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Lobo's VOYAGE TO ABYSSINIA.
He accordingly agreed; and the book not being to be found in Birmingham, he borrowed it of Pembroke College. A part of the work being very soon done, one Osborn, who was Mr. Warren's printer, was set to work with what was ready, and Johnson engaged to supply the press with copy as it should be wanted; but his constitutional indolence soon prevailed, and the work was at a stand. Mr. Hector, who knew that a motive of humanity would be the most prevailing argument with his friend, went to Johnson, and represented to him, that the printer could have no other employment till this undertaking was finished, and that the poor man and his family were suffering. Johnson upon this exerted the powers of his mind, though his body was relaxed. 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 proof sheets, very few of which were even seen by Johnson. In this manner, with the aid of Mr. Hector's active friendship, the book was completed, and was published in 1735, with LONDON upon the title-page, though it was in reality printed at Birmingham, a device too common with provincial publishers. For this work he had from Mr. Warren only the sum of five guineas'.
This being the first prose work of Johnson, it is a curious object of inquiry how much may be traced in it of that style which marks his subsequent writings with such peculiar excellence; with so happy an union of force, vivacity, and perspicuity. I have perused the book with this view, and have found that here, as I believe in every other translation, there is in the work itself no vestige of the translator's own style ; for the language of translation being adapted to the thoughts of another person, insensibly follows their cast, and, as it were, runs into a mould that is ready prepared'.
Johnson, it should seem, did not think himself ill-used by Warren; for writing to Hector on April 15, 1755, he says,— What news of poor Warren ? I have not lost all my kindness for him.' Notes and Queries, 6th S. iii. 301. • That it is by no means an exact translation Johnson's Preface
Lobo's VOYAGE TO ABYSSINIA.
Thus, for instance, taking the first sentence that occurs at the opening of the book, p. 4.
'I lived here above a year, and completed my studies in divinity; in which time some letters were received from the fathers of Ethiopia, with an account that Sultan Segned', Emperour of Abyssinia, was converted to the church of Rome; that many of his subjects had followed his example, and that there was a great want of missionaries to improve these prosperous beginnings. Every body was very desirous of seconding the zeal of our fathers, and of sending them the assistance they requested; to which we were the more encouraged, because the Emperour's letter informed our Provincial, that we might easily enter his dominions by the way of Dancala; but, unhappily, the secretary wrote Geila' for Dancala, which cost two of our fathers their lives.'
Every one acquainted with Johnson's manner will be sensible that there is nothing of it here; but that this sentence might have been composed by any other man.
But, in the Preface, the Johnsonian style begins to appear; and though use had not yet taught his wing a permanent and equable Aight, there are parts of it which exhibit his best manner in full vigour. I had once the pleasure of examining it with Mr. Edmund Burke, who confirmed me in this opinion, by his superiour critical sagacity, and was, I remember, much delighted with the following specimen :
"The Portuguese traveller, contrary to the general vein of his countrymen, has amused his reader with no romantick absurdity, or incredible fictions; whatever he relates, whether true or not, is at least probable; and he who tells nothing exceeding the bounds of probability, has a right to demand that they should believe him who cannot contradict him.
He appears, by his modest and unaffected narration, to have described things as he saw them, to have copied nature from the life, and to have consulted his senses, not his imagination. He meets with no basilisks that destroy with their eyes, his crocodiles
shows. He says that in the dissertations alone an exact translation has been attempted. The rest of the work he describes as an epitome.
In the original, Segued. * In the original, Zeila.
Lobo's Voyage to Abyssinia.
devour their prey without tears, and his cataracts fall from the rocks without deafening the neighbouring inhabitants'.
“The reader will here find no regions cursed with irremediable barrenness, or blessed with spontaneous fecundity; no perpetual gloom, or unceasing sunshine ; nor are the nations here described either devoid of all sense of humanity, or consummate in all private or social virtues. Here are no Hottentots without religious polity or articulate language”; no Chinese perfectly polite, and completely skilled in all sciences; he will discover, what will always be discovered by a diligent and impartial enquirer, that wherever human nature is to be found, there is a mixture of vice and virtue, a contest of passion and reason; and that the Creator doth not appear partial in his distributions, but has balanced, in most countries, their particular inconveniences by particular favours.'
Here we have an early example of that brilliant and energetick expression, which, upon innumerable occasions in his subsequent life, justly impressed the world with the highest admiration.
Nor can any one, conversant with the writings of Johnson, fail to discern his hand in this passage of the Dedication to John Warren, Esq. of Pembrokeshire, though it is ascribed to Warren the bookseller:
“A generous and elevated mind is distinguished by nothing more certainly than an eminent degree of curiosity> ; nor is that curiosity
* Lobo, in describing a waterfall on the Nile, had said :— The fall of this mighty stream from so great a height makes a noise that may be heard to a considerable distance; but I could not observe that the neighbouring inhabitants were at all deaf. I conversed with several, and was as easily heard by them as I heard them,' p. 101.
