Slike strani






[ocr errors]

Johnson's most exquisite critical essay in the Literary Magazine, and indeed anywhere, is his review of Soame Jenyns's Inquiry into the Origin of Evil. 1 Jenyns was possessed of lively talents, and a style eminently pure and easy, and could very happily play with a light subject, either in prose or verse; but when he speculated on that most difficult and excruciating question, the Origin of Evil, he ventured far beyond his depth,' and, accordingly, was exposed by Johnson, both with acute argument and brilliant wit. I remember when the late Mr. Bicknell's humorous performance, entitled 'The Musical Travels of Joel Collyer,' in which a slight attempt is made to ridicule Johnson, was ascribed to Soame Jenyns, 'Ha! (said Johnson) I thought I had given him enough of it.'

His triumph over Jenyns is thus described by my friend Mr. Courtenay in his Poetical Review of the literary and moral Character of Dr. Johnson; a performance of such merit, that had I not been honoured with a very kind and partial notice in it, I should echo

1 [Every reader should make it in his business to turn to this Review, which will be found in all collected editions of Johnson. It is a masterpiece of wit, and most characteristic.-A. B.]

the sentiments of men of the first taste loudly in its praise :

'When specious sophists with presumption scan
The source of evil hidden still from man;
Revive Arabian tales, and vainly hope
To rival St. John, and his scholar Pope:
Though metaphysics spread the gloom of night,
By reason's star he guides our aching sight;

The bounds of knowledge masks, and points the way
To pathless wastes, where wilder'd sages stray:
Where, like a farthing link-boy, Jenyns stands,
And the dim torch drops from his feeble hands.'1

This year Mr. William Payne, brother of the respectable bookseller of that name, published An Introduction to the Game of Draughts, to which Johnson

1 Some time after Dr. Johnson's death there appeared in the newspapers and magazines an illiberal and petulant attack upon him, in the form of an Epitaph, under the name of Mr. Soame Jenyns, very unworthy of that gentleman, who had quietly submitted to the critical lash while Johnson lived. It assumed, as characteristics of him, all the vulgar circumstances of abuse which had circulated amongst the ignorant. It was an unbecoming indulgence of puny resentment, at a time when he himself was at a very advanced age, and had a near prospect of descending to the grave. I was truly sorry for it; for he was then become an avowed, and (as my Lord Bishop of London, who had a serious conversation with him on the subject, assures me) a sincere Christian. He could not expect that Johnson's numerous friends would patiently bear to have the memory of their master stigmatised by no mean pen, but that, at least, one would be found to retort. Accordingly, this unjust and sarcastic Epitaph was met in the same public field by an answer, in terms by no means soft, and such as wanton provocation only could justify:


Prepared for a creature not quite dead yet.

6 Here lies a little ugly nauseous elf,
Who judging only from its wretched self,
Feebly attempted, petulant and vain,
The Origin of Evil' to explain.

A mighty Genius at this elf displeased,

With a strong critic grasp the urchin squeezed.
For thirty years its coward spleen it kept,
Till in the dust the mighty Genius slept;
Then stunk and fretted in expiring snuff,
And blink'd at Johnson with its last poor puff.'

contributed a Dedication to the Earl of Rochford, and a Preface, both of which are admirably adapted to the treatise to which they are prefixed. Johnson, I believe, did not play at draughts after leaving College, by which he suffered; for it would have afforded him an innocent soothing relief from the melancholy which distressed him so often. I have heard him regret that he had not learnt to play at cards; and the game of draughts we know is peculiarly calculated to fix the attention without straining it. There is a composure and gravity in draughts which insensibly tranquillises the mind; and, accordingly, the Dutch are fond of it, as they are of smoking, of the sedative influence of which, though he himself never smoked, he had a high opinion.1 Besides, there is in draughts some exercise of the faculties; and accordingly, Johnson, wishing to dignify the subject in his Dedication with what is most estimable in it, observes: 'Triflers may find or make anything a trifle: but since it is the great characteristic of a wise man to see events in their causes, to obviate consequences, and ascertain contingencies, your Lordship will think nothing a trifle by which the mind is inured to caution, foresight, and circumspection.'

