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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Samuel Johnson, by Leslie Stephen

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Title: Samuel Johnson

Author: Leslie Stephen

Release Date: February 11, 2004 [EBook #11031]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK SAMUEL JOHNSON ***




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SAMUEL JOHNSON


BY

LESLIE STEPHEN


NEW YORK

1878



CONTENTS.


CHAPTER I.
CHILDHOOD AND EARLY LIFE

CHAPTER II.
LITERARY CAREER

CHAPTER III.
JOHNSON AND HIS FRIENDS

CHAPTER IV.
JOHNSON AS A LITERARY DICTATOR

CHAPTER V.
THE CLOSING YEARS OF JOHNSON'S LIFE

CHAPTER VI.
JOHNSON'S WRITINGS




SAMUEL JOHNSON.


CHAPTER I.


CHILDHOOD AND EARLY LIFE.


Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield in 1709. His father, Michael
Johnson, was a bookseller, highly respected by the cathedral clergy, and
for a time sufficiently prosperous to be a magistrate of the town, and,
in the year of his son's birth, sheriff of the county. He opened a
bookstall on market-days at neighbouring towns, including Birmingham,
which was as yet unable to maintain a separate bookseller. The tradesman
often exaggerates the prejudices of the class whose wants he supplies,
and Michael Johnson was probably a more devoted High Churchman and Tory
than many of the cathedral clergy themselves. He reconciled himself with
difficulty to taking the oaths against the exiled dynasty. He was a man
of considerable mental and physical power, but tormented by
hypochondriacal tendencies. His son inherited a share both of his
constitution and of his principles. Long afterwards Samuel associated
with his childish days a faint but solemn recollection of a lady in
diamonds and long black hood. The lady was Queen Anne, to whom, in
compliance with a superstition just dying a natural death, he had been
taken by his mother to be touched for the king's evil. The touch was
ineffectual. Perhaps, as Boswell suggested, he ought to have been
presented to the genuine heirs of the Stuarts in Rome. Disease and
superstition had thus stood by his cradle, and they never quitted him
during life. The demon of hypochondria was always lying in wait for him,
and could be exorcised for a time only by hard work or social
excitement. Of this we shall hear enough; but it may be as well to sum
up at once some of the physical characteristics which marked him through
life and greatly influenced his career.

The disease had scarred and disfigured features otherwise regular and
always impressive. It had seriously injured his eyes, entirely
destroying, it seems, the sight of one. He could not, it is said,
distinguish a friend's face half a yard off, and pictures were to him
meaningless patches, in which he could never see the resemblance to
their objects. The statement is perhaps exaggerated; for he could see
enough to condemn a portrait of himself. He expressed some annoyance
when Reynolds had painted him with a pen held close to his eye; and
protested that he would not be handed down to posterity as "blinking
Sam." It seems that habits of minute attention atoned in some degree for
this natural defect. Boswell tells us how Johnson once corrected him as
to the precise shape of a mountain; and Mrs. Thrale says that he was a
close and exacting critic of ladies' dress, even to the accidental
position of a riband. He could even lay down aesthetical canons upon
such matters. He reproved her for wearing a dark dress as unsuitable to
a "little creature." "What," he asked, "have not all insects gay
colours?" His insensibility to music was even more pronounced than his
dulness of sight. On hearing it said, in praise of a musical
performance, that it was in any case difficult, his feeling comment was,
"I wish it had been impossible!"

The queer convulsions by which he amazed all beholders were probably
connected with his disease, though he and Reynolds ascribed them simply
to habit. When entering a doorway with his blind companion, Miss
Williams, he would suddenly desert her on the step in order to "whirl
and twist about" in strange gesticulations. The performance partook of
the nature of a superstitious ceremonial. He would stop in a street or
the middle of a room to go through it correctly. Once he collected a
laughing mob in Twickenham meadows by his antics; his hands imitating
the motions of a jockey riding at full speed and his feet twisting in
and out to make heels and toes touch alternately. He presently sat down
and took out a _Grotius De Veritate_, over which he "seesawed" so
violently that the mob ran back to see what was the matter. Once in such
a fit he suddenly twisted off the shoe of a lady who sat by him.
Sometimes he seemed to be obeying some hidden impulse, which commanded
him to touch every post in a street or tread on the centre of every
paving-stone, and would return if his task had not been accurately
performed.

In spite of such oddities, he was not only possessed of physical power
corresponding to his great height and massive stature, but was something
of a proficient at athletic exercises. He was conversant with the
theory, at least, of boxing; a knowledge probably acquired from an uncle
who kept the ring at Smithfield for a year, and was never beaten in
boxing or wrestling. His constitutional fearlessness would have made him
a formidable antagonist. Hawkins describes the oak staff, six feet in
length and increasing from one to three inches in diameter, which lay
ready to his hand when he expected an attack from Macpherson of Ossian
celebrity. Once he is said to have taken up a chair at the theatre upon
which a man had seated himself during his temporary absence, and to have
tossed it and its occupant bodily into the pit. He would swim into pools
said to be dangerous, beat huge dogs into peace, climb trees, and even
run races and jump gates. Once at least he went out foxhunting, and
though he despised the amusement, was deeply touched by the
complimentary assertion that he rode as well as the most illiterate
fellow in England. Perhaps the most whimsical of his performances was
when, in his fifty-fifth year, he went to the top of a high hill with
his friend Langton. "I have not had a roll for a long time," said the
great lexicographer suddenly, and, after deliberately emptying his
pockets, he laid himself parallel to the edge of the hill, and
descended, turning over and over till he came to the bottom. We may
believe, as Mrs. Thrale remarks upon his jumping over a stool to show
that he was not tired by his hunting, that his performances in this kind
were so strange and uncouth that a fear for the safety of his bones
quenched the spectator's tendency to laugh.

In such a strange case was imprisoned one of the most vigorous
intellects of the time. Vast strength hampered by clumsiness and
associated with grievous disease, deep and massive powers of feeling
limited by narrow though acute perceptions, were characteristic both of
soul and body. These peculiarities were manifested from his early
infancy. Miss Seward, a typical specimen of the provincial _precieuse_,
attempted to trace them in an epitaph which he was said to have written
at the age of three.

  Here lies good master duck
    Whom Samuel Johnson trod on;
  If it had lived, it had been good luck,
    For then we had had an odd one.

The verses, however, were really made by his father, who passed them off
as the child's, and illustrate nothing but the paternal vanity. In fact
the boy was regarded as something of an infant prodigy. His great powers
of memory, characteristic of a mind singularly retentive of all
impressions, were early developed. He seemed to learn by intuition.
Indolence, as in his after life, alternated with brief efforts of
strenuous exertion. His want of sight prevented him from sharing in the
ordinary childish sports; and one of his great pleasures was in reading
old romances--a taste which he retained through life. Boys of this
temperament are generally despised by their fellows; but Johnson seems
to have had the power of enforcing the respect of his companions. Three
of the lads used to come for him in the morning and carry him in triumph
to school, seated upon the shoulders of one and supported on each side
by his companions.

After learning to read at a dame-school, and from a certain Tom Brown,
of whom it is only recorded that he published a spelling-book and
dedicated it to the Universe, young Samuel was sent to the Lichfield
Grammar School, and was afterwards, for a short time, apparently in the
character of pupil-teacher, at the school of Stourbridge, in
Worcestershire. A good deal of Latin was "whipped into him," and though
he complained of the excessive severity of two of his teachers, he was
always a believer in the virtues of the rod. A child, he said, who is
flogged, "gets his task, and there's an end on't; whereas by exciting
emulation and comparisons of superiority, you lay the foundations of
lasting mischief; you make brothers and sisters hate each other." In
practice, indeed, this stern disciplinarian seems to have been specially
indulgent to children. The memory of his own sorrows made him value
their happiness, and he rejoiced greatly when he at last persuaded a
schoolmaster to remit the old-fashioned holiday-task.

Johnson left school at sixteen and spent two years at home, probably in
learning his father's business. This seems to have been the chief period
of his studies. Long afterwards he said that he knew almost as much at
eighteen as he did at the age of fifty-three--the date of the remark.
His father's shop would give him many opportunities, and he devoured
what came in his way with the undiscriminating eagerness of a young
student. His intellectual resembled his physical appetite. He gorged
books. He tore the hearts out of them, but did not study systematically.
Do you read books through? he asked indignantly of some one who expected
from him such supererogatory labour. His memory enabled him to
accumulate great stores of a desultory and unsystematic knowledge.
Somehow he became a fine Latin scholar, though never first-rate as a
Grecian. The direction of his studies was partly determined by the
discovery of a folio of Petrarch, lying on a shelf where he was looking
for apples; and one of his earliest literary plans, never carried out,
was an edition of Politian, with a history of Latin poetry from the time
of Petrarch. When he went to the University at the end of this period,
he was in possession of a very unusual amount of reading.

Meanwhile he was beginning to feel the pressure of poverty. His father's
affairs were probably getting into disorder. One anecdote--it is one
which it is difficult to read without emotion--refers to this period.
Many years afterwards, Johnson, worn by disease and the hard struggle of
life, was staying at Lichfield, where a few old friends still survived,
but in which every street must have revived the memories of the many who
had long since gone over to the majority. He was missed one morning at
breakfast, and did not return till supper-time. Then he told how his
time had been passed. On that day fifty years before, his father,
confined by illness, had begged him to take his place to sell books at a
stall at Uttoxeter. Pride made him refuse. "To do away with the sin of
this disobedience, I this day went in a post-chaise to Uttoxeter, and
going into the market at the time of high business, uncovered my head
and stood with it bare an hour before the stall which my father had
formerly used, exposed to the sneers of the standers-by and the
inclemency of the weather; a penance by which I trust I have propitiated
Heaven for this only instance, I believe, of contumacy to my father." If
the anecdote illustrates the touch of superstition in Johnson's mind, it
reveals too that sacred depth of tenderness which ennobled his
character. No repentance can ever wipe out the past or make it be as
though it had not been; but the remorse of a fine character may be
transmuted into a permanent source of nobler views of life and the
world.

There are difficulties in determining the circumstances and duration of
Johnson's stay at Oxford. He began residence at Pembroke College in
1728. It seems probable that he received some assistance from a
gentleman whose son took him as companion, and from the clergy of
Lichfield, to whom his father was known, and who were aware of the son's
talents. Possibly his college assisted him during part of the time. It
is certain that he left without taking a degree, though he probably
resided for nearly three years. It is certain, also, that his father's
bankruptcy made his stay difficult, and that the period must have been
one of trial.

The effect of the Oxford residence upon Johnson's mind was
characteristic. The lad already suffered from the attacks of melancholy,
which sometimes drove him to the borders of insanity. At Oxford, Law's
_Serious Call_ gave him the strong religious impressions which remained
through life. But he does not seem to have been regarded as a gloomy or
a religious youth by his contemporaries. When told in after years that
he had been described as a "gay and frolicsome fellow," he replied, "Ah!
sir, I was mad and violent. It was bitterness which they mistook for
frolic. I was miserably poor, and I thought to fight my way by my
literature and my wit; so I disregarded all power and all authority."
Though a hearty supporter of authority in principle, Johnson was
distinguished through life by the strongest spirit of personal
independence and self-respect. He held, too, the sound doctrine,
deplored by his respectable biographer Hawkins, that the scholar's life,
like the Christian's, levelled all distinctions of rank. When an
officious benefactor put a pair of new shoes at his door, he threw them
away with indignation. He seems to have treated his tutors with a
contempt which Boswell politely attributed to "great fortitude of mind,"
but Johnson himself set down as "stark insensibility." The life of a
poor student is not, one may fear, even yet exempt from much bitterness,
and in those days the position was far more servile than at present. The
servitors and sizars had much to bear from richer companions. A proud
melancholy lad, conscious of great powers, had to meet with hard
rebuffs, and tried to meet them by returning scorn for scorn.

Such distresses, however, did not shake Johnson's rooted Toryism. He
fully imbibed, if he did not already share, the strongest prejudices of
the place, and his misery never produced a revolt against the system,
though it may have fostered insolence to individuals. Three of the most
eminent men with whom Johnson came in contact in later life, had also
been students at Oxford. Wesley, his senior by six years, was a fellow
of Lincoln whilst Johnson was an undergraduate, and was learning at
Oxford the necessity of rousing his countrymen from the religious
lethargy into which they had sunk. "Have not pride and haughtiness of
spirit, impatience, and peevishness, sloth and indolence, gluttony and
sensuality, and even a proverbial uselessness been objected to us,
perhaps not always by our enemies nor wholly without ground?" So said
Wesley, preaching before the University of Oxford in 1744, and the words
in his mouth imply more than the preacher's formality. Adam Smith,
Johnson's junior by fourteen years, was so impressed by the utter
indifference of Oxford authorities to their duties, as to find in it an
admirable illustration of the consequences of the neglect of the true
principles of supply and demand implied in the endowment of learning.
Gibbon, his junior by twenty-eight years, passed at Oxford the "most
idle and unprofitable" months of his whole life; and was, he said, as
willing to disclaim the university for a mother, as she could be to
renounce him for a son. Oxford, as judged by these men, was remarkable
as an illustration of the spiritual and intellectual decadence of a body
which at other times has been a centre of great movements of thought.
Johnson, though his experience was rougher than any of the three, loved
Oxford as though she had not been a harsh stepmother to his youth. Sir,
he said fondly of his college, "we are a nest of singing-birds." Most of
the strains are now pretty well forgotten, and some of them must at all
times have been such as we scarcely associate with the nightingale.
Johnson, however, cherished his college friendships, delighted in paying
visits to his old university, and was deeply touched by the academical
honours by which Oxford long afterwards recognized an eminence scarcely
fostered by its protection. Far from sharing the doctrines of Adam
Smith, he only regretted that the universities were not richer, and
expressed a desire which will be understood by advocates of the
"endowment of research," that there were many places of a thousand a
year at Oxford.

On leaving the University, in 1731, the world was all before him. His
father died in the end of the year, and Johnson's whole immediate
inheritance was twenty pounds. Where was he to turn for daily bread?
Even in those days, most gates were barred with gold and opened but to
golden keys. The greatest chance for a poor man was probably through the
Church. The career of Warburton, who rose from a similar position to a
bishopric might have been rivalled by Johnson, and his connexions with
Lichfield might, one would suppose, have helped him to a start. It would
be easy to speculate upon causes which might have hindered such a
career. In later life, he more than once refused to take orders upon the
promise of a living. Johnson, as we know him, was a man of the world;
though a religious man of the world. He represents the secular rather
than the ecclesiastical type. So far as his mode of teaching goes, he is
rather a disciple of Socrates than of St. Paul or Wesley. According to
him, a "tavern-chair" was "the throne of human felicity," and supplied
a better arena than the pulpit for the utterance of his message to
mankind. And, though his external circumstances doubtless determined his
method, there was much in his character which made it congenial.
Johnson's religious emotions were such as to make habitual reserve
almost a sanitary necessity. They were deeply coloured by his
constitutional melancholy. Fear of death and hell were prominent in his
personal creed. To trade upon his feelings like a charlatan would have
been abhorrent to his masculine character; and to give them full and
frequent utterance like a genuine teacher of mankind would have been to
imperil his sanity. If he had gone through the excitement of a Methodist
conversion, he would probably have ended his days in a madhouse.

Such considerations, however, were not, one may guess, distinctly
present to Johnson himself; and the offer of a college fellowship or of
private patronage might probably have altered his career. He might have
become a learned recluse or a struggling Parson Adams. College
fellowships were less open to talent then than now, and patrons were
never too propitious to the uncouth giant, who had to force his way by
sheer labour, and fight for his own hand. Accordingly, the young scholar
tried to coin his brains into money by the most depressing and least
hopeful of employments. By becoming an usher in a school, he could at
least turn his talents to account with little delay, and that was the
most pressing consideration. By one schoolmaster he was rejected on the
ground that his infirmities would excite the ridicule of the boys. Under
another he passed some months of "complicated misery," and could never
think of the school without horror and aversion. Finding this situation
intolerable, he settled in Birmingham, in 1733, to be near an old
schoolfellow, named Hector, who was apparently beginning to practise as
a surgeon. Johnson seems to have had some acquaintances among the
comfortable families in the neighbourhood; but his means of living are
obscure. Some small literary work came in his way. He contributed essays
to a local paper, and translated a book of Travels in Abyssinia. For
this, his first publication, he received five guineas. In 1734 he made
certain overtures to Cave, a London publisher, of the result of which I
shall have to speak presently. For the present it is pretty clear that
the great problem of self-support had been very inadequately solved.

Having no money and no prospects, Johnson naturally married. The
attractions of the lady were not very manifest to others than her
husband. She was the widow of a Birmingham mercer named Porter. Her age
at the time (1735) of the second marriage was forty-eight, the
bridegroom being not quite twenty-six. The biographer's eye was not
fixed upon Johnson till after his wife's death, and we have little in
the way of authentic description of her person and character. Garrick,
who had known her, said that she was very fat, with cheeks coloured both
by paint and cordials, flimsy and fantastic in dress and affected in her
manners. She is said to have treated her husband with some contempt,
adopting the airs of an antiquated beauty, which he returned by
elaborate deference. Garrick used his wonderful powers of mimicry to
make fun of the uncouth caresses of the husband, and the courtly
Beauclerc used to provoke the smiles of his audience by repeating
Johnson's assertion that "it was a love-match on both sides." One
incident of the wedding-day was ominous. As the newly-married couple
rode back from church, Mrs. Johnson showed her spirit by reproaching
her husband for riding too fast, and then for lagging behind. Resolved
"not to be made the slave of caprice," he pushed on briskly till he was
fairly out of sight. When she rejoined him, as he, of course, took care
that she should soon do, she was in tears. Mrs. Johnson apparently knew
how to regain supremacy; but, at any rate, Johnson loved her devotedly
during life, and clung to her memory during a widowhood of more than
thirty years, as fondly as if they had been the most pattern hero and
heroine of romantic fiction.

Whatever Mrs. Johnson's charms, she seems to have been a woman of good
sense and some literary judgment. Johnson's grotesque appearance did not
prevent her from saying to her daughter on their first introduction,
"This is the most sensible man I ever met." Her praises were, we may
believe, sweeter to him than those of the severest critics, or the most
fervent of personal flatterers. Like all good men, Johnson loved good
women, and liked to have on hand a flirtation or two, as warm as might
be within the bounds of due decorum. But nothing affected his fidelity
to his Letty or displaced her image in his mind. He remembered her in
many solemn prayers, and such words as "this was dear Letty's book:" or,
"this was a prayer which dear Letty was accustomed to say," were found
written by him in many of her books of devotion.

Mrs. Johnson had one other recommendation--a fortune, namely, of
L800--little enough, even then, as a provision for the support of the
married pair, but enough to help Johnson to make a fresh start. In 1736,
there appeared an advertisement in the _Gentleman's Magazine_. "At
Edial, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, young gentlemen are boarded and
taught the Latin and Greek languages by Samuel Johnson." If, as seems
probable, Mrs. Johnson's money supplied the funds for this venture, it
was an unlucky speculation.

Johnson was not fitted to be a pedagogue. Success in that profession
implies skill in the management of pupils, but perhaps still more
decidedly in the management of parents. Johnson had little
qualifications in either way. As a teacher he would probably have been
alternately despotic and over-indulgent; and, on the other hand, at a
single glance the rough Dominie Sampson would be enough to frighten the
ordinary parent off his premises. Very few pupils came, and they seem to
have profited little, if a story as told of two of his pupils refers to
this time. After some months of instruction in English history, he asked
them who had destroyed the monasteries? One of them gave no answer; the
other replied "Jesus Christ." Johnson, however, could boast of one
eminent pupil in David Garrick, though, by Garrick's account, his master
was of little service except as affording an excellent mark for his
early powers of ridicule. The school, or "academy," failed after a year
and a half; and Johnson, once more at a loss for employment, resolved to
try the great experiment, made so often and so often unsuccessfully. He
left Lichfield to seek his fortune in London. Garrick accompanied him,
and the two brought a common letter of introduction to the master of an
academy from Gilbert Walmsley, registrar of the Prerogative Court in
Lichfield. Long afterwards Johnson took an opportunity in the _Lives of
the Poets_, of expressing his warm regard for the memory of his early
friend, to whom he had been recommended by a community of literary
tastes, in spite of party differences and great inequality of age.
Walmsley says in his letter, that "one Johnson" is about to accompany
Garrick to London, in order to try his fate with a tragedy and get
himself employed in translation. Johnson, he adds, "is a very good
scholar and poet, and I have great hopes will turn out a fine tragedy
writer."

The letter is dated March 2nd, 1737. Before recording what is known of
his early career thus started, it will be well to take a glance at the
general condition of the profession of Literature in England at this
period.



CHAPTER II.


LITERARY CAREER.


"No man but a blockhead," said Johnson, "ever wrote except for money."
The doctrine is, of course, perfectly outrageous, and specially
calculated to shock people who like to keep it for their private use,
instead of proclaiming it in public. But it is a good expression of that
huge contempt for the foppery of high-flown sentiment which, as is not
uncommon with Johnson, passes into something which would be cynical if
it were not half-humorous. In this case it implies also the contempt of
the professional for the amateur. Johnson despised gentlemen who dabbled
in his craft, as a man whose life is devoted to music or painting
despises the ladies and gentlemen who treat those arts as fashionable
accomplishments. An author was, according to him, a man who turned out
books as a bricklayer turns out houses or a tailor coats. So long as he
supplied a good article and got a fair price, he was a fool to grumble,
and a humbug to affect loftier motives.

Johnson was not the first professional author, in this sense, but
perhaps the first man who made the profession respectable. The principal
habitat of authors, in his age, was Grub Street--a region which, in
later years, has ceased to be ashamed of itself, and has adopted the
more pretentious name Bohemia. The original Grub Street, it is said,
first became associated with authorship during the increase of pamphlet
literature, produced by the civil wars. Fox, the martyrologist, was one
of its original inhabitants. Another of its heroes was a certain Mr.
Welby, of whom the sole record is, that he "lived there forty years
without being seen of any." In fact, it was a region of holes and
corners, calculated to illustrate that great advantage of London life,
which a friend of Boswell's described by saying, that a man could there
be always "close to his burrow." The "burrow" which received the
luckless wight, was indeed no pleasant refuge. Since poor Green, in the
earliest generation of dramatists, bought his "groat'sworth of wit with
a million of repentance," too many of his brethren had trodden the path
which led to hopeless misery or death in a tavern brawl. The history of
men who had to support themselves by their pens, is a record of almost
universal gloom. The names of Spenser, of Butler, and of Otway, are
enough to remind us that even warm contemporary recognition was not
enough to raise an author above the fear of dying in want of
necessaries. The two great dictators of literature, Ben Jonson in the
earlier and Dryden in the later part of the century, only kept their
heads above water by help of the laureate's pittance, though reckless
imprudence, encouraged by the precarious life, was the cause of much of
their sufferings. Patronage gave but a fitful resource, and the author
could hope at most but an occasional crust, flung to him from better
provided tables.

In the happy days of Queen Anne, it is true, there had been a gleam of
prosperity. Many authors, Addison, Congreve, Swift, and others of less
name, had won by their pens not only temporary profits but permanent
places. The class which came into power at the Revolution was willing
for a time, to share some of the public patronage with men distinguished
for intellectual eminence. Patronage was liberal when the funds came out
of other men's pockets. But, as the system of party government
developed, it soon became evident that this involved a waste of power.
There were enough political partisans to absorb all the comfortable
sinecures to be had; and such money as was still spent upon literature,
was given in return for services equally degrading to giver and
receiver. Nor did the patronage of literature reach the poor inhabitants
of Grub Street. Addison's poetical power might suggest or justify the
gift of a place from his elegant friends; but a man like De Foe, who
really looked to his pen for great part of his daily subsistence, was
below the region of such prizes, and was obliged in later years not only
to write inferior books for money, but to sell himself and act as a spy
upon his fellows. One great man, it is true, made an independence by
literature. Pope received some L8000 for his translation of Homer, by
the then popular mode of subscription--a kind of compromise between the
systems of patronage and public support. But his success caused little
pleasure in Grub Street. No love was lost between the poet and the
dwellers in this dismal region. Pope was its deadliest enemy, and
carried on an internecine warfare with its inmates, which has enriched
our language with a great satire, but which wasted his powers upon low
objects, and tempted him into disgraceful artifices. The life of the
unfortunate victims, pilloried in the _Dunciad_ and accused of the
unpardonable sins of poverty and dependence, was too often one which
might have extorted sympathy even from a thin-skinned poet and critic.

Illustrations of the manners and customs of that Grub Street of which
Johnson was to become an inmate are only too abundant. The best writers
of the day could tell of hardships endured in that dismal region.
Richardson went on the sound principle of keeping his shop that his shop
might keep him. But the other great novelists of the century have
painted from life the miseries of an author's existence. Fielding,
Smollett, and Goldsmith have described the poor wretches with a vivid
force which gives sadness to the reflection that each of those great men
was drawing upon his own experience, and that they each died in
distress. The _Case of Authors by Profession_ to quote the title of a
pamphlet by Ralph, was indeed a wretched one, when the greatest of their
number had an incessant struggle to keep the wolf from the door. The
life of an author resembled the proverbial existence of the flying-fish,
chased by enemies in sea and in air; he only escaped from the slavery of
the bookseller's garret, to fly from the bailiff or rot in the debtor's
ward or the spunging-house. Many strange half-pathetic and
half-ludicrous anecdotes survive to recall the sorrows and the
recklessness of the luckless scribblers who, like one of Johnson's
acquaintance, "lived in London and hung loose upon society."

There was Samuel Boyse, for example, whose poem on the _Deity_ is quoted
with high praise by Fielding. Once Johnson had generously exerted
himself for his comrade in misery, and collected enough money by
sixpences to get the poet's clothes out of pawn. Two days afterwards,
Boyse had spent the money and was found in bed, covered only with a
blanket, through two holes in which he passed his arms to write. Boyse,
it appears, when still in this position would lay out his last
half-guinea to buy truffles and mushrooms for his last scrap of beef. Of
another scribbler Johnson said, "I honour Derrick for his strength of
mind. One night when Floyd (another poor author) was wandering about
the streets at night, he found Derrick fast asleep upon a bulk. Upon
being suddenly awaked, Derrick started up; 'My dear Floyd, I am sorry to
see you in this destitute state; will you go home with me to my
_lodgings_?'" Authors in such circumstances might be forced into such a
wonderful contract as that which is reported to have been drawn up by
one Gardner with Rolt and Christopher Smart. They were to write a
monthly miscellany, sold at sixpence, and to have a third of the
profits; but they were to write nothing else, and the contract was to
last for ninety-nine years. Johnson himself summed up the trade upon
earth by the lines in which Virgil describes the entrance to hell; thus
translated by Dryden:--

  Just in the gate and in the jaws of hell,
  Revengeful cares and sullen sorrows dwell.
  And pale diseases and repining age,
  Want, fear, and famine's unresisted rage:
  Here toils and Death and Death's half-brother, Sleep--
  Forms, terrible to view, their sentry keep.

"Now," said Johnson, "almost all these apply exactly to an author; these
are the concomitants of a printing-house."

Judicious authors, indeed, were learning how to make literature pay.
Some of them belonged to the class who understood the great truth that
the scissors are a very superior implement to the pen considered as a
tool of literary trade. Such, for example, was that respectable Dr. John
Campbell, whose parties Johnson ceased to frequent lest Scotchmen should
say of any good bits of work, "Ay, ay, he has learnt this of Cawmell."
Campbell, he said quaintly, was a good man, a pious man. "I am afraid he
has not been in the inside of a church for many years; but he never
passes a church without pulling off his hat. This shows he has good
principles,"--of which in fact there seems to be some less questionable
evidence. Campbell supported himself by writings chiefly of the
Encyclopedia or Gazetteer kind; and became, still in Johnson's phrase,
"the richest author that ever grazed the common of literature." A more
singular and less reputable character was that impudent quack, Sir John
Hill, who, with his insolent attacks upon the Royal Society, pretentious
botanical and medical compilations, plays, novels, and magazine
articles, has long sunk into utter oblivion. It is said of him that he
pursued every branch of literary quackery with greater contempt of
character than any man of his time, and that he made as much as L1500 in
a year;--three times as much, it is added, as any one writer ever made
in the same period.

The political scribblers--the Arnalls, Gordons, Trenchards, Guthries,
Ralphs, and Amhersts, whose names meet us in the notes to the _Dunciad_
and in contemporary pamphlets and newspapers--form another variety of
the class. Their general character may be estimated from Johnson's
classification of the "Scribbler for a Party" with the "Commissioner of
Excise," as the "two lowest of all human beings." "Ralph," says one of
the notes to the _Dunciad_, "ended in the common sink of all such
writers, a political newspaper." The prejudice against such employment
has scarcely died out in our own day, and may be still traced in the
account of Pendennis and his friend Warrington. People who do dirty work
must be paid for it; and the Secret Committee which inquired into
Walpole's administration reported that in ten years, from 1731 to 1741,
a sum of L50,077 18_s_. had been paid to writers and printers of
newspapers. Arnall, now remembered chiefly by Pope's line,--

  Spirit of Arnall, aid me whilst I lie!

had received, in four years, L10,997 6_s_. 8_d_. of this amount. The
more successful writers might look to pensions or preferment. Francis,
for example, the translator of Horace, and the father, in all
probability, of the most formidable of the whole tribe of such literary
gladiators, received, it is said, 900_l_. a year for his work, besides
being appointed to a rectory and the chaplaincy of Chelsea.

It must, moreover, be observed that the price of literary work was
rising during the century, and that, in the latter half, considerable
sums were received by successful writers. Religious as well as dramatic
literature had begun to be commercially valuable. Baxter, in the
previous century, made from 60_l_. to 80_l_. a year by his pen. The
copyright of Tillotson's _Sermons_ was sold, it is said, upon his death
for L2500. Considerable sums were made by the plan of publishing by
subscription. It is said that 4600 people subscribed to the two
posthumous volumes of Conybeare's _Sermons_. A few poets trod in Pope's
steps. Young made more than L3000 for the Satires called the _Universal
Passion_, published, I think, on the same plan; and the Duke of Wharton
is said, though the report is doubtful, to have given him L2000 for the
same work. Gay made L1000 by his _Poems_; L400 for the copyright of the
_Beggar's Opera_, and three times as much for its second part, _Polly_.
Among historians, Hume seems to have received L700 a volume; Smollett
made L2000 by his catchpenny rival publication; Henry made L3300 by his
history; and Robertson, after the booksellers had made L6000 by his
_History of Scotland_, sold his _Charles V._ for L4500. Amongst the
novelists, Fielding received L700 for _Tom Jones_ and L1000 for
_Amelia_; Sterne, for the second edition of the first part of _Tristram
Shandy_ and for two additional volumes, received L650; besides which
Lord Fauconberg gave him a living (most inappropriate acknowledgment,
one would say!), and Warburton a purse of gold. Goldsmith received 60
guineas for the immortal _Vicar_, a fair price, according to Johnson,
for a work by a then unknown author. By each of his plays he made about
L500, and for the eight volumes of his _Natural History_ he received 800
guineas. Towards the end of the century, Mrs. Radcliffe got L500 for the
_Mysteries of Udolpho_, and L800 for her last work, the _Italian_.
Perhaps the largest sum given for a single book was L6000 paid to
Hawkesworth for his account of the South Sea Expeditions. Horne Tooke
received from L4000 to L5000 for the _Diversions of Purley_; and it is
added by his biographer, though it seems to be incredible, that Hayley
received no less than L11,000 for the _Life of Cowper_. This was, of
course, in the present century, when we are already approaching the
period of Scott and Byron.

Such sums prove that some few authors might achieve independence by a
successful work; and it is well to remember them in considering
Johnson's life from the business point of view. Though he never grumbled
at the booksellers, and on the contrary, was always ready to defend them
as liberal men, he certainly failed, whether from carelessness or want
of skill, to turn them to as much profit as many less celebrated rivals.
Meanwhile, pecuniary success of this kind was beyond any reasonable
hopes. A man who has to work like his own dependent Levett, and to make
the "modest toil of every day" supply "the wants of every day," must
discount his talents until he can secure leisure for some more
sustained effort. Johnson, coming up from the country to seek for work,
could have but a slender prospect of rising above the ordinary level of
his Grub Street companions and rivals. One publisher to whom he applied
suggested to him that it would be his wisest course to buy a porter's
knot and carry trunks; and, in the struggle which followed, Johnson must
sometimes have been tempted to regret that the advice was not taken.

