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How blithesome were we wont to rove
Me wrangling courts, and stubborn law,
Shakspeare no more, thy sylvan son,
There, in a winding close retreat,
O let me pierce the secret shade
And other doctrines thence imbibe
Then welcome business, welcome strife
SAMUEL JOHNSON. 1709_1784.
SAMUEL Johnson, the Corypheus of English Literature of the eighteenth century, was born at Litchfield, in Staffordshire, September 7, 1709, and was educated at Pembroke College, Oxford. He gave early proof of a vigorous understanding and of a great fondness for knowledge; but poverty compelled him to leave the university, after being there three years, without taking a degree, and he returned to Litchfield in the autumn of 1731, destitute, and wholly undetermined what plan of life to pursue. His father, who had been a bookseller, and who had become insolvent, died in December, and in the July following, Johnson accepted the situation of usher of the grammar-school at Market-Bosworth, in Leicestershire. For this situation, however, he soon felt himself utterly unqualified by means of his natural disposition. Though his scholarship was ample, he wanted that patience to bear with dulness and waywardness, those kind and urbane manners to win love and respect, that tact in controlling and governing youth, and that happy manner of illustrating difficulties and imparting knowledge, which are as essential as high literary attainments to form the perfect schoolmaster. No wonder, therefore, that he quitted the high vocation in disgust. His scholars, doubtless, were quite as glad to get rid of him as he was of them. Non omnes omnibus.
1 Hence he has been frequently termed "The Sage of Litchfield."
The next year he obtained temporary employment from a bookseller at Birmingham, and soon after, entered into an engagement with Mr. Cave, the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, to write for that periodical. This, however, was not sufficient to support him, but Cupid happily came to his assistance; for he fell in love with a Mrs. Porter, a widow of little more than double her lover's age, and possessed of eight hundred pounds. They were married on the 9th of July, 1736, and soon after, Johnson took a large house near Litchfield, and opened an academy for classical education. But the plan failed, and he went to London, and engaged himself as a regular contributor to the Gentleman's Magazine. Here he shortly produced his admirable poem entitled “London,” in imitation of the third satire of Juvenal. For it, he received from Dodsley ten guineas; it immediately attracted great attention, and Pope, as soon as he read it, said, “The author, whoever he is, will not be long concealed.” His tragedy of « Irene," produced about the same time, was, as regards stage success, a total failure, though, like the Cato of Addison, it is full of noble sentiments. His pen was at this time continually employed in writing pamphlets, prefaces, epitaphs, essays, and biographical memoirs for the magazine; but the compensation he received was small, very small; and it is distressing to reflect that, at this period, the poverty of this most distinguished scholar was so great, that he was sometimes obliged to pass the day without food.'
In 1744 he published the “ Life of Richard Savage," one of the best written and most instructive pieces of biography extant, and which was at once the theme of general admiration. In 1747 he issued his plan for his « English Dictionary,” addressed, in an admirably written pamphlet, to the Earl of Chesterfield, who, however, concerned himself very little about its success. The time he could spare from this Herculean labor, he gave to various literary subjects. In 1749 appeared his « Vanity of Human Wishes," an admirable poem, in imitation of the tenth satire of Juvenal; and in the next year he commenced his periodical paper “The Rambler," which deservedly raised the reputation of the author still higher, and which, from the peculiar strength of its style, exerted a powerful influence on English Prose Literature. In 1755, appeared the great work which has made his name known wherever the English language is spoken-his long-promised « Dictionary.” Eight long years was he in bringing it to a completion; and considering the little aid he could receive from previous lexicographers, it was a gigantic undertaking; and most successfully and nobly did he accomplish it. But just before it was published, Lord Chesterfield endeavored to influence Johnson to dedicate it to himself, and for this purpose he wrote two numbers, in a periodical paper, « The World,” highly complimentary of Johnson's learning and labors. Johnson was of course highly indignant, and addressed to him the following letter, which, for the polish of its style, the elegance of its language, the keenness of its sarcasm, its manly disdain, and the condensed vigor of its thought, is, perhaps, unequalled in English literature.
