Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

His biographer who records this, enters at the same time into a long discussion in. tended to prove that Savage was not the son of the countess of Macclesfield ; but had this been possible, it would surely have been accomplished when the proof might have been rendered unanswerable.

In 1745, he published Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Mac. beth, with Remarks on Sir Thomas Hanmer's edition of Shakspeare, to which he affixed proposals for a new edition of that poet, and it is probable he was now devoting his whole time to this undertaking, as we find a suspension of his periodi. cal contributions during the years 1745 and 1746. It is perhaps too rash to con. clude that he declined writing in the Magazine because he would not join in the support of government during the rebellion in Scotland; but there are abundant proofs in Mr. Boswell's Life, that his sentiments were favourable to that attempt. As to his plan of an edition of Shakspeare, he had many difficulties to encounter. Little notice was taken of his proposals, and Warburton was known to be engaged in a simi. Jar undertaking. Warburton, however, had the liberality to praise his observa. tions on Macbeth, as the production of a man of parts and genius: and Johnson never forgot the favour. Warburton, he said, praised him when praise was of value.

In 1747, he resamed his labours in the Gentleman's Magazine, and although many entire pieces cannot be ascertained to have come from his pen, he was frequently, if not constantly, employed to superintend the materials of the magazine, and several introductory passages may be pointed out which bear evident marks of his composition. In this year his old pupil and friend, Garrick, became manager of Drury-lane theatre, and obtained from Johnson a prologue, which is generally esteemed one of the finest productions of that kind in our language. In this year also he issued his plan for a Dictionary of the English language.

The design of this great work was at first suggested by Dodsley, and Johnson, having consented to undertakeit, entered into an agreement with the booksellers for the sum of fifteen hundred guineas, which he was to receive in small payments propor. tioned to the quantity of manuscript sent to press. The plan was addressed to the celebrated earl of Chesterfield, who had discovered an inclination to be the patron of the author, and Johnson having made suitable preparations, hired a house in Gough-Square, engaged amanuenses, and began a task which he carried on by fits, as inclination and health permitted, for nearly eight years. His amanuenses were six in number, and employed upon what may be termed the mechanical part of the work, but their expenses and his own were so considerable, that before the work was concluded, he had received the whole of the money stipulated for in his agreement with the proprietors. In what time it might have been completed, had he, to use his owo phrase, “set doggedly about it,” it is useless to conjecture, and it would perhaps have been hurtful to try. Whoever has been em. ployed on any great literary work knows, not only the pleasure, but the neces. sity of occasional relaxation ; and Johnson's mivd, stored with various knowledge, and a rich fund of sentiment, afforded him many opportunities of this kind, in addition to the love of society, which was his predominant passion. We find sccordingly, that during the years in which his Dictionary was on hand, he accepted

some inferior employment from the booksellers, and produced some of the most valuable of his original works.

In 1749, he published his second imitation of Juvenal, under the title of the Vanity of Human Wishes, for which, with all the fame he had now acquired, he received only fifteen guineas. In his London, we have the manners of common life; in the Vanity of Human Wishes, he has given us more of his own mind, more of that train of sentiment, excited sometimes by poverty, and sometimes by disappointment, which always inclined him to view the gloomy side of human affairs.

In the same year, Garrick offered to produce his Irene on the Drury-lane theatre, but presumed at the same time to suggest such alterations as his superior knowledge of stage-effect might be supposed to justify. Johnson did not much like that hisla. bours should be revised and amended at the pleasure of an actor, and with some difficulty was persuaded to yield to Garrick's advice. The play, however, was at length performed, but without much success; although the manager contrived to have it played long enough to entitle the author to the profits of his three nights, and Dodsley bought the copy right for one hundred pounds. It is now added to his poetical works, as it has ever been admired in the closet, for the propriety of its sentiments and the elegance of its language.

In 1750, he commenced a work which raised his fame yet higher than it had ever yet reached, and will probably convey his name to the latest posterity. He appears to have entered on the Rambler without any communication with his friends, or desire of assistance. Whether he proposed the scheme himself, is uncertain, but he was fortunate enough in forming a connexion with Mr. John Payne, a bookseller in Paternoster Row, and afterwards chief accountant in the Bank of England, a man with whom he lived many years in habits of friendship, and who on the present occasion treated him with great liberality. He engaged to pay him two guineas for each paper, or four guineas per week, which at that time must have been to Johnson a very considerable sum; and he admitted him to a share of the future profits of the work, when it should be collected into volumes : this share Johnson afterwards sold. As I have given a full history of this paper in ano. ther work?, it may suflice to add that it began Tuesday, March 20, 1749-50, and closed on Saturday, March 14, 1752. So conscious was Johnson that his fame would in a great measure rest on this production, that he corrected the first two editions with the most scrupulous care, of which specimens are given in the volume referred to in the note.