The details of the ordeal through which he was now to pass have
naturally vanished. Johnson, long afterwards, burst into tears on
recalling the trials of this period. But, at the time, no one was
interested in noting the history of an obscure literary drudge, and it
has not been described by the sufferer himself. What we know is derived
from a few letters and incidental references of Johnson in later days.
On first arriving in London he was almost destitute, and had to join
with Garrick in raising a loan of five pounds, which, we are glad to
say, was repaid. He dined for eightpence at an ordinary: a cut of meat
for sixpence, bread for a penny, and a penny to the waiter, making out
the charge. One of his acquaintance had told him that a man might live
in London for thirty pounds a year. Ten pounds would pay for clothes; a
garret might be hired for eighteen-pence a week; if any one asked for an
address, it was easy to reply, "I am to be found at such a place."
Threepence laid out at a coffee-house would enable him to pass some
hours a day in good company; dinner might be had for sixpence, a
bread-and-milk breakfast for a penny, and supper was superfluous. On
clean shirt day you might go abroad and pay visits. This leaves a
surplus of nearly one pound from the thirty.

Johnson, however, had a wife to support; and to raise funds for even so
ascetic a mode of existence required steady labour. Often, it seems, his
purse was at the very lowest ebb. One of his letters to his employer is
signed _impransus_; and whether or not the dinnerless condition was in
this case accidental, or significant of absolute impecuniosity, the less
pleasant interpretation is not improbable. He would walk the streets all
night with his friend, Savage, when their combined funds could not pay
for a lodging. One night, as he told Sir Joshua Reynolds in later years,
they thus perambulated St. James's Square, warming themselves by
declaiming against Walpole, and nobly resolved that they would stand by
their country.

Patriotic enthusiasm, however, as no one knew better than Johnson, is a
poor substitute for bed and supper. Johnson suffered acutely and made
some attempts to escape from his misery. To the end of his life, he was
grateful to those who had lent him a helping hand. "Harry Hervey," he
said of one of them shortly before his death, "was a vicious man, but
very kind to me. If you call a dog Hervey, I shall love him." Pope was
impressed by the excellence of his first poem, _London_, and induced
Lord Gower to write to a friend to beg Swift to obtain a degree for
Johnson from the University of Dublin. The terms of this circuitous
application, curious, as bringing into connexion three of the most
eminent men of letters of the day, prove that the youngest of them was
at the time (1739) in deep distress. The object of the degree was to
qualify Johnson for a mastership of L60 a year, which would make him
happy for life. He would rather, said Lord Gower, die upon the road to
Dublin if an examination were necessary, "than be starved to death in
translating for booksellers, which has been his only subsistence for
some time past." The application failed, however, and the want of a
degree was equally fatal to another application to be admitted to
practise at Doctor's Commons.

Literature was thus perforce Johnson's sole support; and by literature
was meant, for the most part, drudgery of the kind indicated by the
phrase, "translating for booksellers." While still in Lichfield, Johnson
had, as I have said, written to Cave, proposing to become a contributor
to the _Gentleman's Magazine_. The letter was one of those which a
modern editor receives by the dozen, and answers as perfunctorily as his
conscience will allow. It seems, however, to have made some impression
upon Cave, and possibly led to Johnson's employment by him on his first
arrival in London. From 1738 he was employed both on the Magazine and in
some jobs of translation.

Edward Cave, to whom we are thus introduced, was a man of some mark in
the history of literature. Johnson always spoke of him with affection
and afterwards wrote his life in complimentary terms. Cave, though a
clumsy, phlegmatic person of little cultivation, seems to have been one
of those men who, whilst destitute of real critical powers, have a
certain instinct for recognizing the commercial value of literary wares.
He had become by this time well-known as the publisher of a magazine
which survives to this day. Journals containing summaries of passing
events had already been started. Boyer's _Political State of Great
Britain_ began in 1711. _The Historical Register_, which added to a
chronicle some literary notices, was started in 1716. _The Grub Street
Journal_ was another journal with fuller critical notices, which first
appeared in 1730; and these two seem to have been superseded by the
_Gentleman's Magazine_, started by Cave in the next year. Johnson saw
in it an opening for the employment of his literary talents; and
regarded its contributions with that awe so natural in youthful
aspirants, and at once so comic and pathetic to writers of a little
experience. The names of many of Cave's staff are preserved in a note to
Hawkins. One or two of them, such as Birch and Akenside, have still a
certain interest for students of literature; but few have heard of the
great Moses Browne, who was regarded as the great poetical light of the
magazine. Johnson looked up to him as a leader in his craft, and was
graciously taken by Cave to an alehouse in Clerkenwell, where, wrapped
in a horseman's coat, and "a great bushy uncombed wig," he saw Mr.
Browne sitting at the end of a long table, in a cloud of tobacco-smoke,
and felt the satisfaction of a true hero-worshipper.

It is needless to describe in detail the literary task-work done by
Johnson at this period, the Latin poems which he contributed in praise
of Cave, and of Cave's friends, or the Jacobite squibs by which he
relieved his anti-ministerialist feelings. One incident of the period
doubtless refreshed the soul of many authors, who have shared Campbell's
gratitude to Napoleon for the sole redeeming action of his life--the
shooting of a bookseller. Johnson was employed by Osborne, a rough
specimen of the trade, to make a catalogue of the Harleian Library.
Osborne offensively reproved him for negligence, and Johnson knocked him
down with a folio. The book with which the feat was performed (_Biblia
Graeca Septuaginta, fol._ 1594, Frankfort) was in existence in a
bookseller's shop at Cambridge in 1812, and should surely have been
placed in some safe author's museum.

The most remarkable of Johnson's performances as a hack writer deserves
a brief notice. He was one of the first of reporters. Cave published
such reports of the debates in Parliament as were then allowed by the
jealousy of the Legislature, under the title of _The Senate of
Lilliput_. Johnson was the author of the debates from Nov. 1740 to
February 1742. Persons were employed to attend in the two Houses, who
brought home notes of the speeches, which were then put into shape by
Johnson. Long afterwards, at a dinner at Foote's, Francis (the father of
Junius) mentioned a speech of Pitt's as the best he had ever read, and
superior to anything in Demosthenes. Hereupon Johnson replied, "I wrote
that speech in a garret in Exeter Street." When the company applauded
not only his eloquence but his impartiality, Johnson replied, "That is
not quite true; I saved appearances tolerably well, but I took care that
the Whig dogs should not have the best of it." The speeches passed for a
time as accurate; though, in truth, it has been proved and it is easy to
observe, that they are, in fact, very vague reflections of the original.
The editors of Chesterfield's Works published two of the speeches, and,
to Johnson's considerable amusement, declared that one of them resembled
Demosthenes and the other Cicero. It is plain enough to the modern
reader that, if so, both of the ancient orators must have written true
Johnsonese; and, in fact, the style of the true author is often as
plainly marked in many of these compositions as in the _Rambler_ or
_Rasselas_. For this deception, such as it was, Johnson expressed
penitence at the end of his life, though he said that he had ceased to
write when he found that they were taken as genuine. He would not be
"accessory to the propagation of falsehood."

Another of Johnson's works which appeared in 1744 requires notice both
for its intrinsic merit, and its autobiographical interest. The most
remarkable of his Grub-Street companions was the Richard Savage already
mentioned. Johnson's life of him written soon after his death is one of
his most forcible performances, and the best extant illustration of the
life of the struggling authors of the time. Savage claimed to be the
illegitimate son of the Countess of Macclesfield, who was divorced from
her husband in the year of his birth on account of her connexion with
his supposed father, Lord Rivers. According to the story, believed by
Johnson, and published without her contradiction in the mother's
lifetime, she not only disavowed her son, but cherished an unnatural
hatred for him. She told his father that he was dead, in order that he
might not be benefited by the father's will; she tried to have him
kidnapped and sent to the plantations; and she did her best to prevent
him from receiving a pardon when he had been sentenced to death for
killing a man in a tavern brawl. However this may be, and there are
reasons for doubt, the story was generally believed, and caused much
sympathy for the supposed victim. Savage was at one time protected by
the kindness of Steele, who published his story, and sometimes employed
him as a literary assistant. When Steele became disgusted with him, he
received generous help from the actor Wilks and from Mrs. Oldfield, to
whom he had been introduced by some dramatic efforts. Then he was taken
up by Lord Tyrconnel, but abandoned by him after a violent quarrel; he
afterwards called himself a volunteer laureate, and received a pension
of 50_l_. a year from Queen Caroline; on her death he was thrown into
deep distress, and helped by a subscription to which Pope was the chief
contributor, on condition of retiring to the country. Ultimately he
quarrelled with his last protectors, and ended by dying in a debtor's
prison. Various poetical works, now utterly forgotten, obtained for him
scanty profit. This career sufficiently reveals the character. Savage
belonged to the very common type of men, who seem to employ their whole
talents to throw away their chances in life, and to disgust every one
who offers them a helping hand. He was, however, a man of some talent,
though his poems are now hopelessly unreadable, and seems to have had a
singular attraction for Johnson. The biography is curiously marked by
Johnson's constant effort to put the best face upon faults, which he has
too much love of truth to conceal. The explanation is, partly, that
Johnson conceived himself to be avenging a victim of cruel oppression.
"This mother," he says, after recording her vindictiveness, "is still
alive, and may perhaps even yet, though her malice was often defeated,
enjoy the pleasure of reflecting that the life, which she often
endeavoured to destroy, was at last shortened by her maternal offices;
that though she could not transport her son to the plantations, bury him
in the shop of a mechanic, or hasten the hand of the public executioner,
she has yet had the satisfaction of embittering all his hours, and
forcing him into exigencies that hurried on his death."

But it is also probable that Savage had a strong influence upon
Johnson's mind at a very impressible part of his career. The young man,
still ignorant of life and full of reverent enthusiasm for the literary
magnates of his time, was impressed by the varied experience of his
companion, and, it may be, flattered by his intimacy. Savage, he says
admiringly, had enjoyed great opportunities of seeing the most
conspicuous men of the day in their private life. He was shrewd and
inquisitive enough to use his opportunities well. "More circumstances to
constitute a critic on human life could not easily concur." The only
phrase which survives to justify this remark is Savage's statement
about Walpole, that "the whole range of his mind was from obscenity to
politics, and from politics to obscenity." We may, however, guess what
was the special charm of the intercourse to Johnson. Savage was an
expert in that science of human nature, learnt from experience not from
books, upon which Johnson set so high a value, and of which he was
destined to become the authorized expositor. There were, moreover,
resemblances between the two men. They were both admired and sought out
for their conversational powers. Savage, indeed, seems to have lived
chiefly by the people who entertained him for talk, till he had
disgusted them by his insolence and his utter disregard of time and
propriety. He would, like Johnson, sit up talking beyond midnight, and
next day decline to rise till dinner-time, though his favourite drink
was not, like Johnson's, free from intoxicating properties. Both of them
had a lofty pride, which Johnson heartily commends in Savage, though he
has difficulty in palliating some of its manifestations. One of the
stories reminds us of an anecdote already related of Johnson himself.
Some clothes had been left for Savage at a coffee-house by a person who,
out of delicacy, concealed his name. Savage, however, resented some want
of ceremony, and refused to enter the house again till the clothes had
been removed.

What was honourable pride in Johnson was, indeed, simple arrogance in
Savage. He asked favours, his biographer says, without submission, and
resented refusal as an insult. He had too much pride to acknowledge, not
not too much to receive, obligations; enough to quarrel with his
charitable benefactors, but not enough to make him rise to independence
of their charity. His pension would have sufficed to keep him, only that
as soon as he received it he retired from the sight of all his
acquaintance, and came back before long as penniless as before. This
conduct, observes his biographer, was "very particular." It was hardly
so singular as objectionable; and we are not surprised to be told that
he was rather a "friend of goodness" than himself a good man. In short,
we may say of him as Beauclerk said of a friend of Boswell's that, if he
had excellent principles, he did not wear them out in practice.

There is something quaint about this picture of a thorough-paced scamp,
admiringly painted by a virtuous man; forced, in spite of himself, to
make it a likeness, and striving in vain to make it attractive. But it
is also pathetic when we remember that Johnson shared some part at least
of his hero's miseries. "On a bulk, in a cellar, or in a glass-house,
among thieves and beggars, was to be found the author of _The Wanderer_,
the man of exalted sentiments, extensive views, and curious
observations; the man whose remarks on life might have assisted the
statesman, whose ideas of virtue might have enlightened the moralist,
whose eloquence might have influenced senators, and whose delicacy might
have polished courts." Very shocking, no doubt, and yet hardly
surprising under the circumstances! To us it is more interesting to
remember that the author of the _Rambler_ was not only a sympathizer,
but a fellow-sufferer with the author of the _Wanderer_, and shared the
queer "lodgings" of his friend, as Floyd shared the lodgings of Derrick.
Johnson happily came unscathed through the ordeal which was too much for
poor Savage, and could boast with perfect truth in later life that "no
man, who ever lived by literature, had lived more independently than I
have done." It was in so strange a school, and under such questionable
teaching that Johnson formed his character of the world and of the
conduct befitting its inmates. One characteristic conclusion is
indicated in the opening passage of the life. It has always been
observed, he says, that men eminent by nature or fortune are not
generally happy: "whether it be that apparent superiority incites great
designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages;
or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of
those, whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention, have been
more carefully recorded because they were more generally observed, and
have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not
more frequent or more severe."

The last explanation was that which really commended itself to Johnson.
Nobody had better reason to know that obscurity might conceal a misery
as bitter as any that fell to the lot of the most eminent. The gloom due
to his constitutional temperament was intensified by the sense that he
and his wife were dependent upon the goodwill of a narrow and ignorant
tradesman for the scantiest maintenance. How was he to reach some solid
standing-ground above the hopeless mire of Grub Street? As a journeyman
author he could make both ends meet, but only on condition of incessant
labour. Illness and misfortune would mean constant dependence upon
charity or bondage to creditors. To get ahead of the world it was
necessary to distinguish himself in some way from the herd of needy
competitors. He had come up from Lichfield with a play in his pocket,
but the play did not seem at present to have much chance of emerging.
Meanwhile he published a poem which did something to give him a general
reputation.

_London_--an imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal--was published in
May, 1738. The plan was doubtless suggested by Pope's imitations of
Horace, which had recently appeared. Though necessarily following the
lines of Juvenal's poem, and conforming to the conventional fashion of
the time, both in sentiment and versification, the poem has a
biographical significance. It is indeed odd to find Johnson, who
afterwards thought of London as a lover of his mistress, and who
despised nothing more heartily than the cant of Rousseau and the
sentimentalists, adopting in this poem the ordinary denunciations of the
corruption of towns, and singing the praises of an innocent country
life. Doubtless, the young writer was like other young men, taking up a
strain still imitative and artificial. He has a quiet smile at Savage in
the life, because in his retreat to Wales, that enthusiast declared that
he "could not debar himself from the happiness which was to be found in
the calm of a cottage, or lose the opportunity of listening without
intermission to the melody of the nightingale, which he believed was to
be heard from every bramble, and which he did not fail to mention as a
very important part of the happiness of a country life." In _London_,
this insincere cockney adopts Savage's view. Thales, who is generally
supposed to represent Savage (and this coincidence seems to confirm the
opinion), is to retire "from the dungeons of the Strand," and to end a
healthy life in pruning walks and twining bowers in his garden.

  There every bush with nature's music rings,
  There every breeze bears health upon its wings.

Johnson had not yet learnt the value of perfect sincerity even in
poetry. But it must also be admitted that London, as seen by the poor
drudge from a Grub Street garret, probably presented a prospect gloomy
enough to make even Johnson long at times for rural solitude. The poem
reflects, too, the ordinary talk of the heterogeneous band of patriots,
Jacobites, and disappointed Whigs, who were beginning to gather enough
strength to threaten Walpole's long tenure of power. Many references to
contemporary politics illustrate Johnson's sympathy with the inhabitants
of the contemporary Cave of Adullam.

This poem, as already stated, attracted Pope's notice, who made a
curious note on a scrap of paper sent with it to a friend. Johnson is
described as "a man afflicted with an infirmity of the convulsive kind,
that attacks him sometimes so as to make him a sad spectacle." This
seems to have been the chief information obtained by Pope about the
anonymous author, of whom he had said, on first reading the poem, this
man will soon be _deterre_. _London_ made a certain noise; it reached a
second edition in a week, and attracted various patrons, among others,
General Oglethorpe, celebrated by Pope, and through a long life the warm
friend of Johnson. One line, however, in the poem printed in capital
letters, gives the moral which was doubtless most deeply felt by the
author, and which did not lose its meaning in the years to come. This
mournful truth, he says,--

              Is everywhere confess'd,
  Slow rises worth by poverty depress'd.

Ten years later (in January, 1749) appeared the _Vanity of Human
Wishes_, an imitation of the Tenth Satire of Juvenal. The difference in
tone shows how deeply this and similar truths had been impressed upon
its author in the interval. Though still an imitation, it is as
significant as the most original work could be of Johnson's settled
views of life. It was written at a white heat, as indeed Johnson wrote
all his best work. Its strong Stoical morality, its profound and
melancholy illustrations of the old and ever new sentiment, _Vanitas
Vanitatum_, make it perhaps the most impressive poem of the kind in the
language. The lines on the scholar's fate show that the iron had entered
his soul in the interval. Should the scholar succeed beyond expectation
in his labours and escape melancholy and disease, yet, he says,--

  Yet hope not life from grief and danger free,
  Nor think the doom of man reversed on thee;
  Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes
  And pause awhile from letters, to be wise;
  There mark what ills the scholar's life assail,
  Toil, envy, want, the patron and the jail;
  See nations, slowly wise and meanly just,
  To buried merit raise the tardy bust.
  If dreams yet flatter, once again attend.
  Hear Lydiat's life and Galileo's end.

For the "patron," Johnson had originally written the "garret." The
change was made after an experience of patronage to be presently
described in connexion with the _Dictionary_.

For _London_ Johnson received ten guineas, and for the _Vanity of Human
Wishes_ fifteen. Though indirectly valuable, as increasing his
reputation, such work was not very profitable. The most promising career
in a pecuniary sense was still to be found on the stage. Novelists were
not yet the rivals of dramatists, and many authors had made enough by a
successful play to float them through a year or two. Johnson had
probably been determined by his knowledge of this fact to write the
tragedy of _Irene_. No other excuse at least can be given for the
composition of one of the heaviest and most unreadable of dramatic
performances, interesting now, if interesting at all, solely as a
curious example of the result of bestowing great powers upon a totally
uncongenial task. Young men, however, may be pardoned for such blunders
if they are not repeated, and Johnson, though he seems to have retained
a fondness for his unlucky performance, never indulged in play writing
after leaving Lichfield. The best thing connected with the play was
Johnson's retort to his friend Walmsley, the Lichfield registrar. "How,"
asked Walmsley, "can you contrive to plunge your heroine into deeper
calamity?" "Sir," said Johnson, "I can put her into the spiritual
court." Even Boswell can only say for _Irene_ that it is "entitled to
the praise of superior excellence," and admits its entire absence of
dramatic power. Garrick, who had become manager of Drury Lane, produced
his friend's work in 1749. The play was carried through nine nights by
Garrick's friendly zeal, so that the author had his three nights'
profits. For this he received L195 17_s_. and for the copy he had L100.
People probably attended, as they attend modern representations of
legitimate drama, rather from a sense of duty, than in the hope of
pleasure. The heroine originally had to speak two lines with a bowstring
round her neck. The situation produced cries of murder, and she had to
go off the stage alive. The objectionable passage was removed, but
_Irene_ was on the whole a failure, and has never, I imagine, made
another appearance. When asked how he felt upon his ill-success, he
replied "like the monument," and indeed he made it a principle
throughout life to accept the decision of the public like a sensible man
without murmurs.

Meanwhile, Johnson was already embarked upon an undertaking of a very
different kind. In 1747 he had put forth a plan for an English
Dictionary, addressed at the suggestion of Dodsley, to Lord
Chesterfield, then Secretary of State, and the great contemporary
Maecenas. Johnson had apparently been maturing the scheme for some
time. "I know," he says in the "plan," that "the work in which I engaged
is generally considered as drudgery for the blind, as the proper toil of
artless industry, a book that requires neither the light of learning nor
the activity of genius, but may be successfully performed without any
higher quality than that of bearing burdens with dull patience, and
beating the track of the alphabet with sluggish resolution." He adds in
a sub-sarcastic tone, that although princes and statesmen had once
thought it honourable to patronize dictionaries, he had considered such
benevolent acts to be "prodigies, recorded rather to raise wonder than
expectation," and he was accordingly pleased and surprised to find that
Chesterfield took an interest in his undertaking. He proceeds to lay
down the general principles upon which he intends to frame his work, in
order to invite timely suggestions and repress unreasonable
expectations. At this time, humble as his aspirations might be, he took
a view of the possibilities open to him which had to be lowered before
the publication of the dictionary. He shared the illusion that a
language might be "fixed" by making a catalogue of its words. In the
preface which appeared with the completed work, he explains very
sensibly the vanity of any such expectation. Whilst all human affairs
are changing, it is, as he says, absurd to imagine that the language
which repeats all human thoughts and feelings can remain unaltered.

A dictionary, as Johnson conceived it, was in fact work for a "harmless
drudge," the definition of a lexicographer given in the book itself.
Etymology in a scientific sense was as yet non-existent, and Johnson was
not in this respect ahead of his contemporaries. To collect all the
words in the language, to define their meanings as accurately as might
be, to give the obvious or whimsical guesses at Etymology suggested by
previous writers, and to append a good collection of illustrative
passages was the sum of his ambition. Any systematic training of the
historical processes by which a particular language had been developed
was unknown, and of course the result could not be anticipated. The
work, indeed, required a keen logical faculty of definition, and wide
reading of the English literature of the two preceding centuries; but it
could of course give no play either for the higher literary faculties on
points of scientific investigation. A dictionary in Johnson's sense was
the highest kind of work to which a literary journeyman could be set,
but it was still work for a journeyman, not for an artist. He was not
adding to literature, but providing a useful implement for future men of
letters.

Johnson had thus got on hand the biggest job that could be well
undertaken by a good workman in his humble craft. He was to receive
fifteen hundred and seventy-five pounds for the whole, and he expected
to finish it in three years. The money, it is to be observed, was to
satisfy not only Johnson but several copyists employed in the mechanical
part of the work. It was advanced by instalments, and came to an end
before the conclusion of the book. Indeed, it appeared when accounts
were settled, that he had received a hundred pounds more than was due.
He could, however, pay his way for the time, and would gain a reputation
enough to ensure work in future. The period of extreme poverty had
probably ended when Johnson got permanent employment on the _Gentleman's
Magazine_. He was not elevated above the need of drudgery and economy,
but he might at least be free from the dread of neglect. He could
command his market--such as it was. The necessity of steady labour was
probably unfelt in repelling his fits of melancholy. His name was
beginning to be known, and men of reputation were seeking his
acquaintance. In the winter of 1749 he formed a club, which met weekly
at a "famous beef-steak house" in Ivy Lane. Among its members were
Hawkins, afterwards his biographer, and two friends, Bathurst a
physician, and Hawkesworth an author, for the first of whom he
entertained an unusually strong affection. The Club, like its more
famous successor, gave Johnson an opportunity of displaying and
improving his great conversational powers. He was already dreaded for
his prowess in argument, his dictatorial manners and vivid flashes of
wit and humour, the more effective from the habitual gloom and apparent
heaviness of the discourser.

The talk of this society probably suggested topics for the _Rambler_,
which appeared at this time, and caused Johnson's fame to spread further
beyond the literary circles of London. The wit and humour have, indeed,
left few traces upon its ponderous pages, for the _Rambler_ marks the
culminating period of Johnson's worst qualities of style. The pompous
and involved language seems indeed to be a fit clothing for the
melancholy reflections which are its chief staple, and in spite of its
unmistakable power it is as heavy reading as the heavy class of
lay-sermonizing to which it belongs. Such literature, however, is often
strangely popular in England, and the _Rambler_, though its circulation
was limited, gave to Johnson his position as a great practical moralist.
He took his literary title, one may say, from the _Rambler_, as the more
familiar title was derived from the _Dictionary_.

The _Rambler_ was published twice a week from March 20th, 1750, to
March 17th, 1752. In five numbers alone he received assistance from
friends, and one of these, written by Richardson, is said to have been
the only number which had a large sale. The circulation rarely exceeded
500, though ten English editions were published in the author's
lifetime, besides Scotch and Irish editions. The payment, however,
namely, two guineas a number, must have been welcome to Johnson, and the
friendship of many distinguished men of the time was a still more
valuable reward. A quaint story illustrates the hero-worship of which
Johnson now became the object. Dr. Burney, afterwards an intimate
friend, had introduced himself to Johnson by letter in consequence of
the _Rambler_, and the plan of the _Dictionary_. The admiration was
shared by a friend of Burney's, a Mr. Bewley, known--in Norfolk at
least--as the "philosopher of Massingham." When Burney at last gained
the honour of a personal interview, he wished to procure some "relic" of
Johnson for his friend. He cut off some bristles from a hearth-broom in
the doctor's chambers, and sent them in a letter to his
fellow-enthusiast. Long afterwards Johnson was pleased to hear of this
simple-minded homage, and not only sent a copy of the _Lives of the
Poets_ to the rural philosopher, but deigned to grant him a personal
interview.

Dearer than any such praise was the approval of Johnson's wife. She told
him that, well as she had thought of him before, she had not considered
him equal to such a performance. The voice that so charmed him was soon
to be silenced for ever. Mrs. Johnson died (March 17th, 1752) three days
after the appearance of the last _Rambler_. The man who has passed
through such a trial knows well that, whatever may be in store for him
in the dark future, fate can have no heavier blow in reserve. Though
Johnson once acknowledged to Boswell, when in a placid humour, that
happier days had come to him in his old age than in his early life, he
would probably have added that though fame and friendship and freedom
from the harrowing cares of poverty might cause his life to be more
equably happy, yet their rewards could represent but a faint and mocking
reflection of the best moments of a happy marriage. His strong mind and
tender nature reeled under the blow. Here is one pathetic little note
written to the friend, Dr. Taylor, who had come to him in his distress.
That which first announced the calamity, and which, said Taylor,
"expressed grief in the strongest manner he had ever read," is lost.

"Dear Sir,--Let me have your company and instruction. Do not live away
from me. My distress is great.

"Pray desire Mrs. Taylor to inform me what mourning I should buy for my
mother and Miss Porter, and bring a note in writing with you.

"Remember me in your prayers, for vain is the help of man.

"I am, dear sir,

"SAM. JOHNSON."

We need not regret that a veil is drawn over the details of the bitter
agony of his passage through the valley of the shadow of death. It is
enough to put down the wails which he wrote long afterwards when visibly
approaching the close of all human emotions and interests:--

"This is the day on which, in 1752, dear Letty died. I have now uttered
a prayer of repentance and contrition; perhaps Letty knows that I prayed
for her. Perhaps Letty is now praying for me. God help me. Thou, God,
art merciful, hear my prayers and enable me to trust in Thee.

"We were married almost seventeen years, and have now been parted
thirty."

It seems half profane, even at this distance of time, to pry into grief
so deep and so lasting. Johnson turned for relief to that which all
sufferers know to be the only remedy for sorrow--hard labour. He set to
work in his garret, an inconvenient room, "because," he said, "in that
room only I never saw Mrs. Johnson." He helped his friend Hawkesworth in
the _Adventurer_, a new periodical of the _Rambler_ kind; but his main
work was the _Dictionary_, which came out at last in 1755. Its
appearance was the occasion of an explosion of wrath which marks an
epoch in our literature. Johnson, as we have seen, had dedicated the
Plan to Lord Chesterfield; and his language implies that they had been
to some extent in personal communication. Chesterfield's fame is in
curious antithesis to Johnson's. He was a man of great abilities, and
seems to have deserved high credit for some parts of his statesmanship.
As a Viceroy in Ireland in particular he showed qualities rare in his
generation. To Johnson he was known as the nobleman who had a wide
social influence as an acknowledged _arbiter elegantiarum_, and who
reckoned among his claims some of that literary polish in which the
earlier generation of nobles had certainly been superior to their
successors. The art of life expounded in his _Letters_ differs from
Johnson as much as the elegant diplomatist differs from the rough
intellectual gladiator of Grub Street. Johnson spoke his mind of his
rival without reserve. "I thought," he said, "that this man had been a
Lord among wits; but I find he is only a wit among Lords." And of the
_Letters_ he said more keenly that they taught the morals of a harlot
and the manners of a dancing-master. Chesterfield's opinion of Johnson
is indicated by the description in his _Letters_ of a "respectable
Hottentot, who throws his meat anywhere but down his throat. This absurd
person," said Chesterfield, "was not only uncouth in manners and warm in
dispute, but behaved exactly in the same way to superiors, equals, and
inferiors; and therefore, by a necessary consequence, absurdly to two of
the three. _Hinc illae lacrymae!_"

Johnson, in my opinion, was not far wrong in his judgment, though it
would be a gross injustice to regard Chesterfield as nothing but a
fribble. But men representing two such antithetic types were not likely
to admire each other's good qualities. Whatever had been the intercourse
between them, Johnson was naturally annoyed when the dignified noble
published two articles in the _World_--a periodical supported by such
polite personages as himself and Horace Walpole--in which the need of a
dictionary was set forth, and various courtly compliments described
Johnson's fitness for a dictatorship over the language. Nothing could be
more prettily turned; but it meant, and Johnson took it to mean, I
should like to have the dictionary dedicated to me: such a compliment
would add a feather to my cap, and enable me to appear to the world as a
patron of literature as well as an authority upon manners. "After making
pert professions," as Johnson said, "he had, for many years, taken no
notice of me; but when my _Dictionary_ was coming out, he fell a
scribbling in the _World_ about it." Johnson therefore bestowed upon the
noble earl a piece of his mind in a letter which was not published till
it came out in Boswell's biography.

"My Lord,--I have been lately informed by the proprietor of the _World_
that two papers, in which my _Dictionary_ is recommended to the public,
were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour
which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know
not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.

"When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lordship, I
was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your
address; and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself, _le
vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre_--that I might obtain that regard for
which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little
encouraged that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue
it. When I had once addressed your Lordship in public, I had exhausted
all the arts of pleasing which a wearied and uncourtly scholar can
possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have
his all neglected, be it ever so little.

"Seven years, my lord, have now passed, since I waited in your outward
rooms and was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been
pushing on my work through difficulties of which it is useless to
complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication
without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, and one smile
of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron
before.

"The shepherd in _Virgil_ grew at last acquainted with Love, and found
him a native of the rocks.

"Is not a patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man
struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached the ground
encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take
of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed
till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and
cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no
very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has
been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as
owing that to a patron which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

"Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any
favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should
conclude it, should loss be possible, with loss; for I have been long
wakened from that dream of hope in which I once boasted myself with so
much exultation, my Lord,

"Your Lordship's most humble, most obedient servant,

"SAM. JOHNSON."

The letter is one of those knock-down blows to which no answer is
possible, and upon which comment is superfluous. It was, as Mr. Carlyle
calls it, "the far-famed blast of doom proclaiming into the ear of Lord
Chesterfield and through him, of the listening world, that patronage
should be no more."

That is all that can be said; yet perhaps it should be added that
Johnson remarked that he had once received L10 from Chesterfield, though
he thought the assistance too inconsiderable to be mentioned in such a
letter. Hawkins also states that Chesterfield sent overtures to Johnson
through two friends, one of whom, long Sir Thomas Robinson, stated that,
if he were rich enough (a judicious clause) he would himself settle L500
a year upon Johnson. Johnson replied that if the first peer of the realm
made such an offer, he would show him the way downstairs. Hawkins is
startled at this insolence, and at Johnson's uniform assertion that an
offer of money was an insult. We cannot tell what was the history of the
L10; but Johnson, in spite of Hawkins's righteous indignation, was in
fact too proud to be a beggar, and owed to his pride his escape from
the fate of Savage.

