Samuel Johnson.

Dr. Johnson's Works: Life, Poems, and Tales, Volume 1 The Works of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D., in Nine Volumes online

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Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonDr. Johnson's Works: Life, Poems, and Tales, Volume 1 The Works of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D., in Nine Volumes → online text (page 33 of 40)
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gentleman of great eminence in Staffordshire. "Philips," said he, "was
once at table, when I asked him, how came thy king of Epirus to drive
oxen, and to say 'I'm goaded on by love?' After which question he never
spoke again[175]."

Of the Distrest Mother, not much is pretended to be his own, and,
therefore, it is no subject of criticism: his other two tragedies, I
believe, are not below mediocrity nor above it. Among the poems
comprised in the late collection, the Letter from Denmark may be justly
praised; the Pastorals, which, by the writer of the Guardian, were
ranked as one of the four genuine productions of the rustick muse,
cannot surely be despicable. That they exhibit a mode of life which does
not exist, nor ever existed, is not to be objected: the supposition of
such a state is allowed to pastoral. In his other poems he cannot be
denied the praise of lines sometimes elegant; but he has seldom much
force, or much comprehension. The pieces that please best are those
which from Pope and Pope's adherents procured him the name of _Namby
Pamby_, the poems of short lines, by which he paid his court to all ages
and characters, from Walpole, "the steerer of the realm," to Miss
Pulteney in the nursery. The numbers are smooth and sprightly, and the
diction is seldom faulty. They are not loaded with much thought, yet, if
they had been written by Addison, they would have had admirers: little
things are not valued but when they are done by those who can do
greater.

In his translations from Pindar, he found the art of reaching all the
obscurity of the Theban bard, however he may fall below his sublimity;
he will be allowed, if he has less fire, to have more smoke.

He has added nothing to English poetry, yet, at least, half his book
deserves to be read: perhaps he valued most himself that part which the
critick would reject.

- - -

[Footnote 169: He took his degrees, A. B. 1696, A. M. 1700.]

[Footnote 170: This ought to have been noticed before. It was published
in 1700, when he appears to have obtained a fellowship of St. John's.]

[Footnote 171: Spence.]

[Footnote 172: Ibid.]

[Footnote 173: The archbishop's letters, published in 1760, (the
originals of which are now in Christ-church library, Oxford,) were
collected by Mr. Philips.]

[Footnote 174: At his house in Hanover-street, and was buried in Audley
chapel.]

[Footnote 175: Mr. Ing's eminence does not seem to have been derived
from his wit. That the _men_ who drive _oxen_ are goaded, seems to be a
custom peculiar to Staffordshire. J.B.]




WEST.


Gilbert West is one of the writers of whom I regret my inability to give
a sufficient account; the intelligence which my inquiries have obtained
is general and scanty.

He was the son of the reverend Dr. West; perhaps[176] him who published
Pindar, at Oxford, about the beginning of this century. His mother was
sister to sir Richard Temple, afterwards lord Cobham. His father,
purposing to educate him for the church, sent him first to Eton, and
afterwards to Oxford; but he was seduced to a more airy mode of life, by
a commission in a troop of horse, procured him by his uncle.

He continued some time in the army; though it is reasonable to suppose
that he never sunk into a mere soldier, nor ever lost the love, or much
neglected the pursuit, of learning; and, afterwards, finding himself
more inclined to civil employment, he laid down his commission, and
engaged in business under the lord Townshend, then secretary of state,
with whom he attended the king to Hanover.

His adherence to lord Townshend ended in nothing but a nomination, May,
1729, to be clerk extraordinary of the privy council, which produced no
immediate profit; for it only placed him in a state of expectation and
right of succession, and it was very long before a vacancy admitted him
to profit.

Soon afterwards he married, and settled himself in a very pleasant house
at Wickham, in Kent, where he devoted himself to learning and to piety.
Of his learning, the late collection exhibits evidence, which would have
been yet fuller, if the dissertations which accompany his version of
Pindar had not been improperly omitted. Of his piety, the influence has,
I hope, been extended far by his Observations on the Resurrection,
published in 1747, for which the university of Oxford created him a
doctor of laws by diploma, March 30,1748, and would, doubtless, have
reached yet further, had he lived to complete what he had for some time
meditated, the Evidences of the Truth of the New Testament. Perhaps it
may not be without effect to tell, that he read the prayers of the
publick liturgy every morning to his family, and that on Sunday evening
he called his servants into the parlour, and read to them first a
sermon, and then prayers. Crashaw is now not the only maker of verses to
whom may be given the two venerable names of poet and saint.

