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 34 of 40)
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As he grew older, he went for awhile to the grammar-school in
Hales-Owen, and was placed afterwards with Mr. Crumpton, an eminent
schoolmaster at Solihul, where he distinguished himself by the quickness
of his progress.

When he was young, June, 1724, he was deprived of his father, and soon
after, August, 1726, of his grandfather; and was, with his brother, who
died afterwards unmarried, left to the care of his grandmother, who
managed the estate.

From school he was sent, in 1732, to Pembroke college, in Oxford, a
society which, for half a century, has been eminent for English poetry
and elegant literature. Here it appears that he found delight and
advantage; for he continued his name in the book ten years, though he
took no degree. After the first four years he put on the civilian's
gown, but without showing any intention to engage in the profession.

About the time when he went to Oxford, the death of his grandmother
devolved his affairs to the care of the reverend Mr. Dolman, of Brome,
in Staffordshire, whose attention he always mentioned with gratitude.

At Oxford he employed himself upon English poetry; and, in 1737,
published a small miscellany, without his name.

He then for a time wandered about to acquaint himself with life, and was
sometimes at London, sometimes at Bath, or any other place of publick
resort; but he did not forget his poetry. He published, in 1741, his
Judgment of Hercules, addressed to Mr. Lyttelton, whose interest he
supported with great warmth at an election: this was next year followed
by the Schoolmistress.

Mr. Dolman, to whose care he was indebted for his ease and leisure, died
in 1745, and the care of his own fortune now fell upon him. He tried to
escape it awhile, and lived at his house with his tenants, who were
distantly related; but finding that imperfect possession inconvenient,
he took the whole estate into his own hands, more to the improvement of
its beauty, than the increase of its produce.

Now was excited his delight in rural pleasures, and his ambition of
rural elegance: he began, from this time, to point his prospects, to
diversify his surface, to entangle his walks, and to wind his waters;
which he did with such judgment and such fancy, as made his little
domain the envy of the great, and the admiration of the skilful; a place
to be visited by travellers, and copied by designers. Whether to plant a
walk in undulating curves, and to place a bench at every turn where
there is an object to catch the view; to make water run where it will be
heard, and to stagnate where it will be seen; to leave intervals where
the eye will be pleased, and to thicken the plantation where there is
something to be hidden; demands any great powers of mind, I will not
inquire: perhaps a surly and sullen speculator may think such
performances rather the sport than the business of human reason. But it
must be at least confessed, that to embellish the form of nature is an
innocent amusement; and some praise must be allowed, by the most
supercilious observer, to him who does best what such multitudes are
contending to do well.

This praise was the praise of Shenstone; but, like all other modes of
felicity, it was not enjoyed without its abatements. Lyttelton was his
neighbour and his rival, whose empire, spacious and opulent, looked with
disdain on the _petty state_ that _appeared behind it_. For awhile the
inhabitants of Hagley affected to tell their acquaintance of the little
fellow that was trying to make himself admired; but when, by degrees,
the Leasowes forced themselves into notice, they took care to defeat the
curiosity which they could not suppress, by conducting their visitants
perversely to inconvenient points of view, and introducing them, at the
wrong end of a walk to detect a deception; injuries of which Shenstone
would heavily complain. Where there is emulation there will be vanity;
and where there is vanity there will be folly[180].

The pleasure of Shenstone was all in his eye: he valued what he valued
merely for its looks; nothing raised his indignation more than to ask if
there were any fishes in his water.

His house was mean, and he did not improve it; his care was of his
grounds. When he came home from his walks, he might find his floors
flooded by a shower through the broken roof; but could spare no money
for its reparation.

In time his expenses brought clamours about him, that overpowered the
lamb's bleat and the linnet's song; and his groves were haunted by
beings very different from fawns and fairies[181]. He spent his estate
in adorning it, and his death was probably hastened by his anxieties.
He was a lamp that spent its oil in blazing[182]. It is said, that if he
had lived a little longer, he would have been assisted by a pension:
such bounty could not have been ever more properly bestowed; but that it
was ever asked is not certain; it is too certain that it never was

He died at the Leasowes, of a putrid fever, about five on Friday
morning, February 11, 1763; and was buried by the side of his brother in
the church-yard of Hales-Owen.