In 1751, he was carrying on his Dictionary and the Rambler, and besides some occasional contributions to the Magazine, assisted in the detection of Lauder, who had imposed on him and on the world by advancing forged evidence that Milton was a gross plagiary. Dr. Douglas, the late bishop of Salisbury, was the first who refuted this un principled impostor ; and Johnson, whom Lauder's ingenuity had in. duced to write a preface and postscript to his work, now dictated a letter addressed to Dr. Douglas, acknowledging his fraud in terms of contrition, which Lauder subscribed. The candour of Johnson on this occasion was as readily ac.

2 British Essayists, vol. xix. Preface to the Rambler. C.

knowledged at that time, as it has since been misrepresented by the bigotted adke rents to Milton's politics. Lauder, however, returned to his “ dirty work," and published in 1754, a pamphlet entitled The Grand Impostor detected, or Milton convicted of Forgery against Charles I, which was reviewed with censure, in the Gentleman's Magazine of that year, and probably by Johnson.

The Rambler was concluded on March 14, 1752, and three days after, the author's wife died, a loss which he long deplored, and never at the latest period of life recollected without emotion. Many instances of his affection for her occur in the collection of Prayers and Meditations published after his death, which, however they may expose him to ridicule, combine to prove that his attachment to her was uniformly sincere. She was buried at Bromley, and Johoson placed a Latin inscription on her tomb. She left a daughter by her former husband, and by her means our author became acquainted with Mrs. Anne Williams, the daughter of Zachary Williams, a physician who died about this time. Mrs. Williams was a woman of considerable talents, and her conversation was interesting. She was left in poverty by her father, and had the additional affliction of being totally blind. To relieve his-melancholy reflections, Johnson took her home to his house in Gough-Square, procured her a benefit play from Garrick, and assisted her in publishing a volume of poems, by both of which schemes shc raised about three hundred pounds. With this fund, she became an inmate in Johnson's house, where she passed the remainder of her days, protected and cheered by every act of kindness and tenderness which he could have showed to the nearest relation.

When he had in some measure recovered from the shock of Mrs. Johoson's death, he contributed several papers to the Adventurer, which was carried on by Dr. Hawkesworth and Dr. Warton. The profit of these papers he is said to have given to Dr. Bathurst, a physician of little practice, but a very amiable man, whom he highly respected. Mr. Boswell thinks he endeavoured to make them pass for Bathurst's, which is highly improbable'. In 1754, we find him approaching to the completion of his Dictionary. Lord Chesterfield, to whom he once looked up as to a liberal patron, had treated him with neglect, of which, after Johnson declined to pay court to such a man, he became sensible, and, as an effort at reconciliation, wrote two papers in the World, recommending the Dictionary, and soothing the author by some ingenious compliments. Had there been no previous offence, it is probable this end would have been answered, and Johnson would bare dedicated the work to him. He loved praise, and from lord Chesterfield, the Mæcenas of the age, and the most elegant of noble writers, praise was at this time valuable. But Johnson never departed from exacting the just respect due to a man of letters, and was not to be appeased by the artifice of these protracted compliments. He could not even brook that his lordship should for a moment suppose him reconciled by his fattery, but immediately wrote that celebrated letter which has been so much admired as a model of dignified contempt. The allusion to the loss of his wife and to his present situation, is exquisitely beautiful : “ The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, bad been kind : but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it:

3 See ihis matter explained in the Preface to the Adventurer, British Essayists, rol. xxiii. C.

till I am solitary, and cannot impart it: till I am known, and do not want it.” Lord Chesterfield is said to have concealed his feelings on this occasion with his usual art, conscious perhaps that they were not to be envied.

In 1755, the degree of master of arts was conferred upon him by the upirersity of Oxford, after which (in May) his Dictionary was published in two large volumes folio. Of a work so well known, it is unnecessary to say more in this place, than that after the lapse of half a century, neither envy has injured, nor industry rivaled its usefulness or popularity.

In the following year, he abridged his Dictionary into an octavo size, an:1 engaged to superintend a monthly publication entitled the Literary Magazine,or Universal Register. To this he contributed a great many articles enumerated by Mr. Boswell, and several reviews of new books. The most celebrated of bis reviews, and one of most his finished compositions, both in point of style, argument and wit, was that of Soame Jenyns's Free Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Evil. This attracted so much notice that the bookseller was encouraged to publish it separately, and two editions were rapidly sold. The Magazine continued about two years, after which it was dropt for want of encouragement. He wrote also, in 1756, some essays in the Universal Visitor, another magazine which lasted only a year. His friend Cave died in 1754, and, for whatever reason, Johnson's regular contributions appear no more in the Gentleman's Magazine. But he wrote a very elegant life of Cave, and was afterwards an occasional contributor. This, it would appear, was one of his worst years as to pecuniary matters. We find him, in the month of March, arrested for the sum of five pounds eighteen shil. lings, and relieved by Mr. Richardson. His proposal for an edition of Shakspeare was again revived, and subscription tickets issued out, but it did not go to press for many years after.

