wonderful effrontery. A Mr. Eccles, after the publication of the Man of Feeling, pretended to be the writer of it—and, in order to make the fraud wear an air of plausibility, he transcribed the whole book, and made a number of erasures, interlineations and corrections, and in this state shewed it to several friends as an original production!
A profound and philosophical solution of a difficulty in natural
Lord Kaimes, in his sketches, has a long dissertation on the different species of animals and on the production of mongrels. Upon the intermixture of the various species of dogs, he makes this very profound and sagacious remark: "but dogs are, by their nat re companions to men, and Providence probably has permitted a mixture, that every man may have a dog to his liking!" Should the reader doubt whether such a fanciful motive has been ascribed to Providence, by so celebrated a character as lord Kaimes, he is referred to the first sketch, where he may fully satisfy himself.
Logan Rock—an extraordinary phenomenon. In Silliman's Travels, just published, there is an account of a wonderful phenomenon, called Logan Rock, near Penzance, in Cornwall. It is from admeasurement estimated at three hundred and twenty tons weight; but is so poised on the verge of a precipice on a base not larger than a man's hat, that a single man may move it backwards and forwards like a cradle. Formerly, he says, it could be moved with a single hand, now it requires a shoulder.
A grand dedication. A certain Thomas Brown, under whom doctor Johnson acquired some of the rudiments of the English language, published a spelling book, which he dedicated to a patron that has not been troubled with many such acts of civility. This patron was no less a personage than—the Universe.
A magnificent work. The canal called "The New River," undertaken for the purpose of supplying London and Westminster with water, is a most noble work, which reflects honour on the British nation. It extends about thirty-eight miles, and in its course there are two hundred and fifteen bridges over brooks and rivers. In some parts, it passes through subterraneous passages. It is carried in wooden troughs, lined with lead, over two extensive vales.
Perhaps there are few instances of so great an increase of the value of the stock of any institution as this affords. About one hundred and fifty years ago one half of the property in the whole canal was sold for five hundred pounds sterling per annum, which fixes the value of the whole, at that period, at rather more than sixteen thousand pounds. In 1766, one share, being a seventy-second part of it, was sold for four thousand four hundred pounds: and in 1770, another similar share was sold for six thousand seven hundred pounds, at which rate the whole may be estimated at about five hundred thousand pounds sterling.
The bagpi/ie celestial music. Sir John Carr states that upon the architrave of one of the pillars of a chapel at Roslin, near Edinburgh, there is an angel playing upon the bagpipe. Had a butcher painted the piece, he would, with equal propriety, have graced the celestial being with a marrow bone and cleaver.
Stage traxiel/ing. In 1763 the stage from Edinburgh to London, was sixteen or eighteen days in performing the journey, a distance of four hundred miles. At present, according to Carr, a traveller may start from Edinburgh for London on Sunday afternoon, may stay one entire day in London, and return to Edinburgh the following Saturday at six o'clock in the evening. Those travellers, therefore, who arc so .. ■'
extremely fastidious as Moore, Weld, Parkinson, Sec. &c. in their remarks on American stages, travelling, roads, and taverns, would act very prudently if they cast a retrospective eye on the state of those things in their own country half a century since. They would then acknowledge that it is more wonderful that we have advanced so rapidly, than that we have not made greater speed.
ORIGINAL POETRY—FOR THE PORT FOLIO.
Lay of the Last Mmntrtl
Sad the southern breeze is sighing:
Gloom pervades our social dwelling;
Shades obscure the murm'ring ocean
Cease! oh cease your hollow moaning:
Vain our pray'rs and wishes proving,