He was never married, though he might have obtained the lady, whoever
she was, to whom his Pastoral Ballad was addressed. He is represented,
by his friend Dodsley, as a man of great tenderness and generosity, kind
to all that were within his influence: but, if once offended, not easily
appeased; inattentive to economy, and careless of his expenses; in his
person he was larger than the middle size, with something clumsy in his
form; very negligent of his clothes, and remarkable for wearing his grey
hair in a particular manner; for he held that the fashion was no rule of
dress, and that every man was to suit his appearance to his natural

His mind was not very comprehensive, nor his curiosity active; he had no
value for those parts of knowledge which he had not himself cultivated.

His life was unstained by any crime; the Elegy on Jesse, which has been
supposed to relate an unfortunate and criminal amour of his own, was
known by his friends to have been suggested by the story of Miss
Godfrey, in Richardson's Pamela.

What Gray thought of his character, from the perusal of his letters, was

"I have read, too, an octavo volume of Shenstone's letters. Poor man! he
was always wishing for money, for fame, and other distinctions; and his
whole philosophy consisted in living against his will in retirement, and
in a place which his taste had adorned, but which he only enjoyed when
people of note came to see and commend it; his correspondence is about
nothing else but this place and his own writings, with two or three
neighbouring clergymen, who wrote verses too."

His poems consist of elegies, odes, and ballads, humorous sallies, and
moral pieces.

His conception of an elegy he has in his preface very judiciously and
discriminately explained. It is, according to his account, the effusion
of a contemplative mind, sometimes plaintive, and always serious, and,
therefore, superiour to the glitter of slight ornaments. His
compositions suit not ill to this description. His topicks of praise are
the domestick virtues, and his thoughts are pure and simple; but,
wanting combination, they want variety. The peace of solitude, the
innocence of inactivity, and the unenvied security of an humble station,
can fill but a few pages. That of which the essence is uniformity will
be soon described. His elegies have, therefore, too much resemblance of
each other.

The lines are, sometimes, such as elegy requires, smooth and easy; but
to this praise his claim is not constant; his diction is often harsh,
improper, and affected: his words ill-coined, or ill-chosen; and his
phrase unskilfully inverted.

The lyrick poems are almost all of the light and airy kind, such as trip
lightly and nimbly along, without the load of any weighty meaning. From
these, however, Rural Elegance has some right to be excepted. I once
heard it praised by a very learned lady; and, though the lines are
irregular, and the thoughts diffused with too much verbosity, yet it
cannot be denied to contain both philosophical argument and poetical

Of the rest I cannot think any excellent: the Skylark pleases me best,
which has, however, more of the epigram than of the ode.

But the four parts of his Pastoral Ballad demand particular notice. I
cannot but regret that it is pastoral: an intelligent reader, acquainted
with the scenes of real life, sickens at the mention of the _crook_, the
_pipe_, the _sheep_, and the _kids_, which it is not necessary to bring
forward to notice, for the poet's art is selection, and he ought to show
the beauties without the grossness of the country life. His stanza seems
to have been chosen in imitation of Rowe's Despairing Shepherd.

In the first part are two passages, to which if any mind denies its
sympathy, it has no acquaintance with love or nature:

I priz'd ev'ry hour that went by,
Beyond all that had pleas'd me before;
But now they are past, and I sigh,
And I grieve that I priz'd them no more.

When forc'd the fair nymph to forego,
What anguish I felt in my heart!
Yet I thought (but it might not be so)
'Twas with pain that she saw me depart.

She gaz'd, as I slowly withdrew;
My path I could hardly discern;
So sweetly she bade me adieu,
I thought that she bade me return.

In the second, this passage has its prettiness, though it be not equal
to the former:

I have found out a gift for my fair;
I have found where the woodpigeons breed;
But let me that plunder forbear,
She will say 'twas a barbarous deed:

For he ne'er could be true, she averr'd,
Who could rob a poor bird of its young;
And I lov'd her the more when I heard
Such tenderness fall from her tongue.

