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his leisure hours, from the study of botany and mechanics, and the composition of odes, and heroic verses, to fabricating riddles and charards ! Thus employed, his mind is somewhat in the same predicament with Hercules's body, when he sat amongst the women, and handled the distaff. Dr Darwin finds himself often summoned to Lichfield; indeed, whenever symptoms of danger arise in the diseases of those whose fortunes are at all competent to the expence of employing a distant physician. When I see him, he shall certainly be informed how kindly your Ladyship enquires after his welfare, and that of his family. His eldest son by his first wife, who was one of the most enlightened and charming of women, died of a putrid fever, while he was studying physic at Edinburgh, with the most sedulous attention, and the most promising ingenuity. His second is an attorney at Derby, of very distinguished merit, both as to intellect and virtue;—and your play-fellow, Robert, grown to an uncommon height, gay and blooming as a morn of summer, pursues medical studies in Scotland, under happier auspices, I hope, than his poor brother. I had the misfortune to lose my mother in the year 1780. My dearest father yet lives, but his existence hangs by a very slender thread; since, however, he suffers no pain, nor depression of spirits, I bless God that he yet lifts up his feeble hands to bless me. Lady Marianne Carnegy has no reason to doubt her epistolary talents. The proof of their elegance is before me; but dearer far is their kindness than their grace. Ah! Madam, the affection which that kindness has excited in my heart, creates a tender interest in all you say to me, beyond the reach of literary communication, scenic description, or the most brilliant wit to inspire, unaided by that sentiment which binds me to you!! I am, Madam, &c.
Miss WEST on.
Lichfield, March 23, 1785. A character of the late literary Colossus, written by me, appeared in the General Evening Post for December 27th 1784—without my
name; because my friend, his daughter-in-law, Mrs Lucy Porter, would resent the fidelity of the
portrait. She thinks he was almost next to the Deity in perfection. Uncultivate minds are always in extremes respecting those high abilities whose elevation they cannot clearly discern. They are sure to contemplate them either with blind adoration, or blinder contempt.
If Dr Johnson's heart had been as comprehensively benevolent as his genius was comprehensive, the excess of unqualified praise, now poured upon his tomb, had been deserved. Unhappily for his own peace, as for the posthumous fame of our English classics, his adherence to truth was confined to trivial occurrences, and abstract morality, his generosity to giving alms, his sincerity to those he hated, and his devotion to the gloom of religious terror. "Truth, from Dr Johnson's lip, yielded to misrepresentation in his rage of casting rival-excellence into shade. That generosity, which loves to place exalted genius and virtue in their fairest point of view, was a stranger to Dr Johnson's heart. His violent desire of life, while he was continually expatiating upon its infelicity, the unphilosophic and coward horror with which he shrunk from the approach of death, proved that his religion was not of that amiable species, which smooths the pillow of the dying man, and sheds upon it the light of religious hope. 4.
If the misleading force of his eloquence had not blighted the just pretensions of others, both to moral and intellectual excellence, I should not regret to see Johnson's character invested with this ideal splendour; since I always thought it for the interest of morality and literature, to believe exalted genius good as great, and, in a considerable degree, exempt from human depravity; such belief having a natural tendency to inspirit the pursuit of excellence, and give force to the precept of the moralist. But since he has industriously laboured to expose the defects, and defame the virtues and talents of his brethren in the race of literary glory, it is sacrificing the many to an individual, when, to exalt him, truth is thus involve ed, and hid in hyperbolic praise.
O England not less ungrateful than partial is this thy boundless incense. Investing the gloomy devotion and merely pecuniary donations of Johnson with the splendour of faultless excellence, thou sacrificest an hecatomb of characters, most of them more amiable, and some of them yet greater in point of genius, to his manes!
Our Cecilian concert was not so full as I have seen it. It was a bad evening, moonless, sleety, and of the most dreary coldness; but Mr Saville and his daughter sang divinely. You, who heard her a year ago warble her wild notes, unassisted by scientific instruction, would think her wonderfully improved, while you listened to her sweet shake, to those sportive cadences and melting semi-tones lately acquired. My dearest father has been perilously ill again. Alas! these frequent relapses keep me in constant terror. The anxiety with which I make the morning inquiry after his health, anxiety which commences the instant I awake, is a severe trial upon my nerves.—O! that it may please Heaven to spare him a few more years I am sure your friendship for me, dear Sophia, will say amen to that prayer of filial affection, naturally increasing with every danger of losing its object.