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that its rules should be carefully laid down; and that it should be clearly known how much it contains, which being already right should be defended from change and violation; how much it has that demands amendment; and how much that, for fear of greater inconveniences, must, perhaps, be left unaltered though irregular."
A distinguished author in "The Mirror,"1 a periodical paper, published at Edinburgh, has imitated Johnson very closely. Thus, in No. 16,
"The effects of the return of spring have been frequently remarked as well in relation to the human mind as to the animal and vegetable world. The reviving power of this season has been traced from the fields to the herds that inhabit them, and from the lower class of beings up to man. Gladness and joy are described as prevailing through universal Nature, animating the low of the cattle, the carol of the birds, and the pipe of the shepherd."
The Rev. Dr. Knox, master of Tunbridge school, appears to have the imitari aveo of Johnson's style perpetually in his mind; and to his assiduous, though not servile, study of it, we may partly ascribe the extensive popularity of his writings.
In his Essays, Moral and Literary," No. 3, we find the following passage:
"The polish of external grace may indeed be deferred till the approach of manhood. When solidity is obtained by pursuing the modes prescribed by our forefathers, then may the file be used. The firm substance will bear attrition, and the lustre then acquired will be durable."
There is, however, one in No. 11, which is blown up into such tumidity, as to be truly ludicrous. The writer means to tell us, that members of Parliament, who have run in debt by extravagance, will sell their votes to avoid an arrest, which he thus expresses :
1 That collection was presented to Dr. Johnson, I believe, by its authors; and I heard him speak very well of it.-BosWELL.
2 It were to be wished, that he had imitated that great man in every respect, and had not followed the example of Dr. Adam Smith, in ungraciously attacking his venerable Alma Mater, Oxford. It must, however, be observed, that he is much less to blame than Smith: he only objects to certain particulars; Smith to the whole institution, though indebted for much of his learning to an exhibition which he enjoyed for many years at Baliol College. Neither of them, however, will do any hurt to the noblest university in the world. While I animadvert on what appears to me exceptionable in some of the works of Dr. Knox, I cannot refuse due praise to others of his productions; particularly his sermons, and to the spirit with which he maintains, against presumptuous heretics, the consolatory doctrines peculiar to the Christian Revelation. This he has done in a manner equally strenuous and conciliating. Neither ought I to omit mentioning a remarkable instance of his candour. Notwithstanding the wide difference of our opinions, upon the important subject of University education, in a letter to me concerning this work, he thus expresses himself: "I thank you for the very great entertainment your Life of Johnson gives me. It is a most valuable work. Yours is a new species of biography. Happy for Johnson that he had so able a recorder of his wit and wisdom."-BoswELL.
3 Dr. Knox, in his "Moral and Literary" abstraction, may be excused for not knowing the political regulations of his country. No senator can be in the hands of a bailiff. BOSWELL.
"They who build houses and collect costly pictures and furnitures, with the money of an honest artizan or mechanic, will be very glad of emancipation from the hands of a bailiff, by a sale of their senatorial suffrage."
But I think the most perfect imitation of Johnson is a professed one, entitled "A Criticism on Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard," said to be written by Mr. Young, professor of Greek at Glasgow, and of which let him have the credit, unless a better title can be shown. It has not only the particularities of Johnson's style, but that very species of literary discussion and illustration for which he was eminent. Having already quoted so much from others, I shall refer the curious to this performance, with an assurance of much entertainment.
Yet whatever merit there may be in any imitations of Johnson's style, every good judge must see that they are obviously different from the original; for all of them are either deficient in its force, or overloaded with its peculiarities; and the powerful sentiment to which it is suited is not to be found.
Johnson's affection for his departed relations seemed to grow warmer as he approached nearer to the time when he might hope to see them again. It probably appeared to him that he should upbraid himself with unkind inattention, were he to leave the world without having paid a tribute of respect to their memory.
"TO MR. GREEN, APOTHECARY, AT LICHfield. "DEAR SIR,
Dec. 2, 1784.
"I have enclosed the Epitaph for my father, mother, and brother, to be all engraved on the large size, and laid in the middle aisle in St. Michael's church, which I request the clergyman and churchwardens to permit.
"The first care must be to find the exact place of interment, that the stone may protect the bodies. Then let the stone be deep, massy, and hard; and do not let the difference of ten pounds, or more, defeat our purpose.