In the third, he mentions the commonplaces of amorous poetry with some

'Tis his with mock passion to glow!
'Tis his in smooth tales to unfold,
How her face is as bright as the snow,
And her bosom, be sure, is as cold;

How the nightingales labour the strain.
With the notes of his charmer to vie;
How they vary their accents in vain,
Repine at her triumphs and die.

In the fourth, I find nothing better than this natural strain of hope:

Alas! from the day that we met,
What hope of an end to my woes,
When I cannot endure to forget
The glance that undid my repose?

Yet time may diminish the pain:
The flow'r, and the shrub, and the tree,
Which I rear'd for her pleasure in vain,
In time may have comfort for me.

His Levities are, by their title, exempted from the severities of
criticism; yet it may be remarked, in a few words, that his humour is
sometimes gross, and seldom sprightly.

Of the moral poems, the first is the Choice of Hercules, from Xenophon.
The numbers are smooth, the diction elegant, and the thoughts just; but
something of vigour is still to be wished, which it might have had by
brevity and compression. His Fate of Delicacy has an air of gaiety, but
not a very pointed general moral. His blank verses, those that can read
them may, probably, find to be like the blank verses of his neighbours.
Love and Honour is derived from the old ballad, "Did you not hear of a
Spanish Lady?" - I wish it well enough to wish it were in rhyme.

The Schoolmistress, of which I know not what claim it has to stand among
the moral works, is surely the most pleasing of Shenstone's
performances. The adoption of a particular style, in light and short
compositions, contributes much to the increase of pleasure: we are
entertained at once with two imitations, of nature in the sentiments, of
the original author in the style, and between them the mind is kept in
perpetual employment.

The general recommendation of Shenstone is easiness and simplicity; his
general defect is want of comprehension and variety. Had his mind been
better stored with knowledge, whether he could have been great, I know
not; he could certainly have been agreeable[184].

- - -

[Footnote 180: This charge against the Lyttelton family has been denied,
with some degree of warmth, by Mr. Potter, and since by Mr. Graves. The
latter says, "The truth of the case, I believe, was, that the Lyttelton
family went so frequently with their family to the Leasowes, that they
were unwilling to break in upon Mr. Shenstone's retirement on every
occasion, and, therefore, often went to the principal points of view
without waiting for any one to conduct them regularly through the whole
walks. Of this Mr. Shenstone would sometimes peevishly complain; though,
I am persuaded, he never really suspected any ill-natured intention in
his worthy and much-valued neighbours." R.]

[Footnote 181: Mr. Graves, however, expresses his belief that this is a
groundless surmise. "Mr. Shenstone," he adds, "was too much respected in
the neighbourhood to be treated with rudeness; and though his works,
(frugally as they were managed) added to his manner of living, must
necessarily have made him exceed his income, and, of course, he might
sometimes be distressed for money, yet he had too much spirit to expose
himself to insults from trifling sums, and guarded against any great
distress, by anticipating a few hundreds; which his estate could very
well bear, as appeared by what remained to his executors after the
payment of his debts, and his legacies to his friends, and annuities of
thirty pounds a year to one servant, and six pounds to another, for his
will was dictated with equal justice and generosity." R.]

[Footnote 182: We may, however, say with the Grecian orator, [Greek:
hoti apollymeyos euphrainei], he gives forth a fragrance as he wastes
away. ED.]

[Footnote 183: "These," says Mr. Graves, "were not precisely his
sentiments, though he thought, right enough, that every one should, in
some degree, consult his particular shape and complexion in adjusting
his dress; and that no fashion ought to sanctify what was ungraceful,
absurd, or really deformed."]

[Footnote 184: Mr. D'Israeli's remarks on Shenstone and his writings,
may be profitably compared with Johnson's life. See last edition of the
Curiosities of Literature. ED.]


The following life was written, at my request, by a gentleman who had
better information than I could easily have obtained; and the publick
will, perhaps, wish that I had solicited and obtained more such favours
from him[185].

"DEAR SIR, - In consequence of our different conversations about
authentick materials for the life of Young, I send you the
following detail.

