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HIS MORBID MELANCHOLY
performed it with uncommon rapidity, The “morbid melancholy,” which was and in so masterly a manner, that he lurking in his constitution, and to which obtained great applause from it, which we may ascribe those particularities, and ever after kept him high in the estimation that aversion to regular life, which at a of his College, and, indeed, of all the very early period marked his character, University
gathered such strength in his twentieth It is said that Mr. Pope expressed year, as to afflict him in a dreadful himself concerning it in terms of strong manner. While he was at Lichfield, in approbation. Dr. Taylor told me, that the college vacation of the year 1729, he it was first printed for old Mr. Johnson, felt himself overwhelmed with a horrible without the knowledge of his son, who hypochondria, with perpetual irritation, was very angry when he heard of it. A fretfulness, and impatience; and with a Miscellany of Poems, collected by a dejection, gloom, and despair, which person of the name of Husbands, was made existence misery. From this published at Oxford in 1731. In that dismal malady he never afterward was Miscellany Johnson's translation of the perfectly relieved ; and all his labours, Messiah appeared, with this modest and all his enjoyments, but motto from Scaliger's Poetics : “ Ex temporary interruptions of its baleful alieno ingenio poeta, ex suo tantum versi- influence. How wonderful, how unficator.
searchable the ways of God! I am not ignorant that critical objec-Johnson, who was blest' with all the tions have been made to this and other powers of genius and understanding, in specimens of Johnson's Latin poetry. I a degree far above the ordinary state of acknowledge myself not competent to human nature, was at the same time decide on a question of such extreme visited with a disorder so afflictive, that nicety. But I am satisfied with the just they who know it by dire experience and discriminative eulogy pronounced up- will not envy his exalted endowments. on it by my friend Mr. Courtenay. That it was, in some degree, occasioned
by a defect in his nervous system, that “ And with like ease his vivid lines assume inexplicable part of our frame, appears The garb and dignity of ancient Rome.
highly probable. He told Mr. Paradise 2 Let college verse-men trite conceits express, Trick'd out in splendid shreds of Virgil's dress;
that he was sometimes so languid and From playful Ovid cull the tinsel phrase,
inefficient, that he could not distinguish And vapid notions hitch in pilfer'd lays; the hour upon the town clock. Then with mosaic art the piece combine, And boast the glitter of each dulcet line :
Johnson, upon the first violent attack Johnson adventur'd boldly to transfuse
of this disorder, strove to overcome it by His vigorous sense into the Latin Muse ; forcible exertions. He frequently walked Aspir'd to shine by unreflected light,
to Birmingham and back again, and And with a Roman's ardour think and write. He felt the tuneful Nine his breast inspire,
other expedients ;3 but all in And, like a master, wak'd the soothing lyre :
vain. His expression concerning it to Horatian strains a grateful heart proclaim, me was, “I did not then know how to While Sky's wild rocks resound his Thralia's
His distress became so Hesperia's plant, in some less skilful hands,
Appleby. He was an ardent Whig, a bitter To bloom awhile, factitious heat demands: Though glowing Maro a faint warmth supplies, astic patron of the French Revolution.
opponent of Warren Hastings, and an enthusiThe sickly blossom in the hot-house dies :
a frequent and clever speaker, though too fond By Johnson's genial culture, art, and toil, Its root strikes deep, and owns the fost'ring less clever than his speeches, and fortunately also
of quoting Latin and French. His writings were
less frequent. Imbibes our sun through all its swelling veins,
2 An agreeable and well-educated gentleman And grows a native of Britannia's plains."
of Greek extraction. Born at Salonica and
educated at Padua, he spent the greater part Poetical Review of the Literary and Moral of his life in London, where he became well Character of Dr. Johnson, by John Courtenay, known and liked in literary circles.
He was a Esq. M.P. John Courtenay (1741–1816) member of Johnson's Essex Street Club. sat in the House of Commons for thirty-two 3 See the Rambler (85) for the necessity of years, first for Tamworth and afterwards for exercise for mind as well as body.
intolerable, that he applied to Dr. Orange, in a conversation which I had Swinfen, physician in Lichfield, his with him several years ago; and he godfather, and put into his hands a state expounded it thus : “If,” said he, “a of his case, written in Latin.
