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wise and pithy words of others, than to have every word of his own to be made an apophthegm or an oracle." 1 Having said thus much by way of introduction, I commit the following pages to the candour of the public.

SAMUEL JOHNSON was born at Lich field, in Staffordshire, on the 18th of September, N. S. 1709; and his initiation into the Christian church was not delayed; for his baptism is recorded, in the register of St. Mary's parish in that city, to have been performed on the day of his birth: his father is there styled Gentleman, a circumstance of which an ignorant panegyrist has praised him for not being proud; when the truth is, that the appellation of Gentleman, though now lost in the indiscriminate assumption of Esquire, was commonly taken by those who could not boast of gentility. His father was Michael Johnson, a native of Derbyshire, of obscure extraction, who settled in Lichfield as a bookseller and stationer. His mother was Sarah Ford, descended from an ancient race of substantial yeomanry in Warwickshire. They were well advanced in years when they married, and never had more than two children, both sons ; Samuel, their firstborn, who lived to be the illustrious character whose various excellence I am to endeavour to record, and Nathaniel, who died in his twenty-fifth year.

Mr. Michael Johnson was a man of a large and robust body, and of a strong and active mind; yet, as in the most solid rocks veins of unsound substance are often discovered, there was in him a mixture of that disease, the nature of which eludes the most minute inquiry, though the effects are well known to be a weariness of life, an unconcern about those things which agitate the greater part of mankind, and a general sensation of gloomy wretchedness. From him then his son inherited, with some other qualities, “a vile melancholy," which in

1 Bacon's Advancement of Learning, Book

1. B.


his too strong expression of any disturbance of the mind, "made him mad all his life, at least not sober."2 Michael was, however, forced by the narrowness of his circumstances to be very diligent in 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 provincial towns of England, were very rare; so that there was not one even in Birmingham, in which town old Mr. Johnson used to open a shop every market-day. He was a pretty good Latin scholar, and a citizen so creditable as to be made one of the magistrates of Lichfield; and being a man of good sense, and skill in his trade, he acquired a reasonaile share of wealth, of which, however, he afterwards lost the greatest part, by ngaging unsuccessfully in a manufacture of parchment. He was a zealous high-churchman and royalist, and

2 Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3rd edit. P. 213. B.




3 Extract of a letter, dated "Trentham, St. Peter's day, 1716," written by the Rev. George Plaxton, Chaplain at that time to Lord Gower, which the father of our great moralist was may serve to show the high estimation in held:-"Johnson, the Lichfield librarian, is now here; he propagates learning all over this diocese, the clergy here are his pupils, and suck all they and advanceth knowledge to its just height; all have from him; Allen cannot make a warrant without his precedent, nor our quondam John Evans draw a recognizance sine directione Michaelis."-Gentleman's Magazine, October, 179 My father being that year Sheriff of Lichfield, and to ride the circuit of the County next day, which was a ceremony then performed with great pomp; he was asked by my mother, Whom he would invite to the Riding?' and answered, 'All the town now.' He feasted the citizens with uncommon magnificence, and was the Riding." the last but one that maintained the splendour of An Account of the Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, from his Birth to his Eleventh Year, written by Himself. This very rare Surgeon of Lichfield, from a volume of MSS. prevolume was published in 1805 by Richard Wright, served by Francis Barber, Johnson's black servant, when the Doctor a few days before his death had ordered all his papers to be burnt. The volume also contained the correspondence between Johnson and Miss Boothby mentioned post. The Autobiography was printed by Croker

in an Appendix: the correspondence by Napier in the supplementary volume to his edition entitled Johnsoniana.

