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Boswell's Life of Johnson

Abridged and edited, with an introduction by Charles Grosvenor Osgood
Professor of English at Princeton University


In making this abridgement of Boswell's Life of Johnson I have
omitted most of Boswell's criticisms, comments, and notes, all of
Johnson's opinions in legal cases, most of the letters, and parts
of the conversation dealing with matters which were of greater
importance in Boswell's day than now. I have kept in mind an old
habit, common enough, I dare say, among its devotees, of opening
the book of random, and reading wherever the eye falls upon a
passage of especial interest. All such passages, I hope, have been
retained, and enough of the whole book to illustrate all the phases
of Johnson's mind and of his time which Boswell observed.

Loyal Johnsonians may look upon such a book with a measure of
scorn. I could not have made it, had I not believed that it would
be the means of drawing new readers to Boswell, and eventually of
finding for them in the complete work what many have already found--
days and years of growing enlightenment and happy companionship,
and an innocent refuge from the cares and perturbations of life.

Princeton, June 28, 1917.


Phillips Brooks once told the boys at Exeter that in reading
biography three men meet one another in close intimacy--the subject
of the biography, the author, and the reader. Of the three the
most interesting is, of course, the man about whom the book is
written. The most privileged is the reader, who is thus allowed to
live familiarly with an eminent man. Least regarded of the three
is the author. It is his part to introduce the others, and to
develop between them an acquaintance, perhaps a friendship, while
he, though ever busy and solicitous, withdraws into the background.

Some think that Boswell, in his Life of Johnson, did not
sufficiently realize his duty of self-effacement. He is too much
in evidence, too bustling, too anxious that his own opinion, though
comparatively unimportant, should get a hearing. In general,
Boswell's faults are easily noticed, and have been too much talked
about. He was morbid, restless, self-conscious, vain, insinuating;
and, poor fellow, he died a drunkard. But the essential Boswell,
the skilful and devoted artist, is almost unrecognized. As the
creator of the Life of Johnson he is almost as much effaced as is
Homer in the Odyssey. He is indeed so closely concealed that the
reader suspects no art at all. Boswell's performance looks easy
enough--merely the more or less coherent stringing together of a
mass of memoranda. Nevertheless it was rare and difficult, as is
the highest achievement in art. Boswell is primarily the artist,
and he has created one of the great masterpieces of the world.* He
created nothing else, though his head was continually filling
itself with literary schemes that came to nought. But into his
Life of Johnson he poured all his artistic energies, as Milton
poured his into Paradise Lost, and Vergil his into the Aneid.

* Here I include his Journal of a Tour of the Hebrides as
essentially a part of the Life. The Journal of a Tour in Corsica
is but a propaedeutic study.

First, Boswell had the industry and the devotion to his task of an
artist. Twenty years and more he labored in collecting his
material. He speaks frankly of his methods. He recorded the talk
of Johnson and his associates partly by a rough shorthand of his
own, partly by an exceptional memory, which he carefully trained
for this very purpose. 'O for shorthand to take this down!' said
he to Mrs. Thrale as they listened to Johnson; and she replied:
'You'll carry it all in your head; a long head is as good as
shorthand.' Miss Hannah More recalls a gay meeting at the
Garricks', in Johnson's absence, when Boswell was bold enough to
match his skill with no other than Garrick himself in an imitation
of Johnson. Though Garrick was more successful in his Johnsonian
recitation of poetry, Boswell won in reproducing his familiar
conversation. He lost no time in perfecting his notes both mental
and stenographic, and sat up many a night followed by a day of
headache, to write them in final form, that none of the freshness
and glow might fade. The sheer labor of this process, not to
mention the difficulty, can be measured only by one who attempts a
similar feat. Let him try to report the best conversation of a
lively evening, following its course, preserving its point,
differentiating sharply the traits of the participants, keeping the
style, idiom, and exact words of each. Let him reject all parts of
it, however diverting, of which the charm and force will evaporate
with the occasion, and retain only that which will be as amusing,
significant, and lively as ever at the end of one hundred, or, for
all that we can see, one thousand years. He will then, in some
measure, realize the difficulty of Boswell's performance. When his
work appeared Boswell himself said: 'The stretch of mind and prompt
assiduity by which so many conversations are preserved, I myself,
at some distance of time, contemplate with wonder.'

He was indefatigable in hunting up and consulting all who had known
parts or aspects of Johnson's life which to him were inaccessible.
He mentions all told more than fifty names of men and women whom he
consulted for information, to which number many others should be
added of those who gave him nothing that he could use. 'I have
sometimes been obliged to run half over London, in order to fix a
date correctly.' He agonized over his work with the true devotion
of an artist: 'You cannot imagine,' he says, 'what labor, what
perplexity, what vexation I have endured in arranging a prodigious
multiplicity of materials, in supplying omissions, in searching for
papers buried in different masses, and all this besides the
exertion of composing and polishing.' He despairs of making his
picture vivid or full enough, and of ever realizing his
preconception of his masterpiece.

Boswell's devotion to his work appears in even more extraordinary
ways. Throughout he repeatedly offers himself as a victim to
illustrate his great friend's wit, ill-humor, wisdom, affection, or
goodness. He never spares himself, except now and then to assume a
somewhat diaphanous anonymity. Without regard for his own dignity,
he exhibits himself as humiliated, or drunken, or hypochondriac, or
inquisitive, or resorting to petty subterfuge--anything for the
accomplishment of his one main purpose. 'Nay, Sir,' said Johnson,
'it was not the wine that made your head ache, but the sense that I
put into it.' 'What, Sir,' asks the hapless Boswell, 'will sense
make the head ache?' 'Yes, Sir, when it is not used to it.'

Boswell is also the artist in his regard for truth. In him it was
a passion. Again and again he insists upon his authenticity. He
developed an infallible gust and unerring relish of what was
genuinely Johnsonian in speech, writing, or action; and his own
account leads to the inference that he discarded, as worthless,
masses of diverting material which would have tempted a less
scrupulous writer beyond resistance. 'I observed to him,' said
Boswell, 'that there were very few of his friends so accurate as
that I could venture to put down in writing what they told me as
his sayings.' The faithfulness of his portrait, even to the
minutest details, is his unremitting care, and he subjects all
contributed material to the sternest criticism.

Industry and love of truth alone will not make the artist. With
only these Boswell might have been merely a tireless transcriber.
But he had besides a keen sense of artistic values. This appears
partly in the unity of his vast work. Though it was years in the
making, though the details that demanded his attention were
countless, yet they all centre consistently in one figure, and are
so focused upon it, that one can hardly open the book at random to
a line which has not its direct bearing upon the one subject of the
work. Nor is the unity of the book that of an undeviating
narrative in chronological order of one man's life; it grows rather
out of a single dominating personality exhibited in all the
vicissitudes of a manifold career. Boswell often speaks of his
work as a painting, a portrait, and of single incidents as pictures
or scenes in a drama. His eye is keen for contrasts, for
picturesque moments, for dramatic action. While it is always the
same Johnson whom he makes the central figure, he studies to shift
the background, the interlocutors, the light and shade, in search
of new revelations and effects. He presents a succession of many
scenes, exquisitely wrought, of Johnson amid widely various
settings of Eighteenth-Century England. And subject and setting
are so closely allied that each borrows charm and emphasis from the
other. Let the devoted reader of Boswell ask himself what glamor
would fade from the church of St. Clement Danes, from the Mitre,
from Fleet Street, the Oxford coach, and Lichfield, if the burly
figure were withdrawn from them; or what charm and illumination, of
the man himself would have been lost apart from these settings. It
is the unseen hand of the artist Boswell that has wrought them
inseparably into this reciprocal effect.

The single scenes and pictures which Boswell has given us will all
of them bear close scrutiny for their precision, their economy of
means, their lifelikeness, their artistic effect. None was wrought
more beautifully, nor more ardently, than that of Johnson's
interview with the King. First we see the plain massive figure of
the scholar amid the elegant comfort of Buckingham House. He is
intent on his book before the fire. Then the approach of the King,
lighted on his way by Mr. Barnard with candles caught from a table;
their entrance by a private door, with Johnson's unconscious
absorption, his sudden surprise, his starting up, his dignity, the
King's ease with him, their conversation, in which the King
courteously draws from Johnson knowledge of that in which Johnson
is expert, Johnson's manly bearing and voice throughout--all is set
forth with the unadorned vividness and permanent effect which seem
artless enough, but which are characteristic of only the greatest

Boswell's Life of Johnson is further a masterpiece of art in that
it exerts the vigorous energy of a masterpiece, an abundance of
what, for want of a better word, we call personality. It is
Boswell's confessed endeavor to add this quality to the others,
because he perceived that it was an essential quality of Johnson
himself, and he more than once laments his inability to transmit
the full force and vitality of his original. Besides artistic
perception and skill it required in him admiration and enthusiasm
to seize this characteristic and impart it to his work. His
admiration he confesses unashamed: 'I said I worshipped him . . . I
cannot help worshipping him, he is so much superior to other men.'
He studied his subject intensely. 'During all the course of my
long intimacy with him, my respectful attention never abated.'
Upon such intensity and such ardor and enthusiasm depend the energy
and animation of his portrait.

But it exhibits other personal qualities than these, which, if less
often remarked, are at any rate unconsciously enjoyed. Boswell had
great social charm. His friends are agreed upon his liveliness and
good nature. Johnson called him 'clubbable,' 'the best traveling
companion in the world,' 'one Scotchman who is cheerful,' 'a man
whom everybody likes,' 'a man who I believe never left a house
without leaving a wish for his return.' His vivacity, his love of
fun, his passion for good company and friendship, his sympathy, his
amiability, which made him acceptable everywhere, have mingled
throughout with his own handiwork, and cause it to radiate a kind
of genial warmth. This geniality it may be which has attracted so
many readers to the book. They find themselves in good company, in
a comfortable, pleasant place, agreeably stimulated with wit and
fun, and cheered with friendliness. They are loth to leave it, and
would ever enter it again. This rare charm the book owes in large
measure to its creator.

The alliance of author with subject in Boswell's Johnson is one of
the happiest and most sympathetic the world has known. So close is
it that one cannot easily discern what great qualities the work
owes to each. While it surely derives more of its excellence than
is commonly remarked from the art of Boswell, its greatness after
all is ultimately that of its subject. The noble qualities of
Johnson have been well discerned by Carlyle, and his obvious
peculiarities and prejudices somewhat magnified and distorted in
Macaulay's brilliant refractions. One quality only shall I dwell
upon, though that may be the sum of all the rest. Johnson had a
supreme capacity for human relationship. In him this capacity
amounted to genius.

In all respects he was of great stature. His contemporaries called
him a colossus, the literary Goliath, the Giant, the great Cham of
literature, a tremendous companion. His frame was majestic; he
strode when he walked, and his physical strength and courage were
heroic. His mode of speaking was 'very impressive,' his utterance
'deliberate and strong.' His conversation was compared to 'an
antique statue, where every vein and muscle is distinct and bold.'
From boyhood throughout his life his companions naturally deferred
to him, and he dominated them without effort. But what overcame
the harshness of this autocracy, and made it reasonable, was the
largeness of a nature that loved men and was ever hungry for
knowledge of them. 'Sir,' said he, 'I look upon every day lost in
which I do not make a new acquaintance.' And again: 'Why, Sir, I
am a man of the world. I live in the world, and I take, in some
degree, the color of the world as it moves along.' Thus he was a
part of all that he met, a central figure in his time, with whose
opinion one must reckon in considering any important matter of his

His love of London is but a part of his hunger for men. 'The
happiness of London is not to be conceived but by those who have
been in it.' 'Why, Sir, you find no man at all intellectual who is
willing to leave London: No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he
is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.'
As he loved London, so he loved a tavern for its sociability.
'Sir, there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by
which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.' 'A
tavern chair is the throne of human felicity.'

