Life Of Johnson, Vol. 1
by Boswell
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[Page 246: The Miss Cotterells. A.D. 1752.]

Sir Joshua told me a pleasant characteristical anecdote of Johnson about the time of their first acquaintance. When they were one evening together at the Miss Cotterells', the then Duchess of Argyle and another lady of high rank came in. Johnson thinking that the Miss Cotterells were too much engrossed by them, and that he and his friend were neglected, as low company of whom they were somewhat ashamed, grew angry; and resolving to shock their supposed pride, by making their great visitors imagine that his friend and he were low indeed, he addressed himself in a loud tone to Mr. Reynolds, saying, 'How much do you think you and I could get in a week, if we were to work as hard as we could?'—as if they had been common mechanicks[726].

[Page 247: Bennet Langton. tat 43.]

His acquaintance with Bennet Langton, Esq. of Langton, in Lincolnshire, another much valued friend, commenced soon after the conclusion of his Rambler; which that gentleman, then a youth, had read with so much admiration, that he came to London chiefly with the view of endeavouring to be introduced to its authour[727]. By a fortunate chance he happened to take lodgings in a house where Mr. Levet frequently visited; and having mentioned his wish to his landlady, she introduced him to Mr. Levet, who readily obtained Johnson's permission to bring Mr. Langton to him[728]; as, indeed, Johnson, during the whole course of his life, had no shyness, real or affected, but was easy of access to all who were properly recommended, and even wished to see numbers at his levee[729], as his morning circle of company might, with strict propriety, be called. Mr. Langton was exceedingly surprised when the sage first appeared. He had not received the smallest intimation of his figure, dress, or manner. From perusing his writings, he fancied he should see a decent, well-drest, in short, a remarkably decorous philosopher. Instead of which, down from his bedchamber, about noon, came, as newly risen, a huge uncouth figure, with a little dark wig which scarcely covered his head, and his clothes hanging loose about him. But his conversation was so rich, so animated, and so forcible, and his religious and political notions so congenial with those in which Langton had been educated, that he conceived for him that veneration and attachment which he ever preserved. Johnson was not the less ready to love Mr. Langton, for his being of a very ancient family; for I have heard him say, with pleasure, 'Langton, Sir, has a grant of free warren from Henry the Second; and Cardinal Stephen Langton, in King John's reign, was of this family[730].'

[Page 248: Topham Beauclerk. A.D. 1752.]

Mr. Langton afterwards went to pursue his studies at Trinity College, Oxford, where he formed an acquaintance with his fellow student, Mr. Topham Beauclerk[731]; who, though their opinions and modes of life were so different, that it seemed utterly improbable that they should at all agree, had so ardent a love of literature, so acute an understanding, such elegance of manners, and so well discerned the excellent qualities of Mr. Langton, a gentleman eminent not only for worth and learning, but for an inexhaustible fund of entertaining conversation[732], that they became intimate friends.

[Page 249: Topham Beauclerk. tat 43.]

Johnson, soon after this acquaintance began, passed a considerable time at Oxford[733]. He at first thought it strange that Langton should associate so much with one who had the character of being loose, both in his principles and practice; but, by degrees, he himself was fascinated. Mr. Beauclerk's being of the St. Alban's family, and having, in some particulars, a resemblance to Charles the Second, contributed, in Johnson's imagination, to throw a lustre upon his other qualities[734]; and, in a short time, the moral, pious Johnson, and the gay, dissipated Beauclerk, were companions. 'What a coalition! (said Garrick, when he heard of this;) I shall have my old friend to bail out of the Round-house[735].' But I can bear testimony that it was a very agreeable association. Beauclerk was too polite, and valued learning and wit too much, to offend Johnson by sallies of infidelity or licentiousness; and Johnson delighted in the good qualities of Beauclerk, and hoped to correct the evil. Innumerable were the scenes in which Johnson was amused by these young men. Beauclerk could take more liberty with him, than any body with whom I ever saw him; but, on the other hand, Beauclerk was not spared by his respectable companion, when reproof was proper. Beauclerk had such a propensity to satire, that at one time Johnson said to him, 'You never open your mouth but with intention to give pain; and you have often given me pain, not from the power of what you said, but from seeing your intention.' At another time applying to him, with a slight alteration, a line of Pope, he said,

'Thy love of folly, and thy scorn of fools.[736]

'Every thing thou dost shews the one, and every thing thou say'st the other.' At another time he said to him, 'Thy body is all vice, and thy mind all virtue.' Beauclerk not seeming to relish the compliment, Johnson said, 'Nay, Sir, Alexander the Great, marching in triumph into Babylon, could not have desired to have had more said to him.'

[Page 250: Johnson the Idle Apprentice. A.D. 1752.]

Johnson was some time with Beauclerk at his house at Windsor, where he was entertained with experiments in natural philosophy[737]. One Sunday, when the weather was very fine, Beauclerk enticed him, insensibly, to saunter about all the morning. They went into a church-yard, in the time of divine service, and Johnson laid himself down at his ease upon one of the tomb-stones. 'Now, Sir, (said Beauclerk) you are like Hogarth's Idle Apprentice.' When Johnson got his pension, Beauclerk said to him, in the humorous phrase of Falstaff, 'I hope you'll now purge and live cleanly like a gentleman[738].'

[Page 251: A frisk with Beuclerk and Langton. tat 44.]

One night when Beauclerk and Langton had supped at a tavern in London, and sat till about three in the morning, it came into their heads to go and knock up Johnson, and see if they could prevail on him to join them in a ramble. They rapped violently at the door of his chambers in the Temple, till at last he appeared in his shirt, with his little black wig on the top of his head, instead of a nightcap, and a poker in his hand, imagining, probably, that some ruffians were coming to attack him. When he discovered who they were, and was told their errand, he smiled, and with great good humour agreed to their proposal: 'What, is it you, you dogs! I'll have a frisk with you.' He was soon drest, and they sallied forth together into Covent-Garden, where the greengrocers and fruiterers were beginning to arrange their hampers, just come in from the country. Johnson made some attempts to help them; but the honest gardeners stared so at his figure and manner, and odd interference, that he soon saw his services were not relished. They then repaired to one of the neighbouring taverns, and made a bowl of that liquor called "Bishop"[739], which Johnson had always liked; while in joyous contempt of sleep, from which he had been roused, he repeated the festive lines,

'Short, O short then be thy reign, And give us to the world again!'[740]

They did not stay long, but walked down to the Thames, took a boat, and rowed to Billingsgate. Beauclerk and Johnson were so well pleased with their amusement, that they resolved to persevere in dissipation for the rest of the day: but Langton deserted them, being engaged to breakfast with some young Ladies. Johnson scolded him for 'leaving his social friends, to go and sit with a set of wretched un-idea'd girls.' Garrick being told of this ramble, said to him smartly, 'I heard of your frolick t'other night. You'll be in the Chronicle.' Upon which Johnson afterwards observed, 'He durst not do such a thing. His wife would not let him!'

[Page 252: The Adventurer. A.D. 1753.]

1753: TAT. 44.—He entered upon this year 1753 with his usual piety, as appears from the following prayer, which I transcribed from that part of his diary which he burnt a few days before his death[741]:

'Jan. 1, 1753, N. S. which I shall use for the future.

'Almighty God, who hast continued my life to this day, grant that, by the assistance of thy Holy Spirit, I may improve the time which thou shall grant me, to my eternal salvation. Make me to remember, to thy glory, thy judgements and thy mercies. Make me so to consider the loss of my wife, whom thou hast taken from me, that it may dispose me, by thy grace, to lead the residue of my life in thy fear. Grant this, O LORD, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. Amen.'

He now relieved the drudgery of his Dictionary, and the melancholy of his grief, by taking an active part in the composition of The Adventurer, in which he began to write April 10[742], marking his essays with the signature T[743], by which most of his papers in that collection are distinguished: those, however, which have that signature and also that of Mysargyrus, were not written by him, but, as I suppose, by Dr. Bathurst. Indeed Johnson's energy of thought and richness of language, are still more decisive marks than any signature. As a proof of this, my readers, I imagine, will not doubt that Number 39, on sleep, is his; for it not only has the general texture and colour of his style, but the authours with whom he was peculiarly conversant are readily introduced in it in cursory allusion. The translation of a passage in Statius[744] quoted in that paper, and marked C. B. has been erroneously ascribed to Dr. Bathurst, whose Christian name was Richard. How much this amiable man actually contributed to The Adventurer, cannot be known. Let me add, that Hawkesworth's imitations of Johnson are sometimes so happy, that it is extremely difficult to distinguish them, with certainty, from the compositions of his great archetype. Hawkesworth was his closest imitator, a circumstance of which that writer would once have been proud to be told; though, when he had become elated by having risen into some degree of consequence, he, in a conversation with me, had the provoking effrontery to say he was not sensible of it[745].

[Page 253: A letter to Dr. Warton. tat 44.]

