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the distribution of the seasons; that the sun had listened to his dictates, and passed from tropic to tropic by his direction ; that the clouds at his call had poured their waters, and the Nile had overflowed at his command. This tremendous visitation he has ascribed principally to the indulgence of imagination in the shades of solitude :
“Disorders of intellect," he remarks, “happen much more often than superficial observers will easily believe. Perhaps, if we speak with rigorous exactness, no human mind is in its right state. There is no man whose imagination does not sometimes predominate over his reason, who can regulate his attention wholly by his will, and whose ideas will come and go at his command. No man will be found in whose mind airy notions do not sometimes tyrannise, and force him to hope or fear beyond the limits of sober probability. All power of fancy over reason is a degree of insanity; but while this power is such as we can control and repress, it is not visible to others, nor considered as any depravation of the mental faculties : it is not pronounced madness but when it becomes ungovernable, and apparently influences speech or action.
“ To indulge the power of fiction, and send imagination out upon the wing, is often the sport of those who delight too much in silent speculation. When we are alone we are not always busy ; the labour of excogitation is too violent to last long; the ardour of inquiry will some. times give way to idleness or satiety. He who has nothing external that can divert him, must find pleasure in his own thoughts, and must conceive himself what he is not; for who is pleased with what he is ? He then expatiates in boundless futurity, and culls from all imaginable conditions that which for the present moment he should most desire, amuses his desires with impossible enjoyments, and confers upon his pride unattainable dominion. The mind dances from scene to scene, unites all pleasures in all combinations, and riots in delights which nature and fortune, with all their bounty, cannot bestow.
“ In time, some particular train of ideas fixes the attention ; all other intellectual gratifications are rejected; the mind, in weariness or leisure, recurs constantly to the favourite conception, and feasts on the luscious falsehood, whenever she is offended with the bitterness of truth. By degrees the reign of fancy is confirmed; she grows first imperious, and in time despotic. Then fictions begin to operate as realities, false opinions fasten upon the mind, and life passes in dreams of rapture or of anguish.
“ This, Sir, is one of the dangers of solitude.” (1)
In the paragraphs which we have just quoted, there is much reason to suppose, that Johnson was describing what he had himself repeatedly experienced ; and to this circumstance Sir John Hawkins has attributed his uncommon attachment to society.
(1) Rasselas, chap. 43.
592. Preface to Shakspeare. This Preface is perhaps the most eloquent and acute piece of dramatic criticism of which our language can boast. The characteristic excellencies of Shakspeare, his beauties and defects, are delineated with powers of discrimination not easily paralleled ; and though the panegyric on his genius be high and uncommonly splendid, his faults are laid open with an impartial and unsparing hand. To the prose encomia of Dryden and Addison on our unrivalled bard may be added, as worthy of juxtaposition, the following admirable paragraph ; the conclusion of which is alike excellent for its imagery and sublimity :
“ As the personages of Shakspeare act upon principles arising from genuine passion, very little modified by particular forms, their pleasures and vexations are communicable to all times and to all places; they are natural, and therefore durable ; the adventitious peculiarities of personal habits are only superficial dyes, bright and pleasing for a little while, yet soon fading to a dim tinct, without any remains of former lustre ; but the discriminations of true passion are the colours of nature; they pervade the whole mass, and can only perish with the body that exhibits them. The accidental compositions of heterogeneous modes are dissolved by the chance that combined them ; but the uniform simplicity of primitive qualities neither admits increase nor suffers decay. The sand heaped by one flood is scattered by another, but the rock always continues in its place. The stream of time, which is continually washing the dissoluble fabrics of other poets, passes without injury by the ada. mant of Shakspeare.”
593. “ Lives of the Poets." The effect of the critical biography of Johnson on the literary world, and on the public at large, has been very considerable, and, in many respects, beneficial. It has excited a laudable attention to preserve the memory of those who have by intellectual exertions contributed to our instruction and amusement; whereas, previous to the appearance of our author's “ Lives,” biography, with few exceptions, had been confined to military and political characters: it has given rise, also, to much discussion and research into the merits and defects of our national poets ; and the edition to which it was annexed, has led the way to several subsequent collections on an inproved and more extended scale.
