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A more than Etna, in his coward breast,
No good man can deservé, no brave man bear."
It did not require Churchill's interference to produce a quarrel between Armstrong and Wilkes. Except on one subject, they could hardly be called congenial spirits. Wilkes was a wit, and nothing more; Armstrong a poet. Wilkes was at this time of his life a flaming patriot; Armstrong, while practising physic in the army, might almost be considered a government official. Wilkes was a bitter enemy
of the Scotch; Armstrong an enthusiastic lover of his country. Hence there arose, first of all, a coolness; then followed an estrangement; and in 1773 there took place an angry interview, the particulars of which were afterwards recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1792.
When the Peace of Paris, in 1763, was proclaimed, Armstrong returned on half-pay to London, and resumed his
practice. His indolence however, shyness, and literary celebrity united in keeping him down as a physician. Seldom—though sometimes, as in the case of the very amiable Delta-has a man been equally successful as a littérateur and as a votary of Hygeia. More frequently those who have worshipped Apollo alike as the god of poetry and of physic have shared the fate of Benjamin Bolus—have rhymed themselves into contempt, and been rejected in both their aspirations. The man whom Thomson has thus described in the “Castle of Indolence," could never have risen in the medical profession :
“With him was sometimes join’d, in silent walk
(Profoundly silent, for they never spoke),
And on himself his pensive fury wroke.
Ne ever utter'd word, save, when first shone
The glittering star of eve, * Thank Heaven! the day is done.'” In 1770 he published a collection of “Miscellanies,” in two volumes, including all his former productions except “The Economy of Love” and “A Day,” and with some additional pieces, such as the “Imitations of Spenser and Shakespeare,” “ The Universal Almanack,” and “The Forced Marriage,” a tragedy, which had been rejected by Garrick. The next year he printed “A Short Ramble through some parts of France and Italy, by Lancelot Temple, Esq.," a book reminding us of “Smollett's Travels," in its em bittered and bilious tone. In this journey he was accompanied by the celebrated painter Henry Fuseli, whose acquaintance he had made some years before, and whom, in one of his essays on “The Influence of Climate on Genius," he had thus panegyrised: “As to history (historical painting) itself, besides some promising specimens of it at home, perhaps even this barren age has produced a genius, not indeed of British growth, unpatronised, and at present almost unknown, who may live to' astonish, to terrify, and to delight all Europe.”
How or when Fuseli and Armstrong became first known to each other we cannot tell. They might have met in Germany, where Fuseli was for some years ere he came to England. His first visit to London was in 1762, in which year Armstrong was on the Continent. Or their acquaintance may have begun in England after the poet's return. At all events they became intimate, and seem to have been welded together by community of temper as well as of genius. Both were soured almost to savageness, and subject, besides, to sudden ebullitions of passion. Both were warm-hearted, and thoroughly honest men. Both conceived they had been injured by the world, and both entertained a lofty opinion of their own and of each other's powers. Hence, although Fuseli was thirty years ycanger than Armstrong, they paired admirably together ; and in the poet's company the painter produced and sent home to England two very characteristic works—his " Death of Cardinal Beaufort," and a scene from Macbeth. In power, Fuseli was decidedly superior to Armstrong, who, with a fine fancy and true poetic feeling, had no pretensions to the imaginative grasp, the originality, or the superb scholarship of the Swiss. He was the greatest genius probably that the mountains of Switzerland ever produced; and, although fantastic in many of his conceptions, he reached at times a grandeur and a force almost worthy of Michael Angelo; and in knowledge of the springs of the terrible—those hot, Hecla-like fountains of fear and trembling which communicate with hell-he stands almost alone. How magnificent, for example, his idea of representing the armed head which Macbeth sees rising from the abyss as a colossal likeness of the tyrant himself, and how striking the illustration he gives of the principle of this daring conception, when he says, “What more terrific than for a man returning to his chamber, and finding hin.self sitting in his chair!” And who can read some of his lectures on the Fine Arts, and especially his word-picture of the Samsons of Rubens, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio, without being convinced that the writer possessed a kindred spirit and family likeness to those great pictorial masters ?