Personal words are often upon his lips, such as 'love' and 'hate,'
and vast is the number, range, and variety of people who at one
time or another had been in some degree personally related with
him, from Bet Flint and his black servant Francis, to the adored
Duchess of Devonshire and the King himself. To no one who passed a
word with him was he personally indifferent. Even fools received
his personal attention. Said one: 'But I don't understand you,
Sir.' 'Sir, I have found you an argument. I am not obliged to
find you an understanding.' 'Sir, you are irascible,' said
Boswell; 'you have no patience with folly or absurdity.'

But it is in Johnson's capacity for friendship that his greatness
is specially revealed. 'Keep your friendships in good repair.' As
the old friends disappeared, new ones came to him. For Johnson
seems never to have sought out friends. He was not a common
'mixer.' He stooped to no devices for the sake of popularity. He
pours only scorn upon the lack of mind and conviction which is
necessary to him who is everybody's friend.

His friendships included all classes and all ages. He was a great
favorite with children, and knew how to meet them, from little
four-months-old Veronica Boswell to his godchild Jane Langton.
'Sir,' said he, 'I love the acquaintance of young people, . . .
young men have more virtue than old men; they have more generous
sentiments in every respect.' At sixty-eight he said: 'I value
myself upon this, that there is nothing of the old man in my
conversation.' Upon women of all classes and ages he exerts
without trying a charm the consciousness of which would have turned
any head less constant than his own, and with their fulsome
adoration he was pleased none the less for perceiving its real

But the most important of his friendships developed between him and
such men of genius as Boswell, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Sir
Joshua Reynolds, and Edmund Burke. Johnson's genius left no fit
testimony of itself from his own hand. With all the greatness of
his mind he had no talent in sufficient measure by which fully to
express himself. He had no ear for music and no eye for painting,
and the finest qualities in the creations of Goldsmith were lost
upon him. But his genius found its talents in others, and through
the talents of his personal friends expressed itself as it were by
proxy. They rubbed their minds upon his, and he set in motion for
them ideas which they might use. But the intelligence of genius is
profounder and more personal than mere ideas. It has within it
something energic, expansive, propulsive from mind to mind,
perennial, yet steady and controlled; and it was with such force
that Johnson's almost superhuman personality inspired the art of
his friends. Of this they were in some degree aware. Reynolds
confessed that Johnson formed his mind, and 'brushed from it a
great deal of rubbish.' Gibbon called Johnson 'Reynolds' oracle.'
In one of his Discourses Sir Joshua, mindful no doubt of his own
experience, recommends that young artists seek the companionship of
such a man merely as a tonic to their art. Boswell often testifies
to the stimulating effect of Johnson's presence. Once he speaks of
'an animating blaze of eloquence, which roused every intellectual
power in me to the highest pitch'; and again of the 'full glow' of
Johnson's conversation, in which he felt himself 'elevated as if
brought into another state of being.' He says that all members of
Johnson's 'school' 'are distinguished for a love of truth and
accuracy which they would not have possessed in the same degree if
they had not been acquainted with Johnson.' He quotes Johnson at
length and repeatedly as the author of his own large conception of
biography. He was Goldsmith's 'great master,' Garrick feared his
criticism, and one cannot but recognize the power of Johnson's
personality in the increasing intelligence and consistency of
Garrick's interpretations, in the growing vigor and firmness of
Goldsmith's stroke, in the charm, finality, and exuberant life of
Sir Joshua's portraits; and above all in the skill, truth,
brilliance, and lifelike spontaneity of Boswell's art. It is in
such works as these that we shall find the real Johnson, and
through them that he will exert the force of his personality upon

Biography is the literature of realized personality, of life as it
has been lived, of actual achievements or shortcomings, of success
or failure; it is not imaginary and embellished, not what might be
or might have been, not reduced to prescribed or artificial forms,
but it is the unvarnished story of that which was delightful,
disappointing, possible, or impossible, in a life spent in this

In this sense it is peculiarly the literature of truth and
authenticity. Elements of imagination and speculation must enter
into all other forms of literature, and as purely creative forms
they may rank superior to biography; but in each case it will be
found that their authenticity, their right to our attention and
credence, ultimately rests upon the biographical element which is
basic in them, that is, upon what they have derived by observation
and experience from a human life seriously lived. Biography
contains this element in its purity. For this reason it is more
authentic than other kinds of literature, and more relevant. The
thing that most concerns me, the individual, whether I will or no,
is the management of myself in this world. The fundamental and
essential conditions of life are the same in any age, however the
adventitious circumstances may change. The beginning and the end
are the same, the average length the same, the problems and the
prize the same. How, then, have others managed, both those who
failed and those who succeeded, or those, in far greatest number,
who did both? Let me know their ambitions, their odds, their
handicaps, obstacles, weaknesses, and struggles, how they finally
fared, and what they had to say about it. Let me know a great
variety of such instances that I may mark their disagreements, but
more especially their agreement about it. How did they play the
game? How did they fight the fight that I am to fight, and how in
any case did they lose or win? To these questions biography gives
the direct answer. Such is its importance over other literature.
For such reasons, doubtless, Johnson 'loved' it most. For such
reasons the book which has been most cherished and revered for
well-nigh two thousand years is a biography.

Biography, then, is the chief text-book in the art of living, and
preeminent in its kind is the Life of Johnson. Here is the
instance of a man who was born into a life stripped of all ornament
and artificiality. His equipment in mind and stature was Olympian,
but the odds against him were proportionate to his powers. Without
fear or complaint, without boast or noise, he fairly joined issue
with the world and overcame it. He scorned circumstance, and laid
bare the unvarying realities of the contest. He was ever the sworn
enemy of speciousness, of nonsense, of idle and insincere
speculation, of the mind that does not take seriously the duty of
making itself up, of neglect in the gravest consideration of life.
He insisted upon the rights and dignity of the individual man, and
at the same time upon the vital necessity to him of reverence and
submission, and no man ever more beautifully illustrated their
interdependence, and their exquisite combination in a noble nature.

Boswell's Johnson is consistently and primarily the life of one
man. Incidentally it is more, for through it one is carried from
his own present limitations into a spacious and genial world. The
reader there meets a vast number of people, men, women, children,
nay even animals, from George the Third down to the cat Hodge. By
the author's magic each is alive, and the reader mingles with them
as with his acquaintances. It is a varied world, and includes the
smoky and swarming courts and highways of London, its stately
drawing-rooms, its cheerful inns, its shops and markets, and beyond
is the highroad which we travel in lumbering coach or speeding
postchaise to venerable Oxford with its polite and leisurely dons,
or to the staunch little cathedral city of Lichfield, welcoming
back its famous son to dinner and tea, or to the seat of a country
squire, or ducal castle, or village tavern, or the grim but
hospitable feudal life of the Hebrides. And wherever we go with
Johnson there is the lively traffic in ideas, lending vitality and
significance to everything about him.

A part of education and culture is the extension of one's narrow
range of living to include wider possibilities or actualities, such
as may be gathered from other fields of thought, other times, other
men; in short, to use a Johnsonian phrase, it is 'multiplicity of
consciousness.' There is no book more effective through long
familiarity to such extension and such multiplication than
Boswell's Life of Johnson. It adds a new world to one's own, it
increases one's acquaintance among people who think, it gives
intimate companionship with a great and friendly man.

The Life of Johnson is not a book on first acquaintance to be read
through from the first page to the end. 'No, Sir, do YOU read
books through?' asked Johnson. His way is probably the best one of
undertaking this book. Open at random, read here and there,
forward and back, wholly according to inclination; follow the
practice of Johnson and all good readers, of 'tearing the heart'
out of it. In this way you most readily come within the reach of
its charm and power. Then, not content with a part, seek the
unabridged whole, and grow into the infinite possibilities of it.

But the supreme end of education, we are told, is expert
discernment in all things--the power to tell the good from the bad,
the genuine from the counterfeit, and to prefer the good and the
genuine to the bad and the counterfeit. This is the supreme end of
the talk of Socrates, and it is the supreme end of the talk of
Johnson. 'My dear friend,' said he, 'clear your mind of cant; . . .
don't THINK foolishly.' The effect of long companionship with
Boswell's Johnson is just this. As Sir Joshua said, 'it brushes
away the rubbish'; it clears the mind of cant; it instills the
habit of singling out the essential thing; it imparts discernment.
Thus, through his friendship with Boswell, Johnson will realize his
wish, still to be teaching as the years increase.


Had Dr. Johnson written his own life, in conformity with the
opinion which he has given, that every man's life may be best
written by himself; had he employed in the preservation of his own
history, that clearness of narration and elegance of language in
which he has embalmed so many eminent persons, the world would
probably have had the most perfect example of biography that was
ever exhibited. But although he at different times, in a desultory
manner, committed to writing many particulars of the progress of
his mind and fortunes, he never had persevering diligence enough to
form them into a regular composition. Of these memorials a few
have been preserved; but the greater part was consigned by him to
the flames, a few days before his death.

As I had the honour and happiness of enjoying his friendship for
upwards of twenty years; as I had the scheme of writing his life
constantly in view; as he was well apprised of this circumstance,
and from time to time obligingly satisfied my inquiries, by
communicating to me the incidents of his early years; as I acquired
a facility in recollecting, and was very assiduous in recording,
his conversation, of which the extraordinary vigour and vivacity
constituted one of the first features of his character; and as I
have spared no pains in obtaining materials concerning him, from
every quarter where I could discover that they were to be found,
and have been favoured with the most liberal communications by his
friends; I flatter myself that few biographers have entered upon
such a work as this, with more advantages; independent of literary
abilities, in which I am not vain enough to compare myself with
some great names who have gone before me in this kind of writing.

Instead of melting down my materials into one mass, and constantly
speaking in my own person, by which I might have appeared to have
more merit in the execution of the work, I have resolved to adopt
and enlarge upon the excellent plan of Mr. Mason, in his Memoirs of
Gray. Wherever narrative is necessary to explain, connect, and
supply, I furnish it to the best of my abilities; but in the
chronological series of Johnson's life, which I trace as distinctly
as I can, year by year, I produce, wherever it is in my power, his
own minutes, letters or conversation, being convinced that this
mode is more lively, and will make my readers better acquainted
with him, than even most of those were who actually knew him, but
could know him only partially; whereas there is here an
accumulation of intelligence from various points, by which his
character is more fully understood and illustrated.

Indeed I cannot conceive a more perfect mode of writing any man's
life, than not only relating all the most important events of it in
their order, but interweaving what he privately wrote, and said,
and thought; by which mankind are enabled as it were to see him
live, and to 'live o'er each scene' with him, as he actually
advanced through the several stages of his life. Had his other
friends been as diligent and ardent as I was, he might have been
almost entirely preserved. As it is, I will venture to say that he
will be seen in this work more completely than any man who has ever
yet lived.

