Page images

wise and good do not need them as a guide, but as a shield; they can live civilly and orderly, though there were no law in the world. And though wise and good men invented laws, they were fools and wicked men that put them upon the study. To rule such wild cattle, there needed both the judgment and the wit of the best and ablest, to find out ways to trammel them, and keep them within orderly bounds. It is most certain, that the original of all laws is divine; and though at the first creation, God gave not man a written law; yet he gave him a law parole, and inscribed it in his heart, that by those inward dictates he might be guided and regulated in the course of his life.

Among the ancient Druids, it was absolutely forbidden to register their laws in writing. And Cæsar, in his Gallic wars, gives us two reasons for it. One was, that their mysteries might not come to be profaned by, and rendered common to, the vulgar; the other, that not being written, they might be the more careful to carry them in their thoughts and memory. It was also, doubtless, intended by the rulers to preserve their own authority, to induce the people to have recourse to them, and to have a reverence and esteem for their judgments. It likewise often falls out, that, what is written, though it were a good law, when made; yet, by the emergency of affairs, and the mutable condition of men and times, it becomes defective, and necessary to be altered. And we find it to be evidently true, that, as where there are many physicians, there are many diseases; so where there are many laws, there are many enormities. That nation which swarms with law, and lawyers, certainly abounds with vice and corruption. Where you find much fowl resort, you may be sure there is no want of either water, mud, or weeds.

In the beginnings of thriving states, when they are more industrious and simple, they have the fewest laws. Rome itself had, at first, but twelve tables: but, afterwards, how infinitely did their laws increase! Old states, like old bodies, will be sure to contract diseases: and where the law-makers are many, the laws will never be few. That nation is in the best state which has the fewest laws, and those good. Variety only multiplies snares. And oftentimes, when the law did not intend it, men are made guilty by the pleader's oratory, which is exerted either to display his eloquence, to advance his practice, or, out of mastery, to carry his cause. To go to law, is, for two persons to kindle a fire at their own cost, to warm others, and singe themselves to cinders. Because they cannot agree as to what is truth and equity, they will both agree to unplume themselves, that others may be stuck 'with their feathers.

The Apostle throws the brand of simple on those who, by striving this way, consume both their peace, their treasure, and their time; and expose a game to the packing and the shuffling of others, when they might soberly cut, and deal the cards themselves. Is there none wise enough to compound businesses, without calling in the crafty and the cunning? Or is there none who has wisdom sufficient to moderate a little, that he may save a great deal more?

A law-suit is like a building; we cast up the charge in gross, and

under-reckon it: but being in for it, we are trained along through several items, till we can neither bear the account nor leave off, though we have a mind to it. The anxiety, the trouble, the attendance, the hazard, the checks, the vexatious delays, the surreptitious advantages against us, the defeats of hope, the falseness of pretending friends, the interests of parties, the negligence of agents, and the designs of ruin upon us, do put us upon a combat against all that can plague poor man; or else we must lie down, be trodden upon, be kicked and die.

If men could coolly have their business despatched and rightly judged, no doubt, in things of weight, the decision would be profitable. And this does sometimes happen; for undoubtedly, there are those in the profession of the law who are the light and wonder of the age; who have knowledge and integrity; and being versed in books and men, in the noble arts of justice and of prudence, are fitter for judgment, and the due settling the affairs of the world, than any other men. A faithful advocate can never sit without clients. Nor do I believe, that that man could lose by it, in the end, who would not undertake a cause he knew not honest. In all pleadings, foul language, malice, impertinence, and recriminations, are ever to be avoided. The cause, more than the man, is to be defended. Overpowering oratory ought not to be practised; torrents of words often bear down even the trophies of truth.

It is not good to be too severe, or to enforce too rigorously, the observation of every petty and penal law: in charity, there is something to be allowed to ignorance and custom. Blood and treasure ought to be but sparingly taken. Those lawyers who are sedulous to press penalties, are little better than purse beadles.