Johnson was truly zealous for the success of The Adventurer; and very soon after his engaging in it, he wrote the following letter:



'I ought to have written to you before now, but I ought to do many things which I do not; nor can I, indeed, claim any merit from this letter; for being desired by the authours and proprietor of The Adventurer to look out for another hand, my thoughts necessarily fixed upon you, whose fund of literature will enable you to assist them, with very little interruption of your studies.

'They desire you to engage to furnish one paper a month, at two guineas a paper, which you may very readily perform. We have considered that a paper should consist of pieces of imagination, pictures of life, and disquisitions of literature. The part which depends on the imagination is very well supplied, as you will find when you read the paper; for descriptions of life, there is now a treaty almost made with an authour and an authouress; and the province of criticism and literature they are very desirous to assign to the commentator on Virgil.

'I hope this proposal will not be rejected, and that the next post will bring us your compliance. I speak as one of the fraternity, though I have no part in the paper, beyond now and then a motto; but two of the writers are my particular friends, and I hope the pleasure of seeing a third united to them, will not be denied to, dear Sir,

'Your most obedient,

'And most humble servant,


'March 8, 1753.'

The consequence of this letter was, Dr. Warton's enriching the collection with several admirable essays.

[Page 254: Bathurst's papers in the Adventurer. A.D. 1753.]

Johnson's saying 'I have no part in the paper beyond now and then a motto,' may seem inconsistent with his being the authour of the papers marked T. But he had, at this time, written only one number[746]; and besides, even at any after period, he might have used the same expression, considering it as a point of honour not to own them; for Mrs. Williams told me that, 'as he had given those Essays to Dr. Bathurst, who sold them at two guineas each, he never would own them; nay, he used to say he did not write them: but the fact was, that he dictated them, while Bathurst wrote.' I read to him Mrs. Williams's account; he smiled, and said nothing[747].

[Page 255: Mrs. Lennox. tat 45.]

I am not quite satisfied with the casuistry by which the productions of one person are thus passed upon the world for the productions of another. I allow that not only knowledge, but powers and qualities of mind may be communicated; but the actual effect of individual exertion never can be transferred, with truth, to any other than its own original cause. One person's child may be made the child of another person by adoption, as among the Romans, or by the ancient Jewish mode of a wife having children born to her upon her knees, by her handmaid. But these were children in a different sense from that of nature. It was clearly understood that they were not of the blood of their nominal parents. So in literary children, an authour may give the profits and fame of his composition to another man, but cannot make that other the real authour. A Highland gentleman, a younger branch of a family, once consulted me if he could not validly purchase the Chieftainship of his family, from the Chief who was willing to sell it. I told him it was impossible for him to acquire, by purchase, a right to be a different person from what he really was; for that the right of Chieftainship attached to the blood of primogeniture, and, therefore, was incapable of being transferred. I added, that though Esau sold his birth-right, or the advantages belonging to it, he still remained the first-born of his parents; and that whatever agreement a Chief might make with any of the clan, the Herald's Office could not admit of the metamorphosis, or with any decency attest that the younger was the elder; but I did not convince the worthy gentleman.

Johnson's papers in The Adventurer are very similar to those of The Rambler; but being rather more varied in their subjects, and being mixed with essays by other writers, upon topicks more generally attractive than even the most elegant ethical discourses, the sale of the work, at first, was more extensive. Without meaning, however, to depreciate The Adventurer, I must observe that as the value of The Rambler came, in the progress of time, to be better known, it grew upon the publick estimation, and that its sale has far exceeded that of any other periodical papers since the reign of Queen Anne.

In one of the books of his diary I find the following entry:

'Apr. 3, 1753. I began the second vol. of my Dictionary, room being left in the first for Preface, Grammar, and History, none of them yet begun.

'O GOD, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in this labour, and in the whole task of my present state; that when I shall render up, at the last day, an account of the talent committed to me, I may receive pardon, for the sake of JESUS CHRIST. Amen.'

He this year favoured Mrs. Lennox[748] with a Dedication[*] to the Earl of Orrery, of her Shakspeare Illustrated.

[Page 256: The Life of Edward Cave. A.D. 1754.]

1754: TAT. 45.—IN 1754 I can trace nothing published by him, except his numbers of The Adventurer, and 'The Life of Edward Cave,'[*] in the Gentleman's Magazine for February. In biography there can be no question that he excelled, beyond all who have attempted that species of composition; upon which, indeed, he set the highest value. To the minute selection of characteristical circumstances, for which the ancients were remarkable, he added a philosophical research, and the most perspicuous and energetick language. Cave was certainly a man of estimable qualities, and was eminently diligent and successful in his own business[749], which, doubtless, entitled him to respect. But he was peculiarly fortunate in being recorded by Johnson, who, of the narrow life of a printer and publisher, without any digressions or adventitious circumstances, has made an interesting and agreeable narrative[750].

The Dictionary, we may believe, afforded Johnson full occupation this year. As it approached to its conclusion, he probably worked with redoubled vigour, as seamen increase their exertion and alacrity when they have a near prospect of their haven.

[Page 257: Lord Chesterfield's neglect.]

[Page 258: Lord Chesterfield's flattery. A.D. 1754.]

Lord Chesterfield, to whom Johnson had paid the high compliment of addressing to his Lordship the Plan of his Dictionary, had behaved to him in such a manner as to excite his contempt and indignation. The world has been for many years amused with a story confidently told, and as confidently repeated with additional circumstances[751], that a sudden disgust was taken by Johnson upon occasion of his having been one day kept long in waiting in his Lordship's antechamber, for which the reason assigned was, that he had company with him; and that at last, when the door opened, out walked Colley Gibber; and that Johnson was so violently provoked when he found for whom he had been so long excluded, that he went away in a passion, and never would return. I remember having mentioned this story to George Lord Lyttelton, who told me, he was very intimate with Lord Chesterfield; and holding it as a well-known truth, defended Lord Chesterfield, by saying, that 'Gibber, who had been introduced, familiarly by the back-stairs, had probably not been there above ten minutes.' It may seem strange even to entertain a doubt concerning a story so long and so widely current, and thus implicitly adopted, if not sanctioned, by the authority which I have mentioned; but Johnson himself assured me, that there was not the least foundation for it. He told me, that there never was any particular incident which produced a quarrel between Lord Chesterfield and him; but that his Lordship's continued neglect was the reason why he resolved to have no connection with him[752]. When the Dictionary was upon the eve of publication, Lord Chesterfield, who, it is said, had flattered himself with expectations that Johnson would dedicate the work to him[753], attempted, in a courtly manner, to sooth, and insinuate himself with the Sage, conscious, as it should seem, of the cold indifference with which he had treated its learned authour; and further attempted to conciliate him, by writing two papers in The World[754], in recommendation of the work; and it must be confessed, that they contain some studied compliments, so finely turned, that if there had been no previous offence, it is probable that Johnson would have been highly delighted[755]. Praise, in general, was pleasing to him; but by praise from a man of rank and elegant accomplishments, he was peculiarly gratified.

His Lordship says,

'I think the publick in general, and the republick of letters in particular, are greatly obliged to Mr. Johnson, for having undertaken, and executed, so great and desirable a work. Perfection is not to be expected from man; but if we are to judge by the various works of Johnson[756] already published, we have good reason to believe, that he will bring this as near to perfection as any man could do. The Plan of it, which he published some years ago, seems to me to be a proof of it. Nothing can be more rationally imagined, or more accurately and elegantly expressed. I therefore recommend the previous perusal of it to all those who intend to buy the Dictionary, and who, I suppose, are all those who can afford it.'

* * * * *

'It must be owned, that our language is, at present, in a state of anarchy, and hitherto, perhaps, it may not have been the worse for it. During our free and open trade, many words and expressions have been imported, adopted, and naturalized from other languages, which have greatly enriched our own. Let it still preserve what real strength and beauty it may have borrowed from others; but let it not, like the Tarpeian maid, be overwhelmed and crushed by unnecessary ornaments[757]. The time for discrimination seems to be now come.

[Page 259: Lord Chesterfield's flattery. tat 45.]

'Toleration, adoption, and naturalization have run their lengths. Good order and authority are now necessary. But where shall we find them, and, at the same time, the obedience due to them? We must have recourse to the old Roman expedient in times of confusion, and chuse a dictator. Upon this principle, I give my vote for Mr. Johnson to fill that great and arduous post. And I hereby declare, that I make a total surrender of all my rights and privileges in the English language, as a free-born British subject, to the said Mr. Johnson, during the term of his dictatorship. Nay more, I will not only obey him, like an old Roman, as my dictator, but, like a modern Roman, I will implicitly believe in him as my Pope, and hold him to be infallible while in the chair, but no longer. More than this he cannot well require; for, I presume, that obedience can never be expected, when there is neither terrour to enforce, nor interest to invite it.'

* * * * *

'But a Grammar, a Dictionary, and a History of our Language through its several stages, were still wanting at home, and importunately called for from abroad. Mr. Johnson's labours will now, I dare say[758], very fully supply that want, and greatly contribute to the farther spreading of our language in other countries. Learners were discouraged, by finding no standard to resort to; and, consequently, thought it incapable of any. They will now be undeceived and encouraged.'