And he will be seen as he really was; for I profess to write, not
his panegyrick, which must be all praise, but his Life; which,
great and good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely
perfect. To be as he was, is indeed subject of panegyrick enough
to any man in this state of being; but in every picture there
should be shade as well as light, and when I delineate him without
reserve, I do what he himself recommended, both by his precept and
his example.

I am fully aware of the objections which may be made to the
minuteness on some occasions of my detail of Johnson's
conversation, and how happily it is adapted for the petty exercise
of ridicule, by men of superficial understanding and ludicrous
fancy; but I remain firm and confident in my opinion, that minute
particulars are frequently characteristick, and always amusing,
when they relate to a distinguished man. I am therefore
exceedingly unwilling that any thing, however slight, which my
illustrious friend thought it worth his while to express, with any
degree of point, should perish.

Of one thing I am certain, that considering how highly the small
portion which we have of the table-talk and other anecdotes of our
celebrated writers is valued, and how earnestly it is regretted
that we have not more, I am justified in preserving rather too many
of Johnson's sayings, than too few; especially as from the
diversity of dispositions it cannot be known with certainty
beforehand, whether what may seem trifling to some, and perhaps to
the collector himself, may not be most agreeable to many; and the
greater number that an authour can please in any degree, the more
pleasure does there arise to a benevolent mind.

Samuel Johnson was born at Lichfield, in Staffordshire, on the 18th
of September, N. S., 1709; and his initiation into the Christian
Church was not delayed; for his baptism is recorded, in the
register of St. Mary's parish in that city, to have been performed
on the day of his birth. His father is there stiled Gentleman, a
circumstance of which an ignorant panegyrist has praised him for
not being proud; when the truth is, that the appellation of
Gentleman, though now lost in the indiscriminate assumption of
Esquire, was commonly taken by those who could not boast of
gentility. His father was Michael Johnson, a native of Derbyshire,
of obscure extraction, who settled in Lichfield as a bookseller and
stationer. His mother was Sarah Ford, descended of an ancient race
of substantial yeomanry in Warwickshire. They were well advanced
in years when they married, and never had more than two children,
both sons; Samuel, their first born, who lived to be the
illustrious character whose various excellence I am to endeavour to
record, and Nathanael, who died in his twenty-fifth year.

Mr. Michael Johnson was a man of a large and robust body, and of a
strong and active mind; yet, as in the most solid rocks veins of
unsound substance are often discovered, there was in him a mixture
of that disease, the nature of which eludes the most minute
enquiry, though the effects are well known to be a weariness of
life, an unconcern about those things which agitate the greater
part of mankind, and a general sensation of gloomy wretchedness.
From him then his son inherited, with some other qualities, 'a vile
melancholy,' which in his too strong expression of any disturbance
of the mind, 'made him mad all his life, at least not sober.'
Michael was, however, forced by the narrowness of his circumstances
to be very diligent in business, not only in his shop, but by
occasionally resorting to several towns in the neighbourhood, some
of which were at a considerable distance from Lichfield. At that
time booksellers' shops in the provincial towns of England were
very rare, so that there was not one even in Birmingham, in which
town old Mr. Johnson used to open a shop every market-day. He was
a pretty good Latin scholar, and a citizen so creditable as to be
made one of the magistrates of Lichfield; and, being a man of good
sense, and skill in his trade, he acquired a reasonable share of
wealth, of which however he afterwards lost the greatest part, by
engaging unsuccessfully in a manufacture of parchment. He was a
zealous high-church man and royalist, and retained his attachment
to the unfortunate house of Stuart, though he reconciled himself,
by casuistical arguments of expediency and necessity, to take the
oaths imposed by the prevailing power.

Johnson's mother was a woman of distinguished understanding. I
asked his old school-fellow, Mr. Hector, surgeon of Birmingham, if
she was not vain of her son. He said, 'she had too much good sense
to be vain, but she knew her son's value.' Her piety was not
inferiour to her understanding; and to her must be ascribed those
early impressions of religion upon the mind of her son, from which
the world afterwards derived so much benefit. He told me, that he
remembered distinctly having had the first notice of Heaven, 'a
place to which good people went,' and hell, 'a place to which bad
people went,' communicated to him by her, when a little child in
bed with her; and that it might be the better fixed in his memory,
she sent him to repeat it to Thomas Jackson, their man-servant; he
not being in the way, this was not done; but there was no occasion
for any artificial aid for its preservation.

There is a traditional story of the infant Hercules of toryism, so
curiously characteristick, that I shall not withhold it. It was
communicated to me in a letter from Miss Mary Adye, of Lichfield:

'When Dr. Sacheverel was at Lichfield, Johnson was not quite three
years old. My grandfather Hammond observed him at the cathedral
perched upon his father's shoulders, listening and gaping at the
much celebrated preacher. Mr. Hammond asked Mr. Johnson how he
could possibly think of bringing such an infant to church, and in
the midst of so great a crowd. He answered, because it was
impossible to keep him at home; for, young as he was, he believed
he had caught the publick spirit and zeal for Sacheverel, and would
have staid for ever in the church, satisfied with beholding him.'

Nor can I omit a little instance of that jealous independence of
spirit, and impetuosity of temper, which never forsook him. The
fact was acknowledged to me by himself, upon the authority of his
mother. One day, when the servant who used to be sent to school to
conduct him home, had not come in time, he set out by himself,
though he was then so near-sighted, that he was obliged to stoop
down on his hands and knees to take a view of the kennel before he
ventured to step over it. His school-mistress, afraid that he
might miss his way, or fall into the kennel, or be run over by a
cart, followed him at some distance. He happened to turn about and
perceive her. Feeling her careful attention as an insult to his
manliness, he ran back to her in a rage, and beat her, as well as
his strength would permit.

Of the power of his memory, for which he was all his life eminent
to a degree almost incredible, the following early instance was
told me in his presence at Lichfield, in 1776, by his step-
daughter, Mrs. Lucy Porter, as related to her by his mother. When
he was a child in petticoats, and had learnt to read, Mrs. Johnson
one morning put the common prayer-book into his hands, pointed to
the collect for the day, and said, 'Sam, you must get this by
heart.' She went up stairs, leaving him to study it: But by the
time she had reached the second floor, she heard him following her.
'What's the matter?' said she. 'I can say it,' he replied; and
repeated it distinctly, though he could not have read it more than

But there has been another story of his infant precocity generally
circulated, and generally believed, the truth of which I am to
refute upon his own authority. It is told, that, when a child of
three years old, he chanced to tread upon a duckling, the eleventh
of a brood, and killed it; upon which, it is said, he dictated to
his mother the following epitaph:

'Here lies good master duck,
Whom Samuel Johnson trod on;
If it had liv'd, it had been GOOD LUCK,
For then we'd had an ODD ONE.'

There is surely internal evidence that this little composition
combines in it, what no child of three years old could produce,
without an extension of its faculties by immediate inspiration; yet
Mrs. Lucy Porter, Dr. Johnson's stepdaughter, positively maintained
to me, in his presence, that there could be no doubt of the truth
of this anecdote, for she had heard it from his mother. So
difficult is it to obtain an authentick relation of facts, and such
authority may there be for errour; for he assured me, that his
father made the verses, and wished to pass them for his child's.
He added, 'my father was a foolish old man; that is to say, foolish
in talking of his children.'

Young Johnson had the misfortune to be much afflicted with the
scrophula, or king's evil, which disfigured a countenance naturally
well formed, and hurt his visual nerves so much, that he did not
see at all with one of his eyes, though its appearance was little
different from that of the other. There is amongst his prayers,
one inscribed 'When, my EYE was restored to its use,' which
ascertains a defect that many of his friends knew he had, though I
never perceived it. I supposed him to be only near-sighted; and
indeed I must observe, that in no other respect could I discern any
defect in his vision; on the contrary, the force of his attention
and perceptive quickness made him see and distinguish all manner of
objects, whether of nature or of art, with a nicety that is rarely
to be found. When he and I were travelling in the Highlands of
Scotland, and I pointed out to him a mountain which I observed
resembled a cone, he corrected my inaccuracy, by shewing me, that
it was indeed pointed at the top, but that one side of it was
larger than the other. And the ladies with whom he was acquainted
agree, that no man was more nicely and minutely critical in the
elegance of female dress. When I found that he saw the romantick
beauties of Islam, in Derbyshire, much better than I did, I told
him that he resembled an able performer upon a bad instrument. It
has been said, that he contracted this grievous malady from his
nurse. His mother yielding to the superstitious notion, which, it
is wonderful to think, prevailed so long in this country, as to the
virtue of the regal touch; a notion, which our kings encouraged,
and to which a man of such inquiry and such judgement as Carte
could give credit; carried him to London, where he was actually
touched by Queen Anne. Mrs. Johnson indeed, as Mr. Hector informed
me, acted by the advice of the celebrated Sir John Floyer, then a
physician in Lichfield. Johnson used to talk of this very frankly;
and Mrs. Piozzi has preserved his very picturesque description of
the scene, as it remained upon his fancy. Being asked if he could
remember Queen Anne, 'He had (he said) a confused, but somehow a
sort of solemn recollection of a lady in diamonds, and a long black
hood.' This touch, however, was without any effect. I ventured to
say to him, in allusion to the political principles in which he was
educated, and of which he ever retained some odour, that 'his
mother had not carried him far enough; she should have taken him to

He was first taught to read English by Dame Oliver, a widow, who
kept a school for young children in Lichfield. He told me she
could read the black letter, and asked him to borrow for her, from
his father, a bible in that character. When he was going to
Oxford, she came to take leave of him, brought him, in the
simplicity of her kindness, a present of gingerbread, and said, he
was the best scholar she ever had. He delighted in mentioning this
early compliment: adding, with a smile, that 'this was as high a
proof of his merit as he could conceive.' His next instructor in
English was a master, whom, when he spoke of him to me, he
familiarly called Tom Brown, who, said he, 'published a spelling-
book, and dedicated it to the UNIVERSE; but, I fear, no copy of it
can now be had.'

He began to learn Latin with Mr. Hawkins, usher, or under-master of
Lichfield school, 'a man (said he) very skilful in his little way.'
With him he continued two years, and then rose to be under the care
of Mr. Hunter, the headmaster, who, according to his account, 'was
very severe, and wrong-headedly severe. He used (said he) to beat
us unmercifully; and he did not distinguish between ignorance and
negligence; for he would beat a boy equally for not knowing a
thing, as for neglecting to know it. He would ask a boy a
question; and if he did not answer it, he would beat him, without
considering whether he had an opportunity of knowing how to answer
it. For instance, he would call up a boy and ask him Latin for a
candlestick, which the boy could not expect to be asked. Now, Sir,
if a boy could answer every question, there would be no need of a
master to teach him.'

It is, however, but justice to the memory of Mr. Hunter to mention,
that though he might err in being too severe, the school of
Lichfield was very respectable in his time. The late Dr. Taylor,
Prebendary of Westminster, who was educated under him, told me,
that 'he was an excellent master, and that his ushers were most of
them men of eminence; that Holbrook, one of the most ingenious men,
best scholars, and best preachers of his age, was usher during the
greatest part of the time that Johnson was at school. Then came
Hague, of whom as much might be said, with the addition that he was
an elegant poet. Hague was succeeded by Green, afterwards Bishop
of Lincoln, whose character in the learned world is well known.'

