An Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson

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An Essay on the Life and Genius of Samuel Johnson
by Arthur Murphy









Printed for T. Longman, B. White and Son, B. Law, J. Dodsley, H. Baldwin, J. Robson, J. Johnson, C. Dilly, T. Vernor, G. G. J. and J. Robinson, T. Cadell, J. Nichols, R. Baldwin, N. Conant, P. Elmsly, F. and C. Rivington, T. Payne, W. Goldsmith, R. Faulder, Leigh and Sotheby, G. Nicol, J. Murray, A, Strahan, W. Lowndes, T. Evans, W. Bent, S. Hayes, G. and T. Wilkie, T. and J. Egerton, VV. Fox, P. M'Queen, Ogilvie and SpearC; Darton and Harvey, G, and C. Kearlley, W. Millar B. C. Collins, and E. Newbery.


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 rose to eminence, become the favourite objects of enquiry. 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 publick 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 times say more than I mean, in jest, and people are apt to think me serious[1]." 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 inclin'd,
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[2]. 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. 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 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[3]. 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 sun-shine; 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 inconveniences, 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 Ægypt 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 Emperor, and part paid him a tribute, as an acknowledgement. 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, errors, 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 emperor 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. Ethiopia 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[4]. 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 Ægypt, which owes to the annual inundations of this river its envied fertility[5]. 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 Æthiopia; 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 {sc|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 Ægypt; 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 Ægypt with inundations, which come regularly about the month of July, or three weeks after the beginning of the rainy season in Æthiopia. 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 Æra 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[6], 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 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:


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.

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), 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.

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 æra 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 Mæcenas, 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 anti-chamber, 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. What lord Chesterfield thought of his visitor may be seen in a passage in one of that nobleman's letters to his son[7]. "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, 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 topic, 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. 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 fabric 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 grand-daughter. 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 shews 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 postscript, 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 frantic 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[8], what he thought of purgatory, as believed by the Roman Catholics? 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[9]. 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[10], 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. Thomas 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.

"Talk of war with a Briton, he'll boldly advance,
That one English soldier can 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, or Boyle?
Let them rally their heroes, send forth all their powers,
Their versemen and prosemen, then match them with ours.
First Shakespeare and Milton, like gods in the fight,
Have put their whole drama and epic 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, and will beat forty more."

It is, perhaps, needless to mention, that forty was the number of the French academy, at the time when their dictionary was published to settle their language.

In the course of the winter, preceding this grand publication, the late earl of Chesterfield gave two essays in the periodical Paper, called The World, dated November 28, and December 5, 1754, to prepare the public for so important a work. The original plan, addressed to his Lordship in the year 1747, is there mentioned, in terms of the highest praise; and this was understood, at the time, to be a courtly way of soliciting a dedication of the Dictionary to himself. Johnson treated this civility with disdain. He said to Garrick and others: "I have sailed a long and painful voyage round the world of the English language; and does he now send out two cock-boats to tow me into harbour?" He had said, in the last number of the Rambler, "that, having laboured to maintain the dignity of virtue, I will not now degrade it by the meanness of dedication." Such a man, when he had finished his Dictionary, "not," as he says himself, "in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under the shelter of academic bowers, but amidst inconvenience and distraction, in sickness and in sorrow, and without the patronage of the great," was not likely to be caught by the lure, thrown out by lord Chesterfield. He had, in vain, sought the patronage of that nobleman; and his pride, exasperated by disappointment, drew from him the following letter, dated in the month of February, 1755.

"To the Right Honourable the Earl of Chesterfield.

My Lord,

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

"When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address, and could not forbear to wish, that I might boast myself "le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre;" that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending. But I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your Lordship in public, 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 passed, since I waited in your outward room, or was repulsed from your door; during which time, I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favour. Such treatment I did not expect; for I never had a patron before."

"The shepherd in Virgil grew acquainted with love, and found him a native of the rocks."

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

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

My Lord,
Your Lordship's most humble and most obedient servant,"
Samuel Johnson."

It is said, upon good authority, that Johnson once received from lord Chesterfield the sum of ten pounds. It were to be wished that the secret had never transpired. It was mean to receive it, and meaner to give it. It may be imagined, that for Johnson's ferocity, as it has been called, there was some foundation in his finances; and, as his Dictionary was brought to a conclusion, that money was now to flow in upon him. The reverse was the case. For his subsistence, during the progress of the work, he had received, at different times, the amount of his contract; and, when his receipts were produced to him at a tavern dinner, given by the booksellers, it appeared, that he had been paid a hundred pounds and upwards more than his due. The author of a book, called Lexiphanes, written by a Mr. Campbell, a Scotchman, and purser of a man of war, endeavoured to blast his laurels, but in vain. The world applauded, and Johnson never replied. "Abuse," he said, "is often of service: there is nothing so dangerous to an author as silence; his name, like a shuttlecock, must be beat backward and forward, or it falls to the ground." Lexiphanes professed to be an imitation of the pleasant manner of Lucian; but humour was not the talent of the writer of Lexiphanes. As Dryden says, "he had too much horse-play in his raillery."

It was in the summer, 1754, that the present writer became acquainted with Dr. Johnson. The cause of his first visit is related by Mrs. Piozzi, nearly in the following manner: "Mr. Murphy being engaged in a periodical paper, the Gray's inn Journal, was at a friend's house in the country, and, not being disposed to lose pleasure for business, wished to content his bookseller by some unstudied essay. He, therefore, took up a French Journal Littéraire, and, translating something he liked, sent it away to town. Time, however, discovered that he translated from the French, a Rambler, which had been taken from the English, without acknowledgement. Upon this discovery, Mr. Murphy thought it right to make his excuses to Dr. Johnson. He went next day, and found him covered with soot, like a chimney-sweeper, in a little room, as if he had been acting Lungs, in the Alchymist, making æther. This being told by Mr. Murphy, in company, "Come, come," said Dr. Johnson, "the story is black enough; but it was a happy day that brought you first to my house." After this first visit, the author of this narrative, by degrees, grew intimate with Dr. Johnson. The first striking sentence, that he heard from him, was in a few days after the publication of Lord Bolingbroke's posthumous works. Mr. Garrick asked him, "If he had seen them." "Yes, I have seen them." "What do you think of them?" "Think of them!" He made a long pause, and then replied: "Think of them! A scoundrel, and a coward! A scoundrel, who spent his life in charging a gun against Christianity; and a coward, who was afraid of hearing the report of his own gun; but left half a crown to a hungry Scotchman to draw the trigger, after his death." His mind, at this time strained, and over-laboured by constant exertion, called for an interval of repose and indolence. But indolence was the time of danger: it was then that his spirits, not employed abroad, turned with inward hostility against himself. His reflections on his own life and conduct were always severe; and, wishing to be immaculate, he destroyed his own peace by unnecessary scruples. He tells us, that when he surveyed his past life, he discovered nothing but a barren waste of time, with some disorders of body, and disturbances of mind, very near to madness. His life, he says, from his earliest years, was wasted in a morning bed; and his reigning sin was a general sluggishness, to which he was always inclined, and, in part of his life, almost compelled, by morbid melancholy, and weariness of mind. This was his constitutional malady, derived, perhaps, from his father, who was, at times, overcast with a gloom that bordered on insanity. When to this it is added, that Johnson, about the age of twenty, drew up a description of his infirmities, for Dr. Swinfen, at that time an eminent physician, in Staffordshire; and received an answer to his letter, importing, that the symptoms indicated a future privation of reason; who can wonder, that he was troubled with melancholy, and dejection of spirit? An apprehension of the worst calamity that can befall human nature hung over him all the rest of his life, like the sword of the tyrant suspended over his guest. In his sixtieth year he had a mind to write the history of his melancholy; but he desisted, not knowing whether it would not too much disturb him. In a Latin poem, however, to which he has prefixed, as a title, ΓΝΩΘΙ ΣΕΑΥΤΟΝ, he has left a picture of himself, drawn with as much truth, and as firm a hand, as can be seen in the portraits of Hogarth, or sir Joshua Reynolds. The learned reader will find the original poem in this volume; and it is hoped, that a translation, or rather imitation, of so curious a piece, will not be improper in this place.



When Scaliger, whole years of labour past,
Beheld his lexicon complete at last,
And weary of his task, with wond'ring eyes,
Saw, from words pil'd on words, a fabric rise,
He curs'd the industry, inertly strong,
In creeping toil that could persist so long;
And if, enrag'd he cried, heav'n meant to shed
Its keenest vengeance on the guilty head,
The drudgery of words the damn'd would know,
Doom'd to write lexicons in endless woe[11].

Yes, you had cause, great genius, to repent;
"You lost good days, that might be better spent;"
You well might grudge the hours of ling'ring pain,
And view your learned labours with disdain.
To you were given the large expanded mind,
The flame of genius, and the taste refin'd.
'Twas yours, on eagle wings, aloft to soar,
And, amidst rolling worlds, the great first cause explore,
To fix the aeras of recorded time,
And live in ev'ry age and ev'ry clime;
Record the chiefs, who propt their country's cause;
Who founded empires, and establish'd laws;
To learn whate'er the sage, with virtue fraught,
Whate'er the muse of moral wisdom taught.
These were your quarry; these to you were known,
And the world's ample volume was your own.

Yet, warn'd by me, ye pigmy wits, beware,
Nor with immortal Scaliger compare.
For me, though his example strike my view,
Oh! not for me his footsteps to pursue.
Whether first nature, unpropitious, cold,
This clay compounded in a ruder mould;
Or the slow current, loit'ring at my heart,
No gleam of wit or fancy can impart;
Whate'er the cause, from me no numbers flow,
No visions warm me, and no raptures glow.

A mind like Scaliger's, superior still,
No grief could conquer, no misfortune chill.
Though, for the maze of words, his native skies
He seem'd to quit, 'twas but again to rise;
To mount, once more, to the bright source of day,
And view the wonders of th' ethereal way.
The love of fame his gen'rous bosom fir'd;
Each science hail'd him, and each muse inspir'd.
For him the sons of learning trimm'd the bays,
And nations grew harmonious in his praise.

My task perform'd, and all my labours o'er,
For me what lot has fortune now in store?
The listless will succeeds, that worst disease,
The rack of indolence, the sluggish ease.
Care grows on care, and o'er my aching brain
Black melancholy pours her morbid train.
No kind relief, no lenitive at hand,
I seek, at midnight clubs, the social band;
But midnight clubs, where wit with noise conspires,
Where Comus revels, and where wine inspires,
Delight no more: I seek my lonely bed,
And call on sleep to sooth my languid head.
But sleep from these sad lids flies far away;
I mourn all night, and dread the coming day.
Exhausted, tir'd, I throw my eyes around,
To find some vacant spot on classic ground;
And soon, vain hope! I form a grand design;
Languor succeeds, and all my pow'rs decline.

If science open not her richest vein,
Without materials all our toil is vain.
A form to rugged stone when Phidias gives,
Beneath his touch a new creation lives.
Remove his marble, and his genius dies:
With nature then no breathing statue vies.

Whate'er I plan, I feel my pow'rs confin'd
By fortune's frown, and penury of mind.
I boast no knowledge, glean'd with toil and strife,
That bright reward of a well acted life.
I view myself, while reason's feeble light
Shoots a pale glimmer through the gloom of night;
While passions, error, phantoms of the brain,
And vain opinions, fill the dark domain;
A dreary void, where fears, with grief combin'd,
Waste all within, and desolate the mind.

What then remains? Must I, in slow decline,
To mute inglorious ease old age resign?
Or, bold ambition kindling in my breast,
Attempt some arduous task? Or, were it best,
Brooding o'er lexicons to pass the day,
And in that labour drudge my life away?

Such is the picture for which Dr. Johnson sat to himself. He gives the prominent features of his character; his lassitude, his morbid morbid melancholy, his love of fame, his dejection, his tavern-parties, and his wandering reveries, "Vacuæ mala somnia mentis," about which so much has been written; all are painted in miniature, but in vivid colours, by his own hand. His idea of writing more dictionaries was not merely said in verse. Mr. Hamilton, who was at that time an eminent printer, and well acquainted with Dr. Johnson, remembers that he engaged in a Commercial Dictionary, and, as appears by the receipts in his possession, was paid his price for several sheets; but he soon relinquished the undertaking. It is probable, that he found himself not sufficiently versed in that branch of knowledge.

He was again reduced to the expedient of short compositions, for the supply of the day. The writer of this narrative has now before him a letter, in Dr. Johnson's handwriting, which shows the distress and melancholy situation of the man, who had written the Rambler, and finished the great work of his Dictionary. The letter is directed to Mr. Richardson, (the author of Clarissa), and is as follows:


"I am obliged to entreat your assistance. I am now under an arrest for five pounds eighteen shillings. Mr. Strahan, from whom I should have received the necessary help in this case, is not at home; and I am afraid of not finding Mr. Millar. If you will be so good as to send me this sum, I will very gratefully repay you, and add it to all former obligations. I am, Sir,"

"Your most obedient,
 and most humble servant,

Samuel Johnson.
Gough-square, 16 March."

