Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

with his majesty at the library of Buckingham-house, in which

just and handsome compliment was paid to his literary merit. The temporary application of his pen to the support of ministerial politics was not, therefore, extraordinary, nor can justly be accounted mercenary or profligate. The first of his productions in this department was the " False Alarm," published in 1770, when the constitution was supposed to have received a violent injury from the resolution of the house of commons, in the case of Wilkes, that expulsion implied incapacitation. It was followed in 1771 by “ Thoughts on the late Transactions respecting Falkland's Island," designed to show the unreasonableness of going to war on account of the conduct of Spain relative to that barren possession. “ The Patriot,” in 1774, was composed on the eve of a general election, in order to indispose the people against the oppositionists. His “ Taxation no Tyranny," in 1775, was a more considerable effort, directed against the arguments of the American congress relative to the claim of the mother country to tax the colonies at pleasure. All these are written with his characteristic vigour of conception and strength of style, but directed rather to malignant sarcasm, and dictatorial assumption, than to fair and conclusive argumentation. They were more irritating than convincing, and did little service to the cause they espoused. Johnson himself, however, seems to have thought highly of his powers for political warfare, and longed to try his force in senatorial debate : some of his friends entertained an idea of complying with his wish by bringing him into parliament; but the scheme met with no encouragement from men in power, and his reputation was probably no sufferer from its defeat.

A tour to the Western islands of Scotland in 1773, in which he was accompanied by his enthusiastic admirer and obsequious friend James Boswell, esq. was a remarkable incident in the life of a man so little addicted to locomotion. Among his prejudices, a strong antipathy to the natives of Scotland in general had long been conspicuous; and this journey exhibited many instances of his contempt for their learning and abhorrence of their religion. When, however, he published, two years afterwards, the account of his tour, under the title of " A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland,” more candour and impartiality was found in it than had been expected ; and the work was much admired for the just and philosophical views of society it contained, and the elegance and vivacity of its descriptions. The greatest offence it gave to nationality was by the author's decisive sentence against the authenticity of the poems ascribed to Ossian. The alleged translator, Mr. Macpherson, was so much irritated by the charge of imposture, that he sent a menacing letter to Johnson, which was answered in the tone of stern defiance ; but nothing ensued from this declared hostility

be

In 1775 our author was gratified, through the interest of lord North, with the literary honour which he greatly valued, that of the degree of doctor of laws from the university of Oxford. He had some years fore received the same honour from Dublin, but did not then choose to assume the title. A short visit to France, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale and Baretti, occupied part of the same year; he kept a journal of this tour, but it produced nothing for the public. When the unhappy Dr. Dodd lay under the sentence of an ignominious death, Johnson, either moved by compassion for the man, or desire to rescue his cloth from public disgrace, wrote two petitions to royalty in his name, and supplied him with a speech at the bar, and a sermon to be preached to his brother-convicts.

His last literary undertaking was the consequence of a request from the London booksellers, a body of men which he much esteemed, who had engaged in an edition of the works of the principal English poets, and wished to prefix to each a biographical and critical preface from his hand. Dr. Johnson executed this task with all the spirit and vigour of his best days. The publication of his “ Lives of the Poets” began in 1779, and was completed in 1781. In a separate form they coinpose four volumes octavo; and have made a most valuable addition to English biography and criticism, though in both these departments he will generally be thought to have laboured under strong prejudices. The style of this performance is in great measure free from the stiffness and turgidity of his earlier compositions.

The concluding portion of Dr. Johnson's life was saddened by the loss of old friends (among whom he particularly lamented Mr. Thrale), by a progressive decline of hcalth, and especially the prospect of approaching death, which neither his religion nor his philosophy taught him to bear with even decent composure. Indeed, it is evident that his "piety, sincere and ardent as it was, received such a dark tinge, either from temper or from system, that it was to him a source of much more awe and apprehension than comfort. A paralytic stroke in Juue,

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

by the late John Bacon Enq?R.A.

Hebhshed by Longman ( June 10.1805.

[ocr errors]

1783, greatly alarmed him, but he had still sufficient vigour of constitution to recover from its sensible effects. Asthma and dropsical symptoms followed; and such was the tenacity with which he clung to life, that he expressed a great desire to seek amendment in the climate of Italy. Some officious friends endeavoured to render this scheme feasible by an application to the minister for an increase of his pension. It was made without his knowledge, but he appears to have been mortified and disappointed by its want of success. The circumstance, however, gave occasion to very generous pecuniary offers from two persons which it was honourable to him to receive, but might have been improper to accept. Indeed he had no medical encourgement to make the desired trial, and his best friends rather wished to prepare him for the inevitable termination. Still unable to reconcile himself to the thought of dying, he said to the surgeon who was making slight scarifications in his swollen legs, “Deeper! deeper ! I want length of life, and you are afraid of giving me pain, which I do not value," and he afterwards with his own hand multiplied the punctures made for this purpose. Devotion is said, however, to have shed its tranquillity over the closing scene, which took place on December 13th, 1785, in the seventy-fifth year of his age. His remains, attended by a respectable concourse of friends, were interred in Westminster Abbey, and a monumental statue has since been placed to his memory in St. Paul's cathedral. He left his property, a few legacies excepted, to a faithful black servant who had long lived with him.

Dr. Johnson, at the time of his death, was undoubtedly the most conspicuous literary character of his country; nor is there, perhaps, an instance of a private man of letters in England whose decease was marked by the appearance of so many laudatory and biographical tributes to his public reputation. Of these, some are so abundant in anecdote, that they would furnish ready materials for an article far surpassing the limits we can allow to any degree of fame or excellence. In the preceding narrative, such facts are copied from these records as appeared most important to his character as an author. We shall add a few strokes to complete his portrait as a man.

Endowed with a corporeal and mental frame originally firm, powerful, and rugged, Johnson made his way erect and unyielding, throuh the obstacles and discouragements of penury, more laudable in the assertion of independence than censurable for the pride of superior talents. But when arrived at the pinnacle of reputation, the lavish admiration and

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »