Part 5 out of 14
(said Johnson) that is not Lord Chesterfield; he is the proudest man
this day existing.' 'No, (said Dr. Adams) there is one person, at
least, as proud; I think, by your own account, you are the prouder man
of the two.' 'But mine (replied Johnson, instantly) was defensive
pride.' This, as Dr. Adams well observed, was one of those happy turns
for which he was so remarkably ready.
[Page 266: A wit among Lords. A.D. 1754.]
Johnson having now explicitly avowed his opinion of Lord Chesterfield,
did not refrain from expressing himself concerning that nobleman with
pointed freedom: 'This man (said he) I thought had been a Lord among
wits; but, I find, he is only a wit among Lords!' And when his
_Letters_ to his natural son were published, he observed, that 'they
teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.'
[Page 267: Chesterfield's Respectable Hottentot. AEtat 45.]
The character of 'a respectable Hottentot,' in Lord Chesterfield's
letters, has been generally understood to be meant for Johnson, and I
have no doubt that it was. But I remember when the _Literary Property_
of those letters was contested in the Court of Session in Scotland, and
Mr. Henry Dundas, one of the counsel for the proprietors, read this
character as an exhibition of Johnson, Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes,
one of the Judges, maintained, with some warmth, that it was not
intended as a portrait of Johnson, but of a late noble Lord,
distinguished for abstruse science. I have heard Johnson himself talk
of the character, and say that it was meant for George Lord Lyttelton,
in which I could by no means agree; for his Lordship had nothing of that
violence which is a conspicuous feature in the composition. Finding that
my illustrious friend could bear to have it supposed that it might be
meant for him, I said, laughingly, that there was one trait which
unquestionably did not belong to him; 'he throws his meat any where but
down his throat.' 'Sir, (said he,) Lord Chesterfield never saw me eat in
[Page 268: A beggarly Scotchman. A.D. 1754.]
On the 6th of March came out Lord Bolingbroke's works, published by Mr.
David Mallet. The wild and pernicious ravings, under the name of
_Philosophy_, which were thus ushered into the world, gave great offence
to all well-principled men. Johnson, hearing of their tendency, which
nobody disputed, was roused with a just indignation, and pronounced this
memorable sentence upon the noble authour and his editor. 'Sir, he was a
scoundrel, and a coward: a scoundrel, for charging a blunderbuss
against religion and morality; a coward, because he had not resolution
to fire it off himself, but left half a crown to a beggarly Scotchman,
to draw the trigger after his death!' Garrick, who I can attest from
my own knowledge, had his mind seasoned with pious reverence, and
sincerely disapproved of the infidel writings of several, whom, in the
course of his almost universal gay intercourse with men of eminence, he
treated with external civility, distinguished himself upon this
occasion. Mr. Pelham having died on the very day on which Lord
Bolingbroke's works came out, he wrote an elegant Ode on his death,
'Let others hail the rising sun,
I bow to that whose course is run;'
in which is the following stanza:
'The same sad morn, to Church and State
(So for our sins 'twas fix'd by fate,)
A double stroke was given;
Black as the whirlwinds of the North,
St. John's fell genius issued forth,
And Pelham fled to heaven.'
[Page 270: Thomas Warton. A.D. 1754.]
Johnson this year found an interval of leisure to make an excursion to
Oxford, for the purpose of consulting the libraries there. Of this, and
of many interesting circumstances concerning him, during a part of his
life when he conversed but little with the world, I am enabled to give a
particular account, by the liberal communications of the Reverend Mr.
Thomas Warton, who obligingly furnished me with several of our common
friend's letters, which he illustrated with notes. These I shall insert
in their proper places.
'To THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON.
'It is but an ill return for the book with which you were pleased to
favour me, to have delayed my thanks for it till now. I am too apt to
be negligent; but I can never deliberately shew my disrespect to a man
of your character: and I now pay you a very honest acknowledgement, for
the advancement of the literature of our native country. You have shewn
to all, who shall hereafter attempt the study of our ancient authours,
the way to success; by directing them to the perusal of the books which
those authours had read. Of this method, Hughes and men much greater
than Hughes, seem never to have thought. The reason why the authours,
which are yet read, of the sixteenth century, are so little understood,
is, that they are read alone; and no help is borrowed from those who
lived with them, or before them. Some part of this ignorance I hope to
remove by my book, which now draws towards its end; but which I
cannot finish to my mind, without visiting the libraries at Oxford,
which I, therefore, hope to see in a fortnight. I know not how long I
shall stay, or where I shall lodge: but shall be sure to look for you at
my arrival, and we shall easily settle the rest. I am, dear Sir,
'Your most obedient, &c.
'[London] July 16, 1754.'
[Page 271: Johnson's visit to Oxford. AEtat 45.]
Of his conversation while at Oxford at this time, Mr. Warton preserved
and communicated to me the following memorial, which, though not written
with all the care and attention which that learned and elegant writer
bestowed on those compositions which he intended for the publick eye, is
so happily expressed in an easy style, that I should injure it by any
'When Johnson came to Oxford in 1754, the long vacation was
beginning, and most people were leaving the place. This was the first
time of his being there, after quitting the University. The next morning
after his arrival, he wished to see his old College, _Pembroke_. I went
with him. He was highly pleased to find all the College-servants
which he had left there still remaining, particularly a very old
butler; and expressed great satisfaction at being recognised by them,
and conversed with them familiarly. He waited on the master, Dr.
Radcliffe, who received him very coldly. Johnson at least expected, that
the master would order a copy of his Dictionary, now near publication:
but the master did not choose to talk on the subject, never asked
Johnson to dine, nor even to visit him, while he stayed at Oxford. After
we had left the lodgings, Johnson said to me, "_There_ lives a man, who
lives by the revenues of literature, and will not move a finger to
support it. If I come to live at Oxford, I shall take up my abode at
Trinity." We then called on the Reverend Mr. Meeke, one of the fellows,
and of Johnson's standing. Here was a most cordial greeting on both
sides. On leaving him, Johnson said, "I used to think Meeke had
excellent parts, when we were boys together at the College: but, alas!
'"Lost in a convent's solitary gloom!"
'"I remember, at the classical lecture in the Hall, I could not bear
Meeke's superiority, and I tried to sit as far from him as I could, that
I might not hear him construe."
[Page 272: Stories of old college days. A.D. 1754.]
'As we were leaving the College, he said, "Here I translated Pope's
Messiah. Which do you think is the best line in it?--My own favourite
'_Vallis aromalicas fundit Saronica nubes_.'"
'I told him, I thought it a very sonorous hexameter. I did not tell him,
it was not in the Virgilian style. He much regretted that his _first_
tutor was dead; for whom he seemed to retain the greatest regard. He
said, "I once had been a whole morning sliding in Christ-Church Meadow,
and missed his lecture in logick. After dinner, he sent for me to his
room. I expected a sharp rebuke for my idleness, and went with a beating
heart. When we were seated, he told me he had sent for me to drink a
glass of wine with him, and to tell me, he was _not_ angry with me for
missing his lecture. This was, in fact, a most severe reprimand. Some
more of the boys were then sent for, and we spent a very pleasant
afternoon." Besides Mr. Meeke, there was only one other Fellow of
Pembroke now resident: from both of whom Johnson received the greatest
civilities during this visit, and they pressed him very much to have a
room in the College.
'In the course of this visit (1754,) Johnson and I walked, three or four
times, to Ellsfield, a village beautifully situated about three miles
from Oxford, to see Mr. Wise, Radclivian librarian, with whom Johnson
was much pleased. At this place, Mr. Wise had fitted up a house and
gardens, in a singular manner, but with great taste. Here was an
excellent library; particularly, a valuable collection of books in
Northern literature, with which Johnson was often very busy. One day Mr.
Wise read to us a dissertation which he was preparing for the press,
intitled, "A History and Chronology of the fabulous Ages." Some old
divinities of Thrace, related to the Titans, and called the CABIRI, made
a very important part of the theory of this piece; and in conversation
afterwards, Mr. Wise talked much of his CABIRI. As we returned to Oxford
in the evening, I out-walked Johnson, and he cried out _Suffiamina_, a
Latin word which came from his mouth with peculiar grace, and was as
much as to say, _Put on your drag chain_. Before we got home, I again
walked too fast for him; and he now cried out, "Why, you walk as if you
were pursued by all the CABIRI in a body." In an evening, we frequently
took long walks from Oxford into the country, returning to supper. Once,
in our way home, we viewed the ruins of the abbies of Oseney and Rewley,
near Oxford. After at least half an hour's silence, Johnson said, "I
viewed them with indignation!" We had then a long conversation on
Gothick buildings; and in talking of the form of old halls, he said, "In
these halls, the fire place was anciently always in the middle of the
room, till the Whigs removed it on one side."--About this time there
had been an execution of two or three criminals at Oxford on a Monday.
Soon afterwards, one day at dinner, I was saying that Mr. Swinton the
chaplain of the gaol, and also a frequent preacher before the
University, a learned man, but often thoughtless and absent, preached
the condemnation-sermon on repentance, before the convicts, on the
preceding day, Sunday; and that in the close he told his audience, that
he should give them the remainder of what he had to say on the subject,
the next Lord's Day. Upon which, one of our company, a Doctor of
Divinity, and a plain matter-of-fact man, by way of offering an apology
for Mr. Swinton, gravely remarked, that he had probably preached the
same sermon before the University: "Yes, Sir, (says Johnson) but the
University were not to be hanged the next morning."
[Page 274: Rev. Mr. Meeke. A.D. 1754]
'I forgot to observe before, that when he left Mr. Meeke, (as I have
told above) he added, "About the same time of life, Meeke was left
behind at Oxford to feed on a Fellowship, and I went to London to get my
living: now, Sir, see the difference of our literary characters!"'
The following letter was written by Dr. Johnson to Mr. Chambers, of
Lincoln College, afterwards Sir Robert Chambers, one of the judges in
'To MR. CHAMBERS OF LINCOLN COLLEGE.
'The commission which I delayed to trouble you with at your departure, I
am now obliged to send you; and beg that you will be so kind as to carry
it to Mr. Warton, of Trinity, to whom I should have written immediately,
but that I know not if he be yet come back to Oxford.
'In the Catalogue of MSS. of Gr. Brit, see vol. I. pag. 18. MSS. Bodl.
MARTYRIUM xv. _martyrum sub Juliano, auctore Theophylacto_.
'It is desired that Mr. Warton will inquire, and send word, what will be
the cost of transcribing this manuscript.
