Part 3 out of 14
work is concluded, present my readers with an exact list of his lodgings
and houses, in order of time, which, in placid condescension to my
respectful curiosity, he one evening dictated to me, but without
specifying how long he lived at each. In the progress of his life I
shall have occasion to mention some of them as connected with particular
incidents, or with the writing of particular parts of his works. To
some, this minute attention may appear trifling; but when we consider
the punctilious exactness with which the different houses in which
Milton resided have been traced by the writers of his life, a similar
enthusiasm may be pardoned in the biographer of Johnson.
[Page 111: The Gentleman's Magazine. AEtat 28.]
His tragedy being by this time, as he thought, completely finished and
fit for the stage, he was very desirous that it should be brought
forward. Mr. Peter Garrick told me, that Johnson and he went together to
the Fountain tavern, and read it over, and that he afterwards solicited
Mr. Fleetwood, the patentee of Drury-lane theatre, to have it acted at
his house; but Mr. Fleetwood would not accept it, probably because it
was not patronized by some man of high rank; and it was not acted
till 1749, when his friend David Garrick was manager of that theatre.
_The Gentleman's Magazine_, begun and carried on by Mr. Edward Cave,
under the name of SYLVANUS URBAN, had attracted the notice and esteem
of Johnson, in an eminent degree, before he came to London as an
adventurer in literature. He told me, that when he first saw St. John's
Gate, the place where that deservedly popular miscellany was
originally printed, he 'beheld it with reverence.' I suppose, indeed,
that every young authour has had the same kind of feeling for the
magazine or periodical publication which has first entertained him, and
in which he has first had an opportunity to see himself in print,
without the risk of exposing his name. I myself recollect such
impressions from '_The Scots Magazine_,' which was begun at Edinburgh in
the year 1739, and has been ever conducted with judgement, accuracy, and
propriety. I yet cannot help thinking of it with an affectionate regard.
Johnson has dignified the _Gentleman's Magazine_, by the importance with
which he invests the life of Cave; but he has given it still greater
lustre by the various admirable Essays which he wrote for it.
[Page 112: A list of Johnson's writings. A.D. 1738.]
Though Johnson was often solicited by his friends to make a complete
list of his writings, and talked of doing it, I believe with a serious
intention that they should all be collected on his own account, he put
it off from year to year, and at last died without having done it
perfectly. I have one in his own handwriting, which contains a certain
number; I indeed doubt if he could have remembered every one of them,
as they were so numerous, so various, and scattered in such a
multiplicity of unconnected publications; nay, several of them published
under the names of other persons, to whom he liberally contributed from
the abundance of his mind. We must, therefore, be content to discover
them, partly from occasional information given by him to his friends,
and partly from internal evidence.
[Page 113: Edward Cave. AEtat 29.]
His first performance in the _Gentleman's Magazine_, which for many
years was his principal source for employment and support, was a copy of
Latin verses, in March 1738, addressed to the editor in so happy a style
of compliment, that Cave must have been destitute both of taste and
sensibility had he not felt himself highly gratified.
[Page 114: 'Ad Urbanum.' A.D. 1738.]
URBANE, _nullis fesse laboribus_,
URBANE, _nullis victe calumniis_,
Cui fronte sertum in erudita
Perpetuo viret et virebit;
Quid moliatur gens imilantium,
Quid et minetur, solicitus parum,
Vacare solis perge Musis,
Juxta animo studiisque felix.
Linguae procacis plumbea spicula,
Fidens, superbo frange silentio;
Victrix per obstantes catervas
Sedulitas animosa tendet.
Intende nervos, fortis, inanibus
Risurus olim nisibus aemuli;
Intende jam nervos, habebis
Participes operae Camoenas.
Non ulla Musis pagina gratior,
Quam quae severis ludicra jungere
Novit, fatigatamque nugis
Utilibus recreare mentem.
Texente Nymphis serta Lycoride,
Rosae ruborem sic viola adjuvat
Immista, sic Iris refulget
AEthereis variata fucis.'
[Page 115: Reports of the Debates. AEtat 29.]
[Page 116: Libels in the press. A.D. 1738.]
It appears that he was now enlisted by Mr. Cave as a regular coadjutor
in his magazine, by which he probably obtained a tolerable livelihood.
At what time, or by what means, he had acquired a competent knowledge
both of French and Italian, I do not know; but he was so well
skilled in them, as to be sufficiently qualified for a translator. That
part of his labour which consisted in emendation and improvement of the
productions of other contributors, like that employed in levelling
ground, can be perceived only by those who had an opportunity of
comparing the original with the altered copy. What we certainly know to
have been done by him in this way, was the Debates in both houses of
Parliament, under the name of 'The Senate of Lilliput,' sometimes with
feigned denominations of the several speakers, sometimes with
denominations formed of the letters of their real names, in the manner
of what is called anagram, so that they might easily be decyphered.
Parliament then kept the press in a kind of mysterious awe, which made
it necessary to have recourse to such devices. In our time it has
acquired an unrestrained freedom, so that the people in all parts of the
kingdom have a fair, open, and exact report of the actual proceedings of
their representatives and legislators, which in our constitution is
highly to be valued; though, unquestionably, there has of late been too
much reason to complain of the petulance with which obscure scribblers
have presumed to treat men of the most respectable character and
[Page 117: William Guthrie. AEtat 29.]
This important article of the _Gentleman's Magazine_ was, for several
years, executed by Mr. William Guthrie, a man who deserves to be
respectably recorded in the literary annals of this country. He was
descended of an ancient family in Scotland; but having a small
patrimony, and being an adherent of the unfortunate house of Stuart, he
could not accept of any office in the state; he therefore came to
London, and employed his talents and learning as an 'Authour by
profession.' His writings in history, criticism, and politicks, had
considerable merit. He was the first English historian who had
recourse to that authentick source of information, the Parliamentary
Journals; and such was the power of his political pen, that, at an early
period, Government thought it worth their while to keep it quiet by a
pension, which he enjoyed till his death. Johnson esteemed him enough to
wish that his life should be written. The debates in Parliament,
which were brought home and digested by Guthrie, whose memory, though
surpassed by others who have since followed him in the same department,
was yet very quick and tenacious, were sent by Cave to Johnson for his
revision; and, after some time, when Guthrie had attained to greater
variety of employment, and the speeches were more and more enriched by
the accession of Johnson's genius, it was resolved that he should do the
whole himself, from the scanty notes furnished by persons employed to
attend in both houses of Parliament. Sometimes, however, as he himself
told me, he had nothing more communicated to him than the names of the
several speakers, and the part which they had taken in the debate.
[Page 118: London, a Poem. A.D. 1738.]
Thus was Johnson employed during some of the best years of his life, as
a mere literary labourer 'for gain, not glory,' solely to obtain an
honest support. He however indulged himself in occasional little
sallies, which the French so happily express by the term _jeux
d'esprit_, and which will be noticed in their order, in the progress of
[Page 119: Oldham and Johnson compared. AEtat 29.]
But what first displayed his transcendent powers, and 'gave the world
assurance of the MAN,' was his _London, a Poem, in Imitation of the
Third Satire of Juvenal_: which came out in May this year, and burst
forth with a splendour, the rays of which will for ever encircle his
name. Boileau had imitated the same satire with great success, applying
it to Paris; but an attentive comparison will satisfy every reader, that
he is much excelled by the English Juvenal. Oldham had also imitated it,
and applied it to London; all which performances concur to prove, that
great cities, in every age, and in every country, will furnish similar
topicks of satire. Whether Johnson had previously read Oldham's
imitation, I do not know; but it is not a little remarkable, that there
is scarcely any coincidence found between the two performances, though
upon the very same subject. The only instances are, in describing London
as the _sink_ of foreign worthlessness:
'----the _common shore_,
Where France does all her filth and ordure pour.'
'The _common shore_ of Paris and of Rome.'
'No calling or profession comes amiss,
A _needy monsieur_ can be what he please.'
'All sciences a _fasting monsieur_ knows.'
The particulars which Oldham has collected, both as exhibiting the
horrours of London, and of the times, contrasted with better days, are
different from those of Johnson, and in general well chosen, and well
There are, in Oldham's imitation, many prosaick verses and bad rhymes,
and his poem sets out with a strange inadvertent blunder:
'Tho' much concern'd to _leave_ my dear old friend,
I must, however, _his_ design commend
Of fixing in the country--.'
[Page 120: The publication of London. A.D. 1738.]
It is plain he was not going to leave his _friend_; his friend was going
to leave _him_. A young lady at once corrected this with good critical
'Tho' much concern'd to _lose_ my dear old friend.'
There is one passage in the original, better transfused by Oldham than
'Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se,
Quam quod ridiculos homines facit;'
which is an exquisite remark on the galling meanness and contempt
annexed to poverty: JOHNSON'S imitation is,
'Of all the griefs that harass the distrest,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest.'
OLDHAM'S, though less elegant, is more just:
'Nothing in poverty so ill is borne,
As its exposing men to grinning scorn.'
Where, or in what manner this poem was composed, I am sorry that I
neglected to ascertain with precision, from Johnson's own authority. He
has marked upon his corrected copy of the first edition of it, 'Written
in 1738;' and, as it was published in the month of May in that year, it
is evident that much time was not employed in preparing it for the
press. The history of its publication I am enabled to give in a very
satisfactory manner; and judging from myself, and many of my friends, I
trust that it will not be uninteresting to my readers.
[Page 121: Johnson's letters to Cave. AEtat 29.]
We may be certain, though it is not expressly named in the following
letters to Mr. Cave, in 1738, that they all relate to it:
'To MR. CAVE.
'Castle-street, Wednesday Morning.
[_No date_. 1738.]
'When I took the liberty of writing to you a few days ago, I did not
expect a repetition of the same pleasure so soon; for a pleasure I shall
always think it, to converse in any manner with an ingenious and candid
man; but having the inclosed poem in my hands to dispose of for the
benefit of the authour, (of whose abilities I shall say nothing, since I
send you his performance,) I believed I could not procure more
advantageous terms from any person than from you, who have so much
distinguished yourself by your generous encouragement of poetry; and
whose judgment of that art nothing but your commendation of my trifle
can give me any occasion to call in question. I do not doubt but you
will look over this poem with another eye, and reward it in a different
manner, from a mercenary bookseller, who counts the lines he is to
purchase, and considers nothing but the bulk. I cannot help taking
notice, that, besides what the authour may hope for on account of his
abilities, he has likewise another claim to your regard, as he lies at
present under very disadvantageous circumstances of fortune. I beg,
therefore, that you will favour me with a letter to-morrow, that I may
know what you can afford to allow him, that he may either part with it
to you, or find out, (which I do not expect,) some other way more to his
'I have only to add, that as I am sensible I have transcribed it very
coarsely, which, after having altered it, I was obliged to do, I will,
if you please to transmit the sheets from the press, correct it for you;
and take the trouble of altering any stroke of satire which you may
'By exerting on this occasion your usual generosity, you will not only
encourage learning, and relieve distress, but (though it be in
comparison of the other motives of very small account) oblige in a very
sensible manner, Sir,
'Your very humble servant,
'To MR. CAVE.
