Page images
PDF
EPUB

or unnatural means is certainly hurtful. They resemble some luxuriant soils which may be enriched beyond a wholesome fertility, till weeds are their only produce; weeds, the more to be regretted, as in the soil from which virtue should have sprung.

V.

No. 29. SATURDAY, AUGUST 20, 1785..

The advantages and use of biography have of late been so often mentioned, and are now so universally allowed, that it is needless for any modern author to set them forth. That department of writing, howa ever, has been of late years so much cultivated, that it has fared with biography as with every other art'; it has lost much of its dignity in its commonness, and many lives have been presented to the public, from which little instruction or amusement could be drawn. Individuals have been traced in minute and ordinary actions, from which no consequences could arise but to the private circle of their own families and friends, and in the detail of which we saw no passion excited, no character developed, nothing that should distinguish them from those common occurrences,

• Which dully took their course, and were forgotten.' Yet there are few even of those comparatively insignificant lives, in which men of a serious and thinking cast do not feel a certain degree of interest. A pensive mind can trace, in seemingly trivial incidents and common situations, something to feed reflection and to foster thought; as the solitary naturalist culls the trodden weeds, and discovers in their form and texture the principles of vegetative nature. The inotive, too, of the relater, often helps out the unimportance of his relation; and to the ingenuous and susceptible, there is a feeling not unpleasant in allowing for the partiality of gratitude, and the tediousness of him who recounts his obligations. The virtuous connexions of life and of the heart it is always pleasing to trace, even though the objects are neither new nor striking. Like those familiar paintings that show the inside of cottages, and the exercise of village duties, such narrations come home to the bosoms of the worthy, who feel the relationship of Virtue, and acknowledge her family wherever it is found. And perhaps there is a calmer and more placid delight in viewing her amidst these unimportant offices, than when we look up to her invested in the pomp of greatness, and the pride of power, the customas, gave his son the education which every, lad of decent rank then received in a country where the avenues to learning were easy and open to men of the most moderate circumstances. After having passed through the tuition of a grammar-school, he was put apprentice to a printer; and when a very young, man, removed to a wider sphere in that line of business, and went to follow his trade in London, Sober, diligent, and attentive, while his emoluments were for some time very scanty, he contrived to live rather within than beyond his income; and though he married early, and without such a provision as, prudence might have looked for in the establishment of a family, he continued to thrive, and to better his circumstances. This he would often mention as an encouragement to early matrimony, and used to say, that he never had a child born that Providence did not send some increase of income to provide for the increase of his household. With sufficient vigour of mind, he had that happy flow of animal spirits, that is not easily discouraged by unpromising appearances. By him who can look with firmness upon difficulties, their conquest is already half achieved; but the man on whose heart and spirits they lie heavy will scarcely be able to bear up against their pressure. The forecast of timid, or the disgust of too delicate minds, are very unfortunate attendants for men of business, who, to be successful, must often push improbabilities, and bear with mortifications.

I have been led to these reflections by an account, with which a correspondent has furnished me, of some particulars in the life of an individual, a native of this country, who died a few weeks

ago

in London, Mr. William Strahan, printer to his Majesty. His title to be recorded in a work of this sort my correspondent argues from a variety of considerations unnecessary to be repeated. One which applies particularly to the public office of the Lounger, I will take the liberty to mention. He was the author of a paper in the Mirror; a work in the train of which I am proud to walk, and am glad of an opportunity to plead my relation to it, by inserting the eloge (I take that word as custom has sanctioned it, without adopting its abstract signification) of one of its writers.

Mr. Strahan was born at Edinburgh in the year 1715. His father, who had a small appointment in

[ocr errors]

His abilities in his profession, accompanied with perfect integrity, and unabating diligence, enabled bim, after the first difficulties were overcome, to get on with rapid success. And he was one of the most tiourishing men in the trade, when, in the year 1770, he purchased a share of the patent for king's printer of Mr. Eyre, with whom he maintained the most cordial intimacy during all the rest of his life. Besides the emoluments arising from this appointment, as well as from a very extensive private business, he now drew largely from a field which required some degree of speculative sagacity to cultivate; I mean that great literary property which he acquired by purchasing the copy-rights of some of the most celebrated authors of the time. In this his liberality kept equal pace with his prudence, and in some cases went perhaps rather beyond it. Never had such rewards been given to the labours of literary men as now were received from him and his associates in those purchases of copy-rights from authors.

Having 'now attained the first great object of business, wealth, Mr. Strahan looked with a very allowable ambition on the stations of political rank and eminence. Politics had long occupied his active mind, which he had for many years pursued as his favourite amusement, by corresponding on that subject with some of the first characters of the age. Mr. Strahan's queries to Dr. Franklin in the respecting the discontents of the Americans, published in the London Chronicle of 28th July 1778, show the just conception he entertained of the important consequences of that dispute, and his anxiety as a good subject to investigate, at that early period, the proper means by which their grievances might be removed, and a permanent harmony restored between the two countries. In the year 1775, he was elected a member of parliament for the borough of Malmsbury, in Wiltshire, with a very illustrious colleague, the Hon. C. J. Fox; and in the succeeding parliament for Wotton-Basset, in the same county.

In this station, applying himself with that industry wl.ich was natural to him, he attended the house with a scrupulous punctuality, and was a useful member.

.year 1769, His talents for business acquired the consideration to which they were entitled, and were not unnoticed by the minister.

In his political connexion he was constant to the friends to whom he had first been attached. He was a steady supporter of that party who were turned out of administration in spring 1784, and lost his seat in the House of Commons by the dissolution of parliament, with which that change was followed; a situation which he did not show

any

desire to resume on the return of the new parliament.

One motive for his not wishing a seat in the present parliament was a feeling of some decline in his health, which had rather suffered from the long sitting and late hours with which the political warfare in the last had been attended. Though without any fixed disease, his strength was visibly declining; and though his spirits survived his strength, yet the vigour and activity of his mind were also considerably impaired. Both continued gradually to decline, till his death, which happened on Saturday, the 9th July, 1785, in the 71st year of his age.

Of riches acquired by industry, the disposal is often ruled by caprice, as if the owners wished to show their uncontrolled power over that wealth which their own exertions had attained, by a whimsical allotment of it after their death. In this, as in other particulars, Mr. Strahan's discretion and good sense were apparent: he bequeathed his fortune in the most rational manner; and of that portion which was not left to his wife and children, the distribution was equally prudent and benevolent. Like his predecessor in trade, the celebrated Mr. Bowyer, he left 10001. to the Stationers' Company, of which he was a member, to be stocked, for the benefit of decayed booksellers and printers.

« PreviousContinue »