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Johnson's character.

(A.D. 1784.

conveyed in harmonious and energetick verse, particularly in heroick couplets. Though usually grave, and even aweful, in his deportment, he possessed uncommon and peculiar powers of wit and humour; he frequently indulged himself in colloquial pleasantry; and the heartiest merriment' was often enjoyed in his company; with this great advantage, that as it was entirely free from any poisonous tincture of vice or impiety, it was salutary to those who shared in it. He had accustomed himself to such accuracy in his common conversation”, that he at all times expressed his thoughts

i See ante, ii. 301, note 2.

· Though a perfect resemblance of Johnson is not to be found in any age, parts of his character are admirably expressed by Clarendon in drawing that of Lord Falkland, whom the noble and masterly historian describes at his seat near Oxford :—Such an immenseness of wit, such a solidity of judgement, so infinite a fancy, bound in by a most logical ratiocination.--His acquaintance was cultivated by the most polite and accurate men, so that his house was an University in less volume, whither they came, not so much for repose as study, and to examine and refine those grosser propositions, which laziness and consent made current in conversation.'

Bayle's account of Menage may also be quoted as exceedingly applicable to the great subject of this work :-· His illustrious friends erected a very glorious monument to him in the collection entitled JIenagian. Those who judge of things aright, will confess that this collection is very proper to shew the extent of genius and learning which was the character of Menage. And I may be bold to say, that the excellent works he published will not distinguish him from other learned men so advantageously as this. To publish books of great learning, to make Greek and Latin verses exceedingly well turned, is not a common talent, I own; neither is it extremely rare. It is incomparably more difficult to find men who can furnish discourse about an infinite number of things, and who can diversify them an hundred ways. How many authours are there, who are admired for their works, on account of the vast learning that is displayed in them, who are not able to sustain a conversation. Those who know Menage only by his books, might think he resembled those learned men; but if you shew the MENAGIANA, you distinguish him from them, and make him known by a talent which is given to very few learned men. There it appears that he was a man who spoke off-hand a thousand good things. His memory extended to what was ancient and mod

Aetat. 75.]

Johnson's character.


with great force, and an elegant choice of language, the effect of which was aided by his having a loud voice, and a slow deliberate utterance'. In him were united a most logical head with a most fertile imagination, which gave

him an extraordinary advantage in arguing: for he could reason close or wide, as he saw best for the moment. Exulting in his intellectual strength and dexterity, he could, when he pleased, be the greatest sophist that ever contended in the lists of declamation; and, from a spirit of contradiction and a delight in shewing his powers, he would often maintain the wrong side with equal warmth and ingenuity; so that, when there was an audience, his real opinions could seldom be gathered from his talk”; though when he was in company with a single friend, he would discuss a subject with genuine fairness: but he was too conscientious to make errour permanent and pernicious, by deliberately writing it; and, in all his numerous works, he earnestly inculcated what appeared to him to be the truth; his picty being constant, and the ruling principle of all his conduct'.

Such was SAMUEL JOHNSON, a man whose talents, acquirements, and virtues, were so extraordinary, that the more his character is considered, the more he will be regarded

ern; to the court and to the city; to the dead and to the living languages; to things serious and things jocose; in a word, to a thousand sorts of subjects. That which appeared a trifle to some readers of the Vienagiana, who did not consider circumstances, caused admiration in other readers, who minded the difference between what a man speaks without preparation, and that which he prepares for the press. And, therefore, we cannot sufficiently commend the care which his iilustrious friends took to erect a monument so capable of giving him immortal glory. They were not obliged to rectify what they had heard him say; for, in so doing, thcy had not been faithful historians of his conversations.' BOSWELL. Boswell's quotation from Clarendon (ed. 1826, iv. 242) differs somewhat from the original.

i Sec ante, ii. 373, and iv. 273. ? See ante, iv. 129.

3 To this finely-drawn character we may add the noble testimony of Sir Joshua Reynolds :- His pride had no meanness in it; there was nothing little or mean about him.' Taylor's Reynolds, ii. 457.


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Johnson's character.

by the present age, and by posterity, with admiration and reverence'.