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

There is a circumstance in his life somewhat romantic, but so well authenticated, that I shall not omit it. A young woman of Leek, in Staffordshire, while he served his apprenticeship there, conceived a violent passion for him; and though it met with no favourable return, followed him to Lichfield, where she took lodgings opposite to the house in which he lived, and indulged her hopeless flame. When he was informed that it so preyed upon her mind that her life was in danger, he with a generous humanity went to her and offered to marry her, but it was then too late her vital power was exhausted; and she actually exhibited one of the very rare instances of dying for love. She was buried in the cathedral of Lichfield; and he, with a tender regard, placed a stone over her grave with this inscription :


Here lies the body of Mrs. ELIZABETH BLANEY, a stranger: She departed this life 20th of September, 1694.


Johnson's mother was a woman of distinguished understanding. I asked his old schoolfellow, Mr. Hector, surgeon, of Birmingham, if she was not vain of her "she had too much good He said, sense to be vain, but she knew her son's value." Her piety was not inferior to her understanding; and to her must be ascribed those early impressions of religion upon the mind of her son, from which the world afterward derived so much benefit. He told me, that he remembered distinctly having had the first notice of Heaven, a place to which good people went," and Hell, a place to which bad people went,' communicated to him by her, when a little child in bed with her; and that it might be the better fixed in his memory, she sent him to repeat it to Thomas Jackson, their


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In following so very eminent a man from his cradle to his grave, every minute particular, which can throw light on the progress e his mind, is interesting. That he was remarkable, even in his earliest years, may easily be supposed for to use his own words in his Life of Sydenham, "That the strength of his understanding, the accuracy of his discerniment, and the ardour of his curiosity, might have been remarked from his infancy, by a diligent observer, there is no reason to doubt. For there is no instance of any man, whose history has been minutely related, that did not in every part of life discover the same proportion of intellectual vigour.'

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In all such investigations it is certainly unwise to pay too much attention to incidents which the credulous relate with eager satisfaction, and the more scrupulous or witty inquirer considers only as topics of ridicule: yet there is a traditional story of the infant Hercules of Toryism, so curiously characteristic, that I shall not withhold it. It was communicated to me in a letter from Miss Mary Adye, of Lichfield.


"When Dr. Sacheverel was at Lichfield, Johnson was not quite three years old. My grandfather Hammond observed him at the cathedral perched upon his father's shoulders, listening and gaping at the much celebrated how he could possibly think of bringing such an infant to church, and in the midst of so great a crowd. He answered, because it was impossible to keep him at home; for, young as he was, he believed he had caught the public spirit and zeal for Sacheverel, and would have stayed for ever in the church, satisfied with beholding him."

Mr. Hammond asked Mr. Johnson

Nor can I omit a little instance of that jealous independence of spirit, and impetuosity of temper, which never forsook him. The fact was acknowledged to me by himself, upon the authority of his mother.

One day when the servant who used to be sent to school to conduct him home, had not come in time, he set out by himself, though he was then so nearsighted, that he was obliged to stoop



n his hands and knees to take a f the kennel, before he ventured over it. His schoolmistress, that he might miss his way, or fall he kennel, or be run over by a cart, owed him at some distance. He opened to turn about and perceive her. eling her careful attention as an insult is manliness, he ran back to her in a and beat her, as well as his strength ld permit

f the power of his memory, for which as all his life eminent to a degree most incredible, the following early stance was told me in his presence at ichfield, in 1776, by his step-daughter, Mrs. Lucy Porter, as related to her by his mother. When he was a child in petticoats, and had learnt to read, Mrs. Johnson one morning put the Common Prayer Book into his hands, pointed to the collect for the day, and said, "Sam, you must get this by heart." She went up stairs leaving him to study it: but by the time she had reached the second floor, she heard him following her. "What's the matter?" said she. "I can say it," he replied; and repeated it distinctly, though he could not have read it more than twice.

But there has been another story of his infant precocity generally circulated, and generally believed, the truth of which I am to refute upon his own authority. It is told,1 that, when a child of three years old, he chanced to tread upon a duckling, the eleventh of a brood, and killed it; upon which, it is said, he dictated to his mother the following epitaph :

"Here lies good master duck,

Whom Samuel Johnson trod on; If it had liv'd, it had been good luck, For then we'd had an odd one.