He was very often visited by Lyttelton and Pitt, who, when they were
weary of faction and debates, used at Wickham to find books and quiet, a
decent table, and literary conversation. There is at Wickham a walk made
by Pitt; and, what is of far more importance, at Wickham, Lyttelton
received that conviction which produced his Dissertation on St. Paul.

These two illustrious friends had for awhile listened to the
blandishments of infidelity; and when West's book was published, it was
bought by some who did not know his change of opinion, in expectation of
new objections against christianity; and as infidels do not want
malignity, they revenged the disappointment by calling him a methodist.

Mr. West's income was not large; and his friends endeavoured, but
without success, to obtain an augmentation. It is reported, that the
education of the young prince was offered to him, but that he required a
more extensive power of superintendence than it was thought proper to
allow him.

In time, however, his revenue was improved; he lived to have one of the
lucrative clerkships of the privy council, 1752: and Mr. Pitt at last
had it in his power to make him treasurer of Chelsea hospital.

He was now sufficiently rich; but wealth came too late to be long
enjoyed; nor could it secure him from the calamities of life: he lost,
1755, his only son; and the year after, March 26, a stroke of the palsy
brought to the grave one of the few poets to whom the grave might be
without its terrours.

Of his translations, I have only compared the first Olympick Ode with
the original, and found my expectation surpassed, both by its elegance
and its exactness. He does not confine himself to his author's train of
stanzas: for he saw that the difference of the languages required a
different mode of versification. The first strophe is eminently happy:
in the second he has a little strayed from Pindar's meaning, who says,
"if thou, my soul, wishest to speak of games, look not in the desert sky
for a planet hotter than the sun; nor shall we tell of nobler games than
those of Olympia." He is sometimes too paraphrastical. Pindar bestows
upon Hiero an epithet, which, in one word, signifies "delighting in
horses;" a word which, in the translation, generates these lines:

Hiero's royal brows, whose care
Tends the courser's noble breed,
Pleas'd to nurse the pregnant mare,
Pleas'd to train the youthful steed.

Pindar says of Pelops, that "he came alone in the dark to the White
Sea;" and West,

Near the billow-beaten side
Of the foam-besilver'd main,
Darkling, and alone, he stood:

which, however, is less exuberant than the former passage.

A work of this kind must, in a minute examination, discover many
imperfections; but West's version, so far as I have considered it,
appears to be the product of great labour and great abilities.

His Institution of the Garter, 1742, is written with sufficient
knowledge of the manners that prevailed in the age to which it is
referred, and with great elegance of diction; but, for want of a process
of events, neither knowledge nor elegance preserve the reader from
weariness.

His Imitations of Spenser are very successfully performed, both with
respect to the metre, the language, and the fiction; and being engaged
at once by the excellence of the sentiments, and the artifice of the
copy, the mind has two amusements together. But such compositions are
not to be reckoned among the great achievements of intellect, because
their effect is local and temporary; they appeal not to reason or
passion, but to memory, and pre-suppose an accidental or artificial
state of mind. An imitation of Spenser is nothing to a reader, however
acute, by whom Spenser has never been perused. Works of this kind may
deserve praise, as proofs of great industry, and great nicety of
observation; but the highest praise, the praise of genius, they cannot
claim. The noblest beauties of art are those of which the effect is
coextended with rational nature, or, at least, with the whole circle of
polished life; what is less than this can be only pretty, the plaything
of fashion, and the amusement of a day.

* * * * *

There is, in the Adventurer, a paper of verses given to one of the
authors as Mr. West's, and supposed to have been written by him. It
should not be concealed, however, that it is printed with Mr. Jago's
name in Dodsley's collection, and is mentioned as his in a letter of
Shenstone's. Perhaps West gave it without naming the author; and
Hawkesworth, receiving it from him, thought it his; for his he thought
it, as he told me, and as he tells the publick.