'Monday, No. 6, Castle-street.
'I am to return you thanks for the present you were so kind as to send
by me, and to intreat that you will be pleased to inform me by the
penny-post, whether you resolve to print the poem. If you please to
send it me by the post, with a note to Dodsley, I will go and read the
lines to him, that we may have his consent to put his name in the
title-page. As to the printing, if it can be set immediately about, I
will be so much the authour's friend, as not to content myself with mere
solicitations in his favour. I propose, if my calculation be near the
truth, to engage for the reimbursement of all that you shall lose by an
impression of 500; provided, as you very generously propose, that the
profit, if any, be set aside for the authour's use, excepting the
present you made, which, if he be a gainer, it is fit he should repay. I
beg that you will let one of your servants write an exact account of the
expense of such an impression, and send it with the poem, that I may
know what I engage for. I am very sensible, from your generosity on this
occasion, of your regard to learning, even in its unhappiest state; and
cannot but think such a temper deserving of the gratitude of those who
suffer so often from a contrary disposition. I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
[Page 122: Mrs. Carter. A.D. 1738.]
'To MR. CAVE.
'I waited on you to take the copy to Dodsley's: as I remember the number
of lines which it contains, it will be no longer than _Eugenio_, with
the quotations, which must be subjoined at the bottom of the page; part
of the beauty of the performance (if any beauty be allowed it)
consisting in adapting Juvenal's sentiments to modern facts and persons.
It will, with those additions, very conveniently make five sheets. And
since the expense will be no more, I shall contentedly insure it, as I
mentioned in my last. If it be not therefore gone to Dodsley's, I beg it
may be sent me by the penny-post, that I may have it in the evening. I
have composed a Greek epigram to Eliza, and think she ought to be
celebrated in as many different languages as Lewis le Grand. Pray
send me word when you will begin upon the poem, for it is a long way to
walk. I would leave my Epigram, but have not daylight to transcribe
it. I am, Sir,
[Page 123: Negotiations with Dodsley. AEtat 29.]
'TO MR. CAVE.
'I am extremely obliged by your kind letter, and will not fail to attend
you to-morrow with _Irene_, who looks upon you as one of her best
'I was to day with Mr. Dodsley, who declares very warmly in favour of
the paper you sent him, which he desires to have a share in, it being,
as he says, _a creditable thing to be concerned in_. I knew not what
answer to make till I had consulted you, nor what to demand on the
authour's part, but am very willing that, if you please, he should have
a part in it, as he will undoubtedly be more diligent to disperse and
promote it. If you can send me word to-morrow what I shall say to him, I
will settle matters, and bring the poem with me for the press, which, as
the town empties, we cannot be too quick with. I am, Sir,
[Page 124: Payment for London. A.D. 1738.]
To us who have long known the manly force, bold spirit, and masterly
versification of this poem, it is a matter of curiosity to observe the
diffidence with which its authour brought it forward into publick
notice, while he is so cautious as not to avow it to be his own
production; and with what humility he offers to allow the printer to
'alter any stroke of satire which he might dislike.' That any such
alteration was made, we do not know. If we did, we could not but feel an
indignant regret; but how painful is it to see that a writer of such
vigorous powers of mind was actually in such distress, that the small
profit which so short a poem, however excellent, could yield, was
courted as a 'relief.'
It has been generally said, I know not with what truth, that Johnson
offered his _London_ to several booksellers, none of whom would purchase
it. To this circumstance Mr. Derrick alludes in the following lines of
his _Fortune, a Rhapsody_:
'Will no kind patron JOHNSON own?
Shall JOHNSON friendless range the town?
And every publisher refuse
The offspring of his happy Muse?'
But we have seen that the worthy, modest, and ingenious Mr. Robert
Dodsley had taste enough to perceive its uncommon merit, and thought
it creditable to have a share in it. The fact is, that, at a future
conference, he bargained for the whole property of it, for which he gave
Johnson ten guineas; who told me, 'I might, perhaps, have accepted of
less; but that Paul Whitehead had a little before got ten guineas for a
poem and I would not take less than Paul Whitehead.'
[Page 125: Paul Whitehead. AEtat 29.]
I may here observe, that Johnson appeared to me to undervalue Paul
Whitehead upon every occasion when he was mentioned, and, in my opinion,
did not do him justice; but when it is considered that Paul Whitehead
was a member of a riotous and profane club, we may account for
Johnson's having a prejudice against him. Paul Whitehead was, indeed,
unfortunate in being not only slighted by Johnson, but violently
attacked by Churchill, who utters the following imprecation:
'May I (can worse disgrace on manhood fall?)
Be born a Whitehead, and baptiz'd a Paul!'
yet I shall never be persuaded to think meanly of the authour of so
brilliant and pointed a satire as _Manners_.
[Page 126: Was Richard Savage Thales? A.D. 1738.]
Johnson's _London_ was published in May, 1738; and it is remarkable,
that it came out on the same morning with Pope's satire, entitled
'1738;' so that England had at once its Juvenal and Horace as
poetical monitors. The Reverend Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury, to
whom I am indebted for some obliging communications, was then a student
at Oxford, and remembers well the effect which _London_ produced. Every
body was delighted with it; and there being no name to it, the first buz
of the literary circles was 'here is an unknown poet, greater even than
Pope.' And it is recorded in the _Gentleman s Magazine_ of that year,
that it 'got to the second edition in the course of a week.'
[Page 127: General Oglethorpe. AEtat 29.]
One of the warmest patrons of this poem on its first appearance was
General Oglethorpe, whose 'strong benevolence of soul,' was unabated
during the course of a very long life; though it is painful to think,
that he had but too much reason to become cold and callous, and
discontented with the world, from the neglect which he experienced of
his publick and private worth, by those in whose power it was to gratify
so gallant a veteran with marks of distinction. This extraordinary
person was as remarkable for his learning and taste, as for his other
eminent qualities; and no man was more prompt, active, and generous, in
encouraging merit. I have heard Johnson gratefully acknowledge, in his
presence, the kind and effectual support which he gave to his _London_,
though unacquainted with its authour.
[Page 128: Pope admires _London_. A.D. 1738.]
Pope, who then filled the poetical throne without a rival, it may
reasonably be presumed, must have been particularly struck by the sudden
appearance of such a poet; and, to his credit, let it be remembered,
that his feelings and conduct on the occasion were candid and liberal.
He requested Mr. Richardson, son of the painter, to endeavour to find
out who this new authour was. Mr. Richardson, after some inquiry, having
informed him that he had discovered only that his name was Johnson, and
that he was some obscure man, Pope said, 'he will soon be _deterre_.'
We shall presently see, from a note written by Pope, that he was himself
afterwards more successful in his inquiries than his friend.
[Page 129: Johnson a 'true-born Englishman.' AEtat 29.]
That in this justly-celebrated poem may be found a few rhymes which
the critical precision of English prosody at this day would disallow,
cannot be denied; but with this small imperfection, which in the general
blaze of its excellence is not perceived, till the mind has subsided
into cool attention, it is, undoubtedly, one of the noblest productions
in our language, both for sentiment and expression. The nation was then
in that ferment against the court and the ministry, which some years
after ended in the downfall of Sir Robert Walpole; and as it has been
said, that Tories are Whigs when out of place, and Whigs, Tories when in
place; so, as a Whig administration ruled with what force it could, a
Tory opposition had all the animation and all the eloquence of
resistance to power, aided by the common topicks of patriotism, liberty,
and independence! Accordingly, we find in Johnson's _London_ the most
spirited invectives against tyranny and oppression, the warmest
predilection for his own country, and the purest love of virtue;
interspersed with traits of his own particular character and situation,
not omitting his prejudices as a 'true-born Englishman,' not only
against foreign countries, but against Ireland and Scotland. On some
of these topicks I shall quote a few passages:
[Page 130: Passages from LONDON. A.D. 1738.]
'The cheated nation's happy fav'rites see;
Mark whom the great caress, who frown on me.'
'Has heaven reserv'd in pity to the poor,
No pathless waste, or undiscover'd shore?
No secret island in the boundless main?
No peaceful desert yet unclaim'd by Spain?
Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore,
And bear Oppression's insolence no more.'
'How, when competitors like these contend,
Can _surly Virtue_ hope to fix a friend?'
'This mournful truth is every where confess'd,
SLOW RISES WORTH, BY POVERTY DEPRESS'D!'
We may easily conceive with what feeling a great mind like his, cramped
and galled by narrow circumstances, uttered this last line, which he
marked by capitals. The whole of the poem is eminently excellent, and
there are in it such proofs of a knowledge of the world, and of a mature
acquaintance with life, as cannot be contemplated without wonder, when
we consider that he was then only in his twenty-ninth year, and had yet
been so little in the 'busy haunts of men.'
[Page 131: Sir Robert Walpole. AEtat 29.]
Yet, while we admire the poetical excellence of this poem, candour
obliges us to allow, that the flame of patriotism and zeal for popular
resistance with which it is fraught, had no just cause. There was, in
truth, no 'oppression;' the 'nation' was not 'cheated.' Sir Robert
Walpole was a wise and a benevolent minister, who thought that the
happiness and prosperity of a commercial country like ours, would be
best promoted by peace, which he accordingly maintained, with credit,
during a very long period. Johnson himself afterwards honestly
acknowledged the merit of Walpole, whom he called 'a fixed star;' while
he characterised his opponent, Pitt, as 'a meteor.' But Johnson's
juvenile poem was naturally impregnated with the fire of opposition, and
upon every account was universally admired.
[Page 132: Appleby School. A.D. 1738.]
Though thus elevated into fame, and conscious of uncommon powers, he had
not that bustling confidence, or, I may rather say, that animated
ambition, which one might have supposed would have urged him to
endeavour at rising in life. But such was his inflexible dignity of
character, that he could not stoop to court the great; without which,
hardly any man has made his way to a high station. He could not
expect to produce many such works as his _London_, and he felt the
hardships of writing for bread; he was, therefore, willing to resume the
office of a schoolmaster, so as to have a sure, though moderate income
for his life; and an offer being made to him of the mastership of a
school, provided he could obtain the degree of Master of Arts, Dr.
Adams was applied to, by a common friend, to know whether that could be
granted him as a favour from the University of Oxford. But though he had
made such a figure in the literary world, it was then thought too great
a favour to be asked.
