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the beds on which we were to repose, started up, at our entrance, a man black as a Cyclops from the forge."
In 1777 a number of London booksellers decided to publish a collection of English poetry. Johnson was asked to prepare the introductory biographical and critical sketches. The result was his "Lives of the Poets," the work, perhaps, by which he will be longest known. In the judgment of Macaulay it is more interesting than any novel. In many respects it is an admirable production. Without much patient research after biographical material, it gives the leading facts in the life of each poet, together with a masterly analysis of his character and a critical examination of his works. It is less ponderous in style than his earlier writings. That it is independent in judgment goes without saying. His criticisms, always worth attention, are not always just. He was sometimes influenced by his prejudices, as in the case of Milton and Gray; and he attached too much importance to the logical and didactic elements of poetry. He had no ear for the music of poetry; and that subtle, ethereal quality, which raises it above prose, could not be grasped by his clumsy critical principles.
One of the great charms of the "Lives of the Poets" consists in the shrewd observations upon life and character with which the book abounds. Discussing Dryden's financial difficulties, he remarks: "It is well known that he seldom lives frugally who lives by chance. Hope is always liberal, and they that trust her promises make little scruple of revelling to-day on the profits of the morrow." The work contains the materials for a collection of maxims as interesting as those of La Rochefoucauld, and much more truthful. "Very near to admiration," he says, "is the wish to admire." The rich treasures of wisdom which long experience and reflection had stored in his spacious mind are scattered through his pages with lavish hand.
Much of interest in Johnson's life is necessarily omitted: the strange crowd of dependants he maintained at his home; his relation with the Thrales; a great store of interesting
anecdote preserved to us by his satellite Boswell. Though for a time oppressed with a dread of death, he met it, as the end drew near, with manly courage. In his last sickness he was visited by many of his old friends. "I am afraid," said Burke, "that so many of us must be oppressive to you.". “No, sir, it is not so,” replied Johnson; " and I must be in a wretched state indeed when your company would not be a delight to me.” — “You have always been too good to me," said Burke with a breaking voice, as he parted from his old friend for the last time. Now and then there was a flash of the old vigor and humor. Describing a man who sat up with him, he said: "Sir, the fellow's an idiot; he's as awkward as a turnspit when first put into the wheel, and as sleepy as a dormouse." His last words were a benediction. A young lady begged his blessing. “God bless you, my dear," he said with infinite tenderness. Nothing could have been more characteristic of his great, benevolent heart. He peacefuly died Dec. 13, 1784. He had once playfully said to Goldsmith, when visiting the poets' corner of Westminster Abbey,
"Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis." 1
The prediction and the wish were fulfilled. And among the wise and great who repose there, there is no one whose massive intellect, honest worth, and great heart command our admiration and love in a higher degree than Samuel Johnson.
Perhaps our names will be mingled with them.
(From Johnson's "Lives of the Poets.")
MARK AKENSIDE was born on the 9th of November, 1721, at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. His father, Mark, was a butcher, of the Presbyterian sect; his mother's name was Mary Lumsden. He received the first part of his education at the grammar school of Newcastle; and was afterwards instructed by Mr. Wilson, who kept a private academy.
At the age of eighteen he was sent to Edinburgh, that he might qualify himself for the office of a dissenting minister,2 and received some assistance from the fund 3 which the dissenters employ in educating young men of scanty fortune. But a wider view of the world opened other scenes, and prompted other hopes; he determined to study physic, and repaid that contribution, which, being received for a different purpose, he justly thought dishonorable to retain.
Whether, when he resolved not to be a dissenting minister, he ceased to be a dissenter, I know not. He certainly retained an unnecessary and outrageous zeal 5 for what he called liberty; a zeal which sometimes disguises from the world, and not rarely from the mind which it possesses, an envious desire of plundering wealth or degrading greatness; and of which the immediate tendency is innovation and anarchy, an impetuous eagerness to subvert and confound, with very little care what shall be established.
Akenside was one of those poets who have felt very early the motions of genius, and one of those students who have very early stored their memories with sentiments and images. Many of his performances were produced in his youth; and his greatest work, "The Pleasures of Imagination,” appeared in 1744. I have heard Dodsley, by whom it was published, relate, that when the copy was offered him, the price demanded for it, which was a hundred and twenty pounds, being such as he was not inclined to give precipitately, he carried the work to Pope, who, having looked into it, advised him not to make a niggardly offer, for "this was no every-day writer."
