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circumstances in the progress of the narrative, might easily have been removed
revisal. But whatever defects occur in the tenor of the story, the admirable ease and grace of the narrative, as well as the pleasing truth with which the principal characters are designed, make the Vicar of Wakefield one of the most delicious morsels of fictitious composition on which the human mind was ever employed. The principal character, that of the simple Pastor himself, with all the worth and excellency which ought to distinguish the ambassador of God to man, and yet with just so much of pedantry and of literary vanity as serves to shew that he is made of mortal mould, and subject to human failings, is one of the best and most pleasing pictures ever designed. It is perhaps impossible to place frail humanity before us in an attitude of more simple dignity than the Vicar, in his character of pastor, of parent, and of husband. His excellent help-mate, with all her motherly cunning, and housewifely prudence, loving and respecting her husband, but counterplotting his wisest schemes, at the dictates of maternal vanity, forms an excellent counterpart. Both, with their children around them, their quiet labour and domestic happiness, compose a fireside picture of such a perfect kind, as perhaps is nowhere else equalled. It is sketched indeed from common life, and is a strong contrast to the exaggerated and extraordinary characters and incidents which are the resource of those authors, who, like Bayes, make it their business to elevate and surprise ; but the very simplicity of this charming book renders the pleasure it affords more permanent. We read the Vicar of Wakefield in youth and in age-We return to it again and again, and bless the memory of an author who contrives so well to reconcile us to human nature. Whether we chuse the pathetic and distressing incidents of the fire, and the scenes at the jail, or the lighter and humorous parts of the story, we find the best and truest sentiments enforced in the most beautiful language; and perhaps there are few characters of purer dignity have been described than that of the excellent pastor, rising above sorrow and oppression, and labouring for the conversion of those felons, into whose company he had been thrust by his villainous creditor. In too many works of this class, the critics must apologize for or censure particular passages in the narrative, as unfit to be perused by youth and innocence. But the wreath of Goldsmith is unsullied ; he wrote to exalt virtue and expose vice; and he accomplished his task in a manner which raises him to the highest rank among British authors. We close his volume, with a sigh that such an author should have written so little from the stores of his own genius, and that he should have been so prematurely removed from the sphere of literature, which he adorned.
Of all the men distinguished in this or any other age, Dr Johnson has left upon posterity the strongest and most vivid impression, so far as person, manners, disposition, and conversation, are concerned. We do but name him, or open a book which he has written, and the sound and action recal to the imagination at once, his form, his merits, his peculiarities, nay, the very uncouthness of his gestures, and the deep impressive tone of his voice. We learn not only what he said, but how he said it; and have, at the same time, a shrewd guess of the secret motive why he did so, and whether he spoke in sport or in anger, in the desire of conviction, or for the love of debate. It was said of a noted wag, that his bon mots did not give full satisfaction when published, because he could not print his face. But with respect to Dr Johnson, this has been in some degree accomplished ; and, although the greater part of the present generation never saw him, yet he is, in our mind's eye, a personification as lively as that of Siddons in Lady Macbeth, or Kemble in Cardinal Wolsey.
All this, as the world well knows, arises from Johnson having found in James Boswell such a biographer, as no man but himself ever had, or ever deserved to have. The performance, which chiefly resembles it in structure, is the life of the philosopher Demophon, in Lucian; but that slight sketch is far inferior in detail and in vivacity to Boswell's Life of Johnson, which, considering the eminent persons to whom it relates, the quantity of miscellaneous information and entertaining gossip which it brings together, may be termed, without exception, the best parlour.. window book that ever was written. Accordingly, such has been the reputation which it has enjoyed, that it renders useless even the form of an abridgment, which is the less necessary in this work, as the great Lexicographer only stands connected with the department of fictitious narrative by the brief tale of Rasselas.
A few dates and facts may be briefly recalled, for the sake of uniformity of plan, after which we will venture to offer a few remarks
upon Rasselas, and the character of its great author.
Samuel Johnson was born and educated in Litchfield, where his father was a country bookseller of some eminence, since he belonged to its magistracy. He was born 18th September, 1709. His school days were spent in his native city, and his education completed at Pembroke College, Oxford. Of gigantic strength of body, and mighty powers of mind, he was afflicted with that nameless disease on the spirits, which often rendered the latter useless; and externally deformed by a scrofulous complaint, the scars of which disfigured his otherwise strong and sensible countenance. The indigence of his parents compelled him to leave College upon his father's death in 1731, when he gathered in a succession of eleven pounds sterling. In poverty, however, his learning and his probity secured him respect. He was received in the best society of his native place. His first literary attempt, the translation of Father Lobo's Voyage to Abyssinia, appeared during this period, and probably led him, at a later period, to lay in that remote kingdom the scene of his philosophical tale, which follows this essay. About the same time, he married a wife considerably older than himself, and attempted to set up a school in the neighbourhood of Litchfield. The project proved unsuccessful ; and in 1737, he set out to try to mend his fortunes in London, attended by David Garrick. Johnson had with him in manuscript his tragedy of Irene, and meant to commence dramatic author; Garrick was to be bred to the law-Fate had different designs for both.
There is little doubt, that upon his outset in London, Johnson felt
in full force the ills which assail the unprotected scholar, whose parts are yet unknown to the public, and who must write at once for bread and for distinction. His splendid imitation of Juvenal, London, a satire, was the first of his works which drew the attention of the public; yet, neither its celebrity, nor that of its more brilliant successor, the Vanity of Human Wishes, the deep and pathetic morality of which has often extracted tears from those whose eyes wander dry over pages professedly sentimental, could save the poet from the irksome drudgery of a writer of all-work. His Irené, also, was unfortunate on the stage, and his valuable hours were consumed in obscure labour. He was fortunate, however, in a strong and virtuous power of thinking, which prevented his plunging into those excesses, in which neglected genius, in catching at momentary gratification, is so apt to lose character and respectability. While his friend, Savage, was wasting considerable powers
temporary gratification, Johnson was advancing slowly but surely into a higher class of society. The powers of his pen were supported by those of his conversation ; he lost no friend by misconduct, and each new friend whom he made, became his admirer.
The booksellers, also, were sensible of his value as a literary labourer, and employed him in that laborious and gigantic task, a Dictionary of the language. How it is executed, is well-known, and sufficiently surprising, considering that the learned author was a stranger to the Northern languages, on which English is radically grounded, and that the discoveries in grammar, since made by Horne Tooke, were then unknown. In the meantime, the publication of the Rambler, though not very successful during its progress, stamped the character of the author as one of the first moral writers of the
and as eminently qualified to write, and even to improve, the English language.
In 1752, Johnson was deprived of his wife, a loss which he appears to have felt most deeply. After her death, society, the best of which was now open to a man who brought such stores to increase its pleasures, seems to have been his principal enjoyment, and his great re