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The love of Fame his gen'rous bosom fir’d;
My task perform'd, and all my labours o'er, For me what lot has Fortune now in store? The listless will succeeds, that worst disease, The rack of indolence, the sluggish ease. Care grows on care, and o'er my aching brain Black Melancholy pours her morbid train. No kind relief, no lenitive at hand, I seek at midnight clubs the social Band; But midnight clubs, where wit with poise conspires, Where Comus revels, and where wine inspires, Delight no more : I seek my lonely bed, And call on Sleep to sooth my languid head. But Sleep from these sad lids flies far away; I mourn all night, and dread the coming day. Exhausted, tird, I throw my eyes around, To find some vacant spot on classic ground; And soon, vain hopes I form a grand design; Languor succeeds, and all my powers decline, If Science open not her richest vein, Without materials all our toil is vain. A form to foged stone when Phidias gives, Beneath his touch a new creation lives.
Remove his marble, and his genius dies; } With Nature then no breathing statue vies.
Whate'er I plan, I feel my pow'rs confin'd By Fortune's frown and penury of mind. I boast no knowledge glean'd with toil and strife, That bright reward of a well-acted life. I view myself, while Reason's feeble light Shoots a pale glimmer through the gloom of night, While passions, error, phantoms of the brain, And vain opinions, fill the dark domain; A dreary void, where fears with grief combin’d Waste all within, and desolate the mind.
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 tavern-parties, and his wan
G 4 dering
dering 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 hand-writing, which shews 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, “ and most humble servant, - “ SAMUEL JoHNson. “Gough-square, 16 March.”
In the margin of this letter there is a memorandum in these words: “March 16, 1756, “Sent six guineas. Witness, Wm. Richard“son.” 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. Had an 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 VIs Ito R, 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 visitors till four or five in the evening. During the whole time he pre. . . . sided