The appearance of the _Dictionary_ placed Johnson in the position
described soon afterwards by Smollett. He was henceforth "the great Cham
of Literature"--a monarch sitting in the chair previously occupied by
his namesake, Ben, by Dryden, and by Pope; but which has since that time
been vacant. The world of literature has become too large for such
authority. Complaints were not seldom uttered at the time. Goldsmith has
urged that Boswell wished to make a monarchy of what ought to be a
republic. Goldsmith, who would have been the last man to find serious
fault with the dictator, thought the dictatorship objectionable. Some
time indeed was still to elapse before we can say that Johnson was
firmly seated on the throne; but the _Dictionary_ and the _Rambler_ had
given him a position not altogether easy to appreciate, now that the
_Dictionary_ has been superseded and the _Rambler_ gone out of fashion.
His name was the highest at this time (1755) in the ranks of pure
literature. The fame of Warburton possibly bulked larger for the moment,
and one of his flatterers was comparing him to the Colossus which
bestrides the petty world of contemporaries. But Warburton had subsided
into episcopal repose, and literature had been for him a stepping-stone
rather than an ultimate aim. Hume had written works of far more enduring
influence than Johnson; but they were little read though generally
abused, and scarcely belong to the purely literary history. The first
volume of his _History of England_ had appeared (1754), but had not
succeeded. The second was just coming out. Richardson was still giving
laws to his little seraglio of adoring women; Fielding had died (1754),
worn out by labour and dissipation; Smollett was active in the literary
trade, but not in such a way as to increase his own dignity or that of
his employment; Gray was slowly writing a few lines of exquisite verse
in his retirement at Cambridge; two young Irish adventurers, Burke and
Goldsmith, were just coming to London to try their fortune; Adam Smith
made his first experiment as an author by reviewing the _Dictionary_ in
the _Edinburgh Review_; Robertson had not yet appeared as a historian;
Gibbon was at Lausanne repenting of his old brief lapse into Catholicism
as an act of undergraduate's folly; and Cowper, after three years of
"giggling and making giggle" with Thurlow in an attorney's office, was
now entered at the Temple and amusing himself at times with literature
in company with such small men of letters as Colman, Bonnell Thornton,
and Lloyd. It was a slack tide of literature; the generation of Pope had
passed away and left no successors, and no writer of the time could be
put in competition with the giant now known as "Dictionary Johnson."

When the last sheet of the _Dictionary_ had been carried to the
publisher, Millar, Johnson asked the messenger, "What did he say?"
"Sir," said the messenger, "he said, 'Thank God I have done with him.'"
"I am glad," replied Johnson, "that he thanks God for anything."
Thankfulness for relief from seven years' toil seems to have been
Johnson's predominant feeling: and he was not anxious for a time to take
any new labours upon his shoulders. Some years passed which have left
few traces either upon his personal or his literary history. He
contributed a good many reviews in 1756-7 to the _Literary Magazine_,
one of which, a review of Soame Jenyns, is amongst his best
performances. To a weekly paper he contributed for two years, from
April, 1758, to April, 1760, a set of essays called the _Idler_, on the
old _Rambler_ plan. He did some small literary cobbler's work,
receiving a guinea for a prospectus to a newspaper and ten pounds for
correcting a volume of poetry. He had advertised in 1756 a new edition
of Shakspeare which was to appear by Christmas, 1757: but he dawdled
over it so unconscionably that it did not appear for nine years; and
then only in consequence of taunts from Churchill, who accused him with
too much plausibility of cheating his subscribers.

  He for subscribers baits his hook;
  And takes your cash: but where's the book?
  No matter where; wise fear, you know
  Forbids the robbing of a foe;
  But what to serve our private ends
  Forbids the cheating of our friends?

In truth, his constitutional indolence seems to have gained advantages
over him, when the stimulus of a heavy task was removed. In his
meditations, there are many complaints of his "sluggishness" and
resolutions of amendment. "A kind of strange oblivion has spread over
me," he says in April, 1764, "so that I know not what has become of the
last years, and perceive that incidents and intelligence pass over me
without leaving any impression."

It seems, however, that he was still frequently in difficulties. Letters
are preserved showing that in the beginning of 1756, Richardson became
surety for him for a debt, and lent him six guineas to release him from
arrest. An event which happened three years later illustrates his
position and character. In January, 1759, his mother died at the age of
ninety. Johnson was unable to come to Lichfield, and some deeply
pathetic letters to her and her stepdaughter, who lived with her, record
his emotions. Here is the last sad farewell upon the snapping of the
most sacred of human ties.

"Dear Honoured Mother," he says in a letter enclosed to Lucy Porter,
the step-daughter, "neither your condition nor your character make it
fit for me to say much. You have been the best mother, and I believe the
best woman in the world. I thank you for your indulgence to me, and beg
forgiveness of all that I have done ill, and of all that I have omitted
to do well. God grant you His Holy Spirit, and receive you to
everlasting happiness for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen. Lord Jesus receive
your spirit. I am, dear, dear mother,

"Your dutiful son,

"SAMUEL JOHNSON."

Johnson managed to raise twelve guineas, six of them borrowed from his
printer, to send to his dying mother. In order to gain money for her
funeral expenses and some small debts, he wrote the story of _Rasselas_.
It was composed in the evenings of a single week, and sent to press as
it was written. He received L100 for this, perhaps the most successful
of his minor writings, and L25 for a second edition. It was widely
translated and universally admired. One of the strangest of literary
coincidences is the contemporary appearance of this work and Voltaire's
_Candide_; to which, indeed, it bears in some respects so strong a
resemblance that, but for Johnson's apparent contradiction, we would
suppose that he had at least heard some description of its design. The
two stories, though widely differing in tone and style, are among the
most powerful expressions of the melancholy produced in strong
intellects by the sadness and sorrows of the world. The literary
excellence of _Candide_ has secured for it a wider and more enduring
popularity than has fallen to the lot of Johnson's far heavier
production. But _Rasselas_ is a book of singular force, and bears the
most characteristic impression of Johnson's peculiar temperament.

A great change was approaching in Johnson's circumstances. When George
III. came to the throne, it struck some of his advisers that it would be
well, as Boswell puts it, to open "a new and brighter prospect to men of
literary merit." This commendable design was carried out by offering to
Johnson a pension of three hundred a year. Considering that such men as
Horace Walpole and his like were enjoying sinecures of more than twice
as many thousands for being their father's sons, the bounty does not
strike one as excessively liberal. It seems to have been really intended
as some set-off against other pensions bestowed upon various hangers-on
of the Scotch prime minister, Bute. Johnson was coupled with the
contemptible scribbler, Shebbeare, who had lately been in the pillory
for a Jacobite libel (a "he-bear" and a "she-bear," said the facetious
newspapers), and when a few months afterwards a pension of L200 a year
was given to the old actor, Sheridan, Johnson growled out that it was
time for him to resign his own. Somebody kindly repeated the remark to
Sheridan, who would never afterwards speak to Johnson.

The pension, though very welcome to Johnson, who seems to have been in
real distress at the time, suggested some difficulty. Johnson had
unluckily spoken of a pension in his _Dictionary_ as "generally
understood to mean pay given to a State hireling for treason to his
country." He was assured, however, that he did not come within the
definition; and that the reward was given for what he had done, not for
anything that he was expected to do. After some hesitation, Johnson
consented to accept the payment thus offered without the direct
suggestion of any obligation, though it was probably calculated that he
would in case of need, be the more ready, as actually happened, to use
his pen in defence of authority. He had not compromised his independence
and might fairly laugh at angry comments. "I wish," he said afterwards,
"that my pension were twice as large, that they might make twice as much
noise." "I cannot now curse the House of Hanover," was his phrase on
another occasion: "but I think that the pleasure of cursing the House of
Hanover and drinking King James's health, all amply overbalanced by
three hundred pounds a year." In truth, his Jacobitism was by this time,
whatever it had once been, nothing more than a humorous crotchet, giving
opportunity for the expression of Tory prejudice.

"I hope you will now purge and live cleanly like a gentleman," was
Beauclerk's comment upon hearing of his friend's accession of fortune,
and as Johnson is now emerging from Grub Street, it is desirable to
consider what manner of man was to be presented to the wider circles
that were opening to receive him.



CHAPTER III


JOHNSON AND HIS FRIENDS.


It is not till some time after Johnson had come into the enjoyment of
his pension, that we first see him through the eyes of competent
observers. The Johnson of our knowledge, the most familiar figure to all
students of English literary history had already long passed the prime
of life, and done the greatest part of his literary work. His character,
in the common phrase, had been "formed" years before; as, indeed,
people's characters are chiefly formed in the cradle; and, not only his
character, but the habits which are learnt in the great schoolroom of
the world were fixed beyond any possibility of change. The strange
eccentricities which had now become a second nature, amazed the society
in which he was for over twenty years a prominent figure. Unsympathetic
observers, those especially to whom the Chesterfield type represented
the ideal of humanity, were simply disgusted or repelled. The man, they
thought, might be in his place at a Grub Street pot-house; but had no
business in a lady's drawing-room. If he had been modest and retiring,
they might have put up with his defects; but Johnson was not a person
whose qualities, good or bad, were of a kind to be ignored. Naturally
enough, the fashionable world cared little for the rugged old giant.
"The great," said Johnson, "had tried him and given him up; they had
seen enough of him;" and his reason was pretty much to the purpose.
"Great lords and great ladies don't love to have their mouths stopped,"
especially not, one may add, by an unwashed fist.

It is easy to blame them now. Everybody can see that a saint in beggar's
rags is intrinsically better than a sinner in gold lace. But the
principle is one of those which serves us for judging the dead, much
more than for regulating our own conduct. Those, at any rate, may throw
the first stone at the Horace Walpoles and Chesterfields, who are quite
certain that they would ask a modern Johnson to their houses. The trial
would be severe. Poor Mrs. Boswell complained grievously of her
husband's idolatry. "I have seen many a bear led by a man," she said;
"but I never before saw a man led by a bear." The truth is, as Boswell
explains, that the sage's uncouth habits, such as turning the candles'
heads downwards to make them burn more brightly, and letting the wax
drop upon the carpet, "could not but be disagreeable to a lady."

He had other habits still more annoying to people of delicate
perceptions. A hearty despiser of all affectations, he despised
especially the affectation of indifference to the pleasures of the
table. "For my part," he said, "I mind my belly very studiously and very
carefully, for I look upon it that he who does not mind his belly will
hardly mind anything else." Avowing this principle he would innocently
give himself the airs of a scientific epicure. "I, madam," he said to
the terror of a lady with whom he was about to sup, "who live at a
variety of good tables, am a much better judge of cookery than any
person who has a very tolerable cook, but lives much at home, for his
palate is gradually adapted to the taste of his cook, whereas, madam,
in trying by a wider range, I can more exquisitely judge." But his
pretensions to exquisite taste are by no means borne out by independent
witnesses. "He laughs," said Tom Davies, "like a rhinoceros," and he
seems to have eaten like a wolf--savagely, silently, and with
undiscriminating fury. He was not a pleasant object during this
performance. He was totally absorbed in the business of the moment, a
strong perspiration came out, and the veins of his forehead swelled. He
liked coarse satisfying dishes--boiled pork and veal-pie stuffed with
plums and sugar; and in regard to wine, he seems to have accepted the
doctrines of the critic of a certain fluid professing to be port, who
asked, "What more can you want? It is black, and it is thick, and it
makes you drunk." Claret, as Johnson put it, "is the liquor for boys,
and port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy." He
could, however, refrain, though he could not be moderate, and for all
the latter part of his life, from 1766, he was a total abstainer. Nor,
it should be added, does he ever appear to have sought for more than
exhilaration from wine. His earliest intimate friend, Hector, said that
he had never but once seen him drunk.

His appetite for more innocent kinds of food was equally excessive. He
would eat seven or eight peaches before breakfast, and declared that he
had only once in his life had as much wall-fruit as he wished. His
consumption of tea was prodigious, beyond all precedent. Hawkins quotes
Bishop Burnet as having drunk sixteen large cups every morning, a feat
which would entitle him to be reckoned as a rival. "A hardened and
shameless tea-drinker," Johnson called himself, who "with tea amuses the
evenings, with tea solaces the midnights, and with tea welcomes the
mornings." One of his teapots, preserved by a relic-hunter, contained
two quarts, and he professed to have consumed five and twenty cups at a
sitting. Poor Mrs. Thrale complains that he often kept her up making tea
for him till four in the morning. His reluctance to go to bed was due to
the fact that his nights were periods of intense misery; but the vast
potations of tea can scarcely have tended to improve them.

The huge frame was clad in the raggedest of garments, until his
acquaintance with the Thrales led to a partial reform. His wigs were
generally burnt in front, from his shortsighted knack of reading with
his head close to the candle; and at the Thrales, the butler stood ready
to effect a change of wigs as he passed into the dining-room. Once or
twice we have accounts of his bursting into unusual splendour. He
appeared at the first representation of _Irene_ in a scarlet waistcoat
laced with gold; and on one of his first interviews with Goldsmith he
took the trouble to array himself decently, because Goldsmith was
reported to have justified slovenly habits by the precedent of the
leader of his craft. Goldsmith, judging by certain famous suits, seems
to have profited by the hint more than his preceptor. As a rule,
Johnson's appearance, before he became a pensioner, was worthy of the
proverbial manner of Grub Street. Beauclerk used to describe how he had
once taken a French lady of distinction to see Johnson in his chambers.
On descending the staircase they heard a noise like thunder. Johnson was
pursuing them, struck by a sudden sense of the demands upon his
gallantry. He brushed in between Beauclerk and the lady, and seizing her
hand conducted her to her coach. A crowd of people collected to stare at
the sage, dressed in rusty brown, with a pair of old shoes for slippers,
a shrivelled wig on the top of his head, and with shirtsleeves and the
knees of his breeches hanging loose. In those days, clergymen and
physicians were only just abandoning the use of their official costume
in the streets, and Johnson's slovenly habits were even more marked than
they would be at present. "I have no passion for clean linen," he once
remarked, and it is to be feared that he must sometimes have offended
more senses than one.

In spite of his uncouth habits of dress and manners, Johnson claimed
and, in a sense, with justice, to be a polite man. "I look upon myself,"
he said once to Boswell, "as a very polite man." He could show the
stately courtesy of a sound Tory, who cordially accepts the principle of
social distinction, but has far too strong a sense of self-respect to
fancy that compliance with the ordinary conventions can possibly lower
his own position. Rank of the spiritual kind was especially venerable to
him. "I should as soon have thought of contradicting a bishop," was a
phrase which marked the highest conceivable degree of deference to a man
whom he respected. Nobody, again, could pay more effective compliments,
when he pleased; and the many female friends who have written of him
agree, that he could be singularly attractive to women. Women are,
perhaps, more inclined than men to forgive external roughness in
consideration of the great charm of deep tenderness in a thoroughly
masculine nature. A characteristic phrase was his remark to Miss
Monckton. She had declared, in opposition to one of Johnson's
prejudices, that Sterne's writings were pathetic: "I am sure," she said,
"they have affected me." "Why," said Johnson, smiling and rolling
himself about, "that is because, dearest, you are a dunce!" When she
mentioned this to him some time afterwards he replied: "Madam, if I had
thought so, I certainly should not have said it." The truth could not be
more neatly put.

Boswell notes, with some surprise, that when Johnson dined with Lord
Monboddo he insisted upon rising when the ladies left the table, and
took occasion to observe that politeness was "fictitious benevolence,"
and equally useful in common intercourse. Boswell's surprise seems to
indicate that Scotchmen in those days were even greater bears than
Johnson. He always insisted, as Miss Reynolds tells us, upon showing
ladies to their carriages through Bolt Court, though his dress was such
that her readers would, she thinks, be astonished that any man in his
senses should have shown himself in it abroad or even at home. Another
odd indication of Johnson's regard for good manners, so far as his
lights would take him, was the extreme disgust with which he often
referred to a certain footman in Paris, who used his fingers in place of
sugar-tongs. So far as Johnson could recognize bad manners he was polite
enough, though unluckily the limitation is one of considerable
importance.

Johnson's claims to politeness were sometimes, it is true, put in a
rather startling form. "Every man of any education," he once said to the
amazement of his hearers, "would rather be called a rascal than accused
of deficiency in the graces." Gibbon, who was present, slily inquired of
a lady whether among all her acquaintance she could not find _one_
exception. According to Mrs. Thrale, he went even further. Dr. Barnard,
he said, was the only man who had ever done justice to his good
breeding; "and you may observe," he added, "that I am well-bred to a
degree of needless scrupulosity." He proceeded, according to Mrs.
Thrale, but the report a little taxes our faith, to claim the virtues
not only of respecting ceremony, but of never contradicting or
interrupting his hearers. It is rather odd that Dr. Barnard had once a
sharp altercation with Johnson, and avenged himself by a sarcastic copy
of verses in which, after professing to learn perfectness from different
friends, he says,--

  Johnson shall teach me how to place,
  In varied light, each borrow'd grace;
    From him I'll learn to write;
  Copy his clear familiar style,
  And by the roughness of his file,
    Grow, like himself, polite.

Johnson, on this as on many occasions, repented of the blow as soon as
it was struck, and sat down by Barnard, "literally smoothing down his
arms and knees," and beseeching pardon. Barnard accepted his apologies,
but went home and wrote his little copy of verses.

Johnson's shortcomings in civility were no doubt due, in part, to the
narrowness of his faculties of perception. He did not know, for he could
not see, that his uncouth gestures and slovenly dress were offensive;
and he was not so well able to observe others as to shake off the
manners contracted in Grub Street. It is hard to study a manual of
etiquette late in life, and for a man of Johnson's imperfect faculties
it was probably impossible. Errors of this kind were always pardonable,
and are now simply ludicrous. But Johnson often shocked his companions
by more indefensible conduct. He was irascible, overbearing, and, when
angry, vehement beyond all propriety. He was a "tremendous companion,"
said Garrick's brother; and men of gentle nature, like Charles Fox,
often shrank from his company, and perhaps exaggerated his brutality.

Johnson, who had long regarded conversation as the chief amusement, came
in later years to regard it as almost the chief employment of life; and
he had studied the art with the zeal of a man pursuing a favourite
hobby. He had always, as he told Sir Joshua Reynolds, made it a
principle to talk on all occasions as well as he could. He had thus
obtained a mastery over his weapons which made him one of the most
accomplished of conversational gladiators. He had one advantage which
has pretty well disappeared from modern society, and the disappearance
of which has been destructive to excellence of talk. A good talker, even
more than a good orator, implies a good audience. Modern society is too
vast and too restless to give a conversationalist a fair chance. For the
formation of real proficiency in the art, friends should meet often, sit
long, and be thoroughly at ease. A modern audience generally breaks up
before it is well warmed through, and includes enough strangers to break
the magic circle of social electricity. The clubs in which Johnson
delighted were excellently adapted to foster his peculiar talent. There
a man could "fold his legs and have his talk out"--a pleasure hardly to
be enjoyed now. And there a set of friends meeting regularly, and
meeting to talk, learnt to sharpen each other's skill in all dialectic
manoeuvres. Conversation may be pleasantest, as Johnson admitted, when
two friends meet quietly to exchange their minds without any thought of
display. But conversation considered as a game, as a bout of
intellectual sword-play, has also charms which Johnson intensely
appreciated. His talk was not of the encyclopaedia variety, like that of
some more modern celebrities; but it was full of apposite illustrations
and unrivalled in keen argument, rapid flashes of wit and humour,
scornful retort and dexterous sophistry. Sometimes he would fell his
adversary at a blow; his sword, as Boswell said, would be through your
body in an instant without preliminary flourishes; and in the
excitement of talking for victory, he would use any device that came to
hand. "There is no arguing with Johnson," said Goldsmith, quoting a
phrase from Cibber, "for if his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down
with the butt-end of it."

Johnson's view of conversation is indicated by his remark about Burke.
"That fellow," he said at a time of illness, "calls forth all my powers.
Were I to see Burke now, it would kill me." "It is when you come close
to a man in conversation," he said on another occasion, "that you
discover what his real abilities are. To make a speech in an assembly is
a knack. Now I honour Thurlow, sir; Thurlow is a fine fellow, he fairly
puts his mind to yours."

Johnson's retorts were fair play under the conditions of the game, as it
is fair play to kick an opponent's shins at football. But of course a
man who had, as it were, become the acknowledged champion of the ring,
and who had an irascible and thoroughly dogmatic temper, was tempted to
become unduly imperious. In the company of which Savage was a
distinguished member, one may guess that the conversational fervour
sometimes degenerated into horse-play. Want of arguments would be
supplied by personality, and the champion would avenge himself by
brutality on an opponent who happened for once to be getting the best of
him. Johnson, as he grew older and got into more polished society,
became milder in his manners; but he had enough of the old spirit left
in him to break forth at times with ungovernable fury, and astonish the
well-regulated minds of respectable ladies and gentlemen.

Anecdotes illustrative of this ferocity abound, and his best
friends--except, perhaps, Reynolds and Burke--had all to suffer in turn.
On one occasion, when he had made a rude speech even to Reynolds,
Boswell states, though with some hesitation, his belief that Johnson
actually blushed. The records of his contests in this kind fill a large
space in Boswell's pages. That they did not lead to worse consequences
shows his absence of rancour. He was always ready and anxious for a
reconciliation, though he would not press for one if his first overtures
were rejected. There was no venom in the wounds he inflicted, for there
was no ill-nature; he was rough in the heat of the struggle, and in such
cases careless in distributing blows; but he never enjoyed giving pain.
None of his tiffs ripened into permanent quarrels, and he seems scarcely
to have lost a friend. He is a pleasant contrast in this, as in much
else, to Horace Walpole, who succeeded, in the course of a long life, in
breaking with almost all his old friends. No man set a higher value upon
friendship than Johnson. "A man," he said to Reynolds, "ought to keep
his friendship in constant repair;" or he would find himself left alone
as he grew older. "I look upon a day as lost," he said later in life,
"in which I do not make a new acquaintance." Making new acquaintances
did not involve dropping the old. The list of his friends is a long one,
and includes, as it were, successive layers, superposed upon each other,
from the earliest period of his life.

This is so marked a feature in Johnson's character, that it will be as
well at this point to notice some of the friendships from which he
derived the greatest part of his happiness. Two of his schoolfellows,
Hector and Taylor, remained his intimates through life. Hector survived
to give information to Boswell, and Taylor, then a prebendary of
Westminster, read the funeral service over his old friend in the Abbey.
He showed, said some of the bystanders, too little feeling. The relation
between the two men was not one of special tenderness; indeed they were
so little congenial that Boswell rather gratuitously suspected his
venerable teacher of having an eye to Taylor's will. It seems fairer to
regard the acquaintance as an illustration of that curious adhesiveness
which made Johnson cling to less attractive persons. At any rate, he did
not show the complacence of the proper will-hunter. Taylor was rector of
Bosworth and squire of Ashbourne. He was a fine specimen of the
squire-parson; a justice of the peace, a warm politician, and what was
worse, a warm Whig. He raised gigantic bulls, bragged of selling cows
for 120 guineas and more, and kept a noble butler in purple clothes and
a large white wig. Johnson respected Taylor as a sensible man, but was
ready to have a round with him on occasion. He snorted contempt when
Taylor talked of breaking some small vessels if he took an emetic.
"Bah," said the doctor, who regarded a valetudinarian as a "scoundrel,"
"if you have so many things that will break, you had better break your
neck at once, and there's an end on't." Nay, if he did not condemn
Taylor's cows, he criticized his bulldog with cruel acuteness. "No, sir,
he is not well shaped; for there is not the quick transition from the
thickness of the fore-part to the _tenuity_--the thin part--behind,
which a bulldog ought to have." On the more serious topic of politics
his Jacobite fulminations roused Taylor "to a pitch of bellowing."
Johnson roared out that if the people of England were fairly polled
(this was in 1777) the present king would be sent away to-night, and his
adherents hanged to-morrow. Johnson, however, rendered Taylor the
substantial service of writing sermons for him, two volumes of which
were published after they were both dead; and Taylor must have been a
bold man, if it be true, as has been said, that he refused to preach a
sermon written by Johnson upon Mrs. Johnson's death, on the ground that
it spoke too favourably of the character of the deceased.

Johnson paid frequent visits to Lichfield, to keep up his old friends.
One of them was Lucy Porter, his wife's daughter, with whom, according
to Miss Seward, he had been in love before he married her mother. He was
at least tenderly attached to her through life. And, for the most part,
the good people of Lichfield seem to have been proud of their
fellow-townsman, and gave him a substantial proof of their sympathy by
continuing to him, on favourable terms, the lease of a house originally
granted to his father. There was, indeed, one remarkable exception in
Miss Seward, who belonged to a genus specially contemptible to the old
doctor. She was one of the fine ladies who dabbled in poetry, and aimed
at being the centre of a small literary circle at Lichfield. Her letters
are amongst the most amusing illustrations of the petty affectations and
squabbles characteristic of such a provincial clique. She evidently
hated Johnson at the bottom of her small soul; and, indeed, though
Johnson once paid her a preposterous compliment--a weakness of which
this stern moralist was apt to be guilty in the company of ladies--he no
doubt trod pretty roughly upon some of her pet vanities.

By far the most celebrated of Johnson's Lichfield friends was David
Garrick, in regard to whom his relations were somewhat peculiar.
Reynolds said that Johnson considered Garrick to be his own property,
and would never allow him to be praised or blamed by any one else
without contradiction. Reynolds composed a pair of imaginary dialogues
to illustrate the proposition, in one of which Johnson attacks Garrick
in answer to Reynolds, and in the other defends him in answer to Gibbon.
The dialogues seem to be very good reproductions of the Johnsonian
manner, though perhaps the courteous Reynolds was a little too much
impressed by its roughness; and they probably include many genuine
remarks of Johnson's. It is remarkable that the praise is far more
pointed and elaborate than the blame, which turns chiefly upon the
general inferiority of an actor's position. And, in fact, this seems to
have corresponded to Johnson's opinion about Garrick as gathered from
Boswell.

The two men had at bottom a considerable regard for each other, founded
upon old association, mutual services, and reciprocal respect for
talents of very different orders. But they were so widely separated by
circumstances, as well as by a radical opposition of temperament, that
any close intimacy could hardly be expected. The bear and the monkey are
not likely to be intimate friends. Garrick's rapid elevation in fame and
fortune seems to have produced a certain degree of envy in his old
schoolmaster. A grave moral philosopher has, of course, no right to look
askance at the rewards which fashion lavishes upon men of lighter and
less lasting merit, and which he professes to despise. Johnson, however,
was troubled with a rather excessive allowance of human nature. Moreover
he had the good old-fashioned contempt for players, characteristic both
of the Tory and the inartistic mind. He asserted roundly that he looked
upon players as no better than dancing-dogs. "But, sir, you will allow
that some players are better than others?" "Yes, sir, as some dogs dance
better than others." So when Goldsmith accused Garrick of grossly
flattering the queen, Johnson exclaimed, "And as to meanness--how is it
mean in a player, a showman, a fellow who exhibits himself for a
shilling, to flatter his queen?" At another time Boswell suggested that
we might respect a great player. "What! sir," exclaimed Johnson, "a
fellow who claps a hump upon his back and a lump on his leg and cries,
'_I am Richard III._'? Nay, sir, a ballad-singer is a higher man, for he
does two things: he repeats and he sings; there is both recitation and
music in his performance--the player only recites."

Such sentiments were not very likely to remain unknown to Garrick nor to
put him at ease with Johnson, whom, indeed, he always suspected of
laughing at him. They had a little tiff on account of Johnson's Edition
of Shakspeare. From some misunderstanding, Johnson did not make use of
Garrick's collection of old plays. Johnson, it seems, thought that
Garrick should have courted him more, and perhaps sent the plays to his
house; whereas Garrick, knowing that Johnson treated books with a
roughness ill-suited to their constitution, thought that he had done
quite enough by asking Johnson to come to his library. The revenge--if
it was revenge--taken by Johnson was to say nothing of Garrick in his
Preface, and to glance obliquely at his non-communication of his
rarities. He seems to have thought that it would be a lowering of
Shakspeare to admit that his fame owed anything to Garrick's exertions.

Boswell innocently communicated to Garrick a criticism of Johnson's upon
one of his poems--

  I'd smile with the simple and feed with the poor.

"Let me smile with the wise, and feed with the rich," was Johnson's
tolerably harmless remark. Garrick, however, did not like it, and when
Boswell tried to console him by saying that Johnson gored everybody in
turn, and added, "_foenum habet in cornu_." "Ay," said Garrick
vehemently, "he has a whole mow of it." The most unpleasant incident
was when Garrick proposed rather too freely to be a member of the Club.
Johnson said that the first duke in England had no right to use such
language, and said, according to Mrs. Thrale, "If Garrick does apply,
I'll blackball him. Surely we ought to be able to sit in a society like
ours--

  'Unelbowed by a gamester, pimp, or player!'"

Nearly ten years afterwards, however, Johnson favoured his election, and
when he died, declared that the Club should have a year's widowhood. No
successor to Garrick was elected during that time.

Johnson sometimes ventured to criticise Garrick's acting, but here
Garrick could take his full revenge. The purblind Johnson was not, we
may imagine, much of a critic in such matters. Garrick reports him to
have said of an actor at Lichfield, "There is a courtly vivacity about
the fellow;" when, in fact, said Garrick, "he was the most vulgar
ruffian that ever went upon boards."

In spite of such collisions of opinion and mutual criticism, Johnson
seems to have spoken in the highest terms of Garrick's good qualities,
and they had many pleasant meetings. Garrick takes a prominent part in
two or three of the best conversations in Boswell, and seems to have put
his interlocutors in specially good temper. Johnson declared him to be
"the first man in the world for sprightly conversation." He said that
Dryden had written much better prologues than any of Garrick's, but that
Garrick had written more good prologues than Dryden. He declared that it
was wonderful how little Garrick had been spoilt by all the flattery
that he had received. No wonder if he was a little vain: "a man who is
perpetually flattered in every mode that can be conceived: so many
bellows have blown the fuel, that one wonders he is not by this time
become a cinder!" "If all this had happened to me," he said on another
occasion, "I should have had a couple of fellows with long poles walking
before me, to knock down everybody that stood in the way. Consider, if
all this had happened to Cibber and Quin, they'd have jumped over the
moon. Yet Garrick speaks to us," smiling. He admitted at the same time
that Garrick had raised the profession of a player. He defended Garrick,
too, against the common charge of avarice. Garrick, as he pointed out,
had been brought up in a family whose study it was to make fourpence go
as far as fourpence-halfpenny. Johnson remembered in early days drinking
tea with Garrick when Peg Woffington made it, and made it, as Garrick
grumbled, "as red as blood." But when Garrick became rich he became
liberal. He had, so Johnson declared, given away more money than any man
in England.

After Garrick's death, Johnson took occasion to say, in the _Lives of
the Poets_, that the death "had eclipsed the gaiety of nations and
diminished the public stock of harmless pleasures." Boswell ventured to
criticise the observation rather spitefully. "Why _nations_? Did his
gaiety extend further than his own nation?" "Why, sir," replied Johnson,
"some imagination must be allowed. Besides, we may say _nations_ if we
allow the Scotch to be a nation, and to have gaiety--which they have
not." On the whole, in spite of various drawbacks, Johnson's reported
observations upon Garrick will appear to be discriminative, and yet, on
the whole, strongly favourable to his character. Yet we are not quite
surprised that Mrs. Garrick did not respond to a hint thrown out by
Johnson, that he would be glad to write the life of his friend.

At Oxford, Johnson acquired the friendship of Dr. Adams, afterwards
Master of Pembroke and author of a once well-known reply to Hume's
argument upon miracles. He was an amiable man, and was proud to do the
honours of the university to his old friend, when, in later years,
Johnson revisited the much-loved scenes of his neglected youth. The
warmth of Johnson's regard for old days is oddly illustrated by an
interview recorded by Boswell with one Edwards, a fellow-student whom he
met again in 1778, not having previously seen him since 1729. They had
lived in London for forty years without once meeting, a fact more
surprising then than now. Boswell eagerly gathered up the little scraps
of college anecdote which the meeting produced, but perhaps his best
find was a phrase of Edwards himself. "You are a philosopher, Dr.
Johnson," he said; "I have tried, too, in my time to be a philosopher;
but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in." The phrase,
as Boswell truly says, records an exquisite trait of character.

Of the friends who gathered round Johnson during his period of struggle,
many had vanished before he became well known. The best loved of all
seems to have been Dr. Bathurst, a physician, who, failing to obtain
practice, joined the expedition to Havannah, and fell a victim to the
climate (1762). Upon him Johnson pronounced a panegyric which has
contributed a proverbial phrase to the language. "Dear Bathurst," he
said, "was a man to my very heart's content: he hated a fool and he
hated a rogue, and he hated a Whig; he was a _very good hater_." Johnson
remembered Bathurst in his prayers for years after his loss, and
received from him a peculiar legacy. Francis Barker had been the negro
slave of Bathurst's father, who left him his liberty by will. Dr.
Bathurst allowed him to enter Johnson's service; and Johnson sent him
to school at considerable expense, and afterwards retained him in his
service with little interruption till his own death. Once Barker ran
away to sea, and was discharged, oddly enough, by the good offices of
Wilkes, to whom Smollett applied on Johnson's behalf. Barker became an
important member of Johnson's family, some of whom reproached him for
his liberality to the nigger. No one ever solved the great problem as to
what services were rendered by Barker to his master, whose wig was "as
impenetrable by a comb as a quickset hedge," and whose clothes were
never touched by the brush.

