Part 4 out of 14
by any body.'
The opinion conceived of it by another noble authour, appears from the
following extract of a letter from the Earl of Orrery to Dr. Birch:
'Caledon, Dec. 30, 1747.
'I have just now seen the specimen of Mr. Johnson's Dictionary,
addressed to Lord Chesterfield. I am much pleased with the plan, and I
think the specimen is one of the best that I have ever read. Most
specimens disgust, rather than prejudice us in favour of the work to
follow; but the language of Mr. Johnson's is good, and the arguments are
properly and modestly expressed. However, some expressions may be
cavilled at, but they are trifles. I'll mention one. The _barren_
Laurel. The laurel is not barren, in any sense whatever; it bears fruits
and flowers. _Sed hae sunt nugae_, and I have great expectation from
That he was fully aware of the arduous nature of the undertaking, he
acknowledges; and shews himself perfectly sensible of it in the
conclusion of his _Plan_; but he had a noble consciousness of his own
abilities, which enabled him to go on with undaunted spirit.
[Page 186: The Dictionary of the French Academy. A.D. 1748.]
Dr. Adams found him one day busy at his _Dictionary_, when the following
dialogue ensued. 'ADAMS. This is a great work, Sir. How are you to get
all the etymologies? JOHNSON. Why, Sir, here is a shelf with Junius, and
Skinner, and others; and there is a Welch gentleman who has published
a collection of Welch proverbs, who will help me with the Welch.
ADAMS. But, Sir, how can you do this in three years? JOHNSON. Sir, I
have no doubt that I can do it in three years. ADAMS. But the French
Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile
their Dictionary. JOHNSON. Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let
me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen
hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.' With so
much ease and pleasantry could he talk of that prodigious labour which
he had undertaken to execute.
The publick has had, from another pen, a long detail of what had been
done in this country by prior Lexicographers; and no doubt Johnson was
wise to avail himself of them, so far as they went: but the learned, yet
judicious research of etymology, the various, yet accurate display of
definition, and the rich collection of authorities, were reserved for
the superior mind of our great philologist. For the mechanical part
he employed, as he told me, six amanuenses; and let it be remembered by
the natives of North-Britain, to whom he is supposed to have been so
hostile, that five of them were of that country. There were two
Messieurs Macbean; Mr. Shiels, who we shall hereafter see partly wrote
the _Lives of the Poets_ to which the name of Cibber is affixed; Mr.
Stewart, son of Mr. George Stewart, bookseller at Edinburgh; and a Mr.
Maitland. The sixth of these humble assistants was Mr. Peyton, who, I
believe, taught French, and published some elementary tracts.
[Page 187: Johnson's amanuenses. AEtat 38.]
To all these painful labourers, Johnson shewed a never-ceasing kindness,
so far as they stood in need of it. The elder Mr. Macbean had afterwards
the honour of being Librarian to Archibald, Duke of Argyle, for many
years, but was left without a shilling. Johnson wrote for him a Preface
to _A System of Ancient Geography_; and, by the favour of Lord Thurlow,
got him admitted a poor brother of the Charterhouse. For Shiels, who
died, of a consumption, he had much tenderness; and it has been thought
that some choice sentences in the _Lives of the Poets_ were supplied by
him. Peyton, when reduced to penury, had frequent aid from the bounty
of Johnson, who at last was at the expense of burying both him and his
[Page 188: The upper room in Gough-square. A.D. 1748.]
[Page 189: Authours quoted in THE DICTIONARY. AEtat 39.]
While the _Dictionary_ was going forward, Johnson lived part of the time
in Holborn, part in Gough-square, Fleet-street; and he had an upper room
fitted up like a counting-house for the purpose, in which he gave to the
copyists their several tasks. The words, partly taken from other
dictionaries, and partly supplied by himself, having been first written
down with spaces left between them, he delivered in writing their
etymologies, definitions, and various significations. The authorities
were copied from the books themselves, in which he had marked the
passages with a black-lead pencil, the traces of which could easily be
effaced. I have seen several of them, in which that trouble had not
been taken; so that they were just as when used by the copyists. It
is remarkable, that he was so attentive in the choice of the passages in
which words were authorised, that one may read page after page of his
_Dictionary_ with improvement and pleasure; and it should not pass
unobserved, that he has quoted no authour whose writings had a tendency
to hurt sound religion and morality.
The necessary expense of preparing a work of such magnitude for the
press, must have been a considerable deduction from the price stipulated
to be paid for the copy-right. I understand that nothing was allowed by
the booksellers on that account; and I remember his telling me, that a
large portion of it having by mistake been written upon both sides of
the paper, so as to be inconvenient for the compositor, it cost him
twenty pounds to have it transcribed upon one side only.
[Page 190: The Ivy Lane Club. A.D. 1748.]
[Page 191: Mr. John Hawkins, an attorney. AEtat 39.]
He is now to be considered as 'tugging at his oar,' as engaged in a
steady continued course of occupation, sufficient to employ all his time
for some years; and which was the best preventive of that constitutional
melancholy which was ever lurking about him, ready to trouble his quiet.
But his enlarged and lively mind could not be satisfied without more
diversity of employment, and the pleasure of animated relaxation. He
therefore not only exerted his talents in occasional composition very
different from Lexicography, but formed a club in Ivy-lane,
Paternoster-row, with a view to enjoy literary discussion, and amuse his
evening hours. The members associated with him in this little society
were his beloved friend Dr. Richard Bathurst, Mr. Hawkesworth,
afterwards well known by his writings, Mr. John Hawkins, an attorney,
and a few others of different professions.
[Page 192: The Vision of Theodore. A.D. 1749.]
In the _Gentleman's Magazine_ for May of this year he wrote a 'Life of
Roscommon,'[*] with Notes, which he afterwards much improved, indented
the notes into text, and inserted it amongst his _Lives of the English
Mr. Dodsley this year brought out his _Preceptor_, one of the most
valuable books for the improvement of young minds that has appeared in
any language; and to this meritorious work Johnson furnished 'The
Preface,'[*] containing a general sketch of the book, with a short and
perspicuous recommendation of each article; as also, 'The Vision of
Theodore the Hermit, found in his Cell,'[*] a most beautiful allegory of
human life, under the figure of ascending the mountain of Existence. The
Bishop of Dromore heard Dr. Johnson say, that he thought this was the
best thing he ever wrote.
1749: AETAT. 40.--In January, 1749, he published _The Vanity of Human
Wishes, being the Tenth Satire of Juvenal imitated_. He, I believe,
composed it the preceding year. Mrs. Johnson, for the sake of country
air, had lodgings at Hampstead, to which he resorted occasionally, and
there the greatest part, if not the whole, of this _Imitation_ was
written. The fervid rapidity with which it was produced, is scarcely
credible. I have heard him say, that he composed seventy lines of it in
one day, without putting one of them upon paper till they were
[Page 193: The payment of poets.]
I remember when I once regretted to him that he had not given us more of
Juvenal's _Satires_, he said he probably should give more, for he had
them all in his head; by which I understood that he had the originals
and correspondent allusions floating in his mind, which he could, when
he pleased, embody and render permanent without much labour. Some of
them, however, he observed were too gross for imitation.
The profits of a single poem, however excellent, appear to have been
very small in the last reign, compared with what a publication of the
same size has since been known to yield. I have mentioned, upon
Johnson's own authority, that for his _London_ he had only ten guineas;
and now, after his fame was established, he got for his _Vanity of Human
Wishes_ but five guineas more, as is proved by an authentick document in
It will be observed, that he reserves to himself the right of printing
one edition of this satire, which was his practice upon occasion of the
sale of all his writings; it being his fixed intention to publish at
some period, for his own profit, a complete collection of his works.
His _Vanity of Human Wishes_ has less of common life, but more of a
philosophick dignity than his _London_. More readers, therefore, will be
delighted with the pointed spirit of _London_, than with the profound
reflection of _The Vanity of Human Wishes_. Garrick, for instance,
observed in his sprightly manner, with more vivacity than regard to just
discrimination, as is usual with wits, 'When Johnson lived much with
the Herveys, and saw a good deal of what was passing in life, he wrote
his _London_, which is lively and easy. When he became more retired, he
gave us his _Vanity of Human Wishes_, which is as hard as Greek. Had he
gone on to imitate another satire, it would have been as hard as
[Page 194: Lydiat's life. A.D. 1749.]
But _The Vanity of Human Wishes_ is, in the opinion of the best judges,
as high an effort of ethick poetry as any language can shew. The
instances of variety of disappointment are chosen so judiciously and
painted so strongly, that, the moment they are read, they bring
conviction to every thinking mind. That of the scholar must have
depressed the too sanguine expectations of many an ambitious student.
That of the warrior, Charles of Sweden, is, I think, as highly finished
a picture as can possibly be conceived.
[Page 195: The conclusion of Johnson's poem. AEtat 40.]
Were all the other excellencies of this poem annihilated, it must ever
have our grateful reverence from its noble conclusion; in which we are
consoled with the assurance that happiness may be attained, if we 'apply
our hearts' to piety:
'Where then shall hope and fear their objects find?
Shall dull suspense corrupt the stagnant mind?
Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?
Shall no dislike alarm, no wishes rise,
No cries attempt the mercy of the skies?
Enthusiast, cease; petitions yet remain,
Which Heav'n may hear, nor deem Religion vain.
Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice.
Safe in His hand, whose eye discerns afar
The secret ambush of a specious pray'r;
Implore His aid, in His decisions rest,
Secure whate'er He gives He gives the best.
Yet when the sense of sacred presence fires,
And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
Obedient passions, and a will resign'd;
For love, which scarce collective man can fill,
For patience, sovereign o'er transmuted ill;
For faith, which panting for a happier seat,
Counts death kind Nature's signal for retreat.
These goods for man the laws of Heaven ordain,
These goods He grants, who grants the power to gain;
With these celestial wisdom calms the mind,
And makes the happiness she does not find.'
[Page 196: IRENE on the stage. A.D. 1749.]
Garrick being now vested with theatrical power by being manager of
Drury-lane theatre, he kindly and generously made use of it to bring out
Johnson's tragedy, which had been long kept back for want of
encouragement. But in this benevolent purpose he met with no small
difficulty from the temper of Johnson, which could not brook that a
drama which he had formed with much study, and had been obliged to keep
more than the nine years of Horace, should be revised and altered at
the pleasure of an actor. Yet Garrick knew well, that without some
alterations it would not be fit for the stage. A violent dispute having
ensued between them, Garrick applied to the Reverend Dr. Taylor to
interposc. Johnson was at first very obstinate. 'Sir, (said he) the
fellow wants me to make Mahomet run mad, that he may have an opportunity
of tossing his hands and kicking his heels.' He was, however, at
last, with difficulty, prevailed on to comply with Garrick's wishes, so
as to allow of some changes; but still there were not enough.
[Page 197: The Epilogue to IRENE. AEtat 40.]
Dr. Adams was present the first night of the representation of _Irene_,
and gave me the following account: 'Before the curtain drew up, there
were catcalls whistling, which alarmed Johnson's friends. The Prologue,
which was written by himself in a manly strain, soothed the audience,
and the play went off tolerably, till it came to the conclusion, when
Mrs. Pritchard, the heroine of the piece, was to be strangled upon
the stage, and was to speak two lines with the bow-string round her
neck. The audience cried out "_Murder! Murder_!" She several times
attempted to speak; but in vain. At last she was obliged to go off the
stage alive.' This passage was afterwards struck out, and she was
carried off to be put to death behind the scenes, as the play now has
it. The Epilogue, as Johnson informed me, was written by Sir William
Yonge. I know not how his play came to be thus graced by the pen of a
person then so eminent in the political world.