There is surely internal evidence that this little composition combines in it, what no child of three years old could produce, without an extension of its faculties by immediate inspiration; yet Mrs. Lucy Porter, Dr. Johnson's step-daughter,

1 Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson, by Hester Lynch Piozzi, p. 11. Life of Dr. Johnson, by Sir John Hawkins, p. 6. B.


positively maintained to me, in his presence, that there could be no doubt of the truth of this anecdote, for she had heard it from his mother. So difficult is it to obtain an authentic relation of facts, and such authority may there be for error; for he assured me, that his father made the verses, and wished to pass them for his child's. He added, "my father was a foolish old man; that is to say foolish in talking of his children."

Young Johnson had the misfortune to be much afflicted with the scrofula, or king's evil, which disfigured a countenance naturally well formed, and hurt his visual nerves so much, that he did not see at all with one of his eyes, though its appearance was little different from that of the other. There is amongst his prayers one inscribed "When my EYE was restored to its use,' "3 which ascertains a defect that many of his friends knew he had, though I never perceived it. I supposed him to be only near-sighted;

2 This anecdote of the duck, though disproved by internal and external evidence, has nevertheless, upon supposition of its truth, been made the foundation of the following ingenious and fanciful reflections of Miss Seward, amongst the which she has been pleased to favour me :communications concerning Dr. Johnson with

"These infant numbers contain the seeds of

those propensities which through his life so strongly marked his character, of that poetic talent which afterwards bore such rich and plentiful fruits; for excepting his orthographic works, everything which Dr. Johnson wrote was poetry, whose essence consists, not in numbers, fancy, to which all the stores of nature and of or in jingle, but in the strength and glow of a art stand in prompt administration; and in an eloquence which conveys their blended illustrations in a language 'more tuneable than needs or rhyme or verse to add more harmony.' The above little verses also shew that superstitious bias which 'grew with his growth, and strengthened with his strength,' and of late years particularly injured, his happiness by presenting to him the gloomy side of religion, rather than that bright and cheering one which gilds the period of closing life with the light of pious hope."

This is so beautifully imagined, that I would

not suppress it. But, like many other theories, it is deduced from a supposed fact, which is, indeed, a fiction. B. B.

3 Prayers and Meditations, p. 27.

4 Speaking himself of the imperfection of one of his eyes, he said to Dr. Burney, "the dog was never good for much.'

me, acted by the advice of the cel
Sir John Floyer, then a physic
Lichfield. Johnson used to talk
very frankly; and Mrs. Piozzi has
served his very picturesque descripti
the scene, as it remained upon his fa
Being asked if he could remember Que
Anne,-"He had," he said, "a confus
but somehow a sort of solemn recollec
of a lady in diamonds, and a long b
hood."2 This touch, however, was
out any effect. I ventured to say tO
in allusion to the political princ: w
which he was educated, and of which
he ever retained some odour, tha
"his mother had not carried him fa
enough, she should have taken him t

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and indeed I must observe, that in no other respect could I discern any defect in his vision; on the contrary, the force of his attention and perceptive quickness made him see and distinguish all manner of objects, whether of nature or of art, with a nicety that is rarely to be found. When he and I were travelling in the Highlands of Scotland, and I pointed out to him a mountain which I observed resembled a cone, he corrected my inaccuracy, by shewing me, that it was indeed pointed at the top, but that one side of it was larger than the other. And the ladies with whom he was acquainted, agree, that no man was more nicely and minutely critical in the elegance of female dress. When I found 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 the virtue of the regal touch; a notion which our kings encouraged, and to which a man of such inquiry and such judgment as Carte could give credit; carried him to London, where he was actually touched by Queen Anne:1 Mrs. Johnson indeed, as Mr. Hector informed