Among the other friends of this period must be reckoned his biographer,
Hawkins, an attorney who was afterwards Chairman of the Middlesex
Justices, and knighted on presenting an address to the King. Boswell
regarded poor Sir John Hawkins with all the animosity of a rival author,
and with some spice of wounded vanity. He was grievously offended, so at
least says Sir John's daughter, on being described in the _Life of
Johnson_ as "Mr. James Boswell" without a solitary epithet such as
celebrated or well-known. If that was really his feeling, he had his
revenge; for no one book ever so suppressed another as Boswell's Life
suppressed Hawkins's. In truth, Hawkins was a solemn prig, remarkable
chiefly for the unusual intensity of his conviction that all virtue
consists in respectability. He had a special aversion to "goodness of
heart," which he regarded as another name for a quality properly called
extravagance or vice. Johnson's tenacity of old acquaintance introduced
him into the Club, where he made himself so disagreeable, especially, as
it seems, by rudeness to Burke, that he found it expedient to invent a
pretext for resignation. Johnson called him a "very unclubable man,"
and may perhaps have intended him in the quaint description: "I really
believe him to be an honest man at the bottom; though, to be sure, he is
rather penurious, and he is somewhat mean; and it must be owned he has
some degree of brutality, and is not without a tendency to savageness
that cannot well be defended."

In a list of Johnson's friends it is proper to mention Richardson and
Hawkesworth. Richardson seems to have given him substantial help, and
was repaid by favourable comparisons with Fielding, scarcely borne out
by the verdict of posterity. "Fielding," said Johnson, "could tell the
hour by looking at the clock; whilst Richardson knew how the clock was
made." "There is more knowledge of the heart," he said at another time,
"in one letter of Richardson's than in all _Tom Jones_." Johnson's
preference of the sentimentalist to the man whose humour and strong
sense were so like his own, shows how much his criticism was biassed by
his prejudices; though, of course, Richardson's external decency was a
recommendation to the moralist. Hawkesworth's intimacy with Johnson
seems to have been chiefly in the period between the _Dictionary_ and
the pension. He was considered to be Johnson's best imitator; and has
vanished like other imitators. His fate, very doubtful if the story
believed at the time be true, was a curious one for a friend of
Johnson's. He had made some sceptical remarks as to the efficacy of
prayer in his preface to the South Sea Voyages; and was so bitterly
attacked by a "Christian" in the papers, that he destroyed himself by a
dose of opium.

Two younger friends, who became disciples of the sage soon after the
appearance of the _Rambler_, are prominent figures in the later circle.
One of these was Bennet Langton, a man of good family, fine scholarship,
and very amiable character. His exceedingly tall and slender figure was
compared by Best to the stork in Raphael's cartoon of the Miraculous
Draught of Fishes. Miss Hawkins describes him sitting with one leg
twisted round the other as though to occupy the smallest possible space,
and playing with his gold snuff-box with a mild countenance and sweet
smile. The gentle, modest creature was loved by Johnson, who could warm
into unusual eloquence in singing his praises. The doctor, however, was
rather fond of discussing with Boswell the faults of his friend. They
seem to have chiefly consisted in a certain languor or sluggishness of
temperament which allowed his affairs to get into perplexity. Once, when
arguing the delicate question as to the propriety of telling a friend of
his wife's unfaithfulness, Boswell, after his peculiar fashion, chose to
enliven the abstract statement by the purely imaginary hypothesis of Mr.
and Mrs. Langton being in this position. Johnson said that it would be
useless to tell Langton, because he would be too sluggish to get a
divorce. Once Langton was the unconscious cause of one of Johnson's
oddest performances. Langton had employed Chambers, a common friend of
his and Johnson's, to draw his will. Johnson, talking to Chambers and
Boswell, was suddenly struck by the absurdity of his friend's appearing
in the character of testator. His companions, however, were utterly
unable to see in what the joke consisted; but Johnson laughed
obstreperously and irrepressibly: he laughed till he reached the Temple
Gate; and when in Fleet Street went almost into convulsions of hilarity.
Holding on by one of the posts in the street, he sent forth such peals
of laughter that they seemed in the silence of the night to resound from
Temple Bar to Fleet Ditch.

Not long before his death, Johnson applied to Langton for spiritual
advice. "I desired him to tell me sincerely in what he thought my life
was faulty." Langton wrote upon a sheet of paper certain texts
recommending Christian charity; and explained, upon inquiry, that he was
pointing at Johnson's habit of contradiction. The old doctor began by
thanking him earnestly for his kindness; but gradually waxed savage and
asked Langton, "in a loud and angry tone, What is your drift, sir?" He
complained of the well-meant advice to Boswell, with a sense that he had
been unjustly treated. It was a scene for a comedy, as Reynolds
observed, to see a penitent get into a passion and belabour his
confessor.

Through Langton, Johnson became acquainted with the friend whose manner
was in the strongest contrast to his own. Topham Beauclerk was a man of
fashion. He was commended to Johnson by a likeness to Charles II., from
whom he was descended, being the grandson of the first Duke of St.
Alban's. Beauclerk was a man of literary and scientific tastes. He
inherited some of the moral laxity which Johnson chose to pardon in his
ancestor. Some years after his acquaintance with Boswell he married Lady
Diana Spencer, a lady who had been divorced upon his account from her
husband, Lord Bolingbroke. But he took care not to obtrude his faults of
life, whatever they may have been, upon the old moralist, who
entertained for him a peculiar affection. He specially admired
Beauclerk's skill in the use of a more polished, if less vigorous, style
of conversation than his own. He envied the ease with which Beauclerk
brought out his sly incisive retorts. "No man," he said, "ever was so
free when he was going to say a good thing, from a look that expressed
that it was coming; or, when he had said it, from a look that expressed
that it had come." When Beauclerk was dying (in 1780), Johnson said,
with a faltering voice, that he would walk to the extremity of the
diameter of the earth to save him. Two little anecdotes are expressive
of his tender feeling for this incongruous friend. Boswell had asked him
to sup at Beauclerk's. He started, but, on the way, recollecting
himself, said, "I cannot go; but _I do not love Beauclerk the less_."
Beauclerk had put upon a portrait of Johnson the inscription,--

            Ingenium ingens
  Inculto latet hoc sub corpore.

Langton, who bought the portrait, had the inscription removed. "It was
kind in you to take it off," said Johnson; and, after a short pause,
"not unkind in him to put it on."

Early in their acquaintance, the two young men, Beau and Lanky, as
Johnson called them, had sat up one night at a tavern till three in the
morning. The courageous thought struck them that they would knock up the
old philosopher. He came to the door of his chambers, poker in hand,
with an old wig for a nightcap. On hearing their errand, the sage
exclaimed, "What! is it you, you dogs? I'll have a frisk with you." And
so Johnson with the two youths, his juniors by about thirty years,
proceeded to make a night of it. They amazed the fruiterers in Covent
Garden; they brewed a bowl of bishop in a tavern, while Johnson quoted
the poet's address to Sleep,--

  "Short, O short, be then thy reign,
  And give us to the world again!"

They took a boat to Billingsgate, and Johnson, with Beauclerk, kept up
their amusement for the following day, when Langton deserted them to go
to breakfast with some young ladies, and Johnson scolded him for
leaving his friends "to go and sit with a parcel of wretched _unidea'd_
girls." "I shall have my old friend to bail out of the round-house,"
said Garrick when he heard of this queer alliance; and he told Johnson
that he would be in the _Chronicle_ for his frolic. "He _durst_ not do
such a thing. His wife would not let him," was the moralist's retort.

Some friends, known to fame by other titles than their connexion with
Johnson, had by this time gathered round them. Among them was one, whose
art he was unable to appreciate, but whose fine social qualities and
dignified equability of temper made him a valued and respected
companion. Reynolds had settled in London at the end of 1752. Johnson
met him at the house of Miss Cotterell. Reynolds had specially admired
Johnson's _Life of Savage_, and, on their first meeting, happened to
make a remark which delighted Johnson. The ladies were regretting the
loss of a friend to whom they were under obligations. "You have,
however," said Reynolds, "the comfort of being relieved from a burden of
gratitude." The saying is a little too much like Rochefoucauld, and too
true to be pleasant; but it was one of those keen remarks which Johnson
appreciated because they prick a bubble of commonplace moralizing
without demanding too literal an acceptation. He went home to sup with
Reynolds and became his intimate friend. On another occasion, Johnson
was offended by two ladies of rank at the same house, and by way of
taking down their pride, asked Reynolds in a loud voice, "How much do
you think you and I could get in a week, if we both worked as hard as we
could?" "His appearance," says Sir Joshua's sister, Miss Reynolds,
"might suggest the poor author: as he was not likely in that place to be
a blacksmith or a porter." Poor Miss Reynolds, who tells this story,
was another attraction to Reynolds' house. She was a shy, retiring
maiden lady, who vexed her famous brother by following in his steps
without his talents, and was deeply hurt by his annoyance at the
unintentional mockery. Johnson was through life a kind and judicious
friend to her; and had attracted her on their first meeting by a
significant indication of his character. He said that when going home to
his lodgings at one or two in the morning, he often saw poor children
asleep on thresholds and stalls--the wretched "street Arabs" of the
day--and that he used to put pennies into their hands that they might
buy a breakfast.

Two friends, who deserve to be placed beside Reynolds, came from Ireland
to seek their fortunes in London. Edmund Burke, incomparably the
greatest writer upon political philosophy in English literature, the
master of a style unrivalled for richness, flexibility, and vigour, was
radically opposed to Johnson on party questions, though his language
upon the French Revolution, after Johnson's death, would have satisfied
even the strongest prejudices of his old friend. But he had qualities
which commended him even to the man who called him a "bottomless Whig,"
and who generally spoke of Whigs as rascals, and maintained that the
first Whig was the devil. If his intellect was wider, his heart was as
warm as Johnson's, and in conversation he merited the generous applause
and warm emulation of his friends. Johnson was never tired of praising
the extraordinary readiness and spontaneity of Burke's conversation. "If
a man," he said, "went under a shed at the same time with Burke to avoid
a shower, he would say, 'This is an extraordinary man.' Or if Burke went
into a stable to see his horse dressed, the ostler would say, 'We have
had an extraordinary man here.'" When Burke was first going into
Parliament, Johnson said in answer to Hawkins, who wondered that such a
man should get a seat, "We who know Mr. Burke, know that he will be one
of the first men in the country." Speaking of certain other members of
Parliament, more after the heart of Sir John Hawkins, he said that he
grudged success to a man who made a figure by a knowledge of a few
forms, though his mind was "as narrow as the neck of a vinegar cruet;"
but then he did not grudge Burke's being the first man in the House of
Commons, for he would be the first man everywhere. And Burke equally
admitted Johnson's supremacy in conversation. "It is enough for me," he
said to some one who regretted Johnson's monopoly of the talk on a
particular occasion, "to have rung the bell for him."

The other Irish adventurer, whose career was more nearly moulded upon
that of Johnson, came to London in 1756, and made Johnson's
acquaintance. Some time afterwards (in or before 1761) Goldsmith, like
Johnson, had tasted the bitterness of an usher's life, and escaped into
the scarcely more tolerable regions of Grub Street. After some years of
trial, he was becoming known to the booksellers as a serviceable hand,
and had two works in his desk destined to lasting celebrity. His
landlady (apparently 1764) one day arrested him for debt. Johnson,
summoned to his assistance, sent him a guinea and speedily followed. The
guinea had already been changed, and Goldsmith was consoling himself
with a bottle of Madeira. Johnson corked the bottle, and a discussion of
ways and means brought out the manuscript of the _Vicar of Wakefield_.
Johnson looked into it, took it to a bookseller, got sixty pounds for
it, and returned to Goldsmith, who paid his rent and administered a
sound rating to his landlady.

The relation thus indicated is characteristic; Johnson was as a rough
but helpful elder brother to poor Goldsmith, gave him advice, sympathy,
and applause, and at times criticised him pretty sharply, or brought
down his conversational bludgeon upon his sensitive friend. "He has
nothing of the bear but his skin," was Goldsmith's comment upon his
clumsy friend, and the two men appreciated each other at bottom. Some of
their readers may be inclined to resent Johnson's attitude of
superiority. The admirably pure and tender heart, and the exquisite
intellectual refinement implied in the _Vicar_ and the _Traveller_,
force us to love Goldsmith in spite of superficial foibles, and when
Johnson prunes or interpolates lines in the _Traveller_, we feel as
though a woodman's axe was hacking at a most delicate piece of carving.
The evidence of contemporary observers, however, must force impartial
readers to admit that poor Goldsmith's foibles were real, however amply
compensated by rare and admirable qualities. Garrick's assertion, that
he "wrote like an angel but talked like poor Poll," expresses the
unanimous opinion of all who had actually seen him. Undoubtedly some of
the stories of his childlike vanity, his frankly expressed envy, and his
general capacity for blundering, owe something to Boswell's feeling that
he was a rival near the throne, and sometimes poor Goldsmith's humorous
self-assertion may have been taken too seriously by blunt English wits.
One may doubt, for example, whether he was really jealous of a puppet
tossing a pike, and unconscious of his absurdity in saying "Pshaw! I
could do it better myself!" Boswell, however, was too good an observer
to misrepresent at random, and he has, in fact, explained very well the
true meaning of his remarks. Goldsmith was an excitable Irishman of
genius, who tumbled out whatever came uppermost, and revealed the
feelings of the moment with utter want of reserve. His self-controlled
companions wondered, ridiculed, misinterpreted, and made fewer hits as
well as fewer misses. His anxiety to "get in and share," made him,
according to Johnson, an "unsocial" companion. "Goldsmith," he said,
"had not temper enough for the game he played. He staked too much. A man
might always get a fall from his inferior in the chances of talk, and
Goldsmith felt his falls too keenly." He had certainly some trials of
temper in Johnson's company. "Stay, stay," said a German, stopping him
in the full flow of his eloquence, "Toctor Johnson is going to say
something." An Eton Master called Graham, who was supping with the two
doctors, and had got to the pitch of looking at one person, and talking
to another, said, "Doctor, I shall be glad to see _you_ at Eton." "I
shall be glad to wait on you," said Goldsmith. "No," replied Graham,
"'tis not you I mean, Doctor Minor; 'tis Doctor Major there." Poor
Goldsmith said afterwards, "Graham is a fellow to make one commit
suicide."

Boswell who attributes some of Goldsmith's sayings about Johnson to
envy, said with probable truth that Goldsmith had not more envy than
others, but only spoke of it more freely. Johnson argued that we must be
angry with a man who had so much of an odious quality that he could not
keep it to himself, but let it "boil over." The feeling, at any rate,
was momentary and totally free from malice; and Goldsmith's criticisms
upon Johnson and his idolators seem to have been fair enough. His
objection to Boswell's substituting a monarchy for a republic has
already been mentioned. At another time he checked Boswell's flow of
panegyric by asking, "Is he like Burke, who winds into a subject like a
serpent?" To which Boswell replied with charming irrelevance, "Johnson
is the Hercules who strangled serpents in his cradle." The last of
Goldsmith's hits was suggested by Johnson's shaking his sides with
laughter because Goldsmith admired the skill with which the little
fishes in the fable were made to talk in character. "Why, Dr. Johnson,
this is not so easy as you seem to think," was the retort, "for if you
were to make little fishes talk, they would talk like whales."

In spite of sundry little sparrings, Johnson fully appreciated
Goldsmith's genius. Possibly his authority hastened the spread of public
appreciation, as he seemed to claim, whilst repudiating Boswell's too
flattering theory that it had materially raised Goldsmith's position.
When Reynolds quoted the authority of Fox in favour of the _Traveller_,
saying that his friends might suspect that they had been too partial,
Johnson replied very truly that the _Traveller_ was beyond the need of
Fox's praise, and that the partiality of Goldsmith's friends had always
been against him. They would hardly give him a hearing. "Goldsmith," he
added, "was a man who, whatever he wrote, always did it better than any
other man could do." Johnson's settled opinion in fact was that embodied
in the famous epitaph with its "nihil tetigit quod non ornavit," and,
though dedications are perhaps the only literary product more generally
insincere than epitaphs, we may believe that Goldsmith too meant what he
said in the dedication of _She Stoops to Conquer_. "It may do me some
honour to inform the public that I have lived many years in intimacy
with you. It may serve the interests of mankind also to inform them that
the greatest wit may be found in a character, without impairing the most
unaffected piety."

Though Johnson was thus rich in friendship, two connexions have still
to be noticed which had an exceptional bearing upon his fame and
happiness. In January, 1765, he made the acquaintance of the Thrales.
Mr. Thrale was the proprietor of the brewery which afterwards became
that of Barclay and Perkins. He was married in 1763 to a Miss Hester
Lynch Salisbury, who has become celebrated from her friendship with
Johnson.[1] She was a woman of great vivacity and independence of
character. She had a sensitive and passionate, if not a very tender
nature, and enough literary culture to appreciate Johnson's intellectual
power, and on occasion to play a very respectable part in conversation.
She had far more Latin and English scholarship than fell to the lot of
most ladies of her day, and wit enough to preserve her from degenerating
like some of the "blues," into that most offensive of beings--a feminine
prig. Her marriage had been one of convenience, and her husband's want
of sympathy, and jealousy of any interference in business matters,
forced her, she says, to take to literature as her sole resource. "No
wonder," she adds, "if I loved my books and children." It is, perhaps,
more to be wondered at that her children seem to have had a rather
subordinate place in her affections. The marriage, however, though not
of the happiest, was perfectly decorous. Mrs. Thrale discharged her
domestic duties irreproachably, even when she seems to have had some
real cause of complaint. To the world she eclipsed her husband, a solid
respectable man, whose mind, according to Johnson, struck the hours very
regularly, though it did not mark the minutes.

[Footnote 1: Mrs. Thrale was born in 1740 or 1741, probably the latter.
Thrale was born in 1724.]

The Thrales were introduced to Johnson by their common friend, Arthur
Murphy, an actor and dramatist, who afterwards became the editor of
Johnson's works. One day, when calling upon Johnson, they found him in
such a fit of despair that Thrale tried to stop his mouth by placing his
hand before it. The pair then joined in begging Johnson to leave his
solitary abode, and come to them at their country-house at Streatham. He
complied, and for the next sixteen years a room was set apart for him,
both at Streatham and in their house in Southwark. He passed a large
part of his time with them, and derived from the intimacy most of the
comfort of his later years. He treated Mrs. Thrale with a kind of
paternal gallantry, her age at the time of their acquaintance being
about twenty-four, and his fifty-five. He generally called her by the
playful name of "my mistress," addressed little poems to her, gave her
solid advice, and gradually came to confide to her his miseries and
ailments with rather surprising frankness. She flattered and amused him,
and soothed his sufferings and did something towards humanizing his
rugged exterior. There was one little grievance between them which
requires notice. Johnson's pet virtue in private life was a rigid regard
for truth. He spoke, it was said of him, as if he was always on oath. He
would not, for example, allow his servant to use the phrase "not at
home," and even in the heat of conversation resisted the temptation to
give point to an anecdote. The lively Mrs. Thrale rather fretted against
the restraint, and Johnson admonished her in vain. He complained to
Boswell that she was willing to have that said of her, which the best of
mankind had died rather than have said of them. Boswell, the faithful
imitator of his master in this respect, delighted in taking up the
parable. "Now, madam, give me leave to catch you in the fact," he said
on one occasion; "it was not an old woman, but an old man whom I
mentioned, as having told me this," and he recounts his check to the
"lively lady" with intense complacency. As may be imagined, Boswell and
Mrs. Thrale did not love each other, in spite of the well-meant efforts
of the sage to bring about a friendly feeling between his disciples.

It is time to close this list of friends with the inimitable Boswell.
James Boswell, born in 1740, was the eldest son of a Whig laird and lord
of sessions. He had acquired some English friends at the Scotch
universities, among whom must be mentioned Mr. Temple, an English
clergyman. Boswell's correspondence with Temple, discovered years after
his death by a singular chance, and published in 1857, is, after the
Life of Johnson, one of the most curious exhibitions of character in the
language. Boswell was intended for the Scotch bar, and studied civil law
at Utrecht in the winter of 1762. It was in the following summer that he
made Johnson's acquaintance.

Perhaps the fundamental quality in Boswell's character was his intense
capacity for enjoyment. He was, as Mr. Carlyle puts it, "gluttonously
fond of whatever would yield him a little solacement, were it only of a
stomachic character." His love of good living and good drink would have
made him a hearty admirer of his countryman, Burns, had Burns been
famous in Boswell's youth. Nobody could have joined with more thorough
abandonment in the chorus to the poet's liveliest songs in praise of
love and wine. He would have made an excellent fourth when "Willie
brewed a peck of malt, and Rab and Allan came to see," and the drinking
contest for the Whistle commemorated in another lyric would have excited
his keenest interest. He was always delighted when he could get Johnson
to discuss the ethics and statistics of drinking. "I am myself," he
says, "a lover of wine, and therefore curious to hear whatever is
remarkable concerning drinking." The remark is _a propos_ to a story of
Dr. Campbell drinking thirteen bottles of port at a sitting. Lest this
should seem incredible, he quotes Johnson's dictum. "Sir, if a man
drinks very slowly and lets one glass evaporate before he takes another,
I know not how long he may drink." Boswell's faculty for making love was
as great as his power of drinking. His letters to Temple record with
amusing frankness the vicissitudes of some of his courtships and the
versatility of his passions.

Boswell's tastes, however, were by no means limited to sensual or
frivolous enjoyments. His appreciation of the bottle was combined with
an equally hearty sensibility to more intellectual pleasures. He had not
a spark of philosophic or poetic power, but within the ordinary range of
such topics as can be discussed at a dinner-party, he had an abundant
share of liveliness and intelligence. His palate was as keen for good
talk as for good wine. He was an admirable recipient, if not an
originator, of shrewd or humorous remarks upon life and manners. What in
regard to sensual enjoyment was mere gluttony, appeared in higher
matters as an insatiable curiosity. At times this faculty became
intolerable to his neighbours. "I will not be baited with what and why,"
said poor Johnson, one day in desperation. "Why is a cow's tail long?
Why is a fox's tail bushy?" "Sir," said Johnson on another occasion,
when Boswell was cross-examining a third person about him in his
presence. "You have but two subjects, yourself and me. I am sick of
both." Boswell, however, was not to be repelled by such a retort as
this, or even by ruder rebuffs. Once when discussing the means of
getting a friend to leave London, Johnson said in revenge for a previous
offence, "Nay, sir, we'll send you to him. If your presence doesn't
drive a man out of his house, nothing will." Boswell was "horribly
shocked," but he still stuck to his victim like a leech, and pried into
the minutest details of his life and manners. He observed with
conscientious accuracy that though Johnson abstained from milk one
fast-day, he did not reject it when put in his cup. He notes the
whistlings and puffings, the trick of saying "too-too-too" of his idol:
and it was a proud day when he won a bet by venturing to ask Johnson
what he did with certain scraped bits of orange-peel. His curiosity was
not satisfied on this occasion; but it would have made him the prince of
interviewers in these days. Nothing delighted him so much as rubbing
shoulders with any famous or notorious person. He scraped acquaintance
with Voltaire, Wesley, Rousseau, and Paoli, as well as with Mrs. Rudd, a
forgotten heroine of the _Newgate Calendar_. He was as eager to talk to
Hume the sceptic, or Wilkes the demagogue, as to the orthodox Tory,
Johnson; and, if repelled, it was from no deficiency in daring. In 1767,
he took advantage of his travels in Corsica to introduce himself to Lord
Chatham, then Prime Minister. The letter moderately ends by asking,
"_Could your lordship find time to honour me now and then with a
letter?_ I have been told how favourably your lordship has spoken of me.
To correspond with a Paoli and with a Chatham is enough to keep a young
man ever ardent in the pursuit of virtuous fame." No other young man of
the day, we may be sure, would have dared to make such a proposal to the
majestic orator.

His absurd vanity, and the greedy craving for notoriety at any cost,
would have made Boswell the most offensive of mortals, had not his
unfeigned good-humour disarmed enmity. Nobody could help laughing, or be
inclined to take offence at his harmless absurdities. Burke said of him
that he had so much good-humour naturally, that it was scarcely a
virtue. His vanity, in fact, did not generate affectation. Most vain men
are vain of qualities which they do not really possess, or possess in a
lower degree than they fancy. They are always acting a part, and become
touchy from a half-conscious sense of the imposture. But Boswell seems
to have had few such illusions. He thoroughly and unfeignedly enjoyed
his own peculiarities, and thought his real self much too charming an
object to be in need of any disguise. No man, therefore, was ever less
embarrassed by any regard for his own dignity. He was as ready to join
in a laugh at himself as in a laugh at his neighbours. He reveals his
own absurdities to the world at large as frankly as Pepys confided them
to a journal in cypher. He tells us how drunk he got one night in Skye,
and how he cured his headache with brandy next morning; and what an
intolerable fool he made of himself at an evening party in London after
a dinner with the Duke of Montrose, and how Johnson in vain did his best
to keep him quiet. His motive for the concession is partly the wish to
illustrate Johnson's indulgence, and, in the last case, to introduce a
copy of apologetic verses to the lady whose guest he had been. He
reveals other weaknesses with equal frankness. One day, he says, "I
owned to Johnson that I was occasionally troubled with a fit of
narrowness." "Why, sir," said he, "so am I. _But I do not tell it_."
Boswell enjoys the joke far too heartily to act upon the advice.

There is nothing, however, which Boswell seems to have enjoyed more
heartily than his own good impulses. He looks upon his virtuous
resolution with a sort of aesthetic satisfaction, and with the glow of a
virtuous man contemplating a promising penitent. Whilst suffering
severely from the consequences of imprudent conduct, he gets a letter of
virtuous advice from his friend Temple. He instantly sees himself
reformed for the rest of his days. "My warm imagination," he says,
"looks forward with great complacency on the sobriety, the
healthfulness, and worth of my future life." "Every instance of our
doing those things which we ought not to have done, and leaving undone
those things which we ought to have done, is attended," as he elsewhere
sagely observes, "with more or less of what is truly remorse;" but he
seems rather to have enjoyed even the remorse. It is needless to say
that the complacency was its own reward, and that the resolution
vanished like other more eccentric impulses. Music, he once told
Johnson, affected him intensely, producing in his mind "alternate
sensations of pathetic dejection, so that I was ready to shed tears, and
of daring resolution so that I was inclined to rush into the thickest of
the [purely hypothetical] battle." "Sir," replied Johnson, "I should
never hear it, if it made me such a fool." Elsewhere he expresses a wish
to "fly to the woods," or retire into a desert, a disposition which
Johnson checked by one of his habitual gibes at the quantity of easily
accessible desert in Scotland. Boswell is equally frank in describing
himself in situations more provocative of contempt than even drunkenness
in a drawing-room. He tells us how dreadfully frightened he was by a
storm at sea in the Hebrides, and how one of his companions, "with a
happy readiness," made him lay hold of a rope fastened to the masthead,
and told him to pull it when he was ordered. Boswell was thus kept
quiet in mind and harmless in body.

This extreme simplicity of character makes poor Boswell loveable in his
way. If he sought notoriety, he did not so far mistake his powers as to
set up for independent notoriety.[1] He was content to shine in
reflected light: and the affectations with which he is charged seem to
have been unconscious imitations of his great idol. Miss Burney traced
some likeness even in his dress. In the later part of the _Life_ we meet
phrases in which Boswell is evidently aping the true Johnsonian style.
So, for example, when somebody distinguishes between "moral" and
"physical necessity;" Boswell exclaims, "Alas, sir, they come both to
the same thing. You may be as hard bound by chains when covered by
leather, as when the iron appears." But he specially emulates the
profound melancholy of his hero. He seems to have taken pride in his
sufferings from hypochondria; though, in truth, his melancholy diverges
from Johnson's by as great a difference as that which divides any two
varieties in Jaques's classification. Boswell's was the melancholy of a
man who spends too much, drinks too much, falls in love too often, and
is forced to live in the country in dependence upon a stern old parent,
when he is longing for a jovial life in London taverns. Still he was
excusably vexed when Johnson refused to believe in the reality of his
complaints, and showed scant sympathy to his noisy would-be
fellow-sufferer. Some of Boswell's freaks were, in fact, very trying.
Once he gave up writing letters for a long time, to see whether Johnson
would be induced to write first. Johnson became anxious, though he
half-guessed the truth, and in reference to Boswell's confession gave
his disciple a piece of his mind. "Remember that all tricks are either
knavish or childish, and that it is as foolish to make experiments upon
the constancy of a friend as upon the chastity of a wife."

[Footnote 1: The story is often told how Boswell appeared at the
Stratford Jubilee with "Corsica Boswell" in large letters on his hat.
The account given apparently by himself is sufficiently amusing, but the
statement is not quite fair. Boswell not unnaturally appeared at a
masquerade in the dress of a Corsican chief, and the inscription on his
hat seems to have been "Viva la Liberta."]

In other ways Boswell was more successful in aping his friend's
peculiarities. When in company with Johnson, he became delightfully
pious. "My dear sir," he exclaimed once with unrestrained fervour, "I
would fain be a good man, and I am very good now. I fear God and honour
the king; I wish to do no ill and to be benevolent to all mankind."
Boswell hopes, "for the felicity of human nature," that many experience
this mood; though Johnson judiciously suggested that he should not trust
too much to impressions. In some matters Boswell showed a touch of
independence by outvying the Johnsonian prejudices. He was a warm
admirer of feudal principles, and especially held to the propriety of
entailing property upon heirs male. Johnson had great difficulty in
persuading him to yield to his father's wishes, in a settlement of the
estate which contravened this theory. But Boswell takes care to declare
that his opinion was not shaken. "Yet let me not be thought," he adds,
"harsh or unkind to daughters; for my notion is that they should be
treated with great affection and tenderness, and always participate of
the prosperity of the family." His estimate of female rights is
indicated in another phrase. When Mrs. Knowles, the Quaker, expressed a
hope that the sexes would be equal in another world, Boswell replied,
"That is too ambitious, madam. _We_ might as well desire to be equal
with the angels." Boswell, again, differed from Johnson--who, in spite
of his love of authority, had a righteous hatred for all recognized
tyranny--by advocating the slave-trade. To abolish that trade would, he
says, be robbery of the masters and cruelty to the African savages. Nay,
he declares, to abolish it would be

To shut the gates of mercy on mankind!

Boswell was, according to Johnson, "the best travelling companion in the
world." In fact, for such purposes, unfailing good-humour and readiness
to make talk at all hazards are high recommendations. "If, sir, you were
shut up in a castle and a new-born baby with you, what would you do?" is
one of his questions to Johnson,--_a propos_ of nothing. That is
exquisitely ludicrous, no doubt; but a man capable of preferring such a
remark to silence helps at any rate to keep the ball rolling. A more
objectionable trick was his habit not only of asking preposterous or
indiscreet questions, but of setting people by the ears out of sheer
curiosity. The appearance of so queer a satellite excited astonishment
among Johnson's friends. "Who is this Scotch cur at Johnson's heels?"
asked some one. "He is not a cur," replied Goldsmith; "he is only a bur.
Tom Davies flung him at Johnson in sport, and he has the faculty of
sticking." The bur stuck till the end of Johnson's life. Boswell visited
London whenever he could, and soon began taking careful notes of
Johnson's talk. His appearance, when engaged in this task long
afterwards, is described by Miss Burney. Boswell, she says, concentrated
his whole attention upon his idol, not even answering questions from
others. When Johnson spoke, his eyes goggled with eagerness; he leant
his ear almost on the Doctor's shoulder; his mouth dropped open to
catch every syllable; and he seemed to listen even to Johnson's
breathings as though they had some mystical significance. He took every
opportunity of edging himself close to Johnson's side even at
meal-times, and was sometimes ordered imperiously back to his place like
a faithful but over-obtrusive spaniel.

