Boswell's Life of Johnson (1904)/Volume 1/Appendix C

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Johnson at Cambridge.

(Page 563.)

The following is the full extract of Dr. Sharp's letter giving an account of Johnson's visit to Cambridge in 1765:—

'Camb. Mar. 1, 1765.

'As to Johnson, you will be surprised to hear that I have had him in the chair in which I am now writing. He has ascended my aërial citadel. He came down on a Saturday evening, with a Mr. Beauclerk, who has a friend at Trinity. Caliban, you may be sure, was not roused from his lair before next day noon, and his breakfast probably kept him till night. I saw nothing of him, nor was he heard of by any one, till Monday afternoon, when I was sent for home to two gentlemen unknown. In conversation I made a slrango. faux pas about Burnaby Greene's poem, in which Johnson is drawn at full length[1]. He drank his large potations of tea with me, interrupted by many an indignant contradiction, and many a noble sentiment. He had on a better wig than usual, but, one whose curls were not, like Sir Cloudesly's[2] formed for 'eternal buckle[3].' Our conversation was chiefly on books, you may be sure. He was much pleased with a small Milton of mine, published in the author's lifetime, and with the Greek epigram on his own effigy, of its being the picture, not of him, but of a bad painter[4]. There are many manuscript stanzas, for aught I know, in Milton's own handwriting, and several interlined hints and fragments. We were puzzled about one of the sonnets, which

we thought was not to be found in Newton's edition[5], and differed from all the printed ones. Hut Johnson cried, "No, no!" repeated the whole sonnet instantly, memoriter, and shewed it us in Newton's book. After which he learnedly harangued on sonnet-writing, and its different numbers. He tells me he will come hither again quickly, and is promised "an habitation in Emanuel College[6]." He went back to town next morning; but as it began to be known that he was in the university, several persons got into his company the last evening at Trinity, where, about twelve, he began to be very great; stripped poor Mrs. Macaulay to the very skin, then gave her for his toast, and drank her in two bumpers.' (Gent. Mag. for 1785, p. 173.)

  1. Burnaby Greene had just published The Laureat, a poem, in which Johnson is abused. It is in the February list of books in the Gent. Mag. for 1765.
  2. "Sir Cloudesly Shovel's monument is thus mentioned by Addison in The Spectator, No. 26:— 'It has very often given me great offence; instead of the brave rough English Admiral, which was the distinguishing character of that plain gallant man, he is represented on his tomb by the figure of a beau, dressed in a long periwig, and reposing himself upon velvet cushions under a canopy of state.'
  3. That live-long wig, which Gorgon's self might own,
    Eternal buckle takes in Parian stone.'

    Pope's Moral Essays, iii. 295.

  4. Milton's Epigram is in his Sylvarum Liber, and is entitled In Effigiei ejus Sculptorem.
  5. Johnson's acquaintance, Bishop Newton (Post, June 3, 1784), published an edition of Milton.
  6. It was no doubt by the Master of Emanuel College, his friend Dr. Farmer (antt, p. 426), that Johnson was promised 'an habitation' there.