Indeed Johnson was very sensible how much he owed to Mr. Hunter.
Mr. Langton one day asked him how he had acquired so accurate a
knowledge of Latin, in which, I believe, he was exceeded by no man
of his time; he said, 'My master whipt me very well. Without that,
Sir, I should have done nothing.' He told Mr. Langton, that while
Hunter was flogging his boys unmercifully, he used to say, 'And
this I do to save you from the gallows.' Johnson, upon all
occasions, expressed his approbation of enforcing instruction by
means of the rod. 'I would rather (said he) have the rod to be the
general terrour to all, to make them learn, than tell a child, if
you do thus, or thus, you will be more esteemed than your brothers
or sisters. The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself.
A child is afraid of being whipped, and gets his task, and there's
an end on't; whereas, by exciting emulation and comparisons of
superiority, you lay the foundation of lasting mischief; you make
brothers and sisters hate each other.'

That superiority over his fellows, which he maintained with so much
dignity in his march through life, was not assumed from vanity and
ostentation, but was the natural and constant effect of those
extraordinary powers of mind, of which he could not but be
conscious by comparison; the intellectual difference, which in
other cases of comparison of characters, is often a matter of
undecided contest, being as clear in his case as the superiority of
stature in some men above others. Johnson did not strut or stand
on tiptoe; He only did not stoop. From his earliest years his
superiority was perceived and acknowledged. He was from the
beginning [Greek text omitted], a king of men. His school-fellow,
Mr. Hector, has obligingly furnished me with many particulars of his
boyish days: and assured me that he never knew him corrected at
school, but for talking and diverting other boys from their
business. He seemed to learn by intuition; for though indolence
and procrastination were inherent in his constitution, whenever he
made an exertion he did more than any one else. His favourites
used to receive very liberal assistance from him; and such was the
submission and deference with which he was treated, such the desire
to obtain his regard, that three of the boys, of whom Mr. Hector
was sometimes one, used to come in the morning as his humble
attendants, and carry him to school. One in the middle stooped,
while he sat upon his back, and one on each side supported him; and
thus he was borne triumphant. Such a proof of the early
predominance of intellectual vigour is very remarkable, and does
honour to human nature. Talking to me once himself of his being
much distinguished at school, he told me, 'they never thought to
raise me by comparing me to any one; they never said, Johnson is as
good a scholar as such a one; but such a one is as good a scholar
as Johnson; and this was said but of one, but of Lowe; and I do not
think he was as good a scholar.'

He discovered a great ambition to excel, which roused him to
counteract his indolence. He was uncommonly inquisitive; and his
memory was so tenacious, that he never forgot any thing that he
either heard or read. Mr. Hector remembers having recited to him
eighteen verses, which, after a little pause, he repeated verbatim,
varying only one epithet, by which he improved the line.

He never joined with the other boys in their ordinary diversions:
his only amusement was in winter, when he took a pleasure in being
drawn upon the ice by a boy barefooted, who pulled him along by a
garter fixed round him; no very easy operation, as his size was
remarkably large. His defective sight, indeed, prevented him from
enjoying the common sports; and he once pleasantly remarked to me,
'how wonderfully well he had contrived to be idle without them.'
Mr. Hector relates, that 'he could not oblige him more than by
sauntering away the hours of vacation in the fields, during which
he was more engaged in talking to himself than to his companion.'

Dr. Percy, the Bishop of Dromore, who was long intimately
acquainted with him, and has preserved a few anecdotes concerning
him, regretting that he was not a more diligent collector, informs
me, that 'when a boy he was immoderately fond of reading romances
of chivalry, and he retained his fondness for them through life; so
that (adds his Lordship) spending part of a summer at my parsonage
house in the country, he chose for his regular reading the old
Spanish romance of Felixmarte of Hircania, in folio, which he read
quite through. Yet I have heard him attribute to these extravagant
fictions that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his ever
fixing in any profession.'

1725: AETAT. 16.--After having resided for some time at the house
of his uncle, Cornelius Ford, Johnson was, at the age of fifteen,
removed to the school of Stourbridge, in Worcestershire, of which
Mr. Wentworth was then master. This step was taken by the advice
of his cousin, the Reverend Mr. Ford, a man in whom both talents
and good dispositions were disgraced by licentiousness, but who was
a very able judge of what was right. At this school he did not
receive so much benefit as was expected. It has been said, that he
acted in the capacity of an assistant to Mr. Wentworth, in teaching
the younger boys. 'Mr. Wentworth (he told me) was a very able man,
but an idle man, and to me very severe; but I cannot blame him
much. I was then a big boy; he saw I did not reverence him; and
that he should get no honour by me. I had brought enough with me,
to carry me through; and all I should get at his school would be
ascribed to my own labour, or to my former master. Yet he taught
me a great deal.'

He thus discriminated, to Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore, his
progress at his two grammar-schools. 'At one, I learnt much in the
school, but little from the master; in the other, I learnt much
from the master, but little in the school.'

He remained at Stourbridge little more than a year, and then
returned home, where he may be said to have loitered, for two
years, in a state very unworthy his uncommon abilities. He had
already given several proofs of his poetical genius, both in his
school-exercises and in other occasional compositions.

He had no settled plan of life, nor looked forward at all, but
merely lived from day to day. Yet he read a great deal in a
desultory manner, without any scheme of study, as chance threw
books in his way, and inclination directed him through them. He
used to mention one curious instance of his casual reading, when
but a boy. Having imagined that his brother had hid some apples
behind a large folio upon an upper shelf in his father's shop, he
climbed up to search for them. There were no apples; but the large
folio proved to be Petrarch, whom he had seen mentioned in some
preface, as one of the restorers of learning. His curiosity having
been thus excited, he sat down with avidity, and read a great part
of the book. What he read during these two years he told me, was
not works of mere amusement, 'not voyages and travels, but all
literature, Sir, all ancient writers, all manly: though but little
Greek, only some of Anacreon and Hesiod; but in this irregular
manner (added he) I had looked into a great many books, which were
not commonly known at the Universities, where they seldom read any
books but what are put into their hands by their tutors; so that
when I came to Oxford, Dr. Adams, now master of Pembroke College,
told me I was the best qualified for the University that he had
ever known come there.'

That a man in Mr. Michael Johnson's circumstances should think of
sending his son to the expensive University of Oxford, at his own
charge, seems very improbable. The subject was too delicate to
question Johnson upon. But I have been assured by Dr. Taylor that
the scheme never would have taken place had not a gentleman of
Shropshire, one of his schoolfellows, spontaneously undertaken to
support him at Oxford, in the character of his companion; though,
in fact, he never received any assistance whatever from that

He, however, went to Oxford, and was entered a Commoner of Pembroke
College on the 31st of October, 1728, being then in his nineteenth

The Reverend Dr. Adams, who afterwards presided over Pembroke
College with universal esteem, told me he was present, and gave me
some account of what passed on the night of Johnson's arrival at
Oxford. On that evening, his father, who had anxiously accompanied
him, found means to have him introduced to Mr. Jorden, who was to
be his tutor.

His father seemed very full of the merits of his son, and told the
company he was a good scholar, and a poet, and wrote Latin verses.
His figure and manner appeared strange to them; but he behaved
modestly, and sat silent, till upon something which occurred in the
course of conversation, he suddenly struck in and quoted Macrobius;
and thus he gave the first impression of that more extensive
reading in which he had indulged himself.

His tutor, Mr. Jorden, fellow of Pembroke, was not, it seems, a man
of such abilities as we should conceive requisite for the
instructor of Samuel Johnson, who gave me the following account of
him. 'He was a very worthy man, but a heavy man, and I did not
profit much by his instructions. Indeed, I did not attend him
much. The first day after I came to college I waited upon him, and
then staid away four. On the sixth, Mr. Jorden asked me why I had
not attended. I answered I had been sliding in Christ-Church
meadow. And this I said with as much nonchalance as I am now
talking to you. I had no notion that I was wrong or irreverent to
my tutor. BOSWELL: 'That, Sir, was great fortitude of mind.'
JOHNSON: 'No, Sir; stark insensibility.'

He had a love and respect for Jorden, not for his literature, but
for his worth. 'Whenever (said he) a young man becomes Jorden's
pupil, he becomes his son.'

Having given a specimen of his poetical powers, he was asked by Mr.
Jorden, to translate Pope's Messiah into Latin verse, as a
Christmas exercise. He performed it with uncommon rapidity, and in
so masterly a manner, that he obtained great applause from it,
which ever after kept him high in the estimation of his College,
and, indeed, of all the University.

It is said, that Mr. Pope expressed himself concerning it in terms
of strong approbation. Dr. Taylor told me, that it was first
printed for old Mr. Johnson, without the knowledge of his son, who
was very angry when he heard of it.

The 'morbid melancholy,' which was lurking in his constitution, and
to which we may ascribe those particularities, and that aversion to
regular life, which, at a very early period, marked his character,
gathered such strength in his twentieth year, as to afflict him in
a dreadful manner. While he was at Lichfield, in the college
vacation of the year 1729, he felt himself overwhelmed with an
horrible hypochondria, with perpetual irritation, fretfulness, and
impatience; and with a dejection, gloom, and despair, which made
existence misery. From this dismal malady he never afterwards was
perfectly relieved; and all his labours, and all his enjoyments,
were but temporary interruptions of its baleful influence. He told
Mr. Paradise that he was sometimes so languid and inefficient, that
he could not distinguish the hour upon the town-clock.

Johnson, upon the first violent attack of this disorder, strove to
overcome it by forcible exertions. He frequently walked to
Birmingham and back again, and tried many other expedients, but all
in vain. His expression concerning it to me was 'I did not then
know how to manage it.' His distress became so intolerable, that
he applied to Dr. Swinfen, physician in Lichfield, his god-father,
and put into his hands a state of his case, written in Latin. Dr.
Swinfen was so much struck with the extraordinary acuteness,
research, and eloquence of this paper, that in his zeal for his
godson he shewed it to several people. His daughter, Mrs.
Desmoulins, who was many years humanely supported in Dr. Johnson's
house in London, told me, that upon his discovering that Dr.
Swinfen had communicated his case, he was so much offended, that he
was never afterwards fully reconciled to him. He indeed had good
reason to be offended; for though Dr. Swinfen's motive was good, he
inconsiderately betrayed a matter deeply interesting and of great
delicacy, which had been entrusted to him in confidence; and
exposed a complaint of his young friend and patient, which, in the
superficial opinion of the generality of mankind, is attended with
contempt and disgrace.

To Johnson, whose supreme enjoyment was the exercise of his reason,
the disturbance or obscuration of that faculty was the evil most to
be dreaded. Insanity, therefore, was the object of his most dismal
apprehension; and he fancied himself seized by it, or approaching
to it, at the very time when he was giving proofs of a more than
ordinary soundness and vigour of judgement. That his own diseased
imagination should have so far deceived him, is strange; but it is
stranger still that some of his friends should have given credit to
his groundless opinion, when they had such undoubted proofs that it
was totally fallacious; though it is by no means surprising that
those who wish to depreciate him, should, since his death, have
laid hold of this circumstance, and insisted upon it with very
unfair aggravation.

The history of his mind as to religion is an important article. I
have mentioned the early impressions made upon his tender
imagination by his mother, who continued her pious care with
assiduity, but, in his opinion, not with judgement. 'Sunday (said
he) was a heavy day to me when I was a boy. My mother confined me
on that day, and made me read "The Whole Duty of Man," from a great
part of which I could derive no instruction. When, for instance, I
had read the chapter on theft, which from my infancy I had been
taught was wrong, I was no more convinced that theft was wrong than
before; so there was no accession of knowledge. A boy should be
introduced to such books, by having his attention directed to the
arrangement, to the style, and other excellencies of composition;
that the mind being thus engaged by an amusing variety of objects,
may not grow weary.'

He communicated to me the following particulars upon the subject of
his religious progress. 'I fell into an inattention to religion,
or an indifference about it, in my ninth year. The church at
Lichfield, in which we had a seat, wanted reparation, so I was to
go and find a seat in other churches; and having bad eyes, and
being awkward about this, I used to go and read in the fields on
Sunday. This habit continued till my fourteenth year; and still I
find a great reluctance to go to church. I then became a sort of
lax TALKER against religion, for I did not much THINK against it;
and this lasted till I went to Oxford, where it would not be
SUFFERED. When at Oxford, I took up Law's Serious Call to a Holy
Life, expecting to find it a dull book (as such books generally
are), and perhaps to laugh at it. But I found Law quite an
overmatch for me; and this was the first occasion of my thinking in
earnest of religion, after I became capable of rational inquiry.'
From this time forward religion was the predominant object of his
thoughts; though, with the just sentiments of a conscientious
Christian, he lamented that his practice of its duties fell far
short of what it ought to be.

The particular course of his reading while at Oxford, and during
the time of vacation which he passed at home, cannot be traced.
Enough has been said of his irregular mode of study. He told me
that from his earliest years he loved to read poetry, but hardly
ever read any poem to an end; that he read Shakspeare at a period
so early, that the speech of the ghost in Hamlet terrified him when
he was alone; that Horace's Odes were the compositions in which he
took most delight, and it was long before he liked his Epistles and
Satires. He told me what he read SOLIDLY at Oxford was Greek; not
the Grecian historians, but Homer and Euripides, and now and then a
little Epigram; that the study of which he was the most fond was
Metaphysicks, but he had not read much, even in that way. I always
thought that he did himself injustice in his account of what he had
read, and that he must have been speaking with reference to the
vast portion of study which is possible, and to which a few
scholars in the whole history of literature have attained; for when
I once asked him whether a person, whose name I have now forgotten,
studied hard, he answered 'No, Sir; I do not believe he studied
hard. I never knew a man who studied hard. I conclude, indeed,
from the effects, that some men have studied hard, as Bentley and
Clarke.' Trying him by that criterion upon which he formed his
judgement of others, we may be absolutely certain, both from his
writings and his conversation, that his reading was very extensive.
Dr. Adam Smith, than whom few were better judges on this subject,
once observed to me that 'Johnson knew more books than any man
alive.' He had a peculiar facility in seizing at once what was
valuable in any book, without submitting to the labour of perusing
it from beginning to end. He had, from the irritability of his
constitution, at all times, an impatience and hurry when he either
read or wrote. A certain apprehension, arising from novelty, made
him write his first exercise at College twice over; but he never
took that trouble with any other composition; and we shall see that
his most excellent works were struck off at a heat, with rapid

No man had a more ardent love of literature, or a higher respect
for it than Johnson. His apartment in Pembroke College was that
upon the second floor, over the gateway. The enthusiasts of
learning will ever contemplate it with veneration. One day, while
he was sitting in it quite alone, Dr. Panting, then master of the
College, whom he called 'a fine Jacobite fellow,' overheard him
uttering this soliloquy in his strong, emphatick voice: 'Well, I
have a mind to see what is done in other places of learning. I'll
go and visit the Universities abroad. I'll go to France and Italy.
I'll go to Padua.--And I'll mind my business. For an Athenian
blockhead is the worst of all blockheads.'

Dr. Adams told me that Johnson, while he was at Pembroke College,
'was caressed and loved by all about him, was a gay and frolicksome
fellow, and passed there the happiest part of his life.' But this
is a striking proof of the fallacy of appearances, and how little
any of us know of the real internal state even of those whom we see
most frequently; for the truth is, that he was then depressed by
poverty, and irritated by disease. When I mentioned to him this
account as given me by Dr. Adams, he said; 'Ah, Sir, I was mad and
violent. It was bitterness which they mistook for frolick. I was
miserably poor, and I thought to fight my way by my literature and
my wit; so I disregarded all power and all authority.'

The Bishop of Dromore observes in a letter to me,

'The pleasure he took in vexing the tutors and fellows has been
often mentioned. But I have heard him say, what ought to be
recorded to the honour of the present venerable master of that
College, the Reverend William Adams, D.D., who was then very young,
and one of the junior fellows; that the mild but judicious
expostulations of this worthy man, whose virtue awed him, and whose
learning he revered, made him really ashamed of himself, "though I
fear (said he) I was too proud to own it."

'I have heard from some of his cotemporaries that he was generally
seen lounging at the College gate, with a circle of young students
round him, whom he was entertaining with wit, and keeping from
their studies, if not spiriting them up to rebellion against the
College discipline, which in his maturer years he so much

I do not find that he formed any close intimacies with his fellow-
collegians. But Dr. Adams told me that he contracted a love and
regard for Pembroke College, which he retained to the last. A
short time before his death he sent to that College a present of
all his works, to be deposited in their library; and he had
thoughts of leaving to it his house at Lichfield; but his friends
who were about him very properly dissuaded him from it, and he
bequeathed it to some poor relations. He took a pleasure in
boasting of the many eminent men who had been educated at Pembroke.
In this list are found the names of Mr. Hawkins the Poetry
Professor, Mr. Shenstone, Sir William Blackstone, and others; not
forgetting the celebrated popular preacher, Mr. George Whitefield,
of whom, though Dr. Johnson did not think very highly, it must be
acknowledged that his eloquence was powerful, his views pious and
charitable, his assiduity almost incredible; and, that since his
death, the integrity of his character has been fully vindicated.
Being himself a poet, Johnson was peculiarly happy in mentioning
how many of the sons of Pembroke were poets; adding, with a smile
of sportive triumph, 'Sir, we are a nest of singing birds.'

He was not, however, blind to what he thought the defects of his
own College; and I have, from the information of Dr. Taylor, a very
strong instance of that rigid honesty which he ever inflexibly
preserved. Taylor had obtained his father's consent to be entered
of Pembroke, that he might be with his schoolfellow Johnson, with
whom, though some years older than himself, he was very intimate.
This would have been a great comfort to Johnson. But he fairly
told Taylor that he could not, in conscience, suffer him to enter
where he knew he could not have an able tutor. He then made
inquiry all round the University, and having found that Mr.
Bateman, of Christ Church, was the tutor of highest reputation,
Taylor was entered of that College. Mr. Bateman's lectures were so
excellent, that Johnson used to come and get them at second-hand
from Taylor, till his poverty being so extreme that his shoes were
worn out, and his feet appeared through them, he saw that this
humiliating circumstance was perceived by the Christ Church men,
and he came no more. He was too proud to accept of money, and
somebody having set a pair of new shoes at his door, he threw them
away with indignation. How must we feel when we read such an
anecdote of Samuel Johnson!

The res angusta domi prevented him from having the advantage of a
complete academical education. The friend to whom he had trusted
for support had deceived him. His debts in College, though not
great, were increasing; and his scanty remittances from Lichfield,
which had all along been made with great difficulty, could be
supplied no longer, his father having fallen into a state of
insolvency. Compelled, therefore, by irresistible necessity, he
left the College in autumn, 1731, without a degree, having been a
member of it little more than three years.

And now (I had almost said POOR) Samuel Johnson returned to his
native city, destitute, and not knowing how he should gain even a
decent livelihood. His father's misfortunes in trade rendered him
unable to support his son; and for some time there appeared no
means by which he could maintain himself. In the December of this
year his father died.

Johnson was so far fortunate, that the respectable character of his
parents, and his own merit, had, from his earliest years, secured
him a kind reception in the best families at Lichfield. Among
these I can mention Mr. Howard, Dr. Swinfen, Mr. Simpson, Mr.
Levett, Captain Garrick, father of the great ornament of the
British stage; but above all, Mr. Gilbert Walmsley, Register of the
Prerogative Court of Lichfield, whose character, long after his
decease, Dr. Johnson has, in his Life of Edmund Smith, thus drawn
in the glowing colours of gratitude:

'Of Gilbert Walmsley, thus presented to my mind, let me indulge
myself in the remembrance. I knew him very early; he was one of
the first friends that literature procured me, and I hope that, at
least, my gratitude made me worthy of his notice.

'He was of an advanced age, and I was only not a boy, yet he never
received my notions with contempt. He was a whig, with all the
virulence and malevolence of his party; yet difference of opinion
did not keep us apart. I honoured him and he endured me.

'At this man's table I enjoyed many cheerful and instructive hours,
with companions, such as are not often found--with one who has
lengthened, and one who has gladdened life; with Dr. James, whose
skill in physick will be long remembered; and with David Garrick,
whom I hoped to have gratified with this character of our common
friend. But what are the hopes of man! I am disappointed by that
stroke of death, which has eclipsed the gaiety of nations, and
impoverished the publick stock of harmless pleasure.'

In these families he passed much time in his early years. In most
of them, he was in the company of ladies, particularly at Mr.
Walmsley's, whose wife and sisters-in-law, of the name of Aston,
and daughters of a Baronet, were remarkable for good breeding; so
that the notion which has been industriously circulated and
believed, that he never was in good company till late in life, and,
consequently had been confirmed in coarse and ferocious manners by
long habits, is wholly without foundation. Some of the ladies have
assured me, they recollected him well when a young man, as
distinguished for his complaisance.

In the forlorn state of his circumstances, he accepted of an offer
to be employed as usher in the school of Market-Bosworth, in
Leicestershire, to which it appears, from one of his little
fragments of a diary, that he went on foot, on the 16th of July.

This employment was very irksome to him in every respect, and he
complained grievously of it in his letters to his friend Mr.
Hector, who was now settled as a surgeon at Birmingham. The
letters are lost; but Mr. Hector recollects his writing 'that the
poet had described the dull sameness of his existence in these
words, "Vitam continet una dies" (one day contains the whole of my
life); that it was unvaried as the note of the cuckow; and that he
did not know whether it was more disagreeable for him to teach, or
the boys to learn, the grammar rules.' His general aversion to
this painful drudgery was greatly enhanced by a disagreement
between him and Sir Wolstan Dixey, the patron of the school, in
whose house, I have been told, he officiated as a kind of domestick
chaplain, so far, at least, as to say grace at table, but was
treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and,
after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he
relinquished a situation which all his life afterwards he
recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of
horrour. But it is probable that at this period, whatever
uneasiness he may have endured, he laid the foundation of much
future eminence by application to his studies.

Being now again totally unoccupied, he was invited by Mr. Hector to
pass some time with him at Birmingham, as his guest, at the house
of Mr. Warren, with whom Mr. Hector lodged and boarded. Mr. Warren
was the first established bookseller in Birmingham, and was very
attentive to Johnson, who he soon found could be of much service to
him in his trade, by his knowledge of literature; and he even
obtained the assistance of his pen in furnishing some numbers of a
periodical Essay printed in the newspaper, of which Warren was
proprietor. After very diligent inquiry, I have not been able to
recover those early specimens of that particular mode of writing by
which Johnson afterwards so greatly distinguished himself.