It is hardly surprising that Johnson should have been touched by the
fidelity of this queer follower. Boswell, modestly enough, attributes
Johnson's easy welcome to his interest in all manifestations of the
human mind, and his pleasure in an undisguised display of its workings.
The last pleasure was certainly to be obtained in Boswell's society. But
in fact Boswell, though his qualities were too much those of the
ordinary "good fellow," was not without virtues, and still less without
remarkable talents. He was, to all appearance, a man of really generous
sympathies, and capable of appreciating proofs of a warm heart and a
vigorous understanding. Foolish, vain, and absurd in every way, he was
yet a far kindlier and more genuine man than many who laughed at him.
His singular gifts as an observer could only escape notice from a
careless or inexperienced reader. Boswell has a little of the true
Shaksperian secret. He lets his characters show themselves without
obtruding unnecessary comment. He never misses the point of a story,
though he does not ostentatiously call our attention to it. He gives
just what is wanted to indicate character, or to explain the full
meaning of a repartee. It is not till we compare his reports with those
of less skilful hearers, that we can appreciate the skill with which the
essence of a conversation is extracted, and the whole scene indicated by
a few telling touches. We are tempted to fancy that we have heard the
very thing, and rashly infer that Boswell was simply the mechanical
transmitter of the good things uttered. Any one who will try to put
down the pith of a brilliant conversation within the same space, may
soon satisfy himself of the absurdity of such an hypothesis, and will
learn to appreciate Boswell's powers not only of memory but artistic
representation. Such a feat implies not only admirable quickness of
appreciation, but a rare literary faculty. Boswell's accuracy is
remarkable; but it is the least part of his merit.

The book which so faithfully reflects the peculiarities of its hero and
its author became the first specimen of a new literary type. Johnson
himself was a master in one kind of biography; that which sets forth a
condensed and vigorous statement of the essentials of a man's life and
character. Other biographers had given excellent memoirs of men
considered in relation to the chief historical currents of the time. But
a full-length portrait of a man's domestic life with enough picturesque
detail to enable us to see him through the eyes of private friendship
did not exist in the language. Boswell's originality and merit may be
tested by comparing his book to the ponderous performance of Sir John
Hawkins, or to the dreary dissertations, falsely called lives, of which
Dugald Stewart's _Life of Robertson_ may be taken for a type. The writer
is so anxious to be dignified and philosophical that the despairing
reader seeks in vain for a single vivid touch, and discovers even the
main facts of the hero's life by some indirect allusion. Boswell's
example has been more or less followed by innumerable successors; and we
owe it in some degree to his example that we have such delightful books
as Lockhart's _Life of Scott_ or Mr. Trevelyan's _Life of Macaulay_. Yet
no later biographer has been quite as fortunate in a subject; and
Boswell remains as not only the first, but the best of his class.

One special merit implies something like genius. Macaulay has given to
the usual complaint which distorts the vision of most biographers the
name of _lues Boswelliana_. It is true that Boswell's adoration of his
hero is a typical example of the feeling. But that which distinguishes
Boswell, and renders the phrase unjust, is that in him adoration never
hindered accuracy of portraiture. "I will not make my tiger a cat to
please anybody," was his answer to well-meaning entreaties of Hannah
More to soften his accounts of Johnson's asperities. He saw
instinctively that a man who is worth anything loses far more than he
gains by such posthumous flattery. The whole picture is toned down, and
the lights are depressed as well as the shadows. The truth is that it is
unscientific to consider a man as a bundle of separate good and bad
qualities, of which one half may be concealed without injury to the
rest. Johnson's fits of bad temper, like Goldsmith's blundering, must be
unsparingly revealed by a biographer, because they are in fact
expressions of the whole character. It is necessary to take them into
account in order really to understand either the merits or the
shortcomings. When they are softened or omitted, the whole story becomes
an enigma, and we are often tempted to substitute some less creditable
explanation of errors for the true one. We should not do justice to
Johnson's intense tenderness, if we did not see how often it was masked
by an irritability pardonable in itself, and not affecting the deeper
springs of action. To bring out the beauty of a character by means of
its external oddities is the triumph of a kindly humourist; and Boswell
would have acted as absurdly in suppressing Johnson's weaknesses, as
Sterne would have done had he made Uncle Toby a perfectly sound and
rational person. But to see this required an insight so rare that it is
wanting in nearly all the biographers who have followed Boswell's
steps, and is the most conclusive proof that Boswell was a man of a
higher intellectual capacity than has been generally admitted.



CHAPTER IV.


JOHNSON AS A LITERARY DICTATOR.


We have now reached the point at which Johnson's life becomes distinctly
visible through the eyes of a competent observer. The last twenty years
are those which are really familiar to us; and little remains but to
give some brief selection of Boswell's anecdotes. The task, however, is
a difficult one. It is easy enough to make a selection of the gems of
Boswell's narrative; but it is also inevitable that, taken from their
setting, they should lose the greatest part of their brilliance. We lose
all the quaint semiconscious touches of character which make the
original so fascinating; and Boswell's absurdities become less amusing
when we are able to forget for an instant that the perpetrator is also
the narrator. The effort, however, must be made; and it will be best to
premise a brief statement of the external conditions of the life.

From the time of the pension until his death, Johnson was elevated above
the fear of poverty. He had a pleasant refuge at the Thrales', where
much of his time was spent; and many friends gathered round him and
regarded his utterances with even excessive admiration. He had still
frequent periods of profound depression. His diaries reveal an inner
life tormented by gloomy forebodings, by remorse for past indolence and
futile resolutions of amendment; but he could always escape from himself
to a society of friends and admirers. His abandonment of wine seems to
have improved his health and diminished the intensity of his melancholy
fits. His literary activity, however, nearly ceased. He wrote a few
political pamphlets in defence of Government, and after a long period of
indolence managed to complete his last conspicuous work--the _Lives of
the Poets_, which was published in 1779 and 1781. One other book of some
interest appeared in 1775. It was an account of the journey made with
Boswell to the Hebrides in 1773. This journey was in fact the chief
interruption to the even tenour of his life. He made a tour to Wales
with the Thrales in 1774; and spent a month with them in Paris in 1775.
For the rest of the period he lived chiefly in London or at Streatham,
making occasional trips to Lichfield and Oxford, or paying visits to
Taylor, Langton, and one or two other friends. It was, however, in the
London which he loved so ardently ("a man," he said once, "who is tired
of London is tired of life"), that he was chiefly conspicuous. There he
talked and drank tea illimitably at his friends' houses, or argued and
laid down the law to his disciples collected in a tavern instead of
Academic groves. Especially he was in all his glory at the Club, which
began its meetings in February, 1764, and was afterwards known as the
Literary Club. This Club was founded by Sir Joshua Reynolds, "our
Romulus," as Johnson called him. The original members were Reynolds,
Johnson, Burke, Nugent, Beauclerk, Langton, Goldsmith, Chamier, and
Hawkins. They met weekly at the Turk's Head, in Gerard Street, Soho, at
seven o'clock, and the talk generally continued till a late hour. The
Club was afterwards increased in numbers, and the weekly supper changed
to a fortnightly dinner. It continued to thrive, and election to it came
to be as great an honour in certain circles as election to a membership
of Parliament. Among the members elected in Johnson's lifetime were
Percy of the _Reliques_, Garrick, Sir W. Jones, Boswell, Fox, Steevens,
Gibbon, Adam Smith, the Wartons, Sheridan, Dunning, Sir Joseph Banks,
Windham, Lord Stowell, Malone, and Dr. Burney. What was best in the
conversation at the time was doubtless to be found at its meetings.

Johnson's habitual mode of life is described by Dr. Maxwell, one of
Boswell's friends, who made his acquaintance in 1754. Maxwell generally
called upon him about twelve, and found him in bed or declaiming over
his tea. A levee, chiefly of literary men, surrounded him; and he seemed
to be regarded as a kind of oracle to whom every one might resort for
advice or instruction. After talking all the morning, he dined at a
tavern, staying late and then going to some friend's house for tea, over
which he again loitered for a long time. Maxwell is puzzled to know when
he could have read or written. The answer seems to be pretty obvious;
namely, that after the publication of the _Dictionary_ he wrote very
little, and that, when he did write, it was generally in a brief spasm
of feverish energy. One may understand that Johnson should have
frequently reproached himself for his indolence; though he seems to have
occasionally comforted himself by thinking that he could do good by
talking as well as by writing. He said that a man should have a part of
his life to himself; and compared himself to a physician retired to a
small town from practice in a great city. Boswell, in spite of this,
said that he still wondered that Johnson had not more pleasure in
writing than in not writing. "Sir," replied the oracle, "you _may_
wonder."

I will now endeavour, with Boswell's guidance, to describe a few of the
characteristic scenes which can be fully enjoyed in his pages alone.
The first must be the introduction of Boswell to the sage. Boswell had
come to London eager for the acquaintance of literary magnates. He
already knew Goldsmith, who had inflamed his desire for an introduction
to Johnson. Once when Boswell spoke of Levett, one of Johnson's
dependents, Goldsmith had said, "he is poor and honest, which is
recommendation enough to Johnson." Another time, when Boswell had
wondered at Johnson's kindness to a man of bad character, Goldsmith had
replied, "He is now become miserable, and that insures the protection of
Johnson." Boswell had hoped for an introduction through the elder
Sheridan; but Sheridan never forgot the contemptuous phrase in which
Johnson had referred to his fellow-pensioner. Possibly Sheridan had
heard of one other Johnsonian remark. "Why, sir," he had said, "Sherry
is dull, naturally dull; but it must have taken him a great deal of
pains to become what we now see him. Such an excess of stupidity, sir,
is not in Nature." At another time he said, "Sheridan cannot bear me; I
bring his declamation to a point." "What influence can Mr. Sheridan have
upon the language of this great country by his narrow exertions? Sir, it
is burning a farthing candle at Dover to show light at Calais." Boswell,
however, was acquainted with Davies, an actor turned bookseller, now
chiefly remembered by a line in Churchill's _Rosciad_ which is said to
have driven him from the stage--

  He mouths a sentence as curs mouth a bone.

Boswell was drinking tea with Davies and his wife in their back parlour
when Johnson came into the shop. Davies, seeing him through the
glass-door, announced his approach to Boswell in the spirit of Horatio
addressing Hamlet: "Look, my Lord, it comes!" Davies introduced the
young Scotchman, who remembered Johnson's proverbial prejudices. "Don't
tell him where I come from!" cried Boswell. "From Scotland," said Davies
roguishly. "Mr. Johnson," said Boswell, "I do indeed come from Scotland;
but I cannot help it!" "That, sir," was the first of Johnson's many
retorts to his worshipper, "is what a great many of your countrymen
cannot help."

Poor Boswell was stunned; but he recovered when Johnson observed to
Davies, "What do you think of Garrick? He has refused me an order for
the play for Miss Williams because he knows the house will be full, and
that an order would be worth three shillings." "O, sir," intruded the
unlucky Boswell, "I cannot think Mr. Garrick would grudge such a trifle
to you." "Sir," replied Johnson sternly, "I have known David Garrick
longer than you have done, and I know no right you have to talk to me on
the subject." The second blow might have crushed a less intrepid
curiosity. Boswell, though silenced, gradually recovered sufficiently to
listen, and afterwards to note down parts of the conversation. As the
interview went on, he even ventured to make a remark or two, which were
very civilly received; Davies consoled him at his departure by assuring
him that the great man liked him very well. "I cannot conceive a more
humiliating position," said Beauclerk on another occasion, "than to be
clapped on the back by Tom Davies." For the present, however, even Tom
Davies was a welcome encourager to one who, for the rest, was not easily
rebuffed. A few days afterwards Boswell ventured a call, was kindly
received and detained for some time by "the giant in his den." He was
still a little afraid of the said giant, who had shortly before
administered a vigorous retort to his countryman Blair. Blair had asked
Johnson whether he thought that any man of a modern age could have
written _Ossian_. "Yes, sir," replied Johnson, "many men, many women,
and many children." Boswell, however, got on very well, and before long
had the high honour of drinking a bottle of port with Johnson at the
Mitre, and receiving, after a little autobiographical sketch, the
emphatic approval, "Give me your hand, I have taken a liking to you."

In a very short time Boswell was on sufficiently easy terms with
Johnson, not merely to frequent his levees but to ask him to dinner at
the Mitre. He gathered up, though without the skill of his later
performances, some fragments of the conversational feast. The great man
aimed another blow or two at Scotch prejudices. To an unlucky compatriot
of Boswell's, who claimed for his country a great many "noble wild
prospects," Johnson replied, "I believe, sir, you have a great many,
Norway, too, has noble wild prospects; and Lapland is remarkable for
prodigious noble wild prospects. But, sir, let me tell you the noblest
prospect which a Scotchman ever sees, is the high road that leads him to
England." Though Boswell makes a slight remonstrance about the "rude
grandeur of Nature" as seen in "Caledonia," he sympathized in this with
his teacher. Johnson said afterwards, that he never knew any one with
"such a gust for London." Before long he was trying Boswell's tastes by
asking him in Greenwich Park, "Is not this very fine?" "Yes, sir,"
replied the promising disciple, "but not equal to Fleet Street." "You
are right, sir," said the sage; and Boswell illustrates his dictum by
the authority of a "very fashionable baronet," and, moreover, a baronet
from Rydal, who declared that the fragrance of a May evening in the
country might be very well, but that he preferred the smell of a
flambeau at the playhouse. In more serious moods Johnson delighted his
new disciple by discussions upon theological, social, and literary
topics. He argued with an unfortunate friend of Boswell's, whose mind,
it appears, had been poisoned by Hume, and who was, moreover, rash
enough to undertake the defence of principles of political equality.
Johnson's view of all propagators of new opinions was tolerably simple.
"Hume, and other sceptical innovators," he said, "are vain men, and will
gratify themselves at any expense. Truth will not afford sufficient food
to their vanity; so they have betaken themselves to error. Truth, sir,
is a cow which will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone
to milk the bull." On another occasion poor Boswell, not yet acquainted
with the master's prejudices, quoted with hearty laughter a "very
strange" story which Hume had told him of Johnson. According to Hume,
Johnson had said that he would stand before a battery of cannon to
restore Convocation to its full powers. "And would I not, sir?"
thundered out the sage with flashing eyes and threatening gestures.
Boswell judiciously bowed to the storm, and diverted Johnson's
attention. Another manifestation of orthodox prejudice was less
terrible. Boswell told Johnson that he had heard a Quaker woman preach.
"A woman's preaching," said Johnson, "is like a dog's walking on his
hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at
all."

So friendly had the pair become, that when Boswell left England to
continue his studies at Utrecht, Johnson accompanied him in the
stage-coach to Harwich, amusing him on the way by his frankness of
address to fellow-passengers, and by the voracity of his appetite. He
gave him some excellent advice, remarking of a moth which fluttered
into a candle, "that creature was its own tormentor, and I believe its
name was Boswell." He refuted Berkeley by striking his foot with mighty
force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it. As the ship put
out to sea Boswell watched him from the deck, whilst he remained
"rolling his majestic frame in his usual manner." And so the friendship
was cemented, though Boswell disappeared for a time from the scene,
travelled on the Continent, and visited Paoli in Corsica. A friendly
letter or two kept up the connexion till Boswell returned in 1766, with
his head full of Corsica and a projected book of travels.

In the next year, 1767, occurred an incident upon which Boswell dwells
with extreme complacency. Johnson was in the habit of sometimes reading
in the King's Library, and it came into the head of his majesty that he
should like to see the uncouth monster upon whom he had bestowed a
pension. In spite of his semi-humorous Jacobitism, there was probably
not a more loyal subject in his majesty's dominions. Loyalty is a word
too often used to designate a sentiment worthy only of valets,
advertising tradesmen, and writers of claptrap articles. But it deserves
all respect when it reposes, as in Johnson's case, upon a profound
conviction of the value of political subordination, and an acceptance of
the king as the authorized representative of a great principle. There
was no touch of servility in Johnson's respect for his sovereign, a
respect fully reconcilable with a sense of his own personal dignity.
Johnson spoke of his interview with an unfeigned satisfaction, which it
would be difficult in these days to preserve from the taint of
snobbishness. He described it frequently to his friends, and Boswell
with pious care ascertained the details from Johnson himself, and from
various secondary sources. He contrived afterwards to get his minute
submitted to the King himself, who graciously authorized its
publication. When he was preparing his biography, he published this
account with the letter to Chesterfield in a small pamphlet sold at a
prohibitory price, in order to secure the copyright.

"I find," said Johnson afterwards, "that it does a man good to be talked
to by his sovereign. In the first place a man cannot be in a passion."
What other advantages he perceived must be unknown, for here the oracle
was interrupted. But whatever the advantages, it could hardly be
reckoned amongst them, that there would be room for the hearty cut and
thrust retorts which enlivened his ordinary talk. To us accordingly the
conversation is chiefly interesting as illustrating what Johnson meant
by his politeness. He found that the King wanted him to talk, and he
talked accordingly. He spoke in a "firm manly manner, with a sonorous
voice," and not in the subdued tone customary at formal receptions. He
dilated upon various literary topics, on the libraries of Oxford and
Cambridge, on some contemporary controversies, on the quack Dr. Hill,
and upon the reviews of the day. All that is worth repeating is a
complimentary passage which shows Johnson's possession of that courtesy
which rests upon sense and self-respect. The King asked whether he was
writing anything, and Johnson excused himself by saying that he had told
the world what he knew for the present, and had "done his part as a
writer." "I should have thought so too," said the King, "if you had not
written so well." "No man," said Johnson, "could have paid a higher
compliment; and it was fit for a King to pay--it was decisive." When
asked if he had replied, he said, "No, sir. When the King had said it,
it was to be. It was not for me to bandy civilities with my sovereign."
Johnson was not the less delighted. "Sir," he said to the librarian,
"they may talk of the King as they will, but he is the finest gentleman
I have ever seen." And he afterwards compared his manners to those of
Louis XIV., and his favourite, Charles II. Goldsmith, says Boswell, was
silent during the narrative, because (so his kind friend supposed) he
was jealous of the honour paid to the dictator. But his natural
simplicity prevailed. He ran to Johnson, and exclaimed in 'a kind of
flutter,' "Well, you acquitted yourself in this conversation better than
I should have done, for I should have bowed and stammered through the
whole of it."

The years 1768 and 1769 were a period of great excitement for Boswell.
He was carrying on various love affairs, which ended with his marriage
in the end of 1769. He was publishing his book upon Corsica and paying
homage to Paoli, who arrived in England in the autumn of the same year.
The book appeared in the beginning of 1768, and he begs his friend
Temple to report all that is said about it, but with the restriction
that he is to conceal _all censure_. He particularly wanted Gray's
opinion, as Gray was a friend of Temple's. Gray's opinion, not conveyed
to Boswell, was expressed by his calling it "a dialogue between a green
goose and a hero." Boswell, who was cultivating the society of various
eminent people, exclaims triumphantly in a letter to Temple (April 26,
1768), "I am really the great man now." Johnson and Hume had called upon
him on the same day, and Garrick, Franklin, and Oglethorpe also partook
of his "admirable dinners and good claret." "This," he says, with the
sense that he deserved his honours, "is enjoying the fruit of my
labours, and appearing like the friend of Paoli." Johnson in vain
expressed a wish that he would "empty his head of Corsica, which had
filled it too long." "Empty my head of Corsica! Empty it of honour,
empty it of friendship, empty it of piety!" exclaims the ardent youth.
The next year accordingly saw Boswell's appearance at the Stratford
Jubilee, where he paraded to the admiration of all beholders in a
costume described by himself (apparently) in a glowing article in the
_London Magazine_. "Is it wrong, sir," he took speedy opportunity of
inquiring from the oracle, "to affect singularity in order to make
people stare?" "Yes," replied Johnson, "if you do it by propagating
error, and indeed it is wrong in any way. There is in human nature a
general inclination to make people stare, and every wise man has himself
to cure of it, and does cure himself. If you wish to make people stare
by doing better than others, why make them stare till they stare their
eyes out. But consider how easy it is to make people stare by being
absurd"--a proposition which he proceeds to illustrate by examples
perhaps less telling than Boswell's recent performance.

The sage was less communicative on the question of marriage, though
Boswell had anticipated some "instructive conversation" upon that topic.
His sole remark was one from which Boswell "humbly differed." Johnson
maintained that a wife was not the worse for being learned. Boswell, on
the other hand, defined the proper degree of intelligence to be desired
in a female companion by some verses in which Sir Thomas Overbury says
that a wife should have some knowledge, and be "by nature wise, not
learned much by art." Johnson said afterwards that Mrs. Boswell was in a
proper degree inferior to her husband. So far as we can tell, she seems
to have been a really sensible, and good woman, who kept her husband's
absurdities in check, and was, in her way, a better wife than he
deserved. So, happily, are most wives.

Johnson and Boswell had several meetings in 1769. Boswell had the honour
of introducing the two objects of his idolatry, Johnson and Paoli, and
on another occasion entertained a party including Goldsmith and Garrick
and Reynolds, at his lodgings in Old Bond Street. We can still see the
meeting more distinctly than many that have been swallowed by a few days
of oblivion. They waited for one of the party, Johnson kindly
maintaining that six ought to be kept waiting for one, if the one would
suffer more by the others sitting down than the six by waiting.
Meanwhile Garrick "played round Johnson with a fond vivacity, taking
hold of the breasts of his coat, looking up in his face with a lively
archness," and complimenting him on his good health. Goldsmith strutted
about bragging of his dress, of which Boswell, in the serene
consciousness of superiority to such weakness, thought him seriously
vain. "Let me tell you," said Goldsmith, "when my tailor brought home my
bloom-coloured coat, he said, 'Sir, I have a favour to beg of you; when
anybody asks you who made your clothes, be pleased to mention John
Filby, at the Harrow, Water Lane.'" "Why, sir," said Johnson, "that was
because he knew that the strange colour would attract crowds to gaze at
it, and thus they might hear of him, and see how well he could make a
coat even of so absurd a colour." Mr. Filby has gone the way of all
tailors and bloom-coloured coats, but some of his bills are preserved.
On the day of this dinner he had delivered to Goldsmith a half-dress
suit of ratteen lined with satin, costing twelve guineas, a pair of silk
stocking-breeches for L2 5_s_. and a pair of bloom-coloured ditto for L1
4_s_. 6_d_. The bill, including other items, was paid, it is
satisfactory to add, in February, 1771.

The conversation was chiefly literary. Johnson repeated the concluding
lines of the _Dunciad_; upon which some one (probably Boswell) ventured
to say that they were "too fine for such a poem--a poem on what?" "Why,"
said Johnson, "on dunces! It was worth while being a dunce then. Ah,
sir, hadst _thou_ lived in those days!" Johnson previously uttered a
criticism which has led some people to think that he had a touch of the
dunce in him. He declared that a description of a temple in Congreve's
_Mourning Bride_ was the finest he knew--finer than anything in
Shakspeare. Garrick vainly protested; but Johnson was inexorable. He
compared Congreve to a man who had only ten guineas in the world, but
all in one coin; whereas Shakspeare might have ten thousand separate
guineas. The principle of the criticism is rather curious. "What I mean
is," said Johnson, "that you can show me no passage where there is
simply a description of material objects, without any admixture of moral
notions, which produces such an effect." The description of the night
before Agincourt was rejected because there were men in it; and the
description of Dover Cliff because the boats and the crows "impede yon
fall." They do "not impress your mind at once with the horrible idea of
immense height. The impression is divided; you pass on by computation
from one stage of the tremendous space to another."

Probably most people will think that the passage in question deserves a
very slight fraction of the praise bestowed upon it; but the criticism,
like most of Johnson's, has a meaning which might be worth examining
abstractedly from the special application which shocks the idolaters of
Shakspeare. Presently the party discussed Mrs. Montagu, whose Essay upon
Shakspeare had made some noise. Johnson had a respect for her, caused in
great measure by a sense of her liberality to his friend Miss Williams,
of whom more must be said hereafter. He paid her some tremendous
compliments, observing that some China plates which had belonged to
Queen Elizabeth and to her, had no reason to be ashamed of a possessor
so little inferior to the first. But he had his usual professional
contempt for her amateur performances in literature. Her defence of
Shakspeare against Voltaire did her honour, he admitted, but it would do
nobody else honour. "No, sir, there is no real criticism in it: none
showing the beauty of thought, as formed on the workings of the human
heart." Mrs. Montagu was reported once to have complimented a modern
tragedian, probably Jephson, by saying, "I tremble for Shakspeare."
"When Shakspeare," said Johnson, "has got Jephson for his rival and Mrs.
Montagu for his defender, he is in a poor state indeed." The
conversation went on to a recently published book, _Kames's Elements of
Criticism_, which Johnson praised, whilst Goldsmith said more truly, "It
is easier to write that book than to read it." Johnson went on to speak
of other critics. "There is no great merit," he said, "in telling how
many plays have ghosts in them, and how this ghost is better than that.
You must show how terror is impressed on the human heart. In the
description of night in _Macbeth_ the beetle and the bat detract from
the general idea of darkness--inspissated gloom."

After Boswell's marriage he disappeared for some time from London, and
his correspondence with Johnson dropped, as he says, without coldness,
from pure procrastination. He did not return to London till 1772. In the
spring of that and the following year he renewed his old habits of
intimacy, and inquired into Johnson's opinion upon various subjects
ranging from ghosts to literary criticism. The height to which he had
risen in the doctor's good opinion was marked by several symptoms. He
was asked to dine at Johnson's house upon Easter day, 1773; and observes
that his curiosity was as much gratified as by a previous dinner with
Rousseau in the "wilds of Neufchatel." He was now able to report, to the
amazement of many inquirers, that Johnson's establishment was quite
orderly. The meal consisted of very good soup, a boiled leg of lamb with
spinach, a veal pie, and a rice pudding. A stronger testimony of
good-will was his election, by Johnson's influence, into the Club. It
ought apparently to be said that Johnson forced him upon the Club by
letting it be understood that, till Boswell was admitted, no other
candidate would have a chance. Boswell, however, was, as his proposer
said, a thoroughly "clubable" man, and once a member, his good humour
secured his popularity. On the important evening Boswell dined at
Beauclerk's with his proposer and some other members. The talk turned
upon Goldsmith's merits; and Johnson not only defended his poetry, but
preferred him as a historian to Robertson. Such a judgment could be
explained in Boswell's opinion by nothing but Johnson's dislike to the
Scotch. Once before, when Boswell had mentioned Robertson in order to
meet Johnson's condemnation of Scotch literature in general, Johnson had
evaded him; "Sir, I love Robertson, and I won't talk of his book." On
the present occasion he said that he would give to Robertson the advice
offered by an old college tutor to a pupil; "read over your
compositions, and whenever you meet with a passage which you think
particularly fine, strike it out." A good anecdote of Goldsmith
followed. Johnson had said to him once in the Poet's Corner at
Westminster,--

  Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis.

When they got to Temple Bar Goldsmith pointed to the heads of the
Jacobites upon it and slily suggested,--

  Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur _istis_.

Johnson next pronounced a critical judgment which should be set against
many sins of that kind. He praised the _Pilgrim's Progress_ very warmly,
and suggested that Bunyan had probably read Spenser.

After more talk the gentlemen went to the Club; and poor Boswell
remained trembling with an anxiety which even the claims of Lady Di
Beauclerk's conversation could not dissipate. The welcome news of his
election was brought; and Boswell went to see Burke for the first time,
and to receive a humorous charge from Johnson, pointing out the conduct
expected from him as a good member. Perhaps some hints were given as to
betrayal of confidence. Boswell seems at any rate to have had a certain
reserve in repeating Club talk.

This intimacy with Johnson was about to receive a more public and even
more impressive stamp. The antipathy to Scotland and the Scotch already
noticed was one of Johnson's most notorious crotchets. The origin of the
prejudice was forgotten by Johnson himself, though he was willing to
accept a theory started by old Sheridan that it was resentment for the
betrayal of Charles I. There is, however, nothing surprising in
Johnson's partaking a prejudice common enough from the days of his
youth, when each people supposed itself to have been cheated by the
Union, and Englishmen resented the advent of swarms of needy
adventurers, talking with a strange accent and hanging together with
honourable but vexatious persistence. Johnson was irritated by what was,
after all, a natural defence against English prejudice. He declared that
the Scotch were always ready to lie on each other's behalf. "The Irish,"
he said, "are not in a conspiracy to cheat the world by false
representations of the merits of their countrymen. No, sir, the Irish
are a fair people; they never speak well of one another." There was
another difference. He always expressed a generous resentment against
the tyranny exercised by English rulers over the Irish people. To some
one who defended the restriction of Irish trade for the good of English
merchants, he said, "Sir, you talk the language of a savage. What! sir,
would you prevent any people from feeding themselves, if by any honest
means they can do it?" It was "better to hang or drown people at once,"
than weaken them by unrelenting persecution. He felt some tenderness for
Catholics, especially when oppressed, and a hearty antipathy towards
prosperous Presbyterians. The Lowland Scotch were typified by John Knox,
in regard to whom he expressed a hope, after viewing the ruins of St.
Andrew's, that he was buried "in the highway."

This sturdy British and High Church prejudice did not prevent the worthy
doctor from having many warm friendships with Scotchmen, and helping
many distressed Scotchmen in London. Most of the amanuenses employed for
his _Dictionary_ were Scotch. But he nourished the prejudice the more as
giving an excellent pretext for many keen gibes. "Scotch learning," he
said, for example, "is like bread in a besieged town. Every man gets a
mouthful, but no man a bellyful." Once Strahan said in answer to some
abusive remarks, "Well, sir, God made Scotland." "Certainly," replied
Johnson, "but we must always remember that He made it for Scotchmen; and
comparisons are odious, Mr. Strahan, but God made hell."

Boswell, therefore, had reason to feel both triumph and alarm when he
induced the great man to accompany him in a Scotch tour. Boswell's
journal of the tour appeared soon after Johnson's death. Johnson himself
wrote an account of it, which is not without interest, though it is in
his dignified style, which does not condescend to Boswellian touches of
character. In 1773 the Scotch Highlands were still a little known
region, justifying a book descriptive of manners and customs, and
touching upon antiquities now the commonplaces of innumerable guide
books. Scott was still an infant, and the day of enthusiasm, real or
affected, for mountain scenery had not yet dawned. Neither of the
travellers, as Boswell remarks, cared much for "rural beauties." Johnson
says quaintly on the shores of Loch Ness, "It will very readily occur
that this uniformity of barrenness can afford very little amusement to
the traveller; that it is easy to sit at home and conceive rocks and
heath and waterfalls; and that these journeys are useless labours, which
neither impregnate the imagination nor enlarge the understanding." And
though he shortly afterwards sits down on a bank "such as a writer of
romance might have delighted to feign," and there conceived the thought
of his book, he does not seem to have felt much enthusiasm. He checked
Boswell for describing a hill as "immense," and told him that it was
only a "considerable protuberance." Indeed it is not surprising if he
sometimes grew weary in long rides upon Highland ponies, or if, when
weatherbound in a remote village in Skye, he declared that this was a
"waste of life."

On the whole, however, Johnson bore his fatigues well, preserved his
temper, and made sensible remarks upon men and things. The pair started
from Edinburgh in the middle of August, 1773; they went north along the
eastern coast, through St. Andrew's, Aberdeen, Banff, Fort George, and
Inverness. There they took to horses, rode to Glenelg, and took boat for
Skye, where they landed on the 2nd of September. They visited Rothsay,
Col, Mull, and Iona, and after some dangerous sailing got to the
mainland at Oban on October 2nd. Thence they proceeded by Inverary and
Loch Lomond to Glasgow; and after paying a visit to Boswell's paternal
mansion at Auchinleck in Ayrshire, returned to Edinburgh in November. It
were too long to narrate their adventures at length, or to describe in
detail how Johnson grieved over traces of the iconoclastic zeal of
Knox's disciples, seriously investigated stories of second-sight,
cross-examined and brow-beat credulous believers in the authenticity of
_Ossian_, and felt his piety grow warm among the ruins of Iona. Once or
twice, when the temper of the travellers was tried by the various
worries incident to their position, poor Boswell came in for some severe
blows. But he was happy, feeling, as he remarks, like a dog who has run
away with a large piece of meat, and is devouring it peacefully in a
corner by himself. Boswell's spirits were irrepressible. On hearing a
drum beat for dinner at Fort George, he says, with a Pepys-like touch,
"I for a little while fancied myself a military man, and it pleased me."
He got scandalously drunk on one occasion, and showed reprehensible
levity on others. He bored Johnson by inquiring too curiously into his
reasons for not wearing a nightcap--a subject which seems to have
interested him profoundly; he permitted himself to say in his journal
that he was so much pleased with some pretty ladies' maids at the Duke
of Argyll's, that he felt he could "have been a knight-errant for them,"
and his "venerable fellow-traveller" read the passage without censuring
his levity. The great man himself could be equally volatile. "I _have
often thought_," he observed one day, to Boswell's amusement, "that if I
kept a seraglio, the ladies should all wear linen gowns"--as more
cleanly. The pair agreed in trying to stimulate the feudal zeal of
various Highland chiefs with whom they came in contact, and who were
unreasonable enough to show a hankering after the luxuries of
civilization.

