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sonorous phrases what he had already in length. Numbers fifty-eight and perfectly well expressed in a first. fifty-nine, for instance, taken together Many a Rambler, no doubt, or at all are not so long by half a page as events, many a passage in many a Number sixty, while the one hundred Rambler, was written with a full and three Idlers fill no more pages mind, the words fitly clothing and not in the edition of Johnson's collected padding out the thoughts. Neverthe writings than sixty-two Ramblers. It less this superabundance of language was published originally in the columns too generally characterises his essays. of a newspaper. Johnson, as it seems It was a fault into which he too easily probable, wrote for each number as fell. Boswell has pointed out, how much as he found convenient. While even in his talk he would sometimes composing his weekly essay (for it repeat his thoughts in varied style. appeared but once a week) he no “ Talking of the comedy of The Re- longer was tempted, to use his own hearsal, he said, “It has not wit words, to “run his finger down the enough to keep it sweet.'
margin to see how many lines he had easy; he therefore caught himself, written, and how few he had to make." and pronounced a more round sen Now Boswell himself states, and tence: It has not vitality enough to states with perfect justice, that "The preserve it from putrefaction.'” But Idler has less body and more spirit if he had begun with a sentence that than The Rambler, and greater facility was not easy but round, he could just of language.” Part of this is no doubt as readily follow it up with another due to the fact that the subjects that was no less round, in which he selected are, generally speaking, someshould do very little more than say what lighter, but part also may be over again what he had already said attributed to the freedom in which with great force and perfect propriety. Johnson wrote. In his Debates in Perhaps Burke was thinking of this Parliament, which were finished seven habit of his old friend when, in op years before Malone's second period posing Boswell vehemently in his begins, his style was not much less admiration of Croft's imitation of laboured than in The Rambler. In Johnson's style, he exclaimed: “No, no, these he was exposed to just the same it is not a good imitation of Johnson; temptation. He had a certain number it has all his pomp without his force; of columns of the Gentleman's Magazine it has all the nodosities of the oak to fill, and Cave, the proprietor, was “a without its strength; it has all the penurious paymaster, who would concontortions of the sybil without the tract for lines by the hundred, and inspiration.” “I hate triplets in expect the long hundred.” Fielding, prose,” said Cowper, when writing in one of his happiest images, compares about Johnson's needless multiplica a certain class of “painful and volution of words. Cowper, happily for minous historians” first of all, "to him, author though he was, knew no a newspaper, which consists of just the thing of that state of life in which same number of words, whether there “triplets in prose,” or some substitute be any news in it or not”; and for them, are a temptation which often secondly, "to a stage-coach, which overcomes the severest virtue.
performs constantly the same course If this needless parade of language empty as well as full.” Johnson, both is partly due to the necessity under in his Debates and his periodical essays, which Johnson lay in each number to now and then lets the world see what fill up a certain space, we should a brave show he could still make as expect to find fewer signs of it in he rattled along, though he had next The Idler. It is not only a shorter to no luggage and scarcely a passenger paper than The Rambler or The Ad left. venturer, but, unlike them, it varies When he wrote with a full mind and
untroubled by any thoughts of columns to be filled, at all periods of his life he showed his ease and his vigour. In his letters little change in his diction can be traced from the first one to the last. They vary indeed greatly, but the variety is due not to the effect of years, but to the subject.
In his long correspondence with Mrs. Thrale his last letters are less easy than those which he wrote when he was still sure of her affection, and when he was not overshadowed by the gloom of his own rapidly-approaching end. Lord Macaulay, in writing of the Lives of the Poets, says:
“Savage's Life Johnson reprinted nearly as it had appeared in 1744. Whoever, after reading that life, will turn to the other lives will be struck by the difference of style. Since Johnson had been at ease in his circumstances he had written little and had talked much. When therefore he, after the lapse of years, resumed his pen, the mannerism which he had contracted while he was in the constant habit of elaborate composition was less perceptible than formerly; and his diction frequently had a colloquial ease which it had formerly wanted. The improvement may be discerned by a skilful critic in the Journey to the Hebrides, and in the Lives of the Poets it is so obvious that it cannot escape the notice of the most careless reader."
Taxation no Tyranny was written after the Journey to the Hebrides. Can the skilful critic discern the improvement in colloquial ease in it ? Boswell himself describes it a rhapsody," and denies that it has “that felicity of expression for which Johnson was upon other occasions so eminent." I venture to assert that, to both the skilful critic and the uncritical reader, the Life of Savage, which was written when Johnson was “in the constant habit of elaborate composition," will be found freer from mannerism than the Journey to the Hebrides, in spite of the twelve years which he had enjoyed of almost complete freedom from writing and of unrestrained indulgence in talk. If we look for “colloquial ease” in his compositions, where can we find more than in the following extract from a letter to Mrs. Thrale, written almost nine years before the
No. 339— VOL. LVII.
publication of the Lives of the Poets began? He is jesting, as he often does jest, about his host, Dr. Taylor of Ashbourne, a divine "whose size and figure and countenance and manner were that of a hearty English squire, with the parson super-induced,” and whose “ talk was of bullocks."
“I have seen the great bull, and very great he is. I have seen likewise his heir apparent, who promises to inherit all the bulk and all the virtues of his sire. I have seen the man who offered an hundred guineas for the great bull, while he was little better than a calf. Matlock, I am afraid, I shall not see, but I purpose to see Dovedale ; and after all this seeing I hope to see you.”
Six years later, when his style should have become easier, if Macaulay's criticism is sound, he wrote to her,
“Every man has those about him who wish to soothe him into inactivity and delitescence, nor is there any semblance of kindness more vigorously to be repelled than that which voluntarily offers a vicarious performance of the tasks of life, and conspires with the natural love of ease against diligence and perseverance.
Such a passage as this is in the true Rambler style, having all the mannerism which Johnson was supposed to have lost by his long intermission from “the constant habit of elaborate composition." That some effect was produced by this repose cannot be questioned, for in the case of any man who had a style to be affected such a change could not fail to exert its influence. That it had any great effect I see no reason to believe. Two causes, and two alone, are, in my opinion, sufficient to account for the ease of the diction of the Lives of the Poets. The subject was such as naturally clothed itself in a lighter style, and the author was under no restraint to write a single word more than he pleased. It is true that Johnson, in comparing himself with his contemporaries as a writer of biography, said, "The dogs don't know how to write trifles with dignity.” But his dignity in his Lives very rarely oppresses his readers. There
is nothing of the bishop about it. He see its merits as well as its has many tales to tell, but few morals faults, and no longer condemns it as to point. From the unhappy slavery " systematically vicious.” This cenof “ copy ” he was now altogether free. sure is, in my eyes, not only harsh, He had undertaken to write a brief but even ungrateful, for among the preface to each poet, “an advertise imitators of Johnson I have long ment,” to use his own words, “like reckoned his critic. I do not for one those which we find in the French moment maintain that the style of the Miscellanies, containing a few dates younger writer is founded on the style and a general character.” It was by of the elder. But in Johnson, and in his love of his subject that he was Johnson alone among the older authors, carried away to swell these Adver I find parallels for certain peculiarities tisements into those admirable Lives, in Macaulay. He would be an acute which by the student of literature critic who could, without
hesitaare read and read again and again tion, decide from the style alone that with ever-increasing admiration and the following passages, which I have delight. “I have been led,” he says, taken from the Lives of the Poets, are “beyond my intention, I hope, by not to be found in the Essays contrithe honest desire of giving useful buted to the Edinburgh Review or in pleasure.” From his capacious mind, the History of England: stored with the memories and the
“Criticism was for a while lost in wonder; reflections of the forty years that he
no rules of judgment were applied to a book had passed in “ the full tide of human
written in open defiance of truth and regularity. existence," and with the anecdotes and But when distinction came to be made, the the traditions handed down from one part which gave the least pleasure was that generation of literary men to another,
which describes the Flying Island, and that
which gave most disgust inust be the history his narrative flowed in all the freedom
of the Houyhnhnms.' of perfect ease. He had nothing but “He is proud that his book was presented bis indolence with which to struggle.
to the King and Queen by the Right HonourThere was “no penurious paymaster,”
ahle Sir Robert Walpole; he is proud that
they had read it before ; he is proud that the no printer calling for more “copy," no
edition was taken off by the nobility and fixed number of sheets which must be
persons of the first distinction.” covered with a fixed number of words “For many years the name of George before the hand had moved to a fixed
Lyttelton was seen in every account of every
debate in the House of Commons. He opposed place on the clock. He was free, to
the standing army ; he opposed the excise ; use his own words, “from the great he supported the motion for petitioning the temptation to beat his little gold to a King to remove Walpole.” spacious surface, to work that to foam
As in Lord Macaulay's writings I which no art or diligence can exalt to spirit.” The measure which he gave
come upon passage after passage that
seems formed on such models as these, I was indeed good, for it ran over from
am tempted to apply to them the words very abundance.
which he applied to Miss Burney's Lord Macaulay, in his admirable
imitations of the author of The Ram. biography of Johnson, silently cor
bler : “ This is a good style of its rects the harsh judgment which
kind. ... We say with confidence five-and-twenty years before he had
either Sam Johnson or the Devil.” passed on Johnson's style. He can
G. BIRKBECK HILL.
MY UNCLE'S CLOCK.