· In Johnson's character of Boerhaave there is much that applies cqually well to himself. “Thus died Boerhaave, a man formed by nature for great designs, and guided by religion in the exertion of his abilities. He was of a robust and athletick constitution of body, so hardened by carly severities and wholesome fatigue that he was insensible of any sharpness of air, or inclemency of weather. He was tall, and remarkable for extraordinary strength. There was in his air and motion something rough and artless, but so majestick and great at the same time, that no man ever looked upon him without veneration, and a kind of tacit submission to the superiority of his genius. ... He was never soured by calumny and detraction, nor ever thought it necessary to confute them ; " for they are sparks,” said he, “ which, if you do not blow them, will go out of themselves.” ... He was not to be overawed or depressed by the presence, frowns, or insolence of great men; but persisted, on all occasions, in the right with a resolution always present and always calm. ... Nor was he unacquainted with the art of recommending truth by elegance, and embellishing the philosopher with polite literature. . . . He knew the importance of his own writings to mankind, and lest he might by a roughness and barbarity of style, too frequent among men of great learning, disappoint his own intentions, and make his labours less useful, he did not neglect the politer arts of eloquence and poetry. Thus was his learning at once various and exact, profound and agreeable. . . . He asserted on all occasions the divine authority and sacred efficacy of the holy Scriptures; and maintained that they alone taught the way of salvation, and that they only could give peace of mind.' Johnson's Il’orks, vi. 288.



(Page 134, note 2.)

THERE are at least three accounts of this altercation and three versions of the lines. Two of these versions nearly agree. The earliest is found in a letter by Richard Burke, senior, dated Jan. 0, 1773 (Burke Corres. i. 403); the second in the Annual Register for 1776, p. 223; and the third in Miss Reynolds's Recollections (Croker's Boswell, 8vo, p. 833). R. Burke places the scene in Reynolds's house. Whether he himself was present is not clear. “The dean,' he says, “asserted that after forty-five a man did not improve. “I differ with you, Sir,” answered Johnson ; “a man may improve, and you yourself have great room for improvement.” The dean was confounded, and for the instant silent. Recovering, he said, “On recollection I see no cause to alter my opinion, except I was to call it improvement for a man to grow (which I allow he may) positive, rude, and insolent, and save arguments by brutality."! Neither the Annual Register nor Miss Reynolds reports the Dean's speech. But she says that 'soon after the ladies withdrew, Dr. Johnson followed them, and sitting down by the lady of the house (that is by herself, if they were at Sir Joshua's] he said, “I am very sorry for having spoken so rudely to the Dean.” “You very well may, Sir.”

Sir.” “Yes," he said, “it was highly improper to speak in that style to a minister of the gospel, and I am the more hurt on reflecting with what mild dignity he received it.” If Johnson really spoke of the Dean's mild dignity, it is clear that Richard Burke's account is wrong. But it was written just after the scene, and Boswell says there was “a pretty smart altercation.' Miss Reynolds continues :

—When the Dean came up into the drawingroom, Dr. Johnson immediately rose from his seat, and made him sit on the sofa by him, and with such a beseeching look for pardon and with such fond gestures—literally smoothing down his arms and his knees,' &c. The Annual Register says that Barnard the next day sent the verses addressed to “Sir Joshua Reynolds & Co.' On the next page I give Richard Burke's version of the lines, and show the various readings.



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Annual Reg



I lately thought no man alive
Could e'er improve past forty-five,

And ventured to assert it;
The observation was not new,
But seem'd to me so just and true,

That none could controvert it.


• No, Sir,' says Johnson, ‘’tis not so;
That's your mistake, and I can show

An instance, if you doubt it;
You who perhaps are You, Sir, who are near forty-eight,

May much improve, 'tis not too late;

I wish you'd set about it.'


Encouraged thus to mend my faults,

I turn'd his counsel in my thoughts, could

Which way I should apply it : Genius I knew was Learning and wit seem'd past my reach, what none can

For who can learn where none will teach? when none will

And wit-I could not buy it.



Then come, my friends, and try your skill,
You can improve me, if you

(My books are at a distance).

you I'll live and learn ; and then
Instead of books I shall read men,
So lend me your assistance.

To (sic)

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Sir Joshua Reyaolds, who was born at Plympton.


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