Page images

superstructure of the theory which they are 'tion—of commendation much colder than what rearing escapes, their vigilance. Yet they are he has bestowed on the Creation of that porblind to the obvious unsoundness of the found-tentous bore, Sir Richard Blackmore. Gray


It is the same with some eminent law- was, in his dialect, a barren rascal. Churchill

yers. Their legal arguments are intellectual was a blockhead. The contempt which he felt

prodigies, abounding with the happiest analogies and the most refined distinctions. The

[ocr errors]

for the trash of Macpherson was indeed just; but it was, we suspect, just by chance. He

principles of their arbitrary science being once despised the Fingal for the very reason which

admitted, the statute-book and the reports be-,

ing once assumed as the foundations of jurisprudence, these men must be allowed to be perfect masters of logic. But if a question arises as to the postulates on which their whole system rests, if they are called upon to vindi

cate the fundamental maxims of that system

which they have passed their lives in studying, these very men often talk the language of savages or of children. Those who have listened to a man of this class in his own court, and who have witnessed the skill with which he analyzes and digests a vast mass of evidence, or reconciles a crowd of precedents which at first sight seem contradictory, scarcely know him again when, a few hours later, they hear him speaking on the other side of Westminster Hall in his capacity of legislator. They can scarcely believe that the paltry quirks which are faintly heard through a storm of coughing, and which cannot impose on the plainest country gentleman, can proceed from the same sharp and vigorous intellect which had excited their admiration under the same roof and on the same day. Johnson decided literary questions like a lawyer, not like a legislator. He never examined foundations where a point was already ruled. His whole code of criticism rested on pure assumption, for which he sometimes gave a precedent or an authority, but rarely troubled himself to give a reason drawn from the nature of things. He took it for granted that the kind of poetry which slourished in his own time, which he had been accustomed to hear raised from his childhood, and which he had imself written with success, was the best kind of poetry. In his biographical work he has repeatedly laid it down as an undeniable proposition that, during the latter part of the seventeenth century and the earlier part of the eighteenth, English poetry had been in a constant rogress of improvement. Waller, Denham, ryden, and Pope had been, according to him, the great reformers. He judged of all works of the imagination by the standard established among his own contemporaries. Though he allowed Homer to have been a greater man than Virgil, he seems to have thought the AEneid a greater poem than the Iliad. Indeed he well might have thought so, for he preferred Pope's Iliad to Homer's. He pronounced that, after Hoole's translation of Tasso, Fairfax's would hardly be reprinted. He could see no merit in our fine old English ballads, and always spoke with the most provoking contempt of Percy's fondness for them. Of all the great original works which appeared during his time Richardson's novels alone excited his admiration. He could see little or no merit in Tom Jones, in Gulliver's Travels, or in Tristram Shandy. To Thomson's Castle of Indolence

led many men of genius to admire it. He despised it, not because it was essentially commonplace, but because it had a superficial air of originality. He was undoubtedly an excellent judge of compositions fashioned on his own principles But when a deeper philosophy was required— when he undertook to pronounce judgment on the works of those great minds which “yield homage only to eternal laws”—his failure was ignominious. He criticised Pope's Epitaphs excellently. But his observations on Shakspeare's plays and Milton's poems seem to us as wretched as if they had been written by Rymer himself, whom we take to have been the worst critic that ever lived. Some of Johnson's whims on literary subjects can be compared only to that strange, nervous feeling which made him uneasy if he had not touched every post between the Mitre tavern and his own lodgings. His preference of Latin epitaphs to English epitaphs is an instance. An English epitaph, he said, would disgrace Smollett. He declared that he would not pollute the walls of Westminster Abbey with an English epitaph on Goldsmith. What reason there can be for celebrating a British writer in Latin which there was not for covering the Roman arches of triumph with Greek inscriptions, or for commemorating the deed of the heroes of Thermopylae in Egyptian hieroglyphics, we are utterly unable to imagine. On men and manners—at least, on the men and manners of a particular place and a particular age—Johnson had certainly looked with a most observant and discriminating eye. His remarks on the education of children, on marriage, on the economy of families, on the rules of society, are always striking, and generally sound. In his writings, indeed, the knowledge of life which he possessed in an eminent degree is very imperfectly exhibited. Like those unfortunate chiefs of the middle ages, who were suffocated by their own chainmail and cloth of gold, his maxims perish under that load of words, which was designed for their ornament and their defence. But it is clear, from the remains of his conversation, that he had more of that homely wisdom which nothing but experience and observation can give, that any writer since the time of Swift. If he had been content to write as he talked, he might have left books on the practical art of living superior to the Directions to Servants. Yet even his remarks on society, like his re marks on literature, indicate a mind at least as remarkable for narrowness as for strength. He was no master of the great science of human nature. He had studied, not the genus man, but the species Londoner. Nobody was ever so thoroughly conversant with all the forms of life, and all the shades of moral and He pronounced