I HAVE heard people talk a good What he did with the ghosts when deal about my grandfather's clock, he had got them nobody could guess. but I really think that my uncle's He did not travel with much luggage, clock was a more remarkable thing. and could not have carried them away I did not notice anything peculiar in his boxes. They were not in his about it in his lifetime, except that own home : a quieter, better-ordered it was always stopped, being in this establishment than that never existed: respect the exact opposite of that well the very rats were not allowed to make known clock of everybody's grand a noise there. One thing only was father which went on ticking to the certain, that when he undertook to exact moment of the old gentleman's
a ghost that ghost never death. My uncle's clock stood in his went back again : it was heard of bed-room, on the mantelpiece; and I no more. His knowledge of the world always wondered that he, who liked of phantoms was immense: I think I everything about him to be in order, may say unique. He had studied all wound up, and working punctually, the existing literature of the subject, should allow this solitary specimen of until there was not a ghost anywhere incapacity to stare him in the face night in the three kingdoms with whose and morning with a lying account of habits, weaknesses, and prejudices he the hour. Once or twice when my was not familiar. Not a phantom of uncle has been ill and I have gone to them all could resist him : he could see him, I have walked up to that twist the whole spectre-world (it is clock with the intention of setting it not, I believe, a very intelligent world) going and putting it right, but my round his little finger. There was uncle always stopped me with the nothing he enjoyed more than facing significant remark: “I rather think an obstinate and self-opinionated old I'd let that clock alone, if I were you, ghost--a ghost of a few hundred years' James."
standing, with a conceit to match his I took the hint without asking any age-having it out with that old ghost, questions. My uncle was not the sort and reducing him to submission. of man who would stand a catechism My uncle never advertised himself very well ; indeed, there were some in any way, and had to be approached points concerning his personal history, cautiously by all who desired his and the manner in which he had made services. He kept his ghost-laying his fortune, about which his most inti within the strict limits of a profession, mate friend, if at all a prudent man, though one not generally acknow. would judge it best to make few in ledged or frequently followed, and quiries. I do not mean that
uncle refused wages, though he would take was not an honourable member of
His first effort was, I believe, society, and a very useful one too: achieved solely to oblige a friend : many owners of valuable estates, afterwards a whisper of bis extramany county families remember him ordinary powers went round, and every still with respectful gratitude; but his man who had a haunted house which occupation was of a very peculiar sort, he could not let, every family pursued one which would not bear much talking by a dogged phantom which stuck to about : he was, in fact, a remover of the ancestral residence after its natural ghosts.
term was over, every person afflicted
by an attendant spectre, applied to my life. But the next morning when I uncle for relief. He never refused it, awoke, the clock faced me with its when it was properly asked for. On
On fingersimpudently and lyingly pointing receiving a summons to the practice of to half-past two, when, as a matter of his profession, he packed up his traps fact, I knew that it was just eight. I and went off with his manservant. sprang out of bed and attacked that Sometimes it would take him weeks false witness. It wound up easily, and to remove a ghost: sometimes he would ticked regularly. Its internal organido it in half an hour. The fees he sation had evidently suffered nothing received for his services varied from a from a prolonged holiday. Throughhundred pounds (he never would take out the whole of that day it ticked less,---rather than that, he did his work cheerfully and kept well up to time; for nothing) to a thousand. There and as I put my head on the pillow was one old gentleman who had been that night, and heard it ticking invery much bothered for many years dustriously in the darkness, I felt that by an irritating phantom, who was I had begun well my stewardship of always washing his hands in his the fortune left to me: the only thing presence, and asking him for a towel wbich wanted doing in my uncle's -an under-bred ghost that, and one house I had promptly done. Then without any sense of the fitness of followed the peace of a well-earned things ! When this old gentleman sleep. was relieved of his trouble his grati Rats! could it be rats making that tude was so great that, besides paying noise ? Were there ever such imthe customary fee, he left in his will pudent, ingenious, multifarious, abomtive thousand pounds and perpetual inable, and riotous rats as these? I right in the ghost, to my uncle and don't know how long I had been his heirs for ever. I was my uncle's asleep, but the noise which awoke me heir, but I did not know of the whole was something distracting. I sat up extent of his possessions when I in bed and listened. No, it could not stepped into them.
be rats. Rats could not groan disWell, my uncle died, and the secret mally, rats could not giggle foolishly, of the ghosts, and what he had done nor could they wail hysterically. They with them, died with him. He left might run about the passages with the everything to me, and I immediately sound as of a hundred pattering feet, determined to have that clock put to but they could not talk in confidential rights. I could not do away with whispers, nor could they appeal piteit, because there was a special clause ously for help, nor could they denounce in his will that it was to be left one another in angry human tones. where it was, in the same room, on A happy thought occurred to me. the same mantelpiece, facing the bed The servants were indulging in private in which I intended to sleep. If I theatricals. They had presumed on sent away that clock I forfeited my my youthful inexperience, and relied uncle's fortune: the estate and the on the soundness of my slumbers : clock went together, and were by no they were doubtless giving a ball or means, nor at any time, to be sepa some similar entertainment to their rated. However, if I could not get friends in the small hours of the night. rid of this piece of furniture, I could I got out of bed and made for the make it go; and this I resolved door. The passage beyond was in to do.
utter darkness. I thought I beard The first night that I slept in that the sound of scuttling feet; then all particular room I had reached home was still. As I groped my way towards late after a long journey, and, being the butler's room, some one seemed to very tired, forgot my resolution. I be following me with stealthy steps. never had a better night's sleep in my I felt for a match, which I had in my