'Vol. II, pag. 32. Num. 1022. 58. COLL. Nov.--_Commentaria in Acta
Apostol.--Comment. in Septem Epistolas Catholicas_.
'He is desired to tell what is the age of each of these manuscripts: and
what it will cost to have a transcript of the two first pages of each.
'If Mr. Warton be not in Oxford, you may try if you can get it done by
any body else; or stay till he comes, according to your own convenience.
It is for an Italian _literato_.
'The answer is to be directed to his Excellency Mr. Zon, Venetian
Resident, Soho Square.
'I hope, dear Sir, that you do not regret the change of London for
Oxford. Mr. Baretti is well, and Miss Williams; and we shall all be
glad to hear from you, whenever you shall be so kind as to write to,
'Your most humble servant,
'Nov. 21, 1754.'
[Page 275: Johnson desires the Degree of M.A. AEtat 45.]
The degree of Master of Arts, which, it has been observed, could not
be obtained for him at an early period of his life, was now considered
as an honour of considerable importance, in order to grace the
title-page of his _Dictionary_; and his character in the literary world
being by this time deservedly high, his friends thought that, if proper
exertions were made, the University of Oxford would pay him the
'To THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON.
'I am extremely obliged to you and to Mr. Wise, for the uncommon care
which you have taken of my interest: if you can accomplish your kind
design, I shall certainly take me a little habitation among you.
'The books which I promised to Mr. Wise, I have not been able to
procure: but I shall send him a _Finnick Dictionary_, the only copy,
perhaps, in England, which was presented me by a learned Swede: but I
keep it back, that it may make a set of my own books of the new
edition, with which I shall accompany it, more welcome. You will assure
him of my gratitude.
[Page 276: Collins the Poet. A.D. 1754.]
'Poor dear Collins!--Would a letter give him any pleasure? I have a
mind to write.
'I am glad of your hindrance in your Spenserian design, yet I would
not have it delayed. Three hours a day stolen from sleep and amusement
will produce it. Let a Servitour transcribe the quotations, and
interleave them with references, to save time. This will shorten the
work, and lessen the fatigue.
'Can I do any thing to promoting the diploma? I would not be wanting to
co-operate with your kindness; of which, whatever be the effect, I shall
be, dear Sir,
'Your most obliged, &c.
'[London,] Nov. 28, 1754.'
To THE SAME.
'I am extremely sensible of the favour done me, both by Mr. Wise and
yourself. The book cannot, I think, be printed in less than six
weeks, nor probably so soon; and I will keep back the title-page, for
such an insertion as you seem to promise me. Be pleased to let me know
what money I shall send you, for bearing the expence of the affair; and
I will take care that you may have it ready at your hand.
[Page 277: The death of a Wife. AEtat 46.]
'I had lately the favour of a letter from your brother, with some
account of poor Collins, for whom I am much concerned. I have a notion,
that by very great temperance, or more properly abstinence, he may yet
'There is an old English and Latin book of poems by Barclay, called "The
Ship of Fools;" at the end of which are a number of _Eglogues_; so he
writes it, from _Egloga_, which are probably the first in our
language. If you cannot find the book I will get Mr. Dodsley to send it
'I shall be extremely glad to hear from you again, to know, if the
affair proceeds. I have mentioned it to none of my friends for fear
of being laughed at for my disappointment.
'You know poor Mr. Dodsley has lost his wife; I believe he is much
affected. I hope he will not suffer so much as I yet suffer for the loss
[Greek: Oimoi. ti d oimoi; Onaeta gar peponthamen.].
I have ever since seemed to myself broken off from mankind; a kind of
solitary wanderer in the wild of life, without any direction, or fixed
point of view: a gloomy gazer on a world to which I have little
relation. Yet I would endeavour, by the help of you and your brother, to
supply the want of closer union, by friendship: and hope to have long
the pleasure of being, dear Sir,
'Most affectionately your's,
'[London,] Dec. 21, 1754.'
1755: AETAT. 46.--In 1755 we behold him to great advantage; his degree
of Master of Arts conferred upon him, his _Dictionary_ published, his
correspondence animated, his benevolence exercised.
[Page 278: Land after a vast sea of words. A.D. 1755.]
'TO THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON.
'I wrote to you some weeks ago, but believe did not direct accurately,
and therefore know not whether you had my letter. I would, likewise,
write to your brother, but know not where to find him. I now begin to
see land, after having wandered, according to Mr. Warburton's phrase, in
this vast sea of words. What reception I shall meet with on the shore, I
know not; whether the sound of bells, and acclamations of the people,
which Ariosto talks of in his last Canto, or a general murmur of
dislike, I know not: whether I shall find upon the coast a Calypso that
will court, or a Polypheme that will resist. But if Polypheme comes,
have at his eye. I hope, however, the criticks will let me be at peace;
for though I do not much fear their skill and strength, I am a little
afraid of myself, and would not willingly feel so much ill-will in my
bosom as literary quarrels are apt to excite.
'Mr. Baretti is about a work for which he is in great want of
_Crescimbeni_, which you may have again when you please.
'There is nothing considerable done or doing among us here. We are not,
perhaps, as innocent as villagers, but most of us seem to be as idle. I
hope, however, you are busy; and should be glad to know what you are
'I am, dearest Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'[London] Feb. 4, 1755.'
TO THE SAME.
'I received your letter this day, with great sense of the favour that
has been done me; for which I return my most sincere thanks: and
entreat you to pay to Mr. Wise such returns as I ought to make for so
much kindness so little deserved.
[Page 279: Dr. King. AEtat 46.]
'I sent Mr. Wise the _Lexicon_, and afterwards wrote to him; but know
not whether he had either the book or letter. Be so good as to contrive
'But why does my dear Mr. Warton tell me nothing of himself? Where hangs
the new volume? Can I help? Let not the past labour be lost, for want
of a little more: but snatch what time you can from the Hall, and the
pupils, and the coffee-house, and the parks, and complete your
design. I am, dear Sir, &c,
'[London.] Feb. 4, 1755.'
To THE SAME.
'I had a letter last week from Mr. Wise, but have yet heard nothing from
you, nor know in what state my affair stands; of which I beg you to
inform me, if you can, to-morrow, by the return of the post.
'Mr. Wise sends me word, that he has not had the _Finnick Lexicon_ yet,
which I sent some time ago; and if he has it not, you must enquire after
it. However, do not let your letter stay for that.
'Your brother, who is a better correspondent than you, and not much
better, sends me word, that your pupils keep you in College: but do they
keep you from writing too? Let them, at least, give you time to write
to, dear Sir,
'Your most affectionate, &c.
'[London,] Feb. 13, 1755,'
To THE SAME,
'Dr. King was with me a few minutes before your letter; this,
however, is the first instance in which your kind intentions to me have
ever been frustrated. I have now the full effect of your care and
benevolence; and am far from thinking it a slight honour, or a small
advantage; since it will put the enjoyment of your conversation more
frequently in the power of, dear Sir,
[Page 280: The Chancellor of Oxford's letter. A.D. 1755.]
'Your most obliged and affectionate
'P.S. I have enclosed a letter to the Vice-Chancellor, which you will
read; and, if you like it, seal and give him.
'[London,] Feb. 1755.'
As the Publick will doubtless be pleased to see the whole progress of
this well-earned academical honour, I shall insert the Chancellor of
Oxford's letter to the University, the diploma, and Johnson's letter
of thanks to the Vice-Chancellor.
'_To the Reverend Dr_. HUDDESFORD, Vice-Chancellor _of the_ University
_of_ Oxford; _to be communicated to the Heads of Houses, and proposed in
'MR. VICE-CHANCELLOR, AND GENTLEMEN,
'Mr. Samuel Johnson, who was formerly of Pembroke College, having very
eminently distinguished himself by the publication of a series of
essays, excellently calculated to form the manners of the people, and in
which the cause of religion and morality is every where maintained by
the strongest powers of argument and language; and who shortly intends
to publish a _Dictionary of the English Tongue_, formed on a new plan,
and executed with the greatest labour and judgement; I persuade myself
that I shall act agreeably to the sentiments of the whole University, in
desiring that it may be proposed in convocation to confer on him the
degree of Master of Arts by diploma, to which I readily give my consent;
[Page 281: Diploma Magistri Johnson. AEtat 46.]
'Mr. Vice-Chancellor, and Gentlemen,
'Your affectionate friend and servant,
'Grosvenor-street, Feb. 4, 1755.'
'DIPLOMA MAGISTRI JOHNSON.
'_CANCELLARIUS, Magistri et Scholares Universitatis Oxoniensis omnibus
ad quos hoc presens scriptum pervenerit, salutem in Domino sempiternam.
'Cum eum in finem gradus academici a majoribus nostris instituti
fuerint, ut viri ingenio et doctrine praestantes titulis quoque prater
caeeteros insignirentur; cumque vir doctissimus_ Samuel Johnson _e
Collegia Pembrochiensi, scriptis suis popularium mores informantibus
dudum literato orbi innotuerit; quin et linguae patricae tum ornandae tum
stabiliendae (Lexicon scilicet Anglicanum summo studio, summo a se
judicio congestum propediem editurus) etiam nunc utilissimam impendat
operam; Nos igitur Cancellarius, Magistri, et Scholares antedicti, ne
virum de literis humanioribus optime meritum diulius inhonoratum
praetereamus, in solenni Convocatione Doctorum, Magistrorum, Regentium,
et non Regentium, decimo die Mensis Februarii Anno Domini Millesimo
Septingentesimo Quinquagesimo quinto habitu, praefatum virum_ Samuelem
Johnson (_conspirantibus omnium suffragiis) Magistrum in Artibus
renunciavimus et constituimus; eumque, virtute praesentis diplomatis,
singulis juribus privilegiis et honoribus ad istum gradum quoqua
pertinentibus frui et gaudere jussimus.
'In cujiis rei testimonium sigillum Universitatis Oxoniensis praesentibus
'Datum in Domo nostrae Convocationis die 20 deg. Mensis Feb. Anno Dom.
'Diploma supra scriptum per Registrarium Iectum erat, et ex decreto
venerabilis Domus communi Universitatis sigillo munitum_'.'
'DOM. DOCTORI HUDDESFORD, OXONIENSIS ACADEMIAE VICE-CANCELLARIO.