"Of great men, something must always be said to gratify curiosity.
Of the illustrious author of the Night Thoughts much has been told
of which there never could have been proofs; and little care
appears to have been taken to tell that, of which proofs, with
little trouble, might have been procured."

Edward Young was born at Upham, near Winchester, in June, 1681. He was
the son of Edward Young, at that time fellow of Winchester college, and
rector of Upham; who was the son of Jo. Young, of Woodhay, in Berkshire,
styled by Wood, _gentleman_. In September, 1682, the poet's father was
collated to the prebend of Gillingham Minor, in the church of Sarum, by
bishop Ward. When Ward's faculties were impaired through age, his duties
were necessarily performed by others. We learn from Wood, that at a
visitation of Sprat's, July the 12th, 1686, the prebendary preached a
Latin sermon, afterwards published, with which the bishop was so
pleased, that he told the chapter he was concerned to find the preacher
had one of the worst prebends in their church. Some time after this, in
consequence of his merit and reputation, or of the interest of lord
Bradford, to whom, in 1702, he dedicated two volumes of sermons, he was
appointed chaplain to king William and queen Mary, and preferred to the
deanery of Sarum. Jacob, who wrote in 1720, says, "He was chaplain and
clerk of the closet to the late queen, who honoured him by standing
godmother to the poet." His fellowship of Winchester he resigned in
favour of a gentleman of the name of Harris, who married his only
daughter. The dean died at Sarum, after a short illness, in 1705, in the
sixty-third year of his age. On the Sunday after his decease, bishop
Burnet preached at the cathedral, and began his sermon with saying,
"Death has been of late walking round us, and making breach upon breach
upon us, and has now carried away the head of this body with a stroke;
so that he, whom you saw a week ago distributing the holy mysteries, is
now laid in the dust. But he still lives in the many excellent
directions he has left us, both how to live and how to die."

The dean placed his son upon the foundation at Winchester college, where
he had himself been educated. At this school Edward Young remained till
the election after his eighteenth birthday, the period at which those
upon the foundation are superannuated. Whether he did not betray his
abilities early in life, or his masters had not skill enough to discover
in their pupil any marks of genius for which he merited reward, or no
vacancy at Oxford afforded them an opportunity to bestow upon him the
reward provided for merit by William of Wykeham; certain it is, that to
an Oxford fellowship our poet did not succeed. By chance, or by choice,
New college cannot claim the honour of numbering among its fellows him
who wrote the Night Thoughts.

On the 13th of October, 1703, he was entered an independent member of
New college, that he might live at little expense in the warden's
lodgings, who was a particular friend of his father, till he should be
qualified to stand for a fellowship at All Souls. In a few months the
warden of New college died. He then removed to Corpus college. The
president of this society, from regard also for his father, invited him
thither, in order to lessen his academical expenses. In 1708, he was
nominated to a law-fellowship at All Souls by archbishop Tenison, into
whose hands it came by devolution. Such repeated patronage, while it
justifies Burnet's praise of the father, reflects credit on the conduct
of the son. The manner in which it was exerted, seems to prove that the
father did not leave behind him much wealth.

On the 23rd of April, 1714, Young took his degree of bachelor of civil
laws, and his doctor's degree on the 10th of June, 1719.

Soon after he went to Oxford, he discovered, it is said, an inclination
for pupils. Whether he ever commented tutor is not known. None has
hitherto boasted to have received his academical instruction from the
author of the Night Thoughts.

It is probable that his college was proud of him no less as a scholar
than as a poet; for in 1716, when the foundation of the Codrington
library was laid, two years after he had taken his bachelor's degree,
Young was appointed to speak the Latin oration. This is, at least,
particular for being dedicated in English, "To the ladies of the
Codrington family." To these ladies he says, "that he was unavoidably
flung into a singularity, by being obliged to write an epistle
dedicatory void of commonplace, and such a one as was never published
before by any author whatever; that this practice absolved them from any
obligation of reading what was presented to them, and that the
bookseller approved of it, because it would make people stare, was
absurd enough, and perfectly right."