Notwithstanding all the support of such performers as Garrick, Barry,
Mrs. Cibber, Mrs. Pritchard, and every advantage of dress and
decoration, the tragedy of _Irene_ did not please the publick. Mr.
Garrick's zeal carried it through for nine nights, so that the
authour had his three nights' profits; and from a receipt signed by him,
now in the hands of Mr. James Dodsley, it appears that his friend Mr.
Robert Dodsley gave him one hundred pounds for the copy, with his usual
reservation of the right of one edition.
[Page 198: IRENE as a poem. A.D. 1749.]
[Page 199: Johnson no tragedy-writer. AEtat 40.]
_Irene_, considered as a poem, is intitled to the praise of superiour
excellence. Analysed into parts, it will furnish a rich store of
noble sentiments, fine imagery, and beautiful language; but it is
deficient in pathos, in that delicate power of touching the human
feelings, which is the principal end of the drama. Indeed Garrick has
complained to me, that Johnson not only had not the faculty of producing
the impressions of tragedy, but that he had not the sensibility to
perceive them. His great friend Mr. Walmsley's prediction, that he would
'turn out a fine tragedy-writer,' was, therefore, ill-founded.
Johnson was wise enough to be convinced that he had not the talents
necessary to write successfully for the stage, and never made another
attempt in that species of composition.
[Page 200: Deference for the general opinion. A.D. 1749.]
When asked how he felt upon the ill success of his tragedy, he replied,
'Like the Monument;' meaning that he continued firm and unmoved as
that column. And let it be remembered, as an admonition to the _genus
irritabile_ of dramatick writers, that this great man, instead of
peevishly complaining of the bad taste of the town, submitted to its
decision without a murmur. He had, indeed, upon all occasions, a great
deference for the general opinion: 'A man (said he) who writes a
book, thinks himself wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind; he
supposes that he can instruct or amuse them, and the publick to whom he
appeals, must, after all, be the judges of his pretensions.'
[Page 201: Johnson in the Green Room. AEtat 41.]
On occasion of his play being brought upon the stage, Johnson had a
fancy that as a dramatick authour his dress should be more gay than what
he ordinarily wore; he therefore appeared behind the scenes, and even in
one of the side boxes, in a scarlet waistcoat, with rich gold lace, and
a gold-laced hat. He humourously observed to Mr. Langton, that 'when
in that dress he could not treat people with the same ease as when in
his usual plain clothes.' Dress indeed, we must allow, has more
effect even upon strong minds than one should suppose, without having
had the experience of it. His necessary attendance while his play was in
rehearsal, and during its performance, brought him acquainted with many
of the performers of both sexes, which produced a more favourable
opinion of their profession than he had harshly expressed in his _Life
of Savage_. With some of them he kept up an acquaintance as long as
he and they lived, and was ever ready to shew them acts of kindness. He
for a considerable time used to frequent the _Green Room_, and seemed to
take delight in dissipating his gloom, by mixing in the sprightly
chit-chat of the motley circle then to be found there. Mr. David Hume
related to me from Mr. Garrick, that Johnson at last denied himself this
amusement, from considerations of rigid virtue; saying, 'I'll come no
more behind your scenes, David; for the silk stockings and white bosoms
of your actresses excite my amorous propensities.'
[Page 202: The Rambler. A.D. 1750.]
1750: AETAT. 41.--In 1750 he came forth in the character for which he
was eminently qualified, a majestick teacher of moral and religious
wisdom. The vehicle which he chose was that of a periodical paper, which
he knew had been, upon former occasions, employed with great success.
The _Tatler, Spectator_, and _Guardian_, were the last of the kind
published in England, which had stood the test of a long trial; and
such an interval had now elapsed since their publication, as made him
justly think that, to many of his readers, this form of instruction
would, in some degree, have the advantage of novelty. A few days before
the first of his _Essays_ came out, there started another competitor for
fame in the same form, under the title of _The _Tatler Revived_,
which I believe was 'born but to die.' Johnson was, I think, not very
happy in the choice of his title, _The Rambler_, which certainly is not
suited to a series of grave and moral discourses; which the Italians
have literally, but ludicrously translated by _Il Vagabondo_; and
which has been lately assumed as the denomination of a vehicle of
licentious tales, _The Rambler's Magazine_. He gave Sir Joshua Reynolds
the following account of its getting this name: 'What _must_ be done,
Sir, _will_ be done. When I was to begin publishing that paper, I was at
a loss how to name it. I sat down at night upon my bedside, and resolved
that I would not go to sleep till I had fixed its title. _The Rambler_
seemed the best that occurred, and I took it.'
With what devout and conscientious sentiments this paper was undertaken,
is evidenced by the following prayer, which he composed and offered up
on the occasion: 'Almighty GOD, the giver of all good things, without
whose help all labour is ineffectual, and without whose grace all wisdom
is folly; grant, I beseech Thee, that in this undertaking thy Holy
Spirit may not be with-held from me, but that I may promote thy glory,
and the salvation of myself and others: grant this, O LORD, for the sake
of thy son JESUS CHRIST. Amen.'
[Page 203: Revision of The Rambler. AEtat 41.]
The first paper of the _Rambler_ was published on Tuesday the 20th of
March, 1750; and its authour was enabled to continue it, without
interruption, every Tuesday and Friday, till Saturday the 17th of March,
1752, on which day it closed. This is a strong confirmation of the
truth of a remark of his, which I have had occasion to quote
elsewhere, that 'a man may write at any time, if he will set himself
doggedly to it;' for, notwithstanding his constitutional indolence,
his depression of spirits, and his labour in carrying on his
_Dictionary_, he answered the stated calls of the press twice a week
from the stores of his mind, during all that time; having received no
assistance, except four billets in No. 10, by Miss Mulso, now Mrs.
Chapone; No. 30, by Mrs. Catharine Talbot; No. 97, by Mr. Samuel
Richardson, whom he describes in an introductory note as 'An author who
has enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to
move at the command of virtue;' and Nos. 44 and 100 by Mrs. Elizabeth
[Page 204: Johnson's rapid composition. A.D. 1750.]
Posterity will be astonished when they are told, upon the authority of
Johnson himself, that many of these discourses, which we should suppose
had been laboured with all the slow attention of literary leisure, were
written in haste as the moment pressed, without even being read over by
him before they were printed. It can be accounted for only in this
way; that by reading and meditation, and a very close inspection of
life, he had accumulated a great fund of miscellaneous knowledge, which,
by a peculiar promptitude of mind, was ever ready at his call, and which
he had constantly accustomed himself to clothe in the most apt and
energetick expression. Sir Joshua Reynolds once asked him by what means
he had attained his extraordinary accuracy and flow of language. He told
him, that he had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on
every occasion, and in every company; to impart whatever he knew in the
most forcible language he could put it in; and that by constant
practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape him, or
attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them in the
clearest manner, it became habitual to him.
[Page 205: Hints for the Rambler. AEtat 42.]
Yet he was not altogether unprepared as a periodical writer; for I have
in my possession a small duodecimo volume, in which he has written, in
the form of Mr. Locke's _Common-Place Book_, a variety of hints for
essays on different subjects. He has marked upon the first blank leaf of
it, 'To the 128th page, collections for the _Rambler_;' and in another
place, 'In fifty-two there were seventeen provided; in 97-21; in
190-25.' At a subsequent period (probably after the work was finished)
he added, 'In all, taken of provided materials, 30.'
Sir John Hawkins, who is unlucky upon all occasions, tells us, that
'this method of accumulating intelligence had been practised by Mr.
Addison, and is humourously described in one of the _Spectators_,
wherein he feigns to have dropped his paper of _notanda_, consisting of
a diverting medley of broken sentences and loose hints, which he tells
us he had collected, and meant to make use of. Much of the same kind is
Johnson's _Adversaria_'. But the truth is, that there is no
resemblance at all between them. Addison's note was a fiction, in which
unconnected fragments of his lucubrations were purposely jumbled
together, in as odd a manner as he could, in order to produce a
laughable effect. Whereas Johnson's abbreviations are all distinct, and
applicable to each subject of which the head is mentioned.
For instance, there is the following specimen:
_Youth's Entry, &c_.
'Baxter's account of things in which he had changed his mind as he grew
up. Voluminous.--No wonder.--If every man was to tell, or mark, on how
many subjects he has changed, it would make vols. but the changes not
always observed by man's self.--From pleasure to bus. [business] to
quiet; from thoughtfulness to reflect. to piety; from dissipation to
domestic. by impercept. gradat. but the change is certain. Dial _non
progredi, progress. esse conspicimus_. Look back, consider what was
thought at some dist. period.
'_Hope predom. in youth. Mind not willingly indulges unpleasing
thoughts_. The world lies all enameled before him, as a distant prospect
sun-gilt; inequalities only found by coming to it. _Love is to be all
joy--children excellent_--Fame to be constant--caresses of the
great--applauses of the learned--smiles of Beauty.
'_Fear of disgrace--bashfulness_--Finds things of less importance.
Miscarriages forgot like excellencies;--if remembered, of no import.
Danger of sinking into negligence of reputation. Lest the fear of
disgrace destroy activity.
[Page 206: Hints for The Rambler. A.D. 1750.]
'_Confidence in himself_. Long tract of life before him.--No thought of
sickness.--Embarrassment of affairs.--Distraction of family. Publick
calamities.--No sense of the prevalence of bad habits.--Negligent of
time--ready to undertake--careless to pursue--all changed by time.
'_Confident of others_--unsuspecting as unexperienced--imagining himself
secure against neglect, never imagines they will venture to treat him
ill. Ready to trust; expecting to be trusted. Convinced by time of the
selfishness, the meanness, the cowardice, the treachery of men.
'Youth ambitious, as thinking honours easy to be had.
'Different kinds of praise pursued at different periods. Of the gay in
youth, dang. hurt, &c. despised.
'Of the fancy in manhood. Ambit.--stocks--bargains.--Of the wise and
sober in old age--seriousness--formality--maxims, but general--only of
the rich, otherwise age is happy--but at last every thing referred to
riches--no having fame, honour, influence, without subjection to
'Hard it would be if men entered life with the same views with which
they leave it, or left as they enter it.--No hope--no undertaking--no
regard to benevolence--no fear of disgrace, &c.
'Youth to be taught the piety of age--age to retain the honour of
This, it will be observed, is the sketch of Number 196 of the _Rambler_.
I shall gratify my readers with another specimen:
'_Confederacies difficult; why_.
[Page 207: Hints for The Rambler. AEtat 41.]
'Seldom in war a match for single persons--nor in peace; therefore kings
make themselves absolute. Confederacies in learning--every great work
the work of one. _Bruy_. Scholar's friendship like ladies. Scribebamus,
&c. Mart. the apple of discord--the laurel of discord--the poverty of
criticism. Swift's opinion of the power of six geniuses united. That
union scarce possible. His remarks just; man a social, not steady
nature. Drawn to man by words, repelled by passions. Orb drawn by
attraction rep. [_repelled_] by centrifugal.
