Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

1749.

Ætat. 40.

[ocr errors]

It will be observed, that he reserves to himself the right of printing one edition of this satire, which was his practice upon occasion of the sale of all his writings; it being his fixed intention to publish at some period, for his own profit, a complete collection of his works.

His “ Vanity of human Wishes” has less of common life, but more of a philosophick dignity than his “ London.” More readers, therefore, will be delighted with the pointed spirit of “ London,” than with the profound reflection of “ The Vanity of human Wishes.” Garrick, for instance, observed, in his sprightly manner, with more vivacity than regard to just discrimination, as is usual with wits, “ When Johnson lived much with the Herveys, and saw a good deal of what was passing in life, he wrote his · London,' which is lively and easy. When he became more retired, he gave us his · Vanity of human Wishes,' which is as hard as Greek. Had he gone on to imitate another satire, it would have been as hard as Hebrew 8.

But “ The Vanity of human Wishes” is, in the opinion of the best judges, as high an effort of ethick poetry as any language can shew. The instances of variety of disappointment are chosen so judiciously, and painted so strongly, that, the moment they are read, they bring conviction to every thinking mind. That of the scholar must have depressed the too fanguine expectations of many an ambitious student'. That of the warrior, Charles of Sweden, is, I think, as highly finished a picture as can possibly be conceived.

8 ) )

right of copy of an Imitation of the Tenth Satire of Juvenal, written by me; reserving to myself
the right of printing one edition.

SAM. JOHNSON."
“ London, 29 June, 1786. A true copy, from the original in Dr. Johnson's hand-writing.

JAS. DODSLEY,"
8 From Mr. Langton.
9 In this poem one of the instances mentioned of unfortunate learned men is Lydiat :

Hear Lydiat's life, and Galileo's end."
The history of Lydiat being little known, the following account of him may be acceptable to
many of my readers. It appeared as a note in the Supplement to the Gentleman's Magazine for
1748, in which some passages extracted from Johnson's poem were inserted, and it should have
been added in the subsequent editions.—" A very learned divine and mathematician, fellow of
New College, Oxon, and Rector of Okerton, near Banbury. He wrote, among many others, a
Latin treatise De naturâ cæli, &c.” in which he attacked the sentiments of Scaliger and
Aristotle, not bearing to hear it urged, that some things are true in philosophy and false in divinity.
He made above 600 Sermons on the harmony of the Evangelists. Being unsuccessful in publishing
his works, he lay in the prison of Bocardo at Oxford, and in the King's Bench, till Bishop Usher,
Dr. Laud, Sir William Boswel, and Dr. Pink, released him by paying his debts. He petitioned
King Charles I. to be sent into Ethiopia, &c. to procure MSS. Having spoken in favour of
monarchy and bishops, he was plundered by the parliament forces, and twice carried away
prisoner from his rectory; and afterwards had not a shirt to shift him in three months, without
he borrowed it, and died very poor in 1646.".

Were

1749.

Were all the other excellencies of this poem annihilated, it must ever have our grateful reverence from its noble conclusion; in which we are consoled with the assurance that happiness may be attained, if we “ apply our hearts” to piety :

Ætat. 40.

“ Where then shall hope and fear their objects find ?
“ Shall dull suspense corrupt the stagnant mind?
“ Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
“ Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?
“ Shall no disike alarm, no wishes rise,
No cries attempt the mercy of the skies?
“ Enthusiast, cease; petitions yet remain,
“ Which heav'n may hear, nor deem religion vain.
« Still raise for good the fupplicating voice,
-« But leave to heav'n the measure and the choice.
“ Safe in his hand, whose eye discerns afar
“ The secret ambush of a specious pray'r;

Implore his aid, in his decisions rest,
“ Secure whate'er he gives he gives the best.
“ Yet when the sense of sacred presence fires,
“ And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
“ Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
“ Obedient passions, and a will resign'd;
“ For love, which scarce collective man can fill,
“ For patience sovereign o'er transmuted ill ;
“ For faith, which panting for a happier seat,
“ Counts death kind Nature's signal for retreat.
“ These goods for man the laws of heaven ordain,
« These goods he grants, who grants the power to gain ;
“ With these celestial wisdom calms the mind,
And makes the happiness she does not find.”

Garrick being now vested with theatrical power by being manager of Drurylane theatre, he kindly and generously made use of it to bring out Johnson's tragedy, which had been long kept back for want of encouragement. But in this benevolent purpose he met with no small difficulty from the temper of Johnson, which could not brook that a drama which he had formed with much study, and had been obliged to keep more than the nine years of Horace,

should

Р

1749.

Ætat. 40.

should be revised and altered at the pleasure of an actor. Yet Garrick knew
well, that without some alterations it would not he fit for the stage. A violent
dispute having ensued between them, Garrick applied to the Reverend Dr.
Taylor to interpose. Johnson was at first very obstinate. “ Sir, (said he)
the fellow wants me to make Mahomet run mad, that be may have an oppor-
tunity of tossing his hands and kicking his heels'.” He was, however, at last,
with difficulty, prevailed on to comply with Garrick's wishes, so as to allow of
some changes; but still there were not enough.

Dr. Adams was present the first night of the representation of Irene,
and gave me the following account: “Before the curtain drew up, there were
catcalls whistling, which alarmed Johnson's friends. The Prologue, which was
written by himself in a manly strain, foothed the audience, and the play went
off tolerably till it came to the conclusion, when Mrs. Pritchard, the heroine of
the piece, was to be strangled upon the stage, and was to speak two lines with
the bow-string round her neck. The audience cried out “ Murder, murder.
She several times attempted to speak, but in vain. At last she was obliged to
go off the stage alive.” This passage was afterwards struck out, and she was
carried off to be put to death behind the scenes, as the play now has it. The
Epilogue was written by Sir William Young. I know not how Johnson's
play came to be thus graced by the pen of a person then so eminent in the
political world.

