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truth diffused, by which the business of life is conducted, and the gratification of society enlarged; and as the improvement of any particular language promotes the civilization of those who speak it, and gives fresh opportunities for the dispersion of knowledge and the increase of refinement, he who bestows this boon upon his native land, may demand the appellation of a signal benefactor.
The effect of his labours was undoubtedly aided by the general tendency of the age to philosophical and abstract inquiries. The exact sciences were in high repute, and the works of Locke, Tillotson, and Clarke, who forsook the rich but laboured style of their predecessors, and avoiding the graces of imagery or the illustrations of learning simply aimed at an accurate and easy mode of writing, diffused the same spirit amongst the more studious classes. But the immediate disciples of Dryden, amongst whom Addison, Pope, and their ingenuous contemporaries must all bereckoned, carried the easy and graceful manner of composition to its utmost limit, beyond which ease becomes carelessness, and freedom sinks into error. The highest excellence of their style is that it is conversational, and therefore idiomatic; that it is purely English, and comes over the ear with the pleasing association of something native and familiar. It reminds us of the language which we heard in our childhood, before we were acquainted with the productions of the learned ; of the language which is spoken by those, who have been sufficiently instructed to avoid gross impropriety or vulgar rudeness, but who are untainted with any
foreign idiom, and have derived their expression, not from books or laboured and systematic composition, but from early habit and constant usage. It, therefore, represents the general language of the country in the familiar, intercourse of life, and the ease and negligence of the conversational style; and will be always intelligible to every degree of capacity, and captivating to every modification of taste. But as the tendency of the human mind is to perpetual extremes, this easy and unfettered style was rapidly degenerating into a slovenly negligence and grammatical incorrectness. However vigorous and graceful under the superior management of the celebrated writers with whom it originated, in the hands of the incapable or inexperienced it soon became weak, diffuse, and inelegant. There seems then to have been a necessity for that change of manner, of which Dr. Johnson set the example; and we are better able to estimate his labours, by which our prose style was fixed in a sort of medium between stiffness and negligence, cumbersome magnificence and graceful inefficiency. Besides the important services which he rendered by his dictionary, his general influence upon our language was salutary. He afforded a model of equable strength and continual exactness. He shewed that all which could be desired from language might be effected without intricate compression or perspicuous diffusion; without occasionally sacrificing the principles of grammar, or admitting colloquial vulgarisms and fashionable caprices It has been imputed to him as a fault, that he too studiously selects that part of our tongue which is derived from the Latin. Before the justice of this complaint is admitted, we must remember that he did not frame these terms by his own authority, but recalled them from our ancient authors and gave them a new sanction and currency. Unless therefore it is a defect in a language to have a variety of terms formed on a just analogy and aptly mingling with the mass of its materials, he cannot properly be blamed for searching for its wealth which had long been buried, and exhibiting it to the world with a brighter polish. But if it is meant that by the use of these words he has embarrassed his meaning, or acquired an unusual obscurity, the charge will be sufficiently refuted by every one who is acquainted with his works. His words are not too ponderous for his meaning, but are the exact measure of his thoughts. There is such a nice propriety in his diction, every expression is so exactly fitted to its proper place, and so adequate to its emergency, that it would be impossible to curtail or alter without some injury to the sense. Few men have been more eminent for clearness of intellectual discernment, for penetrating into the minute differences of truth, and few have exhibited their investigations in a more lucid order, or expanded them in a more vigorous or intelligible form: few, therefore, have been read with more general satisfaction, or spread the principles of knowledge over a wider surface. As a moralist, he is remarkable for his just discrimination of the interior of life, and the springs of action. He accurately weighs the causes which interrupt domestic tranquillity, poison the sweets of relative affection, or
intercept the progress of social improvement. He correctly estimates the importance of those smaller inequalities of temper and conduct, which though separately insignificant, yet, in their aggregate occurrence, are continually fretting and corroding the foundations of human happiness. To these peculiarities he principally directs his observation, and his readers will meet with more numerous principles adapted to the formation of individual character, to the correction of personal obliquities, and the advancement of private welfare, than in any other philosopher. He also deserves more eminent praise, because his precepts are in the strictest harmony with scriptural truth, and his disciples will not have to unlearn the maxims of an unsound morality, that they may be prepared for the purity of Christian doctrine.
In criticism he is not inferior to any master of that art, either ancient or modern. The origin of his decisions is a clear and manly sense of nature and truth. With a proper reverence for the traditional principles of just composition, he is not tamely subservient to any established rules. When the regulations of art are at variance with the lasting impulses of nature, he boldly appeals from the decrees of former critics to the common sense of mankind; from the sentence of professed judges, to the approbation of general readers. He first introduced the concurrent testimony of public praise or censure as the final standard by which all critical opinion must be formed. To understand the propriety of this standard, we must distinguish the momentary applause of the multitude
from the deliberate and permanent judgment of mankind. The feelings of party, the passions and caprices. of the day, may unduly elevate those who merit a different sentence: but, as soon as these temporary motives are vanished, every author will be tried by the pleasure or instruction which he imparts. To be informed or amused, is the sole reason why men read the works of authors who are personally unknown to them; and those who, after the lapse of generations, continue to be resorted to for these purposes, may be safely pronounced to have attained the legitimate perfection of literary efforts: works which have these attractions, criticism is impotent to depress; and its struggles are equally fruitless in calling the favourable attention of mankind to writers destitute of such a living force. The literary animadversions of Dr. Johnson being erected on this broad and intelligible basis, are generally incontrovertible. They comprise a body of critical principles, maxims, and decisions, from which, when a small deduction has been allowed for a few obvious prejudices, there will be no successful appeal: the more acutely they are examined, and accurately discussed, the stronger will be the conviction which they impress, and the more extensive the influence which they exercise. His examination of the characteristic qualities in the genius and works of Shakespeare may be alleged as the most triumphant instance of critical disquisition produced in recent times. His name may be properly associated with that of Edmund Burke, his celebrated contemporary. They were unquestionably the two splendid luminaries