« PreviousContinue »
The Adventurer was projected in the year 1752, by Dr. John Hawkesworth. He was partly induced to undertake the work by his admiration of the Rambler, which had now ceased to appear, the style and sentiments of which evidently, from his commencement, he made the models of his imitation.
The first number was published on the seventh of November, 1752. The quantity and price were the same as the Rambler, and also the days of its appearance. He was joined in his labours by Dr. Johnson in 1753, whose first paper is dated March 3, of that year; and after its publication Johnson applied to his friend, Dr. Joseph Warton, for his assistance, which was afforded : and the writers then were, besides the projector Dr. Hawkesworth, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Joseph Warton, Dr. Bathurst, Colman, Mrs. Chapone and the Hon. Hamilton Boyle, the accomplished son of Lord Orrery &
Our business, however, in the present pages, does not lie with the Adventurer in general, but only with Dr. Johnson's contributions; which amount to the number of twenty-nine, beginning with No. 34, and ending with No. 138.
a For the general history of the Adventurer, the reader may be referred to Chalmers' British Essayists, xxiii, Dr. Drake's Essays on Rambler, Advenļurer, &c. ii, and Boswell's Journal, 3rd edit. p. 240.
Much criticism has been employed in appropriating some of them, and the carelessness of editors has overlooked several that have been satisfactorily proved to be Johnson's own".
Mr. Boswell relies on internal evidence, which is unnecessary, since in Dr. Warton's copy (and his authority on the subject will scarcely be disputed) the following remark was found at the end : “ The papers marked T were written by Mr. S. Johnson.” Mrs. Anna Williams asserted that he dictated most of these to Dr. Bathurst, to whom he presented the profits. The anecdote may well be believed from the usual benevolence of Johnson and his well-known attachment to that amiable physician, whose professional knowledge might undoubtedly have enabled him to offer hints to Johnson in the progress of composition. Thus we may account for the references to recondite medical writers in No. 39, which so staggered Boswell and Malone in pronouncing on the genuineness of this paper. Those who are familiar with Johnson's writings can have little hesitation, we conceive, in recognising his style, and manner, and sentiments in those papers which are now published under his name. They may be considered as a continuation of the Rambler. The same subjects are discussed; the interests of literature and of literary men, the emptiness of praise and the vanity of human wishes. The same intimate knowledge of the town and its manners is displayed; and occasionally we are amused with humorous delineation of adventure and of characterd.
From the greater variety of its subjects, aided, perhaps, by a growing taste for periodical literature, the sale of the Adventurer was greater than that of the Rambler on its first appearance. But still there were those, who “ talked of it as a catch-penny performance, carried on by a set of needy and obscure scribblers e.” So slowly is a national taste for letters diffused, and so hardly do works of sterling merit, which deal not in party-politics, nor exemplify their ethical discussions by holding out living characters to censure or contempt, win the applause of those, whose passions leave them no leisure for abstracted truth, and whom virtue itself cannot please by its naked dignity. But, by such, Johnson professed, that he had little expectation of his writings being perused. Keeping then our main object more immediately in view, the elucidation of Johnson's real character and motives, we cannot but admire the prompt benevolence, with which he joined Hawkesworth in his task, and the ready zeal, with which he embraced any opportunity of promoting the interests of morality and virtue.
b Five of these, Nos. 39, 67, 74, 81, and 128, which Sir John Hawkins omitted to arrange among the writings of Johnson, are given in this edition. c See particularly the Letters of Misargyrus.
The description in No. 84, of the incidents of a stage-coach journey, so often imitated by succeeding writers, but, perhaps, never surpassed, will exemplify the above remark.
“ To a benevolent disposition every state of life will afford some opportunities of contributing to the welfare of mankind," is the characteristic opening of his first Adventurer. And when we have admired the real excellence of his heart, we must wonder at the vigour of a mind, which could so abstract itself from its own sorrows and misfortunes, which too often deaden our feelings of pity, as to sympathize with others in affliction, and even to promote innocent cheerfulness. Bowed down by the loss of a wife', on whom he had called from amidst the horrors of a hopeless melancholy, to “hide him from the ills of life," and depressed by poverty, “ that numbs the soul with icy hand,” his genius sank not beneath a load, which might have crushed the loftiest; but the “incumbrances of his fortune were shaken from his mind,' as dew-drops from a lion's mane 6."
The same pure and exalted morality, which stamps their chief value on the pages of the Rambler, instructs us in the lessons of the Adventurer. Here is no cold doctrine of expediency or dangerous speculations on moral approbation, no easy virtue which can be practised without a struggle, and which interdicts the gratification of no passion but malice : here is no compromise of personal sensuality, for an endurance of others' frailties, amounting to an indifference of moral distinctions altogether. Johnson boldly and, at once, propounds the real motives to Christian conduct; and does not, with some ethical writers, in a slavish dread of interfering with the more immediate office of the divine, hold out slender inducements to virtuous action, which can never give us strength to stem the torrent of passion ; but holding with the acute Owen Feltham”, “ that, as true religion cannot be without morality, no more can morality, that is right, be without religion,” Johnson ever directs our attention, not to the world's smile or frown, but to the discharge of the duty which Providence assigns us, by the consideration of the awful approach of that night when no man can work. To conclude with the appropriate words of an eloquent writer, “in his sublime discussions of the most sacred truths, as no style can be too lofty nor conceptions too grand for such a subject, so Iras the great master never exerted the powers of his great genius with more signal success. Impiety shrinks beneath his rebuke; the atheist trembles and repents; the dying sinner catches a gleam of revealed hope ; and all acknowledge the just dispensations of eternal Wisdom i.”
e See Lounger, No. 30.
I have heard, he means to occasionally throw some papers into the Daily Advertiser ; but he has not begun yet, as he is in great affliction, I fear, poor man, for the loss of his wife.”-Letter from Miss Talbot to Mrs. Carter. Mrs. Johnson died March 17, 1752.
8 See the Preface to Shakespeare.