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verend gentleman declined the office, because, as he told Mr. Hayes, the praise of the deceased was too much amplified. He, who reads the piece, will find it a beautiful moral lesson, written with temper, and no where over-charged with ambitious ornaments. The Test of the Discourses were the fund, which Dr. Taylor, from time to time, carried with him to his pulpit. He had the LARGEST BULL* in England, and some of the best Sermons.
We come now to the Lives of the Poets, a work undertaken at the age of seventy, yet the most brilliant, and certainly the most popular, of all our Author's writings. For this performance he needed little preparation. Attentive always to the history of letters, and by his own natural bias fond of biography, he was the more willing to embrace the proposition of the Booksellers. He was versed in the whole body of English Poetry, and his rules of criticism were settled with precision. The dissertation, in the Life of Cowley, on the metaphysical Poets of the last century, has the attraction of novelty as well as sound observation. The writers who followed Dr. Donne, went in quest of something better than truth and nature. As Sancho says in Don Quixote, they wanted better bread than is made with wheat. They took pains to bewilder themselves, and were ingenious for no
See Johnson's Letters from Ashbourne, in Vol. XII, of this edition.
other purpose than to err. In Johnson's review of Cowley's works, false wit is detected in all its shapes, and the Gothic taste for glittering conceits, and far-fetched allusions, is exploded, never, it is hoped, to revive again.
An author who has published his observations on the Life and Writings of Dr. Johnson, speaking of the Lives of the Poets, says 6 These compositions, abounding in strong " and acute remark, and with many fine and “ even sublime passages, have unquestiovably “ great merit; but if they be regarded merely “ as containing narrations of the lives, deli“ neations of the characters, and strictures of " the several authors, they are far from being " always to be depended on.” He adds, - The characters are sometimes partial, and “ there is sometimes TOO MUCH MALIGNITY a of misrepresentation, to which, perhaps, " may be joined no inconsiderable portion of “ erroneous criticism.” The several clauses of this censure deserve to be answered as fully as the limits of this essay will permit.
In the first place, the facts are related upon the best intelligence, and the best vouchers that could be gleaned, after a great lapse of time. Probability was to be in ferred from such materials as could be procured, and no man better understood the nature of historical evidence than Dr. Johnson; no man was more religiously an observer of truth. If his History is any where defective, it must be im
puted to the want of better information, and the errors of uncertain tradition.
Ad nos vix tenuis famæ prelabitur aura.
If the strictures on the works of the various authors are not always satisfactory, and if erroneous criticism may sometimes be suspected, who can hope that in matters of taste all shall agree? The instances in which the public mind has differed from the positions advanced, by the author, are few in number, It has been said, that justice has not been done to Swift; that Gay and Prior are undervalued; and that Gray has been harshly treated. This charge, perhaps, ought not to be disputed. Johnson, it is well known, had conceived a prejudice against Swift. His friends trembled for him when he was writing that life, but were pleased, at last, to see it executed with temper and moderation. As to Prior, it is probable that he gave his real opinion, but an opinion that will not be adopted by men of lively fancy. With regard to Gray, when he condemns the apostrophe, in which Father Thames is desired to tell who drives the hoop, or tosses the ball, and then adds, that Father Thames had no better means of knowing than himself; when he compares the abrupt beginning of the first stanza of the bard to the ballad of JOHNNY ARMSTRONG, “ Is there ever a mun in all Scotland;" there are, perhaps, few friends of Johnson, who would not wish to blot out both the passages. It may be questioned whether the remarks on Pope's Essay on Man can be received without great caution. It has been already mentioned, that Crousaz, a professor in Switzerland, eminent for his Treatise of Logic, started up a professed enemy to that poem. Johnson says, “his “ mind was one of those, in which philosophy “ and piety are happily united. He looked “ with distrust upon all metaphysical systems “ of theology, and was persuaded, that the “ positions of Pope were intended to draw “ mankind away from Revelation, and to re“ present the whole course of things as a “ necessary concatenation of indissoluble fa“ tality.” This is not the place for a controversy about the Leibnitzian system. Warburton, with all the powers of his large and comprehensive mind, published a Vindication of Pope ; and yet Johnson says, that “ in “ many passages a religious eye may easily “ discover expressions not very favourable to “ morals, or to liberty.” This sentence is severe, and, perhaps, dogmatical. Crousaz wrote an Examen of THE ESSAY ON Man, and afterwards a Commentary on every remarkable passage; and though it now appears that Mrs. Elizabeth Cartar translated the foreign Critic, yet it is certain that Johnson encouraged the work, and, perhaps, imbibed those early prejudices which adhered to hiin to the end of his life. He shuddered at the idea of irreligion. Hence we are told in the life of Pope, “ Never were penury of know, * ledge and vulgarity of sentiment so happily "disguised ; Pope, in the chair of wisdom, “ tells much that every man knows, and much " that he did not know himself; and gives us "comfort in the position, that though man's “a fool, yet God is wise ; that human ad“vantages are unstable; that our true honour “is, not to have a great part, but to act it "well ; that virtue only is our own, and that “happiness is always in our power. The "reader, when he meets all this in its new “ array, no longer knows the talk of his “ mother and his nurse." But may it not be said, that every system of ethics must or ought to terminate in plain and general maxims for the use of life? and, though in such axioms no discovery is made, does not the beauty of the moral theory consist in the premises, and the chain of reasoning that leads to the conclusion ? May not truth, as Johnson himself says, be conveyed to the mind by a new train of intermediate images ? Pope's doctrine about the ruling passion does not seem to be refuted though it is called, in harsh terms, pernicious as well as false, tending to establish a kind of moral predestination, or over-ruling principle, which cannot be resisted. But Johnson was too easily alarmed in the cause of religion. Organized as the human race is, individuals have different inlets of perception, different powers of mind, and different sensations of pleasure and pain. .