Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

Johnson PUBLISHES “The False ALARM"-LETTERS TO THE Wartons, &c.DR. MAXWELL'S COLLECTANEA—Johnson's POLITICAL OPINIONS—His GENERAL MODE OF LIFE— Love of BLACK-Letter Books—Burton's “ ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY"-Jacob BEHMEN—DR. PRIESTLEY-French Novels-Peru Boscovitch -OSSIAN—The Poetical Cobbler—MARRIAGE-Foppek!—The Poor of ENGLAND -The Corn LAW8—MR. BURKE-FORTUNE HunteRS--Irish Clergy—JOHNSON PUBLISHES PamphlET ON THE FALKLAND ISLands"—MR. STRAHAN'S EFFORT TO BRING JOHNSON INTO PARLIAMENT - Boswell's MARRIAGE JohxsON VISITS LICHFIELD AND ASH BOURNE.

I

IN 1770, he published a political pamphlet, entitled “The False Alarm,

intended to justify the conduct of the ministry and their majority in the House of Commons, for having virtually assumed it as an axiom, that the expulsion of a member of parliament was equivalent to exclusion, and thus having declared Colonel Luttrell to be duly elected for the county of Middlesex, notwithstanding Mr. Wilkes had a great majority of votes. This being justly considered as a gross violation of the right of election, an alarm for the constitution extended itself all over the kingdom. To prove this alarm to be false was the purpose of Johnson's pamphlet ; but even his vast powers are inadequate to cope with constitutional truth and reason, and his argument failed of effect; and the House of Commons have since expunged the offensive resolution from their Journals. That the House of Commons might have expelled Mr. Wilkes repeatedly, and as often as lie should be re-chosen, was not denied; but incapacitation cannot be but by an act of the whole legislature. It was wondertul to see how a pr«judice in favour of government in general, and an aversion to popular clamour, could blind and contract such an understanding as Johnson's, in this particular case; yet the wit, the sarcasm, the eloquent vivacity which this pamphlet displayed, made it be read with great avidity at the time, and it will ever be read with pleasure, for the sake of its composition. That it endeavoured to infuse a narcotic indifference, as to public concerns, into the minds of the people, and that it broke out sometimes into an extreme coarseness of contemptuous abuse, is but too evident.

It must not, however, he omitted, that when the storm of his viclence subsides, he takes a fair opportunity to pay a grateful compliment to the king, who had rewarded his merit:

" These low-born railers have endeavoured, surely without effect, to alienate the affections of the people from the only king who for almost a century has much appeared to desire, or much endeavoured tv deserve them.” And, “Every honest man must lament, that the faction has been regarded with frigid neutrality by the Tories, who being long accustomed to signalise their principles by opposition to the court, do not yet consider, that they have at last a king who knows not the name of party, and who wishes to be the common father of all his people."

To this pamphlet, which was at once discovered to be Johnson's, several answers came out, in which care was taken to remind the public of his former attacks upon government, and of his now being a pensioner, without allowing for the honourable terms upon which Johnson's pension was granted and accepted, or the change of system which the British court had undergone upon the accession of his present Majesty. He was, however, soothed in the highest strain of panegyric, in a poem called The Remonstrance,” by the Reverend Mr. Stockdale, to whom he was, upon many occasions, a kind protector.

The following admirable minute made by him, describes so well l.is own state and that of numbers to whom self-examination is habitual, that I cannot omit it:

“ June 1, :770. Every man naturally persuades himself that he can keep his resolutions, nor is he convinced of his imbecility but by length of time and frequency of experiment. This opinion of our own constancy is so prevalent, that we always despise him who suffers his general and settled purpose to be overpowered by an occasional desire. They, therefore, whom frequent failures have made desperate, cease to form resolutions; and they who are become cunning do not tell them. Those who do not make them are very few, but of their effect little is perceived ; for scarcely any man persists in a course of life planned by choice, but as he is restrained from deviation by some external power. He who may live as he will, seldom lives long in the observation of his own rules.” 1

1 Prayers and Meditations, p. 95.-Boswell.

Of this year I have obtained the following letters :

"TO THE REVEREND DR. FARMER, CAMBRIDGE. SIR,

Johnson's-court, Fleet-street, March 21, 1770. “As no man ought to keep wholly to himself any possession that may be useful to the public, I hope you will not think me unreasonably intrusive, if I have recourse to you for such information as you are more able to give me than any other man.