Of this oration there is no appearance in his own edition of his works;
and prefixed to an edition by Curll and Tonson, 1741, is a letter from
Young to Curll, if we may credit Curll, dated December the 9th, 1739,
wherein he says, that he has not leisure to review what he formerly
wrote, and adds, "I have not the Epistle to lord Lansdowne. If you will
take my advice, I would have you omit that, and the oration on
Codrington. I think the collection will sell better without them."

There are who relate, that, when first Young found himself independent,
and his own master at All Souls, he was not the ornament to religion and
morality which he afterwards became.

The authority of his father, indeed, had ceased, some time before, by
his death; and Young was certainly not ashamed to be patronised by the
infamous Wharton. But Wharton befriended in Young, perhaps, the poet,
and particularly the tragedian. If virtuous authors must be patronised
only by virtuous peers, who shall point them out?

Yet Pope is said, by Ruffhead, to have told Warburton, that "Young had
much of a sublime genius, though without common sense; so that his
genius, having no guide, was perpetually liable to degenerate into
bombast. This made him pass a _foolish youth_, the sport of peers and
poets: but his having a very good heart enabled him to support the
clerical character when he assumed it, first with decency, and
afterwards with honour."

They who think ill of Young's morality in the early part of his life
may, perhaps, be wrong; but Tindal could not err in his opinion of
Young's warmth and ability in the cause of religion. Tindal used to
spend much of his time at All Souls. "The other boys," said the atheist,
"I can always answer, because I always know whence they have their
arguments, which I have read a hundred times; but that fellow Young is
continually pestering me with something of his own."[186]

After all, Tindal and the censurers of Young may be reconcilable. Young
might, for two or three years, have tried that kind of life, in which
his natural principles would not suffer him to wallow long. If this were
so, he has left behind him not only his evidence in favour of virtue,
but the potent testimony of experience against vice.

We shall soon see that one of his earliest productions was more serious
than what comes from the generality of unfledged poets.

Young, perhaps, ascribed the good fortune of Addison to the Poem to His
Majesty, presented, with a copy of verses, to Somers; and hoped that he
also might soar to wealth and honour on wings of the same kind. His
first poetical flight was when queen Anne called up to the house of
lords the sons of the earls of Northampton and Aylesbury, and added, in
one day, ten others to the number of peers. In order to reconcile the
people to one, at least, of the new lords, he published, in 1712, an
Epistle to the right honourable George lord Lansdowne. In this
composition the poet pours out his panegyrick with the extravagance of a
young man, who thinks his present stock of wealth will never be

The poem seems intended also to reconcile the publick to the late peace.
This is endeavoured to be done by showing that men are slain in war, and
that in peace "harvests wave, and commerce swells her sail." If this be
humanity, for which he meant it; is it politicks? Another purpose of
this epistle appears to have been, to prepare the publick for the
reception of some tragedy he might have in hand. His lordship's
patronage, he says, will not let him "repent his passion for the stage;"
and the particular praise bestowed on Othello and Oroonoko looks as if
some such character as Zanga was even then in contemplation. The
affectionate mention of the death of his friend Harrison, of New
college, at the close of this poem, is an instance of Young's art, which
displayed itself so wonderfully, some time afterwards, in the Night
Thoughts, of making the publick a party in his private sorrow.

Should justice call upon you to censure this poem, it ought, at least,
to be remembered, that he did not insert it in his works; and that in
the letter to Curll, as we have seen, he advises its omission. The
booksellers, in the late body of English poetry, should have
distinguished what was deliberately rejected by the respective
authors[187].This I shall be careful to do with regard to Young. "I
think," says he, "the following pieces in _four_ volumes to be the most
excusable of all that I have written; and I wish _less apology_ was
needful for these. As there is no recalling what is got abroad, the
pieces here republished I have revised and corrected, and rendered them
as _pardonable_ as it was in my power to do."

Shall the gates of repentance be shut only against literary sinners?

When Addison published Cato, in 1713, Young had the honour of prefixing
to it a recommendatory copy of verses. This is one of the pieces which
the author of the Night Thoughts did not republish.

On the appearance of his Poem on the Last Day, Addison did not return
Young's compliment; but the Englishman of October 29, 1713, which was

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 34 of 40)