Imágenes de página

ture, but for his worth. “ Whenever,” said he, “ a young man becomes Jorden's pupil, he becomes his son.”

The fifth of November was at that time kept with great solemnity at Pembroke College, and exercises upon the gunpowder plot were required. Johnson neglected to perform his exercise. To apologize for his neglect, he gave in a short copy of verses, intituled Somnium, containing a common thought, “ that the myse had come to him in his sleep, and whispered, that it did not become him to write on such subjects as politics; he should confine himself to humbler themes;" but the versification was truly Virgilian.'

Having given such a specimen of his poetical powers, he was asked by Mr Jorden to translate Pope's Messiah into Latin hexameter verse, as a Christmas exercise. He performed it with uncommon rapidity, and in so masterly a manner, that he obtained great applause for it, which ever after kept him high in the estimation of his college, and indeed of all the university. Pope, impelled by gratitude and taste, perhaps not unassisted by vanity, is reported to have returned a copy of it to Mr Arbuthnot, with this declaration, “ that the author would leave it a question for posterity, whether his or mine be the original ?” It was first printed by his father, with an excusable vanity, without his knowledge; and afterwards in “ A Miscellany of Poems,,” published by subscription at Oxford, in 1731, by John Husbands, A. M. Fellow of Pembroke College, with this modest motto from Scaliger's Poetics, “ Ex alieno in- 1 genio poeta, ex suo tantum versificator.

The particular course of his reading while at Oxford, and during the time of vacation which he passed at home, cannot be traced. From his earliest years he loved to read poetry and romances of chivalry. He read Shakespeare at a period so early, that the speech of the ghost in “ Hamlet” terrified him when he was alone. Horace's Odes were the compositions he most liked in early life; but it was long before he could relish his satires and epistles. He told Mr Boswell, what he read solidly at Oxford was Greek, not the Grecian

historians, but Homer and Euripides, and now and then a little epigram; that the study of which he was most fond was metaphysics.; but he had not read much even in that way. We may be absolutely certain, however, both from his writings and his conversation, that his reading was very extensive. He projected a common-place book to the extent of six folio volumes; but, according to Sir John Hawkins, the blank leaves far exceeded the written ones.

In 1729, while at Lichfield, during the college vacation, the “ morbid melancholy," which was lurking in his constitution, gathered such strength as to afflict him in a dreadful manner. He was overwhelmed with an horrible hypochondria, with perpetual irritation, fretfulness, and impatience, and with a dejection, gloom, and despair, that made existence mi. sery. He fancied himself seized by, or approaching to insanity; in conformity with which notion he applied, when he was at the very worst, to his godfather, Dr Swinfen, physician in Lichfield, and put into his hands a

state of his case, written in Latin, with much judgment, perspicuity, and eloquence. In the zeal of friendship, Dr Swinfen inconsiderately circulated it among his friends, as an instance of extraordinary sagacity and research; a proceeding which so much offended his godson, that he was never afterwards fully reconciled to him. That he should have supposed himself approaching to insanity, at the very time when he was giving proofs of a more than ordinary soundness and vigour of judgment, is less strange, than that Mr Boswell should consider the vigour of fancy which he displayed on such a subject a proof of his sanity. It is a common effect of melancholy, to make those who are afflicted with it imagine that they are actually suffering those evils which happen to be most strongly presented to their minds. But there is a clear distinction between a disorder which affects only the imagination and spirits, while the judgment is sound, and a disorder by which the judgment itself is impaired. Whatever be the arguments in favour of free-will, of volition unrestrained by the force and prevalence of motives, it must be allowed that the effects of reason on the human mind are not at all times, and on all subjects, equally powerful. The mind, like the body, has its weak organs; in other words, the impressions on some subjects are so deeply fixed, that the judgment is no longer able to guide the operations of the mind, in reasoning on, or in judging of them. The imagination seizes the rein; and, till the force of the idea is lessened from habit, the usual powers are suspended. But this is not madness; for strong impressions of various kinds will, in different minds, produce similar effects. From this dismal malady, which he “ did not then know how to manage,” he never afterwards was perfectly relieved; and all his labours, and all his employments, were but temporary interruptions of its baleful influence.

In the history of his mind, his religious progress is an important article. He had been early instructed in the doctrines of the church of England by his mother, who continued her pious care with assiduity; but, in his opinion,

« AnteriorContinuar »