Hawkins (_Life_, p. 61) says that 'Johnson went to Appleby in Aug. 1738,
and offered himself as a candidate for the mastership.' The date of 1738
seems to be Hawkins's inference. If Johnson went at all, it was in 1739.
Pope, the friend of Swift, would not of course have sought Lord Gower's
influence with Swift. He applied to his lordship, no doubt, as a great
midland-county landowner, likely to have influence with the trustees.
Why, when the difficulty about the degree of M.A. was discovered, Pope
was not asked to solicit Swift cannot be known. See _post_, beginning of
1780 in BOSWELL'S account of the _Life of Swift_.]
[Page 133: Pope's letter of recommendation.]
Pope, without any knowledge of him but from his _London_, recommended
him to Earl Gower, who endeavoured to procure for him a degree from
Dublin, by the following letter to a friend of Dean Swift:
'Mr. Samuel Johnson (authour of _London_, a satire, and some other
poetical pieces) is a native of this country, and much respected by some
worthy gentlemen in his neighbourhood, who are trustees of a charity
school now vacant; the certain salary is sixty pounds a year, of which
they are desirous to make him master; but, unfortunately, he is not
capable of receiving their bounty, which _would make him happy for
life_, by not being a _Master of Arts_; which, by the statutes of this
school, the master of it must be.
'Now these gentlemen do me the honour to think that I have interest
enough in you, to prevail upon you to write to Dean Swift, to persuade
the University of Dublin to send a diploma to me, constituting this poor
man Master of Arts in their University. They highly extol the man's
learning and probity; and will not be persuaded, that the University
will make any difficulty of conferring such a favour upon a stranger, if
he is recommended by the Dean. They say he is not afraid of the
strictest examination, though he is of so long a journey; and will
venture it, if the Dean thinks it necessary; choosing rather to die upon
the road, _than be starved to death in translating for booksellers_;
which has been his only subsistence for some time past.
'I fear there is more difficulty in this affair, than those good-natured
gentlemen apprehend; especially as their election cannot be delayed
longer than the 11th of next month. If you see this matter in the same
light that it appears to me, I hope you will burn this, and pardon me
for giving you so much trouble about an impracticable thing; but, if you
think there is a probability of obtaining the favour asked, I am sure
your humanity, and propensity to relieve merit in distress, will incline
you to serve the poor man, without my adding any more to the trouble I
have already given you, than assuring you that I am, with great truth,
'Your faithful servant,
'Trentham, Aug. 1, 1739.'
[Page 134: Johnson's wish to practise law. A.D. 1738.]
It was, perhaps, no small disappointment to Johnson that this
respectable application had not the desired effect; yet how much reason
has there been, both for himself and his country, to rejoice that it did
not succeed, as he might probably have wasted in obscurity those hours
in which he afterwards produced his incomparable works.
About this time he made one other effort to emancipate himself from the
drudgery of authourship. He applied to Dr. Adams, to consult Dr.
Smalbroke of the Commons, whether a person might be permitted to
practice as an advocate there, without a doctor's degree in Civil Law.
'I am (said he) a total stranger to these studies; but whatever is a
profession, and maintains numbers, must be within the reach of common
abilities, and some degree of industry.' Dr. Adams was much pleased with
Johnson's design to employ his talents in that manner, being confident
he would have attained to great eminence. And, indeed, I cannot conceive
a man better qualified to make a distinguished figure as a lawyer; for,
he would have brought to his profession a rich store of various
knowledge, an uncommon acuteness, and a command of language, in which
few could have equalled, and none have surpassed him. He who could
display eloquence and wit in defence of the decision of the House of
Commons upon Mr. Wilkes's election for Middlesex, and of the
unconstitutional taxation of our fellow-subjects in America, must
have been a powerful advocate in any cause. But here, also, the want of
a degree was an insurmountable bar.
[Page 135: Paul Sarpi's History. AEtat 29.]
He was, therefore, under the necessity of persevering in that course,
into which he had been forced; and we find, that his proposal from
Greenwich to Mr. Cave, for a translation of Father Paul Sarpi's History,
Some sheets of this translation were printed off, but the design was
dropt; for it happened, oddly enough, that another person of the name of
Samuel Johnson, Librarian of St. Martin's in the Fields, and Curate of
that parish, engaged in the same undertaking, and was patronised by the
Clergy, particularly by Dr. Pearce, afterwards Bishop of Rochester.
Several light skirmishes passed between the rival translators, in the
newspapers of the day; and the consequence was, that they destroyed each
other, for neither of them went on with the work. It is much to be
regretted, that the able performance of that celebrated genius FRA
PAOLO, lost the advantage of being incorporated into British literature
by the masterly hand of Johnson.
[Page 136: Mr. Cave's insinuation. A.D. 1738.]
I have in my possession, by the favour of Mr. John Nichols, a paper in
Johnson's hand-writing, entitled 'Account between Mr. Edward Cave and
Sam. Johnson, in relation to a version of Father Paul, &c. begun August
the 2d, 1738; 'by which it appears, that from that day to the 21st of
April, 1739, Johnson received for this work, L49 7_s_. in sums of one,
two, three, and sometimes four guineas at a time, most frequently two.
And it is curious to observe the minute and scrupulous accuracy with
which Johnson has pasted upon it a slip of paper, which he has entitled
Small Account,' and which contains one article, 'Sept. 9th, Mr. Cave
laid down 2s. 6d.' There is subjoined to this account, a list of some
subscribers to the work, partly in Johnson's handwriting, partly in that
of another person; and there follows a leaf or two on which are written
a number of characters which have the appearance of a short hand, which,
perhaps, Johnson was then trying to learn.
'To MR. CAVE.
'I did not care to detain your servant while I wrote an answer to your
letter, in which you seem to insinuate that I had promised more than I
am ready to perform. If I have raised your expectations by any thing
that may have escaped my memory, I am sorry; and if you remind me of it,
shall thank you for the favour. If I made fewer alterations than usual
in the Debates, it was only because there appeared, and still appears to
be, less need of alteration. The verses to Lady Firebrace may be had
when you please, for you know that such a subject neither deserves much
thought, nor requires it.
'The Chinese Stories may be had folded down when you please to send,
in which I do not recollect that you desired any alterations to be made.
'An answer to another query I am very willing to write, and had
consulted with you about it last night if there had been time; for I
think it the most proper way of inviting such a correspondence as may be
an advantage to the paper, not a load upon it.
'As to the Prize Verses, a backwardness to determine their degrees of
merit is not peculiar to me. You may, if you please, still have what I
can say; but I shall engage with little spirit in an affair, which I
shall _hardly_ end to my own satisfaction, and _certainly_ not to the
satisfaction of the parties concerned.
'As to Father Paul, I have not yet been just to my proposal, but have
met with impediments, which, I hope, are now at an end; and if you find
the progress hereafter not such as you have a right to expect, you can
easily stimulate a negligent translator.
'If any or all of these have contributed to your discontent, I will
endeavour to remove it; and desire you to propose the question to which
you wish for an answer.
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
[Page 137: Impransus. AEtat 29.]
'To MR. CAVE.
'I am pretty much of your opinion, that the Commentary cannot be
prosecuted with any appearance of success; for as the names of the
authours concerned are of more weight in the performance than its own
intrinsick merit, the publick will be soon satisfied with it. And I
think the Examen should be pushed forward with the utmost expedition.
Thus, "This day, &c., An Examen of Mr. Pope's Essay, &c., containing a
succinct Account of the Philosophy of Mr. Leibnitz on the System of the
Fatalists, with a Confutation of their Opinions, and an Illustration of
the Doctrine of Free-will;" [with what else you think proper.]
'It will, above all, be necessary to take notice, that it is a thing
distinct from the Commentary.
'I was so far from imagining they stood still, that I conceived them
to have a good deal before-hand, and therefore was less anxious in
providing them more. But if ever they stand still on my account, it must
doubtless be charged to me; and whatever else shall be reasonable, I
shall not oppose; but beg a suspense of judgment till morning, when I
must entreat you to send me a dozen proposals, and you shall then have
copy to spare.
'I am, Sir,
'Pray muster up the Proposals if you can, or let the boy recall them
from the booksellers.'
[Page 138: Mr. Macbean. A.D. 1738.]
But although he corresponded with Mr. Cave concerning a translation of
Crousaz's _Examen_ of Pope's _Essay on Man_, and gave advice as one
anxious for its success, I was long ago convinced by a perusal of the
Preface, that this translation was erroneously ascribed to him; and I
have found this point ascertained, beyond all doubt, by the following
article in Dr. Birch's _Manuscripts in the British Museum_:
'ELISAE CARTERAE. S. P. D. THOMAS BIRCH.
'Versionem tuam Examinis Crousasiani jam perlegi. Summam styli et
elegantiam, et in re difficillima proprietatem, admiratus.
'_Dabam Novemb_. 27 deg. 1738.'
Indeed Mrs. Carter has lately acknowledged to Mr. Seward, that she was
the translator of the _Examen_.
It is remarkable, that Johnson's last quoted letter to Mr. Cave
concludes with a fair confession that he had not a dinner; and it is no
less remarkable, that, though in this state of want himself, his
benevolent heart was not insensible to the necessities of an humble
labourer in literature, as appears from the very next letter:
'To MR. CAVE.
'You may remember I have formerly talked with you about a Military
Dictionary. The eldest Mr. Macbean, who was with Mr. Chambers,
has very good materials for such a work, which I have seen, and will do
it at a very low rate. I think the terms of War and Navigation might
be comprised, with good explanations, in one 8vo. Pica, which he is
willing to do for twelve shillings a sheet, to be made up a guinea at the
second impression. If you think on it, I will wait on you with him.
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'Pray lend me Topsel on Animals.'
[Page 139: Boethius De Consolatione. AEtat 29.]
I must not omit to mention, that this Mr. Macbean was a native of
In the _Gentleman's Magazine_ of this year, Johnson gave a Life of
Father Paul; and he wrote the Preface to the Volume, [dagger] which,
though prefixed to it when bound, is always published with the Appendix,
and is therefore the last composition belonging to it. The ability and
nice adaptation with which he could draw up a prefatory address, was one
of his peculiar excellencies.
It appears too, that he paid a friendly attention to Mrs. Elizabeth
Carter; for in a letter from Mr. Cave to Dr. Birch, November 28, this
year, I find 'Mr. Johnson advises Miss C. to undertake a translation of
_Boethius de Cons_, because there is prose and verse, and to put her
name to it when published.' This advice was not followed; probably from
an apprehension that the work was not sufficiently popular for an
extensive sale. How well Johnson himself could have executed a
translation of this philosophical poet, we may judge from the following
specimen which he has given in the _Rambler_: (_Motto to No. 7_.)
