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swelled into ten volumes, small volumes, it is true, and not closely printed. The first four appeared in 1779, the remaining six in 1781.
The Lives of the Poets are, on the whole, the best of Johnson's works. The narratives are as entertaining 5 as any novel. The remarks on life and on human nature are eminently shrewd and profound. The criticisms are often excellent, and, even when grossly and provokingly unjust, well deserve to be studied. For, however erroneous they may be, they are never 10 silly. They are the judgments of a mind trammelled by prejudice and deficient in sensibility, but vigorous and acute. They therefore generally contain a portion of valuable truth which deserves to be separated from the alloy; and, at the very worst, they mean 15 something, a praise to which much of what is called criticism in our time has no pretensions.
Savage's Life Johnson reprinted nearly as it had appeared in 1744. Whoever, after reading that life, will turn to the other lives will be struck by the dif- 20 ference of style. Since Johnson had been at ease in his circumstances he had written little and had talked much. When, therefore, he, after the lapse of years, resumed his pen, the mannerism which he had contracted while he was in the constant habit of elaborate 25
composition was less perceptible than formerly; and his diction frequently had a colloquial ease which it had formerly wanted. The improvement may be discerned by a skilful critic in the Journey to the Heb5 rides, and in the Lives of the Poets is so obvious that it cannot escape the notice of the most careless reader.
Among the Lives the best are perhaps those of Cowley, Dryden, and Pope. The very worst is, beyond
' all doubt, that of Gray.°
This great work at once became popular. There was, indeed, much just and much unjust censure: but even those who were loudest in blame were attracted by the book in spite of themselves. Malone com
puted the gains of the publishers at five or six 15 thousand pounds. But the writer was very poorly
remunerated. Intending at first to write very short prefaces, he had stipulated for only two hundred guineas. The booksellers, when they saw how far
his performance had surpassed his promise, added 20 only another hundred. Indeed, Johnson, though he
did not despise, or affect to despise money, and though his strong sense and long experience ought to have qualified him to protect his own interests, seems to
have been singularly unskilful and unlucky in his 25 literary bargains. He was generally reputed the first English writer of his time. Yet several writers of his time sold their copyrights for sums such as he never ventured to ask. To give a single instance, Robertsono received four thousand five hundred pounds for the History of Charles V. ; and it is no disrespect to the 5
; memory of Robertson to say that the History of Charles V. is both a less valuable and a less amusing book than the Lives of the Poets.
Johnson was now in his seventy-second year. The infirmities of age were coming fast upon him. That 10 inevitable event of which he never thought without horror was brought near to him; and his whole life was darkened by the shadow of death. He had often to pay the cruel price of longevity. Every year he lost what could never be replaced. The strange de- 15 pendents to whom he had given shelter, and to whom, in spite of their faults, he was strongly attached by habit, dropped off one by one; and, in the silence of his home, he regretted even the noise of their scolding matches. The kind and generous Thrale was no 20 more; and it would have been well if his wife had been laid beside him. But she survived to be the laughing-stock of those who had envied her, and to draw from the eyes of the old man who had loved her beyond anything in the world, tears far more bitter 23 than he would have shed over her grave. With some estimable, and many agreeable qualities, she was not made to be independent. The control of a mind more
steadfast than her own was necessary to her respecta5 bility. While she was restrained by her husband, a man of sense and firmness, indulgent to her taste in trifles, but always the undisputed master of his house, her worst offences had been impertinent jokes, white
lies, and short fits of pettishness ending in sunny 10 good humour. But he was gone; and she was left an
opulent widow of forty, with strong sensibility, volatile fancy, and slender judgment. She soon fell in love with a music-master from Brescia,' in whom nobody
but herself could discover anything to admire. Her 15 pride, and perhaps some better feelings, struggled
hard against this degrading passion. But the struggle irritated her nerves, soured her temper, and at length endangered her health. Conscious that her choice was
one which Johnson could not approve, she became 20 desirous to escape from his inspection. Her manner
towards him changed. She was sometimes cold and sometimes petulant. She did not conceal her joy when he left Streathain: she never pressed him to return;
and, if he came unbidden, she received him in a man25 ner which convinced him that he was no longer a welcome guest. He took the very intelligible hints which she gave. He read, for the last time, a chapter of the Greek Testament in the library which had been formed by himself. In a' solemn and tender prayer
he commended the house and its inmates to the Divine pro- 5 tection, and, with emotions which choked his voice and convulsed his powerful frame, left for ever that beloved home for the gloomy and desolate house behind Fleet Street, where the few and evil days which still remained to him were to run out. Here, in June, 1783, 10 he had a paralytic stroke, from which, however, he recovered, and which does not appear to have at all impaired his intellectual faculties. But other maladies came thick upon him. His asthma tormented him day and night. Dropsical symptoms made their 15 appearance. While sinking under a complication of diseases, he heard that the woman, whose friendship had been the chief happiness of sixteen years of his life, had married an Italian fiddler; that all London was crying shame upon her; and that the newspapers 20 and magazines were filled with allusions to the Ephesian matrono and the two pictureso in Hamlet. He vehemently said that he would try to forget her existence. He never uttered her name. Every memorial of her which met his eye he flung into the 25