In the margin of this letter, there is a memorandum in these words: "March 16, 1756, sent six guineas. Witness, Wm. Richardson." For the honour of an admired writer it is to be regretted, that we do not find a more liberal entry. To his friend, in distress, he sent eight shillings more than was wanted. Had an incident of this kind occurred in one of his romances, Richardson would have known how to grace his hero; but in fictitious scenes, generosity costs the writer nothing.

About this time Johnson contributed several papers to a periodical miscellany, called The Visitor, from motives which are highly honourable to him, a compassionate regard for the late Mr. Christopher Smart. The criticism on Pope's Epitaphs appeared in that work. In a short time after, he became a reviewer in the Literary magazine, under the auspices of the late Mr. Newbery, a man of a projecting head, good taste, and great industry. This employment engrossed but little of Johnson's time. He resigned himself to indolence, took no exercise, rose about two, and then received the visits of his friends. Authors, long since forgotten, waited on him, as their oracle, and he gave responses in the chair of criticism. He listened to the complaints, the schemes, and the hopes and fears of a crowd of inferior writers, "who," he said, in the words of Roger Ascham, "lived men knew not how, and died obscure, men marked not when." He believed, that he could give a better history of Grub street than any man living. His house was filled with a succession of visitors till four or five in the evening. During the whole time he presided at his tea-table. Tea was his favourite beverage; and, when the late Jonas Hanway pronounced his anathema against the use of tea, Johnson rose in defence of his habitual practice, declaring himself "in that article, a hardened sinner, who had for years diluted his meals with the infusion of that fascinating plant; whose tea-kettle had no time to cool; who, with tea, solaced the midnight hour, and with tea welcomed the morning."

The proposal for a new edition of Shakespeare, which had formerly miscarried, was resumed in the year 1756. The booksellers readily agreed to his terms: and subscription-tickets were issued out. For undertaking this work, money, he confessed, was the inciting motive. His friends exerted themselves to promote his interest; and, in the mean time, he engaged in a new periodical production, called The Idler. The first number appeared on Saturday, April 15, 1758 and the last, April 5, 1760. The profits of this work, and the subscriptions for the new edition of Shakespeare, were the means by which he supported himself for four or five years. In 1759, was published Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia. His translation of Lobo's Voyage to Abissinia, seems to have pointed out that country for the scene of action; and Rassela Christos, the General of Sultan Segued, mentioned in that work, most probably suggested the name of the prince. The author wanted to set out on a journey to Lichfield, in order to pay the last offices of filial piety to his mother, who, at the age of ninety, was then near her dissolution; but money was necessary. Mr. Johnston, a bookseller, who has, long since, left off business, gave one hundred pounds for the copy. With this supply Johnson set out for Lichfield; but did not arrive in time to close the eyes of a parent whom he loved. He attended the funeral, which, as appears among his memorandums, was on the 23rd of January, 1759.

Johnson now found it necessary to retrench his expenses. He gave up his house in Gough-square. Mrs. Williams went into lodgings. He retired to Gray's-Inn, and soon removed to chambers in the Inner Temple-lane, where he lived in poverty, total idleness, and the pride of literature. Magni stat nominis umbrâ. Mr. Fitzherbert (the father of lord St. Helens, the present minister at Madrid), a man distinguished, through life, for his benevolence and other amiable qualities, used to say, that he paid a morning visit to Johnson, intending, from his chambers, to send a letter into the city; but, to his great surprise, he found an author by profession, without pen, ink, or paper. The present bishop of Salisbury was also among those who endeavoured, by constant attention, to sooth the cares of a mind, which he knew to be afflicted with gloomy apprehensions. At one of the parties made at his house, Boscovich, the Jesuit, who had then lately introduced the Newtonian philosophy at Rome, and, after publishing an elegant Latin poem on the subject, was made a fellow of the Royal Society, was one of the company invited to meet Dr. Johnson. The conversation, at first, was mostly in French. Johnson, though thoroughly versed in that language, and a professed admirer of Boileau and La Bruyere, did not understand its pronunciation, nor could he speak it himself with propriety. For the rest of the evening the talk was in Latin. Boscovich had a ready current flow of that flimsy phraseology, with which a priest may travel through Italy, Spain, and Germany. Johnson scorned what he called colloquial barbarisms. It was his pride to speak his best. He went on, after a little practice, with as much facility as if it was his native tongue. One sentence this writer well remembers. Observing that Fontenelle, at first, opposed the Newtonian philosophy, and embraced it afterwards, his words were: Fontinellus, ni fallor, in extrema senectute, fuit transfuga ad castra Newtoniana.

We have now travelled through that part of Dr. Johnson's life, which was a perpetual struggle with difficulties. Halcyon days are now to open upon him. In the month of May, 1762, his Majesty, to reward literary merit, signified his pleasure to grant to Johnson a pension of three hundred pounds a year. The earl of Bute was minister. Lord Loughborough, who, perhaps, was originally a mover in the business, had authority to mention it. He was well acquainted with Johnson; but, having heard much of his independent spirit, and of the downfall of Osborne, the bookseller, he did not know but his benevolence might be rewarded with a folio on his head. He desired the author of these memoirs to undertake the task. This writer thought the opportunity of doing so much good the most happy incident in his life. He went, without delay, to the chambers, in the Inner Temple-lane, which, in fact, were the abode of wretchedness. By slow and studied approaches the message was disclosed. Johnson made a long pause: he asked if it was seriously intended: he fell into a profound meditation, and his own definition of a pensioner occurred to him. He was told, "that he, at least, did not come within the definition." He desired to meet next day, and dine at the Mitre tavern. At that meeting he gave up all his scruples. On the following day, Lord Loughborough conducted him to the earl of Bute. The conversation that passed, was, in the evening, related to this writer, by Dr. Johnson. He expressed his sense of his Majesty's bounty, and thought himself the more highly honoured, as the favour was not bestowed on him for having dipped his pen in faction. "No, sir," said Lord Bute, "it is not offered to you for having dipped your pen in faction, nor with a design that you ever should." Sir John Hawkins will have it, that, after this interview, Johnson was often pressed to wait on Lord Bute, but with a sullen spirit refused to comply. However that be, Johnson was never heard to utter a disrespectful word of that nobleman. The writer of this essay remembers a circumstance, which may throw some light on this subject. The late Dr. Rose, of Chiswick, whom Johnson loved and respected, contended for the pre-eminence of the Scotch writers; and Ferguson's book on Civil Society, then on the eve of publication, he said, would give the laurel to North Britain. "Alas! what can he do upon that subject?" said Johnson: "Aristotle, Polybius, Grotius, Puffendorf, and Burlemaqui, have reaped in that field before him." "He will treat it," said Dr. Rose, "in a new manner." "A new manner! Buckinger had no hands, and he wrote his name with his toes, at Charing Cross, for half a crown a piece; that was a new manner of writing!" Dr. Rose replied: "If that will not satisfy you, I will name a writer, whom you must allow to be the best in the kingdom." "Who is that?" "The earl of Bute, when he wrote an order for your pension." "There, sir," said Johnson, "you have me in the toil: to Lord Bute I must allow whatever praise you claim for him." Ingratitude was no part of Johnson's character.

Being now in the possession of a regular income, Johnson left his chambers in the temple, and, once more, became master of a house in Johnson's court, Fleet street. Dr. Levet, his friend and physician in ordinary, paid his daily visits, with assiduity; made tea all the morning, talked what he had to say, and did not expect an answer. Mrs. Williams had her apartment in the house, and entertained her benefactor with more enlarged conversation. Chemistry was a part of Johnson's amusement. For this love of experimental philosophy, Sir John Hawkins thinks an apology necessary. He tells us, with great gravity, that curiosity was the only object in view; not an intention to grow suddenly rich by the philosopher's stone, or the transmutation of metals. To enlarge this circle, Johnson, once more, had recourse to a literary club. This was at the Turk's head, in Gerard street, Soho, on every Tuesday evening through the year. The members were, besides himself, the right honourable Edmund Burke, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Dr. Nugent, Dr. Goldsmith, the late Mr. Topham Beauclerc, Mr. Langton, Mr. Chamier, Sir J. Hawkins, and some others. Johnson's affection for Sir Joshua was founded on a long acquaintance, and a thorough knowledge of the virtuous and amiable qualities of that excellent artist. He delighted in the conversation of Mr. Burke. He met him, for the first time, at Mr. Garrick's, several years ago. On the next day he said: "I suppose, Murphy, you are proud of your countryman: 'Cum talis sit, utinam noster esset!'" From that time, his constant observation was, "that a man of sense could not meet Mr. Burke, by accident, under a gateway, to avoid a shower, without being convinced, that he was the first man in England." Johnson felt not only kindness, but zeal and ardour for his friends. He did every thing in his power to advance the reputation of Dr. Goldsmith. He loved him, though he knew his failings, and particularly the leaven of envy, which corroded the mind of that elegant writer, and made him impatient, without disguise, of the praises bestowed on any person whatever. Of this infirmity, which marked Goldsmith's character, Johnson gave a remarkable instance. It happened that he went with sir Joshua Reynolds and Goldsmith, to see the Fantoccini, which were exhibited, some years ago, in or near the Haymarket. They admired the curious mechanism by which the puppets were made to walk the stage, draw a chair to the table, sit down, write a letter, and perform a variety of other actions, with such dexterity, that though Nature's journeymen made the men, they imitated humanity to the astonishment of the spectator. The entertainment being over, the three friends retired to a tavern. Johnson and sir Joshua talked with pleasure of what they had seen; and, says Johnson, in a tone of admiration: "How the little fellow brandished his spontoon!" "There is nothing in it," replied Goldsmith, starting up with impatience, "give me a spontoon; I can do it as well myself."

Enjoying his amusements at his weekly club, and happy in a state of independence, Johnson gained, in the year 1765, another resource, which contributed, more than any thing else, to exempt him from the solicitudes of life. He was introduced to the late Mr. Thrale and his family. Mrs. Piozzi has related the fact, and it is, therefore, needless to repeat it in this place. The author of this narrative looks back to the share he had in that business, with self-congratulation, since he knows the tenderness which, from that time, soothed Johnson's cares at Streatham, and prolonged a valuable life. The subscribers to Shakespeare began to despair of ever seeing the promised edition. To acquit himself of this obligation, he went to work unwillingly, but proceeded with vigour. In the month of October, 1765, Shakespeare was published; and, in a short time after, the university of Dublin sent over a diploma, in honourable terms, creating him a doctor of laws. Oxford, in eight or ten years afterwards, followed the example; and, till then, Johnson never assumed the title of doctor. In 1766, his constitution seemed to be in a rapid decline, and that morbid melancholy, which often clouded his understanding, came upon him with a deeper gloom than ever. Mr. and Mrs. Thrale paid him a visit in this situation, and found him on his knees, with Dr. Delap, the rector of Lewes, in Sussex, beseeching God to continue to him the use of his understanding. Mr. Thrale took him to his house at Streatham, and Johnson, from that time, became a constant resident in the family. He went, occasionally, to the club in Gerard street, but his headquarters were fixed at Streatham. An apartment was fitted up for him, and the library was greatly enlarged. Parties were constantly invited from town; and Johnson was every day at an elegant table, with select and polished company. Whatever could be devised by Mr. and Mrs. Thrale to promote the happiness, and establish the health of their guest, was studiously performed from that time to the end of Mr. Thrale's life. Johnson accompanied the family, in all their summer excursions, to Brighthelmstone, to Wales, and to Paris. It is but justice to Mr. Thrale to say, that a more ingenuous frame of mind no man possessed. His education at Oxford gave him the habits of a gentleman; his amiable temper recommended his conversation; and the goodness of his heart made him a sincere friend. That he was the patron of Johnson, is an honour to his memory.

In petty disputes with contemporary writers, or the wits of the age, Johnson was seldom entangled. A single incident of that kind may not be unworthy of notice, since it happened with a man of great celebrity in his time. A number of friends dined with Garrick on a Christmas day. Foote was then in Ireland. It was said, at table, that the modern Aristophanes (so Foote was called) had been horsewhipped by a Dublin apothecary, for mimicking him on the stage. "I wonder," said Garrick, "that any man should show so much resentment to Foote; he has a patent for such liberties; nobody ever thought it worth his while to quarrel with him in London." "I am glad," said Johnson, "to find that the man is rising in the world." The expression was afterwards repeated to Foote, who, in return, gave out, that he would produce the Caliban of literature on the stage. Being informed of this design, Johnson sent word to Foote: "that the theatre being intended for the reformation of vice, he would step from the boxes on the stage, and correct him before the audience." Foote knew the intrepidity of his antagonist, and abandoned the design. No ill will ensued. Johnson used to say: "that for broad-faced mirth, Foote had not his equal."

