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source when assailed by that malady of mind which embittered his solitary moments.
The Idler, scarce so popular as the Rambler, followed in 1758. In 1759, Rasselas was hastily composed, in order to pay the
of his mother's funeral, and some small debts which she had contracted. This beautiful tale was composed in one week, and sent in portions to the printer. Johnson told Sir Joshua Reynolds that he never afterwards read it over. The publishers paid the author an hundred pounds, with twenty-four more, when the work came to a second edition.
The mode in which Rasselas was composed, and the purposes for which it was written, shew that the author's situation was still embarrassed. But his circumstances became more easy in 1762, when a pension of L.300 placed him beyond the drudgery of labouring for mere subsistence. It was distinctly explained, that this grant was made on public grounds alone, and intended as homage to Johnson's services for literature. But two political pamphlets, The False Alarm, and that upon the Falkland Islands, afterwards shewed that the author was grateful.
In 1765, pushed forward by the satire of Churchill, Johnson published his subscription Shakespeare, for which proposals had been long in circulation.
The author's celebrated Journey to the Hebrides was published in 1775. Whatever might be his prejudices against Scotland, its natives must concede, that many of his remarks concerning the poverty and barrenness of the country, tended to produce those subsequent exertions, which have done much to remedy the causes of reproach. The Scots were angry because Johnson was not enraptured with their scenery, which, from a defect of bodily organs, he could neither see nor appreciate; and they seem to have set rather too high a rate on the hospitality paid to a stranger, when they contended it should shut the mouth of a literary traveller
upon all subjects but those of panegyric. Dr Johnson took a better way of repaying the civilities he received, by exercising kindness and hospitality in London to all such friends as he had received attention from in Scotland.
His pamphlet, entitled Taxation no Tyranny, which drew upon him much wrath from those who supported the American cause, is written in a strain of high toryism, and tended to promote an event, pregnant with much good and evil, the separation of the mother country from the American colonies.
In 1777, he was engaged in one of his most pleasing, as well as most popular works, The Lives of the British Poets, which he executed with a degree of critical force and talent which has seldom been concentrated.
Johnson's laborious and distinguished career terminated in 1783, when virtue was deprived of a steady supporter, society of a brilliant ornament, and literature of a successful cultivator. The latter part of his life was honoured with general applause, for none was more fortunate in obtaining and preserving the friendship of the wise and the worthy. Thus loved and venerated, Johnson might have been pronounced happy. But Heaven, in whose eyes strength is weakness, permitted his faculties to be clouded occasionally with that morbid affection of the spirits, which disgraced his talents by prejudices, and his manners by rudeness.
When we consider the rank which Dr Johnson held, not only in literature, but in society, we cannot help figuring him to ourselves as the benevolent giant of some fairy tale, whose kindnesses and courtesies are still mingled with a part of the rugged ferocity imputed to the fabulous sons of Anak; or rather, perhaps, like a Roman Dictator, fetched from his farm, whose wisdom and heroism still relished of his rustic occupation. And there were times when, with all his wisdom, and all his wit, this rudeness of disposition, and the sacrifices and submissions which he unsparingly exacted, were so great, that even Mrs Thrale seems at length to have thought that the honour of being Johnson's hostess was almost counterbalanced by the tax which he exacted on her time and patience.
The cause of those deficiencies in temper and manners, was no ignorance of what was fit to be done in society, or how far each individual ought to suppress his own wishes in favour of those with whom he associates ; for, theoretically, no man understood the rules of good breeding better than Dr Johnson, or could act more exactly in conformity with them, when the high rank of those with whom he was in company for the time required that he should do so.