'Common danger unites by crushing other passions--but they return.
Equality hinders compliance. Superiority produces insolence and envy.
Too much regard in each to private interest--too little.
'The mischiefs of private and exclusive societies--the fitness of social
attraction diffused through the whole. The mischiefs of too partial love
of our country. Contraction of moral duties--[Greek: oi philoi on
'Every man moves upon his own center, and therefore repels others from
too near a contact, though he may comply with some general laws.
'Of confederacy with superiours, every one knows the inconvenience. With
equals, no authority;--every man his own opinion--his own interest.
'Man and wife hardly united;--scarce ever without children. Computation,
if two to one against two, how many against five? If confederacies were
easy--useless;--many oppresses many.--If possible only to some,
dangerous. _Principum amicitias_'.
Here we see the embryo of Number 45 of the _Adventurer_; and it is a
confirmation of what I shall presently have occasion to mention, that
the papers in that collection marked T. were written by Johnson.
[Page 208: The Rambler's slow sale. A.D. 1750.]
This scanty preparation of materials will not, however, much diminish
our wonder at the extraordinary fertility of his mind; for the
proportion which they bear to the number of essays which he wrote, is
very small; and it is remarkable, that those for which he had made no
preparation, are as rich and as highly finished as those for which the
hints were lying by him. It is also to be observed, that the papers
formed from his hints are worked up with such strength and elegance,
that we almost lose sight of the hints, which become like 'drops in the
bucket.' Indeed, in several instances, he has made a very slender use of
them, so that many of them remain still unapplied.
As the _Rambler_ was entirely the work of one man, there was, of course,
such a uniformity in its texture, as very much to exclude the charm of
variety; and the grave and often solemn cast of thinking, which
distinguished it from other periodical papers, made it, for some time,
not generally liked. So slowly did this excellent work, of which twelve
editions have now issued from the press, gain upon the world at large,
that even in the closing number the authour says, 'I have never been
much a favourite of the publick.'
[Page 209: George II. not an Augustus. AEtat 41.]
Yet, very soon after its commencement, there were who felt and
acknowledged its uncommon excellence. Verses in its praise appeared in
the newspapers; and the editor of the _Gentleman's Magazine_ mentions,
in October, his having received several letters to the same purpose from
the learned. _The Student, or Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany_, in
which Mr. Bonnell Thornton and Mr. Colman were the principal writers,
describes it as 'a work that exceeds anything of the kind ever published
in this kingdom, some of the _Spectators_ excepted--if indeed they may
be excepted.' And afterwards, 'May the publick favours crown his merits,
and may not the English, under the auspicious reign of GEORGE the
Second, neglect a man, who, had he lived in the first century, would
have been one of the greatest favourites of Augustus.' This flattery of
the monarch had no effect. It is too well known, that the second George
never was an Augustus to learning or genius.
[Page 210: Mrs. Johnson's praise of The Rambler. A.D. 1750.]
Johnson told me, with an amiable fondness, a little pleasing
circumstance relative to this work. Mrs. Johnson, in whose judgement and
taste he had great confidence, said to him, after a few numbers of the
_Rambler_ had come out, 'I thought very well of you before; but I did
not imagine you could have written any thing equal to this.' Distant
praise, from whatever quarter, is not so delightful as that of a wife
whom a man loves and esteems. Her approbation may be said to 'come home
to his _bosom_;' and being so near, its effect is most sensible and
Mr. James Elphinston, who has since published various works, and who
was ever esteemed by Johnson as a worthy man, happened to be in Scotland
while the _Rambler_ was coming out in single papers at London. With a
laudable zeal at once for the improvement of his countrymen, and the
reputation of his friend, he suggested and took the charge of an edition
of those Essays at Edinburgh, which followed progressively the London
The following letter written at this time, though not dated, will show
how much pleased Johnson was with this publication, and what kindness
and regard he had for Mr. Elphinston.
[Page 211: Letters to Mr. Elphinston. AEtat 41.]
'To MR. JAMES ELPHINSTON.
'I cannot but confess the failures of my correspondence, but hope the
same regard which you express for me on every other occasion, will
incline you to forgive me. I am often, very often, ill; and, when I am
well, am obliged to work: and, indeed, have never much used myself to
punctuality. You are, however, not to make unkind inferences, when I
forbear to reply to your kindness; for be assured, I never receive a
letter from you without great pleasure, and a very warm sense of your
generosity and friendship, which I heartily blame myself for not
cultivating with more care. In this, as in many other cases, I go wrong,
in opposition to conviction; for I think scarce any temporal good
equally to be desired with the regard and familiarity of worthy men. I
hope we shall be some time nearer to each other, and have a more ready
way of pouring out our hearts.
'I am glad that you still find encouragement to proceed in your
publication, and shall beg the favour of six more volumes to add to my
former six, when you can, with any convenience, send them me. Please to
present a set, in my name, to Mr. Ruddiman, of whom, I hear, that his
learning is not his highest excellence. I have transcribed the mottos,
and returned them, I hope not too late, of which I think many very
happily performed. Mr. Cave has put the last in the magazine, in
which I think he did well. I beg of you to write soon, and to write
often, and to write long letters, which I hope in time to repay you; but
you must be a patient creditor. I have, however, this of gratitude, that
I think of you with regard, when I do not, perhaps, give the proofs
which I ought, of being, Sir,
'Your most obliged and
'Most humble servant.
This year he wrote to the same gentleman another letter,
upon a mournful occasion,
[Page 212: The death of a mother. A.D. 1750.]
'To Mr. JAMES ELPHINSTON.
September 25, 1750.
'You have, as I find by every kind of evidence, lost an excellent
mother; and I hope you will not think me incapable of partaking of your
grief. I have a mother, now eighty-two years of age, whom, therefore, I
must soon lose, unless it please GOD that she rather should mourn for
me. I read the letters in which you relate your mother's death to Mrs.
Strahan, and think I do myself honour, when I tell you that I read
them with tears; but tears are neither to _you_ nor to _me_ of any
further use, when once the tribute of nature has been paid. The business
of life summons us away from useless grief, and calls us to the exercise
of those virtues of which we are lamenting our deprivation. The greatest
benefit which one friend can confer upon another, is to guard, and
excite, and elevate his virtues. This your mother will still perform, if
you diligently preserve the memory of her life, and of her death: a
life, so far as I can learn, useful, wise, and innocent; and a death
resigned, peaceful, and holy. I cannot forbear to mention, that neither
reason nor revelation denies you to hope, that you may increase her
happiness by obeying her precepts; and that she may, in her present
state, look with pleasure upon every act of virtue to which her
instructions or example have contributed. Whether this be more than a
pleasing dream, or a just opinion of separate spirits, is, indeed, of no
great importance to us, when we consider ourselves as acting under the
eye of GOD: yet, surely, there is something pleasing in the belief, that
our separation from those whom we love is merely corporeal; and it may
be a great incitement to virtuous friendship, if it can be made
probable, that that union that has received the divine approbation shall
continue to eternity.
'There is one expedient by which you may, in some degree, continue her
presence. If you write down minutely what you remember of her from your
earliest years, you will read it with great pleasure, and receive from
it many hints of soothing recollection, when time shall remove her yet
farther from you, and your grief shall be matured to veneration. To
this, however painful for the present, I cannot but advise you, as to a
source of comfort and satisfaction in the time to come; for all comfort
and all satisfaction is sincerely wished you by, dear Sir,
'Your most obliged, most obedient,
'And most humble servant,
[Page 213: Goldsmith's debt to Johnson. AEtat 41.]
The _Rambler_ has increased in fame as in age. Soon after its first
folio edition was concluded, it was published in six duodecimo
volumes; and its authour lived to see ten numerous editions of it in
London, beside those of Ireland and Scotland.
I profess myself to have ever entertained a profound veneration for the
astonishing force and vivacity of mind which the _Rambler_ exhibits.
That Johnson had penetration enough to see, and seeing would not
disguise the general misery of man in this state of being, may have
given rise to the superficial notion of his being too stern a
philosopher. But men of reflection will be sensible that he has given a
true representation of human existence, and that he has, at the same
time, with a generous benevolence displayed every consolation which our
state affords us; not only those arising from the hopes of futurity, but
such as may be attained in the immediate progress through life. He has
not depressed the soul to despondency and indifference. He has every
where inculcated study, labour, and exertion. Nay, he has shewn, in a
very odious light, a man whose practice is to go about darkening the
views of others, by perpetual complaints of evil, and awakening those
considerations of danger and distress, which are, for the most part,
lulled into a quiet oblivion. This he has done very strongly in his
character of Suspirius, from which Goldsmith took that of Croaker, in
his comedy of _The Good-Natured Man_, as Johnson told me he
acknowledged to him, and which is, indeed, very obvious.
[Page 214: The Beauties of Dr. Johnson. A.D. 1750.]
To point out the numerous subjects which the _Rambler_ treats, with a
dignity and perspicuity which are there united in a manner which we
shall in vain look for any where else, would take up too large a portion
of my book, and would, I trust, be superfluous, considering how
universally those volumes are now disseminated. Even the most condensed
and brilliant sentences which they contain, and which have very properly
been selected under the name of _Beauties_, are of considerable bulk.
But I may shortly observe, that the _Rambler_ furnishes such an
assemblage of discourses on practical religion and moral duty, of
critical investigations, and allegorical and oriental tales, that no
mind can be thought very deficient that has, by constant study and
meditation, assimilated to itself all that may be found there. No. 7,
written in Passion-week on abstraction and self-examination, and No.
110, on penitence and the placability of the Divine Nature, cannot be
too often read. No. 54, on the effect which the death of a friend should
have upon us, though rather too dispiriting, may be occasionally very
medicinal to the mind. Every one must suppose the writer to have been
deeply impressed by a real scene; but he told me that was not the case;
which shews how well his fancy could conduct him to the 'house of
mourning.' Some of these more solemn papers, I doubt not,
particularly attracted the notice of Dr. Young, the authour of _The
Night Thoughts_, of whom my estimation is such, as to reckon his
applause an honour even to Johnson. I have seen some volumes of Dr.
Young's copy of the _Rambler_, in which he has marked the passages which
he thought particularly excellent, by folding down a corner of the page;
and such as he rated in a super-eminent degree, are marked by double
folds. I am sorry that some of the volumes are lost. Johnson was pleased
when told of the minute attention with which Young had signified his
approbation of his Essays.
[Page 215: A Club in Essex. AEtat 41.]
I will venture to say, that in no writings whatever can be found _more
bark and steel for the mind_, if I may use the expression; more that can
brace and invigorate every manly and noble sentiment. No. 32 on
patience, even under extreme misery, is wonderfully lofty, and as much
above the rant of stoicism, as the Sun of Revelation is brighter than
the twilight of Pagan philosophy. I never read the following sentence
without feeling my frame thrill: 'I think there is some reason for
questioning whether the body and mind are not so proportioned, that the
one can bear all which can be inflicted on the other; whether virtue
cannot stand its ground as long as life, and whether a soul well
principled, will not be sooner separated than subdued.'
[Page 216: The character of Prospero. A.D. 1750.]
[Page 217: The Style of The Rambler. AEtat 41.]