He continued to live as Mr. Hector's guest for about six months,
and then hired lodgings in another part of the town, finding
himself as well situated at Birmingham as he supposed he could be
any where, while he had no settled plan of life, and very scanty
means of subsistence. He made some valuable acquaintances there,
amongst whom were Mr. Porter, a mercer, whose widow he afterwards
married, and Mr. Taylor, who by his ingenuity in mechanical
inventions, and his success in trade, acquired an immense fortune.
But the comfort of being near Mr. Hector, his old school-fellow and
intimate friend, was Johnson's chief inducement to continue here.

His juvenile attachments to the fair sex were very transient; and
it is certain that he formed no criminal connection whatsoever.
Mr. Hector, who lived with him in his younger days in the utmost
intimacy and social freedom, has assured me, that even at that
ardent season his conduct was strictly virtuous in that respect;
and that though he loved to exhilarate himself with wine, he never
knew him intoxicated but once.

In a man whom religious education has secured from licentious
indulgences, the passion of love, when once it has seized him, is
exceedingly strong; being unimpaired by dissipation, and totally
concentrated in one object. This was experienced by Johnson, when
he became the fervent admirer of Mrs. Porter, after her first
husband's death. Miss Porter told me, that when he was first
introduced to her mother, his appearance was very forbidding: he
was then lean and lank, so that his immense structure of bones was
hideously striking to the eye, and the scars of the scrophula were
deeply visible. He also wore his hair, which was straight and
stiff, and separated behind: and he often had, seemingly,
convulsive starts and odd gesticulations, which tended to excite at
once surprize and ridicule. Mrs. Porter was so much engaged by his
conversation that she overlooked all these external disadvantages,
and said to her daughter, 'this is the most sensible man that I
ever saw in my life.'

Though Mrs. Porter was double the age of Johnson, and her person
and manner, as described to me by the late Mr. Garrick, were by no
means pleasing to others, she must have had a superiority of
understanding and talents, as she certainly inspired him with a
more than ordinary passion; and she having signified her
willingness to accept of his hand, he went to Lichfield to ask his
mother's consent to the marriage, which he could not but be
conscious was a very imprudent scheme, both on account of their
disparity of years, and her want of fortune. But Mrs. Johnson knew
too well the ardour of her son's temper, and was too tender a
parent to oppose his inclinations.

I know not for what reason the marriage ceremony was not performed
at Birmingham; but a resolution was taken that it should be at
Derby, for which place the bride and bridegroom set out on
horseback, I suppose in very good humour. But though Mr. Topham
Beauclerk used archly to mention Johnson's having told him, with
much gravity, 'Sir, it was a love marriage on both sides,' I have
had from my illustrious friend the following curious account of
their journey to church upon the nuptial morn:

9th JULY:--'Sir, she had read the old romances, and had got into
her head the fantastical notion that a woman of spirit should use
her lover like a dog. So, Sir, at first she told me that I rode
too fast, and she could not keep up with me; and, when I rode a
little slower, she passed me, and complained that I lagged behind.
I was not to be made the slave of caprice; and I resolved to begin
as I meant to end. I therefore pushed on briskly, till I was
fairly out of her sight. The road lay between two hedges, so I was
sure she could not miss it; and I contrived that she should soon
come up with me. When she did, I observed her to be in tears.'

This, it must be allowed, was a singular beginning of connubial
felicity; but there is no doubt that Johnson, though he thus shewed
a manly firmness, proved a most affectionate and indulgent husband
to the last moment of Mrs. Johnson's life: and in his Prayers and
Meditations, we find very remarkable evidence that his regard and
fondness for her never ceased, even after her death.

He now set up a private academy, for which purpose he hired a large
house, well situated near his native city. In the Gentleman's
Magazine for 1736, there is the following advertisement:

'At Edial, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, young gentlemen are
boarded and taught the Latin and Greek languages, by SAMUEL

But the only pupils that were put under his care were the
celebrated David Garrick and his brother George, and a Mr. Offely,
a young gentleman of good fortune who died early. The truth is,
that he was not so well qualified for being a teacher of elements,
and a conductor in learning by regular gradations, as men of
inferiour powers of mind. His own acquisitions had been made by
fits and starts, by violent irruptions into the regions of
knowledge; and it could not be expected that his impatience would
be subdued, and his impetuosity restrained, so as to fit him for a
quiet guide to novices.

Johnson was not more satisfied with his situation as the master of
an academy, than with that of the usher of a school; we need not
wonder, therefore, that he did not keep his academy above a year
and a half. From Mr. Garrick's account he did not appear to have
been profoundly reverenced by his pupils. His oddities of manner,
and uncouth gesticulations, could not but be the subject of
merriment to them; and, in particular, the young rogues used to
listen at the door of his bed-chamber, and peep through the key-
hole, that they might turn into ridicule his tumultuous and awkward
fondness for Mrs. Johnson, whom he used to name by the familiar
appellation of Tetty or Tetsey, which, like Betty or Betsey, is
provincially used as a contraction for Elisabeth, her christian
name, but which to us seems ludicrous, when applied to a woman of
her age and appearance. Mr. Garrick described her to me as very
fat, with a bosom of more than ordinary protuberance, with swelled
cheeks of a florid red, produced by thick painting, and increased
by the liberal use of cordials; flaring and fantastick in her
dress, and affected both in her speech and her general behaviour.
I have seen Garrick exhibit her, by his exquisite talent of
mimickry, so as to excite the heartiest bursts of laughter; but he,
probably, as is the case in all such representations, considerably
aggravated the picture.

Johnson now thought of trying his fortune in London, the great
field of genius and exertion, where talents of every kind have the
fullest scope, and the highest encouragement. It is a memorable
circumstance that his pupil David Garrick went thither at the same
time,* with intention to complete his education, and follow the
profession of the law, from which he was soon diverted by his
decided preference for the stage.

* Both of them used to talk pleasantly of this their first journey
to London. Garrick, evidently meaning to embellish a little, said
one day in my hearing, 'we rode and tied.' And the Bishop of
Killaloe informed me, that at another time, when Johnson and
Garrick were dining together in a pretty large company, Johnson
humorously ascertaining the chronology of something, expressed
himself thus: 'that was the year when I came to London with two-
pence half-penny in my pocket.' Garrick overhearing him,
exclaimed, 'eh? what do you say? with two-pence half-penny in your
pocket?'--JOHNSON, 'Why yes; when I came with two-pence half-penny
in MY pocket, and thou, Davy, with three half-pence in thine.'--

They were recommended to Mr. Colson, an eminent mathematician and
master of an academy, by the following letter from Mr. Walmsley:


'Lichfield, March 2,1737.

'Dear Sir, I had the favour of yours, and am extremely obliged to
you; but I cannot say I had a greater affection for you upon it
than I had before, being long since so much endeared to you, as
well by an early friendship, as by your many excellent and valuable
qualifications; and, had I a son of my own, it would be my
ambition, instead of sending him to the University, to dispose of
him as this young gentleman is.

'He, and another neighbour of mine, one Mr. Samuel Johnson, set out
this morning for London together. Davy Garrick is to be with you
early the next week, and Mr. Johnson to try his fate with a
tragedy, and to see to get himself employed in some translation,
either from the Latin or the French. Johnson is a very good
scholar and poet, and I have great hopes will turn out a fine
tragedy-writer. If it should any way lie in your way, doubt not
but you would be ready to recommend and assist your countryman.


How he employed himself upon his first coming to London is not
particularly known.'

* One curious anecdote was communicated by himself to Mr. John
Nichols. Mr. Wilcox, the bookseller, on being informed by him that
his intention was to get his livelihood as an authour, eyed his
robust frame attentively, and with a significant look, said, 'You
had better buy a porter's knot.' He however added, 'Wilcox was one
of my best friends.'--BOSWELL.

He had a little money when he came to town, and he knew how he
could live in the cheapest manner. His first lodgings were at the
house of Mr. Norris, a staymaker, in Exeter-street, adjoining
Catharine-street, in the Strand. 'I dined (said he) very well for
eight-pence, with very good company, at the Pine Apple in New-
street, just by. Several of them had travelled. They expected to
meet every day; but did not know one another's names. It used to
cost the rest a shilling, for they drank wine; but I had a cut of
meat for six-pence, and bread for a penny, and gave the waiter a
penny; so that I was quite well served, nay, better than the rest,
for they gave the waiter nothing.' He at this time, I believe,
abstained entirely from fermented liquors: a practice to which he
rigidly conformed for many years together, at different periods of
his life.

His Ofellus in the Art of Living in London, I have heard him
relate, was an Irish painter, whom he knew at Birmingham, and who
had practised his own precepts of oeconomy for several years in the
British capital. He assured Johnson, who, I suppose, was then
meditating to try his fortune in London, but was apprehensive of
the expence, 'that thirty pounds a year was enough to enable a man
to live there without being contemptible. He allowed ten pounds
for clothes and linen. He said a man might live in a garret at
eighteen-pence a week; few people would inquire where he lodged;
and if they did, it was easy to say, "Sir, I am to be found at such
a place." By spending three-pence in a coffeehouse, he might be
for some hours every day in very good company; he might dine for
six-pence, breakfast on bread and milk for a penny, and do without
supper. On clean-shirt-day he went abroad, and paid visits.' I
have heard him more than once talk of this frugal friend, whom he
recollected with esteem and kindness, and did not like to have one
smile at the recital. 'This man (said he, gravely) was a very
sensible man, who perfectly understood common affairs: a man of a
great deal of knowledge of the world, fresh from life, not strained
through books. He amused himself, I remember, by computing how
much more expence was absolutely necessary to live upon the same
scale with that which his friend described, when the value of money
was diminished by the progress of commerce. It may be estimated
that double the money might now with difficulty be sufficient.'

Amidst this cold obscurity, there was one brilliant circumstance to
cheer him; he was well acquainted with Mr. Henry Hervey, one of the
branches of the noble family of that name, who had been quartered
at Lichfield as an officer of the army, and had at this time a
house in London, where Johnson was frequently entertained, and had
an opportunity of meeting genteel company. Not very long before
his death, he mentioned this, among other particulars of his life,
which he was kindly communicating to me; and he described this
early friend, 'Harry Hervey,' thus: 'He was a vicious man, but very
kind to me. If you call a dog HERVEY, I shall love him.'

He told me he had now written only three acts of his Irene, and
that he retired for some time to lodgings at Greenwich, where he
proceeded in it somewhat further, and used to compose, walking in
the Park; but did not stay long enough at that place to finish it.

In the course of the summer he returned to Lichfield, where he had
left Mrs. Johnson, and there he at last finished his tragedy, which
was not executed with his rapidity of composition upon other
occasions, but was slowly and painfully elaborated. A few days
before his death, while burning a great mass of papers, he picked
out from among them the original unformed sketch of this tragedy,
in his own hand-writing, and gave it to Mr. Langton, by whose
favour a copy of it is now in my possession.

Johnson's residence at Lichfield, on his return to it at this time,
was only for three months; and as he had as yet seen but a small
part of the wonders of the Metropolis, he had little to tell his
townsmen. He related to me the following minute anecdote of this
period: 'In the last age, when my mother lived in London, there
were two sets of people, those who gave the wall, and those who
took it; the peaceable and the quarrelsome. When I returned to
Lichfield, after having been in London, my mother asked me, whether
I was one of those who gave the wall, or those who took it. NOW it
is fixed that every man keeps to the right; or, if one is taking
the wall, another yields it; and it is never a dispute.'

