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Reply to possible objections.
this almost superstitious reverence, I have found very old and venerable authority, quoted by our great modern prelate, Secker, in whose tenth sermon there is the following passage:
'Rabbi David Kimchi, a noted Jewish Commentator, who lived about five hundred years ago, explains that passage in the first Psalm, His leaf also shall not wither, from Rabbins yet older than himself, thus : That even the idle talk, so he expresses it, of a good man ought to be regarded; the most superfluous things he saith are always of some value. And other ancient authours have the same phrase, nearly in the same sense.'
Of one thing I am certain, that considering how highly the small portion which we have of the table-talk and other anecdotes of our celebrated writers is valued, and how earnestly it is regretted that we have not more, I am justified in preserving rather too many of Johnson's sayings, than too few; especially as from the diversity of dispositions it cannot be known with certainty beforehand, whether what may seem trifling to some, and perhaps to the collector himself, may not be most agreeable to many; and the greater number that an authour can please in any degree, the more pleasure does there arise to a benevolent mind.
To those who are weak enough to think this a degrading task, and the time and labour which have been devoted to it misemployed, I shall content myself with opposing the authority of the greatest man of any age, JULIUS CÆSAR, of whom Bacon observes, that in his book of Apothegms which he collected, we see that he esteemed it more honour to make himself but a pair of tables, to take the wise and pithy words of others, than to have every word of his own to be made an apothegm or an oracle '.'
Having said thus much by way of introduction, I commit the following pages to the candour of the Publick.
· Bacon's Advancement of Learning, Book I. BOSWELL.
Johnson's birth and baptism.
SAMUEL JOHNSON was born at Lichfield, in Staffordshire, on the 18th of September, N.S., 1709; and his initiation into the Christian Church was not delayed ; for his baptism is recorded, in the register of St. Mary's parish in that city, to have been performed on the day of his birth. His father is there stiled Gentleman, a circumstance of which an ignorant panegyrist has praised him for not being proud; when the truth is, that the appellation of Gentleman, though now lost in the indiscriminate assumption of Esquire', was commonly taken by those who could not boast of gentility. His father was Michael Johnson, a native of Derbyshire, of obscure extraction', who settled in Lichfield as a bookseller and stationer. His mother was Sarah Ford, descended of an ancient race of substantial yeomanry in Warwickshire'. They were well advanced in years when they
· Johnson's godfather, Dr. Samuel Swinfen, according to the author of Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Dr. Johnson, 1785, p. 10, was at the time of his birth lodging with Michael Johnson. Johnson had uncles on the mother's side, named Samuel and Nathaniel (see Notes and Queries, 5th S. v. 13), after whom he and his brother
have been nained. It seems more likely that it was his godfather who gave him his name.
? So early as 1709 The Tatler complains of this `indiscriminate assumption.' 'I'll undertake that if you read the superscriptions to all the offices in the kingdom, you will not find three letters directed to any but Esquires. ... In a word it is now Populus Armigerorum, a people of Esquires. And I don't know but by the late act of naturalisation, foreigners will assume that title as part of the immunity of being Englishmen.' The Tatler, No. 19.
S'I can hardly tell who was my grandfather,” said Johnson. See post, May 9, 1773.
• Michael Johnson was born in 1656. He must have been engaged in the book-trade as early as 1681 ; for in the Life of Dryden his son says, “The sale of Absalom and Achitophel was so large, that my father, an old bookseller, told me, he had not known it equalled but by Sacheverel's Trial.' Johnson's Works, vii. 276. In the Life of Sprat he is described by his son as 'an old man who had been no careless observer of the passages of those times.' Ib. 392.
. Her epitaph says that she was born at Kingsnorton. Kingsnorton is in Worcestershire, and not, as the epitaph says, 'in agro Varvicensi.' When Johnson a few days before his death burnt his papers, some
married, and never had more than two children, both sons; Samuel, their first born, who lived to be the illustrious character whose various excellence I am to endeavour to record, and Nathaniel, who died in his twenty-fifth year.
Mr. Michael Johnson was a man of a large and robust body, and of a strong and active mind; yet, as in the most solid rocks veins of unsound substance are often discovered, there was in him a mixture of that disease, the nature of which eludes the most minute enquiry, though the effects are well known to be a weariness of life, an unconcern about those things which agitate the greater part of mankind, and a general sensation of gloomy wretchedness'. From him then his son inherited, with some other qualities, 'a vile melancholy,' which in his too strong expression of any disturbance of the mind, 'made him mad all his life, at least not sober' Michael was, however, forced by the narrowness of his circumstances to be very diligent in business, not only in his shop', but by occasionally resorting to several
fragments of his Annals escaped the flames. One of these was never seen by Boswell; it was published in 1805 under the title of An Account of the Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, from his Birth to his Eleventh Year, written by himself. In this he says (p. 14), ‘My mother had no value for my father's relations; those indeed whom we knew of were much lower than hers.' Writing to Mrs. Thrale on his way to Scotland he said: “We changed our horses at Darlington, where Mr. Cornelius Harrison, a cousin-german of mine, was perpetual curate. He was the only one of my relations who ever rose in fortune above penury, or in character above neglect.' Piozzi Letters, i. 105. His uncle Harrison he described as “a very mean and vulgar man, drunk every night, but drunk with little drink, very peevish, very proud, very ostentatious, but luckily not rich.' Annals, p. 28. In Notes and Queries, 6th S. x. 465, is given the following extract of the marriage of Johnson's parents from the Register of Packwood in Warwickshire :
*1706. Mickell Johnsones of lichfield and Sara ford maried June the 9th
· Mrs. Piozzi (Anec. p. 3) records that Johnson told her that ‘his father was wrong-headed, positive, and afflicted with melancholy.'
? Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3rd edit. p. 213 [Sept. 16]. BosWELL. • Stockdale in his Memoirs, ii. 102, ords an anecdote told him
Character of Michael Johnson.
towns in the neighbourhood', some of which were at a considerable distance from Lichfield". At that time book. sellers' shops in the provincial towns of England were very rare, so that there was not one even in Birmingham, in which town old Mr. Johnson used to open a shop every market-day. He was a pretty good Latin scholar, and a citizen so creditable as to be made one of the magistrates of Lichfield'; and, being a man of good sense, and skill in by Johnson of the generosity of one of the customers of his father. “This man was purchasing a book, and pressed my father to let him have it at a far less price than it was worth. When his other topics of persuasion failed, he had recourse to one argument which, he thought, would infallibly prevail:- You know, Mr. Johnson, that I buy an almanac of you every year."
· Extract of a letter, dated 'Trentham, St. Peter's day, 1716,' written by the Rev. George Plaxton, Chaplain at that time to Lord Gower, which may serve to show the high estimation in which the Father of our great Moralist was held : Johnson, the Litchfield Librarian, is now here; he propagates learning all over this diocese, and advanceth knowledge to its just height; all the Clergy here are his Pupils, and suck all they have from him; Allen cannot make a warrant without his precedent, nor our quondam John Evans draw a recognizance sine directione Michaelis.' Gentleman's Magazine, October, 1791. Boswell.
' In Notes and Queries, 3rd S. v. 33, is given the following title-page of one of his books: 'Papuako-Baqavos: or the Touchstone of Medicine. etc. By Sir John Floyer of the City of Litchfield, Kt., M.D., of Queen's College, Oxford. London: Printed for Michael Johnson, Bookseller, and are to be sold at his shops at Litchfield and Uttoxiter, in Staffordshire; and Ashby-de-la-Zouch, in Leicestershire, 1687.'
• Johnson writing of his birth says: 'My father being that year sheriff of Lichfield, and to ride the circuit of the county (Mr. Croker suggests city, not being aware that “the City of Lichfield was a county in itself.' See Harwood's Lichfield, p. 1. In like manner, in the Militia Bill of 1756 (post 1756) we find entered, “Devonshire with Exeter City and County,' • Lincolnshire with Lincoln City and County'] next day, which was a ceremony then performed with great pomp, he was asked by my mother whom he would invite to the Riding; and answered, “all the town now.” He feasted the citizens with uncommon magnificence, and was the last but one that maintained the splendour of the Riding,' Annals, p. 10. He served the office of church-warden in 1688; of sheriff in 1709; of junior bailiff in 1718; and senior bailiff in 1725.' Harwood's Lichfield, p. 449.
An incident in his life.
his trade, he acquired a reasonable share of wealth, of which however he afterwards lost the greatest part, by engaging unsuccessfully in a manufacture of parchment'. He was a zealous high-church man and royalist, and retained his attachment to the unfortunate house of Stuart, though he reconciled himself, by casuistical arguments of expediency and necessity, to take the oaths imposed by the prevailing power'.
There is a circumstance in his life somewhat romantick, but so well authenticated, that I shall not omit it. A young woman of Leek, in Staffordshire, while he served his apprenticeship there, conceived a violent passion for him; and though it met with no favourable return, followed him to Lichfield, where she took lodgings opposite to the house in which he lived, and indulged her hopeless flame. When he
1.My father and mother had not much happiness from each other. They seldom conversed; for my father could not bear to talk of his affairs, and my mother being unacquainted with books cared not to talk of anything else. Had my mother been more literate, they had been better companions. She might have sometimes introduced her unwelcome topic with more success, if she could have diversified her conversation. Of business she had no distinct conception; and therefore her discourse was composed only of complaint, fear, and suspicion. Neither of them ever tried to calculate the profits of trade, or the expenses of living. My mother concluded that we were poor, because we lost by some of our trades; but the truth was, that my father, having in the early part of his life contracted debts, never had trade sufficient to enable him to pay them and maintain his family; he got something, but not enough.' Annals, p. 14. Mr. Croker noticing the violence of Johnson's language against the Excise, with great acuteness suspected ‘some cause of personal animosity; this mention of the trade in parchment (an exciseable article) afforded a clue, which has led to the confirmation of that suspicion.' In the records of the Excise Board is to be found the following letter, addressed to the supervisor of excise at Lichfield : ‘July 27, 1725. The Commissioners received yours of the 22nd instant, and since the justices would not give judgment against Mr. Michael Johnson, the tanner, notwithstanding the facts were fairly against him, the Board direct that the next time he offends, you do not lay an information against him, but send an affidavit of the fact, that he may be prosecuted in the Exchequer.' See post, March 27, 1775.