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And ye shall understand that no man that is mortal ne may not approach to that Paradise. For by land no man may go for wild beasts that be in the desert, and for the high mountains and great huge rocks that no man may pass by, for the dark places that be there, and that many. And by the rivers may no man go. For the water runneth so rudely and so sharply, because that it cometh down so outrageously from the high places above, that it runneth in so great waves, that no ship may not row ne sail against it. And the water roareth so, and maketh so huge a noise and so great tempest, that no man may hear other in the ship, though he cried with all the craft that he could in the highest voice that he might. Many great lords have assayed with great will, many times, for to pass by those rivers towards Paradise, with full great companies. But they might not speed on their voyage. And many died for weariness of rowing against those strong waves. And many of them became blind, and many deaf, for the noise of the water. And some were perished and lost within the waves. So that no mortal man may approach to that place without special grace of God, so that of that place I can say you no more; and therefore I shall hold me still, and return to that that I have seen.
THE LIFE OF SAMUEL JOHNSON
By JAMES BOSWELL INTRODUCTORY NOTE.—The Life of Johnson was published for the first time in 1791, and has increased in fame until now it has far surpassed in interest the writings of the great man himself. In fact the latter is known among modern readers principally through his biography.
The work is long, at times tedious, and yet as a whole very interesting to people of literary taste. Boswell was a Scotchman of good family and education; but he became the humble friend and follower of Johnson when the latter was about sixty-four years old, and at once devoted himself to jotting down the sayings of the great lexicographer and to collecting facts for the biography he had determined to write.
The portrait of Johnson is drawn at full length, and with an intimacy of knowledge that would have been impossible to any other than such a combination of toady and hero-worshipper as Boswell seems to have been. He made no attempt to conceal his own slavish admiration, nor did he hesitate to set down the petty faults as well as the good traits of his friend.
It is impossible to give any notion of this greatest biography of our language in the brief space we have, but this condensed account of Johnson's boyhood and his youth until the time he entered college will be interesting in itself.
AMUEL Johnson was born at Lichfield, in Staffordshire, on the 18th of September, 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 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 of 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 first-born, who lived to be the illustrious character whose various excellence I am to endeavor to record, and Nathanael, 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 enquiry, 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 his too strong expression of any disturbance of mind, “made him mad all his life, at least not sober.” 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, 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 reasonable share of wealth, of which, however, he afterwards lost the greatest part, by engaging unsuccessfully in a manufacture of parchment.
Johnson's mother was of distinguished understanding. I asked his old school-fellow, Mr. Hector, surgeon, of Birmingham, if she was not vain of her son. He said, “she had too much good 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 afterwards 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.
In following so very eminent a man from his cradle to his grave, every minute particular which can throw light on the progress of 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 discernment, and the ardor 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.”
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 enquirer 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 preacher. Mr. Hammond asked Mr. Johnson 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 staid forever in the church, satisfied with beholding him.”
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