Dr. Johnson's fame excited the curiosity of the king. His majesty expressed a desire to see a man of whom extraordinary things were said. Accordingly, the librarian at Buckingham house invited Johnson to see that elegant collection of books, at the same time giving a hint of what was intended. His majesty entered the room, and, among other things, asked the author, "if he meant to give the world any more of his compositions." Johnson answered: "that he thought he had written enough." "And I should think so too," replied his majesty, "if you had not written so well."

Though Johnson thought he had written enough, his genius, even in spite of bodily sluggishness, could not lie still. In 1770 we find him entering the lists, as a political writer. The flame of discord that blazed throughout the nation, on the expulsion of Mr. Wilkes, and the final determination of the house of commons, that Mr. Luttrell was duly elected by two hundred and six votes, against eleven hundred and forty-three, spread a general spirit of discontent. To allay the tumult, Dr. Johnson published The False Alarm. Mrs. Piozzi informs us, "that this pamphlet was written at her house, between eight o'clock on Wednesday night and twelve on Thursday night." This celerity has appeared wonderful to many, and some have doubted the truth. It may, however, be placed within the bounds of probability. Johnson has observed, that there are different methods of composition. Virgil was used to pour out a great number of verses in the morning, and pass the day in retrenching the exuberances, and correcting inaccuracies; and it was Pope's custom to write his first thoughts in his first words, and gradually to amplify, decorate, rectify, and refine them. Others employ, at once, memory and invention, and, with little intermediate use of the pen, form and polish large masses by continued meditation, and write their productions only, when, in their opinion, they have completed them. This last was Johnson's method. He never took his pen in hand till he had well weighed his subject, and grasped, in his mind, the sentiments, the train of argument, and the arrangement of the whole. As he often thought aloud, he had, perhaps, talked it over to himself. This may account for that rapidity with which, in general, he despatched his sheets to the press, without being at the trouble of a fair copy. Whatever may be the logic or eloquence of The False Alarm, the house of commons have since erased the resolution from the journals. But whether they have not left materials for a future controversy may be made a question.

In 1771, he published another tract, on the subject of Falkland Islands. The design was to show the impropriety of going to war with Spain for an island, thrown aside from human use, stormy in winter, and barren in summer. For this work it is apparent, that materials were furnished by direction of the minister.

At the approach of the general election in 1774, he wrote a short discourse, called The Patriot, not with any visible application to Mr. Wilkes; but to teach the people to reject the leaders of opposition, who called themselves patriots. In 1775, he undertook a pamphlet of more importance, namely, Taxation no Tyranny, in answer to the Resolutions and Address of the American congress. The scope of the argument was, that distant colonies, which had, in their assemblies, a legislature of their own, were, notwithstanding, liable to be taxed in a British parliament, where they had neither peers in one house, nor representatives in the other. He was of opinion, that this country was strong enough to enforce obedience. "When an Englishman," he says, "is told that the Americans shoot up like the hydra, he naturally considers how the hydra was destroyed." The event has shown how much he and the minister of that day were mistaken.

The account of the Tour to the Western Islands of Scotland, which was undertaken in the autumn of 1773, in company with Mr. Boswell, was not published till some time in the year 1775. This book has been variously received; by some extolled for the elegance of the narrative, and the depth of observation on life and manners; by others, as much condemned, as a work of avowed hostility to the Scotch nation. The praise was, beyond all question, fairly deserved; and the censure, on due examination, will appear hasty and ill founded. That Johnson entertained some prejudices against the Scotch must not be dissembled. It is true, as Mr. Boswell says, "that he thought their success in England exceeded their proportion of real merit, and he could not but see in them that nationality which no liberal-minded Scotsman will deny." The author of these memoirs well remembers, that Johnson one day asked him, "have you observed the difference between your own country impudence and Scotch impudence?" The answer being in the negative: "then I will tell you," said Johnson. "The impudence of an Irishman is the impudence of a fly, that buzzes about you, and you put it away, but it returns again, and flutters and teases you. The impudence of a Scotsman is the impudence of a leech, that fixes and sucks your blood." Upon another occasion, this writer went with him into the shop of Davies, the bookseller, in Russell street, Covent garden. Davies came running to him, almost out of breath with joy: "The Scots gentleman is come, sir; his principal wish is to see you; he is now in the back parlour." "Well, well, I'll see the gentleman," said Johnson. He walked towards the room. Mr. Boswell was the person. This writer followed, with no small curiosity. "I find," said Mr. Boswell, "that I am come to London, at a bad time, when great popular prejudice has gone forth against us North Britons; but, when I am talking to you, I am talking to a large and liberal mind, and you know that I cannot help coming from Scotland." "Sir," said Johnson, "no more can the rest of your countrymen."

He had other reasons that helped to alienate him from the natives of Scotland. Being a cordial well-wisher to the constitution in church and state, he did not think that Calvin and John Knox were proper founders of a national religion. He made, however, a wide distinction between the dissenters of Scotland and the separatists of England. To the former he imputed no disaffection, no want of loyalty. Their soldiers and their officers had shed their blood with zeal and courage in the service of great Britain; and the people, he used to say, were content with their own established modes of worship, without wishing, in the present age, to give any disturbance to the Church of England. This he was, at all times, ready to admit; and, therefore, declared, that, whenever he found a Scotchman, to whom an Englishman was as a Scotchman, that Scotchman should be as an Englishman to him. In this, surely, there was no rancour, no malevolence. The dissenters, on this side the Tweed, appeared to him in a different light. Their religion, he frequently said, was too worldly, too political, too restless and ambitious. The doctrine of cashiering kings, and erecting, on the ruins of the constitution, a new form of government, which lately issued from their pulpits, he always thought was, under a calm disguise, the principle that lay lurking in their hearts. He knew, that a wild democracy had overturned Kings, Lords, and Commons; and that a set of Republican Fanatics, who would not bow at the name of Jesus, had taken possession of all the livings, and all the parishes in the kingdom. That those scenes of horror might never be renewed, was the ardent wish of Dr. Johnson; and, though he apprehended no danger from Scotland, it is probable, that his dislike of Calvinism mingled, sometimes, with his reflections on the natives of that country. The association of ideas could not be easily broken; but it is well known, that he loved and respected many gentlemen from that part of the island. Dr. Robertson's History of Scotland, and Dr. Beattie's Essays, were subjects of his constant praise. Mr. Boswell, Dr. Rose, of Chiswick, Andrew Millar, Mr. Hamilton, the printer, and the late Mr. Strahan, were among his most intimate friends. Many others might be added to the list. He scorned to enter Scotland as a spy; though Hawkins, his biographer, and the professing defender of his fame, allowed himself leave to represent him in that ignoble character. He went into Scotland to survey men and manners. Antiquities, fossils, and minerals, were not within his province. He did not visit that country to settle the station of Roman camps, or the spot, where Galgacus fought the last battle for public liberty. The people, their customs, and the progress of literature, were his objects. The civilities which he received in the course of his tour, have been repaid with grateful acknowledgment, and, generally, with great elegance of expression. His crime is, that he found the country bare of trees, and he has stated the fact. This, Mr. Boswell, in his tour to the Hebrides, has told us, was resented, by his countrymen, with anger inflamed to rancour; but he admits that there are few trees on the east side of Scotland. Mr. Pennant, in his tour, says, that, in some parts of the eastern side of the country, he saw several large plantations of pine, planted by gentlemen near their seats; and, in this respect, such a laudable spirit prevails, that, in another half-century, it never shall be said, "To spy the nakedness of the land are you come." Johnson could not wait for that half-century, and, therefore, mentioned things as he found them. If, in any thing, he has been mistaken, he has made a fair apology, in the last paragraph of his book, avowing with candour: "That he may have been surprised by modes of life, and appearances of nature, that are familiar to men of wider survey, and more varied conversation. Novelty and ignorance must always be reciprocal: and he is conscious that his thoughts on national manners, are the thoughts of one who has seen but little."

The poems of Ossian made a part of Johnson's inquiry, during his residence in Scotland and the Hebrides. On his return to England, November, 1773, a storm seemed to be gathering over his head; but the cloud never burst, and the thunder never fell. Ossian, it is well known, was presented to the public, as a translation from the Earse; but that this was a fraud, Johnson declared, without hesitation. "The Earse," he says, "was always oral only, and never a written language. The Welch and the Irish were more cultivated. In Earse, there was not in the world a single manuscript a hundred years old. Martin, who, in the last century, published an account of the Western Islands, mentions Irish, but never Earse manuscripts, to be found in the islands in his time. The bards could not read; if they could, they might, probably, have written. But the bard was a barbarian among barbarians, and, knowing nothing himself, lived with others that knew no more. If there is a manuscript from which the translation was made, in what age was it written, and where is it? If it was collected from oral recitation, it could only be in detached parts, and scattered fragments: the whole is too long to be remembered. Who put it together in its present form?" For these, and such like reasons, Johnson calls the whole an imposture. He adds, "The editor, or author, never could show the original, nor can it be shown by any other. To revenge reasonable incredulity, by refusing evidence, is a degree of insolence with which the world is not yet acquainted; and stubborn audacity is the last refuge of guilt." This reasoning carries with it great weight. It roused the resentment of Mr. Macpherson. He sent a threatening letter to the author; and Johnson answered him in the rough phrase of stern defiance. The two heroes frowned at a distance, but never came to action.

In the year 1777, the misfortunes of Dr. Dodd excited his compassion. He wrote a speech for that unhappy man, when called up to receive judgment of death; besides two petitions, one to the king, and another to the queen; and a sermon to be preached by Dodd to the convicts in Newgate. It may appear trifling to add, that, about the same time, he wrote a prologue to the comedy of a Word to the Wise, written by Hugh Kelly. The play, some years before, had been damned by a party on the first night. It was revived for the benefit of the author's widow. Mrs. Piozzi relates, that when Johnson was rallied for these exertions, so close to one another, his answer was, When they come to me with a dying Parson, and a dead stay-maker, what can a man do? We come now to the last of his literary labours. At the request of the booksellers, he undertook the Lives of the Poets. The first publication was in 1779, and the whole was completed in 1781. In a memorandum of that year, he says, some time in March he finished the Lives of the Poets, which he wrote in his usual way, dilatorily and hastily, unwilling to work, yet working with vigour and haste. In another place, he hopes they are written in such a manner, as may tend to the promotion of piety. That the history of so many men, who, in their different degrees, made themselves conspicuous in their time, was not written recently after their deaths, seems to be an omission that does no honour to the republic of letters. Their contemporaries, in general, looked on with calm indifference, and suffered wit and genius to vanish out of the world in total silence, unregarded and unlamented. Was there no friend to pay the tribute of a tear? No just observer of life to record the virtues of the deceased? Was even envy silent? It seemed to have been agreed, that if an author's works survived, the history of the man was to give no moral lesson to after-ages. If tradition told us that Ben Jonson went to the Devil Tavern; that Shakespeare stole deer, and held the stirrup at playhouse doors; that Dryden frequented Button's Coffee-house; curiosity was lulled asleep, and Biography forgot the best part of her function, which is to instruct mankind by examples taken from the school of life. This task remained for Dr. Johnson, when years had rolled away; when the channels of information were, for the most part, choaked up, and little remained besides doubtful anecdote, uncertain tradition, and vague report.

"Nunc situs informis premit et deserta vetustas."

