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and new employments, in which they no longer share together, efface the remembrance of what passed in earlier days, and they become strangers to each other for ever. Add to this, that the man frequently differs so much from the boy, his principles, manners, temper, and conduct undergo so great an alteration,-that we no longer recognise in him our old playfellow, but find him utterly unworthy and unfit for the place he once held in our affections.-Letter to Rev. W. Unwin.
6. Johnson's Lives of the Poets.
I AM very much the biographer's humble admirer. His uncommon share of good sense, and his forcible expression, secure to him that tribute from all his readers. He has a penetrating insight into character, and a happy talent of correcting the popular opinion, upon all occasions where it is erroneous; and this he does with the boldness of a man who will think for himself, but, at the same time, with a justness of sentiment that convinces us he does not differ from others through affectation, but because he has a sounder judgment. This remark, however, has his narrative for its object, rather than his critical performance. In the latter, I do not think him always just, when he departs from the general opinion. He finds no beauties in Milton's Lycidas. His treatment of Milton is unmerciful to the last degree. A pensioner is not likely to spare a republican; and the Doctor, in order, I suppose, to convince his royal patron of the sincerity of his monarchical principles, has belaboured that great poet's character with the most industrious cruelty. As a man, he has hardly left him the shadow of one good quality. Churlishness in his private life, and a rancorous hatred of every thing royal in his
public, are the two colours with which he has smeared all the canvas. If he had any virtues, they are not to be found in the Doctor's picture of him; and it is well for Milton, that some sourness in his temper is the only vice with which his memory has been charged; it is evident enough that if his biographer could have discovered more, he would not have spared him. As a poet, he has treated him with severity enough, and has plucked one or two of the most beautiful feathers out of his Muse's wing, and trampled them under his great foot. He has passed sentence of condemnation upon Lycidas, and has taken occasion, from that charming poem, to expose to ridicule, (what is indeed ridiculous enough,) the childish prattlement of pastoral compositions, as if Lycidas was the prototype and pattern of them all. The liveliness of the description, the sweetness of the numbers, the classical spirit of antiquity that prevails in it, go for nothing. I am convinced by the way, that he has no ear for poetical numbers, or that it was stopped by prejudice against the harmony of Milton's. Was there ever any thing so delightful as the music of the Paradise Lost? It is like that of a fine organ; has the fullest and the deepest tones of majesty, with all the softness and elegance of the Dorian flute. Variety without end and never equalled, unless perhaps by Virgil. Yet the Doctor has little or nothing to say upon this copious theme, but talks something about the unfitness of the English language for blank verse, and how apt it is, in the mouth of some readers, to degenerate into declamation. Oh! I could thresh his old jacket, till I made his pension jingle in his pocket.
He pours contempt upon Prior, to such a degree, that were he really as undeserving of notice as he represents him, he ought no longer to be numbered among the poets.
These, indeed, are the two capital instances in which he has offended me. There are others less important, which I have not room to enumerate, and in which I am less confident that he is wrong. What suggested to him the thought that the Alma was written in imitation of Hudibras, I cannot conceive. In former years, they were both favourites of mine, and I often read them; but never saw in them the least resemblance to each other; nor do I now, except that they are composed in verse of the same measure. After all, it is a melancholy observation, which it is impossible not to make, after having run through this series of poetical lives, that where there were such shining talents, there should be so little virtue. These luminaries of our country seem to have been kindled into a brighter blaze than others, only that their spots might be more noticed! So much can nature do for our intellectual part, and so little for our moral. What vanity, what petulance in Pope! How painfully sensible of censure, and yet how restless in provocation! To what mean artifices could Addison stoop, in hopes of injuring the reputation of his friend! Savage, how sordidly vicious, and the more condemned for the pains that are taken to palliate his vices. Offensive as they appear through a veil, how would they disgust without one. What a sycophant to the public taste was Dryden; sinning against his feelings, lewd in his writings, though chaste in his conversation. I know not but one might
search these eight volumes with a candle, as the prophet says, to find a man, and not find one, unless, perhaps, Arbuthnot were he.-Letter to Rev. W. Unwin.
EDWARD GIBBON was born in 1737 at Putney, in Surrey, of a respectable and ancient family. His school education both at Kingston and afterwards at Westminster was interrupted by ill health, and his mother being dead he was indebted to a maiden aunt for the fostering care which soothed the pain and languor of a sickly and suffering childhood by the voice of instruction and amusement. 'She was,' Gibbon says, 'the true mother of my mind as well as of my health, and to her kind lessons I ascribe my early and invincible love of reading, which I would not exchange for the treasures of India.'
At fifteen Gibbon entered Magdalen College. To Oxford, for the fourteen months he resided there-'the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life '--Gibbon would acknowledge no obligation, and denied that his tender age, imperfect preparation, and hasty departure should bear the blame of his failure, rather than the absence of discipline, restraint, and due instruction with which he reproached his Alma Mater. At sixteen Gibbon was converted to Catholicism, but returned to Protestantism in the following year, under the guidance of a Calvinist minister at Lausanne, to whose tutelage his father had consigned him. He remained for five years at Lausanne, employed in diligent and happy study, and acquiring the mastery of the French tongue, for which he was afterwards remarkable; in that language his first works were published. On his return to England in 1758, he entered the militia, and engaged for four years in military duties, but without relinquishing his studies. His Essai sur l'étude de la Littérature
appeared at this time. In 1763 he returned to the continent, revisiting Lausanne, and travelling for the first time in Italy. After two years he again settled in England, resuming his service in the militia and his literary pursuits. He published two volumes of Mémoires Littéraires sur la Grande Bretagne, and entered into a controversy with Warburton respecting the true interpretation of the Sixth Book of the Æneid. His father's death in 1770 left him with an independent fortune, and he entered the House of Commons, where he sat for nine years, first for the borough of Liskeard, and then, in the next Parliament, for that of Lymington. In 1783 he resigned his seat and returned to Switzerland, to devote himself to the composition of the concluding volumes of his history. He spent the greater part of his latter years at Lausanne, where he completed the great work of his life, the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. The story of the rise and progress and conclusion of this great history is given among the extracts in Gibbon's own words. In 1793 the French Revolution drove him back to England, where he died at the house of his friend Lord Sheffield in 1794. As a master of the ornate style of English writing, Gibbon stands alone amidst British authors, while the immense extent of his knowledge places him in the first rank of historians. There is something pompous in the march of his sentences, and something laboured in his continually recurring antitheses, which a severe taste can hardly approve, but every word in him is full of meaning, and for the condensed and eloquent expression of thought and knowledge combined, he is without an equal.
1. The Age of the Antonines.
If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus. The vast extent of the