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for I can hardly tell who was my grandfather.” He married, at a somewhat advanced age, one Sarah Ford, by whom he had two sons; but the period of his settling at Lichfield is doubtful, though it certainly was some time prior to the close of the seventeenth century, as I find his name anno 1687, in a list of subscribers to a fund for recasting the bells of the Cathedral, towards which he contributed 10s. In 1709 he was sheriff of the city; and in the same year was born his celebrated son, whose baptism is thus recorded in the Register of St. Michael's Church :
« Sept. 17. 1709, Samuel, son of Michael Johnson, Gent. baptized.”
One of his godfathers was Dr. Swinfen, a physician of the city. Three years after, the baptism of his brother is thus entered in the same Register :
“ Oct. 14. 1712, Nathaniel, son of Mr. Michael Johnson, baptized.”
The circumstances of Michael Johnson appear to have been for many years extremely narrow; but by untiring industry, he at length acquired some little pro. perty, which he lost by speculating in the manufacture of parchment, and became a bankrupt in 1731, while his son Samuel was at Oxford. The generous assistance which on this occasion he received from various quarters, seems to prove that his character was held in great esteem. Dr. Johnson told Sir John Hawkins that, amongst others, Mr. Innys, bookseller of St. Paul's Church-yard, was a material friend ; " and this,” said he, “ I consider as an obligation on me to be grateful to his descendants," to whom he accordingly bequeathed 2001. Soon after his insolvency took place, Michael died, and the sum of 201. was all that his son received from the produce of his effects. It is a fact but little known, and which escaped the industrious inquiry of Boswell, that during the two years which he passed at home, before proceeding to Oxford, Dr. Johnson was engaged in learning his father's business. The “ Short Account of Lichfield,” 1819, says that “ books of his binding are still extant in that city.” It was at this period, I presume, that in a fit of pride he once refused obedience to his father, who desired him to attend the book-stall at Uttoxeter market; in contrition for which, towards the close of his life, (as he told the Rev. H. White,) he repaired to the spot, and stood for a considerable time bareheaded in the rain, by way of expiatory penance.
Michael Johnson's practice of visiting the market towns of Staffordshire and the adjoining counties, to dispose of his books, has already been mentioned. (1) The house at the corner of Sadler Street, Lichfield, in which Michael Johnson resided, and in which Samuel was born, is still standing. Views of it occur in the Gentleman's Magazine, February, 1785; in the “ Short Account of Lichfield,” above mentioned ; and in various other works. It was built by Michael Johnson on land belonging to the Corporation, in whose records there appears this entry, under date 13th July, 1708 :
“ Agreed that Mr. Michael Johnson, bookseller, have a lease of his encroachment of his house in Sadler Street and Women's Cheaping, for forty years, at 2s.6d. per annum.” Boswell has preserved the particulars of a proceeding, in which the bailiffs and citizens, to their great honour, on the expiration of a second lease in 1767, resolved that it should be renewed to Dr. Johnson for a further term of ninety years, at the old rent, and without payment of any fine.
After her husband's decease, Johnson's mother continued the business, though of course on a more con
(1) See Vol. I. p. 314.
tracted scale. Among the names of subscribers to the “Harleian Miscellany,” there occurs that of “Sarah Johnson, bookseller, in Lichfield.” The humble nature of her establishment may be gathered from a passage in Miss Seward's Correspondence, where she says of Lucy Porter, “ from the age of twenty she boarded in Lichfield, with Dr. Johnson's mother, who still kept that bookseller's shop, by which her husband supplied the scanty means of existence. Meantime, Lucy kent the best company of our little city, but would make no engagement on market-days, lest granny, as she called Mrs. Johnson, should catch cold by serving in the shop. There Lucy Porter took her place, standing behind the counter, nor thought it a disgrace to thank a poor person who purchased from her a penny battledore.” One of Lucy's brothers subsequently bequeathed her a handsome property, with part of which she built herself a commodious house in Tamworth Street, Lichfield, where she ended her days, in January 1796, aged 70 years, and lies buried in the Church of St. Chad. (Gent. Mag., Oct. 1829.)