This courtly device failed of its effect[759]. Johnson, who thought that 'all was false and hollow[760],' despised the honeyed words, and was even indignant that Lord Chesterfield should, for a moment, imagine that he could be the dupe of such an artifice. His expression to me concerning Lord Chesterfield, upon this occasion, was, 'Sir, after making great professions[761], he had, for many years, taken no notice of me; but when my Dictionary was coming out, he fell a scribbling in The World about it. Upon which, I wrote him a letter expressed in civil terms, but such as might shew him that I did not mind what he said or wrote, and that I had done with him[762].'

[Page 260: Johnson's spelling. A.D. 1754.]

This is that celebrated letter of which so much has been said, and about which curiosity has been so long excited, without being gratified. I for many years solicited Johnson to favour me with a copy of it[763], that so excellent a composition might not be lost to posterity. He delayed from time to time to give it me[764]; till at last in 1781, when we were on a visit at Mr. Dilly's, at Southill in Bedfordshire, he was pleased to dictate it to me from memory[765]. He afterwards found among his papers a copy of it, which he had dictated to Mr. Baretti, with its title and corrections, in his own handwriting. This he gave to Mr. Langton; adding that if it were to come into print, he wished it to be from that copy. By Mr. Langton's kindness, I am enabled to enrich my work with a perfect transcript[766] of what the world has so eagerly desired to see.

[Page 261: Johnson's letter to Lord Chesterfield. tat 45.]


'February 7, 1755.


'I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of the World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the publick, were written by your Lordship. To be so distinguished, is an honour, which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.

'When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address; and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre[767];—that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your Lordship in publick, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.

'Seven years, my Lord, have now past, since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance[768], one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a Patron before.

'The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.

'Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it[769]; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the Publick should consider me as owing that to a Patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

[Page 263: His high opinion of Warburton. tat 45.]

'Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favourer of learning[770], I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation.

'My Lord,

'Your Lordship's most humble,

'Most obedient servant,

'SAM. JOHNSON[771].'

'While this was the talk of the town, (says Dr. Adams, in a letter to me) I happened to visit Dr. Warburton, who finding that I was acquainted with Johnson, desired me earnestly to carry his compliments to him, and to tell him, that he honoured him for his manly behaviour in rejecting these condescensions of Lord Chesterfield, and for resenting the treatment he had received from him, with a proper spirit. Johnson was visibly pleased with this compliment, for he had always a high opinion of Warburton[772]. Indeed, the force of mind which appeared in this letter, was congenial with that which Warburton himself amply possessed[773].'

[Page 264: For 'garret' read 'patron.' A.D. 1754.]

There is a curious minute circumstance which struck me, in comparing the various editions of Johnson's imitations of Juvenal. In the tenth Satire, one of the couplets upon the vanity of wishes even for literary distinction stood thus:

'Yet think[774] what ills the scholar's life assail, 'Pride[775], envy, want, the garret, and the jail.'

But after experiencing the uneasiness which Lord Chesterfield's fallacious patronage made him feel, he dismissed the word garret from the sad group, and in all the subsequent editions the line stands

'Pride, envy, want, the Patron[776], and the jail.'

[Page 265: Defensive pride. tat 45.]

That Lord Chesterfield must have been mortified by the lofty contempt, and polite, yet keen satire with which Johnson exhibited him to himself in this letter, it is impossible to doubt. He, however, with that glossy duplicity which was his constant study, affected to be quite unconcerned. Dr. Adams mentioned to Mr. Robert Dodsley that he was sorry Johnson had written his letter to Lord Chesterfield. Dodsley, with the true feelings of trade, said 'he was very sorry too; for that he had a property in the Dictionary, to which his Lordship's patronage might have been of consequence.' He then told Dr. Adams, that Lord Chesterfield had shewn him the letter. 'I should have imagined (replied Dr. Adams) that Lord Chesterfield would have concealed it.' 'Poh! (said Dodsley) do you think a letter from Johnson could hurt Lord Chesterfield? Not at all, Sir. It lay upon his table, where any body might see it. He read it to me; said, "this man has great powers," pointed out the severest passages, and observed how well they were expressed.' This air of indifference, which imposed upon the worthy Dodsley, was certainly nothing but a specimen of that dissimulation which Lord Chesterfield inculcated as one of the most essential lessons for the conduct of life[777]. His Lordship endeavoured to justify himself to Dodsley from the charges brought against him by Johnson; but we may judge of the flimsiness of his defence, from his having excused his neglect of Johnson, by saying that 'he had heard he had changed his lodgings, and did not know where he lived;' as if there could have been the smallest difficulty to inform himself of that circumstance, by inquiring in the literary circle with which his Lordship was well acquainted, and was, indeed, himself one of its ornaments.

Dr. Adams expostulated with Johnson, and suggested, that his not being admitted when he called on him, was, probably, not to be imputed to Lord Chesterfield; for his Lordship had declared to Dodsley, that 'he would have turned off the best servant he ever had, if he had known that he denied him to a man who would have been always more than welcome;' and, in confirmation of this, he insisted on Lord Chesterfield's general affability and easiness of access, especially to literary men. 'Sir, (said Johnson) that is not Lord Chesterfield; he is the proudest man this day existing[778].' 'No, (said Dr. Adams) there is one person, at least, as proud; I think, by your own account, you are the prouder man of the two.' 'But mine (replied Johnson, instantly) was defensive pride.' This, as Dr. Adams well observed, was one of those happy turns for which he was so remarkably ready.

[Page 266: A wit among Lords. A.D. 1754.]

Johnson having now explicitly avowed his opinion of Lord Chesterfield, did not refrain from expressing himself concerning that nobleman with pointed freedom: 'This man (said he) I thought had been a Lord among wits; but, I find, he is only a wit among Lords![779]' And when his Letters to his natural son were published, he observed, that 'they teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing master.[780]'

[Page 267: Chesterfield's Respectable Hottentot. tat 45.]

The character of 'a respectable Hottentot,' in Lord Chesterfield's letters[781], has been generally understood to be meant for Johnson, and I have no doubt that it was. But I remember when the Literary Property of those letters was contested in the Court of Session in Scotland, and Mr. Henry Dundas[782], one of the counsel for the proprietors, read this character as an exhibition of Johnson, Sir David Dalrymple, Lord Hailes, one of the Judges, maintained, with some warmth, that it was not intended as a portrait of Johnson, but of a late noble Lord, distinguished for abstruse science[783]. I have heard Johnson himself talk of the character, and say that it was meant for George Lord Lyttelton, in which I could by no means agree; for his Lordship had nothing of that violence which is a conspicuous feature in the composition. Finding that my illustrious friend could bear to have it supposed that it might be meant for him, I said, laughingly, that there was one trait which unquestionably did not belong to him; 'he throws his meat any where but down his throat.' 'Sir, (said he,) Lord Chesterfield never saw me eat in his life[784].'

[Page 268: A beggarly Scotchman. A.D. 1754.]

On the 6th of March came out Lord Bolingbroke's works, published by Mr. David Mallet[785]. The wild and pernicious ravings, under the name of Philosophy, which were thus ushered into the world, gave great offence to all well-principled men. Johnson, hearing of their tendency[786], which nobody disputed, was roused with a just indignation, and pronounced this memorable sentence upon the noble authour and his editor. 'Sir, he was a scoundrel, and a coward[787]: a scoundrel, for charging a blunderbuss against religion and morality; a coward, because he had not resolution to fire it off himself, but left half a crown to a beggarly Scotchman, to draw the trigger after his death[788]!' Garrick, who I can attest from my own knowledge, had his mind seasoned with pious reverence, and sincerely disapproved of the infidel writings of several, whom, in the course of his almost universal gay intercourse with men of eminence, he treated with external civility, distinguished himself upon this occasion. Mr. Pelham having died on the very day on which Lord Bolingbroke's works came out, he wrote an elegant Ode on his death, beginning

'Let others hail the rising sun, I bow to that whose course is run;'

in which is the following stanza:

'The same sad morn, to Church and State (So for our sins 'twas fix'd by fate,) A double stroke was given; Black as the whirlwinds of the North, St. John's fell genius issued forth, And Pelham fled to heaven[789].'

[Page 270: Thomas Warton. A.D. 1754.]

Johnson this year found an interval of leisure to make an excursion to Oxford, for the purpose of consulting the libraries there. Of this, and of many interesting circumstances concerning him, during a part of his life when he conversed but little with the world, I am enabled to give a particular account, by the liberal communications of the Reverend Mr. Thomas Warton[790], who obligingly furnished me with several of our common friend's letters, which he illustrated with notes. These I shall insert in their proper places.



