'Cebes. 'lian. } 'Lucian by Leeds. } Attick. 'Xenophon. } 'Homer. Ionick. 'Theocritus. Dorick. 'Euripides. Attick and Dorick.
'Thus you will be tolerably skilled in all the dialects, beginning with the Attick, to which the rest must be referred.
'In the study of Latin, it is proper not to read the latter authours, till you are well versed in those of the purest ages; as Terence, Tully, Csar, Sallust, Nepos, Velleius Paterculus, Virgil, Horace, Phdrus.
'The greatest and most necessary task still remains, to attain a habit of expression, without which knowledge is of little use. This is necessary in Latin, and more necessary in English; and can only be acquired by a daily imitation of the best and correctest authours.
While Johnson kept his academy, there can be no doubt that he was insensibly furnishing his mind with various knowledge; but I have not discovered that he wrote any thing except a great part of his tragedy of Irene. Mr. Peter Garrick, the elder brother of David, told me that he remembered Johnson's borrowing the Turkish History of him, in order to form his play from it. When he had finished some part of it, he read what he had done to Mr. Walmsley, who objected to his having already brought his heroine into great distress, and asked him, 'how can you possibly contrive to plunge her into deeper calamity?' Johnson, in sly allusion to the supposed oppressive proceedings of the court of which Mr. Walmsley was register, replied, 'Sir, I can put her into the Spiritual Court!'
[Page 101: Johnson tries his fortune in London. tat 27.]
Mr. Walmsley, however, was well pleased with this proof of Johnson's abilities as a dramatick writer, and advised him to finish the tragedy, and produce it on the stage.
Johnson now thought of trying his fortune in London, the great field of genius and exertion, where talents of every kind have the fullest scope, and the highest encouragement. It is a memorable circumstance that his pupil David Garrick went thither at the same time, with intention to complete his education, and follow the profession of the law, from which he was soon diverted by his decided preference for the stage.
This joint expedition of those two eminent men to the metropolis, was many years afterwards noticed in an allegorical poem on Shakspeare's Mulberry Tree, by Mr. Lovibond, the ingenious authour of The Tears of Old-May-day.
They were recommended to Mr. Colson, an eminent mathematician and master of an academy, by the following letter from Mr. Walmsley:
[Page 102: Mr. Walmsley's Letter. A.D. 1737.]
'To THE REVEREND MR. COLSON.
'Lichfield, March 2, 1737.
'I had the favour of yours, and am extremely obliged to you; but I cannot say I had a greater affection for you upon it than I had before, being long since so much endeared to you, as well by an early friendship, as by your many excellent and valuable qualifications; and, had I a son of my own, it would be my ambition, instead of sending him to the University, to dispose of him as this young gentleman is.
'He, and another neighbour of mine, one Mr. Samuel Johnson, set out this morning for London together. Davy Garrick is to be with you early the next week, and Mr. Johnson to try his fate with a tragedy, and to see to get himself employed in some translation, either from the Latin or the French. Johnson is a very good scholar and poet, and I have great hopes will turn out a fine tragedy-writer. If it should any way lie in your way, doubt not but you would be ready to recommend and assist your countryman.
[Page 103: Like in London. tat 28.]
How he employed himself upon his first coming to London is not particularly known. I never heard that he found any protection or encouragement by the means of Mr. Colson, to whose academy David Garrick went. Mrs. Lucy Porter told me, that Mr. Walmsley gave him a letter of introduction to Lintot his bookseller, and that Johnson wrote some things for him; but I imagine this to be a mistake, for I have discovered no trace of it, and I am pretty sure he told me that Mr. Cave was the first publisher by whom his pen was engaged in London.
He had a little money when he came to town, and he knew how he could live in the cheapest manner. His first lodgings were at the house of Mr. Norris, a staymaker, in Exeter-street, adjoining Catharine-street, in the Strand. 'I dined (said he) very well for eight-pence, with very good company, at the Pine Apple in New-street, just by. Several of them had travelled. They expected to meet every day; but did not know one another's names. It used to cost the rest a shilling, for they drank wine; but I had a cut of meat for six-pence, and bread for a penny, and gave the waiter a penny; so that I was quite well served, nay, better than the rest, for they gave the waiter nothing.'
[Page 104: Abstinence from wine. A.D. 1737.]
He at this time, I believe, abstained entirely from fermented liquors: a practice to which he rigidly conformed for many years together, at different periods of his life.
[Page 105: An Irish Ofellus. tat 28.]
His Ofellus in the Art of Living in London, I have heard him relate, was an Irish painter, whom he knew at Birmingham, and who had practised his own precepts of oeconomy for several years in the British capital. He assured Johnson, who, I suppose, was then meditating to try his fortune in London, but was apprehensive of the expence, 'that thirty pounds a year was enough to enable a man to live there without being contemptible. He allowed ten pounds for clothes and linen. He said a man might live in a garret at eighteen-pence a week; few people would inquire where he lodged; and if they did, it was easy to say, 'Sir, I am to be found at such a place.' By spending three-pence in a coffee-house, he might be for some hours every day in very good company; he might dine for six-pence, breakfast on bread and milk for a penny, and do without supper. On clean-shirt-day he went abroad, and paid visits.' I have heard him more than once talk of this frugal friend, whom he recollected with esteem and kindness, and did not like to have one smile at the recital. 'This man (said he, gravely) was a very sensible man, who perfectly understood common affairs: a man of a great deal of knowledge of the world, fresh from life, not strained through books. He borrowed a horse and ten pounds at Birmingham. Finding himself master of so much money, he set off for West Chester, in order to get to Ireland. He returned the horse, and probably the ten pounds too, after he got home.'
[Page 106: Mr. Henry Hervey. A.D. 1737.]
Considering Johnson's narrow circumstances in the early part of his life, and particularly at the interesting aera of his launching into the ocean of London, it is not to be wondered at, that an actual instance, proved by experience of the possibility of enjoying the intellectual luxury of social life, upon a very small income, should deeply engage his attention, and be ever recollected by him as a circumstance of much importance. He amused himself, I remember, by computing how much more expence was absolutely necessary to live upon the same scale with that which his friend described, when the value of money was diminished by the progress of commerce. It maybe estimated that double the money might now with difficulty be sufficient.
Amidst this cold obscurity, there was one brilliant circumstance to cheer him; he was well acquainted with Mr. Henry Hervey, one of the branches of the noble family of that name, who had been quartered at Lichfield as an officer of the army, and had at this time a house in London, where Johnson was frequently entertained, and had an opportunity of meeting genteel company. Not very long before his death, he mentioned this, among other particulars of his life, which he was kindly communicating to me; and he described this early friend, 'Harry Hervey,' thus: 'He was a vicious man, but very kind to me. If you call a dog HERVEY, I shall love him.'
He told me he had now written only three acts of his Irene, and that he retired for some time to lodgings at Greenwich, where he proceeded in it somewhat further, and used to compose, walking in the Park; but did not stay long enough at that place to finish it.
At this period we find the following letter from him to Mr. Edward Cave, which, as a link in the chain of his literary history, it is proper to insert:
[Page 107: Johnson returns to Lichfield. tat 28.]
'To MR. CAVE.
'Greenwich, next door to the Golden Heart, 'Church-street, July 12, 1737.
'Having observed in your papers very uncommon offers of encouragement to men of letters, I have chosen, being a stranger in London, to communicate to you the following design, which, I hope, if you join in it, will be of advantage to both of us.
'The History of the Council of Trent having been lately translated into French, and published with large Notes by Dr. Le Courayer, the reputation of that book is so much revived in England, that, it is presumed, a new translation of it from the Italian, together with Le Courayer's Notes from the French, could not fail of a favourable reception.
'If it be answered, that the History is already in English, it must be remembered, that there was the same objection against Le Courayer's undertaking, with this disadvantage, that the French had a version by one of their best translators, whereas you cannot read three pages of the English History without discovering that the style is capable of great improvements; but whether those improvements are to be expected from the attempt, you must judge from the specimen, which, if you approve the proposal, I shall submit to your examination.
'Suppose the merit of the versions equal, we may hope that the addition of the Notes will turn the balance in our favour, considering the reputation of the Annotator.
'Be pleased to favour me with a speedy answer, if you are not willing to engage in this scheme; and appoint me a day to wait upon you, if you are.
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
It should seem from this letter, though subscribed with his own name, that he had not yet been introduced to Mr. Cave. We shall presently see what was done in consequence of the proposal which it contains.
[Page 108: Irene. A.D. 1737.]
In the course of the summer he returned to Lichfield, where he had left Mrs. Johnson, and there he at last finished his tragedy, which was not executed with his rapidity of composition upon other occasions, but was slowly and painfully elaborated. A few days before his death, while burning a great mass of papers, he picked out from among them the original unformed sketch of this tragedy, in his own hand-writing, and gave it to Mr. Langton, by whose favour a copy of it is now in my possession. It contains fragments of the intended plot, and speeches for the different persons of the drama, partly in the raw materials of prose, partly worked up into verse; as also a variety of hints for illustration, borrowed from the Greek, Roman, and modern writers. The hand-writing is very difficult to be read, even by those who were best acquainted with Johnson's mode of penmanship, which at all times was very particular. The King having graciously accepted of this manuscript as a literary curiosity, Mr. Langton made a fair and distinct copy of it, which he ordered to be bound up with the original and the printed tragedy; and the volume is deposited in the King's library. His Majesty was pleased to permit Mr. Langton to take a copy of it for himself.
The whole of it is rich in thought and imagery, and happy expressions; and of the disjecta membra scattered throughout, and as yet unarranged, a good dramatick poet might avail himself with considerable advantage. I shall give my readers some specimens of different kinds, distinguishing them by the Italick character.
