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And other doctrines thence imbibe
Then welcome business, welcome stife
SAMUEL JOHNSON. 1700—1784.
Sakckl Joiixsox, the CorypheiiB of English Literature of the eighteenth century, was born at Litchfield,1 in Staffordshire, September 7, 1700, and was educated at Pembroke College, Oxford. He gave early proof or a vigorous understanding and of a great fondness for knowledge; but poverty compelled hiin to leave the university, after being there three years, without taking a degree, and he returned to Litchfield in the autumn of 1731, destitute, and wholly undetermined what plan of life to pursue. His father, who had been a bookseller, and who had become insolvent, died in December, and in the July following, Johnson accepted the situation of usher of the grammar-school at Market-Bosworth, in Leicestershire. For this situation, however, he soon felt himself utterly unqualified by means of his natural disposition. Though his scholarship was ample, he wanted that patience to bear with dulness and waywardness, those kind and urbane manners to win love and respect, that tact in controlling and governing youth, and that happy manner of illustrating difficulties and imparting knowledge, which are as essential as high literary attainments to form the perfect schoolmaster. No wonder, therefore, that ho quitted the high vocation in disgust. His scholars, doubtless, were quite a-> glad to get rid of him as he was of them. Aon amnet omnibus.
1 Hence lie haa been frequently termed "Tbc Sage o' LitchflcU."
The next year he obtained temporary employment from a bookseller at Birmingham, and soon after, entered into an engagement with Mr. Cave, the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, to write for that periodical. This, however, was not sufficient to support him, but Cupid happily came to his assistance; for he fell in love with a Mrs. Porter, a widow of little more than double her lover's age, and possessed of eight hundred pounds. They were married on the 9th of July, 1736, and soon after, Johnson took a large house near Litchfield, and opened an academy for classical education. But the plan failed, and he went to London, and engaged himself as a regular contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine. Here he shortly produced his admirable poem entitled "London," in imitation of the third satire of Juvenal. For it, he received from Dodsley ten guineas; it immediately attracted great attention, and Pope, as soon as he read it, saiiL, "The author, whoever he is, will not be long concealed." His tragedy of u Irene," produced about the same time, was, as regards stage success, a total failure, though, like the Cato of Addison, it is full of noble sentiments. His pen was at this time continually employed in writing pamphlets, prefaces, epitaphs, essays, and biographical memoirs for the magazine; but the compensation he received was small, very small; and it is distressing to reflect that, at this period, the poverty of this most distinguished scholar was so great, that he was sometimes obliged to pass the day without food.
In 1744 he published the "Life of Richard Savage," one of the best written and most instructive pieces of biography extant, and which was at once the theme of general admiration.' In 1747 he issued his plan for his » English Dictionary," addressed, in an admirably written pamphlet, to die Earl of Chesterfield, who, however, concerned himself very little about its success. The time he could spare from this Herculean labor, he gave to various litelary subjects. In 1749 appeared his "Vanity of Human Wishes," an admiinble poem, in imitation of tho tenth satire of Juvenal; and in the next year he commenced his periodical paper » The Rambler," which deservedly raUed the reputation of the author still higher, and which, from the peculiar strength of its style, exerted a powerful influence on English Prose Literature* In 1705, appeared the great work which has made his name known wncrever the English language is spoken—his long-promised 0 Dictionary." Eight long years was he in bringing it to a completion j and considering the little aid he could receive from previous lexicographers, it was a gigantic undertaking; and most successfully and nobly did he accomplish it3 But just before it was
1 One of tlic best proofs of Its attractive power was given by Sir Joshua Reynolds, who laid that, on Ills return from Italy, he met with It in Dcvontblre, knowing nothing or Its author, and begun to read ft while he was standing with his arm leaning against a chimncy-ulece. It seized his attention so strongly, that, not being able to lay down the book till he had fknl&iied it, when be attempted to move, he found his arm totally benumbed.
a "The Rambler," was commenced on the Wth of March, 1750, and continued every Tuesday and Saturday to March 14,1752. Of the energy and fertility of resource with which this work was conducted, Uierc can be no greater proof than that during the whole time, though afflicted with di.-»*aae, and harassed with the tolls of lexicography, he wrote the whole hlmscli; with Uic exception of four or five number*.
