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Whate'er I plan, I feel my pow'rs confin'd
What then remains ? Must I, in slow decline,
Such is the picture for which Dr. Johnson sat to himself. He gives the prominent features of his character; his lassitude, his morbid melancholy, his love of fame, his dejection, his tavernparties, 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:
“Sir, 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,
SAMUEL JOHNSON. Gough square, 16 March.”
In the margin of this letter, there is a mernorandum 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. 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 Visiter, 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 visiters 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 Sequed, mentioned in that work, most probably suggested the name of the prince. thor 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 ber 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 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 umbra." 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 Bruyère, 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, bis 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 He was well acquainted with Johnson ; but, having heard much of his independent spirit, and of the downfal 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 panse: 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
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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
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.” 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. Chymistry 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
" See Johnson's epitaph on him, in this volume, p. 130.