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from the complexion of his ordinary discourse, and the company he consorts with. As for that distinguishing characteristic which the ingenious essayist terms very properly the harmony of its cadence, that I take to be incommunicable, and immediately dependent upon the ear of him who models it. This harmony of cadence is so strong a mark of discrimination between authors of note in the world of letters, that we can depose to a style whose modulation we are familiar with almost as confidently as to the handwriting of a correspondent. But though I think there will be found in the periods of every established writer a certain peculiar tune (whether harmonious or otherwise), which will depend rather upon the natural ear than upon the imitative powers, yet I would not be understood to say that the study of good models can fail to be of use in the first formation of it. When a subject presents itself to the mind, and thoughts arise, which are to be committed to writing, it is then for a man to choose whether he will espress himself in simple or in elaborate diction, whether he will compress his matter or dilate it, ornament it with epithets and robe it in metaphor, or whether he will deliver it plainly and naturally in such language as a well-bred person and scholar would use who affects no parade of speech, nor aims at any flights of fancy. Let him decide as he will, in all these cases he hath models in plenty to choose from, which may be said to court his imitation.
For instance; if his ambition is to glitter and surprise with the figurative and metaphorical brilliancy of his period, let him tune his ear to some such passages as the following, where Doctor Johnson, in the character of critic and biographer, is pronouncing upon the poet Congreve: “His scenes exhibit not much of humor, imagery, or passion: his personages are a kind of intellectual gladiators; every sentence is to ward or strike; the contest of smartness is never intermitted; his wit is a meteor playing to and fro, with alternate coruscations.” If he can learn to embroider with as much splendor, taste, and address as this and many other samples from the same master exhibit, he cannot study in a better school.
On the contrary, if simplicity be his object, and a certain serenity of style, which seems in unison with the soul, he may open the “Spectator," and take from the first paper of Mr. Addison the first paragraph that meets his eye—the following, for instance: “There is nothing that makes its way more directly to the soul than beauty, which immediately diffuses a secret satisfaction and complacency through the imagination, and gives a finishing to anything that is great or uncommon: the very first discovery of it strikes the mind with an inward joy, and spreads a cheerfulness and delight through all its faculties.” Or again in the same essay: “We nowhere meet with a more glorious or pleasing show in nature than what appears in the heavens at the rising and setting of the sun, which is wholly made up of those different stains of light that show themselves in clouds of a different situation.” A florid writer would hardly have resisted the opportunities which here court the imagination to indulge its flights; whereas, few writers of any sort would have been tempted, on a topic merely critical, to have employed such figurative and splendid diction as that of Doctor Johnson. These little samples, therefore, though selected with little or no care, but taken as they came to hand, may serve to exemplify my meaning, and in some degree characterize the different styles of the respective writers.
Now, as every student, who is capable of copying either of these styles, or even of comparing them, must discern on which side the greater danger of miscarrying lies, as well as the greater disgrace in case of such miscarriage, prudence will direct him in his outset not to hazard the attempt at a florid diction. If his ear hath not been vitiated by vulgar habitudes, he will only have to guard against mean expressions, while he is studying to be simple and perspicuous: he will put his thoughts into language naturally as they present themselves, giving them for the present little more than mere grammatical correction: afterwards, upon a closer review, he will polish those parts that seem rude, harmonize them where they are unequal, compress what is too diffusive, raise what is low, and attune the whole to that general cadence which seems most grateful to his car.
Observer, No. 81
CHARACTER OF GOLDSMITH.
That he was fantastically vain all the world knows; but there was no settled and inherent malice in his heart. He was tenacious to a ridiculous extreme of certain pretensions that did not, and by nature could not, belong to him, and at the same time inexcusably careless of the fame which he had power to command. His tabletalk was, as Garrick aptly compared it, like that of a parrot, whilst he wrote like Apollo; he had gleams of eloquence, and at times a majesty of thought, but in general his tongue and his pen had two very different styles of talking. What foibles he had, he took no pains to conceal; the good qualities of his heart were too frequently obscured by the carelessness of his conduct, and the frivolity of his manners. Sir Joshua Reynolds was very good to him; and would have drilled him into better trim and order for
society, if he would have been amenable; for Reynolds was a perfect gentleman, had good sense, great propriety, with all the social attributes, and all the graces of hospitality, equal to any man. He well knew how to appreciate men of talents, and how near akin the Muse of Poetry was to that art of which he was so eminent a master.
There is something in Goldsmith's prose that to my ear is uncommonly sweet and harmonious; it is clear, simple, easy to be understood; we never want to read his period twice over, except for the pleasure it bestows; obscurity never calls us back to a repetition of it. That he was a poet there is no doubt.
