Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

his publications are by some readers perused, and the fale of numerous editions. He has been celebrated as a writer similar in genius to Shakespeare, as being acquainted with the inmost recesses of the human heart, and having an absolute command of the passions, so as to be able to affect his readers as himself is affected, and to interest them in the successes and disappointments, the joys and sorrows of his characters. Others there are who think that neither his 'Pamela,' his ‘Cla. riffa, nor his Sir Charles Grandison' are to be numbered among the books of rational and instructive amusement, that they are not to be compared to the novels of Cervantes, or the more simple and chaste narrations of Le Sage, that they are not just representations of human manners, that in them the turpitude of vice is not strongly enough marked, and that the allurements to it are represented in the gayest colours; that the texture of all his writings is flimsy and thin, and his style mean and feeble; that they have a general tendency to inflame the passions of young people, and to teach them that which they need not to be taught; and that though they pretend to a moral, it often turns out a bad one. The cant terms of him and his admirers are sentiment and fentimentality.

Johnson was inclined, as being personally acquainted with Richardson, to favour the former opinion of his writings, but he seemed not firm in it, and could at any time be talked into a disapprobation of all fictitious relations, of which he would frequently say they took no hold of the mind.

I am tired of adducing instances of men who lived by the profession of writing and thought it

an

an eligible one, and should now proceed to relate the subsequent events of Dr. Johnson's life, and mark the state of his mind at different periods, but that I find myself detained by a character, which, as it were, obtrudes itself to view, and is of importance enough to claim notice.

Laurence Sterne, a clergyman and a dignitary of the cathedral church of York, was remarkable for a wild and eccentric genius, resembling in many refpects that of Rabelais. The work that made him first known as a writer, was, “The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy,' a whimsical rhapsody, but abounding in wit and humour of the licentious kind. He too was a sentimentalist, and wrote sentimental journies and sentimental letters in abundance, by which both he and the booksellers got considerably. Of the writers of this class or sect it may be observed, that being in general men of loose principles, bad oeconomists, living without foresight, it is their endeavour to commute for their failings by professions of greater love to mankind, more tender affections and finer feelings than they will allow men of more regular lives, whom they deem formalists, to possess. Their generous notions fupersede all obligation : they are a law to themselves, and having good hearts and abounding in the milk of human kindness, are above thofe considerations that bind men to that rule of conduct which is founded in a sense of duty. Of this new school of morality, Fielding, Rousseau, and Sterne are the principal teachers, and great is the mischief they have dona by their documents.

To

To these I might add the names of fundry persons of the same occupation, the authors of the Universal history in forty folio volumes, but that only 'a few of them are at this distance of time known : those are Psalmanaazar, George Sale, the above Dr. Campbell, and Mr. George Shelvocke, who, of a boy bred to the sea, became a man of learning, a travelling tutor, and at length attained to the lucra. tive employment of secretary of the post-office. Af these men it may be said that they were miners in literature, they worked, though not in darkness, under ground; their motive was gain ; their labour silent and incessant.

From the above enumeration of characters and particulars it may be inferred, that Johnson's indolence and melancholy were diseases of his mind, and not the necessary consequence of the profession he had taken up, that he saw human life through a false medium, and that he voluntarily renounced many comforts, gratifications, and even pleasures, obviously in his power. One effort however he made to soothe his mind and palliate the fatigue of his labours, which I here relate.

The great delight of his life was conversation and mental intercourse. That he might be able to indulge himself in this, he had, in the winter of 1749, formed a club that met weekly at the King's head, a famous beef-steak houfe, in Ivy lane near St. Paul's, every Tuesday evening. Thither he constantly reforted, and, with a disposition to please and be pleased, would pass those hours in a free and unrestrained interchange of sentiments, which otherwise had been

spent

spent at home in painful reflection. The persons who composed this little society were nine in number: I will mention their names, and, as well as I am able, give a night sketch of the several characters of such of them as cannot now be affected by either praise or blame: they were, the reverend Dr.Salter, father of the late master of the Charterhouse,– Dr. Hawkerworth,- Mr. Ryland a merchant, a relation of his,Mr. John Payne then a bookseller, but now or very lately chief accountant of the bank,-Mr. Samuel Dyer a learned young man intended for the diffenting ministry,--Dr. William M Ghie a Scots physician,-Dr. Edmund Barker, a young physician, Dr. Richard Bathurst also a young physician, and myself,

Dr. Samuel Salter was a Cambridge divine, whom some disagreement between him and his children had driven from his abode at Norwich, at the age of seventy, to settle in London. Being thus far advanced in years, he could carry his recollection back to the time when Dr. Samuel Clarke was yet a member of that university, and would frequently entertain us with particulars respecting him. He was a dignitary of the church, I think archdeacon of Norfolk, a man of general reading, but na deep scholar : he was well-bred, courteous, and affable, and enlivened conversation by the relation of a variety of curious facts, of which his memory was the only register.

Dr. Hawkesworth is a character well known in the literary world: I shall not attempt a delineation of it, as I find in the biographic dictionary an article for him in the words following: John Hawkesworth, an English writer of a very

foft

i soft and pleasing cast, was born about the year

1719, though his epitaph, as we find it in the • Gentleman's Magazine,” for August 1781, makes • him to have been born in 1715. He was brought

up to a mechanical profeslion, that of a watch'maker, as is supposed*. He was of the sect of prelbyterians, and a member of the celebrated Tom

Bradbury's meeting, from which he was expelled ' for some irregularities. He afterwards devoted

himself to literature, and became an author of con"siderable eminence. In the early part of his life,

his circumstances were rather confined. He resided • some time at Bromley in Kent, where his wife kept ' a boarding-school. He afterwards became known 'to a lady, who had great property and interest in the • East-India company; and, through her means,

was chosen a director of that body. As an author, ' his ' Adventurer' is his capital work; the merits of which, if we mistake not, procured him the degree of L. L. D. from Herring, archbishop of Canterbury. When the design of compiling a narrative of the discoveries in the South seas was on foot, he was recommended as a proper person to be employed on the occasion ; but, in truth, he was not a proper person, nor did the performance answer expectation. Works of taste and elegance, where ima

gination and the passions were to be affected, were ' his province; not works of dry, cold, accurate nar

rative. However, he executed his task, and is said

This is a mistake. He had been taught no art but that of writing, and was a hired clerk to one Harwood an attorney in Grocers' alley, in the Poultry,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »