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Such is moral happiness. Their misfortune is no less moral. The poor vicar has lost his fortune, and, removing to a small living, turns farmer. The squire of the neighbourhood seduces and carries off his eldest daughter; his house takes fire; his arm was burnt in a terrible manner in saving his two little children. He is put in prison, amongst wretches and rogues, who swear and blaspheme, in a vile atmosphere, sleeping on straw, feeling that his illness increases, foreseeing that his family will soon be without bread, learning that his daughter is dying. Yet he does not give way: he remains a priest and head of a family, prescribes to each of them his duty; encourages, consoles, orders, preaches to the prisoners, endures their coarse jests, reforms them; establishes in the prison useful work, and 'institutes fines for punishment and rewards for industry.' It is not hardness of heart nor a morose temperament which gives him strength; he has the most paternal soul, the most sociable, humane, open to gentle emotions and familiar tenderness. He says:
'I have no resentment now; and though he (the squire) has taken from me what I held dearer than all his treasures, though he has wrung my heart (for I am sick almost to fainting, very sick, my fellow-prisoner), yet that shall never inspire me with vengeance. . . . If this (my) submission can do him any pleasure, let him know, that if I have done him any injury, I am sorry for it. . . . I should detest my own heart, if I saw either pride or resentment lurking there. On the contrary, as my oppressor has been once my parishioner, I hope one day to present him up an unpolluted soul at the eternal tribunal.'1
Nothing is effectual: the wretch haughtily repulses the noble application of the vicar, and in addition causes his second daughter to be carried off, and the eldest son thrown into prison under a false accusation of murder. At this moment all the affections of the father are wounded, all his consolations lost, all his hopes ruined. 'His heart weeps to behold' all this misery, he was going to curse the cause of it all; but soon, returning to his profession and his duty, he thinks how he will prepare to fit his son and himself for eternity, and by way of being useful to as many people as he can, he wishes at the same time to exhort his fellow-prisoners. He made an effort to rise on the straw, but wanted strength, and was able only to recline against the wall; my son and his mother supported me on either side." In this condition he speaks, and his sermon, contrasting with his condition, is the more moving. It is a dissertation in the English style, made up of close reasoning, seeking only to establish that, from the nature of pleasure and pain, the wretched must be repaid the balance of their sufferings in the life hereafter. We see the sources of this virtue, born of Christianity and natural kindness, but long nourished by inner reflection. Meditation, which usually produces only phrases, results with Dr. Primrose in actions. Verily reason has here taken the helm,
The Vicar of Wakefield, ch. xxviii.
2 Ibid. ch. xxviii.
and it has taken it without oppressing other feelings; a rare and excellent spectacle, which, uniting and harmonising in one character the best features of the manners and morals of the time and country, creates an admiration and love for pious and orderly, domestic and disciplined, laborious and rural life. Protestant and English virtue has not a more approved and amiable exemplar. Religious, affectionate, rational, the Vicar unites dispositions which seemed irreconcilable; a clergyman, a farmer, a head of a family, he enhances those characters which appeared fit only for comic or homely parts.
In the centre of this group stands a strange character, the most esteemed of his time, a sort of literary dictator. Richardson was his friend, and gave him essays for his paper; Goldsmith, with an engaging vanity, admires him, whilst he suffers himself to be continually outshone by him; Miss Burney imitates his style, and reveres him as a father. Gibbon the historian, Reynolds the painter, Garrick the actor, Burke the orator, Sir William Jones the Orientalist, come to his club to converse with him. Lord Chesterfield, who had lost his favour, vainly tried to regain it, by proposing to assign to him, on every word in the language, the authority of a dictator. Boswell dogs his steps, sets down his opinions, and at night fills quartos with them. His criticism becomes law; men crowd to hear him talk; he is the arbiter of style. Let us transport in imagination this ruler of mind, Dr. Samuel Johnson, into France, among the pretty drawing-rooms, full of elegant philosophers and epicurean manners; the violence of the contrast will mark better than all argument, the bent and predilections of the English mind.