'O qui perpetua mundum ratione gubernas,
Terrarum caelique sator!
Disjice terrenae nebulas et pondera molis,
Atque tuo splendore mica! Tu namque serenum,
Tu requies tranquilla piis. Te cernere finis,
Principium, vector, dux, semita, terminus, idem.'
'O thou whose power o'er moving worlds presides,
Whose voice created, and whose wisdom guides,
On darkling man in pure effulgence shine,
And cheer the clouded mind with light divine.
'Tis thine alone to calm the pious breast,
With silent confidence and holy rest;
From thee, great God! we spring, to thee we tend,
Path, motive, guide, original, and end!'
[Page 140: Abridgments. A.D. 1739.]
[Page 141: Marmor Norfolciensc. AEtat 30.]
In 1739, beside the assistance which he gave to the Parliamentary
Debates, his writings in the _Gentleman's Magazine_ were, 'The Life
of Boerhaave,'[*] in which it is to be observed, that he discovers that
love of chymistry which never forsook him; 'An Appeal to the publick
in behalf of the Editor;'[dagger] 'An Address to the Reader;'[dagger]
'An Epigram both in Greek and Latin to Eliza,'[*] and also English
verses to her;[*] and, 'A Greek Epigram to Dr. Birch.'[*] It has
been erroneously supposed, that an Essay published in that Magazine this
year, entitled 'The Apotheosis of Milton,' was written by Johnson; and
on that supposition it has been improperly inserted in the edition of
his works by the Booksellers, after his deceasc. Were there no positive
testimony as to this point, the style of the performance, and the name
of Shakspeare not being mentioned in an Essay professedly reviewing the
principal English poets, would ascertain it not to be the production of
Johnson. But there is here no occasion to resort to internal evidence;
for my Lord Bishop of Salisbury (Dr. Douglas) has assured me, that it
was written by Guthrie. His separate publications were, 'A Complete
Vindication of the Licensers of the Stage, from the malicious and
scandalous Aspersions of Mr. Brooke, Authour of Gustavus Vasa,'[*] being
an ironical Attack upon them for their Suppression of that Tragedy;
and, 'Marmor Norfolciense; or an Essay on an ancient prophetical
Inscription in monkish Rhyme, lately discovered near Lynne in Norfolk,
by PROBUS BRITANNICUS.'[*] In this performance, he, in a feigned
inscription, supposed to have been found in Norfolk, the county of Sir
Robert Walpole, then the obnoxious prime minister of this country,
inveighs against the Brunswick succession, and the measures of
government consequent upon it. To this supposed prophecy he added a
Commentary, making each expression apply to the times, with warm
This anonymous pamphlet, I believe, did not make so much noise as was
expected, and, therefore, had not a very extensive circulation. Sir
John Hawkins relates, that, 'warrants were issued, and messengers
employed to apprehend the authour; who, though he had forborne to
subscribe his name to the pamphlet, the vigilance of those in pursuit of
him had discovered;' and we are informed, that he lay concealed in
Lambeth-marsh till the scent after him grew cold. This, however, is
altogether without foundation; for Mr. Steele, one of the Secretaries of
the Treasury, who amidst a variety of important business, politely
obliged me with his attention to my inquiry, informed me, that 'he
directed every possible search to be made in the records of the Treasury
and Secretary of State's Office, but could find no trace whatever of any
warrant having been issued to apprehend the authour of this pamphlet.'
[Page 142: Reprint of Marmor Norfolciensc. A.D. 1739.]
_Marmor Norfolciense_ became exceedingly scarce, so that I, for many
years, endeavoured in vain to procure a copy of it. At last I was
indebted to the malice of one of Johnson's numerous petty adversaries,
who, in 1775, published a new edition of it, 'with Notes and a
Dedication to SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D. by TRIBUNUS;' in which some puny
scribbler invidiously attempted to found upon it a charge of
inconsistency against its authour, because he had accepted of a pension
from his present Majesty, and had written in support of the measures of
government. As a mortification to such impotent malice, of which there
are so many instances towards men of eminence, I am happy to relate,
that this _telum imbelle_ did not reach its exalted object, till
about a year after it thus appeared, when I mentioned it to him,
supposing that he knew of the re-publication. To my surprize, he had not
yet heard of it. He requested me to go directly and get it for him,
which I did. He looked at it and laughed, and seemed to be much diverted
with the feeble efforts of his unknown adversary, who, I hope, is alive
to read this account. 'Now (said he) here is somebody who thinks he has
vexed me sadly; yet, if it had not been for you, you rogue, I should
probably never have seen it.'
[Page 143: 'Paper-sparing Pope.' AEtat 30.]
As Mr. Pope's note concerning Johnson, alluded to in a former page,
refers both to his _London_, and his _Marmor Norfolciense_, I have
deferred inserting it till now. I am indebted for it to Dr. Percy, the
Bishop of Dromore, who permitted me to copy it from the original in his
possession. It was presented to his Lordship by Sir Joshua Reynolds, to
whom it was given by the son of Mr. Richardson the painter, the person
to whom it is addressed. I have transcribed it with minute exactness,
that the peculiar mode of writing, and imperfect spelling of that
celebrated poet, may be exhibited to the curious in literature. It
justifies Swift's epithet of 'paper-sparing Pope' for it is written
on a slip no larger than a common message-card, and was sent to Mr.
Richardson, along with the _Imitation of Juvenal_.
'This is imitated by one Johnson who put in for a Publick-school in
Shropshire, but was disappointed. He has an infirmity of the
convulsive kind, that attacks him sometimes, so as to make him a sad
Spectacle. Mr. P. from the Merit of this Work which was all the
knowledge he had of him endeavour'd to serve him without his own
application; & wrote to my Ld gore, but he did not succeed. Mr. Johnson
published afterwds another Poem in Latin with Notes the whole very
Humerous call'd the Norfolk Prophecy.'
Johnson had been told of this note; and Sir Joshua Reynolds informed him
of the compliment which it contained, but, from delicacy, avoided
shewing him the paper itself. When Sir Joshua observed to Johnson that
he seemed very desirous to see Pope's note, he answered, 'Who would not
be proud to have such a man as Pope so solicitous in inquiring about
[Page 144: Johnson's tricks of body. A.D. 1739.]
The infirmity to which Mr. Pope alludes, appeared to me also, as I have
elsewhere observed, to be of the convulsive kind, and of the nature
of that distemper called St. Vitus's dance; and in this opinion I am
confirmed by the description which Sydenham gives of that diseasc. 'This
disorder is a kind of convulsion. It manifests itself by halting or
unsteadiness of one of the legs, which the patient draws after him like
an ideot. If the hand of the same side be applied to the breast, or any
other part of the body, he cannot keep it a moment in the same posture,
but it will be drawn into a different one by a convulsion,
notwithstanding all his efforts to the contrary.' Sir Joshua Reynolds,
however, was of a different opinion, and favoured me with the following
[Page 145: His dread of solitude. AEtat 30.]
'Those motions or tricks of Dr. Johnson are improper'y called
convulsions. He could sit motionless, when he was told so to do, as
well as any other man; my opinion is that it proceeded from a habit
which he had indulged himself in, of accompanying his thoughts with
certain untoward actions, and those actions always appeared to me as if
they were meant to reprobate some part of his past conduct. Whenever he
was not engaged in conversation, such thoughts were sure to rush into
his mind; and, for this reason, any company, any employment whatever, he
preferred to being alone. The great business of his life (he said)
was to escape from himself; this disposition he considered as the
disease of his mind, which nothing cured but company.
'One instance of his absence and particularity, as it is characteristick
of the man, may be worth relating. When he and I took a journey together
into the West, we visited the late Mr. Banks, of Dorsetshire; the
conversation turning upon pictures, which Johnson could not well see, he
retired to a corner of the room, stretching out his right leg as far as
he could reach before him, then bringing up his left leg, and stretching
his right still further on. The old gentleman observing him, went up to
him, and in a very courteous manner assured him, that though it was not
a new house, the flooring was perfectly safe. The Doctor started from
his reverie, like a person waked out of his sleep, but spoke not a
While we are on this subject, my readers may not be displeased with
another anecdote, communicated to me by the same friend, from the
relation of Mr. Hogarth.
[Page 146: Hogarth meets Johnson. A.D. 1739.]
[Page 147: George the Second's cruelty. AEtat 30.]
Johnson used to be a pretty frequent visitor at the house of Mr.
Richardson, authour of _Clarissa_, and other novels of extensive
reputation. Mr. Hogarth came one day to see Richardson, soon after the
execution of Dr. Cameron, for having taken arms for the house of Stuart
in 1745-6; and being a warm partisan of George the Second, he observed
to Richardson, that certainly there must have been some very
unfavourable circumstances lately discovered in this particular case,
which had induced the King to approve of an execution for rebellion so
long after the time when it was committed, as this had the appearance of
putting a man to death in cold blood, and was very unlike his
Majesty's usual clemency. While he was talking, he perceived a person
standing at a window in the room, shaking his head, and rolling himself
about in a strange ridiculous manner. He concluded that he was an ideot,
whom his relations had put under the care of Mr. Richardson, as a very
good man. To his great surprize, however, this figure stalked forwards
to where he and Mr. Richardson were sitting, and all at once took up the
argument, and burst out into an invective against George the Second, as
one, who, upon all occasions, was unrelenting and barbarous;
mentioning many instances, particularly, that when an officer of high
rank had been acquitted by a Court Martial, George the Second had with
his own hand, struck his name off the list. In short, he displayed such
a power of eloquence, that Hogarth looked at him with astonishment, and
actually imagined that this ideot had been at the moment inspired.
Neither Hogarth nor Johnson were made known to each other at this
[1740: AETAT. 3l.]--In 1740 he wrote for the _Gentleman's Magazine_
the 'Preface,'[dagger] 'Life of Sir Francis Drake,'[*] and the first
parts of those of 'Admiral Blake,'[*] and of 'Philip Baretier,'
both which he finished the following year. He also wrote an 'Essay on
Epitaphs,' and an 'Epitaph on Philips, a Musician,' which was
afterwards published with some other pieces of his, in Mrs. Williams's
_Miscellanies_. This Epitaph is so exquisitely beautiful, that I
remember even Lord Kames, strangely prejudiced as he was against Dr.
Johnson, was compelled to allow it very high praisc. It has been
ascribed to Mr. Garrick, from its appearing at first with the signature
G; but I have heard Mr. Garrick declare, that it was written by Dr.
Johnson, and give the following account of the manner in which it was
composed. Johnson and he were sitting together; when, amongst other
things, Garrick repeated an Epitaph upon this Philips by a Dr. Wilkes,
in these words:
[Page 148: Epitaph on Philips. A.D. 1740.]