Dr. man tells me that he is grievously disSwinfen was so much struck with the turbed, for that he imagines he sees a extraordinary acuteness, research, and ruffian coming against him with a drawn eloquence of this paper, that, in his zeal sword, though at the same time he is for his godson, he shewed it to several conscious it is a delusion, I pronounce people. His daughter, Mrs. Desmoulins, him to have a disordered imagination ; who was many years humanely supported but if a man tells me that he sees this, in Dr. Johnson's house in London, told and in consternation calls to me to look me, that upon his discovering that Dr. at it, I pronounce him to be mad.” Swinfen had communicated his case, he It is a common effect of low spirits or was so much offended, that he was never melancholy, to make those who are afterward fully reconciled to him. He afflicted with it imagine that they are indeed had good reason to be offended ; actually suffering those evils which happen for though Dr. Swinfen's motive was to be most strongly presented to their good, he inconsiderately betrayed a minds. Some have fancied themselves to matter deeply interesting and of great be deprived of the use of their limbs, delicacy, which had been intrusted to some to labour under acute diseases, him in confidence: and exposed a others to be in extreme poverty ; when, complaint of his young friend and patient, in truth, there was not the least reality which, in the superficial opinion of the in any of the suppositions ; so that when generality of mankind, is attended with the vapours were dispelled, they were contempt and disgrace.
convinced of the delusion. To Johnson, But let not little men triumph upon whose supreme enjoyment was the exerknowing that Johnson was an Hypo- cise of his reason, the disturbance or CHONDRIAC, was subject to what the obscuration of that faculty was the evil learned, philosophical, and pious Dr. most to be dreaded. Insanity, therefore, Cheyne has so well treated under the was the object of his most dismal appretitle of “The English Malady.” Though hension ; and he fancied himself seizer he suffered severely from it, he was not by it, or approaching to it, at the ver therefore degraded. The powers of his time when he was giving proofs of a great mind might be troubled, and their more than ordinary soundness and vigour full exercise suspended at times ; but the of judgment. That his own diseased mind itself was ever entire. As a proof imagination should have so far deceived of this, it is only necessary to consider, him is strange ; but it is stranger still that, when he was at the very worst, he that some of his friends should have composed that state of his own case, given credit to his groundless opinion, which shewed an uncommon vigour, not when they had such undoubted proof only of fancy and taste, but of judgment that it was totally fallacious ; though it is I am aware that he himself was too ready by no means surprising that those who to call such a complaint by the name of wish to depreciate him, should, since his madness; in conformity with which death, have laid hold of this circumstance, notion, he has traced its gradations, with and insisted upon it with very unfair exquisite nicety, in one of the chapters of aggravation. his RASSELAS. But there is surely a Amidst the oppression and distraction clear distinction between a disorder of a disease, which very few have felt in which affects only the imagination and its full extent, but many have experienced spirits, while the judgment is sound, and in a slighter degree, Johnson, in his a disorder by which the judgment itself is impaired. This distinction was made
1 Boswell himself suffered, or affected to suffer, to me by the late Professor Gaubius of from it, and wrote a series of essays in The Lon'
don Magazine under the title of “The HypoLeyden, physician to the Prince of chondriac."
HIS RELIGIOUS OPINIONS
writings, and in his conversation, never it a dull book (as such books generally failed to display all the varieties of are), and perhaps to laugh at it. But intellectual excellence. In his march I found Law quite an overmatch for me; through this world to a better, his mind and this was the first occasion of my still appeared grand and brilliant, and thinking in earnest of religion, after I impressed all around him with the truth became capable of rational inquiry. of Virgil's noble sentiment
From this time forward religion was “Igneus est ollis vigor, et cælestis origo.”-Æn. the predominant object of his thoughts ;
though, with the just sentiments of a The history of his mind as to religion conscientious Christian, he lamented that is an important article. I have men- his practice of its duties fell far short of tioned the early impressions made upon what it ought to be. his tender imagination by his mother,
This instance of a mind such as that of who continued her pious cares with Johnson being first disposed, by an unexassiduity, but, in his opinion, not with pected incident, to think with anxiety of judgment. “Sunday,” said he, the momentous concerns of eternity, and a heavy day with me when I was a boy; bon, whose father had been his pupil, has praised My mother confined me on that day, and his Serious Call highly both for its religious and made me read The Whole Duty of literary qualities. Man, from a great part of which I could
2 Mrs. Piozzi has given a strange fantastical derive no instruction. When, for in- account of the original of Dr. Johnson's belief in
our most holy religion. “At the age of ten years stance, I had read the chapter on theft, his mind was disturbed by scruples of infidelity, which, from my infancy, I had been which preyed upon his spirits, and made him very ‘aught was wrong, I was no more con
uneasy : the more so, as he revealed his uneasiness
to none, being naturally, as he said, of a sullen inced that theft was wrong than before ; temper, and reserved disposition. He searched, so there was no accession of knowledge. however, diligently, but fruitlessly, for evidences A boy should be introduced to such of the truth of revelation; and at length, recolbooks, by having his attention directed lecting a book he had once seen [I suppose at five
years old) in his father's shop, entitled DeVeritate to the arrangement, to the style, and Religionis, &c. he began to think himself highly other excellences of composition ; that culpable for neglecting such a means of informahe mind being thus engaged by an tion, and took himself severely to task for this zausing variety of objects may not grow others, unknown penance. The first opportunity weary.