* In the original, without religion, polity, or articulate language.
• See Rambler, No. 103. Boswell. Johnson in other passages insisted on the high value of curiosity. In this same Rambler he says: -Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous intellect.' In the allegory in Rambler, No. 105, he calls curiosity his ‘long-loved protectress,' who is known by truth among the most faithful of her followers.' In No. 150 he writes :— Curiosity is in great and generous minds the first passion and the last; and perhaps always predominates in proportion to the strength of the contemplative faculties.' In No. 5 he asserts that he that enlarges his
Proposals to print Politian.
ever more agreeably or usefully employed, than in examining the laws and customs of foreign nations. I hope, therefore, the present I now presume to make, will not be thought improper ; which, however, it is not my business as a dedicator to commend, nor as a bookseller to depreciate.'
It is reasonable to suppose that his having been thus accidentally led to a particular study of the history and manners of Abyssinia, was the remote occasion of his writing, many years afterwards, his admirable philosophical tale', the principal scene of which is laid in that country.
Johnson returned to Lichfield early in 1734, and in August that year he made an attempt to procure some little subsistence by his pen; for he published proposals for printing by subscription the Latin Poems of Politian': 'Angeli Politiani Poemata Latina, quibus, Notas cum historia ina poeseos, à Petrarcha ævo ad Politiani tempora deducta, et vità Politiani fusius quam antehac enarrata, addidit Sam. JOHNSON curiosity after the works of nature demonstrably multiplies the inlets to happiness.'
· Rasselas, post, 1759.
· Hawkins (p. 163) gives the following extract from Johnson's Annales :— Friday, August 27 (1734), 10 at night. This day I have trified away, except that I have attended the school in the morning. I read to-night in Rogers's sermons. To-night I began the breakfast law (sic) anew.'
8 May we not trace a fanciful similarity between Politian and Johnson? Huetius, speaking of Paulus Pelissonius Fontanerius, says, '... in quo Natura, ut olim in Angelo Politiano, deformitatem oris excellentis ingenii præstantia compensavit.' Comment. de reb. ad eum pertin. Edit. Amstel. 1718, p. 200. Boswell. In Paulus Pelissonius Fontanerius we have difficulty in detecting Mme. de Sévigné's friend, Pelisson, of whom M. de Guilleragues used the phrase, 'qu'il abusait de la permission qu'ont les hommes d'être laids.' See Mme. de Sévigné's Letter, 5 Jan., 1674. CROKER.
• The book was to contain more than thirty sheets, the price to be two shillings and sixpence at the time of subscribing, and two shillings and sixpence at the delivery of a perfect book in quires. BOSWELL. · Among the books in his library, at the time of his decease, I found a very old and curious edition of the works of Politian, which appeared to belong to Pembroke College, Oxford.' HAWKINS, P. 445. See post,
First letter to Edward Cave.
It appears that his brother Nathanael' had taken up his father's trade; for it is mentioned that 'subscriptions are taken in by the Editor, or N. Johnson, bookseller, of Lichfield.' Notwithstanding the merit of Johnson, and the cheap price at which this book was offered, there were not subscribers enough to insure a sufficient sale; so the work never appeared, and probably, never was executed.
We find him again this year at Birmingham, and there is preserved the following letter from him to Mr. Edward Cave', the original compiler and editor of the Gentleman's Magazine :
To MR. CAVE.
Nov. 25, 1734.
' As you appear no less sensible than your readers of the defects of your poetical article, you will not be displeased, if, in order to the improvement of it, I communicate to you the sentiments of a person, who will undertake, on reasonable terms, sometimes to fill a column.
'His opinion is, that the publick would not give you a bad
Nov. 1784. In his last work he shews his fondness for modern Latin poetry. He says :
-Pope had sought for images and sentiments in a region not known to have been explored by many other of the English writers; he had consulted the modern writers of Latin poetry, a class of authors whom Boileau endeavoured to bring into contempt, and who are too generally neglected.' Johnson's Works, viii. 299.
"A writer in Notes and Queries, ist S. xii. 266, says 'that he has a letter written by Nathanael, in which he makes mention of his brother “scarcely using him with common civility,” and says, “I believe I shall go to Georgia in about a fortnight!"' Nathanael died in Lichfield in 1737; see post, Dec. 2, 1784, for his epitaph. Among the MSS. in Pembroke College Library are bills for books receipted by Nath. Johnson and by Sarah Johnson (his mother). She writes like a person of little education.
Miss Cave, the grand-niece of Mr. Edward Cave, has obligingly shewn me the originals of this and the other letters of Dr. Johnson, to him, which were first published in the Gent. Mag. [lv. 3], with notes by Mr. John Nichols, the worthy and indefatigable editor of that valuable miscellany, signed N.; some of which I shall occasionally transcribe in the course of this work. BOSWELL. I was able to examine some of these letters while they were still in the possession of one of Cave's collateral descendants, and I have in one or two places corrected errors of transcription.