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probably, the productions of the two ladies, when separately considered, do not rival those of the celebrated Marchioness de Sevignè; yet it may be said with truth, that the letters of Russel exhibit the tenderness of the amiable French woman, and those of Montague her vivacity and ease. Many of the letters of Pope have been injured by elaboration, and the affectation of wit; but there are several in the collection which are free from these defects, and are truly valuable for their spirit, and elegant simplicity. The letters of Swift, too, are remarkable for their freedom and perspicuity.
To invalidate the opinion of Johnson, the production of these writers would be sufficient; but it is to some authors of very late date, that we must appeal for the complete triumph of this country in epistolary composition. The names of Gray, of Burns, and Cowper, will call to our recollection, a series of epistles, which have no superiors in modern Europe. With the letters of Burns and Cowper, indeed, I know none, that for ease and spirit, for sweetness and simplicity, both in style and matter, can be placed in competition.
The remaining posthumous works of Dr. Johnson, namely, Sermons on different subjects, left for publication by John Taylor, LL. D. and published by the Rev. Samuel Hayes, A. M, two volumes octavo; and Prayers and Meditations, published from his manuscripts, by George Strahan, A. M. call upon us for the consideration of our author, under the character of a THEOLOGIA.N.
To these publications, in this department, we may likewise add several religious papers in the Rambler, and three reviews, in the Literary Magazine, of Sir Isaac Newton's Arguments in proof of a Deity; of Brown's Christian Morals; and of Jenyns's Free Enquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil.
The critique on Jenyns's Enquiry is a most masterly disquisition, on a subject of great metaphysical obscurity, and a complete refutation and exposure
of the weak and arrogant parts of that singular production.
The Sermons, which are twenty-five in number, were part of the stock which Dr. Taylor carried with him to the pulpit. As compositions, they are little inferior to any of our author's best works, and they inculcate, without enthusiasm or dogmatism, the purest precepts and doctrines of religion and morality. The last of the second volume was written for the funeral of his wife, and under the expectation of its being delivered by Dr. Taylor, who refused the office, declaring, that he thought it too laudatory for the occasion; an opinion, to which, probably, few of its readers will
assent; for there is nothing of unqualified praise in this discourse, and it is, more than any other sermon in the collection, remarkable for its solemn and pathetic tone; it was written, indeed, between the death and burial of Mrs. Johnson, and therefore with a warmth of feeling, and a fervour of devotion, which a loss so great and recent might be expected to impress.
From our author's acknowledgement to Mr. Boswell, it appears that he had written yarious sermons beside these presented to 'Taylor; and much is it to be wished, from the value of those which we possess, that the remainder, if still existing in manuscript, were delivered to the press.
It is in the Prayers and Meditations of Johnson, however, that we become acquainted with the inward heart of the man; he had left them for publication, under the idea that they were calculated to do good; and depraved, indeed, must be that individual, who rises unbenefited from their perusal.
The contrast between the languags of this little volume, and the style of the Rambler, is striking in the extreme, and a strong proof of the judgement, the humility, and the piety of the author. With a deep sense of human frailty, and individual error, he addresses the throne of mercy in a strain remarkable for its simplicity and
plainness; but which, though totally stripped of the decorations of art, possesses a native dignity, approaching to that which we receive from our most excellent liturgy. The first prayer which he has preserved, is dated September 10th, 1738, and the last, December 5th, 1784, eight days previous to his decease.
The “ Meditations” connected with these Prayers correspond not with the title; they are, in fact, little more than memoranda, and I wish that many
of them had been spared. They reveal, however, the workings of his mind, his fears, his apprehensions, and his sorrows; they reveal also, what no human being is exempt from, many singular weaknesses; but, as Mr. Murphy has justly observed, they are the weaknesses of a good, a pious, and a most excellent man.”
'To enter somewhat further, however, into the theological opinions of Johnson, it will be necessary to take a cursory review of his tenets, his superstitions, and his piety.
He was, with some few speculative differences, an orthodox churchman; but with a zeal perhaps rather too ardent,* and with an inclination towards the Roman Catholic religion. His belief in the doctrines and statement of the Trinity, f the
• Vide Boswell's Life, vol. 1, p. 420.
+ Ibid. Vol. 2, p. 256.
resurrection, and vicarious punishments,t were strictly conformable to the protestant creed. Ile possessed, nevertheless, too much depth and originality of reasoning, to submit implicitly to the dictates of any church, where human opinion was mingled with divine revelation; on subjects of this kind, however, he was never dogmatic, but communicated his ideas with awe and hesitation. I
His deviations from rigid protestantism, owe their origin chiefly to his love of the marvellous and mysterious, to his gloomy apprehensions relative to a future state, to his longing wish to know with more certainty, the condition of the dead hereafter, and to his ardent desire of more extrinsic assistance toward the obtainment of salvation. To this latter circumstance, we are principally to attribute his bias to the church of Rome. “ A good man,” he has declared, “ of a timorous disposition, in great doubt of his acceptance with God, and pretty credulous, might be glad to be of a church where there are so many helps to get to heaven. I would be a Papist if I could. I have fear enough; but an obstinate rationality prevents me.
I shall never be a Papist, unless on the near approach of death, of
* Boswell's Life, Vol. 4, 96. + Vol. 4, 127. + See his opinion on the eternity of punishment. Boswell, vol. 3, p. 216.