DR. JOHNSON'S WORKS.
LIFE, POEMS, AND TALES.
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
IN NINE VOLUMES.
VOLUME THE FIRST.
It may be asserted, without a partial panegyric of the object of our praise, that the works of no single author in the wide range of British literature, not excepting, perhaps, even Addison, contain a richer and more varied fund of rational entertainment and sound instruction than those of Dr. Johnson. A correct edition of his works must, therefore, be an acceptable contribution to the mass of national literature. That the present edition has, perhaps, fairer claims on public approbation than most preceding ones, we feel ourselves justified in asserting, without envious detraction of those who have gone before us. It has been our wish and diligent endeavour to give as accurate a text as possible, to which we have subjoined notes, where elucidation seemed to be required. They have been collected with care, and will prove our impartiality by their occasional censures of the faults and failings of the writer whose works it is our office to illustrate, and our more common and more grateful task to praise. Though, being diffused over a wide space, they appear less numerous than they really are, it has been our incessant care to abstain from that method of redundant annotation, which tends to display the ingenuity or mental resources of an editor, much more than to illustrate the original writer. Notes have been chiefly introduced for the purpose of guarding our readers against some political sophisms, or to correct some hasty error. But happily, in the writings to which we have devoted our time and attention, the chaff and dross lie so open to view, and are so easily separated from purer matter, that a hint is sufficient to protect the most incautious from harm. Accordingly, in our notes and prefaces we have confined ourselves to simple and succinct histories of the respective works under consideration, and have avoided, as much as might be, a burdensome repetition of criticisms or anecdotes, in almost every person's possession, or an idle pointing out of beauties which none could fail to recognise. The length of time that has elapsed since the writings of Johnson were first published, has amply developed their intrinsic merits, and destroyed the personal and party prejudices which assail a living author: but the years have been too few to render the customs and manners alluded to so obsolete as to require much illustrative research.[a] It may be satisfactory to subjoin, that care has been exercised in every thing that we have advanced, and that when we have erred, it has been on the side of caution.
All the usually received works of Dr. Johnson, together with Murphy's Essay on his Life and Genius, are comprised in this edition. In pursuance of our plan of brevity, we shall not here give a list of his minor and unacknowledged productions, but refer our readers to Boswell; a new, amended, and enlarged edition of whose interesting and picturesque Memoirs we purpose speedily to present to the public, after the style and manner of the present work.
One very important addition, however, we conceive that we have made, in publishing the whole of his sermons. It has been hitherto the practice to give one or two, with a cursory notice, that Johnson's theological knowledge was scanty, or unworthy of his general fame. We have acted under a very different impression; for though Johnson was not, nor pretended to be, a polemical or controversial divine, he well knew how to apply to the right regulation of our moral conduct the lessons of that Christianity which was not promulged for a sect, but for mankind; which sought not a distinctive garb in the philosopher's grove, nor secluded itself in the hermit's cell, but entered without reserve every walk of life, and sympathized with all the instinctive feelings of our common nature. This high privilege of our religion Johnson felt, and to the diffusion of its practical, not of its theoretical advantages, he applied the energies of his heart and mind; and with what success, we leave to every candid reader to pronounce.
In conclusion, we would express a hope that we shall not inaptly commence a series of OXFORD ENGLISH CLASSICS with the works of one whose writings have so enlarged and embellished the science of moral evidence, which has long constituted a characteristic feature in the literary discipline of this university. The science of mind and its progress, as recorded by history, or unfolded by biography, was Johnson's favourite study, and is still the main object of pursuit in the place whose system and institutions he so warmly praised, and to which he ever professed himself so deeply indebted. If the terseness of attic simplicity has been desiderated by some in the pages of Johnson, they undeniably display the depth of thought, the weight of argument, the insight into mind and morals, which are to be found in their native dignity only in the compositions of those older writers with whose spirit he was so richly imbued. In this place, then, where those models which Johnson admired and imitated are still upheld as the only sure guides to sound learning, his writings can never be laid aside unread and neglected.
OXFORD, JUNE 23, 1825.
[a] See a remark on this subject made by Johnson, with reference to the Spectator, and all other works of the same class, which describe manners. Boswell, ii. 218, and Prefatory Notice to Rambler, vol. i.
CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
ESSAY on the Life and Genius of Dr. Johnson
The Vanity of Human Wishes
Prologue, spoken by Mr. Garrick, at the opening of the theatre-royal, Drury lane
Prefatory Notice to the tragedy of Irene
Epilogue, by sir William Yonge
Prologue to the masque of Comus
Prologue to the comedy of the Good-natured Man
Prologue to the comedy of a Word to the Wise
The Winter's Walk
To Miss ****, on her giving the author a gold and silk network purse, of her own weaving
To Miss ****, on her playing upon the harpsichord, in a room hung with flower-pieces of her own painting
Evening; an ode
To the same
To a friend
Stella in mourning
Verses, written at the request of a gentleman, to whom a lady had given a sprig of myrtle
To lady Firebrace, at Bury assizes
To Lyce, an elderly lady
On the death of Mr. Robert Levet
Epitaph on Claude Phillips
Epitaphium in Thomam Hanmer, baronettum
Paraphrase of the above, by Dr. Johnson
To Miss Hickman, playing on the spinet
Paraphrase of Proverbs, chap. vi. verses 6-11
Horace, lib. iv. ode vii. translated
Anacreon, ode ix
Lines written in ridicule of certain poems published in 1777
Parody of a translation from the Medea of Euripides
Translation from the Medea of Euripides
Translation of the two first stanzas of the song "Rio Verde, Rio Verde"
Imitation of the style of ****
Burlesque of some lines of Lopez de Vega
Translation of some lines at the end of Baretti's Easy Phraseology
Improviso translation of a distich on the duke of Modena's running away from the comet in 1742 or 1743
Improviso translation of some lines of M. Benserade a son Lit
Epitaph for Mr. Hogarth
Translation of some lines, written under a print representing persons skating
Impromptu translation of the same
To Mrs. Thrale, on her completing her thirty-fifth year
Impromptu translation of an air in the Clemenza di Tito of Metastasio
Translation of a speech of Aquileio in the Adriano of Metastasio
Burlesque of the modern versifications of ancient legendary tales
Friendship; an ode
On seeing a bust of Mrs. Montague
Improviso on a young heir's coming of age
Epitaphs—on his father
Prefatory observations to the history of Rasselas
Rasselas, prince of Abissinia
I. To Mr. James Elphinston
II. to XL. To Mrs. Thrale
XLI. To Mr. Thrale
XLII. to LIII. To Mrs. Thrale
LIV. To Mrs. Piozzi
AN ESSAY ON THE LIFE AND GENIUS OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
When the works of a great writer, who has bequeathed to posterity a lasting legacy, are presented to the world, it is naturally expected that some account of his life should accompany the edition. The reader wishes to know as much as possible of the author. The circumstances that attended him, the features of his private character, his conversation, and the means by which he arose to eminence, become the favourite objects of inquiry. Curiosity is excited; and the admirer of his works is eager to know his private opinions, his course of study, the particularities of his conduct, and, above all, whether he pursued the wisdom which he recommends, and practised the virtue which his writings inspire. A principle of gratitude is awakened in every generous mind. For the entertainment and instruction which genius and diligence have provided for the world, men of refined and sensible tempers are ready to pay their tribute of praise, and even to form a posthumous friendship with the author.
In reviewing the life of such a writer, there is, besides, a rule of justice to which the public have an undoubted claim. Fond admiration and partial friendship should not be suffered to represent his virtues with exaggeration; nor should malignity be allowed, under a specious disguise, to magnify mere defects, the usual failings of human nature, into vice or gross deformity. The lights and shades of the character should be given; and if this be done with a strict regard to truth, a just estimate of Dr. Johnson will afford a lesson, perhaps, as valuable as the moral doctrine that speaks with energy in every page of his works.
The present writer enjoyed the conversation and friendship of that excellent man more than thirty years. He thought it an honour to be so connected, and to this hour he reflects on his loss with regret; but regret, he knows, has secret bribes, by which the judgment may be influenced, and partial affection may be carried beyond the bounds of truth. In the present case, however, nothing needs to be disguised, and exaggerated praise is unnecessary. It is an observation of the younger Pliny, in his epistle to his friend Tacitus, that history ought never to magnify matters of fact, because worthy actions require nothing but the truth: "nam nec historia debet egredi veritatem, et honeste factis veritas sufficit." This rule, the present biographer promises, shall guide his pen throughout the following narrative.