He communicated to me the following avidiiy: but, on examination, not finding himself particulars upon the subject of his heart at rest : and not thinking to inquire whether religious progress.
" I fell into an in- there were any English books written on the attention to religion, or an indifference subject, followed his usual amusements, and about it, in my ninth year. The church He redoubled his diligence to learn the language at Lichfield, in which we had a seat, that contained the information he most wished
inted reparation, so I was to go and for ; but from the pain which guilt [namely, ind a seat in other churches; and having having omitted to read what he did not underþad eyes, and being awkward about this, the soul's immortality, la sensation of pain in I used to go and read in the fields on this world, being an unquestionable proof of Sunday. This habit continued till my existence in another) which was the point that fourteenth years, and still I find a great resolving to be a Christian, became one of the reluctance to go to church. I then most zealous and pious ones our nation ever probecame a sort of lax talker against duced.” Anecdotes, p. 17. This is one of the religion, for I did not much think against which it is worth while to correct; for if credit it; and this lasted till I went to Oxford, should be given to such a childish, irrational, and where it would not be suffered. When ridiculous statement of the foundation of Dr. at Oxford, I took up Law's Serious Johnson's faith in Christianity, how little credit
Mrs. Piozzi seems to wish, Call to a Holy Life expecting to find that the world should think Dr. Johnson also
1 William Law (1686—1761), a non-juring under the influence of that easy logic, Stet pro divine of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Gib- | ratione voluntas. B.
of " what he should do to be saved,” did himself injustice in his account of may for ever be produced in opposition what he had read, and that he must have to the superficial and sometimes profane been speaking with reference to the vast contempt that has been thrown upon portion of study which is possible, and to those occasional impressions which it is which few scholars in the whole history certain many Christians have ex- of literature have attained; for when I perienced; though it must
once asked him whether a person, whose knowledged that weak minds, from an name I have now forgotten, studied hard, erroneous supposition that no man is in a he answered: “No, Sir.
I do not state of grace who has not felt a par- believe he studied hard. I never knew ticular conversion, have, in some cases, a man who studied hard. I conclude, brought a degree of ridicule upon them ; indeed, from the effects, that some men a ridicule, of which it is inconsiderate or have studied hard, as Bentley and unfair to make a general application. Clarke.” 2 Trying him by that criterion
How seriously Johnson was impressed upon which he formed his judgment of with a sense of religion, even in the others, we may be absolutely certain, vigour of his youth, appears from the both from his writings and his conversafollowing passage in his minutes, kept by tion, that his reading was very extensive. way of diary : “ Sept. 7, 1736. I Dr. Adam Smith, than whom few were have this day entered upon my 28th better judges on this subject, once year. Mayest thou, O God, enable me, observed to me that, “Johnson knew sor Jesus Christ's sake, to spend this in more books than any man alive." He such a manner, that I may receive had a peculiar facility in seizing at once comfort from it at the hour of death, and what was valuable in any book, without in the day of judgment! Amen."
submitting to the labour of perusing it This particular course of his reading from beginning to end. He had, from while at Oxford, and during the time of the irritability of his constitution, at all vacation which he passed at home, cannot times, an impatience and hurry when he be traced. Enough has been said of his either read or wrote. irregular mode of study. He told me, hension arising from novelty, made him that from his earliest years he loved to write his first exercise at College twice read poetry, but hardly ever read any over; but he never took that trouble poem to an end;' that he read Shakespeare with any other composition; and we shall at a period so early, that the speech of see that his most excellent works were the Ghost in Hamlet terrified him when struck off at a heat, with rapid exertion. 3 he was alone ; that Horace's Odes were
Yet he appears, from his early notes the compositions in which he took most or memorandums in my possession, to delight, and it was long before he liked have at various times attempted, or at his Epistles and Satires. He told me least planned, a methodical course of what he read solidly at Oxford was study, according to computation, of Greek ; not the Grecian historians, but which he was all his life fond, as it Homer and Euripides, and now and fixed his attention steadily upon somethen a little Epigram ; that the study of thing without, and prevented his mind which he was the most fond was Meia- from preying upon itself. Thus I find in physics, but he had not read much, even his handwriting the number of lines in in that way.
