Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

many foreign words are poured in upon us, it looks as if they were designed, not to assist the natives, but to conquer them. There is, it must be admitted, a swell of language, often out of all proportion to the sentiment; but there is, in general, a fulness of mind, and the thought seems to expand with the sound of the words. Determined to discard colloquial barbarisms and licentious idioms, he forgot the elegant simplicity that distinguishes the writings of Addison. He had what Locke calls a round-about view of his subject ; and though he was never tainted, like many modern wits, with the ambition of shining in paradox, he may be fairly called an OR1GINAL THINK ER. His reading was extensive. He treasured in his mind whatever was worthy of notice, but he added to it from his own meditation. He collected, quat reconderet, auctaque promeret. Addison was not so profound a thinker. He was born to write, converse, and live with ease ; and he found an early patron in Lord Somers. He depended, however, more upon a fine taste than the vigour of his mind. His Latin Poetry show that he relished, with a just selection, all the refined and delicate beauties of the Roman

[merged small][ocr errors]

classicks; and, when he cultivated his native language, no wonder that he formed that graceful style, which has been so justly admired ; simple yet elegant; adorned, yet never over-wrought ; rich in allusion, yet pure and perspicuous; correct, without labour ; and though sometimes deficient in strength, yet always musical. His essays in general are on the surface of life ; if ever original, it was in pieces of humour. Sir Roger de Coverley, and the Tory Fox-hunter, need not to be mentioned. Johnson had a fund of humour, but he did know it ; nor was he willing to descend to the familiar idiom and the variety of diction which that mode of composition required. The letter, in the Rambler, N° 12, from a young girl that wants a place, will illustrate this observation. Addison possessed an unclouded imagination, alive to the first objects of nature and of art. He reaches the Subline without any apparent effort. When he tells us, “If we consider “ the fixed Stars as so many oceans of flame, “ that are each of them attended with a dif“ferent set of planets; if we still discover new * firmaments and new lights that are sunk “farther in those unsathomable depths of “ather; we are lost in a labyrinth of Suns “ and worlds, and confounded with the mag“nificence and immensity of nature ;” the ease, with which this passage rises to unaffected grandeur, is the secret charm that captivates the reader. Johnson is always lofty : he seems, to use Dryden's phrase, to be o'erinform'd with meaning, and his words do not appear to himself adequate to his conception. He moves in state, and his periods are always harmonious. His Oriental Tales are in the true style of Eastern magnificence, and yet none of them are so much admired as the Visions of Mirza. In matters of criticism, Johnson is never the echo of preceding writers. He thinks and decides for himself. If we except the Essays on the Pleasures of Imagination, Addison cannot be called a philosophical critick. His moral Essays are beautiful: but in that province nothing can exceed the Rambler, though Johnson used to say that, the Essay on The burthens of mankind (in the Spectator, N° 558) was the most exquisite he had ever read. Talking of himself, Johnson said, “Topham Beauclerk has wit, and every “thing comes from bim with ease ; but when “I say a good thing, I seem to labour.”

w 6.2. to:

& Li XCT 5

MI o When

When we compare him with Addison, the contrast is still stronger. Addison lends grace and ornament to truth; Johnson gives it force and energy. Addison makes virtue amiable ; Johnson represents it as an awful duty. Addison insinuates himself with an air of modesty ; Johnson commands like a dictator; but a dictator in his splendid robes, not labouring at the plough. Addison is the Jupiter of Virgil, with placid serenity talking to Venus :

“Vultu, quo coelum tempestatesque serenat.”

Johnson is JU PITER Ton ANs : he darts his

lightning, and rolls his thunder, in the cause

of virtue and piety. The language seems to

fall short of his ideas; he pours along, fami

liarizing the terms of philosophy, with bold

inversions, and sonorous periods ; but we may

apply to him what Pope has said of Homer;

“ It is the Sentiment that swells and fills out “ the diction, which rises with it, and forms

“ itself about it ; like glass in the furnace,

“ which grows to a greater magnitude, as the “ breath within is more powerful, and the

“ heat more intense.”

It

It is not the design of this comparison to decide between these two eminent writers. In matters of taste every reader will choose for himself. Johnson is always profound, and of course gives the fatigue of thinking. Addison charms while he instructs ; and writing, as he always does, a pure, an elegant, and idiomatick style, he may be pronounced the safest model for imitation.

The essays written by Johnson in the Adventurer may be called a continuation of the Rambler. The IDLER, in order to be consistent with the assumed character, is written with abated vigour, in a style of ease and unlaboured elegance. It is the Odyssey after the Iliad. Intense thinking would not become the IDLE R. The first number presents a welldrawn portrait of an Idler, and from that character no deviation could be made. Accordingly, Johnson forgets his austere manner, and plays us into sense. He still continues his lectures on human life, but he adverts to common occurrences, and is often content with the topick of the day. An advertisement in the beginning of the first M 3 volume

« AnteriorContinuar »