The value of Biography has been better understood in other ages, and in other countries. Tacitus informs us, that to record the lives and characters of illustrious men was the practice of the Roman authors, in the early periods of the Republic. In France, the example has been followed. Fontenelle, D'Alembert, and Monsieur Thomas, have left models in this kind of composition. They have embalmed the dead. But it is true, that they had incitements and advantages, even at a distant day, which could not, by any diligence, be obtained by Dr. Johnson. The wits of France had ample materials. They lived in a nation of critics, who had, at heart, the honour done to their country by their poets, their heroes, and their philosophers. They had, besides, an Academy of Belles-Lettres, where genius was cultivated, refined, and encouraged. They had the tracts, the essays, and dissertations, which remain in the memoirs of the academy, and they had the speeches of the several members, delivered at their first admission to a seat in that learned assembly. In those speeches the new academician did ample justice to the memory of his predecessor; and though his harangue was decorated with the colours of eloquence, and was, for that reason, called panegyric, yet, being pronounced before qualified judges, who knew the talents, the conduct, and morals of the deceased, the speaker could not, with propriety, wander into the regions of fiction. The truth was known, before it was adorned. The academy saw the marble before the artist polished it. But this country has had no academy of literature. The public mind, for centuries, has been engrossed by party and faction; by the madness of many for the gain of a few; by civil wars, religious dissensions, trade and commerce, and the arts of accumulating wealth. Amidst such attentions, who can wonder that cold praise has been often the only reward of merit? In this country, Dr. Nathaniel Hodges, who, like the good bishop of Marseilles, drew purer breath amidst the contagion of the plague in London, and, during the whole time, continued in the city, administering medical assistance, was suffered, as Johnson used to relate, with tears in his eyes, to die for debt, in a gaol. In this country, the man who brought the New river to London, was ruined by that noble project; and, in this country, Otway died for want, on Tower Hill; Butler, the great author of Hudibras, whose name can only die with the English language, was left to languish in poverty; the particulars of his life almost unknown, and scarce a vestige of him left, except his immortal poem. Had there been an academy of literature, the lives, at least, of those celebrated persons, would have been written for the benefit of posterity. Swift, it seems, had the idea of such an institution, and proposed proposed it to lord Oxford; but Whig and Tory were more important objects. It is needless to dissemble, that Dr. Johnson, in the life of Roscommon, talks of the inutility of such a project. "In this country," he says, "an academy could be expected to do but little. If an academician's place were profitable, it would be given by interest; if attendance were gratuitous, it would be rarely paid, and no man would endure the least disgust. Unanimity is impossible, and debate would separate the assembly." To this it may be sufficient to answer, that the Royal Society has not been dissolved by sullen disgust; and the modern Academy, at Somerset house, has already performed much, and promises more. Unanimity is not necessary to such an assembly. On the contrary, by difference of opinion, and collision of sentiment, the cause of Literature would thrive and flourish. The true principles of criticism, the secret of fine writing, the investigation of antiquities, and other interesting subjects, might occasion a clash of opinions; but, in that contention, Truth would receive illustration, and the essays of the several members would supply the Memoirs of the Academy. "But," says Dr. Johnson, "suppose the philological decree made and promulgated, what would be its authority? In absolute government there is, sometimes, a general reverence paid to all that has the sanction of power the countenance of greatness.—How little this is the state of our country, needs not to be told. The edicts of an English academy would, probably, be read by many, only that they may be sure to disobey them. The present manners of the nation would deride authority, and, therefore, nothing is left, but that every writer should criticise himself." This, surely, is not conclusive. It is by the standard of the best writers, that every man settles, for himself, his plan of legitimate composition; and since the authority of superior genius is acknowledged, that authority, which the individual obtains, would not be lessened by an association with others of distinguished ability. It may, therefore, be inferred, that an academy of literature would be an establishment highly useful, and an honour to literature. In such an institution, profitable places would not be wanted. Vatis avarus haud facile est animus; and the minister, who shall find leisure, from party and faction, to carry such a scheme into execution, will, in all probability, be respected by posterity, as the Mæcenas of letters.

We now take leave of Dr. Johnson, as an author. Four volumes of his Lives of the Poets were published in 1778, and the work was completed in 1781. Should biography fall again into disuse, there will not always be a Johnson to look back through a century, and give a body of critical and moral instruction. In April, 1781, he lost his friend Mr. Thrale. His own words, in his diary, will best tell that melancholy event. "On Wednesday, the 11th of April, was buried my dear friend Mr. Thrale, who died on Wednesday, the 4th, and with him were buried many of my hopes and pleasures. About five, I think, on Wednesday morning, he expired. I felt almost the last flutter of his pulse, and looked, for the last time, upon the face, that, for fifteen years before, had never been turned upon me but with respect and benignity. Farewel: may God, that delighteth in mercy, have had mercy on thee! I had constantly prayed for him before his death. The decease of him, from whose friendship I had obtained many opportunities of amusement, and to whom I turned my thoughts, as to a refuge from misfortunes, has left me heavy. But my business is with myself." From the close of his last work, the malady that persecuted him through life came upon him with alarming severity, and his constitution declined apace. In 1782, his old friend, Levet, expired, without warning and without a groan. Events like these reminded Johnson of his own mortality. He continued his visits to Mrs. Thrale, at Streatham, to the 7th day of October, 1782, when, having first composed a prayer for the happiness of a family, with whom he had, for many years, enjoyed the pleasures and comforts of life, he removed to his own house in town. He says he was up early in the morning, and read fortuitously in the Gospel, which was his parting use of the library. The merit of the family is manifested by the sense he had of it, and we see his heart overflowing with gratitude. He leaves the place with regret, and casts a lingering look behind.

The few remaining occurrences may be soon despatched. In the month of June, 1783, Johnson had a paralytic stroke, which affected his speech only. He wrote to Dr. Taylor, of Westminster; and to his friend Mr. Allen, the printer, who lived at the next door. Dr. Brocklesby arrived in a short time, and by his care, and that of Dr. Heberden, Johnson soon recovered. During his illness, the writer of this narrative visited him, and found him reading Dr. Watson's Chymistry. Articulating with difficulty, he said, "From this book, he who knows nothing may learn a great deal; and he who knows, will be pleased to find his knowledge recalled to his mind in a manner highly pleasing." In the month of August he set out for Lichfield, on a visit to Mrs. Lucy Porter, the daughter of his wife by her first husband; and, in his way back, paid his respects to Dr. Adams, at Oxford. Mrs. Williams died, at his house in Bolt court, in the month of September, during his absence. This was another shock to a mind like his, ever agitated by the thoughts of futurity. The contemplation of his own approaching end was constantly before his eyes; and the prospect of death, he declared, was terrible. For many years, when he was not disposed to enter into the conversation going forward, whoever sat near his chair, might hear him repeating, from Shakespeare,

Aye, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod, and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods.——

And from Milton,

"Who would lose,
For fear of pain, this intellectual being?"

By the death of Mrs. Williams he was left in a state of destitution, with nobody but Frank, his black servant, to sooth his anxious moments. In November, 1783, he was swelled from head to foot with a dropsy. Dr. Brocklesby, with that benevolence with which he always assists his friends, paid his visits with assiduity. The medicines prescribed were so efficacious, that, in a few days, Johnson, while he was offering up his prayers, was suddenly obliged to rise, and, in the course of the day, discharged twenty pints of water.

Johnson, being eased of his dropsy, began to entertain hopes that the vigour of his constitution was not entirely broken. For the sake of conversing with his friends, he established a conversation club, to meet on every Wednesday evening; and, to serve a man whom he had known in Mr. Thrale's household for many years, the place was fixed at his house, in Essex street, near the Temple. To answer the malignant remarks of sir John Hawkins, on this subject, were a wretched waste of time. Professing to be Johnson's friend, that biographer has raised more objections to his character, than all the enemies to that excellent man. Sir John had a root of bitterness that put rancours in the vessel of his peace. Fielding, he says, was the inventor of a cant phrase, Goodness of heart, which means little more than the virtue of a horse or a dog. He should have known, that kind affections are the essence of virtue: they are the will of God implanted in our nature, to aid and strengthen moral obligation; they incite to action: a sense of benevolence is no less necessary than a sense of duty. Good affections are an ornament, not only to an author, but to his writings. He who shews himself upon a cold scent for opportunities to bark and snarl throughout a volume of six hundred pages, may, if he will, pretend to moralise; but Goodness of Heart, or, to use that politer phrase, the virtue of a horse or a dog, would redound more to his honour. But Sir John is no more: our business is with Johnson. The members of his club were respectable for their rank, their talents, and their literature. They attended with punctuality, till about Midsummer, 1784, when, with some appearance of health, Johnson went into Derbyshire, and thence to Lichfield. While he was in that part of the world, his friends, in town, were labouring for his benefit. The air of a more southern climate, they thought, might prolong a valuable life. But a pension of £300 a year was a slender fund for a travelling valetudinarian, and it was not then known that he had saved a moderate sum of money. Mr. Boswell and sir Joshua Reynolds undertook to solicit the patronage of the chancellor. With lord Thurlow, while he was at the bar, Johnson was well acquainted. He was often heard to say, "Thurlow is a man of such vigour of mind, that I never knew I was to meet him, but—I was going to say, I was afraid, but that would not be true, for I never was afraid of any man; but I never knew that I was to meet Thurlow, but I knew I had something to encounter." The chancellor undertook to recommend Johnson's case; but without success. To protract, if possible, the days of a man, whom he respected, he offered to advance the sum of five hundred pounds. Being informed of this at Lichfield, Johnson wrote the following letter:

"My Lord

"After a long, and not inattentive observation of mankind, the generosity of your lordship's offer raises in me not less wonder than gratitude. Bounty, so liberally bestowed, I should gladly receive, if my condition made it necessary; for to such a mind who would not be proud to own his obligations? But it has pleased God to restore me to so great a measure of health, that, if I should now appropriate so much of a fortune destined to do good, I could not escape from myself the charge of advancing a false claim. My journey to the continent, though I once thought it necessary, was never much encouraged by my physicians; and I was very desirous that your lordship should be told it, by sir Joshua Reynolds, as an event very uncertain; for, if I grew much better, I should not be willing; if much worse, I should not be able to migrate. Your lordship was first solicited without my knowledge; but when I was told that you were pleased to honour me with your patronage, I did not expect to hear of a refusal; yet, as I have had no long time to brood hopes, and have not rioted in imaginary opulence, this cold reception has been scarce a disappointment; and from your lordship's kindness I have received a benefit which only men, like you, are able to bestow. I shall now live mihi carior, with a higher opinion of my own merit.

I am, my lord,
 Your lordship's most obliged,
 Most grateful, and most humble servant,
 Samuel Johnson.
 September, 1784."

We have, in this instance, the exertion of two congenial minds; one, with a generous impulse, relieving merit in distress; and the other, by gratitude and dignity of sentiment, rising to an equal elevation.

It seems, however, that greatness of mind is not confined to greatness of rank. Dr. Brocklesby was not content to assist with his medical art; he resolved to minister to his patient's mind, and pluck from his memory the sorrow which the late refusal from a high quarter might occasion. To enable him to visit the south of France, in pursuit of health, he offered, from his own funds, an annuity of one hundred pounds, payable quarterly. This was a sweet oblivious antidote, but it was not accepted, for the reasons assigned to the chancellor. The proposal, however, will do honour to Dr. Brocklesby, as long as liberal sentiment shall be ranked among the social virtues.

In the month of October, 1784, we find Dr. Johnson corresponding with Mr. Nichols, the intelligent compiler of the Gentleman's Magazine, and, in the languor of sickness, still desirous to contribute all in his power to the advancement of science and useful knowledge. He says, in a letter to that gentleman, dated Lichfield, October 20, that "he should be glad to give so skilful a lover of antiquities any information." He adds, "At Ashbourne, where I had very little company, I had the luck to borrow Mr. Bowyer's Life, a book, so full of contemporary history, that a literary man must find some of his old friends. I thought that I could, now and then, have told you some hints worth your notice: we, perhaps, may talk a life over. I hope we shall be much together. You must now be to me what you were before, and what dear Mr. Allen was besides. He was taken unexpectedly away, but, I think, he was a very good man. I have made very little progress in recovery. I am very weak, and very sleepless; but I live on and hope."

In that languid condition he arrived, on the 16th of November, at his house in Bolt court, there to end his days. He laboured with the dropsy and an asthma. He was attended by Dr. Heberden, Dr. Warren, Dr. Brocklesby, Dr. Butter, and Mr. Cruikshank, the eminent surgeon. Eternity presented to his mind an awful prospect, and, with as much virtue as, perhaps, ever is the lot of man, he shuddered at the thought of his dissolution. His friends awakened the comfortable reflection of a well-spent life; and, as his end drew near, they had the satisfaction of seeing him composed, and even cheerful, insomuch that he was able, in the course of his restless nights, to make translations of Greek epigrams from the Anthologia; and to compose a Latin epitaph for his father, his mother, and his brother Nathaniel. He meditated, at the same time, a Latin inscription to the memory of Garrick; but his vigour was exhausted.

His love of literature was a passion that stuck to his last sand. Seven days before his death he wrote the following letter to his friend Mr. Nichols:


"The late learned Mr. Swinton, of Oxford, having one day remarked, that one man, meaning, I suppose, no man but himself, could assign all the parts of the Ancient Universal History to their proper authors, at the request of sir Robert Chambers, or myself, gave the account which I now transmit to you, in his own hand, being willing that of so great a work the history should be known, and that each writer should receive his due proportion of praise from posterity.

"I recommend to you to preserve this scrap of literary intelligence, in Mr. Swinton's own hand, or to deposit it in the Museum[12], that the veracity of this account may never be doubted.

 I am, sir,
 Your most humble servant, Dec. 6, 1784. Sam. Johnson."

 Mr. Swinton.

The History of the Carthaginians.
———————— Numidians.
———————— Mauritanians.
———————— Gaetulians.
———————— Garamantes.
———————— Melano-Gaetulians.
———————— Nigritæ.
———————— Cyrenaica.
———————— Marmarica.
———————— Regio Syrtica.
———————— Turks, Tartars, and Moguls.
———————— Indians.
———————— Chinese.
———————— Dissertation on the peopling of America.
The History of the Dissertation on the Independency of the Arabs.
The Cosmogony, and a small part of the History immediately following. By Mr. Sale.
To the Birth of Abraham. Chiefly by Mr. Shelvock.
History of the Jews, Gauls, and Spaniards. By Mr. Psalmanazar.
Xenophon's Retreat. By the same.
History of the Persians, and the Constantinopolitan Empire. By Dr. Campbell.
History of the Romans. By Mr. Bower[13].