It may be said, the death of Dr. Johnson kept the public mind in agitation beyond all former example. No literary character ever excited so much attention; and, when the press has teemed with anecdotes, apophthegms, essays, and publications of every kind, what occasion now for a new tract on the same thread-bare subject? The plain truth shall be the answer. The proprietors of Johnson's works thought the life, which they prefixed to their former edition, too unwieldy for republication. The prodigious variety of foreign matter, introduced into that performance, seemed to overload the memory of Dr. Johnson, and, in the account of his own life, to leave him hardly visible. They wished to have a more concise, and, for that reason, perhaps, a more satisfactory account, such as may exhibit a just picture of the man, and keep him the principal figure in the foreground of his own picture. To comply with that request is the design of this essay, which the writer undertakes with a trembling hand. He has no discoveries, no secret anecdotes, no occasional controversy, no sudden flashes of wit and humour, no private conversation, and no new facts, to embellish his work. Every thing has been gleaned. Dr. Johnson said of himself, "I am not uncandid, nor severe: I sometimes say more than I mean, in jest, and people are apt to think me serious[a]." The exercise of that privilege, which is enjoyed by every man in society, has not been allowed to him. His fame has given importance even to trifles; and the zeal of his friends has brought every thing to light. What should be related, and what should not, has been published without distinction: "dicenda tacenda locuti!" Every thing that fell from him has been caught with eagerness by his admirers, who, as he says in one of his letters, have acted with the diligence of spies upon his conduct. To some of them the following lines, in Mallet's poem on verbal criticism, are not inapplicable:
"Such that grave bird in northern seas is found. Whose name a Dutchman only knows to sound; Where'er the king of fish moves on before, This humble friend attends from shore to shore; With eye still earnest, and with bill inclined, He picks up what his patron drops behind, With those choice cates his palate to regale, And is the careful Tibbald of a whale."
After so many essays and volumes of Johnsoniana, what remains for the present writer? Perhaps, what has not been attempted; a short, yet full, a faithful, yet temperate, history of Dr. Johnson.
SAMUEL JOHNSON was born at Lichfield, September 7, 1709, O. S[b]. His father, Michael Johnson, was a bookseller in that city; a man of large, athletic make, and violent passions; wrong-headed, positive, and, at times, afflicted with a degree of melancholy, little short of madness. His mother was sister to Dr. Ford, a practising physician, and father of Cornelius Ford, generally known by the name of parson Ford, the same who is represented near the punch-bowl in Hogarth's Midnight Modern Conversation. In the life of Fenton, Johnson says, that "his abilities, instead of furnishing convivial merriment to the voluptuous and dissolute, might have enabled him to excel among the virtuous and the wise." Being chaplain to the earl of Chesterfield, he wished to attend that nobleman on his embassy to the Hague. Colley Cibber has recorded the anecdote. "You should go," said the witty peer, "if to your many vices you would add one more." "Pray, my lord, what is that?" "Hypocrisy, my dear doctor." Johnson had a younger brother named Nathaniel, who died at the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Michael Johnson, the father, was chosen, in the year 1718, under bailiff of Lichfield; and, in the year 1725, he served the office of the senior bailiff. He had a brother of the name of Andrew, who, for some years, kept the ring at Smithfield, appropriated to wrestlers and boxers. Our author used to say, that he was never thrown or conquered. Michael, the father, died December 1731, at the age of seventy-six: his mother at eighty-nine, of a gradual decay, in the year 1759. Of the family nothing more can be related worthy of notice. Johnson did not delight in talking of his relations. "There is little pleasure," he said to Mrs. Piozzi, "in relating the anecdotes of beggary."
Johnson derived from his parents, or from an unwholesome nurse, the distemper called the king's evil. The Jacobites at that time believed in the efficacy of the royal touch, and, accordingly, Mrs. Johnson presented her son, when two years old, before queen Anne, who, for the first time, performed that office, and communicated to her young patient all the healing virtue in her power[c]. He was afterwards cut for that scrophulous humour, and the under part of his face was seamed and disfigured by the operation. It is supposed, that this disease deprived him of the sight of his left eye, and also impaired his hearing. At eight years old, he was placed under Mr. Hawkins, at the free school in Lichfield, where he was not remarkable for diligence or regular application. Whatever he read, his tenacious memory made his own. In the fields, with his schoolfellows, he talked more to himself than with his companions. In 1725, when he was about sixteen years old, he went on a visit to his cousin Cornelius Ford, who detained him for some months, and, in the mean time, assisted him in the classics. The general direction for his studies, which he then received, he related to Mrs. Piozzi. "Obtain," says Ford, "some general principles of every science: he who can talk only on one subject, or act only in one department, is seldom wanted, and, perhaps, never wished for; while the man of general knowledge can often benefit, and always please." This advice Johnson seems to have pursued with a good inclination. His reading was always desultory, seldom resting on any particular author, but rambling from one book to another, and, by hasty snatches, hoarding up a variety of knowledge. It may be proper, in this place, to mention another general rule laid down by Ford for Johnson's future conduct: "You will make your way the more easily in the world, as you are contented to dispute no man's claim to conversation excellence: they will, therefore, more willingly allow your pretensions as a writer." "But," says Mrs. Piozzi, "the features of peculiarity, which mark a character to all succeeding generations, are slow in coming to their growth." That ingenious lady adds, with her usual vivacity, "Can one, on such an occasion, forbear recollecting the predictions of Boileau's father, who said, stroking the head of the young satirist, 'This little man has too much wit, but he will never speak ill of any one.'"
On Johnson's return from Cornelius Ford, Mr. Hunter, then master of the free school at Lichfield, refused to receive him again on that foundation. At this distance of time, what his reasons were, it is vain to inquire; but to refuse assistance to a lad of promising genius must be pronounced harsh and illiberal. It did not, however, stop the progress of the young student's education. He was placed at another school, at Stourbridge in Worcestershire, under the care of Mr. Wentworth. Having gone through the rudiments of classic literature, he returned to his father's house, and was probably intended for the trade of a bookseller. He has been heard to say that he could bind a book. At the end of two years, being then about nineteen, he went to assist the studies of a young gentleman, of the name of Corbet, to the university of Oxford; and on the 31st of October, 1728, both were entered of Pembroke college; Corbet as a gentleman-commoner, and Johnson as a commoner. The college tutor, Mr. Jordan, was a man of no genius; and Johnson, it seems, shewed an early contempt of mean abilities, in one or two instances behaving with insolence to that gentleman. Of his general conduct at the university there are no particulars that merit attention, except the translation of Pope's Messiah, which was a college exercise imposed upon him as a task by Mr. Jordan. Corbet left the university in about two years, and Johnson's salary ceased. He was, by consequence, straitened in his circumstances; but he still remained at college. Mr. Jordan, the tutor, went off to a living; and was succeeded by Dr. Adams, who afterwards became head of the college, and was esteemed through life for his learning, his talents, and his amiable character. Johnson grew more regular in his attendance. Ethics, theology, and classic literature, were his favourite studies. He discovered, notwithstanding, early symptoms of that wandering disposition of mind, which adhered to him to the end of his life. His reading was by fits and starts, undirected to any particular science. General philology, agreeably to his cousin Ford's advice, was the object of his ambition. He received, at that time, an early impression of piety, and a taste for the best authors, ancient and modern. It may, notwithstanding, be questioned whether, except his bible, he ever read a book entirely through. Late in life, if any man praised a book in his presence, he was sure to ask, "Did you read it through?" If the answer was in the affirmative, he did not seem willing to believe it. He continued at the university, till the want of pecuniary supplies obliged him to quit the place. He obtained, however, the assistance of a friend, and, returning in a short time, was able to complete a residence of three years. The history of his exploits at Oxford, he used to say, was best known to Dr. Taylor and Dr. Adams. Wonders are told of his memory, and, indeed, all who knew him late in life can witness, that he retained that faculty in the greatest vigour.