he vouchsafed only a line of cold commenda- intellectual character, which were to be seen from Islington to the Thames, and from Hyde- over him in conversation.

Park corner to Mile-end green. But his phi- them, also, to be an indelicate people, because losophy stopped at the first turnpike gate. a French footman touched the sugar with his Of the rural life of England he knew nothing; fingers. That ingenious and amusing travel

and he took it for granted that everybody who lived in the country was either stupid or mise

ler, M. Simond, has defended his countrymen very successfully against Johnson's accusa

rable. “Country gentlemen.” said he, “must tion, and has pointed out some English pracbe unhappy; for they have not enough to keep tices, which, to an impartial spectator, would

their lives in motion.” As if all those peculiar habits and associations, which made Fleet Street and Charing Cross the finest views in the world to himself, had been essential parts of human nature. Of remote countries and past times he talked with wild and ignorant resumption. “The Athenians of the age of emosthenes,” he said to Mrs. Thrale, “were a people of brutes, a barbarous people.” In conversation with Sir Adam Ferguson he used similar language. “The boasted Athenians,” he said, “were barbarians. The imass of every people must be barbarous, where there is no #. The fact was this: he saw that a ondoner who could not read was a very stupid and brutal fellow: he saw that great refinement of taste and activity of intellect were rarely found in a Londoner who had not read much ; and because it was by means of books that people acquired almost all their knowledge in the society with which he was acquainted, he concluded, in defiance of the strongest and clearest evidence, that the human mind can be cultivated by means of books alone. An Athenian citizen might possess very few volumes; and even the largest library to which he had access might be much less valuable than Johnson's bookcase in Bolt Court. But the Athenian might pass every morning in conversation with Socrates, and might hear Pericles speak four or five times every month. He saw the plays of Sophocles and Aristophanes; he walked amidst the friezes of Phidias and the paintings of Zeuxis ; he knew by heart the choruses of AEschylus; he heard the rhapsodist at the corner of the street reciting the Shield of Achilles, or the Death of Argus; he was a legislator conversant with high questions of alliance, revenue, and war; he was a soldier, trained under a liberal and generous discipline; he was a judge, compelled every day to weigh the effect of opposite arguments. These things were in themselves an education; an education eminently fitted, not indeed, to form exact or profound thinkers, but to give quickness to the perceptions, delicacy to the taste, fluency to the expression, and politeness to the manners. But this Johnson never considered. An Athenian who did not improve his mind by reading, was, in his opinion, much such a person as a Cockney who made his mark; much such a person as black Frank before he went to school, and far inferior to a parish-clerk or a printer's devil. His friends have allowed that he carried to a ridiculous extreme his unjust contempt for foreigners. He pronounced the French to be a very silly people—much behind us—stupid, ignorant creatures. And this judgment he formed after having been at Paris about a month, during which he would not talk French, tor fear of giving the natives an advantage

