Part 2 out of 12
The booksellers who contracted with Johnson, single and unaided,
for the execution of a work, which in other countries has not been
effected but by the co-operating exertions of many, were Mr. Robert
Dodsley, Mr. Charles Hitch, Mr. Andrew Millar, the two Messieurs
Longman, and the two Messieurs Knapton. The price stipulated was
fifteen hundred and seventy-five pounds.
The Plan, was addressed to Philip Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield,
then one of his Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State; a
nobleman who was very ambitious of literary distinction, and who,
upon being informed of the design, had expressed himself in terms
very favourable to its success. There is, perhaps in every thing
of any consequence, a secret history which it would be amusing to
know, could we have it authentically communicated. Johnson told
me, 'Sir, the way in which the Plan of my Dictionary came to be
inscribed to Lord Chesterfield, was this: I had neglected to write
it by the time appointed. Dodsley suggested a desire to have it
addressed to Lord Chesterfield. I laid hold of this as a pretext
for delay, that it might be better done, and let Dodsley have his
desire. I said to my friend, Dr. Bathurst, "Now if any good comes
of my addressing to Lord Chesterfield, it will be ascribed to deep
policy, when, in fact, it was only a casual excuse for laziness."'
Dr. Adams found him one day busy at his Dictionary, when the
following dialogue ensued. 'ADAMS. This is a great work, Sir.
How are you to get all the etymologies? JOHNSON. Why, Sir, here
is a shelf with Junius, and Skinner, and others; and there is a
Welch gentleman who has published a collection of Welch proverbs,
who will help me with the Welch. ADAMS. But, Sir, how can you do
this in three years? JOHNSON. Sir, I have no doubt that I can do
it in three years. ADAMS. But the French Academy, which consists
of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary.
JOHNSON. Sir, thus it is. This is the proportion. Let me see;
forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred,
so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman.' With so
much ease and pleasantry could he talk of that prodigious labour
which he had undertaken to execute.
For the mechanical part he employed, as he told me, six amanuenses;
and let it be remembered by the natives of North-Britain, to whom
he is supposed to have been so hostile, that five of them were of
that country. There were two Messieurs Macbean; Mr. Shiels, who we
shall hereafter see partly wrote the Lives of the Poets to which
the name of Cibber is affixed; Mr. Stewart, son of Mr. George
Stewart, bookseller at Edinburgh; and a Mr. Maitland. The sixth of
these humble assistants was Mr. Peyton, who, I believe, taught
French, and published some elementary tracts.
To all these painful labourers, Johnson shewed a never-ceasing
kindness, so far as they stood in need of it. The elder Mr.
Macbean had afterwards the honour of being Librarian to Archibald,
Duke of Argyle, for many years, but was left without a shilling.
Johnson wrote for him a Preface to A System of Ancient Geography;
and, by the favour of Lord Thurlow, got him admitted a poor brother
of the Charterhouse. For Shiels, who died of a consumption, he had
much tenderness; and it has been thought that some choice sentences
in the Lives of the Poets were supplied by him. Peyton, when
reduced to penury, had frequent aid from the bounty of Johnson, who
at last was at the expense of burying both him and his wife.
While the Dictionary was going forward, Johnson lived part of the
time in Holborn, part in Gough-square, Fleet-street; and he had an
upper room fitted up like a counting-house for the purpose, in
which he gave to the copyists their several tasks. The words,
partly taken from other dictionaries, and partly supplied by
himself, having been first written down with spaces left between
them, he delivered in writing their etymologies, definitions, and
various significations. The authorities were copied from the books
themselves, in which he had marked the passages with a black-lead
pencil, the traces of which could easily be effaced. I have seen
several of them, in which that trouble had not been taken; so that
they were just as when used by the copyists. It is remarkable,
that he was so attentive in the choice of the passages in which
words were authorised, that one may read page after page of his
Dictionary with improvement and pleasure; and it should not pass
unobserved, that he has quoted no authour whose writings had a
tendency to hurt sound religion and morality.
The necessary expense of preparing a work of such magnitude for the
press, must have been a considerable deduction from the price
stipulated to be paid for the copy-right. I understand that
nothing was allowed by the booksellers on that account; and I
remember his telling me, that a large portion of it having by
mistake been written upon both sides of the paper, so as to be
inconvenient for the compositor, it cost him twenty pounds to have
it transcribed upon one side only.
He is now to be considered as 'tugging at his oar,' as engaged in a
steady continued course of occupation, sufficient to employ all his
time for some years; and which was the best preventive of that
constitutional melancholy which was ever lurking about him, ready
to trouble his quiet. But his enlarged and lively mind could not
be satisfied without more diversity of employment, and the pleasure
of animated relaxation. He therefore not only exerted his talents
in occasional composition very different from Lexicography, but
formed a club in Ivy-lane, Paternoster-row, with a view to enjoy
literary discussion, and amuse his evening hours. The members
associated with him in this little society were his beloved friend
Dr. Richard Bathurst, Mr. Hawkesworth, afterwards well known by his
writings, Mr. John Hawkins, an attorney, and a few others of
1749: AETAT. 40.]--In January, 1749, he published the Vanity of
human Wishes, being the Tenth Satire of Juvenal imitated. He, I
believe, composed it the preceding year. Mrs. Johnson, for the
sake of country air, had lodgings at Hampstead, to which he
resorted occasionally, and there the greatest part, if not the
whole, of this Imitation was written. The fervid rapidity with
which it was produced, is scarcely credible. I have heard him say,
that he composed seventy lines of it in one day, without putting
one of them upon paper till they were finished. I remember when I
once regretted to him that he had not given us more of Juvenal's
Satires, he said he probably should give more, for he had them all
in his head; by which I understood that he had the originals and
correspondent allusions floating in his mind, which he could, when
he pleased, embody and render permanent without much labour. Some
of them, however, he observed were too gross for imitation.
The profits of a single poem, however excellent, appear to have
been very small in the last reign, compared with what a publication
of the same size has since been known to yield. I have mentioned,
upon Johnson's own authority, that for his London he had only ten
guineas; and now, after his fame was established, he got for his
Vanity of Human Wishes but five guineas more, as is proved by an
authentick document in my possession.
His Vanity of Human Wishes has less of common life, but more of a
philosophick dignity than his London. More readers, therefore,
will be delighted with the pointed spirit of London, than with the
profound reflection of The Vanity of Human Wishes. Garrick, for
instance, observed in his sprightly manner, with more vivacity than
regard to just discrimination, as is usual with wits: 'When Johnson
lived much with the Herveys, and saw a good deal of what was
passing in life, he wrote his London, which is lively and easy.
When he became more retired, he gave us his Vanity of Human Wishes,
which is as hard as Greek. Had he gone on to imitate another
satire, it would have been as hard as Hebrew.'
Garrick being now vested with theatrical power by being manager of
Drury-lane theatre, he kindly and generously made use of it to
bring out Johnson's tragedy, which had been long kept back for want
of encouragement. But in this benevolent purpose he met with no
small difficulty from the temper of Johnson, which could not brook
that a drama which he had formed with much study, and had been
obliged to keep more than the nine years of Horace, should be
revised and altered at the pleasure of an actor. Yet Garrick knew
well, that without some alterations it would not be fit for the
stage. A violent dispute having ensued between them, Garrick
applied to the Reverend Dr. Taylor to interpose. Johnson was at
first very obstinate. 'Sir, (said he) the fellow wants me to make
Mahomet run mad, that he may have an opportunity of tossing his
hands and kicking his heels.' He was, however, at last, with
difficulty, prevailed on to comply with Garrick's wishes, so as to
allow of some changes; but still there were not enough.
Dr. Adams was present the first night of the representation of
Irene, and gave me the following account: 'Before the curtain drew
up, there were catcalls whistling, which alarmed Johnson's friends.
The Prologue, which was written by himself in a manly strain,
soothed the audience, and the play went off tolerably, till it came
to the conclusion, when Mrs. Pritchard, the heroine of the piece,
was to be strangled upon the stage, and was to speak two lines with
the bowstring round her neck. The audience cried out "Murder!
Murder!" She several times attempted to speak; but in vain. At
last she was obliged to go off the stage alive.' This passage was
afterwards struck out, and she was carried off to be put to death
behind the scenes, as the play now has it. The Epilogue, as
Johnson informed me, was written by Sir William Yonge. I know not
how his play came to be thus graced by the pen of a person then so
eminent in the political world.
Notwithstanding all the support of such performers as Garrick,
Barry, Mrs. Cibber, Mrs. Pritchard, and every advantage of dress
and decoration, the tragedy of Irene did not please the publick.
Mr. Garrick's zeal carried it through for nine nights, so that the
authour had his three nights' profits; and from a receipt signed by
him, now in the hands of Mr. James Dodsley, it appears that his
friend Mr. Robert Dodsley gave him one hundred pounds for the copy,
with his usual reservation of the right of one edition.
When asked how he felt upon the ill success of his tragedy, he
replied, 'Like the Monument;' meaning that he continued firm and
unmoved as that column. And let it be remembered, as an admonition
to the genus irritabile of dramatick writers, that this great man,
instead of peevishly complaining of the bad taste of the town,
submitted to its decision without a murmur. He had, indeed, upon
all occasions, a great deference for the general opinion: 'A man
(said he) who writes a book, thinks himself wiser or wittier than
the rest of mankind; he supposes that he can instruct or amuse
them, and the publick to whom he appeals, must, after all, be the
judges of his pretensions.'
On occasion of his play being brought upon the stage, Johnson had a
fancy that as a dramatick authour his dress should be more gay than
what he ordinarily wore; he therefore appeared behind the scenes,
and even in one of the side boxes, in a scarlet waistcoat, with
rich gold lace, and a gold-laced hat. He humourously observed to
Mr. Langton, 'that when in that dress he could not treat people
with the same ease as when in his usual plain clothes.' Dress
indeed, we must allow, has more effect even upon strong minds than
one should suppose, without having had the experience of it. His
necessary attendance while his play was in rehearsal, and during
its performance, brought him acquainted with many of the performers
of both sexes, which produced a more favourable opinion of their
profession than he had harshly expressed in his Life of Savage.