- - -

[Footnote 176: Certainly him. It was published in 1697.]




COLLINS.


William Collins was born at Chichester, on the 25th of December, about
1720. His father was a hatter of good reputation. He was, in 1733, as
Dr. Warton has kindly informed me, admitted scholar of Winchester
college, where he was educated by Dr. Burton. His English exercises were
better than his Latin.

He first courted the notice of the publick by some verses to a Lady
Weeping, published in the Gentleman's Magazine.

In 1740, he stood first in the list of the scholars to received in
succession at New college, but unhappily there was no vacancy. This was
the original misfortune of his life. He became a commoner of Queen's
college, probably with a scanty maintenance; but was, in about half a
year, elected a demy of Magdalen college, where he continued till he had
taken a bachelor's degree, and then suddenly left the university; for
what reason I know not that he told.

He now, about 1744, came to London a literary adventurer, with many
projects in his head, and very little money in his pocket. He designed
many works; but his great fault was irresolution; or the frequent calls
of immediate necessity broke his schemes, and suffered him to pursue no
settled purpose. A man doubtful of his dinner, or trembling at a
creditor, is not much disposed to abstracted meditation, or remote
inquires. He published proposals for a History of the Revival of
Learning; and I have heard him speak with great kindness of Leo the
tenth, and with keen resentment of his tasteless successour. But
probably not a page of the history was ever written. He planned several
tragedies, but he only planned them. He wrote now and then odes and
other poems, and did something, however little.

About this time I fell into his company. His appearance was decent and
manly; his knowledge considerable, his views extensive, his conversation
elegant, and his disposition cheerful. By degrees I gained his
confidence; and one day was admitted to him when he was immured by a
bailiff, that was prowling in the street. On this occasion recourse was
had to the booksellers, who, on the credit of a translation of
Aristotle's Poeticks, which he engaged to write with a large commentary,
advanced as much money as enabled him to escape into the country. He
showed me the guineas safe in his hand. Soon afterwards his uncle, Mr.
Martin, a lieutenant-colonel, left him about two thousand pounds; a sum
which Collins could scarcely think exhaustible, and which he did not
live to exhaust. The guineas were then repaid, and the translation
neglected.

But man is not born for happiness. Collins, who, while he _studied to
live_, felt no evil but poverty, no sooner _lived to study_ than his
life was assailed by more dreadful calamities, disease and insanity.

Having formerly written his character[177], while, perhaps, it was yet
more distinctly impressed upon my memory, I shall insert it here.

"Mr. Collins was a man of extensive literature, and of vigorous
faculties. He was acquainted not only with the learned tongues,
but with the Italian, French, and Spanish languages. He had
employed his mind chiefly upon works of fiction, and subjects of
fancy; and, by indulging some peculiar habits of thought, was
eminently delighted with those flights of imagination which pass
the bounds of nature, and to which the mind is reconciled only
by a passive acquiescence in popular traditions. He loved
fairies, genii, giants, and monsters; he delighted to rove
through the meanders of enchantment, to gaze on the magnificence
of golden palaces, to repose by the waterfalls of elysian
gardens.

"This was, however, the character rather of his inclination than
his genius; the grandeur of wildness, and the novelty of
extravagance, were always desired by him, but not always
attained. Yet, as diligence is never wholly lost, if his efforts
sometimes caused harshness and obscurity, they likewise
produced, in happier moments, sublimity and splendour. This idea
which he had formed of excellence, led him to oriental fictions
and allegorical imagery, and, perhaps, while he was intent upon
description, he did not sufficiently cultivate sentiment. His
poems are the productions of a mind not deficient in fire, nor
unfurnished with knowledge either of books or life, but somewhat
obstructed in its progress by deviation in quest of mistaken
beauties.

"His morals were pure, and his opinions pious; in a long
continuance of poverty, and long habits of dissipation, it
cannot be expected that any character should be exactly uniform.
There is a degree of want, by which the freedom of agency is
almost destroyed; and long association with fortuitous
companions will, at last, relax the strictness of truth, and
abate the fervour of sincerity. That this man, wise and virtuous
as he was, passed always unentangled through the snares of life,
it would be prejudice and temerity to affirm; but it may be said
that at least he preserved the source of action unpolluted, that
his principles were never shaken, that his distinctions of right
and wrong were never confounded, and that his faults had nothing
of malignity or design, but proceeded from some unexpected
pressure, or casual temptation.