“In support of an opinion which you have already placed above the need of any more support, Mr. Steevens, a very ingenious gentleman, lately of King's College, has collected an account of all the translations which Shakspeare might have seen and used. He wishes his catalogue to be perfect, and therefore entreats that

you will favour him by the insertion of such additions as the accuracy of your inquiries has enabled you to make. To this request, I take the liberty of adding my own solicitation.

“We have no immediate use for this catalogue, and therefore do not desire that it should interrupt or hinder your more important employments. But it will be kind to let us know that you receive it. I am, Sir, &c.,

“ SAM. JOHNSON.”

" TO THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON. " DEAR SIR,

London, June 23, 1770. The readiness with which you were pleased to promise me some notes on Shakspeare, was a new instance of your friendship. I shall not hurry you ; but am desired by Mr. Steevens, who helps me in this edition, to let you know, that we shall print the tragedies first, and shall therefore want first the notes which belong to them. We think not to incommode the readers with a supplement ; and therefore, what we cannot put into its proper place, will do us no good. We shall not begin to print before the end of six weeks, perhaps not so soon.

I am, &c., SAM. JOHNSON."

" TO THE REV. DR. JOSEPH WARTON. “ DEAR SIR,

Sept. 27, 1770. “I am revising my edition of Shakspeare, and remember that I formerly misrepresented your opinion of Lear. Be pleased to write the paragraph as you would have it, and send it. If you have any remarks of your own upon that or any other play, I shall gladly receive them.

“Make my compliments to Mrs. Warton. I sometimes think of wandering for a few days to Winchester, but am apt to delay. I am, Sir,

"Your most humble servant,

“SAM, JOHNSON."

TO MR. FRANCIS BARBER, AT MRS. CLAPP'S, BISHOP-STORTFORD,

HERTFORDSHIRE. DEAR FRANCIS,

London, Sept 25, 1770. “I am at last sat down to write to you, and should very much blame myself for having neglected you so long, if I did not impute that and many other failings to want of health. I hope not to be so long silent again. I am very well satisfied with your progress, if you can really perform the exercises which you are set; and I hope Mr. Ellis does not suffer you to impose on him, or on yourself.

“ Make my compliments to Mr. Ellis, and to Mrs. Clapp, and Mr. Smith.

“Let me know what English books you read for your entertainment. You can never be wise unless you love reading,

“Do not imagine that I shall forget or forsake you ; for if, when I examine you, I find that you have not lost your time, you shall want no encouragement from

Yours affectionately,

“ SAM. JOHNSON."

TO THE SAME.

“DEAR FRANCIS,

December 7, 1770. “I hope you mind your business. I design you shall stay with Mrs. Clapp these holidays. If you are invited out you may go, if Mr. Ellis gives leave. I have ordered you some clothes, which you will receive, I believe, next week. My compliments to Mrs. Clapp and to Mr. Ellis, and Mr. Smith, &c. I am, your affectionate,

SAM. JOHNSON.During this year there was a total cessation of all correspondence between Dr. Johnson and me, without any coldness on either side, but merely from procrastination, continued from day to day; and as I was not in London, I had no opportunity of enjoying his company and recording his conversation. To supply this blank, I shall present my readers with some Collectanea, obligingly furnished to me by the Rev. Dr. Maxwell, of Falkland, in Ireland, some time assistant preacher at the Temple, and for many years the social friend of Johnson, who spoke of him with a very kind regard.

"COLLECTANEA. “My acquaintance with that great and venerable character commenced in the year 1764. I was introduced to him by Mr. Grierson, 1 his Majesty's printer at Dublin, a gentleman of uncommon learning, and great wit and vivacity. Mr. Grierson died in Germany, at the age of twenty-seven. Dr. Johnson highly respected his abilities, and often observed, that he possessed more extensive knowledge than any man of his years he had ever known. His industry was equal to his talents; and he particularly excelled in every species of philological learning, and was, perhaps, the best critic of the age he lived in.

