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appeared during this period, and probably led him, at a later period, to lay in that remote kingdom the scene of his philosophical tale, which follows this essay. About the same time, he married a wife considerably older than himself, and attempted to set up a school in the neighbourhood of Lichfield. The project proved unsuccessful; and in 1737 he set out to try to mend his fortunes in London, attended by David Garrick. Johnson had with him in manuscript his tragedy of "Trene," and meant to commence dramatic author ; Garrick was to be bred to the law-Fate had different designs for both.
There is little doubt that upon his outset in London, Johnson felt in full force the ills which assail the unprotected scholar, whose parts are yet unknown to the public, and who must write at once for bread and for distinction. His splendid imitation of Juvenal, “London,” a satire, i was the first of his works which drew the attention of the public; yet, neither its celebrity, nor that of its more brilliant successor, the “Vanity of Human Wishes," the deep and pathetic morality of which has often extracted tears from those whose eyes wander dry over pages professedly sentimental, could save the poet from the irksome drudgery of a writer of all work. His tragedy of “ Irene" was unfortunate on the stage, and his valuable hours were consumed in obscure labour. He was fortunate, however, in a strong and virtuous power of thinking, which prevented his plunging into those excesses in which neglected genius, in catching at momentary gratification, is so apt to lose character and respectability. While his friend Savage was wasting considerable powers in temporary gratification, Johnson was advancing slowly but surely into a higher class of society. The powers of his pen were supported by those of his conversation ; he lost no friend by misconduct, no respect by a closer approach to intimacy, and each new friend whom he made continued still his admirer.
The booksellers, also, were sensible of his value as a literary labourer, and employed him in that laborious and gigantic task, a Dictionary of the Language. How it is executed is well known, and sufficiently surprising, considering that the learned author was a stranger to the Northern languages, on which English is radically grounded, and that the discoveries in grammar, since made by Horne Tooke, were then unknown. In the meantime, the publication of the “Rambler," though not very successful during its progress, stamped the character of the author as one of the first moral writers of the age, and as eminently qualified to write, and even to improve, the English language.
În 1752, Johnson was deprived of his wife, a loss which he appears to have felt most deeply.10 After her death, society, the best of which was now open to a man who brought such stores to increase its pleasures, seems to have been his principal enjoyment, and his great resource when assailed by that malady of mind which embittered his solitary moments. The “ Idler," scarcely so popular as the Rambler," followed in 1758.
“Rasselas" was hastily composed, in order to pay the expenses of his mother's funeral, and some small debts which she had contracted. This beautiful tale was written in one week, and sent in portions to the printer. 11 Johnson told Sir Joshua Reynolds that he never afterwards read it over! The publishers paid the author a hundred pounds, with twenty-four more, when the work came to a second edition.
The mode in which Rasselas" was composed, and the purposes for which it was written, show that the author's situation was still embarrassed. But his circumstances became more easy in 1762, when a pension of £300 placed him beyond the drudgery of labouring for mere subsistence.12 It was distinctly explained that this grant was made on
public grounds alone, and intended as homage to Johnson's services for literature. But two political pamphlets, "The False Alarm," and that upon the “Falkland Islands," afterwards showed that the author was grateful.
In 1765, pushed forward by the satire of Churchill, Johnson published his subscription Shakspeare, for which proposals had been long in circulation.
The author's celebrated "Journey to the Hebrides" was published in 1775. Whatever might be his prejudices against Scotland, its natives must concede, that his remarks concerning the poverty and barrenness of the country tended to produce those subsequent exertions which have done much to remedy the causes of reproach. The Scots were angry because Johnson was not enraptured with their scenery, which, from a 'defect of bodily organs, he could not appreciate, or even see, and they appear to have set rather too high a rate on the hospitality paid to a stranger, when they contended it should shut the mouth of a literary traveller upon all subjects but those of panegyric. Dr. Johnson took a better way of repaying the civilities he received, by exercising kindness and hospitality in London to all such friends as he had received attention from in Scotland.13
His pamphlet, entitled "Taxation no Tyranny,” which drew upon him much wrath from those who supported the American cause, is written in a strain of high Toryism, and tended to promote an event, pregnant with much good and evil, the separation of the mother country from the American colonies. In 1777,
he was engaged in one of his most pleasing, as well as most popular works, "The Lives of the British Poets," which he executed with a degree of critical force and talent which has seldom been concentrated.
Johnson's laborious and distinguished career terminated in 1784, when virtue was deprived of a steady supporter, society of a brilliant ornament, and literature of a successful cultivator. The latter part of his life was honoured with general applause, for none was more fortunate in obtaining and preserving the friendship of the wise and the worthy. Thus loved and venerated, Johnson might have been pronounced happy. But Heaven, in whose eyes strength is weakness, permitted his faculties to be clouded occasionally with that morbid affection of the spirits, which disgraced his talents by prejudices, and his manners by rudeness.