From the university, Johnson returned to Lichfield. His father died soon after, December, 1731; and the whole receipt out of his effects, as appeared by a memorandum in the son's handwriting, dated 15th of June, 1732, was no more than twenty pounds[d]. In this exigence, determined that poverty should neither depress his spirits nor warp his integrity, he became under-master of a grammar school at Market Bosworth, in Leicestershire. That resource, however, did not last long. Disgusted by the pride of sir Wolstan Dixie, the patron of that little seminary, he left the place in discontent, and ever after spoke of it with abhorrence. In 1733, he went on a visit to Mr. Hector, who had been his schoolfellow, and was then a surgeon at Birmingham, lodging at the house of Warren, a bookseller. At that place Johnson translated a Voyage to Abyssinia, written by Jerome Lobo, a Portuguese missionary. This was the first literary work from the pen of Dr. Johnson. His friend, Hector, was occasionally his amanuensis. The work was, probably, undertaken at the desire of Warren, the bookseller, and was printed at Birmingham; but it appears, in the Literary Magazine, or history of the works of the learned, for March, 1735, that it was published by Bettesworth and Hitch, Paternoster row. It contains a narrative of the endeavours of a company of missionaries to convert the people of Abyssinia to the church of Rome. In the preface to this work, Johnson observes, "that the Portuguese traveller, contrary to the general view of his countrymen, has amused his readers with no romantick absurdities, or incredible fictions. He appears, by his modest and unaffected narration, to have described things, as he saw them; to have copied nature from the life; and to have consulted his senses, not his imagination. He meets with no basilisks, that destroy with their eyes; his crocodiles devour their prey, without tears; and his cataracts fall from the rock, without deafening the neighbouring inhabitants. The reader will here find no regions cursed with irremediable barrenness, or blessed with spontaneous fecundity; no perpetual gloom, or unceasing sunshine; nor are the nations, here described, either void of all sense of humanity, or consummate in all private and social virtues; here are no Hottentots without religion, polity or articulate language; no Chinese perfectly polite, and completely skilled in all sciences; he will discover, what will always be discovered by a diligent and impartial inquirer, that, wherever human nature is to be found, there is a mixture of vice and virtue, a contest of passion and reason; and that the Creator doth not appear partial in his distributions, but has balanced, in most countries, their particular inconveniencies, by particular favours."—We have here an early specimen of Johnson's manner; the vein of thinking, and the frame of the sentences, are manifestly his: we see the infant Hercules. The translation of Lobo's narrative has been reprinted lately in a separate volume, with some other tracts of Dr. Johnson's, and, therefore, forms no part of this edition; but a compendious account of so interesting a work, as father Lobo's discovery of the head of the Nile, will not, it is imagined, be unacceptable to the reader.
"Father Lobo, the Portuguese missionary, embarked, in 1622, in the same fleet with the count Vidigueira, who was appointed, by the king of Portugal, viceroy of the Indies. They arrived at Goa; and, in January 1624, father Lobo set out on the mission to Abyssinia. Two of the Jesuits, sent on the same commission, were murdered in their attempt to penetrate into that empire. Lobo had better success; he surmounted all difficulties, and made his way into the heart of the country. Then follows a description of Abyssinia, formerly the largest empire of which we have an account in history. It extended from the Red sea to the kingdom of Congo, and from Egypt to the Indian sea, containing no less than forty provinces. At the time of Lobo's mission, it was not much larger than Spain, consisting then but of five kingdoms, of which part was entirely subject to the emperour, and part paid him a tribute, as an acknowledgment. The provinces were inhabited by Moors, Pagans, Jews, and Christians. The last was, in Lobo's time, the established and reigning religion. The diversity of people and religion is the reason why the kingdom was under different forms of government, with laws and customs extremely various. Some of the people neither sowed their lands, nor improved them by any kind of culture, living upon milk and flesh, and, like the Arabs, encamping without any settled habitation. In some places they practised no rites of worship, though they believed that, in the regions above, there dwells a being that governs the world. This deity they call, in their language, Oul. The christianity, professed by the people in some parts, is so corrupted with superstitions, errours, and heresies, and so mingled with ceremonies borrowed from the Jews, that little, besides the name of christianity, is to be found among them. The Abyssins cannot properly be said to have either cities or houses; they live in tents or cottages made of straw or clay, very rarely building with stone. Their villages, or towns, consist of these huts; yet even of such villages they have but few, because the grandees, the viceroys, and the emperour himself, are always in camp, that they may be prepared, upon the most sudden alarm, to meet every emergence in a country, which is engaged, every year, either in foreign wars or intestine commotions. Aethiopia produces very near the same kinds of provision as Portugal, though, by the extreme laziness of the inhabitants, in a much less quantity. What the ancients imagined of the torrid zone being a part of the world uninhabitable, is so far from being true, that the climate is very temperate. The blacks have better features than in other countries, and are not without wit and ingenuity. Their apprehension is quick, and their judgment sound. There are, in this climate, two harvests in the year; one in winter, which lasts through the months of July, August, and September; the other in the spring. They have, in the greatest plenty, raisins peaches pomegranates, sugar-canes, and some figs. Most of these are ripe about lent, which the Abyssins keep with great strictness. The animals of the country are the lion, the elephant, the rhinoceros, the unicorn, horses, mules, oxen, and cows without number. They have a very particular custom, which obliges every man, that has a thousand cows, to save every year one day's milk of all his herd, and make a bath with it for his relations. This they do so many days in each year, as they have thousands of cattle; so that, to express how rich a man is, they tell you, 'he bathes so many times.'
"Of the river Nile, which has furnished so much controversy, we have a full and clear description. It is called, by the natives, Abavi, the Father of Water. It rises in Sacala, a province of the kingdom of Goiama, the most fertile and agreeable part of the Abyssinian dominions. On the eastern side of the country, on the declivity of a mountain, whose descent is so easy, that it seems a beautiful plain, is that source of the Nile, which has been sought after, at so much expense and labour. This spring, or rather these two springs, are two holes, each about two feet diameter, a stone's cast distant from each other. One of them is about five feet and a half in depth. Lobo was not able to sink his plummet lower, perhaps, because it was stopped by roots, the whole place being full of trees. A line of ten feet did not reach the bottom of the other. These springs are supposed, by the Abyssins, to be the vents of a great subterraneous lake. At a small distance to the south, is a village called Guix, through which you ascend to the top of the mountain, where there is a little hill, which the idolatrous Agaci hold in great veneration. Their priest calls them together to this place once a year; and every one sacrifices a cow, or more, according to the different degrees of wealth and devotion. Hence we have sufficient proof, that these nations always paid adoration to the deity of this famous river.
"As to the course of the Nile, its waters, after their first rise, run towards the east, about the length of a musket-shot; then, turning northward, continue hidden in the grass and weeds for about a quarter of a league, when they reappear amongst a quantity of rocks. The Nile, from its source, proceeds with so inconsiderable a current that it is in danger of being dried up by the hot season; but soon receiving an increase from the Gemma, the Keltu, the Bransa, and the other smaller rivers, it expands to such a breadth in the plains of Boad, which is not above three days' journey from its source, that a musket-ball will scarcely fly from one bank to the other. Here it begins to run northward, winding, however, a little to the east, for the space of nine or ten leagues, and then enters the so-much-talked-of lake of Dambia, flowing with such violent rapidity, that its waters may be distinguished through the whole passage, which is no less than six leagues. Here begins the greatness of the Nile. Fifteen miles farther, in the land of Alata, it rushes precipitately from the top of a high rock, and forms one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. Lobo says, he passed under it without being wet, and resting himself, for the sake of the coolness, was charmed with a thousand delightful rainbows, which the sunbeams painted on the water, in all their shining and lively colours[e]. The fall of this mighty stream, from so great a height, makes a noise that may be heard at a considerable distance: but it was not found, that the neighbouring inhabitants were deaf. After the cataract, the Nile collects its scattered stream among the rocks, which are so near each other, that, in Lobo's time, a bridge of beams, on which the whole imperial army passed, was laid over them. Sultan Sequed has since built a stone bridge of one arch, in the same place, for which purpose he procured masons from India. Here the river alters its course, and passes through various kingdoms, such as Amhara, Olaca, Choaa, Damot, and the kingdom of Goiama, and, after various windings, returns within a short day's journey of its spring. To pursue it through all its mazes, and accompany it round the kingdom of Goiama, is a journey of twenty-nine days. From Abyssinia, the river passes into the countries of Fazulo and Ombarca, two vast regions little known, inhabited by nations entirely different from the Abyssins. Their hair, like that of the other blacks in those regions, is short and curled. In the year 1615, Rassela Christos, lieutenant-general to sultan Sequed, entered those kingdoms in a hostile manner; but, not being able to get intelligence, returned without attempting any thing. As the empire of Abyssinia terminates at these descents, Lobo followed the course of the Nile no farther, leaving it to rage over barbarous kingdoms, and convey wealth and plenty into Aegypt, which owes to the annual inundations of this river its envied fertility[f]. Lobo knows nothing of the Nile in the rest of its passage, except that it receives great increase from many other rivers, has several cataracts like that already described, and that few fish are to be found in it: that scarcity is to be attributed to the river-horse, and the crocodile, which destroy the weaker inhabitants of the river. Something, likewise, must be imputed to the cataracts, where fish cannot fall without being killed. Lobo adds, that neither he, nor any with whom he conversed about the crocodile, ever saw him weep; and, therefore, all that hath been said about his tears, must be ranked among the fables, invented for the amusement of children.
