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and that an old man seldom warmly admires these works which have appeared since his sensibility has become sluggish, and his literary system formed, we shall be able to account for most of the unjust judgments of Johnson, without recourse to any suppositions inconsistent with honesty and integrity.
As in his judgment of life and character, so in his criticism on poetry, he was a sort of Freethinker. He suspected the refined of affectation, he rejected the enthusiastic as absurd, and he took it for granted that the mysterious was unintelligible. He came into the world when the school of Dryden and Pope gave the law to English poetry. In that school he had himself learned to be a lofty and vigorous declaimer in harmonious verse; beyond that school his unforced admiration perhaps scarcely soared; and his highest effort of criticism was accordingly the noble panegyric on Dryden. His criticism owed its popularity as much to its defects as to its excellences. It was on a level with the majority of readers — persons of good sense and information, but of no exquisite sensibility; and to their minds it derived a false appearance of solidity from that very narrowness which excluded those grander efforts of imagination to which Aristotle and Bacon confined the name of poetry.
Among the victories gained by Milton, one of the most signal is that which he obtained over all the prejudices of Johnson, who was compelled to make a most vigorous, though evidently reluctant, effort to do justice to the fame and genius of the greatest of English poets. The alacrity with which he seeks every occasion to escape from this painful duty in observation upon Milton's Life and Minor Poems, sufficiently attest the irresistible power of "Paradise Lost." As he had no feeling of the lively and graceful, we must not wonder at his injustice to Prior. Some accidental impression, concurring with a long habit of indulging and venting
account for his
every singularity, seems necessary to having forgotten that Swift was a wit. As the Seasons appeared during the susceptible part of Johnson's life, his admiration of Thompson prevailed over that ludicrous prejudice which he professed against Scotland, perhaps because it was a Presbyterian country. His insensibility to the higher order of poetry, his dislike of a Whig university, and his scorn of a fantastic character, combined to produce that monstrous example of critical injustice which he entitles the Life of Gray.
Such is the character which may be bestowed on Johnson by those who feel a profound reverence for his virtues, and a respect approaching to admiration for his intellectual powers, without adopting his prejudices, or being insensible to his defects. (Memoirs of Sir James Mackintosh, 1835, vol. ii. p. 166.)
698. Johnson's Epitaph on Mr. Thrale.
Of his departed friend (says Dr. Anderson), Johnson has given a true character in a Latin epitaph, inscribed on his monument in Streatham church. Besides the example of affecting gratitude which it records, it is preserved here as an instance of the facility with which the heart of a friend finds topics of praise, to endear a worthy man to posterity, without falsehood or adulation. The morality of the conclusion is striking and instructive:
"In the same tomb lie interred his father, Ralph Thrale, a man of vigour and activity, and his only son, Henry, who died before his father, aged ten years. Thus a happy and opulent family, raised by the grandfather, and augmented by the father, became extinguished with the grandson. Go, reader; and, reflecting on the vicissitudes of all human affairs, meditate on eternity!"
His conditur quod reliquum est
Qui res seu civiles, seu domesticas, ita egit,
Ut quam brevem esset habiturus præscire videretur;
In senatu, regi patriæque
Vulgi obstrepentis contemptor animosus,
Domus felix et opulenta, quam erexit
Et vicibus rerum humanarum perspectis,
699. Johnson's Epitaph on his Father, Mother, and Brother.
A few days before his death Johnson composed the following epitaph for his father, mother, and brother; and wrote to Mr. Green, of Lichfield, desiring that it might be engraved on a stone, deep, massy, and
hard," laid on the exact place of interment, in the middle aisle of St. Michael's church; and hoped "it might be done while he was yet alive." (1)
H. S. E.
Vir impavidus, constans, animosus, periculorum immemor, laborum patientissimus; fiducia christiana fortis, fervidusque, pater-familias apprime strenuus; bibliopola admodum peritus; mente et libris et negotiis exculta; animo ita firmo, ut, rebus adversis diu conflicatus, nec sibi nec suis defuerit: lingua sic temperata, ut ei nihil quod aures, vel pias, vel castas læsisset, aut dolor, vel voluptas unquam expresserit.
Natus Cubleiæ, in agro Derbiensi, Anno 1656.
Apposita est SAra, conjux.
Antiqua FORDORUM gente oriunda; quam domi sedulam, foris paucis notam ; nulli molestam, mentis acumine et judicii subtilitate præcellentem; aliis multum, sibi parum indulgentem: Æternitati semper attentam, omne fere virtutis nomen commendavit.
Nata Nortoniæ Regis, in agro Varvicensi, Anno 1669;
Cum NATHANAELE illorum filio, qui natus 1712, cum vires et animi, et corporis multa pollicerentur, Anno 1737, vitam brevem pia morte finivit.
700. Busts of Johnson and Garrick in Lichfield Cathedral.
In the Dean's consistory court, adjoining the south transept of the cathedral church of Lichfield, a bust has! been erected, with the following inscription:
(1) [See antè, Vol. VIII. p. 391.]
The Friends of SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.,
As a tribute of respect to the memory of
A distinguished moral writer, and a sincere Christian.
Near it is a similar bust of Garrick, erected by his relict, after a design of the same artists, Wyatt, architect, and Westmacott, sculptor, with the following inscription, combining the desiderium chari conjugis, with Johnson's emphatic eulogy on the dramatic talents of his deceased friend :
EVA MARIA, relict of DAVID GARRICK, Esq. caused this monument to be erected to the memory of her beloved husband;
who died the 20th of January, 1779, aged 63 years.
as too well verified the observation of his friend,
701. Further Anecdotes of Johnson's Parents.
Of Michael Johnson little is generally known, beyond the fact that he was a tradesman at Lichfield; and no attempt has hitherto been made to bring into one point the few particulars concerning him that lie scattered through various volumes. Yet this would appear to be a mark of respect due, if not to his own merit, to that of his admirable son; and in the hope that it may incite some one to undertake a more finished composition, the subjoined outline of a memoir has been compiled.
He was a native of Derbyshire; but of origin so obscure, that Dr. Johnson once said to Boswell, "I have great merit in being zealous for the honours of birth