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« associated; and that every man contributed, as he could, either improve
ment or correction; so that, ” said Philips, " there are perhaps no where “ in the book thirty lines together, that now stand as they were originally -36 written.”
The relation of Philips, I suppose, was true ; but when all reasonable, all credible allowance is made for this friendly revision, the author will still Tetain an ample dividend of praise ; for to him must always be assigned the plan of the work, the distribution of its parts, the choice of topicks, the train of argument, and, what is yet more, the general predominance of philosophical judgement and poetical spirit. Correction seldom effects more than the suppression of faults: a happy line, or a single elegance, may perhaps be added; but of a large work the general character must always remain; the original constitution can be very little helped by local remedies ; inherent and radical dullness will never be much invigorated by intrinsick animation.
This poem, if he had written nothing else, would have transmitted him to posterity among the first favourites of the English Muse : but to make verses was his transcending pleasure, and as he was not deterred by censure, he was not satiated with praise.
He deviated, however, sometimes into other tracks of literature, and condescended to entertain his readers with plain prose. When the Spectator stopped, he considered the polite world as destitute of entertainment; and in concert with Mr. Hughes, who wrote every third paper, published three times a week the Lay Monastery, founded on the supposition that some literary men, whose characters are described, had retired to a house in the country to enjoy philosophical leisure, and resolved to instruct the public, by communicating their disquisitions and amusements. Whether
Whether any real persons were concealed under fictitious names, is not known. The hero of the club is one Mr. Johnson ; such a constellation of excellence, that his character shall not be suppressed, though there is no great genius in the design, nor skill in the delineation.
" The first I shall name is Mr. Johnson, a gentleman that owes to nature s excellent faculties and an elevated genius, and to industry and application
many acquired accomplishments. His taste is distinguishing, just, and “ delicate ; his judgement clear, and his reason strong, accompanied with an " imagination full of spirit, of great compass, and stored with refined ideas. ec He is a critick of the first rank : and, what is his peculiar ornament, he is " delivered from the ostentation, malevolence, and supercilious temper, that “ grammarians and commentators; men, who have been copying one another
so often blemish men of that character. His remarks result from the nature " and reason of things, and are formed by a judgement free, and unbiassed " by the authority of those who have lazily followed each other in the same “ beaten track of thinking, and are arrived only at the reputation of acute
many hundred years, without any improvement ; or, if they have ven" tured farther, have only applied in a mechanical manner the rules of anti" ent criticks, to modern writings, and with great labour discovered nothing " but their own wanț of judgement and capacity. As Mr. Johnson penetrates
to the bottom of his subject, by which means his observations are solid " and natural, as well as delicate, so his design is always to bring to light “ something useful and ornamental; whence his character is the reverse to
theirs, who have eminent abilities in insignificant knowledge, and a great
felicity in finding out trifles. He is no less indutrious to search out the “ merit of an author, than sagacious in discerning his errors and defects ; " and takes more pleasure in commending the beauties than exposing the “ blemishes of a laudable writing: like Horace, in a long work, he can bear “ some deformities, and justly lay them on the imperfecțion of human nature " which is incapable of fautless productions. When an excellent Drama “ appears in publick, and by its intrinsick worth attracts a general applause, " he is nog stung with envy and spleen; nor does he express a savage nature, " in fastening upon the celebrated author, dwelling upon his imaginary de* fects, and passing over his conspicuous excellences. He treats all writers “ upon the same imparțial foot; and is not, like the little criticks, taken up " entirely in finding out only the beauties of the ancient, and nothing but " the errors of the modern writers. Never did any one express more kind“ ness and good-nature to young and unfinished authors; he promotes their " interests, protects their reputation, extenuates their faults, and sets off " their virtues, and by his candour guards them from the severity of his “ judgement. He is not like those dry criticks who are morose because they
cannot write themselves, but is himseļf master of a good vein in poetry; 5c and though he does often employ it, yet he has sometimes entertained 5s his friends with his unpublished performances,"
The rest of the Lay Monks seem to be but feeble Mortals, in comparison with the gigantic Johnson ; who yet, with all his abilities, and the help of the fraternity, could drive the publication but to forty papers, which were afterwards collected into a volume, and called in the title A Sequel to tkę Spectators.
Some years afterwards (1716 and 1717) he published two volumes of Essays in prose, which can be commended only as they are written for the highest and noblest purpose, the promotion of religion. Blackmore's prosę is not the prose of a poet'; for it is languid, sluggish, and lifeles; his diciton
is neither daring Dor exact, his flow neither rapid nor easy, and his periods neither smooth nor strong. His account of Wit will shew with how little clearness he is content to think, and how little his thoughts are recommended by his language.
“ As to its efhcient cause, Wit owes its production to an extraordinary and “ peculiar temperament in the constitution of the possessor of it, in which " is found a concurrence of regular and exalted ferments, and an affluence “ of animal spirits, refined and rectified to a great degree of purity; whence, " being endowed with vivacity, brightness,' and celerity, as well in their re“ fections as direct motions, they become proper instruments for the sprite“ ly operations of the mind; by which means the imagination can with
great facility range the wide field of Nature, contemplate an infinite va. s riety of objeets, and, by observing the similitude and disagreement of their “ several qualities, single out and abstract, and then suit and unite those “ ideas which will best serve its purpose. Hence beautiful allusions, sur“ prising metaphors, and admirable sentiments, are always ready at hand : “ and while the fancy is full of images collected from innumerable objects " and their different qualities, relations, and habitudes, it can at pleasure s dress a common notion in a strange but becoming garb; by which, as be“ fore observed, the same thought will appear a new one, to the great de
light and wonder of the hearer. What we call genius results from this
particular happy complexion in the formation of the first person that enjoys “ it, and is Nature's gift, but diversified by various specifick characters and li“ mitations, as its active fire is blended and allayed by different proportions “ of phlegm, or reduced and regulated by the contrast of opposite ferments. “Therefore, as there happens in the composition of facetious genius a “ greater or less, though still an inferior, degree of judgement and prudence,
one man of wit will be varied and distinguished from another."
