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And yet Dr. Johnson's character, singular as it certainly was from the contrast of his mental endowments with the roughness of his manners, was, I believe, perfectly natural and consistent throughout; and to those who were intimately acquainted with him must, I imagine, have appeared so. For being totally devoid of all deceit, free from every tinge of affectation or ostentation, and unwarped by any vice, his singularities, those strong lights and shades that so peculiarly distinguish his character, may the more easily be traced to their primary and natural causes.
The luminous parts of his character, his soft affections, and I should suppose his strong intellectual powers, at least the dignified charm or radiancy of them, must be allowed to owe their origin to his strict, his rigid principles of religion and virtue; and the shadowy parts of his character, his rough, unaccommodating manners, were in general to be ascribed to those corporeal defects that I have already observed naturally tended to darken his perceptions of what may be called propriety and impropriety in general conversation; and of course in the ceremonious or artificial sphere of society gave his deportment so contrasting an aspect to the apparent softness and general uniformity of cultivated manners.
And perhaps the joint influence of these two primeval causes, his intellectual excellence and his corporeal defects, mutually contributed to give his manners a greater degree of harshness than they would have had if only under the influence of one of them; the imperfect perceptions of the one not unfrequently producing misconceptions in the other.
Besides these, many other equally natural causes concurred to constitute the singularity of Dr. Johnson's character. Doubtless, the progress of his education had a double tendency to brighten and to obscure it. But I must observe, that this obscurity (implying only his awkward uncouth appearance, his ignorance of the rules of politeness, &c.) would have gradually disappeared at a more advanced period, at least could have had no manner of influence to the prejudice of Dr. Johnson's character, had it not been associated with those corporeal defects above mentioned. But, unhappily, his untaught, uncivilized manner seemed to render every little indecorum or impropriety that he committed doubly indecorous and improper.
REYNOLDS ON JOHNSON'S
HAVE been favoured by Miss Gwatkin with a sight of the
following paper by Sir Joshua on the character of Johnson, addressed to some mutual friend, perhaps Malone (or Boswell). Everything Reynolds wrote, like everything he painted, was destined to many alterations and corrections before its appearance in public. I have transcribed the paper exactly, except in the matter of punctuation, and in the introduction, now and then, of a word, between brackets, to complete the sense.?
“From thirty years' intimacy with Dr. Johnson I certainly have had the means, if I had equally the ability, of giving you a true and perfect idea of the character and peculiarities of this extraordinary man. The habits of my profession unluckily extend to the consideration of so much only of character as lies on the surface, as is expressed in the lineaments of the countenance. An attempt to go deeper, and investigate the peculiar colouring of his mind as distinguished from all other minds, nothing but your earnest desire can excuse. Sueh as it is, you may make what use of it you please. Of his learning, and so much of his character as is discoverable in his writings and is open to the inspection of every person, nothing need be said.
“I shall remark such qualities only as his works cannot convey. And among those the most distinguished was his possessing a mind which was, as
Most general subjects had undoubtedly been already discussed in the course of a studious thinking life. In this respect few men ever came better prepared into whatever company chance might throw hiin, and the love which he had to society gave him a facility in the
1 Hence the inferiority of his letters to his other writings.
2 Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, by Leslie and Taylor, vol. ii., pp. 454-462.