There appears then a man whose 'person was large, robust, approaching to the gigantic, and grown unwieldy from corpulency,'' with a gloomy and unpolished air, 'his countenance disfigured by the king's evil,' and blinking with one of his eyes, 'in a full suit of plain brown clothes,' and with not overclean linen, suffering from morbid melancholy since his birth, and moreover a hypochondriac. In company he would sometimes retire to a window or corner of a room, and mutter a Latin verse or a prayer. At other times, in a recess, he would roll his head, sway his body backward and forward, stretch out and then convulsively draw back his leg. His biographer relates that it was his constant anxious care to go out or in at a door or passage, ... so as that either his right or his left foot should constantly make the first actual movement; when he had neglected or gone wrong
1 See, in Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. Croker, 1853, ch. xi. p. 85, Chesterfield's complimentary paper on Johnson's Dictionary, printed in the World. 3 Ibid. ch. iii. 14 and 15.
2 Ibid. ch. xxx. 269.
Ibid. ch. xviii. 165, n. 4.
in this sort of magical movement, I have seen him go back again, put himself in the proper posture to begin the ceremony, and having gone through it, walk briskly on and join his companion.'1 People sat down to table. Suddenly, in a moment of abstraction, he stoops, and clenching hold of the foot of a lady, drew off her shoe.2 Hardly was the dinner served when he darted on the food; 'his looks seemed riveted to his plate; nor would he, unless when in very high company, say one word, or even pay the least attention to what was said by others; (he) indulged with such intenseness, that, while in the act of eating, the veins of his forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible.' 3 If by chance the hare was high, or the pie had been made with rancid butter, he no longer ate, but devoured. When at last his appetite was satisfied, and he consented to speak, he disputed, shouted, made a sparring-match of his conversation, snatched a triumph no matter how, laid down his opinion dogmatically, and maltreated those whom he was refuting. 'Sir, I perceive you are a vile Whig.' 'My dear lady (to Mrs Thrale), talk no more of this; nonsense can be defended but by nonsense." 'One thing I know, which you don't seem to know, that you are very uncivil.' 'In the intervals of articulating he made various sounds with his mouth, sometimes as if ruminating, . . . sometimes giving a half whistle, sometimes making his tongue play backwards from the roof of his mouth, as if clucking like a hen. Generally, when he had concluded a period, in the course of a dispute, .. he used to blow out his breath like a whale,' and swallow several cups of tea.
Then in a low voice, cautiously, men would ask Garrick and Boswell the history and habits of this strange being. He had lived like a cynic and an eccentric, having passed his youth reading miscellaneously, especially Latin folios, even those least known, such as Macrobius; he had found on a shelf in his father's shop the Latin works of Petrarch, whilst he was looking for apples, and had read them; he published proposals for printing by subscription the Latin poems of Politian.' At twenty-five he had married for love a woman of about fifty, 'very fat, with swelled cheeks, of a florid red, produced by thick painting, flaring and fantastic in her dress,' 10 and who had children as old as himself. Having come to London to earn his bread, some, seeing his convulsive grimaces, took him for an idiot; others, seeing his robust frame, advised him to buy a porter's knot.11 For thirty years he worked like a hack for the publishers, whom he used to thrash when they became impertinent; 12 always shabby, having
1 Life of Johnson, ch. xviii. 166.
3 Ibid. ch. xvii. 159.
5 Ibid. ch. xxii. 201.
7 Ibid. ch. xviii. 166.
9 Ibid. ch. iv. 22.
11 Ibid. ch. v. 28, note 2.
2 Ibid. ch. xlviii. 439, n. 3.
4 Ibid. ch. xxvi. 236.
6 Ibid. ch. lxviii. 628.
8 Ibid. ch. ii. 12.
10 Ibid. ch. iv. 26.
12 Ibid. ch. vii. 46.
once fasted two days;1 content when he could dine on a cut of meat for sixpence, and bread for a penny;' having written Rasselas in eight nights, to pay for his mother's funeral. Now pensioned by the king, freed from his daily labours, he gave way to his natural indolence, lying in bed often till mid-day and after. He is visited at that hour. We mount the stairs of a gloomy house on the north side of Fleet Street, the busy quarter of London, in a narrow and obscure court; and as we enter, we hear the scoldings of four old women and an old quack doctor, poor penniless creatures, bad in health and in disposition, whom he has rescued, whom he supports, who vex or insult him. We ask for the doctor, a negro opens the door; we gather round the master's bed; there are always many distinguished people at his levee, including even ladies. Thus surrounded, 'he declaims, then went to dinner at a tavern, where he commonly stays late,' talks all the evening, goes out to enjoy in the streets the London mud and fog, picks up a friend to talk again, and is busy pronouncing oracles and maintaining his opinions till four in the morning.