'Exalted soul! whose harmony could please
The love-sick virgin, and the gouty ease;
Could jarring discord, like Amphion, move
To beauteous order and harmonious love;
Rest here in peace, till angels bid thee rise,
And meet thy blessed Saviour in the skies.'
Johnson shook his head at these common-place funereal lines, and said to
Garrick, 'I think, Davy, I can make a better.' Then, stirring about his
tea for a little while, in a state of meditation, he almost extempore
produced the following verses:
[Page 149: Epigram on Cibber. AEtat 31.]
'Philips, whose touch harmonious could remove
The pangs of guilty power or hapless love;
Rest here, distress'd by poverty no more,
Here find that calm thou gav'st so oft before;
Sleep, undisturb'd, within this peaceful shrine,
Till angels wake thee with a note like thine!'
At the same time that Mr. Garrick favoured me with this anecdote, he
repeated a very pointed Epigram by Johnson, on George the Second and
Colley Cibber, which has never yet appeared, and of which I know not the
exact date. Dr. Johnson afterwards gave it to me himself:
'Augustus still survives in Maro's strain,
And Spenser's verse prolongs Eliza's reign;
Great George's acts let tuneful Cibber sing;
For Nature form'd the Poet for the King.'
[Page 150: One of Cromwell's speeches. A.D. 1741.]
In 1741[*] he wrote for the _Gentleman's Magazine_ 'the Preface,'[*]
'Conclusion of his lives of Drake and Baretier,'[dagger] 'A free
translation of the Jests of Hierocles, with an Introduction;'[dagger]
and, I think, the following pieces: 'Debate on the Proposal of
Parliament to Cromwell, to assume the Title of King, abridged, modified,
and digested;'[dagger] 'Translation of Abbe Guyon's Dissertation on
the Amazons;'[dagger] 'Translation of Fontenelle's Panegyrick on Dr.
Morin.'[dagger] Two notes upon this appear to me undoubtedly his. He
this year, and the two following, wrote the _Parliamentary Debates_. He
told me himself, that he was the sole composer of them for those three
years only. He was not, however, precisely exact in his statement, which
he mentioned from hasty recollection; for it is sufficiently evident,
that his composition of them began November 19, 1740, and ended February
It appears from some of Cave's letters to Dr. Birch, that Cave had
better assistance for that branch of his Magazine, than has been
generally supposed; and that he was indefatigable in getting it made as
perfect as he could.
[Page 151: Cave's Parliamentary Debates. AEtat 32.]
Thus, 21st July, 1735. 'I trouble you with the inclosed, because you
said you could easily correct what is here given for Lord C----ld's
speech. I beg you will do so as soon as you can for me, because the
month is far advanced.'
And 15th July, 1737. 'As you remember the debates so far as to perceive
the speeches already printed are not exact, I beg the favour that you
will peruse the inclosed, and, in the best manner your memory will
serve, correct the mistaken passages, or add any thing that is omitted.
I should be very glad to have something of the Duke of N--le's
speech, which would be particularly of service.
'A gentleman has Lord Bathurst's speech to add something to.'
And July 3, 1744. 'You will see what stupid, low, abominable stuff is
put upon your noble and learned friend's character, such as I
should quite reject, and endeavour to do something better towards doing
justice to the character. But as I cannot expect to attain my desires in
that respect, it would be a great satisfaction, as well as an honour to
our work to have the favour of the genuine speech. It is a method that
several have been pleased to take, as I could show, but I think myself
under a restraint. I shall say so far, that I have had some by a third
hand, which I understood well enough to come from the first; others by
penny-post, and others by the speakers themselves, who have been
pleased to visit St. John's Gate, and show particular marks of their
[Page 152: Johnson's Parliamentary Debates. A.D. 1741.]
There is no reason, I believe, to doubt the veracity of Cave. It is,
however, remarkable, that none of these letters are in the years during
which Johnson alone furnished the Debates, and one of them is in the
very year after he ceased from that labour. Johnson told me that as soon
as he found that the speeches were thought genuine, he determined that
he would write no more of them; for 'he would not be accessary to the
propagation of falsehood.' And such was the tenderness of his
conscience, that a short time before his death he expressed his regret
for his having been the authour of fictions, which had passed for
He nevertheless agreed with me in thinking, that the debates which he
had framed were to be valued as orations upon questions of publick
importance. They have accordingly been collected in volumes, properly
arranged, and recommended to the notice of parliamentary speakers by a
preface, written by no inferior hand. I must, however, observe, that
although there is in those debates a wonderful store of political
information, and very powerful eloquence, I cannot agree that they
exhibit the manner of each particular speaker, as Sir John Hawkins seems
to think. But, indeed, what opinion can we have of his judgement, and
taste in publick speaking, who presumes to give, as the characteristicks
of two celebrated orators, 'the deep-mouthed rancour of Pulteney, and
the yelping pertinacity of Pitt.'
This year I find that his tragedy of _Irene_ had been for some time
ready for the stage, and that his necessities made him desirous of
getting as much as he could for it, without delay; for there is the
following letter from Mr. Cave to Dr. Birch, in the same volume of
manuscripts in the British Museum, from which I copied those above
quoted. They were most obligingly pointed out to me by Sir William
Musgrave, one of the Curators of that noble repository.
[Page 153: Bibliotheca Harleiana. AEtat 32.]
'Sept. 9, 1741.
'I have put Mr. Johnson's play into Mr. Gray's hands, in order to
sell it to him, if he is inclined to buy it; but I doubt whether he will
or not. He would dispose of the copy, and whatever advantage may be made
by acting it. Would your society, or any gentleman, or body of men
that you know, take such a bargain? He and I are very unfit to deal with
theatrical persons. Fleetwood was to have acted it last season, but
Johnson's diffidence or ---- prevented it.'
I have already mentioned that _Irene_ was not brought into publick
notice till Garrick was manager of Drury-lane theatre.
[Page 154: Osborne the bookseller. A.D. 1742.]
1742: AETAT. 33.--In 1742 he wrote for the _Gentleman's Magazine_
the 'Preface,[dagger] the 'Parliamentary Debates,'[*] 'Essay on the
Account of the conduct of the Duchess of Marlborough,'[*] then the
popular topick of conversation. This 'Essay' is a short but masterly
performance. We find him in No. 13 of his _Rambler_, censuring a
profligate sentiment in that 'Account;' and again insisting upon it
strenuously in conversation. 'An account of the Life of Peter
Burman,'[*] I believe chiefly taken from a foreign publication; as,
indeed, he could not himself know much about Burman; 'Additions to his
Life of Baretier;'[*] 'The Life of Sydenham,'[*] afterwards prefixed to
Dr. Swan's edition of his works; 'Proposals for Printing Bibliotheca
Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford.'[*]
His account of that celebrated collection of books, in which he displays
the importance to literature of what the French call a _catalogue
raisonne_, when the subjects of it are extensive and various, and it is
executed with ability, cannot fail to impress all his readers with
admiration of his philological attainments. It was afterwards prefixed
to the first volume of the Catalogue, in which the Latin accounts of
books were written by him. He was employed in this business by Mr.
Thomas Osborne the bookseller, who purchased the library for 13,000L., a
sum which Mr. Oldys says, in one of his manuscripts, was not more
than the binding of the books had cost; yet, as Dr. Johnson assured me,
the slowness of the sale was such, that there was not much gained by it.
It has been confidently related, with many embellishments, that Johnson
one day knocked Osborne down in his shop, with a folio, and put his foot
upon his neck. The simple truth I had from Johnson himself. 'Sir, he was
impertinent to me, and I beat him. But it was not in his shop: it was in
my own chamber.'
[Page 155: A projected parliamentary history. AEtat 33.]
A very diligent observer may trace him where we should not easily
suppose him to be found. I have no doubt that he wrote the little
abridgement entitled 'Foreign History,' in the _Magazine_ for December.
To prove it, I shall quote the Introduction. 'As this is that season of
the year in which Nature may be said to command a suspension of
hostilities, and which seems intended, by putting a short stop to
violence and slaughter, to afford time for malice to relent, and
animosity to subside; we can scarce expect any other accounts than of
plans, negotiations and treaties, of proposals for peace, and
preparations for war.' As also this passage: 'Let those who despise the
capacity of the Swiss, tell us by what wonderful policy, or by what
happy conciliation of interests, it is brought to pass, that in a body
made up of different communities and different religions, there should
be no civil commotions, though the people are so warlike, that to
nominate and raise an army is the same.'
I am obliged to Mr. Astle for his ready permission to copy the two
following letters, of which the originals are in his possession. Their
contents shew that they were written about this time, and that Johnson
was now engaged in preparing an historical account of the British
'To MR. CAVE.
'I believe I am going to write a long letter, and have therefore taken a
whole sheet of paper. The first thing to be written about is our
'You mentioned the proposal of printing in numbers, as an alteration in
the scheme, but I believe you mistook, some way or other, my meaning; I
had no other view than that you might rather print too many of five
sheets, than of five and thirty.
'With regard to what I shall say on the manner of proceeding, I would
have it understood as wholly indifferent to me, and my opinion only, not
my resolution. _Emptoris sit eligere_.
'I think the insertion of the exact dates of the most important events
in the margin, or of so many events as may enable the reader to regulate
the order of facts with sufficient exactness, the proper medium between
a journal, which has regard only to time, and a history which ranges
facts according to their dependence on each other, and postpones or
anticipates according to the convenience of narration. I think the work
ought to partake of the spirit of history, which is contrary to minute
exactness, and of the regularity of a journal, which is inconsistent
with spirit. For this reason, I neither admit numbers or dates, nor
[Page 156: Payment for work. A.D. 1742.]
'I am of your opinion with regard to placing most of the resolutions
&c., in the margin, and think we shall give the most complete account of
Parliamentary proceedings that can be contrived. The naked papers,
without an historical treatise interwoven, require some other book to
make them understood. I will date the succeeding facts with some
exactness, but I think in the margin. You told me on Saturday that I had
received money on this work, and found set down 13L. 2s. 6d., reckoning
the half guinea of last Saturday. As you hinted to me that you had many
calls for money, I would not press you too hard, and therefore shall
desire only, as I send it in, two guineas for a sheet of copy; the rest
you may pay me when it may be more convenient; and even by this
sheet-payment I shall, for some time, be very expensive.
'The _Life of Savage_ I am ready to go upon; and in Great Primer, and
Pica notes, I reckon on sending in half a sheet a day; but the money for
that shall likewise lye by in your hands till it is done. With the
debates, shall not I have business enough? if I had but good pens.