"I have enclosed ten pounds, and Mrs. Porter will pay you ten more, which gave her for the same purpose. What more is wanted shall be sent; and I beg that all possible haste may be made, for I wish to have it done while I am yet alive. Let me know, dear Sir, that you receive this. I am, Sir, "Your most humble servant,
"TO MRS. LUCY PORTER, IN LICHFIELD.1
Dec. 2, 1784.
"I am very ill, and desire your prayers. I have sent Mr. Green the Epitaph, and a power to call on you for ten pounds.
This lady, whose name so frequently occurs in the course of this work, survived Dr. Johnson just thirteen months. She died at Lichfield, in her 71st year, January 13, 1786, and bequeathed the principal part of her fortune to the Rev. Mr. Pearson, of Lichfield.— MALONE.
"I laid this summer a stone over Tetty, in the chapel of Bromley, in Kent. The inscription is in Latin, of which this is the English. [Here a translation.] "That this is done, I thought it fit that you should know. What care will be taken of us, who can tell? May GOD pardon and bless us, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. I am, &c. SAM. JOHNSON."
My readers are now, at last, to behold SAMUEL JOHNSON preparing himself for that doom, from which the most exalted powers afford no exemption to man. Death had always been to him an object of terror; so that, though by no means happy, he still clung to life with an eagerness at which many have wondered. At any time when he was ill, he was very much pleased to be told that he looked better. An ingenious member of the Eumelian Club1 informs me, that upon one occasion, when he said to him that he saw health returning to his cheek, Johnson seized him by the hand and exclaimed, Sir, you are one of the kindest friends I ever had."
His own state of his views of futurity will appear truly rational; and may, perhaps, impress the unthinking with seriousness.
"You know," says he,2 "I never thought confidence with respect to futurity, any part of the character of a brave, a wise, or a good man. Bravery has no place where it can avail nothing; wisdom impresses strongly the consciousness of those faults, of which it is, perhaps, itself, an aggravation; and goodness, always wishing to be better, and imputing every deficiency to criminal negligence, and every fault to voluntary corruption, never dares to suppose the condition of forgiveness fulfilled, nor what is wanting in the crime supplied by penitence.
"This is the state of the best; but what must be the condition of him whose heart will not suffer him to rank himself among the best, or among the good?Such must be his dread of the approaching trial, as will leave him little attention to the opinion of those whom he is leaving for ever; and the serenity that is not felt, it can be no virtue to feign."
His great fear of death, and the strange dark manner in which Sir John Hawkins imparts the uneasiness which he expressed on account of offences with which he charged himself, may give occasion to injurious suspicions, as if there had been something of more than ordinary criminality weighing upon his conscience. On that account, therefore, as well as from the regard to truth which he inculcated, I am to mention (with all possible respect and delicacy, however,) that his conduct, after he came to London, and had associated with Savage and others, was not so strictly virtuous, in one respect, as when he was a younger man. It was well known that his amorous inclinations were uncommonly strong and
A Club in London, founded by the learned and ingenious physician, Dr. Ash, in honour of whose name it was called Eumelian, from the Greek Evueλías: though it was warmly contended, and even put to a vote, that it should have the more obvious appellation of Fraxinean, from the Latin.-BoswWELL.
2 Mrs. Thrale's collection, March 10, 1784. Vol. ii. p. 3.-BosWELL. 8 See what he said to Mr. Malone, p. 43 of this volume.-BOSWELL.
impetuous. Ile owned to many of his friends, that he used to take women of the town to taverns, and hear them relate their history. In short, it must not be concealed, that, like many other good and pious men, among whom we may place the apostle Paul upon his own authority, Johnson was not free from propensities which were ever" warring against the law of his mind,"-and that in his combats with them, he was sometimes overcome.
Here let the profane and licentious pause; let them not thoughtlessly say that Johnson was an hypocrite, or that his principles were not firm, because his practice was not uniformly conformable to what he professed.