702. Singular Misquotation. There is a curious error in Dr. Johnson's Dictionary which has not hitherto been noticed. It occurs in Definition 13. of the verb “ To sit,” and pervades every edition that I have yet seen, even Mr. Todd's.
“ Asses are ye that sit in judgement. Judges, v. 10.” The verse is — “Speak, ye that ride on white asses, ye that sit in judgment, and walk by the way.' Were not Dr. Johnson's reverence for the Scriptures too well known to allow us to imagine that he would wilfully pervert them ; we might suppose that he, who gave the definition of Excise and Renegado, had intended, by anticipation, to express his opinion of the censure of his critics.
JEUX D'ESPRIT ON JOHNSON'S BIO
No. I.-LESSON IN BIOGRAPHY; OR, HOW TO WRITE THE LIFE OF ONE'S FRIEND. An Extract from the LIFE OF DR. Pozz, in ten volumes folio,
written by James Bozz, Esq., who FLOURISHED with him near fifty years.
BY ALEXANDER CHALMERS, Esq. (1)
We dined at the chop-house. Dr. Pozz was this day very instructive.
We talked of books. I mentioned the History of Tommy Trip. I said it was a great work. Pozz, “ Yes, Sir, it is a great work; but, Sir, it is a great work relatively ; it was a great work to you when you was a little boy : but now, Sir, you are a great man, and Tommy Trip is a little boy." I felt somewhat hurt at this comparison, and I believe he perceived it; for, as he was squeezing a lemon, he said, “ Never be affronted at a comparison. I have been compared to many things, but I never was affronted. No, Sir, if they would call me a dog, and you a canister tied to my tail, I would not be affronted.”
Cheered by this kind mention of me, though in such a situation, I asked him what he thought of a friend of
(1) Among the numerous parodies and jeux d'esprit which Mr. Boswell's work produced, this pleasantry from the pen of Mr. Alexander Chalmers, which appeared in the periodical publications of the day, is worth preserving; for it is not merely a good pleasantry, but a fair criticism of some of the lighter parts of the work, C.
ours, who was always making comparisons. Pozz. “ Sir, that fellow has a simile for every thing but himself. I knew him when he kept a shop: he then made money, Sir, and now he makes comparisons. Sir, he would
and I were two figs stuck together; two figs in adhesion, Sir; and then he would laugh. Bozz. “ But have not some great writers determined that comparisons are now and then odious ?" Pozz. “No, Sir, not odious in themselves, not odious as comparisons; the fellows who make them are odious. The Whigs make comparisons.”
We supped that evening at his house. I showed him some lines I had made upon a pair of breeches. Pozz. “ Sir, the lines are good; but where could you find such a subject in your country?” Bozz. “ Therefore it is a proof of invention, which is a characteristic of poetry.” Pozz. “
Pozz. “ Yes, Sir, but an invention which few of your countrymen can enjoy.” I reflected afterwards on the depth of this remark: it affords a proof of that acuteness which he displayed in every branch of literature. I asked him if he approved of green spectacles ? Pozz.“ As to green spectacles, Sir, the question seems to be this: if I wore green spectacles, it would be because they assisted vision, or because I liked them. Now, Sir, if a man tells me he does not like green spectacles, and that they hurt his eyes, I would not compel him to wear them. No, Sir, I would dissuade him.” A few months after, I consulted him again on this subject, and he honoured me with a letter, in which he gives the same opinion. It will be found in its proper place, Vol. VI. p. 2789. I have thought much on this subject, and must confess that in such matters a man ought to be a free moral agent.
Next day I left town, and was absent for six weeks, three days, and seven hours, as I find by a memorandum in my journal. In this time I had only one letter from him, which is as follows: