Gnothi Seauton

By Samuel Johnson

Edited by Jack Lynch

[Headnote to follow.]


Gnothi Seauton

(Post Lexicon Anglicanum Auctum et Emendatum.)

KNOW YOURSELF

(After Revising and Enlarging the English Dictionary.)

Lexicon ad finem longo luctamine tandem
Scaliger ut duxit, tenuis pertaesus opellae,
Vile indignatus studium, nugasque molestas,
Ingemit exosus, scribendaque lexica mandat
Damnatis, poenam pro poenis omnibus unam. [5]
Ille quidem recte, sublimis, doctus, et acer,
Quem decuit majora sequi, majoribus aptum,
Qui veterum modo facta ducum, modo carmina vatum,
Gesserat et quicquid virtus, sapientia quicquid
Dixerat, imperiique vices, coelique meatus, [10]
Ingentemque animo seclorum volverat orbem.
Fallimur exemplis; temere sibi turba scholarum
Ima tuas credit permitti, Scaliger, iras.
Quisque suum nôrit modulum; tibi, prime virorum,
Ut studiis sperem, aut ausim par esse querelis, [15]
Non mihi sorte datum; lenti seu sanguinis obsint
Frigora, seu nimium longo jacuisse veterno,
Sive mihi mentem dederit Natura minorem.
Te sterili functum cura, vocumque salebris
Tuto eluctatum spatiis sapientia dia [20]
Excipit aethereis, ars omnis plaudit amica,
Linguarumque omni terra discordia concors
Multiplici reducem circumsonat ore magistrum.
Me, pensi immunis cum jam mihi reddor, inertis
Desidiae sors dura manet, graviorque labore [25]
Tristis et atra quies, et tardae taedia vitae.
Nascuntur curis curae, vexatque dolorum
Importuna cohors, vacuae mala somnia mentis.
Nunc clamosa juvant nocturnae guadia mensae,
Nunc loca sola placent; frustra te, somne, recumbens [30]
Alme voco, impatiens noctis metuensque diei.
Omnia percurro trepidus, circum omnia lustro,
Si qua usquam pateat melioris semita vitae,
Nec quid agam invenio, meditatus grandia, cogor
Notior ipse mihi fieri, incultumque fateri [35]
Pectus, et ingenium vano se robore jactans.
Ingenium, nisi materiem doctrina ministret,
Cessat inops rerum, ut torpet, si marmoris absit
Copia, Phidiaci foecunda potentia coeli.
Quicquid agam, quocunque ferar, conatibus obstat [40]
Res angusta domi, et macrae penuria mentis.
Non rationis opes animus, nunc parta recensens,
Conspicit aggestas, et se miratur in illis,
Nec sibi de gaza praesens quód postulet usus
Summus adesse jubet celsa dominator ab arce; [45]
Non operum serie, seriem dum computat aevi,
Praeteritis fruitur, laetos aut sumit honores
Ipse sui judex, actae bene munera vitae;
Sed sua regna videns, loca nocte silentia late
Horret, ubi vanae species, umbraeque fugaces, [50]
Et rerum volitant rarae per inane figurae.
Quid faciam? tenebrisne pigram damnare senectam
Restat? an accingar studiis gravioribus audax?
Aut, hoc si nimium est, tandem nova lexica poscam?

12. Dec. 1772.

When Scaliger, whole years of labour past,
Beheld his Lexicon complete at last,
And weary of his task, with wond'ring eyes,
Saw from words pil'd on words a fabric rise,
He curs'd the industry, inertly strong,
In creeping toil that could persist so long,
And if, enrag'd he cried, heav'n meant to shed
Its keenest vengeance on the guilty head,
The drudgery of words the damn'd would know,
Doom'd to write lexicons in endless woe.
Yes, you had cause, great genius! to repent;
"You lost good days, that might be better spent";
You well might grudge the hours of ling'ring pain,
And view your learned labours with disdain.
To you were giv'n the large expanded mind,
The flame of genius, and the taste refin'd.
'Twas yours on eagle wings aloft to soar,
And amidst rolling worlds the Great First Cause explore;
To fix the aeras of recorded time,
And live in ev'ry age and ev'ry clime;
Record the chiefs, who propt their country's cause;
Who founded empires, and establish'd laws;
To learn whate'er the sage with virtue fraught,
Whate'er the Muse of moral wisdom taught.
These were your quarry; these to you were known,
And the world's ample volume was your own.
Yet warn'd by me, ye pigmy wits, beware,
Nor with immortal Scaliger compare.
For me, though his example strike my view,
Oh! not for me his footsteps to pursue.
Whether first Nature, unpropitious, cold,
This clay compounded in a ruder mould;
Or the slow current, loit'ring at my heart,
No gleam of wit or fancy can impart;
Whate'er the cause, from me no numbers flow,
No visions warm me, and no raptures glow.
A mind like Scaliger's, superior still,
No grief could conquer, no misfortune chill.
Though for the maze of words his native skies
He seem'd to quit, 'twas but again to rise;
To mount once more to the bright source of day,
And view the wonders of th' aetherial way.
The love of fame his gen'rous bosom fir'd;
Each science hail'd him, and each Muse inspir'd,
For him the sons of learning trimm'd the bays,
And nations grew harmonious in his praise.
My task perform'd, and all my labours o'er,
For me what lot has Fortune now in store?
The listless will succeeds, that worst disease,
The rack of indolence, the sluggish ease.
Care grows on care, and o'er my aching brain
Black melancholy pours her morbid train.
No kind relief, no lenitive at hand,
I seek at midnight clubs, the social band;
But midnight clubs, where wit with noise conspires,
Where Comus revels, and where wine inspires,
Delight no more; I seek my lonely bed,
And call on sleep to sooth my languid head.
But sleep from these sad lids flies far away;
I mourn all night, and dread the coming day,
Exhausted, tir'd, I throw my eyes around,
To find some vacant spot on classic ground;
And soon, vain hope! I form a grand design;
Languor succeeds, and all my pow'rs decline.
If science open not her richest vein,
Without materials all our toil is vain.
A form to rugged stone when Phidias gives,
Beneath his touch a new creation lives.
Remove his marble, and his genius dies;
With Nature then no breathing statue vies.
Whate'er I plan, I feel my pow'rs confin'd
By Fortune's frown and penury of mind.
I boast no knowledge glean'd with toil and strife,
That bright reward of a well-acted life.
I view myself, while reason's feeble light
Shoots a pale glimmer through the gloom of night,
While passions, error, phantoms of the brain,
And vain opinions, fill the dark domain;
A dreary void, where fears with grief combin'd
Waste all within, and desolate the mind.
What then remains? Must I in slow decline
To mute inglorious ease old age resign?
Or, bold ambition kindling in my breast,
Attempt some arduous task? Or, were it best
Brooding o'er lexicons to pass the day,
And in that labour drudge my life away?