• Mahomet was, in fact, played by Mr. Barry, and Demetrius by Mr. Garrick ; but probably at this time the parts were not yet caft.

2 The expression used by Dr. Adams was “ soothed.” I Mould rather think the audience was
awed by the extraordinary spirit and dignity of the following lines :

“ Be this at least his praise, be this his pride,
To force applause no modern arts are tried :
“ Should partial catcalls all his hopes confound,
He bids no truinpet quell the fatal sound ;
" Should welcome Neep relieve the weary wit,
• He rolls no thunders o'er the drowsy pit;
No snares to captivate the judgement spreads,
“ Nor bribes your eyes to prejudice your heads.
Unmov'd, though witlings fneer and rivals rail,
“ Studious to please, yet not ashamed to fail,
“ He scorns the meek address, the suppliant strain,
“ With merit needless, and without it vain :
In Reason, Nature, Truth, he dares to trust;
Ye fops be filent, and ye wits be just!”

[merged small][ocr errors]

1749.

Notwithstanding all the support of such performers as Garrick, Barry, Mrs. Cibber, Mrs. Pritchard, and every advantage of dress and decoration, the tragedy of Irene did not please the publick. Mr. Garrick's zeal carried it through for nine nights, so that the authour had his three nights' profits; and from a receipt signed by him, now in the hands of Mr. James Dodsley, it appears that his friend Mr. Robert Dodsey gave him one hundred pounds for the copy, with his usual reservation of the right of one edition.

Irene, considered as a poem, is intitled to the praise of superiour excellence. Analysed into parts, it will furnish a rich store of noble fentiments, fine imagery, and beautiful language ; but it is deficient in pathos, in that delicate power of touching the human feelings, which is the principal end of the drama. Indeed Garrick has complained to me, that Johnson not only had not the faculty of producing the impressions of tragedy, but that he had not the sensibility to perceive them. His great friend Mr. Walmsley's prediction, that he would “ turn out a fine tragedy-writer," was, therefore, ill founded. Johnson was wise enough to be convinced that he had not the talents necefsary to write successfully for the stage, and never made another attempt in that species of composition.

When asked how he felt upon the ill success of his tragedy, he replied, “ Like the Monument;” meaning that he continued firm and unmoved as that column. And let it be remembered, as an admonition to the genus irritabile of dramatick writers, that this great man, instead of peevishly complaining of the bad taste of the town, submitted to its decision without a

He had, indeed, upon all occasions a great deference for the general opinion: “A man (said he) who writes a book, thinks himself wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind; he supposes that he can instruct or amuse them, and the publick to whom he appeals, muft, after all, be the judges of his pretensions.”

On occasion of his play being brought upon the stage, Johnson had a fancy that as a dramatick authour his dress should be more gay than what he ordinarily wore; he therefore appeared behind the scenes, and even in one of the fide boxes, in a scarlet waistcoat, with rich gold lace. His necessary attendance while his play was in rehearsal, and during its performance, brought him acquainted with many of the performers of both sexes, which produced a more favourable opinion of their profession than he had harshly expressed in his Life of Savage. With some of them he kept up an acquaintance as long as he and they lived, and was ever ready to fhew them acts of kindness. He for a considerable time used to frequent the Green Room, and seemed to take

P 2

delight

murmur.

1750.

1749. delight in dislipating his gloom, by mixing in the sprightly chit-chat of the Ærat. 40. motley circle then to be found there. Mr. David Hume related to me from

Mr. Garrick, that Johnson at last denied himself this amusement, from confiderations of rigid virtue ; faying, “I'll come no more behind your scenes, David; for the filk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous propensities.”

In 1750 he came forth in the character for which he was eminently qualified, a majestick teacher of moral and religious wisdom. The vehicle which he chose was that of a periodical paper, which he knew had been, upon former occasions, employed with great success.

success. The Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, were the last of the kind published in England, which had stood the test of a long trial; and such an interval had now elapsed since their publication, as made him justly think that, to many of his readers, this form of instruction would, in some degree, have the advantage of novelty. A few days before the first of his Essays came out, there started another competitor for fame in the same form, under the title of “ The Tatler Revived,” which I believe was “ born but to die.” Johnson was, I think, not very happy in the choice of his title, “ The Rambler,” which certainly is not suited to a feries of grave and moral discourses; which the Italians have literally, but ludicrously, translated by Il Vagabondo ; and which has been lately assumed as the denomination of a vehicle of licentious tales, “ The Rambler's Magazine.” He gave Sir Joshua Reynolds the following account of its getting this name:

“ What must be done, Sir, will be done. When I was to begin publishing that paper, I was at a loss how to name it. I fat down at night upon my bedside, and resolved that I would not go to sleep till I had fixed its title. The Rambler seemed the best that occurred, and I took it?.

With what devout and conscientious sentiments this paper was undertaken, is evidenced by the following prayer, which he composed and offered up on the occasion : « Almighty God, the giver of all good things, without whose

3 I have heard Dr. Warton mention, that he was at Mr. Robert Dodfley's with the late Mr. Moore, and several others of his friends, considering what should be the name of the periodical paper which Moore had undertaken. Garrick proposed the Sallad, which, by a curious coinci. dence, was afterwards applied to himself by Goldsmith :

“ Our Garrick's a sallad, for in him we fee

“ Oil, vinegar, sugar, and faltness agree!” At last the company having separated, without any thing of which they approved having been offered, Dodsley himself thought of The World.

help

« AnteriorContinuar »