I always thought that he each of two of Euripides' Tragedies, of 1 He told Windham that he had never read the Georgics of Virgil, of the first six the Odyssey through. Murphy (Essay on Dr. Johnson) doubted whether he had ever read any 2 See note to the Dedication. book through but the Bible. Mrs. Piozzi relates 3 He told Dr. Burney, that he never wrote any that he once asked if there were any book “Writ of his works that were printed, twice over. ten by mere man that was wished longer by its But he made large corrections in the second readers excepting Don Quixote, Robinson edition of the Rambler, and in the third edition Crusoe, and the Pilgrim's Progress ?”. It will of the Lives of the Poets the variations were so be seen however, that he once boasted of having considerable as to be printed in a separate pararead Fielding's Amelia through at a sitting. phlet for the use of former purchasers.
A certain appre
But I have
books of the Æneid, of Horace's Art of fellows has been often mentioned. Poetry, of three of the books of Ovid's heard him say, what ought to be recorded to the
honour of the present venerable master of that Metamorphoses, of
parts of College, the Reverend William Adams, D.D., Theocritus, and of the Tenth Satire of who was then very young, and one of the junior Juvenal ; and a table, showing at the fellows; that the mild but judicious expostularate of various numbers a day (I suppose and whose learning he revered, made him really
tions of this worthy man, whose virtue awed him, verses to be read), what would be, in ashamed of himself, “Though I fear,' said he, 'Í each case, the total amount in a week, was too proud to own it.'
“I have heard from some of his contemporaries month, and year.
that he was generally seen lounging at the ColNo man had a more ardent love of lege gate, with a circle of young students round literature, or a higher respect for it, than him, whom he was entertaining with wit
, and Johnson. His apartment in Pembroke keeping from their studies, if not spiriting them College was that upon the second floor which in his maturer years he so much extolled.'
up to rebellion against the College discipline, over the gateway.
The enthusiast of learning will ever contemplate it with He very early began to attempt keepveneration. One day, while he was ing notes or memorandums, by way of a sitting in it quite alone, Dr. Panting, diary of his life. I find, in a parcel of then master of the College, whom he loose leaves, the following spirited resocalled “a fine Jacobite fellow,” over- lution to contend against his natural heard him uttering this soliloquy in his indolence : “Oct. 1729. Desidiæ valestrong emphatic voice : "Well, I have dixi ; sirenis istius cantibus surdam a mind to see what is done in other posthac aurem obversurus.-I bid fareplaces of learning. I'll go and visit the well to Sloth, being resolved henceforth Universities abroad. I'll go to France not to listen to her siren strains.” I have and Italy. I'll go to Padua.—And I'll also in my possession a few leaves of mind my business. For an Athenian another Libellus, or little book, entitled blockhead is the worst of all blockheads.") ANNALES, in which some of the early
Dr. Adams told me that Johnson, particulars of his history are registered in while he was at Pembroke College, Latin.
was caressed and loved by all about I do not find that he formed any close him, was a gay and frolicsome fellow, intimacies with his fellow-collegians. and passed there the happiest part of his But Dr. Adams told me, that he con
But this is a striking proof of the tracted a love and regard for Pembroke fallacy of appearances, and how little College, which he retained to the last. any of us know of the real internal state A short time before his death he sent to even of those whom we see most fre- that College a present of all his works, quently ; for the truth is, that he was to be deposited in their library; and he then depressed by poverty, and irritated had thoughts of leaving to it his house at by disease. When I mentioned to him Lichfield; but his friends who this account as given me by Dr. Adams, about him very properly dissuaded him he said, “Ah, Sir, I was mad and from it, and he bequeathed it to some violent. It was bitterness which they poor relations. He took a pleasure in mistook for frolic. I was miserably poor, boasting of the many eminent men who and I thought to fight my way by my had been educated at Pembroke. In literature and my wit ; so I disregarded this list are found the names of Mr. all power and all authority.'
Hawkins, the Poetry Professor, Mr. The Bishop of Dromore observes in a Shenstone, Sir William Blackstone, and
others; ? not forgetting the celebrated " The pleasure he took in vexing the tutors and popular preacher, Mr. George Whitefield, 1 I had this anecdote from Dr. Adams, and
2 See Nash's History of Worcestershire, vol. i. Dr. Johnson confirmed it. Bramston, in his p. 529. B. Among the others (educated either Man of Taste, has the same thought :
at Pembroke or at Broodgates Hall which was
1624) were Bishop Sure, of all blockheads, scholars are the converted into P~
ir Thomas Browne,
letter to me,