In these Essays be took little care to propitiate tbe wits; for he scorns to evert their malice at the expence of virtue or of truth.
“ Several, in their books, have many sarcastical and spiteful strokes at re“ ligion in general; while others make themselves pleasant with the princi
ples of the Christian. Of the last kind, this age has seen a most audacious
example in the book entitled A Tale of a Tub. Had this writing been “ published in a pagan or popish nation, who are justly impatient of all in“ dignity offered to the established religion of their country, no doubt but " the author would have received the punishment he deserved. But the “ fate of this impious buffoon is very different ; for in a protestant king“ dom, zealous of their civil and religious immunities, he has not only "escaped affronts and the effects of publick resentment, but has been ca
“ ressed and patronized by persons of great figure, and of all denominations, “ Violent party-men, who differed in all things besides, agreed in their turn " to shew particular respect and friendship to this insolent derider of the
worship of his country, till at last the reputed writer is not only gone off " with impunity, but triumphs in his dignity and preferment. 1. do not “ know that any inquiry or search was ever made after this writing, or that
any reward was ever offered for the discovery of the author, or that the e infamous book was ever condemned to be burnt in publick : whether this
proceeds from the excessive esteem and love that men in power, during “ the late reign, bad for vit, or their defect of zeal and concern for the " Christian religion, will be determined best by those who are best ac" quainted with their character.”
In another place he speaks with becoming abhorrence of a godless author who has burlesqued a Psalın. This author was supposed to be Pope, who published a reward for any one that would produce the coiner of the accusation, but never denied it ; and was afterwards the perpetual and incessant enemy of Blackmore.
One of his Essays is 'upon the Spleen, which is treated by him so much to his own satisfaction, that he has published the same thoughts in the same words ; first in the Lay Monastery; then in the Essay; and then in the Preface to a Medical Treatise on the Spleen. 'One passage, which I have found already twice, I will here exhibit, because I think it better imagined, and better expressed, than could be expected from the common tenour of his prose :
" - As the several combinations of splenetic madness and folly produce “ an infinite variety of irregular understanding, so the amicable accommoda« tion and alliance between several virtues and vices produce an equal di“ versity in the dispositions and manners of mankind; whence it comes to “ pass, that as many monstrous, and absurd productions are found in the “ moral as in the intellectual world. How surprising is it to observe among " the least culpable men, some whose minds are attracted by heaven and “ earth, with a seeming equal force, some who are proụd of humility; “ others who are censorious and uncharitable, yet self-denying and devout;
some who join contempt of the world with sordid avarice; and others, "s who preserve a great degree of piety, with ill-nature and ungoverned “ passions ; nor are instances of this inconsistent mixture less frequent among “bad men, where we often, with admiration, see persons at once gene“ rous and unjust, impious lovers of their country, and flagitious heroes, e good-natured sharpers, immoral men of honour, and libertines who “ will sooner die than change their religion ; and though it is true that
repugnant coalitions of so high a degree are found but in a part of mankind
yet none of the whole mass, either good or bad, are intirely exempted « from some absurd mixture."
He about this time (Aug. 22, 1716) became one of the Elects of the College of Physicians; and was soon after (Oct. 1.) chosen Censor, He seems to have arrived late, whatever was the reason, at his medical honours.
Having succeeded so well in his book on Greation, by which he established the great principle of all Religion, he thought bis undertaking imperfect, unless he likewise enforced the truth of Revelation; and for that purpose added another poem on Redemption. He had likewise written, before his Creation, three books on the Nature of Man.
The lovers of musical devotion have always wished for a more happy me. trical version than they have yet obtained of the book of Psalms : this wish the piery of Blackmore led him to gratify ; and he produced (1721) a new Version of the Psalms of David, fitted to the Tunes used in Churches ; which, being recommended by the archbishops and many bishops, obtained a licence for its admission into publick worship; but no admission has it yet obtained, nor has it any right to come where Brady and Tate have got possession. Blackmore's name must be added to those of many others, who, by the same attempt, have obtained only the praise of meaning well.
He was not yet deterred from heroick poetry ; there was another monarch of this island, for he did not fetch his herces from foreign countries, whom he considered as worthy of the Epic muse, and he dignified Alfred (1723) with twelve books. But the opinion of the nation was now settled ; a hero introduced by Blackmore was not likely to find either respect or kindness ; Alfred took his place by Eliza in silence and darkness : benevolence was ashamed to favour, and malice was weary of insulting. Of his four Epic Poems, the first had such reputation and popularity as enraged the criticks; the second was at least known enough to be ridiculed ; the two last had neither friends nor enemies.
Contempt is a kind of gangrene, which if it seizes one part of a character corrupts all the rest by degrees. Blackmore, being despised as a poet, was in time neglected as a physician; his practice, which was once invidiously great, forsook him in the latter part of his life ; but being by nature, or by principle, averse from idleness, he employed his unwelcome leisure in writing books on physick, and teaching others to cure those whom he could himself cure no longer. I know not whether I can enumerate all the treatises by which he has endeavoured to diffuse the art of healing ; for there is scarcely any distemper, of dreadful name, which he has not taught the reader how to oppose. He has written on the small-pox, with a vehe