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liberal and generous discipline ; he was a judge, compelled every day to weigh the effect of opposite arguments. These things were in themselves an education ; an education emi. nently fitted, not, indeed, to form exact or profound thinkers, but to give quickness to the perceptions, delicacy to the taste, fluency to the expression, and politeness to the man
But this Johnson never considered. An Athenian who did not improve his mind by reading was, in his opinion, much such a person as a Cockney who made his mark; much such a person as black Frank before he went to school, and far inferior to a parish-clerk or a printer's devil.
His friends have allowed that he carried to a ridiculous extreme his unjust contempt for foreigners. He pronounced the French to be a very silly people, – much behind us, stupid, ignorant creatures. And this judgment he formed after having been at Paris about a month, during which he would not talk French, for fear of giving the natives an advantage over him in conversation. He pronounced them, also, to be an indelicate people, because a French footman touched the sugar with his fingers. That ingenious and amusing traveller, M. Simond, has defended his countrymen very successfully against Johnson's accusation, and has pointed out some English practices, which, to an impartial spectator, would seem at least as inconsistent with physical cleanliness and social decorum, as those which Johnson so bitterly reprehended. To the sage, as Boswell loves to call him, it never occurred to doubt that there must be something eternally and immutably good in the usages to which he had been accustomed. In fact, Johnson's remarks on society beyond the bills of mortality, are generally of much the same kind with those of honest Tom Dawson, the English footman in Dr. Moore's Zeluco. “Suppose the King of France has no sons, but only a daughter, then, when the
king dies, this here daughter, according to that there law, cannot be made queen, but the next near relative, provided he is a man, is made king, and not the last king's daughter, which, to be sure, is very unjust. The French footguards are dressed in blue, and all the marching regiments in white, which has a very foolish appearance for soldiers; and as for blue regimentals, it is only fit for the blue horse or the artillery.'
Johnson's visit to the Hebrides introduced him to a state of society completely new to him ; and a salutary suspicion of his own deficiencies seems on that occasion to have crossed his mind for the first time. He confessed, in the last paragraph of his Journey, that his thoughts on national manners were the thoughts of one who had seen but little,of one who had passed his time almost wholly in cities. This feeling, however, soon passed away. It is remarkable, that to the last he entertained a fixed contempt for all those modes of life and those studies, which lead to emancipate the mind from the prejudices of a particular age, or a particular nation. Of foreign travel and of history he spoke with the fierce and boisterous contempt of ignorance. What does a man learn by travelling ? Is Beauclerk the better for travelling? What did Lord Charlemont learn in his travels, except that there was a snake in one of the pyramids of Egypt ?' History was, in his opinion, to use the fine expression of Lord Plunkett, an old almanack : historians could, as he conceived, claim no higher dignity than that of almanack-makers ; and his favorite historians were those who, like Lord Hailes, aspired to no higher dignity. He always spoke with contempt of Robertson. Hume he would not even read. He affronted one of his friends for talking to him about Catiline's conspiracy, and declared that he never desired to hear of the Punic War again as long as he lived.
Assuredly one fact, which does not directly affect our own
interests, considered in itself, is no better worth knowing than another fact. The fact that there is a snake in a pyramid, or the fact that Hannibal crossed the Alps by the Great St. Bernard, are in themselves as unprofitable to us as the fact that there is a green blind in a particular house in Threadneedle Street, or the fact that a Mr. Smith comes into the city every morning on the top of one of the Blackwall stages. But it is certain that those who will not crack the shell of history, will never get at the kernel. Johnson, with hasty arrogance, pronounced the kernel worthless, because he saw no value in the shell. The real use of travelling to distant countries, and of studying the annals of past times, is to preserve men from the contraction of mind which those can hardly escape, whose whole communion is with one generation and one neighborhood, who arrive at conclusions by means of an induction not sufficiently copious, and who therefore constantly confound exceptions with rules, and accidents with essential properties. In short, the real use of travelling, and of studying history, is to keep men from being what Tom Dawson was in fiction, and Samuel Johnson in reality.
