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Johnson's studies at Oxford.
though, with the just sentiments of a conscientious Christian, he lamented that his practice of its duties fell far short of what it ought to be.
This instance of a mind such as that of Johnson being first disposed, by an unexpected incident, to think with anxiety of the momentous concerns of eternity, and of what he should do to be saved ',' may for ever be produced in opposition to the superficial and sometimes profane contempt that has been thrown upon those occasional impressions which it is certain many Christians have experienced ; though it must be acknowledged that weak minds, from an erroneous supposition that no man is in a state of grace who has not felt a particular conversion, have, in some cases, brought a degree of ridicule upon them; a ridicule of which it is inconsiderate or unfair to make a general application.
How seriously Johnson was impressed with a sense of religion, even in the vigour of his youth, appears from the following passage in his minutes kept by way of diary: Sept. 7 °, 1736. I have this day entered upon my twentyeighth year. “Mayest thou, O God, enable me, for JESUS CHRIST's sake, to spend this in such a manner that I may receive comfort from it at the hour of death, and in the day of judgement! Amen.'
The particular course of his reading while at Oxford, and during the time of vacation which he passed at home, cannot be traced. Enough has been said of his irregular mode of study. He told me that from his earliest years he loved to read poetry, but hardly ever read any poem to an end ; that he read Shakspeare at a period so early, that the speech of the ghost in Hamlet terrified him when he was alone'; that Horace's Odes were the compositions in which he took most
· Acts xvi. 30.
"He that peruses Shakespeare looks round alarmed, and starts to find himself alone.' Johnson's Works, v. 71. 'I was many years ago so shocked by Cordelia's death, that I know not whether I ever endured to read again the last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them as an editor.' Ib. p. 175. 1.-6
His knowledge of books.
delight, and it was long before he liked his Epistles and Satires. He told me what he read solidly at Oxford was Greek; not the Grecian historians, but Homer' and Euripides, and now and then a little Epigram; that the study of which he was the most fond was Metaphysicks, but he had not read much, even in that way. I always thought that he did himself injustice in his account of what he had read, and that he must have been speaking with reference to the vast portion of study which is possible, and to which a few scholars in the whole history of literature have attained; for when I once asked him whether a person, whose name I have now forgotten, studied hard, he answered 'No, Sir; I do not believe he studied hard. I never knew a man who studied hard. I conclude, indeed, from the effects, that some men have studied hard, as Bentley and Clarke.' Trying him by that criterion upon which he formed his judgement of others, we may be absolutely certain, both from his writings and his conversation, that his reading was very extensive. Dr. Adam Smith, than whom few were better judges on this subject, once observed to me that Johnson knew more books than any man alive.' He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was valuable in any book, without submitting to the labour of perusing it from beginning to end'.
· He told Mr. Windham that he had never read through the Odyssey completely. Windham's Diary, p. 17. At college, he said, he had been 'very idle and neglectful of his studies.' Ib.
*. It may be questioned whether, except his Bible, he ever read a book entirely through. Late in life, if any man praised a book in his presence, he was sure to ask, “Did you read it through ?" If the answer was in the affirmative, he did not seem willing to believe it.' Murphy's Johnson, p. 12. It would be easy to show that Johnson read many books right through, though, according to Mrs. Piozzi, he asked, was there ever yet anything written by mere man that was wished longer by its readers excepting Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and the Pilgrim's Progress ?' Piozzi's Anec. p. 281. Nevertheless in Murphy's statement there is some truth. See what has been just stated by Boswell, that'he hardly ever read any poem to an end,' and post, April 19, 1773, and June 15, 1784. To him might be applied his own description of Barretier :—'He had a quickness of apprehension and
Aetat. 20.] His rapid reading and composition.
He had, from the irritability of his constitution, at all times, an impatience and hurry when he either read or wrote. A certain apprehension, arising from novelty, made him write his first exercise at College twice over'; but he never took that trouble with any other composition; and we shall see that his most excellent works were struck off at a heat, with rapid exertion
Yet he appears, from his early notes or memorandums in my possession, to have at various times attempted, or at least planned, a methodical course of study, according to computation, of which he was all his life fond, as it fixed his
firmness of memory which enabled him to read with incredible rapidity, and at the same time to retain what he read, so as to be able to recollect and apply it. He turned over volumes in an instant, and selected what was useful for his purpose. Johnson's Works, vi. 390.
i See post, June 15, 1784. Mr. Windham (Diary, p. 17) records the following 'anecdote of Johnson's first declamation at college ; having neglected to write it till the morning of his being (sic) to repeat it, and having only one copy, he got part of it by heart while he was walking into the hall, and the rest he supplied as well as he could extempore.' Mrs. Piozzi, recording the same anecdote, says that 'having given the copy into the hand of the tutor who stood to receive it as he passed, he was obliged to begin by chance, and continue on how he could. ...“ A prodigious risk, however,” said some one. * Not at all,” exclaims Johnson, “no man, I suppose, leaps at once into deep water who does not know how to swim."' Piozzi's Anec. p. 30.