'INGRATUS plane et tibi et mihi videar, nisi quanto me gaudio
affecerint quos nuper mihi honores (te credo auctore) decrevit Senatus
Academicus, Iiterarum, quo lamen nihil levius, officio, significem:
ingratus etiam, nisi comitatem, qua vir eximius mihi vestri
testimonium amoris in manus tradidit, agnoscam et laudem. Si quid est
unde rei lam gratae accedat gratia, hoc ipso magis mihi placet, quod eo
tempore in ordines Academicos denuo cooptatus sim, quo tuam imminuere
auctoritatem, famamque Oxonii Iaedere, omnibus modis conantur homines
vafri, nec tamen aculi: quibus ego, prout viro umbratico licuit, semper
restiti, semper restiturus. Qui enim, inter has rerum procellas, vel
Tibi vel Academiae defuerit, illum virtuti et literis, sibique et
posteris, defuturum existimo.
[Page 282: Johnson's letter of thanks. A.D. 1755.]
'To THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON.
'After I received my diploma, I wrote you a letter of thanks, with a
letter to the Vice-Chancellor, and sent another to Mr. Wise; but have
heard from nobody since, and begin to think myself forgotten. It is
true, I sent you a double letter, and you may fear an expensive
correspondent; but I would have taken it kindly, if you had returned it
treble: and what is a double letter to a _petty king_, that having
_fellowship and fines_, can sleep without a _Modus in his head_?
'Dear Mr. Warton, let me hear from you, and tell me something, I care
not what, so I hear it but from you. Something I will tell you:--I hope
to see my _Dictionary_ bound and lettered, next week;--_vasta mole
superbus_. And I have a great mind to come to Oxford at Easter; but you
will not invite me. Shall I come uninvited, or stay here where nobody
perhaps would miss me if I went? A hard choice! But such is the world
to, dear Sir,
'[London] March 20, 1755.'
[Page 283: A projected Review. AEtat 46.]
To THE SAME.
'Though not to write, when a man can write so well, is an offence
sufficiently heinous, yet I shall pass it by, I am very glad that the
Vice-Chancellor was pleased with my note. I shall impatiently expect you
at London, that we may consider what to do next. I intend in the winter
to open a _Bibliotheque_, and remember, that you are to subscribe a
sheet a year; let us try, likewise, if we cannot persuade your brother
to subscribe another. My book is now coming _in luminis oras_. What
will be its fate I know not, nor think much, because thinking is to no
purpose. It must stand the censure of the _great vulgar and the
small_; of those that understand it, and that understand it not. But
in all this, I suffer not alone: every writer has the same difficulties,
and, perhaps, every writer talks of them more than he thinks.
[Page 284: Dr. Maty. A.D. 1755.]
'You will be pleased to make my compliments to all my friends: and be so
kind, at every idle hour, as to remember, dear Sir,
'[London,] March 25, 1755.'
Dr. Adams told me, that this scheme of a _Bibliotheque_ was a serious
one: for upon his visiting him one day, he found his parlour floor
covered with parcels of foreign and English literary journals, and he
told Dr. Adams he meant to undertake a Review. 'How, Sir, (said Dr.
Adams,) can you think of doing it alone? All branches of knowledge must
be considered in it. Do you know Mathematicks? Do you know Natural
History?' Johnson answered, 'Why, Sir, I must do as well as I can. My
chief purpose is to give my countrymen a view of what is doing in
literature upon the continent; and I shall have, in a good measure, the
choice of my subject, for I shall select such books as I best
understand.' Dr. Adams suggested, that as Dr. Maty had just then
finished his _Bibliotheque Britannique_, which was a well-executed
work, giving foreigners an account of British publications, he might,
with great advantage, assume him as an assistant. '_He_, (said Johnson)
the little black dog! I'd throw him into the Thames.' The scheme,
however, was dropped.
[Page 285: Dr. Birch's letter. AEtat 46.]
In one of his little memorandum-books I find the following hints for his
intended _Review or Literary Journal_:
'_The Annals of Literature, foreign as welt as domestick_. Imitate Le
Clerk--Bayle--Barbeyrac. Infelicity of Journals in England. Works of the
learned. We cannot take in all. Sometimes copy from foreign Journalists.
'To DR. BIRCH.
'March 29, 1755.
'I have sent some parts of my _Dictionary_, such as were at hand, for
your inspection. The favour which I beg is, that if you do not like
them, you will say nothing. I am, Sir,
'Your most affectionate humble servant,
'To MR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
Norfolk-street, April 23, 1755.
'The part of your _Dictionary_ which you have favoured me with the sight
of has given me such an idea of the whole, that I most sincerely
congratulate the publick upon the acquisition of a work long wanted, and
now executed with an industry, accuracy, and judgement, equal to the
importance of the subject. You might, perhaps, have chosen one in which
your genius would have appeared to more advantage; but you could not
have fixed upon any other in which your labours would have done such
substantial service to the present age and to posterity. I am glad that
your health has supported the application necessary to the performance
of so vast a task; and can undertake to promise you as one (though
perhaps the only) reward of it, the approbation and thanks of every
well-wisher to the honour of the English language. I am, with the
'Your most faithful and
'Most affectionate humble servant,
Mr. Charles Burney, who has since distinguished himself so much in the
science of Musick, and obtained a Doctor's degree from the University of
Oxford, had been driven from the capital by bad health, and was now
residing at Lynne Regis, in Norfolk. He had been so much delighted
with Johnson's _Rambler_ and the _Plan_ of his _Dictionary_, that when
the great work was announced in the news-papers as nearly finished, he
wrote to Dr. Johnson, begging to be informed when and in what manner his
_Dictionary_ would be published; intreating, if it should be by
subscription, or he should have any books at his own disposal, to be
favoured with six copies for himself and friends.
[Page 286: Johnson's letter to Mr. Burney. A.D. 1755.]
In answer to this application, Dr. Johnson wrote the following letter,
of which (to use Dr. Burney's own words) 'if it be remembered that it
was written to an obscure young man, who at this time had not much
distinguished himself even in his own profession, but whose name could
never have reached the authour of _The Rambler_, the politeness and
urbanity may be opposed to some of the stories which have been lately
circulated of Dr. Johnson's natural rudeness and ferocity.'
'To MR. BURNKY, IN LYNNE REGIS, NORFOLK.
'If you imagine that by delaying my answer I intended to shew any
neglect of the notice with which you have favoured me, you will neither
think justly of yourself nor of me. Your civilities were offered with
too much elegance not to engage attention; and I have too much pleasure
in pleasing men like you, not to feel very sensibly the distinction
which you have bestowed upon me.
'Few consequences of my endeavours to please or to benefit mankind have
delighted me more than your friendship thus voluntarily offered, which
now I have it I hope to keep, because I hope to continue to deserve it.
'I have no _Dictionaries_ to dispose of for myself, but shall be glad to
have you direct your friends to Mr. Dodsley, because it was by his
recommendation that I was employed in the work.
'When you have leisure to think again upon me, let me be favoured with
another letter; and another yet, when you have looked into my
_Dictionary_. If you find faults, I shall endeavour to mend them; if you
find none, I shall think you blinded by kind partiality: but to have
made you partial in his favour, will very much gratify the ambition of,
'Your most obliged
'And most humble servant,
'April 8, 1755,'
[Page 287: Andrew Millar. AEtat 46.]
Mr. Andrew Millar, bookseller in the Strand, took the principal charge
of conducting the publication of Johnson's _Dictionary_; and as the
patience of the proprietors was repeatedly tried and almost exhausted,
by their expecting that the work would be completed within the time
which Johnson had sanguinely supposed, the learned authour was often
goaded to dispatch, more especially as he had received all the
copy-money, by different drafts, a considerable time before he had
finished his task. When the messenger who carried the last sheet to
Millar returned, Johnson asked him, 'Well, what did he say?'--'Sir,
(answered the messenger) he said, thank GOD I have done with him.' 'I am
glad (replied Johnson, with a smile) that he thanks GOD for any
thing.' It is remarkable that those with whom Johnson chiefly
contracted for his literary labours were Scotchmen, Mr. Millar and Mr.
Strahan. Millar, though himself no great judge of literature, had good
sense enough to have for his friends very able men to give him their
opinion and advice in the purchase of copyright; the consequence of
which was his acquiring a very large fortune, with great liberality.
Johnson said of him, 'I respect Millar, Sir; he has raised the price of
literature.' The same praise may be justly given to Panckoucke, the
eminent bookseller of Paris. Mr. Strahan's liberality, judgement, and
success, are well known.
[Page 288: An Excursion to Langton deferred. A.D. 1755.]
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON NEAR SPILSBY, LINCOLNSHIRE.
'It has been long observed, that men do not suspect faults which they do
not commit; your own elegance of manners, and punctuality of
complaisance, did not suffer you to impute to me that negligence of
which I was guilty, and which I have not since atoned. I received both
your letters, and received them with pleasure proportionate to the
esteem which so short an acquaintance strongly impressed, and which I
hope to confirm by nearer knowledge, though I am afraid that
gratification will be for a time withheld.
'I have, indeed, published my Book, of which I beg to know your
father's judgement, and yours; and I have now staid long enough to watch
its progress into the world. It has, you see, no patrons, and, I think,
has yet had no opponents, except the criticks of the coffee-house, whose
outcries are soon dispersed into the air, and are thought on no more:
from this, therefore, I am at liberty, and think of taking the
opportunity of this interval to make an excursion; and why not then into
Lincolnshire? or, to mention a stronger attraction, why not to dear Mr.
Langton? I will give the true reason, which I know you will approve:--I
have a mother more than eighty years old, who has counted the days to
the publication of my book, in hopes of seeing me; and to her, if I can
disengage myself here, I resolve to go.
'As I know, dear Sir, that to delay my visit for a reason like this,
will not deprive me of your esteem, I beg it may not lessen your
kindness. I have very seldom received an offer of friendship which I so
earnestly desire to cultivate and mature. I shall rejoice to hear from
you, till I can see you, and will see you as soon as I can; for when the
duty that calls me to Lichfield is discharged, my inclination will carry
me to Langton. I shall delight to hear the ocean roar, or see the stars
twinkle, in the company of men to whom Nature does not spread her
volumes or utter her voice in vain.
'Do not, dear Sir, make the slowness of this letter a precedent for
delay, or imagine that I approved the incivility that I have committed;
for I have known you enough to love you, and sincerely to wish a further
knowledge; and I assure you, once more, that to live in a house that
contains such a father and such a son, will be accounted a very uncommon
degree of pleasure, by, dear Sir, your most obliged, and
'Most humble servant,
'May 6, 1755.'
