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Nos. 76. 79. and 82. by Sir Joshua Reynolds; the concluding words of No. 82.,-" and pollute his canvas with deformity,”(')—being added by Johnson, as Sir Joshua informed me. (2)
(1) ["To conclude, then, by way of corollary: if it has been proved, that the painter, by attending to the invariable and general ideas of nature, produces beauty, he must, by regarding minute particularities and accidental discriminations, deviate from the universal rule, and pollute his canvas with deformity."]
(2) About the year 1756, time had produced a change in the situation of many of Johnson's friends, who were used to meet him in Ivy Lane. Death had taken from them M'Ghie; Barker went to settle as a practising physician at Trowbridge; Dyer went abroad; Hawkesworth was busied in forming new connections; and I had lately made one that removed from me all temptations to pass my evenings from home. The consequence was, that our symposium at the King's Head broke up, and he who had first formed it into a society was left with fewer around him than were able to support it. All this while, the booksellers, who, by his own confession, were his best friends, had their eyes upon Johnson, and reflected with some concern on what seemed to them a misapplication of his talents. The furnishing magazines, reviews, and even newspapers, with literary intelligence, and the authors of books, who could not write them for themselves, with dedications and prefaces, they looked on as employments beneath him, who had attained to such eminence as a writer: they, therefore, in the year 1756, found out for him such a one as seemed to afford a prospect both of amusement and profit: this was an edition of Shakspeare's dramatic works, which, by a concurrence of circumstances, was now become necessary, to answer the increasing demand of the public. A stranger to Johnson's character and temper would have thought, that the study of an author, whose skill in the science of human life was so deep, and whose perfections were so many and various as to be above the reach of all praise, must have been the most pleasing employment that his imagination could suggest, but it was not so: in a visit that he one morning made to me, I congratulated him on his being now engaged in a work that suited his genius, and that, requiring none of that severe application which his Dictionary had condemned him to, would, no doubt, be executed con amore. His answer was, "I look upon this as I did upon the Dictionary: it is all work, and my inducement to it is not love or desire of fame, but the want of money, which is the only motive to writing that I know of." - And the event was evidence to me, that in this speech he declared his genuine sentiments; for neither
did he set himself to collect early editions of his author, old plays, translations of histories, and of the classics, and other materials necessary for his purpose, nor could he be prevailed on to enter into that course of reading, without which it seemed impossible to come at the sense of his author. It was provoking to all his friends to see him waste his days, his weeks, and his months so long, that they feared a mental lethargy had seized him, out of which he would never recover. In this, however, they were happily deceived, for, after two years' inactivity, they find him roused to action, and engaged. -not in the prosecution of the work, for the completion whereof he stood doubly bound, but-in a new one, the furnishing a series of periodical essays, entitled, and it may be thought not improperly, "THE IDLER," as his motive to the employment was aversion to a labour he had undertaken, though in the execution, it must be owned, it merited a better name. - - HAWKINS.
"The Idler." · Letters to Warton. - Letters to Bennet Langton. Illness of Johnson's Mother. Letters to her, and to Miss Porter. His Mother's Death. 66 Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia." Miscellanies. -Excursion to Oxford. - · Francis Barber. — John Wilkes. Smollett. - Letter to Mrs. Montagu.· 1 Mrs. Ogle. — Mylne the Architect.
THE IDLER is evidently the work of the same mind which produced the Rambler, but has less body and more spirit. It has more variety of real life, and greater facility of language. He describes the miseries of idleness, with the lively sensations of one who has felt them; and in his private memorandums while engaged in it, we find "This year I hope to learn diligence."(1) Many of these excellent essays were written as hastily as an ordinary letter. Mr. Langton remembers Johnson, when on a visit at Oxford, asking him one evening how long it was till the post went out; and on being told about half an hour, he exclaimed, "then we shall do very well." He upon this instantly sat down and finished an Idler, which it was necessary should be in London the next
(1) Prayers and Meditations, p. 30.
day. Mr. Langton having signified a wish to read it, "Sir, (said he) you shall not do more than I have done myself." He then folded it up, and sent it off.
Yet there are in the Idler several papers which show as much profundity of thought, and labour of language, as any of this great man's writings. No. 14. "Robbery of time;" No. 24. "Thinking;" No. 41. “Death of a friend;” No. 43. “ Flight of time;" No. 51. "Domestic greatness unattainable;" No. 52. "Self-denial;" No. 58. "Actual, how short of fancied, excellence;" No. 89. "Physical evil moral good;" and his concluding paper on "The horror of the last," will prove this assertion. I know not why a motto, the usual trapping of periodical papers, is prefixed to very few of the Idlers, as I have heard Johnson commend the custom: and he never could be at a loss for one, his memory being stored with innumerable passages of the classics. In this series of essays he exhibits admirable instances of grave humour, of which he had an uncommon share. Nor on some occasions has he repressed that power of sophistry which he possessed in so eminent a degree. In No. 11., he treats with the utmost contempt the opinion that our mental faculties depend, in some degree, upon the weather; an opinion, which they who have never experienced its truth are not to be envied, and of which he himself could not but be sensible, as the effects of weather upon him were very visible. Yet thus he declaims:
Surely, nothing is more reproachful to a being endowed with reason, than to resign its powers to the in
fluence of the air, and live in dependence on the weather and the wind for the only blessings which nature has put into our power, tranquillity and benevolence. This distinction of seasons is produced only by imagination operating on luxury. To temperance, every day is bright; and every hour is propitious to diligence. He that shall resolutely excite his faculties, or exert his virtues, will soon make himself superior to the seasons; and may set at defiance the morning mist and the evening damp, the blasts of the east, and the clouds of the south."
Alas! it is too certain, that where the frame has delicate fibres, and there is a fine sensibility, such influences of the air are irresistible. He might as well have bid defiance to the ague, the palsy, and all other bodily disorders. Such boasting of the mind is false elevation.
"I think the Romans call it Stoicism."
But in this number of his Idler his spirits seem to run riot (1); for in the wantonness of his disquisition he forgets, for a moment, even the reverence for that which he held in high respect; and describes "the attendant on a Court (2)," as one "whose business is to watch the looks of a being, weak and foolish as himself."
His unqualified ridicule of rhetorical gesture or action is not, surely, a test of truth; yet we cannot
(1) This doctrine of the little influence of the weather, however, seems to have been his fixed opinion: he often repeated it in conversation. See post, July 9. 1763. — -C.
(2) See antè, p. 64. Mr. Boswell seems resolved to forget that Johnson's reverence for the court had not yet commenced. George II. was still alive, whom Johnson always abused, and sometimes very indecently. See antè, p. 164., and post, April 6. 1775.-C.