“I must always remember with gratitude my obligation to Mr. Grierson, for the honour and happiness of Dr. Johnson's acquaintance and friendship, which continued uninterrupted and undiminished to his death : a connection, that was at once the pride and happiness of my life.

“What pity it is, that so much wit and good sense as he continually exhibited in conversation, should perish unrecorded ! Few persons quitted his company without perceiving themselves wiser and better than they were before. On

1 Son of the learned Mrs. Grierson, who was patronised by the late Lord Granville, and was the editor of several of the classics.-BOSWELL.

Her edition of Tacitus, with the notes of Rychius, in three volumes 8vo. 1730, was dedicated, in very elegant Latin, to John, Lord Carteret (afterwards Earl Granville), by whom she was patronised during his residence in Ireland as Lord Lieutenant between 1724 and 1730.-- MALONE.

serious subjects he flashed the most interesting conviction upon his auditors : and upon lighter topics, you might have supposed — Albuno musas de monte locutas.

“Though I cau hope to add but little to the celebrity of so exalted a character, by any communications I can furnish, yet out of pure respect to his memory, I will venture to transmit to you some anecdotes concerning him, which fell under my own observation. The very minutiæ of such a character must be interesting, and may be compared to the filings of diamonds.

“In politics he was deemed a Tory, but certainly was not so in the obnoxious or party sense of the term ; fur while he asserted the legal and salutary prerogatives of the crown, he no less respected the constitutional liberties of the people, Whiggism, at the time of the Revolution, he said, was accompanied with certain principles ; but latterly, as a mere party distinction under Walpole and the Pelhams, was no better than the politics of stock-jobbers, and the religion of infidels.

“He detested the idea of governing by parliamentary corruption, and asserted most strenuously, that a prince steadily and conspicuously pursuing the interests of his people, could not fail of parliamentary concurrence. A prince of ability, he contended, might and should be the directing soul and spirit of his own administration, in short, his own minister, and not the mere head of a party : and then, and not till then, would the royal dignity be sincerely respected.

"Johnson seemed to think, that a certain degree of crown influence over the Houses of Parliament (not meaning a corrupt and shameful dependence), was very salutary, nay, even necessary, in our mixed government. “For,' said he, ‘if the members were under no crown influence, and disqualified from receiving any gratification from court, and resembled, as they possibly might, Pym and Haslerig, and other stubborn and sturdy members of the long parliament, the wheels of government would be totally obstructed. Such men would oppose, merely to show their power, from envy, jealousy, and perversity of disposition ; and not gaining themselves, would hate and oppose all who did; not loving the person of the prince, and conceiving they owed him little gratitude from the mere spirit of insolence and contradiction, they would oppose and thwart him upon all occasions.'

“The inseparable imperfection annexed to all human governments, consisted, he said, in not being able to create a sufficient fund of virtue and principle to carry the laws into due and effectual execution. Wisdom might plan, but virtue alone could execute. And where could sufficient virtue be found ? A variety of delegated, and often discretionary, powers must be entrusted somewhere : which, if not governed by integrity and conscience, would necessarily be abused, till at last the constable would sell his for a shilling.

" This excellent person was sometimes charged with abetting slavish and arbitrary principles of government. Nothing in my opinion could be a grosser calumny and misrepresentation ; for how can it be rationally supposed, that he should adopt such pernicious and absurd opinions, who supported his philosophical character with so much dignity, was extremely jealous of his personal liberty and independence, 1 and could not brook the smallest appearance of neglect or insult, even from the highest personages ?

1 On the necessity of crown influence ; see Boucher's “Sermons on the American Re. volution,"_p. 218; and Paley's “Moral Philosophy,“ b. vi. c. vii. p. 191, 4tv., tiere quoted.-BLAKEWAY.

« VorigeDoorgaan »