[Page 289: Letters to Mr. Warton. AEtat 46.]
'To THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON.
'I am grieved that you should think me capable of neglecting your
letters; and beg you will never admit any such suspicion again. I
purpose to come down next week, if you shall be there; or any other
week, that shall be more agreeable to you. Therefore let me know. I can
stay this visit but a week, but intend to make preparations for a longer
stay next time; being resolved not to lose sight of the University. How
goes Apollonius? Don't let him be forgotten. Some things of this kind
must be done, to keep us up. Pay my compliments to Mr. Wise, and all my
other friends. I think to come to Kettel-Hall.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most affectionate, &c.
'[London,] May 13, 1755.'
To THE SAME.
'It is strange how many things will happen to intercept every pleasure,
though it [be] only that of two friends meeting together. I have
promised myself every day to inform you when you might expect me at
Oxford, and have not been able to fix a time. The time, however, is, I
think, at last come; and I promise myself to repose in Kettel-Hall, one
of the first nights of the next week. I am afraid my stay with you
cannot be long; but what is the inference? We must endeavour to make it
chearful. I wish your brother could meet us, that we might go and drink
tea with Mr. Wise in a body. I hope he will be at Oxford, or at his nest
of British and Saxon antiquities. I shall expect to see _Spenser_
finished, and many other things begun. Dodsley is gone to visit the
Dutch. The _Dictionary_ sells well. The rest of the world goes on as
it did. Dear Sir,
[Page 290: Letters to Mr. Warton. A.D. 1755.]
'Your most affectionate, &c.
'[London,] June 10, 1755.'
TO THE SAME.
'To talk of coming to you, and not yet to come, has an air of trifling
which I would not willingly have among you; and which, I believe, you
will not willingly impute to me, when I have told you, that since my
promise, two of our partners are dead, and that I was solicited to
suspend my excursion till we could recover from our confusion.
'I have not laid aside my purpose; for every day makes me more impatient
of staying from you. But death, you know, hears not supplications, nor
pays any regard to the convenience of mortals. I hope now to see you
next week; but next week is but another name for to-morrow, which has
been noted for promising and deceiving.
'I am, &c.
'[London,] June 24, 1755.'
To THE SAME.
'I told you, that among the manuscripts are some things of Sir Thomas
More. I beg you to pass an hour in looking on them, and procure a
transcript of the ten or twenty first lines of each, to be compared with
what I have; that I may know whether they are yet published. The
manuscripts are these:
'Catalogue of Bodl. MS. pag. 122. F. 3. Sir Thomas More.
'1. Fall of angels. 2. Creation and fall of mankind. 3. Determination of
the Trinity for the rescue of mankind. 4. Five lectures of our Saviour's
passion. 5. Of the institution of the sacrament, three lectures. 6. How
to receive the blessed body of our Lord sacramentally. 7. Neomenia, the
new moon. 8. _De tristitia, taedio, pavore, et oratione Christi, ante
'Catalogue, pag. 154. Life of Sir Thomas More. _Qu_. Whether Roper's?
Pag. 363. _De resignatione Magni Sigilli in manus Regis per D. Thomam
Morum_. Pag. 364. _Mori Defensio Morice_.
'If you procure the young gentleman in the library to write out what you
think fit to be written, I will send to Mr. Prince the bookseller to pay
him what you shall think proper.
'Be pleased to make my compliments to Mr. Wise, and all my friends.
'I am, Sir,
'Your affectionate, &c.
'[London] Aug. 7, 1755.'
[Page 291: Publication of the DICTIONARY. AEtat 46.]
The _Dictionary_, with a _Grammar and History of the English Language_,
being now at length published, in two volumes folio, the world
contemplated with wonder so stupendous a work achieved by one man,
while other countries had thought such undertakings fit only for whole
academies. Vast as his powers were, I cannot but think that his
imagination deceived him, when he supposed that by constant application
he might have performed the task in three years. Let the Preface be
attentively perused, in which is given, in a clear, strong, and glowing
style, a comprehensive, yet particular view of what he had done; and it
will be evident, that the time he employed upon it was comparatively
short. I am unwilling to swell my book with long quotations from what is
in every body's hands, and I believe there are few prose compositions in
the English language that are read with more delight, or are more
impressed upon the memory, than that preliminary discourse. One of its
excellencies has always struck me with peculiar admiration: I mean the
perspicuity with which he has expressed abstract scientifick notions. As
an instance of this, I shall quote the following sentence: 'When the
radical idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can a
consecutive series be formed of senses in their own nature
collateral?' We have here an example of what has been often said, and I
believe with justice, that there is for every thought a certain nice
adaptation of words which none other could equal, and which, when a man
has been so fortunate as to hit, he has attained, in that particular
case, the perfection of language.
[Page 292: The Preface to the Dictionary. A.D. 1755.]
The extensive reading which was absolutely necessary for the
accumulation of authorities, and which alone may account for Johnson's
retentive mind being enriched with a very large and various store of
knowledge and imagery, must have occupied several years. The Preface
furnishes an eminent instance of a double talent, of which Johnson was
fully conscious. Sir Joshua Reynolds heard him say, 'There are two
things which I am confident I can do very well: one is an introduction
to any literary work, stating what it is to contain, and how it should
be executed in the most perfect manner; the other is a conclusion,
shewing from various causes why the execution has not been equal to what
the authour promised to himself and to the publick.'
How should puny scribblers be abashed and disappointed, when they find
him displaying a perfect theory of lexicographical excellence, yet at
the same time candidly and modestly allowing that he 'had not satisfied
his own expectations.' Here was a fair occasion for the exercise of
Johnson's modesty, when he was called upon to compare his own arduous
performance, not with those of other individuals, (in which case his
inflexible regard to truth would have been violated, had he affected
diffidence,) but with speculative perfection; as he, who can outstrip
all his competitors in the race, may yet be sensible of his deficiency
when he runs against time. Well might he say, that 'the _English
Dictionary_ was written with little assistance of the learned,' for
he told me, that the only aid which he received was a paper containing
twenty etymologies, sent to him by a person then unknown, who he was
afterwards informed was Dr. Pearce, Bishop of Rochester. The
etymologies, though they exhibit learning and judgement, are not, I
think, entitled to the first praise amongst the various parts of this
immense work. The definitions have always appeared to me such
astonishing proofs of acuteness of intellect and precision of language,
as indicate a genius of the highest rank. This it is which marks the
superiour excellence of Johnson's _Dictionary_ over others equally or
even more voluminous, and must have made it a work of much greater
mental labour than mere Lexicons, or _Word-books_, as the Dutch call
them. They, who will make the experiment of trying how they can define a
few words of whatever nature, will soon be satisfied of the
unquestionable justice of this observation, which I can assure my
readers is founded upon much study, and upon communication with more
minds than my own.
[Page 293: Erroneous definitions. AEtat 46.]
A few of his definitions must be admitted to be erroneous. Thus,
_Windward_ and _Leeward_, though directly of opposite meaning, are
defined identically the same way; as to which inconsiderable specks it
is enough to observe, that his Preface announces that he was aware there
might be many such in so immense a work; nor was he at all
disconcerted when an instance was pointed out to him. A lady once asked
him how he came to define _Pastern_ the _knee_ of a horse: instead of
making an elaborate defence, as she expected, he at once answered,
'Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance.' His definition of _Network_
has been often quoted with sportive malignity, as obscuring a thing
in itself very plain. But to these frivolous censures no other answer is
necessary than that with which we are furnished by his own Preface.
[Page 294: Humorous definitions. A.D. 1755.]
'To explain, requires the use of terms less abstruse than that which is
to be explained, and such terms cannot always be found. For as nothing
can be proved but by supposing something intuitively known, and evident
without proof, so nothing can be defined but by the use of words too
plain to admit of definition. Sometimes easier words are changed into
harder; as, _burial_, into _sepulture_ or _interment; dry_, into
_desiccative_; _dryness_, into _siccity_ or _aridity; fit_, into
_paroxism_; for the _easiest_ word, whatever it be, can never be
translated into one more easy.'
[Page 295: Humorous definitions.]
His introducing his own opinions, and even prejudices, under general
definitions of words, while at the same time the original meaning of the
words is not explained, as his _Tory_, _Whig_, _Pension_,
_Oats_, _Excise_, and a few more, cannot be fully defended, and
must be placed to the account of capricious and humorous indulgence.
Talking to me upon this subject when we were at Ashbourne in 1777, he
mentioned a still stronger instance of the predominance of his private
feelings in the composition of this work, than any now to be found in
it. 'You know, Sir, Lord Gower forsook the old Jacobite interest. When I
came to the word _Renegado_, after telling that it meant "one who
deserts to the enemy, a revolter," I added, _Sometimes we say a
GOWER_. Thus it went to the press; but the printer had more wit than
I, and struck it out.'
[Page 296: Humorous definitions. A.D. 1756.]
Let it, however, be remembered, that this indulgence does not display
itself only in sarcasm towards others, but sometimes in playful allusion
to the notions commonly entertained of his own laborious task. Thus:
'_Grub-street_, the name of a street in London, much inhabited by
writers of small histories, _dictionaries_, and temporary poems; whence
any mean production is called _Grub-street_.'--'_Lexicographer_, a
writer of dictionaries, a _harmless drudge_'.
[Page 297: The gloom of solitude. AEtat 46.]
At the time when he was concluding his very eloquent Preface, Johnson's
mind appears to have been in such a state of depression, that we
cannot contemplate without wonder the vigorous and splendid thoughts
which so highly distinguish that performance. 'I (says he) may surely be
contented without the praise of perfection, which if I could obtain in
this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my
work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the
grave; and success and miscarriage are empty sounds, I therefore dismiss
it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure
or from praise.' That this indifference was rather a temporary than
an habitual feeling, appears, I think, from his letters to Mr.
Warton; and however he may have been affected for the moment, certain
it is that the honours which his great work procured him, both at home
and abroad, were very grateful to him. His friend the Earl of Corke
and Orrery, being at Florence, presented it to the _Academia della
Crusca_. That Academy sent Johnson their _Vocabulario_, and the French
Academy sent him their _Dictionnaire_, which Mr. Langton had the
pleasure to convey to him.
[Page 298: His melancholy at its meridian. A.D. 1755.]