'Nor think to say, here will I stop, Here will I fix the limits of transgression, Nor farther tempt the avenging rage of heaven. When guilt like this once harbours in the breast, Those holy beings, whose unseen direction Guides through the maze of life the steps of man, Fly the detested mansions of impiety, And quit their charge to horrour and to ruin.'
A small part only of this interesting admonition is preserved in the play, and is varied, I think, not to advantage:
'The soul once tainted with so foul a crime, No more shall glow with friendship's hallow'd ardour, Those holy beings whose superior care Guides erring mortals to the paths of virtue, Affrighted at impiety like thine, Resign their charge to baseness and to ruin.' '_I feel the soft infection Flush in my cheek, and wander in my veins. Teach me the Grecian arts of soft persuasion.'
'Sure this is love, which heretofore I conceived the dream of idle maids, and wanton poets.'
'Though no comets or prodigies foretold the ruin of Greece, signs which heaven must by another miracle enable us to understand, yet might it be foreshewn, by tokens no less certain, by the vices which always bring it on_.'
This last passage is worked up in the tragedy itself, as follows:
'——That power that kindly spreads The clouds, a signal of impending showers, To warn the wand'ring linnet to the shade, Beheld, without concern, expiring Greece, And not one prodigy foretold our fate.
'A thousand horrid prodigies foretold it; A feeble government, eluded laws, A factious populace, luxurious nobles, And all the maladies of sinking States. When publick villainy, too strong for justice, Shows his bold front, the harbinger of ruin, Can brave Leontius call for airy wonders, Which cheats interpret, and which fools regard? When some neglected fabrick nods beneath The weight of years, and totters to the tempest, Must heaven despatch the messengers of light, Or wake the dead, to warn us of its fall?'
MAHOMET (to IRENE). 'I have tried thee, and joy to find that thou deservest to be loved by Mahomet,—with a mind great as his own. Sure, thou art an errour of nature, and an exception to the rest of thy sex, and art immortal; for sentiments like thine were never to sink into nothing. I thought all the thoughts of the fair had been to select the graces of the day, dispose the colours of the flaunting (flowing) robe, tune the voice and roll the eye, place the gem, choose the dress, and add new roses to the fading cheek, but—sparkling.'
[Page 110: Johnson settles in London. A.D. 1737.]
Thus in the tragedy:
'Illustrious maid, new wonders fix me thine; Thy soul completes the triumphs of thy face: I thought, forgive my fair, the noblest aim, The strongest effort of a female soul Was but to choose the graces of the day, To tune the tongue, to teach the eyes to roll, Dispose the colours of the flowing robe, And add new roses to the faded cheek.'
I shall select one other passage, on account of the doctrine which it illustrates. IRENE observes,
'That the Supreme Being will accept of virtue, whatever outward circumstances it may be accompanied with, and may be delighted with varieties of worship: but is answered, that variety cannot affect that Being, who, infinitely happy in his own perfections, wants no external gratifications; nor can infinite truth be delighted with falsehood; that though he may guide or pity those he leaves in darkness, he abandons those who shut their eyes against the beams of day.'
Johnson's residence at Lichfield, on his return to it at this time, was only for three months; and as he had as yet seen but a small part of the wonders of the Metropolis, he had little to tell his townsmen. He related to me the following minute anecdote of this period: 'In the last age, when my mother lived in London, there were two sets of people, those who gave the wall, and those who took it; the peaceable and the quarrelsome. When I returned to Lichfield, after having been in London, my mother asked me, whether I was one of those who gave the wall, or those who took it. Now it is fixed that every man keeps to the right; or, if one is taking the wall, another yields it; and it is never a dispute.'
He now removed to London with Mrs. Johnson; but her daughter, who had lived with them at Edial, was left with her relations in the country. His lodgings were for some time in Woodstock-street, near Hanover-square, and afterwards in Castle-street, near Cavendish-square. As there is something pleasingly interesting, to many, in tracing so great a man through all his different habitations, I shall, before this work is concluded, present my readers with an exact list of his lodgings and houses, in order of time, which, in placid condescension to my respectful curiosity, he one evening dictated to me, but without specifying how long he lived at each. In the progress of his life I shall have occasion to mention some of them as connected with particular incidents, or with the writing of particular parts of his works. To some, this minute attention may appear trifling; but when we consider the punctilious exactness with which the different houses in which Milton resided have been traced by the writers of his life, a similar enthusiasm may be pardoned in the biographer of Johnson.
[Page 111: The Gentleman's Magazine. tat 28.]
His tragedy being by this time, as he thought, completely finished and fit for the stage, he was very desirous that it should be brought forward. Mr. Peter Garrick told me, that Johnson and he went together to the Fountain tavern, and read it over, and that he afterwards solicited Mr. Fleetwood, the patentee of Drury-lane theatre, to have it acted at his house; but Mr. Fleetwood would not accept it, probably because it was not patronized by some man of high rank; and it was not acted till 1749, when his friend David Garrick was manager of that theatre.
The Gentleman's Magazine, begun and carried on by Mr. Edward Cave, under the name of SYLVANUS URBAN, had attracted the notice and esteem of Johnson, in an eminent degree, before he came to London as an adventurer in literature. He told me, that when he first saw St. John's Gate, the place where that deservedly popular miscellany was originally printed, he 'beheld it with reverence.' I suppose, indeed, that every young authour has had the same kind of feeling for the magazine or periodical publication which has first entertained him, and in which he has first had an opportunity to see himself in print, without the risk of exposing his name. I myself recollect such impressions from 'The Scots Magazine,' which was begun at Edinburgh in the year 1739, and has been ever conducted with judgement, accuracy, and propriety. I yet cannot help thinking of it with an affectionate regard. Johnson has dignified the Gentleman's Magazine, by the importance with which he invests the life of Cave; but he has given it still greater lustre by the various admirable Essays which he wrote for it.
[Page 112: A list of Johnson's writings. A.D. 1738.]
Though Johnson was often solicited by his friends to make a complete list of his writings, and talked of doing it, I believe with a serious intention that they should all be collected on his own account, he put it off from year to year, and at last died without having done it perfectly. I have one in his own handwriting, which contains a certain number; I indeed doubt if he could have remembered every one of them, as they were so numerous, so various, and scattered in such a multiplicity of unconnected publications; nay, several of them published under the names of other persons, to whom he liberally contributed from the abundance of his mind. We must, therefore, be content to discover them, partly from occasional information given by him to his friends, and partly from internal evidence.
[Page 113: Edward Cave. tat 29.]
His first performance in the Gentleman's Magazine, which for many years was his principal source for employment and support, was a copy of Latin verses, in March 1738, addressed to the editor in so happy a style of compliment, that Cave must have been destitute both of taste and sensibility had he not felt himself highly gratified.
[Page 114: 'Ad Urbanum.' A.D. 1738.]
URBANE, nullis fesse laboribus, URBANE, nullis victe calumniis, Cui fronte sertum in erudit Perpetu viret et virebit;
Quid moliatur gens imilantium, Quid et minetur, solicitus parm, Vacare solis perge Musis, Juxta animo studiisque felix.
Lingu procacis plumbea spicula, Fidens, superbo frange silentio; Victrix per obstantes catervas Sedulitas animosa tendet.
Intende nervos, fortis, inanibus Risurus olim nisibus muli; Intende jam nervos, habebis Participes oper Camoenas.
Non ulla Musis pagina gratior, Quam qu severis ludicra jungere Novit, fatigatamque nugis Utilibus recreare mentem.
Texente Nymphis serta Lycoride, Ros ruborem sic viola adjuvat Immista, sic Iris refulget thereis variata fucis.'
[Page 115: Reports of the Debates. tat 29.]
[Page 116: Libels in the press. A.D. 1738.]
It appears that he was now enlisted by Mr. Cave as a regular coadjutor in his magazine, by which he probably obtained a tolerable livelihood. At what time, or by what means, he had acquired a competent knowledge both of French and Italian, I do not know; but he was so well skilled in them, as to be sufficiently qualified for a translator. That part of his labour which consisted in emendation and improvement of the productions of other contributors, like that employed in levelling ground, can be perceived only by those who had an opportunity of comparing the original with the altered copy. What we certainly know to have been done by him in this way, was the Debates in both houses of Parliament, under the name of 'The Senate of Lilliput,' sometimes with feigned denominations of the several speakers, sometimes with denominations formed of the letters of their real names, in the manner of what is called anagram, so that they might easily be decyphered. Parliament then kept the press in a kind of mysterious awe, which made it necessary to have recourse to such devices. In our time it has acquired an unrestrained freedom, so that the people in all parts of the kingdom have a fair, open, and exact report of the actual proceedings of their representatives and legislators, which in our constitution is highly to be valued; though, unquestionably, there has of late been too much reason to complain of the petulance with which obscure scribblers have presumed to treat men of the most respectable character and situation.
[Page 117: William Guthrie. tat 29.]
This important article of the Gentleman's Magazine was, for several years, executed by Mr. William Guthrie, a man who deserves to be respectably recorded in the literary annals of this country. He was descended of an ancient family in Scotland; but having a small patrimony, and being an adherent of the unfortunate house of Stuart, he could not accept of any office in the state; he therefore came to London, and employed his talents and learning as an 'Authour by profession.' His writings in history, criticism, and politicks, had considerable merit. He was the first English historian who had recourse to that authentick source of information, the Parliamentary Journals; and such was the power of his political pen, that, at an early period, Government thought it worth their while to keep it quiet by a pension, which he enjoyed till his death. Johnson esteemed him enough to wish that his life should be written. The debates in Parliament, which were brought home and digested by Guthrie, whose memory, though surpassed by others who have since followed him in the same department, was yet very quick and tenacious, were sent by Cave to Johnson for his revision; and, after some time, when Guthrie had attained to greater variety of employment, and the speeches were more and more enriched by the accession of Johnson's genius, it was resolved that he should do the whole himself, from the scanty notes furnished by persons employed to attend in both houses of Parliament. Sometimes, however, as he himself told me, he had nothing more communicated to him than the names of the several speakers, and the part which they had taken in the debate.