With some of them he kept up an acquaintance as long as he and they
lived, and was ever ready to shew them acts of kindness. He for a
considerable time used to frequent the Green Room, and seemed to
take delight in dissipating his gloom, by mixing in the sprightly
chit-chat of the motley circle then to be found there. Mr. David
Hume related to me from Mr. Garrick, that Johnson at last denied
himself this amusement, from considerations of rigid virtue;
saying, 'I'll come no more behind your scenes, David; for the silk
stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous
1750: AETAT. 41.]--In 1750 he came forth in the character for which
he was eminently qualified, a majestick teacher of moral and
religious wisdom. The vehicle which he chose was that of a
periodical paper, which he knew had been, upon former occasions,
employed with great success. The Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian,
were the last of the kind published in England, which had stood the
test of a long trial; and such an interval had now elapsed since
their publication, as made him justly think that, to many of his
readers, this form of instruction would, in some degree, have the
advantage of novelty. A few days before the first of his Essays
came out, there started another competitor for fame in the same
form, under the title of The Tatler Revived, which I believe was
'born but to die.' Johnson was, I think, not very happy in the
choice of his title, The Rambler, which certainly is not suited to
a series of grave and moral discourses; which the Italians have
literally, but ludicrously translated by Il Vagabondo; and which
has been lately assumed as the denomination of a vehicle of
licentious tales, The Rambler's Magazine. He gave Sir Joshua
Reynolds the following account of its getting this name: 'What MUST
be done, Sir, WILL be done. When I was to begin publishing that
paper, I was at a loss how to name it. I sat down at night upon my
bedside, and resolved that I would not go to sleep till I had fixed
its title. The Rambler seemed the best that occurred, and I took
With what devout and conscientious sentiments this paper was
undertaken, is evidenced by the following prayer, which he composed
and offered up on the occasion: 'Almighty GOD, the giver of all
good things, without whose help all labour is ineffectual, and
without whose grace all wisdom is folly; grant, I beseech Thee,
that in this undertaking thy Holy Spirit may not be with-held from
me, but that I may promote thy glory, and the salvation of myself
and others: grant this, O LORD, for the sake of thy son JESUS
The first paper of The Rambler was published on Tuesday the 20th of
March, 1750; and its authour was enabled to continue it, without
interruption, every Tuesday and Friday, till Saturday the 17th of
March, 1752, on which day it closed. This is a strong confirmation
of the truth of a remark of his, which I have had occasion to quote
elsewhere, that 'a man may write at any time, if he will set
himself doggedly to it;' for, notwithstanding his constitutional
indolence, his depression of spirits, and his labour in carrying on
his Dictionary, he answered the stated calls of the press twice a
week from the stores of his mind, during all that time.
Posterity will be astonished when they are told, upon the authority
of Johnson himself, that many of these discourses, which we should
suppose had been laboured with all the slow attention of literary
leisure, were written in haste as the moment pressed, without even
being read over by him before they were printed. It can be
accounted for only in this way; that by reading and meditation, and
a very close inspection of life, he had accumulated a great fund of
miscellaneous knowledge, which, by a peculiar promptitude of mind,
was ever ready at his call, and which he had constantly accustomed
himself to clothe in the most apt and energetick expression. Sir
Joshua Reynolds once asked him by what means he had attained his
extraordinary accuracy and flow of language. He told him, that he
had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on every
occasion, and in every company; to impart whatever he knew in the
most forcible language he could put it in; and that by constant
practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape
him, or attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them
in the clearest manner, it became habitual to him.
As The Rambler was entirely the work of one man, there was, of
course, such a uniformity in its texture, as very much to exclude
the charm of variety; and the grave and often solemn cast of
thinking, which distinguished it from other periodical papers, made
it, for some time, not generally liked. So slowly did this
excellent work, of which twelve editions have now issued from the
press, gain upon the world at large, that even in the closing
number the authour says, 'I have never been much a favourite of the
Johnson told me, with an amiable fondness, a little pleasing
circumstance relative to this work. Mrs. Johnson, in whose
judgement and taste he had great confidence, said to him, after a
few numbers of The Rambler had come out, 'I thought very well of
you before; but I did not imagine you could have written any thing
equal to this.' Distant praise, from whatever quarter, is not so
delightful as that of a wife whom a man loves and esteems. Her
approbation may be said to 'come home to his bosom;' and being so
near, its effect is most sensible and permanent.
Mr. James Elphinston, who has since published various works, and
who was ever esteemed by Johnson as a worthy man, happened to be in
Scotland while The Rambler was coming out in single papers at
London. With a laudable zeal at once for the improvement of his
countrymen, and the reputation of his friend, he suggested and took
the charge of an edition of those Essays at Edinburgh, which
followed progressively the London publication.
This year he wrote to the same gentleman upon a mournful occasion.
'To MR. JAMES ELPHINSTON.
September 25, 1750.
'DEAR SIR, You have, as I find by every kind of evidence, lost an
excellent mother; and I hope you will not think me incapable of
partaking of your grief. I have a mother, now eighty-two years of
age, whom, therefore, I must soon lose, unless it please GOD that
she rather should mourn for me. I read the letters in which you
relate your mother's death to Mrs. Strahan, and think I do myself
honour, when I tell you that I read them with tears; but tears are
neither to YOU nor to ME of any further use, when once the tribute
of nature has been paid. The business of life summons us away from
useless grief, and calls us to the exercise of those virtues of
which we are lamenting our deprivation. The greatest benefit which
one friend can confer upon another, is to guard, and excite, and
elevate his virtues. This your mother will still perform, if you
diligently preserve the memory of her life, and of her death: a
life, so far as I can learn, useful, wise, and innocent; and a
death resigned, peaceful, and holy. I cannot forbear to mention,
that neither reason nor revelation denies you to hope, that you may
increase her happiness by obeying her precepts; and that she may,
in her present state, look with pleasure upon every act of virtue
to which her instructions or example have contributed. Whether
this be more than a pleasing dream, or a just opinion of separate
spirits, is, indeed, of no great importance to us, when we consider
ourselves as acting under the eye of GOD: yet, surely, there is
something pleasing in the belief, that our separation from those
whom we love is merely corporeal; and it may be a great incitement
to virtuous friendship, if it can be made probable, that that union
that has received the divine approbation shall continue to
'There is one expedient by which you may, in some degree, continue
her presence. If you write down minutely what you remember of her
from your earliest years, you will read it with great pleasure, and
receive from it many hints of soothing recollection, when time
shall remove her yet farther from you, and your grief shall be
matured to veneration. To this, however painful for the present, I
cannot but advise you, as to a source of comfort and satisfaction
in the time to come; for all comfort and all satisfaction is
sincerely wished you by, dear Sir, your most obliged, most
obedient, and most humble servant,
The Rambler has increased in fame as in age. Soon after its first
folio edition was concluded, it was published in six duodecimo
volumes; and its authour lived to see ten numerous editions of it
in London, beside those of Ireland and Scotland.
The style of Johnson was, undoubtedly, much formed upon that of the
great writers in the last century, Hooker, Bacon, Sanderson,
Hakewell, and others; those 'GIANTS,' as they were well
characterised by A GREAT PERSONAGE, whose authority, were I to name
him, would stamp a reverence on the opinion.
Johnson assured me, that he had not taken upon him to add more than
four or five words to the English language, of his own formation;
and he was very much offended at the general licence, by no means
'modestly taken' in his time not only to coin new words, but to use
many words in senses quite different from their established
meaning, and those frequently very fantastical.
Sir Thomas Brown, whose life Johnson wrote, was remarkably fond of
Anglo-Latin diction; and to his example we are to ascribe Johnson's
sometimes indulging himself in this kind of phraseology. Johnson's
comprehension of mind was the mould for his language. Had his
conceptions been narrower, his expression would have been easier.
His sentences have a dignified march; and, it is certain, that his
example has given a general elevation to the language of his
country, for many of our best writers have approached very near to
him; and, from the influence which he has had upon our composition,
scarcely any thing is written now that is not better expressed than
was usual before he appeared to lead the national taste.
Though The Rambler was not concluded till the year 1752, I shall,
under this year, say all that I have to observe upon it. Some of
the translations of the mottos by himself are admirably done. He
acknowledges to have received 'elegant translations' of many of
them from Mr. James Elphinston; and some are very happily
translated by a Mr. F. Lewis, of whom I never heard more, except
that Johnson thus described him to Mr. Malone: 'Sir, he lived in
London, and hung loose upon society.'
His just abhorrence of Milton's political notions was ever strong.
But this did not prevent his warm admiration of Milton's great
poetical merit, to which he has done illustrious justice, beyond
all who have written upon the subject. And this year he not only
wrote a Prologue, which was spoken by Mr. Garrick before the acting
of Comus at Drury-lane theatre, for the benefit of Milton's grand-
daughter, but took a very zealous interest in the success of the
1751: AETAT. 42.]--In 1751 we are to consider him as carrying on
both his Dictionary and Rambler.
Though Johnson's circumstances were at this time far from being
easy, his humane and charitable disposition was constantly exerting
itself. Mrs. Anna Williams, daughter of a very ingenious Welsh
physician, and a woman of more than ordinary talents and
literature, having come to London in hopes of being cured of a
cataract in both her eyes, which afterwards ended in total
blindness, was kindly received as a constant visitor at his house
while Mrs. Johnson lived; and after her death, having come under
his roof in order to have an operation upon her eyes performed with
more comfort to her than in lodgings, she had an apartment from him
during the rest of her life, at all times when he had a house.
1752: AETAT. 43.]--In 1752 he was almost entirely occupied with his
Dictionary. The last paper of his Rambler was published March 2,
this year; after which, there was a cessation for some time of any
exertion of his talents as an essayist. But, in the same year, Dr.
Hawkesworth, who was his warm admirer, and a studious imitator of
his style, and then lived in great intimacy with him, began a
periodical paper, entitled The Adventurer, in connection with other
gentlemen, one of whom was Johnson's much-beloved friend, Dr.
Bathurst; and, without doubt, they received many valuable hints
from his conversation, most of his friends having been so assisted
in the course of their works.
That there should be a suspension of his literary labours during a
part of the year 1752, will not seem strange, when it is considered
that soon after closing his Rambler, he suffered a loss which,
there can be no doubt, affected him with the deepest distress. For
on the 17th of March, O.S., his wife died.
The following very solemn and affecting prayer was found after Dr.
Johnson's decease, by his servant, Mr. Francis Barber, who
delivered it to my worthy friend the Reverend Mr. Strahan, Vicar of
Islington, who at my earnest request has obligingly favoured me
with a copy of it, which he and I compared with the original:
'April 26, 1752, being after 12 at Night of the 25th.
'O Lord! Governour of heaven and earth, in whose hands are embodied
and departed Spirits, if thou hast ordained the Souls of the Dead
to minister to the Living, and appointed my departed Wife to have
care of me, grant that I may enjoy the good effects of her
attention and ministration, whether exercised by appearance,
impulses, dreams or in any other manner agreeable to thy
Government. Forgive my presumption, enlighten my ignorance, and
however meaner agents are employed, grant me the blessed influences
of thy holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.'
That his love for his wife was of the most ardent kind, and, during
the long period of fifty years, was unimpaired by the lapse of
time, is evident from various passages in the series of his Prayers
and Meditations, published by the Reverend Mr. Strahan, as well as
from other memorials, two of which I select, as strongly marking
the tenderness and sensibility of his mind.