It must undoubtedly seem strange, that the conclusion of his Preface
should be expressed in terms so desponding, when it is considered that
the authour was then only in his forty-sixth year. But we must ascribe
its gloom to that miserable dejection of spirits to which he was
constitutionally subject, and which was aggravated by the death of his
wife two years before. I have heard it ingeniously observed by a lady
of rank and elegance, that 'his melancholy was then at its meridian.'
It pleased GOD to grant him almost thirty years of life after this time;
and once, when he was in a placid frame of mind, he was obliged to own
to me that he had enjoyed happier days, and had many more friends, since
that gloomy hour than before.
[Page 299: Johnson's happiest days last. AEtat 46.]
It is a sad saying, that 'most of those whom he wished to please had
sunk into the grave;' and his case at forty-five was singularly unhappy,
unless the circle of his friends was very narrow. I have often thought,
that as longevity is generally desired, and I believe, generally
expected, it would be wise to be continually adding to the number of our
friends, that the loss of some may be supplied by others. Friendship,
'the wine of life,' should like a well-stocked cellar, be thus
continually renewed; and it is consolatory to think, that although we
can seldom add what will equal the generous _first-growths_ of our
youth, yet friendship becomes insensibly old in much less time than is
commonly imagined, and not many years are required to make it very
mellow and pleasant. _Warmth_ will, no doubt, make a considerable
difference. Men of affectionate temper and bright fancy will coalesce a
great deal sooner than those who are cold and dull.
[Page 300: Garrick's complimentary epigram. A.D. 1755.]
The proposition which I have now endeavoured to illustrate was, at a
subsequent period of his life, the opinion of Johnson himself. He said
to Sir Joshua Reynolds, 'If a man does not make new acquaintance as he
advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir,
should keep his friendship _in constant repair_.'
The celebrated Mr. Wilkes, whose notions and habits of life were very
opposite to his, but who was ever eminent for literature and vivacity,
sallied forth with a little _Jeu d'Esprit_ upon the following passage in
his Grammar of the English Tongue, prefixed to the _Dictionary_: '_H_
seldom, perhaps never, begins any but the first syllable.' In an Essay
printed in _The Publick Advertiser_, this lively writer enumerated many
instances in opposition to this remark; for example, 'The authour of
this observation must be a man of a quick _apprehension_, and of a most
_compre-hensive_ genius.' The position is undoubtedly expressed with too
This light sally, we may suppose, made no great impression on our
Lexicographer; for we find that he did not alter the passage till many
He had the pleasure of being treated in a very different manner by his
old pupil Mr. Garrick, in the following complimentary Epigram:
'_On_ JOHNSON'S DICTIONARY,
'Talk of war with a Briton, he'll boldly advance,
That one English soldier will beat ten of France;
Would we alter the boast from the sword to the pen,
Our odds are still greater, still greater our men:
In the deep mines of science though Frenchmen may toil,
Can their strength be compar'd to Locke, Newton, and Boyle?
Let them rally their heroes, send forth all their pow'rs,
Their verse-men and prose-men, then match them with ours!
First Shakspeare and Milton, like gods in the fight,
Have put their whole drama and epick to flight;
In satires, epistles, and odes, would they cope,
Their numbers retreat before Dryden and Pope;
And Johnson, well arm'd like a hero of yore,
Has beat forty French, and will beat forty more!'
[Page 301: Zachariah Williams. AEtat 46.]
Johnson this year gave at once a proof of his benevolence, quickness of
apprehension, and admirable art of composition, in the assistance which
he gave to Mr. Zachariah Williams, father of the blind lady whom he had
humanely received under his roof. Mr. Williams had followed the
profession of physick in Wales; but having a very strong propensity to
the study of natural philosophy, had made many ingenious advances
towards a discovery of the longitude, and repaired to London in hopes of
obtaining the great parliamentary reward. He failed of success; but
Johnson having made himself master of his principles and experiments,
wrote for him a pamphlet, published in quarto, with the following title:
_An Account of an Attempt to ascertain the Longitude at Sea, by an exact
Theory of the Variation of the Magnetical Needle; with a Table of the
Variations at the most remarkable Cities in Europe, from the year 1660
to 1680_.[Dagger] To diffuse it more extensively, it was accompanied
with an Italian translation on the opposite page, which it is supposed
was the work of Signor Baretti, an Italian of considerable
literature, who having come to England a few years before, had been
employed in the capacity both of a language-master and an authour, and
formed an intimacy with Dr. Johnson. This pamphlet Johnson presented to
the Bodleian Library. On a blank leaf of it is pasted a paragraph cut
out of a news-paper, containing an account of the death and character of
Williams, plainly written by Johnson.
[Page 302: Joseph Baretti. A.D. 1755.]
[Page 303: A scheme of life for Sunday. AEtat 47.]
In July this year he had formed some scheme of mental improvement, the
particular purpose of which does not appear. But we find in his _Prayers
and Meditations_, p. 25, a prayer entitled 'On the Study of Philosophy,
as an Instrument of living;' and after it follows a note, 'This study
was not pursued.'
On the 13th of the same month he wrote in his _Journal_ the following
scheme of life, for Sunday:
'Having lived' (as he with tenderness of conscience expresses himself)
'not without an habitual reverence for the Sabbath, yet without that
attention to its religious duties which Christianity requires;
'1. To rise early, and in order to it, to go to sleep early on Saturday.
'2. To use some extraordinary devotion in the morning.
'3. To examine the tenour of my life, and particularly the last week;
and to mark my advances in religion, or recession from it.
'4. To read the Scripture methodically with such helps as are at hand.
'5. To go to church twice.
'6. To read books of Divinity, either speculative or practical.
'7. To instruct my family.
'8. To wear off by meditation any worldly soil contracted in the week.'
1756: AETAT. 47.--In 1756 Johnson found that the great fame of his
_Dictionary_ had not set him above the necessity of 'making provision
for the day that was passing over him.'
[Page 304: Payment for the DICTIONARY. A.D. 1756.]
No royal or noble patron extended a munificent hand to give independence
to the man who had conferred stability on the language of his country.
We may feel indignant that there should have been such unworthy neglect;
but we must, at the same time, congratulate ourselves, when we consider,
that to this very neglect, operating to rouse the natural indolence of
his constitution, we owe many valuable productions, which otherwise,
perhaps, might never have appeared.
He had spent, during the progress of the work, the money for which he
had contracted to write his _Dictionary_. We have seen that the reward
of his labour was only fifteen hundred and seventy-five pounds; and when
the expence of amanuenses and paper, and other articles are deducted,
his clear profit was very inconsiderable. I once said to him, 'I am
sorry, Sir, you did not get more for your _Dictionary_'. His answer was,
'I am sorry, too. But it was very well. The booksellers are generous,
liberal-minded men.' He, upon all occasions, did ample justice to
their character in this respect. He considered them as the patrons of
literature; and, indeed, although they have eventually been considerable
gainers by his _Dictionary_, it is to them that we owe its having been
undertaken and carried through at the risk of great expence, for they
were not absolutely sure of being indemnified.
[Page 305: Johnson's opinion of booksellers. AEtat 47.]
On the first day of this year we find from his private devotions, that
he had then recovered from sickness; and in February that his eye was
restored to its use. The pious gratitude with which he acknowledges
mercies upon every occasion is very edifying; as is the humble
submission which he breathes, when it is the will of his heavenly Father
to try him with afflictions. As such dispositions become the state of
man here, and are the true effects of religious discipline, we cannot
but venerate in Johnson one of the most exercised minds that our holy
religion hath ever formed. If there be any thoughtless enough to suppose
such exercise the weakness of a great understanding, let them look up to
Johnson and be convinced that what he so earnestly practised must have a
[Page 306: Christopher Smart. A.D. 1756.]
His works this year were, an abstract or epitome, in octavo, of his
folio _Dictionary_, and a few essays in a monthly publication, entitled,
_The Universal Visiter_. Christopher Smart, with whose unhappy
vacillation of mind he sincerely sympathised, was one of the stated
undertakers of this miscellany; and it was to assist him that Johnson
sometimes employed his pen. All the essays marked with two
_asterisks_ have been ascribed to him; but I am confident, from internal
evidence, that of these, neither 'The Life of Chaucer,' 'Reflections on
the State of Portugal,' nor an 'Essay on Architecture,' were written by
him. I am equally confident, upon the same evidence, that he wrote
'Further Thoughts on Agriculture;'[Dagger] being the sequel of a very
inferiour essay on the same subject, and which, though carried on as if
by the same hand, is both in thinking and expression so far above it,
and so strikingly peculiar, as to leave no doubt of its true parent; and
that he also wrote 'A Dissertation on the State of Literature and
Authours,'[Dagger] and 'A Dissertation on the Epitaphs written by
Pope.'[Dagger] The last of these, indeed, he afterwards added to his
_Idler_. Why the essays truly written by him are marked in the same
manner with some which he did not write, I cannot explain; but with
deference to those who have ascribed to him the three essays which I
have rejected, they want all the characteristical marks of Johnsonian
[Page 307: The Literary Magazine. AEtat 47.]
He engaged also to superintend and contribute largely to another monthly
publication, entitled _The Literary Magazine, or Universal Review_; the
first number of which came out in May this year. What were his
emoluments from this undertaking, and what other writers were employed
in it, I have not discovered. He continued to write in it, with
intermissions, till the fifteenth number; and I think that he never gave
better proofs of the force, acuteness, and vivacity of his mind, than in
this miscellany, whether we consider his original essays, or his reviews
of the works of others. The 'Preliminary Address'[Dagger] to the Publick
is a proof how this great man could embellish, with the graces of
superiour composition, even so trite a thing as the plan of a magazine.
His original essays are, 'An Introduction to the Political State of
Great Britain;'[Dagger] 'Remarks on the Militia Bill;'[Dagger]
'Observations on his Britannick Majesty's Treaties with the Empress of
Russia and the Landgrave of Hesse Cassel;'[Dagger] 'Observations on
the Present State of Affairs;'[Dagger] and 'Memoirs of Frederick III,
King of Prussia.'[Dagger] In all these he displays extensive
political knowledge and sagacity, expressed with uncommon energy and
perspicuity, without any of those words which he sometimes took a
pleasure in adopting in imitation of Sir Thomas Browne; of whose
_Christian Morals_ he this year gave an edition, with his 'Life'[*]
prefixed to it, which is one of Johnson's best biographical
performances. In one instance only in these essays has he indulged his
_Brownism_. Dr. Robertson, the historian, mentioned it to me, as
having at once convinced him that Johnson was the author of the 'Memoirs
of the King of Prussia.' Speaking of the pride which the old King, the
father of his hero, took in being master of the tallest regiment in
Europe, he says, 'To review this towering regiment was his daily
pleasure; and to perpetuate it was so much his care, that when he met a
tall woman he immediately commanded one of his _Titanian_ retinue to
marry her, that they might _propagate procerity_' For this
Anglo-Latian word _procerity_, Johnson had, however, the authority of
[Page 309: The earthquake of Lisbon. AEtat 47.]