On the morning of December 7, Dr. Johnson requested to see Mr. Nichols. A few days before, he had borrowed some of the early volumes of the magazine, with a professed intention to point out the pieces which he had written in that collection. The books lay on the table, with many leaves doubled down, and, in particular, those which contained his share in the parliamentary debates. Such was the goodness of Johnson's heart, that he then declared, that "those debates were the only parts of his writings which gave him any compunction: but that, at the time he wrote them, he had no conception that he was imposing upon the world, though they were, frequently, written from very slender materials, and often from none at all, the mere coinage of his own imagination." He added, "that he never wrote any part of his work with equal velocity." "Three columns of the magazine in an hour," he said, "was no uncommon effort; which was faster than most persons could have transcribed that quantity. In one day, in particular, and that not a very long one, he wrote twelve pages, more in quantity than ever he wrote at any other time, except in the Life of Savage, of which forty-eight pages, in octavo, were the production of one long day, including a part of the night."

In the course of the conversation, he asked whether any of the family of Faden, the printer, were living. Being told that the geographer, near Charing Cross, was Faden's son, he said, after a short pause, "I borrowed a guinea of his father near thirty years ago; be so good as to take this, and pay it for me."

Wishing to discharge every duty, and every obligation, Johnson recollected another debt of ten pounds, which he had borrowed from his friend, Mr. Hamilton, the printer, about twenty years before. He sent the money to Mr. Hamilton, at his house in Bedford row, with an apology for the length of time. The reverend Mr. Strahan was the bearer of the message, about four or five days before Johnson breathed his last.

Mr. Sastres, whom Dr. Johnson esteemed and mentioned in his will, entered the room, during his illness. Dr. Johnson, as soon as he saw him, stretched forth his hand, and, in a tone of lamentation, called out, "Jam moriturus!" But the love of life was still an active principle. Feeling himself swelled with the dropsy, he conceived that, by incisions in his legs, the water might be discharged. Mr. Cruikshank apprehended that a mortification might be the consequence; but, to appease a distempered fancy, he gently lanced the surface. Johnson cried out, "Deeper, deeper! I want length of life, and you are afraid of giving me pain, which I do not value."

On the 8th of December, the reverend Mr. Strahan drew his will, by which, after a few legacies, the residue, amounting to about fifteen hundred pounds, was bequeathed to Frank, the black servant, formerly consigned to the testator by his friend Dr. Bathurst.

The history of a death-bed is painful. Mr. Strahan informs us, that the strength of religion prevailed against the infirmity of nature; and his foreboding dread of the Divine Justice subsided into a pious trust, and humble hope of mercy, at the Throne of Grace. On Monday, the 13th day of December (the last of his existence on this side the grave), the desire of life returned with all its former vehemence. He still imagined, that, by puncturing his legs, relief might be obtained. At eight in the morning he tried the experiment, but no water followed. In an hour or two after, he fell into a doze, and about seven in the evening expired without a groan.

On the 20th of the month his remains, with due solemnities, and a numerous attendance of his friends, were buried in Westminster Abbey, near the foot of Shakespeare's monument, and close to the grave of the late Mr. Garrick. The funeral service was read by his friend, Dr. Taylor.

A black marble over his grave has the following inscription:

Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
obiit XIII die Decembris,
Anno Domini
Ætatis suæ LXXV.

If we now look back, as from an eminence, to view the scenes of life, and the literary labours in which Dr. Johnson was engaged, we may be able to delineate the features of the man, and to form an estimate of his genius.

As a man, Dr. Johnson stands displayed in open daylight. Nothing remains undiscovered. Whatever he said is known; and without allowing him the usual privilege of hazarding sentiments, and advancing positions for mere amusement, or the pleasure of discussion, criticism has endeavoured to make him answerable for what, perhaps, he never seriously thought. His diary, which has been printed, discovers still more. We have before us the very heart of the man, with all his inward consciousness; and yet neither in the open paths of life, nor in his secret recesses, has any one vice been discovered. We see him reviewing every year of his life, and severely censuring himself, for not keeping resolutions, which morbid melancholy, and other bodily infirmities, rendered impracticable. We see him, for every little defect, imposing on himself voluntary penance, going through the day with only one cup of tea without milk, and to the last, amidst paroxysms and remissions of illness, forming plans of study and resolutions to amend his life.[14] Many of his scruples may be called weaknesses; but they are the weaknesses of a good, a pious, and most excellent man.

His person, it is well known, was large and unwieldy. His nerves were affected by that disorder, for which, at two years of age, he was presented to the royal touch. His head shook, and involuntary motions made it uncertain that his legs and arms would, even at a tea-table, remain in their proper place. A person of Lord Chesterfield's delicacy might in his company be in a fever. He would sometimes of his own accord do things inconsistent with the established modes of behaviour. Sitting at table with the celebrated Mrs. Cholmondeley, who exerted herself to circulate the subscription for Shakespeare, he took hold of her hand, in the middle of dinner, and held it close to his eye, wondering at the delicacy and whiteness, till, with a smile, she asked, Will he give it to me again, when he has done with it? The exteriors of politeness did not belong to Johnson. Even that civility, which proceeds, or ought to proceed, from the mind, was sometimes violated. His morbid melancholy had an effect on his temper; his passions were irritable; and the pride of science, as well as of a fierce independent spirit, inflamed him, on some occasions, above all bounds of moderation. Though not in the shade of academic bowers, he led a scholastic life; and the habit of pronouncing decisions to his friends and visitors, gave him a dictatorial manner, which was much enforced by a voice naturally loud, and often overstretched. Metaphysical discussion, moral theory, systems of religion, and anecdotes of literature, were his favourite topics. General history had little of his regard. Biography was his delight. The proper study of mankind is man. Sooner than hear of the Punic war, he would be rude to the person that introduced the subject.

Johnson was born a logician; one of those, to whom only books of logic are said to be of use. In consequence of his skill in that art, he loved argumentation. No man thought more profoundly, nor with such acute discernment. A fallacy could not stand before him; it was sure to be refuted by strength of reasoning, and a precision, both in idea and expression, almost unequalled. When he chose, by apt illustration, to place the argument of his adversary in a ludicrous light, one was almost inclined to think ridicule the test of truth. He was surprised to be told, but it is certainly true, that, with great powers of mind, wit and humour were his shining talents. That he often argued for the sake of triumph over his adversary, cannot be dissembled. Dr. Rose, of Chiswick, has been heard to tell of a friend of his, who thanked him for introducing him to Dr. Johnson, as he had been convinced, in the course of a long dispute, that an opinion, which he had embraced as a settled truth, was no better than a vulgar error. This being reported to Johnson, "Nay," said he, "do not let him be thankful, for he was right, and I was wrong." Like his uncle Andrew, in the ring at Smithfield, Johnson, in a circle of disputants, was determined neither to be thrown nor conquered. Notwithstanding all his piety, self-government or the command of his passions in conversation, does not seem to have been among his attainments. Whenever he thought the contention was for superiority, he has been known to break out with violence, and even ferocity. When the fray was over, he generally softened into repentance, and, by conciliating measures, took care that no animosity should be left rankling in the breast of his antagonist. Of this defect he seems to have been conscious. In a letter to Mrs. Thrale, he says, "Poor Baretti! do not quarrel with him; to neglect him a little will be sufficient. He means only to be frank and manly and independent, and, perhaps, as you say, a little wise. To be frank, he thinks, is to be cynical; and to be independent, is to be rude. Forgive him, dearest lady, the rather, because of his misbehaviour, I am afraid, he learned part of me. I hope to set him, hereafter, a better example." For his own intolerant and over-bearing spirit he apologized, by observing, that it had done some good; obscenity and impiety were repressed in his company.

It was late in life, before he had the habit of mixing, otherwise than occasionally, with polite company. At Mr. Thrale's he saw a constant succession of well-accomplished visitors. In that society he began to wear off the rugged points of his own character. He saw the advantages of mutual civility, and endeavoured to profit by the models before him. He aimed at what has been called, by Swift, the lesser morals, and by Cicero, minores virtutes. His endeavour, though new and late, gave pleasure to all his acquaintance. Men were glad to see that he was willing to be communicative on equal terms and reciprocal complacence. The time was then expected, when he was to cease being what George Garrick, brother to the celebrated actor, called him, the first time he heard him converse, "A tremendous Companion." He certainly wished to be polite, and even thought himself so; but his civility still retained something uncouth and harsh. His manners took a milder tone, but the endeavour was too palpably seen. He laboured even in trifles. He was a giant gaining a purchase to lift a feather.

It is observed, by the younger Pliny, that in the confines of virtue and great qualities, there are, generally, vices of an opposite nature. In Dr. Johnson not one ingredient can take the name of vice. From his attainments in literature, grew the pride of knowledge; and from his powers of reasoning, the love of disputation and the vain glory of superior vigour. His piety, in some instances, bordered on superstition. He was willing to believe in preternatural agency, and thought it not more strange, that there should be evil spirits than evil men. Even the question about second sight held him in suspense. "Second sight," Mr. Pennant tells us, "is a power of seeing images impressed on the organs of sight, by the power of fancy; or on the fancy, by the disordered spirits operating on the mind. It is the faculty of seeing spectres or visions, which represent an event actually passing at a distance, or likely to happen at a future day. In 1771, a gentleman, the last who was supposed to be possessed of this faculty, had a boat at sea, in a tempestuous night, and, being anxious for his freight, suddenly started up, and said his men would be drowned, for he had seen them pass before him with wet garments and dropping locks. The event corresponded with his disordered fancy. And thus," continues Mr. Pennant, "a distempered imagination, clouded with anxiety, may make an impression on the spirits; as persons, restless, and troubled with indignation, see various forms and figures, while they lie awake in bed." This is what Dr. Johnson was not willing to reject. He wished for some positive proof of communications with another world. His benevolence embraced the whole race of man, and yet was tinctured with particular prejudices. He was pleased with the minister in the Isle of Sky, and loved him so much, that he began to wish him not a Presbyterian. To that body of Dissenters his zeal for the Established Church, made him, in some degree, an adversary; and his attachment to a mixed and limited monarchy, led him to declare open war against what he called a sullen Republican. He would rather praise a man of Oxford than of Cambridge. He disliked a Whig, and loved a Tory. These were the shades of his character, which it has been the business of certain party-writers to represent in the darkest colours.

Since virtue, or moral goodness, consists in a just conformity of our actions to the relations, in which we stand to the supreme being and to our fellow-creatures, where shall we find a man who has been, or endeavoured to be, more diligent in the discharge of those essential duties? His first prayer was composed in 1738; he continued those fervent ejaculations of piety to the end of his life. In his Meditations we see him scrutinizing himself with severity, and aiming at perfection unattainable by man. His duty to his neighbour consisted in universal benevolence, and a constant aim at the production of happiness. Who was more sincere and steady in his friendships? It has been said, that there was no real affection between him and Garrick. On the part of the latter, there might be some corrosions of jealousy. The character of Prospero, in the Rambler, No. 200, was, beyond all question, occasioned by Garrick's ostentatious display of furniture and Dresden china. It was surely fair to take, from this incident, a hint for a moral essay; and, though no more was intended, Garrick, we are told, remembered it with uneasiness. He was also hurt, that his Lichfield friend did not think so highly of his dramatic art, as the rest of the world. The fact was, Johnson could not see the passions, as they rose, and chased one another, in the varied features of that expressive face; and, by his own manner of reciting verses, which was wonderfully impressive, he plainly showed, that he thought, there was too much of artificial tone and measured cadence, in the declamation of the theatre. The present writer well remembers being in conversation with Dr. Johnson, near the side of the scenes, during the tragedy of King Lear: when Garrick came off the stage, he said, "You two talk so loud, you destroy all my feelings." "Prithee," replied Johnson, "do not talk of feelings, Punch has no feelings." This seems to have been his settled opinion; admirable as Garrick's imitation of nature always was, Johnson thought it no better than mere mimickry. Yet, it is certain, that he esteemed and loved Garrick; that he dwelt with pleasure on his praise; and used to declare, that he deserved his great success, because, on all applications for charity, he gave more than was asked. After Garrick's death, he never talked of him, without a tear in his eye. He offered, if Mrs. Garrick would desire it of him, to be the editor of his works, and the historian of his life. It has been mentioned, that, on his death-bed, he thought of writing a Latin inscription to the memory of his friend. Numbers are still living who know these facts, and still remember, with gratitude, the friendship which he showed to them, with unaltered affection, for a number of years. His humanity and generosity, in proportion to his slender income, were unbounded. It has been truly said, that the lame, the blind, and the sorrowful, found, in his house, a sure retreat. A strict adherence to truth he considered as a sacred obligation, insomuch that, in relating the most minute anecdote, he would not allow himself the smallest addition to embellish his story. The late Mr. Tyers, who knew Dr. Johnson intimately, observed, "that he always talked, as if he was talking upon oath." After a long acquaintance with this excellent man, and an attentive retrospect to his whole conduct, such is the light in which he appears to the writer of this essay. The following lines of Horace, may be deemed his picture in miniature:

"Iracundior est paulo? minus aptus acutis
Naribus horum hominum? rideri possit, eo quod
Rusticius tonso toga defluit, et male laxus
In pede calceus haeret? At est bonus, ut melior vir
Non alius quisquam: at tibi amicus: at ingenium ingens
Inculto latet hoc sub corpore.


