« PreviousContinue »
of detail, somewhat more of earnestness and warmth in the narrative, and of vigor and compression in the style ; but it is none the less the fullest and most satisfactory history that has yet appeared of this interesting period.
M. B. O, Prabody ,
Art. II. - Lives of Men of Letters and Science, who flour
ished in the time of George the Third. By HENRY, LORD BROUGHAM, F. R. S. Second Series. Philadelphia : Carey & Hart. 1846.
12mo. pp. 302. We give a hearty welcome to this new volume from such a distinguished hand. It contains another series of animated portraits, struck off with free and bold execution.
The writer, powerful as he is, has not, in every respect, the best qualifications for such a work ; but the reader is sure of finding independent views and valuable information; and if there should be a measure of prejudice and occasional passion, this will only prove that his Lordship is not exempt from the misleading influences with which less gifted minds are afflicted. In the case of men of science, having a natural taste for their investigations, he has entered with all his heart into those studies and discoveries to which they are indebted for their fame. With moralists and literary men, he is, of course, less successful and happy. But a mind like his, which has been for years in a state of intense activity, cannot be turned to any subject without throwing light upon it, though it may, peradventure, be accompanied with occasional bursts of flame. At any rate, it is a good example for retired statesmen thus to engage in intellectual labors. Would it might be followed by persons of the same description in this country, who, after escaping from the scuffle of politics in the condition of Canning's “needy knife-grinder,” with garments rent in twain, before the sartor can repair the damage they have sustained, are impatient as the war-horse to be in the same glorious strise again.
It is rather a curious procession which the ex-Chancellor now calls up from the deep. At its head rolls on the stern and melancholy Johnson, apparently not aware that he is fileleader to the eloquent Adam Smith, who was so distasteful
to him when living, that it would not be strange if he had a sharp word to say to him, even in the land of souls. They are separated by the Frenchman Lavoisier, as a barricade, from the spherical form of the sarcastic and not very amiable Gibbon. Next comes Sir Joseph Banks, who, with great forbearance, does not swear, - out of fear, perhaps, of bim who leads the yan; and last, but not least, appears D'Alembert, one of those sketches which his Lordship, who is a half-domesticated Frenchman, delights to draw, but which do not appear to be received by readers in France with unmingled satisfaction, perhaps for the reason that they are too severely true. Critics of that nation have complained of want of novelty in his life of Voltaire ; but they do not say whether they expected him to discover new facts in the history of one who spent all bis life in the daylight, or whether they wished him to exert bis inventive genius in giving a charm to biographical writing. Others have quarrelled with his portrait of Rousseau, as it would seem, because he does not represent that mean-spirited creature as a great philanthropist and benefactor of mankind. But if any one rejoices in filth, and is disposed to make declamation pass for philanthropy, he will find that the eyes of the world are wide open, and splendid shillings, if counterfeit, will be left on the hands that receive them. Meantime, Lord Brougham has been attacked by English critics, one or two of whom he has paid back with a compliment which will not make them impatient for another. In their desire to show off his ignorance and errors, they have made an unseemly exposure of their own. But on the whole, as his language is somewhat losty, and as no man living has collected a richer variety of enemies than he, it is not strange if some should take this indirect way to resent those wrongs which otherwise they would have no means of avenging.
The greatest fault in this writer's portrait-painting proceeds from an occasional waywardness and haste, which lead him into views and representations which his slower judgment would have disapproved. We need not go far for an illustration of the truth of this remark ; there is the case of Dr. Johnson, to whom he seems disposed to render justice, though with the same uncertainty with which an eеl may be supposed to look upon the movements of a whale. There is a passage of his history in which he ascribes to him motives and feelings
which, when examined, seem absurdly untrue. Thus, when the widow of his friend Thrale married Piozzi, the Doctor, like every body else at the time, considered it an injudicious and discreditable connection; though, with the single exception of the word "ignominious," which he applies to it, there is nothing indicating excitement of feeling; and it should be remembered that this word, which sounds so formidable, was but one of the ponderous missiles which he was accustomed to employ. Lord Brougham professes himself unable to see why it was not a very tolerable match, and thinks that Johnson's opposition to it must have arisen from an attachment to her on his own part. Now, if this was so, all the world must have been smitten with her charms, for there was a perfect unanimity of opinion as to the course which she pursued; and as Lord Brougham evidently knows nothing more than others about Piozzi's character and standing, his conjectures will not outweigh the judgment which they had better opportunities of forming. As to the Doctor's affection, we speak with diffidence, having had very little experience in these affairs of the heart; but it does not seem to us that at the age of seventy-five he would be transported with the tender passion; nor that, with one foot in the grave, he would have engaged in a love-chase with any brilliant promise of success. His Lordship makes himself merry with the aristocratic feeling of these humble persons, who considered her marriage with Piozzi as a degradation; and, sure enough, it is ridiculous for one earthly potsherd to look down upon another, which happens to be an inch or two lower in the dust. But such is the way of the world; it is universal, although it be not a true nor wise one; and well as he discourses on the subject, theoretically considered, we strongly apprehend, that, if the case should be his own, and a daughter of his house should marry a foreign adventurer, he would set up an outcry of wrath and vexation that might be heard across the deep.