'It is but an ill return for the book with which you were pleased to favour me[791], to have delayed my thanks for it till now. I am too apt to be negligent; but I can never deliberately shew my disrespect to a man of your character: and I now pay you a very honest acknowledgement, for the advancement of the literature of our native country. You have shewn to all, who shall hereafter attempt the study of our ancient authours, the way to success; by directing them to the perusal of the books which those authours had read. Of this method, Hughes[792] and men much greater than Hughes, seem never to have thought. The reason why the authours, which are yet read, of the sixteenth century, are so little understood, is, that they are read alone; and no help is borrowed from those who lived with them, or before them. Some part of this ignorance I hope to remove by my book[793], which now draws towards its end; but which I cannot finish to my mind, without visiting the libraries at Oxford, which I, therefore, hope to see in a fortnight[794]. I know not how long I shall stay, or where I shall lodge: but shall be sure to look for you at my arrival, and we shall easily settle the rest. I am, dear Sir,

'Your most obedient, &c.


'[London] July 16, 1754.'

[Page 271: Johnson's visit to Oxford. tat 45.]

Of his conversation while at Oxford at this time, Mr. Warton preserved and communicated to me the following memorial, which, though not written with all the care and attention which that learned and elegant writer bestowed on those compositions which he intended for the publick eye, is so happily expressed in an easy style, that I should injure it by any alteration:

'When Johnson came to Oxford in 1754[795], the long vacation was beginning, and most people were leaving the place. This was the first time of his being there, after quitting the University. The next morning after his arrival, he wished to see his old College, Pembroke. I went with him. He was highly pleased to find all the College-servants[796] which he had left there still remaining, particularly a very old butler[797]; and expressed great satisfaction at being recognised by them, and conversed with them familiarly. He waited on the master, Dr. Radcliffe, who received him very coldly. Johnson at least expected, that the master would order a copy of his Dictionary, now near publication: but the master did not choose to talk on the subject, never asked Johnson to dine, nor even to visit him, while he stayed at Oxford. After we had left the lodgings, Johnson said to me, "There lives a man, who lives by the revenues of literature, and will not move a finger to support it. If I come to live at Oxford, I shall take up my abode at Trinity." We then called on the Reverend Mr. Meeke, one of the fellows, and of Johnson's standing. Here was a most cordial greeting on both sides. On leaving him, Johnson said, "I used to think Meeke had excellent parts, when we were boys together at the College: but, alas!

'"Lost in a convent's solitary gloom[798]!"

'"I remember, at the classical lecture in the Hall, I could not bear Meeke's superiority, and I tried to sit as far from him as I could, that I might not hear him construe."

[Page 272: Stories of old college days. A.D. 1754.]

'As we were leaving the College, he said, "Here I translated Pope's Messiah. Which do you think is the best line in it?—My own favourite is,

'Vallis aromalicas fundit Saronica nubes[799].'"

'I told him, I thought it a very sonorous hexameter. I did not tell him, it was not in the Virgilian style[800]. He much regretted that his first tutor[801] was dead; for whom he seemed to retain the greatest regard. He said, "I once had been a whole morning sliding in Christ-Church Meadow, and missed his lecture in logick. After dinner, he sent for me to his room. I expected a sharp rebuke for my idleness, and went with a beating heart. When we were seated, he told me he had sent for me to drink a glass of wine with him, and to tell me, he was not angry with me for missing his lecture. This was, in fact, a most severe reprimand. Some more of the boys were then sent for, and we spent a very pleasant afternoon." Besides Mr. Meeke, there was only one other Fellow of Pembroke now resident: from both of whom Johnson received the greatest civilities during this visit, and they pressed him very much to have a room in the College.

'In the course of this visit (1754,) Johnson and I walked, three or four times, to Ellsfield, a village beautifully situated about three miles from Oxford, to see Mr. Wise, Radclivian librarian, with whom Johnson was much pleased. At this place, Mr. Wise had fitted up a house and gardens, in a singular manner, but with great taste. Here was an excellent library; particularly, a valuable collection of books in Northern literature, with which Johnson was often very busy. One day Mr. Wise read to us a dissertation which he was preparing for the press, intitled, "A History and Chronology of the fabulous Ages." Some old divinities of Thrace, related to the Titans, and called the CABIRI, made a very important part of the theory of this piece; and in conversation afterwards, Mr. Wise talked much of his CABIRI. As we returned to Oxford in the evening, I out-walked Johnson, and he cried out Suffiamina, a Latin word which came from his mouth with peculiar grace, and was as much as to say, Put on your drag chain. Before we got home, I again walked too fast for him; and he now cried out, "Why, you walk as if you were pursued by all the CABIRI in a body." In an evening, we frequently took long walks from Oxford into the country, returning to supper. Once, in our way home, we viewed the ruins of the abbies of Oseney and Rewley, near Oxford. After at least half an hour's silence, Johnson said, "I viewed them with indignation[802]!" We had then a long conversation on Gothick buildings; and in talking of the form of old halls, he said, "In these halls, the fire place was anciently always in the middle of the room[803], till the Whigs removed it on one side."—About this time there had been an execution of two or three criminals at Oxford on a Monday. Soon afterwards, one day at dinner, I was saying that Mr. Swinton the chaplain of the gaol, and also a frequent preacher before the University, a learned man, but often thoughtless and absent, preached the condemnation-sermon on repentance, before the convicts, on the preceding day, Sunday; and that in the close he told his audience, that he should give them the remainder of what he had to say on the subject, the next Lord's Day. Upon which, one of our company, a Doctor of Divinity, and a plain matter-of-fact man, by way of offering an apology for Mr. Swinton, gravely remarked, that he had probably preached the same sermon before the University: "Yes, Sir, (says Johnson) but the University were not to be hanged the next morning."

[Page 274: Rev. Mr. Meeke. A.D. 1754]

'I forgot to observe before, that when he left Mr. Meeke, (as I have told above) he added, "About the same time of life, Meeke was left behind at Oxford to feed on a Fellowship, and I went to London to get my living: now, Sir, see the difference of our literary characters!"'

The following letter was written by Dr. Johnson to Mr. Chambers, of Lincoln College, afterwards Sir Robert Chambers, one of the judges in India[804]:



'The commission which I delayed to trouble you with at your departure, I am now obliged to send you; and beg that you will be so kind as to carry it to Mr. Warton, of Trinity, to whom I should have written immediately, but that I know not if he be yet come back to Oxford.

'In the Catalogue of MSS. of Gr. Brit, see vol. I. pag. 18. MSS. Bodl. MARTYRIUM xv. martyrum sub Juliano, auctore Theophylacto.

'It is desired that Mr. Warton will inquire, and send word, what will be the cost of transcribing this manuscript.

'Vol. II, pag. 32. Num. 1022. 58. COLL. Nov.—Commentaria in Acta Apostol.—Comment. in Septem Epistolas Catholicas.

'He is desired to tell what is the age of each of these manuscripts: and what it will cost to have a transcript of the two first pages of each.

'If Mr. Warton be not in Oxford, you may try if you can get it done by any body else; or stay till he comes, according to your own convenience. It is for an Italian literato.

'The answer is to be directed to his Excellency Mr. Zon, Venetian Resident, Soho Square.

'I hope, dear Sir, that you do not regret the change of London for Oxford. Mr. Baretti is well, and Miss Williams[805]; and we shall all be glad to hear from you, whenever you shall be so kind as to write to, Sir,

'Your most humble servant,


'Nov. 21, 1754.'

[Page 275: Johnson desires the Degree of M.A. tat 45.]

The degree of Master of Arts, which, it has been observed[806], could not be obtained for him at an early period of his life, was now considered as an honour of considerable importance, in order to grace the title-page of his Dictionary; and his character in the literary world being by this time deservedly high, his friends thought that, if proper exertions were made, the University of Oxford would pay him the compliment[807].



'I am extremely obliged to you and to Mr. Wise, for the uncommon care which you have taken of my interest[808]: if you can accomplish your kind design, I shall certainly take me a little habitation among you.

'The books which I promised to Mr. Wise[809], I have not been able to procure: but I shall send him a Finnick Dictionary, the only copy, perhaps, in England, which was presented me by a learned Swede: but I keep it back, that it may make a set of my own books[810] of the new edition, with which I shall accompany it, more welcome. You will assure him of my gratitude.

[Page 276: Collins the Poet. A.D. 1754.]

'Poor dear Collins[811]!—Would a letter give him any pleasure? I have a mind to write.

'I am glad of your hindrance in your Spenserian design[812], yet I would not have it delayed. Three hours a day stolen from sleep and amusement will produce it. Let a Servitour[813] transcribe the quotations, and interleave them with references, to save time. This will shorten the work, and lessen the fatigue.

'Can I do any thing to promoting the diploma? I would not be wanting to co-operate with your kindness; of which, whatever be the effect, I shall be, dear Sir,

'Your most obliged, &c.


'[London,] Nov. 28, 1754.'



'I am extremely sensible of the favour done me, both by Mr. Wise and yourself. The book[814] cannot, I think, be printed in less than six weeks, nor probably so soon; and I will keep back the title-page, for such an insertion as you seem to promise me. Be pleased to let me know what money I shall send you, for bearing the expence of the affair; and I will take care that you may have it ready at your hand.

[Page 277: The death of a Wife. tat 46.]

'I had lately the favour of a letter from your brother, with some account of poor Collins, for whom I am much concerned. I have a notion, that by very great temperance, or more properly abstinence, he may yet recover[815].