It remains to give a review of Johnson's works; and this, it is imagined, will not be unwelcome to the reader.

Like Milton and Addison, he seems to have been fond of his Latin poetry. Those compositions show, that he was an early scholar; but his verses have not the graceful ease, that gave so much suavity to the poems of Addison. The translation of the Messiah labours under two disadvantages; it is first to be compared with Pope's inimitable performance, and afterwards with the Pollio of Virgil. It may appear trifling to remark, that he has made the letter o, in the word Virgo, long and short in the same line: "Virgo, Virgo parit." But the translation has great merit, and some admirable lines. In the odes there is a sweet flexibility, particularly, To his worthy friend Dr. Lawrence; on himself at the theatre, March 8, 1771; the ode in the isle of Sky; and that to Mrs. Thrale from the same place.

His English poetry is such as leaves room to think, if he had devoted himself to the Muses, that he would have been the rival of Pope. His first production in this kind, was London, a poem in imitation of the third satire of Juvenal. The vices of the metropolis are placed in the room of ancient manners. The author had heated his mind with the ardour of Juvenal, and, having the skill to polish his numbers, he became a sharp accuser of the times. The Vanity of Human Wishes is an imitation of the tenth satire of the same author. Though it is translated by Dryden, Johnson's imitation approaches nearest to the spirit of the original. The subject is taken from the Alcibiades of Plato, and has an intermixture of the sentiments of Socrates concerning the object of prayers offered up to the Deity. The general proposition is, that good and evil are so little understood by mankind, that their wishes when granted are always destructive. This is exemplified in a variety of instances, such as riches, state-preferment, eloquence, military glory, long life, and the advantages of form and beauty. Juvenal's conclusion is worthy of a Christian poet, and such a pen as Johnson's. "Let us," he says, "leave it to the Gods to judge what is fittest for us. Man is dearer to his Creator than to himself. If we must pray for special favour, let it be for a sound mind in a sound body. Let us pray for fortitude, that we may think the labours of Hercules and all his sufferings, preferable to a life of luxury, and the soft repose of Sardanapalus. This is a blessing within the reach of every man; this we can give ourselves. It is virtue, and virtue only, that can make us happy." In the translation, the zeal of the Christian conspired with the warmth and energy of the poet; but Juvenal is not eclipsed. For the various characters in the original the reader is pleased, in the English poem, to meet with Cardinal Wolsey, Buckingham stabbed by Felton, Lord Strafford, Clarendon, Charles XII. of Sweden; and for Tully and Demosthenes, Lydiat, Galileo, and Archbishop Laud. It is owing to Johnson's delight in biography that the name of Lydiat is called forth from obscurity. It may, therefore, not be useless to tell, that Lydiat was a learned divine and mathematician in the beginning of the last century. He attacked the doctrine of Aristotle and Scaliger, and wrote a number of sermons on the harmony of the Evangelists. With all his merit, he lay in the prison of Bocardo, at Oxford, till Bishop Usher, Laud, and others, paid his debts. He petitioned Charles I. to be sent to Ethiopia to procure manuscripts. Having spoken in favour of monarchy and bishops, he was plundered by the Puritans, and twice carried away a prisoner from his rectory. He died very poor in 1646.

 The tragedy of Irene is founded on a passage in Knolles's History of the Turks; an author highly commended in the Rambler, No. 122. An incident in the life of Mahomet the great, first emperor of the Turks, is the hinge on which the fable is made to move. The substance of the story is shortly this: In 1453, Mahomet laid siege to Constantinople, and having reduced the place, became enamoured of a fair Greek, whose name was Irene. The sultan invited her to embrace the law of the prophet, and to grace his throne. Enraged at this intended marriage, the janizaries formed a conspiracy to dethrone the emperor. To avert the impending danger, Mahomet, in a full assembly of the grandees, "catching with one hand," as Knolles relates it, "the fair Greek by the hair of her head, and drawing his falchion with the other, he, at one blow, struck off her head, to the great terror of them all; and, having so done, said unto them: 'Now by this, judge whether your emperor is able to bridle his affections or not.'" The story is simple, and it remained for the author to amplify it, with  proper episodes, and give it complication and variety. The catastrophe is changed, and horror gives place to terror and pity. But, after all, the fable is cold and languid. There is not, throughout the piece, a single situation to excite curiosity, and raise a conflict of passions. The diction is nervous, rich, and elegant; but splendid language, and melodious numbers, will make a fine poem—not a tragedy. The sentiments are beautiful, always happily expressed, but seldom appropriated to the character, and generally too philosophic. What Johnson has said of the Tragedy of Cato, may be applied to Irene: "It is rather a poem in dialogue than a drama; rather a succession of just sentiments, in elegant language, than a representation of natural affections. Nothing excites or assuages emotion. The events are expected without solicitude, and are remembered without joy or sorrow. Of the agents we have no care; we consider not what they are doing, nor what they are suffering; we wish only to know, what they have to say. It is unaffecting elegance, and chill philosophy." The following speech, in the mouth of a Turk, who is supposed to have heard of the British constitution, has been often selected from the numberless beauties with which Irene abounds:

"If there be any land, as fame reports,
Where common laws restrain the prince and subject;
A happy land, where circulating power
Flows through each member of th' embodied state,
Sure, not unconscious of the mighty blessing,
Her grateful sons shine bright with ev'ry virtue;
Untainted with the Lust of Innovation;
Sure, all unite to hold her league of rule,
Unbroken, as the sacred chain of nature,
That links the jarring elements in peace."

These are British sentiments. Above forty years ago, they found an echo in the breast of applauding audiences; and to this hour they are the voice of the people, in defiance of the metaphysics, and the new lights of certain politicians, who would gladly find their private advantage in the disasters of their country; a race of men, quibus nulla ex honesto spes.

The prologue to Irene is written with elegance, and, in a peculiar style, shows the literary pride and lofty spirit of the author. The Epilogue, we are told, in a late publication, was written by Sir William Young. This is a new discovery, but by no means probable. When the appendages to a Dramatic Performance are not assigned to a friend, or an unknown hand, or a person of fashion, they are always supposed to be written by the author of the Play. It is to be wished, however, that the Epilogue, in question, could be transferred to any other writer. It isthe worst Jeu d'Esprit that ever fell from Johnson's pen.

An account of the various pieces contained in this edition, such asmiscellaneous tracts, and philological dissertations, would lead beyond the intended limits of this essay. It will suffice to say, that they are the productions of a man, who never wanted decorations of language, and always taught his reader to think. The life of the late king of Prussia, as far as it extends, is a model of the biographical style. The review of The Origin of Evil was, perhaps, written with asperity; but the angry epitaph which it provoked from Soame Jenyns, was an ill-timed resentment, unworthy of the genius of that amiable author.

The Rambler may be considered, as Johnson's great work. It was the basis of that high reputation, which went on increasing to the end of his days. The circulation of those periodical essays was not, at first, equal to their merit. They had not, like the Spectators, the art ofcharming by variety; and, indeed, how could it be expected? The wits of queen Anne's reign sent their contributions to the Spectator; and Johnson stood alone. A stagecoach, says sir Richard Steele, must go forward on stated days, whether there are passengers or not. So it was with the Rambler, every Tuesday and Saturday, for two years. In this collection Johnson is the great moral teacher of his countrymen; his essays form a body of ethics; the observations on life and manners, are acute and instructive; and the papers, professedly critical, serve to promote the cause of literature. It must, however, be acknowledged, that a settled gloom hangs over the author's mind; and all the essays, except eight or ten, coming from the same fountain-head, no wonder that they have the raciness of the soil from which they sprang. Of this uniformity Johnson was sensible. He used to say, that if he had joined a friend or two, who would have been able to intermix papers of a sprightly turn, the collection would have been more miscellaneous, and, by consequence, more agreeable to the generality of readers. This he used to illustrate by repeating two beautiful stanzas from his own ode to Cave, or Sylvanus Urban:

  "Non ulla musis pagina gratior,
  Quam quae severis ludicra jungere
    Novit, fatigatamque nugis
      Utilibus recreare mentem.

  Texente nymphis serta Lycoride,
  Rosae ruborem sic viola adjuvat
    Iramista, sic Iris refulget
      Æthereis variata fucis."

It is remarkable, that the pomp of diction, which has been objected to Johnson, was first assumed in the Rambler. His Dictionary was going on at the same time, and, in the course of that work, as he grew familiar with technical and scholastic words, he thought that the bulk of his readers were equally learned; or, at least, would admire the splendour and dignity of the style. And yet it is well known, that he praised, in Cowley, the ease and unaffected structure of the sentences. Cowley maybe placed at the head of those who cultivated a clear and natural style. Dryden, Tillotson, and sir William Temple followed. Addison, Swift, and Pope, with more correctness, carried our language well nigh to perfection. Of Addison, Johnson was used to say, he is the Raphael of essay writers. How he differed so widely from such elegant models, is a problem not to be solved, unless it be true, that he took an early tincture from the writers of the last century, particularly sir Thomas Browne. Hence the peculiarities of his style, new combinations,sentences of an unusual structure, and words derived from the learned languages. His own account of the matter is, "When common words were less pleasing to the ear, or less distinct in their signification, I familiarized the terms of philosophy, by applying them to popular ideas." But he forgot the observation of Dryden: If too many foreign words are poured in upon us, it looks, as if they were designed, not to assist the natives, but to conquer them. There is, it must be admitted, a swell of language, often out of all proportion to the sentiment; but there is, in general, a fulness of mind, and the thought seems to expand with the sound of the words. Determined to discard colloquial barbarisms and licentious idioms, he forgot the elegant simplicity that distinguishes the writings of Addison. He had, what Locke calls, a round-about view of his subject; and, though he never was tainted, like many modern wits, with the ambition of shining in paradox, he may be fairly called an Original Thinker. His reading was extensive. He treasured in his mind whatever was worthy of notice, but he added to it from his own meditation. He collected, quae reconderet, auetaque promeret. Addison was not so profound a thinker. He was born to write, converse, and live with ease; and he found an early patron in lord Somers. He depended, however, more upon a fine taste than the vigor of his mind. His Latin poetry shows, that he relished, with a just selection, all the refined and delicate beauties of the Roman classics; and, when he cultivated his native language, no wonder that he formed that graceful style, which has been so justly admired; simple, yet elegant; adorned, yet never over-wrought; rich in allusion, yet pure and perspicuous; correct, without labour; and though, sometimes, deficient in strength, yet always musical. His essays, in general, are on the surface of life; if ever original, it was in pieces of humour. Sir Roger de Coverly, and the tory fox-hunter, need not to be mentioned. Johnson had a fund of humour, but he did not know it; nor was he willing to descend to the familiar idiom, and the variety of diction, which that mode of composition required. The letter, in the Rambler, No. 12, from a young girl that wants a place, will illustrate this observation. Addison possessed an unclouded imagination, alive to the first objects of nature and of art. He reaches the sublime without any apparent effort. When he tells us, "If we consider the fixed stars as so many oceans of flame, that are each of them attended with a different set of planets; if we still discover new firmaments, and new lights, that are sunk further in those unfathomable depths of ether; we are lost in a labyrinth of suns and worlds, and confounded with the magnificence and immensity of nature;" the ease, with which this passage rises to unaffected grandeur, is the secret charm that captivates the reader. Johnson is always lofty; he seems, to use Dryden's phrase, to be o'erinform'd with meaning, and his words do not appear to himself adequate to his conception. He moves in state, and his periods are always harmonious. His Oriental Tales are in the true style of eastern magnificence, and yet none of them are so much admired, as the Visions of Mirza. In matters of criticism, Johnson is never the echo of preceding writers. He thinks, and decides, for himself. If we except the essays on the Pleasures of Imagination, Addison cannot be called a philosophical critic. His moral essays are beautiful; but in that province nothing can exceed the Rambler, though Johnson used to say, that the essay on the burthens of mankind, (in the Spectator, No. 558,) was the most exquisite he had ever read. Talking of himself, Johnson said, "Topham Beauclerk has wit, and every thing comes from him with ease; but when I say a good thing, I seem to labour." When we compare him with Addison, the contrast is still stronger: Addison makes virtue amiable; Johnson represents it as an awful duty: Addison insinuates himself with an air of modesty; Johnson commands like a dictator; but a dictator in his splendid robes, not labouring at the plough: Addison is the Jupiter of Virgil, with placid serenity talking to Venus,

"Vultu, quo coelum tempestatesque serenat."