When we consider the rank which Dr. Johnson held, not only in literature but in society, we cannot help figuring him to ourselves as the benevolent giant of some fairy tale, whose kindness and courtesies are still mingled with a part of the rugged ferocity imputed to the fabulous sons of Anak; or rather, perhaps, like a Roman Dictator, fetched from his farm, whose wisdom and heroism still relished of his rustic occupation. And there were times when, with all Johnson's wisdom, and all his wit, this rudeness of disposition, and the sacrifices and submissions which he unsparingly exacted, were so great, that even his kind and devoted admirer, Mrs. Thrale, seems at length to have thought that the honour of being Johnson's hostess was almost counterbalanced by the tax which he exacted on her time and patience.
The cause of those deficiencies in temper and manners was no ignorance of what was fit to be done in society, or how far each individual ought to suppress his own wishes in favour of those with whom he associates ; for, theoretically, no man understood the rules of good-breeding better than Dr. Johnson, or could act more exactly in conformity with them, when the high rank of those with whom he was in company for the time required that he should put the necessary constraint upon himself. But during the greater part of his life he had been in a great measure a stranger to the higher society in which such restraint is necessary; and it may be fairly presumed that the indulgence of a variety of little selfish peculiarities, which it is the object of good-breeding to suppress, became thus familiar to him. The consciousness of his own mental superiority in most companies which he frequented, contributed to his dogmatism; and when he had attained his eminence as a dictator in literature, like other potentates; he was not averse to a display of his authority : resembling in this particular Swift, and one or two other men of genius, who have had the bad taste to imagine that their talents elevated them above observance of the common rules of society. It must be also remarked, that in Johnson's time, the literary society of London was much more confined than at present, and that he sat the Jupiter of a little circle, sometimes indeed nodding approbation, but always prompt, on the slightest contradiction, to launch the thunders of rebuke and sarcasm. He was, in a word, despotic, and despotism will occasionally lead the best dispositions into unbecoming abuse of power. It is not likely that any one will again enjoy, or have an opportunity of abusing, the singular degree of submission which was rendered to Johnson by all around him. The unreserved communications of friends, rather than the spleen of enemies, have occasioned his character being exposed in all its shadows, as well as its lights. But those, when summed and counted, amount only to a few narrow-minded prejudices concerning country and party, from which few ardent tempers remain entirely free, an over-zeal in politics, which is an ordinary attribute of the British character, and some violences and solecisms in manners, which left his talents, morals, and benevolence, alike unimpeachable.
Of "Rasselas,” translated into so many languages, and so widely circulated through the literary world, the merits have been long justly appreciated. It was composed in solitude and sorrow; and the melancholy cast of feeling which it exhibits sufficiently evinces the temper of the author's mind. The resemblance, in some respects, betwixt the tenor of the moral and that of "Candide," is striking, and Johnson himself admitted that if the authors could possibly have seen each other's manuscript, they could not have escaped the charge of plagiarism. But they resemble each other like a wholesome and a poisonous fruit. The object of the witty Frenchman is to induce a distrust of the wisdom of the great Governor of the Universe, by presuming to arraign him of incapacity before the creatures of his will. Johnson uses arguments drawn from the same premises, with the benevolent view of encouraging men to look to another and a better world for the satisfaction of wishes which in this seem only to be awakened in order to be disappointed. The one is a fiend-a merry devil
, we grantwho scoffs at and derides human miseries; the other, a friendly though grave philosopher, who shows us the nothingness of earthly hopes, to teach us that our affections ought to be placed higher.
The work can scarce be termed a narrative, being in a great measure void of incident; it is rather a set of moral dialogues on the various vicissitudes of human life, its follies, its fears, its hopes, its wishes, and the disappointment in which all terminate. The style is in Johnson's best manner; enriched and rendered sonorous by the triads and quaternions which he so much loved, and balanced with an art which perhaps he derived from the learned Sir Thomas Browne. The reader may sometimes complain, with Boswell, that the unalleviated picture of human helplessness and misery leaves sadness upon the mind after perusal. But the moral is to be found in the conclusion of the " Vanity of Human Wishes," a poem which treats
"What a singular destiny has been that of this remarkable man! To be regarded in his own age as a classic, and in ours as a companion. To receive from his contemporaries that full homage which men of genius have in general received only from posterity. To be more intimately known to posterity than other men are known to their contemporaries."-Macaulay.