He now removed to London with Mrs. Johnson; but her daughter, who
had lived with them at Edial, was left with her relations in the
country. His lodgings were for some time in Woodstock-street, near
Hanover-square, and afterwards in Castle-street, near Cavendish-

His tragedy being by this time, as he thought, completely finished
and fit for the stage, he was very desirous that it should be
brought forward. Mr. Peter Garrick told me, that Johnson and he
went together to the Fountain tavern, and read it over, and that he
afterwards solicited Mr. Fleetwood, the patentee of Drury-lane
theatre, to have it acted at his house; but Mr. Fleetwood would not
accept it, probably because it was not patronized by some man of
high rank; and it was not acted till 1749, when his friend David
Garrick was manager of that theatre.

The Gentleman's Magazine, begun and carried on by Mr. Edward Cave,
under the name of SYLVANUS URBAN, had attracted the notice and
esteem of Johnson, in an eminent degree, before he came to London
as an adventurer in literature. He told me, that when he first saw
St. John's Gate, the place where that deservedly popular miscellany
was originally printed, he 'beheld it with reverence.'

It appears that he was now enlisted by Mr. Cave as a regular
coadjutor in his magazine, by which he probably obtained a
tolerable livelihood. At what time, or by what means, he had
acquired a competent knowledge both of French and Italian, I do not
know; but he was so well skilled in them, as to be sufficiently
qualified for a translator. That part of his labour which
consisted in emendation and improvement of the productions of other
contributors, like that employed in levelling ground, can be
perceived only by those who had an opportunity of comparing the
original with the altered copy. What we certainly know to have
been done by him in this way, was the Debates in both houses of
Parliament, under the name of 'The Senate of Lilliput,' sometimes
with feigned denominations of the several speakers, sometimes with
denominations formed of the letters of their real names, in the
manner of what is called anagram, so that they might easily be
decyphered. Parliament then kept the press in a kind of mysterious
awe, which made it necessary to have recourse to such devices. In
our time it has acquired an unrestrained freedom, so that the
people in all parts of the kingdom have a fair, open, and exact
report of the actual proceedings of their representatives and
legislators, which in our constitution is highly to be valued;
though, unquestionably, there has of late been too much reason to
complain of the petulance with which obscure scribblers have
presumed to treat men of the most respectable character and

This important article of the Gentlemen's Magazine was, for several
years, executed by Mr. William Guthrie, a man who deserves to be
respectably recorded in the literary annals of this country. The
debates in Parliament, which were brought home and digested by
Guthrie, whose memory, though surpassed by others who have since
followed him in the same department, was yet very quick and
tenacious, were sent by Cave to Johnson for his revision; and,
after some time, when Guthrie had attained to greater variety of
employment, and the speeches were more and more enriched by the
accession of Johnson's genius, it was resolved that he should do
the whole himself, from the scanty notes furnished by persons
employed to attend in both houses of Parliament. Sometimes,
however, as he himself told me, he had nothing more communicated to
him than the names of the several speakers, and the part which they
had taken in the debate.*

* Johnson later told Boswell that 'as soon as he found that the
speeches were thought genuine he determined that he would write no
more of them: for "he would not be accessary to the propagation of
falsehood." And such was the tenderness of his conscience, that a
short time before his death he expressed his regret for his having
been the authour of fictions which had passed for realities.'--Ed.

But what first displayed his transcendent powers, and 'gave the
world assurance of the MAN,' was his London, a Poem, in Imitation
of the Third Satire of Juvenal: which came out in May this year,
and burst forth with a splendour, the rays of which will for ever
encircle his name. Boileau had imitated the same satire with great
success, applying it to Paris; but an attentive comparison will
satisfy every reader, that he is much excelled by the English
Juvenal. Oldham had also imitated it, and applied it to London;
all which performances concur to prove, that great cities, in every
age, and in every country, will furnish similar topicks of satire.
Whether Johnson had previously read Oldham's imitation, I do not
know; but it is not a little remarkable, that there is scarcely any
coincidence found between the two performances, though upon the
very same subject.

Johnson's London was published in May, 1738; and it is remarkable,
that it came out on the same morning with Pope's satire, entitled
'1738;' so that England had at once its Juvenal and Horace as
poetical monitors. The Reverend Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of
Salisbury, to whom I am indebted for some obliging communications,
was then a student at Oxford, and remembers well the effect which
London produced. Every body was delighted with it; and there being
no name to it, the first buz of the literary circles was 'here is
an unknown poet, greater even than Pope.' And it is recorded in
the Gentleman's Magazine of that year, that it 'got to the second
edition in the course of a week.'

One of the warmest patrons of this poem on its first appearance was
General Oglethorpe, whose 'strong benevolence of soul,' was
unabated during the course of a very long life; though it is
painful to think, that he had but too much reason to become cold
and callous, and discontented with the world, from the neglect
which he experienced of his publick and private worth, by those in
whose power it was to gratify so gallant a veteran with marks of
distinction. This extraordinary person was as remarkable for his
learning and taste, as for his other eminent qualities; and no man
was more prompt, active, and generous, in encouraging merit. I
have heard Johnson gratefully acknowledge, in his presence, the
kind and effectual support which he gave to his London, though
unacquainted with its authour.

Pope, who then filled the poetical throne without a rival, it may
reasonably be presumed, must have been particularly struck by the
sudden appearance of such a poet; and, to his credit, let it be
remembered, that his feelings and conduct on the occasion were
candid and liberal. He requested Mr. Richardson, son of the
painter, to endeavour to find out who this new authour was. Mr.
Richardson, after some inquiry, having informed him that he had
discovered only that his name was Johnson, and that he was some
obscure man, Pope said; 'he will soon be deterre.' We shall
presently see, from a note written by Pope, that he was himself
afterwards more successful in his inquiries than his friend.

While we admire the poetical excellence of this poem, candour
obliges us to allow, that the flame of patriotism and zeal for
popular resistance with which it is fraught, had no just cause.
There was, in truth, no 'oppression;' the 'nation' was NOT
'cheated.' Sir Robert Walpole was a wise and a benevolent
minister, who thought that the happiness and prosperity of a
commercial country like ours, would be best promoted by peace,
which he accordingly maintained, with credit, during a very long
period. Johnson himself afterwards honestly acknowledged the merit
of Walpole, whom he called 'a fixed star;' while he characterised
his opponent, Pitt, as 'a meteor.' But Johnson's juvenile poem was
naturally impregnated with the fire of opposition, and upon every
account was universally admired.

Though thus elevated into fame, and conscious of uncommon powers,
he had not that bustling confidence, or, I may rather say, that
animated ambition, which one might have supposed would have urged
him to endeavour at rising in life. But such was his inflexible
dignity of character, that he could not stoop to court the great;
without which, hardly any man has made his way to a high station.
He could not expect to produce many such works as his London, and
he felt the hardships of writing for bread; he was, therefore,
willing to resume the office of a schoolmaster, so as to have a
sure, though moderate income for his life; and an offer being made
to him of the mastership of a school, provided he could obtain the
degree of Master of Arts, Dr. Adams was applied to, by a common
friend, to know whether that could be granted him as a favour from
the University of Oxford. But though he had made such a figure in
the literary world, it was then thought too great a favour to be

Pope, without any knowledge of him but from his London, recommended
him to Earl Gower, who endeavoured to procure for him a degree from

It was, perhaps, no small disappointment to Johnson that this
respectable application had not the desired effect; yet how much
reason has there been, both for himself and his country, to rejoice
that it did not succeed, as he might probably have wasted in
obscurity those hours in which he afterwards produced his
incomparable works.

About this time he made one other effort to emancipate himself from
the drudgery of authourship. He applied to Dr. Adams, to consult
Dr. Smalbroke of the Commons, whether a person might be permitted
to practice as an advocate there, without a doctor's degree in
Civil Law. 'I am (said he) a total stranger to these studies; but
whatever is a profession, and maintains numbers, must be within the
reach of common abilities, and some degree of industry.' Dr. Adams
was much pleased with Johnson's design to employ his talents in
that manner, being confident he would have attained to great

As Mr. Pope's note concerning Johnson, alluded to in a former page,
refers both to his London, and his Marmor Norfolciense, I have
deferred inserting it till now. I am indebted for it to Dr. Percy,
the Bishop of Dromore, who permitted me to copy it from the
original in his possession. It was presented to his Lordship by
Sir Joshua Reynolds, to whom it was given by the son of Mr.
Richardson the painter, the person to whom it is addressed. I have
transcribed it with minute exactness, that the peculiar mode of
writing, and imperfect spelling of that celebrated poet, may be
exhibited to the curious in literature. It justifies Swift's
epithet of 'Paper-sparing Pope,' for it is written on a slip no
larger than a common message-card, and was sent to Mr. Richardson,
along with the Imitation of Juvenal.

'This is imitated by one Johnson who put in for a Publick-school in
Shropshire, but was disappointed. He has an infirmity of the
convulsive kind, that attacks him sometimes, so as to make him a
sad Spectacle. Mr. P. from the Merit of this Work which was all
the knowledge he had of him endeavour'd to serve him without his
own application; & wrote to my Ld gore, but he did not succeed.
Mr. Johnson published afterwds another Poem in Latin with Notes the
whole very Humerous call'd the Norfolk Prophecy. P.'

Johnson had been told of this note; and Sir Joshua Reynolds
informed him of the compliment which it contained, but, from
delicacy, avoided shewing him the paper itself. When Sir Joshua
observed to Johnson that he seemed very desirous to see Pope's
note, he answered, 'Who would not be proud to have such a man as
Pope so solicitous in inquiring about him?'

The infirmity to which Mr. Pope alludes, appeared to me also, as I
have elsewhere observed, to be of the convulsive kind, and of the
nature of that distemper called St. Vitus's dance; and in this
opinion I am confirmed by the description which Sydenham gives of
that disease. 'This disorder is a kind of convulsion. It
manifests itself by halting or unsteadiness of one of the legs,
which the patient draws after him like an ideot. If the hand of
the same side be applied to the breast, or any other part of the
body, he cannot keep it a moment in the same posture, but it will
be drawn into a different one by a convulsion, notwithstanding all
his efforts to the contrary.' Sir Joshua Reynolds, however, was of
a different opinion, and favoured me with the following paper.

'Those motions or tricks of Dr. Johnson are improperly called
convulsions. He could sit motionless, when he was told so to do,
as well as any other man; my opinion is that it proceeded from a
habit which he had indulged himself in, of accompanying his
thoughts with certain untoward actions, and those actions always
appeared to me as if they were meant to reprobate some part of his
past conduct. Whenever he was not engaged in conversation, such
thoughts were sure to rush into his mind; and, for this reason, any
company, any employment whatever, he preferred to being alone. The
great business of his life (he said) was to escape from himself;
this disposition he considered as the disease of his mind, which
nothing cured but company.

'One instance of his absence and particularity, as it is
characteristick of the man, may be worth relating. When he and I
took a journey together into the West, we visited the late Mr.
Banks, of Dorsetshire; the conversation turning upon pictures,
which Johnson could not well see, he retired to a corner of the
room, stretching out his right leg as far as he could reach before
him, then bringing up his left leg, and stretching his right still
further on. The old gentleman observing him, went up to him, and
in a very courteous manner assured him, that though it was not a
new house, the flooring was perfectly safe. The Doctor started
from his reverie, like a person waked out of his sleep, but spoke
not a word.'

While we are on this subject, my readers may not be displeased with
another anecdote, communicated to me by the same friend, from the
relation of Mr. Hogarth.

