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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/200

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JOHNSONESE POETRY.

should not pray at all, are full of the concentrated lightning as well as the thunder of his noblest work. No doubt one is always a little sensible, in reading Johnson's poetry, that it appears to assume for human nature more mass and dignity in general than is quite consistent with our knowledge either of ourselves or of our fellow-creatures; and sometimes we are just a little ashamed of having so sonorous a voice given even to our deepest and most passionate feelings. There is in his noblest verse a sound which seems to be borrowed from the trumpet through which the Athenian actors conveyed their voice to the utmost limits of their great open-air theatre. But then, if ours were a world of human beings cast on the scale of Johnson, we do not know that this rolling thunder would even seem too grandiose. At all events, what can have more of the intense compression which marks a vivid inward fire than the fine close to his "Vanity of Human Wishes"? —

Where then shall Hope and Fear their objects find?
Must dull suspense corrupt the stagnant mind?
Must helpless man in ignorance sedate,
Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?
Must no dislike alarm, no wishes rise,
No cries invoke the mercies of the skies?
Inquirer, cease; petitions yet remain
Which Heav'n may hear, nor deem religion vain.
Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
But leave to Heav'n the measure and the choice:
Safe in his power, whose eyes discern afar
The secret ambush of a specious pray'r!
Implore his aid, in his decisions rest,
Secure, whatever he gives, he gives the best.
Yet, when the sense of sacred presence fires,
And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
Pour forth thy fervors for a healthful mind,
Obedient passions, and a will resign'd;
For love, which Scarce collective man can fill;
For patience, sov'reign o'er transmuted ill;
For faijkh, that, panting for a happier seat,
Counts death kind Nature's signal of retreat:
These goods for man the laws of Heav'n ordain,
These goods he grants, who grants the pow'r to gain;
With these celestial Wisdom calms the mind
And makes the happiness she does not find.

It would be hardly possible to find a truer and yet a more caustic expression for the true agnostic theory of life than that contained in the couplet, —

Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?

"Sedate" ignorance is the very attitude of mind in which clearly "the Unknown and Unknowable," ought to be approached, and yet it expresses, as it would be otherwise difficult to express, the revolt of human nature against the creed it implies. Again, what can express more grandly the helplessness and the dreariness of the "stream of tendency" of which, on that theory, we are the sport, than the line in which those "darkling" rapids are described?

On the whole, though there is no flexibility in Johnson's poetry, and no variety, though the monotony which often wearies us in Pope and Dryden would have wearied us still more in Johnson if Johnson had been anything like as voluminous a poet as Pope or Dryden, yet no poetry of that order, neither Pope's nor Dryden's, seems to us to contain so much that is really majestic in it, so much that portrays for us a great mind and a glowing heart, groping its way painfully through the darkness of the world, by the help of a vivid but distant gleam of supernatural light, and intent on "making" — by that aid — "the happiness it could not find." Johnson was too intent on great ends for a satirist; his mind was too stiff for the poetry of ordinary sentiment or ordinary reflection; but for the rare occasions on which you want in poetry what we may call the concentrated pressure of many atmospheres, — whether for the purpose of expressing the vastness of Shakespeare's genius, or the sorely hampered life of human shortsightedness and want, or the secret store of power to be found in human self-abnegation, — we know of no English poet like Dr. Johnson.




Absorptive Power of Milk. — Attention has been called in the daily papers to a practice prevalent in some parts of the country, which appears to illustrate the power possessed by milk of absorbing atmospheric impurities. It is that of placing a saucer of new milk in a larder, to preserve meat or game from taint. It is said that not only does it answer that purpose, but that the milk after a few hours becomes so bad that no animal will touch it.