Imágenes de página

or less distinct in their signification, I familiarized the terms of philosophy, by applying them to popular ideas.” But he forgot the observation of Dryden : If too many foreign words are poured in upon us, it looks as if they were designed, not to afsift the natives, but to conquer them. There is, it must be admitted, a swell of language, often out of all proportion to the sentiment; but there is, in general, a fulness of mind, and the thought seems to expand with the sound of the words. Determined to discard colloquial barbarisms and licentious idioms, he forgot the elegant simplicity that distinguishes the writings of Addison. He had what Locke calls a round-about view of his subject; and, though he was never tainted like many modern wits, with the ambition of shining in the paradox, he may be fairly called an original thinker. His reading was extensive. He treasured in his mind whatever was worthy of notice; but

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

he added to it from his own meditation. He collected, qua reconderet, attaque prome

ret. Addison was not so profound a think. er. He was born to write, converse, and live with ease; and he found an early patron in Lord Somers. He depended, however, more upon a fine taste, than the vigour of his mind. His Latin poetry shows, that he relished, with a just selection, all the refined and delicate beauties of the Roman classics; and when he cultivated his native language, no wonder that he formed that graceful style, which has been fo justly admired; fimple, yet elegant ; adorned, yet never over-wrought ; rich in illufion, yet pure and perfpicuous; correct, without labour; and, though sometimes deficient in strength, yet always musical. His essays, in general, are on the surface of life; if ever original, it was in pieces of humour. Sir Roger de Coverly, and the Tory Fox-hunter, need not be mentioned.


Johnson had a fund of humour, but he did not know it; nor was he willing to descend to the familiar idiom, and the variety of diction which that mode of composition required. The letter, in the Rambler, No. 12. from a young girl that wants a place, will illustrate this observation. Addison possessed an unclouded imagination, alive to the first objects of nature and of art. He reaches the sublime without any apparent effort. When he tells us, “ if we consider: the fixed stars as so many oceans of flame, that are each of them attended with a different set of planets; if we still discover new firmaments and new lights, that are sunk further in those unfathomable depths of æther, we are loft in a labyrinth of suns and worlds, and confounded with the magnificence and immensity of nature;” he ease with which this passage rises to an unaffected grandeur, is the secret charm that captivates the reader. Johnson is always

[ocr errors]


Lofty; he seems to use Dryden's phrafe, to be o'er inform’d with meaning, and his words do not appear to himself adequate to his conception. He moves in state, and his periods are always harmonious. His Oriental Tales are in the true style of eastern magnificence, and yet none of them are so much admired as the visions of Mirza. In matters of criticism, Johnson is never the echo of preceding writers. He thinks and decides for himself. If we except the Efsays on the pleasures of imagination, Addison cannot be called a philosophical cri-, tic. His moral Effays are beautiful; but in that province nothing can exceed the Rambler ; though Johnson used to say, that the essay on the burdens of mankind (in the Spectator, No. 558) was the most exquisite he had ever read. Talking of himself, Johnson said, “ Topham Beauclerk, has wit, and every thing comes from him

with ease; but when Isaya good thing, Iseem to labour.” When we compare him with Addison, the contrast is still stronger. Addison lends grace and ornament to truth ; Johnson gives it force and energy. Addison makes virtue amiable ; Johnson represents it as an awful duty. Addison insinuates himself with an air of modesty; Johnson commands like a dictator ; but a dictator in his fplendid robes, not labouring at his plough. Addison is the Jupiter of Virgil, with placid serenity talking to Venus :

“ Vultu, quo coelum tempeftatesque serenat.”

Johnson is Jupiter tonans : he darts his lightning, and rolls his thunder, in the cause of virtue and piety. The language seems to fall short of his ideas; he pours along, familiarising the terms of philofophy with bold inversions and sonorous periods ; but we may apply to him what

ns &

« AnteriorContinuar »