But during the greater part of his life, he had been in a great measure a stranger to the higher society, in which such restraint became necessary; and it may be fairly presumed, that the indulgence of a variety of little selfish peculiarities, which it is the object of good breeding to suppress, became thus familiar to him. The consciousness of his own mental superiority in most companies which he frequented, contributed to his dogmatism ; and when he had attained his eminence as a dictator in literature, like other potentates, he was not averse to a display of his authority: resembling in this particular Swift, and one or two other men of genius, who have had the bad taste to imagine that their talents elevated them above observance of the common rules of society. It must be also remarked, that in Johnson's time, the literary society of London was much more confined than at present, and that he sat the Jupiter of a little circle, prompt, on the slightest contradiction, to launch the thunders of rebuke and sarcasm. He word, despotic, and despotism will occasionally lead the best dispositions into unbecoming abuse of power. It is not likely that any one will again enjoy, or have an opportunity of abusing, the singular de gree of submission which was rendered to Johnson by all around him. The unreserved communications of friends, rather than the spleen of enemies, have occasioned his character being exposed in all its shadows, as well as its lights. But those, when summed and counted, amount only to a few narrow-minded prejudices concerning country and party, from which few ardent tempers remain entirely free, and some violences and solecisms in manners, which left his talents, morals, and benevolence, alike unimpeachable.
Of Rasselas, translated into so many languages, and so widely circulated through the literary world, the merits have been long justly appreciated. It was composed in solitude and sorrow; and the melancholy cast of feeling which it exhibits, sufficiently evinces the temper of the author's mind. The resemblance, in some respects, betwixt the tenor
PREFATORY MEMOIR TO JOHNSON.
of the moral and that of Candide, is so striking, that Johnson himself admitted, that if the authors could possibly have seen each other's manuscript, they could not have escaped the charge of plagiarism. But they resemble each other like a wholesome and a poisonous fruit. The object of the witty Frenchman is to lead to a distrust of the wisdom of the great Governor of the Universe, by presuming to arraign him of incapacity before the creatures of his will. Johnson uses arguments drawn from the same premises, with the benevolent view of encouraging men to look to another and a better world, for the satisfaction of wishes, which in this seem only to be awakened in order to be disappointed. The one is a fiend—a merry devil, we grant--who scoffs at, and derides human miseries; the other, a friendly though grave philosopher, who shews us the nothingness of earthly hopes, to teach us that our affections ought to be placed elsewhere.
The work can scarce be termed a narrative, being in a great measure void of incident; it is rather a set of moral dialogues on the various vicissitudes of human life, its follies, its fears, its hopes, and its wishes, and the disappointment in which all terminate. The style is in Johnson's best manner; enriched and rendered sonorous by the triads and quaternions which he so much loved, and balanced with an art which perhaps he derived from the learned Sir Thomas Brown. The reader may sometimes complain, with Boswell, that the unalleviated picture of human helplessness and misery, leaves sadness upon the mind after perusal. But the moral is to be found in the conclusion of the Vanity of Human Wishes, a poem which treats of the same melancholy subject, and closes with this sublime strain of morality :
Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
For the biographical part of the following memoir, we are chiefly indebted to a short sketch of the life of our distinguished contemporary, compiled from the most authentic sources, and prefixed to a beautiful duodecimo edition of The Man of Feeling, printed at Paris a few years since. We have had the farther advantage of correcting and enlarging the statements which it contains, from undoubted authority.
HENRY MACKENZIE, Esq. was born at Edinburgh, in August 1745, on the same day on which Prince Charles Stuart landed in Scotland. His father was Dr Joshua Mackenzie, of that city; and his mother, Margaret, the eldest daughter of Mr Rose of Kilravock, of a very ancient family in Nairnshire. After being educated at the High-school and University of Edinburgh, Mr Mackenzie, by the advice of some friends of his father, was articled to Mr Inglis of Redhall, in order to acquire a knowledge of the business of the Exchequer, a law-department, in which he was likely to have fewer competitors than in any other in Scotland.
To this, although not perfectly compatible with that literary taste which he very early displayed, he applied with due diligence; and, in 1765, went to London, to study the modes of English Exchequer practice, which, as well as the constitution of the court, are similar in both