Imágenes de página

“I have been long wakened from that dream
“ of hope, in which I once boasted myself with
“ so much exultation,
“ My LORD,

“ Your Lordship’s most humble
i “ and most obedient servant,

“ Samuel Johnson.

It is said, upon good authority, that Johnson once received from Lord Chesterfield the sum of ten pounds. It were to be wished that the secret had never transpired. It was mean to receive it, and meaner to give it. It may be imagined, that for Johnson's ferocity, as it has been called, there was some foundation in his finances; and, as his Dictionary was brought to a conclusion, that money was now to flow in upon him. The reverse was the case. For his subsistence, during the progress of the work, he had received at different times the amount of his contract; and when his receipts were produced to him at a tavern dinner, given by the booksellers, it appeared, that he had been paid a hundred pounds and upwards more than his due. The author of a book, called Lexiphanes *, written by a Mr. Campbell, a Scotchman, and purser of a man of war, endeavoured to blast his laurels, but in vain. The world applauded, and Johnson never replied. “ Abuse,” he said, “ is often of service: there is nothing “ so dangerous to an author as silence; his

* This work was not published until the year 1767, when Dr. Johnson's Dictionary was fully established in reputation.

“ name, like a shuttlecock, must be beat back* ward and forward, or it falls to the ground.” Lexiphanes professed to be an imitation of the pleasant manner of Lucian; but humour was not the talent of the writer of Lexiphanes. As Dryden says, “ He had too much horse-play in his raillery.”

It was in the summer 1754, that the present writer became acquainted with Dr. Johnson. The cause of his first visit is related by Mrs. Piozzi nearly in the following manner. “ Mr. “Murphy being engaged in a periodical paper, “ the Gray’s-Inn Journal, was at a friend's “ house in the country, and, not being disposed “ to lose pleasure for business, wished to con“ tent his bookseller by some unstudied essay. “ He therefore took up a French Journal Litéraire, and translating something he liked, “ sent it away to town. Time, however, dis“ covered that he translated from the French “ a Rambler, which had been taken from the English without acknowledgement. Upon “ this discovery Mr. Murphy thought it right " to make his excuses to Dr. Johnson.' He “ went next day, and found him covered with « soot, like a chimney-sweeper, in a little room, “ as if he had been acting Lungs in the Alche“ mist, making æther. This being told by Mr. “ Murphy in company, Come, come, said Dr. “ Johnson, the story is black enough; but it “ was a happy day that brought you first to my house.” After this first visit, the author of this narrative by degrees grew intimate with Dr. Johnson. The first striking sentence, that he heard from him, was in a few days after the publication of Lord Bolingbroke's posthumous works. Mr. Garrick asked him, “ If he had “ seen them?” “ Yes, I have seen them.” “ What do vou think of them?” - Think of “ them !" He made a long pause, and then replied : « Think of them! A scoundrel and a coward! A scoundrel, who spent his life in “charging a gun against Christianity; and a “ coward, who was afraid of hearing the re“ port of his own gun; but left half a crown to “ à hungry Scotchman to draw the trigger after “ his death.” His mind, at this time strained and over-laboured by constant exertion, called for an interval of repose and indolence. But indolence was the time of danger: it was then that his spirits, not employed abroad, turned with inward hostility against himself. His reflections on his own life and conduct were always severe; and, wishing to be immaculate, he destroyed his own peace by unnecessary scruples. He tells us, that when he surveyed his past life, he discovered nothing but a barren waste of time, with some disorders of body, and disturbances of mind, very near to madness. His life, he says, from his earliest years, was wasted in a morning bed; and his reigning sin was a general sluggishness, to which he was always inclined, aad in part of his life, almost compelled, by morbid melancholy, and weariness of mind. This was his constitutional malady, derived, perhaps, from his father, who was, at times, overcast with a gloom that bordered on insanity. When to this it is added,


that Johnson, about the age of twenty, drew up a description of his infirmities, for Dr. Swinfen, at that time an eminent physician in Staffordshire; and received an answer to his letter, importing, that the symptoms indicated a future privation of reason; who can wonder that he was troubled with melancholy and dejection of spirit? An apprehension of the worst calami. ty that can befal human nature hung over him all the rest of his life, like the sword of the tyrant suspended over his guest. In his sixtieth year he had a mind to write the history of his melancholy; but he desisted, not knowing whether it would not too much disturb him. In a Latin poem, however, to which he has prefixed as a title, INNOI EEAYTON, he has left a picture of himself, drawn with as much truth, and as firm a hand, as can be seen in the portraits of Hogarth or Sir Joshua Reynolds. The learned reader will find the original poem in this volume, and it is hoped, that a translation, or rather imitation, of so curious a piece will not be improper in this place.


When Scaliger, whole years of labour past,
Beheld his Lexicon complete at last,
And weary of his task, with wond'ring eyes,
Saw from words pil'd on words a fabric rise,
He curs'd the industry, inertly strong,
In creeping toil that could persist so long,
And if, enraged he cried, Heav'n meant to shed
Its keenest vengeance on the guilty head,

The drudgery of words the damn'd would know,
Doom'd to write Lexicons in endless woe *.

Yes, you had cause, great Genius to repent;
“ You lost good days, that might be better spent;"
You well might grudge the hours of ling'ring pain,
And view your learned labours with disdain.
To you were given the large expanded mind,
The flame of genius, and the taste refin’d.
'Twas yours on eagle wings aloft to soar,
And amidst rolling worlds the Great First Cause explore ;
To fix the æras of recorded time,
And live in ev'ry age and ev'ry clime;
Record the Chiefs, who propt their Country's cause;
Who founded Empires, and establish'd Laws;
To learn whate'er the Sage with virtue fraught,
Whate'er the Muse of moral wisdom taught.
These were your quarry; these to you were known,
And the world's ample volume was your own.

Yet warn'd by me, ye pigmy Wits, beware,
Nor with immortal Scaliger compare.
For me, though his example strike my view,
Oh! not for me his footsteps to pursue.
Whether first Nature, unpropitious, cold,
This clay compounded in a ruder mould;
Or the slow current, loit'ring at my heart,
No gleam of wit or fancy can impart;
Whate'er the cause, from me no numbers flow,
No visions warm me, and no raptures glow.
A mind like Scaliger's, superior still,
No grief could conquer, no misfortune chill.
Though for the maze of words his native skies
He seein'd to quit, 'twas but again to rise ;
To mount once more to the bright source of day,
And view the wonders of the ætherial way.
The love of Fame his gen'rous bosom fir'd;
Each Science hail'd him, and each Muse inspir'd,
For him the Sons of Learning trimm'd the bays,
And Nations grew harmonious in his praise.

* See Scaliger's Epigram on this subject, communicated without doubt by Dr. Johnson, Gent. Mag. 1748, p. 8.

« AnteriorContinuar »