Johnson used to be a pretty frequent visitor at the house of Mr.
Richardson, authour of Clarissa, and other novels of extensive
reputation. Mr. Hogarth came one day to see Richardson, soon after
the execution of Dr. Cameron, for having taken arms for the house
of Stuart in 1745-6; and being a warm partisan of George the
Second, he observed to Richardson, that certainly there must have
been some very unfavourable circumstances lately discovered in this
particular case, which had induced the King to approve of an
execution for rebellion so long after the time when it was
committed, as this had the appearance of putting a man to death in
cold blood, and was very unlike his Majesty's usual clemency.
While he was talking, he perceived a person standing at a window in
the room, shaking his head, and rolling himself about in a strange
ridiculous manner. He concluded that he was an ideot, whom his
relations had put under the care of Mr. Richardson, as a very good
man. To his great surprise, however, this figure stalked forwards
to where he and Mr. Richardson were sitting, and all at once took
up the argument, and burst out into an invective against George the
Second, as one, who, upon all occasions was unrelenting and
barbarous; mentioning many instances, particularly, that when an
officer of high rank had been acquitted by a Court Martial, George
the Second had with his own hand, struck his name off the list. In
short, he displayed such a power of eloquence, that Hogarth looked
at him with astonishment, and actually imagined that this ideot had
been at the moment inspired. Neither Hogarth nor Johnson were made
known to each other at this interview.

1740: AETAT. 3l.]--In 1740 he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine
the 'Preface,' 'Life of Sir Francis Drake,' and the first parts of
those of 'Admiral Blake,' and of 'Philip Baretier,' both which he
finished the following year. He also wrote an 'Essay on Epitaphs,'
and an 'Epitaph on Philips, a Musician,' which was afterwards
published with some other pieces of his, in Mrs. Williams's
Miscellanies. This Epitaph is so exquisitely beautiful, that I
remember even Lord Kames, strangely prejudiced as he was against
Dr. Johnson, was compelled to allow it very high praise. It has
been ascribed to Mr. Garrick, from its appearing at first with the
signature G; but I have heard Mr. Garrick declare, that it was
written by Dr. Johnson, and give the following account of the
manner in which it was composed. Johnson and he were sitting
together; when, amongst other things, Garrick repeated an Epitaph
upon this Philips by a Dr. Wilkes, in these words:

'Exalted soul! whose harmony could please
The love-sick virgin, and the gouty ease;
Could jarring discord, like Amphion, move
To beauteous order and harmonious love;
Rest here in peace, till angels bid thee rise,
And meet thy blessed Saviour in the skies.'

Johnson shook his head at these common-place funereal lines, and
said to Garrick, 'I think, Davy, I can make a better.' Then,
stirring about his tea for a little while, in a state of
meditation, he almost extempore produced the following verses:

'Philips, whose touch harmonious could remove
The pangs of guilty power or hapless love;
Rest here, distress'd by poverty no more,
Here find that calm thou gav'st so oft before;
Sleep, undisturb'd, within this peaceful shrine,
Till angels wake thee with a note like thine!'

1742: AETAT. 33.]--In 1742 he wrote . . . 'Proposals for Printing
Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of
Oxford.' He was employed in this business by Mr. Thomas Osborne
the bookseller, who purchased the library for 13,000l., a sum which
Mr. Oldys says, in one of his manuscripts, was not more than the
binding of the books had cost; yet, as Dr. Johnson assured me, the
slowness of the sale was such, that there was not much gained by
it. It has been confidently related, with many embellishments,
that Johnson one day knocked Osborne down in his shop, with a
folio, and put his foot upon his neck. The simple truth I had from
Johnson himself. 'Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him.
But it was not in his shop: it was in my own chamber.'

1744: AETAT. 35.]--He produced one work this year, fully sufficient
to maintain the high reputation which he had acquired. This was
The Life of Richard Savage; a man, of whom it is difficult to speak
impartially, without wondering that he was for some time the
intimate companion of Johnson; for his character was marked by
profligacy, insolence, and ingratitude: yet, as he undoubtedly had
a warm and vigorous, though unregulated mind, had seen life in all
its varieties, and been much in the company of the statesmen and
wits of his time, he could communicate to Johnson an abundant
supply of such materials as his philosophical curiosity most
eagerly desired; and as Savage's misfortunes and misconduct had
reduced him to the lowest state of wretchedness as a writer for
bread, his visits to St. John's Gate naturally brought Johnson and
him together.

It is melancholy to reflect, that Johnson and Savage were sometimes
in such extreme indigence,* that they could not pay for a lodging;
so that they have wandered together whole nights in the streets.
Yet in these almost incredible scenes of distress, we may suppose
that Savage mentioned many of the anecdotes with which Johnson
afterwards enriched the life of his unhappy companion, and those of
other Poets.

* Soon after Savage's Life was published, Mr. Harte dined with
Edward Cave, and occasionally praised it. Soon after, meeting him,
Cave said, 'You made a man very happy t'other day.'--'How could
that be.' says Harte; 'nobody was there but ourselves.' Cave
answered, by reminding him that a plate of victuals was sent behind
a screen, which was to Johnson, dressed so shabbily, that he did
not choose to appear; but on hearing the conversation, was highly
delighted with the encomiums on his book--MALONE.

He told Sir Joshua Reynolds, that one night in particular, when
Savage and he walked round St. James's-square for want of a
lodging, they were not at all depressed by their situation; but in
high spirits and brimful of patriotism, traversed the square for
several hours, inveighed against the minister, and 'resolved they
would stand by their country.'

In Johnson's Life of Savage, although it must be allowed that its
moral is the reverse of--'Respicere exemplar vitae morumque
jubebo,' a very useful lesson is inculcated, to guard men of warm
passions from a too free indulgence of them; and the various
incidents are related in so clear and animated a manner, and
illuminated throughout with so much philosophy, that it is one of
the most interesting narratives in the English language. Sir
Joshua Reynolds told me, that upon his return from Italy he met
with it in Devonshire, knowing nothing of its authour, and began to
read it while he was standing with his arm leaning against a
chimney-piece. It seized his attention so strongly, that, not
being able to lay down the book till he had finished it, when he
attempted to move, he found his arm totally benumbed. The rapidity
with which this work was composed, is a wonderful circumstance.
Johnson has been heard to say, 'I wrote forty-eight of the printed
octavo pages of the Life of Savage at a sitting; but then I sat up
all night.'

It is remarkable, that in this biographical disquisition there
appears a very strong symptom of Johnson's prejudice against
players; a prejudice which may be attributed to the following
causes: first, the imperfection of his organs, which were so
defective that he was not susceptible of the fine impressions which
theatrical excellence produces upon the generality of mankind;
secondly, the cold rejection of his tragedy; and, lastly, the
brilliant success of Garrick, who had been his pupil, who had come
to London at the same time with him, not in a much more prosperous
state than himself, and whose talents he undoubtedly rated low,
compared with his own. His being outstripped by his pupil in the
race of immediate fame, as well as of fortune, probably made him
feel some indignation, as thinking that whatever might be Garrick's
merits in his art, the reward was too great when compared with what
the most successful efforts of literary labour could attain. At
all periods of his life Johnson used to talk contemptuously of
players; but in this work he speaks of them with peculiar acrimony;
for which, perhaps, there was formerly too much reason from the
licentious and dissolute manners of those engaged in that
profession. It is but justice to add, that in our own time such a
change has taken place, that there is no longer room for such an
unfavourable distinction.

His schoolfellow and friend, Dr. Taylor, told me a pleasant
anecdote of Johnson's triumphing over his pupil David Garrick.
When that great actor had played some little time at Goodman's
fields, Johnson and Taylor went to see him perform, and afterwards
passed the evening at a tavern with him and old Giffard. Johnson,
who was ever depreciating stage-players, after censuring some
mistakes in emphasis which Garrick had committed in the course of
that night's acting, said, 'The players, Sir, have got a kind of
rant, with which they run on, without any regard either to accent
or emphasis.' Both Garrick and Giffard were offended at this
sarcasm, and endeavoured to refute it; upon which Johnson rejoined,
'Well now, I'll give you something to speak, with which you are
little acquainted, and then we shall see how just my observation
is. That shall be the criterion. Let me hear you repeat the ninth
Commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy
neighbour."' Both tried at it, said Dr. Taylor, and both mistook
the emphasis, which should be upon not and false witness. Johnson
put them right, and enjoyed his victory with great glee.

Johnson's partiality for Savage made him entertain no doubt of his
story, however extraordinary and improbable. It never occurred to
him to question his being the son of the Countess of Macclesfield,
of whose unrelenting barbarity he so loudly complained, and the
particulars of which are related in so strong and affecting a
manner in Johnson's life of him. Johnson was certainly well
warranted in publishing his narrative, however offensive it might
be to the lady and her relations, because her alledged unnatural
and cruel conduct to her son, and shameful avowal of guilt, were
stated in a Life of Savage now lying before me, which came out so
early as 1727, and no attempt had been made to confute it, or to
punish the authour or printer as a libeller: but for the honour of
human nature, we should be glad to find the shocking tale not true;
and, from a respectable gentleman connected with the lady's family,
I have received such information and remarks, as joined to my own
inquiries, will, I think, render it at least somewhat doubtful,
especially when we consider that it must have originated from the
person himself who went by the name of Richard Savage.

1746: AETAT. 37.]--It is somewhat curious, that his literary career
appears to have been almost totally suspended in the years 1745 and
1746, those years which were marked by a civil war in Great-
Britain, when a rash attempt was made to restore the House of
Stuart to the throne. That he had a tenderness for that
unfortunate House, is well known; and some may fancifully imagine,
that a sympathetick anxiety impeded the exertion of his
intellectual powers: but I am inclined to think, that he was,
during this time, sketching the outlines of his great philological

1747: AETAT. 38.]--This year his old pupil and friend, David
Garrick, having become joint patentee and manager of Drury-lane
theatre, Johnson honoured his opening of it with a Prologue, which
for just and manly dramatick criticism, on the whole range of the
English stage, as well as for poetical excellence, is unrivalled.
Like the celebrated Epilogue to the Distressed Mother, it was,
during the season, often called for by the audience.

But the year 1747 is distinguished as the epoch, when Johnson's
arduous and important work, his DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE,
was announced to the world, by the publication of its Plan or

How long this immense undertaking had been the object of his
contemplation, I do not know. I once asked him by what means he
had attained to that astonishing knowledge of our language, by
which he was enabled to realise a design of such extent, and
accumulated difficulty. He told me, that 'it was not the effect of
particular study; but that it had grown up in his mind insensibly.'
I have been informed by Mr. James Dodsley, that several years
before this period, when Johnson was one day sitting in his brother
Robert's shop, he heard his brother suggest to him, that a
Dictionary of the English Language would be a work that would be
well received by the publick; that Johnson seemed at first to catch
at the proposition, but, after a pause, said, in his abrupt
decisive manner, 'I believe I shall not undertake it.' That he,
however, had bestowed much thought upon the subject, before he
published his Plan, is evident from the enlarged, clear, and
accurate views which it exhibits; and we find him mentioning in
that tract, that many of the writers whose testimonies were to be
produced as authorities, were selected by Pope; which proves that
he had been furnished, probably by Mr. Robert Dodsley, with
whatever hints that eminent poet had contributed towards a great
literary project, that had been the subject of important
consideration in a former reign.

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