[Page 118: London, a Poem. A.D. 1738.]
Thus was Johnson employed during some of the best years of his life, as a mere literary labourer 'for gain, not glory,' solely to obtain an honest support. He however indulged himself in occasional little sallies, which the French so happily express by the term jeux d'esprit, and which will be noticed in their order, in the progress of this work.
[Page 119: Oldham and Johnson compared. tat 29.]
But what first displayed his transcendent powers, and 'gave the world assurance of the MAN,' was his London, a Poem, in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal: which came out in May this year, and burst forth with a splendour, the rays of which will for ever encircle his name. Boileau had imitated the same satire with great success, applying it to Paris; but an attentive comparison will satisfy every reader, that he is much excelled by the English Juvenal. Oldham had also imitated it, and applied it to London; all which performances concur to prove, that great cities, in every age, and in every country, will furnish similar topicks of satire. Whether Johnson had previously read Oldham's imitation, I do not know; but it is not a little remarkable, that there is scarcely any coincidence found between the two performances, though upon the very same subject. The only instances are, in describing London as the sink of foreign worthlessness:
'——the common shore, Where France does all her filth and ordure pour.'
'The common shore of Paris and of Rome.'
'No calling or profession comes amiss, A needy monsieur can be what he please.'
'All sciences a fasting monsieur knows.'
The particulars which Oldham has collected, both as exhibiting the horrours of London, and of the times, contrasted with better days, are different from those of Johnson, and in general well chosen, and well exprest.
There are, in Oldham's imitation, many prosaick verses and bad rhymes, and his poem sets out with a strange inadvertent blunder:
'Tho' much concern'd to leave my dear old friend, I must, however, his design commend Of fixing in the country—.'
[Page 120: The publication of London. A.D. 1738.]
It is plain he was not going to leave his friend; his friend was going to leave him. A young lady at once corrected this with good critical sagacity, to
'Tho' much concern'd to lose my dear old friend.'
There is one passage in the original, better transfused by Oldham than by Johnson:
'Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se, Qum quod ridiculos homines facit;'
which is an exquisite remark on the galling meanness and contempt annexed to poverty: JOHNSON'S imitation is,
'Of all the griefs that harass the distrest, Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest.'
OLDHAM'S, though less elegant, is more just:
'Nothing in poverty so ill is borne, As its exposing men to grinning scorn.'
Where, or in what manner this poem was composed, I am sorry that I neglected to ascertain with precision, from Johnson's own authority. He has marked upon his corrected copy of the first edition of it, 'Written in 1738;' and, as it was published in the month of May in that year, it is evident that much time was not employed in preparing it for the press. The history of its publication I am enabled to give in a very satisfactory manner; and judging from myself, and many of my friends, I trust that it will not be uninteresting to my readers.
[Page 121: Johnson's letters to Cave. tat 29.]
We may be certain, though it is not expressly named in the following letters to Mr. Cave, in 1738, that they all relate to it:
'To MR. CAVE.
'Castle-street, Wednesday Morning. [No date. 1738.]
'When I took the liberty of writing to you a few days ago, I did not expect a repetition of the same pleasure so soon; for a pleasure I shall always think it, to converse in any manner with an ingenious and candid man; but having the inclosed poem in my hands to dispose of for the benefit of the authour, (of whose abilities I shall say nothing, since I send you his performance,) I believed I could not procure more advantageous terms from any person than from you, who have so much distinguished yourself by your generous encouragement of poetry; and whose judgment of that art nothing but your commendation of my trifle can give me any occasion to call in question. I do not doubt but you will look over this poem with another eye, and reward it in a different manner, from a mercenary bookseller, who counts the lines he is to purchase, and considers nothing but the bulk. I cannot help taking notice, that, besides what the authour may hope for on account of his abilities, he has likewise another claim to your regard, as he lies at present under very disadvantageous circumstances of fortune. I beg, therefore, that you will favour me with a letter to-morrow, that I may know what you can afford to allow him, that he may either part with it to you, or find out, (which I do not expect,) some other way more to his satisfaction.
'I have only to add, that as I am sensible I have transcribed it very coarsely, which, after having altered it, I was obliged to do, I will, if you please to transmit the sheets from the press, correct it for you; and take the trouble of altering any stroke of satire which you may dislike.
'By exerting on this occasion your usual generosity, you will not only encourage learning, and relieve distress, but (though it be in comparison of the other motives of very small account) oblige in a very sensible manner, Sir,
'Your very humble servant,
'To MR. CAVE. 'Monday, No. 6, Castle-street.
'I am to return you thanks for the present you were so kind as to send by me, and to intreat that you will be pleased to inform me by the penny-post, whether you resolve to print the poem. If you please to send it me by the post, with a note to Dodsley, I will go and read the lines to him, that we may have his consent to put his name in the title-page. As to the printing, if it can be set immediately about, I will be so much the authour's friend, as not to content myself with mere solicitations in his favour. I propose, if my calculation be near the truth, to engage for the reimbursement of all that you shall lose by an impression of 500; provided, as you very generously propose, that the profit, if any, be set aside for the authour's use, excepting the present you made, which, if he be a gainer, it is fit he should repay. I beg that you will let one of your servants write an exact account of the expense of such an impression, and send it with the poem, that I may know what I engage for. I am very sensible, from your generosity on this occasion, of your regard to learning, even in its unhappiest state; and cannot but think such a temper deserving of the gratitude of those who suffer so often from a contrary disposition. I am, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
[Page 122: Mrs. Carter. A.D. 1738.]
'To MR. CAVE.
'I waited on you to take the copy to Dodsley's: as I remember the number of lines which it contains, it will be no longer than Eugenio, with the quotations, which must be subjoined at the bottom of the page; part of the beauty of the performance (if any beauty be allowed it) consisting in adapting Juvenal's sentiments to modern facts and persons. It will, with those additions, very conveniently make five sheets. And since the expense will be no more, I shall contentedly insure it, as I mentioned in my last. If it be not therefore gone to Dodsley's, I beg it may be sent me by the penny-post, that I may have it in the evening. I have composed a Greek epigram to Eliza, and think she ought to be celebrated in as many different languages as Lewis le Grand. Pray send me word when you will begin upon the poem, for it is a long way to walk. I would leave my Epigram, but have not daylight to transcribe it. I am, Sir,
[Page 123: Negotiations with Dodsley. tat 29.]
'TO MR. CAVE.
'I am extremely obliged by your kind letter, and will not fail to attend you to-morrow with Irene, who looks upon you as one of her best friends.
'I was to day with Mr. Dodsley, who declares very warmly in favour of the paper you sent him, which he desires to have a share in, it being, as he says, a creditable thing to be concerned in. I knew not what answer to make till I had consulted you, nor what to demand on the authour's part, but am very willing that, if you please, he should have a part in it, as he will undoubtedly be more diligent to disperse and promote it. If you can send me word to-morrow what I shall say to him, I will settle matters, and bring the poem with me for the press, which, as the town empties, we cannot be too quick with. I am, Sir,
[Page 124: Payment for London. A.D. 1738.]
To us who have long known the manly force, bold spirit, and masterly versification of this poem, it is a matter of curiosity to observe the diffidence with which its authour brought it forward into publick notice, while he is so cautious as not to avow it to be his own production; and with what humility he offers to allow the printer to 'alter any stroke of satire which he might dislike.' That any such alteration was made, we do not know. If we did, we could not but feel an indignant regret; but how painful is it to see that a writer of such vigorous powers of mind was actually in such distress, that the small profit which so short a poem, however excellent, could yield, was courted as a 'relief.'
It has been generally said, I know not with what truth, that Johnson offered his London to several booksellers, none of whom would purchase it. To this circumstance Mr. Derrick alludes in the following lines of his Fortune, a Rhapsody:
'Will no kind patron JOHNSON own? Shall JOHNSON friendless range the town? And every publisher refuse The offspring of his happy Muse?'
But we have seen that the worthy, modest, and ingenious Mr. Robert Dodsley had taste enough to perceive its uncommon merit, and thought it creditable to have a share in it. The fact is, that, at a future conference, he bargained for the whole property of it, for which he gave Johnson ten guineas; who told me, 'I might, perhaps, have accepted of less; but that Paul Whitehead had a little before got ten guineas for a poem and I would not take less than Paul Whitehead.'
[Page 125: Paul Whitehead. tat 29.]
I may here observe, that Johnson appeared to me to undervalue Paul Whitehead upon every occasion when he was mentioned, and, in my opinion, did not do him justice; but when it is considered that Paul Whitehead was a member of a riotous and profane club, we may account for Johnson's having a prejudice against him. Paul Whitehead was, indeed, unfortunate in being not only slighted by Johnson, but violently attacked by Churchill, who utters the following imprecation:
'May I (can worse disgrace on manhood fall?) Be born a Whitehead, and baptiz'd a Paul!'
yet I shall never be persuaded to think meanly of the authour of so brilliant and pointed a satire as Manners.
[Page 126: Was Richard Savage Thales? A.D. 1738.]
Johnson's London was published in May, 1738; and it is remarkable, that it came out on the same morning with Pope's satire, entitled '1738;' so that England had at once its Juvenal and Horace as poetical monitors. The Reverend Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of Salisbury, to whom I am indebted for some obliging communications, was then a student at Oxford, and remembers well the effect which London produced. Every body was delighted with it; and there being no name to it, the first buz of the literary circles was 'here is an unknown poet, greater even than Pope.' And it is recorded in the Gentleman s Magazine of that year, that it 'got to the second edition in the course of a week.'
[Page 127: General Oglethorpe. tat 29.]