"As to the causes of the inundations of the Nile, Lobo observes, that many an idle hypothesis has been framed. Some theorists ascribe it to the high winds, that stop the current, and force the water above its banks. Others pretend a subterraneous communication between the ocean and the Nile, and that the sea, when violently agitated, swells the river. Many are of opinion, that this mighty flood proceeds from the melting of the snow on the mountains of Aethiopia; but so much snow and such prodigious heat are never met with in the same region. Lobo never saw snow in Abyssinia, except on mount Semen, in the kingdom of Tigre, very remote from the Nile; and on Namara, which is, indeed, nor far distant, but where there never falls snow enough to wet, when dissolved, the foot of the mountain. To the immense labours of the Portuguese mankind is indebted for the knowledge of the real cause of these inundations, so great and so regular. By them we are informed, that Abyssinia, where the Nile rises, is full of mountains, and, in its natural situation, is much higher than Aegypt; that in the winter, from June to September, no day is without rain; that the Nile receives in its course, all the rivers, brooks, and torrents, that fall from those mountains, and, by necessary consequence, swelling above its banks, fills the plains of Aegypt with inundations, which come regularly about the month of July, or three weeks after the beginning of the rainy season in Aethiopia. The different degrees of this flood are such certain indications of the fruitfulness or sterility of the ensuing year, that it is publickly proclaimed at Cairo how much the water hath gained during the night."
Such is the account of the Nile and its inundations, which, it is hoped, will not be deemed an improper or tedious digression, especially as the whole is an extract from Johnson's translation. He is, all the time, the actor in the scene, and, in his own words, relates the story. Having finished this work, he returned in February, 1734, to his native city; and, in the month of August following, published proposals for printing, by subscription, the Latin poems of Politian, with the history of Latin poetry, from the aera of Petrarch to the time of Politian; and also the life of Politian, to be added by the editor, Samuel Johnson. The book to be printed in thirty octavo sheets, price five shillings. It is to be regretted that this project failed for want of encouragement. Johnson, it seems, differed from Boileau, Voltaire, and D'Alembert, who had taken upon them to proscribe all modern efforts to write with elegance in a dead language. For a decision pronounced in so high a tone, no good reason can be assigned. The interests of learning require, that the diction of Greece and Rome should be cultivated with care; and he who can write a language with correctness, will be most likely to understand its idiom, its grammar, and its peculiar graces of style. What man of taste would willingly forego the pleasure of reading Vida, Fracastorius, Sannazaro, Strada, and others, down to the late elegant productions of bishop Lowth? The history which Johnson proposed to himself would, beyond all question, have been a valuable addition to the history of letters; but his project failed. His next expedient was to offer his assistance to Cave, the original projector of the Gentleman's Magazine. For this purpose he sent his proposals in a letter, offering, on reasonable terms, occasionally to fill some pages with poems and inscriptions, never printed before; with fugitive pieces that deserved to be revived, and critical remarks on authors, ancient and modern. Cave agreed to retain him as a correspondent and contributor to the magazine. What the conditions were cannot now be known; but, certainly, they were not sufficient to hinder Johnson from casting his eyes about him in quest of other employment. Accordingly, in 1735, he made overtures to the reverend Mr. Budworth, master of a grammar school at Brerewood, in Staffordshire, to become his assistant. This proposition did not succeed. Mr. Budworth apprehended, that the involuntary motions, to which Johnson's nerves were subject, might make him an object of ridicule with his scholars, and, by consequence, lessen their respect for their master. Another mode of advancing himself presented itself about this time. Mrs. Porter, the widow of a mercer in Birmingham, admired his talents. It is said, that she had about eight hundred pounds; and that sum, to a person in Johnson's circumstances, was an affluent fortune. A marriage took place; and, to turn his wife's money to the best advantage, he projected the scheme of an academy for education. Gilbert Walmsley, at that time, registrar of the ecclesiastical court of the bishop of Lichfield, was distinguished by his erudition, and the politeness of his manners. He was the friend of Johnson, and, by his weight and influence, endeavoured to promote his interest. The celebrated Garrick, whose father, captain Garrick, lived at Lichfield, was placed in the new seminary of education by that gentleman's advice.—Garrick was then about eighteen years old. An accession of seven or eight pupils was the most that could be obtained, though notice was given by a public advertisement[g], that at Edial, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, young gentlemen are boarded and taught the Latin and Greek languages, by Samuel Johnson.
The undertaking proved abortive. Johnson, having now abandoned all hopes of promoting his fortune in the country, determined to become an adventurer in the world at large. His young pupil, Garrick, had formed the same resolution; and, accordingly, in March, 1737, they arrived in London together. Two such candidates for fame, perhaps never, before that day, entered the metropolis together. Their stock of money was soon exhausted. In his visionary project of an academy, Johnson had probably wasted his wife's substance; and Garrick's father had little more than his half-pay.—The two fellow-travellers had the world before them, and each was to choose his road to fortune and to fame. They brought with them genius, and powers of mind, peculiarly formed by nature for the different vocations to which each of them felt himself inclined. They acted from the impulse of young minds, even then meditating great things, and with courage anticipating success. Their friend, Mr. Walmsley, by a letter to the reverend Mr. Colson, who, it seems, was a great mathematician, exerted his good offices in their favour. He gave notice of their intended journey: "Davy Garrick," he said, "will be with you next week; and Johnson, to try his fate with a tragedy, and to get himself employed in some translation, either from the Latin or French. Johnson is a very good scholar and a poet, and, I have great hopes, will turn out a fine tragedy-writer. If it should be in your way, I doubt not but you will be ready to recommend and assist your countrymen." Of Mr. Walmsley's merit, and the excellence of his character, Johnson has left a beautiful testimonial at the end of the life of Edmund Smith. It is reasonable to conclude, that a mathematician, absorbed in abstract speculations, was not able to find a sphere of action for two men, who were to be the architects of their own fortune. In three or four years afterwards, Garrick came forth with talents that astonished the public. He began his career at Goodman's fields, and there, "monstratus fatis Vespasianus!" he chose a lucrative profession, and, consequently, soon emerged from all his difficulties. Johnson was left to toil in the humble walks of literature. A tragedy, as appears by Walmsley's letter, was the whole of his stock. This, most probably, was Irene; but, if then finished, it was doomed to wait for a more happy period. It was offered to Fleetwood, and rejected. Johnson looked round him for employment. Having, while he remained in the country, corresponded with Cave, under a feigned name, he now thought it time to make himself known to a man, whom he considered as a patron of literature. Cave had announced, by public advertisement, a prize of fifty pounds for the best poem on life, death, judgment, heaven, and hell; and this circumstance diffused an idea of his liberality. Johnson became connected with him in business, and in a close and intimate acquaintance. Of Cave's character it is unnecessary to say any thing in this place, as Johnson was afterwards the biographer of his first and most useful patron. To be engaged in the translation of some important book was still the object which Johnson had in view. For this purpose, he proposed to give the history of the council of Trent, with copious notes, then lately added to a French edition. Twelve sheets of this work were printed, for which Johnson received forty-nine pounds, as appears by his receipt, in the possession of Mr. Nichols, the compiler of that entertaining and useful work, The Gentleman's Magazine. Johnson's translation was never completed: a like design was offered to the public, under the patronage of Dr. Zachary Pearce; and, by that contention, both attempts were frustrated. Johnson had been commended by Pope, for the translation of the Messiah into Latin verse; but he knew no approach to so eminent a man. With one, however, who was connected with Pope, he became acquainted at St. John's gate; and that person was no other than the well-known Richard Savage, whose life was afterwards written by Johnson with great elegance, and a depth of moral reflection. Savage was a man of considerable talents. His address, his various accomplishments, and, above all, the peculiarity of his misfortunes, recommended him to Johnson's notice. They became united in the closest intimacy. Both had great parts, and they were equally under the pressure of want. Sympathy joined them in a league of friendship. Johnson has been often heard to relate, that he and Savage walked round Grosvenor square till four in the morning; in the course of their conversation reforming the world, dethroning princes, establishing new forms of government, and giving laws to the several states of Europe, till, fatigued at length with their legislative office, they began to feel the want of refreshment, but could not muster up more than four-pence-halfpenny. Savage, it is true, had many vices; but vice could never strike its roots in a mind like Johnson's, seasoned early with religion, and the principles of moral rectitude. His first prayer was composed in the year 1738. He had not, at that time, renounced the use of wine; and, no doubt, occasionally enjoyed his friend and his bottle. The love of late hours, which followed him through life, was, perhaps, originally contracted in company with Savage. However that may be, their connexion was not of long duration. In the year 1738, Savage was reduced to the last distress. Mr. Pope, in a letter to him, expressed his concern for "the miserable withdrawing of his pension after the death of the queen;" and gave him hopes that, "in a short time, he should find himself supplied with a competence, without any dependance on those little creatures, whom we are pleased to call the great." The scheme proposed to him was, that he should retire to Swansea in Wales, and receive an allowance of fifty pounds a year, to be raised by subscription: Pope was to pay twenty pounds. This plan, though finally established, took more than a year before it was carried into execution. In the mean time, the intended retreat of Savage called to Johnson's mind the third satire of Juvenal, in which that poet takes leave of a friend, who was withdrawing himself from all the vices of Rome. Struck with this idea, he wrote that well-known poem, called London. The first lines manifestly point to Savage.
