Page images

fountain of Johnson that his materials must be supplied. Of the graces and elegancies of diction, Warburton, on the contrary, had no conception,-his thoughts were turned out in the dress which lay nearest to his hand; and often their multiplicity was too great to allow him time to find for each a proper and suitable covering of expression. To harmony in the structure of cadences, or splendour in the finishing of sentences, he was utterly void of pretension, and was, moreover, totally destitute of the power of selection or choice of words. Yet he cannot justly be accused of neglect or contempt of the beauties of style, for no one altered more incessantly, or altered to less purpose, than Warburton. In one of his letters he acknowledges, that there are many thousand corrections and alterations merely of language in the second edition of his Julian ; and, to my own knowledge, there are no less than 20,000 verbal corrections in the several editions of his Divine Legation, almost every one of which has no other effect than to render that worse which before was bad. He compared himself, in his alterations, to the bear who licks into form its shapeless offspring ; but, with little felicity of com. parison, for his alterations, though they always bring down and reduce to tameness the original nervous force of the expression, have seldom the effect of adding to its elegance or removing its infirmities. Very different, in this respect, was Johnson's character in writing, who is, like Shakspeare, hardly ever known to have altered or corrected his productions after publication; and whose mastery of diction was such, that it immediately brought, at his command, the best and most appropriate language which his subject required. The answering powers of his expression were always exactly proportioned to the demand of his thought: there is never any incongruity of this kind perceptible in his writings; what he thought strongly, he could express forcibly

and well; and what he had once written became fixed, and fixed, because it was impossible for alteration to improve, or correction to amend it. The greatest fault, perhaps, in his style, is the want of flexibility—the want of variety adapted for every varying occasion ; it was too uniform to alter-it was too stiff to bend-its natural tone was too high to admit of a graceful descent the same was the expression, and the same the pompousness of language, whether he descanted as a moralist, or complained as an advertiser; whether he weighed in his balance the intellects of Shakspeare and Milton, or denounced, with threats of punishment, against the person or persons, unknown, who had pirated a paper of his Idler. In Warburton's diction, which was uniformly faulty, it is needless to expatiate on any particular faults; we may, however, mention, that it was overrun with foreign idioms, and exotic phraseology, and that it particularly abounds in Gallicisms, which almost disgrace every sentence. In both, the style doubt. less took its tincture from the peculiar complexion of their minds; and while in the one it swelled into ma. jestic elegance and dignified strength, in the other it broke out into uncouth harshness and uncultivated force. . “In extent of learning, in profundity and depth of erudition, Warburton may justly claim the superiority. Nothing more illustrates the different characters of these great men, than the different manner in which their reading was applied. In Johnson, acquired learning became immediately transmuted into mind-it immediately was consubstantiated with its receiver ; it did not remain dormant, like a dull and inert mass in the intellect, unaltered and unalterable, but entered, if I may use the expression, into the very core and marrow of the mind, and became a quality and adjunct of the digestive power; it was instantaneously concocted into intellectual chyle-his mind had more the quality of a grinding engine than a receiver; every particle it absorbed became instinct with vital life-like the power of flame it consumed all approximating substances. In Warburton, the power of digestion was certainly disproportioned to the insatiability of appetite,—what he could not retain, he was therefore obliged immediately again to eject, and he did again eject it, but not in its received and original state, but altered in its outward form and semblance, and mouldered up into some glittering and fantastical hypothesis, some original and more alluring shape, as different from its first condition as is the crawling caterpillar from the butterfly which expands its golden wings in the air. The defects of his digestive faculty were amply supplied by his power of assimilation, which, spider-like, had the faculty of weaving innumerable webs and phantasms out of the matter which was presented to it, and disguising and recasting into some other outward appearance those morsels which were too hard to retain, and too ponderous to swallow. Such, indeed, was the voracity of his appetite, that he refused nothing which offered itself; and the wide gulf of his intellectual appetite often reminds us of the boa constrictor, after it has swallowed the rhinoceros, as it lies in gorged and torpid fulness, stretched out in all its giant-length on the ground. This difference in the perception and application of knowledge was distin. guishable in every production of these great men; it is perceptible from their earlier works to their latest; and being occasioned by the peculiar construction and formation of their mental faculties, it formed the character of their minds; and, therefore, continued, without receiving alteration, from their first years of authorship to their last. In Johnson, therefore, learning, when received, might more properly be called knowledge, it was stripped of its superfluous and unnecessary parts it was winnowed of its chaff, and deposited in the re

ceptacles of thought, while, in Warburton, it was like clay thrown into a mould ready prepared for it, for the purpose of forming materials for building up to their measureless height the countless edifices of his fancy.

“In that practical knowledge of, and insight into human nature, which forms the chief qualification for the moralist and the writer on men and manners, Johnson was greatly superior to Warburton. The former had acquired his knowledge in the tutoring school of adversity ; and the long and dreary probation he had to serve before he attained to competence and success, had given him a sound and piercing view into life and human nature ; while the haughtiness of the latter formed a kind of circle about him, which prevented his mingling with the crowd, and deriving, by universal converse and acquaintance, an universal and comprehensive knowledge of man. He was also a more prejudiced and less unbiassed spectator of mankind, continually referring their causes of action, not to the acknowledged principles of experience, but to some preconceived and ready-fashioned theory of his own, with which he made every deduction to square in and quadrate, and to whose decision he referred the settlement of all the various anomalies and phenomena which distract the inquirer into human nature. Otherwise was the knowledge of Johnson formed: he was no speculatist in his views of mankind; what he had learned, he learned from practical experience; commented upon with extraordinary acuteness and penetration of discernment; and what he had once learned, his judgment was too sound to permit him to warp, and his love of truth too great to allow him to conceal.

"In private life, the character of Warburton was distinguished by the same kind of bold openness and unshrinking cordiality; the same livid warmth in his enmities and friendships; and the same impatient haugh

tiness and dogmatical resolution which stood forth displayed in his writings. No one communicated to his productions more of his own personal character, or drew his own full-length so admirably in his works. After a perusal of what he has written, his character lies in all its native colours before our eyes, and we hardly want the intimacy of a personal acquaintance to be fully and thoroughly masters of his peculiarities. What he thought, he dauntlessly and fearlessly expressed. Disguise he hated, and subterfuge he despised. He who was the enemy of Warburton was sure of bold, honest, and manly hostility; he who was his friend was equally. certain of the full participation of all the benefits of assistance and protection. It was one of his maxims, both in his public and private character, 'He who is not with me is against me.' He hated a neutral worse even than an enemy; to him indifference was worse than decided dislike ; imperturbable placidity more disagreeable than a storm. Pass over his opinions or his productions, without giving any decided opinion as to their jus tice or their merits, and he would immediately number you amongst the list of his foes, and let loose upon you all the torrent of his mingled scurrility and wit. This fervid warmth of temper frequently overpowered the cooler dictates of his reason, and to this we may perhaps ascribe that high and overstrained excess of praise which he showered down upon the productions of his friends ; for of flattery we cannot justly accuse him : he would have disdained what he conceived implied fear. One exception, however, must be made to this remark, and that is, the case of Bishop Sherlock, whom, during his life, Warburton extravagantly praised, and after the death of that prelate, not only expunged from his writings every syllable of commendation, but paragraphed him in the Dunciad of his Divine Legation with the utmost contumely and contempt. For neglect of his

« PreviousContinue »