3 The French Academy of Foutt members wore all engaged upon their boasted Dictionary, which, after a:;, Aas not cental to Johnson's single-handed labor. This gave rise to the following spirited lines from Garrick :—
Talk of war with a Briton, he'U boldly advance.
That one English soldier will beat ten of France;
Would wc alter tlic boast from the sword to the pen,
Otir odds are tUll greater, still greater our men;
published, Lord Chesterfield endeavored to influence Johnson to dedicate it ta> himself, and for this purpose he wrote two numbers, in a periodical paper, "The World," highly complimentary of Johnson's learning and labors. Johnson was of course highly indignant,1 and addressed to him the following lotter, which, for the polish of its style, the elegance of its language, the keenness of its sarcasm, its manly disdain, and the condensed vigor of its thought, is, perhaps, unequalled in English literature.
TO THE RIOHT HONORABLE THE EARL OF CHESTERFIELD. Mi Lord:
I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of The World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished, is an honor, which, being very little accustomed to favors 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 rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favor. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.
In the deep mines of science, though Frenchmen nmy toll,
Can lliclr strength be compared to Locke, Newton, and Boyle I
Let then) rally thctr heroes, send forth all their powers,
Tlielr vcrsc-mcn and proue-iucn; then match them with ours;
First Bhakspcarc and Milton, like gods In the tight,
Have put tbelr whole drama and epic to flight;
In saUres, epistles, and odes would they cope.
Their numbers retreat before Dryden and Pope;
And Joiursow, well arm'd like a hero of yore,
Has beat roaxr French, and will beat forty more 1" 1 In his anger he exclaimed to hut friend Garrlck, "I liave sailed a long and painful voyaga round the world of the English language; and does be now send out two cock boats to tow me lute hir'ior»"
- Tne conqueror of the conqueror of the world.
The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.
Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached the ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labors, 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 public 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 favorer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though 1 should conclude it, if less be possible, with less; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation, My Lord,
Your Lordship's most humble,
Most obedient servant,
In the few years succeeding the publication of his " Dictionary," he employed himself in an edition of Shakspeare, and gave to the world another periodical paper entitled uThe Idler." In the former, when it appeared in 1765, the public were very much disappointed; for though the preface was written in a style unsurpassed for its beauty and strength, and showed that he well knew the duties and requirements of a commentator upon the great dramatic poet, his annotations showed that he had not that critical knowledge of the writers of the times of Shakspeare and antecedent thereto, which is requisite properly to elucidate the bard. In 1759 he appeared in a new character, that of a Novelist, in the publication of his " Rasselas," which was written to defray the expenses of his mother's funeral. In 1762 he was relieved from pecuniary anxiety by a pension of JE300 a year, granted to him in consideration of the happy influence of his writings; for Lord Bute expressly told him, on his accepting the bounty, that it was given him not for uny thing he was to do, bu. for what he had done.
In the next year, 1763, he was introduced to his biographer, James Bos well, and we have, from this date, a fuller account of hiin, perhaps, than was ever written of any other individual* From this time we are made as fa
1 There Is pretty good evidence that Johnson, after the flrt>t ebullition of temper had subsided, fieB that he had been unreasonably violent in addressing this letter to Chesterfield; and that hla lorvlsblE was not to blame for not sooner noticing- Johnson's great work. Indeed the "notice," for any useful ouruosc, could not have been earlier. Consult—Croker's "new and revised" edition of Boswell** Johnson. 1 vol. svo., pp. 85, 89—a most admirable book, and one which probably contains more Interesting and valuable literary Information than any other volume of equal size In the language.