'March 28, 1753. I kept this day as the anniversary of my Tetty's
death, with prayer and tears in the morning. In the evening I
prayed for her conditionally, if it were lawful.'
'April 23, 1753. I know not whether I do not too much indulge the
vain longings of affection; but I hope they intenerate my heart,
and that when I die like my Tetty, this affection will be
acknowledged in a happy interview, and that in the mean time I am
incited by it to piety. I will, however, not deviate too much from
common and received methods of devotion.'
Her wedding ring, when she became his wife, was, after her death,
preserved by him, as long as he lived, with an affectionate care,
in a little round wooden box, in the inside of which he pasted a
slip of paper, thus inscribed by him in fair characters, as
Nupta Jul. 9 1736,
Mart. 17 1752.'
After his death, Mr. Francis Barber, his faithful servant and
residuary legatee, offered this memorial of tenderness to Mrs. Lucy
Porter, Mrs. Johnson's daughter; but she having declined to accept
of it, he had it enamelled as a mourning ring for his old master,
and presented it to his wife, Mrs. Barber, who now has it.
I have, indeed, been told by Mrs. Desmoulins, who, before her
marriage, lived for some time with Mrs. Johnson at Hampstead, that
she indulged herself in country air and nice living, at an
unsuitable expense, while her husband was drudging in the smoke of
London, and that she by no means treated him with that complacency
which is the most engaging quality in a wife. But all this is
perfectly compatible with his fondness for her, especially when it
is remembered that he had a high opinion of her understanding, and
that the impressions which her beauty, real or imaginary, had
originally made upon his fancy, being continued by habit, had not
been effaced, though she herself was doubtless much altered for the
worse. The dreadful shock of separation took place in the night;
and he immediately dispatched a letter to his friend, the Reverend
Dr. Taylor, which, as Taylor told me, expressed grief in the
strongest manner he had ever read; so that it is much to be
regretted it has not been preserved. The letter was brought to Dr.
Taylor, at his house in the Cloisters, Westminster, about three in
the morning; and as it signified an earnest desire to see him, he
got up, and went to Johnson as soon as he was dressed, and found
him in tears and in extreme agitation. After being a little while
together, Johnson requested him to join with him in prayer. He
then prayed extempore, as did Dr. Taylor; and thus, by means of
that piety which was ever his primary object, his troubled mind
was, in some degree, soothed and composed.
The next day he wrote as follows:
'To THE REVEREND DR. TAYLOR.
'DEAR SIR,--Let me have your company and instruction. Do not live
away from me. My distress is great.
'Pray desire Mrs. Taylor to inform me what mourning I should buy
for my mother and Miss Porter, and bring a note in writing with
'Remember me in your prayers, for vain is the help of man. I am,
dear Sir, &c.
'March 18, 1752.'
That his sufferings upon the death of his wife were severe, beyond
what are commonly endured, I have no doubt, from the information of
many who were then about him, to none of whom I give more credit
than to Mr. Francis Barber, his faithful negro servant, who came
into his family about a fortnight after the dismal event. These
sufferings were aggravated by the melancholy inherent in his
constitution; and although he probably was not oftener in the wrong
than she was, in the little disagreements which sometimes troubled
his married state, during which, he owned to me, that the gloomy
irritability of his existence was more painful to him than ever, he
might very naturally, after her death, be tenderly disposed to
charge himself with slight omissions and offences, the sense of
which would give him much uneasiness. Accordingly we find, about a
year after her decease, that he thus addressed the Supreme Being:
'O LORD, who givest the grace of repentance, and hearest the
prayers of the penitent, grant that by true contrition I may obtain
forgiveness of all the sins committed, and of all duties neglected
in my union with the wife whom thou hast taken from me; for the
neglect of joint devotion, patient exhortation, and mild
instruction.' The kindness of his heart, notwithstanding the
impetuosity of his temper, is well known to his friends; and I
cannot trace the smallest foundation for the following dark and
uncharitable assertion by Sir John Hawkins: 'The apparition of his
departed wife was altogether of the terrifick kind, and hardly
afforded him a hope that she was in a state of happiness.' That
he, in conformity with the opinion of many of the most able,
learned, and pious Christians in all ages, supposed that there was
a middle state after death, previous to the time at which departed
souls are finally received to eternal felicity, appears, I think,
unquestionably from his devotions: 'And, O LORD, so far as it may
be lawful in me, I commend to thy fatherly goodness the soul of my
departed wife; beseeching thee to grant her whatever is best in her
present state, and finally to receive her to eternal happiness.'
But this state has not been looked upon with horrour, but only as
He deposited the remains of Mrs. Johnson in the church of Bromley,
in Kent, to which he was probably led by the residence of his
friend Hawkesworth at that place. The funeral sermon which he
composed for her, which was never preached, but having been given
to Dr. Taylor, has been published since his death, is a performance
of uncommon excellence, and full of rational and pious comfort to
such as are depressed by that severe affliction which Johnson felt
when he wrote it. When it is considered that it was written in
such an agitation of mind, and in the short interval between her
death and burial, it cannot be read without wonder.
From Mr. Francis Barber I have had the following authentick and
artless account of the situation in which he found him recently
after his wife's death:
'He was in great affliction. Mrs. Williams was then living in his
house, which was in Gough-square. He was busy with the Dictionary.
Mr. Shiels, and some others of the gentlemen who had formerly
written for him, used to come about him. He had then little for
himself, but frequently sent money to Mr. Shiels when in distress.
The friends who visited him at that time, were chiefly Dr.
Bathurst, and Mr. Diamond, an apothecary in Cork-street,
Burlington-gardens, with whom he and Mrs. Williams generally dined
every Sunday. There was a talk of his going to Iceland with him,
which would probably have happened had he lived. There were also
Mr. Cave, Dr. Hawkesworth, Mr. Ryland, merchant on Tower Hill, Mrs.
Masters, the poetess, who lived with Mr. Cave, Mrs. Carter, and
sometimes Mrs. Macaulay, also Mrs. Gardiner, wife of a tallow-
chandler on Snow-hill, not in the learned way, but a worthy good
woman; Mr. (now Sir Joshua) Reynolds; Mr. Millar, Mr. Dodsley, Mr.
Bouquet, Mr. Payne of Paternoster-row, booksellers; Mr. Strahan,
the printer; the Earl of Orrery, Lord Southwell, Mr. Garrick.'
Many are, no doubt, omitted in this catalogue of his friends, and,
in particular, his humble friend Mr. Robert Levet, an obscure
practiser in physick amongst the lower people, his fees being
sometimes very small sums, sometimes whatever provisions his
patients could afford him; but of such extensive practice in that
way, that Mrs. Williams has told me, his walk was from Hounsditch
to Marybone. It appears from Johnson's diary that their
acquaintance commenced about the year 1746; and such was Johnson's
predilection for him, and fanciful estimation of his moderate
abilities, that I have heard him say he should not be satisfied,
though attended by all the College of Physicians, unless he had Mr.
Levet with him. Ever since I was acquainted with Dr. Johnson, and
many years before, as I have been assured by those who knew him
earlier, Mr. Levet had an apartment in his house, or his chambers,
and waited upon him every morning, through the whole course of his
late and tedious breakfast. He was of a strange grotesque
appearance, stiff and formal in his manner, and seldom said a word
while any company was present.
The circle of his friends, indeed, at this time was extensive and
various, far beyond what has been generally imagined. To trace his
acquaintance with each particular person, if it could be done,
would be a task, of which the labour would not be repaid by the
advantage. But exceptions are to be made; one of which must be a
friend so eminent as Sir Joshua Reynolds, who was truly his dulce
decus, and with whom he maintained an uninterrupted intimacy to the
last hour of his life. When Johnson lived in Castle-street,
Cavendish-square, he used frequently to visit two ladies, who lived
opposite to him, Miss Cotterells, daughters of Admiral Cotterell.
Reynolds used also to visit there, and thus they met. Mr.
Reynolds, as I have observed above, had, from the first reading of
his Life of Savage, conceived a very high admiration of Johnson's
powers of writing. His conversation no less delighted him; and he
cultivated his acquaintance with the laudable zeal of one who was
ambitious of general improvement. Sir Joshua, indeed, was lucky
enough at their very first meeting to make a remark, which was so
much above the common-place style of conversation, that Johnson at
once perceived that Reynolds had the habit of thinking for himself.
The ladies were regretting the death of a friend, to whom they owed
great obligations; upon which Reynolds observed, 'You have,
however, the comfort of being relieved from a burthen of
gratitude.' They were shocked a little at this alleviating
suggestion, as too selfish; but Johnson defended it in his clear
and forcible manner, and was much pleased with the MIND, the fair
view of human nature, which it exhibited, like some of the
reflections of Rochefaucault. The consequence was, that he went
home with Reynolds, and supped with him.
Sir Joshua told me a pleasant characteristical anecdote of Johnson
about the time of their first acquaintance. When they were one
evening together at the Miss Cotterells', the then Duchess of
Argyle and another lady of high rank came in. Johnson thinking
that the Miss Cotterells were too much engrossed by them, and that
he and his friend were neglected, as low company of whom they were
somewhat ashamed, grew angry; and resolving to shock their supposed
pride, by making their great visitors imagine that his friend and
he were low indeed, he addressed himself in a loud tone to Mr.
Reynolds, saying, 'How much do you think you and I could get in a
week, if we were to WORK AS HARD as we could?'--as if they had been
His acquaintance with Bennet Langton, Esq. of Langton, in
Lincolnshire, another much valued friend, commenced soon after the
conclusion of his Rambler; which that gentleman, then a youth, had
read with so much admiration, that he came to London chiefly with
the view of endeavouring to be introduced to its authour. By a
fortunate chance he happened to take lodgings in a house where Mr.
Levet frequently visited; and having mentioned his wish to his
landlady, she introduced him to Mr. Levet, who readily obtained
Johnson's permission to bring Mr. Langton to him; as, indeed,
Johnson, during the whole course of his life, had no shyness, real
or affected, but was easy of access to all who were properly
recommended, and even wished to see numbers at his levee, as his
morning circle of company might, with strict propriety, be called.
Mr. Langton was exceedingly surprised when the sage first appeared.
He had not received the smallest intimation of his figure, dress,
or manner. From perusing his writings, he fancied he should see a
decent, well-drest, in short, remarkably decorous philosopher.
Instead of which, down from his bed-chamber, about noon, came, as
newly risen, a huge uncouth figure, with a little dark wig which
scarcely covered his head, and his clothes hanging loose about him.
But his conversation was so rich, so animated, and so forcible, and
his religious and political notions so congenial with those in
which Langton had been educated, that he conceived for him that
veneration and attachment which he ever preserved. Johnson was not
the less ready to love Mr. Langton, for his being of a very ancient
family; for I have heard him say, with pleasure, 'Langton, Sir, has
a grant of free warren from Henry the Second; and Cardinal Stephen
Langton, in King John's reign, was of this family.'