'There is an old English and Latin book of poems by Barclay, called "The Ship of Fools;" at the end of which are a number of Eglogues; so he writes it, from Egloga[816], which are probably the first in our language. If you cannot find the book I will get Mr. Dodsley to send it you.

'I shall be extremely glad to hear from you again, to know, if the affair proceeds[817]. I have mentioned it to none of my friends for fear of being laughed at for my disappointment.

'You know poor Mr. Dodsley has lost his wife; I believe he is much affected. I hope he will not suffer so much as I yet suffer for the loss of mine.

[Greek: Oimoi. ti d oimoi; Onaeta gar peponthamen.][818].

I have ever since seemed to myself broken off from mankind; a kind of solitary wanderer in the wild of life, without any direction, or fixed point of view: a gloomy gazer on a world to which I have little relation. Yet I would endeavour, by the help of you and your brother, to supply the want of closer union, by friendship: and hope to have long the pleasure of being, dear Sir,

'Most affectionately your's,


'[London,] Dec. 21, 1754.'

1755: TAT. 46.—In 1755 we behold him to great advantage; his degree of Master of Arts conferred upon him, his Dictionary published, his correspondence animated, his benevolence exercised.

[Page 278: Land after a vast sea of words. A.D. 1755.]



'I wrote to you some weeks ago, but believe did not direct accurately, and therefore know not whether you had my letter. I would, likewise, write to your brother, but know not where to find him. I now begin to see land, after having wandered, according to Mr. Warburton's phrase, in this vast sea of words. What reception I shall meet with on the shore, I know not; whether the sound of bells, and acclamations of the people, which Ariosto talks of in his last Canto[819], or a general murmur of dislike, I know not: whether I shall find upon the coast a Calypso that will court, or a Polypheme that will resist. But if Polypheme comes, have at his eye. I hope, however, the criticks will let me be at peace; for though I do not much fear their skill and strength, I am a little afraid of myself, and would not willingly feel so much ill-will in my bosom as literary quarrels are apt to excite.

'Mr. Baretti is about a work for which he is in great want of Crescimbeni, which you may have again when you please.

'There is nothing considerable done or doing among us here. We are not, perhaps, as innocent as villagers, but most of us seem to be as idle. I hope, however, you are busy; and should be glad to know what you are doing.

'I am, dearest Sir,

'Your humble servant,


'[London] Feb. 4, 1755.'



'I received your letter this day, with great sense of the favour that has been done me[820]; for which I return my most sincere thanks: and entreat you to pay to Mr. Wise such returns as I ought to make for so much kindness so little deserved.

[Page 279: Dr. King. tat 46.]

'I sent Mr. Wise the Lexicon, and afterwards wrote to him; but know not whether he had either the book or letter. Be so good as to contrive to enquire.

'But why does my dear Mr. Warton tell me nothing of himself? Where hangs the new volume[821]? Can I help? Let not the past labour be lost, for want of a little more: but snatch what time you can from the Hall, and the pupils[822], and the coffee-house, and the parks[823], and complete your design. I am, dear Sir, &c,


'[London.] Feb. 4, 1755.'



'I had a letter last week from Mr. Wise, but have yet heard nothing from you, nor know in what state my affair stands[824]; of which I beg you to inform me, if you can, to-morrow, by the return of the post.

'Mr. Wise sends me word, that he has not had the Finnick Lexicon yet, which I sent some time ago; and if he has it not, you must enquire after it. However, do not let your letter stay for that.

'Your brother, who is a better correspondent than you, and not much better, sends me word, that your pupils keep you in College: but do they keep you from writing too? Let them, at least, give you time to write to, dear Sir,

'Your most affectionate, &c.


'[London,] Feb. 13, 1755,'



'Dr. King[825] was with me a few minutes before your letter; this, however, is the first instance in which your kind intentions to me have ever been frustrated[826]. I have now the full effect of your care and benevolence; and am far from thinking it a slight honour, or a small advantage; since it will put the enjoyment of your conversation more frequently in the power of, dear Sir,

[Page 280: The Chancellor of Oxford's letter. A.D. 1755.]

'Your most obliged and affectionate


'P.S. I have enclosed a letter to the Vice-Chancellor[827], which you will read; and, if you like it, seal and give him.

'[London,] Feb. 1755.'

As the Publick will doubtless be pleased to see the whole progress of this well-earned academical honour, I shall insert the Chancellor of Oxford's letter to the University[828], the diploma, and Johnson's letter of thanks to the Vice-Chancellor.

'To the Reverend Dr. HUDDESFORD, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford; to be communicated to the Heads of Houses, and proposed in Convocation.


'Mr. Samuel Johnson, who was formerly of Pembroke College, having very eminently distinguished himself by the publication of a series of essays, excellently calculated to form the manners of the people, and in which the cause of religion and morality is every where maintained by the strongest powers of argument and language; and who shortly intends to publish a Dictionary of the English Tongue, formed on a new plan, and executed with the greatest labour and judgement; I persuade myself that I shall act agreeably to the sentiments of the whole University, in desiring that it may be proposed in convocation to confer on him the degree of Master of Arts by diploma, to which I readily give my consent; and am,

[Page 281: Diploma Magistri Johnson. tat 46.]

'Mr. Vice-Chancellor, and Gentlemen,

'Your affectionate friend and servant,


'Grosvenor-street, Feb. 4, 1755.'

Term. Seti. Hilarii. 1755


'_CANCELLARIUS, Magistri et Scholares Universitatis Oxoniensis omnibus ad quos hoc presens scriptum pervenerit, salutem in Domino sempiternam.

'Cum eum in finem gradus academici majoribus nostris instituti fuerint, ut viri ingenio et doctrin prstantes titulis quoque prater ceteros insignirentur; cmque vir doctissimus Samuel Johnson Collegia Pembrochiensi, scriptis suis popularium mores informantibus dudum literato orbi innotuerit; quin et lingu patric tum ornand tum stabiliend (Lexicon scilicet Anglicanum summo studio, summo se judicio congestum propediem editurus) etiam nunc utilissimam impendat operam; Nos igitur Cancellarius, Magistri, et Scholares antedicti, n virum de literis humanioribus optim meritum diulius inhonoratum prtereamus, in solenni Convocatione Doctorum, Magistrorum, Regentium, et non Regentium, decimo die Mensis Februarii Anno Domini Millesimo Septingentesimo Quinquagesimo quinto habit, prfatum virum Samuelem Johnson (conspirantibus omnium suffragiis) Magistrum in Artibus renunciavimus et constituimus; eumque, virtute prsentis diplomatis, singulis juribus privilegiis et honoribus ad istum gradum ququ pertinentibus frui et gaudere jussimus.

'In cujiis rei testimonium sigillum Universitatis Oxoniensis prsentibus apponi fecimus.

'Datum in Domo nostr Convocationis die 20 Mensis Feb. Anno Dom. prdicto.

'Diploma supra scriptum per Registrarium Iectum erat, et ex decreto venerabilis Doms communi Universitatis sigillo munitum_'[830].'


'INGRATUS plan et tibi et mihi videar, nisi quanto me gaudio affecerint quos nuper mihi honores (te credo auctore) decrevit Senatus Academicus, Iiterarum, quo lamen nihil levius, officio, significem: ingratus etiam, nisi comitatem, qu vir eximius[831] mihi vestri testimonium amoris in manus tradidit, agnoscam et laudem. Si quid est und rei lam grat accedat gratia, hoc ipso magis mihi placet, quod eo tempore in ordines Academicos denuo cooptatus sim, quo tuam imminuere auctoritatem, famamque Oxonii Idere[832], omnibus modis conantur homines vafri, nec tamen aculi: quibus ego, prout viro umbratico licuit, semper restiti, semper restiturus. Qui enim, inter has rerum procellas, vel Tibi vel Academi defuerit, illum virtuti et literis, sibique et posteris, defuturum existimo.


[Page 282: Johnson's letter of thanks. A.D. 1755.]



'After I received my diploma, I wrote you a letter of thanks, with a letter to the Vice-Chancellor, and sent another to Mr. Wise; but have heard from nobody since, and begin to think myself forgotten. It is true, I sent you a double letter[833], and you may fear an expensive correspondent; but I would have taken it kindly, if you had returned it treble: and what is a double letter to a petty king, that having fellowship and fines, can sleep without a Modus in his head[834]?

'Dear Mr. Warton, let me hear from you, and tell me something, I care not what, so I hear it but from you. Something I will tell you:—I hope to see my Dictionary bound and lettered, next week;—vast mole superbus. And I have a great mind to come to Oxford at Easter; but you will not invite me. Shall I come uninvited, or stay here where nobody perhaps would miss me if I went? A hard choice! But such is the world to, dear Sir,

'Your, &c.


'[London] March 20, 1755.'

[Page 283: A projected Review. tat 46.]