seem at least as inconsistent with physical cleanliness and social decorum as those which Johnson so bitterly reprehended. To the sage, as Boswell loves to call him, it never occurred to doubt that there must be something eternally and immutably good in the usages to which he had been accustomed. In fact, Johnson's remarks on society beyond the bills of mortality, are generally of much the same kind with those of honest Tom Dawson, the English footman of Dr. Moore's Zeluco. “Suppose the King of France has no sons, but only a daughter, then, when the king dies, this here daughter, according to that there law, cannot be made queen, but the next near relative, provided he is a man, is made king, and not the last king's daughter, which, to be sure, is very unjust. The French footguards are dressed in blue, and all the marching regiments in white, which has a very foolish appearance for soldiers; and as for blue regimentals, it is only fit for the blue horse or the artillery.” Johnson's visit to the Hebrides introduced him to a state of society completely new to him: and a salutary suspicion of his own deficiencies seems on that occasion to have crossed his mind for the first time. He confessed, in the last paragraph of his Journey, that his thoughts on national manners were the thoughts of one who had seen but little ; of one who had passed his time almost wholly in cities. This feeling, however, soon passed away. It is remarkable, that to the last he entertained a fixed contempt for all those modes of life and those studies, which lead to emancipate the mind from the prejudices of a particular age or a particular nation. Of foreign travel and of history he spoke with the fierce and boisterous contempt of ignorance. “What does a man learn by travelling 1 Is Beauclerk the better for travelling! What did Lord Charlemont learn in his travels, except that there was a snake in one of the pyramids of Egypt?” History was, in his opinion, to use the fine expression of Lord Plunkett, an old almanac : historians could, as he conceived, claim no higher dignity than that of almanacmakers; and his favourite historians were those who, like Lord Hailes, aspired to no higher dignity. He always spoke with contempt of Robertson. Hume he would not even read. He affronted one of his friends for talk ing to him about Catiline's conspiracy, and declared that he never desired to hear of the Punic War again as long as he lived. Assuredly one fact, which does not directly affect our own interests, considered in tself, is no better worth knowing than another fact. The fact that there is a snake in a pyramid, or the fact that Hannibal crossed the Alps by the Great St. Bernard, are in themselves as unprofitable to us as the fact that there is a green blind in a particular house in Threadneedle street, or the fact that a Mr. Smith comes into the city every morning on the top of one of the Blackwall stages. But it is certain that those who will not crack the shell of history will never get at the kernel. Johnson, with hasty arrogance, pronounced the kernel worthless, because he saw no value in the shell. The real use of travelling to distant countries, and of studying the annals of past times, is to preserve men from the contraction of mind which those can hardly escape, whose whole communion is with one generation and one neighbourhood, who arrive at conclusions by means of an induction not sufficiently copious, and who therefore constantly confound exceptions with rules, and accidents with essential properties. In short, the real use of travelling, and of studying history, is to keep men from being what Tom Dawson was in fiction, and Samuel Johnson in reality. Johnson, as Mr. Burke most justly observed, appears far greater in Boswell's books than in his own. His conversation appears to have been quite equal to his writings in matter, and far superior to them in manner. When he talked, he clothed his wit and his sense in forcible and natural expressions. As soon as he took his pen in his hand to write for the public, his style became systematically vicious. All his books are written in a learned language—in a language which nobody hears from his mother or his nurse—in a language in which nobody ever quarrels, or drives bargains, or makes love—in a language in which nobody ever thinks. It is clear, that Johnson himself did not think in the dialect in which he wrote. The expressions which came first to his tongue were simple, energetic, and picturesque. When he wrote for publication, he did his sentences out of English into Johnsonese. His letters from the Hebrides to Mrs. Thrale are the original of that work of which the Journey to the Hebrides is the translation; and it is amusing to compare the two versions. “When we were taken up stairs,” says he in one of his letters, “a dirty fellow bounced out of the bed on which one of us was to lie.” This incident is recorded in the Journey as follows: “Out of one of the beds on which we were to repose, started up, at our entrance, a inan black as a Cyclops from the forge.” Sometimes Johnson translated aloud. “The Rehearsal,” he said, very unjustly, “has not wit enough to keep it sweet;” then, after a pause, “it has not vitality enough to preserve it from putrefaction.” Mannerism is pardonable, and is sometimes even agreeable, when the manner, though vicious, is natural. Few readers, for example, would be willing to part with the mannerism of Milton or of Burke. But a mannerism which does not sit easy on the mannerist, which has been adopted on principle, and which can be sustained only by constant effort, is always offensive. And such is the mannerism of Johnson. The characteristic faults of his style are so familiar to all our readers, and have been so often burlesqued, that it is almost superfluous to point them out. It is well known that he made less use than any other eminent writer