One of the warmest patrons of this poem on its first appearance was General Oglethorpe, whose 'strong benevolence of soul,' was unabated during the course of a very long life; though it is painful to think, that he had but too much reason to become cold and callous, and discontented with the world, from the neglect which he experienced of his publick and private worth, by those in whose power it was to gratify so gallant a veteran with marks of distinction. This extraordinary person was as remarkable for his learning and taste, as for his other eminent qualities; and no man was more prompt, active, and generous, in encouraging merit. I have heard Johnson gratefully acknowledge, in his presence, the kind and effectual support which he gave to his London, though unacquainted with its authour.
[Page 128: Pope admires London. A.D. 1738.]
Pope, who then filled the poetical throne without a rival, it may reasonably be presumed, must have been particularly struck by the sudden appearance of such a poet; and, to his credit, let it be remembered, that his feelings and conduct on the occasion were candid and liberal. He requested Mr. Richardson, son of the painter, to endeavour to find out who this new authour was. Mr. Richardson, after some inquiry, having informed him that he had discovered only that his name was Johnson, and that he was some obscure man, Pope said, 'he will soon be dterr.' We shall presently see, from a note written by Pope, that he was himself afterwards more successful in his inquiries than his friend.
[Page 129: Johnson a 'true-born Englishman.' tat 29.]
That in this justly-celebrated poem may be found a few rhymes which the critical precision of English prosody at this day would disallow, cannot be denied; but with this small imperfection, which in the general blaze of its excellence is not perceived, till the mind has subsided into cool attention, it is, undoubtedly, one of the noblest productions in our language, both for sentiment and expression. The nation was then in that ferment against the court and the ministry, which some years after ended in the downfall of Sir Robert Walpole; and as it has been said, that Tories are Whigs when out of place, and Whigs, Tories when in place; so, as a Whig administration ruled with what force it could, a Tory opposition had all the animation and all the eloquence of resistance to power, aided by the common topicks of patriotism, liberty, and independence! Accordingly, we find in Johnson's London the most spirited invectives against tyranny and oppression, the warmest predilection for his own country, and the purest love of virtue; interspersed with traits of his own particular character and situation, not omitting his prejudices as a 'true-born Englishman,' not only against foreign countries, but against Ireland and Scotland. On some of these topicks I shall quote a few passages:
[Page 130: Passages from LONDON. A.D. 1738.]
'The cheated nation's happy fav'rites see; Mark whom the great caress, who frown on me.' 'Has heaven reserv'd in pity to the poor, No pathless waste, or undiscover'd shore? No secret island in the boundless main? No peaceful desert yet unclaim'd by Spain? Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore, And bear Oppression's insolence no more.'
'How, when competitors like these contend, Can surly Virtue hope to fix a friend?'
'This mournful truth is every where confess'd, SLOW RISES WORTH, BY POVERTY DEPRESS'D!'
We may easily conceive with what feeling a great mind like his, cramped and galled by narrow circumstances, uttered this last line, which he marked by capitals. The whole of the poem is eminently excellent, and there are in it such proofs of a knowledge of the world, and of a mature acquaintance with life, as cannot be contemplated without wonder, when we consider that he was then only in his twenty-ninth year, and had yet been so little in the 'busy haunts of men.'
[Page 131: Sir Robert Walpole. tat 29.]
Yet, while we admire the poetical excellence of this poem, candour obliges us to allow, that the flame of patriotism and zeal for popular resistance with which it is fraught, had no just cause. There was, in truth, no 'oppression;' the 'nation' was not 'cheated.' Sir Robert Walpole was a wise and a benevolent minister, who thought that the happiness and prosperity of a commercial country like ours, would be best promoted by peace, which he accordingly maintained, with credit, during a very long period. Johnson himself afterwards honestly acknowledged the merit of Walpole, whom he called 'a fixed star;' while he characterised his opponent, Pitt, as 'a meteor.' But Johnson's juvenile poem was naturally impregnated with the fire of opposition, and upon every account was universally admired.
[Page 132: Appleby School. A.D. 1738.]
Though thus elevated into fame, and conscious of uncommon powers, he had not that bustling confidence, or, I may rather say, that animated ambition, which one might have supposed would have urged him to endeavour at rising in life. But such was his inflexible dignity of character, that he could not stoop to court the great; without which, hardly any man has made his way to a high station. He could not expect to produce many such works as his London, and he felt the hardships of writing for bread; he was, therefore, willing to resume the office of a schoolmaster, so as to have a sure, though moderate income for his life; and an offer being made to him of the mastership of a school, provided he could obtain the degree of Master of Arts, Dr. Adams was applied to, by a common friend, to know whether that could be granted him as a favour from the University of Oxford. But though he had made such a figure in the literary world, it was then thought too great a favour to be asked.
Hawkins (Life, p. 61) says that 'Johnson went to Appleby in Aug. 1738, and offered himself as a candidate for the mastership.' The date of 1738 seems to be Hawkins's inference. If Johnson went at all, it was in 1739. Pope, the friend of Swift, would not of course have sought Lord Gower's influence with Swift. He applied to his lordship, no doubt, as a great midland-county landowner, likely to have influence with the trustees. Why, when the difficulty about the degree of M.A. was discovered, Pope was not asked to solicit Swift cannot be known. See post, beginning of 1780 in BOSWELL'S account of the Life of Swift.]
[Page 133: Pope's letter of recommendation.]
Pope, without any knowledge of him but from his London, recommended him to Earl Gower, who endeavoured to procure for him a degree from Dublin, by the following letter to a friend of Dean Swift:
'Mr. Samuel Johnson (authour of London, a satire, and some other poetical pieces) is a native of this country, and much respected by some worthy gentlemen in his neighbourhood, who are trustees of a charity school now vacant; the certain salary is sixty pounds a year, of which they are desirous to make him master; but, unfortunately, he is not capable of receiving their bounty, which would make him happy for life, by not being a Master of Arts; which, by the statutes of this school, the master of it must be.
'Now these gentlemen do me the honour to think that I have interest enough in you, to prevail upon you to write to Dean Swift, to persuade the University of Dublin to send a diploma to me, constituting this poor man Master of Arts in their University. They highly extol the man's learning and probity; and will not be persuaded, that the University will make any difficulty of conferring such a favour upon a stranger, if he is recommended by the Dean. They say he is not afraid of the strictest examination, though he is of so long a journey; and will venture it, if the Dean thinks it necessary; choosing rather to die upon the road, than be starved to death in translating for booksellers; which has been his only subsistence for some time past.
'I fear there is more difficulty in this affair, than those good-natured gentlemen apprehend; especially as their election cannot be delayed longer than the 11th of next month. If you see this matter in the same light that it appears to me, I hope you will burn this, and pardon me for giving you so much trouble about an impracticable thing; but, if you think there is a probability of obtaining the favour asked, I am sure your humanity, and propensity to relieve merit in distress, will incline you to serve the poor man, without my adding any more to the trouble I have already given you, than assuring you that I am, with great truth, Sir,
'Your faithful servant,
'Trentham, Aug. 1, 1739.'
[Page 134: Johnson's wish to practise law. A.D. 1738.]
It was, perhaps, no small disappointment to Johnson that this respectable application had not the desired effect; yet how much reason has there been, both for himself and his country, to rejoice that it did not succeed, as he might probably have wasted in obscurity those hours in which he afterwards produced his incomparable works.
About this time he made one other effort to emancipate himself from the drudgery of authourship. He applied to Dr. Adams, to consult Dr. Smalbroke of the Commons, whether a person might be permitted to practice as an advocate there, without a doctor's degree in Civil Law. 'I am (said he) a total stranger to these studies; but whatever is a profession, and maintains numbers, must be within the reach of common abilities, and some degree of industry.' Dr. Adams was much pleased with Johnson's design to employ his talents in that manner, being confident he would have attained to great eminence. And, indeed, I cannot conceive a man better qualified to make a distinguished figure as a lawyer; for, he would have brought to his profession a rich store of various knowledge, an uncommon acuteness, and a command of language, in which few could have equalled, and none have surpassed him. He who could display eloquence and wit in defence of the decision of the House of Commons upon Mr. Wilkes's election for Middlesex, and of the unconstitutional taxation of our fellow-subjects in America, must have been a powerful advocate in any cause. But here, also, the want of a degree was an insurmountable bar.
[Page 135: Paul Sarpi's History. tat 29.]
He was, therefore, under the necessity of persevering in that course, into which he had been forced; and we find, that his proposal from Greenwich to Mr. Cave, for a translation of Father Paul Sarpi's History, was accepted.
Some sheets of this translation were printed off, but the design was dropt; for it happened, oddly enough, that another person of the name of Samuel Johnson, Librarian of St. Martin's in the Fields, and Curate of that parish, engaged in the same undertaking, and was patronised by the Clergy, particularly by Dr. Pearce, afterwards Bishop of Rochester. Several light skirmishes passed between the rival translators, in the newspapers of the day; and the consequence was, that they destroyed each other, for neither of them went on with the work. It is much to be regretted, that the able performance of that celebrated genius FRA PAOLO, lost the advantage of being incorporated into British literature by the masterly hand of Johnson.
[Page 136: Mr. Cave's insinuation. A.D. 1738.]
I have in my possession, by the favour of Mr. John Nichols, a paper in Johnson's hand-writing, entitled 'Account between Mr. Edward Cave and Sam. Johnson, in relation to a version of Father Paul, &c. begun August the 2d, 1738; 'by which it appears, that from that day to the 21st of April, 1739, Johnson received for this work, 49 7s. in sums of one, two, three, and sometimes four guineas at a time, most frequently two. And it is curious to observe the minute and scrupulous accuracy with which Johnson has pasted upon it a slip of paper, which he has entitled Small Account,' and which contains one article, 'Sept. 9th, Mr. Cave laid down 2s. 6d.' There is subjoined to this account, a list of some subscribers to the work, partly in Johnson's handwriting, partly in that of another person; and there follows a leaf or two on which are written a number of characters which have the appearance of a short hand, which, perhaps, Johnson was then trying to learn.