As one of the little occasional advantages which he did not disdain to take by his pen, as a man whose profession was literature, he this year accepted of a guinea from Mr. Robert Dodsley, for writing the introduction to the London Chronicle, an evening newspaper; and even in so slight a performance exhibited peculiar talents. This Chronicle still subsists, and

1 Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3rd edit., p. 48.

[ocr errors]

from what I observed, when I was abroad, has a more extensive circulation upon the Continent than any of the English newspapers. It was constantly read by Johnson himself; and it is but just to observe, that it has all along been distinguished for good sense, accuracy, moderation, and delicacy.

Another instance of the same nature has been communicated to me by the Reverend Dr. Thomas Campbell, who has done himself considerable credit by his own writings. Sitting with Dr. Johnson one morning alone, he asked me if I had known Dr. Madden, who was the author of the premium-scheme1 in Ireland. On my answering in the affirmative, and also that I had for some years lived in his neighbourhood, etc., he begged of me that when I returned to Ireland I would endeavour to procure for him a poem of Dr. Madden's, called Boulter's Monument.2 The reason (said he) why I wish for it, is this: when Dr. Madden came to London he submitted that work to my castigation; and I remember I blotted a great many lines, and might have blotted many more without making the

1 [In the College of Dublin four quarterly examinations of the students are held in each year, in various prescribed branches of literature and science; and premiums, consisting of books impressed with the College Arms, are adjudged by examiners to those who have most distinguished themselves in the several classes, after a very rigid trial, which lasts two days. This regulation, which has subsisted about seventy years, has been attended with the most beneficial effects.

Dr. Samuel Madden was the first proposer of premiums in that University. They were instituted about the year 1734. He was also one of the founders of the Dublin Society for the encouragement of arts and agriculture. In addition to the premiums which were and are still annually given by that society for this purpose, Dr. Madden gave others from his own fund. Hence he was usually called 'Premium Madden.'-M.]

2 [Dr. Hugh Boulter, Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of Ireland. He died Sept. 27, 1742, at which time he was, for the thirteenth time, one of the Lords Justices of that kingdom. Johnson speaks of him in high terms of commendation in his Life of Ambrose Philips.-J. BOSWELL, Junior.]


R 2

poem worse. However, the Doctor was very thankful and very generous, for he gave me ten guineas, which was to me at that time a great sum.'

He this year resumed his scheme of giving an edition of Shakespeare with notes. He issued Proposals of considerable length,2 in which he showed that he perfectly well knew what a variety of research such an undertaking required; but his indolence prevented him from pursuing it with that diligence which alone can collect those scattered facts, that genius, however acute, penetrating and luminous, cannot discover by its own force. It is remarkable, that at this time his fancied activity was for the moment so vigorous, that he promised his work should be published before Christmas 1757. Yet nine years elapsed before it saw the light. His throes in bringing it forth had been severe and remittent; and at last we may almost conclude that the Cæsarean operation was performed by the knife of Churchill, whose upbraiding satire, I dare say, made Johnson's friends urge him to despatch.

'He for subscribers baits his hook,

And takes your cash; but where's the book?
No matter where; wise fear, you know,

Forbids the robbing of a foe;

But what, to serve our private ends,

Forbids the cheating of our friends?'

About this period he was offered a living of considerable value in Lincolnshire, if he were inclined to enter into holy orders. It was a rectory in the gift of Mr. Langton, the father of his much-valued friend.

1 [Dr. Madden wrote very bad verses. Vide those prefixed to Leland's Life of Philip of Macedon, 4to, 1758.-KEARNEY.

2 They have been reprinted by Mr. Malone in the Preface to his edition of Shakespeare.

« PrejšnjaNaprej »