'Towards Mr. Savage's _Life_ what more have you got? I would willingly
have his trial, &c., and know whether his defence be at Bristol, and
would have his collection of poems, on account of the Preface.--_The
Plain Dealer_,--all the magazines that have anything of his, or
relating to him.
'I thought my letter would be long, but it is now ended; and I am, Sir,
'Yours, &c. SAM. JOHNSON.'
'The boy found me writing this almost in the dark, when I could not
quite easily read yours.
'I have read the Italian--nothing in it is well.
'I had no notion of having any thing for the Inscription. I hope you
don't think I kept it to extort a price. I could think of nothing, till
to day. If you could spare me another guinea for the history, I should
take it very kindly, to night; but if you do not I shall not think it an
injury.--I am almost well again.'
'To MR. CAVE.
'You did not tell me your determination about the 'Soldier's Letter,'
which I am confident was never printed. I think it will not do by
itself, or in any other place, so well as the _Mag. Extraordinary_.
If you will have it at all, I believe you do not think I set it high,
and I will be glad if what you give, you will give quickly.
[Page 157: _Ad Lauram pariluram Epigramma_. AEtat 33.]
'You need not be in care about something to print, for I have got the
State Trials, and shall extract Layer, Atterbury, and Macclesfield from
them, and shall bring them to you in a fortnight; after which I will try
to get the South Sea Report.'
[_No date, nor signature_]
I would also ascribe to him an 'Essay on the Description of China, from
the French of Du Halde.[dagger]
His writings in the _Gentleman's Magazine_ in 1743, are, the
'Preface,'[dagger] the 'Parliamentary Debates,'[dagger]
'Considerations on the Dispute between Crousaz and Warburton, on
Pope's Essay on Man;'[dagger] in which, while he defends Crousaz, he
shews an admirable metaphysical acuteness and temperance in
controversy; 'Ad Lauram parituram Epigramma;'[*] and, 'A Latin
Translation of Pope's Verses on his Grotto;'[*] and, as he could
employ his pen with equal success upon a small matter as a great, I
suppose him to be the authour of an advertisement for Osborne,
concerning the great Harlcian Catalogue.
[Page 158: Friendship, an Ode. A.D. 1743.]
But I should think myself much wanting, both to my illustrious friend
and my readers, did I not introduce here, with more than ordinary
respect, an exquisitely beautiful Ode, which has not been inserted in
any of the collections of Johnson's poetry, written by him at a very
early period, as Mr. Hector informs me, and inserted in the _Gentleman's
Magazine_ of this year.
FRIENDSHIP, _an_ ODE.[*]
'Friendship, peculiar boon of heav'n,
The noble mind's delight and pride,
To men and angels only giv'n,
To all the lower world deny'd.
While love, unknown among the blest,
Parent of thousand wild desires,
The savage and the human breast
Torments alike with raging fires;
With bright, but oft destructive, gleam,
Alike o'er all his lightnings fly;
Thy lambent glories only beam
Around the fav'rites of the sky.
Thy gentle flows of guiltless joys
On fools and villains ne'er descend;
In vain for thee the tyrant sighs,
And hugs a flatterer for a friend.
Directress of the brave and just,
O guide us through life's darksome way!
And let the tortures of mistrust
On selfish bosoms only prey.
Nor shall thine ardours cease to glow,
When souls to blissful climes remove;
What rais'd our virtue here below,
Shall aid our happiness above.'
[Page 159: Dr. James and Dr. Mead. AEtat 34.]
Johnson had now an opportunity of obliging his schoolfellow Dr. James,
of whom he once observed, 'no man brings more mind to his
profession.' James published this year his _Medicinal Dictionary_, in
three volumes folio. Johnson, as I understood from him, had written, or
assisted in writing, the proposals for this work; and being very fond of
the study of physick, in which James was his master, he furnished some
of the articles. He, however, certainly wrote for it the Dedication
to Dr. Mead,[dagger] which is conceived with great address, to
conciliate the patronage of that very eminent man.
[Page 160: Dr. Birch. A.D. 1743.]
It has been circulated, I know not with what authenticity, that Johnson
considered Dr. Birch as a dull writer, and said of him, 'Tom Birch is as
brisk as a bee in conversation; but no sooner does he take a pen in his
hand, than it becomes a torpedo to him, and benumbs all his
faculties.' That the literature of this country is much indebted to
Birch's activity and diligence must certainly be acknowledged. We have
seen that Johnson honoured him with a Greek Epigram; and his
correspondence with him, during many years, proves that he had no mean
opinion of him.
'To DR. BIRCH.
'Thursday, Sept. 29, 1743.
'I hope you will excuse me for troubling you on an occasion on which I
know not whom else I can apply to; I am at a loss for the Lives and
Characters of Earl Stanhope, the two Craggs, and the minister
Sunderland; and beg that you will inform [me] where I may find them, and
send any pamphlets, &c. relating to them to Mr. Cave, to be perused for
a few days by, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
His circumstances were at this time much embarrassed; yet his affection
for his mother was so warm, and so liberal, that he took upon himself a
debt of her's, which, though small in itself, was then considerable to
him. This appears from the following letter which he wrote to Mr.
Levett, of Lichfield, the original of which lies now before me.
'To MR. LEVETT; IN LICHFIELD.
'December 1, 1743.
'I am extremely sorry that we have encroached so much upon your
forbearance with respect to the interest, which a great perplexity of
affairs hindered me from thinking of with that attention that I ought,
and which I am not immediately able to remit to you, but will pay it (I
think twelve pounds,) in two months. I look upon this, and on the future
interest of that mortgage, as my own debt; and beg that you will be
pleased to give me directions how to pay it, and not mention it to my
dear mother. If it be necessary to pay this in less time, I believe I
can do it; but I take two months for certainty, and beg an answer
whether you can allow me so much time. I think myself very much obliged
to your forbearance, and shall esteem it a great happiness to be able to
serve you. I have great opportunities of dispersing any thing that you
may think it proper to make publick. I will give a note for the
money, payable at the time mentioned, to any one here that you shall
appoint. I am, Sir,
'Your most obedient,
'And most humble servant,
'At Mr. Osborne's, bookseller, in Gray's Inn.'
[Page 161: The Life of Savage. AEtat 35.]
[Page 162: Johnson's friendship with Savage. A.D. 1744.]
1744: AETAT. 35.--It does not appear that he wrote any thing in 1744
for the _Gentleman's Magazine_, but the Preface.[Dagger] His _Life of
Baretier_ was now re-published in a pamphlet by itself. But he produced
one work this year, fully sufficient to maintain the high reputation
which he had acquired. This was _The Life of Richard Savage_;[*] a man,
of whom it is difficult to speak impartially, without wondering that he
was for some time the intimate companion of Johnson; for his
character was marked by profligacy, insolence, and ingratitude: yet,
as he undoubtedly had a warm and vigorous, though unregulated mind, had
seen life in all its varieties, and been much in the company of the
statesmen and wits of his time, he could communicate to Johnson an
abundant supply of such materials as his philosophical curiosity most
eagerly desired; and as Savage's misfortunes and misconduct had reduced
him to the lowest state of wretchedness as a writer for bread, his
visits to St. John's Gate naturally brought Johnson and him together.
[Page 163: Dining behind the screen. AEtat 35.]
It is melancholy to reflect, that Johnson and Savage were sometimes in
such extreme indigence, that they could not pay for a lodging; so
that they have wandered together whole nights in the streets. Yet in
these almost incredible scenes of distress, we may suppose that Savage
mentioned many of the anecdotes with which Johnson afterwards enriched
the life of his unhappy companion, and those of other Poets.
[Page 164: Johnson in want of a lodging. A.D. 1744.]
He told Sir Joshua Reynolds, that one night in particular, when Savage
and he walked round St. James's-square for want of a lodging, they were
not at all depressed by their situation; but in high spirits and brimful
of patriotism, traversed the square for several hours, inveighed against
the minister, and 'resolved they would _stand by their country_.'
I am afraid, however, that by associating with Savage, who was
habituated to the dissipation and licentiousness of the town, Johnson,
though his good principles remained steady, did not entirely preserve
that conduct, for which, in days of greater simplicity, he was remarked
by his friend Mr. Hector; but was imperceptibly led into some
indulgencies which occasioned much distress to his virtuous mind.
That Johnson was anxious that an authentick and favourable account of
his extraordinary friend should first get possession of the publick
attention, is evident from a letter which he wrote in the _Gentleman's
Magazine_ for August of the year preceding its publication.
'As your collections show how often you have owed the ornaments of your
poetical pages to the correspondence of the unfortunate and ingenious
Mr. Savage, I doubt not but you have so much regard to his memory as to
encourage any design that may have a tendency to the preservation of it
from insults or calumnies; and therefore, with some degree of assurance,
intreat you to inform the publick, that his life will speedily be
published by a person who was favoured with his confidence, and received
from himself an account of most of the transactions which he proposes to
mention, to the time of his retirement to Swansea in Wales.
'From that period, to his death in the prison of Bristol, the account
will be continued from materials still less liable to objection; his own
letters, and those of his friends, some of which will be inserted in the
work, and abstracts of others subjoined in the margin.
'It may be reasonably imagined, that others may have the same design;
but as it is not credible that they can obtain the same materials, it
must be expected they will supply from invention the want of
intelligence; and that under the title of "The Life of Savage," they
will publish only a novel, filled with romantick adventures, and
imaginary amours. You may therefore, perhaps, gratify the lovers of
truth and wit, by giving me leave to inform them in your Magazine, that
my account will be published in 8vo. by Mr. Roberts, in
[Page 165: Reynolds reads THE LIFE OF SAVAGE. AEtat 35.]
In February, 1744, it accordingly came forth from the shop of Roberts,
between whom and Johnson I have not traced any connection, except the
casual one of this publication. In Johnson's _Life of Savage_,
although it must be allowed that its moral is the reverse
of--'_Respicere exemplar vita morumque jubebo_,' a very useful lesson
is inculcated, to guard men of warm passions from a too free indulgence
of them; and the various incidents are related in so clear and animated
a manner, and illuminated throughout with so much philosophy, that it is
one of the most interesting narratives in the English language. Sir
Joshua Reynolds told me, that upon his return from Italy he met with
it in Devonshire, knowing nothing of its authour, and began to read it
while he was standing with his arm leaning against a chimney-piece. It
seized his attention so strongly, that, not being able to lay down the
book till he had finished it, when he attempted to move, he found his
arm totally benumbed. The rapidity with which this work was composed, is
a wonderful circumstance. Johnson has been heard to say, 'I wrote
forty-eight of the printed octavo pages of the _Life of Savage_ at a
sitting; but then I sat up all night.'
[Page 166: Resemblance of Johnson to Savage. A.D. 1744.]