Mr. Langton afterwards went to pursue his studies at Trinity
College, Oxford, where he formed an acquaintance with his fellow
student, Mr. Topham Beauclerk; who, though their opinions and modes
of life were so different, that it seemed utterly improbable that
they should at all agree, had so ardent a love of literature, so
acute an understanding, such elegance of manners, and so well
discerned the excellent qualities of Mr. Langton, a gentleman
eminent not only for worth and learning, but for an inexhaustible
fund of entertaining conversation, that they became intimate
Johnson, soon after this acquaintance began, passed a considerable
time at Oxford. He at first thought it strange that Langton should
associate so much with one who had the character of being loose,
both in his principles and practice; but, by degrees, he himself
was fascinated. Mr. Beauclerk's being of the St. Alban's family,
and having, in some particulars, a resemblance to Charles the
Second, contributed, in Johnson's imagination, to throw a lustre
upon his other qualities; and, in a short time, the moral, pious
Johnson, and the gay, dissipated Beauclerk, were companions. 'What
a coalition! (said Garrick, when he heard of this;) I shall have my
old friend to bail out of the Round-house.' But I can bear
testimony that it was a very agreeable association. Beauclerk was
too polite, and valued learning and wit too much, to offend Johnson
by sallies of infidelity or licentiousness; and Johnson delighted
in the good qualities of Beauclerk, and hoped to correct the evil.
Innumerable were the scenes in which Johnson was amused by these
young men. Beauclerk could take more liberty with him, than any
body with whom I ever saw him; but, on the other hand, Beauclerk
was not spared by his respectable companion, when reproof was
proper. Beauclerk had such a propensity to satire, that at one
time Johnson said to him, 'You never open your mouth but with
intention to give pain; and you have often given me pain, not from
the power of what you said, but from seeing your intention.' At
another time applying to him, with a slight alteration, a line of
Pope, he said,
'Thy love of folly, and thy scorn of fools--
Every thing thou dost shews the one, and every thing thou say'st
the other.' At another time he said to him, 'Thy body is all vice,
and thy mind all virtue.' Beauclerk not seeming to relish the
compliment, Johnson said, 'Nay, Sir, Alexander the Great, marching
in triumph into Babylon, could not have desired to have had more
said to him.'
Johnson was some time with Beauclerk at his house at Windsor, where
he was entertained with experiments in natural philosophy. One
Sunday, when the weather was very fine, Beauclerk enticed him,
insensibly, to saunter about all the morning. They went into a
church-yard, in the time of divine service, and Johnson laid
himself down at his ease upon one of the tomb-stones. 'Now, Sir,
(said Beauclerk) you are like Hogarth's Idle Apprentice.' When
Johnson got his pension, Beauclerk said to him, in the humorous
phrase of Falstaff, 'I hope you'll now purge and live cleanly like
One night when Beauclerk and Langton had supped at a tavern in
London, and sat till about three in the morning, it came into their
heads to go and knock up Johnson, and see if they could prevail on
him to join them in a ramble. They rapped violently at the door of
his chambers in the Temple, till at last he appeared in his shirt,
with his little black wig on the top of his head, instead of a
nightcap, and a poker in his hand, imagining, probably, that some
ruffians were coming to attack him. When he discovered who they
were, and was told their errand, he smiled, and with great good
humour agreed to their proposal: 'What, is it you, you dogs! I'll
have a frisk with you.' He was soon drest, and they sallied forth
together into Covent-Garden, where the greengrocers and fruiterers
were beginning to arrange their hampers, just come in from the
country. Johnson made some attempts to help them; but the honest
gardeners stared so at his figure and manner, and odd interference,
that he soon saw his services were not relished. They then
repaired to one of the neighbouring taverns, and made a bowl of
that liquor called Bishop, which Johnson had always liked; while in
joyous contempt of sleep, from which he had been roused, he
repeated the festive lines,
'Short, O short then be thy reign,
And give us to the world again!'
They did not stay long, but walked down to the Thames, took a boat,
and rowed to Billingsgate. Beauclerk and Johnson were so well
pleased with their amusement, that they resolved to persevere in
dissipation for the rest of the day: but Langton deserted them,
being engaged to breakfast with some young Ladies. Johnson scolded
him for 'leaving his social friends, to go and sit with a set of
wretched UN-IDEA'D girls.' Garrick being told of this ramble, said
to him smartly, 'I heard of your frolick t'other night. You'll be
in the Chronicle.' Upon which Johnson afterwards observed, 'HE
durst not do such a thing. His WIFE would not LET him!'
1753: AETAT. 44.]--He entered upon this year 1753 with his usual
piety, as appears from the following prayer, which I transcribed
from that part of his diary which he burnt a few days before his
'Jan. 1, 1753, N.S. which I shall use for the future.
'Almighty God, who hast continued my life to this day, grant that,
by the assistance of thy Holy Spirit, I may improve the time which
thou shalt grant me, to my eternal salvation. Make me to remember,
to thy glory, thy judgements and thy mercies. Make me so to
consider the loss of my wife, whom thou hast taken from me, that it
may dispose me, by thy grace, to lead the residue of my life in thy
fear. Grant this, O LORD, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. Amen.'
He now relieved the drudgery of his Dictionary, and the melancholy
of his grief, by taking an active part in the composition of The
Adventurer, in which he began to write April 10.
In one of the books of his diary I find the following entry:
'Apr. 3, 1753. I began the second vol. of my Dictionary, room
being left in the first for Preface, Grammar, and History, none of
them yet begun.
'O God, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in
this labour, and in the whole task of my present state; that when I
shall render up, at the last day, an account of the talent
committed to me, I may receive pardon, for the sake of JESUS
1754: AETAT. 45.]--The Dictionary, we may believe, afforded Johnson
full occupation this year. As it approached to its conclusion, he
probably worked with redoubled vigour, as seamen increase their
exertion and alacrity when they have a near prospect of their
Lord Chesterfield, to whom Johnson had paid the high compliment of
addressing to his Lordship the Plan of his Dictionary, had behaved
to him in such a manner as to excite his contempt and indignation.
The world has been for many years amused with a story confidently
told, and as confidently repeated with additional circumstances,
that a sudden disgust was taken by Johnson upon occasion of his
having been one day kept long in waiting in his Lordship's
antechamber, for which the reason assigned was, that he had company
with him; and that at last, when the door opened, out walked Colley
Cibber; and that Johnson was so violently provoked when he found
for whom he had been so long excluded, that he went away in a
passion, and never would return. I remember having mentioned this
story to George Lord Lyttelton, who told me, he was very intimate
with Lord Chesterfield; and holding it as a well-known truth,
defended Lord Chesterfield, by saying, that 'Cibber, who had been
introduced familiarly by the back-stairs, had probably not been
there above ten minutes.' It may seem strange even to entertain a
doubt concerning a story so long and so widely current, and thus
implicitly adopted, if not sanctioned, by the authority which I
have mentioned; but Johnson himself assured me, that there was not
the least foundation for it. He told me, that there never was any
particular incident which produced a quarrel between Lord
Chesterfield and him; but that his Lordship's continued neglect was
the reason why he resolved to have no connection with him. When
the Dictionary was upon the eve of publication, Lord Chesterfield,
who, it is said, had flattered himself with expectations that
Johnson would dedicate the work to him, attempted, in a courtly
manner, to sooth, and insinuate himself with the Sage, conscious,
as it should seem, of the cold indifference with which he had
treated its learned authour; and further attempted to conciliate
him, by writing two papers in The World, in recommendation of the
work; and it must be confessed, that they contain some studied
compliments, so finely turned, that if there had been no previous
offence, it is probable that Johnson would have been highly
delighted.* Praise, in general, was pleasing to him; but by praise
from a man of rank and elegant accomplishments, he was peculiarly
* Boswell could not have read the second paper carefully. It is
silly and indecent and was certain to offend Johnson.--ED.
This courtly device failed of its effect. Johnson, who thought
that 'all was false and hollow,' despised the honeyed words, and
was even indignant that Lord Chesterfield should, for a moment,
imagine that he could be the dupe of such an artifice. His
expression to me concerning Lord Chesterfield, upon this occasion,
was, 'Sir, after making great professions, he had, for many years,
taken no notice of me; but when my Dictionary was coming out, he
fell a scribbling in The World about it. Upon which, I wrote him a
letter expressed in civil terms, but such as might shew him that I
did not mind what he said or wrote, and that I had done with him.'
This is that celebrated letter of which so much has been said, and
about which curiosity has been so long excited, without being
gratified. I for many years solicited Johnson to favour me with a
copy of it, that so excellent a composition might not be lost to
posterity. He delayed from time to time to give it me; till at
last in 1781, when we were on a visit at Mr. Dilly's, at Southill
in Bedfordshire, he was pleased to dictate it to me from memory.
He afterwards found among his papers a copy of it, which he had
dictated to Mr. Baretti, with its title and corrections, in his own
handwriting. This he gave to Mr. Langton; adding that if it were
to come into print, he wished it to be from that copy. By Mr.
Langton's kindness, I am enabled to enrich my work with a perfect
transcript of what the world has so eagerly desired to see.
'TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE EARL OF CHESTERFIELD
'February 7, 1755.
'MY LORD, I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of The
World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to
the publick, were written by your Lordship. To be so
distinguished, is an honour, which, being very little accustomed to
favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what
terms to acknowledge.
'When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your
Lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the
enchantment of your address; and could not forbear to wish that I
might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre;--that I
might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but
I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor
modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed
your Lordship in publick, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing
which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all
that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected,
be it ever so little.
'Seven years, my Lord, have now past, since I waited in your
outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I
have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is
useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of
publication, without one act of assistance, one word of
encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not
expect, for I never had a Patron before.
'The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and
found him a native of the rocks.
'Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man
struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground,
encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to
take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has
been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am
solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want
it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess
obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling
that the Publick should consider me as owing that to a Patron,
which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.
'Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to
any favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I
should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been
long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted
myself with so much exultation, my Lord, your Lordship's most
humble, most obedient servant,
'While this was the talk of the town, (says Dr. Adams, in a letter
to me) I happened to visit Dr. Warburton, who finding that I was
acquainted with Johnson, desired me earnestly to carry his
compliments to him, and to tell him that he honoured him for his
manly behaviour in rejecting these condescensions of Lord
Chesterfield, and for resenting the treatment he had received from
him, with a proper spirit. Johnson was visibly pleased with this
compliment, for he had always a high opinion of Warburton. Indeed,
the force of mind which appeared in this letter, was congenial with
that which Warburton himself amply possessed.'