'To MR. CAVE.
'I did not care to detain your servant while I wrote an answer to your letter, in which you seem to insinuate that I had promised more than I am ready to perform. If I have raised your expectations by any thing that may have escaped my memory, I am sorry; and if you remind me of it, shall thank you for the favour. If I made fewer alterations than usual in the Debates, it was only because there appeared, and still appears to be, less need of alteration. The verses to Lady Firebrace may be had when you please, for you know that such a subject neither deserves much thought, nor requires it.
'The Chinese Stories may be had folded down when you please to send, in which I do not recollect that you desired any alterations to be made.
'An answer to another query I am very willing to write, and had consulted with you about it last night if there had been time; for I think it the most proper way of inviting such a correspondence as may be an advantage to the paper, not a load upon it.
'As to the Prize Verses, a backwardness to determine their degrees of merit is not peculiar to me. You may, if you please, still have what I can say; but I shall engage with little spirit in an affair, which I shall hardly end to my own satisfaction, and certainly not to the satisfaction of the parties concerned.
'As to Father Paul, I have not yet been just to my proposal, but have met with impediments, which, I hope, are now at an end; and if you find the progress hereafter not such as you have a right to expect, you can easily stimulate a negligent translator.
'If any or all of these have contributed to your discontent, I will endeavour to remove it; and desire you to propose the question to which you wish for an answer.
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
[Page 137: Impransus. tat 29.]
'To MR. CAVE.
'I am pretty much of your opinion, that the Commentary cannot be prosecuted with any appearance of success; for as the names of the authours concerned are of more weight in the performance than its own intrinsick merit, the publick will be soon satisfied with it. And I think the Examen should be pushed forward with the utmost expedition. Thus, "This day, &c., An Examen of Mr. Pope's Essay, &c., containing a succinct Account of the Philosophy of Mr. Leibnitz on the System of the Fatalists, with a Confutation of their Opinions, and an Illustration of the Doctrine of Free-will;" [with what else you think proper.]
'It will, above all, be necessary to take notice, that it is a thing distinct from the Commentary.
'I was so far from imagining they stood still, that I conceived them to have a good deal before-hand, and therefore was less anxious in providing them more. But if ever they stand still on my account, it must doubtless be charged to me; and whatever else shall be reasonable, I shall not oppose; but beg a suspense of judgment till morning, when I must entreat you to send me a dozen proposals, and you shall then have copy to spare.
'I am, Sir,
'Pray muster up the Proposals if you can, or let the boy recall them from the booksellers.'
[Page 138: Mr. Macbean. A.D. 1738.]
But although he corresponded with Mr. Cave concerning a translation of Crousaz's Examen of Pope's Essay on Man, and gave advice as one anxious for its success, I was long ago convinced by a perusal of the Preface, that this translation was erroneously ascribed to him; and I have found this point ascertained, beyond all doubt, by the following article in Dr. Birch's Manuscripts in the British Museum:
'ELIS CARTER. S. P. D. THOMAS BIRCH.
'Versionem tuam Examinis Crousasiani jam perlegi. Summam styli et elegantiam, et in re difficillim proprietatem, admiratus.
'Dabam Novemb. 27 1738.'
Indeed Mrs. Carter has lately acknowledged to Mr. Seward, that she was the translator of the Examen.
It is remarkable, that Johnson's last quoted letter to Mr. Cave concludes with a fair confession that he had not a dinner; and it is no less remarkable, that, though in this state of want himself, his benevolent heart was not insensible to the necessities of an humble labourer in literature, as appears from the very next letter:
'To MR. CAVE.
'You may remember I have formerly talked with you about a Military Dictionary. The eldest Mr. Macbean, who was with Mr. Chambers, has very good materials for such a work, which I have seen, and will do it at a very low rate. I think the terms of War and Navigation might be comprised, with good explanations, in one 8vo. Pica, which he is willing to do for twelve shillings a sheet, to be made up a guinea at the second impression. If you think on it, I will wait on you with him.
'I am, Sir,
'Your humble servant,
'Pray lend me Topsel on Animals.'
[Page 139: Boethius De Consolatione. tat 29.]
I must not omit to mention, that this Mr. Macbean was a native of Scotland.
In the Gentleman's Magazine of this year, Johnson gave a Life of Father Paul; and he wrote the Preface to the Volume, [dagger] which, though prefixed to it when bound, is always published with the Appendix, and is therefore the last composition belonging to it. The ability and nice adaptation with which he could draw up a prefatory address, was one of his peculiar excellencies.
It appears too, that he paid a friendly attention to Mrs. Elizabeth Carter; for in a letter from Mr. Cave to Dr. Birch, November 28, this year, I find 'Mr. Johnson advises Miss C. to undertake a translation of Boethius de Cons, because there is prose and verse, and to put her name to it when published.' This advice was not followed; probably from an apprehension that the work was not sufficiently popular for an extensive sale. How well Johnson himself could have executed a translation of this philosophical poet, we may judge from the following specimen which he has given in the Rambler: (Motto to No. 7.)
'O qui perpetu mundum ratione gubernas, Terrarum clique sator! Disjice terren nebulas et pondera molis, Atque tuo splendore mica! Tu namque serenum, Tu requies tranquilla piis. Te cernere finis, Principium, vector, dux, semita, terminus, idem.'
'O thou whose power o'er moving worlds presides, Whose voice created, and whose wisdom guides, On darkling man in pure effulgence shine, And cheer the clouded mind with light divine. 'Tis thine alone to calm the pious breast, With silent confidence and holy rest; From thee, great God! we spring, to thee we tend, Path, motive, guide, original, and end!'
[Page 140: Abridgments. A.D. 1739.]
[Page 141: Marmor Norfolciensc. tat 30.]
In 1739, beside the assistance which he gave to the Parliamentary Debates, his writings in the Gentleman's Magazine were, 'The Life of Boerhaave,'[*] in which it is to be observed, that he discovers that love of chymistry which never forsook him; 'An Appeal to the publick in behalf of the Editor;'[dagger] 'An Address to the Reader;'[dagger] 'An Epigram both in Greek and Latin to Eliza,'[*] and also English verses to her;[*] and, 'A Greek Epigram to Dr. Birch.'[*] It has been erroneously supposed, that an Essay published in that Magazine this year, entitled 'The Apotheosis of Milton,' was written by Johnson; and on that supposition it has been improperly inserted in the edition of his works by the Booksellers, after his decease. Were there no positive testimony as to this point, the style of the performance, and the name of Shakspeare not being mentioned in an Essay professedly reviewing the principal English poets, would ascertain it not to be the production of Johnson. But there is here no occasion to resort to internal evidence; for my Lord Bishop of Salisbury (Dr. Douglas) has assured me, that it was written by Guthrie. His separate publications were, 'A Complete Vindication of the Licensers of the Stage, from the malicious and scandalous Aspersions of Mr. Brooke, Authour of Gustavus Vasa,'[*] being an ironical Attack upon them for their Suppression of that Tragedy; and, 'Marmor Norfolciense; or an Essay on an ancient prophetical Inscription in monkish Rhyme, lately discovered near Lynne in Norfolk, by PROBUS BRITANNICUS.'[*] In this performance, he, in a feigned inscription, supposed to have been found in Norfolk, the county of Sir Robert Walpole, then the obnoxious prime minister of this country, inveighs against the Brunswick succession, and the measures of government consequent upon it. To this supposed prophecy he added a Commentary, making each expression apply to the times, with warm Anti-Hanoverian zeal.
This anonymous pamphlet, I believe, did not make so much noise as was expected, and, therefore, had not a very extensive circulation. Sir John Hawkins relates, that, 'warrants were issued, and messengers employed to apprehend the authour; who, though he had forborne to subscribe his name to the pamphlet, the vigilance of those in pursuit of him had discovered;' and we are informed, that he lay concealed in Lambeth-marsh till the scent after him grew cold. This, however, is altogether without foundation; for Mr. Steele, one of the Secretaries of the Treasury, who amidst a variety of important business, politely obliged me with his attention to my inquiry, informed me, that 'he directed every possible search to be made in the records of the Treasury and Secretary of State's Office, but could find no trace whatever of any warrant having been issued to apprehend the authour of this pamphlet.'
[Page 142: Reprint of Marmor Norfolciensc. A.D. 1739.]
Marmor Norfolciense became exceedingly scarce, so that I, for many years, endeavoured in vain to procure a copy of it. At last I was indebted to the malice of one of Johnson's numerous petty adversaries, who, in 1775, published a new edition of it, 'with Notes and a Dedication to SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D. by TRIBUNUS;' in which some puny scribbler invidiously attempted to found upon it a charge of inconsistency against its authour, because he had accepted of a pension from his present Majesty, and had written in support of the measures of government. As a mortification to such impotent malice, of which there are so many instances towards men of eminence, I am happy to relate, that this telum imbelle did not reach its exalted object, till about a year after it thus appeared, when I mentioned it to him, supposing that he knew of the re-publication. To my surprize, he had not yet heard of it. He requested me to go directly and get it for him, which I did. He looked at it and laughed, and seemed to be much diverted with the feeble efforts of his unknown adversary, who, I hope, is alive to read this account. 'Now (said he) here is somebody who thinks he has vexed me sadly; yet, if it had not been for you, you rogue, I should probably never have seen it.'
[Page 143: 'Paper-sparing Pope.' tat 30.]
As Mr. Pope's note concerning Johnson, alluded to in a former page, refers both to his London, and his Marmor Norfolciense, I have deferred inserting it till now. I am indebted for it to Dr. Percy, the Bishop of Dromore, who permitted me to copy it from the original in his possession. It was presented to his Lordship by Sir Joshua Reynolds, to whom it was given by the son of Mr. Richardson the painter, the person to whom it is addressed. I have transcribed it with minute exactness, that the peculiar mode of writing, and imperfect spelling of that celebrated poet, may be exhibited to the curious in literature. It justifies Swift's epithet of 'paper-sparing Pope' for it is written on a slip no larger than a common message-card, and was sent to Mr. Richardson, along with the Imitation of Juvenal.
