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From Miss Talbot, April 22, 1752. “I must beg a thousand pardons, my dear Miss Carter, for my absolute silence on the death of that cxcellent person, the RAMBLER. I assure you, I grieved for it most sincerely, and could have dropt a tear over his two concluding papers, if he had not in one or two places of the last commended himself too much; for I knew there were people whose very unjust prejudices against him would be strengthened by them. Indeed 'tis a sad thing that such a paper should have met with discouragement from wise, and learned, and good people too. Many are the disputes it has cost me, and not once did I come off triumphant. I have heard he means to occasionally throw some papers into the Daily Advertiser; but he has not begun yet, as he is in great affliction I hear, poor man, for the loss of his wife.”
From Mrs. Carter, May 9, 1752. “ I congratulate you, dear Miss Talbot, on your retreat from the hurry and Autter of fashionable visiting to the quiet conversation of wood nymphs and hamadryads, and other good sort of company, who have wrought so happy a reformation in you, and taught you to express yourself with becoming sorrow on the death of the RAMBLER. It must be confessed how. ever that you shewed an heroic spirit in defending his cause against such formidable enemies even in London. Many a battle have I too fought for him in the country, but with very little success. Indeed I was extremely disheartened in my last defeat in argument with a lady of excellent skill in the weapons of plausibility,
who so absolutely got the better of me, that after hawng displayed the whole force of my eloquence, with no manner of effect on her understanding, in defence of the RAMBLER, she afterwards almost convinced me that there was a tolerable degree of merit in the idle foolish farce of “ Miss in her Teens.” I must positively take care how I venture to engage with her again, for fear she should take it into her head to convince me of the wit, good sense, and morality of Mrs. Cibber's Oracle."*
Had Johnson, instead of dealing in general truths, exercised his pen in temporary and personal descriplions of manners and characters, he would have instantly engaged the attention of vulgar minds, and procured present fame to his essays; but he would have composed them of fading materials, which would long since have perished and been forgotten. is probable that those papers in the Spectator, which, sporting with the little foibles and petty customs of the day, have long since lost their interest, and are now only an incumbrance to the work, were when first published the most popular.
The fate of the RAMBLER holds out a lesson of encouragement to the virtuous exertions of a pure and unsophisticated mind. To such a mind the passing subjects of fashionable interest in the intercourse of familiar life, are unattractive, and even contemptible. “ I have never,” says Johnson,” complied with temporary curiosity, nor enabled my readers to discuss the
* From Mrs. Carter's Letters,
topic topic of the day. I have rarely exemplified my assertions by living characters; in my papers no man could look for censures of his enemies, or praises of himself, and they only were expected to peruse them, whose passions left them leisure for abstracted truth, and whom virtue could please by its naked dignity.”
It would be uncandid to deny that the criticism of Miss Talbot on these essays is just. Johnson wants the happy ease of Addison, whose exquisitely nice touches of character were beyond the attainment of his successor, both in point of perception and language. The pen of Johnson makes its strokes with a heavy and laborious hand; but the strokes have force and truth, though perhaps a little exaggerated.-If there be “ the nodosity of the oak,” there is also “its strength.” Johnson had not in early life, like Addison, been familiar with the circles of polished society; and the structure of his own mind and disposition was not calculated to counteract this deficiency. He was indeed 80 far from wanting a moral sensibility, that it pre. dominated in every act and expression of his life. It flowed from a constant contemplation of the frailties and sorrows of human nature. But he wanted those delicate and excessive feelings, which are instantaneous; and too often are opposite to reason; never the result of it. His characters of FROLICK and RHODOCLEA, if full of good sense, are coarse; the outline is well drawn, but it is not filled up with felicity or niceness; the colours are laid on with a trowel; and the lights and shades are not happily blended.
But what human work is perfect? And what author, unlesss Shakspeare, ever possessed every varied excellence? There is merit enough in the RAMBLER to refect eternal disgrace on its cotemporaries, by whom it was so coldly received.
Jan. 14, 1809.
On the Love of Fame.
“ Fame is the spur which the clear spirit doth raise
The love of Fame, if we limit the word to the result of virtuous and honourable exertions, burns brightest in those bosoms, whose powers are best adapted to attain it. It is a generous passion, which is unfelt by selfish minds. Its gratifications are generally ideal; and remote both in point of time and place.
The effects of wealth and titles come home to the presence of the possessor; they feed his sensual gratifications, and are seen by the eye, and heard by the ear. The ardour therefore with which they are pursued, and the sacrifices which are made to acquire them, are perfectly consistent with the most narrow and the basest motives.
It may be admitted, that of Fame, which is justly won, these observations are not equally applicable to every different kind. Of a warrior the fame in some degree surrounds him; accompanies his footsteps; precedes his march; and follows at his heels. Nor is the orator unattended by a reward which comes directly home to him. All these recompences however are empty sound to the selfish disposition; which demands something that it deems more solid; that is, something better calculated to please the part of our nature approaching nearest to the brutes of the field.
Of all Fame, the passion for literary Fame is the most praiseworthy, as it is the purest, the most abstract, and the least liable to the suspicion of being intermingled with those grovelling views, which would debase it. Its nutriment is airy food; it is cheared by sounds which are not heard by common ears;, and the chaplets with which it is crowned are invisible to common eyes.
He who gives up his days and nights to win esteem by his intellectual exertions from those who are capable of appreciating his merits, or receiving pleasure from his productions, is treated by his neighbours, and by those among whom he is thrown by the common intercourse of life, with coldness and neglect, if not dislike. To their vulgar judgments it would be the highest presumption and ignorance to place him in competition with Folly or Vice themselves, should they possess more rank, or a better fortune.
True it is that this ordinary and contemptible estimate prevails more in country neighbourhoods than in a metropolis; and I am not sure that if a man of genius have any alloy in his desire of renown, he ought to pass his life among rural acquaintances. But, O! how much would he luse by the exchange! Airs of heaven, that blow upon the breast of the poet in all your purity, and fan his solitary and uninterrupted meditations ! Leaves, that spread yourselves beneath his feet, and delight his senses with your fragrance !