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SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS ON JOHNSON'S
I REMEMBER Mr. Burke, speaking of the Essays of Sir
Francis Bacon, said, he thought them the best of his works. Dr. Johnson was of opinion, that “their excellence and their value consisted in being the observations of a strong mind operating upon life ; and in consequence you find there what you seldom find in other books." It is this kind of excellence which gives a value to the performances of artists also. It is the thoughts expressed in the works of Michael Angelo, Correggio, Raffaelle, Parmegiano, and perhaps some of the old Gothic masters, and not the inventions of Pietro da Cortona, Carlo Marati, Luca Giordano, and others, that I might mention, which we seek after with avidity : from the former we learn to think originally.
May I presume to introduce myself on this occasion, and even to mention, as an instance of the truth of what I have remarked, the very
Discourses which I have had the honour of delivering from this place? Whatever merit they have, must be imputed, in a great measure, to the education which I may be said to have had under Dr. Johnson. I do not mean to say, though it certainly would be to the credit of these Discourses, if I could say it with truth, that he contributed even a single sentiment to them; but he qualified my mind to think justly. No man had, like him, the faculty of teaching inferior minds the art of thinking. Perhaps other men might have equal knowledge; but few were so communicative. His great pleasure was to talk to those who looked up to him. It was here he exhibited his wonderful powers. In mixed company, and frequently in company that ought to have looked up to him, many, thinking they had a
1 From an unfinished Discourse, found by Mr. Malone among Sir Joshua's loose papers. See Works, vol. i., p. xxviii.
character for learning to support, considered it as beneath them to enlist in the train of his auditors; and to such persons he certainly did not appear to advantage, being often impetuous and overbearing.
The desire of shining in conversation was in him, indeed, a predominant passion; and if it must be attributed vanity, let it at the same time be recollected, that it produced that loquaciousness from which his more intimate friends derived considerable advantage. The observations which he made on poetry, on life, and on every thing about us, I applied to our art; with what success, others must judge. Perhaps an artist in his studies should pursue the same conduct; and, instead of patching up a particular work on the narrow plan of imitation, rather endeavour to acquire the art and power of thinking. On this subject I have often spoken: but it cannot be too often repeated, that the general power of composition may be acquired; and when acquired, the artist may then lawfully take hints from his predecessors. In reality, indeed, it appears to me, that a man must begin by the study of others. Thus Bacon became a great thinker, by entering into and making himself master of the thoughts of other men.
THE LIFE AND GENIUS
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
Prefixed to Murphy's edition of Johnson's Works in 12 volumes, 8vo.
London : 1792.
HEN the works of a great writer, who has bequeathed to
posterity a lasting legacy, are presented to the world, it is naturally expected that some account of his life should accompany the edition. The reader wishes to know as much as possible of the author. The circumstances that attended him, the features of his private character, his conversation, and the means by which he arose to eminence, become the favourite objects of inquiry. Curiosity is excited; and the admirer of his works is eager to know his private opinions, his course of study, the particularities of his conduct, and, above all, whether he pursued the wisdom which he recommends, and practised the virtue which his writings inspire. A principle of gratitude is awakened in every generous mind. For the entertainment and instruction which genius and diligence have provided for the world, men of refined and sensible tempers are ready to pay their tribute of .praise, and even to form a posthumous friendship with the .author.
In reviewing the life of such a writer, there is, besides, a rule of justice to which the public have an undoubted claim. Fond admiration and partial friendship should not be suffered to represent his virtues with exaggeration; nor should malignity be allowed, under a specious disguise, to magnify mere defects, the usual failings of human nature, into vice or gross deformity. The