'This is imitated by one Johnson who put in for a Publick-school in Shropshire, but was disappointed. He has an infirmity of the convulsive kind, that attacks him sometimes, so as to make him a sad Spectacle. Mr. P. from the Merit of this Work which was all the knowledge he had of him endeavour'd to serve him without his own application; & wrote to my Ld gore, but he did not succeed. Mr. Johnson published afterwds another Poem in Latin with Notes the whole very Humerous call'd the Norfolk Prophecy.'
Johnson had been told of this note; and Sir Joshua Reynolds informed him of the compliment which it contained, but, from delicacy, avoided shewing him the paper itself. When Sir Joshua observed to Johnson that he seemed very desirous to see Pope's note, he answered, 'Who would not be proud to have such a man as Pope so solicitous in inquiring about him?'
[Page 144: Johnson's tricks of body. A.D. 1739.]
The infirmity to which Mr. Pope alludes, appeared to me also, as I have elsewhere observed, to be of the convulsive kind, and of the nature of that distemper called St. Vitus's dance; and in this opinion I am confirmed by the description which Sydenham gives of that disease. 'This disorder is a kind of convulsion. It manifests itself by halting or unsteadiness of one of the legs, which the patient draws after him like an ideot. If the hand of the same side be applied to the breast, or any other part of the body, he cannot keep it a moment in the same posture, but it will be drawn into a different one by a convulsion, notwithstanding all his efforts to the contrary.' Sir Joshua Reynolds, however, was of a different opinion, and favoured me with the following paper.
[Page 145: His dread of solitude. tat 30.]
'Those motions or tricks of Dr. Johnson are improper'y called convulsions. He could sit motionless, when he was told so to do, as well as any other man; my opinion is that it proceeded from a habit which he had indulged himself in, of accompanying his thoughts with certain untoward actions, and those actions always appeared to me as if they were meant to reprobate some part of his past conduct. Whenever he was not engaged in conversation, such thoughts were sure to rush into his mind; and, for this reason, any company, any employment whatever, he preferred to being alone. The great business of his life (he said) was to escape from himself; this disposition he considered as the disease of his mind, which nothing cured but company.
'One instance of his absence and particularity, as it is characteristick of the man, may be worth relating. When he and I took a journey together into the West, we visited the late Mr. Banks, of Dorsetshire; the conversation turning upon pictures, which Johnson could not well see, he retired to a corner of the room, stretching out his right leg as far as he could reach before him, then bringing up his left leg, and stretching his right still further on. The old gentleman observing him, went up to him, and in a very courteous manner assured him, that though it was not a new house, the flooring was perfectly safe. The Doctor started from his reverie, like a person waked out of his sleep, but spoke not a word.'
While we are on this subject, my readers may not be displeased with another anecdote, communicated to me by the same friend, from the relation of Mr. Hogarth.
[Page 146: Hogarth meets Johnson. A.D. 1739.]
[Page 147: George the Second's cruelty. tat 30.]
Johnson used to be a pretty frequent visitor at the house of Mr. Richardson, authour of Clarissa, and other novels of extensive reputation. Mr. Hogarth came one day to see Richardson, soon after the execution of Dr. Cameron, for having taken arms for the house of Stuart in 1745-6; and being a warm partisan of George the Second, he observed to Richardson, that certainly there must have been some very unfavourable circumstances lately discovered in this particular case, which had induced the King to approve of an execution for rebellion so long after the time when it was committed, as this had the appearance of putting a man to death in cold blood, and was very unlike his Majesty's usual clemency. While he was talking, he perceived a person standing at a window in the room, shaking his head, and rolling himself about in a strange ridiculous manner. He concluded that he was an ideot, whom his relations had put under the care of Mr. Richardson, as a very good man. To his great surprize, however, this figure stalked forwards to where he and Mr. Richardson were sitting, and all at once took up the argument, and burst out into an invective against George the Second, as one, who, upon all occasions, was unrelenting and barbarous; mentioning many instances, particularly, that when an officer of high rank had been acquitted by a Court Martial, George the Second had with his own hand, struck his name off the list. In short, he displayed such a power of eloquence, that Hogarth looked at him with astonishment, and actually imagined that this ideot had been at the moment inspired. Neither Hogarth nor Johnson were made known to each other at this interview.
[1740: TAT. 31.]—In 1740 he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine the 'Preface,'[dagger] 'Life of Sir Francis Drake,'[*] and the first parts of those of 'Admiral Blake,'[*] and of 'Philip Baretier,' both which he finished the following year. He also wrote an 'Essay on Epitaphs,' and an 'Epitaph on Philips, a Musician,' which was afterwards published with some other pieces of his, in Mrs. Williams's Miscellanies. This Epitaph is so exquisitely beautiful, that I remember even Lord Kames, strangely prejudiced as he was against Dr. Johnson, was compelled to allow it very high praise. It has been ascribed to Mr. Garrick, from its appearing at first with the signature G; but I have heard Mr. Garrick declare, that it was written by Dr. Johnson, and give the following account of the manner in which it was composed. Johnson and he were sitting together; when, amongst other things, Garrick repeated an Epitaph upon this Philips by a Dr. Wilkes, in these words:
[Page 148: Epitaph on Philips. A.D. 1740.]
'Exalted soul! whose harmony could please The love-sick virgin, and the gouty ease; Could jarring discord, like Amphion, move To beauteous order and harmonious love; Rest here in peace, till angels bid thee rise, And meet thy blessed Saviour in the skies.'
Johnson shook his head at these common-place funereal lines, and said to Garrick, 'I think, Davy, I can make a better.' Then, stirring about his tea for a little while, in a state of meditation, he almost extempore produced the following verses:
[Page 149: Epigram on Cibber. tat 31.]
'Philips, whose touch harmonious could remove The pangs of guilty power or hapless love; Rest here, distress'd by poverty no more, Here find that calm thou gav'st so oft before; Sleep, undisturb'd, within this peaceful shrine, Till angels wake thee with a note like thine!'
At the same time that Mr. Garrick favoured me with this anecdote, he repeated a very pointed Epigram by Johnson, on George the Second and Colley Cibber, which has never yet appeared, and of which I know not the exact date. Dr. Johnson afterwards gave it to me himself:
'Augustus still survives in Maro's strain, And Spenser's verse prolongs Eliza's reign; Great George's acts let tuneful Cibber sing; For Nature form'd the Poet for the King.'
[Page 150: One of Cromwell's speeches. A.D. 1741.]
In 1741[*] he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine 'the Preface,'[*] 'Conclusion of his lives of Drake and Baretier,'[dagger] 'A free translation of the Jests of Hierocles, with an Introduction;'[dagger] and, I think, the following pieces: 'Debate on the Proposal of Parliament to Cromwell, to assume the Title of King, abridged, modified, and digested;'[dagger] 'Translation of Abb Guyon's Dissertation on the Amazons;'[dagger] 'Translation of Fontenelle's Panegyrick on Dr. Morin.'[dagger] Two notes upon this appear to me undoubtedly his. He this year, and the two following, wrote the Parliamentary Debates. He told me himself, that he was the sole composer of them for those three years only. He was not, however, precisely exact in his statement, which he mentioned from hasty recollection; for it is sufficiently evident, that his composition of them began November 19, 1740, and ended February 23, 1742-3.
It appears from some of Cave's letters to Dr. Birch, that Cave had better assistance for that branch of his Magazine, than has been generally supposed; and that he was indefatigable in getting it made as perfect as he could.
[Page 151: Cave's Parliamentary Debates. tat 32.]
Thus, 21st July, 1735. 'I trouble you with the inclosed, because you said you could easily correct what is here given for Lord C——ld's speech. I beg you will do so as soon as you can for me, because the month is far advanced.'
And 15th July, 1737. 'As you remember the debates so far as to perceive the speeches already printed are not exact, I beg the favour that you will peruse the inclosed, and, in the best manner your memory will serve, correct the mistaken passages, or add any thing that is omitted. I should be very glad to have something of the Duke of N—le's speech, which would be particularly of service.
'A gentleman has Lord Bathurst's speech to add something to.'
And July 3, 1744. 'You will see what stupid, low, abominable stuff is put upon your noble and learned friend's character, such as I should quite reject, and endeavour to do something better towards doing justice to the character. But as I cannot expect to attain my desires in that respect, it would be a great satisfaction, as well as an honour to our work to have the favour of the genuine speech. It is a method that several have been pleased to take, as I could show, but I think myself under a restraint. I shall say so far, that I have had some by a third hand, which I understood well enough to come from the first; others by penny-post, and others by the speakers themselves, who have been pleased to visit St. John's Gate, and show particular marks of their being pleased.'
[Page 152: Johnson's Parliamentary Debates. A.D. 1741.]
There is no reason, I believe, to doubt the veracity of Cave. It is, however, remarkable, that none of these letters are in the years during which Johnson alone furnished the Debates, and one of them is in the very year after he ceased from that labour. Johnson told me that as soon as he found that the speeches were thought genuine, he determined that he would write no more of them; for 'he would not be accessary to the propagation of falsehood.' And such was the tenderness of his conscience, that a short time before his death he expressed his regret for his having been the authour of fictions, which had passed for realities.