of those strong plain words, Anglo-Saxon or Norman French, of which the roots lie in the in most depths of our language; and that he felt a vicious partiality for terms which, long after our own speech had been fixed, were borrowed from the Greek and Latin, and which, therefore, even when lawfully naturalized, must be considered as born aliens, not entitled to rank with the king's English. His constant practice of padding out a sentence with useless epithets, till it became as stiff as the bust of an exquisite; his antithetical forms of expression, constantly employed even where there is no opposition in the ideas expressed; his big words wasted on little things; his harsh inversions, so widely different from those graceful and easy inversions which give variety, spirit, and sweetness to the expression of our great old writers—all these peculiarities have been imitated by his admirers, and parodied by his assailants, till the public has become sick of the subject. Goldsmith said to him, very wittily and very justly, “If you were to write a fable about little fishes, doctor, you would make the little fishes talk like whales.” No man surely ever had so little talent for personation as Johnson. Whether he wrote in the character of a disappointed legacy-hunter or an empty town fop, of a crazy virtuoso or a flippant coquette, he wrote in the same pompous and unbending style. His speech, like Sir Piercy Shafton's Euphuistic eloquence, bewrayed him under every disguise. Euphelia and Rhodoclia talk as finely as Imlac the poet, or Seged, Emperor of Ethiopia. The gay Cornelia describes her reception at the country-house of her relations in such terms as these: “I was surprised, after the civilities of my first reception, to find, instead of the leisure and tranquillity which a rural life always promises, and, if well conducted, might always afford, a onfused wildness of care, and a tumultuous hurry of diligence, by which every face was clouded, and every motion agitated.” The gentle Tranquilla informs us, that she “had not passed the earlier part of life without the flattery of courtship and the joys of triumph; but had danced the round of gayety amidst the murmurs of envy and the gratulations of applause; had been attended from pleasure to pleasure by the great, the sprightly, and the vain; and had seen her regard solicited by the obsequiousness of gallantry, the gayety of wit, and the timidity of love.” Surely Sir John Falstaff himself did not wear his petticoats with a worse grace. The reader may well cry out with honest Sir Hugh Evans, “I like not when a 'oman has a great peard: I spy a great peard under her muffler.” We had something more to say. But our article is already too long; and we must close it. We would fain part in good humour from the hero, from the biographer, and even from the editor, who, ill as he has performed his task, has at least this claim to our gratitude, that he has induced us to read Boswell’s book again. As we close it, the club-room is before us, and the table on which stands the omelet for Nugent and the lemons for Johnson. There are assembled those heads which live forever

on the canvass of Reynolds. There are the What a singular destiny has been that of spectacles of Burke and the tall thin form of this remarkable man! To be regarded in his Langton; the courtly sneer of Beauclerk and own age as a classic, and in ours as a compathe beaming smile of Garrick; Gibbon tapping nion—to receive from his contemporaries that his snuff-box, and Sir Joshua with his trumpet full homage which men of genius have in in his ear. In the foreground is that strange general received only from posterity—to be figure which is as familiar to us as the figures more intimately known to posterity than other of those among whom we have been brought men are known to their contemporaries! That up—the gigantic body, the huge massy face, kind of fame which is commonly the most seamed with the scars of disease; the brown transient, is, in his case, the most durable. coat, the black worsted stockings, the gray | The reputation of those writings, which he wig with a scorched foretop; the dirty hands, probably expected to be immortal, is every day the nails bitten and pared to the quick. We fading; while those peculiarities of manner, see the eyes and mouth moving with convul- and that careless table-talk, the memory of sive twitches; we see the heavy form rolling; which, he probably thought, would die with we hear it puffing; and then comes the “Why, him, are likely to be remembered as long as the sir!” and the “What then, sir!” and the “No, English language is spoken in any quarter of sir!” and the “You dont see your way through the globe.

the question, sir!”