JOHNSON AT THE TEA-TABLE.
At the tea-table he had considerable demands upon his favorite beverage, and I remember, when Sir Joshua Reynolds at my house reminded him that he had drunk eleven cups, he replied, “Sir, I did not count your glasses of wine; why should you number up my cups of tea?" And then laughing, in perfect good-humor he added, “Sir, I should have released the lady from any further trouble, if it had not been for your remark; but you have reminded me that I want one of the dozen, and I must request Mrs. Cumberland to round up my number.” When he saw the readiness and complacency with which my wife obeyed his call, he turned a kind and cheerful look upon her, and said, “Madam, I must tell you for your comfort, you have escaped much better than a certain lady did awhile ago, upon whose patience I intruded greatly more than I have done on yours; but the lady asked me for no other purpose than to make a zany of me, and set me gabbling to a parcel of people I knew nothing of; so, madam, I had my revenge of her; for I swallowed five-and-twenty cups of her tea, and did not treat her with as many words.” I can only say my wife would have made tea for him as long as the New River could have supplied her with water.
It was on such occasions he was to be seen in his happiest moments, when, animated by the cheering attention of friends whom he liked, he would give full scope to those talents for narration in which I verily think he was unrivalled, both in the brilliancy of his wit, the flow of his humor, and the energy of his language. Anecdotes of times past, scenes of his own life, and characters of humorists, enthusiasts, crack-brained projectors, and a variety of strange beings that he had chanced upon, when detailed by him
at length, and garnished with those episodical remarks, sometimes comic, sometimes grave, which he would throw in with infinite fertility of fancy, were a treat, which, though not always to be purchased by five-and-twenty cups of tea, I have often had the happiness to enjoy for less than half the number.
CHARACTER OF JOHNSON.
Alas! I am not fit to paint his character; nor is there need of it; etiam mortuus loquitur;1 every man who can buy a book bas bought a BOSWELL. Johnson is known to all the reading world. I also knew him well, respected him highly, loved him sincerely: it was never my chance to see him in those moments of moroseness and ill-humor which are imputed to him, perhaps with truth; for who would slander him? But I am not warranted by any experience of those humors to speak of him otherwise than of a friend, who always met me with kindness, and from whom I never separated without regret. When I sought his company he had no capricious excuses for withholding it, but lent himself to every invitation with cordiality, and brought good-humor with him, that gave life to the circle he was in.
He presented himself always in his fashion of apparel: a brown coat with metal buttons, black waistcoat, and worsted stockings, with a flowing bob wig, was the style of his wardrobe; but they were in perfectly good trim, and with the ladies, whom he generally met, he had nothing of the slovenly philosopher about him. He fed'heartily, but not voraciously, and was extremely courteous in his commendations of any dish that pleased his palate: he suffered his next neighbor to squeeze the China oranges into his wineglass after dinner; which else perchance had gone aside and trickled into his shoes; for the good man had neither straight sight nor steady nerves.
Who will say that Johnson would have been such a champion in literature—such a front-rank soldier in the fields of fame-if he had not been pressed into the service, and driven on to glory with the bayonet of sharp necessity pointed at his back? If fortune had turned him into a field of clover, he would have lain down and rolled in it. The mere manual labor of writing would not have allowed his lassitude and love of ease to have taken the pen out of the inkhorn, unless the cravings of hunger had reminded him that he must fill the sheet before he saw the table-cloth.
"He speaks even when dead."
Johnson's first style was naturally energetic, his middle style was turgid to a fault, his latter style was softened down and harmonized into periods more tuneful and more intelligible. His execution was rapid, yet his mind was not easily provoked into exertion: the variety we find in his writings was not the variety of choice arising from the impulse of his proper genius, but tasks imposed upon him by the dealers in ink, and contracts on his part submitted to in satisfaction of the pressing calls of hungry want; for, painful as it is to relate, I have heard that illustrious scholar assert (and he never varied from the truth of fact) that he sub sisted himself for a considerable space of time upon the scanty pittance of four-pence halfpenny per day.
The expanse of matter which Johnson had found room for in his intellectual storehouse, the correctness with which he had assorted it, and the readiness with which he could turn to any article that he wanted to make present use of, were the properties in him which I contemplated with the most admiration. Some have called him a savage; they were only so far right in the resemblance, as that, like the savage, he never came into suspicious company without his spear in his hand and his bow and quiver at his back. In conclusion, Johnson's era was not wanting in men to be distinguished for their talents; yet if one was to be selected out as the first great literary character of the time, I believe all voices would concur in naming him. Let me here insert the following lines, descriptive of his character:
OX SAMUEL JOHXSON.
Herculean strength and a Stentorian voice,