Though Johnson seems to have been generally on his best behaviour, he
had a rough encounter or two with some of the more civilized natives.
Boswell piloted him safely through a visit to Lord Monboddo, a man of
real ability, though the proprietor of crochets as eccentric as
Johnson's, and consequently divided from him by strong mutual
prejudices. At Auchinleck he was less fortunate. The old laird, who was
the staunchest of Whigs, had not relished his son's hero-worship. "There
is nae hope for Jamie, mon; Jamie is gaen clean gyte. What do you think,
mon? He's done wi' Paoli--he's off wi' the land-louping scoundrel of a
Corsican, and who's tail do you think he's pinned himself to now, mon?"
"Here," says Sir Walter Scott, the authority for the story, "the old
judge summoned up a sneer of most sovereign contempt. 'A dominie,
mon--an auld dominie--he keeped a schule and caauld it an acaademy.'"
The two managed to keep the peace till, one day during Johnson's visit,
they got upon Oliver Cromwell. Boswell suppresses the scene with obvious
reluctance, his openness being checked for once by filial respect. Scott
has fortunately preserved the climax of Old Boswell's argument. "What
had Cromwell done for his country?" asked Johnson. "God, doctor, he gart
Kings ken that they had a _lith_ in their necks" retorted the laird, in
a phrase worthy of Mr. Carlyle himself. Scott reports one other scene,
at which respectable commentators, like Croker, hold up their hands in
horror. Should we regret or rejoice to say that it involves an obvious
inaccuracy? The authority, however, is too good to allow us to suppose
that it was without some foundation. Adam Smith, it is said, met Johnson
at Glasgow and had an altercation with him about the well-known account
of Hume's death. As Hume did not die till three years later, there must
be some error in this. The dispute, however, whatever its date or
subject, ended by Johnson saying to Smith, "_You lie_." "And what did
you reply?" was asked of Smith. "I said, 'you are a son of a -----.'"
"On such terms," says Scott, "did these two great moralists meet and
part, and such was the classical dialogue between these two great
teachers of morality."

In the year 1774 Boswell found it expedient to atone for his long
absence in the previous year by staying at home. Johnson managed to
complete his account of the _Scotch Tour_, which was published at the
end of the year. Among other consequences was a violent controversy with
the lovers of _Ossian_. Johnson was a thorough sceptic as to the
authenticity of the book. His scepticism did not repose upon the
philological or antiquarian reasonings, which would be applicable in the
controversy from internal evidence. It was to some extent the expression
of a general incredulity which astonished his friends, especially when
contrasted with his tenderness for many puerile superstitions. He could
scarcely be induced to admit the truth of any narrative which struck
him as odd, and it was long, for example, before he would believe even
in the Lisbon earthquake. Yet he seriously discussed the truth of
second-sight; he carefully investigated the Cock-lane ghost--a goblin
who anticipated some of the modern phenomena of so-called
"spiritualism," and with almost equal absurdity; he told stories to
Boswell about a "shadowy being" which had once been seen by Cave, and
declared that he had once heard his mother call "Sam" when he was at
Oxford and she at Lichfield. The apparent inconsistency was in truth
natural enough. Any man who clings with unreasonable pertinacity to the
prejudices of his childhood, must be alternately credulous and sceptical
in excess. In both cases, he judges by his fancies in defiance of
evidence; and accepts and rejects according to his likes and dislikes,
instead of his estimates of logical proof. _Ossian_ would be naturally
offensive to Johnson, as one of the earliest and most remarkable
manifestations of that growing taste for what was called "Nature," as
opposed to civilization, of which Rousseau was the great mouthpiece.
Nobody more heartily despised this form of "cant" than Johnson. A man
who utterly despised the scenery of the Hebrides as compared with
Greenwich Park or Charing Cross, would hardly take kindly to the
Ossianesque version of the mountain passion. The book struck him as
sheer rubbish. I have already quoted the retort about "many men, many
women, and many children." "A man," he said, on another occasion, "might
write such stuff for ever, if he would abandon his mind to it."

The precise point, however, upon which he rested his case, was the
tangible one of the inability of Macpherson to produce the manuscripts
of which he had affirmed the existence. MacPherson wrote a furious
letter to Johnson, of which the purport can only be inferred from
Johnson's smashing retort,--

"Mr. James MacPherson, I have received your foolish and impudent letter.
Any violence offered me I shall do my best to repel; and what I cannot
do for myself, the law shall do for me. I hope I shall never be deterred
from detecting what I think a cheat by the menaces of a ruffian.

"What would you have me retract? I thought your book an imposture: I
think it an imposture still. For this opinion I have given my reasons to
the public, which I here dare you to refute. Your rage I defy. Your
abilities, since your _Homer_, are not so formidable; and what I hear of
your morals inclines me to pay regard not to what you shall say, but to
what you shall prove. You may print this if you will.

"SAM. JOHNSON."

And so laying in a tremendous cudgel, the old gentleman (he was now
sixty-six) awaited the assault, which, however, was not delivered.

In 1775 Boswell again came to London, and renewed some of the Scotch
discussions. He attended a meeting of the Literary Club, and found the
members disposed to laugh at Johnson's tenderness to the stories about
second-sight. Boswell heroically avowed his own belief. "The evidence,"
he said, "is enough for me, though not for his great mind. What will not
fill a quart bottle, will fill a pint bottle. I am filled with belief."
"Are you?" said Colman; "then cork it up."

It was during this and the next few years that Boswell laboured most
successfully in gathering materials for his book. In 1777 he only met
Johnson in the country. In 1779, for some unexplained reason, he was
lazy in making notes; in 1780 and 1781 he was absent from London; and in
the following year, Johnson was visibly declining. The tenour of
Johnson's life was interrupted during this period by no remarkable
incidents, and his literary activity was not great, although the
composition of the _Lives of the Poets_ falls between 1777 and 1780. His
mind, however, as represented by his talk, was in full vigour. I will
take in order of time a few of the passages recorded by Boswell, which
may serve for various reasons to afford the best illustration of his
character. Yet it may be worth while once more to repeat the warning
that such fragments moved from their context must lose most of their
charm.

On March 26th (1775), Boswell met Johnson at the house of the publisher,
Strahan. Strahan reminded Johnson of a characteristic remark which he
had formerly made, that there are "few ways in which a man can be more
innocently employed than in getting money." On another occasion Johnson
observed with equal truth, if less originality, that cultivating
kindness was an important part of life, as well as money-making. Johnson
then asked to see a country lad whom he had recommended to Strahan as an
apprentice. He asked for five guineas on account, that he might give one
to the boy. "Nay, if a man recommends a boy and does nothing for him, it
is sad work." A "little, thick short-legged boy" was accordingly brought
into the courtyard, whither Johnson and Boswell descended, and the
lexicographer bending himself down administered some good advice to the
awestruck lad with "slow and sonorous solemnity," ending by the
presentation of the guinea.

In the evening the pair formed part of a corps of party "wits," led by
Sir Joshua Reynolds, to the benefit of Mrs. Abingdon, who had been a
frequent model of the painter. Johnson praised Garrick's prologues, and
Boswell kindly reported the eulogy to Garrick, with whom he supped at
Beauclerk's. Garrick treated him to a mimicry of Johnson, repeating,
"with pauses and half-whistling," the lines,--

  Os homini sublime dedit--coelumque tueri
  Jussit--et erectos ad sidera tollere vultus:

looking downwards, and at the end touching the ground with a contorted
gesticulation. Garrick was generally jealous of Johnson's light opinion
of him, and used to take off his old master, saying, "Davy has some
convivial pleasantry about him, but 'tis a futile fellow."

Next day, at Thrales', Johnson fell foul of Gray, one of his pet
aversions. Boswell denied that Gray was dull in poetry. "Sir," replied
Johnson, "he was dull in company, dull in his closet, dull everywhere.
He was dull in a new way, and that made people think him great. He was a
mechanical poet." He proceeded to say that there were only two good
stanzas in the _Elegy_. Johnson's criticism was perverse; but if we were
to collect a few of the judgments passed by contemporaries upon each
other, it would be scarcely exceptional in its want of appreciation. It
is rather odd to remark that Gray was generally condemned for
obscurity--a charge which seems strangely out of place when he is
measured by more recent standards.

A day or two afterwards some one rallied Johnson on his appearance at
Mrs. Abingdon's benefit. "Why did you go?" he asked. "Did you see?" "No,
sir." "Did you hear?" "No, sir." "Why, then, sir, did you go?"
"Because, sir, she is a favourite of the public; and when the public
cares the thousandth part for you that it does for her, I will go to
your benefit too."

The day after, Boswell won a bet from Lady Di Beauclerk by venturing to
ask Johnson what he did with the orange-peel which he used to pocket.
Johnson received the question amicably, but did not clear the mystery.
"Then," said Boswell, "the world must be left in the dark. It must be
said, he scraped them, and he let them dry, but what he did with them
next he never could be prevailed upon to tell." "Nay, sir," replied
Johnson, "you should say it more emphatically--he could not be prevailed
upon, even by his dearest friends to tell."

This year Johnson received the degree of LL.D. from Oxford. He had
previously (in 1765) received the same honour from Dublin. It is
remarkable, however, that familiar as the title has become, Johnson
called himself plain Mr. to the end of his days, and was generally so
called by his intimates. On April 2nd, at a dinner at Hoole's, Johnson
made another assault upon Gray and Mason. When Boswell said that there
were good passages in Mason's _Elfrida_, he conceded that there were
"now and then some good imitations of Milton's bad manner." After some
more talk, Boswell spoke of the cheerfulness of Fleet Street. "Why,
sir," said Johnson, "Fleet Street has a very animated appearance, but I
think that the full tide of human existence is at Charing Cross." He
added a story of an eminent tallow-chandler who had made a fortune in
London, and was foolish enough to retire to the country. He grew so
tired of his retreat, that he begged to know the melting-days of his
successor, that he might be present at the operation.

On April 7th, they dined at a tavern, where the talk turned upon
_Ossian_. Some one mentioned as an objection to its authenticity that no
mention of wolves occurred in it. Johnson fell into a reverie upon wild
beasts, and, whilst Reynolds and Langton were discussing something, he
broke out, "Pennant tells of bears." What Pennant told is unknown. The
company continued to talk, whilst Johnson continued his monologue, the
word "bear" occurring at intervals, like a word in a catch. At last,
when a pause came, he was going on: "We are told that the black bear is
innocent, but I should not like to trust myself with him." Gibbon
muttered in a low tone, "I should not like to trust myself with
_you_"--a prudent resolution, says honest Boswell who hated Gibbon, if
it referred to a competition of abilities.

The talk went on to patriotism, and Johnson laid down an apophthegm, at
"which many will start," many people, in fact, having little sense of
humour. Such persons may be reminded for their comfort that at this
period patriot had a technical meaning. "Patriotism is the last refuge
of a scoundrel." On the 10th of April, he laid down another dogma,
calculated to offend the weaker brethren. He defended Pope's line--

  Man never _is_ but always _to be_ blest.

And being asked if man did not sometimes enjoy a momentary happiness,
replied, "Never, but when he is drunk." It would be useless to defend
these and other such utterances to any one who cannot enjoy them without
defence.

On April 11th, the pair went in Reynolds's coach to dine with Cambridge,
at Twickenham. Johnson was in high spirits. He remarked as they drove
down, upon the rarity of good humour in life. One friend mentioned by
Boswell was, he said, _acid_, and another _muddy_. At last, stretching
himself and turning with complacency, he observed, "I look upon myself
as a good-humoured fellow"--a bit of self-esteem against which Boswell
protested. Johnson, he admitted, was good-natured; but was too irascible
and impatient to be good-humoured. On reaching Cambridge's house,
Johnson ran to look at the books. "Mr. Johnson," said Cambridge
politely, "I am going with your pardon to accuse myself, for I have the
same custom which I perceive you have. But it seems odd that one should
have such a desire to look at the backs of books." "Sir," replied
Johnson, wheeling about at the words, "the reason is very plain.
Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where
we can find information upon it. When we inquire into any subject, the
first thing we have to do is to know what books have treated of it. This
leads us to look at catalogues, and the backs of books in libraries."

A pleasant talk followed. Johnson denied the value attributed to
historical reading, on the ground that we know very little except a few
facts and dates. All the colouring, he said, was conjectural. Boswell
chuckles over the reflection that Gibbon, who was present, did not take
up the cudgels for his favourite study, though the first-fruits of his
labours were to appear in the following year. "Probably he did not like
to trust himself with Johnson."

The conversation presently turned upon the _Beggar's Opera_, and Johnson
sensibly refused to believe that any man had been made a rogue by seeing
it. Yet the moralist felt bound to utter some condemnation of such a
performance, and at last, amidst the smothered amusement of the company,
collected himself to give a heavy stroke: "there is in it," he said,
"such a _labefactation_ of all principles as may he dangerous to
morality."

A discussion followed as to whether Sheridan was right for refusing to
allow his wife to continue as a public singer. Johnson defended him
"with all the high spirit of a Roman senator." "He resolved wisely and
nobly, to be sure. He is a brave man. Would not a gentleman be disgraced
by having his wife sing publicly for hire? No, sir, there can be no
doubt here. I know not if I should not prepare myself for a public
singer as readily as let my wife be one."

The stout old supporter of social authority went on to denounce the
politics of the day. He asserted that politics had come to mean nothing
but the art of rising in the world. He contrasted the absence of any
principles with the state of the national mind during the stormy days of
the seventeenth century. This gives the pith of Johnston's political
prejudices. He hated Whigs blindly from his cradle; but he justified his
hatred on the ground that they were now all "bottomless Whigs," that is
to say, that pierce where you would, you came upon no definite creed,
but only upon hollow formulae, intended as a cloak for private interest.
If Burke and one or two of his friends be excepted, the remark had but
too much justice.

In 1776, Boswell found Johnson rejoicing in the prospect of a journey to
Italy with the Thrales. Before starting he was to take a trip to the
country, in which Boswell agreed to join. Boswell gathered up various
bits of advice before their departure. One seems to have commended
itself to him as specially available for practice. "A man who had been
drinking freely," said the moralist, "should never go into a new
company. He would probably strike them as ridiculous, though he might
be in unison with those who had been drinking with him." Johnson
propounded another favourite theory. "A ship," he said, "was worse than
a gaol. There is in a gaol better air, better company, better
conveniency of every kind; and a ship has the additional disadvantage of
being in danger."

On March 19th, they went by coach to the Angel at Oxford; and next
morning visited the Master of University College, who chose with Boswell
to act in opposition to a very sound bit of advice given by Johnson soon
afterwards--perhaps with some reference to the proceeding. "Never speak
of a man in his own presence; it is always indelicate and may be
offensive." The two, however, discussed Johnson without reserve. The
Master said that he would have given Johnson a hundred pounds for a
discourse on the British Constitution; and Boswell suggested that
Johnson should write two volumes of no great bulk upon Church and State,
which should comprise the whole substance of the argument. "He should
erect a fort on the confines of each." Johnson was not unnaturally
displeased with the dialogue, and growled out, "Why should I be always
writing?"

Presently, they went to see Dr. Adams, the doctor's old friend, who had
been answering Hume. Boswell, who had done his best to court the
acquaintance of Voltaire, Rousseau, Wilkes, and Hume himself, felt it
desirable to reprove Adams for having met Hume with civility. He aired
his admirable sentiments in a long speech, observing upon the connexion
between theory and practice, and remarking, by way of practical
application, that, if an infidel were at once vain and ugly, he might be
compared to "Cicero's beautiful image of Virtue"--which would, as he
seems to think, be a crushing retort. Boswell always delighted in
fighting with his gigantic backer close behind him. Johnson, as he had
doubtless expected, chimed in with the argument. "You should do your
best," said Johnson, "to diminish the authority, as well as dispute the
arguments of your adversary, because most people are biased more by
personal respect than by reasoning." "You would not jostle a
chimney-sweeper," said Adams. "Yes," replied Johnson, "if it were
necessary to jostle him down."

The pair proceeded by post-chaise past Blenheim, and dined at a good inn
at Chapelhouse. Johnston boasted of the superiority, long since vanished
if it ever existed, of English to French inns, and quoted with great
emotion Shenstone's lines--

  Whoe'er has travell'd life's dull round,
    Where'er his stages may have been,
  Must sigh to think he still has found
    The warmest welcome at an inn.

As they drove along rapidly in the post-chaise, he exclaimed, "Life has
not many better things than this." On another occasion he said that he
should like to spend his life driving briskly in a post-chaise with a
pretty woman, clever enough to add to the conversation. The pleasure was
partly owing to the fact that his deafness was less troublesome in a
carriage. But he admitted that there were drawbacks even to this
pleasure. Boswell asked him whether he would not add a post-chaise
journey to the other sole cause of happiness--namely, drunkenness. "No,
sir," said Johnson, "you are driving rapidly _from_ something or _to_
something."

They went to Birmingham, where Boswell pumped Hector about Johnson's
early days, and saw the works of Boulton, Watt's partner, who said to
him, "I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have--_power_."
Thence they went to Lichfield, and met more of the rapidly thinning
circle of Johnson's oldest friends. Here Boswell was a little
scandalized by Johnson's warm exclamation on opening a letter--"One of
the most dreadful things that has happened in my time!" This turned out
to be the death of Thrale's only son. Boswell thought the phrase too big
for the event, and was some time before he could feel a proper concern.
He was, however, "curious to observe how Dr. Johnson would be affected,"
and was again a little scandalized by the reply to his consolatory
remark that the Thrales still had daughters. "Sir," said Johnson, "don't
you know how you yourself think? Sir, he wishes to propagate his name."
The great man was actually putting the family sentiment of a brewer in
the same category with the sentiments of the heir of Auchinleck.
Johnson, however, calmed down, but resolved to hurry back to London.
They stayed a night at Taylor's, who remarked that he had fought a good
many battles for a physician, one of their common friends. "But you
should consider, sir," said Johnson, "that by every one of your
victories he is a loser; for every man of whom you get the better will
be very angry, and resolve not to employ him, whereas if people get the
better of you in argument about him, they will think 'We'll send for Dr.
---- nevertheless!'"

It was after their return to London that Boswell won the greatest
triumph of his friendship. He carried through a negotiation, to which,
as Burke pleasantly said, there was nothing equal in the whole history
of the _corps diplomatique_. At some moment of enthusiasm it had
occurred to him to bring Johnson into company with Wilkes. The infidel
demagogue was probably in the mind of the Tory High Churchman, when he
threw out that pleasant little apophthegm about patriotism. To bring
together two such opposites without provoking a collision would be the
crowning triumph of Boswell's curiosity. He was ready to run all hazards
as a chemist might try some new experiment at the risk of a destructive
explosion; but being resolved, he took every precaution with admirable
foresight.

Boswell had been invited by the Dillys, well-known booksellers of the
day, to meet Wilkes. "Let us have Johnson," suggested the gallant
Boswell. "Not for the world!" exclaimed Dilly. But, on Boswell's
undertaking the negotiation, he consented to the experiment. Boswell
went off to Johnson and politely invited him in Dilly's name. "I will
wait upon him," said Johnson. "Provided, sir, I suppose," said the
diplomatic Boswell, "that the company which he is to have is agreeable
to you." "What do you mean, sir?" exclaimed Johnson. "What do you take
me for? Do you think I am so ignorant of the world as to prescribe to a
gentleman what company he is to have at his table?" Boswell worked the
point a little farther, till, by judicious manipulation, he had got
Johnson to commit himself to meeting anybody--even Jack Wilkes, to make
a wild hypothesis--at the Dillys' table. Boswell retired, hoping to
think that he had fixed the discussion in Johnson's mind.

The great day arrived, and Boswell, like a consummate general who leaves
nothing to chance, went himself to fetch Johnson to the dinner. The
great man had forgotten the engagement, and was "buffeting his books" in
a dirty shirt and amidst clouds of dust. When reminded of his promise,
he said that he had ordered dinner at home with Mrs. Williams.
Entreaties of the warmest kind from Boswell softened the peevish old
lady, to whose pleasure Johnson had referred him. Boswell flew back,
announced Mrs. Williams's consent, and Johnson roared, "Frank, a clean
shirt!" and was soon in a hackney-coach. Boswell rejoiced like a
"fortune-hunter who has got an heiress into a post-chaise with him to
set out for Gretna Green." Yet the joy was with trembling. Arrived at
Dillys', Johnson found himself amongst strangers, and Boswell watched
anxiously from a corner. "Who is that gentleman?" whispered Johnson to
Dilly. "Mr. Arthur Lee." Johnson whistled "too-too-too" doubtfully, for
Lee was a patriot and an American. "And who is the gentleman in lace?"
"Mr. Wilkes, sir." Johnson subsided into a window-seat and fixed his eye
on a book. He was fairly in the toils. His reproof of Boswell was recent
enough to prevent him from exhibiting his displeasure, and he resolved
to restrain himself.

At dinner Wilkes, placed next to Johnson, took up his part in the
performance. He pacified the sturdy moralist by delicate attentions to
his needs. He helped him carefully to some fine veal. "Pray give me
leave, sir; it is better here--a little of the brown--some fat, sir--a
little of the stuffing--some gravy--let me have the pleasure of giving
you some butter. Allow me to recommend a squeeze of this orange; or the
lemon, perhaps, may have more zest." "Sir, sir," cried Johnson, "I am
obliged to you, sir," bowing and turning to him, with a look for some
time of "surly virtue," and soon of complacency.

Gradually the conversation became cordial. Johnson told of the
fascination exercised by Foote, who, like Wilkes, had succeeded in
pleasing him against his will. Foote once took to selling beer, and it
was so bad that the servants of Fitzherbert, one of his customers,
resolved to protest. They chose a little black boy to carry their
remonstrance; but the boy waited at table one day when Foote was
present, and returning to his companions, said, "This is the finest man
I have ever seen. I will not deliver your message; I will drink his
beer." From Foote the transition was easy to Garrick, whom Johnson, as
usual, defended against the attacks of others. He maintained that
Garrick's reputation for avarice, though unfounded, had been rather
useful than otherwise. "You despise a man for avarice, but you do not
hate him." The clamour would have been more effectual, had it been
directed against his living with splendour too great for a player.
Johnson went on to speak of the difficulty of getting biographical
information. When he had wished to write a life of Dryden, he applied to
two living men who remembered him. One could only tell him that Dryden
had a chair by the fire at Will's Coffee-house in winter, which was
moved to the balcony in summer. The other (Cibber) could only report
that he remembered Dryden as a "decent old man, arbiter of critical
disputes at Will's."

Johnson and Wilkes had one point in common--a vigorous prejudice against
the Scotch, and upon this topic they cracked their jokes in friendly
emulation. When they met upon a later occasion (1781), they still
pursued this inexhaustible subject. Wilkes told how a privateer had
completely plundered seven Scotch islands, and re-embarked with three
and sixpence. Johnson now remarked in answer to somebody who said "Poor
old England is lost!" "Sir, it is not so much to be lamented that old
England is lost, as that the Scotch have found it." "You must know,
sir," he said to Wilkes, "that I lately took my friend Boswell and
showed him genuine civilized life in an English provincial town. I
turned him loose at Lichfield, that he might see for once real civility,
for you know he lives among savages in Scotland and among rakes in
London." "Except," said Wilkes, "when he is with grave, sober, decent
people like you and me." "And we ashamed of him," added Johnson,
smiling.

Boswell had to bear some jokes against himself and his countrymen from
the pair; but he had triumphed, and rejoiced greatly when he went home
with Johnson, and heard the great man speak of his pleasant dinner to
Mrs. Williams. Johnson seems to have been permanently reconciled to his
foe. "Did we not hear so much said of Jack Wilkes," he remarked next
year, "we should think more highly of his conversation. Jack has a great
variety of talk, Jack is a scholar, and Jack has the manners of a
gentleman. But, after hearing his name sounded from pole to pole as the
phoenix of convivial felicity, we are disappointed in his company. He
has always been at _me_, but I would do Jack a kindness rather than not.
The contest is now over."

In fact, Wilkes had ceased to play any part in public life. When Johnson
met him next (in 1781) they joked about such dangerous topics as some of
Wilkes's political performances. Johnson sent him a copy of the _Lives_,
and they were seen conversing _tete-a-tete_ in confidential whispers
about George II. and the King of Prussia. To Boswell's mind it suggested
the happy days when the lion should lie down with the kid, or, as Dr.
Barnard suggested, the goat.

In the year 1777 Johnson began the _Lives of the Poets_, in compliance
with a request from the booksellers, who wished for prefaces to a large
collection of English poetry. Johnson asked for this work the extremely
modest sum of 200 guineas, when he might easily, according to Malone,
have received 1000 or 1500. He did not meet Boswell till September, when
they spent ten days together at Dr. Taylor's. The subject which
specially interested Boswell at this time was the fate of the unlucky
Dr. Dodd, hanged for forgery in the previous June. Dodd seems to have
been a worthless charlatan of the popular preacher variety. His crime
would not in our days have been thought worthy of so severe a
punishment; but his contemporaries were less shocked by the fact of
death being inflicted for such a fault, than by the fact of its being
inflicted on a clergyman. Johnson exerted himself to procure a remission
of the sentence by writing various letters and petitions on Dodd's
behalf. He seems to have been deeply moved by the man's appeal, and
could "not bear the thought" that any negligence of his should lead to
the death of a fellow-creature; but he said that if he had himself been
in authority he would have signed the death-warrant, and for the man
himself, he had as little respect as might be. He said, indeed, that
Dodd was right in not joining in the "cant" about leaving a wretched
world. "No, no," said the poor rogue, "it has been a very agreeable
world to me." Dodd had allowed to pass for his own one of the papers
composed for him by Johnson, and the Doctor was not quite pleased. When,
however, Seward expressed a doubt as to Dodd's power of writing so
forcibly, Johnson felt bound not to expose him. "Why should you think
so? Depend upon it, sir, when any man knows he is to be hanged in a
fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." On another occasion,
Johnson expressed a doubt himself as to whether Dodd had really
composed a certain prayer on the night before his execution. "Sir, do
you think that a man the night before he is to be hanged cares for the
succession of the royal family? Though he _may_ have composed this
prayer then. A man who has been canting all his life may cant to the
last; and yet a man who has been refused a pardon after so much
petitioning, would hardly be praying thus fervently for the king."

The last day at Taylor's was characteristic. Johnson was very cordial to
his disciple, and Boswell fancied that he could defend his master at
"the point of his sword." "My regard for you," said Johnson, "is greater
almost than I have words to express, but I do not choose to be always
repeating it. Write it down in the first leaf of your pocket-book, and
never doubt of it again." They became sentimental, and talked of the
misery of human life. Boswell spoke of the pleasures of society. "Alas,
sir," replied Johnson, like a true pessimist, "these are only struggles
for happiness!" He felt exhilarated, he said, when he first went to
Ranelagh, but he changed to the mood of Xerxes weeping at the sight of
his army. "It went to my heart to consider that there was not one in all
that brilliant circle that was not afraid to go home and think; but that
the thoughts of each individual would be distressing when alone." Some
years before he had gone with Boswell to the Pantheon and taken a more
cheerful view. When Boswell doubted whether there were many happy people
present, he said, "Yes, sir, there are many happy people here. There are
many people here who are watching hundreds, and who think hundreds are
watching them." The more permanent feeling was that which he expressed
in the "serene autumn night" in Taylor's garden. He was willing,
however, to talk calmly about eternal punishment, and to admit the
possibility of a "mitigated interpretation."

After supper he dictated to Boswell an argument in favour of the negro
who was then claiming his liberty in Scotland. He hated slavery with a
zeal which the excellent Boswell thought to be "without knowledge;" and
on one occasion gave as a toast to some "very grave men" at Oxford,
"Here's to the next insurrection of negroes in the West Indies." The
hatred was combined with as hearty a dislike for American independence.
"How is it," he said, "that we always hear the loudest yelps for liberty
amongst the drivers of negroes?" The harmony of the evening was
unluckily spoilt by an explosion of this prejudice. Boswell undertook
the defence of the colonists, and the discussion became so fierce that
though Johnson had expressed a willingness to sit up all night with him,
they were glad to part after an hour or two, and go to bed.

In 1778, Boswell came to London and found Johnson absorbed, to an extent
which apparently excited his jealousy, by his intimacy with the Thrales.
They had, however, several agreeable meetings. One was at the club, and
Boswell's report of the conversation is the fullest that we have of any
of its meetings. A certain reserve is indicated by his using initials
for the interlocutors, of whom, however, one can be easily identified as
Burke. The talk began by a discussion of an antique statue, said to be
the dog of Alcibiades, and valued at 1000_l_. Burke said that the
representation of no animal could be worth so much. Johnson, whose taste
for art was a vanishing quantity, said that the value was proportional
to the difficulty. A statue, as he argued on another occasion, would be
worth nothing if it were cut out of a carrot. Everything, he now said,
was valuable which "enlarged the sphere of human powers." The first man
who balanced a straw upon his nose, or rode upon three horses at once,
deserved the applause of mankind; and so statues of animals should be
preserved as a proof of dexterity, though men should not continue such
fruitless labours.

The conversation became more instructive under the guidance of Burke. He
maintained what seemed to his hearers a paradox, though it would be
interesting to hear his arguments from some profounder economist than
Boswell, that a country would be made more populous by emigration.
"There are bulls enough in Ireland," he remarked incidentally in the
course of the argument. "So, sir, I should think from your argument,"
said Johnson, for once condescending to an irresistible pun. It is
recorded, too, that he once made a bull himself, observing that a horse
was so slow that when it went up hill, it stood still. If he now failed
to appreciate Burke's argument, he made one good remark. Another speaker
said that unhealthy countries were the most populous. "Countries which
are the most populous," replied Johnson, "have the most destructive
diseases. That is the true state of the proposition;" and indeed, the
remark applies to the case of emigration.

A discussion then took place as to whether it would be worth while for
Burke to take so much trouble with speeches which never decided a vote.
Burke replied that a speech, though it did not gain one vote, would have
an influence, and maintained that the House of Commons was not wholly
corrupt. "We are all more or less governed by interest," was Johnson's
comment. "But interest will not do everything. In a case which admits of
doubt, we try to think on the side which is for our interest, and
generally bring ourselves to act accordingly. But the subject must admit
of diversity of colouring; it must receive a colour on that side. In the
House of Commons there are members enough who will not vote what is
grossly absurd and unjust. No, sir, there must always be right enough,
or appearance of right, to keep wrong in countenance." After some
deviations, the conversation returned to this point. Johnson and Burke
agreed on a characteristic statement. Burke said that from his
experience he had learnt to think better of mankind. "From my
experience," replied Johnson, "I have found them worse on commercial
dealings, more disposed to cheat than I had any notion of; but more
disposed to do one another good than I had conceived." "Less just, and
more beneficent," as another speaker suggested. Johnson proceeded to say
that considering the pressure of want, it was wonderful that men would
do so much for each other. The greatest liar is said to speak more truth
than falsehood, and perhaps the worst man might do more good than not.
But when Boswell suggested that perhaps experience might increase our
estimate of human happiness, Johnson returned to his habitual pessimism.
"No, sir, the more we inquire, the more we shall find men less happy."
The talk soon wandered off into a disquisition upon the folly of
deliberately testing the strength of our friend's affection.

The evening ended by Johnson accepting a commission to write to a friend
who had given to the Club a hogshead of claret, and to request another,
with "a happy ambiguity of expression," in the hopes that it might also
be a present.

Some days afterwards, another conversation took place, which has a
certain celebrity in Boswellian literature. The scene was at Dilly's,
and the guests included Miss Seward and Mrs. Knowles, a well-known
Quaker Lady. Before dinner Johnson seized upon a book which he kept in
his lap during dinner, wrapped up in the table-cloth. His attention was
not distracted from the various business of the hour, but he hit upon a
topic which happily combined the two appropriate veins of thought. He
boasted that he would write a cookery-book upon philosophical
principles; and declared in opposition to Miss Seward that such a task
was beyond the sphere of woman. Perhaps this led to a discussion upon
the privileges of men, in which Johnson put down Mrs. Knowles, who had
some hankering for women's rights, by the Shakspearian maxim that if two
men ride on a horse, one must ride behind. Driven from her position in
this world, poor Mrs. Knowles hoped that sexes might be equal in the
next. Boswell reproved her by the remark already quoted, that men might
as well expect to be equal to angels. He enforces this view by an
illustration suggested by the "Rev. Mr. Brown of Utrecht," who had
observed that a great or small glass might be equally full, though not
holding equal quantities. Mr. Brown intended this for a confutation of
Hume, who has said that a little Miss, dressed for a ball, may be as
happy as an orator who has won some triumphant success.[1]

[Footnote 1: Boswell remarks as a curious coincidence that the same
illustration had been used by a Dr. King, a dissenting minister.
Doubtless it has been used often enough. For one instance see _Donne's
Sermons_ (Alford's Edition), vol. i., p. 5.]

