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For hours together, with but slight breaks he would pour forth a continuous stream of wise discourse into Boswell's avaricious earan ear that absorbed it as greedily as the parched land drinks the summer showers. He took care, on such occasions, to let Johnson's mind have full swing-rarely interposing remarks of his own, unless with a view of inducing the Oracle to deal out still more copiously the stores of wisdom he had at command. He was not so much restrained when the conversation turned upon private matters—matters touching their own personal interests. Then interchange of thought was free and easy. It is worthy of special note, that at these private interviews the subject of religion engrossed a large share of attention-perhaps the largest. The divine authority of Christianity—the duties we owe to God, the mediation of Jesus Christ, the solemnities of Eternity, these and kindred matters were frequently broached and dwelt upon at large. And Johnson was never so grand in conception or eloquent in speech, as when discoursing on religious themes. For, whatever may be said to the contrary, he had a thoroughly religious soul. The great truths of religion struck their roots to the depths of his moral being, and gave complexion and bearing to the whole of his intellectual exercises. And, notwithstanding the froth and folly which environed Boswell's nature, he also had strong sympathies with religious truth, and deep yearnings after the religious life. The conversation often bore upon the religious experience of both. With frankness and sincerity they unbosomed their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, in reference to the all-important matters of personal religion; they bemoaned their sins and shortcomings, and encouraged each other in struggling to realize the supreme good. While these interviews lasted, Boswell was as it were on the Mount of Transfiguration. He had reached a platform of existence far above his ordinary level. The grossness and folly of his nature seemed to be cast off. He breathed ambrosial airs. He drank celestial nectar. He was clothed with supernal light, as with a garment. Wisdom, and goodness, and love, shed their renewing and transforming influence around his whole being.
The visit paid by Boswell and Johnson to the highlands and Western Isles of Scotland constituted one of the most interesting episodes of their friendship. The family name and extensive acquaintance of Boswell, coupled with the literary fame of Johnson, secured them a generous reception in those remote regions. But at that period travelling in the highlands was no easy matter. You may pursue the same track of journey now-adays without inconvenience, enjoying at every stage the conveniences and comforts of home life; but at that time public roads were few and bad, stage coaches there were none, private conveyances were rare and rude, steam boats and railways were not yet invented. The highlands and Western Isles were cut off from the people of England as much as Caffre land is at the present day. On our travellers
went, however, sometimes by aid of ponies little bigger than mastiffs, sometimes by aid of fishing boats of treacherous looking timbers, sometimes borne through shallow waters and bogs on the brawny shoulders of highlanders, sometimes clambering over steep and rugged mountain passes on hands and knees. But the people everywhere gave them a kind and cordial reception. Gentle and simple conspired to do them honour. Whether in the rude castles of Highland chieftans, or in the lowly huts of Highland clansmen, they were hospitably entertained. To his surprise and delight Johnson often found in the humblest of the people an intelligence, a culture, a quick sighted appreciation of the higher subjects of thought, far beyond what might have been expected from their social condition ; so that he jestingly remarked he could have wished they had been Episcopalians rather than Presbyterians. Indeed, during the six weeks he now passed in Scotland, mixing freely with all classes of the people, now engaged in learned talk with College professors, now entertained at the
snug manses of country clergymen, now feasted sumptuously in the halls of the rich and noble, now drinking goat's milk in smoky highland cabins, Boswell all the while acting as his faithful esquire and never suffering him to want for anything in his
power to procure,-during this six weeks, the prejudices which lingered in his mind against Scotland and the Scotch were effectually obliterated, and the new friendships he formed were among the sweetest ingredients of his after life. Everything he saw awoke his mind to reflection, and if his journey to the Highlands and Western Isles had yielded nothing but that splendid passage in his writings which celebrates his visit to the far-famed island of Iona, 'twould not have been in vain. As the passage is brief it may here be quoted.—He says, “We were now treading that illustrous island which was once the luminary of the Caledonian regions, whence savage clans and roving barbarians derived the benefits of knowledge and the blessings of religion. To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible. Whatever withdraws us from the power of our senses,
whatever makes the past, the distant, or the future predominate over the present, advances us in the dignity of thinking beings. Far from me and from my friends be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery or virtue. That man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force on the plains of Marathon, or whose piety would not prove warmer among the ruins of Iona.”
This journey to the Highlands and the close companionship it
involved, consolidated the friendship between Johnson and Boswell; nevertheless ever and anon, and without any just ground, Boswell shows a disposition to doubt the faithfulness of his illustrious friend. The slightest thing imaginable is sufficient to awaken apprehension that Johnson's friendly feelings towards him are cooling. In this he is something like the lover, who having been fortunate enough to secure the affection of some paragon of a woman -a woman who in his judgment is infinitely superior to all the rest of her sex, and of course far beyond his own merits-can scarcely credit himself with being the possessor of such an inestimable prize, and is everlastingly teazing himself and his fair one with silly doubts and surmises; and just as a true hearted woman, in pity to the silliness of her admirer, is content, though seeing no necessity for it, to repeat for the thousand and one time that she really does love him and that he may rest satisfied on that point, so Johnson had in this way to calm the fears and allay the doubts with which Boswell was continually fretted and worried. That Johnson truly and thoroughly loved Boswell,—that he took deep interest in everything that concerned him,—that he would have performed any amount of labour and gone to the world's end to serve himthe letters that passed between the two and many other circumstances abundantly testify. On the other side, Boswell's devotion to Johnson cannot be measured by the ordinary human standards. It was a species of idolatry. Thomas Carlyle calls it hero-worship; and truly it was nothing short of worship. The whole of his being exhaled, as it were, in the incense of love, devotion, admiration, and wonder, at Johnson's shrine.