Let the question be considered independent of moral and religious associations; and no man will deny that thousands, in many instances, act against conviction. Is a prodigal, for example, an hypocrite, when he owns he is satisfied that his extravagance will bring him to ruin and misery? We are sure he believes it; but immediate inclination, strengthened by indulgence, prevails over that belief in influencing his conduct. Why then shall credit be refused to the sincerity of those who acknowledge their persuasion of moral and religious duty, yet sometimes fail of living as it requires? I heard Dr. Johnson once observe, "There is something noble in publishing truth, though it condemns one's self."1 And one who said in his presence, he had no notion of people being in earnest in their good professions, whose practice was not suitable to them,” was thus reprimanded by him :-" Sir, are you so grossly ignorant of human nature as not to know that a man may be very sincere in good principles without having good practice?"
But let no man encourage or soothe himself in "presumptuous sin,” from knowing that Johnson was sometimes hurried into indulgences which he thought criminal. I have exhibited this circumstance as a shade in so great a character, both from my sacred love of truth, and to show that he was not so weakly scrupulous as he had been represented by those who imagine that the sins, of which a deep sense was upon his mind, were merely such little venial trifles as pouring milk into his tea on Good Friday. His understanding will be defended by my statement, if his consistency of conduct be in some degree impaired. But what wise man would, for momentary gratifications, deliberately subject himself to suffer such uneasiness as we find was experienced by Johnson in reviewing his conduct as compared with his notion of the ethics of the gospel? Let the following passages be kept in remembrance :
"O GOD, giver and preserver of all life, by whose power I was created, and
1 "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides," 3rd edit. p. 209. On the same subject, in his letter to Mrs. Thrale, dated Nov. 29, 1783, he makes the following just observation : "Life to be worthy of a rational being, must be always in progression; we must always purpose to do more or better than in time past. The mind is enlarged and elevated by mere purposes, though they end as they began, by airy contemplation. We compare and judge, though we do not practise."--BOSWELL.
2 "Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides," p. 374-BoSWELL.
by whose providence I am sustained, look down upon me with tenderness and mercy; grant that I may not have been created to be finally destroyed; that I may not be preserved to add wickedness to wickedness."—(Prayers and Med. p. 47.)
"O LORD, let me not sink into total depravity; look down upon me, and rescue me at last from the captivity of sin," (p. 68.)
'Almighty and most merciful Father, who hast continued my life from year to year, grant that by longer life I may become less desirous of sinful pleasures, and more careful of eternal happiness," (p. 84.)
"Let not my years be multiplied to increase my guilt; but as my age advances, let me become more pure in my thoughts, more regular in my desires, and more obedient to thy laws," (p. 120.)
"Forgive, O merciful LORD, whatever I have done contrary to thy laws. Give me such a sense of my wickedness as may produce true contrition and effectual repentance; so that when I shall be called into another state, I may be received among the sinners to whom sorrow and reformation have obtained pardon, for JESUS CHRIST's sake. Amen," (p. 130.)
Such was the distress of mind, such the penitence of Johnson, in his hours of privacy, and in his devout approaches to his Maker. His sincerity, therefore, must appear to every candid mind unquestionable.
It is of essential consequence to keep in view, that there was in this excellent man's conduct no false principle of commutation, no deliberate indulgence in sin, in consideration of a counterbalance of duty. His offending, and his repenting, were distinct and separate,1 and when we consider his almost unexampled attention to truth, his inflexible integrity, his constant piety, who will dare to "cast a stone at him? Besides,
let it never be forgotten, that he cannot be charged with any offence indicating badness of heart, anything dishonest, base, or malignant ; but that, on the contrary, he was charitable in an extraordinary degree; so that even in one of his own rigid judgments of himself (Easter-eve, 1781), while he says, I have corrected no external habits," he is obliged to own, "I hope that since my last communion I have advanced by pious reflections, in my submission to GOD, and my benevolence to man.'
I am conscious that this is the most difficult and dangerous part of my biographical work, and I cannot but be very anxious concerning it. I trust that I have got through it, preserving at once my regard to truth, -to my friend,—and to the interests of virtue and religion. Nor can I apprehend that more harm can ensue from the knowledge of the irregu larities of Johnson, guarded as I have stated it, than from knowing that Addison and Parnell were intemperate in the use of wine; which he himself, in his Lives of those celebrated writers and pious men, has not forborne to record.
1 Dr. Johnson related, with very earnest approbation, a story of a gentleman, who, in an impulse of passion, overcame the virtue of a young woman. When she said to him, 'I am afraid we have done wrong!" he answered, "Yes, we have done wrong; for I would Dot debauch her mind." -BOSWELL.
2" Prayers and Meditations," p. 192.-BOSWELL.