Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

JOHNSON'S PARENTS

5

was

p. 213

B.

wise and pithy words of others, than to his too strong expression of any dishave every word of his own to be made turbance of the mind, “made him mad an apophthegm or an oracle.” 1

all his life, at least not sober."2 Michael Having said thus much by way of was, however, forced by the narrowness introduction, I com mit the following of his circumstances to be very diligent in pages to the candour of the public. business, not only in his shop, but by

occasionally resorting to several towns in the neighbourhood, 3 some of which were at a considerable distance from Lichfield.

At that time booksellers' shops, in the SAMUEL JOHNSON was born at Licho provincial towns of England, were very field, in Staffordshire, on the 18th of rare ; so that there was not one even in

September, N. S. 1709; and his mitia- Birmingham, in which town old Mr. Ćtion into the Christian church was not Johnson used to open a shop every delayed ; for his baptism is recorded, ina market-day. He

a pretty good the register of St. Mary's parish in that Latin scholar, and a citizen so creditable city, to have been performed on the day as to be made one of the magistrates of of his birth : his father is there styled Lichfield 4 ; and being a man of good Gentleman, a circumstance of which an sense, and skill in his trade, he acquired a ignorant panegyrist has praised him for reasonaj le share of wealth, of which, not being proud ; when the truth is, that however, he afterwards lost the greatest the appellation of Gentleman, though now part, by ngaging unsuccessfully in a lost in the indiscriminate assumption of manufacture of parchment. He was a Esquire, was commonly taken by those zealous high-churchman and royalist, and i who could not boast of gentility. His

2 Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3rd edit. father was Michael Johnson, a native of Derbyshire, of obscure extraction, who 3 Extract of a letter, dated "Trentham, St. settled in Lichfield as a bookseller and Peter's day, 1716," written by the Rev. George stationer. His mother was Sarah Ford, Plaxton, Chaplain at that time to Lord Gower, descended from an ancient race of sub- which the father of our great moralist was

may serve to show the high estimation in - stantial yeomanry in Warwickshire. They held :-" Johnson, the Lichfield librarian, is now were well advanced in years when they here; he propagates learning all over this diocese, married, and never had more than two the clergy here are his pupils, and suck all they children, both sons ; Samuel, their first-have from him; Allen cannot make a warrant born, who lived to be the illustrious without his precedent, nor our quondam John character whose various excellence I am

Evans draw a recognizance sine directione

Michaelis.- Gentleman's Magazine, October, to endeavour to record, and Nathaniel, who died in his twenty-fifth year.

4. “My father being that year Sheriff of LichMr. Michael Johnson was a man of a field, and to ride the circuit of the County

next large and robust body, and of a strong great pomp; he was asked by, my mother;

day, which was a ceremony then performed with and active mind ; yet, as in the most Whom he would invite to the Riding?' and solid rocks veins of unsound substance answered, 'All the town now.' He feasted the are often discovered, there was in him a

citizens with uncommon magnificence, and was

the last but one that maintained the splendour of mixture of that disease, the nature of the Riding.” An Account of the Life of Dr; which eludes the most minute inquiry, Samuel Johnson, from his birth to his Eleventh though the effects are well known to be a Year, written by Himself, This very rare weariness of life, an unconcern about Surgeon of Lichfield, from a volume of MSS. pre

volume was published in 1805 by Richard Wright, those things which agitate the greater part served by, Francis Barber, Johnson's black of mankind, and a general sensation of servant, when the Doctor a few days before his gloomy wretchedness. From him then death had ordered all his papers to be burnt. his

The volume also contained the correspondence son inherited, with some other between Johnson and Miss Boothby mentioned qualities, "a vile melancholy,” which in post. The Autobiography was printed by Croker

in an Appendix : the correspondence by Napier 1 Bacon's Advancement of Learning, Book in the supplementary volume to his edition enI. B.

titled Johnsoniana.

1791. B

retained his attachment to the unfortunate man-servant: he not being in the way, House of Stuart, though he reconciled this was not done ; þut there was no himself, by casuistical arguments of ex- occasion for any artificial aid for itsa pediency and necessity, to take the oaths preservation. imposed by the prevailing power.