His reviews are of the following books: 'Birch's History of the Royal
Society;'[Dagger] 'Murphy's Gray's Inn Journal;'[Dagger] 'Warton's Essay
on the Writings and Genius of Pope, Vol. I.'[Dagger] 'Hampton's
Translation of Polybius;'[Dagger] 'Blackwell's Memoirs of the Court of
Augustus;'[Dagger] 'Russel's Natural History of Aleppo;'[Dagger] 'Sir
Isaac Newton's Arguments in Proof of a Deity;'[Dagger] 'Borlase's
History of the Isles of Scilly;'[Dagger] 'Home's Experiments on
Bleaching;'[Dagger] 'Browne's Christian Morals;'[Dagger] 'Hales on
Distilling Sea-Water, Ventilators in Ships, and curing an ill Taste in
Milk;'[Dagger] 'Lucas's Essay on Waters;'[Dagger] 'Keith's Catalogue of
the Scottish Bishops;'[Dagger] 'Browne's History of Jamaica;'[Dagger]
'Philosophical Transactions, Vol. XLIX.'[Dagger] 'Mrs. Lennox's
Translation of Sully's Memoirs;'[*] 'Miscellanies by Elizabeth
Harrison;'[Dagger] 'Evans's Map and Account of the Middle Colonies in
America;'[Dagger] 'Letter on the Case of Admiral Byng;'[*] 'Appeal to
the People concerning Admiral Byng;'[*] 'Hanway's Eight Days Journey,
and Essay on Tea;'[*] 'The Cadet, a Military Treatise;'[Dagger] 'Some
further Particulars in Relation to the Case of Admiral Byng, by a
Gentleman of Oxford;'[*] 'The Conduct of the Ministry relating to the
present War impartially examined;'[Dagger] 'A Free Inquiry into the
Nature and Origin of Evil.'[*] All these, from internal evidence, were
written by Johnson; some of them I know he avowed, and have marked them
with an _asterisk_ accordingly.
[Page 310: Johnson's ardour for liberty. A.D. 1750.]
Mr. Thomas Davies indeed, ascribed to him the Review of Mr. Burke's
'Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful;' and
Sir John Hawkins, with equal discernment, has inserted it in his
collection of Johnson's works: whereas it has no resemblance to
Johnson's composition, and is well known to have been written by Mr.
Murphy, who has acknowledged it to me and many others.
It is worthy of remark, in justice to Johnson's political character,
which has been misrepresented as abjectly submissive to power, that his
'Observations on the present State of Affairs' glow with as animated a
spirit of constitutional liberty as can be found any where. Thus he
'The time is now come, in which every Englishman expects to be informed
of the national affairs; and in which he has a right to have that
expectation gratified. For, whatever may be urged by Ministers, or those
whom vanity or interest make the followers of ministers, concerning the
necessity of confidence in our governours, and the presumption of prying
with profane eyes into the recesses of policy, it is evident that this
reverence can be claimed only by counsels yet unexecuted, and projects
suspended in deliberation. But when a design has ended in miscarriage or
success, when every eye and every ear is witness to general discontent,
or general satisfaction, it is then a proper time to disentangle
confusion and illustrate obscurity; to shew by what causes every event
was produced, and in what effects it is likely to terminate; to lay down
with distinct particularity what rumour always huddles in general
exclamation, or perplexes by indigested narratives; to shew whence
happiness or calamity is derived, and whence it may be expected; and
honestly to lay before the people what inquiry can gather of the past,
and conjecture can estimate of the future'.
[Page 311: Dr. Lucas. AEtat 47.]
Here we have it assumed as an incontrovertible principle, that in this
country the people are the superintendants of the conduct and measures
of those by whom government is administered; of the beneficial effect of
which the present reign afforded an illustrious example, when addresses
from all parts of the kingdom controuled an audacious attempt to
introduce a new power subversive of the crown.
A still stronger proof of his patriotick spirit appears in his review of
an 'Essay on Waters, by Dr. Lucas;' of whom, after describing him as a
man well known to the world for his daring defiance of power, when he
thought it exerted on the side of wrong, he thus speaks:
'The Irish ministers drove him from his native country by a
proclamation, in which they charged him with crimes of which they never
intended to be called to the proof, and oppressed by methods equally
irresistible by guilt and innocence.
'Let the man thus driven into exile, for having been the friend of his
country, be received in every other place as a confessor of liberty; and
let the tools of power be taught in time, that they may rob, but cannot
Some of his reviews in this _Magazine_ are very short accounts of the
pieces noticed, and I mention them only that Dr. Johnson's opinion of
the works may be known; but many of them are examples of elaborate
criticism, in the most masterly style. In his review of the 'Memoirs of
the Court of Augustus,' he has the resolution to think and speak from
his own mind, regardless of the cant transmitted from age to age, in
praise of the ancient Romans. Thus,
'I know not why any one but a school-boy in his declamation should whine
over the Common-wealth of Rome, which grew great only by the misery of
the rest of mankind. The Romans, like others, as soon as they grew rich,
grew corrupt; and in their corruption sold the lives and freedoms of
themselves, and of one another.'
[Page 312: Dr. Watts. A.D. 1756.]
'A people, who, while they were poor, robbed mankind; and as soon as
they became rich, robbed one another.'
In his review of the _Miscellanies_ in prose and verse, published by
Elizabeth Harrison, but written by many hands, he gives an eminent proof
at once of his orthodoxy and candour:
'The authours of the essays in prose seem generally to have imitated, or
tried to imitate, the copiousness and luxuriance of Mrs. Rowe, This,
however, is not all their praise; they have laboured to add to her
brightness of imagery, her purity of sentiments. The poets have had Dr.
_Watts_ before their eyes; a writer, who, if he stood not in the first
class of genius, compensated that defect by a ready application of his
powers to the promotion of piety. The attempt to employ the ornaments of
romance in the decoration of religion, was, I think, first made by Mr.
_Boyle's Martyrdom of Theodora_; but _Boyle's_ philosophical studies did
not allow him time for the cultivation of style; and the Completion of
the great design was reserved for Mrs. _Rowe_. Dr. _Watts_ was one of
the first who taught the Dissenters to write and speak like other men,
by shewing them that elegance might consist with piety. They would
have both done honour to a better society, for they had that charity
which might well make their failings be forgotten, and with which the
whole Christian world might wish for communion. They were pure from all
the heresies of an age, to which every opinion is become a favourite
that the universal church has hitherto detested!
[Page 313: Johnson's defence of tea. AEtat 47.]
'This praise, the general interest of mankind requires to be given to
writers who please and do not corrupt, who instruct and do not weary.
But to them all human eulogies are vain, whom I believe applauded by
angels, and numbered with the just.'
[Page 314: Johnson's reply to Hanway's attack. A.D. 1756.]
His defence of tea against Mr. Jonas Hartway's violent attack upon that
elegant and popular beverage, shews how very well a man of genius can
write upon the slightest subject, when he writes, as the Italians say,
_con amore_: I suppose no person ever enjoyed with more relish the
infusion of that fragrant leaf than Johnson. The quantities which he
drank of it at all hours were so great, that his nerves must have been
uncommonly strong, not to have been extremely relaxed by such an
intemperate use of it. He assured me, that he never felt the least
inconvenience from it; which is a proof that the fault of his
constitution was rather a too great tension of fibres, than the
contrary. Mr. Hanway wrote an angry answer to Johnson's review of his
_Essay on Tea_, and Johnson, after a full and deliberate pause, made a
reply to it; the only instance, I believe, in the whole course of his
life, when he condescended to oppose any thing that was written against
him. I suppose when he thought of any of his little antagonists, he
was ever justly aware of the high sentiment of Ajax in _Ovid_:
'Iste tulit pretium jam nunc certaminis hujus,
Qui, cum victus erit, mecum certasse feretur.'
But, indeed, the good Mr. Hanway laid himself so open to ridicule, that
Johnson's animadversions upon his attack were chiefly to make sport.
[Page 315: Admiral Byng. AEtat 47.]
The generosity with which he pleads the cause of Admiral Byng is highly
to the honour of his heart and spirit. Though _Voltaire_ affects to be
witty upon the fate of that unfortunate officer, observing that he was
shot '_pour encourager les autres_,' the nation has long been
satisfied that his life was sacrificed to the political fervour of the
times. In the vault belonging to the Torrington family, in the church of
Southill, in Bedfordshire, there is the following Epitaph upon his
monument, which I have transcribed:
'TO THE PERPETUAL DISGRACE
OF PUBLIC JUSTICE,
THE HONOURABLE JOHN BYNG, ESQ.
ADMIRAL OF THE BLUE,
FELL A MARTYR TO POLITICAL
MARCH 14, IN THE YEAR, 1757;
WHEN BRAVERY AND LOYALTY
WERE INSUFFICIENT SECURITIES
FOR THE LIFE AND HONOUR OF
A NAVAL OFFICER.'
Johnson's most exquisite critical essay in the _Literary Magazine_, and
indeed any where, is his review of Soame Jenyns's _Inquiry into the
Origin of Evil_. Jenyns was possessed of lively talents, and a style
eminently pure and easy, and could very happily play with a light
subject, either in prose or verse; but when he speculated on that most
difficult and excruciating question, the Origin of Evil, he ventured far
beyond his depth, and, accordingly, was exposed by Johnson, both with
acute argument and brilliant wit. I remember when the late Mr.
Bicknell's humourous performance, entitled _The Musical Travels of Joel
Collyer_, in which a slight attempt is made to ridicule Johnson, was
ascribed to Soame Jenyns, 'Ha! (said Johnson) I thought I had given him
enough of it.'
[Page 316: Soame Jenyns. A.D. 1756.]
His triumph over Jenyns is thus described by my friend Mr. Courtenay in
his _Poetical Review of the literary and moral Character of Dr.
Johnson_; a performance of such merit, that had I not been honoured with
a very kind and partial notice in it, I should echo the sentiments of
men of the first taste loudly in its praise:
'When specious sophists with presumption scan
The source of evil hidden still from man;
Revive Arabian tales, and vainly hope
To rival St. John, and his scholar Pope:
Though metaphysicks spread the gloom of night,
By reason's star he guides our aching sight;
The bounds of knowledge marks, and points the way
To pathless wastes, where wilder'd sages stray;
Where, like a farthing link-boy, Jenyns stands,
And the dim torch drops from his feeble hands.'
[Page 317: Draughts and cards. AEtat 47.]
This year Mr. William Payne, brother of the respectable Bookseller of
that name, published _An Introduction to the Game of Draughts_, to which
Johnson contributed a Dedication to the Earl of Rochford,[*] and a
Preface,[*] both of which are admirably adapted to the treatise to which
they are prefixed. Johnson, I believe, did not play at draughts after
leaving College, by which he suffered; for it would have afforded him
an innocent soothing relief from the melancholy which distressed him so
often. I have heard him regret that he had not learnt to play at
cards; and the game of draughts we know is peculiarly calculated to
fix the attention without straining it. There is a composure and gravity
in draughts which insensibly tranquillises the mind; and, accordingly,
the Dutch are fond of it, as they are of smoaking, of the sedative
influence of which, though he himself never smoaked, he had a high
opinion. Besides, there is in draughts some exercise of the
faculties; and, accordingly, Johnson wishing to dignify the subject in
his Dedication with what is most estimable in it, observes,
'Triflers may find or make any thing a trifle; but since it is the great
characteristick of a wise man to see events in their courses, to obviate
consequences, and ascertain contingencies, your Lordship will think
nothing a trifle by which the mind is inured to caution, foresight, and
As one of the little occasional advantages which he did not disdain to
take by his pen, as a man whose profession was literature, he this year
accepted of a guinea from Mr. Robert Dodsley, for writing the
introduction to _The London Chronicle_, an evening news-paper; and even
in so slight a performance exhibited peculiar talents. This Chronicle
still subsists, and from what I observed, when I was abroad, has a more
extensive circulation upon the Continent than any of the English
newspapers. It was constantly read by Johnson himself; and it is but
just to observe, that it has all along been distinguished for good
sense, accuracy, moderation, and delicacy.
[Page 318: Dr. Madden. A.D. 1756.]
Another instance of the same nature has been communicated to me by the
Reverend Dr. Thomas Campbell, who has done himself considerable credit
by his own writings.
'Sitting with Dr. Johnson one morning alone, he asked me if I had known
Dr. Madden, who was authour of the premium-scheme in Ireland. On my
answering in the affirmative, and also that I had for some years lived
in his neighbourhood, &c., he begged of me that when I returned to
Ireland, I would endeavour to procure for him a poem of Dr. Madden's
called _Boulter's Monument_. The reason (said he) why I wish for it, is
this: when Dr. Madden came to London, he submitted that work to my
castigation; and I remember I blotted a great many lines, and might have
blotted many more, without making the poem worse. However, the Doctor
was very thankful, and very generous, for he gave me ten guineas, _which
was to me at that time a great sum_.'
[Page 319: Johnson's SHAKSPEARE. AEtat 47.]
He this year resumed his scheme of giving an edition of _Shakspeare_
with notes. He issued Proposals of considerable length,[*] in
which he shewed that he perfectly well knew what a variety of research
such an undertaking required; but his indolence prevented him from
pursuing it with that diligence which alone can collect those scattered
facts that genius, however acute, penetrating, and luminous, cannot
discover by its own force. It is remarkable, that at this time his
fancied activity was for the moment so vigorous, that he promised his
work should be published before Christmas, 1757. Yet nine years
elapsed before it saw the light. His throes in bringing it forth had
been severe and remittent; and at last we may almost conclude that the
Caesarian operation was performed by the knife of Churchill, whose
upbraiding satire, I dare say, made Johnson's friends urge him to
'He for subscribers bates his hook,
And takes your cash; but where's the book?
No matter where; wise fear, you know,
Forbids the robbing of a foe;
But what, to serve our private ends,
Forbids the cheating of our friends?'
[Page 320: Johnson refuses a country living. A.D. 1757.]
About this period he was offered a living of considerable value in
Lincolnshire, if he were inclined to enter into holy orders. It was a
rectory in the gift of Mr. Langton, the father of his much valued
friend. But he did not accept of it; partly I believe from a
conscientious motive, being persuaded that his temper and habits
rendered him unfit for that assiduous and familiar instruction of the
vulgar and ignorant which he held to be an essential duty in a
clergyman; and partly because his love of a London life was so
strong, that he would have thought himself an exile in any other place,
particularly if residing in the country. Whoever would wish to see
his thoughts upon that subject displayed in their full force, may peruse
_The Adventurer_, Number 126.
1757: AETAT. 48.].--In 1757 it does not appear that he published any
thing, except some of those articles in _The Literary Magazine_, which
have been mentioned. That magazine, after Johnson ceased to write in it,
gradually declined, though the popular epithet of _Antigallican_ was
added to it; and in July 1758 it expired. He probably prepared a part of
his _Shakspeare_ this year, and he dictated a speech on the subject of
an Address to the Throne, after the expedition to Rochfort, which was
delivered by one of his friends, I know not in what publick meeting.
It is printed in _The Gentleman's Magazine_ for October 1785 as his, and
bears sufficient marks of authenticity.
[Page 321: Irish literature. AEtat 48.]
By the favour of Mr. Joseph Cooper Walker, of the Treasury, Dublin, I
have obtained a copy of the following letter from Johnson to the
venerable authour of _Dissertations on the History of Ireland_.
[Page 322: The affinities of language. A.D. 1757.]
'To CHARLES O'CONNOR, ESQ.
'I have lately, by the favour of Mr. Faulkner, seen your account of
Ireland, and cannot forbear to solicit a prosecution of your design. Sir
William Temple complains that Ireland is less known than any other
country, as to its ancient state. The natives have had little
leisure, and little encouragement for enquiry; and strangers, not
knowing the language, have had no ability.
'I have long wished that the Irish literature were cultivated.
Ireland is known by tradition to have been once the seat of piety and
learning; and surely it would be very acceptable to all those who are
curious either in the original of nations, or the affinities of
languages, to be further informed of the revolution of a people so
ancient, and once so illustrious.
'What relation there is between the Welch and Irish language, or between
the language of Ireland and that of Biscay, deserves enquiry. Of these
provincial and unextended tongues, it seldom happens that more than one
are understood by any one man; and, therefore, it seldom happens that a
fair comparison can be made. I hope you will continue to cultivate this
kind of learning, which has too long lain neglected, and which, if it be
suffered to remain in oblivion for another century, may, perhaps, never
be retrieved. As I wish well to all useful undertakings, I would not
forbear to let you know how much you deserve in my opinion, from all
lovers of study, and how much pleasure your work has given to, Sir,
'Your most obliged,
'And most humble servant,
'London, April 9, 1757.'
'To THE REVEREND MR. THOMAS WARTON.
'Dr. Marsili of Padua, a learned gentleman, and good Latin poet, has
a mind to see Oxford. I have given him a letter to Dr. Huddesford,
and shall be glad if you will introduce him, and shew him any thing in
'I am printing my new edition of _Shakspeare_.
'I long to see you all, but cannot conveniently come yet. You might
write to me now and then, if you were good for any thing. But _honores
mulant mores_. Professors forget their friends. I shall certainly
complain to Miss Jones. I am,
'[London,] June 21, 1757.'
'Please to make my compliments to Mr. Wisc.'
[Page 323: Subscribers to Johnson's SHAKSPEARE. AEtat 48.]
Mr. Burney having enclosed to him an extract from the review of his
_Dictionary_ in the _Bibliotheque des Savans, and a list of
subscribers to his _Shakspeare_, which Mr. Burney had procured in
Norfolk, he wrote the following answer:
'To MR. BURNEY, IN LYNNE, NORFOLK.
'That I may shew myself sensible of your favours, and not commit the
same fault a second time, I make haste to answer the letter which I
received this morning. The truth is, the other likewise was received,
and I wrote an answer; but being desirous to transmit you some proposals
and receipts, I waited till I could find a convenient conveyance, and
day was passed after day, till other things drove it from my thoughts;
yet not so, but that I remember with great pleasure your commendation of
my _Dictionary_. Your praise was welcome, not only because I believe it
was sincere, but because praise has been very scarce. A man of your
candour will be surprised when I tell you, that among all my
acquaintance there were only two, who upon the publication of my book
did not endeavour to depress me with threats of censure from the
publick, or with objections learned from those who had learned them from
my own Preface. Your's is the only letter of goodwill that I have
received; though, indeed, I am promised something of that sort from
'How my new edition will be received I know not; the subscription has
not been very successful. I shall publish about March.
'If you can direct me how to send proposals, I should wish that they
were in such hands.
'I remember, Sir, in some of the first letters with which you favoured
me, you mentioned your lady. May I enquire after her? In return for the
favours which you have shewn me, it is not much to tell you, that I wish
you and her all that can conduce to your happiness.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most obliged,
'And most humble servant,
'Gough-square, Dec. 24, 1757.'
[Page 324: Brothers and sisters. A.D. 1758.]
In 1758 we find him, it should seem, in as easy and pleasant a state of
existence, as constitutional unhappiness ever permitted him to enjoy.
'To BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, LINCOLNSHIRE.
'I must indeed have slept very fast, not to have been awakened by your
letter. None of your suspicions are true; I am not much richer than when
you left me; and, what is worse, my omission of an answer to your first
letter, will prove that I am not much wiser. But I go on as I formerly
did, designing to be some time or other both rich and wise; and yet
cultivate neither mind nor fortune. Do you take notice of my example,
and learn the danger of delay. When I was as you are now, towering in
the confidence of twenty-one, little did I suspect that I should be at
forty-nine, what I now am.
'But you do not seem to need my admonition. You are busy in acquiring
and in communicating knowledge, and while you are studying, enjoy the
end of study, by making others wiser and happier. I was much pleased
with the tale that you told me of being tutour to your sisters. I, who
have no sisters nor brothers, look with some degree of innocent envy on
those who may be said to be born to friends; and cannot see, without
wonder, how rarely that native union is afterwards regarded. It
sometimes, indeed, happens, that some supervenient cause of discord may
overpower this original amity; but it seems to me more frequently thrown
away with levity, or lost by negligence, than destroyed by injury or
violence. We tell the ladies that good wives make good husbands; I
believe it is a more certain position that good brothers make good
'I am satisfied with your stay at home, as Juvenal with his friend's
retirement to Cumae: I know that your absence is best, though it be not
best for me.