2 Carlyle says of Boswell's Life, “In worth as a book, we rate it beyond any other product of the eighteenth century.” And Macaulay writes, “ It is assuredly a great, a very great work. Homer is not more decidedly the first of heroic poets, Shakspeare is not more decidedly the first of dramatists, Demosthenes is not more decidedly the first of orators, than Boswell is the first of biographers. He has no second. He has distanced all his competitors so decidedly that it is not worth while to place them. Eclipse is first, and the rest nowhere.” And yet how very few there are who acknowledge the immense debt of gratitude we owe to James Boswell.
s Speaking of Birmingham, circa 1700: "The place whence two generations later the magnificent editions of Baskerville went forth to astonish all the librarians of Europe, did not contain a singular regular shop where a Bible or an almanack could be bought. On market days a bookseller named Michael Johnson, father of the great Samuel Johnson, came over from Lichfield and opened a stall during a few hours.”History of England, chap. iii.
4 "He lay in bed with the book, which was a quarto, before him, and dictated while Hector wrote. Mr. Hector carried the sheets to the press, and corrected almost all the proofs, very few of which were ever seen by Johnson. In this manner the book was completed, and was published in 1735, with London' on the title-page, though it was printed in Birmingham. For this work he had from Mr. Warren only the sum of five guineas."'-Boswell, p. 21.
5 At the time of the marriage Johnson was twenty-six, and his wife forty-six.
shire, Young Gentlemen are Boarded,
SAMUEL JOHNSON. 7 The "London" was published anonymously, and Pope was so much struck by it, that he at once made inquiries about the author. Not being successful, he said, “he will be soon deterré," and afterwards did his best to serve him.
8. Of this noble work, Byron says in his Journal, “Read Johnson’s ‘Vanity of Human Wishes'-all the examples and mode of giving them sublime "Tis a grand poem-and so true ! - true as the 10th of Juvenal himself." Sir Walter Scott had an intense admiration for both these poems, and indeed told James Ballantyne that he had more pleasure in reading them than any other poetical compositions. He winds up his great romance of Ivanhoe with an extract; and Lockhart tells us that the last line of MS. he sent to the press was a quotation from the same source. Ballantyne adds, that "he never saw his countenance more indicative of high admiration than when reciting aloud from those productions.”
9 “Johnson's Dictionary,” says Macaulay, "was hailed with an enthusiasm such as no similar work has ever excited. It was indeed the first dictionary that could be read with pleasure. The definitions show so much acuteness of thought and command of language, and the passages quoted from poets, divines, and philosophers, are so skilfully selected, that a leisure hour may always be very agreeably spent in turning over the pages,”
10 “Their wedded life,” Carlyle says, "as is the common lot, was made up of drizzle and dry weather; but innocence and worth dwelt in it; and, when death had ended it, a certain sacredness. Johnson's deathless affection for his Tetty was always venerable and noble.” So, too, Macaulay: "All his affection had been concentrated on her. He had neither brother nor sister, neither son nor daughter. To him she was beautiful as the Gunnings, and witty as Lady Mary." His allusions to his loss in the Preface to the “Dictionary” and the letter to Lord Chesterfield are singularly affecting.
11 So completely_has Johnson identified himself with Abyssinia, that when the Prime Minister of England called upon Parliament for a vote of thanks to Sir Robert Napier, he spoke of his having "planted the standard of St. George upon the moun. tains of Rasselas."
12 “ In his fifty-third year he is beneficed by the royal bounty with a pension of three hundred pounds. Loud clamour is always more or less insane; but probably the insanest of all loud clamours in the eighteenth century was this that was raised about Johnson's Pension The whole sum that Johnson, during the remain. ing twenty-two years of his life, drew from the public funds of England, would have supported some Supreme Priest for about half as many weeks, it amounts very nearly to the revenue of our poorest Church-Overseer for one twelvemonth."Carlyle's Review of Croker's Boswell.
Johnson in some measure brought this on himself by having defined pension in his dictionary as "An allowance made to any one without an equivalent; in England it is generally understood to mean pay given to a State hireling for treason to his country.”
Johnson has left his mark upon the Hebrides. When Sir Robert Peel was in. stalled as Lord Rector of the Glasgow University, the most striking part of his speech was that in which he spoke of his visit to Iona, and quoted Johnson's enthu. siastic description. Even Sir Walter Scott, all Scotsman as he was, admitted him to be the presiding genius loci. In 1829 he wrote, “About fourteen years since I landed in Skye with a party of friends, and had the curiosity to ask what was the first idea on every one's mind at landing. All answered, separately, that it was the Latin ode in which Johnson calls upon the littora Skiæ to resound the name of his Thralia dulcis