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LIFE AND GENIUS
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
When the works of a great writer, who has The present writer enjoyed the conversation bequeathed to posterity a lasting legacy, are pre- and friendship of that excellent man more than sented to the world, it is naturally expected, thirty years. He thought it an honour to be so that some account of his life should accompany connected, and to this hour he reflects on his the edition. The reader wishes to know as much loss with regret: but regret, he knows, has seas possible of the author. The circumstances cret bribes, by which the judgment may be inthat attended him, the features of his private Auenced, and partial affection may be carried character, his conversation, and the means by beyond the bounds of truth. In the present which he rose to eminence, become the favourite case, however, nothing needs to be disguised, and objects of inquiry. Curiosity is excited ; and exaggerated praise is unnecessary. It is an obthe admirer of his works is eager to know his servation of the younger Pliny, in his Epistle to private opinions, his course of study, the parti- his friend Tacitus, that history ought never to cularities of his conduct, and, above all, whether magnify matters of fact, because worthy actions he pursued the wisdom which he recommends, require nothing but the truth. Nam nec historia and practised the virtue which his writings in- debet egredi veritatem, et honeste factis veritas sufspire. A principle of gratitude is awakened in ficit. This rule the present biographer promises every generous mind. For the entertainment shall guide his pen throughout the following and instruction which genius and diligence have narrative. provided for the world, men of refined and sen- It may be said, the death of Dr. Johnson kept sible tempers are ready to pay their tribute of the public mind in agitation beyond all former praise, and even to form a posthumous friend- example. No literary character ever excited so ship with the author.
much attention ; and, when the press has teemIn reviewing the life of such a writer, there ed with anecdotes, apophthegms, essays, and is, besides, a rule of justice to which the public publications of every kind, what occasion now have an undoubted claim. Fond admiration for a new tract on the same thread bare subject ? and partial friendship should not be suffered to The plain truth shall be the answer. The prorepresent his virtues with exaggeration; nor prietors of Jobnson's Works thought the life, should malignity be allowed, under a specious which they prefixed to their former edition, too disguise, to magnify mere defects, the usual fail- unweildy for republication. The prodigious va. ings of human nature, into vice or gross defor- riety of foreign matter, introduced into that mity. The lights and shades of the character performance, seemed to overload the memory of should be given; and, if this be done with a Dr. Johnson, and in the account of his own life strict regard to truth, a just estimate of Dr. to leave him hardly visible. They wished to Johnson will afford a lesson, perhaps as valuable have a more concise, and, for that reason, peras the moral doctrine that speaks with energy in haps a more satisfactory account, such as may every page of his works.
exhibit a just picture of the man, and keep him
the principal figure in the foreground of his own says, that “his abilities, instead of furnishing picture. To comply with that request is the convivial merriment to the voluptuous and disdesign of this essay, which the writer undertakes solute, might have enabled him to excel among with a trembling hand. He has no discoveries, the virtuous and the wise." Being chaplain to no secret anecdotes, no occasional controversy, the Earl of Chesterfield, be wished to attend no sudden flashes of wit and humour, no private that nobleman on his embassy to the Hague. conversation, and no new facts, to embellish his Colley Cibber has recorded the anecdote. “ work. Every thing has been gleaned. Dr. should go," said the witty peer, “if to your Johnson said of himself, “I am not uncandid many vices you would add ove more. nor severe: I sometimes say more than I mean, my Lord, wbat is that?” “ Hypocrisy, my dear in jest, and people are apt to think me serious. Doctor." Johnson had a younger brother The exercise of that privilege, which is enjoyed named Nathaniel, who died at the age of twentyby every man in society, has not been allowed seven or twenty-eight. Michael Johnson, the to him. His fame bas given importance even to father, was chosen in the year 1718, under bailiff trifles; and the zeal of his friends has brought of Litchfield; and in the year 1725 he served the every thing to ligbt. What should be related, oface of the senior bailiff. He had a brother of and what should not, has been published with-the name of Andrew, who, for some years, kept out distinction. Dicenda tacenda locuti! Every the ring at Smith tield, appropriated to wrestlers thing that fell from him bas been caught with and boxers. Our author used to say, that he eagerness by his admirers, who, as he says in was never thrown or conquered. Michael, the one of his letters, have acted with the diligence father, died December 1731, at the age of seventyof spies upon his conduct. To some of them the six; his mother at eighty-nine, of a gradual defollowing lines, in Mallet's Poem, on verbal cay, in the year 1759. Of the family nothing criticism, are not inapplicable :
more can be related worthy of notice. Johnson did not deligbt in talking of his relations.
