« PrécédentContinuer »
For SEPTEMBER, 3785.
ART. I. Prayers and Meditations composed by Samuel Johnson,
L. L. D. and pubiified from his manuscripts, by George Strahan, A. M. Vicar of Illington : and Rector of Little Thur
rock, in Effex, Octavo. 35. 6. fewed, Cadel, 1785. THERE is no evidence of the superiority of the Christian
religion to the fuperstitions which have been embraces by the rest of mankind, more agreeable and insinuating, than the fincerity with which it has been embraced by men of the most uncommon endowments, and who had no motive for their conduct but that of its inherent excellence. But, after all, this argument is more plausible than demonstrative, and more congenial to the heart of man, 'than calculated to remove the difficulties of an impartial inquirer. And accordingly, we cannot help acknowledging our opinion, that rather too great a stress has been laid upon it. Men of the inost extraordinary penetration in certain sciences, will often be mere children and idiots in others. When the subject which engroles a man's principal attention is very abstruse and comprehensive in its nature, it may not be unreasonable to expect, that in other fubje&ts, for which he has little leisure and leís natural relith, he should rather take up with the lessons of his education, than inquire into and inveftigate the principles of truth for himself. And even wliere this is not the case, a gloomy turn of mind, an invincible timidity and intellectual cowardice, may induce a man to embrace superstition, and reject the light of reason ; and to herd rather with the enthufiaft and the folitaire, than with the man cho carries along with him, the intrcpidity of philofophy into ENG. REV. SEPT. 1785.
the most sacred and sublime enquiries. This was particularly the case with the celebrated Pascal. When we follow him through all his weaknesses, his religious horrors and sacred punetilios, we are rather induced to pity the constitutional feebleness of his nature, than to adınire the perseverance and fervour of his devotion.
We will here venture to deliver an opinion, which, if it will stand the test, will be of much importance in deciding the merits of such a performance as that under our examination. It should seem that a character manly and dignified in its manner of thinking, will not upon any occasion, or under any construction, disbelieve or deny the exiftence of those talents he really poffeffes. Falfe modesty is proverbially despicable, and the man who displays it, is either the meanest of hypocrites, or, to take it upon the most favourable estimate, is unfortunate enough to have the sublimity of his mind degraded by the hypocondriacal propenfities of his animal con: ftitution. The apostle Paul, when he would instruct us in Christian humility, does not call upon us to deny any one quality we potless, or to represent ourselves, in defiance of the truth, as one mass of deformity and guilt. His inftruction, enforced by the most sacred example, is fingly this, that we “think not of ourselves more highly than we ouglit to think, but that we think soberly.” We undoubtedly owe to the excellencies of the supreme being every possible degree of veneration and honour; but that virtue should tremble in the presence of infinite goodness, is not less contrary to reason, than it is contrary to heroism. Virtue cannot tremble in the presence of an all-powerful and inexorable tyrant; but in the presence of infinite goodness, it feels a congeniality, and affumes a confidence, that sink as it were the gulph between, and dares to aspire to sentiments of attachment, fidelity, and love.
So far as these principles are to be admitted, the publication before us, must be exposed to some degree of censure. Dr. Johnson was a man of a gloomy and timid turn of mind; and constantly under the influence, as he expresses it, of. « morbid melancholy." The serenity, the independence, and the exultation of religion, were sentiments to which he was a stranger. But it would be unfair to conclude from this circumstance, that his piety was of no value, and his performance of no use. There is something so great, and awful in the idea of a God, and something so fascinating in the effusions of gratitude, that there are numbers of men, spirited, intrepid, and heroical in every other regard, that cannot boast all the tranquillity and assurance in the business of religion that are so earnestly to be desired. And yet the
piety of these men is edifying and venerable. They carry, in spite of themselves, a part of their native dignity into this affection, and, upon points of abstract virtue and rectitude, their sentiments are in the highest degree elevated and generous. If therefore, the Prayers and Meditations of Dr. Johnson had been chargeable with no other imperfection than this, we should have disniffed them with praise, and sanctioned them with our little tribute of recommendation.
The whole publication naturally divides itself into the two heads fpecified in the title. The prayers may be characterised in two words. They are short, fimple, and unadorned. They bear some resemblance to the collects in our Book of Common Prayer, without that dignity which is derived to the latter from the venerable antiquity of their style and expression. They have no particular method, no beauties that should characterise the man under whose name they appear, no display of genius, and, in a word, nothing that might not have been produced by any man of plain common sense. At the same time, they contain few traces of weakness and absurdity, unless perhaps we might be permitted to felect a fingle expression which occurs in every one of them. “ Take not thy holy spirit from me. We acknowledge, that we do not perfectly understand the design of this expresfion. Divines have distributed the gifts of the spirit into two claffes, that of assurance, and that of a sanctified and heavenly tenour of conduct. But the gloomy character of Dr. Johnson's religion, and the disparaging expresfions which every where occur, do not permit us to allow either of these to be the thing intended.
