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That a man, who venerated the church and monarchy as Johnson did, should speak with a just abhorrence of Milton as a politician, or rather as a daring foe to good polity, was surely to be expected ; and to those who censure him, I would recommend his commentary on Milton's celebrated complaint of his situation, when, by the lenity of Charles the Second—"a lenity of which,” as Johnson well observes, “ the world has had perhaps no other example”—he, who had written in justification of the murder of his sovereign, was safe under an Act of Oblivion.” “No sooner is he safe than he finds himself in danger, fallen on evil days and evil tongues, with iarkness and with dangers compassed round. This darkness, had his eyes been better employed, had undoubtedly deserved compassion ; but to add the mention of danger was ungrateful and unjust. He was fallen, indeed, on evil days; the time was come in which regicides could no longer boast their wickedness. But of evil tongues for Milton to complain, required impudence at least equal to his other powers ;-Milton, whose warmest advocates must allow that he never spared any asperity of reproach, or brutality of insolence.”
I have, indeed, often wondered how Milton, “ an acrimonious and surly Republican”—"a man who in his domestic relations was so severe and arbitrary, "1 and whose head was filled with the hardest and most dismal tenets of Calvinism, should have been such a poet; should not only have written with sublimity, but with beauty, and even gaiety; should have exquisitely painted the sweetest sensations of which our nature is capable ; imaged the delicate raptures of connubial love ; nay, seemed to be animated with all the spirit of revelry. It is a proof that in the human mind the departments of judgment and imagination, perception and temper, may sometimes be divided by strong partitions ; and that the light and shade in the same character may be kept so distinct as never to be blended.2
In the Life of Milton, Johnson took occasion to maintain his own and the general opinion of the excellence of rhyme over blank verse, in English poetry ; and quotes this apposite illustration of it by ingenious critic,” that it seems to be verse only to the eye. The gentleman whom he thus characterises is (as he told Mr. Seward) Mr. Lock, of Norbury Park, in Surrey, whose knowledge and taste in the fine arts is universally celebrated ; with whose elegance of manners the writer of
1 Johnson's Life of Milton.-BOSWELL.
2 Mr. Malone thinks it is rather a proof that he felt nothing of those cheerful sensations which he has described ; that on these topics it is the poet, and not the man, that writes.-Boswell.
3 One of the most natural instances of the effect of blank verse occurred to the late Earl of Hopeton. His Lordship observed one of his shepherds poring in the fields upon Milton's “ Paradise Lost;" and having asked him what book it was, the man answered, “ An't please your Lordship, this is a very odd sort of an author; he would fäin rhyme, but cannot get at it."—Boswell,
the present work has felt himself much impressed, and to whose virtues a common friend, who has known him long, and is not much addicted to flattery, gives the highest testimony.
Various Readings in the Life of MILTON. “I cannot find any meaning but this which [his most bigoted advocates] even kindness and reverence can give.
“[Perhaps no] scarcely ny man ever wrote so much, and praised so few. "A certain [rescue] preservative from oblivion.
“Let me not be censured for this digression, as (contracted) pedantic or paradoxical.
“Socrates rather was of opinion that what we had to learn was how to [obtain and communicate happiness] do good and avoid evil.
“ Its elegance [who can exhibit?] is less attainable."
I could, with pleasure, expatiate upon the masterly execution of the Life of Dryden, which, we have seen, was one of Johnson's literary projects at an early period, and which it is remarkable that, after desisting from it, from a supposed scantiness of materials, he should, at an adVanced age, have exhibited so amply.
His defence of that great poet against the illiberal attacks upon him, as if his embracing the Roman Catholic communion had been a timeserving measure, is a piece of reasoning at once able and candid. Indeed, Dryden himself, in his “ Hind and Panther,” hath given such a picture of his mind, that they who know the anxiety for repose as to the awful subject of our state beyond the grave, though they may think huis opinion ill-founded, must think charitably of his sentiment :
“But, gracious God, how well dost thou provide
What more could shock my faith than Three in One ?"
1 See vol. iii. p. 44.—BOSWELL.
pose unintentionally, some touches of his own. Thus: “ The power that predominated in his intellectual operations was rather strong reason than quick sensibility. Upon all occasions that were presented, he studied rather than felt; and produced sentiments not such as nature enforces, but meditation supplies. With the simple and elemental passions as they spring separate in the mind, he seems not much acquainted. He is, therefore, with all his variety of excellence, not often pathetic; and had so little sensibility of the power of effusions purely natural, that he did not esteem them in others.” It may, indeed, be observed, that in all the numerous writings of Johnson, whether in prose or verse, and even in his Tragedy, of which the subject is the distress of an unfortunate princess, there is not a single passage that ever drew a tear.
'Various Readings in the Life of DRYDEN.
“The reason of this general perusal, Addison has attempted to [find in] derive from the delight which the mind feels in the investigation of secrets.
“His best actions are but [convenient) inability of wickedness.
“When once he had engaged himself in disputation, [matter] thoughts flowed in on either side.
“The abyss of an un-ideal [emptiness] vacancy.
These, like [many other harlots,] the harlots of other men, had his love though not his approbation.
“He (sometimes displays] descends to display his knowledge with pedantic ostentation.
“French words which [were then used in] had then crept into" conversation."