Johnson is Jupiter tonans: he darts his lightning and rolls his thunder, in the cause of virtue and piety. The language seems to fall short of his ideas; he pours along, familiarizing the terms of philosophy, with bold inversions, and sonorous periods; but we may apply to him, what Pope has said of Homer: "It is the sentiment that swells and fills out the diction, which rises with it, and forms itself about it: like glass in the furnace, which grows to a greater magnitude, as the breath within is more powerful, and the heat more intense."

It is not the design of this comparison to decide between these two eminent writers. In matters of taste every reader will choose for himself. Johnson is always profound, and, of course, gives the fatigue of thinking. Addison charms, while he instructs; and writing, as he always does, a pure, an elegant, and idiomatic style, he may be pronounced the safest model for imitation.

The essays written by Johnson in the Adventurer, may be called a continuation of the Rambler. The Idler, in order to be consistent with the assumed character, is written with abated vigour, in a style of ease and unlaboured elegance. It is the Odyssey, after the Iliad. Intense thinking would not become the Idler. The first number presents a well-drawn portrait of an Idler, and from that character no deviation could be made. Accordingly, Johnson forgets his austere manner, and plays us into sense. He still continues his lectures on human life, but he adverts to common occurrences, and is often content with the topic of the day. An advertisement in the beginning of the first volume informs us, that twelve entire essays were a contribution from different hands. One of these, No. 33, is the journal of a citizen, in the Spectator, almost precluded the attempt of any subsequent writer. This account of the Idler may be closed, after observing, that the author's mother being buried on the 23rd of January, 1759, there is an admirable paper occasioned by that event, on Saturday, the 27th of the same month, No. 41. The reader, if he pleases, may compare it with another fine paper in the Rambler, No. 54, on the conviction that rushes on the mind at the bed of a dying friend.

"Rasselas," says sir John Hawkins, "is a specimen of our language scarcely to be paralleled; it is written in a style refined to a degree of immaculate purity, and displays the whole force of turgid eloquence." One cannot but smile at this encomium. Rasselas, is, undoubtedly, both elegant and sublime. It is a view of human life, displayed, it must be owned, in gloomy colours. The author's natural melancholy, depressed, at the time, by the approaching dissolution of his mother, darkened the picture. A tale, that should keep curiosity awake by the artifice of unexpected incidents, was not the design of a mind pregnant with better things. He, who reads the heads of the chapters, will find, that it is not a course of adventures that invites him forward, but a discussion of interesting questions; Reflections on Human Life; the History of Imlac, the Man of Learning; a Dissertation upon Poetry; the Character of a wise and happy Man, who discourses, with energy, on the government of the passions, and, on a sudden, when Death deprives him of his daughter, forgets all his maxims of wisdom, and the eloquence that adorned them, yielding to the stroke of affliction, with all the vehemence of the bitterest anguish. It is by pictures of life, and profound moral reflection, that expectation is engaged, and gratified throughout the work. The History of the Mad Astronomer, who imagines that, for five years, he possessed the regulation of the weather, and that the sun passed, from tropic to tropic, by his direction, represents, in striking colours, the sad effects of a distempered imagination. It becomes the more affecting when we recollect that it proceeds from one who lived in fear of the same dreadful visitation; from one who says emphatically: "Of the uncertainties in our present state, the most dreadful and alarming is the uncertain continuance of reason." The inquiry into the cause of madness, and the dangerous prevalence of imagination, till, in time, some particular train of ideas fixes the attention, and the mind recurs constantly to the favourite conception, is carried on in a strain of acute observation; but it leaves us room to think, that the author was transcribing from his own apprehensions. The discourse on the nature of the soul, gives us all that philosophy knows, not without a tincture of superstition. It is remarkable, that the vanity of human pursuits was, about the same time, the subject that employed both Johnson and Voltaire; but Candide is the work of a lively imagination; and Rasselas, with all its splendour of eloquence, exhibits a gloomy picture. It should, however, be remembered, that the world has known the weeping, as well as the laughing philosopher.

The Dictionary does not properly fall within the province of this essay. The preface, however, will be found in this edition. He who reads the close of it, without acknowledging the force of the pathetic and sublime, must have more insensibility in his composition, than usually falls to the share of a man. The work itself, though, in some instances, abuse has been loud, and, in others, malice has endeavoured to undermine its fame, still remains the Mount Atlas of English literature.

"Though storms and tempests thunder on its brow,
And oceans break their billows at its feet,
It stands unmov'd, and glories in its height."

That Johnson was eminently qualified for the office of a commentator on Shakespeare, no man can doubt; but it was an office which he never cordially embraced. The public expected more than he had diligence to perform; and yet his edition has been the ground, on which every subsequent commentator has chosen to build. One note, for its singularity, may be thought worthy of notice in this place. Hamlet says, For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog, being a god-kissing carrion. In this Warburton discovered the origin of evil. Hamlet, he says, breaks off in the middle of the sentence; but the learned commentator knows what he was going to say, and, being unwilling to keep the secret, he goes on in a train of philosophical reasoning, that leaves the reader in astonishment. Johnson, with true piety, adopts the fanciful hypothesis, declaring it to be a noble emendation, which almost sets the critic on a level with the author. The general observations at the end of the several plays, and the preface, will be found in this edition. The former, with great elegance and precision, give a summary view of each drama. The preface is a tract of great erudition and philosophical criticism.

Johnson's political pamphlets, whatever was his motive for writing them, whether gratitude for his pension, or the solicitation of men in power, did not support the cause for which they were undertaken. They are written in a style truly harmonious, and with his usual dignity of language. When it is said that he advanced positions repugnant to the common rights of mankind, the virulence of party may be suspected. It is, perhaps, true, that in the clamour, raised throughout the kingdom, Johnson overheated his mind; but he was a friend to the rights of man, and he was greatly superior to the littleness of spirit, that might incline him to advance what he did not think and firmly believe. In the False Alarm, though many of the most eminent men in the kingdom concurred in petitions to the throne, yet Johnson, having well surveyed the mass of the people, has given, with great humour, and no less truth, what may be called, the birth, parentage, and education of a remonstrance. On the subject of Falkland's islands, the fine dissuasive from too hastily involving the world in the calamities of war, must extort applause even from the party that wished, at that time, for scenes of tumult and commotion. It was in the same pamphlet, that Johnson offered battle to Junius, a writer, who, by the uncommon elegance of his style, charmed every reader, though his object was to inflame the nation in favour of a faction. Junius fought in the dark; he saw his enemy, and had his full blow; while he himself remained safe in obscurity. But let us not, said Johnson, mistake the venom of the shaft, for the vigour of the bow. The keen invective which he published, on that occasion, promised a paper war between two combatants, who knew the use of their weapons. A battle between them was as eagerly expected, as between Mendoza and Big Ben. But Junius, whatever was his reason, never returned to the field. He laid down his arms, and has, ever since, remained as secret as the man in the mask, in Voltaire's history.

The account of his journey to the Hebrides, or western isles of Scotland, is a model for such as shall, hereafter, relate their travels. The author did not visit that part of the world in the character of an antiquary, to amuse us with wonders taken from the dark and fabulous ages; nor, as a mathematician, to measure a degree, and settle the longitude and latitude of the several islands. Those, who expected such information, expected what was never intended. In every work regard the writer's end. Johnson went to see men and manners, modes of life, and the progress of civilization. His remarks are so artfully blended with the rapidity and elegance of his narrative, that the reader is inclined to wish, as Johnson did, with regard to Gray, that to travel, and to tell his travels, had been more of his employment.

As to Johnson's Parliamentary Debates, nothing, with propriety, can be said in this place. They are collected, in two volumes, by Mr. Stockdale, and the flow of eloquence which runs through the several speeches, is sufficiently known.

It will not be useless to mention two more volumes, which may form a proper supplement to this edition. They contain a set of sermons, left for publication by John Taylor, LL.D. The reverend Mr. Hayes, who ushered these discourses into the world, has not given them, as the composition of Dr. Taylor. All he could say for his departed friend was, that he left them, in silence, among his papers. Mr. Hayes knew them to be the production of a superior mind; and the writer of these memoirs owes it to the candour of that elegant scholar, that he is now warranted to give an additional proof of Johnson's ardour in the cause of piety, and every moral duty. The last discourse in the collection was intended to be delivered by Dr. Taylor, at the funeral of Johnson's wife; but that reverend gentleman declined the office, because, as he told Mr. Hayes, the praise of the deceased was too much amplified. He, who reads the piece, will find it a beautiful moral lesson, written with temper, and nowhere overcharged with ambitious ornaments. The rest of the discourses were the fund, which Dr. Taylor, from time to time, carried with him to his pulpit. He had the largest Bull[16] in England, and some of the best sermons.

We come now to the Lives of the Poets, a work undertaken at the age of seventy, yet, the most brilliant, and, certainly, the most popular, of all our author's writings. For this performance he needed little preparation. Attentive always to the history of letters, and, by his own natural bias, fond of biography, he was the more willing to embrace the proposition of the booksellers. He was versed in the whole body of English poetry, and his rules of criticism were settled with precision. The dissertation, in the life of Cowley, on the metaphysical poets of the last century, has the attraction of novelty, as well as sound observation. The writers, who followed Dr. Donne, went in quest of something better than truth and nature. As Sancho says, in Don Quixote, they wanted better bread than is made with wheat. They took pains to bewilder themselves, and were ingenious for no other purpose than to err. In Johnson's review of Cowley's works, false wit is detected in all its shapes, and the Gothic taste for glittering conceits, and far-fetched allusions, is exploded, never, it is hoped, to revive again.

An author who has published his observations on the Life and Writings of Dr. Johnson, speaking of the Lives of the Poets, says, "These compositions, abounding in strong and acute remark, and with many fine, and even sublime, passages, have, unquestionably, great merit; but, if they be regarded, merely as containing narrations of the lives, delineations of the characters, and strictures of the several authors, they are far from being always to be depended on." He adds: "The characters are sometimes partial, and there is, sometimes, too much malignity of misrepresentation, to which, perhaps, may be joined no inconsiderable portion of erroneous criticism." The several clauses of this censure deserve to be answered, as fully as the limits of this essay will permit.

In the first place, the facts are related upon the best intelligence, and the best vouchers that could be gleaned, after a great lapse of time. Probability was to be inferred from such materials, as could be procured, and no man better understood the nature of historical evidence than Dr. Johnson; no man was more religiously an observer of truth. If his history is any where defective, it must be imputed to the want of better information, and the errors of uncertain tradition.

Ad nos vix tenuis famae perlabitur aura.

If the strictures on the works of the various authors are not always satisfactory, and if erroneous criticism may sometimes be suspected, who can hope, that in matters of taste, all shall agree? The instances, in which the public mind has differed, from the positions advanced by the author, are few in number. It has been said, that justice has not been done to Swift; that Gay and Prior are undervalued; and that Gray has been harshly treated. This charge, perhaps, ought not to be disputed. Johnson, it is well known, had conceived a prejudice against Swift. His friends trembled for him, when he was writing that life, but were pleased, at last, to see it executed with temper and moderation. As to Prior, it is probable that he gave his real opinion, but an opinion that will not be adopted by men of lively fancy. With regard to Gray, when he condemns the apostrophe, in which father Thames is desired to tell who drives the hoop, or tosses the ball, and then adds, that father Thames had no better means of knowing than himself; when he compares the abrupt beginning of the first stanza of the bard, to the ballad of Johnny Armstrong, "Is there ever a man in all Scotland;" there are, perhaps, few friends of Johnson, who would not wish to blot out both the passages. It may be questioned, whether the remarks on Pope's Essay on Man can be received, without great caution. It has been already mentioned, that Crousaz, a professor in Switzerland, eminent for his Treatise of Logic, started up a professed enemy to that poem. Johnson says, "his mind was one of those, in which philosophy and piety are happily united. He looked, with distrust, upon all metaphysical systems of theology, and was persuaded, that the positions of Pope were intended to draw mankind away from revelation, and to represent the whole course of things, as a necessary concatenation of indissoluble fatality." This is not the place fur a controversy about the Leibnitzian system. Warburton, with all the powers of his large and comprehensive mind, published a vindication of Pope; and yet Johnson says, that, "in many passages, a religious eye may easily discover expressions not very favourable to morals, or to liberty." This sentence is severe, and, perhaps, dogmatical. Crousaz wrote an Examen of The Essay on Man, and, afterwards, a commentary on every remarkable passage; and, though it now appears, that Mrs. Elizabeth Carter translated the foreign critic, yet it is certain, that Johnson encouraged the work, and, perhaps, imbibed those early prejudices, which adhered to him to the end of his life. He shuddered at the idea of irreligion. Hence, we are told, in the life of Pope, "Never were penury of knowledge, and vulgarity of sentiment, so happily disguised; Pope, in the chair of wisdom, tells much that every man knows, and much that he did not know himself; and gives us comfort in the position, that though man's a fool, yet God is wise; that human advantages are unstable; that our true honour is, not to have a great part, but to act it well; that virtue only is our own, and that happiness is always in our power." The reader, when he meets all this in its new array, no longer knows the talk of his mother and his nurse. But, may it not be said, that every system of ethics must, or ought, to terminate, in plain and general maxims for the use of life? and, though in such axioms no discovery is made, does not the beauty of the moral theory consist in the premises, and the chain of reasoning that leads to the conclusion? May not truth, as Johnson himself says, be conveyed to the mind by a new train of intermediate images? Pope's doctrine, about the ruling passion, does not seem to be refuted, though it is called, in harsh terms, pernicious, as well as false, tending to establish a kind of moral predestination, or over-ruling principle, which cannot be resisted. But Johnson was too easily alarmed in the cause of religion. Organized as the human race is, individuals have different inlets of perception, different powers of mind, and different sensations of pleasure and pain.