There is a curious minute circumstance which struck me, in
comparing the various editions of Johnson's imitations of Juvenal.
In the tenth Satire, one of the couplets upon the vanity of wishes
even for literary distinction stood thus:
'Yet think what ills the scholar's life assail,
Pride, envy, want, the GARRET, and the jail.'
But after experiencing the uneasiness which Lord Chesterfield's
fallacious patronage made him feel, he dismissed the word garret
from the sad group, and in all the subsequent editions the line
'Pride, envy, want, the PATRON, and the jail.'
That Lord Chesterfield must have been mortified by the lofty
contempt, and polite, yet keen satire with which Johnson exhibited
him to himself in this letter, it is impossible to doubt. He,
however, with that glossy duplicity which was his constant study,
affected to he quite unconcerned. Dr. Adams mentioned to Mr.
Robert Dodsley that he was sorry Johnson had written his letter to
Lord Chesterfield. Dodsley, with the true feelings of trade, said
'he was very sorry too; for that he had a property in the
Dictionary, to which his Lordship's patronage might have been of
consequence.' He then told Dr. Adams, that Lord Chesterfield had
shewn him the letter. 'I should have imagined (replied Dr. Adams)
that Lord Chesterfield would have concealed it.' 'Poh! (said
Dodsley) do you think a letter from Johnson could hurt Lord
Chesterfield? Not at all, Sir. It lay upon his table; where any
body might see it. He read it to me; said, "this man has great
powers," pointed out the severest passages, and observed how well
they were expressed.' This air of indifference, which imposed upon
the worthy Dodsley, was certainly nothing but a specimen of that
dissimulation which Lord Chesterfield inculcated as one of the most
essential lessons for the conduct of life. His Lordship
endeavoured to justify himself to Dodsley from the charges brought
against him by Johnson; but we may judge of the flimsiness of his
defence, from his having excused his neglect of Johnson, by saying
that 'he had heard he had changed his lodgings, and did not know
where he lived;' as if there could have been the smallest
difficulty to inform himself of that circumstance, by inquiring in
the literary circle with which his Lordship was well acquainted,
and was, indeed, himself one of its ornaments.
Dr. Adams expostulated with Johnson, and suggested, that his not
being admitted when he called on him, was, probably, not to be
imputed to Lord Chesterfield; for his Lordship had declared to
Dodsley, that 'he would have turned off the best servant he ever
had, if he had known that he denied him to a man who would have
been always more than welcome;' and, in confirmation of this, he
insisted on Lord Chesterfield's general affability and easiness of
access, especially to literary men. 'Sir (said Johnson) that is
not Lord Chesterfield; he is the proudest man this day existing.'
'No, (said Dr. Adams) there is one person, at least, as proud; I
think, by your own account, you are the prouder man of the two.'
'But mine (replied Johnson, instantly) was DEFENSIVE pride.' This,
as Dr. Adams well observed, was one of those happy turns for which
he was so remarkably ready.
Johnson having now explicitly avowed his opinion of Lord
Chesterfield, did not refrain from expressing himself concerning
that nobleman with pointed freedom: 'This man (said he) I thought
had been a Lord among wits; but, I find, he is only a wit among
Lords!' And when his Letters to his natural son were published, he
observed, that 'they teach the morals of a whore, and the manners
of a dancing master.'
On the 6th of March came out Lord Bolingbroke's works, published by
Mr. David Mallet. The wild and pernicious ravings, under the name
of Philosophy, which were thus ushered into the world, gave great
offence to all well-principled men. Johnson, hearing of their
tendency, which nobody disputed, was roused with a just
indignation, and pronounced this memorable sentence upon the noble
authour and his editor. 'Sir, he was a scoundrel, and a coward: a
scoundrel, for charging a blunderbuss against religion and
morality; a coward, because he had not resolution to fire it off
himself, but left half a crown to a beggarly Scotchman, to draw the
trigger after his death!'
Johnson this year found an interval of leisure to make an excursion
to Oxford, for the purpose of consulting the libraries there.
Of his conversation while at Oxford at this time, Mr. Warton
preserved and communicated to me the following memorial, which,
though not written with all the care and attention which that
learned and elegant writer bestowed on those compositions which he
intended for the publick eye, is so happily expressed in an easy
style, that I should injure it by any alteration:
'When Johnson came to Oxford in 1754, the long vacation was
beginning, and most people were leaving the place. This was the
first time of his being there, after quitting the University. The
next morning after his arrival, he wished to see his old College,
Pembroke. I went with him. He was highly pleased to find all the
College-servants which he had left there still remaining,
particularly a very old butler; and expressed great satisfaction at
being recognised by them, and conversed with them familiarly. He
waited on the master, Dr. Radcliffe, who received him very coldly.
Johnson at least expected, that the master would order a copy of
his Dictionary, now near publication: but the master did not choose
to talk on the subject, never asked Johnson to dine, nor even to
visit him, while he stayed at Oxford. After we had left the
lodgings, Johnson said to me, "THERE lives a man, who lives by the
revenues of literature, and will not move a finger to support it.
If I come to live at Oxford, I shall take up my abode at Trinity."
We then called on the Reverend Mr. Meeke, one of the fellows, and
of Johnson's standing. Here was a most cordial greeting on both
sides. On leaving him, Johnson said, "I used to think Meeke had
excellent parts, when we were boys together at the College: but,
'Lost in a convent's solitary gloom!'
I remember, at the classical lecture in the Hall, I could not bear
Meeke's superiority, and I tried to sit as far from him as I could,
that I might not hear him construe."
'As we were leaving the College, he said, "Here I translated Pope's
Messiah. Which do you think is the best line in it?--My own
'Vallis aromaticas fundit Saronica nubes.'"
I told him, I thought it a very sonorous hexameter. I did not tell
him, it was not in the Virgilian style. He much regretted that his
FIRST tutor was dead; for whom he seemed to retain the greatest
regard. He said, "I once had been a whole morning sliding in
Christ-Church Meadow, and missed his lecture in logick. After
dinner, he sent for me to his room. I expected a sharp rebuke for
my idleness, and went with a beating heart. When we were seated,
he told me he had sent for me to drink a glass of wine with him,
and to tell me, he was NOT angry with me for missing his lecture.
This was, in fact, a most severe reprimand. Some more of the boys
were then sent for, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon."
Besides Mr. Meeke, there was only one other Fellow of Pembroke now
resident: from both of whom Johnson received the greatest
civilities during this visit, and they pressed him very much to
have a room in the College.
'In the course of this visit (1754), Johnson and I walked, three or
four times, to Ellsfield, a village beautifully situated about
three miles from Oxford, to see Mr. Wise, Radclivian librarian,
with whom Johnson was much pleased. At this place, Mr. Wise had
fitted up a house and gardens, in a singular manner, but with great
taste. Here was an excellent library; particularly, a valuable
collection of books in Northern literature, with which Johnson was
often very busy. One day Mr. Wise read to us a dissertation which
he was preparing for the press, intitled, "A History and Chronology
of the fabulous Ages." Some old divinities of Thrace, related to
the Titans, and called the CABIRI, made a very important part of
the theory of this piece; and in conversation afterwards, Mr. Wise
talked much of his CABIRI. As we returned to Oxford in the
evening, I out-walked Johnson, and he cried out Sufflamina, a Latin
word which came from his mouth with peculiar grace, and was as much
as to say, Put on your drag chain. Before we got home, I again
walked too fast for him; and he now cried out, "Why, you walk as if
you were pursued by all the CABIRI in a body." In an evening, we
frequently took long walks from Oxford into the country, returning
to supper. Once, in our way home, we viewed the ruins of the
abbies of Oseney and Rewley, near Oxford. After at least half an
hour's silence, Johnson said, "I viewed them with indignation!" We
had then a long conversation on Gothick buildings; and in talking
of the form of old halls, he said, "In these halls, the fire place
was anciently always in the middle of the room, till the Whigs
removed it on one side."--About this time there had been an
execution of two or three criminals at Oxford on a Monday. Soon
afterwards, one day at dinner, I was saying that Mr. Swinton the
chaplain of the gaol, and also a frequent preacher before the
University, a learned man, but often thoughtless and absent,
preached the condemnation-sermon on repentance, before the
convicts, on the preceding day, Sunday; and that in the close he
told his audience, that he should give them the remainder of what
he had to say on the subject, the next Lord's Day. Upon which, one
of our company, a Doctor of Divinity, and a plain matter-of-fact
man, by way of offering an apology for Mr. Swinton, gravely
remarked, that he had probably preached the same sermon before the
University: "Yes, Sir, (says Johnson) but the University were not
to be hanged the next morning."
'I forgot to observe before, that when he left Mr. Meeke, (as I
have told above) he added, "About the same time of life, Meeke was
left behind at Oxford to feed on a Fellowship, and I went to London
to get my living: now, Sir, see the difference of our literary
The degree of Master of Arts, which, it has been observed, could
not be obtained for him at an early period of his life, was now
considered as an honour of considerable importance, in order to
grace the title-page of his Dictionary; and his character in the
literary world being by this time deservedly high, his friends
thought that, if proper exertions were made, the University of
Oxford would pay him the compliment.
To THE REVEREND THOMAS WARTON.
'DEAR SIR,--I am extremely sensible of the favour done me, both by
Mr. Wise and yourself. The book* cannot, I think, be printed in
less than six weeks, nor probably so soon; and I will keep back the
title-page, for such an insertion as you seem to promise me. . . .
'I had lately the favour of a letter from your brother, with some
account of poor Collins, for whom I am much concerned. I have a
notion, that by very great temperance, or more properly abstinence,
he may yet recover. . . .
'You know poor Mr. Dodsley has lost his wife; I believe he is much
affected. I hope he will not suffer so much as I yet suffer for
the loss of mine.
[Greek text omitted]
I have ever since seemed to myself broken off from mankind; a kind
of solitary wanderer in the wild of life, without any direction, or
fixed point of view: a gloomy gazer on a world to which I have
little relation. Yet I would endeavour, by the help of you and
your brother, to supply the want of closer union, by friendship:
and hope to have long the pleasure of being, dear Sir, most
'[London.] Dec. 21, 1754.'
* 'His Dictionary'--WARTON.
1755: AETAT. 46.]--In 1755 we behold him to great advantage; his
degree of Master of Arts conferred upon him, his Dictionary
published, his correspondence animated, his benevolence exercised.
Mr. Charles Burney, who has since distinguished himself so much in
the science of Musick, and obtained a Doctor's degree from the
University of Oxford, had been driven from the capital by bad
health, and was now residing at Lynne Regis, in Norfolk. He had
been so much delighted with Johnson's Rambler and the Plan of his
Dictionary, that when the great work was announced in the news-
papers as nearly finished,' he wrote to Dr. Johnson, begging to be
informed when and in what manner his Dictionary would be published;
intreating, if it should be by subscription, or he should have any
books at his own disposal, to be favoured with six copies for
himself and friends.