'Though not to write, when a man can write so well, is an offence sufficiently heinous, yet I shall pass it by, I am very glad that the Vice-Chancellor was pleased with my note. I shall impatiently expect you at London, that we may consider what to do next. I intend in the winter to open a Bibliothque, and remember, that you are to subscribe a sheet a year; let us try, likewise, if we cannot persuade your brother to subscribe another. My book is now coming in luminis oras[835]. What will be its fate I know not, nor think much, because thinking is to no purpose. It must stand the censure of the great vulgar and the small[836]; of those that understand it, and that understand it not. But in all this, I suffer not alone: every writer has the same difficulties, and, perhaps, every writer talks of them more than he thinks.

[Page 284: Dr. Maty. A.D. 1755.]

'You will be pleased to make my compliments to all my friends: and be so kind, at every idle hour, as to remember, dear Sir,

'Your, &c.


'[London,] March 25, 1755.'

Dr. Adams told me, that this scheme of a Bibliothque was a serious one: for upon his visiting him one day, he found his parlour floor covered with parcels of foreign and English literary journals, and he told Dr. Adams he meant to undertake a Review. 'How, Sir, (said Dr. Adams,) can you think of doing it alone? All branches of knowledge must be considered in it. Do you know Mathematicks? Do you know Natural History?' Johnson answered, 'Why, Sir, I must do as well as I can. My chief purpose is to give my countrymen a view of what is doing in literature upon the continent; and I shall have, in a good measure, the choice of my subject, for I shall select such books as I best understand.' Dr. Adams suggested, that as Dr. Maty had just then finished his Bibliothque Britannique[837], which was a well-executed work, giving foreigners an account of British publications, he might, with great advantage, assume him as an assistant. 'He, (said Johnson) the little black dog! I'd throw him into the Thames[838].' The scheme, however, was dropped.

[Page 285: Dr. Birch's letter. tat 46.]

In one of his little memorandum-books I find the following hints for his intended Review or Literary Journal:

'The Annals of Literature, foreign as welt as domestick. Imitate Le Clerk—Bayle—Barbeyrac. Infelicity of Journals in England. Works of the learned. We cannot take in all. Sometimes copy from foreign Journalists. Always tell.'


'March 29, 1755.


'I have sent some parts of my Dictionary, such as were at hand, for your inspection. The favour which I beg is, that if you do not like them, you will say nothing. I am, Sir,

'Your most affectionate humble servant,



Norfolk-street, April 23, 1755.


'The part of your Dictionary which you have favoured me with the sight of has given me such an idea of the whole, that I most sincerely congratulate the publick upon the acquisition of a work long wanted, and now executed with an industry, accuracy, and judgement, equal to the importance of the subject. You might, perhaps, have chosen one in which your genius would have appeared to more advantage; but you could not have fixed upon any other in which your labours would have done such substantial service to the present age and to posterity. I am glad that your health has supported the application necessary to the performance of so vast a task; and can undertake to promise you as one (though perhaps the only) reward of it, the approbation and thanks of every well-wisher to the honour of the English language. I am, with the greatest regard,


'Your most faithful and

'Most affectionate humble servant,


Mr. Charles Burney, who has since distinguished himself so much in the science of Musick, and obtained a Doctor's degree from the University of Oxford, had been driven from the capital by bad health, and was now residing at Lynne Regis, in Norfolk[839]. He had been so much delighted with Johnson's Rambler and the Plan of his Dictionary, that when the great work was announced in the news-papers as nearly finished, he wrote to Dr. Johnson, begging to be informed when and in what manner his Dictionary would be published; intreating, if it should be by subscription, or he should have any books at his own disposal, to be favoured with six copies for himself and friends.

[Page 286: Johnson's letter to Mr. Burney. A.D. 1755.]

In answer to this application, Dr. Johnson wrote the following letter, of which (to use Dr. Burney's own words) 'if it be remembered that it was written to an obscure young man, who at this time had not much distinguished himself even in his own profession, but whose name could never have reached the authour of The Rambler, the politeness and urbanity may be opposed to some of the stories which have been lately circulated of Dr. Johnson's natural rudeness and ferocity.'



'If you imagine that by delaying my answer I intended to shew any neglect of the notice with which you have favoured me, you will neither think justly of yourself nor of me. Your civilities were offered with too much elegance not to engage attention; and I have too much pleasure in pleasing men like you, not to feel very sensibly the distinction which you have bestowed upon me.

'Few consequences of my endeavours to please or to benefit mankind have delighted me more than your friendship thus voluntarily offered, which now I have it I hope to keep, because I hope to continue to deserve it.

'I have no Dictionaries to dispose of for myself, but shall be glad to have you direct your friends to Mr. Dodsley, because it was by his recommendation that I was employed in the work.

'When you have leisure to think again upon me, let me be favoured with another letter; and another yet, when you have looked into my Dictionary. If you find faults, I shall endeavour to mend them; if you find none, I shall think you blinded by kind partiality: but to have made you partial in his favour, will very much gratify the ambition of, Sir,

'Your most obliged

'And most humble servant,


'Cough-square, Fleet-street,

'April 8, 1755,'

[Page 287: Andrew Millar. tat 46.]

Mr. Andrew Millar, bookseller in the Strand, took the principal charge of conducting the publication of Johnson's Dictionary; and as the patience of the proprietors was repeatedly tried and almost exhausted, by their expecting that the work would be completed within the time which Johnson had sanguinely supposed, the learned authour was often goaded to dispatch, more especially as he had received all the copy-money, by different drafts, a considerable time before he had finished his task[840]. When the messenger who carried the last sheet to Millar returned, Johnson asked him, 'Well, what did he say?'—'Sir, (answered the messenger) he said, thank GOD I have done with him.' 'I am glad (replied Johnson, with a smile) that he thanks GOD for any thing[841].' It is remarkable that those with whom Johnson chiefly contracted for his literary labours were Scotchmen, Mr. Millar and Mr. Strahan. Millar, though himself no great judge of literature, had good sense enough to have for his friends very able men to give him their opinion and advice in the purchase of copyright; the consequence of which was his acquiring a very large fortune, with great liberality[842]. Johnson said of him, 'I respect Millar, Sir; he has raised the price of literature.' The same praise may be justly given to Panckoucke, the eminent bookseller of Paris. Mr. Strahan's liberality, judgement, and success, are well known.

[Page 288: An Excursion to Langton deferred. A.D. 1755.]



'It has been long observed, that men do not suspect faults which they do not commit; your own elegance of manners, and punctuality of complaisance, did not suffer you to impute to me that negligence of which I was guilty, and which I have not since atoned. I received both your letters, and received them with pleasure proportionate to the esteem which so short an acquaintance strongly impressed, and which I hope to confirm by nearer knowledge, though I am afraid that gratification will be for a time withheld.

'I have, indeed, published my Book[843], of which I beg to know your father's judgement, and yours; and I have now staid long enough to watch its progress into the world. It has, you see, no patrons, and, I think, has yet had no opponents, except the criticks of the coffee-house, whose outcries are soon dispersed into the air, and are thought on no more: from this, therefore, I am at liberty, and think of taking the opportunity of this interval to make an excursion; and why not then into Lincolnshire? or, to mention a stronger attraction, why not to dear Mr. Langton? I will give the true reason, which I know you will approve:—I have a mother more than eighty years old, who has counted the days to the publication of my book, in hopes of seeing me; and to her, if I can disengage myself here, I resolve to go.

'As I know, dear Sir, that to delay my visit for a reason like this, will not deprive me of your esteem, I beg it may not lessen your kindness. I have very seldom received an offer of friendship which I so earnestly desire to cultivate and mature. I shall rejoice to hear from you, till I can see you, and will see you as soon as I can; for when the duty that calls me to Lichfield is discharged, my inclination will carry me to Langton. I shall delight to hear the ocean roar, or see the stars twinkle, in the company of men to whom Nature does not spread her volumes or utter her voice in vain.

'Do not, dear Sir, make the slowness of this letter a precedent for delay, or imagine that I approved the incivility that I have committed; for I have known you enough to love you, and sincerely to wish a further knowledge; and I assure you, once more, that to live in a house that contains such a father and such a son, will be accounted a very uncommon degree of pleasure, by, dear Sir, your most obliged, and

'Most humble servant,


'May 6, 1755.'

[Page 289: Letters to Mr. Warton. tat 46.]



'I am grieved that you should think me capable of neglecting your letters; and beg you will never admit any such suspicion again. I purpose to come down next week, if you shall be there; or any other week, that shall be more agreeable to you. Therefore let me know. I can stay this visit but a week, but intend to make preparations for a longer stay next time; being resolved not to lose sight of the University. How goes Apollonius[844]? Don't let him be forgotten. Some things of this kind must be done, to keep us up. Pay my compliments to Mr. Wise, and all my other friends. I think to come to Kettel-Hall[845].

'I am, Sir,

'Your most affectionate, &c.


'[London,] May 13, 1755.'