* He told Dr. Burney that he never wrote any of his works that were printed, twice over. Dr. Burney's wonder at seeing several pages of his Lives of the Poets, in Manuscript, with scarce a blot or erasure, drew this observation from him. MALONE. “He wrote forty-eight of the printed octavo pages of the Life of Savage at a sitting (post, Feb. 1744), and a hundred lines of the Vanity of Human Wishes in a day (post, under Feb. 15, 1766). The Ramblers were written in haste as the moment pressed, without even being read over by him before they were printed' (post, beginning of 1750). In the second edition, however, he made corrections. He composed Rasselas in the evenings of one week' (post, under January 1759). “The False Alarm was written between eight o'clock on Wednesday night and twelve o'clock on Thursday night.' Piozzi's Anec. p. 41. •The Patriot,' he says, 'was called for on Friday, was written on Saturday' (post, Nov. 26, 1774).
Johnson's rooms in College.
attention steadily upon something without, and prevented his mind from preying upon itself'. Thus I find in his handwriting the number of lines in each of two of Euripides' Tragedies, of the Georgicks of Virgil, of the first six books of the Æneid, of Horace's Art of Poetry, of three of the books of Ovid's Metamorphosis, of some parts of Theocritus, and of the tenth Satire of Juvenal; and a table, shewing at the rate of various numbers a day (I suppose verses to be read), what would be, in each case, the total amount in a week, month, and year.
No man had a more ardent love of literature, or a higher respect for it than Johnson. His apartment in Pembroke College was that upon the second floor, over the gateway. The enthusiasts of learning will ever contemplate it with veneration. One day, while he was sitting in it quite alone, Dr. Panting', then master of the College, whom he called 'a fine Jacobite fellow,' overheard' him uttering this soliloquy in his strong, emphatick voice: “Well, I have a mind to see what is done in other places of learning. I'll go and visit
"When Mr. Johnson felt his fancy, or fancied he felt it, disordered, his constant recurrence was to the study of arithmetic. Piozzi's Anec. p. 77. 'Ethics, or figures, or metaphysical reasoning, was the sort of talk he most delighted in ;' ib. p. 80. See post, Sept. 24, 1777.
Sept. 18, 1764, I resolve to study the Scriptures; I hope in the original languages. 640 verses every Sunday will nearly comprise the Scriptures in a year.' Pr. and Med. p. 58. *1770, ist Sunday after Easter. The plan which I formed for reading the Scriptures was to read 600 verses in the Old Testament, and 200 in the New, every week ;' ib. p. 100.
August 1, 1715. This being the day on which the late Queen Anne died, and on which George, Duke and Elector of Brunswick, usurped the English throne, there was very little rejoicing in Oxford.
There was a sermon at St. Marie's by Dr. Panting, Master of Pembroke; ... He is an honest gent. His sermon took no notice, at most very little, of the Duke of Brunswick.' Hearne's Remains, ii. 6.
• The outside wall of the gateway-tower forms an angle with the wall of the Master's house, so that any one sitting by the open window and speaking in a strong emphatic voice might have easily been overheard.
Johnson a frolicksome fellow.
the Universities abroad. I'll go to France and Italy. I'll go to Padua'.-And I'll mind my business. For an Athenian blockhead is the worst of all blockheads?'
Dr. Adams told me that Johnson, while he was at Pem. broke College, was caressed and loved by all about him, was a gay and frolicksome' fellow, and passed there the happiest part of his life. But this is a striking proof of the fallacy of appearances, and how little any of us know of the real internal state even of those whom we see most frequently; for the truth is, that he was then depressed by poverty, and irritated by disease. When I mentioned to him this
Goldsmith did go to Padua, and stayed there some months. Forster's Goldsmith, i. 71.
· I had this anecdote from Dr. Adams, and Dr. Johnson confirmed it. Bramston, in his Man of Taste, has the same thought:
•Sure, of all blockheads, scholars are the worst.' BOSWELL. Johnson's meaning, however, is, that a scholar who is a blockhead must be the worst of all blockheads, because he is without excuse. But Bramston, in the assumed character of an ignorant coxcomb, maintains that all scholars are blockheads on account of their scholarship. J. Boswell, Jun. There is, I believe, a Spanish proverb to the effect that, to be an utter fool a man must know Latin. A writer in Notes and Queries (5th S. xii. 285) suggests that Johnson had in mind Acts xvii, 21.
3. It was the practice in his time for a servitor, by order of the Master, to go round to the rooms of the young men, and knocking at the door to enquire if they were within ; and if no answer was returned to report them absent. Johnson could not endure this intrusion, and would frequently be silent, when the utterance of a word would have ensured him from censure, and would join with others of the young men in the college in hunting, as they called it, the servitor who was thus diligent in his duty, and this they did with the noise of pots and candlesticks, singing to the tune of Chevy Chase the words in the old ballad,
"To drive the deer with hound and horn!"' Hawkins, p. 12. Whitefield, writing of a few years later, says :—At this time Satan used to terrify me much, and threatened to punish me if I discovered his wiles. It being my duty, as servitor, in my turn to knock at the gentlemen's rooms by ten at night, to see who were in their rooms, I thought the devil would appear to me every stair I went up.' Tyerman's Whitefield, i. 20.