Open main menu

Page:Samuel Johnson (1911).djvu/21

This page has been validated.

even conceivably monotonous. We are alone with the shades of the great mind; without allowing for the thousand lights of laughter, encouragement and camaraderie which he perpetually permitted to play over them and dispel them; we are in some sense seeing the battle without waiting for the victory. And in this connection, as in many others, we are prone to forget one very practical consideration; that a poet, or a symbolic romancer, will generally tend to describe not so much the mental attitudes which he seriously thinks right, as those which are so temperamentally tied on to him, that he knows he can describe them well. Merely as an artist, he is less troubled about the truth, than about whether he can tell it truly. And it was hard if Johnson could not get something out of some of his black hours.

There is another cause that makes his works, as it were, a little monochrome in comparison with the rattling kaleidoscope of his conversations. I mean the fact, very characteristic of his century, and very uncharacteristic of our own, that if he had essential intellectual injustices (and he had one or two), he did not set out to have them. With the pen positively in his hand, he felt like a judge, as if he had the judge's wig on his head. It