'It is strange how many things will happen to intercept every pleasure, though it [be] only that of two friends meeting together. I have promised myself every day to inform you when you might expect me at Oxford, and have not been able to fix a time. The time, however, is, I think, at last come; and I promise myself to repose in Kettel-Hall, one of the first nights of the next week. I am afraid my stay with you cannot be long; but what is the inference? We must endeavour to make it chearful. I wish your brother could meet us, that we might go and drink tea with Mr. Wise in a body. I hope he will be at Oxford, or at his nest of British and Saxon antiquities[846]. I shall expect to see Spenser finished, and many other things begun. Dodsley is gone to visit the Dutch. The Dictionary sells well[847]. The rest of the world goes on as it did. Dear Sir,

[Page 290: Letters to Mr. Warton. A.D. 1755.]

'Your most affectionate, &c.


'[London,] June 10, 1755.'



'To talk of coming to you, and not yet to come, has an air of trifling which I would not willingly have among you; and which, I believe, you will not willingly impute to me, when I have told you, that since my promise, two of our partners[848] are dead, and that I was solicited to suspend my excursion till we could recover from our confusion.

'I have not laid aside my purpose; for every day makes me more impatient of staying from you. But death, you know, hears not supplications, nor pays any regard to the convenience of mortals. I hope now to see you next week; but next week is but another name for to-morrow, which has been noted for promising and deceiving.

'I am, &c.


'[London,] June 24, 1755.'



'I told you, that among the manuscripts are some things of Sir Thomas More. I beg you to pass an hour in looking on them, and procure a transcript of the ten or twenty first lines of each, to be compared with what I have; that I may know whether they are yet published. The manuscripts are these:

'Catalogue of Bodl. MS. pag. 122. F. 3. Sir Thomas More.

'1. Fall of angels. 2. Creation and fall of mankind. 3. Determination of the Trinity for the rescue of mankind. 4. Five lectures of our Saviour's passion. 5. Of the institution of the sacrament, three lectures. 6. How to receive the blessed body of our Lord sacramentally. 7. Neomenia, the new moon. 8. De tristitia, tdio, pavore, et oratione Christi, ante captionem ejus.

'Catalogue, pag. 154. Life of Sir Thomas More. Qu. Whether Roper's? Pag. 363. De resignatione Magni Sigilli in manus Regis per D. Thomam Morum. Pag. 364. Mori Defensio Morice.

'If you procure the young gentleman in the library to write out what you think fit to be written, I will send to Mr. Prince the bookseller to pay him what you shall think proper.

'Be pleased to make my compliments to Mr. Wise, and all my friends.

'I am, Sir,

'Your affectionate, &c.

'SAM. JOHNSON.' '[London] Aug. 7, 1755.'

[Page 291: Publication of the DICTIONARY. tat 46.]

The Dictionary, with a Grammar and History of the English Language, being now at length published, in two volumes folio, the world contemplated with wonder so stupendous a work achieved by one man, while other countries had thought such undertakings fit only for whole academies. Vast as his powers were, I cannot but think that his imagination deceived him, when he supposed that by constant application he might have performed the task in three years. Let the Preface be attentively perused, in which is given, in a clear, strong, and glowing style, a comprehensive, yet particular view of what he had done; and it will be evident, that the time he employed upon it was comparatively short. I am unwilling to swell my book with long quotations from what is in every body's hands, and I believe there are few prose compositions in the English language that are read with more delight, or are more impressed upon the memory, than that preliminary discourse. One of its excellencies has always struck me with peculiar admiration: I mean the perspicuity with which he has expressed abstract scientifick notions. As an instance of this, I shall quote the following sentence: 'When the radical idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can a consecutive series be formed of senses in their own[849] nature collateral?' We have here an example of what has been often said, and I believe with justice, that there is for every thought a certain nice adaptation of words which none other could equal, and which, when a man has been so fortunate as to hit, he has attained, in that particular case, the perfection of language.

[Page 292: The Preface to the Dictionary. A.D. 1755.]

The extensive reading which was absolutely necessary for the accumulation of authorities, and which alone may account for Johnson's retentive mind being enriched with a very large and various store of knowledge and imagery, must have occupied several years. The Preface furnishes an eminent instance of a double talent, of which Johnson was fully conscious. Sir Joshua Reynolds heard him say, 'There are two things which I am confident I can do very well: one is an introduction to any literary work, stating what it is to contain, and how it should be executed in the most perfect manner; the other is a conclusion, shewing from various causes why the execution has not been equal to what the authour promised to himself and to the publick.'

How should puny scribblers be abashed and disappointed, when they find him displaying a perfect theory of lexicographical excellence, yet at the same time candidly and modestly allowing that he 'had not satisfied his own expectations[850].' Here was a fair occasion for the exercise of Johnson's modesty, when he was called upon to compare his own arduous performance, not with those of other individuals, (in which case his inflexible regard to truth would have been violated, had he affected diffidence,) but with speculative perfection[851]; as he, who can outstrip all his competitors in the race, may yet be sensible of his deficiency when he runs against time. Well might he say, that 'the English Dictionary was written with little assistance of the learned[852],' for he told me, that the only aid which he received was a paper containing twenty etymologies, sent to him by a person then unknown, who he was afterwards informed was Dr. Pearce, Bishop of Rochester[853]. The etymologies, though they exhibit learning and judgement, are not, I think, entitled to the first praise amongst the various parts of this immense work. The definitions have always appeared to me such astonishing proofs of acuteness of intellect and precision of language, as indicate a genius of the highest rank[854]. This it is which marks the superiour excellence of Johnson's Dictionary over others equally or even more voluminous, and must have made it a work of much greater mental labour than mere Lexicons, or Word-books, as the Dutch call them. They, who will make the experiment of trying how they can define a few words of whatever nature, will soon be satisfied of the unquestionable justice of this observation, which I can assure my readers is founded upon much study, and upon communication with more minds than my own.

[Page 293: Erroneous definitions. tat 46.]

A few of his definitions must be admitted to be erroneous. Thus, Windward and Leeward[855], though directly of opposite meaning, are defined identically the same way; as to which inconsiderable specks it is enough to observe, that his Preface announces that he was aware there might be many such in so immense a work[856]; nor was he at all disconcerted when an instance was pointed out to him. A lady once asked him how he came to define Pastern the knee of a horse: instead of making an elaborate defence, as she expected, he at once answered, 'Ignorance, Madam, pure ignorance[857].' His definition of Network[858] has been often quoted with sportive malignity[859], as obscuring a thing in itself very plain. But to these frivolous censures no other answer is necessary than that with which we are furnished by his own Preface.

[Page 294: Humorous definitions. A.D. 1755.]

'To explain, requires the use of terms less abstruse than that which is to be explained, and such terms cannot always be found. For as nothing can be proved but by supposing something intuitively known, and evident without proof, so nothing can be defined but by the use of words too plain to admit of definition[860]. Sometimes easier words are changed into harder; as, burial, into sepulture or interment; dry[861], into desiccative; dryness, into siccity or aridity; fit, into paroxism; for the easiest word, whatever it be, can never be translated into one more easy.'

[Page 295: Humorous definitions.]

His introducing his own opinions, and even prejudices, under general definitions of words, while at the same time the original meaning of the words is not explained, as his Tory[862], Whig[863], Pension[864], Oats[865], Excise[866], and a few more, cannot be fully defended, and must be placed to the account of capricious and humorous indulgence[867]. Talking to me upon this subject when we were at Ashbourne in 1777, he mentioned a still stronger instance of the predominance of his private feelings in the composition of this work, than any now to be found in it. 'You know, Sir, Lord Gower forsook the old Jacobite interest. When I came to the word Renegado, after telling that it meant "one who deserts to the enemy, a revolter," I added, Sometimes we say a GOWER[868]. Thus it went to the press; but the printer had more wit than I, and struck it out.'

[Page 296: Humorous definitions. A.D. 1756.]

Let it, however, be remembered, that this indulgence does not display itself only in sarcasm towards others, but sometimes in playful allusion to the notions commonly entertained of his own laborious task. Thus: 'Grub-street, the name of a street in London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems; whence any mean production is called Grub-street[869].'—'Lexicographer, a writer of dictionaries, a harmless drudge[870]'.

[Page 297: The gloom of solitude. tat 46.]

At the time when he was concluding his very eloquent Preface, Johnson's mind appears to have been in such a state of depression[871], that we cannot contemplate without wonder the vigorous and splendid thoughts which so highly distinguish that performance. 'I (says he) may surely be contented without the praise of perfection, which if I could obtain in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me? I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave; and success and miscarriage are empty sounds, I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquillity, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise[872].' That this indifference was rather a temporary than an habitual feeling, appears, I think, from his letters to Mr. Warton[873]; and however he may have been affected for the moment, certain it is that the honours which his great work procured him, both at home and abroad, were very grateful to him[874]. His friend the Earl of Corke and Orrery, being at Florence, presented it to the Academia della Crusca. That Academy sent Johnson their Vocabulario, and the French Academy sent him their Dictionnaire, which Mr. Langton had the pleasure to convey to him[875].

[Page 298: His melancholy at its meridian. A.D. 1755.]