In answer to this application, Dr. Johnson wrote the following
letter, of which (to use Dr. Burney's own words) 'if it be
remembered that it was written to an obscure young man, who at this
time had not much distinguished himself even in his own profession,
but whose name could never have reached the authour of The Rambler,
the politeness and urbanity may be opposed to some of the stories
which have been lately circulated of Dr. Johnson's natural rudeness
'TO MR. BURNEY, IN LYNNE REGIS, NORFOLK.
'SIR,--If you imagine that by delaying my answer I intended to shew
any neglect of the notice with which you have favoured me, you will
neither think justly of yourself nor of me. Your civilities were
offered with too much elegance not to engage attention; and I have
too much pleasure in pleasing men like you, not to feel very
sensibly the distinction which you have bestowed upon me.
'Few consequences of my endeavours to please or to benefit mankind
have delighted me more than your friendship thus voluntarily
offered, which now I have it I hope to keep, because I hope to
continue to deserve it.
'I have no Dictionaries to dispose of for myself, but shall be glad
to have you direct your friends to Mr. Dodsley, because it was by
his recommendation that I was employed in the work.
'When you have leisure to think again upon me, let me be favoured
with another letter; and another yet, when you have looked into my
Dictionary. If you find faults, I shall endeavour to mend them; if
you find none, I shall think you blinded by kind partiality: but to
have made you partial in his favour, will very much gratify the
ambition of, Sir, your most obliged and most humble servant,
'Gough-square, Fleet-street, April 8,1755.'
The Dictionary, with a Grammar and History of the English Language,
being now at length published, in two volumes folio, the world
contemplated with wonder so stupendous a work achieved by one man,
while other countries had thought such undertakings fit only for
whole academies. Vast as his powers were, I cannot but think that
his imagination deceived him, when he supposed that by constant
application he might have performed the task in three years.
The extensive reading which was absolutely necessary for the
accumulation of authorities, and which alone may account for
Johnson's retentive mind being enriched with a very large and
various store of knowledge and imagery, must have occupied several
years. The Preface furnishes an eminent instance of a double
talent, of which Johnson was fully conscious. Sir Joshua Reynolds
heard him say, 'There are two things which I am confident I can do
very well: one is an introduction to any literary work, stating
what it is to contain, and how it should be executed in the most
perfect manner; the other is a conclusion, shewing from various
causes why the execution has not been equal to what the authour
promised to himself and to the publick.'
A few of his definitions must be admitted to be erroneous. Thus,
Windward and Leeward, though directly of opposite meaning, are
defined identically the same way; as to which inconsiderable specks
it is enough to observe, that his Preface announces that he was
aware there might be many such in so immense a work; nor was he at
all disconcerted when an instance was pointed out to him. A lady
once asked him how he came to define Pastern the KNEE of a horse:
instead of making an elaborate defence, as she expected, he at once
answered, 'Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance.' His definition of
Network* has been often quoted with sportive malignity, as
obscuring a thing in itself very plain. But to these frivolous
censures no other answer is necessary than that with which we are
furnished by his own Preface.
* Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with
interstices between the intersections.'--ED.
His introducing his own opinions, and even prejudices, under
general definitions of words, while at the same time the original
meaning of the words is not explained, as his Tory, Whig, Pension,
Oats, Excise,* and a few more, cannot be fully defended, and must
be placed to the account of capricious and humorous indulgence.
Talking to me upon this subject when we were at Ashbourne in 1777,
he mentioned a still stronger instance of the predominance of his
private feelings in the composition of this work, than any now to
be found in it. 'You know, Sir, Lord Gower forsook the old
Jacobite interest. When I came to the word Renegado, after telling
that it meant "one who deserts to the enemy, a revolter," I added,
Sometimes we say a GOWER. Thus it went to the press; but the
printer had more wit than I, and struck it out.'
* Tory. 'One who adheres to the ancient constitution or the state
and the apostolical hierarchy of the church or England, opposed to
a whig.' Whig. 'The name of a faction.' Pension. 'An allowance
made to any one without an equivalent. In England it is generally
understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his
country.' Oats. 'A grain which in England is generally given to
horses, but in Scotland supports the people.' Excise. 'A hateful
tax levied upon commodities, and adjudged not by the common judges
of property, but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid.'--
Let it, however, be remembered, that this indulgence does not
display itself only in sarcasm towards others, but sometimes in
playful allusion to the notions commonly entertained of his own
laborious task. Thus: 'Grub-street, the name of a street in
London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries,
and temporary poems; whence any mean production is called Grub-
street.'--'Lexicographer, a writer of dictionaries, a harmless
It must undoubtedly seem strange, that the conclusion of his
Preface should be expressed in terms so desponding, when it is
considered that the authour was then only in his forty-sixth year.
But we must ascribe its gloom to that miserable dejection of
spirits to which he was constitutionally subject, and which was
aggravated by the death of his wife two years before. I have heard
it ingeniously observed by a lady of rank and elegance, that 'his
melancholy was then at its meridian.' It pleased GOD to grant him
almost thirty years of life after this time; and once, when he was
in a placid frame of mind, he was obliged to own to me that he had
enjoyed happier days, and had many more friends, since that gloomy
hour than before.
It is a sad saying, that 'most of those whom he wished to please
had sunk into the grave;' and his case at forty-five was singularly
unhappy, unless the circle of his friends was very narrow. He said
to Sir Joshua Reynolds, 'If a man does not make new acquaintance as
he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A
man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.'
In July this year he had formed some scheme of mental improvement,
the particular purpose of which does not appear. But we find in
his Prayers and Meditations, p. 25, a prayer entitled 'On the Study
of Philosophy, as an Instrument of living;' and after it follows a
note, 'This study was not pursued.'
On the 13th of the same month he wrote in his Journal the following
scheme of life, for Sunday:
'Having lived' (as he with tenderness of conscience expresses
himself) 'not without an habitual reverence for the Sabbath, yet
without that attention to its religious duties which Christianity
'1. To rise early, and in order to it, to go to sleep early on
'2. To use some extraordinary devotion in the morning.
'3. To examine the tenour of my life, and particularly the last.
week; and to mark my advances in religion, or recession from it.
'4. To read the Scripture methodically with such helps as are at
'5. To go to church twice.
'6. To read books of Divinity, either speculative or practical.
'7. To instruct my family.
'8. To wear off by meditation any worldly soil contracted in the
1756: AETAT. 47.]--In 1756 Johnson found that the great fame of his
Dictionary had not set him above the necessity of 'making provision
for the day that was passing over him.' No royal or noble patron
extended a munificent hand to give independence to the man who had
conferred stability on the language of his country. We may feel
indignant that there should have been such unworthy neglect; but we
must, at the same time, congratulate ourselves, when we consider
that to this very neglect, operating to rouse the natural indolence
of his constitution, we owe many valuable productions, which
otherwise, perhaps, might never have appeared.
He had spent, during the progress of the work, the money for which
he had contracted to write his Dictionary. We have seen that the
reward of his labour was only fifteen hundred and seventy-five
pounds; and when the expence of amanuenses and paper, and other
articles are deducted, his clear profit was very inconsiderable. I
once said to him, 'I am sorry, Sir, you did not get more for your
Dictionary.' His answer was, 'I am sorry, too. But it was very
well. The booksellers are generous, liberal-minded men.' He, upon
all occasions, did ample justice to their character in this
respect. He considered them as the patrons of literature; and,
indeed, although they have eventually been considerable gainers by
his Dictionary, it is to them that we owe its having been
undertaken and carried through at the risk of great expence, for
they were not absolutely sure of being indemnified.
He this year resumed his scheme of giving an edition of Shakspeare
with notes.* He issued Proposals of considerable length, in which
he shewed that he perfectly well knew what a variety of research
such an undertaking required; but his indolence prevented him from
pursuing it with that diligence which alone can collect those
scattered facts that genius, however acute, penetrating, and
luminous, cannot discover by its own force. It is remarkable, that
at this time his fancied activity was for the moment so vigorous,
that he promised his work should be published before Christmas,
1757. Yet nine years elapsed before it saw the light. His throes
in bringing it forth had been severe and remittent; and at last we
may almost conclude that the Caesarian operation was performed by
the knife of Churchill, whose upbraiding satire, I dare say, made
Johnson's friends urge him to dispatch.
'He for subscribers bates his hook,
And takes your cash; but where's the book?
No matter where; wise fear, you know,
Forbids the robbing of a foe;
But what, to serve our private ends,
Forbids the cheating of our friends?'
* First proposed in 1745--ED.
About this period he was offered a living of considerable value in
Lincolnshire, if he were inclined to enter into holy orders. It
was a rectory in the gift of Mr. Langton, the father of his much
valued friend. But he did not accept of it; partly I believe from
a conscientious motive, being persuaded that his temper and habits
rendered him unfit for that assiduous and familiar instruction of
the vulgar and ignorant which he held to be an essential duty in a
clergyman; and partly because his love of a London life was so
strong, that he would have thought himself an exile in any other
place, particularly if residing in the country. Whoever would wish
to see his thoughts upon that subject displayed in their full
force, may peruse The Adventurer, Number 126.
1757: AETAT. 48.]--MR. BURNEY having enclosed to him an extract
from the review of his Dictionary in the Bibliotheque des Savans,
and a list of subscribers to his Shakspeare, which Mr. Burney had
procured in Norfolk, he wrote the following answer:
'TO MR. BURNEY, IN LYNNE, NORFOLK.
'SIR,--That I may shew myself sensible of your favours, and not
commit the same fault a second time, I make haste to answer the
letter which I received this morning. The truth is, the other
likewise was received, and I wrote an answer; but being desirous to
transmit you some proposals and receipts, I waited till I could
find a convenient conveyance, and day was passed after day, till
other things drove it from my thoughts; yet not so, but that I
remember with great pleasure your commendation of my Dictionary.
Your praise was welcome, not only because I believe it was sincere,
but because praise has been very scarce. A man of your candour
will be surprised when I tell you, that among all my acquaintance
there were only two, who upon the publication of my book did not
endeavour to depress me with threats of censure from the publick,
or with objections learned from those who had learned them from my
own Preface. Your's is the only letter of goodwill that I have
received; though, indeed, I am promised something of that sort from
'How my new edition will be received I know not; the subscription
has not been very successful. I shall publish about March.
'If you can direct me how to send proposals, I should wish that
they were in such hands.
'I remember, Sir, in some of the first letters with which you
favoured me, you mentioned your lady. May I enquire after her? In
return for the favours which you have shewn me, it is not much to
tell you, that I wish you and her all that can conduce to your
happiness. I am, Sir, your most obliged, and most humble servant,
'Gough-square, Dec. 24, 1757.'