The conversation thus took a theological turn, and Mrs. Knowles was
fortunate enough to win Johnson's high approval. He defended a doctrine
maintained by Soame Jenyns, that friendship is a Christian virtue. Mrs.
Knowles remarked that Jesus had twelve disciples, but there was _one_
whom he _loved_. Johnson, "with eyes sparkling benignantly," exclaimed,
"Very well indeed, madam; you have said very well!"

So far all had gone smoothly; but here, for some inexplicable reason,
Johnson burst into a sudden fury against the American rebels, whom he
described as "rascals, robbers, pirates," and roared out a tremendous
volley, which might almost have been audible across the Atlantic.
Boswell sat and trembled, but gradually diverted the sage to less
exciting topics. The name of Jonathan Edwards suggested a discussion
upon free will and necessity, upon which poor Boswell was much given to
worry himself. Some time afterwards Johnson wrote to him, in answer to
one of his lamentations: "I hoped you had got rid of all this hypocrisy
of misery. What have you to do with liberty and necessity? Or what more
than to hold your tongue about it?" Boswell could never take this
sensible advice; but he got little comfort from his oracle. "We know
that we are all free, and there's an end on't," was his statement on one
occasion, and now he could only say, "All theory is against the freedom
of the will, and all experience for it."

Some familiar topics followed, which play a great part in Boswell's
reports. Among the favourite topics of the sentimentalists of the day
was the denunciation of "luxury," and of civilized life in general.
There was a disposition to find in the South Sea savages or American
Indians an embodiment of the fancied state of nature. Johnson heartily
despised the affectation. He was told of an American woman who had to be
bound in order to keep her from savage life. "She must have been an
animal, a beast," said Boswell. "Sir," said Johnson, "she was a speaking
cat." Somebody quoted to him with admiration the soliloquy of an
officer who had lived in the wilds of America: "Here am I, free and
unrestrained, amidst the rude magnificence of nature, with the Indian
woman by my side, and this gun, with which I can procure food when I
want it! What more can be desired for human happiness?" "Do not allow
yourself, sir," replied Johnson, "to be imposed upon by such gross
absurdity. It is sad stuff; it is brutish. If a bull could speak, he
might as well exclaim, 'Here am I with this cow and this grass; what
being can enjoy greater felicity?'" When Johnson implored Boswell to
"clear his mind of cant," he was attacking his disciple for affecting a
serious depression about public affairs; but the cant which he hated
would certainly have included as its first article an admiration for the
state of nature.

On the present occasion Johnson defended luxury, and said that he had
learnt much from Mandeville--a shrewd cynic, in whom Johnson's hatred
for humbug is exaggerated into a general disbelief in real as well as
sham nobleness of sentiment. As the conversation proceeded, Johnson
expressed his habitual horror of death, and caused Miss Seward's
ridicule by talking seriously of ghosts and the importance of the
question of their reality; and then followed an explosion, which seems
to have closed this characteristic evening. A young woman had become a
Quaker under the influence of Mrs. Knowles, who now proceeded to
deprecate Johnson's wrath at what he regarded as an apostasy. "Madam,"
he said, "she is an odious wench," and he proceeded to denounce her
audacity in presuming to choose a religion for herself. "She knew no
more of the points of difference," he said, "than of the difference
between the Copernican and Ptolemaic systems." When Mrs. Knowles said
that she had the New Testament before her, he said that it was the
"most difficult book in the world," and he proceeded to attack the
unlucky proselyte with a fury which shocked the two ladies. Mrs. Knowles
afterwards published a report of this conversation, and obtained another
report, with which, however, she was not satisfied, from Miss Seward.
Both of them represent the poor doctor as hopelessly confuted by the
mild dignity and calm reason of Mrs. Knowles, though the triumph is
painted in far the brightest colours by Mrs. Knowles herself. Unluckily,
there is not a trace of Johnson's manner, except in one phrase, in
either report, and they are chiefly curious as an indirect testimony to
Boswell's superior powers. The passage, in which both the ladies agree,
is that Johnson, on the expression of Mrs. Knowles's hope that he would
meet the young lady in another world, retorted that he was not fond of
meeting fools anywhere.

Poor Boswell was at this time a water-drinker by Johnson's
recommendation, though unluckily for himself he never broke off his
drinking habits for long. They had a conversation at Paoli's, in which
Boswell argued against his present practice. Johnson remarked "that wine
gave a man nothing, but only put in motion what had been locked up in
frost." It was a key, suggested some one, which opened a box, but the
box might be full or empty. "Nay, sir," said Johnson, "conversation is
the key, wine is a picklock, which forces open the box and injures it. A
man should cultivate his mind, so as to have that confidence and
readiness without wine which wine gives." Boswell characteristically
said that the great difficulty was from "benevolence." It was hard to
refuse "a good, worthy man" who asked you to try his cellar. This,
according to Johnson, was mere conceit, implying an exaggerated
estimate of your importance to your entertainer. Reynolds gallantly took
up the opposite side, and produced the one recorded instance of a
Johnsonian blush. "I won't argue any more with you, sir," said Johnson,
who thought every man to be elevated who drank wine, "you are too far
gone." "I should have thought so indeed, sir, had I made such a speech
as you have now done," said Reynolds; and Johnson apologized with the
aforesaid blush.

The explosion was soon over on this occasion. Not long afterwards,
Johnson attacked Boswell so fiercely at a dinner at Reynolds's, that the
poor disciple kept away for a week. They made it up when they met next,
and Johnson solaced Boswell's wounded vanity by highly commending an
image made by him to express his feelings. "I don't care how often or
how high Johnson tosses me, when only friends are present, for then I
fall upon soft ground; but I do not like falling on stones, which is the
case when enemies are present." The phrase may recall one of Johnson's
happiest illustrations. When some one said in his presence that a _conge
d'elire_ might be considered as only a strong recommendation: "Sir,"
replied Johnson, "it is such a recommendation as if I should throw you
out of a two-pair of stairs window, and recommend you to fall soft."

It is perhaps time to cease these extracts from Boswell's reports. The
next two years were less fruitful. In 1779 Boswell was careless, though
twice in London, and in 1780, he did not pay his annual visit. Boswell
has partly filled up the gap by a collection of sayings made by Langton,
some passages from which have been quoted, and his correspondence gives
various details. Garrick died in January of 1779, and Beauclerk in
March, 1780. Johnson himself seems to have shown few symptoms of
increasing age; but a change was approaching, and the last years of his
life were destined to be clouded, not merely by physical weakness, but
by a change of circumstances which had great influence upon his
happiness.



CHAPTER V.


THE CLOSING YEARS OF JOHNSON'S LIFE.


In following Boswell's guidance we have necessarily seen only one side
of Johnson's life; and probably that side which had least significance
for the man himself.

Boswell saw in him chiefly the great dictator of conversation; and
though the reports of Johnson's talk represent his character in spite of
some qualifications with unusual fulness, there were many traits very
inadequately revealed at the Mitre or the Club, at Mrs. Thrale's, or in
meetings with Wilkes or Reynolds. We may catch some glimpses from his
letters and diaries of that inward life which consisted generally in a
long succession of struggles against an oppressive and often paralysing
melancholy. Another most noteworthy side to his character is revealed in
his relations to persons too humble for admission to the tables at which
he exerted a despotic sway. Upon this side Johnson was almost entirely
loveable. We often have to regret the imperfection of the records of

      That best portion of a good man's life,
  His little, nameless, unremembered acts
  Of kindness and of love.

Everywhere in Johnson's letters and in the occasional anecdotes, we come
upon indications of a tenderness and untiring benevolence which would
make us forgive far worse faults than have ever been laid to his
charge. Nay, the very asperity of the man's outside becomes endeared to
us by the association. His irritability never vented itself against the
helpless, and his rough impatience of fanciful troubles implied no want
of sympathy for real sorrow. One of Mrs. Thrale's anecdotes is intended
to show Johnson's harshness:--"When I one day lamented the loss of a
first cousin killed in America, 'Pr'ythee, my dear,' said he, 'have done
with canting; how would the world be the worse for it, I may ask, if all
your relations were at once spitted like larks and roasted for Presto's
supper?' Presto was the dog that lay under the table while we talked."
The counter version, given by Boswell is, that Mrs. Thrale related her
cousin's death in the midst of a hearty supper, and that Johnson,
shocked at her want of feeling, said, "Madam, it would give _you_ very
little concern if all your relations were spitted like those larks, and
roasted for Presto's supper." Taking the most unfavourable version, we
may judge how much real indifference to human sorrow was implied by
seeing how Johnson was affected by a loss of one of his humblest
friends. It is but one case of many. In 1767, he took leave, as he notes
in his diary, of his "dear old friend, Catherine Chambers," who had been
for about forty-three years in the service of his family. "I desired all
to withdraw," he says, "then told her that we were to part for ever,
and, as Christians, we should part with prayer, and that I would, if she
was willing, say a short prayer beside her. She expressed great desire
to hear me, and held up her poor hands as she lay in bed, with great
fervour, while I prayed, kneeling by her, in nearly the following
words"--which shall not be repeated here--"I then kissed her," he adds.
"She told me that to part was the greatest pain that she had ever felt,
and that she hoped we should meet again in a better place. I expressed,
with swelled eyes, and great emotion of kindness, the same hopes. We
kissed and parted--I humbly hope to meet again and part no more."

A man with so true and tender a heart could say serenely, what with some
men would be a mere excuse for want of sympathy, that he "hated to hear
people whine about metaphysical distresses when there was so much want
and hunger in the world." He had a sound and righteous contempt for all
affectation of excessive sensibility. Suppose, said Boswell to him,
whilst their common friend Baretti was lying under a charge of murder,
"that one of your intimate friends were apprehended for an offence for
which he might be hanged." "I should do what I could," replied Johnson,
"to bail him, and give him any other assistance; but if he were once
fairly hanged, I should not suffer." "Would you eat your dinner that
day, sir?" asks Boswell. "Yes, sir; and eat it as if he were eating with
me. Why there's Baretti, who's to be tried for his life to-morrow.
Friends have risen up for him upon every side; yet if he should be
hanged, none of them will eat a slice of plum-pudding the less. Sir,
that sympathetic feeling goes a very little way in depressing the mind."
Boswell illustrated the subject by saying that Tom Davies had just
written a letter to Foote, telling him that he could not sleep from
concern about Baretti, and at the same time recommending a young man who
kept a pickle-shop. Johnson summed up by the remark: "You will find
these very feeling people are not very ready to do you good. They _pay_
you by _feeling_." Johnson never objected to feeling, but to the waste
of feeling.

In a similar vein he told Mrs. Thrale that a "surly fellow" like
himself had no compassion to spare for "wounds given to vanity and
softness," whilst witnessing the common sight of actual want in great
cities. On Lady Tavistock's death, said to have been caused by grief for
her husband's loss, he observed that her life might have been saved if
she had been put into a small chandler's shop, with a child to nurse.
When Mrs. Thrale suggested that a lady would be grieved because her
friend had lost the chance of a fortune, "She will suffer as much,
perhaps," he replied, "as your horse did when your cow miscarried." Mrs.
Thrale testifies that he once reproached her sternly for complaining of
the dust. When he knew, he said, how many poor families would perish
next winter for want of the bread which the drought would deny, he could
not bear to hear ladies sighing for rain on account of their complexions
or their clothes. While reporting such sayings, she adds, that he loved
the poor as she never saw any one else love them, with an earnest desire
to make them happy. His charity was unbounded; he proposed to allow
himself one hundred a year out of the three hundred of his pension; but
the Thrales could never discover that he really spent upon himself more
than 70_l_., or at most 80_l_. He had numerous dependants, abroad as
well as at home, who "did not like to see him latterly, unless he
brought 'em money." He filled his pockets with small cash which he
distributed to beggars in defiance of political economy. When told that
the recipients only laid it out upon gin or tobacco, he replied that it
was savage to deny them the few coarse pleasures which the richer
disdained. Numerous instances are given of more judicious charity. When,
for example, a Benedictine monk, whom he had seen in Paris, became a
Protestant, Johnson supported him for some months in London, till he
could get a living. Once coming home late at night, he found a poor
woman lying in the street. He carried her to his house on his back, and
found that she was reduced to the lowest stage of want, poverty, and
disease. He took care of her at his own charge, with all tenderness,
until she was restored to health, and tried to have her put into a
virtuous way of living. His house, in his later years, was filled with
various waifs and strays, to whom he gave hospitality and sometimes
support, defending himself by saying that if he did not help them nobody
else would. The head of his household was Miss Williams, who had been a
friend of his wife's, and after coming to stay with him, in order to
undergo an operation for cataract, became a permanent inmate of his
house. She had a small income of some 40_l_. a year, partly from the
charity of connexions of her father's, and partly arising from a little
book of miscellanies published by subscription. She was a woman of some
sense and cultivation, and when she died (in 1783) Johnson said that for
thirty years she had been to him as a sister. Boswell's jealousy was
excited during the first period of his acquaintance, when Goldsmith one
night went home with Johnson, crying "I go to Miss Williams"--a phrase
which implied admission to an intimacy from which Boswell was as yet
excluded. Boswell soon obtained the coveted privilege, and testifies to
the respect with which Johnson always treated the inmates of his family.
Before leaving her to dine with Boswell at the hotel, he asked her what
little delicacy should be sent to her from the tavern. Poor Miss
Williams, however, was peevish, and, according to Hawkins, had been
known to drive Johnson out of the room by her reproaches, and Boswell's
delicacy was shocked by the supposition that she tested the fulness of
cups of tea, by putting her finger inside. We are glad to know that
this was a false impression, and, in fact, Miss Williams, however
unfortunate in temper and circumstances, seems to have been a lady by
manners and education.

The next inmate of this queer household was Robert Levett, a man who had
been a waiter at a coffee-house in Paris frequented by surgeons. They
had enabled him to pick up some of their art, and he set up as an
"obscure practiser in physic amongst the lower people" in London. He
took from them such fees as he could get, including provisions,
sometimes, unfortunately for him, of the potable kind. He was once
entrapped into a queer marriage, and Johnson had to arrange a separation
from his wife. Johnson, it seems, had a good opinion of his medical
skill, and more or less employed his services in that capacity. He
attended his patron at his breakfast; breakfasting, said Percy, "on the
crust of a roll, which Johnson threw to him after tearing out the
crumb." The phrase, it is said, goes too far; Johnson always took pains
that Levett should be treated rather as a friend than as a dependant.

Besides these humble friends, there was a Mrs. Desmoulins, the daughter
of a Lichfield physician. Johnson had had some quarrel with the father
in his youth for revealing a confession of the mental disease which
tortured him from early years. He supported Mrs. Desmoulins none the
less, giving house-room to her and her daughter, and making her an
allowance of half-a-guinea a week, a sum equal to a twelfth part of his
pension. Francis Barker has already been mentioned, and we have a dim
vision of a Miss Carmichael, who completed what he facetiously called
his "seraglio." It was anything but a happy family. He summed up their
relations in a letter to Mrs. Thrale. "Williams," he says, "hates
everybody; Levett hates Desmoulins, and does not love Williams;
Desmoulins hates them both; Poll (Miss Carmichael) loves none of them."
Frank Barker complained of Miss Williams's authority, and Miss Williams
of Frank's insubordination. Intruders who had taken refuge under his
roof, brought their children there in his absence, and grumbled if their
dinners were ill-dressed. The old man bore it all, relieving himself by
an occasional growl, but reproaching any who ventured to join in the
growl for their indifference to the sufferings of poverty. Levett died
in January, 1782; Miss Williams died, after a lingering illness, in
1783, and Johnson grieved in solitude for the loss of his testy
companions. A poem, composed upon Levett's death, records his feelings
in language which wants the refinement of Goldsmith or the intensity of
Cowper's pathos, but which is yet so sincere and tender as to be more
impressive than far more elegant compositions. It will be a fitting
close to this brief indication of one side of Johnson's character, too
easily overlooked in Boswell's pages, to quote part of what Thackeray
truly calls the "sacred verses" upon Levett:--

  Well tried through many a varying year
    See Levett to the grave descend,
  Officious, innocent, sincere,
    Of every friendless name the friend.

  In misery's darkest cavern known,
    His ready help was ever nigh;
  Where hopeless anguish pour'd his groan,
    And lonely want retired to die.

  No summons mock'd by dull delay,
    No petty gains disdain'd by pride;
  The modest wants of every day,
    The toil of every day supplied.

  His virtues walk'd their narrow round,
    Nor made a pause, nor left a void;
  And sure the eternal Master found
    His single talent well employed.

  The busy day, the peaceful night,
    Unfelt, uncounted, glided by;
  His frame was firm, his eye was bright,
    Though now his eightieth year was nigh.

  Then, with no throbs of fiery pain,
    No cold gradations of decay,
  Death broke at once the vital chain,
    And freed his soul the easiest way.

The last stanza smells somewhat of the country tombstone; but to read
the whole and to realize the deep, manly sentiment which it implies,
without tears in one's eyes is to me at least impossible.

There is one little touch which may be added before we proceed to the
closing years of this tender-hearted old moralist. Johnson loved little
children, calling them "little dears," and cramming them with
sweetmeats, though we regret to add that he once snubbed a little child
rather severely for a want of acquaintance with the _Pilgrim's
Progress_. His cat, Hodge, should be famous amongst the lovers of the
race. He used to go out and buy oysters for Hodge, that the servants
might not take a dislike to the animal from having to serve it
themselves. He reproached his wife for beating a cat before the maid,
lest she should give a precedent for cruelty. Boswell, who cherished an
antipathy to cats, suffered at seeing Hodge scrambling up Johnson's
breast, whilst he smiled and rubbed the beast's back and pulled its
tail. Bozzy remarked that he was a fine cat. "Why, yes, sir," said
Johnson; "but I have had cats whom I liked better than this," and then,
lest Hodge should be put out of countenance, he added, "but he is a very
fine cat, a very fine cat indeed." He told Langton once of a young
gentleman who, when last heard of, was "running about town shooting
cats; but," he murmured in a kindly reverie, "Hodge shan't be shot; no,
no, Hodge shall not be shot!" Once, when Johnson was staying at a house
in Wales, the gardener brought in a hare which had been caught in the
potatoes. The order was given to take it to the cook. Johnson asked to
have it placed in his arms. He took it to the window and let it go,
shouting to increase its speed. When his host complained that he had
perhaps spoilt the dinner, Johnson replied by insisting that the rights
of hospitality included an animal which had thus placed itself under the
protection of the master of the garden.

We must proceed, however, to a more serious event. The year 1781 brought
with it a catastrophe which profoundly affected the brief remainder of
Johnson's life. Mr. Thrale, whose health had been shaken by fits, died
suddenly on the 4th of April. The ultimate consequence was Johnson's
loss of the second home, in which he had so often found refuge from
melancholy, alleviation of physical suffering, and pleasure in social
converse. The change did not follow at once, but as the catastrophe of a
little social drama, upon the rights and wrongs of which a good deal of
controversy has been expended.

Johnson was deeply affected by the loss of a friend whose face, as he
said, "had never been turned upon him through fifteen years but with
respect and benignity." He wrote solemn and affecting letters to the
widow, and busied himself strenuously in her service. Thrale had made
him one of his executors, leaving him a small legacy; and Johnson took,
it seems, a rather simple-minded pleasure in dealing with important
commercial affairs and signing cheques for large sums of money. The old
man of letters, to whom three hundred a year had been superabundant
wealth, was amused at finding himself in the position of a man of
business, regulating what was then regarded as a princely fortune. The
brewery was sold after a time, and Johnson bustled about with an
ink-horn and pen in his button-hole. When asked what was the value of
the property, he replied magniloquently, "We are not here to sell a
parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond
the dreams of avarice." The brewery was in fact sold to Barclay,
Perkins, and Co. for the sum of 135,000_l_., and some years afterwards
it was the largest concern of the kind in the world.

The first effect of the change was probably rather to tighten than to
relax the bond of union with the Thrale family. During the winter of
1781-2, Johnson's infirmities were growing upon him. In the beginning of
1782 he was suffering from an illness which excited serious
apprehensions, and he went to Mrs. Thrale's, as the only house where he
could use "all the freedom that sickness requires." She nursed him
carefully, and expressed her feelings with characteristic vehemence in a
curious journal which he had encouraged her to keep. It records her
opinions about her affairs and her family, with a frankness remarkable
even in writing intended for no eye but her own. "Here is Mr. Johnson
very ill," she writes on the 1st of February;.... "What shall we do for
him? If I lose _him_, I am more than undone--friend, father, guardian,
confidant! God give me health and patience! What shall I do?" There is
no reason to doubt the sincerity of these sentiments, though they seem
to represent a mood of excitement. They show that for ten months after
Thrale's death Mrs. Thrale was keenly sensitive to the value of
Johnson's friendship.

A change, however, was approaching. Towards the end of 1780 Mrs. Thrale
had made the acquaintance of an Italian musician named Piozzi, a man of
amiable and honourable character, making an independent income by his
profession, but to the eyes of most people rather inoffensive than
specially attractive. The friendship between Mrs. Thrale and Piozzi
rapidly became closer, and by the end of 1781 she was on very intimate
terms with the gentleman whom she calls "my Piozzi." He had been making
a professional trip to the Continent during part of the period since her
husband's death, and upon his return in November, Johnson congratulated
her upon having two friends who loved her, in terms which suggest no
existing feeling of jealousy. During 1782 the mutual affection of the
lady and the musician became stronger, and in the autumn they had avowed
it to each other, and were discussing the question of marriage.

No one who has had some experience of life will be inclined to condemn
Mrs. Thrale for her passion. Rather the capacity for a passion not
excited by an intrinsically unworthy object should increase our esteem
for her. Her marriage with Thrale had been, as has been said, one of
convenience; and, though she bore him many children and did her duty
faithfully, she never loved him. Towards the end of his life he had made
her jealous by very marked attentions to the pretty and sentimental
Sophy Streatfield, which once caused a scene at his table; and during
the last two years his mind had been weakened, and his conduct had
caused her anxiety and discomfort. It is not surprising that she should
welcome the warm and simple devotion of her new lover, though she was of
a ripe age and the mother of grown-up daughters.

It is, however, equally plain that an alliance with a foreign fiddler
was certain to shock British respectability. It is the old story of the
quarrel between Philistia and Bohemia. Nor was respectability without
much to say for itself. Piozzi was a Catholic as well as a foreigner; to
marry him was in all probability to break with daughters just growing
into womanhood, whom it was obviously her first duty to protect. The
marriage, therefore, might be regarded as not merely a revolt against
conventional morality, but as leading to a desertion of country,
religion, and family. Her children, her husband's friends, and her whole
circle were certain to look upon the match with feelings of the
strongest disapproval, and she admitted to herself that the objections
were founded upon something more weighty than a fear of the world's
censure.

Johnson, in particular, among whose virtues one cannot reckon a
superiority to British prejudice, would inevitably consider the marriage
as simply degrading. Foreseeing this, and wishing to avoid the pain of
rejecting advice which she felt unable to accept, she refrained from
retaining her "friend, father, and guardian" in the position of
"confidant." Her situation in the summer of 1782 was therefore
exceedingly trying. She was unhappy at home. Her children, she
complains, did not love her; her servants "devoured" her; her friends
censured her; and her expenses were excessive, whilst the loss of a
lawsuit strained her resources. Johnson, sickly, suffering and
descending into the gloom of approaching decay, was present like a
charged thunder-cloud ready to burst at any moment, if she allowed him
to approach the chief subject of her thoughts. Though not in love with
Mrs. Thrale, he had a very intelligible feeling of jealousy towards any
one who threatened to distract her allegiance. Under such circumstances
we might expect the state of things which Miss Burney described long
afterwards (though with some confusion of dates). Mrs. Thrale, she says,
was absent and agitated, restless in manner, and hurried in speech,
forcing smiles, and averting her eyes from her friends; neglecting every
one, including Johnson and excepting only Miss Burney herself, to whom
the secret was confided, and the situation therefore explained.
Gradually, according to Miss Burney, she became more petulant to Johnson
than she was herself aware, gave palpable hints of being worried by his
company, and finally excited his resentment and suspicion. In one or two
utterances, though he doubtless felt the expedience of reserve, he
intrusted his forebodings to Miss Burney, and declared that Streatham
was lost to him for ever.

At last, in the end of August, the crisis came. Mrs. Thrale's lawsuit
had gone against her. She thought it desirable to go abroad and save
money. It had moreover been "long her dearest wish" to see Italy, with
Piozzi for a guide. The one difficulty (as she says in her journal at
the time), was that it seemed equally hard to part with Johnson or to
take him with her till he had regained strength. At last, however she
took courage to confide to him her plans for travel. To her extreme
annoyance he fully approved of them. He advised her to go; anticipated
her return in two or three years; and told her daughter that he should
not accompany them, even if invited. No behaviour, it may be admitted,
could be more provoking than this unforeseen reasonableness. To nerve
oneself to part with a friend, and to find the friend perfectly ready,
and all your battery of argument thrown away is most vexatious. The poor
man should have begged her to stay with him, or to take him with her; he
should have made the scene which she professed to dread, but which would
have been the best proof of her power. The only conclusion which could
really have satisfied her--though she, in all probability, did not know
it--would have been an outburst which would have justified a rupture,
and allowed her to protest against his tyranny as she now proceeded to
protest against his complacency.

Johnson wished to go to Italy two years later; and his present
willingness to be left was probably caused by a growing sense of the
dangers which threatened their friendship. Mrs. Thrale's anger appears
in her journal. He had never really loved her, she declares; his
affection for her had been interested, though even in her wrath she
admits that he really loved her husband; he cared less for her
conversation, which she had fancied necessary to his existence, than for
her "roast beef and plumb pudden," which he now devours too "dirtily for
endurance." She was fully resolved to go, and yet she could not bear
that her going should fail to torture the friend whom for eighteen years
she had loved and cherished so kindly.

No one has a right at once to insist upon the compliance of his friends,
and to insist that it should be a painful compliance. Still Mrs.
Thrale's petulant outburst was natural enough. It requires notice
because her subsequent account of the rupture has given rise to attacks
on Johnson's character. Her "Anecdotes," written in 1785, show that her
real affection for Johnson was still coloured by resentment for his
conduct at this and a later period. They have an apologetic character
which shows itself in a statement as to the origin of the quarrel,
curiously different from the contemporary accounts in the diary. She
says substantially, and the whole book is written so as to give
probability to the assertion, that Johnson's bearishness and demands
upon her indulgence had become intolerable, when he was no longer under
restraint from her husband's presence. She therefore "took advantage" of
her lost lawsuit and other troubles to leave London, and thus escape
from his domestic tyranny. He no longer, as she adds, suffered from
anything but "old age and general infirmity" (a tolerably wide
exception!), and did not require her nursing. She therefore withdrew
from the yoke to which she had contentedly submitted during her
husband's life, but which was intolerable when her "coadjutor was no
more."

Johnson's society was, we may easily believe, very trying to a widow in
such a position; and it seems to be true that Thrale was better able
than Mrs. Thrale to restrain his oddities, little as the lady shrunk at
times from reasonable plain-speaking. But the later account involves
something more than a bare suppression of the truth. The excuse about
his health is, perhaps, the worst part of her case, because obviously
insincere. Nobody could be more fully aware than Mrs. Thrale that
Johnson's infirmities were rapidly gathering, and that another winter or
two must in all probability be fatal to him. She knew, therefore, that
he was never more in want of the care which, as she seems to imply, had
saved him from the specific tendency to something like madness. She
knew, in fact, that she was throwing him upon the care of his other
friends, zealous and affectionate enough, it is true, but yet unable to
supply him with the domestic comforts of Streatham. She clearly felt
that this was a real injury, inevitable it might be under the
circumstances, but certainly not to be extenuated by the paltry evasion
as to his improved health. So far from Johnson's health being now
established, she had not dared to speak until his temporary recovery
from a dangerous illness, which had provoked her at the time to the
strongest expressions of anxious regret. She had (according to the
diary) regarded a possible breaking of the yoke in the early part of
1782 as a terrible evil, which would "more than ruin her." Even when
resolved to leave Streatham, her one great difficulty is the dread of
parting with Johnson, and the pecuniary troubles are the solid and
conclusive reason. In the later account the money question is the mere
pretext; the desire to leave Johnson the true motive; and the
long-cherished desire to see Italy with Piozzi is judiciously dropped
out of notice altogether.

The truth is plain enough. Mrs. Thrale was torn by conflicting feelings.
She still loved Johnson, and yet dreaded his certain disapproval of her
strongest wishes. She respected him, but was resolved not to follow his
advice. She wished to treat him with kindness and to be repaid with
gratitude, and yet his presence and his affection were full of
intolerable inconveniences. When an old friendship becomes a burden, the
smaller infirmities of manner and temper to which we once submitted
willingly, become intolerable. She had borne with Johnson's modes of
eating and with his rough reproofs to herself and her friends during
sixteen years of her married life; and for nearly a year of her
widowhood she still clung to him as the wisest and kindest of monitors.
His manners had undergone no spasmodic change. They became intolerable
when, for other reasons, she resented his possible interference, and
wanted a very different guardian and confidant; and, therefore, she
wished to part, and yet wished that the initiative should come from him.

The decision to leave Streatham was taken. Johnson parted with deep
regret from the house; he read a chapter of the Testament in the
library; he took leave of the church with a kiss; he composed a prayer
commending the family to the protection of Heaven; and he did not forget
to note in his journal the details of the last dinner of which he
partook. This quaint observation may have been due to some valetudinary
motive, or, more probably, to some odd freak of association. Once, when
eating an omelette, he was deeply affected because it recalled his old
friend Nugent. "Ah, my dear friend," he said "in an agony," "I shall
never eat omelette with thee again!" And in the present case there is an
obscure reference to some funeral connected in his mind with a meal. The
unlucky entry has caused some ridicule, but need hardly convince us that
his love of the family in which for so many years he had been an
honoured and honour-giving inmate was, as Miss Seward amiably suggests,
in great measure "kitchen-love."

No immediate rupture followed the abandonment of the Streatham
establishment. Johnson spent some weeks at Brighton with Mrs. Thrale,
during which a crisis was taking place, without his knowledge, in her
relations to Piozzi. After vehement altercations with her daughters,
whom she criticizes with great bitterness for their utter want of heart,
she resolved to break with Piozzi for at least a time. Her plan was to
go to Bath, and there to retrench her expenses, in the hopes of being
able to recall her lover at some future period. Meanwhile he left her
and returned to Italy. After another winter in London, during which
Johnson was still a frequent inmate of her house, she went to Bath with
her daughters in April, 1783. A melancholy period followed for both the
friends. Mrs. Thrale lost a younger daughter, and Johnson had a
paralytic stroke in June. Death was sending preliminary warnings. A
correspondence was kept up, which implies that the old terms were not
ostensibly broken. Mrs. Thrale speaks tartly more than once; and
Johnson's letters go into medical details with his customary plainness
of speech, and he occasionally indulges in laments over the supposed
change in her feelings. The gloom is thickening, and the old playful
gallantry has died out. The old man evidently felt himself deserted, and
suffered from the breaking-up of the asylum he had loved so well. The
final catastrophe came in 1784, less than six months before Johnson's
death.

After much suffering in mind and body, Mrs. Thrale had at last induced
her daughters to consent to her marriage with Piozzi. She sent for him
at once, and they were married in June, 1784. A painful correspondence
followed. Mrs. Thrale announced her marriage in a friendly letter to
Johnson, excusing her previous silence on the ground that discussion
could only have caused them pain. The revelation, though Johnson could
not have been quite unprepared, produced one of his bursts of fury.
"Madam, if I interpret your letter rightly," wrote the old man, "you are
ignominiously married. If it is yet undone, let us once more talk
together. If you have abandoned your children and your religion, God
forgive your wickedness! If you have forfeited your fame and your
country, may your folly do no further mischief! If the last act is yet
to do, I, who have loved you, esteemed you, reverenced you, and served
you--I, who long thought you the first of womankind--entreat that before
your fate is irrevocable, I may once more see you! I was, I once was,
madam, most truly yours, Sam. Johnson."

Mrs. Thrale replied with spirit and dignity to this cry of blind
indignation, speaking of her husband with becoming pride, and resenting
the unfortunate phrase about her loss of "fame." She ended by declining
further intercourse till Johnson could change his opinion of Piozzi.
Johnson admitted in his reply that he had no right to resent her
conduct; expressed his gratitude for the kindness which had "soothed
twenty years of a life radically wretched," and implored her
("superfluously," as she says) to induce Piozzi to settle in England. He
then took leave of her with an expression of sad forebodings. Mrs.
Thrale, now Mrs. Piozzi, says that she replied affectionately; but the
letter is missing. The friendship was broken off, and during the brief
remainder of Johnson's life, the Piozzis were absent from England.

