« AnteriorContinuar »
son's strongest propensities, and he had sought it in a club of literary men soon after his settling in the metropolis. His advanced reputation and amended circumstances now enabled him to indulge it in a higher style; and he became member of a weekly club in Gerard-street, composed of persons eminent for various talents, and occupying distinguished situations in Society.
He acquired an additional resource for enjoyment, both corporeal and intellectual, by his introduction, in 1765, to the acquaintance of Mr. Thrale, an opulent brewer, whose lady possessed lively parts improved by an enlarged education. In their hospitable retreat at Streatham, Johnson was for a considerable time domesticated, receiving every attention that could flatter his pride, and accommodated with every convenience and gratification that wealth could bestow. His shottered spirits were recruited, and his habits of life rendered more regular, in this agreeable residence; yet it may be questioned whether either his
mind or body derived permanent advantage from the luxurious indolence
in which he was led to indulge.
His long-promised edition of Shakespeare appeared in 1765, and was ushered in by a preface written with all the powers of his masterly pen, and certainly among the most valuable of his critical disquisitions. His arguments against the existence of even a temporary illusion in the spectator during a dramatic performance, seem, however, to indicate that want of ductility to impressions on the organs of sense, which may be traced in his judgments on other attempts to act upon the imagination. The edition itself disappointed those who had conceived high expectations of his ability to elucidate the obscuritics of the great dramatist. Sound sense was frequently displayed in comparing the different readings suggested by different critics; but little felicity of original conjecture, and none of that knowledge of the language and writings of the age in and near which Shakespeare flourished, which has since been found the only genuine source of illustration. Although the pension conferred upon Johnson was burthened with no condition of literary service to the court or minister, yet it cannot be doubted that it was felt by him in some measure as a demand upon his gratitude. His innate principles of loyalty, too, after they had been reconciled with present power, would naturally dispose him to lean to the monarchical side in political contests. This loyalty, moreover, was enhanced by the uncommon honour he received of a personal interview
with his majesty at the library of Buckingham-house, in which a just and handsome compliment was paid to his literary merit. The temporary application of his pen to the support of ministerial politics was not, therefore, extraordinary, nor can justly be accounted mercenary or profligate. The first of his productions in this department was the “False Alarm,” published in 1770, when the constitution was supposed to have received a violent injury from the resolution of the house of commons, in the case of Wilkes, that expulsion implied incapacitation. It was followed in 1771 by “Thoughts on the late Transactions respecting Falkland's Island,” designed to show the unreasonableness of going to war on account of the conduct of Spain relative to that barren possession. “ The Patriot,” in 1774, was composed on the eve of a general election, in order to indispose the people against the oppositionists. His “ Taxation no Tyranny,” in 1775, was a more considerable effort, directed against the arguments of the American congress relative to the claim of the mother country to tax the colonies at pleasure. All these are written with his characteristic vigour of conception and strength of style, but directed rather to malignant sarcasm, and dictatorial assumption, than to fair and conclusive argumentation. They were more irritating than convincing, and did little service to the cause they espoused. Johnson himself, however, seems to have thought highly of his powers for political warfare, and longed to try his force in senatorial debate: some of his friends entertained an idea of complying with his wish by bringing him into parliament; but the scheme met with no encouragement from men in power, and his reputation was probably no sufferer from its defeat.
A tour to the Western islands of Scotland in 1773, in which he was accompanied by his enthusiastic admirer and obsequious friend James Boswell, esq. was a remarkable incident in the life of a man so little addicted to locomotion. Among his prejudices, a strong antipathy to the natives of Scotland in general had long been conspicuous; and this journey exhibited many instances of his contempt for their learning and abhorrence of their religion. When, however, he published, two years afterwards, the account of his tour, under the title of “A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland,” more candour and impartiality was found in it than had been expected; and the work was much admired for the just and philosophical views of society it contained, and the elegance and vivacity of its descriptions. The greatest offence it gave to nationality was by the author's decisive sentence against the au
thenticity of the poems ascribed to Ossian. The alleged translator, Mr. Macpherson, was so much irritated by the charge of imposture, that he sent a menacing letter to Johnson, which was answered in the tone of stern defiance ; but nothing ensued from this declared hostility.
In 1775 our author was gratified, through the interest of lord North, with the literary honour which he greatly valued, that of the degree of doctor of laws from the university of Oxford. He had some years before received the same honour from Dublin, but did not then choose to assume the title. A short visit to France, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale and Baretti, occupied part of the same year; he kept a journal of this tour, but it produced nothing for the public. When the unhappy Dr. Dodd lay under the sentence of an ignominious death, Johnson, either moved by compassion for the man, or desire to rescue his cloth from public disgrace, wrote two petitions to royalty in his name, and sup
plied him with a speech at the bar, and a sermon to be preached to his brother-convicts.
His last literary undertaking was the consequence of a request from the London booksellers, a body of men which he much esteemed, who had engaged in an edition of the works of the principal English poets, and wished to prefix to each a biographical and critical preface from his hand. Dr. Johnson executed this task with all the spirit and vigour of his best days. The publication of his “Lives of the Poets” began in 1779, and was completed in 1781. In a separate form they coropose four volumes octavo; and have made a most valuable addition to English biography and criticism, though in both these departments he will gene. rally be thought to have laboured under strong prejudices. The style o this performance is in great measure free from the stiffness and turgidity of his earlier compositions.
The concluding portion of Dr. Johnson's life was saddened by th loss of old friends (among whom he particularly lamented Mr. Thrale by a progressive decline of health, and especially the prospect of ap proaching death, which neither his rehgion nor his philosophy taug him to bear with even decent composure. Indeed, it is evident th his piety, sincere and ardent as it was, received such a dark ting either from temperor from system, that it was to him a source of mu more awe and apprehension than comfort. A paralytic stroke in Jul