He exhibits the genius of Savage to the best advantage in the specimens
of his poetry which he has selected, some of which are of uncommon
merit. We, indeed, occasionally find such vigour and such point, as
might make us suppose that the generous aid of Johnson had been imparted
to his friend. Mr. Thomas Warton made this remark to me; and, in support
of it, quoted from the poem entitled _The Bastard_, a line, in which the
fancied superiority of one 'stamped in Nature's mint with extasy,' is
contrasted with a regular lawful descendant of some great and ancient
'No tenth transmitter of a foolish face.'
But the fact is, that this poem was published some years before Johnson
and Savage were acquainted.
[Page 167: Johnson's prejudice against players. AEtat 35.]
It is remarkable, that in this biographical disquisition there appears a
very strong symptom of Johnson's prejudice against players; a
prejudice which may be attributed to the following causes: first, the
imperfection of his organs, which were so defective that he was not
susceptible of the fine impressions which theatrical excellence produces
upon the generality of mankind; secondly, the cold rejection of his
tragedy; and, lastly, the brilliant success of Garrick, who had been his
pupil, who had come to London at the same time with him, not in a much
more prosperous state than himself, and whose talents he undoubtedly
rated low, compared with his own. His being outstripped by his pupil in
the race of immediate fame, as well as of fortune, probably made him
feel some indignation, as thinking that whatever might be Garrick's
merits in his art, the reward was too great when compared with what the
most successful efforts of literary labour could attain. At all periods
of his life Johnson used to talk contemptuously of players; but in
this work he speaks of them with peculiar acrimony; for which, perhaps,
there was formerly too much reason from the licentious and dissolute
manners of those engaged in that profession. It is but justice to
add, that in our own time such a change has taken place, that there is
no longer room for such an unfavourable distinction.
[Page 168: Garrick's mistakes in emphasis. A.D. 1744.]
His schoolfellow and friend, Dr. Taylor, told me a pleasant anecdote of
Johnson's triumphing over his pupil David Garrick. When that great actor
had played some little time at Goodman's fields, Johnson and Taylor went
to see him perform, and afterwards passed the evening at a tavern with
him and old Giffard. Johnson, who was ever depreciating
stage-players, after censuring some mistakes in emphasis which Garrick
had committed in the course of that night's acting, said, 'the players,
Sir, have got a kind of rant, with which they run on, without any regard
either to accent or emphasis.' Both Garrick and Giffard were offended
at this sarcasm, and endeavoured to refute it; upon which Johnson
rejoined, 'Well now, I'll give you something to speak, with which you
are little acquainted, and then we shall see how just my observation is.
That shall be the criterion. Let me hear you repeat the ninth
Commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."'
Both tried at it, said Dr. Taylor, and both mistook the emphasis, which
should be upon _not_ and _false witness_. Johnson put them right, and
enjoyed his victory with great glee.
[Page 169: A review in THE CHAMPION. AEtat 35.]
His _Life of Savage_ was no sooner published, than the following liberal
praise was given to it, in _The Champion_, a periodical paper: 'This
pamphlet is, without flattery to its authour, as just and well written a
piece as of its kind I ever saw; so that at the same time that it highly
deserves, it certainly stands very little in need of this
recommendation. As to the history of the unfortunate person, whose
memoirs compose this work, it is certainly penned with equal accuracy
and spirit, of which I am so much the better judge, as I know many of
the facts mentioned to be strictly true, and very fairly related.
Besides, it is not only the story of Mr. Savage, but innumerable
incidents relating to other persons, and other affairs, which renders
this a very amusing, and, withal, a very instructive and valuable
performance. The author's observations are short, significant, and just,
as his narrative is remarkably smooth, and well disposed. His
reflections open to all the recesses of the human heart; and, in a word,
a more just or pleasant, a more engaging or a more improving treatise,
on all the excellencies and defects of human nature, is scarce to be
found in our own, or, perhaps, any other language.'
[Page 170: Parentage of Richard Savage. A.D. 1744.]
Johnson's partiality for Savage made him entertain no doubt of his
story, however extraordinary and improbable. It never occurred to him to
question his being the son of the Countess of Macclesfield, of whose
unrelenting barbarity he so loudly complained, and the particulars of
which are related in so strong and affecting a manner in Johnson's life
of him. Johnson was certainly well warranted in publishing his
narrative, however offensive it might be to the lady and her relations,
because her alledged unnatural and cruel conduct to her son, and
shameful avowal of guilt, were stated in a _Life of Savage_ now lying
before me, which came out so early as 1727, and no attempt had been made
to confute it, or to punish the authour or printer as a libeller: but
for the honour of human nature, we should be glad to find the shocking
tale not true; and, from a respectable gentleman connected with the
lady's family, I have received such information and remarks, as joined
to my own inquiries, will, I think, render it at least somewhat
doubtful, especially when we consider that it must have originated from
the person himself who went by the name of Richard Savage.
If the maxim _falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus_, were to be received
without qualification, the credit of Savage's narrative, as conveyed to
us, would be annihilated; for it contains some assertions which, beyond
a question, are not true.
1. In order to induce a belief that Earl Rivers, on account of a
criminal connection with whom, Lady Macclesfield is said to have been
divorced from her husband, by Act of Parliament, had a peculiar
anxiety about the child which she bore to him, it is alledged, that his
Lordship gave him his own name, and had it duly recorded in the register
of St. Andrew's, Holborn. I have carefully inspected that register,
but no such entry is to be found.
[Page 171: Lady Macclesfield's divorce. AEtat 35.]
2. It is stated, that 'Lady Macclesfield having lived for some time upon
very uneasy terms with her husband, thought a publick confession of
adultery the most obvious and expeditious method of obtaining her
liberty;' and Johnson, assuming this to be true, stigmatises her with
indignation, as 'the wretch who had, without scruple, proclaimed herself
an adulteress.' But I have perused the Journals of both houses of
Parliament at the period of her divorce, and there find it authentically
ascertained, that so far from voluntarily submitting to the ignominious
charge of adultery, she made a strenuous defence by her Counsel; the
bill having been first moved 15th January, 1697, in the House of Lords,
and proceeded on, (with various applications for time to bring up
witnesses at a distance, &c.) at intervals, till the 3d of March, when
it passed. It was brought to the Commons, by a message from the Lords,
the 5th of March, proceeded on the 7th, 10th, 11th, 14th, and 15th, on
which day, after a full examination of witnesses on both sides, and
hearing of Counsel, it was reported without amendments, passed, and
carried to the Lords.
[Page 172: Lady Macclesfield's alleged cruelty. A.D. 1744.]
That Lady Macclesfield was convicted of the crime of which she was
accused, cannot be denied; but the question now is, whether the person
calling himself Richard Savage was her son.
It has been said, that when Earl Rivers was dying, and anxious to
provide for all his natural children, he was informed by Lady
Macclesfield that her son by him was dead. Whether, then, shall we
believe that this was a malignant lie, invented by a mother to prevent
her own child from receiving the bounty of his father, which was
accordingly the consequence, if the person whose life Johnson wrote, was
her son; or shall we not rather believe that the person who then assumed
the name of Richard Savage was an impostor, being in reality the son of
the shoemaker, under whose wife's care Lady Macclesfield's child was
placed; that after the death of the real Richard Savage, he attempted to
personate him; and that the fraud being known to Lady Macclesfield, he
was therefore repulsed by her with just resentment?
There is a strong circumstance in support of the last supposition,
though it has been mentioned as an aggravation of Lady Macclesfield's
unnatural conduct, and that is, her having prevented him from obtaining
the benefit of a legacy left to him by Mrs. Lloyd his god-mother. For if
there was such a legacy left, his not being able to obtain payment of
it, must be imputed to his consciousness that he was not the real
person. The just inference should be, that by the death of Lady
Macclesfield's child before its god-mother, the legacy became lapsed,
and therefore that Johnson's Richard Savage was an impostor. If he had a
title to the legacy, he could not have found any difficulty in
recovering it; for had the executors resisted his claim, the whole
costs, as well as the legacy, must have been paid by them, if he had
been the child to whom it was given.
[Page 173: Lord Tyrconnel. AEtat 35.]
The talents of Savage, and the mingled fire, rudeness, pride, meanness,
and ferocity of his character, concur in making it credible that he
was fit to plan and carry on an ambitious and daring scheme of
imposture, similar instances of which have not been wanting in higher
spheres, in the history of different countries, and have had a
considerable degree of success.
Yet, on the other hand, to the companion of Johnson, (who through
whatever medium he was conveyed into this world,--be it ever so doubtful
'To whom related, or by whom begot,' was, unquestionably, a man of no
common endowments,) we must allow the weight of general repute as to his
_Status_ or parentage, though illicit; and supposing him to be an
impostor, it seems strange that Lord Tyrconnel, the nephew of Lady
Macclesfield, should patronise him, and even admit him as a guest in his
family. Lastly, it must ever appear very suspicious, that three
different accounts of the Life of Richard Savage, one published in _The
Plain Dealer_, in 1724, another in 1727, and another by the powerful pen
of Johnson, in 1744, and all of them while Lady Macclesfield was alive,
should, notwithstanding the severe attacks upon her, have been
suffered to pass without any publick and effectual contradiction.
[Page 174: Lady Macclesfield's latter career. A.D. 1744.]
I have thus endeavoured to sum up the evidence upon the case, as fairly
as I can; and the result seems to be, that the world must vibrate in a
state of uncertainty as to what was the truth.
This digression, I trust, will not be censured, as it relates to a
matter exceedingly curious, and very intimately connected with Johnson,
both as a man and an authour.
[Page 175: Observations of Shakespeare. AEtat 38.]
He this year wrote the _Preface to the Harleian Miscellany_[*] The
selection of the pamphlets of which it was composed was made by Mr.
Oldys, a man of eager curiosity and indefatigable diligence, who
first exerted that spirit of inquiry into the literature of the old
English writers, by which the works of our great dramatick poet have of
late been so signally illustrated.
In 1745 he published a pamphlet entitled _Miscellaneous Observations on
the Tragedy of Macbeth, with remarks on Sir T.H.'s (Sir Thomas Hammer's)
Edition of Shakspeare_.[*] To which he affixed, proposals for a new
edition of that poet.
As we do not trace any thing else published by him during the course of
this year, we may conjecture that he was occupied entirely with that
work. But the little encouragement which was given by the publick to his
anonymous proposals for the execution of a task which Warburton was
known to have undertaken, probably damped his ardour. His pamphlet,
however, was highly esteemed, and was fortunate enough to obtain the
approbation even of the supercilious Warburton himself, who, in the
Preface to his _Shakspeare_ published two years afterwards, thus
mentioned it: 'As to all those things which have been published under
the titles of _Essays, Remarks, Observations_, &c. on Shakspeare, if you
except some critical notes on _Macbeth_, given as a specimen of a
projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and
genius, the rest are absolutely below a serious notice.'