Though instruction be the predominant purpose of the _Rambler_, yet it
is enlivened with a considerable portion of amusement. Nothing can be
more erroneous than the notion which some persons have entertained, that
Johnson was then a retired authour, ignorant of the world; and, of
consequence, that he wrote only from his imagination when he described
characters and manners. He said to me, that before he wrote that work,
he had been 'running about the world,' as he expressed it, more than
almost any body; and I have heard him relate, with much satisfaction,
that several of the characters in the _Rambler_ were drawn so naturally,
that when it first circulated in numbers, a club in one of the towns in
Essex imagined themselves to be severally exhibited in it, and were much
incensed against a person who, they suspected, had thus made them
objects of publick notice; nor were they quieted till authentick
assurance was given them, that the _Rambler_ was written by a person who
had never heard of any one of them. Some of the characters are
believed to have been actually drawn from the life, particularly that of
Prospero from Garrick, who never entirely forgave its pointed
satire. For instances of fertility of fancy, and accurate description
of real life, I appeal to No. 19, a man who wanders from one profession
to another, with most plausible reasons for every change. No. 34, female
fastidiousness and timorous refinement. No. 82, a Virtuoso who has
collected curiosities. No. 88, petty modes of entertaining a company,
and conciliating kindness. No. 182, fortune-hunting. No. 194-195, a
tutor's account of the follies of his pupil. No. 197-198,
legacy-hunting. He has given a specimen of his nice observation of the
mere external appearances of life, in the following passage in No. 179,
against affectation, that frequent and most disgusting quality: 'He that
stands to contemplate the crouds that fill the streets of a populous
city, will see many passengers whose air and motion it will be difficult
to behold without contempt and laughter; but if he examine what are the
appearances that thus powerfully excite his risibility, he will find
among them neither poverty nor disease, nor any involuntary or painful
defect. The disposition to derision and insult, is awakened by the
softness of foppery, the swell of insolence, the liveliness of levity,
or the solemnity of grandeur; by the sprightly trip, the stately stalk,
the formal strut, and the lofty mien; by gestures intended to catch the
eye, and by looks elaborately formed as evidences of importance.'
Every page of the _Rambler_ shews a mind teeming with classical allusion
and poetical imagery: illustrations from other writers are, upon all
occasions, so ready, and mingle so easily in his periods, that the whole
appears of one uniform vivid texture.
[Page 218: Johnson's masters in style. A.D. 1750.]
[Page 219: A Great Personage. AEtat 41.]
The style of this work has been censured by some shallow criticks as
involved and turgid, and abounding with antiquated and hard words. So
ill-founded is the first part of this objection, that I will challenge
all who may honour this book with a perusal, to point out any English
writer whose language conveys his meaning with equal force and
perspicuity. It must, indeed, be allowed, that the structure of his
sentences is expanded, and often has somewhat of the inversion of Latin;
and that he delighted to express familiar thoughts in philosophical
language; being in this the reverse of Socrates, who, it was said,
reduced philosophy to the simplicity of common life. But let us attend
to what he himself says in his concluding paper: 'When common words were
less pleasing to the ear, or less distinct in their signification, I
have familiarised the terms of philosophy, by applying them to popular
ideas.' And, as to the second part of this objection, upon a late
careful revision of the work, I can with confidence say, that it is
amazing how few of those words, for which it has been unjustly
characterised, are actually to be found in it; I am sure, not the
proportion of one to each paper. This idle charge has been echoed from
one babbler to another, who have confounded Johnson's Essays with
Johnson's _Dictionary_; and because he thought it right in a Lexicon of
our language to collect many words which had fallen into disuse, but
were supported by great authorities, it has been imagined that all of
these have been interwoven into his own compositions. That some of them
have been adopted by him unnecessarily, may, perhaps, be allowed; but,
in general they are evidently an advantage, for without them his stately
ideas would be confined and cramped. 'He that thinks with more extent
than another, will want words of larger meaning.' He once told me,
that he had formed his style upon that of Sir William Temple, and
upon Chambers's Proposal for his _Dictionary_. He certainly was
mistaken; or if he imagined at first that he was imitating Temple, he
was very unsuccessful; for nothing can be more unlike than the
simplicity of Temple, and the richness of Johnson. Their styles differ
as plain cloth and brocade. Temple, indeed, seems equally erroneous in
supposing that he himself had formed his style upon Sandys's _View of
the State of Religion in the Western parts of the World_.
The style of Johnson was, undoubtedly, much formed upon that of the
great writers in the last century, Hooker, Bacon, Sanderson, Hakewell,
and others; those 'GIANTS,' as they were well characterised by A
GREAT PERSONAGE, whose authority, were I to name him, would stamp a
reverence on the opinion.
[Page 220: The motto to the Dictionary. A.D. 1750.]
We may, with the utmost propriety, apply to his learned style that
passage of Horace, a part of which he has taken as the motto to his
'Cum tabulis animum censoris sumet honesti;
Audebit quaecumque parum splendoris habebunt
Et sine pondere erunt, et honore indigna ferentur,
Verba movere loco, quamvis invita recedant,
Et versentur adhuc intra penetralia Vesta.
Obscurata diu populo bonus eruet, atque
Proferet in lucem speciosa vocabula rerum,
Quae priscis memorala Calonibus alque Cethegis,
Nunc situs informis premit et deserta velustas:
Adsciscet nova, quae genitor produxerit usus:
Vehemens, et liquidus, puroque simillimus amni,
Fundet opes Latiumque beabit divile lingua.'
[Page 221: Johnson not a coiner of words. AEtat 41.]
To so great a master of thinking, to one of such vast and various
knowledge as Johnson, might have been allowed a liberal indulgence of
that licence which Horace claims in another place:
'Si forte necesse est
Indiciis monstrare recentibus abdita rerum,
Fingere cinctutis non exaudita Cethegis
Continget, dabiturque licentia sumpta pudenter:
Et nova fictaque nuper habebunt verba fidem si
Graeco fonte cadant, parce detorta. Quid autem
Caecilio Plautoque dabit Romanus, ademptum
Virgilio Varioque? Ego cur, acquirere pauca
Si possum, invideor; cum lingua Catonis et Enni
Sermonem patrium ditaverit, et nova rerum
Nomina protulerit? Licuit semperque licebit
Signatum praesente nota producere nomen.'
Yet Johnson assured me, that he had not taken upon him to add more than
four or five words to the English language, of his own formation; and
he was very much offended at the general licence, by no means 'modestly
taken' in his time, not only to coin new words, but to use many words in
senses quite different from their established meaning, and those
frequently very fantastical.
[Page 222: Johnson's influence on style. A.D. 1750.]
Sir Thomas Brown, whose life Johnson wrote, was remarkably fond of
Anglo-Latian diction; and to his example we are to ascribe Johnson's
sometimes indulging himself in this kind of phraseology'. Johnson's
comprehension of mind was the mould for his language. Had his
conceptions been narrower, his expression would have been easier. His
sentences have a dignified march; and, it is certain, that his example
has given a general elevation to the language of his country, for many
of our best writers have approached very near to him; and, from the
influence which he has had upon our composition, scarcely any thing is
written now that is not better expressed than was usual before he
appeared to lead the national taste.
[Page 223: Courtenay's lines on Johnson's school. AEtat 41.]
This circumstance, the truth of which must strike every critical reader,
has been so happily enforced by Mr. Courtenay, in his _Moral and
Literary Character of Dr. Johnson_, that I cannot prevail on myself to
withhold it, notwithstanding his, perhaps, too great partiality for one
of his friends:
'By nature's gifts ordain'd mankind to rule,
He, like a Titian, form'd his brilliant school;
And taught congenial spirits to excel,
While from his lips impressive wisdom fell.
Our boasted GOLDSMITH felt the sovereign sway:
From him deriv'd the sweet, yet nervous lay.
To Fame's proud cliff he bade our Raphael rise;
Hence REYNOLDS' pen with REYNOLDS' pencil vies.
With Johnson's flame melodious BURNEY glows,
While the grand strain in smoother cadence flows.
And you, MALONE, to critick learning dear.
Correct and elegant, refin'd though clear,
By studying him, acquir'd that classick taste,
Which high in Shakspeare's fane thy statue plac'd.
Near Johnson STEEVENS stands, on scenick ground,
Acute, laborious, fertile, and profound.
Ingenious HAWKESWORTH to this school we owe.
And scarce the pupil from the tutor know.
Here early parts accomplish'd JONES sublimes,
And science blends with Asia's lofty rhymes:
Harmonious JONES! who in his splendid strains
Sings Camdeo's sports, on Agra's flowery plains:
In Hindu fictions while we fondly trace
Love and the Muses, deck'd with Attick grace.
Amid these names can BOSWELL be forgot,
Scarce by North Britons now esteem'd a Scot?
Who to the sage devoted from his youth,
Imbib'd from him the sacred love of truth;
The keen research, the exercise of mind,
And that best art, the art to know mankind.--
Nor was his energy confin'd alone
To friends around his philosophick throne;
_Its influence wide improv'd our letter'd isle.
And lucid vigour marked the general style_:
As Nile's proud waves, swoln from their oozy bed.
First o'er the neighbouring meads majestick spread;
Till gathering force, they more and more expand.
And with new virtue fertilise the land.'
Johnson's language, however, must be allowed to be too masculine for the
delicate gentleness of female writing. His ladies, therefore, seem
strangely formal, even to ridicule; and are well denominated by the
names which he has given them as Misella, Zozima, Properantia,
[Page 224: The styles of addison and Johnson. A.D. 1750.]
It has of late been the fashion to compare the style of Addison and
Johnson, and to depreciate, I think very unjustly, the style of Addison
as nerveless and feeble, because it has not the strength and energy
of that of Johnson. Their prose may be balanced like the poetry of
Dryden and Pope. Both are excellent, though in different ways. Addison
writes with the ease of a gentleman. His readers fancy that a wise and
accomplished companion is talking to them; so that he insinuates his
sentiments and taste into their minds by an imperceptible influence.
Johnson writes like a teacher. He dictates to his readers as if from an
academical chair. They attend with awe and admiration; and his precepts
are impressed upon them by his commanding eloquence. Addison's style,
like a light wine, pleases everybody from the first. Johnson's, like a
liquor of more body, seems too strong at first, but, by degrees, is
highly relished; and such is the melody of his periods, so much do they
captivate the ear, and seize upon the attention, that there is scarcely
any writer, however inconsiderable, who does not aim, in some degree, at
the same species of excellence. But let us not ungratefully undervalue
that beautiful style, which has pleasingly conveyed to us much
instruction and entertainment. Though comparatively weak, opposed to
Johnson's Herculean vigour, let us not call it positively feeble. Let us
remember the character of his style, as given by Johnson himself:
'What he attempted, he performed; he is never feeble, and he did not
wish to be energetick; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His
sentences have neither studied amplitude, nor affected brevity: his
periods, though not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy. Whoever
wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant
but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of
[Page 225: Boswell's projected works. AEtat 41.]
[Page 226: The last Rambler. A.D. 1750.]
Though the _Rambler_ was not concluded till the year 1752, I shall,
under this year, say all that I have to observe upon it. Some of the
translations of the mottos by himself are admirably done. He
acknowledges to have received 'elegant translations' of many of them
from Mr. James Elphinston; and some are very happily translated by a Mr.