Fuseli is said to have discerned, under Armstrong's rough exterior, genuine benevolence of disposition. Of this, however, there was little display in the poet's next and last work, a quarto volume of Medical Essays, in which, besides quarrelling with all previous medical authorities, he complains in coarse and bitter terms of the neglect he had met with as a physician, and of the severe criticisms to which his works had been subjected. Such complaints, even when just, are always imprudent; they often do not even answer the poor purpose of relieving injured self-esteem; and are far more likely to produce disgust or contempt than sympathy or condolence. Armstrong forgot that he had commenced his poetical career by a direct insult to the taste and morality of the country; and that, though he had thus virtually proscribed himself, the public had accorded him generous laurels for his “ Art of Preserving Health.” Beattie accuses him of having formed, in his old age,
rooted aversion to the whole human race kind of emasculated misanthropy as displeasing to conceive of
as to experience. The period of his discontents, however, was fast coming to a close. While getting into a carriage, which brought him to town from a visit to Lincolnshire, he sustained a contusion of the thigh, of which he fevered, and died on the 7th of September 1779. He expired in his house in Russell Street, Covent Garden; and his friends, who thought that one so miserable must be poor, found to their surprise that he had saved, from his half-pay and very moderate income, more than £3000.
Armstrong, notwithstanding his infirmities of temper, had not a few friends. Foremost amongst them was James Thomson, the poet, whose nature was far more genial, and temperament more happy, but who resembled Armstrong in indolence, and in his blended love of literature and luxury. Dr Theobald, Grainger (author of the “Sugar-Cane,” and of the beautiful ode to “Solitude," so much admired by Dr Johnson), Sir John Pringle, and other eminent men of the day, admired and loved him. His great defect, as Thomson says in a letter, was “spleen,” but it was a spleen of a “humane and gentle kind, like that of Jacques in the forest of Arden. This spleen was nourished by his habitual shyness, and in his later days, long after Thomson's death, seems to have darkened in its hue, and become a “sweltered venom," instead of a humorous melancholy.
We promised a few words on the question started in one of Armstrong's essays about the supposed necessary connexion between morality and genius or genuine taste. Now we think both facts and principles bear us out in asserting that there is no necessary connexion between the two, and that they have been often severed. The beauties of Art and the beauties of Holiness are different things. The perception of intellectual loveliness, and that of spiritual excellence, is performed by different faculties. There is no reason, indeed, why both these faculties should not be found operating harnioniously in the same mind, as we find in the case of Milton and many others. But nothing is more common than to see, on the one hand, a man of lofty genius, with a fine taste, and with little perception of moral beauty; and, on the other hand, a man of high genius and spirituality of mind, greatly deficient in what is called taste. Take Goethe as an illustration of the first, and take Burke as a specimen of the second. Goethe, the roué, has a more exquisite artistic instinct and fewer faults of taste than Burke, the regular domestic man, the pattern of every private virtue. No one will name Wordsworth with Shelley, as moral characters, and yet Shelley's superior culture renders his better and later writings more perfect in style, and more classical in costume and spirit, than almost anything in Wordsworth. What Latin author more faultless than Horace ? yet his life was that of an agreeable voluptuary. And among the Greeks, we find a running stream of separation between morality and taste, and a combination in many of their authors, which we may well call monstrous, of the lowest vices and the loftiest imaginative and artistic powers. On the other hand, many of the best of our Christian writers and men, such as Donne, Herbert, Thomas Burnet, Jeremy Taylor, Quarles, Warburton, Johnson, Chalmers, Irving, have all abounded more or less in splendida vitia, and cannot be considered as classical models. As to the cases produced by Armstrong of Nero's and Caligula's bad poetry, this seems to have been the result of their mental weakness, rather than of depraved taste; unable to reach the good, they were driven by necessity to the extravagant. Napoleon Bonaparte, as heartless a tyrant at bottom as either Nero or Caligula, being a man of much greater powers, became one of the best speakers, and writers too, in the world. We cannot, in short, see how a sense of artistic propriety, of order and moderation, which is taste, or a burning feeling of beauty and sublimity, along with a power of reproducing these elements, in other forms, which is genius, is necessarily or naturally connected with the perception of the “Ought,” of the laws of duty, of the being and authority of God, or of that disinterested benevolence and self-sacrificing humility which are the essence of Christianity. That under a better era, taste, genius, and the religious feeling shall be thoroughly reconciled, we doubt not, but hitherto their complete conjunction has been a rare, an exceptional, and almost an accidental event.