We do not think that this writer, in his estimate of Johnson, makes sufficient allowance for the effect of the disease which hung like a millstone round his neck through all his mortal existence, a disease which brings with it every form of gloom and irritability, and which, in his case, was aggravated by the loneliness in which he lived; for it is remarkable, that, with his wonderful power of conversation, his society
VOL. LXIV.No. 134.
should have been so little sought ; though, indeed, if the circle in which he moved had been ever so extensive and inspiring, it could not have afforded hiin the relief and comfort of a home. And yet his Lordship has had, as he says, unusual advantages for observing this fearful complaint, of seeing the paralyzing influence which it exerts upon the mind and the will, and the deadly aversion which it gives to those active efforts in which the only remedy can be found. This disorder was deeply engrained in Johnson's constitution ; it brought with it a sense of ever-present misery, and oppressed him with dark forebodings; he evidently feared the time when the intellect would sink under it, leaving him a miserable ruin. Had physical education been understood in his day, he might possibly have been relieved by attention to diet and exercise, which no one then seemed to suspect had any connection with health or the want of it. One brave effort of that kind he made, in giving up the stimulating drinks of all kinds to which he had resorted for relief, an abstinence in which he persevered to the last ; but generally, in this instance, as in that of Collins and Cowper, the malady seems to bave been treated as a visitation of God, with which there was no such thing as contending. When one thinks of his long struggle with poverty, -- of his dining behind a screen at Cave's, because too meanly dressed to appear at that great man's table, — of his supporting life for a long time on less than sixpence a day, - of his occasional enjoyment of conversation with men like Burke, which, when it was over, left him in solitude and sorrow,— of the plaintive manner in which he would entreat others to sit up with him, that he might escape as long as possible the terrors of the night, — it gives us a view of his condition, which, one would think, would excuse many of those petulant expressions that appear numerous because Boswell has faithfully recorded them, and has not always stated that it was his own folly which brought down the shower-bath of compliments upon his head. We learn from Miss Reynolds, who was the Griffith among bis chroniclers, that he gave the impression of a man of unhewn manners, but of a kind and affectionate heart. And while we do not undervalue that grace of life in which he was so sadly wanting, it is but right to remember his active and self-denying charity ; it is but right to ask of those who censure him, if they would be ready to receive and support two helpless
and unattractive women, together with a poor physician, whose practice, unprofitable to himself, was probably far more so to his victims, forming a community in which a favor done to one gave a pang to the rest, and where he himself found so little comfort, that he dreaded to enter his own door, but would not dislodge them, because they could have no home but for him. Truly, if it was required of those who censure Johnson to exercise equal generosity, voices of condemnation would be few and small.
While Lord Brougham, as it seems to us, hardly does justice to the great moralist, presenting a view of him which is deficient in harmony and wholeness, and made up of parts not always consistent with each other, the shade of Boswell would be beside itself with exultation to find his own opinion of his own merits confirmed by so competent a judge; for assuredly the Auchinleck patrician never dreamed that his connection with Johnson would suggest to any human mind the recollection of the intercourse of Plato and Xenophon with Socrates. His Lordship praises not only his tact, cleverness, and skill, but his admirable good-humor, his strict love of truth, his high and generous principle, his kindness to his friends, and his well-meant, but sometimes grotesque devotion, and says that his book, once taken up, is the most difficult of all others to lay down. Certainly, no man of really intellectual taste ever joins in the contempt which is poured on Boswell's name; nor, on the other hand, will many be ready to subscribe to such extensive praise as this. The truth is, that his contemporaries were as much at a loss to know what place to assign him, as men of the present day. Lord Stowell, when pressed on the subject, could only say that he was universally welcome as a "jolly fellow." It was his pleasure to parade those weaknesses which most men keep to themselves, and as he kept his banner of folly perpetually flying, they did no justice to the merits which he possessed in no small degree. What but a strong admiration of intellectual power could have induced him to lead the life which he did? And it shows how oddly our notions of high and low are perverted, that so many wonder at his submitting to the caprice of Johnson, while it is considered perfectly natural that such a person as Miss Burney should feel herself honored by the trust of preparing snuff for the queen.