Johnson, as Mr. Burke most justly observed, appears far greater in Boswell's books than in his own.
His conversation appears to have been quite equal to his writings in matter, and far superior to them in manner.
When he talked, he clothed his wit and his sense in forcible and natural expressions. As soon as he took his pen in his hand to write for the public, his style became systematically vicious. All his books are written in a learned language, - in a language which nobody hears from his mother or his nurse,
- in a language in which nobody ever quarrels, or drives bargains, or makes love, - in a language in which nobody ever thinks. It is clear, that Johnson himself did not think in the dialect in which he wrote. The expressions which
came first to his tongue were simple, energetic, and picturesque. When he wrote for publication, he did his sentences out of English into Johnsonese. His letters from the Hebrides to Mrs. Thrale, are the original of that work of which the Journey to the Hebrides is the translation ; and it is amusing to compare the two versions. When we were taken up stairs,' says he in one of his letters, ' a dirty fellow bounced out of the bed on which one of us was to lie.' This incident is recorded in the Journey as follows: Out of one of the beds on which we were to repose, started up, at our entrance, a man black as a Cyclops from the forge.' Sometimes Johnson translated aloud. "The Rehearsal,' he said, very unjustly, 'has not wit enough to keep it sweet;' then, after a pause, 'it has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction.'
Mannerism is pardonable, and is sometimes even agreeable, when the manner, though vicious, is natural. Few readers, for example, would be willing to part with the man. nerism of Milton or of Burke. But a mannerism which does not sit easy on the mannerist, which has been adopted on principle, and which can be sustained only by constant effort, is always offensive. And such is the mannerism of Johnson.
The characteristic faults of his style are so familiar to all our readers, and have been so often burlesqued, that it is almost superfluous to point them out. It is well known that he made less use than any other eminent writer of those strong plain words, Anglo-Saxon or Norman-French, of which the roots lie in the inmost depths of our language ; and that he felt a vicious partiality for terms which, long after our own speech had been fixed, were borrowed from the Greek and Latin, and which, therefore, even when lawfully naturalized, must be considered as born aliens, not entitled to rank with the king's English. His constant practice of
padding out a sentence with useless epithets, till it became as stiff as the bust of an exquisite ; his antithetical forms of expression, constantly employed even where there is no opposition in the ideas expressed ; his big words wasted on little things ; his harsh inversions, so widely different from those graceful and easy inversions which give variety, spirit, and sweetness to the expression of our great old writers, – all these peculiarities have been imitated by his admirers, and parodied by his assailants, till the public has become sick of the subject.
Goldsmith said to him, very wittily and very justly, 'If you were to write a fable about little fishes, doctor, you would make the little fishes talk like whales.'
No man surely ever had so little talent for personation as Johnson. Whether he wrote in the character of a disappointed legacy. hunter, or an empty town fop, of a crazy virtuoso, or a flippant coquette, he wrote in the same pompous and unbending style. His speech, like Sir Piercy Shafton's Euphuistic eloquence, bewrayed him under every disguise. Euphelia and Rhodoclia talk as finely as Imlac the poet, or Seged, Emperor of Ethiopia. The gay Cornelia describes her reception at the country-house of her relations, in such terms as these : “I was surprised, after the civilities of my first reception, to find, instead of the leisure and tranquillity which a rural life always promises, and, if well conducted, might always afford, a confused wildness of care, and a tumultuous hurry of diligence, by which every face was clouded, and every motion agitated.' The gentle Tranquilla informs us, that she “ had not passed the earlier part of life without the flattery of courtship, and the joys of triumph; but had danced the round of gayety amidst the murmurs of envy and the gratulations of applause ; had been attended from pleasure to pleasure by the great, the sprightly, and the vain ; and had seen her regard solicited by the obsequi.