In following so very eminent a ma There is a circumstance in his life from his cradle to his grave, ever somewhat romantic, but so well authenti- minute particular, which can throw ligh cated, that I shall not omit it. A young on the progress cí his mind, is interesting woman of Leek, in Staffordshire, while That he was remarkable, even in his he served his apprenticeship there, con- earliest years, may easily be supposed ceived a violent passion for him; and for to use his own words in his Life of though it met with no favourable return, Sydenham, “That the strength of hin, followed him to Lichfield, where she took understanding, the accuracy of his dis.. lodgings opposite to the house in which cernment, and the ardour of his curiosity, b he lived, and indulged her hopeless flame. might have been remarked from his When he was informed that it so preyed infancy, by a diligent observer, there is no upon her mind that her life was in danger, reason to doubt. For there is no instance he with a generous humanity went to her of any man, whose history has been and offered to marry her, but it was then minutely related, that did not in every too late : her vital power was exhausted ; part of life discover the same proportion and she actually exhibited one of the very of intellectual vigour.” rare instances of dying for love. She was In all such investigations it is certainly buried in the cathedral of Lichfield ; and unwise to pay too much attention to he, with a tender regard, placed a stone incidents which the credulous relate over her grave with this inseription : with eager satisfaction, and the more

scrupulous or witty inquirer considers Here lies the body of

only as topics of ridicule : yet there is a Mrs. ELIZABETH BLANEY, a stranger: She departed this life

traditional story of the infant Hercules 20th of September, 1694.

of Toryism, so curiously characteristic,

that I shall not withhold it. It was Johnson's mother was a woman of dis- communicated to me in a letter from Miss tinguished understanding. I asked his Mary Adye, of Lichfield. old schoolfellow, Mr. Hector, surgeon,

" When Dr. Sacheverel was of Birmingham, if she was not vain of her

at Lichfield,

Johnson was not quite three years old. My He said, " she had too much good grandfather Hammond observed him at the sense to be vain, but she knew her son's cathedral perched upon his father's shoulders, value.” Her piety was not inferior to listening and gaping at the much celebrated her understanding ; and to her must be how he could possibly think of bringing such an

Mr. Hammond asked Mr. Johnson ascribed those early impressions of reli- infant to church, and in the midst of so great a gion upon the mind of her son, from crowd. He answered, because it was impossible which the world afterward derived so

to keep him at home ; for, young as he was, he much benefit. He told me, that he for Sacheverel, and would have stayed for ever

believed he had caught the public spirit and zeal remembered distinctly having had the in the church, satisfied with beholding him.” first notice of Heaven, “ a place to which good people went,” and Hell, “a place

Nor can I omit a little instance of that to which bad people went, commu- jealous independence of spirit, and imnicated to him by her, when a little child petuosity of temper, which never forsook in bed with her; and that it might be the him. The fact was acknowledged to me better fixed in his memory, she sent him by himself, upon the authority of his to repeat it to Thomas Jackson, their mother. One day when the servant who

used to be sent to school to conduct him 1 According to Johnson however (in the afore home, had not come in time, he set out was brit an indifferent companion to her husband by himself, though he was then so nearin consequence.

sighted, that he was obliged to stoop

son.

HIS INFANT PRECOCITY

7

12

W

2

da

n his hands and knees to take a positively maintained to me, in his

f the kennel, before he ventured presence, that there could be no doubt of to P over it.

His schoolmistress, the truth of this anecdote, for she had a. that he might miss his way, or fall heard it from his mother. So difficult is into he kennel, or be run over by a cart, it to obtain an authentic relation of facts, fcpwed him at some distance. He and such authority may there be for happened to turn about and perceive her. error ; for he assured me, that his father Feeling her careful attention as an insult made the verses, and wished to pass to his manliness, he ran back to her in a them for his child's. He added, e, and beat her, as well as his strength my father was a foolish old man ; id permit

that is to say foolish in talking of his Y the power of his memory, for which children."2

as all his life eminent to a degree Young Johnson had the misfortune to most incredible, the following early be much afflicted with the scrofula, or istance was told me in his presence at king's evil, which disfigured a counteI Lichfield, in 1776, by his step-daughter, nance naturally well formed, and hurt Vrs. Lucy Porter, as related to her by his visual nerves so much, that he did his mother. When he was a child in not see at all with one of his eyes, though petticoats, and had learnt to read, Mrs. its appearance was little different from Johnson one morning put the Common that of the other. There is amongst his Prayer Book into his hands, pointed to prayers one inscribed When my EYE the collect for the day, and said, “Sam, was restored to its use, ,"3 which ascertains you must get this by heart. She went a defect that many of his friends knew up stairs leaving him to study it : but by he had, though I never perceived it. 4 I the time she had reached the second supposed him to be only near-sighted ; floor, she heard him following her. ir What's the matter ?” said she. “I

2 This anecdote of the duck, though disproved can say it,” he replied ; and repeated it less, upon supposition of its truth, been made the

by internal and external evidence, has neverthedistinctly, though he could not have read foundation of the following ingenious and fanciit more than twice.