Of this flattering distinction shewn to him by Warburton, a very
grateful remembrance was ever entertained by Johnson, who said, 'He
praised me at a time when praise was of value to me.'
[Page 176: The Rebellion of 1745. A.D. 1746.]
1746: AETAT. 37.--In 1746 it is probable that he was still employed
upon his _Shakspeare_, which perhaps he laid aside for a time, upon
account of the high expectations which were formed of Warburton's
edition of that great poet. It is somewhat curious, that his literary
career appears to have been almost totally suspended in the years 1745
and 1746, those years which were marked by a civil war in Great-Britain,
when a rash attempt was made to restore the House of Stuart to the
throne. That he had a tenderness for that unfortunate House, is well
known; and some may fancifully imagine, that a sympathetick anxiety
impeded the exertion of his intellectual powers: but I am inclined to
think, that he was, during this time, sketching the outlines of his
great philological work.
[Page 177: Johnson not an ardent Jacobite. AEtat 38.]
None of his letters during those years are extant, so far as I can
discover. This is much to be regretted. It might afford some
entertainment to see how he then expressed himself to his private
friends, concerning State affairs. Dr. Adams informs me, that 'at this
time a favourite object which he had in contemplation was _The Life of
Alfred_; in which, from the warmth with which he spoke about it, he
would, I believe, had he been master of his own will, have engaged
himself, rather than on any other subject.'
[Page 178: Poems wrongly assigned to Johnson. A.D. 1747.]
1747: AETAT. 38.--In 1747 it is supposed that the _Gentleman's
Magazine_ for May was enriched by him with five short poetical
pieces, distinguished by three asterisks. The first is a translation, or
rather a paraphrase, of a Latin Epitaph on Sir Thomas Hanmer. Whether
the Latin was his, or not, I have never heard, though I should think it
probably was, if it be certain that he wrote the English; as to which
my only cause of doubt is, that his slighting character of Hanmer as an
editor, in his _Observations on Macbeth_, is very different from that in
the 'Epitaph.' It may be said, that there is the same contrariety
between the character in the _Observations_, and that in his own Preface
to Shakspeare; but a considerable time elapsed between the one
publication and the other, whereas the _Observations_ and the 'Epitaph'
came close together. The others are 'To Miss----, on her giving the
Authour a gold and silk net-work Purse of her own weaving;' 'Stella in
Mourning;' 'The Winter's Walk;' 'An Ode;' and, 'To Lyce, an elderly
Lady.' I am not positive that all these were his productions; but as
'The Winter's Walk' has never been controverted to be his, and all of
them have the same mark, it is reasonable to conclude that they are all
written by the same hand. Yet to the Ode, in which we find a passage
very characteristick of him, being a learned description of the gout,
'Unhappy, whom to beds of pain
_Arthritick_ tyranny consigns;'
there is the following note: 'The authour being ill of the gout:' but
Johnson was not attacked with that distemper till at a very late period
of his life. May not this, however, be a poetical fiction? Why may
not a poet suppose himself to have the gout, as well as suppose himself
to be in love, of which we have innumerable instances, and which has
been admirably ridiculed by Johnson in his _Life of Cowley_? I have
also some difficulty to believe that he could produce such a group of
_conceits_ as appear in the verses to Lyce, in which he claims for
this ancient personage as good a right to be assimilated to _heaven_, as
nymphs whom other poets have flattered; he therefore ironically ascribes
to her the attributes of the _sky_, in such stanzas as this:
'Her teeth the _night_ with _darkness_ dies,
She's _starr'd_ with pimples o'er;
Her tongue like nimble _lightning_ plies,
And can with _thunder roar_.'
But as at a very advanced age he could condescend to trifle in
_namby-pamby_ rhymes, to please Mrs. Thrale and her daughter, he may
have, in his earlier years, composed such a piece as this.
It is remarkable, that in this first edition of _The Winters Walk_, the
concluding line is much more Johnsonian than it was afterwards printed;
for in subsequent editions, after praying Stella to 'snatch him to her
arms,' he says,
'And _shield_ me from the _ills_ of life.'
[Page 180: Verses on Lord Lovat. A.D. 1747.]
Whereas in the first edition it is
'And hide me from the _sight_ of life.'
A horrour at life in general is more consonant with Johnson's habitual
gloomy cast of thought.
I have heard him repeat with great energy the following verses, which
appeared in the _Gentleman's Magazine_ for April this year; but I have
no authority to say they were his own. Indeed one of the best criticks
of our age suggests to me, that 'the word _indifferently_ being used
in the sense of _without concern_' and being also very unpoetical,
renders it improbable that they should have been his composition.
'On Lord LOVAT'S _Execution_.
'Pity'd by _gentle minds_ KILMARNOCK died;
The _brave_, BALMERINO, were on thy side;
RADCLIFFE, unhappy in his crimes of youth,
Steady in what he still mistook for truth,
Beheld his death so decently unmov'd,
The _soft_ lamented, and the _brave_ approv'd.
But LOVAT'S fate indifferently we view,
True to no King, to no _religion_ true:
No _fair_ forgets the _ruin_ he has done;
No _child_ laments the _tyrant_ of his _son_;
No _tory_ pities, thinking what he was;
No _whig_ compassions, _for he left the cause_;
The _brave_ regret not, for he was not brave;
The _honest_ mourn not, knowing him a knave!'
[Page 181: A Prologue by Johnson. AEtat 38.]
This year his old pupil and friend, David Garrick, having become joint
patentee and manager of Drury-lane theatre, Johnson honoured his opening
of it with a Prologue,[*] which for just and manly dramatick
criticism, on the whole range of the English stage, as well as for
poetical excellence, is unrivalled. Like the celebrated Epilogue to
the _Distressed Mother_, it was, during the season, often called for
by the audience. The most striking and brilliant passages of it have
been so often repeated, and are so well recollected by all the lovers of
the drama and of poetry, that it would be superfluous to point them out.
In the _Gentleman's Magazine_ for December this year, he inserted an
'Ode on Winter,' which is, I think, an admirable specimen of his genius
for lyrick poetry.
[Page 182: The Plan of the Dictionary. A.D. 1747.]
But the year 1747 is distinguished as the epoch, when Johnson's arduous
and important work, his DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, was
announced to the world, by the publication of its Plan or _Prospectus_.
How long this immense undertaking had been the object of his
contemplation, I do not know. I once asked him by what means he had
attained to that astonishing knowledge of our language, by which he was
enabled to realise a design of such extent, and accumulated difficulty.
He told me, that 'it was not the effect of particular study; but that it
had grown up in his mind insensibly.' I have been informed by Mr. James
Dodsley, that several years before this period, when Johnson was one day
sitting in his brother Robert's shop, he heard his brother suggest to
him, that a Dictionary of the English Language would be a work that
would be well received by the publick; that Johnson seemed at first
to catch at the proposition, but, after a pause, said, in his abrupt
decisive manner, 'I believe I shall not undertake it.' That he, however,
had bestowed much thought upon the subject, before he published his
_Plan_, is evident from the enlarged, clear, and accurate views which it
exhibits; and we find him mentioning in that tract, that many of the
writers whose testimonies were to be produced as authorities, were
selected by Pope; which proves that he had been furnished, probably
by Mr. Robert Dodsley, with whatever hints that eminent poet had
contributed towards a great literary project, that had been the subject
of important consideration in a former reign.
[Page 183: Address of the Earl of Chesterfield. AEtat 38.]
The booksellers who contracted with Johnson, single and unaided, for the
execution of a work, which in other countries has not been effected but
by the co-operating exertions of many, were Mr. Robert Dodsley, Mr.
Charles Hitch, Mr. Andrew Millar, the two Messieurs Longman, and the
two Messieurs Knapton. The price stipulated was fifteen hundred and
The _Plan_ was addressed to Philip Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield, then
one of his Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State; a nobleman who
was very ambitious of literary distinction, and who, upon being informed
of the design, had expressed himself in terms very favourable to its
success. There is, perhaps in every thing of any consequence, a secret
history which it would be amusing to know, could we have it
authentically communicated. Johnson told me, 'Sir, the way in which
the _Plan_ of my _Dictionary_ came to be inscribed to Lord Chesterfield,
was this: I had neglected to write it by the time appointed. Dodsley
suggested a desire to have it addressed to Lord Chesterfield. I laid
hold of this as a pretext for delay, that it might be better done, and
let Dodsley have his desire. I said to my friend, Dr. Bathurst, "Now if
any good comes of my addressing to Lord Chesterfield, it will be
ascribed to deep policy, when, in fact, it was only a casual excuse for
[Page 184: The style of the PLAN. A.D. 1747.]
It is worthy of observation, that the _Plan_ has not only the
substantial merit of comprehension, perspicuity, and precision, but that
the language of it is unexceptionably excellent; it being altogether
free from that inflation of style, and those uncommon but apt and
energetick words, which in some of his writings have been censured,
with more petulance than justice; and never was there a more dignified
strain of compliment than that in which he courts the attention of one
who, he had been persuaded to believe, would be a respectable patron.
'With regard to questions of purity or propriety, (says he) I was once
in doubt whether I should not attribute to myself too much in attempting
to decide them, and whether my province was to extend beyond the
proposition of the question, and the display of the suffrages on each
side; but I have been since determined by your Lordship's opinion, to
interpose my own judgement, and shall therefore endeavour to support
what appears to me most consonant to grammar and reason. Ausonius
thought that modesty forbade him to plead inability for a task to which
Caesar had judged him equal:
Cur me pesse negem posse quod ille putat?
'And I may hope, my Lord, that since you, whose authority in our
language is so generally acknowledged, have commissioned me to declare
my own opinion, I shall be considered as exercising a kind of vicarious
jurisdiction; and that the power which might have been denied to my own
claim, will be readily allowed me as the delegate of your Lordship.'
[Page 185: The Earl of Orrery. AEtat 38.]
This passage proves, that Johnson's addressing his _Plan_ to Lord
Chesterfield was not merely in consequence of the result of a report by
means of Dodsley, that the Earl favoured the design; but that there had
been a particular communication with his Lordship concerning it. Dr.
Taylor told me, that Johnson sent his _Plan_ to him in manuscript, for
his perusal; and that when it was lying upon his table, Mr. William
Whitehead happened to pay him a visit, and being shewn it, was highly
pleased with such parts of it as he had time to read, and begged to take
it home with him, which he was allowed to do; that from him it got into
the hands of a noble Lord, who carried it to Lord Chesterfield. When
Taylor observed this might be an advantage, Johnson replied, 'No, Sir;
it would have come out with more bloom, if it had not been seen before