Tofter found, had given Johnson occafion to introduce him into his Dictionary, under the article Alias. This piece was, it is supposed, one of Mallet's first essays. It is preferved in, his works with several variatione. Johnson having read aloud, from the beginning of it, where there were some common-place affertions as to the superiority of ancient times ; “ How falle (faid he) is all this, to fay that in ancient times learning was not a disgrace to a peer as it is now. In ancient times a peer was as ignorant as any one else. He would have been angry to have it thought he could write his name. Men in ancient times dared to stand forth with a degree of ignorance, with which nobody would dare now to itand forth. I am always angry when I hear ancient times praised at the expence of modern times. There is now a great deal more learning in the world than there was formerly; for it is universally diffused. You have, perhaps, no man who knows as much Greck and Latin as Bentley ; no man who knows as much mathematicks as Newton ; but


many more men who know Greck and Latin, aud who know mathematicks. Mallet, I believe. never wrote a single line of his projected life of the Duke of Marlborough. He groped for materials ; and thought of it, till he had exhaufted his mind. Thus it sometimes hap


pens that men entangle themselves in their own schemes."

He allowed high praise to Thomson as a poet ; but when one of the company faid he was also a very good man, our moralist contested this with great warmth, accusing him of gross sensuality and licentiousness of manners. “ I was (says Mr. B.) very much afraid that in writing Thomson's Life, Dr. Johnson would, have treated his private character with a fiern severity, but I was agrecably disappointed; and I may claim a little merit in it, from my having been at pains to send him authentick accounts of the affectionate and generous conduct of that poet to his fifiers; one of whom, the wife of Mr. Thomson, schoolmaster at Lanark, I knew, and was presented by her with three of his letters, one of which Dr. Johnson has inserted in his Life.”

“ Thomson, I think (faid the Doctor), had as inuch of the poet about him as most writers. Every thing appeared to him through the mcdium of his favourite pursuit. He could not have viewed two candles burning but with a poeticaleye.”—“Thomson (he added at another. time) had a true poctical genius, the power

of viewing every thing in a poetical light. His fault is such a cloud of words sometimes, that the sense can hardly peep through. Shiels,


who compiled Cibber's Lives of the Poets' was one day fitting with me. I took down Thomson, and read aloud a large portion of him, and then asked, is not this fine? Shiels having expressed the highest admiration, Well, Sir (said I), I have omitted every other linc.”

Talking of the Irish clergy, he said, Swift was a man of great parts, and the instruinent of much good to his country.

One observation which Johnson makes in Swift's life should be often inculcated : “ It may be justly supposod, that there was in his conversation what appears so frequently in his letters, an affectation of familiarity with the great, an ambition of momentary cquality, fought and enjoyed by the neglect of those ceremonies which custom has established as the barricrs between one order of society and another. This transgression of regularity was by himself and his admirers termed greatness of soul ; but a great mind disdains to hold any thing by courtesy, and therefore never ufurps what a lawful claimant may take away. He that encroaches on another's dignity puts himself in his power ; he is either repelled with helpless indignity, or endured by clemency and condefcenfion."

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

At another time he said, “Swift has a higher reputation than he deserves. His excellence is strong sense; for his humour, though very well, is not remarkably good. I doubt whether the Tale of the Tub' be his ; for he never owned it, and it is much above his usual manner."

A person praised Swift's · Conduct of the Allies ;' Johnson called it a performance of very little ability. Surely, Sir (said Dr. Douglas), you must allow it has strong facts.” -JOHNSON. “ Why yes, Sir ; but what is that to the merit of the composition? In the Sessions-paper of the Old Bailey there are strong facts. Housebreaking is a strong fact; robbery is a strong fact ; and murder is a mighty ftrong fact : but is great praise due to the historian of those strong facts ? No, Sir; Swift has told what he had to tell distinctly enough, but that is all. He had to count ten, and he has counted it right. Why, Sir, Tom Davies (who was present) might have written the conduct of the Allies.

He praised Delaney's ' Observations on Swift;' said that his book and Lord Orrery's might both be true, though one viewed Swift more, and the other less favourably; and that between both we might bave a complete notion of Swift.

[ocr errors]

· The Beggar's Opera, and the common question, whether it was pernicious in its effects, having been introduced, Johnson said, « As to this matter, which has been very much contested, I myself am of opinion, that more influence has been ascribed to · The Beggar's Opera’ than it in reality ever had ; for I do not belicve that any man was ever made a rogue by being present at its representation. At the same time I do not deny that it may have some influence by making the character of a rogue familiar, and in some degree pleasing *

Of Hoole's 'Cleonice' he said, “ The plot is well framed, the intricacy artful, the disentanglement easy, the suspense affecting, and the passionate parts properly interposed.”

Buchanan, he said, was a very fine poet ; and was the first who complimented a lady, by ascribing to her the different perfections of the heathen goddesses ; but that Johnston inn

* A very

eminent physician, whose discernment is as acute and penetrating in judging of the human characier as it is in his own profeflion, remarked once, that a lively young man, fond of pleasure, and without money, would hardly refitt a folicitation from his miitress to go upon the highway, immediately after being present at the representation of The Beggar's Opera.' An ingenious observation was made by Mr. Gibbon, that “ The Beggar's Opera may; perhaps, have sometimes increased the number of highwaymen ; but it has had a beneficial ettect in refining that class of men, mak. ing them less ferocious."

« VorigeDoorgaan »