In 1741 he went to Leyden in pursuit of medical knowledge; and there three years afterwards (May 16, 1744) became doctor of physic, having, according to the custom of the Dutch universities, published a thesis or dissertation. . . .
Akenside was a young man, warm with every notion that by nature or accident had been connected with the sound of liberty, and, by an eccentricity which such dispositions do not easily avoid, a lover of contradiction, and no friend to anything established. He adopted Shaftesbury's foolish assertion of the efficacy of ridicule for the discovery of truth. For this he was attacked by Warburton, and defended by Dyson; Warburton afterwards reprinted his remarks at the end of his dedication to the Freethinkers.
The result of all the arguments which have been produced in a long and eager discussion of this idle question may easily be collected. If ridicule be applied to any position as the test of truth, it will then become a question whether such ridicule be just; this can only be decided by the application of truth, as the test of ridicule. Two men fearing, one a real, the other a fancied danger, will be for a while equally exposed to the inevitable consequences of cowardice, contemptuous censure, and ludicrous representation; and the true state of both cases must be known, before it can be decided whose terror is rational, and whose is ridiculous; who is to be pitied, and who to be despised. Both are for a while equally exposed to laughter, but both are not therefore equally contemptible.
In the revisal of his poem, though he died before he had finished it, he omitted the lines which had given occasion to Warburton's objections.10
He published, soon after his return from Leyden (1745), his first collection of odes, and was impelled, by his rage of patriotism, to write a very acrimonious epistle to Pulteney," whom he stigmatizes, under the name of Curio, as the betrayer of his country.
Being now to live by his profession, he first commenced physician at Northampton, where Dr. Stonehouse then practised with such reputation and success that a stranger was not likely to gain ground upon him. Akenside tried the contest a while; and having deafened the place with clamors for liberty, removed to Hampstead, where he resided more than two years, and then fixed himself in London, the proper place for a man of accomplishments like his.
At London he was known as a poet, but was still to make his way as a physician; and would perhaps have been reduced to great exigencies but that Mr. Dyson, with an ardor of friendship that has not many examples, allowed him three hundred pounds a year. Thus supported, he advanced gradually in medical reputation, but never attained any great extent of practice, or eminence of popularity. A
physician in a great city seems to be the mere plaything of fortune; his degree of reputation is, for the most part, totally casual: they that employ him know not his excellence; they that reject him know not his deficience. By any acute observer, who had looked on the transactions of the medical world for half a century, a very curious book might be written on the Fortune of Physicians." 12
Akenside appears not to have been wanting to his own success; he placed himself in view by all the common methods; he became a Fellow of the Royal Society; he obtained a degree at Cambridge; and as admitted into the College of Physicians; he wrote little poetry, but published from time to time medical essays and observations; he became physician to St. Thomas's Hospital; he read the Gulstonian Lectures in Anatomy; he began to give, for the Crounian Lecture, a history of the revival of learning, from which he soon desisted; and, in conversation, he very eagerly forced himself into notice by an ambitious ostentation of elegance and literature.
His "Discourse on the Dysentery" (1764) was considered as a very conspicuous specimen of Latinity; which entitled him to the same height of place among the scholars as he possessed before among the wits; and he might, perhaps, have risen to a greater elevation of character, but that his studies were ended with his life, by a putrid fever, June 23, 1770, in the forty-ninth year of his age.
Akenside is to be considered as a didactic and lyric poet. His great work is The Pleasures of Imagination; 99 13 a performance which, published as it was at the age of twenty-three, raised expectations that were not very amply satisfied. It has undoubtedly a just claim to very particular notice, as an example of great felicity of genius, and uncommon amplitude of acquisitions, of a young mind stored with images, and much exercise in combining and comparing them.
With the philosophical or religious tenets of the author I have nothing to do; my business is with his poetry. The subject is well chosen, as it includes all images that can strike or please, and thus comprises every species of poetical delight. The only difficulty is in the choice of examples and illustrations; and it is not easy, in such exuberance of matter, to find the middle point between penury and satiety. The parts seem artistically disposed, with sufficient coherence, so as that they cannot change their places without injury to the general design.
His images are displayed with such luxuriance of expression. that