"Though grief and fondness in my breast rebel, When injur'd Thales bids the town farewell; Yet still my calmer thoughts his choice commend; I praise the hermit, but regret the friend: Resolv'd, at length, from vice and London far, To breathe, in distant fields, a purer air; And, fix'd on Cambria's solitary shore, Give to St. David one true Briton more."
Johnson, at that time, lodged at Greenwich. He there fixes the scene, and takes leave of his friend; who, he says in his life, parted from him with tears in his eyes. The poem, when finished, was offered to Cave. It happened, however, that the late Mr. Dodsley was the purchaser, at the price of ten guineas. It was published in 1738; and Pope, we are told, said, "The author, whoever he is, will not be long concealed;" alluding to the passage in Terence, "Ubi, ubi est, diu celari non potest." Notwithstanding that prediction, it does not appear that, besides the copy-money, any advantage accrued to the author of a poem, written with the elegance and energy of Pope. Johnson, in August, 1738, went, with all the fame of his poetry, to offer himself a candidate for the mastership of the school at Appleby, in Leicestershire. The statutes of the place required, that the person chosen should be a master of arts. To remove this objection, the then lord Gower was induced to write to a friend, in order to obtain for Johnson a master's degree in the university of Dublin, by the recommendation of Dr. Swift. The letter was printed in one of the magazines, and was as follows:
SIR,—Mr. Samuel Johnson, author of London, a satire, and some other poetical pieces, is a native of this county, and much respected by some worthy gentlemen in the neighbourhood, who are trustees of a charity-school, now vacant; the certain salary of which is sixty pounds per 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 the 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 yet he will venture it, if the dean thinks it necessary, choosing rather to die upon the road, than to 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 these good-natured gentlemen apprehend, especially as their election cannot be delayed longer than the eleventh 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 humble servant,
Trentham, Aug. 1st. GOWER.
This scheme miscarried. There is reason to think, that Swift declined to meddle in the business; and, to that circumstance, Johnson's known dislike of Swift has been often imputed.
It is mortifying to pursue a man of merit through all his difficulties; and yet this narrative must be, through many following years, the history of genius and virtue struggling with adversity. Having lost the school at Appleby, Johnson was thrown back on the metropolis. Bred to no profession, without relations, friends, or interest, he was condemned to drudgery in the service of Cave, his only patron. In November, 1738, was published a translation of Crousaz's Examen of Pope's Essay on Man; containing a succinct view of the system of the fatalists, and a confutation of their opinions; with an illustration of the doctrine of free will; and an enquiry, what view Mr. Pope might have in touching upon the Leibnitzian philosophy, and fatalism: by Mr. Crousaz, professor of philosophy and mathematics at Lausanne. This translation has been generally thought a production of Johnson's pen; but it is now known, that Mrs. Elizabeth Carter has acknowledged it to be one of her early performances. It is certain, however, that Johnson was eager to promote the publication. He considered the foreign philosopher as a man zealous in the cause of religion; and with him he was willing to join against the system of the fatalists, and the doctrine of Leibnitz. It is well known, that Warburton wrote a vindication of Mr. Pope; but there is reason to think, that Johnson conceived an early prejudice against the Essay on Man; and what once took root in a mind like his, was not easily eradicated. His letter to Cave on this subject is still extant, and may well justify sir John Hawkins, who inferred that Johnson was the translator of Crousaz. The conclusion of the letter is remarkable: "I am yours, Impransus." If by that Latin word was meant, that he had not dined, because he wanted the means, who can read it, even at this hour, without an aching heart?
With a mind naturally vigorous, and quickened by necessity, Johnson formed a multiplicity of projects; but most of them proved abortive. A number of small tracts issued from his pen with wonderful rapidity; such as Marmor Norfolciense; or an essay on an ancient prophetical inscription, in monkish rhyme, discovered at Lynn, in Norfolk. By Probus Britannicus. This was a pamphlet against sir Robert Walpole. According to sir John Hawkins, a warrant was issued to apprehend the author, who retired, with his wife, to an obscure lodging near Lambeth marsh, and there eluded the search of the messengers. But this story has no foundation in truth. Johnson was never known to mention such an incident in his life; and Mr. Steele, late of the treasury, caused diligent search to be made at the proper offices, and no trace of such a proceeding could be found. In the same year (1739) the lord chamberlain prohibited the representation of a tragedy, called Gustavus Vasa, by Henry Brooke. Under the mask of irony, Johnson published, A Vindication of the Licenser from the malicious and scandalous Aspersions of Mr. Brooke. Of these two pieces, sir John Hawkins says, "they have neither learning nor wit; nor a single ray of that genius, which has since blazed forth;" but, as they have been lately reprinted, the reader, who wishes to gratify his curiosity, is referred to the fourteenth volume of Johnson's works, published by Stockdale[h]. The lives of Boerhaave, Blake, Barratier, father Paul, and others, were, about that time, printed in the Gentleman's Magazine. The subscription of fifty pounds a year for Savage was completed; and, in July 1739, Johnson parted with the companion of his midnight hours, never to see him more. The separation was, perhaps, an advantage to him, who wanted to make a right use of his time, and even then beheld, with self-reproach, the waste occasioned by dissipation. His abstinence from wine and strong liquors began soon after the departure of Savage. What habits he contracted in the course of that acquaintance cannot now be known. The ambition of excelling in conversation, and that pride of victory, which, at times, disgraced a man of Johnson's genius, were, perhaps, native blemishes. A fierce spirit of independence, even in the midst of poverty, may be seen in Savage; and, if not thence transfused by Johnson into his own manners, it may, at least, be supposed to have gained strength from the example before him. During that connexion, there was, if we believe sir John Hawkins, a short separation between our author and his wife; but a reconciliation soon took place. Johnson loved her, and showed his affection in various modes of gallantry, which Garrick used to render ridiculous by his mimicry. The affectation of soft and fashionable airs did not become an unwieldy figure: his admiration was received by the wife with the flutter of an antiquated coquette; and both, it is well known, furnished matter for the lively genius of Garrick.
It is a mortifying reflection, that Johnson, with a store of learning and extraordinary talents, was not able, at the age of thirty, to force his way to the favour of the public:
"Slow rises worth by poverty depress'd."
"He was still," as he says himself, "to provide for the day that was passing over him." He saw Cave involved in a state of warfare with the numerous competitors, at that time, struggling with the Gentleman's Magazine; and gratitude for such supplies as Johnson received, dictated a Latin ode on the subject of that contention. The first lines,
"Urbane, nullis fesse laboribus, Urbane, nullis victe calumniis,"
put one in mind of Casimir's ode to Pope Urban:
"Urbane, regum maxime, maxime Urbane vatum."—
The Polish poet was, probably, at that time, in the hands of a man, who had meditated the history of the Latin poets. Guthrie, the historian, had, from July, 1736, composed the parliamentary speeches for the magazine; but, from the beginning of the session, which opened on the 19th of November, 1740, Johnson succeeded to that department, and continued it from that time to the debate on spirituous liquors, which happened in the house of lords, in February, 1742-3. The eloquence, the force of argument, and the splendor of language, displayed in the several speeches, are well known, and universally admired. That Johnson was the author of the debates, during that period, was not generally known; but the secret transpired several years afterwards, and was avowed, by himself, on the following occasion. Mr. Wedderburne, now lord Loughborough[i], Dr. Johnson, Dr. Francis, the translator of Horace, the present writer, and others, dined with the late Mr. Foote. An important debate, towards the end of sir Robert Walpole's administration, being mentioned, Dr. Francis observed, "that Mr. Pitt's speech, on that occasion, was the best he had ever read." He added, "that he had employed eight years of his life in the study of Demosthenes, and finished a translation of that celebrated orator, with all the decorations of style and language within the reach of his capacity; but he had met with nothing equal to the speech above mentioned." Many of the company remembered the debate, and some passages were cited, with the approbation and applause of all present. During the ardour of conversation, Johnson remained silent. As soon as the warmth of praise subsided, he opened with these words: "That speech I wrote in a garret in Exeter street." The company was struck with astonishment. After staring at each other in silent amaze, Dr. Francis asked, "how that speech could be written by him?" "Sir," said Johnson, "I wrote it in Exeter street. I never had been in the gallery of the house of commons but once. Cave had interest with the door-keepers. He, and the persons employed under him, gained admittance; they brought away the subject of discussion, the names of the speakers, the side they took, and the order in which they rose, together with notes of the arguments advanced in the course of the debate. The whole was afterwards communicated to me, and I composed the speeches in the form which they now have in the parliamentary debates." To this discovery, Dr. Francis made answer: "Then, sir, you have exceeded Demosthenes himself; for to say, that you have exceeded Francis's Demosthenes, would be saying nothing." The rest of the company bestowed lavish encomiums on Johnson: one, in particular, praised his impartiality; observing, that he dealt out reason and eloquence, with an equal hand to both parties. "That is not quite true," said Johnson; "I saved appearances tolerably well; but I took care that the WHIG DOGS should not have the best of it." The sale of the magazine was greatly increased by the parliamentary debates, which were continued by Johnson till the month of March, 1742-3. From that time the magazine was conducted by Dr. Hawkesworth.
