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portrait: 'She thinks he was almost next to the Deity in perfection Uncultivate minds are always in extremes respecting those high abilities whose elevation they cannot clearly discern. They are sure to contemplate them either with blind adoration, or blinder contempt.
If Dr Johnson's heart had been as comprehensively benevolent as his genius was comprehensive, the excess of unqualified praise, now poured upon his tomb, had been deserved. Unhappily for his own peace, as for the posthumous fame of our English classics, his adherence to truth was confined to trivial occurrences, and abstract morality, his generosity to giving alms, his sincerity to those he hated, and his devotion to the gloom of religious terror. Truth, from Dr Johnson's lip, yielded to misrepresentation in his rage of casting rival-excellence into shade. That generosity, which loves to place exalted genius and virtue in their fairest point of view, was a stranger to Dr Johnson's heart. His violent desire of life, while he was continually expatiating upon its infelicity, the unphilosophic and coward horror with which he shrunk from the approach of death, proved that his religion was not of that amiable species, which-smooths the pillow of the dying man; and sheds upon it: the light of religious hope.
If the misleading force of his eloquence hadi not blighted the just pretensions of others, both to moral and intellectual excellence, I should not regret to see Johnson's character invested with this ideal splendour; since I always thought it for the interest of morality and literature, to believe exalted genius good as great, and, in a considerable degree, exempt from human depravity ; such belief having a natural tendency to inspirit the pursuit of excellence, and give force to the precept of the moralist. But since he has industriously laboured to expose the defects, and defame the virtues and talents of his brethren in the race of literary glory, it is sacrificing the many to an individual, when, to exalt him, truth is thus involved, and hid in hyperbolic praise.
O England ! not less ungrateful than partial is this thy boundless incense. Investing the gloomy
otion and merely pecuniary donations of Johnson with the splendour of faultless excellence, thou sacrificest an hecatomb of characters, most of them more amiable, and some of them yet greater in point of genius, to his manes !
Our Cecilian concert was not so full as I have seen it. It was a bad evening, moonless, sleety, and of the most dreary coldnees; but Mr Saville and his daughter sang divinely. You, who beard her a year ago warble her wild notes, unassisted
by scientific instruction, would think her wonderfully improved, while you listened to her sweet shake, to those sportive cadences and melting semi-tones lately acquired.
My dearest father has been perilously ill again. Alas! these frequent relapses keep me in constant terror. The anxiety with which I make the morning inquiry after his health, anxiety which commences the instant I awake, is a severe trial upon my nerves.-0! that it may please Heaven to spare
him few more years! I am sure your friendship for me, dear Sophia, will say amen to that prayer of filial affection, naturally increasing with every danger of losing its object.
JAMES BOSWELL, Esg.
Lichfield, March 25, 1785. I regret that it is not in my power to collect more anecdotes of Dr Johnson's infancy. My mother passed her days of girlhood with an uncle at Warwick, consequently was absent from home in the school-boy days of the great man; neither did I ever hear her mention any of the promissory sparkles which doubtless burst forth, though no records of them are within my knowledge. I cannot meet with any contemporary of those his very youthful days. They are all, I fear, like my poor mother, gone to their eternal home, and thus are our fountains of juvenile intelligence dried up. Mrs Lucy Porter, who, were she in
, health, could communicate more than she would take the trouble of doing, is following apace her illustrious father-in-law. She is now too ill to be accessible to any of her friends, except Mr Pearson; and were it otherwise, I do not believe that a kneeling world would obtain from her the letters
wish for. On inquiring after Dr Johnson, she has often read one of his recent epistles. As she read, I secretly wondered to perceive that they contained no traces of genius. They might have been any person's composition. When this is the case, it is injudicious to publish such inconclusive testimonies. Several letters of his have appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine, that could interest no one by their intrinsic vigour. They will be eagerly read because they are Johnson's; but I have often thought, that we never rise from any composition by the pen of the illustrious, with exactly the same degree of respect for the talents of the au
thor with which we sat down to peruse it ; our mass of admiration is either increased or diminished. If it is but by a single grain, that grain is something.
His letter to the Chancellor is a very stiff, indifferent performance, tinctured with a sort of covert resentment to the King, that looks ungrate ful for past obligations. I wonder how he could bear the thoughts of such a request being made to his Majesty, since he had a capital of three thousand pounds, out of which he might have drawn to support the expence of continental trovelling
You request the conversation * that passed between Johnson and myself in company, on the subject of Mrs Elizabeth Aston of Stowe Hill, then living, with whom he always past so much time when he was in Lichfield, and for whom he professed so great a friendship.
• I have often heard my mother say, Doctor, that Mrs Elizabeth Aston was, in her youth, a very beautiful woman ; and that, with all the censoriousness and spiteful spleen of a very bad temper,
* This conversation, thongh requested by Mr Boswell, the author believes is not inserted in that Gentleman's Life of Johnson ; at least, not in the first edition. Mrs Aston's sister, Mrs Gastrill, being alive when it was published, was, doubtless, the reason why this anecdote was suppressed.