I was


1 He was only thirty months old, when he was taken to London to be touched for the evil. "We went in the stage-coach," he has recorded, "and returned in the waggon, as my mother said, because my cough was violent. We were troublesome to the passengers. sick; one woman fondled me, the other was disgusted." During this visit, his mother purchased for him a small silver cup and "The cup," he affectingly adds, "was one of the last pieces of plate which dear Tetty [his pet name for his wife Elizabeth] sold in our distress. I have now the spoon. She bought at the same time two tea-spoons, and till my manhood, she had no more." (Autobiography.) It appears from the newspapers of the time that two hundred persons were touched by Queen Anne in one day, March 30, 1712.

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a proof of his merit as he could conceive. His next instructor in English was master, whom, when he spoke of him to me, he familiarly called Tom Brown, who, said he, ". 'published a spellingbook, and dedicated it to the UNIVERSE; but I fear no copy of it can now be had."



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He began to learn Latin with Mr. Hawkins, usher, or under-master of Lichfield school, "a man," said he, very skilful in his little way. With him he continued two years, and then rose to be under the care of Mr. Hunter, the head-master, who,. according to his account, was very severe, and wrongheadedly severe. He used," said he, "to beat us unmercifully; and he did not distinguish between ignorance and negligence; for he would beat a boy equally for not knowing a thing, as for neglecting to know it. He would ask a Anecdotes, p. 10. B.

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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 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, teach him." or thus, you will be more esteemed than your brothers or sisters. The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself. A child is afraid of being whipped, and gets his task, and there's an end on't; whereas, by exciting emulation and comparisons of superiority, you lay the foundation of lasting mischief; you make brothers and sisters hate each other."

It is, however, but justice to the memory of Mr. Hunter to mention, that though he might err in being too severe, the school of Lichfield was very respectable in his time. The late Dr. Taylor, Prebendary of Westminster, who was educated under him, told me, that "he was an excellent master, and that his ushers were most of them men of eminence; that Holbrook, one of the most ingenious men, best scholars, and best preachers of his age, was usher during the greatest part of the time that Johnson was at school. Then came Hague, of whom as much might be said, with the addition that he was an elegant poet. Hague was succeeded by Green, afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, whose character in the learned world is well known. In the same form with Johnson was Congreve, who afterwards became chaplain to Archbishop Boulter, and by that connexion obtained good preferment in Ireland. He was a younger son of the ancient family of Congreve, in Staffordshire, of which the poet was a branch. His brother sold the estate. There was also Lowe, afterwards Canon of Windsor."

Indeed Johnson was very sensible how much he owed to Mr. Hunter. Mr. Langton one day asked him how he had acquired so accurate a knowledge of Latin, in which, I believe, he was exceeded by no man of his time; he said, "My master whipped me very well. Without that, Sir, I should have done nothing." He told Mr. Langton, that

When Johnson saw some young ladies in Lincolnshire who were remarkably well behaved, owing to their mother's strict discipline and severe correction, he exclaimed, in one of Shakspeare's lines a little varied,2

"Rod, I will honour thee for this thy duty."

That superiority over his fellows, which he maintained with so much dignity in his march through life, was not assumed from vanity and ostentation, but was the natural and constant effect of those extraordinary powers of mind, of which he could not but be conscious by comparison; the intellectual difference, which in other cases of comparison of characters, is often a matter of undecided contest, being as clear in his case as the superiority of stature in some men above others. Johnson did not strut or stand on tiptoe; he only did not stoop. From his earliest years, his superiority was perceived and acknowledged. He was from the beginning avaş avôpav, a king of men. His schoolfellow, Mr. Hector, has obligingly furnished with many particulars of his boyish days; and assured me that he never knew him corrected at school, but for talking and diverting other boys from their business.


1 Hunter was a Prebendary of Lichfield and grandfather of Miss Seward. There was a tradition in Johnson's time that Addison had 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.


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