In 1758, the worthy John Newbery, bookseller, who frequently employal Johoson in his literary progress, began a newspaper called the Universal Chroni. cle, or Weekly Gazette, in conjunction with Mr. John Payne. To give it an air or novelty, Johnson was engaged to write a short periodical paper, which he entitled 'The Idler. Most of these papers were written in haste, in various places where he happened to be on the eve of publication, and with very little preparation, A few of them express the train of thought which prevails in the Rambler; but in general they have more vivacity, and exhibit a species of grave humour in which Johnson excelled. When the Universal Chronicle was discontinued, these papers were collected into two small volumes, which he corrected for the press, making a few alteratiors, and omitting one whole paper which has since been re. stored.

No. 41 of the Idler alludes to the death of his mother, which took place in 1759 : he had ever loved her with anxious affection 4, and had contributed to her support, often when he knew not where to recruit his finances. On this event, he wrote his Rasselas, with a view to raise a sum sufficient to defray the expenses of her funeral, and pay some little debts she had left. llis mind appears to have been powerfully excited and enriched both with the subject and the

4 See his very tender letters on : his subject, in Boswell's Life, vol. i. p, 315, et seq. which are thus particularly referred to, as they are to be found only in the edition of 1807. C.

motive ; for he wrote the whole of this elegant and philosophical fiction during the evenings of one week, and sent it to press in portions as it was written. He received one hundred pounds from Messrs. Strahan, Johoston, and Dodsley, for the copy, and twenty-five more when it came, as it soon did, to a second edition. Few works of the kind have been more generally or more extensively diffused by means of translation. Yet the author, perhaps from the pain he felt in recol. lecting the melancholy occasion which called forth his pen, appears to have dismissed it with some degree of indifference, as soon as published; for from that time to the year 1781, when he found it accidentally in a chaise, while travelling with Mr. Boswell, he declared he had never looked into it. His translation of Lobo probably suggested his placing the scene in Abyssinia ; but there is a little scarce volume, unnoticed by his biographers, from which I suspect he took some hints. It is entitled The late Travels of S. Giacomo Baratti, an Italian Gentleman, into the remotest Countries of the Abyssins, or of Ethiopia Interior. 12mo. Lond. 1670.

Among his occasional productions about this time, were his translation of a Dis. sertation on the Greek Comedy, for Mrs. Lennox's English version of Brumoy, the general Conclusion of the book; and an Introduction to the World Displayed, a collection of voyages and travels, projected by his friend Newbery.- When a new bridge was about to be built over the Thames at Blackfriars, he wrote some papers against the plan of the architect, Mr. Mylne. His principal motive ap. pears to have been his friendship for Mr. Gwyn, who had given in a plan, and probably he only clothed Gwyn's arguments in his own stately language. Sach a contest was certainly not within his province, and he could derive little other advantage than the pleasure of serving his friend. He appeared more in character when he assisted his contemporaries with prefaces and dedications, which were very frequently solicited from him. Poor as he was at this time, he taught how dedications might be written without servile submission or flattery, and yet with all the courtesy, compliment and elegance, which a liberal mind could expect.

But an end was now approaching to his pecuniary embarrassments. Io 1762, while he was proceeding with his edition of Shakspeare, he was surprised by the information that his present majesty had been pleased to grant him a pension of three hundred pounds a year, not, as has been invidiously asserted, in order to induce him to write for administration, but as the reward of his literary merit. Had it been otherwise, he had surely the strongest inducement to have exerted his ta. lents in favour of lord Bute, by whose recommendation the pension was granted, and wlio at this time wanted much abler support than the hired writers of goverp. ment could supply. But it is well known that he wrote no political tract for nearly eight years afterwards. He now took a house in Johnson's court, Fleetstreet, and allotted an apartment for Mrs. Williams. In 1765, he was introduced to the late Mr. Thrale and family, a circumstance which contributed much to alleviate the solicitudes of life, and furnished him with the enjoyment of an elegant table, and elegant society. Here an apartment was fitted up for him, which he occupied when he pleased, and he accompanied the family in their various summer excur. sions, which tended to exhilarate his mind, and render the return of his constitue tional melancholy less frequent.

a

« ForrigeFortsæt »