[EDINBURGH REview, 1831.]

Wr have read this book with great pleasure, moirs must be considered as Memoirs of the though not exactly with that kind of pleasure history of England; and, as such, they well which we had expected. We had hoped that deserve to be attentively perused. They conLord Nugent would have been able to collect, tain some curious facts, which, to us at least, from family papers and local traditions, much are new, much spirited narrative, many judinew and interesting information respecting the cious remarks, and much eloquent declamalife and character of the renowned leader of |tion. the Long Parliament, the first of those great We are not sure that even the want of inEnglish commoners, whose plain addition of formation respecting the private character of Mister, has, to our ears, a more majestic sound Hampden is not in itself a circumstance as than the proudest of the feudal titles. In this strikingly characteristic as any which the hope we have been disappointed; but assuredly most minute chronicler—O'Meara, Las Cases, not from any want of zeal or diligence on the Mrs. Thrale, or Boswell himself—ever recordpart of the noble biographer. Even at Hamp-led concerning their heroes. The celebrated den, there are, it seems, no important papers | Puritan leader is an almost solitary instance relative to the most illustrious proprietor of of a great man who neither sought nor shunned that ancient domain. The most valuable me- greatness; who found glory only because glory morials of him which still exist, belong to the lay in the plain path of duty. During more family of his friend, Sir John Eliot. Lord than forty years, he was known to his country Eliot has furnished the portrait which is en- neighbours as a gentleman of cultivated mind, graved for this work, together with some of high principles, of polished address, happy very interesting letters. The portrait is un- in his family, and active in the discharge of doubtedly an original, and probably the only local duties; to political men, as an honest, original now in existence. The intellectual industrious, and sensible member of Parliaforehead, the mild penetration of the eye, and ment, not eager to display his talents, stanch the inflexible resolution expressed by the lines to his party, and attentive to the interests of of the mouth, sufficiently guaranty the like- his constituents. A great and terrible crisis ness. We shall probably make some extracts came. A direct attack was made, by an arbifrom the letters. They contain almost all the trary government, on a sacred right of Engnew information that Lord Nugent has been lishmen, on a right which was the chief secuable to procure, respecting the private pursuits rity for all their other rights. . The nation of the great man whose memory he worships looked round for a defender. Calmly and unwith an enthusiastic, but not an extravagant, ostentatiously the plain Buckinghamshire Esveneration. quire placed himself at the head of his coun

The public life of Hampden is surrounded trymen, and right before the face, and across by no obscurity. His history, more particu- the path of tyranny. The times grew darker larly from the beginning of the year 1640 to his and more troubled. Public service, perilous, death, is the history of England. These me- arduous, delicate, was required; and to every service, the intellect and the courage of this

* Some Memorials of John Hampden, his Party, and his wonderful man were found fully equal. He To..." By Loop No. 3 of so." London."issi. became a debater of the first order, a most

