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Western, and the stateliest mansions of the metropolis cover the green fields which separated Sloane Street from Pimlico. People wonder at the size of the Great Exhibition, but the town of which it forms a part, that great throbbing heart of a great nation, seems to me more wonderful far. To describe London as it is, or even in a few pages to enumerate the sights which we should show to a child now would be as impossible a task as to crowd into the same place the marvels contained in Mr. Paxton's wonderful house of glass.
Par more impossible! for a very few lines would comprise the chief impression produced upon me when escorted by my excellent friend Mr. Lucas, and guided by the fine taste of that most tasteful of painters, I walked through the Great Exhibition this summer. Next perhaps to the building itself, with the statues and hangings to which it owes its distinctive character, and the fountains and people who give to it movement and life ;-next to the vastness, the lightness, the exquisite fitness of the building; and excepting perhaps only that triumph of modern sculpture - Kiss's bold, expressive, impassioned group—that which most filled the eye and the mind seemed to me to be the Indian tissues, however called, with their delicious harmony of colour, and their strange power of interweaving the precious metals with their silken textures. There is one shawl where upon a white ground the same pattern
is repeated now in gold and now in silver, which seems to me actually to emit light. Those Indian draperies are poems which have no need of words, forms invented thousands of years ago, and repeated from dynasty to dynasty, from empire to empire. So are those Tunisian vases, forms of ineffable grace such as may have been carried to the fountain or the well by the captive queens of Grecian fable or the Hebrew maidens of sacred history. Is it that those ancient notions of the East and of the South have in them the great principle of permanence which is a sort of earthly immortality ? that having once seized the Beautiful, they are content to abide by it and to produce and reproduce the same grace of form and harmony of colour, just as nature herself is content to produce and reproduce her marvels of vegetable life, her lotus on the river, her magnolia in the wood ? If so, let us strive to copy them, not in such a combination of hues, or such lines of contour, but in the greater wisdom of loving and admiring beauty because it is beautiful, and not because according to the caprice of the hour it happens to be new or to be old.
It is now full time to come to Dr. Johnson.
The London which I saw sixty years ago was not materially different from that in which he had lived and reigned—the king of conversation and almost of literature. One proof of this supremacy was
afforded at that very time when my father, by no means a bookish man and a most ardent Whig, stopped the coach two or three times during our drive to the Bank, to show me Bolt Court and various other courts distinguished by the residence of the great lexicographer. Boswell's inimitable life had of course its share in this interest ; but independently of that remarkable book the feeling was deep and was general; and when we consider that the society of which he was the acknowledged head comprised such names as Burke, and Fox, and Reynolds, and Goldsmith, we cannot doubt but in spite of his virulent prejudices, bis absurd superstition, and his latinised English, Samuel Johnson was not only a good man but a great man.
One who was pre-eminently both, Dr. Channing, Republican by nation and opinion, Unitarian by creed, has a passage relating to Johnson, which, while alleging nearly all that can be said against him, always struck me as admirable for justice and for candour-the candour of an adversary and an opponent. It occurs in a “Review of the Writings and Character of Milton," in which the American author had, as matter of course, controverted the decisions of the English critic. He says-I omit much that relates only to Milton-he says :
“We wish not to disparage Johnson. We could find no pleasure in sacrificing one great man to the manes of another. He did not and he could not
appreciate Milton. We doubt whether two other minds, having so little in common as those of which we are now speaking, can be found in the higher walks of literature. Johnson was great in his own sphere, but that sphere was comparatively of the earth, whilst Milton's was only inferior to that of angels. It was customary in the day of Johnson's glory to call him a giant, to class him with a mighty but still an earth-born race. Milton we should rank among seraphs. Johnson's mind acted chiefly on man's actual condition, on the realities of life, on the springs of human action, on the passions which now agitate society, and he seems hardly to have dreamed of a higher state of the human mind than was then exhibited. * ** In religion, Johnson was gloomy and inclined to superstition, and on the subject of government leaned to absolute power, and the idea of reforming either never entered his mind but to disturb and provoke it. How could Johnson be just to Milton? The comparison which we have instituted has compelled us to notice Johnson's defects; but we trust we are not blind to his merits. His stately march, his pomp and power of language, his strength of thought, his reverence for virtue and religion, his vigorous logic, his practical wisdom, his insight into the springs of human action and the solemn pathos which occasionally pervades his descriptions of life and his references to his own history command our willing admiration.
That he wanted enthusiasm and creative imagination and lofty sentiment was not his fault. We do not blame him for not being Milton. We would even treat what we deem the faults of Johnson with a tenderness approaching respect ; for they were results to a degree which man cannot estimate of a diseased, irritable, nervous, unhappy, physical temperament, and belonged to the body more than to the mind.” So far the great American. Would that all critics had his charity!
In none of Dr. Channing's praises of Johnson do I join more cordially than in the admiration with which he speaks of his occasional references to his own history. I subjoin the letter to Lord Chesterfield which comprises so many of the distinguishing characteristics of his style, together with a pungency, a truth, and a pathos which belong even more to personal character than to literary power.
It explains itself:
"My Lord, “I have lately been informed by the proprietor of * The World,' that two papers in which my Dictionary is recommended to the publick were written by your Lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.
“When upon some slight encouragement I first