All spread their charms, but charm not all alike,
On different senses different objects strike:
Hence different passions more or less inflame,
As strong or weak the organs of the frame.
And hence one master-passion in the breast,
Like Aaron's serpent, swallows up the rest."

Brumoy says, Pascal, from his infancy, felt himself a geometrician; and Vandyke, in like manner, was a painter. Shakespeare, who, of all poets, had the deepest insight into human nature, was aware of a prevailing bias in the operations of every mind. By him we are told, Masterless passion sways us to the mood of what it likes or loathes.

It remains to inquire, whether, in the lives before us, the characters are partial, and too often drawn with malignity of misrepresentation? To prove this, it is alleged, that Johnson has misrepresented the circumstances relative to the translation of the first Iliad, and maliciously ascribed that performance to Addison, instead of Tickell, with too much reliance on the testimony of Pope, taken from the account in the papers left by Mr. Spence. For a refutation of the fallacy imputed to Addison, we are referred to a note in the Biographia Britannica, written by the late Judge Blackstone, who, it is said, examined the whole matter with accuracy, and found, that the first regular statement of the accusation against Addison, was published by Ruffhead, in his life of Pope, from the materials which he received from Dr. Warburton. But, with all due deference to the learned judge, whose talents deserve all praise, this account is by no means accurate.

Sir Richard Steele, in a dedication of the comedy of the Drummer, to Mr. Congreve, gave the first insight into that business. He says, in a style of anger and resentment: "If that gentleman (Mr. Tickell) thinks himself injured, I will allow I have wronged him upon this issue, that, if the reputed translator of the first book of Homer shall please to give us another book, there shall appear another good judge in poetry, besides Mr. Alexander Pope, who shall like it." The authority of Steele outweighs all opinions founded on vain conjecture, and, indeed, seems to be decisive, since we do not find that Tickell, though warmly pressed, thought proper to vindicate himself.

But the grand proof of Johnson's malignity, is the manner in which he has treated the character and conduct of Milton. To enforce this charge has wearied sophistry, and exhausted the invention of a party. What they cannot deny, they palliate; what they cannot prove, they say is probable. But why all this rage against Dr. Johnson? Addison, before him, had said of Milton:

Oh! had the poet ne'er profan'd his pen,
To varnish o'er the guilt of faithless men!

And had not Johnson an equal right to avow his sentiments? Do his enemies claim a privilege to abuse whatever is valuable to Englishmen, either in church or state? and must the liberty of unlicensed printing be denied to the friends of the British constitution?

It is unnecessary to pursue the argument through all its artifices, since, dismantled of ornament and seducing language, the plain truth may be stated in a narrow compass. Johnson knew that Milton was a republican: he says, "an acrimonious and surly republican, for which it is not known that he gave any better reason than, that a popular government was the most frugal; for the trappings of a monarchy would set up an ordinary commonwealth." Johnson knew that Milton talked aloud "of the danger of readmitting kingship in this nation;" and when Milton adds, "that a commonwealth was commended, or rather enjoined, by our Saviour himself, to all christians, not without a remarkable disallowance, and the brand of gentilism upon kingship," Johnson thought him no better than a wild enthusiast. He knew, as well as Milton, "that the happiness of a nation must needs be firmest and certainest in a full and free council of their own electing, where no single person, but reason only, sways;" but the example of all the republicks, recorded in the annals of mankind, gave him no room to hope, that reason only would be heard. He knew, that the republican form of government, having little or no complication, and no consonance of parts, by a nice mechanism forming a regular whole, was too simple to be beautiful, even in theory. In practice it, perhaps, never existed. In its most flourishing state, at Athens, Rome, and Carthage, it was a constant scene of tumult and commotion. From the mischiefs of a wild democracy, the progress has ever been to the dominion of an aristocracy; and the word aristocracy, fatally includes the boldest and most turbulent citizens, who rise by their crimes, and call themselves the best men in the state. By intrigue, by cabal, and faction, a pernicious oligarchy is sure to succeed, and end, at last, in the tyranny of a single ruler. Tacitus, the great master of political wisdom, saw, under the mixed authority of king, nobles, and people, a better form of government than Milton's boasted republick; and what Tacitus admired in theory, but despaired of enjoying, Johnson saw established in this country. He knew that it had been overturned by the rage of frantic men; but he knew that, after the iron rod of Cromwell's usurpation, the constitution was once more restored to its first principles. Monarchy was established, and this country was regenerated. It was regenerated a second time, at the revolution: the rights of men were then defined, and the blessings of good order, and civil liberty, have been ever since diffused through the whole community.

The peace and happiness of society were what Dr. Johnson had at heart. He knew that Milton called his defence of the regicides, a defence of the people of England; but, however glossed and varnished, he thought it an apology for murder. Had the men, who, under a show of liberty, brought their king to the scaffold, proved, by their subsequent conduct, that the public good inspired their actions, the end might have given some sanction to the means; but usurpation and slavery followed. Milton undertook the office of secretary, under the despotic power of Cromwell, offering the incense of adulation to his master, with the titles of Director of public councils, the leader of unconquered armies, the father of his country. Milton declared, at the same time, that nothing is more pleasing to God, or more agreeable to reason, than that the highest mind should have the sovereign power. In this strain of servile flattery, Milton gives us the right divine of tyrants. But it seems, in the same piece, he exhorts Cromwell "not to desert those great principles of liberty which he had professed to espouse; for, it would be a grievous enormity, if, after having successfully opposed tyranny, he should himself act the part of a tyrant, and betray the cause that he had defended." This desertion of every honest principle the advocate for liberty lived to see. Cromwell acted the tyrant; and, with vile hypocrisy, told the people, that he had consulted the Lord, and the Lord would have it so. Milton took an under part in the tragedy. Did that become the defender of the people of England? Brutus saw his country enslaved; he struck the blow for freedom, and he died with honour in the cause. Had he lived to be a secretary under Tiberius, what would now be said of his memory?

But still, it seems, the prostitution with which Milton is charged, since it cannot be defended, is to be retorted on the character of Johnson. For this purpose, a book has been published, called Remarks on Dr. Johnson's Life of Milton; to which are added, Milton's Tractate of Education, and Areopagitica. In this laboured tract we are told, "There is one performance, ascribed to the pen of the Doctor, where the prostitution is of so singular a nature, that it would be difficult to select an adequate motive for it, out of the mountainous heap of conjectural causes of human passions, or human caprice. It is the speech of the late unhappy Dr. William Dodd, when he was about to hear the sentence of the law pronounced upon him, in consequence of an indictment for forgery. The voice of the public has given the honour of manufacturing this speech to Dr. Johnson; and the style, and configuration of the speech itself, confirm the imputation. But it is hardly possible to divine what could be his motive for accepting the office. A man, to express the precise state of mind of another, about to be destined to an ignominious death, for a capital crime, should, one would imagine, have some consciousness, that he himself had incurred some guilt of the same kind." In all the schools of sophistry, is there to be found so vile an argument? In the purlieus of Grub street, is there such another mouthful of dirt? In the whole quiver of malice, is there so envenomed a shaft?

After this, it is to be hoped, that a certain class of men will talk no more of Johnson's malignity. The last apology for Milton is, that he acted according to his principles. But Johnson thought those principles detestable; pernicious to the constitution, in church and state, destructive of the peace of society, and hostile to the great fabric of civil policy, which the wisdom of ages has taught every Briton to revere, to love, and cherish. He reckoned Milton in that class of men, of whom the Roman historian says, when they want, by a sudden convulsion, to overturn the government, they roar and clamour for liberty; if they succeed, they destroy liberty itself: Ut imperium evertant, Libertatem praeferunt; si perverterint, libertatem ipsam aggredientur. Such were the sentiments of Dr. Johnson; and it may be asked, in the language of Bolingbroke, "Are these sentiments, which any man, who is born a Briton, in any circumstances, in any situation, ought to be ashamed, or afraid to avow?" Johnson has done ample justice to Milton's poetry: the criticism on Paradise Lost is a sublime composition. Had he thought the author as good and pious a citizen as Dr. Watts, he would have been ready, notwithstanding his nonconformity, to do equal honour to the memory of the man.

It is now time to close this essay, which the author fears has been drawn too much into length. In the progress of the work, feeble as it may be, he thought himself performing the last human office to the memory of a friend, whom he loved, esteemed, and honoured:

His saltem accumulem donis, et fungar inani Munere.——

The author of these memoirs has been anxious to give the features of the man, and the true character of the author. He has not suffered the hand of partiality to colour his excellencies with too much warmth; nor has he endeavoured to throw his singularities too much into the shade. Dr. Johnson's failings may well be forgiven, for the sake of his virtues. His defects were spots in the sun. His piety, his kind affections, and the goodness of his heart, present an example worthy of imitation. His works still remain a monument of genius and of learning. Had he written nothing but what is contained in this edition, the quantity shows a life spent in study and meditation. If to this be added, the labour of his Dictionary, and other various productions, it may be fairly allowed, as he used to say of himself, that he has written his share. In the volumes here presented to the public the reader will find a perpetual source of pleasure and instruction. With due precautions, authors may learn to grace their style with elegance, harmony, and precision; they may be taught to think with vigour and perspicuity; and, to crown the whole, by a diligent attention to these books, all may advance in virtue.

  1. Boswell's Life of Johnson, Vol. II. p 465.
  2. This appears in a note to Johnson's Diary, prefixed to the first of his prayers. After the alteration of the stile, he kept his birth-day on the 18th of September, and it is accordingly marked September 718.
    Alteration of the stile refers to the conversion of Julian to Gregorian calendar in which the calendar shifted by 11 days. (Wikisource contributor note)
  3. The entry of this is remarkable for his early resolution to preserve through life a fair and upright character. "1732, Junii 15. Undecim aureos deposui, quo die, quidquid ante matris funus (quod serum sit precor) de paternis bonis sperare licet, viginti scilicet libras, accepi. Usque adeo mihi mea fortuna fingenda est interea, et ne paupertate vires animi languescant, nec in flagitia egestas abigat, cavendum."
  4. This, Mr. Bruce, the late traveller, avers to be a downright falsehood. He says, a deep pool of water reaches to the very foot of the rock; and, allowing that there was a seat or bench (which there is not) in the middle of the pool, it is absolutely impossible, by any exertion of human strength, to have arrived at it. But it may be asked, can Mr. Bruce say what was the face of the country in the year 1622, when Lobo saw the magnificent sight which he has described? Mr. Bruce's pool of water may have been formed since; and Lobo, perhaps, was content to sit down without a bench.
  5. After comparing this description with that lately given by Mr. Bruce, the reader will judge, whether Lobo is to lose the honour of having been at the head of the Nile, near two centuries before any other European traveller.
  6. See the Gentleman's Magazine for 1736, p. 418.
  7. Letter CCXII.
  8. Life of Johnson, Vol. I. p.328.
  9. See Gentleman's Magazine for Nov. and Dec. 1787.
  10. Ibid. for Dec. 1787, p. 1042
  11. See Scaliger's Epigram on this subject, (communicated, without doubt, by Dr. Johnson,) Gent. Mag. 1748, p. 8.
  12. It is there deposited. J. N.
  13. Before this authentic communication, Mr. Nichols had given, in the volume of the Magazine, for 1781, p. 370, the following account of the Universal History. The proposals were published October 6, 1729; and the authors of the first seven volumes were,
    Vol. I. Mr. Sale, translator of the Koran.
    II. George Psalmanazar.
    III. George Psalmanazar. Archibald Bower. Dr. Campbell. Captain Shelvock.
    IV. The same as vol. iii.
    V. Mr. Bower.
    VI. Mr. Bower. Rev. John Swinton.
    VII. Mr. Swinton. Mr. Bower.
  14. On the subject of voluntary penance see the Rambler, No. 110.
  15. "Your friend is passionate, perhaps unfit
    For the brisk petulance of modern wit.
    His hair ill-cut, his robe, that awkward flows,
    Or his large shoes, to raillery expose
    The man you love; yet is he not possess'd
    Of virtues, with which very few are blest?
    While underneath this rude, uncouth disguise, 
    A genius of extensive knowledge lies."
    Francis's Hor. Book i. Sat. 3.

  16. See Johnson's letters from Ashbourne, in this volume.
This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.