In 1758 we find him, it should seem, in as easy and pleasant a
state of existence, as constitutional unhappiness ever permitted
him to enjoy.
'TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, LINCOLNSHIRE.
'DEAREST SIR,--I must indeed have slept very fast, not to have been
awakened by your letter. None of your suspicions are true; I am
not much richer than when you left me; and, what is worse, my
omission of an answer to your first letter, will prove that I am
not much wiser. But I go on as I formerly did, designing to be
some time or other both rich and wise; and yet cultivate neither
mind nor fortune. Do you take notice of my example, and learn the
danger of delay. When I was as you are now, towering in the
confidence of twenty-one, little did I suspect that I should be at
forty-nine, what I now am.
'But you do not seem to need my admonition. You are busy in
acquiring and in communicating knowledge, and while you are
studying, enjoy the end of study, by making others wiser and
happier. I was much pleased with the tale that you told me of
being tutour to your sisters. I, who have no sisters nor brothers,
look with some degree of innocent envy on those who may be said to
be born to friends; and cannot see, without wonder, how rarely that
native union is afterwards regarded. It sometimes, indeed,
happens, that some supervenient cause of discord may overpower this
original amity; but it seems to me more frequently thrown away with
levity, or lost by negligence, than destroyed by injury or
violence. We tell the ladies that good wives make good husbands; I
believe it is a more certain position that good brothers make good
'I am satisfied with your stay at home, as Juvenal with his
friend's retirement to Cumae: I know that your absence is best,
though it be not best for me.
'Quamvis digressu veteris confusus amici,
Laudo tamen vacuis quod sedem figere Cumis
Destinet, atque unum civem donare Sibylloe.'
'Langton is a good Cumae, but who must be Sibylla? Mrs. Langton is
as wise as Sibyl, and as good; and will live, if my wishes can
prolong life, till she shall in time be as old. But she differs in
this, that she has not scattered her precepts in the wind, at least
not those which she bestowed upon you.
'The two Wartons just looked into the town, and were taken to see
Cleone, where, David* says, they were starved for want of company
to keep them warm. David and Doddy** have had a new quarrel, and,
I think, cannot conveniently quarrel any more. Cleone was well
acted by all the characters, but Bellamy left nothing to be
desired. I went the first night, and supported it, as well as I
might; for Doddy, you know, is my patron, and I would not desert
him. The play was very well received. Doddy, after the danger was
over, went every night to the stage-side, and cried at the distress
of poor Cleone.
* Mr. Garrick--BOSWELL.
** Mr. Dodsley, the Authour of Cleone.--BOSWELL.
'I have left off housekeeping, and therefore made presents of the
game which you were pleased to send me. The pheasant I gave to Mr.
Richardson,* the bustard to Dr. Lawrence, and the pot I placed with
Miss Williams, to be eaten by myself. She desires that her
compliments and good wishes may be accepted by the family; and I
make the same request for myself.
* Mr. Samuel Richardson, authour of Clarissa.--BOSWELL.
'Mr. Reynolds has within these few days raised his price to twenty
guineas a head, and Miss is much employed in miniatures. I know
not any body [else] whose prosperity has increased since you left
'Murphy is to have his Orphan of China acted next month; and is
therefore, I suppose, happy. I wish I could tell you of any great
good to which I was approaching, but at present my prospects do not
much delight me; however, I am always pleased when I find that you,
dear Sir, remember, your affectionate, humble servant,
'Jan. 9, 1758.'
Dr. Burney has kindly favoured me with the following memorandum,
which I take the liberty to insert in his own genuine easy style.
I love to exhibit sketches of my illustrious friend by various
'Soon after this, Mr. Burney, during a visit to the capital, had an
interview with him in Gough-square, where he dined and drank tea
with him, and was introduced to the acquaintance of Mrs. Williams.
After dinner, Mr. Johnson proposed to Mr. Burney to go up with him
into his garret, which being accepted, he there found about five or
six Greek folios, a deal writing-desk, and a chair and a half.
Johnson giving to his guest the entire seat, tottered himself on
one with only three legs and one arm. Here he gave Mr. Burney Mrs.
Williams's history, and shewed him some volumes of his Shakspeare
already printed, to prove that he was in earnest. Upon Mr.
Burney's opening the first volume, at the Merchant of Venice, he
observed to him, that he seemed to be more severe on Warburton than
Theobald. "O poor Tib.! (said Johnson) he was ready knocked down
to my hands; Warburton stands between me and him." "But, Sir,
(said Mr. Burney,) you'll have Warburton upon your bones, won't
you?" "No, Sir; he'll not come out: he'll only growl in his den."
"But you think, Sir, that Warburton is a superiour critick to
Theobald?" "O Sir he'd make two-and-fifty Theobalds, cut into
slices! The worst of Warburton is, that he has a rage for saying
something, when there's nothing to be said." Mr. Burney then asked
him whether he had seen the letter which Warburton had written in
answer to a pamphlet addressed "To the most impudent Man alive."
He answered in the negative. Mr. Burney told him it was supposed
to be written by Mallet. The controversey now raged between the
friends of Pope and Bolingbroke; and Warburton and Mallet were the
leaders of the several parties. Mr. Burney asked him then if he
had seen Warburton's book against Bolingbroke's Philosophy? "No,
Sir, I have never read Bolingbroke's impiety, and therefore am not
interested about its confutation."'
On the fifteenth of April he began a new periodical paper, entitled
The Idler, which came out every Saturday in a weekly news-paper,
called The Universal Chronicle, or Weekly Gazette, published by
Newbery. These essays were continued till April 5, 1760. Of one
hundred and three, their total number, twelve were contributed by
The Idler is evidently the work of the same mind which produced The
Rambler, but has less body and more spirit. It has more variety of
real life, and greater facility of language. He describes the
miseries of idleness, with the lively sensations of one who has
felt them; and in his private memorandums while engaged in it, we
find 'This year I hope to learn diligence.' Many of these
excellent essays were written as hastily as an ordinary letter.
Mr. Langton remembers Johnson, when on a visit at Oxford, asking
him one evening how long it was till the post went out; and on
being told about half an hour, he exclaimed, 'then we shall do very
well.' He upon this instantly sat down and finished an Idler,
which it was necessary should be in London the next day. Mr.
Langton having signified a wish to read it, 'Sir, (said he) you
shall not do more than I have done myself.' He then folded it up
and sent it off.
1759: AETAT. 50.]--In 1759, in the month of January, his mother
died at the great age of ninety, an event which deeply affected
him; not that 'his mind had acquired no firmness by the
contemplation of mortality;' but that his reverential affection for
her was not abated by years, as indeed he retained all his tender
feelings even to the latest period of his life. I have been told
that he regretted much his not having gone to visit his mother for
several years, previous to her death. But he was constantly
engaged in literary labours which confined him to London; and
though he had not the comfort of seeing his aged parent, he
contributed liberally to her support.
Soon after this event, he wrote his Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia;
concerning the publication of which Sir John Hawkins guesses
vaguely and idly, instead of having taken the trouble to inform
himself with authentick precision. Not to trouble my readers with
a repetition of the Knight's reveries, I have to mention, that the
late Mr. Strahan the printer told me, that Johnson wrote it, that
with the profits he might defray the expence of his mother's
funeral, and pay some little debts which she had left. He told Sir
Joshua Reynolds that he composed it in the evenings of one week,
sent it to the press in portions as it was written, and had never
since read it over. Mr. Strahan, Mr. Johnston, and Mr. Dodsley
purchased it for a hundred pounds, but afterwards paid him twenty-
five pounds more, when it came to a second edition.
Voltaire's Candide, written to refute the system of Optimism, which
it has accomplished with brilliant success, is wonderfully similar
in its plan and conduct to Johnson's Rasselas; insomuch, that I
have heard Johnson say, that if they had not been published so
closely one after the other that there was not time for imitation,
it would have been in vain to deny that the scheme of that which
came latest was taken from the other. Though the proposition
illustrated by both these works was the same, namely, that in our
present state there is more evil than good, the intention of the
writers was very different. Voltaire, I am afraid, meant only by
wanton profaneness to obtain a sportive victory over religion, and
to discredit the belief of a superintending Providence; Johnson
meant, by shewing the unsatisfactory nature of things temporal, to
direct the hopes of man to things eternal. Rasselas, as was
observed to me by a very accomplished lady, may be considered as a
more enlarged and more deeply philosophical discourse in prose,
upon the interesting truth, which in his Vanity of Human Wishes he
had so successfully enforced in verse.
I would ascribe to this year the following letter to a son of one
of his early friends at Lichfield, Mr. Joseph Simpson, Barrister,
and authour of a tract entitled Reflections on the Study of the
'TO JOSEPH SIMPSON, ESQ.
'DEAR SIR,--Your father's inexorability not only grieves but amazes
me: he is your father; he was always accounted a wise man; nor do I
remember any thing to the disadvantage of his good-nature; but in
his refusal to assist you there is neither good-nature, fatherhood,
nor wisdom. It is the practice of good-nature to overlook faults
which have already, by the consequences, punished the delinquent.
It is natural for a father to think more favourably than others of
his children; and it is always wise to give assistance while a
little help will prevent the necessity of greater.
'If you married imprudently, you miscarried at your own hazard, at
an age when you had a right of choice. It would be hard if the man
might not choose his own wife, who has a right to plead before the
Judges of his country.
'If your imprudence has ended in difficulties and inconveniences,
you are yourself to support them; and, with the help of a little
better health, you would support them and conquer them. Surely,
that want which accident and sickness produces, is to be supported
in every region of humanity, though there were neither friends nor
fathers in the world. You have certainly from your father the
highest claim of charity, though none of right; and therefore I
would counsel you to omit no decent nor manly degree of
importunity. Your debts in the whole are not large, and of the
whole but a small part is troublesome. Small debts are like small
shot; they are rattling on every side, and can scarcely be escaped
without a wound: great debts are like cannon; of loud noise, but
little danger. You must, therefore, be enabled to discharge petty
debts, that you may have leisure, with security to struggle with
the rest. Neither the great nor little debts disgrace you. I am
sure you have my esteem for the courage with which you contracted
them, and the spirit with which you endure them. I wish my esteem
could be of more use. I have been invited, or have invited myself,
to several parts of the kingdom; and will not incommode my dear
Lucy by coming to Lichfield, while her present lodging is of any
use to her. I hope, in a few days, to be at leisure, and to make
visits. Whither I shall fly is matter of no importance. A man
unconnected is at home every where; unless he may be said to be at
home no where. I am sorry, dear Sir, that where you have parents,
a man of your merits should not have an home. I wish I could give
it you. I am, my dear Sir, affectionately yours,
He now refreshed himself by an excursion to Oxford, of which the
following short characteristical notice, in his own words, is
'* * * is now making tea for me. I have been in my gown ever since
I came here. It was, at my first coming, quite new and handsome.