_F. Lewis_, of whom I never heard more, except that Johnson thus
described him to Mr. Malone: 'Sir, he lived in London, and hung loose
upon society.' The concluding paper of his _Rambler_ is at once
dignified and pathetick. I cannot, however, but wish that he had not
ended it with an unnecessary Greek verse, translated also into an
English couplet. It is too much like the conceit of those dramatick
poets, who used to conclude each act with a rhyme; and the expression in
the first line of his couplet, '_Celestial powers_', though proper in
Pagan poetry, is ill suited to Christianity, with 'a conformity' to
which he consoles himself. How much better would it have been, to have
ended with the prose sentence 'I shall never envy the honours which wit
and learning obtain in any other cause, if I can be numbered among the
writers who have given ardour to virtue, and confidence to truth.'
His friend, Dr. Birch, being now engaged in preparing an edition of
Ralegh's smaller pieces, Dr. Johnson wrote the following letter to that
'To DR. BIRCH.
'Gough-square, May 12, 1750.
'Knowing that you are now preparing to favour the publick with a new
edition of Ralegh's miscellaneous pieces, I have taken the liberty to
send you a Manuscript, which fell by chance within my notice. I perceive
no proofs of forgery in my examination of it; and the owner tells me,
that as _he_ has heard, the handwriting is Sir Walter's. If you
should find reason to conclude it genuine, it will be a kindness to the
owner, a blind person, to recommend it to the booksellers. I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
[Page 227: Milton's grand-daughter. AEtat 41.]
[Page 228: Lauder's imposition. A.D. 1751.]
His just abhorrence of Milton's political notions was ever strong. But
this did not prevent his warm admiration of Milton's great poetical
merit, to which he has done illustrious justice, beyond all who have
written upon the subject. And this year he not only wrote a Prologue,
which was spoken by Mr. Garrick before the acting of _Comus_ at
Drury-lane theatre, for the benefit of Milton's grand-daughter, but took
a very zealous interest in the success of the charity. On the day
preceding the performance, he published the following letter in the
'General Advertiser,' addressed to the printer of that paper:
'That a certain degree of reputation is acquired merely by approving the
works of genius, and testifying a regard to the memory of authours, is a
truth too evident to be denied; and therefore to ensure a participation
of fame with a celebrated poet, many who would, perhaps, have
contributed to starve him when alive, have heaped expensive pageants
upon his grave.
'It must, indeed, be confessed, that this method of becoming known to
posterity with honour, is peculiar to the great, or at least to the
wealthy; but an opportunity now offers for almost every individual to
secure the praise of paying a just regard to the illustrious dead,
united with the pleasure of doing good to the living. To assist
industrious indigence, struggling with distress and debilitated by age,
is a display of virtue, and an acquisition of happiness and honour.
'Whoever, then, would be thought capable of pleasure in reading the
works of our incomparable Milton, and not so destitute of gratitude as
to refuse to lay out a trifle in rational and elegant entertainment, for
the benefit of his living remains, for the exercise of their own virtue,
the increase of their reputation, and the pleasing consciousness of
doing good, should appear at Drury-lane theatre to-morrow, April 5, when
_Comus_ will be performed for the benefit of Mrs. Elizabeth Foster,
grand-daughter to the author, and the only surviving branch of his
'N.B. There will be a new prologue on the occasion, written by the
author of _Irene, and spoken by Mr. Garrick; and, by particular
desire, there will be added to the Masque a dramatick satire, called
_Lethe_, in which Mr. Garrick will perform.'
[Page 229: Douglas's MILTON NO PLAGIARY. AEtat 42.]
1751: AETAT. 42.--In 1751 we are to consider him as carrying on both
his _Dictionary_ and _Rambler_. But he also wrote _The Life of
Cheynel_,[*] in the miscellany called _The Student_; and the Reverend
Dr. Douglas having, with uncommon acuteness, clearly detected a gross
forgery and imposition upon the publick by William Lauder, a Scotch
schoolmaster, who had, with equal impudence and ingenuity, represented
Milton as a plagiary from certain modern Latin poets, Johnson, who had
been so far imposed upon as to furnish a Preface and Postscript to his
work, now dictated a letter for Lauder, addressed to Dr. Douglas,
acknowledging his fraud in terms of suitable contrition.
[Page 230: Johnson tricked by Lander. A.D. 1751.]
This extraordinary attempt of Lauder was no sudden effort. He had
brooded over it for many years: and to this hour it is uncertain what
his principal motive was, unless it were a vain notion of his
superiority, in being able, by whatever means, to deceive mankind. To
effect this, he produced certain passages from Grotius, Masenius, and
others, which had a faint resemblance to some parts of the _Paradise
Lost_. In these he interpolated some fragments of Hog's Latin
translation of that poem, alledging that the mass thus fabricated was
the archetype from which Milton copied. These fabrications he
published from time to time in the _Gentleman s Magazine_; and, exulting
in his fancied success, he in 1750 ventured to collect them into a
pamphlet, entitled _An Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the
Moderns in his Paradise Lost_. To this pamphlet Johnson wrote a
Preface, in full persuasion of Lauder's honesty, and a Postscript
recommending, in the most persuasive terms, a subscription for the
relief of a grand-daughter of Milton, of whom he thus speaks:
'It is yet in the power of a great people to reward the poet whose name
they boast, and from their alliance to whose genius, they claim some
kind of superiority to every other nation of the earth; that poet, whose
works may possibly be read when every other monument of British
greatness shall be obliterated; to reward him, not with pictures or with
medals, which, if he sees, he sees with contempt, but with tokens of
gratitude, which he, perhaps, may even now consider as not unworthy the
regard of an immortal spirit.'
[Page 231: Johnson's admiration of Milton. AEtat 42.]
Surely this is inconsistent with 'enmity towards Milton,' which Sir John
Hawkins imputes to Johnson upon this occasion, adding,
'I could all along observe that Johnson seemed to approve not only of
the design, but of the argument; and seemed to exult in a persuasion,
that the reputation of Milton was likely to suffer by this discovery.
That he was not privy to the imposture, I am well persuaded; but that he
wished well to the argument, may be inferred from the Preface, which
indubitably was written by Johnson.'
Is it possible for any man of clear judgement to suppose that Johnson,
who so nobly praised the poetical excellence of Milton in a Postscript
to this very 'discovery,' as he then supposed it, could, at the same
time, exult in a persuasion that the great poet's reputation was likely
to suffer by it? This is an inconsistency of which Johnson was
incapable; nor can any thing more be fairly inferred from the Preface,
than that Johnson, who was alike distinguished for ardent curiosity and
love of truth, was pleased with an investigation by which both were
gratified. That he was actuated by these motives, and certainly by no
unworthy desire to depreciate our great epick poet, is evident from his
own words; for, after mentioning the general zeal of men of genius and
literature 'to advance the honour, and distinguish the beauties of
_Paradise Lost_', he says,
'Among the inquiries to which this ardour of criticism has naturally
given occasion, none is more obscure in itself, or more worthy of
rational curiosity, than a retrospect of the progress of this mighty
genius in the construction of his work; a view of the fabrick gradually
rising, perhaps, from small beginnings, till its foundation rests in the
centre, and its turrets sparkle in the skies; to trace back the
structure through all its varieties, to the simplicity of its first
plan; to find what was first projected, whence the scheme was taken, how
it was improved, by what assistance it was executed, and from what
stores the materials were collected; whether its founder dug them from
the quarries of Nature, or demolished other buildings to embellish his
Is this the language of one who wished to blast the laurels of
[Page 232: Mrs. Anna Williams. A.D. 1751.]
Though Johnson's circumstances were at this time far from being easy,
his humane and charitable disposition was constantly exerting itself.
Mrs. Anna Williams, daughter of a very ingenious Welsh physician, and a
woman of more than ordinary talents and literature, having come to
London in hopes of being cured of a cataract in both her eyes, which
afterwards ended in total blindness, was kindly received as a constant
visitor at his house while Mrs. Johnson lived; and after her death,
having come under his roof in order to have an operation upon her eyes
performed with more comfort to her than in lodgings, she had an
apartment from him during the rest of her life, at all times when he had
[Page 233: Johnson's pleasure in her company. AEtat 43.]
[Page 234: Death of Johnson's wife. A.D. 1752.]
1752: AETAT. 43.--In 1752 he was almost entirely occupied with his
_Dictionary_. The last paper of his _Rambler_ was published March 2,
this year; after which, there was a cessation for some time of any
exertion of his talents as an essayist. But, in the same year, Dr.
Hawkesworth, who was his warm admirer, and a studious imitator of his
style, and then lived in great intimacy with him, began a periodical
paper, entitled _The Adventurer_, in connection with other gentlemen,
one of whom was Johnson's much-loved friend, Dr. Bathurst; and, without
doubt, they received many valuable hints from his conversation, most of
his friends having been so assisted in the course of their works.
[Page 235: Communications by dreams. AEtat 43.]
That there should be a suspension of his literary labours during a part
of the year 1752, will not seem strange, when it is considered that soon
after closing his _Rambler_, he suffered a loss which, there can be no
doubt, affected him with the deepest distress. For on the 17th of
March, O.S., his wife died. Why Sir John Hawkins should unwarrantably
take upon him even to _suppose_ that Johnson's fondness for her was
_dissembled_ (meaning simulated or assumed,) and to assert, that if it
was not the case, 'it was a lesson he had learned by rote,' I cannot
conceive; unless it proceeded from a want of similar feelings in his own
breast. To argue from her being much older than Johnson, or any other
circumstances, that he could not really love her, is absurd; for love is
not a subject of reasoning, but of feeling, and therefore there are no
common principles upon which one can persuade another concerning it.
Every man feels for himself, and knows how he is affected by particular
qualities in the person he admires, the impressions of which are too
minute and delicate to be substantiated in language.
The following very solemn and affecting prayer was found after Dr.
Johnson's decease, by his servant, Mr. Francis Barber, who delivered it
to my worthy friend the Reverend Mr. Strahan, Vicar of Islington, who
at my earnest request has obligingly favoured me with a copy of it,
which he and I compared with the original. I present it to the world as
an undoubted proof of a circumstance in the character of my illustrious
friend, which though some whose hard minds I never shall envy, may
attack as superstitious, will I am sure endear him more to numbers of
good men. I have an additional, and that a personal motive for
presenting it, because it sanctions what I myself have always maintained
and am fond to indulge.
'April 26, 1752, being after 12 at Night of the 25th.
'O Lord! Governour of heaven and earth, in whose hands are embodied and
departed Spirits, if thou hast ordained the Souls of the Dead to
minister to the Living, and appointed my departed Wife to have care of
me, grant that I may enjoy the good effects of her attention and
ministration, whether exercised by appearance, impulses, dreams or in
any other manner agreeable to thy Government. Forgive my presumption,
enlighten my ignorance, and however meaner agents are employed, grant me
the blessed influences of thy holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our
[Page 236: Johnson's love for his wife. A.D. 1752.]
What actually followed upon this most interesting piece of devotion by
Johnson, we are not informed; but I, whom it has pleased GOD to afflict
in a similar manner to that which occasioned it, have certain experience
of benignant communication by dreams.
That his love for his wife was of the most ardent kind, and, during the
long period of fifty years, was unimpaired by the lapse of time, is
evident from various passages in the series of his _Prayers and
Meditations_, published by the Reverend Mr. Strahan, as well as from
other memorials, two of which I select, as strongly marking the
tenderness and sensibility of his mind.