594. Johnson's "Letters." The Letters of Johnson place him before us stripped of all disguise ; they teach us to love as well as to admire the man, and are frequently written with a pathos and an ardour of affection, which impress us with a much more amiable idea of the writer, than can be drawn from any portion of his more elaborated works.
595. Johnson's Sermons. The Sermons of Johnson, twenty-five in number, were part of the stock which his friend Dr. Taylor carried with him to the pulpit. As compositions, they are little inferior to any of his best works; and they inculcate, without enthusiasm or dogmatism, the purest precepts and doctrines of religion and morality.
596. “ Prayers and Meditations. It is in the Prayers and Meditations of Johnson that we become acquainted with the inward heart of the man. He had left them for publication, under the idea that they were calculated to do good; and depraved, indeed, must be that individual who rises unbenefited from their perusal. The contrast between the language of this little volume, and the style of the Rambler, is striking in the extreme, and a strong proof of the judgment, the humility, and the piety of the author. With a deep sense of human frailty and individual error, he addresses the throne of mercy in a strain remarkable for its simplicity and plainness ; but which, though totally stripped of the decorations of art, possesses a native dignity, approaching to that which we receive from our most excellent liturgy.
ANECDOTES, OPINIONS, AND REMARKS,
BY VARIOUS PERSONS.
597. Osborne knocked down with a Folio. (') Tom OSBORNE, the bookseller, was one of “ that mercantile rugged race to which the delicacy of the poet is sometimes exposed” (?); as the following anecdote will more fully evince. Mr. Johnson being engaged by him to translate a work of some consequence, he thought it a respect which he owed his own talents, as well as the credit of his employer, to be as circumspect in the performance of it as possible. In consequence of which, the work went on, according to Osborne's ideas, rather slowly : in consequence, he frequently spoke to Johnson of this circumstance; and, being a man of a coarse mind, sometimes by his expressions made him feel the situation of dependence. Johnson, however, seemed to take no notice of him, but went on according to the plan which he had prescribed to himself. Osborne, irritated by what he thought an unnecessary delay, went one day into the room where Johnson was sitting, and abused him in the most illiberal manner : amongst other things, he told Johnson, “ he had been much mistaken in his man ; that he was recommended to him as a good scholar, and a ready hand : but he doubted both ; for that Tom such-a
(1) (Nos. 596-607. are from the “Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.” 8vo. published by G. Kearsley, in 1785.]
(2) Johnson's Life of Dryden.
one would have turned out the work much sooner; and that being the case, the probability was, that by this here time the first edition would have moved off.” Johnson heard him for some time unmoved ; but, at last, losing all patience, he seized a huge folio, which he was at that time consulting, and, aiming a blow at the bookseller's head, succeeded so forcibly, as to send him sprawling to the floor. Osborne alarmed the family with his cries; but Johnson, clapping his foot on his breast, would not let him stir till he had exposed him in that situation ; and then left him, with this triumphant expression,
66 Lie there, thou son of dulness, ignorance, and obscurity!" ("
598. Savage. Johnson was not unacquainted with Savage's frailties ; but, as he, a short time before his death, said to a friend, on this subject, “ he knew his heart, and that was never intentionally abandoned ; for, though he generally mistook the love for the practice of virtue, he was at all times a true and sincere believer."
599. Trotter's Portrait of Johnson. The head at the front of this book is esteemed a good likeness of Johnson ; indeed, so much so, that when the Doctor saw the drawing, he exclaimed, “ Well, thou art an ugly fellow ; but still, I believe thou art like the original.” The Doctor sat for this picture to Mr. Trotter, in February, 1782, at the request of Mr. Kearsley, who had just furnished him with a list of all his works ; for he confessed he had forgot more than half what he had written. His face, however, was capable of great expression, both in respect to intelligence and mildness; as all those can witness who have seen him in the flow of conversation, or under the influence of grateful feelings.
(1) (“ The identical book with which Jonson knocked down Osborne (Biblin Græca Septuaginta, fol. 1594, Frankfort; the note written by the Rev. Mills) I saw in February, 1812, at Cambridge, in the possession of J. Thorpe, bookseller; whose catalogue, since published, contains particulars authenticating this assertion.” Nichols : Lit. Anec. viii. p. 446.]