The Life of Pope was written by Johnson con amore, both from the early possession which that writer had taken of his mind, and from the pleasure which he must have felt, in for ever silencing all attempts to lessen his poetical fame, by demonstrating his excellence, and pronouncing the following triumphant eulogium :-“ After all this, it is surely superfluous to answer the question that has once been asked, Whether Pope was a poet? otherwise than by asking in return, if Pope be not a poet, where is poetry to be found ? To circumscribe poetry by a definition, will only show the narrowness of the definer ; though a definition which shall exclude Pope will not easily be made. Let us look round upon the present time, and back upon the past ; let us inquire to whom the voice of mankind has decreed the wreath of poetry ; let their productions be examined, and their claims stated, and the pretensions of Pope will be no more disputed.
I remember once to have heard Johnson say, “Sir, a thousand years may elapse before there shall appear another man with a power of versification equal to that of Pope.” That power must undoubtedly be allowed its due share in enhancing the value of his captivating composition.
Johnson, who had done liberal justice to Warburton in his edition of Shakspeare, which was published during the life of that powerful
writer, with still greater liberality took an opportunity, in the Life of Pope, of paying the tribute due to him when he was no longer in "high place,” but numbered with the dead."
1 Of Johnson's conduct towards Warburton, a very honourable notice is taken by the editor of “ Tracts by Warburton, and a Warburtonian, not admitted into the Collection of their respective Works." After an able and " fond, though not undistinguishing," consideration of Warburton's character, he says, " In two immortal works, Johnson has stood forth in the foremost rank of his admirers. By the testimony of such a man, impertinence must be abashed, and malignity itself must be softened. Of literary merit, Johnson, as we all know, was a sagacious, but a most severe judge. Such was his discernment, that he pierced into the most secret springs of human actions; and such was his integrity, that he always weighed the moral characters of his fellow.creatures in the balance of the sanctuary.' He was too courageous to propitiate a rival, and too proud to truckle to a snperior. Warburton he knew, as I know him, and as every man of sense and virtue would' wish to be known, I mean, both from his own writings, and from the writings of those who dissented from his principles, or who envied his reputation. But, as to favours, he had never received or asked any from the Bishop of Gloucester : and if my memory fails me not, he had seen him only once, when they met almost without design, conversed without much effort, and parted without any lasting impression of hatred or affection. Yet, with all the ardour of sympathetic genius, Johnson had done that spontaneously and ably, which, 'by some writers, had been before attempted injudiciously, and which, by others, from whom more successfui attempts might have been expected, has not hitherto been done at all. He spoke well of War.' buiton, without insulting those whom Warburton despised. He suppilssed not the im.
It seems strange, that two such men as Johnson and Warburton, who lived in the same age and country, should not only not have been in any degree of intimacy, but been almost personally unacquainted. But such instances, though we must wonder at them, are not rare. If I am rightly informed, after a careful inquiry, they never met but once, which was at the house of Mrs. French, in London, well known for her elegant assemblies, and bringing eminent characters together. The interview proved to be mutually agreeable.
I am well informed, that Warburton said of Johnson, “I admire him, but I cannot bear his style ;” and that Johnson being told of this, said, “That is exactly my case as to him.” The manner in which he expressed his admiration of the fertility of Warburton's genius and of the variety of his materials, was, The table is always full, Sir. He brings things from the north, and the south, and from every quarter. In his • Divine Legation,' you are always entertained. He carries you round and round, without carrying you forward to the point ; but then you have no wish to be carried forward.” He said to the Rev. Mr. Strahan, “ Warburton is perhaps the last man who has written with a mind full of reading and reflection."
It is remarkable, that in the Life of Broome, Johnson takes notice of Dr. Warburton using a mode of expression which he himself used, and that not seldom, to the great offence of those who did not know him. Having occasion to mention a note, stating the different parts which were executed by the associated translators of “The Odyssey," he says, “Dr. Warburton told me, in his warm language, that he thought the relation given in the note a lie. The language is warm indeed ; and, I must own, cannot be justified in consistency with a decent regard to the established forms of speech.' Johnson had accustomed himself to use the word lie, to express a mistake or an error in relation ; in short, when the thing was
; not so as told, though the relator did not mean to deceive. When he perfections of this extraordinary man, while he endeavoured to do justice to his numerous and transcendental excellencies. He defended him when living, amidst the clamours of his enemies; and praised him when dead, amidst the silence of his friends."
Having availed myself of this editor's eulogy on my departed friend, for which I warmly thank him, let me not suffer the lustre of his reputation, honestly acquired by profound learning and vigorous eloquence, to be tarnished by a charge of illiberality. He has been accused of invidiously dragging again into light certain 'writings of a person respectable by his talents, his learning, his station, and his age, which were published a great many years ago, and have since, it is said, been silently given up by their author. But when it is considered that these writings were not sins of youth, but deliberate works of one well-advanced in life, overflowing at once with flattery to a great man of great interest in the Church, and with unjust and acrimonious abuse of two men of eminent merit; and that, though it would have been unreasonable to expect an humiliating recantation, no apology whatever has been made in the cool of the evening, for the oppressive fervour of the heat of the day; no slight relenting indication has appeared in any note, or any corner of later publications ; is it not fair to understand him as superciliously persevering? When he allows the shafts to remain in the wounds, and will not stretch forih a lenient hand, is it wrong, is it not generous to become an indignant avenger 2-Boswell.