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and though it brought the author only ten guineas in money, it served to direct attention to him as a man of genius. It was published anonymously; but Pope declared on reading it that the author could not long remain concealed. Its general theme
is found in the following lines, which were written doubtless with all the conviction of bitter experience:
"This mournful truth is everywhere confessed,
But here more slow, where all are slaves to gold;
Another work appearing in 1744 added much to Johnson's reputation. One of his Grub Street acquaintances was Richard Savage, a man of noble birth but profligate life. In spite of an insolent manner, he was of agreeable companionship and wide experience. He had passed through great vicissitudes of fortune; and on his death, Johnson wrote his life in a masterly manner. "No finer specimen of literary biography," says Macaulay, "existed in any language, living or dead." It had the effect of pretty well establishing Johnson's fame.
In 1747 he was applied to by several eminent booksellers to prepare a "Dictionary of the English Language." The remuneration agreed upon was fifteen hundred guineas. The plan was issued and addressed to Lord Chesterfield, the most polished man of his time. This distinguished lord had at one time given the burly scholar encouragement; but repelled at last by his boorishness of manner, he had politely shaken him off. He characterized Johnson as a "respectable Hottentot, who throws his meat any where but down his throat." "This absurd person," he says again, was not only uncouth in manners and warm in dispute, but behaved exactly in the same way to superiors, equals, and inferiors; and therefore, by a necessary consequence, absurdly to two of the three.” Johnson's opinion of Chesterfield contained just as little flattery. He denounced that nobleman's "Letters" as teaching the morals
of a harlot and the manners of a dancing-master. At another time he said, "I thought this man had been a lord among wits; but I find he is only a wit among lords."
After seven years of drudgery Johnson brought his work to a close. In hopes of having it dedicated to himself, Chesterfield took occasion to recommend it in two letters published in the World, a periodical to which men of rank and fashion frequently contributed. The proud scholar was not to be appeased; and his reply was terrific "the far-famed blast of doom proclaiming into the ear of Lord Chesterfield," says Carlyle, "and through him of the listening world, that patronage should be no more." "Is not a patron, my lord," wrote Johnson, "one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached the ground encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labors, had it been earlier, 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 public should consider me as owing that to a patron which Providence has enabled me to do for myself."
Johnson defined a lexicographer as a "harmless drudge." This is fairly descriptive of the nature of his work, which consisted in collecting, defining, and illustrating all the words in the language. Judged by present high standards, the work is defective. Scientific etymology was not yet in existence. But it far surpassed anything before it, and was received with enthusiasm by the English people.
Johnson's energies were not wholly expended on the drudgery of the "Dictionary." In 1749 he published another imitation of Juvenal entitled the "Vanity of Human Wishes." It is written with much vigor, and in passages surpasses the original. The vanity of the warrior's pride is illustrated by Charles XII. of Sweden:
"He left a name at which the world grew pale,
To the ambitious scholar he says:
"Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes,
Hear Lydiat's life and Galileo's end."
The poem brought him little besides a growing reputation. A few days after the publication of the "Vanity of Human. Wishes," his tragedy of "Irene" was brought upon the stage by Garrick. It was heard with respectful attention. After running nine nights, it was withdrawn, and has never since been acted. "When Johnson writes tragedy," said Garrick, "declamation roars and passion sleeps; when Shakespeare wrote he dipped his pen in his own heart." Johnson took the failure of his tragedy with philosophical calmness. It brought him all together about three hundred pounds, in which no doubt he found substantial consolation.
In 1750 he began the publication of the Rambler, a periodical resembling the Spectator. It appeared twice a week for two years. The range of subjects is wide and interesting. The prevailing tone is serious and moral. Though coldly received at the time of first issue, yet afterwards collected into volumes, the papers had an extraordinary circulation. No fewer than ten editions appeared during the author's life.
His style is characterized by an artificial stateliness, and a preponderance of Latin words. "I have labored," he says in the closing paper, "to refine our language to grammatical purity, and to clear it from colloquial barbarisms, licentious idioms, and irregular combinations. Something, perhaps, I have added to the elegance of its construction, and something to
the harmony of its cadence." He lacked the delicate touch of Addison. Of his moral aim he says: "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 praise or blame of man can diminish or augment. I shall never envy the honors which wit and learning obtain in any other cause, if I can be numbered among the writers who have given ardor to virtue, and confidence to truth." The Rambler is a delightful book with which to spend an occasional half-hour. It is filled with sober wisdom, and some of the papers are singularly beautiful.
In 1759 Johnson's mother died at Lichfield at the age of ninety. He was still involved in financial troubles. In order to gain money for her funeral expenses, he wrote in a single week the story of "Rasselas." It is his most popular work. Its main theme is announced in the opening sentence: "Ye who listen with credulity to the whispers of fancy, and pursue with eagerness the phantoms of hope; who expect that age will perform the promises of youth, and that the deficiences of the present day will be supplied by the morrow; attend to the history of Rasselas, prince of Abyssinia." The story makes no pretensions to historical accuracy; the Abyssinians brought before us are in reality highly cultivated Europeans. But it is written with Johnson's peculiar eloquence, and exhibits fully his moral and reflective temperament.
The year 1762 saw an important change in Johnson's condition. He received a pension of three hundred pounds a year. In his "Dictionary" he had defined a pension as generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country." Being assured that he did not come within the definition, and that the pension was accorded in recognition of past services, he accepted it after some hesitation. It placed him for the first time in circumstances of independence, and allowed him to indulge his constitutional
indolence. He talked at night and slept during the day, rising at two in the afternoon. "I cannot now curse the House of Hanover," he said in appreciative reference to his pension; "but I think that the pleasure of cursing the House of Hanover and drinking King James's health, all amply overbalanced by three hundred pounds a year."
No longer driven by necessity, his pen became less busy. His principal influence was exerted through conversation. His colloquial powers were of the highest order. In the Club, which included, among others, Goldsmith, Burke, Reynolds, and Garrick, he was easily first. The opinion of the Club carried great weight; and for a time his position might be described as literary dictator of England. Meeting the King one day in the royal library, he was asked by his Majesty if he intended to give the world any more of his compositions. "I think I have written enough," said Johnson. "And I should think so too," replied his Majesty, "if you had not written so well"a compliment of which Johnson was very proud.
In 1773 Johnson made a journey to the Hebrides. He was kindly received on his journey through Scotland. His prejudices against the Scotch were softened to a harmless foible. He made inquiries concerning the poems of Ossian. He denounced Macpherson's work as a forgery. Receiving a furious and threatening letter from the author of "Ossian," Johnson replied: "I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think a cheat by the menaces of a ruffian.” In anticipation of personal violence, he provided himself with a heavy stick, of which, had occasion offered, he would doubtless have made vigorous use.
The results of this trip are given in a pleasant volume entitled "Journey to the Hebrides." The style is, as usual, elaborate and stately. Writing to an intimate friend from the Hebrides, he says with colloquial ease and pith, "When we were taken up-stairs, a dirty fellow bounced out of the bed on which one of us was to lie." In his book this incident is translated into his artificial literary style as follows: “Out of one of