dexterous manager of the House of Commons, a negotiator, a soldier. He governed a fierce and turbulent assembly, abounding in able men, as easily as he had governed his family. He showed himself as competent to direct a campaign as to conduct the business of the petty sessions. We can scarcely express the admiration which we feel for a mind so great, and, at the same time, so healthful and so well proportioned; so willingly contracting itself to the humblest duties; so easily expanding itself to the highest; so contented in repose; so powerful in action. Almost every part of this virtuous and blameless life, which is not hidden from us in modest privacy, is a precious and splendid portion of our national history. Had the private conduct of Hampden afforded the slightest pretence for censure, he would have been assailed by the same blind malevolence which, in defiance of the clearest proofs, still continues to call Sir John Eliot an assassin. Had there been even any weak part in the character of Hampden, had his manners been in any respect open to ridicule, we may be sure that no mercy would have been shown to him by the writers of Charles's faction. Those writers have carefully preserved every little circumstance which could tend to make their opponents cdious or contemptible. They have told us that Pym broke down in a speech, that Ireton had his nose pulled by Hollis, that the Earl of Northumberland cudgelled Henry Martin, that St. John's manners were sullen, that Vane had an ugly face, that Cromwell had a red nose. They have made themselves merry with the canting phrases of injudicious zealots. But neither the artsul Clarendon nor the scurrilous Denham could venture to throw the slightest imputation on the morals or the manners of Hampden. What was the opinion entertained respecting him by the best men of his time, we learn from Baxter. That eminent person—eminent not only for his piety and his fervid devotional eloquence, but for his moderation, his knowledge of political affairs, and his skill in judging of characters—declared in the Saint's Rest, that one of the pleasures which he hoped to enjoy in Heaven was the society of Hampden. In the editions printed after the restoration, the name of Hampden was omitted. “But I must tell the reader,” says Baxter, “that I did blot it out, not as changing my opinion of the person. . . . . Mr. John Hampden was one that friends and enemies acknowledged to be most eminent for prudence, piety, and peaceable counsels, having the most universal praise of any gentleman that I remember of that age. I remember a moderate, prudent, aged gentleman, far from him, but acquainted with him, whom I have heard saying, that if he might choose what person he would be then in the world, he would be John Hampden.” We cannot but regret that we have not fuller memorials of a man, who, after passing through the most severe temptations by which human virtue can be tried, after acting a most conspicuous part in a revolution and a civil war, could yet deserve such praise as this from such authority. Yet the want of memorials is surely the best proof

that hatred itself could find no blemish on his memory. The story of his early life is soon told. He was the head of a family which had been settled in Buckinghamshire before the Conquest. Part of the estate which he inherited had been bestowed by Edward the Confessor on Baldwyn de Hampden, whose name seems to indicate that he was one of the Norman favourites of the last Saxon king. During the contest between the houses of York and Lancaster, the Hampdens adhered to the party of the Red Rose, and were consequently persecuted by Edward the Fourth, and favoured by Henry the Seventh. Under the Tudors, the family was great and flourishing. Griffith Hampden, high sheriff of Buckinghamshire, entertained Elizabeth with great magnificence at his seat. His son, William Hampden, sate in the Parliament which that queen summoned in the year 1593. William married Elizabeth Cromwell, aunt of the celebrated man who afterwards governed the British islands with more than regal power; and from this marriage sprang John Hampden. He was born in 1594. In 1597 his father died, and left him heir to a very large estate. After passing some years at the grammar school of Thame, young Hampden was sent, at fifteen, to Magdalen College, in the University of Oxford. At nineteen, he was admitted a student of the Inner Temple, where he made himself master of the .."; of the English law. In 1619 he married Elizabeth Symeon, a lady to whem he appears to have been fondly attached. In the following year he was returned to Parliament by a borough which has in our time obtained a miserable celebrity, the borough of Grampound. Of his private life during his early years, little is known beyond what Clarendon has told us. “In his entrance into the world,” says that great historian, “he indulged himself in all the license in sports, and exercises, and company, which were used by men of the most jolly conversation.” A remarkable change, however, passed in his character. “On a sudden,” says Clarendon, “from a life of great pleasure and license, he retired to extraordinary sobriety and strictness, to a more reserved and melancholy society.” It is probable that this change took place when Hampden was about twenty-five years old. At that age he was united to a woman whom he loved and esteemed. At that age he entered into political life. A mind so happily constituted as his, would naturally, under such circumstances, relinquish the pleasures of dissipation for domestic enjoyments and public duties. His enemies have allowed that he was a man in whom virtue showed itself in its mildest and least austere form. With the morals of a Puritan, he had the manners of an accomplished courtier. Even after the change in his habits, “he preserved,” says Clarendon, “his own natural cheerfulness and vivacity, and, above all, a flowing courtesy to all men.” These qualities distinguished hin from most of the members of his sect and his party; and, in the great crisis in which he afterwards took

« PreviousContinue »