1 "Tltc mast triumphant record of the auctits and character of Johnson is to be found In BoswelTs life of him. Tne man was superior to the author. When he threw aside his pen, which he n-sjtrded as an encumbrance, be became not only learned and thoughtful, but actitr, witty, huiuoroits, itatnral, honcsti hearty and determined, 'the king of good fellows and wale of old nun.' Ttu-rv are as m*ny 1
miliar, as it is in the power of writing to make us, with the character, the habits, and the appearance of Johnson, and the persons and things with which he is connected. "Every thing about him," says an able critic,1 « his coat, his wig, his figure, his rolling walk, his blinking eye, the outward signs which too clearly marked the approbation of his dinner, his insatiable appetite for fish sauce, and veal pie with plums, his inextinguishable thirst for tea, his trick of touching the posts as he walked, his mysterious practice of treasuring tip scraps of orange peeL his morning slumbers, his midnight disputations, his contortions, his mutterings, his gruntings, his puffings, his vigorous, acute, and ready eloquence; his sarcastic wit, his vehemence, his insolence, his fits of tempestuous rage, his queer inmates—old Mr. Levett and blind Mrs. Williams, the cat Hodge, and the negro Frank—all are as familiar to us as the objects by which we have been surrounded."
In 1773, in company with Mr. Boswell, he made a tour to the Western Islands of Scotland, of which he published an interesting and instructive account. In it he pronounces decidedly against the authenticity of the poems called "Ossian's." The last of his literary labors was his "Lives of the Poets," which were completed in 1781.' Though it is a work that, on the whole, is justly considered as one of the ablest contributions to English biography, it must be read with great caution; for tho criticisms of Johnson are too often biased by his strong political, religious, and even personal antipathies, as is clearly evinced in the gross injustice he has done to the two greatest poets of the series—Milton3 and Gray. « His indiscriminate hatred of Whig principles; his detestation of blank verse; his dislike of pastoral, lyric, and descriptive poetry; his total want of enthusiasm; and his perpetual efforts to veil the splendor of genius, are frequently lost in the admiration which the blaze and vigor of his intellectual powers so strongly excite. This is, in fact, the work in which the excellencies and defects of Johnson are placed before the reader with their full prominence; in which the lovers of philology and biogtaphy, the friends of moral and ethic wisdom, will find
im&rt repartees, profound remarks, and keen Invectives to be found tn BoswelTs 'Inventory of all he said,' as are recorded of any celebrated man. The life and dramatic play of his conversation form a contrast to his written works. His natural powers and undisguised opinions were called ont In convivial intercourse. In public, he pracUscd with the foils: In private, he unsheathed the •word of controversy, and It was 'the Ebro's temper.' The eagerness of opposition roused him from his natural sluggishness and acquired timidity; be returned blow for blow; and whether the trial were of argument or wit, none of his rivals could boast much of the encounter. Burke seems to have been the only person who had a chance with him; and It Is Uks unpardonable sin of Boswell's work, that he baa purposely omitted their combats of strength and skill. Goldsmith asked, 'Does he wind Into a subject like a serpent, as Burke does P And when exhausted with sickness, he himself said, 'If that fellow Burke were here now, be would kill me.' "—IhxtiU't E*gU*h Comie Writtn.
I Read—(he article In the 33:1 vol. of the Edinburgh Review, or In Macaulay's Miscellanies, vol. 11. p. 11: also an article, "Johnson and bis Biographers," in the 40th Vol of Uie Quarterly: also, par Ucularly, the new edition of Croker's Boswell, in one large octavo—an invaluable work; Murphy's Life, in the Preface to his Works; a " Memoir" by Sir Walter Scott, in the Udrd volume of his Prose Works; and the " Literary Life of Dr. Johnson," In the 4th vol. of Drake's Essays.
* "No man can entertain a higher idea of Johnson's Intellectual powers as a lexicographer, a teacher, and a moralist, than myself; but poetical crtUctsm was not his province; and though in point of style his * Lives' be superior, perhaps, to any of his preceding compositions, they are infl. nttely more disgraced by the Inexorable partialities of the man."—Drake's " Literary Hours," 1. 321 Bead, also, a one article on Johnson In Sir Egerton Brydges's " Imaginative Biography," U. 331.
3 What greater contrast can we conceive tlutn that exhibited In the characters of Milton and Johnson; tn the former of whom so predominated the imaginative and the spiritual; tn the latter, Die sensuous and the animal