'Quamvis digressu veteris confusus amici,
Laudo tamen vacuis quod sedem figere Cumis
Destinet, atque unum civem donare Sibyllae.'
[Page 325: Dodsley's CLEONE. AEtat 49.]
'_Langton_ is a good Cumae, but who must be Sibylla? Mrs. Langton is as
wise as Sibyl, and as good; and will live, if my wishes can prolong
life, till she shall in time be as old. But she differs in this, that
she has not scattered her precepts in the wind, at least not those which
she bestowed upon you.
'The two Wartons just looked into the town, and were taken to see
_Cleone_, where, David says, they were starved for want of company to
keep them warm. David and Doddy have had a new quarrel, and, I think,
cannot conveniently quarrel any more. _Cleone_ was well acted by all the
characters, but Bellamy left nothing to be desired. I went the first
night, and supported it, as well as I might; for Doddy, you know, is my
patron, and I would not desert him. The play was very well received.
Doddy, after the danger was over, went every night to the stage-side,
and cried at the distress of poor Cleone.
[Page 326: Reynolds's prices for portraits. A.D. 1758.]
'I have left off housekeeping, and therefore made presents of the
game which you were pleased to send me. The pheasant I gave to Mr.
Richardson, the bustard to Dr. Lawrence, and the pot I placed with
Miss Williams, to be eaten by myself. She desires that her compliments
and good wishes may be accepted by the family; and I make the same
request for myself.
'Mr. Reynolds has within these few days raised his price to twenty
guineas a head, and Miss is much employed in miniatures. I know
not any body [else] whose prosperity has encreased since you left them.
[Page 327: Johnson's SHAKSPEARE delayed. AEtat 49.]
'Murphy is to have his _Orphan of China_ acted next month; and is
therefore, I suppose, happy. I wish I could tell you of any great
good to which I was approaching, but at present my prospects do not much
delight me; however, I am always pleased when I find that you, dear Sir,
'Your affectionate, humble servant,
'Jan. 9, 1758.'
'TO MR. BURNEY, AT LYNNE, NORFOLK.
'Your kindness is so great, and my claim to any particular regard from
you so little, that I am at a loss how to express my sense of your
favours; but I am, indeed, much pleased to be thus distinguished by
'I am ashamed to tell you that my _Shakspeare_ will not be out so soon
as I promised my subscribers; but I did not promise them more than I
promised myself. It will, however, be published before summer.
'I have sent you a bundle of proposals, which, I think, do not profess
more than I have hitherto performed. I have printed many of the plays,
and have hitherto left very few passages unexplained; where I am quite
at a loss, I confess my ignorance, which is seldom done by
'I have, likewise, enclosed twelve receipts; not that I mean to impose
upon you the trouble of pushing them, with more importunity than may
seem proper, but that you may rather have more than fewer than you shall
want. The proposals you will disseminate as there shall be an
opportunity. I once printed them at length in the _Chronicle_, and some
of my friends (I believe Mr. Murphy, who formerly wrote the _Gray's-Inn
Journal_) introduced them with a splendid encomium.
[Page 328: The garret in Gough-square. A.D. 1758.]
'Since the _Life of Browne_, I have been a little engaged, from time to
time, in the _Literary Magazine_, but not very lately. I have not the
collection by me, and therefore cannot draw out a catalogue of my own
parts, but will do it, and send it. Do not buy them, for I will gather
all those that have anything of mine in them, and send them to Mrs.
Burney, as a small token of gratitude for the regard which she is
pleased to bestow upon me.
'I am, Sir,
'Your most obliged
'And most humble servant,
'London, March 8, 1758.'
Dr. Burney has kindly favoured me with the following memorandum, which I
take the liberty to insert in his own genuine easy style. I love to
exhibit sketches of my illustrious friend by various eminent hands.
'Soon after this, Mr. Burney, during a visit to the capital, had an
interview with him in Gough-square, where he dined and drank tea with
him, and was introduced to the acquaintance of Mrs. Williams. After
dinner, Mr. Johnson proposed to Mr. Burney to go up with him into his
garret, which being accepted, he there found about five or six Greek
folios, a deal writing-desk, and a chair and a half. Johnson giving to
his guest the entire seat, tottered himself on one with only three legs
and one arm. Here he gave Mr. Burney Mrs. Williams's history, and
shewed him some volumes of his _Shakspeare_ already printed, to prove
that he was in earnest. Upon Mr. Burney's opening the first volume, at
the _Merchant of Venice_, he observed to him, that he seemed to be more
severe on Warburton than Theobald. "O poor Tib.! (said Johnson) he was
ready knocked down to my hands; Warburton stands between me and him."
"But, Sir, (said Mr. Burney,) you'll have Warburton upon your bones,
won't you?" "No, Sir; he'll not come out: he'll only growl in his den."
"But you think, Sir, that Warburton is a superiour critick to Theobald?"
"O, Sir, he'd make two-and-fifty Theobalds, cut into slices! The
worst of Warburton is, that he has a rage for saying something, when
there's nothing to be said." Mr. Burney then asked him whether he had
seen the letter which Warburton had written in answer to a pamphlet
addressed "To the most impudent Man alive." He answered in the
negative. Mr. Burney told him it was supposed to be written by Mallet.
The controversy now raged between the friends of Pope and Bolingbroke;
and Warburton and Mallet were the leaders of the several parties.
[Page 330: The Idler. A.D. 1758.]
Mr. Burney asked him then if he had seen Warburton's book against
Bolingbroke's _Philosophy_? "No, Sir, I have never read Bolingbroke's
impiety, and therefore am not interested about its confutation."'
On the fifteenth of April he began a new periodical paper, entitled _The
Idler_,[*] which came out every Saturday in a weekly news-paper,
called _The Universal Chronicle, or Weekly Gazette_, published by
Newbery. These essays were continued till April 5, 1760. Of one
hundred and three, their total number, twelve were contributed by his
friends; of which, Numbers 33, 93, and 96, were written by Mr. Thomas
Warton; No. 67 by Mr. Langton; and Nos. 76, 79, and 82, by Sir Joshua
Reynolds; the concluding words of No. 82, 'and pollute his canvas with
deformity,' being added by Johnson, as Sir Joshua informed me.
_The Idler_ is evidently the work of the same mind which produced _The
Rambler_, but has less body and more spirit. It has more variety of real
life, and greater facility of language. He describes the miseries of
idleness, with the lively sensations of one who has felt them; and in
his private memorandums while engaged in it, we find 'This year I hope
to learn diligence.' Many of these excellent essays were written as
hastily as an ordinary letter. Mr. Langton remembers Johnson, when on a
visit at Oxford, asking him one evening how long it was till the post
went out; and on being told about half an hour, he exclaimed, 'then we
shall do very well.' He upon this instantly sat down and finished an
_Idler_, which it was necessary should be in London the next day. Mr.
Langton having signified a wish to read it, 'Sir, (said he) you shall
not do more than I have done myself.' He then folded it up and sent it
Yet there are in _The Idler_ several papers which shew as much
profundity of thought, and labour of language, as any of this great
man's writings. No. 14, 'Robbery of Time;' No. 24, 'Thinking;' No. 41,
'Death of a Friend;' No. 43, 'Flight of Time;' No. 51, 'Domestick
greatness unattainable;' No. 52, 'Self-denial;' No. 58, 'Actual, how
short of fancied, excellence;' No. 89, 'Physical evil moral
goode;' and his concluding paper on 'The horrour of the last;'
will prove this assertion. I know not why a motto, the usual trapping of
periodical papers, is prefixed to very few of the _Idlers_, as I have
heard Johnson commend the custom: and he never could be at a loss for
one, his memory being stored with innumerable passages of the
classicks. In this series of essays he exhibits admirable instances
of grave humour, of which he had an uncommon share. Nor on some
occasions has he repressed that power of sophistry which he possessed in
so eminent a degree. In No. 11, he treats with the utmost contempt the
opinion that our mental faculties depend, in some degree, upon the
weather; an opinion, which they who have never experienced its truth are
not to be envied; and of which he himself could not but be sensible, as
the effects of weather upon him were very visible. Yet thus he
[Page 332: Influence of the weather. A.D. 1758.]
'Surely, nothing is more reproachful to a being endowed with reason,
than to resign its powers to the influence of the air, and live in
dependence on the weather and the wind for the only blessings which
nature has put into our power, tranquillity and benevolence. This
distinction of seasons is produced only by imagination operating on
luxury. To temperance, every day is bright; and every hour is propitious
to diligence. He that shall resolutely excite his faculties, or exert
his virtues, will soon make himself superiour to the seasons; and may
set at defiance the morning mist and the evening damp, the blasts of the
east, and the clouds of the south.'
[Page 333: The attendants on a Court. AEtat 49.]
'I think the Romans call it Stoicism.'
But in this number of his _Idler_ his spirits seem to run riot; for in
the wantonness of his disquisition he forgets, for a moment, even the
reverence for that which he held in high respect; and describes 'the
attendant on a _Court_,' as one 'whose business, is to watch the looks
of a being, weak and foolish as himself.'
[Page 334: Johnson not a plagiary. A.D. 1758.]
Alas! it is too certain, that where the frame has delicate fibres, and
there is a fine sensibility, such influences of the air are
irresistible. He might as well have bid defiance to the ague, the palsy,
and all other bodily disorders, Such boasting of the mind is false
His unqualified ridicule of rhetorical gesture or action is not, surely,
a test of truth; yet we cannot help admiring how well it is adapted to
produce the effect which he wished. 'Neither the judges of our laws, nor
the representatives of our people, would be much affected by laboured
gesticulation, or believe any man the more because he rolled his eyes,
or puffed his cheeks, or spread abroad his arms, or stamped the ground,
or thumped his breast; or turned his eyes sometimes to the ceiling, and
sometimes to the floor.'
A casual coincidence with other writers, or an adoption of a sentiment
or image which has been found in the writings of another, and afterwards
appears in the mind as one's own, is not unfrequent. The richness of
Johnson's fancy, which could supply his page abundantly on all
occasions, and the strength of his memory, which at once detected the
real owner of any thought, made him less liable to the imputation of
plagiarism than, perhaps, any of our writers. In _The Idler_,
however, there is a paper, in which conversation is assimilated to a
bowl of punch, where there is the same train of comparison as in a poem
by Blacklock, in his collection published in 1756, in which a