'March 28, 1753. I kept this day as the anniversary of my Tetty's
death, with prayer and tears in the morning. In the evening I prayed
for her conditionally, if it were lawful.'
[Page 237: Her wedding-ring. AEtat 43.]
'April 23, 1753. I know not whether I do not too much indulge the vain
longings of affection; but I hope they intenerate my heart, and that
when I die like my Tetty, this affection will be acknowledged in a happy
interview, and that in the mean time I am incited by it to piety. I
will, however, not deviate too much from common and received methods of
Her wedding-ring, when she became his wife, was, after her death,
preserved by him, as long as he lived, with an affectionate care, in a
little round wooden box, in the inside of which he pasted a slip of
paper, thus inscribed by him in fair characters, as follows:
Nupta Jul. 9 deg. 1736,
Mart. 17 deg. 1752.
After his death, Mr. Francis Barber, his faithful servant and residuary
legatee, offered this memorial of tenderness to Mrs. Lucy Porter, Mrs.
Johnson's daughter; but she having declined to accept of it, he had it
enamelled as a mourning ring for his old master, and presented it to his
wife, Mrs. Barber, who now has it.
The state of mind in which a man must be upon the death of a woman whom
he sincerely loves, had been in his contemplation many years before. In
his _Irene_, we find the following fervent and tender speech of
Demetrius, addressed to his Aspasia:
'From those bright regions of eternal day,
Where now thou shin'st amongst thy fellow saints,
Array'd in purer light, look down on me!
In pleasing visions and delusive dreams,
O! sooth my soul, and teach me how to lose thee.'
[Page 238: The shock of separation. A.D. 1752.]
I have, indeed, been told by Mrs. Desmoulins, who, before her marriage,
lived for some time with Mrs. Johnson at Hampstead, that she indulged
herself in country air and nice living, at an unsuitable expense,
while her husband was drudging in the smoke of London, and that she by
no means treated him with that complacency which is the most engaging
quality in a wife. But all this is perfectly compatible with his
fondness for her, especially when it is remembered that he had a high
opinion of her understanding, and that the impressions which her beauty,
real or imaginary, had originally made upon his fancy, being continued
by habit, had not been effaced, though she herself was doubtless much
altered for the worse. The dreadful shock of separation took place in
the night; and he immediately dispatched a letter to his friend, the
Reverend Dr. Taylor, which, as Taylor told me, expressed grief in the
strongest manner he had ever read; so that it is much to be regretted it
has not been preserved. The letter was brought to Dr. Taylor, at his
house in the Cloisters, Westminster, about three in the morning; and as
it signified an earnest desire to see him, he got up, and went to
Johnson as soon as he was dressed, and found him in tears and in extreme
agitation. After being a little while together, Johnson requested him to
join with him in prayer. He then prayed extempore, as did Dr. Taylor;
and thus, by means of that piety which was ever his primary object, his
troubled mind was, in some degree, soothed and composed.
The next day he wrote as follows:
'To The Revernd Dr. Taylor.
'Let me have your company and instruction. Do not live away from me. My
distress is great.
'Pray desire Mrs. Taylor to inform me what mourning I should buy for my
mother and Miss Porter, and bring a note in writing with you.
'Remember me in your prayers, for vain is the help of man.
'I am, dear Sir, &c.
'March 18, 1752.'
[Page 239: Francis Barber. AEtat 43.]
[Page 240: Prayers for the dead. A.D. 1752.]
That his sufferings upon the death of his wife were severe, beyond what
are commonly endured, I have no doubt, from the information of many who
were then about him, to none of whom I give more credit than to Mr.
Francis Barber, his faithful negro servant, who came into his family
about a fortnight after the dismal event. These sufferings were
aggravated by the melancholy inherent in his constitution; and although
he probably was not oftener in the wrong than she was, in the little
disagreements which sometimes troubled his married state, during
which, he owned to me, that the gloomy irritability of his existence was
more painful to him than ever, he might very naturally, after her death,
be tenderly disposed to charge himself with slight omissions and
offences, the sense of which would give him much uneasiness.
Accordingly we find, about a year after her decease, that he thus
addressed the Supreme Being: 'O LORD, who givest the grace of
repentance, and hearest the prayers of the penitent, grant that by true
contrition I may obtain forgiveness of all the sins committed, and of
all duties neglected in my union with the wife whom thou hast taken from
me; for the neglect of joint devotion, patient exhortation, and mild
instruction.' The kindness of his heart, notwithstanding the
impetuosity of his temper, is well known to his friends; and I cannot
trace the smallest foundation for the following dark and uncharitable
assertion by Sir John Hawkins: 'The apparition of his departed wife was
altogether of the terrifick kind, and hardly afforded him a hope that
she was in a state of happiness.' That he, in conformity with the
opinion of many of the most able, learned, and pious Christians in all
ages, supposed that there was a middle state after death, previous to
the time at which departed souls are finally received to eternal
felicity, appears, I think, unquestionably from his devotions: 'And,
O LORD, so far as it may be lawful in me, I commend to thy fatherly
goodness _the soul of my departed wife_; beseeching thee to grant her
whatever is best in her _present state_, and _finally to receive her to
eternal happiness_.' But this state has not been looked upon with
horrour, but only as less gracious.
[Page 241: The funeral sermon on Mrs. Johnson. AEtat 43.]
He deposited the remains of Mrs. Johnson in the church of Bromley, in
Kent, to which he was probably led by the residence of his friend
Hawkesworth at that place. The funeral sermon which he composed for her,
which was never preached, but having been given to Dr. Taylor, has been
published since his death, is a performance of uncommon excellence,
and full of rational and pious comfort to such as are depressed by that
severe affliction which Johnson felt when he wrote it. When it is
considered that it was written in such an agitation of mind, and in the
short interval between her death and burial, it cannot be read without
From Mr. Francis Barber I have had the following authentick and artless
account of the situation in which he found him recently after his wife's
[Page 242: Johnson's friends in 1752.]
He was in great affliction. Mrs. Williams was then living in his house,
which was in Gough-square. He was busy with the Dictionary. Mr. Shiels,
and some others of the gentlemen who had formerly written for him, used
to come about him. He had then little for himself, but frequently sent
money to Mr. Shiels when in distress. The friends who visited him at
that time, were chiefly Dr. Bathurst, and Mr. Diamond, an apothecary
in Cork-street, Burlington-gardens, with whom he and Mrs. Williams
generally dined every Sunday. There was a talk of his going to Iceland
with him, which would probably have happened had he lived. There were
also Mr. Cave, Dr. Hawkesworth, Mr. Ryland, merchant on Tower Hill,
Mrs. Masters, the poetess, who lived with Mr. Cave, Mrs. Carter, and
sometimes Mrs. Macaulay, also Mrs. Gardiner, wife of a
tallow-chandler on Snow-hill, not in the learned way, but a worthy good
woman; Mr. (now Sir Joshua) Reynolds; Mr. Millar, Mr. Dodsley,
Mr. Bouquet, Mr. Payne of Paternoster-row, booksellers; Mr. Strahan, the
printer; the Earl of Orrery, Lord Southwell, Mr. Garrick.
[Page 243: Robert Levet. AEtat 43.]
Many are, no doubt, omitted in this catalogue of his friends, and, in
particular, his humble friend Mr. Robert Levet, an obscure practiser in
physick amongst the lower people, his fees being sometimes very small
sums, sometimes whatever provisions his patients could afford him; but
of such extensive practice in that way, that Mrs. Williams has told me,
his walk was from Hounsditch to Marybone. It appears from Johnson's
diary that their acquaintance commenced about the year 1746; and such
was Johnson's predilection for him, and fanciful estimation of his
moderate abilities, that I have heard him say he should not be
satisfied, though attended by all the College of Physicians, unless he
had Mr. Levet with him. Ever since I was acquainted with Dr. Johnson,
and many years before, as I have been assured by those who knew him
earlier, Mr. Levet had an apartment in his house, or his chambers, and
waited upon him every morning, through the whole course of his late and
tedious breakfast. He was of a strange grotesque appearance, stiff and
formal in his manner, and seldom said a word while any company was
[Page 244: Sir Joshua Reynolds. A.D. 1752.]
[Page 245: One of 'Dr. Johnson's school.' AEtat 43.]
The circle of his friends, indeed, at this time was extensive and
various, far beyond what has been generally imagined. To trace his
acquaintance with each particular person, if it could be done, would be
a task, of which the labour would not be repaid by the advantage. But
exceptions are to be made; one of which must be a friend so eminent as
Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was truly his _dulce decus_, and with whom
he maintained an uninterrupted intimacy to the last hour of his life.
When Johnson lived in Castle-street, Cavendish-square, he used
frequently to visit two ladies, who lived opposite to him, Miss
Cotterells, daughters of Admiral Cotterell. Reynolds used also to visit
there, and thus they met. Mr. Reynolds, as I have observed above,
had, from the first reading of his _Life of Savage_, conceived a very
high admiration of Johnson's powers of writing. His conversation no less
delighted him; and he cultivated his acquaintance with the laudable zeal
of one who was ambitious of general improvement. Sir Joshua, indeed,
was lucky enough at their very first meeting to make a remark, which was
so much above the common-place style of conversation, that Johnson at
once perceived that Reynolds had the habit of thinking for himself. The
ladies were regretting the death of a friend, to whom they owed great
obligations; upon which Reynolds observed, 'You have, however, the
comfort of being relieved from a burthen of gratitude.' They were
shocked a little at this alleviating suggestion, as too selfish; but
Johnson defended it in his clear and forcible manner, and was much
pleased with the _mind_, the fair view of human nature, which it
exhibited, like some of the reflections of Rochefaucault. The
consequence was, that he went home with Reynolds, and supped with him.
[Page 246: The Miss Cotterells. A.D. 1752.]
Sir Joshua told me a pleasant characteristical anecdote of Johnson about
the time of their first acquaintance. When they were one evening
together at the Miss Cotterells', the then Duchess of Argyle and another
lady of high rank came in. Johnson thinking that the Miss Cotterells
were too much engrossed by them, and that he and his friend were
neglected, as low company of whom they were somewhat ashamed, grew
angry; and resolving to shock their supposed pride, by making their
great visitors imagine that his friend and he were low indeed, he
addressed himself in a loud tone to Mr. Reynolds, saying, 'How much do
you think you and I could get in a week, if we were to _work as hard_ as
we could?'--as if they had been common mechanicks.
[Page 247: Bennet Langton. AEtat 43.]
His acquaintance with Bennet Langton, Esq. of Langton, in Lincolnshire,
another much valued friend, commenced soon after the conclusion of his
_Rambler_; which that gentleman, then a youth, had read with so much
admiration, that he came to London chiefly with the view of endeavouring
to be introduced to its authour. By a fortunate chance he happened to
take lodgings in a house where Mr. Levet frequently visited; and having
mentioned his wish to his landlady, she introduced him to Mr. Levet, who
readily obtained Johnson's permission to bring Mr. Langton to him;
as, indeed, Johnson, during the whole course of his life, had no
shyness, real or affected, but was easy of access to all who were
properly recommended, and even wished to see numbers at his _levee_,
as his morning circle of company might, with strict propriety, be
called. Mr. Langton was exceedingly surprised when the sage first
appeared. He had not received the smallest intimation of his figure,
dress, or manner. From perusing his writings, he fancied he should see a
decent, well-drest, in short, a remarkably decorous philosopher. Instead
of which, down from his bedchamber, about noon, came, as newly risen, a
huge uncouth figure, with a little dark wig which scarcely covered his
head, and his clothes hanging loose about him. But his conversation was
so rich, so animated, and so forcible, and his religious and political
notions so congenial with those in which Langton had been educated, that
he conceived for him that veneration and attachment which he ever
preserved. Johnson was not the less ready to love Mr. Langton, for his
being of a very ancient family; for I have heard him say, with pleasure,
'Langton, Sir, has a grant of free warren from Henry the Second; and
Cardinal Stephen Langton, in King John's reign, was of this family.'
