« AnteriorContinuar »
that two' such noblemen would revise só big a manuscript. Poor man! he left London the day of the publication of his book, that he might be out of the way of the great praise he was to receive; and he was ashamed to return, when he found how ill his book had succeeded. It was unlucky in coming out on the same day with Robertson's History of Scotland.' His husbandry, however, is good.”--BOSWELL. “ So he was fitter for that than heroick history. He did well when he turned his sword into a plough-share.” Johnson at another time much commended Harte as a scholar, and a man of the most companionable talents he had ever known. He said, the defects in his history proceeded not from imbecility, but from foppery.
Berkeley, he said, was a profound scholar, as well as a man of fine imagination; but Usher was the great luminary of the Irish Church; and à greater, he added, no church could boast of; at least in modern times.
Bayle's Dictionary, he observed, was a very useful work for those to consult who love the biographical part of literature, which was what he loved most.
He said, he bad looked into the poems of a pretty voluminous writer, Mr. (now Dr.) John Ogilvie, one of the Presbyterian ministers of Scotland, which had lately come out, but could find no thinking in them. Mr. Boswell asked,
" Is there not imagination in them, Sir?”—JohnSON. “ Why, Sir, there is in them what was imagination, but it is no more imagination in him, than sound is sound in the echo; and his diction too is not his own.
We have long ago seen white-robed innocence, and flower-bespangled meads."
Talking of the eminent writers in Queen Anne's reign, he observed, “ I think Dr. Arbuthnot the first man among them. He was the most universal genius, being an excellent physician, a man of deep learning, and a man of much humour. Mr. Addison was, to be sure, a great man; his learning was not profound, but his morality, his humour, and his elegance of writing, set him very high.”
He enlarged very convincingly upon the excellence of rhyme over blank verse in English poetry. Mr. Boswell mentioned to him that Dr. Adam Smith, in his Lectures upon Composition, when he studied under him in the College of Glasgow, had maintained the same opinion strenuously, and Mr. B. repeated some of his arguments. Johnson said, Sir, I was once in company with Smith, and we did not take to each other; but had I known that he loved rhyme as much as you tell me he does, I should have hugged him."
Mr. B. mentioned Dr. Adam Smith's book on
« The Wealth of Nations, which was just published, and that Sir John Pringle had observed to him, that Dr. Smith, who had never been in trade, could not be expected to write well on that subject any more than a lawyer upon physick. Johnson said, “He is mistaken, Sir; a man who has never been engaged in trade himself may undoubtedly write well upon trade, and there is nothing which requires more to be illustrated by philosophy than trade does. As to mere wealth, that is to say money, it is clear that one nation or one individual cannot increase its store but by making another poorer; but trade procures what is more valuable, the reciprocation of the peculiar advantages of different countries. A merchant seldom thinks but of his own partieular trade. To write a good book upon it, a man must have extensive views. It is not necessary to have practised, to write well upon a subject.”
Law was mentioned as a subject on which no man could write well without practice. JohnSON. “Why, Sir, in England, where so much money is to be got by the practice of the law, most of our writers upon it have been in practice; though Blackstone had not been much in practice when he published his · Commentaries.' But upon the Continent, the great writers on law have not all been in practice: Grotius in
deed was; but Puffendorf was not; Burlamaqui was not.”
Sir Thomas Robinson, sitting with Johnson one day, observed, that the King of Prussia valued himself upon three things:-upon being a hero, a musician, and an author. “ Pretty well, Sir (said Johnson), for one man. As to his being an author, I have not looked at his poetry; but his prose is poor stuff. He writes just as you might suppose Voltaire's footboy to do, who has been his amanuensis. He has such parts as the valet' might have, and about as much of the colouring of the style as might be got by transcribe" ing his works.”
The ballad of Hardyknute (he said) had no great merit, if it were really ancient. “People talk of nature; but mere obvious nature may be exhibited with very little power of mind.”
Johnson thought the poems published as translations from Ossian had so little merit, that he said, “Sir, a man might write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it.” John-' son had all along denied their authenticity; and, what was still more provoking to their admirers, maintained that they had no merit. The subject having been introduced by Dr. Fordyce, Dr. Blair, relying on the internal evidence of their antiquity, asked Dr. Johnson whether he thought any man of a modern age could have written
such poems? Johnson replied, “ Yes, Sir, many men, many women, and many children.” Johnson at this time did not know that Dr. Blair had just published a dissertation, not only defending their authenticity, but seriously ranking them with the poems of Homer and Virgil; and when he was afterwards informed of this circumstance, he expressed some displeasure at Dr. Fordyce's having suggested the topick, and said, “I am not sorry that they got thus much for their pains : Sir, it was like leading one to talk of a book, when the author is concealed bebind the door." The poem of Fingal, he said, was a mere unconnected rhapsody, a tiresome repetition 'of the same images. “In vain shall we look for the lucidus ordo, where there is neither end nor object, design nör moral, nec certa recurrit imago.”
He much commended Law's Serious Call, which he said was the finest piece of hortatory theology in any language. “ Law (said he) fell latterly into the reveries of Jacob Behmen, whom Law alleged to have been somewhat in the same state with St. Paul, and'to have seen unutterable things. Were it even so said Johnson), Jacob would have resembled St. Paul still more, by not attempting to utter them.”
Of Dr. Priestley's theological works, he remarked, that they tended to upsettle every thing, and yet settled nothing.