Imágenes de página

hand, lies in the justness of their design, the relation of the means to the end, and of the parts to the whole. He relies hardly at all on personal interest for his effects; but he is perhaps the most persuasive of all didactic poets, from the extraordinary art which he possesses of enlisting simple and universal feelings in behalf of the moral principle which he seeks to establish.

Johnson unites in his own style many of the opposite excellences exhibited by his predecessor and his friend. It was inipossible that the bias of his strong character should be altogether concealed in his verse, and London in particular appears to have been largely inspired by personal motives like those which suggested to Pope his Imitations of Horace. But the different genius of the two poets is seen in the selection of their respective originals. Pope was struck by the many superficial points of resemblance between himself and the lively egotistical Horace, and seized eagerly on the opportunity of presenting his own virtues, friendships, and enmities to the public under a transparent veil of imitation. Johnson, on the contrary, who, as an unknown writer, could not hope to interest the public in his personal concerns, chose a general theme, and imitated the satirist whose denunciations of Roman vice offered, in many respects, an apt parallel to the manners of his own age. London is marked by genuine public spirit ; at the same time we see quite as much of the man as of the moralist in the poet's characteristic allusions to the penalties of poverty, his antipathy to the Whigs, and his dislike of foreigners. The story that “Thales' was meant for Savage, and that the occasion of the poem was the departure of the latter from London after his trial, is confuted by dates, but we may be sure that the poem gives us a real representation of Johnson's feelings as a struggling author and a political partisan.

The Vanity of Human Wishes marks a calmer and more prosperous epoch in the poet's life, and its philosophical generalising spirit is an anticipation of Goldsmith's Traveller. Johnson was now relieved from the immediate pressure of want; and in his second Imitation he takes a wider survey of mankind ; he suppresses all personal satire, and fetches the illustrations of his argument from distant times. The style of this poem is also completely different from that of London : in the latter he is ardent, animated, and colloquial, while in the Vanity of Human Wishes he speaks with the gravity of a moralist, making his periods swelling and sonorous, balancing his verses against each

man :

other, and equalling Pope himself in the condensation of his language. Nevertheless, the whole spirit of the composition, though professedly an imitation, is highly characteristic of the

we see in it the melancholy gloom that darkened all his view of human existence, while at the same time the noble lines of the conclusion recall the language of those touching fragments of prayer which Boswell discovered among his papers and has preserved in his Life.

His Prologues are of the highest excellence ; indeed it may be confidently affirmed that he is the best writer of prologues in the language. No man was ever so well qualified to strike that just mean between respectfulness and authority which such addresses to the public require. His sound critical power and elevated feeling are well exemplified in the Prologue spoken at the opening of Drury Lane Theatre ; and there is true greatness of spirit in his Prologue to Comus, in which he claims the liberality of the audience for Milton's granddaughter as a tardy redress for the injustice shown by the nation to the genius of the poet himself. His admirable independence of character is perhaps even better seen in the Prologue to A Word to the Wise, a play which at its first exhibition was damned in consequence of political prejudices against the author, but was revived after his death. Nothing can be better than the dignity with which Johnson, in this address, while recognising the judicial authority of the audience, indirectly reproves them for their previous disregard of the laws of humanity by which all their verdicts ought to be determined.




[From London.]
A transient calm the happy scenes bestow
And for a moment lull the sense of woe.
At length awaking, with contemptuous frown
Indignant Thales eyes the neighb'ring town.

Since worth, he cries, in these degenerate days
Wants even the cheap reward of empty praise ;
In those cursed walls, devote to vice and gain,
Since unrewarded science toils in vain ;
Since hope but soothes to double my distress,
And every moment leaves my little less ;
While yet my steady steps no staff sustains,
And life still vigorous revels in my veins ;
Grant me, kind Heaven, to find some happier place,
Where honesty and sense are no disgrace ;
Some pleasing bank where verdant osiers play,
Some peaceful vale with Nature's paintings gay;
Where once the harass'd Briton found repose,
And safe in poverty defied his foes ;
Some secret cell, ye powers indulgent give,
Let - live here, for has learned to live.
Here let those reign, whom pensions can incite
To vote a patriot black, a courtier white;
Explain their country's dear-bought rights away
And plead for pirates in the face of day;
With slavish tenets taint our poisoned youth
And lend a lie the confidence of truth.

[blocks in formation]

Ah! what avails it that, from slavery far,
I drew the breath of life in English air,
Was early taught a Briton's right to prize,
And lisp the tale of Henry's victories ;
If the gulled conqueror receives the chain,
And flattery prevails when arms are vain ?

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

By numbers here from shame or censure free,
All crimes are safe but hated poverty.
This, only this, the rigid law pursues,
This, only this, provokes the snarling Muse.
The sober trader at a tatter'd cloak
Wakes from his dream and labours for a joke ;
With brisker air the silken courtiers gaze
And turn the varied taunt a thousand ways.

Of all the griefs that harass the distressed,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest ;
Fate never wounds more deep the generous heart,
Than when a blockhead's insult points the dart.

Has Heaven reserv'd in pity to the poor, No pathless waste or undiscovered shore ? No secret island in the boundless main ? No peaceful desert yet unclaimed by Spain ? Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore And bear oppression's insolence no more. This mournful truth is everywhere confessed Slow rises worth by poverty depressed, But here more slow where all are slaves to gold, Where looks are merchandise and smiles are sold, Where, won by bribes, by flatteries implored, The groom retails the favours of his lord.


[From The Vanity of Human Wishes.]

In full-flown dignity see Wolsey stand, Law in his voice, and fortune in his hand : To him the church, the realm, their powers consign, Through him the rays of regal bounty shine, Turned by his nod the stream of honour flows, His smile alone security bestows : Still to new heights his restless wishes tower, Claim leads to claim and power advances power ; Till conquest unresisted ceased to please, And rights submitted left him none to seize :

At length his sovereign frowns—the train of state
Mark the keen glance, and watch the sign to hate.
Where'er he turns, he meets a stranger's eye,
His suppliants scorn him, and his followers fly;
Now drops at once the pride of awful state,
The golden canopy, the glittering plate,
The regal palace, the luxurious board,
The liveried army, and the menial lord.
With age, with cares, with maladies oppress'd,
He seeks the refuge of monastic rest.
Grief aids disease, remembered folly stings,
And his last sighs reproach the faith of kings.

Speak thou whose thoughts at humble peace repine,
Shall Wolsey's wealth with Wolsey's end be thine ?
Or liv'st thou now, with safer pride content,
The wisest Justice on the banks of Trent ?
For, why did Wolsey, near the steeps of fate,
On weak foundations raise the enormous weight?
Why but to sink beneath misfortune's blow,
With louder ruin to the gulfs below ?


[From The Vanity of Human Wishes.]

Where then shall Hope and Fear their objects find ? Must dull suspense corrupt the stagnant mind ? Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate, Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate? Must no dislike, alarm, no wishes rise, No cries invoke the mercies of the skies? Inquirer, cease ; petitions yet remain Which Heaven may hear, nor deem religion vain. Still raise for good the supplicating voice, But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice. Safe in his power whose eyes discern afar The secret ambush of a specious prayer ;

« AnteriorContinuar »