[Page 248: Topham Beauclerk. A.D. 1752.]
Mr. Langton afterwards went to pursue his studies at Trinity College,
Oxford, where he formed an acquaintance with his fellow student, Mr.
Topham Beauclerk; who, though their opinions and modes of life were
so different, that it seemed utterly improbable that they should at all
agree, had so ardent a love of literature, so acute an understanding,
such elegance of manners, and so well discerned the excellent qualities
of Mr. Langton, a gentleman eminent not only for worth and learning, but
for an inexhaustible fund of entertaining conversation, that they
became intimate friends.
[Page 249: Topham Beauclerk. AEtat 43.]
Johnson, soon after this acquaintance began, passed a considerable time
at Oxford. He at first thought it strange that Langton should
associate so much with one who had the character of being loose, both in
his principles and practice; but, by degrees, he himself was fascinated.
Mr. Beauclerk's being of the St. Alban's family, and having, in some
particulars, a resemblance to Charles the Second, contributed, in
Johnson's imagination, to throw a lustre upon his other qualities;
and, in a short time, the moral, pious Johnson, and the gay, dissipated
Beauclerk, were companions. 'What a coalition! (said Garrick, when he
heard of this;) I shall have my old friend to bail out of the
Round-house.' But I can bear testimony that it was a very agreeable
association. Beauclerk was too polite, and valued learning and wit too
much, to offend Johnson by sallies of infidelity or licentiousness; and
Johnson delighted in the good qualities of Beauclerk, and hoped to
correct the evil. Innumerable were the scenes in which Johnson was
amused by these young men. Beauclerk could take more liberty with him,
than any body with whom I ever saw him; but, on the other hand,
Beauclerk was not spared by his respectable companion, when reproof was
proper. Beauclerk had such a propensity to satire, that at one time
Johnson said to him, 'You never open your mouth but with intention to
give pain; and you have often given me pain, not from the power of what
you said, but from seeing your intention.' At another time applying to
him, with a slight alteration, a line of Pope, he said,
'Thy love of folly, and thy scorn of fools.
'Every thing thou dost shews the one, and every thing thou say'st the
other.' At another time he said to him, 'Thy body is all vice, and thy
mind all virtue.' Beauclerk not seeming to relish the compliment,
Johnson said, 'Nay, Sir, Alexander the Great, marching in triumph into
Babylon, could not have desired to have had more said to him.'
[Page 250: Johnson the Idle Apprentice. A.D. 1752.]
Johnson was some time with Beauclerk at his house at Windsor, where he
was entertained with experiments in natural philosophy. One Sunday,
when the weather was very fine, Beauclerk enticed him, insensibly, to
saunter about all the morning. They went into a church-yard, in the time
of divine service, and Johnson laid himself down at his ease upon one of
the tomb-stones. 'Now, Sir, (said Beauclerk) you are like Hogarth's Idle
Apprentice.' When Johnson got his pension, Beauclerk said to him, in the
humorous phrase of Falstaff, 'I hope you'll now purge and live cleanly
like a gentleman.'
[Page 251: A frisk with Beuclerk and Langton. AEtat 44.]
One night when Beauclerk and Langton had supped at a tavern in London,
and sat till about three in the morning, it came into their heads to go
and knock up Johnson, and see if they could prevail on him to join them
in a ramble. They rapped violently at the door of his chambers in the
Temple, till at last he appeared in his shirt, with his little black wig
on the top of his head, instead of a nightcap, and a poker in his hand,
imagining, probably, that some ruffians were coming to attack him. When
he discovered who they were, and was told their errand, he smiled, and
with great good humour agreed to their proposal: 'What, is it you, you
dogs! I'll have a frisk with you.' He was soon drest, and they sallied
forth together into Covent-Garden, where the greengrocers and fruiterers
were beginning to arrange their hampers, just come in from the country.
Johnson made some attempts to help them; but the honest gardeners stared
so at his figure and manner, and odd interference, that he soon saw his
services were not relished. They then repaired to one of the
neighbouring taverns, and made a bowl of that liquor called
"_Bishop_", which Johnson had always liked; while in joyous contempt
of sleep, from which he had been roused, he repeated the festive lines,
'Short, O short then be thy reign,
And give us to the world again!'
They did not stay long, but walked down to the Thames, took a boat, and
rowed to Billingsgate. Beauclerk and Johnson were so well pleased with
their amusement, that they resolved to persevere in dissipation for the
rest of the day: but Langton deserted them, being engaged to breakfast
with some young Ladies. Johnson scolded him for 'leaving his social
friends, to go and sit with a set of wretched _un-idea'd_ girls.'
Garrick being told of this ramble, said to him smartly, 'I heard of your
frolick t'other night. You'll be in the Chronicle.' Upon which Johnson
afterwards observed, '_He_ durst not do such a thing. His _wife_ would
not _let_ him!'
[Page 252: The Adventurer. A.D. 1753.]
1753: AETAT. 44.--He entered upon this year 1753 with his usual piety,
as appears from the following prayer, which I transcribed from that part
of his diary which he burnt a few days before his death:
'Jan. 1, 1753, N. S. which I shall use for the future.
'Almighty God, who hast continued my life to this day, grant that, by
the assistance of thy Holy Spirit, I may improve the time which thou
shall grant me, to my eternal salvation. Make me to remember, to thy
glory, thy judgements and thy mercies. Make me so to consider the loss
of my wife, whom thou hast taken from me, that it may dispose me, by thy
grace, to lead the residue of my life in thy fear. Grant this, O LORD,
for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. Amen.'
He now relieved the drudgery of his _Dictionary_, and the melancholy of
his grief, by taking an active part in the composition of _The
Adventurer_, in which he began to write April 10, marking his essays
with the signature T, by which most of his papers in that collection
are distinguished: those, however, which have that signature and also
that of _Mysargyrus_, were not written by him, but, as I suppose, by Dr.
Bathurst. Indeed Johnson's energy of thought and richness of language,
are still more decisive marks than any signature. As a proof of this, my
readers, I imagine, will not doubt that Number 39, on sleep, is his; for
it not only has the general texture and colour of his style, but the
authours with whom he was peculiarly conversant are readily introduced
in it in cursory allusion. The translation of a passage in Statius
quoted in that paper, and marked C. B. has been erroneously ascribed to
Dr. Bathurst, whose Christian name was Richard. How much this amiable
man actually contributed to _The Adventurer_, cannot be known. Let me
add, that Hawkesworth's imitations of Johnson are sometimes so happy,
that it is extremely difficult to distinguish them, with certainty, from
the compositions of his great archetype. Hawkesworth was his closest
imitator, a circumstance of which that writer would once have been proud
to be told; though, when he had become elated by having risen into some
degree of consequence, he, in a conversation with me, had the provoking
effrontery to say he was not sensible of it.
[Page 253: A letter to Dr. Warton. AEtat 44.]
Johnson was truly zealous for the success of _The Adventurer_; and very
soon after his engaging in it, he wrote the following letter:
'TO THE REVEREND DR. JOSEPH WARTON.
'I ought to have written to you before now, but I ought to do many
things which I do not; nor can I, indeed, claim any merit from this
letter; for being desired by the authours and proprietor of _The
Adventurer_ to look out for another hand, my thoughts necessarily fixed
upon you, whose fund of literature will enable you to assist them, with
very little interruption of your studies.
'They desire you to engage to furnish one paper a month, at two guineas
a paper, which you may very readily perform. We have considered that a
paper should consist of pieces of imagination, pictures of life, and
disquisitions of literature. The part which depends on the imagination
is very well supplied, as you will find when you read the paper; for
descriptions of life, there is now a treaty almost made with an authour
and an authouress; and the province of criticism and literature they are
very desirous to assign to the commentator on Virgil.
'I hope this proposal will not be rejected, and that the next post will
bring us your compliance. I speak as one of the fraternity, though I
have no part in the paper, beyond now and then a motto; but two of the
writers are my particular friends, and I hope the pleasure of seeing a
third united to them, will not be denied to, dear Sir,
'Your most obedient,
'And most humble servant,
'March 8, 1753.'
The consequence of this letter was, Dr. Warton's enriching the
collection with several admirable essays.
[Page 254: Bathurst's papers in the Adventurer. A.D. 1753.]
Johnson's saying 'I have no part in the paper beyond now and then a
motto,' may seem inconsistent with his being the authour of the papers
marked T. But he had, at this time, written only one number; and
besides, even at any after period, he might have used the same
expression, considering it as a point of honour not to own them; for
Mrs. Williams told me that, 'as he had _given_ those Essays to Dr.
Bathurst, who sold them at two guineas each, he never would own them;
nay, he used to say he did not _write_ them: but the fact was, that he
_dictated_ them, while Bathurst wrote.' I read to him Mrs. Williams's
account; he smiled, and said nothing.
[Page 255: Mrs. Lennox. AEtat 45.]
I am not quite satisfied with the casuistry by which the productions of
one person are thus passed upon the world for the productions of
another. I allow that not only knowledge, but powers and qualities of
mind may be communicated; but the actual effect of individual exertion
never can be transferred, with truth, to any other than its own original
cause. One person's child may be made the child of another person by
adoption, as among the Romans, or by the ancient Jewish mode of a wife
having children born to her upon her knees, by her handmaid. But these
were children in a different sense from that of nature. It was clearly
understood that they were not of the blood of their nominal parents. So
in literary children, an authour may give the profits and fame of his
composition to another man, but cannot make that other the real authour.
A Highland gentleman, a younger branch of a family, once consulted me if
he could not validly purchase the Chieftainship of his family, from the
Chief who was willing to sell it. I told him it was impossible for him
to acquire, by purchase, a right to be a different person from what he
really was; for that the right of Chieftainship attached to the blood of
primogeniture, and, therefore, was incapable of being transferred. I
added, that though Esau sold his birth-right, or the advantages
belonging to it, he still remained the first-born of his parents; and
that whatever agreement a Chief might make with any of the clan, the
Herald's Office could not admit of the metamorphosis, or with any
decency attest that the younger was the elder; but I did not convince
the worthy gentleman.
Johnson's papers in _The Adventurer_ are very similar to those of _The
Rambler_; but being rather more varied in their subjects, and being
mixed with essays by other writers, upon topicks more generally
attractive than even the most elegant ethical discourses, the sale of
the work, at first, was more extensive. Without meaning, however, to
depreciate _The Adventurer_, I must observe that as the value of _The
Rambler_ came, in the progress of time, to be better known, it grew upon
the publick estimation, and that its sale has far exceeded that of any
other periodical papers since the reign of Queen Anne.