He nevertheless agreed with me in thinking, that the debates which he had framed were to be valued as orations upon questions of publick importance. They have accordingly been collected in volumes, properly arranged, and recommended to the notice of parliamentary speakers by a preface, written by no inferior hand. I must, however, observe, that although there is in those debates a wonderful store of political information, and very powerful eloquence, I cannot agree that they exhibit the manner of each particular speaker, as Sir John Hawkins seems to think. But, indeed, what opinion can we have of his judgement, and taste in publick speaking, who presumes to give, as the characteristicks of two celebrated orators, 'the deep-mouthed rancour of Pulteney, and the yelping pertinacity of Pitt.'
This year I find that his tragedy of Irene had been for some time ready for the stage, and that his necessities made him desirous of getting as much as he could for it, without delay; for there is the following letter from Mr. Cave to Dr. Birch, in the same volume of manuscripts in the British Museum, from which I copied those above quoted. They were most obligingly pointed out to me by Sir William Musgrave, one of the Curators of that noble repository.
[Page 153: Bibliotheca Harleiana. tat 32.]
'Sept. 9, 1741.
'I have put Mr. Johnson's play into Mr. Gray's hands, in order to sell it to him, if he is inclined to buy it; but I doubt whether he will or not. He would dispose of the copy, and whatever advantage may be made by acting it. Would your society, or any gentleman, or body of men that you know, take such a bargain? He and I are very unfit to deal with theatrical persons. Fleetwood was to have acted it last season, but Johnson's diffidence or —— prevented it.'
I have already mentioned that Irene was not brought into publick notice till Garrick was manager of Drury-lane theatre.
[Page 154: Osborne the bookseller. A.D. 1742.]
1742: TAT. 33.—In 1742 he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine the 'Preface,[dagger] the 'Parliamentary Debates,'[*] 'Essay on the Account of the conduct of the Duchess of Marlborough,'[*] then the popular topick of conversation. This 'Essay' is a short but masterly performance. We find him in No. 13 of his Rambler, censuring a profligate sentiment in that 'Account;' and again insisting upon it strenuously in conversation. 'An account of the Life of Peter Burman,'[*] I believe chiefly taken from a foreign publication; as, indeed, he could not himself know much about Burman; 'Additions to his Life of Baretier;'[*] 'The Life of Sydenham,'[*] afterwards prefixed to Dr. Swan's edition of his works; 'Proposals for Printing Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford.'[*] His account of that celebrated collection of books, in which he displays the importance to literature of what the French call a catalogue raisonn, when the subjects of it are extensive and various, and it is executed with ability, cannot fail to impress all his readers with admiration of his philological attainments. It was afterwards prefixed to the first volume of the Catalogue, in which the Latin accounts of books were written by him. He was employed in this business by Mr. Thomas Osborne the bookseller, who purchased the library for 13,000., a sum which Mr. Oldys says, in one of his manuscripts, was not more than the binding of the books had cost; yet, as Dr. Johnson assured me, the slowness of the sale was such, that there was not much gained by it. It has been confidently related, with many embellishments, that Johnson one day knocked Osborne down in his shop, with a folio, and put his foot upon his neck. The simple truth I had from Johnson himself. 'Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him. But it was not in his shop: it was in my own chamber.'
[Page 155: A projected parliamentary history. tat 33.]
A very diligent observer may trace him where we should not easily suppose him to be found. I have no doubt that he wrote the little abridgement entitled 'Foreign History,' in the Magazine for December. To prove it, I shall quote the Introduction. 'As this is that season of the year in which Nature may be said to command a suspension of hostilities, and which seems intended, by putting a short stop to violence and slaughter, to afford time for malice to relent, and animosity to subside; we can scarce expect any other accounts than of plans, negotiations and treaties, of proposals for peace, and preparations for war.' As also this passage: 'Let those who despise the capacity of the Swiss, tell us by what wonderful policy, or by what happy conciliation of interests, it is brought to pass, that in a body made up of different communities and different religions, there should be no civil commotions, though the people are so warlike, that to nominate and raise an army is the same.'
I am obliged to Mr. Astle for his ready permission to copy the two following letters, of which the originals are in his possession. Their contents shew that they were written about this time, and that Johnson was now engaged in preparing an historical account of the British Parliament.
'To MR. CAVE.
'I believe I am going to write a long letter, and have therefore taken a whole sheet of paper. The first thing to be written about is our historical design.
'You mentioned the proposal of printing in numbers, as an alteration in the scheme, but I believe you mistook, some way or other, my meaning; I had no other view than that you might rather print too many of five sheets, than of five and thirty.
'With regard to what I shall say on the manner of proceeding, I would have it understood as wholly indifferent to me, and my opinion only, not my resolution. Emptoris sit eligere.
'I think the insertion of the exact dates of the most important events in the margin, or of so many events as may enable the reader to regulate the order of facts with sufficient exactness, the proper medium between a journal, which has regard only to time, and a history which ranges facts according to their dependence on each other, and postpones or anticipates according to the convenience of narration. I think the work ought to partake of the spirit of history, which is contrary to minute exactness, and of the regularity of a journal, which is inconsistent with spirit. For this reason, I neither admit numbers or dates, nor reject them.
[Page 156: Payment for work. A.D. 1742.]
'I am of your opinion with regard to placing most of the resolutions &c., in the margin, and think we shall give the most complete account of Parliamentary proceedings that can be contrived. The naked papers, without an historical treatise interwoven, require some other book to make them understood. I will date the succeeding facts with some exactness, but I think in the margin. You told me on Saturday that I had received money on this work, and found set down 13. 2s. 6d., reckoning the half guinea of last Saturday. As you hinted to me that you had many calls for money, I would not press you too hard, and therefore shall desire only, as I send it in, two guineas for a sheet of copy; the rest you may pay me when it may be more convenient; and even by this sheet-payment I shall, for some time, be very expensive.
'The Life of Savage I am ready to go upon; and in Great Primer, and Pica notes, I reckon on sending in half a sheet a day; but the money for that shall likewise lye by in your hands till it is done. With the debates, shall not I have business enough? if I had but good pens.
'Towards Mr. Savage's Life what more have you got? I would willingly have his trial, &c., and know whether his defence be at Bristol, and would have his collection of poems, on account of the Preface.—The Plain Dealer,—all the magazines that have anything of his, or relating to him.
'I thought my letter would be long, but it is now ended; and I am, Sir,
'Yours, &c. SAM. JOHNSON.'
'The boy found me writing this almost in the dark, when I could not quite easily read yours.
'I have read the Italian—nothing in it is well.
'I had no notion of having any thing for the Inscription. I hope you don't think I kept it to extort a price. I could think of nothing, till to day. If you could spare me another guinea for the history, I should take it very kindly, to night; but if you do not I shall not think it an injury.—I am almost well again.'
'To MR. CAVE.
'You did not tell me your determination about the 'Soldier's Letter,' which I am confident was never printed. I think it will not do by itself, or in any other place, so well as the Mag. Extraordinary. If you will have it at all, I believe you do not think I set it high, and I will be glad if what you give, you will give quickly.
[Page 157: Ad Lauram pariluram Epigramma. tat 33.]
'You need not be in care about something to print, for I have got the State Trials, and shall extract Layer, Atterbury, and Macclesfield from them, and shall bring them to you in a fortnight; after which I will try to get the South Sea Report.'
[No date, nor signature]
I would also ascribe to him an 'Essay on the Description of China, from the French of Du Halde.[dagger]
His writings in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1743, are, the 'Preface,'[dagger] the 'Parliamentary Debates,'[dagger] 'Considerations on the Dispute between Crousaz and Warburton, on Pope's Essay on Man;'[dagger] in which, while he defends Crousaz, he shews an admirable metaphysical acuteness and temperance in controversy; 'Ad Lauram parituram Epigramma;'[*] and, 'A Latin Translation of Pope's Verses on his Grotto;'[*] and, as he could employ his pen with equal success upon a small matter as a great, I suppose him to be the authour of an advertisement for Osborne, concerning the great Harlcian Catalogue.
[Page 158: Friendship, an Ode. A.D. 1743.]
But I should think myself much wanting, both to my illustrious friend and my readers, did I not introduce here, with more than ordinary respect, an exquisitely beautiful Ode, which has not been inserted in any of the collections of Johnson's poetry, written by him at a very early period, as Mr. Hector informs me, and inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine of this year.
FRIENDSHIP, an ODE.[*]
'Friendship, peculiar boon of heav'n, The noble mind's delight and pride, To men and angels only giv'n, To all the lower world deny'd.
While love, unknown among the blest, Parent of thousand wild desires, The savage and the human breast Torments alike with raging fires;
With bright, but oft destructive, gleam, Alike o'er all his lightnings fly; Thy lambent glories only beam Around the fav'rites of the sky.
Thy gentle flows of guiltless joys On fools and villains ne'er descend; In vain for thee the tyrant sighs, And hugs a flatterer for a friend.
Directress of the brave and just, O guide us through life's darksome way! And let the tortures of mistrust On selfish bosoms only prey.
Nor shall thine ardours cease to glow, When souls to blissful climes remove; What rais'd our virtue here below, Shall aid our happiness above.'
[Page 159: Dr. James and Dr. Mead. tat 34.]
Johnson had now an opportunity of obliging his schoolfellow Dr. James, of whom he once observed, 'no man brings more mind to his profession.' James published this year his Medicinal Dictionary, in three volumes folio. Johnson, as I understood from him, had written, or assisted in writing, the proposals for this work; and being very fond of the study of physick, in which James was his master, he furnished some of the articles. He, however, certainly wrote for it the Dedication to Dr. Mead,[dagger] which is conceived with great address, to conciliate the patronage of that very eminent man.
[Page 160: Dr. Birch. A.D. 1743.]
It has been circulated, I know not with what authenticity, that Johnson considered Dr. Birch as a dull writer, and said of him, 'Tom Birch is as brisk as a bee in conversation; but no sooner does he take a pen in his hand, than it becomes a torpedo to him, and benumbs all his faculties.' That the literature of this country is much indebted to Birch's activity and diligence must certainly be acknowledged. We have seen that Johnson honoured him with a Greek Epigram; and his correspondence with him, during many years, proves that he had no mean opinion of him.
