Графични страници
PDF файл

the cool of leisure, in the stillness of solitude, and surely no man sits down by design to depreciate his own character,

Friendship has no tendency to secure veracity; for by whom can a man so much wish to be thought better than he is, as by him whose kindness he desires to gain or keep? Even in writing to the world there is less constraint; the author is not confronted with his reader, and takes his chance of approbation among the different dispositions of mankind; but a letter is addressed to a single mind, of which the prejudices and partialities are known, and must therefore please, if not by favouring them, by forbearing to oppose them. To charge those favourable representations which men give of their own minds, with

the guilt of hypocritical falsehood, would show more severity than knowledge. The writer commonly believes himself. Almost every man's thoughts while they are general are right, and most hearts are pure while temptation is away. It is easy to awaken generous sentiments in privacy ; to despise death when there is no danger; to glow with benevolence when there is nothing to be given. While such ideas are formed they are felt, and self-love does not suspect the gleam of virtue to be the meteor of fancy.

“If the letters of Pope are considered merely as compositions, they seem to be premeditated and artificial. It is one thing to write, because there is something which the mind wishes to discharge; and another to solicit the imagination, be cause ceremony or vanity requires something to be written. Pope confesses his early letters to have been vitiated with affectation and ambition. To know whether he disentangles himself from these perverters of epistolary integrity, his book and his life must be set in comparison, one of his favourite topics is contempt of his own poetry. For this, if he had been real, he would deserve no commendation; and in this he was certainly not sincere, for his high value of himself was suficiently observed ; and of what could he be proud but of his poetry! He writes, he says, when he has just nothing else to do, yet Swift complains that he was never at leisure for conversation, because he had always some poetical scheme in his head.' It was punctually required that his writing-box should be set upon his bed before he rose; and Lord Oxford's

domestic related that, in the dreadful winter of 40, she was called from her bed by him four times in one night, to supply him with paper lest he should lose a thought.

* He pretends insensibility to censure and criticism, though it was observed by all who knew him that every pamphlet disturbed his quiet, and that his extreme irritability laid him open to perpetual vexation ; but he wished to despise his critics, and therefore hoped he did despise them. As he happened to live in two reigns when the court paid little attention to poetry, he nursed in his mind a foolish disesteem of kings, and proclaims that he never sees courts.' Yet a little regard shown him by the Prince of Wales melted his obduracy; and he had not much to say when he was asked by his Royal Highness, How he could love a prince while he disliked kings.'

Johnson's best poetry is the versified expression of the tone of sentiment with which we are already familiar. The Vanity of Human Wishes is, perhaps, the finest poem written since Pope's time and in Pope's manner, with the exception of Goldsmith's still finer performances. Johnson, it need hardly be said, has not Goldsmith's exquisite fineness of touch and delicacy of sentiment. He is often ponderous and verbose, and one feels that the mode of expression is not that which is most congenial ; and yet the vigour of thought makes itself felt through rather clumsy modes of utterance. Here is one of the best passages, in which he illustrates the vanity of military glory :

On what foundation stands the warrior's pride,
How jast his hopes let Swedish Charles decide;
A frame of adamant, a soul of fire,
No dangers fright him and no labours tire ;
O'er love, o'er fear, extends his wide domain,
Unconquer'd lord of pleasure and of pain ;

No joys to him pacific sceptres yield,
War sounds the trump, he rushes to the field;
Behold surrounding kings their powers combine,
And one capitulate, and one resign:
Peace courts his hand, but spreads her charms in vain.
“Think nothing gain'd,' he cries, " till nought remain ;
On Moscow's walls till Gothic standards ily,
And all be mine beneath the polar sky."
The march begins in military state,
And nations on his eye suspended wait ;
Stern Famine guards the solitary coast,
And Winter barricades the realms of Frost.
He comes, nor want nor cold his course delay-
Hide, blushing glory, hide Pultowa's day!
The vanquish d hero leaves his broken bands,
And shows his miseries in distant lands;
Condemn'd a needy supplicant to wait,
While ladies interpose and slaves debate,-
But did not Chance at length her error mend ?
Did no subverted empire mark his end !
Did rival monarchs give the fatal wound !
Or hostile millions press bim to the ground !
His fall was destined to a barren strand,
A petty fortress and a dubious hand;
He left the name at which the world grew pale,
To point a moral and adorn a tale.

The concluding passage may also fitly conclude this survey of Johnson's writings. The sentiment is less gloomy than is usual, but it gives the answer which he would have given in his calmer moods to the perplexed riddle of life ; and, in some form or other, it is, perhaps, the best or the only answer that can be given :

Where, then, shall Hope and Fear their objects ind ?
Must dull suspense corrupt the stagnant mind ?
Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate :
Must no dislike alarm, no wishes

rise ? No cries invoke the mercies of the skies ? Inquirer, cease ; petitions yet remain Which Heaven may hear, nor deem religion vain ; Still raise for good the supplicating voice, But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice Safe in His power whose eyes discern afar The secret ambush of a specious prayer. Implore His aid, in His decisions rest, Secure whate'er' He gives-He gives the best. Yet when the scene of sacred presence fires, And strong devotion to the skies aspires, Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind, Obedient passions and a will resign'd; For Love, which scarce collective men can fill; For Patience, sovereign o'er transmuted ill ; For Faith, that panting for a happier seat, Counts Death kind nature's signal of retreat. These goods for man the laws of Heaven ordain, These goods He grants who grants the power to gala, With these Celestial Wisdom calms the mind, And makes the happiness she does not find.








" Who

“INNOCENTLY to amuse the imagination in this dream of life is wisdom.” So wrote Oliver Goldsmith ; and surely among those who have earned the world's gratitude by this ministration he must be accorded a conspicuous place. If, in these delightful writings of his, he mostly avoids the darker problems of existence—if the mystery of the tragic and apparently unmerited and unrequited suffering in the world is rarely touched upon-we can pardon the omission for the sake of the gentle optimism that would rather look on the kindly side of life. You come hot and tired from the day's battle, and this sweet minstrel sings to you,” says Mr. Thackeray, could harm the kind vagrant harper? Whom did he ever hurt? He carries no weapon save the harp on which he plays to you; and with which he delights great and humble, young and old, the captains in the tents, or the soldiers round the fire, or the women and children in the villages, at whose porches he stops and sings his simple songs of love and beauty.” And it is to be suspected—it is to be hoped, at least--that the cheerfulness which shines like sunlight through Goldsmith's writings, did not altogether desert himself even in the most trying hours of his wayward and troubled career. He had, with all his sensitiveness, a fine happy-go-lucky disposition ; was ready for a frolic when he had a guinea, and, when he had none, could turn a sentence on the humorous side of starvation; and certainly never attributed to the injustice or neglect of society misfortunes the origin of which lay nearer home.

Of course, a very dark picture might be drawn of Goldsmith's life; and the sufferings that he undoubtedly endured have been made a whip with which to lash the ingratitude of a world not too quick to recognize the claims of genius. He has been put before us, without any brighter lights to the picture, as the most unfortunate of poor devils; the heart-broken usher; the hack ground down by

« ПредишнаНапред »