In 1743-4, Osborne, the bookseller, who kept a shop in Gray's inn, purchased the earl of Oxford's library, at the price of thirteen thousand pounds. He projected a catalogue in five octavo volumes, at five shillings each. Johnson was employed in that painful drudgery. He was, likewise, to collect all such small tracts as were, in any degree, worth preserving, in order to reprint and publish the whole in a collection, called The Harleian Miscellany. The catalogue was completed; and the miscellany, in 1749, was published in eight quarto volumes. In this business Johnson was a day-labourer for immediate subsistence, not unlike Gustavus Vasa, working in the mines of Dalecarlia. What Wilcox, a bookseller of eminence in the Strand, said to Johnson, on his first arrival in town, was now almost confirmed. He lent our author five guineas, and then asked him, "How do you mean to earn your livelihood in this town?" "By my literary labours," was the answer. Wilcox, staring at him, shook his head: "By your literary labours! You had better buy a porter's knot." Johnson used to tell this anecdote to Mr. Nichols: but he said, "Wilcox was one of my best friends, and he meant well." In fact, Johnson, while employed in Gray's inn, may be said to have carried a porter's knot. He paused occasionally to peruse the book that came to his hand. Osborne thought that such curiosity tended to nothing but delay, and objected to it with all the pride and insolence of a man who knew that he paid daily wages. In the dispute that of course ensued, Osborne, with that roughness which was natural to him, enforced his argument by giving the lie. Johnson seized a folio, and knocked the bookseller down. This story has been related as an instance of Johnson's ferocity; but merit cannot always take the spurns of the unworthy with a patient spirit[k].
That the history of an author must be found in his works is, in general, a true observation; and was never more apparent than in the present narrative. Every aera of Johnson's life is fixed by his writings. In 1744, he published the life of Savage; and then projected a new edition of Shakespeare. As a prelude to that design, he published, in 1745, Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, with remarks on sir Thomas Hanmer's edition; to which were prefixed, Proposals for a new Edition of Shakespeare, with a specimen. Of this pamphlet, Warburton, in the preface to Shakespeare, has given his opinion: "As to all those things, which have been published under the title of essays, remarks, observations, &c. on Shakespeare, if you except some critical notes on Macbeth, given as a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius, the rest are absolutely below a serious notice." But the attention of the public was not excited; there was no friend to promote a subscription; and the project died to revive at a future day. A new undertaking, however, was soon after proposed; namely, an English dictionary upon an enlarged plan. Several of the most opulent booksellers had meditated a work of this kind; and the agreement was soon adjusted between the parties. Emboldened by this connexion, Johnson thought of a better habitation than he had hitherto known. He had lodged with his wife in courts and alleys about the Strand; but now, for the purpose of carrying on his arduous undertaking, and to be nearer his printer and friend, Mr. Strahan, he ventured to take a house in Gough square, Fleet street. He was told, that the earl of Chesterfield was a friend to his undertaking; and, in consequence of that intelligence, he published, in 1747, The Plan of a Dictionary of the English Language, addressed to the right honourable Philip Dormer, earl of Chesterfield, one of his majesty's principal secretaries of state. Mr. Whitehead, afterwards poet laureate, undertook to convey the manuscript to his lordship: the consequence was an invitation from lord Chesterfield to the author. A stronger contrast of characters could not be brought together; the nobleman, celebrated for his wit, and all the graces of polite behaviour; the author, conscious of his own merit, towering in idea above all competition, versed in scholastic logic, but a stranger to the arts of polite conversation, uncouth, vehement, and vociferous. The coalition was too unnatural. Johnson expected a Maecenas, and was disappointed. No patronage, no assistance followed. Visits were repeated; but the reception was not cordial. Johnson, one day, was left a full hour, waiting in an antichamber, till a gentleman should retire, and leave his lordship at leisure. This was the famous Colley Cibber. Johnson saw him go, and, fired with indignation, rushed out of the house[l]. What lord Chesterfield thought of his visitor may be seen in a passage in one of that nobleman's letters to his son[m]. "There is a man, whose moral character, deep learning, and superior parts, I acknowledge, admire, and respect; but whom it is so impossible for me to love, that I am almost in a fever, whenever I am in his company. His figure (without being deformed) seems made to disgrace or ridicule the common structure of the human body. His legs and arms are never in the position which, according to the situation of his body, they ought to be in, but constantly employed in committing acts of hostility upon the graces. He throws any where, but down his throat, whatever he means to drink; and mangles what he means to carve. Inattentive to all the regards of social life, he mistimes and misplaces every thing. He disputes with heat indiscriminately, mindless of the rank, character, and situation of those with whom he disputes. Absolutely ignorant of the several gradations of familiarity and respect, he is exactly the same to his superiors, his equals, and his inferiors; and, therefore, by a necessary consequence, is absurd to two of the three. Is it possible to love such a man? No. The utmost I can do for him is, to consider him a respectable Hottentot." Such was the idea entertained by lord Chesterfield. After the incident of Colley Cibber, Johnson never repeated his visits. In his high and decisive tone, he has been often heard to say, "lord Chesterfield is a wit among lords, and a lord among wits."
In the course of the year 1747, Garrick, in conjunction with Lacy, became patentee of Drury lane playhouse. For the opening of the theatre, at the usual time, Johnson wrote, for his friend, the well-known prologue, which, to say no more of it, may, at least, be placed on a level with Pope's to the tragedy of Cato. The playhouse being now under Garrick's direction, Johnson thought the opportunity fair to think of his tragedy of Irene, which was his whole stock on his first arrival in town, in the year 1737. That play was, accordingly, put into rehearsal in January, 1749. As a precursor to prepare the way, and to awaken the public attention, The Vanity of human Wishes, a poem in imitation of the tenth satire of Juvenal, by the author of London, was published in the same month. In the Gentleman's Magazine, for February, 1749, we find that the tragedy of Irene was acted at Drury lane, on Monday, February the 6th, and, from that time, without interruption, to Monday, February the 20th, being in all thirteen nights. Since that time, it has not been exhibited on any stage. Irene may be added to some other plays in our language, which have lost their place in the theatre, but continue to please in the closet. During the representation of this piece, Johnson attended every night behind the scenes. Conceiving that his character, as an author, required some ornament for his person, he chose, upon that occasion, to decorate himself with a handsome waistcoat, and a gold-laced hat. The late Mr. Topham Beauclerc, who had a great deal of that humour, which pleases the more for seeming undesigned, used to give a pleasant description of this green-room finery, as related by the author himself; "But," said Johnson, with great gravity, "I soon laid aside my gold-laced hat, lest it should make me proud." The amount of the three benefit nights for the tragedy of Irene, it is to be feared, was not very considerable, as the profit, that stimulating motive, never invited the author to another dramatic attempt. Some years afterwards, when the present writer was intimate with Garrick, and knew Johnson to be in distress, he asked the manager, why he did not produce another tragedy for his Lichfield friend? Garrick's answer was remarkable: "When Johnson writes tragedy, 'declamation roars, and passion sleeps:' when Shakespeare wrote, he dipped his pen in his own heart."