[ocr errors]

So far law may be compared to war, that it is a last resort, and ought never to be used but when all other means do fail ;-and then the pleaders ought to hold themselves to that. He who vindicates the law, does no man wrong; but he that digresseth to impertinencies or the personal stains of men, is rather a fly that buzzes and sucks the wound, than a champion for truth, or a helmet to keep the head of justice whole.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]




THE writer of this short memoir of Dr. Johnson has peculiar pleasure in doing honour to the memory of an author whom he regards with unfeigned gratitude as the source of much of the most valuable instruction he received in early life. The labours of this illustrious man have conferred more moral benefit upon his countrymen than perhaps those of any other author, not directly employed in the service of religion. At the time he appeared, literature was debased by a licentiousness of sentiment and indelicacy of expression, which we now wonder could ever have been endured. The most distinguished writers were not exempt from this grossness; nay, many of the most

[blocks in formation]

able and popular authors were the greatest offenders against moral decency; and as books doubtless took their tone from the language of conversation, we can form some estimate of the degree of laxity which prevailed in what was then considered polite society.

It is scarcely possible to take up any book written between the period of the Restoration and the publication of the Rambler, without falling upon some passages, after the perusal of a few pages, which cannot now be read without a blush. Even the Spectator, which was in other respects calculated to improve the morals of the youthful reader, abounds with blemishes of this kind; and we may sometimes find such stories in the pages of volumes expressly dedicated to the awful affairs of eternity.

The influence of Johnson's pen at once effected a moral reformation in the literary world, which none of his predecessors could accomplish. While his critical knowledge eminently qualified him to erect a standard of grammatical purity for the improvement of our language, his inflexible morality placed a barrier against the licentiousness of thought and expression which had so long polluted the works of our most distinguished writers. The publication of the Rambler formed an era in the morals of this nation not more honourable to the taste than to

the virtue of his countrymen. Johnson, from the commencement of his public career, refused to tolerate wit when seasoned with obscenity, or to pay respect to philosophy if allied to impiety. We can mention the name of no author whose writings are so entirely free from indelicacy, or who so systematically directed his attention to the exclusion of every thing which might injure the morals of his readers.

Samuel Johnson was the son of a bookseller in humble circumstances at Litchfield; he was born in 1709, and educated first at that city, and afterwards at Stourbridge; from whence, with the help of some private friend, his father sent him to complete his studies at Pembroke College, Oxford. Here he long struggled with poverty; and was obliged at length to quit the University without waiting for his degree, after a residence of little more than two years. Having now lost his father, he endeavoured to maintain himself as an usher at a school; an office for which he was but ill qualified, notwithstanding that his abilities and learning already gave promise of the fame which he afterwards acquired. Having married the widow of a mercer of Birmingham, with a fortune of a few hundred pounds, he opened a school at Edial, near Litchfield; which, after a short trial, he found it prudent to relinquish: and, in company with the celebrated David Garrick, who was then his pupil, proceeded to London to try his fortune in that great mart of talent. His companion soon chose the` stage for his profession, and rose rapidly to reputation; while Johnson, who was a giant in abilities compared with Garrick, was destined to labour for a large portion of his life oppressed by poverty, and opened to himself a path to success by long and painful exertion. He became a contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine soon after his arrival in the Metropolis; the emoluments he thus obtained supplied him with a scanty pittance, scarce sufficient to maintain him. In 1738 he pub

lished "London," a poem, which suddenly brought him into notice. This was followed, in 1749, by the "Vanity of Human Wishes," of which we now present our readers with a considerable portion. The excellence of this poem makes us regret, that, with the exception of a few trifling pieces, he never afterwards resumed poetical composition, in which he would undoubtedly have attained a high rank.