It must undoubtedly seem strange, that the conclusion of his Preface should be expressed in terms so desponding, when it is considered that the authour was then only in his forty-sixth year. But we must ascribe its gloom to that miserable dejection of spirits to which he was constitutionally subject, and which was aggravated by the death of his wife two years before[876]. I have heard it ingeniously observed by a lady of rank and elegance, that 'his melancholy was then at its meridian[877].' It pleased GOD to grant him almost thirty years of life after this time; and once, when he was in a placid frame of mind, he was obliged to own to me that he had enjoyed happier days, and had many more friends, since that gloomy hour than before[878].

[Page 299: Johnson's happiest days last. tat 46.]

It is a sad saying, that 'most of those whom he wished to please had sunk into the grave;' and his case at forty-five was singularly unhappy, unless the circle of his friends was very narrow. I have often thought, that as longevity is generally desired, and I believe, generally expected, it would be wise to be continually adding to the number of our friends, that the loss of some may be supplied by others. Friendship, 'the wine of life[879],' should like a well-stocked cellar, be thus continually renewed; and it is consolatory to think, that although we can seldom add what will equal the generous first-growths of our youth, yet friendship becomes insensibly old in much less time than is commonly imagined, and not many years are required to make it very mellow and pleasant. Warmth will, no doubt, make a considerable difference. Men of affectionate temper and bright fancy will coalesce a great deal sooner than those who are cold and dull.

[Page 300: Garrick's complimentary epigram. A.D. 1755.]

The proposition which I have now endeavoured to illustrate was, at a subsequent period of his life, the opinion of Johnson himself. He said to Sir Joshua Reynolds, 'If a man does not make new acquaintance as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair.'

The celebrated Mr. Wilkes, whose notions and habits of life were very opposite to his, but who was ever eminent for literature and vivacity, sallied forth with a little Jeu d'Esprit upon the following passage in his Grammar of the English Tongue, prefixed to the Dictionary: 'H seldom, perhaps never, begins any but the first syllable.' In an Essay printed in The Publick Advertiser, this lively writer enumerated many instances in opposition to this remark; for example, 'The authour of this observation must be a man of a quick apprehension, and of a most compre-hensive genius.' The position is undoubtedly expressed with too much latitude.

This light sally, we may suppose, made no great impression on our Lexicographer; for we find that he did not alter the passage till many years afterwards[880].

He had the pleasure of being treated in a very different manner by his old pupil Mr. Garrick, in the following complimentary Epigram[881]:


'Talk of war with a Briton, he'll boldly advance, That one English soldier will beat ten of France; Would we alter the boast from the sword to the pen, Our odds are still greater, still greater our men: In the deep mines of science though Frenchmen may toil, Can their strength be compar'd to Locke, Newton, and Boyle? Let them rally their heroes, send forth all their pow'rs, Their verse-men and prose-men, then match them with ours! First Shakspeare and Milton[882], like gods in the fight, Have put their whole drama and epick to flight; In satires, epistles, and odes, would they cope, Their numbers retreat before Dryden and Pope; And Johnson, well arm'd like a hero of yore, Has beat forty French[883], and will beat forty more!'

[Page 301: Zachariah Williams. tat 46.]

Johnson this year gave at once a proof of his benevolence, quickness of apprehension, and admirable art of composition, in the assistance which he gave to Mr. Zachariah Williams, father of the blind lady whom he had humanely received under his roof. Mr. Williams had followed the profession of physick in Wales; but having a very strong propensity to the study of natural philosophy, had made many ingenious advances towards a discovery of the longitude, and repaired to London in hopes of obtaining the great parliamentary reward[884]. He failed of success; but Johnson having made himself master of his principles and experiments, wrote for him a pamphlet, published in quarto, with the following title: An Account of an Attempt to ascertain the Longitude at Sea, by an exact Theory of the Variation of the Magnetical Needle; with a Table of the Variations at the most remarkable Cities in Europe, from the year 1660 to 1680.[Dagger] To diffuse it more extensively, it was accompanied with an Italian translation on the opposite page, which it is supposed was the work of Signor Baretti[885], an Italian of considerable literature, who having come to England a few years before, had been employed in the capacity both of a language-master and an authour, and formed an intimacy with Dr. Johnson. This pamphlet Johnson presented to the Bodleian Library[886]. On a blank leaf of it is pasted a paragraph cut out of a news-paper, containing an account of the death and character of Williams, plainly written by Johnson[887].

[Page 302: Joseph Baretti. A.D. 1755.]

[Page 303: A scheme of life for Sunday. tat 47.]

In July this year he had formed some scheme of mental improvement, the particular purpose of which does not appear. But we find in his Prayers and Meditations, p. 25, a prayer entitled 'On the Study of Philosophy, as an Instrument of living;' and after it follows a note, 'This study was not pursued.'

On the 13th of the same month he wrote in his Journal the following scheme of life, for Sunday:

'Having lived' (as he with tenderness of conscience expresses himself) 'not without an habitual reverence for the Sabbath, yet without that attention to its religious duties which Christianity requires;

'1. To rise early, and in order to it, to go to sleep early on Saturday.

'2. To use some extraordinary devotion in the morning.

'3. To examine the tenour of my life, and particularly the last week; and to mark my advances in religion, or recession from it.

'4. To read the Scripture methodically with such helps as are at hand.

'5. To go to church twice.

'6. To read books of Divinity, either speculative or practical.

'7. To instruct my family.

'8. To wear off by meditation any worldly soil contracted in the week.'

1756: TAT. 47.—In 1756 Johnson found that the great fame of his Dictionary had not set him above the necessity of 'making provision for the day that was passing over him[888].'

[Page 304: Payment for the DICTIONARY. A.D. 1756.]

No royal or noble patron extended a munificent hand to give independence to the man who had conferred stability on the language of his country. We may feel indignant that there should have been such unworthy neglect; but we must, at the same time, congratulate ourselves, when we consider, that to this very neglect, operating to rouse the natural indolence of his constitution, we owe many valuable productions, which otherwise, perhaps, might never have appeared.

He had spent, during the progress of the work, the money for which he had contracted to write his Dictionary. We have seen that the reward of his labour was only fifteen hundred and seventy-five pounds; and when the expence of amanuenses and paper, and other articles are deducted, his clear profit was very inconsiderable. I once said to him, 'I am sorry, Sir, you did not get more for your Dictionary'. His answer was, 'I am sorry, too. But it was very well. The booksellers are generous, liberal-minded men[889].' He, upon all occasions, did ample justice to their character in this respect[890]. He considered them as the patrons of literature; and, indeed, although they have eventually been considerable gainers by his Dictionary, it is to them that we owe its having been undertaken and carried through at the risk of great expence, for they were not absolutely sure of being indemnified.

[Page 305: Johnson's opinion of booksellers. tat 47.]

On the first day of this year we find from his private devotions, that he had then recovered from sickness[891]; and in February that his eye was restored to its use[892]. The pious gratitude with which he acknowledges mercies upon every occasion is very edifying; as is the humble submission which he breathes, when it is the will of his heavenly Father to try him with afflictions. As such dispositions become the state of man here, and are the true effects of religious discipline, we cannot but venerate in Johnson one of the most exercised minds that our holy religion hath ever formed. If there be any thoughtless enough to suppose such exercise the weakness of a great understanding, let them look up to Johnson and be convinced that what he so earnestly practised must have a rational foundation.

[Page 306: Christopher Smart. A.D. 1756.]

His works this year were, an abstract or epitome, in octavo, of his folio Dictionary, and a few essays in a monthly publication, entitled, The Universal Visiter. Christopher Smart, with whose unhappy vacillation of mind he sincerely sympathised, was one of the stated undertakers of this miscellany; and it was to assist him that Johnson sometimes employed his pen[893]. All the essays marked with two asterisks have been ascribed to him; but I am confident, from internal evidence, that of these, neither 'The Life of Chaucer,' 'Reflections on the State of Portugal,' nor an 'Essay on Architecture,' were written by him. I am equally confident, upon the same evidence, that he wrote 'Further Thoughts on Agriculture[894];'[Dagger] being the sequel of a very inferiour essay on the same subject, and which, though carried on as if by the same hand, is both in thinking and expression so far above it, and so strikingly peculiar, as to leave no doubt of its true parent; and that he also wrote 'A Dissertation on the State of Literature and Authours[895],'[Dagger] and 'A Dissertation on the Epitaphs written by Pope.'[Dagger] The last of these, indeed, he afterwards added to his Idler[896]. Why the essays truly written by him are marked in the same manner with some which he did not write, I cannot explain; but with deference to those who have ascribed to him the three essays which I have rejected, they want all the characteristical marks of Johnsonian composition.

[Page 307: The Literary Magazine. tat 47.]

He engaged also to superintend and contribute largely to another monthly publication, entitled The Literary Magazine, or Universal Review; the first number of which came out in May this year[897]. What were his emoluments from this undertaking, and what other writers were employed in it, I have not discovered. He continued to write in it, with intermissions, till the fifteenth number; and I think that he never gave better proofs of the force, acuteness, and vivacity of his mind, than in this miscellany, whether we consider his original essays, or his reviews of the works of others. The 'Preliminary Address'[Dagger] to the Publick is a proof how this great man could embellish, with the graces of superiour composition, even so trite a thing as the plan of a magazine.

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