'To DR. BIRCH.
'Thursday, Sept. 29, 1743.
'I hope you will excuse me for troubling you on an occasion on which I know not whom else I can apply to; I am at a loss for the Lives and Characters of Earl Stanhope, the two Craggs, and the minister Sunderland; and beg that you will inform [me] where I may find them, and send any pamphlets, &c. relating to them to Mr. Cave, to be perused for a few days by, Sir,
'Your most humble servant,
His circumstances were at this time much embarrassed; yet his affection for his mother was so warm, and so liberal, that he took upon himself a debt of her's, which, though small in itself, was then considerable to him. This appears from the following letter which he wrote to Mr. Levett, of Lichfield, the original of which lies now before me.
'To MR. LEVETT; IN LICHFIELD.
'December 1, 1743.
'I am extremely sorry that we have encroached so much upon your forbearance with respect to the interest, which a great perplexity of affairs hindered me from thinking of with that attention that I ought, and which I am not immediately able to remit to you, but will pay it (I think twelve pounds,) in two months. I look upon this, and on the future interest of that mortgage, as my own debt; and beg that you will be pleased to give me directions how to pay it, and not mention it to my dear mother. If it be necessary to pay this in less time, I believe I can do it; but I take two months for certainty, and beg an answer whether you can allow me so much time. I think myself very much obliged to your forbearance, and shall esteem it a great happiness to be able to serve you. I have great opportunities of dispersing any thing that you may think it proper to make publick. I will give a note for the money, payable at the time mentioned, to any one here that you shall appoint. I am, Sir,
'Your most obedient,
'And most humble servant,
'At Mr. Osborne's, bookseller, in Gray's Inn.'
[Page 161: The Life of Savage. tat 35.]
[Page 162: Johnson's friendship with Savage. A.D. 1744.]
1744: TAT. 35.—It does not appear that he wrote any thing in 1744 for the Gentleman's Magazine, but the Preface.[Dagger] His Life of Baretier was now re-published in a pamphlet by itself. But he produced one work this year, fully sufficient to maintain the high reputation which he had acquired. This was The Life of Richard Savage;[*] a man, of whom it is difficult to speak impartially, without wondering that he was for some time the intimate companion of Johnson; for his character was marked by profligacy, insolence, and ingratitude: yet, as he undoubtedly had a warm and vigorous, though unregulated mind, had seen life in all its varieties, and been much in the company of the statesmen and wits of his time, he could communicate to Johnson an abundant supply of such materials as his philosophical curiosity most eagerly desired; and as Savage's misfortunes and misconduct had reduced him to the lowest state of wretchedness as a writer for bread, his visits to St. John's Gate naturally brought Johnson and him together.
[Page 163: Dining behind the screen. tat 35.]
It is melancholy to reflect, that Johnson and Savage were sometimes in such extreme indigence, that they could not pay for a lodging; so that they have wandered together whole nights in the streets. Yet in these almost incredible scenes of distress, we may suppose that Savage mentioned many of the anecdotes with which Johnson afterwards enriched the life of his unhappy companion, and those of other Poets.
[Page 164: Johnson in want of a lodging. A.D. 1744.]
He told Sir Joshua Reynolds, that one night in particular, when Savage and he walked round St. James's-square for want of a lodging, they were not at all depressed by their situation; but in high spirits and brimful of patriotism, traversed the square for several hours, inveighed against the minister, and 'resolved they would stand by their country.'
I am afraid, however, that by associating with Savage, who was habituated to the dissipation and licentiousness of the town, Johnson, though his good principles remained steady, did not entirely preserve that conduct, for which, in days of greater simplicity, he was remarked by his friend Mr. Hector; but was imperceptibly led into some indulgencies which occasioned much distress to his virtuous mind.
That Johnson was anxious that an authentick and favourable account of his extraordinary friend should first get possession of the publick attention, is evident from a letter which he wrote in the Gentleman's Magazine for August of the year preceding its publication.
'As your collections show how often you have owed the ornaments of your poetical pages to the correspondence of the unfortunate and ingenious Mr. Savage, I doubt not but you have so much regard to his memory as to encourage any design that may have a tendency to the preservation of it from insults or calumnies; and therefore, with some degree of assurance, intreat you to inform the publick, that his life will speedily be published by a person who was favoured with his confidence, and received from himself an account of most of the transactions which he proposes to mention, to the time of his retirement to Swansea in Wales.
'From that period, to his death in the prison of Bristol, the account will be continued from materials still less liable to objection; his own letters, and those of his friends, some of which will be inserted in the work, and abstracts of others subjoined in the margin.
'It may be reasonably imagined, that others may have the same design; but as it is not credible that they can obtain the same materials, it must be expected they will supply from invention the want of intelligence; and that under the title of "The Life of Savage," they will publish only a novel, filled with romantick adventures, and imaginary amours. You may therefore, perhaps, gratify the lovers of truth and wit, by giving me leave to inform them in your Magazine, that my account will be published in 8vo. by Mr. Roberts, in Warwick-lane.'
[Page 165: Reynolds reads THE LIFE OF SAVAGE. tat 35.]
In February, 1744, it accordingly came forth from the shop of Roberts, between whom and Johnson I have not traced any connection, except the casual one of this publication. In Johnson's Life of Savage, although it must be allowed that its moral is the reverse of—'Respicere exemplar vita morumque jubebo,' a very useful lesson is inculcated, to guard men of warm passions from a too free indulgence of them; and the various incidents are related in so clear and animated a manner, and illuminated throughout with so much philosophy, that it is one of the most interesting narratives in the English language. Sir Joshua Reynolds told me, that upon his return from Italy he met with it in Devonshire, knowing nothing of its authour, and began to read it while he was standing with his arm leaning against a chimney-piece. It seized his attention so strongly, that, not being able to lay down the book till he had finished it, when he attempted to move, he found his arm totally benumbed. The rapidity with which this work was composed, is a wonderful circumstance. Johnson has been heard to say, 'I wrote forty-eight of the printed octavo pages of the Life of Savage at a sitting; but then I sat up all night.'
[Page 166: Resemblance of Johnson to Savage. A.D. 1744.]
He exhibits the genius of Savage to the best advantage in the specimens of his poetry which he has selected, some of which are of uncommon merit. We, indeed, occasionally find such vigour and such point, as might make us suppose that the generous aid of Johnson had been imparted to his friend. Mr. Thomas Warton made this remark to me; and, in support of it, quoted from the poem entitled The Bastard, a line, in which the fancied superiority of one 'stamped in Nature's mint with extasy,' is contrasted with a regular lawful descendant of some great and ancient family:
'No tenth transmitter of a foolish face.'
But the fact is, that this poem was published some years before Johnson and Savage were acquainted.
[Page 167: Johnson's prejudice against players. tat 35.]
It is remarkable, that in this biographical disquisition there appears a very strong symptom of Johnson's prejudice against players; a prejudice which may be attributed to the following causes: first, the imperfection of his organs, which were so defective that he was not susceptible of the fine impressions which theatrical excellence produces upon the generality of mankind; secondly, the cold rejection of his tragedy; and, lastly, the brilliant success of Garrick, who had been his pupil, who had come to London at the same time with him, not in a much more prosperous state than himself, and whose talents he undoubtedly rated low, compared with his own. His being outstripped by his pupil in the race of immediate fame, as well as of fortune, probably made him feel some indignation, as thinking that whatever might be Garrick's merits in his art, the reward was too great when compared with what the most successful efforts of literary labour could attain. At all periods of his life Johnson used to talk contemptuously of players; but in this work he speaks of them with peculiar acrimony; for which, perhaps, there was formerly too much reason from the licentious and dissolute manners of those engaged in that profession. It is but justice to add, that in our own time such a change has taken place, that there is no longer room for such an unfavourable distinction.
[Page 168: Garrick's mistakes in emphasis. A.D. 1744.]
His schoolfellow and friend, Dr. Taylor, told me a pleasant anecdote of Johnson's triumphing over his pupil David Garrick. When that great actor had played some little time at Goodman's fields, Johnson and Taylor went to see him perform, and afterwards passed the evening at a tavern with him and old Giffard. Johnson, who was ever depreciating stage-players, after censuring some mistakes in emphasis which Garrick had committed in the course of that night's acting, said, 'the players, Sir, have got a kind of rant, with which they run on, without any regard either to accent or emphasis.' Both Garrick and Giffard were offended at this sarcasm, and endeavoured to refute it; upon which Johnson rejoined, 'Well now, I'll give you something to speak, with which you are little acquainted, and then we shall see how just my observation is. That shall be the criterion. Let me hear you repeat the ninth Commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."' Both tried at it, said Dr. Taylor, and both mistook the emphasis, which should be upon not and false witness. Johnson put them right, and enjoyed his victory with great glee.
[Page 169: A review in THE CHAMPION. tat 35.]
His Life of Savage was no sooner published, than the following liberal praise was given to it, in The Champion, a periodical paper: 'This pamphlet is, without flattery to its authour, as just and well written a piece as of its kind I ever saw; so that at the same time that it highly deserves, it certainly stands very little in need of this recommendation. As to the history of the unfortunate person, whose memoirs compose this work, it is certainly penned with equal accuracy and spirit, of which I am so much the better judge, as I know many of the facts mentioned to be strictly true, and very fairly related. Besides, it is not only the story of Mr. Savage, but innumerable incidents relating to other persons, and other affairs, which renders this a very amusing, and, withal, a very instructive and valuable performance. The author's observations are short, significant, and just, as his narrative is remarkably smooth, and well disposed. His reflections open to all the recesses of the human heart; and, in a word, a more just or pleasant, a more engaging or a more improving treatise, on all the excellencies and defects of human nature, is scarce to be found in our own, or, perhaps, any other language.'