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scrofulous disorder, which disfigured a person naturally awkward and ungainly, and this disorder was probably connected with another and more terrible one, w.jich renders it still more wonderful how he could have ever attained to such a degree of just reputation, as he afterwards earned. This was a constitutional tendency to melancholy—a “vile melancholy,” to use his own touching words, “which has kept me mad half my life, or, at least, not sober.”
3. The earlier part,—nay, by far the greater part,-of John. son's career was passed in obscure and apparently hopeless strug.. gles with want and indigence; and, however these may have enlarged his knowledge of human life, or fortified his powers of industry and reflection, they only place in a higher elevation the virtue of the man, and the intellectual vigor of the great scholar. He passed some time at Pembroke College, Oxford; but his father's misfortunes compelled him to leave the University without a degree. To the aspirant after literary fame, to him who takes a wise pleasure in tracing the struggles of genius to emerge from a sea of difficulties, few things are more delightful or more salutary than to follow step by step the commencement of John son's career :
"Slow rises worth by poverty oppressed !”
4. Poor, independent, ambitious, conscious of his own powers, he adopted the desperate, yet natural resolution of launching on the broad ocean of London society, and traveled up to the capital in company with his friend and former pupil, David Garrick, who was destined afterwards to obtain, on the stage, a reputation as great as that ultimately acquired in literature by his companion. Johnson now commenced the profession of author, obtaining a scanty and precarious subsistence by translating and writing task-work for the booksellers, and principally employed as a contributor to the “Gentleman's Magazine."
5. Johnson's style during the whole of his career was exceedingly peculiar and characteristic, loch in its beauties and defects •
and, when he arrived at eminence, may be said to have produced a revolution in the manner of writing in English. It is, in the highest degree, pompous, sonorous, and, to use a happy expression of Coleridge, hyper-latinistic:* running into perpetual antithesis, and balancing period against period with an almost rhythmical regularity, which at once fills and fatigues the ear. The great deficiency of the style is want—not of ease, as has been unjuruly supposed, for Johnson's strong and nervous intellect wielded its polished and ponderous weapon with perfect mastery and freedom,—but of that familiar flexibility which is best adapted to the general course of disquisition.
6. In 1738 appeared the admirable satire entitled “London," a revival of the thirteenth Satire of Juvenal, $ in which the topics of the Roman poet are applied with surprising freedom, animation, and felicity, to English manners, and the corruptions of modern London society. After the satire of “London," Johnson published his “Life of Savage,” the biography of a poet whose strange and melancholy story formed an admirable subject for Johnson's dignified and moral pen; and, in 1749, appeared the Pendant, or companion-picture to the “ London,” in a similar modernization of the tenth Satire of Juvenal.
7. Between the years 1750 and 1752, Johnson was occupied in the composition of a journal, or series of periodical essays, entitled “THE RAMBLER,” founded upon the model of the “ Spectators" and “ Tatlers," which Addison and Steele had employed so usefully, as a vehicle of moral improvement. But, in Johnson's hands, this kind of writing was neither so popular nor so delightful as it had been in those of the easy and elegant essayists whom we have just mentioned. Knowledge, good sense, sincerity, he possessed, at least, in as high a degree as his predecessors; but the reader observes a lack of ease, a want of light and shade, for which not all the imposing qualities of Johnson's mind can compensate. Addison and Steele* talk ; Johnson declaims. The former address you like virtuous, wellbred men of the world, whose scholastic acquirements have ween harmonized and digested by long intercourse with polished society; Johnson rather like a university professor, who retains, in the world, something of the stiffness of the chair.
* Partaking too much of Latin.
For an explanation of this word, see Note on Exercise LXXXII. | Rhythmical (rith! mi cal), pertaining to rhythm or cadence; keep ing time.
& Born about A. D. 38, and died about the year 119. Of his works, sixteen satires are extant: all inveighing against the abominable vices of the times, and sometimes in terms gross as the things denounoed.
& In 1755 appeared the celebrated “DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE,” on which Johnson had been laboriously engaged during a period of about seven years. This work is a glorious monument of learning, energy, and perseverance; and, when viewed as the production of a single unaided scholar, is, perhaps, one of the most signal triumphs of literary activity. In 1759 appeared the famous oriental tale entitled “RASSELAS," a work of no great length, but exhibiting all the peculiarities of Johnson's manner. This production, however, is not to be read as a novel, but as a series of moral essays on a vast multiplicity of subjects, full of sense, acuteness, and originality of thought.
9. His “ LIVES OF THE POETS” was originally composed at the instance of a bookseller, in order to be prefixed to a collection of specimens of this branch of English literature. “The Lives of the Poets," when read with due allowance, will un doubtedly remain a classical work in England. We shall not easily find so vast an accumulation of ingenious, solid, and acute observations, so rich a treasure of noble moral lessons, or so fine and manly, a tone of writing and thinking, as this volume con tains. He, also, published an edition of Shakspeare. The character of Shakspeare's genius, 1 given in the Preface, is a noble specimen of panegyric. As a moralist, as a painter of men and minds, Johnson has done Shakspeare, at least, as far
* Richard Steele, the projector of “ The Tatler," was born in Dublin in 1671. In 1711 he began, in connection with Addison, “ The Spectator,” and, in 1713, “ The Guardian.” He died in 1729. For a sketch of Addison, see Exercise CXXIII.
+ See Exercise XXVIIT
as any man could, ample justice; but, in his judgment of the great creative poet's more romantic manifestations, he exhibits an insensibility which was partly the result of his education and of the age in which he lived, and partly, without doubt, the consequence of the peculiar constitution of his mind.
10. It was his positivism, to borrow a most expressive French word, that gave him such an extraordinary and well-deserved supremacy, as a conversationist; and it was this mixture of learning, benevolence, wit, virtue and good sense, that makes the admirable portrait of him, in the memoirs of his friend and disciple Boswell,* the most interesting and living portrait which literature exhibits, of a great and good man.
THE LETTER which forms the present Exercise is a very celebrated production. The circumstances which called it forth, sufficiently appear in the letter itself.
Philip DORMER STANHOPE, EARL OF CHESTERFIELD, was born in London, September 22d, 1694, and died March 24th, 1773. He was distinguished for courtly manners, sparkling wit, great skill as a diplomat, and assiduous attention to business, for which he had decided talents. He has, also, a wide reputation, as the author of a series of letters addressed to his son, of which Johnson remarks—“ Take out the immorality, and it should be put into the hands of every young gentleman.”
LETTER TO LORD CHESTERFIELD. My Lord :
1. I have been lately informed by the proprietor of the 6 World,” that two papers, in which my“ Dictionary” is recommended to the public, were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honor, which, being very little accustomed to favors from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.
2. When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by
* See Exercise CXVIII.
the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre*that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your lordship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing, which a retired and uncourtly scholar cap possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well ple used to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.
3. Seven years, my lord, have now passed since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favor. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.
The Shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.
4. Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labors, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.
5. Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favorer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation, my lord—Your lord ship’s most humble, most obedient servant, SAM. Johnson.
* The conqueror of the conqueror of the world.