« AnteriorContinuar »
would thus be excited, I am satisfied that the cause of truth would eventually flourish. Beneath the flood, which covers the plain, fertility will rest upon the soil, and though the weaker vegetation may perish, the root of the stronger will be cherished, and the branch of the loftier be adorned with more copious and animated green.
By more than one of the public critics I have been charged with injustice to the memory of Dr. Johnson; and for my treatment of this extraordinary and inconsistent man, in whom so many traits of great and so many of little and mean character concur to excite in the same moment our respect and our pity, I have been censured with some degree of harshness by a writer, of whose conduct to me in other respects I feel no reason to complain." The intellectual power of Dr. Johnson with his numerous virtues, and those prejudices which united him with a potent faction in the state, conciliated during his life the attachment of many illustrious friends,
• The Cabinet, Vo. 1, p. 35.
and, when he ceased to breathe, communicated a species of sanctity to his grave. Of this I was aware in the commencement of my undertaking; and, repressed by a sensibility of which he had shewn himself to be insusceptible when he violated the ashes of Milton, my hand paused, as I reflected that he, on whom it was to fall, had paid the last debt of human infirmity, and was no longer in a condition to offend or resist. The suggestions of feeling in this instance pressed me more strongly than those of prudence; and, superior as I was conscious of being with the
weapons of truth, I wished him to
« be alive again,
But death can consecrate only virtue and truth; and with the fear of posthumous conviction and disgrace would be extinguished one of the most powerful restraints of human enormity and excess. If every villain were assured of an inviolable asylum for his memory in the tomb; and a James or a Wild every
were to rest unmolested by the side of an Antoninus or a Socrates, the desire of fame. and the terror of reproach would be deprived of half of their beneficial influence; and wretch, who could defy the laws and was not afraid of God, would indulge his selfish passions without the check of a controll. But the case is too clear to admit of illustration ; and if we cannot, like the old Egyptians with respect to their deceased monarchs, submit the dead to the striking solemnity of a judicial process, it belongs to the historian and the biographer to bring their conduct to the bar of Truth, and firmly to pronounce her sentence of acquittal or condemnation. On the dead indeed only can the sentence of truth, at all times and without the pleading of any opposing duty, be pronounced. Have I then advanced against Dr. Johnson a single charge unsupported by sufficient evidence? Have I accused him of malignity to Milton, when the crime can be denied by the most bigotted of his adherents? Have I called him the coadjutor and accomplice of Lauder,
when the propriety of the terms is not fully established by the production of facts? The case in truth, is in this instance not stated so strongly as it might be against the author of the Rambler; and it is the prudence of his friends not to provoke any further discussion of the subject, as it must infallibly terminate in his greater confusion. If he was not actually privy to the forgeries of the northern schoolmaster, whose confidence he accepted and abused, he certainly had sufficient reason to suspect them; and with his friend, Cave, he resisted their detection as long as the resistance could be either effectual or safe. In any event, he adopted the whole of Lauder's malignity; and let his partizans first clear him of this offence before they talk bigly of his innocence, and bluster in his cause. Urged as I have been by some, whom I respect and love, to soften what I have said against him, with my
conviction of the atrocity of his conduct, to one of the most perfect characters which is to be found in the
page of biography, I have not erased a
syllable respecting him, and have felt more inclined to strengthen than to mitigate the censures, of which I have made him the subject. Even the concluding sentences of my work, which seem to extend their crimination to his general merits as a writer, I have not persuaded myself to omit: and if it be a crime in me, with the fullest sense of the great powers of his mind, to regard him as a corrupter of our style, to affirm that I dislike the fatiguing and laborious monotony of his sentences, and, delighted as I have been with the occurrence of brilliant passages, of vigorous and original thought, to assert that I have never yet read one of his productions with unmingled or even with prevailing pleasure; if this I say be a crime in me, I cannot hesitate to avow it, and I must consent to visit that allotment of future time, which may belong to me, with the brand of guilt flagrant on my forehead.
My preface is already too long: but I must be forgiven if I still lengthen it to touch upon a topic, which stands in connexion with my work.