The title of meditations, which Mr. Strahan, for want of a better, has thought fit to beitow upon the rest of the work, is calculated to mislead. They consist neither of reflections within the breast of the author, nor upon the things around him. They are merely minutes, at one time of refolutions for his future conduct, and at another, in the style of a diary or journal. Neither of thefe deserve that kind of acquital which we have bestowed upon the prayers. They are full of frivolous minutenesses and feminine weakness, beyond any thing of which an abstract defcription can fuggest the idea. At one time, Dr. Johnson talks of his corporeal sensations, and, if we did not inform the reader, perhaps in cafting his eye over the passage he might forget that he was reading a religious meditation,
• I have for some weeks past, been much afflicted with the lumbago, or rheumatism in the loins, which often passes to the museles of the belly, where it causes equal, if not greater pain. In the day, the sunhine mitigates it; and in cold or cloudy weather, such as has for
some time past remarkably prevailed, the heat of a strong fire fus pends it. In the night it is to troubletome, as not very casily to be born. I le wrapped in flannel, with a very great fire near my bed; but whether it be that a recumbent poiture encreases the pain, or that expansion byderste warmth excites what a great heat diffipates, I can feldom remain in bed two hours at a time, without the necessity of riling to heat the parts afierted at the fire.
• One night, bervreen the pain and the, spasms in my stomach, I was insupportably distrefied. On the next night, I think, I laid a a blister to my back, and took opium; my night was tolerable, and, from that time, the fpafis in my stomach, which disturbed me for many ycars, and for two past harralled me almost to dilraction, have nearly ceased; I fuppose the breast is relaxed by the opium.'
At another time he expreffcs his affectionate recollection of his deceased wife in a manner, which, though it convinces us of his fincerity, is not, of all others the most calculated to awaken our sympathy. • This is the day on which, in 1752, I was deprived of poor
dear Tetty. Having left of shie practice of thinking on her, with soine particular com 5:1207* 01, I have recalled her to my mind of late lels frequently; but when I recollect the time, in which we lived together, my grief for her departure is not abated ; and I have less pleasure in any good tha: befalls me, becaule the does not partake it. On many accations, I think what she would have faid or done. When I fait the sea at Brighthelmitone, I willied for her to have seen it with me. But with respect to her, no rational with is now lett, but that we inay ineet at lait where the mercy of Goil thall make us happy, and perhaps make us initrumental to the happiness of each other. It is not cightcen years.?
For a communication like the present, the world does not owe Mr. Stralian the highest thanks. It has long been the complaint of the literary world, that the memory of a great autlior is continually overwhelmed by the indiscreet publica tion of the effusions of those inomonts when he was deserted hy the muse. But this complaint was certainly never more applicable than in the present cafe. Never did there exitt a greater disparity between the performances of the fame author, than between the volume before us, and the Lives of the Poets, or the numbers of the Rambler. We are not, however, disposed indiscriminately to join in every accusation of this kind. When the works of a celebrated free thinker are presented to the world, while the whole body of the clergy are in a manner deploring the calamitous event, we are inclined to hold ourselves in tranquillity and indifference, or rather to rejoice in the belief, that froin indiscriminate and unrestrict cd enquiry, valuable truth will be more perfectly elucidated. And in the same manner, when the memoirs of a private individual pull down the hero from his capricious exaltation, we irresistibly prefer the knowledge of character, and the de
vélopement of luman nature, to the imaginary importance of a Villars, or a Dodingron.
When, therefore, we were told that the present performance exposed the weaknesses of Dr. Johnson, we were malicious enough to promise ourselves a rich and luxurious entertain. ment. Not that we have pleasure in the degradation of any man, but that, without respect of persons, we wish to see things as they are, and from the mass of particular obfervation, to obtain the first principles of general truth. “ Whether therefore it be we or they, whether it be the austerity of a Wynda ham, or the stupidity of a Stralian, to which we are indebted for our materials, we are prepare i with cqual tranquillity to derive from them every advantag: in our power.
We have found; however, the publication under review, much more barren in this refpe&t than we had conceived. That Dr. Johnson, in spite of all tlie contemptuous ridicule with which he has treated tliat delicate franie, which depends for its composure on the clouds and the winds, was hiinself not exempt from languor, fluggilliness and procrastination, is an obvious remark. Tliat he was full of the lowest and most pitiable fuperftition, that his attention was often engrossed by things in the last degree frivolous, fuitile, and unimportant; cannot be denied. But if these observations are rather dis advantageous to their hero, it is not less unquestionable, that he displays a sensibility of temper and an hu narie benevolence of heart that have rarely been equalled. . In this point of view, we are prepared to bestow the highest honour upon his prayers and anxiety for his deceased friends. The struggle in a breast, constituted as his was, between the severe principles of Protestantism, and the genuine and undisciplinable feelings of the heart, illustrates the kindness of his iiature more than it could have been illustrated by ariy other circumstanice.
Art. II. Tables of the Skeleton and Muscles of the Human Body.
By Bernard Siegfred Albinus, Translated from the Latin. Crown
Folio, il. 11s. 6d. A. Bell, Edinburgh, 1778. IN giving an opinion, of titis edition of the very grand and
truly valuable work of Albinus, we need neither say any thing concerning the merit of the original, nor the utility of anatomical knowledge. While it is generally admitted, that an accurate acquaintance with the itructure of every part of the human frame is essentially necessary, for those who mean to practice any branch of the healing art, it is at the same time universally allowed, that no anatomical tables exhibit more just representations of the bones and muscles than