"The latter part of his life cannot be remembered but with pity
and sadness. He languished some years under that depression of
mind which enchains the faculties without destroying them, and
leaves reason the knowledge of right without the power of
pursuing it. These clouds which he perceived gathering on his
intellects, he endeavoured to disperse by travel, and passed
into France; but found himself constrained to yield to his
malady, and returned. He was, for some time, confined in a house
of lunaticks, and afterwards retired to the care of his sister
in Chichester, where death, in 1756, came to his relief[178].

"After his return from France, the writer of this character paid
him a visit at Islington, where he was waiting for his sister,
whom he had directed to meet him: there was then nothing of
disorder discernible in his mind by any but himself; but he had
withdrawn from study, and travelled with no other book than an
English testament, such as children carry to the school: when
his friend took it into his hand, out of curiosity, to see what
companion a man of letters had chosen, 'I have but one book,'
said Collins, 'but that is the best.'"

Such was the fate of Collins, with whom I once delighted to converse,
and whom I yet remember with tenderness.

He was visited at Chichester, in his last illness, by his learned
friends, Dr. Warton and his brother; to whom he spoke with
disapprobation of his Oriental Eclogues, as not sufficiently expressive
of Asiatick manners, and called them his Irish Eclogues. He showed them,
at the same time, an ode inscribed to Mr. John Hume, on the
superstitions of the Highlands; which they thought superiour to his
other works, but which no search has yet found[179].

His disorder was not alienation of mind, but general laxity and
feebleness, a deficiency rather of his vital than intellectual powers.
What he spoke wanted neither judgment nor spirit; but a few minutes
exhausted him, so that he was forced to rest upon the couch, till a
short cessation restored his powers, and he was again able to talk with
his former vigour.

The approaches of this dreadful malady he began to feel soon after his
uncle's death; and, with the usual weakness of men so diseased, eagerly
snatched that temporary relief, with which the table and the bottle
flatter and seduce.

But his health continually declined, and he grew more and more
burdensome to himself.

To what I have formerly said of his writings may be added, that his
diction was often harsh, unskilfully laboured, and injudiciously
selected. He affected the obsolete when it was not worthy of revival;
and he puts his words out of the common order, seeming to think, with
some later candidates for fame, that not to write prose is certainly to
write poetry. His lines commonly are of slow motion, clogged and impeded
with clusters of consonants. As men are often esteemed who cannot be
loved, so the poetry of Collins may, sometimes, extort praise when it
gives little pleasure.

* * * * *

Mr. Collins's first production is added here from the Poetical Calendar.

TO MISS AURELIA C - - R,
ON HER WEEPING AT HER SISTER'S WEDDING.

Cease, fair Aurelia, cease to mourn;
Lament not Hannah's happy state;
You may be happy in your turn,
And seize the treasure you regret.

With love united hymen stands,
And softly whispers to your charms,
"Meet but your lover in my bands,
You'll find your sister in his arms."

- - -

[Footnote 177: In the Poetical Calendar, a collection of poems by Fawkes
and Woty, in several volumes, 1763, &c.]

[Footnote 178: A monument of exquisite workmanship, by Flaxman, is
erected in Chichester to Collins's memory.]

[Footnote 179: It is printed in the late collection.]




DYER.


John Dyer, of whom I have no other account to give than his own letters,
published with Hughes's correspondence, and the notes added by the
editor, have afforded me, was born in 1700, the second son of Robert
Dyer, of Aberglasney, in Caermarthenshire, a solicitor of great capacity
and note.

He passed through Westminster school under the care of Dr. Freind, and
was then called home to be instructed in his father's profession. But
his father died soon, and he took no delight in the study of the law;
but having always amused himself with drawing, resolved to turn painter,
and became pupil to Mr. Richardson, an artist then of high reputation,
but now better known by his books than by his pictures.

Having studied awhile under his master, he became, as he tells his
friend, an itinerant painter, and wandered about South Wales, and the
parts adjacent; but he mingled poetry with painting, and, about 1727,
printed Grongar Hill in Lewis's Miscellany.