ful reflections of Miss Seward, amongst the But there has been another story of his which she has been pleased to favour me :

communications concerning Dr. Johnson with infant precocity generally circulated, and “These infant numbers contain the seeds of generally believed, the truth of which I those propensities which through his life so am to refute upon his own authority. It strongly marked his character, of that poetic

talent which afterwards bore such rich and is told, 1 that, when a child of three years plentiful fruits; for excepting his orthographic old, he chanced to tread upon a duckling, works, everything which Dr. Johnson wrote was the eleventh of a brood, and killed it ; poetry, whose essence consists, not in numbers, upon which, it is said, he dictated to his fancy, to which all the stores of nature and of

or in jingle, but in the strength and glow of a mother the following epitaph :

art stand in prompt administration ; and in an eloquence which conveys their blended illustra

tions in a language ‘more tuneable than needs “Here lies good master duck,

or rhyme or verse to add more harmony.' The Whom Samuel Johnson trod on;

above little verses also shew that superstitious If it had liv'd, it had been good luck, bias which 'grew with his growth, and strengthFor then we'd had an odd one,

ened with his strength,' and of late years particu

larly injured, his happiness by presenting to There is surely internal evidence that this him the gloomy side of religion, rather than little composition combines in it, what no period of closing life with the light of pious child of three years old could produce, hope.” without an extension of its faculties by This is so beautifully imagined, that I would immediate inspiration ; yet Mrs. Lucy it is deduced from a supposed fact, which is,

not suppress it. But, like many other theories, Porter, Dr. Johnson's step-daughter, indeed, a fiction., B.

3 Prayers and Meditations, p. 27. B. Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson, by Hester. Lynch 4 Speaking himself of the imperfection of one Piozzi , p. 11. Life of Dr. Johnson, by Sir

John of his eyes, he said to Dr. Burney, “the dog Hawkins, p. 6. B.

was never good for much."

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

n

ever

and indeed I must observe, that in no me, acted by the advice of the cell d other respect could I discern any defect Sir John Floyer, then a physiq in his vision ; on the contrary, the force Lichfield. Johnson used to talk of his attention and perceptive quickness very frankly; and Mrs. Piozzi ha. made him see and distinguish all manner served his very picturesque descripti of objects, whether of nature or of art, the scene, as it remained upon his fad with a nicety that is rarely to be found. Being asked if he could remember Qud en When he and I were travelling in the Anne, --“He had,” he said, “ a confused, Highlands of Scotland, and I pointed but somehow a sort of solemn recollect on out to him a mountain which I observed of a lady in diamonds, and a long b) ck resembled a cone, he corrected my in- hood.”2 This touch, however, was haccuracy, by shewing me, that it was out any effect. I ventured to sayt:0) indeed pointed at the top, but that one in allusion to the political princ side of it was larger than the other. which he was educated, and of which And the ladies with whom he was he retained some odour, that acquainted, agree, that no man was more “his mother had not carried him far nicely and minutely critical in the enough, she should have taken him to elegance of female dress. When I found Rome.” that he saw the romantic beauties of He was first taught to read English by Islam, in Derbyshire, much better than Dame Oliver, a widow, who kept a I did, I told him that he resembled an school for young children in Lichfield. able performer upon a bad instrument. He told me she could read the black How false and contemptible then are all letter, and asked him to borrow for her, the remarks which have been made to from his father, a Bible in that character. the prejudice either of his candour or of When he was going to Oxford, she came his philosophy, founded upon a sup- to take leave of him, brought him, in position that he was almost blind ! It the simplicity of her kindness, a present has been said, that he contracted this of gingerbread, and said he was the best grievous malady from his nurse. His scholar she ever had. He delighted in mother yielding to the superstitious mentioning this early compliment: addnotion, which, it is wonderful to think, ing, with a smile, that “this was as high prevailed so long in this country, as to a proof of his merit as he could conceive.the virtue of the regal touch ; a notion His next instructor in English was which our kings encouraged, and to master, whom, when he spoke of him to which a man of such inquiry and such me, he familiarly called Tom Brown, judgment as Carte could give credit ; who, said he, “published a spellingcarried him to London, where he was book, and dedicated it to the UNIVERSE ; actually touched by Queen Anne:1 Mrs. but I fear no copy of it can now be Johnson indeed, as Mr. Hector informed had.”

He began to learn Latin with Mr. i He was only thirty months old, when he was Hawkins, usher, or under-master of taken to London to be touched for the evil. Lichfield school, “a man, “We went in the stage-coach,” he has recorded, “and returned in the waggon, as my mother

very skilful in his little way.' With said, because my cough was violent.