There may, perhaps, be a degree of sameness in this regular way of tracing an author from one work to another, and the reader may feel the effect of a tedious monotony; but, in the life of Johnson, there are no other landmarks. He was now forty years old, and had mixed but little with the world. He followed no profession, transacted no business, and was a stranger to what is called a town life. We are now arrived at the brightest period, he had hitherto known. His name broke out upon mankind with a degree of lustre that promised a triumph over all his difficulties. The life of Savage was admired, as a beautiful and instructive piece of biography. The two imitations of Juvenal were thought to rival even the excellence of Pope; and the tragedy of Irene, though uninteresting on the stage, was universally admired in the closet, for the propriety of the sentiments, the richness of the language, and the general harmony of the whole composition. His fame was widely diffused; and he had made his agreement with the booksellers for his English dictionary at the sum of fifteen hundred guineas; a part of which was to be, from time to time, advanced, in proportion to the progress of the work. This was a certain fund for his support, without being obliged to write fugitive pieces for the petty supplies of the day. Accordingly we find that, in 1749, he established a club, consisting of ten in number, at Horseman's, in Ivy lane, on every Tuesday evening. This is the first scene of social life to which Johnson can be traced, out of his own house. The members of this little society were, Samuel Johnson; Dr. Salter, father of the late master of the Charter house; Dr. Hawkesworth; Mr. Ryland, a merchant; Mr. Payne, a bookseller, in Paternoster row; Mr. Samuel Dyer, a learned young man; Dr. William M'Ghie, a Scotch physician; Dr. Edmund Barker, a young physician; Dr. Bathurst, another young physician; and sir John Hawkins. This list is given by sir John, as it should seem, with no other view than to draw a spiteful and malevolent character of almost every one of them. Mr. Dyer, whom sir John says he loved with the affection of a brother, meets with the harshest treatment, because it was his maxim, that "to live in peace with mankind, and in a temper to do good offices, was the most essential part of our duty." That notion of moral goodness gave umbrage to sir John Hawkins, and drew down upon the memory of his friend, the bitterest imputations. Mr. Dyer, however, was admired and loved through life. He was a man of literature. Johnson loved to enter with him into a discussion of metaphysical, moral, and critical subjects; in those conflicts, exercising his talents, and, according to his custom, always contending for victory. Dr. Bathurst was the person on whom Johnson fixed his affection. He hardly ever spoke of him without tears in his eyes. It was from him, who was a native of Jamaica, that Johnson received into his service Frank[n], the black servant, whom, on account of his master, he valued to the end of his life. At the time of instituting the club in Ivy lane, Johnson had projected the Rambler. The title was most probably suggested by the Wanderer; a poem which he mentions, with the warmest praise, in the life of Savage. With the same spirit of independence with which he wished to live, it was now his pride to write. He communicated his plan to none of his friends: he desired no assistance, relying entirely on his own fund, and the protection of the divine being, which he implored in a solemn form of prayer, composed by himself for the occasion. Having formed a resolution to undertake a work that might be of use and honour to his country, he thought, with Milton, that this was not to be obtained "but by devout prayer to that eternal spirit, that can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and send out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altar, to touch and purify the lips of whom he pleases."
Having invoked the special protection of heaven, and by that act of piety fortified his mind, he began the great work of the Rambler. The first number was published on Tuesday, March the 20th, 1750; and from that time was continued regularly every Tuesday and Saturday, for the space of two years, when it finally closed on Saturday, March 14, 1752. As it began with motives of piety, so it appears that the same religious spirit glowed, with unabating ardour, to the last. His conclusion is: "The essays professedly serious, if I have been able to execute my own intentions, will be found exactly conformable to the precepts of christianity, without any accommodation to the licentiousness and levity of the present age. I, therefore, look back on this part of my work with pleasure, which no man shall diminish or augment. I shall never envy the honours which wit and learning obtain in any other cause, if I can be numbered among the writers who have given ardour to virtue, and confidence to truth." The whole number of essays amounted to two hundred and eight. Addison's, in the Spectator, are more in number, but not half in point of quantity: Addison was not bound to publish on stated days; he could watch the ebb and flow of his genius, and send his paper to the press, when his own taste was satisfied. Johnson's case was very different. He wrote singly and alone. In the whole progress of the work he did not receive more than ten essays. This was a scanty contribution. For the rest, the author has described his situation: "He that condemns himself to compose on a stated day, will often bring to his task an attention dissipated, a memory embarrassed, an imagination overwhelmed, a mind distracted with anxieties, a body languishing with disease: he will labour on a barren topick, till it is too late to change it; or, in the ardour of invention, diffuse his thoughts into wild exuberance, which the pressing hour of publication cannot suffer judgment to examine or reduce." Of this excellent production, the number sold on each day did not amount to five hundred: of course, the bookseller, who paid the author four guineas a week, did not carry on a successful trade. His generosity and perseverance deserve to be commended; and happily, when the collection appeared in volumes, were amply rewarded. Johnson lived to see his labours nourish in a tenth edition. His posterity, as an ingenious French writer has said, on a similar occasion, began in his life-time.
In the beginning of 1750, soon after the Rambler was set on foot, Johnson was induced, by the arts of a vile impostor, to lend his assistance, during a temporary delusion, to a fraud not to be paralleled in the annals of literature[o]. One Lauder, a native of Scotland, who had been a teacher in the university of Edinburgh, had conceived a mortal antipathy to the name and character of Milton. His reason was, because the prayer of Pamela, in sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, was, as he supposed, maliciously inserted by the great poet in an edition of the Eikon Basilike, in order to fix an imputation of impiety on the memory of the murdered king. Fired with resentment, and willing to reap the profits of a gross imposition, this man collected, from several Latin poets, such as Masenius the jesuit, Staphorstius, a Dutch divine, Beza, and others, all such passages as bore any kind of resemblance to different places in the Paradise Lost; and these he published, from time to time, in the Gentleman's Magazine, with occasional interpolations of lines, which he himself translated from Milton. The public credulity swallowed all with eagerness; and Milton was supposed to be guilty of plagiarism from inferior modern writers. The fraud succeeded so well, that Lauder collected the whole into a volume, and advertised it under the title of An Essay on Milton's Use and Imitation of the Moderns, in his Paradise Lost; dedicated to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. While the book was in the press, the proof-sheets were shown to Johnson, at the Ivy lane club, by Payne, the bookseller, who was one of the members. No man in that society was in possession of the authors from whom Lauder professed to make his extracts. The charge was believed, and the contriver of it found his way to Johnson, who is represented, by sir John Hawkins, not indeed as an accomplice in the fraud, but, through motives of malignity to Milton, delighting in the detection, and exulting that the poet's reputation would suffer by the discovery. More malice to a deceased friend cannot well be imagined. Hawkins adds, "that he wished well to the argument must be inferred from the preface, which, indubitably, was written by him." The preface, it is well known, was written by Johnson, and for that reason is inserted in this edition. But if Johnson approved of the argument, it was no longer than while he believed it founded in truth. Let us advert to his own words in that very preface. "Among the inquiries to which the ardour of criticism has naturally given occasion, none is more obscure in itself, or more worthy of rational curiosity, than a retrospection of the progress of this mighty genius in the construction of his work; a view of the fabrick gradually rising, perhaps from small beginnings, till its foundation rests in the centre, and its turrets sparkle in the skies; to trace back the structure, through all its varieties, to the simplicity of the first plan; to find what was projected, whence the scheme was taken, how it was improved, by what assistance it was executed, and from what stores the materials were collected; whether its founder dug them from the quarries of nature, or demolished other buildings to embellish his own." These were the motives that induced Johnson to assist Lauder with a preface; and are not these the motives of a critic and a scholar? What reader of taste, what man of real knowledge, would not think his time well employed in an enquiry so curious, so interesting, and instructive? If Lauder's facts were really true, who would not be glad, without the smallest tincture of malevolence, to receive real information? It is painful to be thus obliged to vindicate a man who, in his heart, towered above the petty arts of fraud and imposition, against an injudicious biographer, who undertook to be his editor, and the protector of his memory. Another writer, Dr. Towers, in an Essay on the Life and Character of Dr. Johnson, seems to countenance this calumny. He says: "It can hardly be doubted, but that Johnson's aversion to Milton's politics was the cause of that alacrity, with which he joined with Lauder in his infamous attack on our great epic poet, and which induced him to assist in that transaction." These words would seem to describe an accomplice, were they not immediately followed by an express declaration, that Johnson was "unacquainted with the imposture." Dr. Towers adds, "It seems to have been, by way of making some compensation to the memory of Milton, for the share he had in the attack of Lauder, that Johnson wrote the prologue, spoken by Garrick, at Drury lane theatre, 1750, on the performance of the Masque of Comus, for the benefit of Milton's granddaughter." Dr. Towers is not free from prejudice; but, as Shakespeare has it, "he begets a temperance, to give it smoothness." He is, therefore, entitled to a dispassionate answer. When Johnson wrote the prologue, it does appear that he was aware of the malignant artifices practised by Lauder. In the postscript to Johnson's preface, a subscription is proposed, for relieving the granddaughter of the author of Paradise Lost. Dr. Towers will agree, that this shows Johnson's alacrity in doing good. That alacrity showed itself again, in the letter printed in the European Magazine, January, 1785, and there said to have appeared originally in the General Advertiser, 4th April, 1750, by which the public were invited to embrace the opportunity of paying a just regard to the illustrious dead, united with the pleasure of doing good to the living. The letter adds, "To assist industrious indigence, struggling with distress, and debilitated by age, is a display of virtue, and an acquisition of happiness and honour. Whoever, therefore, would be thought capable of pleasure, in reading the works of our incomparable Milton, and not so destitute of gratitude, as to refuse to lay out a trifle, in a rational and elegant entertainment, for the benefit of his living remains, for the exercise of their own virtue, the increase of their reputation, and the consciousness of doing good, should appear at Drury lane theatre, to-morrow, April 5, when Comus will be performed, for the benefit of Mrs. Elizabeth Foster, granddaughter to the author, and the only surviving branch of his family. Nota bene, there will be a new prologue on the occasion, written by the author of Irene, and spoken by Mr. Garrick." The man, who had thus exerted himself to serve the granddaughter, cannot be supposed to have entertained personal malice to the grandfather. It is true, that the malevolence of Lauder, as well as the impostures of Archibald Bower, were fully detected by the labours, in the cause of truth, of the reverend Dr. Douglas, the late lord bishop of Salisbury,
—"Diram qui contudit Hydram Notaque fatali portenta labore subegit."
