1822 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Johnson

Tobias Oldschool, Gentleman, "Eminent Authors: Johnson" Literary Speculum 1 (March 1822) 314-15.



Or the numerous exalted characters, who have at various periods enlightened the world, none has deserved better of his country and of mankind than Samuel Johnson. Useful in every relation to the society which he adorned — amiable as a son and a husband, faithful as a friend, and zealous a citizen. To the endearing charities of domestic life, be added the exertions of a mind, the mighty labours of which astonished his contemporaries, and continue to astonish posterity. That he was eccentric is not denied. But in him the singularities of genius did not prevent the existence of those virtues which assimilate man to the Deity, and prove more convincingly than the most wonderful talents, that he was created in the image of his God. When, in perusing a well written book, we meet with some passage, which convinces us of error, removes prejudice, or communicates truth; which satisfies us, that to be good is to be happy; that the performance of our duty will ensure peace of mind, and that the pleasures of the vicious are deceptive; while we feel grateful for the intellectual sunshine thus afforded, — we long to become familiar with its immediate author, and cherish a hope that the man resembled the moralist, exemplifying by his life the precepts he inculcated. But it is frequently extremely difficult to ascertain the real character of the sage, whose wisdom is the object of our veneration, and to whose doctrines we desire to conform. Sometimes we can learn nothing of our favourite author, but that he lived and died, and sometimes we are distressed by the information that his actions contradicted his maxims. When, however, we open the works of Johnson, and behold, in those rich fields of instruction and delight, the gems of truth sparkling among the flowers of imagination, we feel the pleasing certainty, that what he taught he believed, and that what he recommended he practised. Had his inimitable productions been written by a libertine, they would have lost their greatest charm: we might still have called them beautiful, but we should have thought them unworthy of regard; since even their author by his conduct had pronounced their wisdom visionary. But as, in this instance at least, we can gather the fruit of much experience and observation, in full confidence, that while our guide praised virtue, he was himself virtuous, conviction succeeds the eloquence of truth; or, if we remain unimproved the fault is all our own. During the early part of his life, Johnson had to struggle with every species of difficulty: he felt the anguish of absolute want, and the bitterness of undeserved neglect; and to these severe trials were superadded the pangs of a diseased body, and the agonies of a morbidly sensitive mind. That a man so circumstanced should preserve his integrity unsullied, and his heart uncontracted by selfishness or misanthropy, would be extraordinary, but that be should, at the same time, project and perfect works, which, while they immortalize his own name, are the glory of his country, is indeed astonishing, and entitles him equally to our warmest esteem, and our most unqualified admiration.