Garrick being now patentee of Drury-lane Theatre, Johnson's Tragedy of Irene was brought forth on that stage, but without any distinguished success. In 1750 he commenced the Rambler, a periodical paper, devoted to the service of morality, which raised his reputation to great eminence, and is the work upon which posterity will probably found his highest claim to honour. In 1758 he published a similar work, called the Idler; and afterwards contributed largely to the Adventurer, conducted by Dr. Hawkesworth. Meanwhile he was for many years anxiously employed in compiling the great work of the English Dictionary, which appeared in 1755, and is certainly one of the most extraordinary efforts of a single mind which the world has witnessed.

While these noble proofs of the vigour of his understanding obtained for Johnson the general esteem and honour of his countrymen, they were not unobserved by his patriotic Sovereign, who was ever ready to mark his approbation of individual merit by the liberality of his patronage. In 1762 the King settled on him a pension of 300l. per annum; and a few years afterwards graciously expressed to him, at a long interview in the Royal Library, the high respect he entertained for his character and abilities.

His next work was an edition of Shakspeare, distinguished by a Preface, which is esteemed one of the most splendid pieces of writing in our language. His last, and perhaps his most popular work, the Lives of the British Poets, appeared in 1781. It was received with universal delight, being replete with delicate criticism, and abounding in a variety and extent of information truly astonishing; especially when it is considered that the author was then in his 70th year, and in very precarious health.

Dr. Johnson, though possessing great muscular strength, inherited a diseased constitution, which affected his temper, and rendered him fretful and impatient under the impertinence of those who often invaded his retirement, from no other motive than curiosity; or who combated his opinions to provoke him to display his great conversational power: but as Goldsmith once happily observed, he had nothing of the bear but his skin; and the integrity and benevolence which lay beneath a rugged exterior amply compensated for the occasional rudeness of his expressions. He was subject to frequent fits of an hereditary melancholy, accompanied by bodily ailments which gave him great uneasiness. Towards the close of his life he was afflicted with asthma and dropsy, which at length put a period to his valuable existence, in December, 1784. His remains were buried in Westminster Abbey, attended by a crowd of his friends, amongst whom


were numbered all the great men of his time, and a statue was erected in St. Paul's as a further mark of their gratitude.

[ocr errors]

The distinguished abilities and learning of Dr. Johnson were exalted by principles of practical Religion, which were the steady guide of his conduct. He was in the habit of frequent self-examination, (which, indeed, is the essence of true devotion;) and though the frailty of/ human nature sometimes led him to set an undue value upon worldly distinctions, yet of these he was ever ready to acknowledge the emptiness, in his hours of retirement.

When the ill-judging friends, who affectionately hung over his dying bed, strove to calm his anxious views of futurity by diverting his thoughts to the retrospect of a well-spent life, he turned away from such shallow comfort to the true source of consolation in his last hours; he abandoned all presumptuous hopes of self-righteousness, placing his sole dependence on the merits of his Redeemer: from Him he sought in earnest prayer a remedy for all his apprehensions, and thus found peace and consolation at the last-(that peace which the world cannot give)-when all human help was vain.




[ocr errors]

LET observation with extensive view,

Survey mankind, from China to Peru;
Remark each anxious toil, each eager strife,
And watch the busy scenes of crowded life;
Then say how hope and fear, desire and hate,
O'erspread with snares the clouded maze of fate,
Where wav'ring man, betray'd by vent'rous pride,
To tread the dreary paths without a guide;
As treach'rous phantoms in the mist delude,
Shuns fancied ills, or chases airy good.

How rarely reason guides the stubborn choice,
Rules the bold hand, or prompts the suppliant voice,
How nations sink, by darling schemes oppress'd,
When vengeance listens to the fool's


Fate wings with ev'ry wish th' afflictive dart,
Each gift of nature, and each grace of art,
With fatal heat impetuous courage glows,
With fatal sweetness elocution flows,

Impeachment stops the speaker's pow'rful breath,
And restless fire precipitates on death.

"Let hist'ry tell where rival kings command,
And dubious title shakes the madded land,
When statutes glean the refuse of the sword,
How much more safe the vassal than the lord;
Low skulks the hind beneath the rage of pow'r,
And leaves the wealthy traitor in the Tow'r,

« PreviousContinue »