“ There is little pleasure,” he said to Mrs. Piozzi, “Such that grave bird in Northern scas is fonod,
“in relating the anecdotes of beggary.". Whose naipe a Dutchman only knows to sound; Where'er tho king of fish moves on before,
Johnson derived from his parents, or from an This humble friend attends from shore to shore ; unwholesome nurse, the distemper called the With eye still earnest, and with bill inclined, king's evil. The jacobites at that time believed He picks up what his patron left behini,
in the efficacy of the royal touch ; and accordWith those choice cates his palate to regale, ingly Mrs. Johnson presented her son, when two Add is the careful TIBBALD of a WUALE.”
years old, before Queen Anne, who, for the first
time, performed that office, and communicated After so many esssays and volumes of Johnso nia- to her young patient all the bealing virtue in na, what remains for the present writer? Per. her power. He was afterwards cut for that haps, what has not been attempted ; a short, yet scrophulous humour, and the under part of his full-a faithful, yet temperate, history of Dr. face was seamed and disfigured by the operation. Johnson.
It is supposed that this disease deprived him of
the sight of his left eye, and also impaired his SAMUEL JOnxson was born at Litchfield, hearing. At eight years old he was placed September 7, 1709, 0. S.f His father Michael | under Mr. Hawkins, at the Free-school in Johnson, was a bookseller in that city; a man | Litchfield, where he was not remarkable for of large athletic make, and violent passions ; diligence or regular application. Whatever be wrong-headed, positive, and at times afflicted read, his tenacious memory made his own. In with a degree of melancholy, little short of mad- the fields with his school-fellows, he talked more
His mother was sister to Dr. Ford, a to himself than with his companions. In 1725, practising physician, and father of Cornelius when he was about sixteen years old, he went Ford, generally known by the name of Parson on a visit to his cousin Cornelius Ford, who deFord, the same who is represented near the tained bim for some months, and in the mean punch-bowl in Hogarth's Midnight Modern time assisted him in the classics. The general Conversation. In the life of Fenton, Johnson direction for bis studies, which he then received,
be related to Mrs. Piozzi. Obtain,” says Ford, "some general principles of every science : he who can talk only on one subject, or act only
in one department, is seldom wanted, and per* Bonwell's Life of Johoson, vol. ii. p. 465, 4to. edit.
haps never wished for; while the man of general + This appears in a note to Johnson's Diary, pre knowledge can often benefit, and always please.” fixed to the first of his prayers. After the alteration This advice Johnson seems to have pursued of the style, he kept his birth day on the 18th of with a good inclination. His reading was alSeptember, and it is accordingly marked Septem- ways desultory, seldom resting on any particular ver, to
author, but rambling from one book to another,
and, by hasty spatches, boarding up a variety | by fits and starts, undirected to any particular of knowledge. It may be proper in this place science. General philology, agreeably to his to mention another general rule laid down by cousin Ford's advice, was the object of his amFord for Johnson's future conduct : “ You will bition. He received, at that time, an early immake your way the more easily in the world, as pression of piety, and a taste for the best auyou are contented to dispute no man's claim to thors, ancient and modern. It may, notwithconversation excellence : they will, therefore, standing, be questioned whether, except his more willingly allow your pretensions as a Bible,
a book entirely through. writer.” “ But,” says Mrs. Piozzi, “ the Late in life, if any man praised a book in his features of peculiarity, which mark a character presence, he was sure to ask, “ Did you read it to all succeeding generations, are slow in through ?" If the answer was in the affirma. coming to their growth.” That ingenious lady tive, he did not seem willing to believe it. He adds, with her usual vivacity, “ Can one, on continued at the university till the want of such an occasion, forbear recollecting the pre- pecuniary supplies obliged him to quit the place. dictions of Boileau's father, who said, stroking He obtained, however, the assistance of a the head of the young satirist, “this little man friend, and returning in a short time, was able has too much wit, but he will never speak ill of to complete a residence of three years. The hisany one?""
tory of his exploits, at Oxford, he used to say, On Johnson's return from Cornelius Ford, was best known to Dr. Taylor and Dr. Adams. Mr. Hunter, then master of the Free-school at Wonders are told of his memory, and, indeed, Litchfield, refused to receive him again on that all who knew him late in life, can witness foundation. At this distance of time, what his that he retained that faculty in the greatest reasons were, it is vain to inquire ; but to refuse vigour. assistance to a lad of promising genius must be From the university Johnson returned to pronounced harsh and illiberal. It did not, Litchfield. His father died soon after, Decemhowever, stop the progress of the young stu- ber 1731 ; and the whole receipt out of his efdent's education. He was placed at another fects, as appeared by a memorandum in the school, at Stourbridge in Worcestershire, under son's hand-writing, dated 15th June, 1732, was the care of Mr. Wentworth. Having gone no more than twenty pounds. * In this exithrough the rudiments of classic literature, he gence, determined that poverty should neither returned to his father's house, and was probably depress his spirit nor warp his integrity, he intended for the trade of a bookseller. He has became under-master of a grammar-school at been heard to say that he could bind a book. Market-Bosworth in Leicestershire. That reAt the end of two years, being then about nine source, however, did not last long. Disgusted teen, he went to assist the studies of a young by the pride of Sir Wolstan Dixie, the patron of gentleman of the name of Corbett, to the Uni- that little seminary, he left the place in disconversity of Oxford; and on the 31st of October, tent, and ever after spoke of it with abhorrence. 1728, both were entered of Pembroke College ; | In 1733 he went on a visit to Mr. Hector, who Corbett, as a gentleman-commoner, and Jobp-had been his school-fellow, and was then a
The college tutor, Mr. surgeon at Birmingham, lodging at the house Jordan, was a man of no genius; and Johnson, of Warren, a bookseller. At that place Johnson it seems, showed an early contempt of mean translated a voyage to Abyssinia, written by abilities, in one or two instances behaving with Jerome Lobo, a Portuguese missionary. This insolence to that gentleman. Of his general was the first literary work from the pen of Dr. conduct at the university there are no particu- Johnson. His friend Hector was occasionally lars that merit attention, except the translation his amanuensis. The work was, probably, of Pope's Messiah, which was a college exercise undertaken at the desire of Warren, the bookimposed upon him as a task, by Mr. Jordan. seller, and was printed at Birmingham; but it Corbett left the university in about tivo years, appears in the Literary Magazine, or History and Johnson's salary ceased. He was by con- of the Works of the Learned, for March 1735, sequence straitened in his circumstances : but he that it was published by Bettesworth and still remained at college. Mr. Jordan the Hitch, Paternoster. row. It contains a narratutor, went off to a living; and was succeeded by Dr. Adams, who afterwards became head of the college, and was esteemed through life for his learning, his talents, and his amiable charac
* The entry of this is remarkable, for his early resolu. ter. Johnson grew more regular in his attend- tion to preserve through life a fair and upright character.
Ethics, theology, and classic literature, 1732, Junii 15. Undecim aurcos deposui, quo die, were his favourite studies. He discovered, quidquid ante matris funus (quod serum sit precor) de
paternis bonis sperare licet, viginti scilicet libras, accepi. notwithstanding, early symptoms of that wan
Usque adeo mihi mea fortuna fingenda est interea, et ne dering disposition of mind, which adhered paupertate vires animi languescant, ne in flagitia egestas to him to the end of his life. His reading was adigat, cavendum."
son as a commoner.