I have swum thrice, which I had disused for many years. I have
proposed to Vansittart, climbing over the wall, but he has refused
me. And I have clapped my hands till they are sore, at Dr. King's
His negro servant, Francis Barber, having left him, and been some
time at sea, not pressed as has been supposed, but with his own
consent, it appears from a letter to John Wilkes, Esq., from Dr.
Smollet, that his master kindly interested himself in procuring his
release from a state of life of which Johnson always expressed the
utmost abhorrence. He said, 'No man will be a sailor who has
contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship
is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.' And at
another time, 'A man in a jail has more room, better food, and
commonly better company.' The letter was as follows:--
'Chelsea, March 16, 1759.
'DEAR SIR, I am again your petitioner, in behalf of that great CHAM
of literature, Samuel Johnson. His black servant, whose name is
Francis Barber, has been pressed on board the Stag Frigate, Captain
Angel, and our lexicographer is in great distress. He says the boy
is a sickly lad, of a delicate frame, and particularly subject to a
malady in his throat, which renders him very unfit for his
Majesty's service. You know what manner of animosity the said
Johnson has against you; and I dare say you desire no other
opportunity of resenting it than that of laying him under an
obligation. He was humble enough to desire my assistance on this
occasion, though he and I were never cater-cousins; and I gave him
to understand that I would make application to my friend Mr.
Wilkes, who, perhaps, by his interest with Dr. Hay and Mr. Elliot,
might be able to procure the discharge of his lacquey. It would be
superfluous to say more on the subject, which I leave to your own
consideration; but I cannot let slip this opportunity of declaring
that I am, with the most inviolable esteem and attachment, dear
Sir, your affectionate, obliged, humble servant,
Mr. Wilkes, who upon all occasions has acted, as a private
gentleman, with most polite liberality, applied to his friend Sir
George Hay, then one of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty;
and Francis Barber was discharged, as he has told me, without any
wish of his own. He found his old master in Chambers in the Inner
Temple, and returned to his service.
1760: AETAT. 51.]--I take this opportunity to relate the manner in
which an acquaintance first commenced between Dr. Johnson and Mr.
Murphy. During the publication of The Gray's-Inn Journal, a
periodical paper which was successfully carried on by Mr. Murphy
alone, when a very young man, he happened to be in the country with
Mr. Foote; and having mentioned that he was obliged to go to London
in order to get ready for the press one of the numbers of that
Journal, Foote said to him, 'You need not go on that account. Here
is a French magazine, in which you will find a very pretty oriental
tale; translate that, and send it to your printer.' Mr. Murphy
having read the tale, was highly pleased with it, and followed
Foote's advice. When he returned to town, this tale was pointed
out to him in The Rambler, from whence it had been translated into
the French magazine. Mr. Murphy then waited upon Johnson, to
explain this curious incident. His talents, literature, and
gentleman-like manners, were soon perceived by Johnson, and a
friendship was formed which was never broken.
1762: AETAT. 53.]--A lady having at this time solicited him to
obtain the Archbishop of Canterbury's patronage to have her son
sent to the University, one of those solicitations which are too
frequent, where people, anxious for a particular object, do not
consider propriety, or the opportunity which the persons whom they
solicit have to assist them, he wrote to her the following answer,
with a copy of which I am favoured by the Reverend Dr. Farmer,
Master of Emanuel College, Cambridge.
'MADAM,--I hope you will believe that my delay in answering your
letter could proceed only from my unwillingness to destroy any hope
that you had formed. Hope is itself a species of happiness, and,
perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like
all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must
be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged, must end
in disappointment. If it be asked, what is the improper
expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will
quickly answer, that it is such expectation as is dictated not by
reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the common
occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an
expectation that requires the common course of things to be
changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.
'When you made your request to me, you should have considered,
Madam, what you were asking. You ask me to solicit a great man, to
whom I never spoke, for a young person whom I had never seen, upon
a supposition which I had no means of knowing to be true. There is
no reason why, amongst all the great, I should chuse to supplicate
the Archbishop, nor why, among all the possible objects of his
bounty, the Archbishop should chuse your son. I know, Madam, how
unwillingly conviction is admitted, when interest opposes it; but
surely, Madam, you must allow, that there is no reason why that
should be done by me, which every other man may do with equal
reason, and which, indeed no man can do properly, without some very
particular relation both to the Archbishop and to you. If I could
help you in this exigence by any proper means, it would give me
pleasure; but this proposal is so very remote from all usual
methods, that I cannot comply with it, but at the risk of such
answer and suspicions as I believe you do not wish me to undergo.
'I have seen your son this morning; he seems a pretty youth, and
will, perhaps, find some better friend than I can procure him; but,
though he should at last miss the University, he may still be wise,
useful, and happy. I am, Madam, your most humble servant,
'June 8, 1762.'
'TO MR. JOSEPH BARETTI, AT MILAN.
'London, July 20, 1762.
'SIR, However justly you may accuse me for want of punctuality in
correspondence, I am not so far lost in negligence as to omit the
opportunity of writing to you, which Mr. Beauclerk's passage
through Milan affords me.
'I suppose you received the Idlers, and I intend that you shall
soon receive Shakspeare, that you may explain his works to the
ladies of Italy, and tell them the story of the editor, among the
other strange narratives with which your long residence in this
unknown region has supplied you.
'As you have now been long away, I suppose your curiosity may pant
for some news of your old friends. Miss Williams and I live much
as we did. Miss Cotterel still continues to cling to Mrs. Porter,
and Charlotte is now big of the fourth child. Mr. Reynolds gets
six thousands a year. Levet is lately married, not without much
suspicion that he has been wretchedly cheated in his match. Mr.
Chambers is gone this day, for the first time, the circuit with the
Judges. Mr. Richardson is dead of an apoplexy, and his second
daughter has married a merchant.
'My vanity, or my kindness, makes me flatter myself, that you would
rather hear of me than of those whom I have mentioned; but of
myself I have very little which I care to tell. Last winter I went
down to my native town, where I found the streets much narrower and
shorter than I thought I had left them, inhabited by a new race of
people, to whom I was very little known. My play-fellows were
grown old, and forced me to suspect that I was no longer young. My
only remaining friend has changed his principles, and was become
the tool of the predominant faction. My daughter-in-law, from whom
I expected most, and whom I met with sincere benevolence, has lost
the beauty and gaiety of youth, without having gained much of the
wisdom of age. I wandered about for five days, and took the first
convenient opportunity of returning to a place, where, if there is
not much happiness, there is, at least, such a diversity of good
and evil, that slight vexations do not fix upon the heart. . . .
'May you, my Baretti, be very happy at Milan, or some other place
nearer to, Sir, your most affectionate humble servant,
The accession of George the Third to the throne of these kingdoms,
opened a new and brighter prospect to men of literary merit, who
had been honoured with no mark of royal favour in the preceding
reign. His present Majesty's education in this country, as well as
his taste and beneficence, prompted him to be the patron of science
and the arts; and early this year Johnson, having been represented
to him as a very learned and good man, without any certain
provision, his Majesty was pleased to grant him a pension of three
hundred pounds a year. The Earl of Bute, who was then Prime
Minister, had the honour to announce this instance of his
Sovereign's bounty, concerning which, many and various stories, all
equally erroneous, have been propagated: maliciously representing
it as a political bribe to Johnson, to desert his avowed
principles, and become the tool of a government which he held to be
founded in usurpation. I have taken care to have it in my power to
refute them from the most authentick information. Lord Bute told
me, that Mr. Wedderburne, now Lord Loughborough, was the person who
first mentioned this subject to him. Lord Loughborough told me,
that the pension was granted to Johnson solely as the reward of his
literary merit, without any stipulation whatever, or even tacit
understanding that he should write for administration. His
Lordship added, that he was confident the political tracts which
Johnson afterwards did write, as they were entirely consonant with
his own opinions, would have been written by him though no pension
had been granted to him.
Mr. Thomas Sheridan and Mr. Murphy, who then lived a good deal both
with him and Mr. Wedderburne, told me, that they previously talked
with Johnson upon this matter, and that it was perfectly understood
by all parties that the pension was merely honorary. Sir Joshua
Reynolds told me, that Johnson called on him after his majesty's
intention had been notified to him, and said he wished to consult
his friends as to the propriety of his accepting this mark of the
royal favour, after the definitions which he had given in his
Dictionary of pension and pensioners. He said he would not have
Sir Joshua's answer till next day, when he would call again, and
desired he might think of it. Sir Joshua answered that he was
clear to give his opinion then, that there could be no objection to
his receiving from the King a reward for literary merit; and that
certainly the definitions in his Dictionary were not applicable to
him. Johnson, it should seem, was satisfied, for he did not call
again till he had accepted the pension, and had waited on Lord Bute
to thank him. He then told Sir Joshua that Lord Bute said to him
expressly, 'It is not given you for anything you are to do, but for
what you have done.' His Lordship, he said, behaved in the
handsomest manner, he repeated the words twice, that he might be
sure Johnson heard them, and thus set his mind perfectly at ease.
This nobleman, who has been so virulently abused, acted with great
honour in this instance and displayed a mind truly liberal. A
minister of a more narrow and selfish disposition would have
availed himself of such an opportunity to fix an implied obligation
on a man of Johnson's powerful talents to give him his support.
Mr. Murphy and the late Mr. Sheridan severally contended for the
distinction of having been the first who mentioned to Mr.
Wedderburne that Johnson ought to have a pension. When I spoke of
this to Lord Loughborough, wishing to know if he recollected the
prime mover in the business, he said, 'All his friends assisted:'
and when I told him that Mr. Sheridan strenuously asserted his
claim to it, his Lordship said, 'He rang the bell.' And it is but
just to add, that Mr. Sheridan told me, that when he communicated
to Dr. Johnson that a pension was to be granted him, he replied in
a fervour of gratitude, 'The English language does not afford me
terms adequate to my feelings on this occasion. I must have
recourse to the French. I am penetre with his Majesty's goodness.'
When I repeated this to Dr. Johnson, he did not contradict it.
This year his friend Sir Joshua Reynolds paid a visit of some weeks
to his native country, Devonshire, in which he was accompanied by
Johnson, who was much pleased with this jaunt, and declared he had
derived from it a great accession of new ideas. He was entertained
at the seats of several noblemen and gentlemen in the West of
England; but the greatest part of the time was passed at Plymouth,
where the magnificence of the navy, the ship-building and all its
circumstances, afforded him a grand subject of contemplation. The
Commissioner of the Dock-yard paid him the compliment of ordering
the yacht to convey him and his friend to the Eddystone, to which
they accordingly sailed. But the weather was so tempestuous that
they could not land.