1 One of the best proofs of its attractive power was given by Sir Joshua Reynolds, who said that, on his return from Italy, he met with it in Devonshire, knowing nothing of its author, and began to read it while he was standing with his arm leaning against a chimney-piece. It seized his attention so strongly, that, not being able to lay down the book till he had finished it, when he attempted to move, he found his arm totally benumbed.
2 “The Rambler," was commenced on the 20th of March, 1750, and continued every Tuesday and Saturday to March 14, 1752. of the energy and fertility of resource with which this work was conducted, there can be no greater proof than that during the whole time, though afficted with disease, and harassed with the toils of lexicography, he wrote the whole himself, with the exception of four or five numbers.
3 The French Academy of FORTY members were all engaged upon their boasted Dictionary, which, after all, was not equal to Johnson's single-handed labor. This gave rise to the following spirited Lines from Garrick :
Talk of war with a Briton, he'll boldly advance,
TO THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE EARL OF CHESTERFIELD. My LORD:
I have been lately informed, by the proprietor of The World, that two papers, in which my Dictionary is recommended to the public, were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished, is an honor, which, being very little accustomed to favors from the great, I know not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.
When upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your lordship, I was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your address; and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself Le vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre; that I might obtain that regard for which I saw the world contending ; but I found my attendance so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue it. When I had once addressed your lordship in public, I had exhausted all the art of pleasing which a retired and uncourtly scholar can possess. I had done all that I could ; and no man is well pleased to have his all neglected, be it ever so little.
Seven years, my lord, have now passed since I waited in your outward rooms, or was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been pushing on my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and have brought it, at last, to the verge of publication, without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, or one smile of favor. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron before.
In the deep mines of science, though Frenchmen may toil,
Has beat FORTY French, and will beat forty more po 1 In his anger he exclaimed to his friend Garrick, “I have sailed a long and painful voyage round the world of the English language; and does he now send out two cock boats to tow me into harbor ?"
3 The conqueror of the conqueror of the world.
The shepherd in Virgil grew at last acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks.
Is not a patron, my lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached the ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labors, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as owing that to a patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.
Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any favorer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should conclude it, if less be possible, with less ; for I have been long wakened from that dream of hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation,
Most obedient servant,
SAMUEL JOHNSON.1 In the few years succeeding the publication of his “ Dictionary,” he employed himself in an edition of Shakspeare, and gave to the world another periodical paper entitled “The Idler.” In the former, when it appeared in 1765, the public were very much disappointed; for though the preface was written in a style unsurpassed for its beauty and strength, and showed that he well knew the duties and requirements of a commentator upon the great dramatic poet, his annotations showed that he had not that critical knowledge of the writers of the times of Shakspeare and antecedent thereto, which is requisite properly to elucidate the bard. In 1759 he appeared in a new character, that of a Novelist, in the publication of his “ Rasselas,” which was written to defray the expenses of his mother's funeral. In 1762 he was relieved from pecuniary anxiety by a pension of £300 a year, granted to him in consideration of the happy influence of his writings; for Lord Bute expressly told him, on his accepting the bounty, that it was given him not for any thing he was to do, but for what he had done.
In the next year, 1763, he was introduced to his biographer, James Boswell, and we have, from this date, a fuller account of him, perhaps, than was ever written of any other individual. From this time we are made as fa
1 There is pretty good evidence that Johnson, after the first ebullition of temper had subsided, felt that he had been unreasonably violent in addressing this letter to Chesterfield; and that his lordship was not to blame for not sooner noticing Johnson's great work. Indeed the “notice," for any useful purpose, could not have been earlier. Consult-Croker's “new and revised” edition of Boswell's Johnson, 1 vol. 8vo., pp. 85, 86-a most admirable book, and one which probably contains more interesting and valuable literary information than any other volume of equal size in the language.
2 « The most triumphant record of the carents and character of Johnson is to be found in Boswell's dife of him. The man was superior to the author. When he threw aside his pon, which he regarded as an encumbrance, he became not only learned and thoughtful, but acute, witty, humorous, natural, honest; hearty and determined, the king of good fellows and wale of old men.' There are as many