In one of the books of his diary I find the following entry:
'Apr. 3, 1753. I began the second vol. of my Dictionary, room being left
in the first for Preface, Grammar, and History, none of them yet begun.
'O GOD, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in this
labour, and in the whole task of my present state; that when I shall
render up, at the last day, an account of the talent committed to me, I
may receive pardon, for the sake of JESUS CHRIST. Amen.'
He this year favoured Mrs. Lennox with a Dedication[*] to the Earl of
Orrery, of her _Shakspeare Illustrated_.
[Page 256: The Life of Edward Cave. A.D. 1754.]
1754: AETAT. 45.--IN 1754 I can trace nothing published by him, except
his numbers of _The Adventurer_, and 'The Life of Edward Cave,'[*] in
the _Gentleman's Magazine_ for February. In biography there can be no
question that he excelled, beyond all who have attempted that species of
composition; upon which, indeed, he set the highest value. To the minute
selection of characteristical circumstances, for which the ancients were
remarkable, he added a philosophical research, and the most perspicuous
and energetick language. Cave was certainly a man of estimable
qualities, and was eminently diligent and successful in his own
business, which, doubtless, entitled him to respect. But he was
peculiarly fortunate in being recorded by Johnson, who, of the narrow
life of a printer and publisher, without any digressions or adventitious
circumstances, has made an interesting and agreeable narrative.
The _Dictionary_, we may believe, afforded Johnson full occupation this
year. As it approached to its conclusion, he probably worked with
redoubled vigour, as seamen increase their exertion and alacrity when
they have a near prospect of their haven.
[Page 257: Lord Chesterfield's neglect.]
[Page 258: Lord Chesterfield's flattery. A.D. 1754.]
Lord Chesterfield, to whom Johnson had paid the high compliment of
addressing to his Lordship the _Plan_ of his _Dictionary_, had behaved
to him in such a manner as to excite his contempt and indignation. The
world has been for many years amused with a story confidently told, and
as confidently repeated with additional circumstances, that a sudden
disgust was taken by Johnson upon occasion of his having been one day
kept long in waiting in his Lordship's antechamber, for which the reason
assigned was, that he had company with him; and that at last, when the
door opened, out walked Colley Gibber; and that Johnson was so violently
provoked when he found for whom he had been so long excluded, that he
went away in a passion, and never would return. I remember having
mentioned this story to George Lord Lyttelton, who told me, he was very
intimate with Lord Chesterfield; and holding it as a well-known truth,
defended Lord Chesterfield, by saying, that 'Gibber, who had been
introduced, familiarly by the back-stairs, had probably not been there
above ten minutes.' It may seem strange even to entertain a doubt
concerning a story so long and so widely current, and thus implicitly
adopted, if not sanctioned, by the authority which I have mentioned; but
Johnson himself assured me, that there was not the least foundation for
it. He told me, that there never was any particular incident which
produced a quarrel between Lord Chesterfield and him; but that his
Lordship's continued neglect was the reason why he resolved to have no
connection with him. When the _Dictionary_ was upon the eve of
publication, Lord Chesterfield, who, it is said, had flattered himself
with expectations that Johnson would dedicate the work to him,
attempted, in a courtly manner, to sooth, and insinuate himself with the
Sage, conscious, as it should seem, of the cold indifference with which
he had treated its learned authour; and further attempted to conciliate
him, by writing two papers in _The World_, in recommendation of the
work; and it must be confessed, that they contain some studied
compliments, so finely turned, that if there had been no previous
offence, it is probable that Johnson would have been highly
delighted. Praise, in general, was pleasing to him; but by praise
from a man of rank and elegant accomplishments, he was peculiarly
His Lordship says,
'I think the publick in general, and the republick of letters in
particular, are greatly obliged to Mr. Johnson, for having undertaken,
and executed, so great and desirable a work. Perfection is not to be
expected from man; but if we are to judge by the various works of
Johnson already published, we have good reason to believe, that he
will bring this as near to perfection as any man could do. The _Plan_ of
it, which he published some years ago, seems to me to be a proof of it.
Nothing can be more rationally imagined, or more accurately and
elegantly expressed. I therefore recommend the previous perusal of it to
all those who intend to buy the _Dictionary,_ and who, I suppose, are
all those who can afford it.'
* * * * *
'It must be owned, that our language is, at present, in a state of
anarchy, and hitherto, perhaps, it may not have been the worse for it.
During our free and open trade, many words and expressions have been
imported, adopted, and naturalized from other languages, which have
greatly enriched our own. Let it still preserve what real strength and
beauty it may have borrowed from others; but let it not, like the
Tarpeian maid, be overwhelmed and crushed by unnecessary ornaments.
The time for discrimination seems to be now come.
[Page 259: Lord Chesterfield's flattery. AEtat 45.]
'Toleration, adoption, and naturalization have run their lengths. Good
order and authority are now necessary. But where shall we find them,
and, at the same time, the obedience due to them? We must have recourse
to the old Roman expedient in times of confusion, and chuse a dictator.
Upon this principle, I give my vote for Mr. Johnson to fill that great
and arduous post. And I hereby declare, that I make a total surrender of
all my rights and privileges in the English language, as a free-born
British subject, to the said Mr. Johnson, during the term of his
dictatorship. Nay more, I will not only obey him, like an old Roman, as
my dictator, but, like a modern Roman, I will implicitly believe in him
as my Pope, and hold him to be infallible while in the chair, but no
longer. More than this he cannot well require; for, I presume, that
obedience can never be expected, when there is neither terrour to
enforce, nor interest to invite it.'
* * * * *
'But a Grammar, a Dictionary, and a History of our Language through its
several stages, were still wanting at home, and importunately called for
from abroad. Mr. Johnson's labours will now, I dare say, very fully
supply that want, and greatly contribute to the farther spreading of our
language in other countries. Learners were discouraged, by finding no
standard to resort to; and, consequently, thought it incapable of any.
They will now be undeceived and encouraged.'
This courtly device failed of its effect. Johnson, who thought that
'all was false and hollow,' despised the honeyed words, and was even
indignant that Lord Chesterfield should, for a moment, imagine that he
could be the dupe of such an artifice. His expression to me concerning
Lord Chesterfield, upon this occasion, was, 'Sir, after making great
professions, he had, for many years, taken no notice of me; but when
my _Dictionary_ was coming out, he fell a scribbling in _The World_
about it. Upon which, I wrote him a letter expressed in civil terms, but
such as might shew him that I did not mind what he said or wrote, and
that I had done with him.'
[Page 260: Johnson's spelling. A.D. 1754.]
This is that celebrated letter of which so much has been said, and about
which curiosity has been so long excited, without being gratified. I for
many years solicited Johnson to favour me with a copy of it, that so
excellent a composition might not be lost to posterity. He delayed from
time to time to give it me; till at last in 1781, when we were on a
visit at Mr. Dilly's, at Southill in Bedfordshire, he was pleased to
dictate it to me from memory. He afterwards found among his papers a
copy of it, which he had dictated to Mr. Baretti, with its title and
corrections, in his own handwriting. This he gave to Mr. Langton; adding
that if it were to come into print, he wished it to be from that copy.
By Mr. Langton's kindness, I am enabled to enrich my work with a perfect
transcript of what the world has so eagerly desired to see.
[Page 261: Johnson's letter to Lord Chesterfield. AEtat 45.]
'TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL OF CHESTERFIELD.
'February 7, 1755.
'I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of the World, that two
papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the publick, were
written by your Lordship. To be so distinguished, is an honour, which,
being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well
how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.
'When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lordship, I
was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your
address; and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself _Le
vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre_;--that I might obtain that regard
for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so
little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to
continue it. When I had once addressed your Lordship in publick, I had
exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar
can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to
have his all neglected, be it ever so little.
'Seven years, my Lord, have now past, since I waited in your outward
rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been
pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to
complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication,
without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one
smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a
'The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him
a native of the rocks.
'Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man
struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground,
encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take
of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed
till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and
cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is
no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has
been received, or to be unwilling that the Publick should consider me as
owing that to a Patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for
[Page 263: His high opinion of Warburton. AEtat 45.]
'Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any
favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should
conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long
wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so
'Your Lordship's most humble,
'Most obedient servant,
'While this was the talk of the town, (says Dr. Adams, in a letter to
me) I happened to visit Dr. Warburton, who finding that I was acquainted
with Johnson, desired me earnestly to carry his compliments to him, and
to tell him, that he honoured him for his manly behaviour in rejecting
these condescensions of Lord Chesterfield, and for resenting the
treatment he had received from him, with a proper spirit. Johnson was
visibly pleased with this compliment, for he had always a high opinion
of Warburton. Indeed, the force of mind which appeared in this
letter, was congenial with that which Warburton himself amply
[Page 264: For 'garret' read 'patron.' A.D. 1754.]
There is a curious minute circumstance which struck me, in comparing the
various editions of Johnson's imitations of Juvenal. In the tenth
Satire, one of the couplets upon the vanity of wishes even for literary
distinction stood thus:
'Yet think what ills the scholar's life assail,
'Pride, envy, want, the _garret_, and the jail.'
But after experiencing the uneasiness which Lord Chesterfield's
fallacious patronage made him feel, he dismissed the word _garret_ from
the sad group, and in all the subsequent editions the line stands
'Pride, envy, want, the _Patron_, and the jail.'
[Page 265: Defensive pride. AEtat 45.]
That Lord Chesterfield must have been mortified by the lofty contempt,
and polite, yet keen satire with which Johnson exhibited him to himself
in this letter, it is impossible to doubt. He, however, with that glossy
duplicity which was his constant study, affected to be quite
unconcerned. Dr. Adams mentioned to Mr. Robert Dodsley that he was sorry
Johnson had written his letter to Lord Chesterfield. Dodsley, with the
true feelings of trade, said 'he was very sorry too; for that he had a
property in the _Dictionary_, to which his Lordship's patronage might
have been of consequence.' He then told Dr. Adams, that Lord
Chesterfield had shewn him the letter. 'I should have imagined (replied
Dr. Adams) that Lord Chesterfield would have concealed it.' 'Poh! (said
Dodsley) do you think a letter from Johnson could hurt Lord
Chesterfield? Not at all, Sir. It lay upon his table, where any body
might see it. He read it to me; said, "this man has great powers,"
pointed out the severest passages, and observed how well they were
expressed.' This air of indifference, which imposed upon the worthy
Dodsley, was certainly nothing but a specimen of that dissimulation
which Lord Chesterfield inculcated as one of the most essential lessons
for the conduct of life. His Lordship endeavoured to justify himself
to Dodsley from the charges brought against him by Johnson; but we may
judge of the flimsiness of his defence, from his having excused his
neglect of Johnson, by saying that 'he had heard he had changed his
lodgings, and did not know where he lived;' as if there could have been
the smallest difficulty to inform himself of that circumstance, by
inquiring in the literary circle with which his Lordship was well
acquainted, and was, indeed, himself one of its ornaments.
Dr. Adams expostulated with Johnson, and suggested, that his not being
admitted when he called on him, was, probably, not to be imputed to Lord
Chesterfield; for his Lordship had declared to Dodsley, that 'he would
have turned off the best servant he ever had, if he had known that he
denied him to a man who would have been always more than welcome;' and,
in confirmation of this, he insisted on Lord Chesterfield's general
affability and easiness of access, especially to literary men. 'Sir,