We him he continued two years, and then were troublesome to the passengers.

rose to be under the care of Mr. Hunter, sick; one woman fondled me, the other was the head-master, who, according to his disgusted.” During this visit, his mother purchased for him a small silver cup and spoon.

account, was very severe, and wrong“ The cup,” he affectingly adds, " was one of the headedly severe. He used,” said he, last pieces of plate which dear Tetty [his pet name “to beat us unmercifully; and he did for his wife Elizabeth] sold in our distress. I have now the spoon. She bought at the same

not distinguish between ignorance and țime two tea-spoons, and till my manhood, she negligence ; for he would beat a boy had no more.” (Autobiography.) It appears from equally for not knowing a thing, as for

He would ask a persons were touched by Queen Anne in one day, neglecting to know it. March 30, 1712.

Anecdotes, p. 10.

a

said he,

I was

66

B.

[blocks in formation]

ue

fuse

[ocr errors]

or

1 hic

eld.

Jack

ame

ent:

boy a question, and if he did not answer while Hunter was flogging his boys it, he would beat him, without con- unmercifully, he used to say,

?" And this sidering whether he had an opportunity I do to save you from the gallows." of knowing how to answer it. For Johnson, upon all occasions, expressed

instance, he would call up a boy and ask his approbation of enforcing instruction fani him Latin for a candlestick, which the by means of the rod. “I would,

boy could not expect to be asked. Now, rather,” said he, “have the rod to be Sir, if a boy could answer every question, the general terror to all, to make them

there would be no need of a master to learn, than tell a child, if you do thus, b! teach him."

or thus, you will be more esteemed than It is, however, but justice to the your brothers sisters. The rod memory of Mr. Hunter to mention, that produces an effect which terminates in though he might err in being too severe, itself. A child is afraid of being

the school of Lichfield was very re- whipped, and gets his task, and there's tha spectable in his time. The late Dr. an end on't ; whereas, by exciting emufall Taylor, Prebendary of Westminster, who | lation and comparisons of superiority,

was educated under him, told me, that you lay the foundation of lasting

“ he was an excellent master, and that mischief; you make brothers and sisters h by his ushers were most of them men of hate each other.' ot a

eminence; that Holbrook, one of the When Johnson saw some young ladies most ingenious men, best scholars, and in Lincolnshire who were remarkably

best preachers of his age, was usher well behaved, owing to their mother's her, during the greatest part of the time that strict discipline and severe correction, he ter. Johnson was at school. Then came exclaimed, in one of Shakspeare's lines a

Hague, of whom as much might be said, little varied, 2 in

with the addition that he was an elegant

poet. Hague was succeeded by Green, Rod, I will honour thee for this thy duty.” pest

afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, whose in character in the learned world is well That superiority over his fellows, which -1d known. In the same form with Johnson he maintained with so much dignity in Egh was Congreve, who afterwards became his march through life, was not assumed

chaplain to Archbishop Boulter, and by from vanity and ostentation, but was the

that connexion obtained good preferment natural and constant effect of those extrato

in Ireland. He was a younger son of ordinary powers of mind, of which he

the ancient family of Congreve, in could not but be conscious by comparison ; 8 Staffordshire, of which the poet was a the intellectual difference, which in other E;

branch. His brother sold the estate. cases of comparison of characters, is often be There was also Lowe, afterwards Canon a matter of undecided contest, being as of Windsor.”

clear in his case as the superiority of Indeed Johnson was very sensible how stature in some above others. much he owed to Mr. Hunter. Mr. Johnson did not strut or stand on tiptoe ;

Langton one day asked him how he had he only did not stoop. From his earliest h acquired so accurate a knowledge of years, his superiority was perceived and Latin, in which, I believe, he was ex- acknowledged. He

from the ceeded by no man of his time; he said, beginning åvag åvdpâv, a king of men. “My master whipped me very well. His schoolfellow, Mr. Hector, has Without that, Sir, I should have done obligingly furnished nothing.” He told Mr. Langton, that particulars of his boyish days; and

assured me that he never knew him 1 Hunter was a Prebendary of Lichfield and corrected at school, but for talking and grandfather of Miss Seward. tradition in Johnson's time that Addison had diverting other boys from their business. been at this school, and had been ringleader in a barring-out (see Lives of the Poets, " Addison”). 2"Sword, I will hallow thee for this thy Garrick entered the school two years after John- deed.”—Second Part of King Henry VI., iv. son left it.

[ocr errors]

in,

men

r. of

was

S

me

with many

IO.

« AnteriorContinuar »