Being, probably, unsatisfied with his own proficiency, he, like other
painters, travelled to Italy; and coming back in 1740, published the
Ruins of Rome.

If his poem was written soon after his return, he did not make much use
of his acquisitions in painting, whatever they might be; for decline of
health and love of study determined him to the church. He, therefore,
entered into orders; and, it seems, married, about the same time, a lady
of the name of "Ensor, whose grandmother," says he, "was a Shakespeare,
descended from a brother of every body's Shakespeare;" by her, in 1756,
he had a son and three daughters living.

His ecclesiastical provision was, for a long time, but slender. His
first patron, Mr. Harper, gave him, in 1741, Calthorp, in
Leicestershire, of eighty pounds a year, on which he lived ten years,
and then exchanged it for Belchford, in Lincolnshire, of seventy-five.
His condition now began to mend. In 1751, sir John Heathcote gave him
Coningsby, of one hundred and forty pounds a year; and, in 1755, the
chancellor added Kirkby, of one hundred and ten. He complains that the
repair of the house at Coningsby, and other expenses, took away the
profit. In 1757 he published the Fleece, his greatest poetical work; of
which I will not suppress a ludicrous story. Dodsley, the bookseller,
was one day mentioning it to a critical visiter, with more expectation
of success than the other could easily admit. In the conversation the
author's age was asked; and being represented as advanced in life, "He
will," said the critick, "be buried in woollen."

He did not, indeed, long survive that publication, nor long enjoy the
increase of his preferments; for in 1758 (July 24th,) he died.

Dyer is not a poet of bulk or dignity sufficient to require an elaborate
criticism. Grongar Hill is the happiest of his productions: it is not,
indeed, very accurately written; but the scenes which it displays are so
pleasing, the images which they raise are so welcome to the mind, and
the reflections of the writer so consonant to the general sense or
experience of mankind, that when it is once read, it will be read again.

The idea of the Ruins of Rome strikes more but pleases less, and the
title raises greater expectation than the performance gratifies. Some
passages, however, are conceived with the mind of a poet; as when, in
the neighbourhood of dilapidating edifices, he says,

The pilgrim oft
At dead of night, mid his orison hears
Aghast the voice of time, disparting tow'rs,
Tumbling all precip'tate down, dash'd,
Rattling around, loud thund'ring to the moon.

Of the Fleece, which never became popular, and is now universally
neglected, I can say little that is likely to recall it to attention.
The woolcomber and the poet appear to me such discordant natures, that
an attempt to bring them together is to _couple the serpent with the
fowl_. When Dyer, whose mind was not unpoetical, has done his utmost, by
interesting his reader in our native commodity, by interspersing rural
imagery, and incidental digressions, by clothing small images in great
words, and by all the writer's arts of delusion, the meanness naturally
adhering, and the irreverence habitually annexed to trade and
manufacture, sink him under insuperable oppression; and the disgust
which blank verse, encumbering and encumbered, superadds to an
unpleasing subject, soon repels the reader, however willing to be
pleased.

Let me, however, honestly report whatever may counterbalance this weight
of censure. I have been told, that Akenside, who, upon a poetical
question, has a right to be heard, said, "That he would regulate his
opinion of the reigning taste by the fate of Dyer's Fleece; for if that
were ill-received, he should not think it any longer reasonable to
expect fame from excellence."




SHENSTONE.


William Shenstone, the son of Thomas Shenstone and Anne Pen, was born in
November, 1714, at the Leasowes in Hales-Owen, one of those insulated
districts which, in the division of the kingdom, was appended, for some
reason, not now discoverable, to a distant county; and which, though
surrounded by Warwickshire and Worcestershire, belongs to Shropshire,
though, perhaps, thirty miles distant from any other part of it.

He learned to read of an old dame, whom his poem of the Schoolmistress
has delivered to posterity; and soon received such delight from books,
that he was always calling for fresh entertainment, and expected that,
when any of the family went to market, a new book should be brought him,
which, when it came, was in fondness carried to bed and laid by him. It
is said, that, when his request had been neglected, his mother wrapped
up a piece of wood of the same form, and pacified him for the night.



Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonDr. Johnson's Works: Life, Poems, and Tales, Volume 1 The Works of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D., in Nine Volumes → online text (page 33 of 40)