tive of the endeavours of a company of missiona. | acknowledgment. The provinces were inhen ries to convert the people of Abyssinia to the bited by Moors, Pagans, Jews, and Christians. Church of Rome. In the preface to this work | The last was, in Lobo's time, the established and Johnson observes, " that the Portuguese travel reigning religion. The diversity of people and ler, contrary to the general view of his country- religion is the reason why the kingdom was men, has amused his readers with no romantic under different forms of government, with laws absurdities, or incredible fictions. He appears, and customs extremely various. Some of the by his modest and unaffected narration, to have people neither sowed their lands, nor improved described things as he saw them ; to have copied them by any kind of culture, living upon milk nature from the life; and to have consulted his and flesh, and, like the Arabs, encamping withsenses, not his imagination. He meets with out any settled habitation. In some places no basilisks, that destroy with their eyes ; his they practised no rites of worship, though they crocodiles devour their prey, without tears ; and believed that, in the regions above, there dwells his cataracts fall from the rock, without deafen- a Being that governs the world. This Deity ing the neighbouring inhabitants. The reader they call in their language Oul. The Chriswill here find no regions cursed with irreme. tianity professed by the people in some parts, is diable barrennesss, or blessed with spontaneous corrupted with superstitious errors, and herefecundity; no perpetual gloom, or unceasing sies, and so mingled with ceremonies borrowed sunshine: nor are the nations, here described, I from the Jews, that little, besides the name of either void of all sense of humanity, or con. Christianity, is to be found among them. The summate in all private and social virtues : here Abyssins cannot properly be said to have either are no Hottentots without religion, polity, or cities or houses; they live in tents or cottages articulate language; no Chinese perfectly polite, made of straw or clay, very rarely building with and completely skilled in all sciences : he will stone. Their villages or towns consist of these discover, what will always be discovered by a buts; yet even of such villages they have but diligent and impartial inquirer, that, wherever lew; because the grandees, the viceroys, and human nature is to be found, there is a mixture the emperor himself, are always in camp, that of vice and virtue, a contest of passion and rea- they may be prepared, upon the most sudden son ; and that the Creator doth not appear alarm, to meet every emergence, in a country partial in his distributions, but has balanced, in which is engaged every year either in foreigo most countries, their particular inconveniences wars or intestine commotions. Ethiopia proby particular favours.” -We have here an duces very near the same kinds of provision as early specimen of Johnson's manner; the vein Portugal, though, by the extreme laziness of of thinking and the frame of the sentences are the inhabitants, in a much less quantity. What manifestly his: we see the infant Hercules. the ancients imagined of the torrid zone being a The translation of Lobo's Narrative has been part of the world uninhabitable, is so far from reprinted lately in a separate volume, with some being true, that the climate is very temperate. other tracts of Dr. Johnson's, and therefore The blacks have better features than in other forms no part of this edition ; but a compen countries, and are not without wit and ingenuidious account of so interesting a work as Father ty, Their apprehension is quick, and their Lobo's discovery of the head of the Nile will judgment sound. There are in the climate two not, it is imagined, be unacceptable to the reader. harvests in the year: one in winter, which lasts
Father Lobo, the Portuguese Missionary, em through the months of July, August and Sepbarked, in 1622, in the same fleet with the tember ; the other in the Spring. They have, Count Vidigueira, who was appointed, by the in the greatest plenty, raisins, peaches, pomeKing of Portugal, Viceroy of the Indies. They granates, sugar-canes, and some figs. Most of arrived at Goa; and, in January 1624, Father these are ripe about Lent, which the Abyssins Lobo set out on the mission to Abyssinia. Two keep with great strictness. The animals of the of the Jesuits, sent on the same commission, country are the lion, the elephant, the rbinocewere murdered in their attempt to penetrate ros, the unicorn, horses, mules, oxen, and cows into that empire. Lobo bad better success; he without number. They have a very particular surmounted all difficulties, and made his way custom, which obliges every man, that has a into the heart of the country. Then follows a thousand cows, to save every year one day's description of Abyssinia, formerly the largest milk of all his herd, and make a bath with it empire of which we have an account in history. I for his relations. This they do so many days in It extended from the Red Sea to the kingdom i each year, as they have thousands of cattle ; so of Congo, and from Egypt to the Indian Sea, that, to express how rich a man is, they tell you cor.taining no less than forty provinces. At he bathes so many times. the time of Lobo's mission, it was not much “ Of the river Nile, which has furnished so larger than Spain, coneisting then but of five much controversy, we have a full and clear kingdoms, of which part was entirely subject to description. It is called by the natives, the Emperor, and part paid him a tribute, as an Abavi, the Father of Water. It rises in Sa