But friendship, however strong and triumphant over other adverse influence, must succumb to death. After being seventyfive years in harness Johnson died at his post, fighting to the last like a true-hearted soldier. Throughout the whole of his career he had been haunted with a fear of death, which overlapped his mind with gloom, which infused bitterness into every cup of enjoyment and which imparted a sombre hue to the whole of his mental operations. 'Twas not the physical suffering of death he dreaded. He had a contempt of physical suffering, and in many instances evinced a power of enduring pain quite heroic. 'Twas the apprehension of what followed death that convulsed his soul with terror. To appear before God in judgment, to be weighed in the balances of eternal rectitude, to meet the award due for the deeds done in the body—these solemn considerations made him pause and held him in dread. In part through the constitutional tendency of his mind to dwell on the gloomy side of things, and in part through defective views of the fulness of Divine mercy revealed in Christ Jesus, he could never fully confide in God as bis reconciled Father. However, as death drew near, the clouds which enveloped him were
in some measure dissipated, the slavish fear which had been the curse of his life was removed. The doctor who attended him testifies that “ for some time before his death all bis fears were calmed and absorbed by the prevalence of his faith in the merits and propitiation of Jesus Christ. He talked often about the necessity of faith in the sacrifice of Jesus as necessary beyond all good works whatever for the salvation of mankind.” Here then let it be noted, for surely it is noteworthy, that the mightiest intellect of the eighteenth century, found comfort and strength in the last mortal struggle by clinging with childlike simplicity to the mercy of God in Christ Jesus. With that fortitude of mind for which he was ever distinguished, he asked his doctor to tell him plainly whether he should recover. “Give me," said he, "a direct answer.” The doctor replied that in his opinion he could not recover without a miracle. “ Then,” said Johnson, “I will take no more physic, not even my opiates, for I have prayed that I may render up my soul to God unclouded.”
Jobnson was buried in Westminster Abbey. The poor scholar who could not afford when at college to keep decent shoes to his feet, who had come to fight the battle of life in London with only a few coppers in his pocket, who for many years had a hand-tohand struggle with grim hunger, who had been spurned with contempt from the doors of the aristocracy,--the poor scholar even according to the vulgar judgment of the world, is triumphant at last! There, in the Valhalla of England's immortals, his ashes repose !
Boswell's Life of Johnson is a monument more honourable to the illustrious subject of it than all the honours of Westminster Abbey. Boswell was well provided for this undertaking. During the course of more than twenty years he had been in the babit of taking and preserving copious notes of the sayings and doings of Johnson, as far as they came within his own observation. After spending a night in his society, whether along with other distinguished men, or alone in the privacy of his study, he no sooner got to his own lodgings than he wrote down every thing remarkable that had transpired. These notes gradually accumulated, until they amounted to a number of bulky manuscript volumes. The life of Johnson based upon and chiefly consisting of the materials thus industriously collected, is one of the most márvellous books ever written. No other memoir in ancient or modern times is fit to compare
with it. The fulness of its information leaves nothing to be desired. The portraiture of Johnson is given, not merely in general outline, but in minutest feature. Johnson is made to act, move, and breathe before you in all the actuality and naturalness of real life. As you read you see the man growing and developing before your eyes, until you feel sure you know him as well as if you had been his life companion. Nothing is kept back necessary to a complete knowledge. The veriest trifles in physiognomy, in dress, in manners, things small in themselves, but serving to show the individualism of the man, are sketched with faithfulness, vividness, and propriety of intellectual touch. The grander attributes of Johnson, intellectual and moral; the prodigious fertility of his mind, the exuberance of his wit, his Herculean literary labours, the tenderness of his beart, hidden for the most part under a rough exterior ; bis natural politeness, struggling to show itself through the shaggy folds of an uncouth and rebellious nature; the follies into which he was hurried in the early part of his life, his subsequent bitter repentance, his deep and habitual devotion to God, the unique love he had to his wife, a love which, after her death, often led him to pray for her happiness; his kindness to the poor, his filial love, his sympathy with everything good and noble, his abhorrence of everything vile and mean-these, and innumerable other things which made up the individuality of the man Johnson-are narrated with a skill such as has never been excelled or perhaps equalled in this species of writing. There is a seeming absence of art in the picture drawn, and yet the highest artistic effect is produced. No man of bygone ages, certainly no man of the eighteenth century, is so well-known to us as Johnson-thanks to Boswell's book. Pictures, also, of the men and manners of that age are drawn with a freshness and fulness of life which set at defiance the corroding teeth of time. If you wish to know the form and pressure of Johnson's time, how the life of man in its endless varieties developed itself in England; then go to this book, rather than to the professed histories of the period. And not only on that point, but on almost every subject within the sphere of thought and speculation, you may find much to interest, illumine, and guide. Or, if your aim be amusement, rather than solid instruction, if you wish to beguile a tedious hour with pleasant recreation, Boswell's book is better than almost any other means for your purpose.
Here are racy anecdotes of men and manners, scattered with liberal profusion. Here are treasured stores of the choicest wit, which, like wine of rich vintage, grow richer the longer kept. Here are sketched, with dramatic skill, many of the polemic feats of the intellectual giants of those days. Here, in short, there is much to regale the imagination, to amuse the fancy, to stimulate the intellect, and to improve the life.