Whereupon we ask if it is the freedom of his opinions which is fascinating. His friends answer, that there is no more indomitable partisan of order. He is called the Hercules of Toryism. From infancy he detested the Whigs, and he never spoke of them but as public malefactors. He insults them even in his Dictionary. He exalts Charles the Second and James the Second as two of the best kings who have ever reigned. He justifies the arbitrary taxes which Government presumes to levy on the Americans. He declares that 'Whiggism is a negation of all principle;' that the first Whig was the devil;' that 'the Crown has not power enough;' that 'mankind are happier in a state of inequality and subordination.' 10 Frenchmen of the present time, the admirers of the Contrat Social, soon feel, on reading or hearing all this, that they are no longer in France. And what must they feel when, a few moments later, the Doctor says:
'I think him (Rousseau) one of the worst of men; a rascal who ought to be hunted out of society, as he has been. . . . I would sooner sign a sentence for his transportation, than that of any felon who has gone from the Old Bailey these many years. Yes, I should like to have him work in the plantations.'11 . . .
It seems that in England people do not like philosophical innovators.
'Life of Johnson, ch. xvii. 159.
2 Ibid. ch. v. 28.
3 He had formerly put in his Dictionary the following definition of the word pension Pension-an allowance made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a state-hireling for treason to his country.' This drew of course afterwards all the sarcasms of his adversaries upon himself.
Boswell's Life, ch. xxiv. 216.
6 Ibid. ch. xlviii. 435.
8 Ibid. ch. lxvi. 606.
10 Ibid. ch. xxviii. 252.
5 Ibid. ch. xlix. 444.
7 Ibid. ch. xvi. 148.
9 Ibid. ch. xxvi. 236.
11 Ibid. ch. xix. 175.
Let us see if Voltaire will be spared: 'It is difficult to settle the proportion of iniquity between them (Rousseau and Voltaire).'1 In good sooth, this is clear. But can we not look for truth outside an Established Church? No; 'no honest man could be a Deist; for no man could be so after a fair examination of the proofs of Christianity.'* Here is a peremptory Christian; there are scarcely any in France so decisive. Moreover, he is an Anglican, with a passion for the hierarchy, an admirer of established order, hostile to the Dissenters. You will see him bow to an archbishop with peculiar veneration. You will hear him reprove one of his friends 'for saying grace without mention of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.' If you speak to him of a Quakers' meeting, and of a woman preaching, he will tell you that 'a woman preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs; it is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.' He is a Conservative, and does not fear being considered antiquated. He went at one o'clock in the morning into the Church of St. John, Clerkenwell, to interrogate a tormented spirit, which had promised to give a token of her presence there by a knock upon her coffin.' If you look at Boswell's Life of him, you will find there fervent prayers, examinations of conscience, and rules of conduct. Amidst prejudices and follies he has a deep conviction, active faith, severe morality. He is a Christian from his heart and conscience, reason and practice. The thought of God, the fear of the last judgment, engross and reform him. He said one day to Garrick: 'I'll come no more behind your scenes, David, for the silk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous propensities.' He reproaches himself with his indolence, implores God's pardon, is humble, has scruples. All this is very strange. We ask men what can please them in this grumbling bear, with the manners of a beadle and the inclinations of a constable? They answer, that in London people are less exacting than in Paris, as to manners and politeness; that in England they allow energy to be rude and virtue odd; that they put up with a combative conversation; that public opinion is all on the side of the constitution and Christianity; and that society was right to take for its master a man who, by its style and precepts, best suited its bent.
We now send for his books, and after an hour we observe, that whatever the work be, tragedy or dictionary, biography or essay, he always keeps the same tone. 'Dr. Johnson,' Goldsmith said one day to him, if you were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like whales.' In fact, his phraseology rolls always in solemn and majestic periods, in which every substantive marches ceremoniously, accom
1 Boswell's Life, ch. xix. 176.
3 Ibid. ch. lxxv. 723.
5 Ibid. ch. xvii. 157.
7 Ibid. ch. xxviii. 256.
2 Ibid. ch. xix. 174.
4 Ibid. ch. xxiv. 218.
6 lbid. ch. xv. 138, note 3.