But the pamphlet, entitled, Milton vindicated from the Charge of Plagiarism brought against him by Mr. Lauder, and Lauder himself convicted of several forgeries, and gross impositions on the public, by John Douglas, M.A. rector of Eaton Constantine, Salop, was not published till the year 1751. In that work, p. 77, Dr. Douglas says, "It is to be hoped, nay, it is expected, that the elegant and nervous writer, whose judicious sentiments, and inimitable style, point out the author of Lauder's preface and postcript, will no longer allow a man to plume himself with his feathers, who appears so little to have deserved his assistance; an assistance which, I am persuaded, would never have been communicated, had there been the least suspicion of those facts, which I have been the instrument of conveying to the world." We have here a contemporary testimony to the integrity of Dr. Johnson, throughout the whole of that vile transaction. What was the consequence of the requisition made by Dr. Douglas? Johnson, whose ruling passion may be said to be the love of truth, convinced Lauder, that it would be more for his interest to make a full confession of his guilt, than to stand forth the convicted champion of a lie; and, for this purpose, he drew up, in the strongest terms, a recantation, in a letter to the reverend Mr. Douglas, which Lauder signed, and published in the year 1751. That piece will remain a lasting memorial of the abhorrence, with which Johnson beheld a violation of truth. Mr. Nichols, whose attachment to his illustrious friend was unwearied, showed him, in 1780, a book, called Remarks on Johnson's Life of Milton; in which the affair of Lauder was renewed with virulence; and a poetical scale in the Literary Magazine, 1758, (when Johnson had ceased to write in that collection,) was urged as an additional proof of deliberate malice. He read the libellous passage with attention, and instantly wrote on the margin: "In the business of Lauder I was deceived, partly by thinking the man too frantick to be fraudulent. Of the poetical scale, quoted from the magazine, I am not the author. I fancy it was put in after I had quitted that work; for I not only did not write it, but I do not remember it." As a critic and a scholar, Johnson was willing to receive what numbers, at the time, believed to be true information: when he found that the whole was a forgery, he renounced all connexion with the author.
In March, 1752, he felt a severe stroke of affliction in the death of his wife. The last number of the Rambler, as already mentioned, was on the 14th of that month. The loss of Mrs. Johnson was then approaching, and, probably, was the cause that put an end to those admirable periodical essays. It appears that she died on the 28th of March, in a memorandum, at the foot of the Prayers and Meditations, that is called her Dying Day. She was buried at Bromley, under the care of Dr. Hawkesworth. Johnson placed a Latin inscription on her tomb, in which he celebrated her beauty. With the singularity of his prayers for his deceased wife, from that time to the end of his days, the world is sufficiently acquainted. On Easter day, 22nd April, 1764, his memorandum says: "Thought on Tetty, poor dear Tetty! with my eyes full. Went to church. After sermon I recommended Tetty in a prayer by herself; and my father, mother, brother, and Bathurst, in another. I did it only once, so far as it might be lawful for me." In a prayer, January 23, 1759, the day on which his mother was buried, he commends, as far as may be lawful, her soul to God, imploring for her whatever is most beneficial to her in her present state. In this habit he persevered to the end of his days. The reverend Mr. Strahan, the editor of the Prayers and Meditations, observes, "that Johnson, on some occasions, prays that the Almighty may have had mercy on his wife and Mr. Thrale; evidently supposing their sentence to have been already passed in the divine mind; and, by consequence, proving, that he had no belief in a state of purgatory, and no reason for praying for the dead that could impeach the sincerity of his profession as a protestant." Mr. Strahan adds, "that, in praying for the regretted tenants of the grave, Johnson conformed to a practice which has been retained by many learned members of the established church, though the liturgy no longer admits it, if where the tree, falleth, there it shall be; if our state, at the close of life, is to be the measure of our final sentence, then prayers for the dead, being visibly fruitless, can be regarded only as the vain oblations of superstition. But of all superstitions this, perhaps, is one of the least unamiable, and most incident to a good mind. If our sensations of kindness be intense, those, whom we have revered and loved, death cannot wholly seclude from our concern. It is true, for the reason just mentioned, such evidences of our surviving affection may be thought ill judged; but surely they are generous, and some natural tenderness is due even to a superstition, which thus originates in piety and benevolence." These sentences, extracted from the reverend Mr. Strahan's preface, if they are not a full justification, are, at least, a beautiful apology. It will not be improper to add what Johnson himself has said on the subject. Being asked by Mr. Boswell[p], what he thought of purgatory, as believed by the Roman catholicks? his answer was, "It is a very harmless doctrine. They are of opinion, that the generality of mankind are neither so obstinately wicked, as to deserve everlasting punishment; nor so good as to merit being admitted into the society of blessed spirits; and, therefore, that God is graciously pleased to allow a middle state, where they may be purified by certain degrees of suffering. You see there is nothing unreasonable in this; and if it be once established, that there are souls in purgatory, it is as proper to pray for them, as for our brethren of mankind, who are yet in this life." This was Dr. Johnson's guess into futurity; and to guess is the utmost that man can do:
"Shadows, clouds, and darkness, rest upon it."
Mrs. Johnson left a daughter, Lucy Porter, by her first husband. She had contracted a friendship with Mrs. Anne Williams, the daughter of Zachary Williams, a physician of eminence in South Wales, who had devoted more than thirty years of a long life to the study of the longitude, and was thought to have made great advances towards that important discovery. His letters to lord Halifax, and the lords of the admiralty, partly corrected and partly written by Dr. Johnson, are still extant in the hands of Mr. Nichols[q]. We there find Dr. Williams, in the eighty-third year of his age, stating, that he had prepared an instrument, which might be called an epitome or miniature of the terraqueous globe, showing, with the assistance of tables, constructed by himself, the variations of the magnetic needle, and ascertaining the longitude, for the safety of navigation. It appears that this scheme had been referred to sir Isaac Newton; but that great philosopher excusing himself on account of his advanced age, all applications were useless, till 1751, when the subject was referred, by order of lord Anson, to Dr. Bradley, the celebrated professor of astronomy. His report was unfavourable[r], though it allows that a considerable progress had been made. Dr. Williams, after all his labour and expense, died in a short time after, a melancholy instance of unrewarded merit. His daughter possessed uncommon talents, and, though blind, had an alacrity of mind that made her conversation agreeable, and even desirable. To relieve and appease melancholy reflexions, Johnson took her home to his house in Gough square. In 1755, Garrick gave her a benefit play, which produced two hundred pounds. In 1766, she published, by subscription, a quarto volume of miscellanies, and increased her little stock to three hundred pounds. That fund, with Johnson's protection, supported her, through the remainder of her life.
During the two years in which the Rambler was carried on, the Dictionary proceeded by slow degrees. In May, 1752, having composed a prayer, preparatory to his return from tears and sorrow to the duties of life, he resumed his grand design, and went on with vigour, giving, however, occasional assistance to his friend, Dr. Hawkesworth, in the Adventurer, which began soon after the Rambler was laid aside. Some of the most valuable essays in that collection were from the pen of Johnson. The Dictionary was completed towards the end of 1754; and, Cave being then no more, it was a mortification to the author of that noble addition to our language, that his old friend did not live to see the triumph of his labours. In May, 1755, that great work was published. Johnson was desirous that it should come from one who had obtained academical honours; and for that purpose his friend, the rev. Thos. Warton, obtained for him, in the preceding month of February, a diploma for a master's degree, from the university of Oxford.—Garrick, on the publication of the Dictionary, wrote the following lines: