« AnteriorContinuar »
1783, greatly alarmed him, but he had still sufficient vigour of constitution to recover from its sensible effects. Asthma and dropsical symptoms followed ; and such was the tenacity with which he clung to life, that he expressed a great desire to seek amendment in the climate of Italy. Some officious friends endeavoured to render this scheme feasible by an application to the minister for an increase of his pension. It was made without his knowledge, but he appears to have been mortified and disappointed by its want of success. The circumstance, however, gave occasion to very generous pecuniary offers from two persons which it was honourable to him to receive, but might have been improper to accept. Indeed he had no medical encourgement to make the desired trial, and his best friends rather wished to prepare him for the inevitable termination. Still unable to reconcile himself to the thought of dying, he said to the surgeon who was making slight scarifications in his swollen legs, “Deeper ! deeper! I want length of life, and you are afraid of giving me pain, which I do not value," and he afterwards with his own hand multiplied the punctures made for this purpose. Devotion is said, however, to have shed its tranquillity over the closing scene, which took place on December 13th, 1785, in the seventy-fifth year of his age. His remains, attended by a respectable concourse of friends, were interred in Westminster Abbey, and a monumental statue has since been placed to his memory in St. Paul's cathedral. He left his property, a few legacies excepted, to a faithful black servant who had long lived with him.
Dr. Johnson, at the time of his death, was undoubtedly the most conspicuous literary character of his country; nor is there, perhaps, an instance of a private man of letters in England whose decease was marked by the appearance of so many laudatory and biographical tributes to his public reputation. Of these, some are so abundant in anecdote, that they would furnish ready materials for an article far surpassing the limits we can allow to any degree of fame or excellence. In the preceding narrative, such facts are copied from these records as appeared most important to his character as an author. We shall add a few strokes to complete his portrait as a man.
Endowed with a corporeal and mental frame originally firm, powerful, and rugged, Johnson made his way erect and unyielding, throuch the obstacles and discouragements of penury, more laudable in the assertion of independence than censurable for the pride of superior talents. But when arrived at the pinnacle of reputation, the lavish admiration and
submissive deference with which he was treated nourished his self-consequence and positiveness to such a degree, that he became offensively dictatorial and impatient of contradiction. In conversation, he assumed a superiority which silenced all fair discussion ; and when he condescended to argue, it was only for a victory made as humiliating as possible to his opponent. This disposition prevented him from making any progress in subduing that bigotry and intolerance of opinion with which he set out in life, and which in several respects adhered to him with more force than to any of his literary contemporaries. His arrogant rudeness often carried him not only beyond the bounds of politeness, but of humanity. Yet he had a fund of kindness and benevolence in his nature, which was continually displaying itself in acts of substantial generosity; and he was capa. ble of a warmth of affection which did honour to his feelings. No man was more superior to artifice or disguise; if he was an enemy, he was an open one; and where he professed friendship, his sincerity might be relied upon. Though a rigid moralist in his writings, he was susficiently indulgent to the failings of his acquaintance : indeed, his familiarities were sometimes formed with too little discrimination. Society of some kind was too necessary to his existence to admit of nice selection. He was sensual in his habits of living, but could occasionally exercise great self-denial. 'His extreme indolence and dilatoriness would have precluded him from any great exertion, had he not been capable of bringing all his powers to immediate action upon a call, and of pouring forth his collected stores with equal copiousness and accuracy. But he required a strong stimulus to set him in motion, and his great works were the product of necessitous circumstances.
As a writer, he was more remarkable for the manner in which he pre sented his thoughts than for the thoughts themselves. His style ha formed a kind of era in English composition, having been the pattern o imitation to most of his contemporaries who have aimed at fine writing It is distinguished by a preference of words of Latin etymology, by th frequent use of abstract terms, and by an ordonnance of clauses calculate to produce a sonorous rotundity of period. Johnson delivers mor maxims and dictatorial sentences with wonderful force, and lays dov di finitions with singular precision ; he gives a keen point to sarcas and adds pomp to magnificent imagery. But he is utterly adverse to t easy and familiar, and occasionally falls into ridicule by loading pe matter with cumbrous ornament, and uttering trivial sentiments w
oracular dignity. Yet, as he well understood the true signification of words, and aimed rather at perfection than innovation, he may justly be reckoned a real improver of the English language, which he left more rich, accurate, and majestic, than he found it.
His works were published collectively, with a copious Life of the author, in eleven volumes octavo, by sir John Hawkins, 1787.
A new edition, in twelve volumes, with a Life by Mr. Murphy, was given in 1792. Of the conversations and oral dictates of Johnson, which are almost equally curious displays of his mental powers, a most copious collection has been offered to the world in the very entertaining volumes of Mr. Boswell, who minuted down all his memorabilia with the reverential fidelity of a disciple. Mrs. Piozzi also, who, when the wife of Mr. Thrale, devoted much time and attention to her guest, has painted his domestic manners with a lively pencil.
TO THE BINDER.
Place the Portrait to face the Title of Vol. I. and the Statue to face
Page 12 of the Life.
is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life, to be rather
driven by the fear of evil, than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exo posed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.
Among these unhappy mortals is the writer of dictionaries; whom mankind have considered, not as the pupil, but the slave of science, the pioneer of literature, doomed only to remove rubbish and clear obstructions from the paths through which Learning and Genius press forward to conquest and glory, without bestowing a smile on the humble drudge that facilitates their progress. Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach, and even this negative recompense has been yet granted to very few.
I have, notwithstanding this discouragement, attempted a Dictionary of the Eng. lish language, which, while it was employed in the cultivation of every species of literature, has itself been hitherto negleeted; suffered to spread, under the direction of chance, into wild exuberance ; resigned to the tyi! ny of time and fashion; and exposed to the corruptions of ignorance, and caprices of innovation.
When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterationş were to be detected, without a settled test of purity ; and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of clası sical reputation or acknowledged authority.
Having therefore no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I reduced to method, establishing to myself, in the progress of the work, such rules as experience and analogy suggested to me ; experience, which practice and observation were continually increasing; and analogy, which, though in some words obscure, was evident in others.
In adjusting the ORTHOGRAPHY, which has been to this time unsettled and fortuitous, I found it necessary to distinguish those irregularities that are inherent in our tongue, and perhaps coeval with it, from others which the ignorance or negligence of later writers has produced. Every language has its anomalies, which, though inconvenient, and in themselves once unnecessary, must be tolerated among the imperfections of human things, and which require only to be registered, that they may not be increased, and ascertained, that they may not be confounded; but