Of her there is little more to be said. After passing some time in
Italy, where she became a light of that wretched little Della Cruscan
society of which some faint memory is preserved by Gifford's ridicule,
now pretty nearly forgotten with its objects, she returned with her
husband to England. Her anecdotes of Johnson, published soon after his
death, had a success which, in spite of much ridicule, encouraged her to
some further literary efforts of a sprightly but ephemeral kind. She
lived happily with Piozzi, and never had cause to regret her marriage.
She was reconciled to her daughters sufficiently to renew a friendly
intercourse; but the elder ones set up a separate establishment. Piozzi
died not long afterwards. She was still a vivacious old lady, who
celebrated her 80th birthday by a ball, and is supposed at that ripe
age to have made an offer of marriage to a young actor. She died in May,
1821, leaving all that she could dispose of to a nephew of Piozzi's, who
had been naturalised in England.

Meanwhile Johnson was rapidly approaching the grave. His old inmates,
Levett and Miss Williams, had gone before him; Goldsmith and Garrick and
Beauclerk had become memories of the past; and the gloom gathered
thickly around him. The old man clung to life with pathetic earnestness.
Though life had been often melancholy, he never affected to conceal the
horror with which he regarded death. He frequently declared that death
must be dreadful to every reasonable man. "Death, my dear, is very
dreadful," he says simply in a letter to Lucy Porter in the last year of
his life. Still later he shocked a pious friend by admitting that the
fear oppressed him. Dr. Adams tried the ordinary consolation of the
divine goodness, and went so far as to suggest that hell might not imply
much positive suffering. Johnson's religious views were of a different
colour. "I am afraid," he said, "I may be one of those who shall be
damned." "What do you mean by damned?" asked Adams. Johnson replied
passionately and loudly, "Sent to hell, sir, and punished
everlastingly." Remonstrances only deepened his melancholy, and he
silenced his friends by exclaiming in gloomy agitation, "I'll have no
more on't!" Often in these last years he was heard muttering to himself
the passionate complaint of Claudio, "Ah, but to die and go we know not
whither!" At other times he was speaking of some lost friend, and
saying, "Poor man--and then he died!" The peculiar horror of death,
which seems to indicate a tinge of insanity, was combined with utter
fearlessness of pain. He called to the surgeons to cut deeper when
performing a painful operation, and shortly before his death inflicted
such wounds upon himself in hopes of obtaining relief as, very
erroneously, to suggest the idea of suicide. Whilst his strength
remained, he endeavoured to disperse melancholy by some of the old
methods. In the winter of 1783-4 he got together the few surviving
members of the old Ivy Lane Club, which had flourished when he was
composing the _Dictionary_; but the old place of meeting had vanished,
most of the original members were dead, and the gathering can have been
but melancholy. He started another club at the Essex Head, whose members
were to meet twice a week, with the modest fine of threepence for
non-attendance. It appears to have included a rather "strange mixture"
of people, and thereby to have given some scandal to Sir John Hawkins
and even to Reynolds. They thought that his craving for society,
increased by his loss of Streatham, was leading him to undignified
concessions.

Amongst the members of the club, however, were such men as Horsley and
Windham. Windham seems to have attracted more personal regard than most
politicians, by a generous warmth of enthusiasm not too common in the
class. In politics he was an ardent disciple of Burke's, whom he
afterwards followed in his separation from the new Whigs. But, though
adhering to the principles which Johnson detested, he knew, like his
preceptor, how to win Johnson's warmest regard. He was the most eminent
of the younger generation who now looked up to Johnson as a venerable
relic from the past. Another was young Burke, that very priggish and
silly young man as he seems to have been, whose loss, none the less,
broke the tender heart of his father. Friendships, now more
interesting, were those with two of the most distinguished authoresses
of the day. One of them was Hannah More, who was about this time coming
to the conclusion that the talents which had gained her distinction in
the literary and even in the dramatic world, should be consecrated to
less secular employment. Her vivacity during the earlier years of their
acquaintance exposed her to an occasional rebuff. "She does not gain
upon me, sir; I think her empty-headed," was one of his remarks; and it
was to her that he said, according to Mrs. Thrale, though Boswell
reports a softened version of the remark, that she should "consider what
her flattery was worth, before she choked him with it." More frequently,
he seems to have repaid it in kind. "There was no name in poetry," he
said, "which might not be glad to own her poem"--the _Bas Bleu_.
Certainly Johnson did not stick at trifles in intercourse with his
female friends. He was delighted, shortly before his death, to "gallant
it about" with her at Oxford, and in serious moments showed a respectful
regard for her merits. Hannah More, who thus sat at the feet of Johnson,
encouraged the juvenile ambition of Macaulay, and did not die till the
historian had grown into manhood and fame. The other friendship noticed
was with Fanny Burney, who also lived to our own time. Johnson's
affection for this daughter of his friend seems to have been amongst the
tenderest of his old age. When she was first introduced to him at the
Thrales, she was overpowered and indeed had her head a little turned by
flattery of the most agreeable kind that an author can receive. The
"great literary Leviathan" showed himself to have the recently published
_Evelina_ at his fingers' ends. He quoted, and almost acted passages.
"La! Polly!" he exclaimed in a pert feminine accent, "only think! Miss
has danced with a lord!" How many modern readers can assign its place to
that quotation, or answer the question which poor Boswell asked in
despair and amidst general ridicule for his ignorance, "What is a
Brangton?" There is something pleasant in the enthusiasm with which men
like Johnson and Burke welcomed the literary achievements of the young
lady, whose first novels seem to have made a sensation almost as lively
as that produced by Miss Bronte, and far superior to anything that fell
to the lot of Miss Austen. Johnson seems also to have regarded her with
personal affection. He had a tender interview with her shortly before
his death; he begged her with solemn energy to remember him in her
prayers; he apologized pathetically for being unable to see her, as his
weakness increased; and sent her tender messages from his deathbed.

As the end drew near, Johnson accepted the inevitable like a man. After
spending most of the latter months of 1784 in the country with the
friends who, after the loss of the Thrales, could give him most domestic
comfort, he came back to London to die. He made his will, and settled a
few matters of business, and was pleased to be told that he would be
buried in Westminster Abbey. He uttered a few words of solemn advice to
those who came near him, and took affecting leave of his friends.
Langton, so warmly loved, was in close attendance. Johnson said to him
tenderly, _Te teneam moriens deficiente manu_. Windham broke from
political occupations to sit by the dying man; once Langton found Burke
sitting by his bedside with three or four friends. "I am afraid," said
Burke, "that so many of us must be oppressive to you." "No, sir, it is
not so," replied Johnson, "and I must be in a wretched state indeed
when your company would not be a delight to me." "My dear sir," said
Burke, with a breaking voice, "you have always been too good to me;" and
parted from his old friend for the last time. Of Reynolds, he begged
three things: to forgive a debt of thirty pounds, to read the Bible, and
never to paint on Sundays. A few flashes of the old humour broke
through. He said of a man who sat up with him: "Sir, the fellow's an
idiot; he's as awkward as a turnspit when first put into the wheel, and
as sleepy as a dormouse." His last recorded words were to a young lady
who had begged for his blessing: "God bless you, my dear." The same day,
December 13th, 1784, he gradually sank and died peacefully. He was laid
in the Abbey by the side of Goldsmith, and the playful prediction has
been amply fulfilled:--

  Forsitan et nostrum nomen miscebitur istis.

The names of many greater writers are inscribed upon the walls of
Westminster Abbey; but scarcely any one lies there whose heart was more
acutely responsive during life to the deepest and tenderest of human
emotions. In visiting that strange gathering of departed heroes and
statesmen and philanthropists and poets, there are many whose words and
deeds have a far greater influence upon our imaginations; but there are
very few whom, when all has been said, we can love so heartily as Samuel
Johnson.



CHAPTER VI.


JOHNSON'S WRITINGS.


It remains to speak of Johnson's position in literature. For reasons
sufficiently obvious, few men whose lives have been devoted to letters
for an equal period, have left behind them such scanty and inadequate
remains. Johnson, as we have seen, worked only under the pressure of
circumstances; a very small proportion of his latter life was devoted to
literary employment. The working hours of his earlier years were spent
for the most part in productions which can hardly be called literary.
Seven years were devoted to the _Dictionary_, which, whatever its
merits, could be a book only in the material sense of the word, and was
of course destined to be soon superseded. Much of his hack-work has
doubtless passed into oblivion, and though the ordinary relic-worship
has gathered together fragments enough to fill twelve decent octavo
volumes (to which may be added the two volumes of parliamentary
reports), the part which can be called alive may be compressed into very
moderate compass. Johnson may be considered as a poet, an essayist, a
pamphleteer, a traveller, a critic, and a biographer. Among his poems,
the two imitations of Juvenal, especially the _Vanity of Human Wishes_,
and a minor fragment or two, probably deserve more respect than would be
conceded to them by adherents of modern schools. His most ambitious
work, _Irene_, can be read by men in whom a sense of duty has been
abnormally developed. Among the two hundred and odd essays of the
_Rambler_, there is a fair proportion which will deserve, but will
hardly obtain, respectful attention. _Rasselas_, one of the
philosophical tales popular in the last century, gives the essence of
much of the _Rambler_ in a different form, and to these may be added the
essay upon Soame Jenyns, which deals with the same absorbing question of
human happiness. The political pamphlets, and the _Journey to the
Hebrides_, have a certain historical interest; but are otherwise
readable only in particular passages. Much of his criticism is pretty
nearly obsolete; but the child of his old age--the _Lives of the
Poets_--a book in which criticism and biography are combined, is an
admirable performance in spite of serious defects. It is the work that
best reflects his mind, and intelligent readers who have once made its
acquaintance, will be apt to turn it into a familiar companion.

If it is easy to assign the causes which limited the quantity of
Johnson's work, it is more curious to inquire what was the quality which
once gained for it so much authority, and which now seems to have so far
lost its savour. The peculiar style which is associated with Johnson's
name must count for something in both processes. The mannerism is
strongly marked, and of course offensive; for by "mannerism," as I
understand the word, is meant the repetition of certain forms of
language in obedience to blind habit and without reference to their
propriety in the particular case. Johnson's sentences seem to be
contorted, as his gigantic limbs used to twitch, by a kind of mechanical
spasmodic action. The most obvious peculiarity is the tendency which he
noticed himself, to "use too big words and too many of them." He had to
explain to Miss Reynolds that the Shakesperian line,--

  You must borrow me Garagantua's mouth,

had been applied to him because he used "big words, which require the
mouth of a giant to pronounce them." It was not, however, the mere
bigness of the words that distinguished his style, but a peculiar love
of putting the abstract for the concrete, of using awkward inversions,
and of balancing his sentences in a monotonous rhythm, which gives the
appearance, as it sometimes corresponds to the reality, of elaborate
logical discrimination. With all its faults the style has the merits of
masculine directness. The inversions are not such as to complicate the
construction. As Boswell remarks, he never uses a parenthesis; and his
style, though ponderous and wearisome, is as transparent as the smarter
snip-snap of Macaulay.

This singular mannerism appears in his earliest writings; it is most
marked at the time of the _Rambler_; whilst in the _Lives of the Poets_,
although I think that the trick of inversion has become commoner, the
other peculiarities have been so far softened as (in my judgment, at
least), to be inoffensive. It is perhaps needless to give examples of a
tendency which marks almost every page of his writing. A passage or two
from the _Rambler_ may illustrate the quality of the style, and the
oddity of the effect produced, when it is applied to topics of a trivial
kind. The author of the _Rambler_ is supposed to receive a remonstrance
upon his excessive gravity from the lively Flirtilla, who wishes him to
write in defence of masquerades. Conscious of his own incapacity, he
applies to a man of "high reputation in gay life;" who, on the fifth
perusal of Flirtilla's letter breaks into a rapture, and declares that
he is ready to devote himself to her service. Here is part of the
apostrophe put into the mouth of this brilliant rake. "Behold,
Flirtilla, at thy feet a man grown gray in the study of those noble arts
by which right and wrong may be confounded; by which reason may be
blinded, when we have a mind to escape from her inspection, and caprice
and appetite instated in uncontrolled command and boundless dominion!
Such a casuist may surely engage with certainty of success in
vindication of an entertainment which in an instant gives confidence to
the timorous and kindles ardour in the cold, an entertainment where the
vigilance of jealousy has so often been clouded, and the virgin is set
free from the necessity of languishing in silence; where all the
outworks of chastity are at once demolished; where the heart is laid
open without a blush; where bashfulness may survive virtue, and no wish
is crushed under the frown of modesty."

Here is another passage, in which Johnson is speaking upon a topic more
within his proper province; and which contains sound sense under its
weight of words. A man, he says, who reads a printed book, is often
contented to be pleased without critical examination. "But," he adds,
"if the same man be called to consider the merit of a production yet
unpublished, he brings an imagination heated with objections to passages
which he has never yet heard; he invokes all the powers of criticism,
and stores his memory with Taste and Grace, Purity and Delicacy, Manners
and Unities, sounds which having been once uttered by those that
understood them, have been since re-echoed without meaning, and kept up
to the disturbance of the world by constant repercussion from one
coxcomb to another. He considers himself as obliged to show by some
proof of his abilities, that he is not consulted to no purpose, and
therefore watches every opening for objection, and looks round for every
opportunity to propose some specious alteration. Such opportunities a
very small degree of sagacity will enable him to find, for in every work
of imagination, the disposition of parts, the insertion of incidents,
and use of decorations may be varied in a thousand ways with equal
propriety; and, as in things nearly equal that will always seem best to
every man which he himself produces, the critic, whose business is only
to propose without the care of execution, can never want the
satisfaction of believing that he has suggested very important
improvements, nor the power of enforcing his advice by arguments, which,
as they appear convincing to himself, either his kindness or his vanity
will press obstinately and importunately, without suspicion that he may
possibly judge too hastily in favour of his own advice or inquiry
whether the advantage of the new scheme be proportionate to the labour."
We may still notice a "repercussion" of words from one coxcomb to
another; though somehow the words have been changed or translated.

Johnson's style is characteristic of the individual and of the epoch.
The preceding generation had exhibited the final triumph of common sense
over the pedantry of a decaying scholasticism. The movements represented
by Locke's philosophy, by the rationalizing school in theology, and by
the so-called classicism of Pope and his followers, are different phases
of the same impulse. The quality valued above all others in philosophy,
literature, and art was clear, bright, common sense. To expel the
mystery which had served as a cloak for charlatans was the great aim of
the time, and the method was to appeal from the professors of exploded
technicalities to the judgment of cultivated men of the world. Berkeley
places his Utopia in happy climes,--

    Where nature guides, and virtue rules,
  _Where men shall not impose for truth and sense
    The pedantry of courts and schools_.

Simplicity, clearness, directness are, therefore, the great virtues of
thought and style. Berkeley, Addison, Pope, and Swift are the great
models of such excellence in various departments of literature.

In the succeeding generation we become aware of a certain leaven of
dissatisfaction with the aesthetic and intellectual code thus inherited.
The supremacy of common sense, the superlative importance of clearness,
is still fully acknowledged, but there is a growing undertone of dissent
in form and substance. Attempts are made to restore philosophical
conceptions assailed by Locke and his followers; the rationalism, of the
deistic or semi-deistic writers is declared to be superficial; their
optimistic theories disregard the dark side of nature, and provide no
sufficient utterance for the sadness caused by the contemplation of
human suffering; and the polished monotony of Pope's verses begins to
fall upon those who shall tread in his steps. Some daring sceptics are
even inquiring whether he is a poet at all. And simultaneously, though
Addison is still a kind of sacred model, the best prose writers are
beginning to aim at a more complex structure of sentence, fitted for the
expression of a wider range of thought and emotion.

Johnson, though no conscious revolutionist, shares this growing
discontent. The _Spectator_ is written in the language of the
drawing-room and the coffee-house. Nothing is ever said which might not
pass in conversation between a couple of "wits," with, at most, some
graceful indulgence in passing moods of solemn or tender sentiment.
Johnson, though devoted to society in his own way, was anything but a
producer of small talk. Society meant to him an escape from the gloom
which beset him whenever he was abandoned to his thoughts. Neither his
education nor the manners acquired in Grub Street had qualified him to
be an observer of those lighter foibles which were touched by Addison
with so dexterous a hand. When he ventures upon such topics he flounders
dreadfully, and rather reminds us of an artist who should attempt to
paint miniatures with a mop. No man, indeed, took more of interest in
what is called the science of human nature; and, when roused by the
stimulus of argument, he could talk, as has been shown, with almost
unrivalled vigour and point. But his favourite topics are the deeper
springs of character, rather than superficial peculiarities; and his
vigorous sayings are concentrated essence of strong sense and deep
feeling, not dainty epigrams or graceful embodiments of delicate
observation. Johnson was not, like some contemporary antiquarians, a
systematic student of the English literature of the preceding centuries,
but he had a strong affection for some of its chief masterpieces.
Burton's _Anatomy of Melancholy_ was, he declared, the only book which
ever got him out of bed two hours sooner than he wished. Sir Thomas
Browne was another congenial writer, who is supposed to have had some
influence upon his style. He never seems to have directly imitated any
one, though some nonsense has been talked about his "forming a style;"
but it is probable that he felt a closer affinity to those old scholars,
with their elaborate and ornate language and their deep and solemn tone
of sentiment, than to the brilliant but comparatively superficial
writers of Queen Anne's time. He was, one may say, a scholar of the old
type, forced by circumstances upon the world, but always retaining a
sympathy for the scholar's life and temper. Accordingly, his style
acquired something of the old elaboration, though the attempt to conform
to the canons of a later age renders the structure disagreeably
monotonous. His tendency to pomposity is not redeemed by the _naivete_
and spontaneity of his masters.

The inferiority of Johnson's written to his spoken utterances is
indicative of his divided life. There are moments at which his writing
takes the terse, vigorous tone of his talk. In his letters, such as
those to Chesterfield and Macpherson and in occasional passages of his
pamphlets, we see that he could be pithy enough when he chose to descend
from his Latinized abstractions to good concrete English; but that is
only when he becomes excited. His face when in repose, we are told,
appeared to be almost imbecile; he was constantly sunk in reveries, from
which he was only roused by a challenge to conversation. In his
writings, for the most part, we seem to be listening to the reverie
rather than the talk; we are overhearing a soliloquy in his study, not a
vigorous discussion over the twentieth cup of tea; he is not fairly put
upon his mettle, and is content to expound without enforcing. We seem to
see a man, heavy-eyed, ponderous in his gestures, like some huge
mechanism which grinds out a ponderous tissue of verbiage as heavy as it
is certainly solid.

The substance corresponds to the style. Johnson has something in common
with the fashionable pessimism of modern times. No sentimentalist of
to-day could be more convinced that life is in the main miserable. It
was his favourite theory, according to Mrs. Thrale, that all human
action was prompted by the "vacuity of life." Men act solely in the hope
of escaping from themselves. Evil, as a follower of Schopenhauer would
assert, is the positive, and good merely the negative of evil. All
desire is at bottom an attempt to escape from pain. The doctrine neither
resulted from, nor generated, a philosophical theory in Johnson's case,
and was in the main a generalization of his own experience. Not the
less, the aim of most of his writing is to express this sentiment in one
form or other. He differs, indeed, from most modern sentimentalists, in
having the most hearty contempt for useless whining. If he dwells upon
human misery, it is because he feels that it is as futile to join with
the optimist in ignoring, as with the pessimist in howling over the
evil. We are in a sad world, full of pain, but we have to make the best
of it. Stubborn patience and hard work are the sole remedies, or rather
the sole means of temporary escape. Much of the _Rambler_ is occupied
with variations upon this theme, and expresses the kind of dogged
resolution with which he would have us plod through this weary world.
Take for example this passage:--"The controversy about the reality of
external evils is now at an end. That life has many miseries, and that
those miseries are sometimes at least equal to all the powers of
fortitude is now universally confessed; and, therefore, it is useful to
consider not only how we may escape them, but by what means those which
either the accidents of affairs or the infirmities of nature must bring
upon us may be mitigated and lightened, and how we may make those hours
less wretched which the condition of our present existence will not
allow to be very happy.

"The cure for the greatest part of human miseries is not radical, but
palliative. Infelicity is involved in corporeal nature, and interwoven
with our being; all attempts, therefore, to decline it wholly are
useless and vain; the armies of pain send their arrows against us on
every side, the choice is only between those which are more or less
sharp, or tinged with poison of greater or less malignity; and the
strongest armour which reason can supply will only blunt their points,
but cannot repel them.

"The great remedy which Heaven has put in our hands is patience, by
which, though we cannot lessen the torments of the body, we can in a
great measure preserve the peace of the mind, and shall suffer only the
natural and genuine force of an evil, without heightening its acrimony
or prolonging its effects."

It is hardly desirable for a moralist to aim at originality in his
precepts. We must be content if he enforces old truths in such a manner
as to convince us of the depth and sincerity of his feeling. Johnson, it
must be confessed, rather abuses the moralist's privilege of being
commonplace. He descants not unfrequently upon propositions so trite
that even the most earnest enforcement can give them little interest.
With all drawbacks, however, the moralizing is the best part of the
_Rambler_. Many of the papers follow the precedent set by Addison in the
_Spectator_, but without Addison's felicity. Like Addison, he indulges
in allegory, which, in his hands, becomes unendurably frigid and clumsy;
he tries light social satire, and is fain to confess that we can spy a
beard under the muffler of his feminine characters; he treats us to
criticism which, like Addison's, goes upon exploded principles, but
unlike Addison's, is apt to be almost wilfully outrageous. His odd
remarks upon Milton's versification are the worst example of this
weakness. The result is what one might expect from the attempt of a
writer without an ear to sit in judgment upon the greatest master of
harmony in the language.

These defects have consigned the _Rambler_ to the dustiest shelves of
libraries, and account for the wonder expressed by such a critic as M.
Taine at the English love of Johnson. Certainly if that love were
nourished, as he seems to fancy, by assiduous study of the _Rambler_, it
would be a curious phenomenon. And yet with all its faults, the reader
who can plod through its pages will at least feel respect for the
author. It is not unworthy of the man whose great lesson is "clear your
mind of cant;"[1] who felt most deeply the misery of the world, but from
the bottom of his heart despised querulous and sentimental complaints on
one side, and optimist glasses upon the other. To him, as to some others
of his temperament, the affectation of looking at the bright side of
things seems to have presented itself as the bitterest of mockeries; and
nothing would tempt him to let fine words pass themselves off for
genuine sense. Here are some remarks upon the vanity in which some
authors seek for consolation, which may illustrate this love of
realities and conclude our quotations from the _Rambler_.

[Footnote 1: Of this well-known sentiment it may be said, as of some
other familiar quotations, that its direct meaning has been slightly
modified in use. The emphasis is changed. Johnson's words were "Clear
your _mind_ of cant. You may talk as other people do; you may say to a
man, sir, I am your humble servant; you are _not_ his most humble
servant.... You may _talk_ in this manner; it is a mode of talking in
society; but don't _think_ foolishly."]

"By such acts of voluntary delusion does every man endeavour to conceal
his own unimportance from himself. It is long before we are convinced of
the small proportion which every individual bears to the collective body
of mankind; or learn how few can be interested in the fortune of any
single man; how little vacancy is left in the world for any new object
of attention; to how small extent the brightest blaze of merit can be
spread amidst the mists of business and of folly; and how soon it is
clouded by the intervention of other novelties. Not only the writer of
books, but the commander of armies, and the deliverer of nations, will
easily outlive all noisy and popular reputation: he may be celebrated
for a time by the public voice, but his actions and his name will soon
be considered as remote and unaffecting, and be rarely mentioned but by
those whose alliance gives them some vanity to gratify by frequent
commemoration. It seems not to be sufficiently considered how little
renown can be admitted in the world. Mankind are kept perpetually busy
by their fears or desires, and have not more leisure from their own
affairs than to acquaint themselves with the accidents of the current
day. Engaged in contriving some refuge from calamity, or in shortening
their way to some new possession, they seldom suffer their thoughts to
wander to the past or future; none but a few solitary students have
leisure to inquire into the claims of ancient heroes or sages; and names
which hoped to range over kingdoms and continents shrink at last into
cloisters and colleges. Nor is it certain that even of these dark and
narrow habitations, these last retreats of fame, the possession will be
long kept. Of men devoted to literature very few extend their views
beyond some particular science, and the greater part seldom inquire,
even in their own profession, for any authors but those whom the present
mode of study happens to force upon their notice; they desire not to
fill their minds with unfashionable knowledge, but contentedly resign to
oblivion those books which they now find censured or neglected."

The most remarkable of Johnson's utterances upon his favourite topic of
the Vanity of Human Wishes is the story of _Rasselas_. The plan of the
book is simple, and recalls certain parts of Voltaire's simultaneous but
incomparably more brilliant attack upon Optimism in _Candide_. There is
supposed to be a happy valley in Abyssinia where the royal princes are
confined in total seclusion, but with ample supplies for every
conceivable want. Rasselas, who has been thus educated, becomes curious
as to the outside world, and at last makes his escape with his sister,
her attendant, and the ancient sage and poet, Imlac. Under Imlac's
guidance they survey life and manners in various stations; they make the
acquaintance of philosophers, statesmen, men of the world, and recluses;
they discuss the results of their experience pretty much in the style of
the _Rambler_; they agree to pronounce the sentence "Vanity of
Vanities!" and finally, in a "conclusion where nothing is concluded,"
they resolve to return to the happy valley. The book is little more than
a set of essays upon life, with just story enough to hold it together.
It is wanting in those brilliant flashes of epigram, which illustrate
Voltaire's pages so as to blind some readers to its real force of
sentiment, and yet it leaves a peculiar and powerful impression upon the
reader.

The general tone may be collected from a few passages. Here is a
fragment, the conclusion of which is perhaps the most familiar of
quotations from Johnson's writings. Imlac in narrating his life
describes his attempts to become a poet.

"The business of a poet," said Imlac, "is to examine not the individual,
but the species; to remark general properties and large appearances; he
does not number the streaks of the tulip or describe the different
shades in the verdure of the forest. He is to exhibit in his portraits
of nature such prominent and striking features as recall the original to
every mind; and must neglect the minute discriminations which one may
have remarked, and another have neglected for those characteristics
which are alike obvious to vigilance and carelessness."

"But the knowledge of nature is only half the task of a poet; he must be
acquainted likewise with all the modes of life. His character requires
that he estimate the happiness and misery of every condition; observe
the power of all the passions in all their combinations, and know the
changes of the human mind as they are modified by various institutions,
and accidental influences of climate or custom, from the sprightliness
of infancy to the despondency of decrepitude. He must divest himself of
the prejudices of his age or country; he must consider right and wrong
in their abstracted and invariable state; he must disregard present laws
and opinions, and rise to general and transcendental truths, which will
always be the same; he must therefore content himself with the slow
progress of his name; contemn the applause of his own time, and commit
his claims to the justice of posterity. He must write as the interpreter
of nature and the legislator of mankind, and consider himself as
presiding over the thoughts and manners of future generations, as a
being superior to time and place.

"His labours are not yet at an end; he must know many languages and many
sciences; and that his style may be worthy of his thoughts, must by
incessant practice familiarize to himself every delicacy of speech and
grace of harmony."

Imlac now felt the enthusiastic fit and was proceeding to aggrandize his
profession, when the prince cried out, "Enough, thou hast convinced me
that no human being can ever be a poet."

Indeed, Johnson's conception of poetry is not the one which is now
fashionable, and which would rather seem to imply that philosophical
power and moral sensibility are so far disqualifications to the true
poet.

Here, again, is a view of the superfine system of moral philosophy. A
meeting of learned men is discussing the ever-recurring problem of
happiness, and one of them speaks as follows:--

"The way to be happy is to live according to nature, in obedience to
that universal and unalterable law with which every heart is originally
impressed; which is not written on it by precept, but engraven by
destiny, not instilled by education, but infused at our nativity. He
that lives according to nature will suffer nothing from the delusions of
hope, or importunities of desire; he will receive and reject with
equability of temper, and act or suffer as the reason of things shall
alternately prescribe. Other men may amuse themselves with subtle
definitions or intricate ratiocinations. Let him learn to be wise by
easier means: let him observe the hind of the forest, and the linnet of
the grove; let him consider the life of animals whose motions are
regulated by instinct; they obey their guide and are happy.

"Let us, therefore, at length cease to dispute, and learn to live; throw
away the incumbrance of precepts, which they who utter them with so much
pride and pomp do not understand, and carry with us this simple and
intelligible maxim, that deviation from nature is deviation from
happiness."

The prince modestly inquires what is the precise meaning of the advice
just given.

"When I find young men so humble and so docile," said the philosopher,
"I can deny them no information which my studies have enabled me to
afford. To live according to nature, is to act always with due regard to
the fitness arising from the relations and qualities of causes and
effects, to concur with the great and unchangeable scheme of universal
felicity; to co-operate with the general disposition and tendency of the
present system of things.

"The prince soon found that this was one of the sages, whom he should
understand less as he heard him longer."

Here, finally, is a characteristic reflection upon the right mode of
meeting sorrow.

"The state of a mind oppressed with a sudden calamity," said Imlac, "is
like that of the fabulous inhabitants of the new created earth, who,
when the first night came upon them, supposed that day would never
return. When the clouds of sorrow gather over us, we see nothing beyond
them, nor can imagine how they will be dispelled; yet a new day
succeeded to the night, and sorrow is never long without a dawn of ease.
But as they who restrain themselves from receiving comfort, do as the
savages would have done, had they put out their eyes when it was dark.
Our minds, like our bodies, are in continual flux; something is hourly
lost, and something acquired. To lose much at once is inconvenient to
either, but while the vital powers remain uninjured, nature will find
the means of reparation.

"Distance has the same effect on the mind as on the eye, and while we
glide along the stream of time, whatever we leave behind us is always
lessening, and that which we approach increasing in magnitude. Do not
suffer life to stagnate; it will grow muddy for want of motion; commit
yourself again to the current of the world; Pekuah will vanish by
degrees; you will meet in your way some other favourite, or learn to
diffuse yourself in general conversation."

In one respect _Rasselas_ is curiously contrasted with _Candide_.
Voltaire's story is aimed at the doctrine of theological optimism, and,
whether that doctrine be well or ill understood, has therefore an openly
sceptical tendency. Johnson, to whom nothing could be more abhorrent
than an alliance with any assailant of orthodoxy, draws no inference
from his pessimism. He is content to state the fact of human misery
without perplexing himself with the resulting problem as to the final
cause of human existence. If the question had been explicitly brought
before him, he would, doubtless, have replied that the mystery was
insoluble. To answer either in the sceptical or the optimistic sense was
equally presumptuous. Johnson's religious beliefs in fact were not such
as to suggest that kind of comfort which is to be obtained by explaining
away the existence of evil. If he, too, would have said that in some
sense all must be for the best in a world ruled by a perfect Creator,
the sense must be one which would allow of the eternal misery of
indefinite multitudes of his creatures.

But, in truth, it was characteristic of Johnson to turn away his mind
from such topics. He was interested in ethical speculations, but on the
practical side, in the application to life, not in the philosophy on
which it might be grounded. In that direction, he could see nothing but
a "milking of the bull"--a fruitless or rather a pernicious waste of
intellect. An intense conviction of the supreme importance of a moral
guidance in this difficult world, made him abhor any rash inquiries by
which the basis of existing authority might be endangered.

This sentiment is involved in many of those prejudices which have been
so much, and in some sense justifiably ridiculed. Man has been wretched
and foolish since the race began, and will be till it ends; one chorus
of lamentation has ever been rising, in countless dialects but with a
single meaning; the plausible schemes of philosophers give no solution
to the everlasting riddle; the nostrums of politicians touch only the
surface of the deeply-rooted evil; it is folly to be querulous, and as
silly to fancy that men are growing worse, as that they are much better
than they used to be. The evils under which we suffer are not skin-deep,
to be eradicated by changing the old physicians for new quacks. What is
to be done under such conditions, but to hold fast as vigorously as we
can to the rules of life and faith which have served our ancestors, and
which, whatever their justifications, are at least the only consolation,
because they supply the only guidance through this labyrinth of
troubles? Macaulay has ridiculed Johnson for what he takes to be the
ludicrous inconsistency of his intense political prejudice, combined
with his assertion of the indifference of all forms of government.
"If," says Macaulay, "the difference between two forms of government be
not worth half a guinea, it is not easy to see how Whiggism can be viler
than Toryism, or the Crown can have too little power." The answer is
surely obvious. Whiggism is vile, according to the doctor's phrase,
because Whiggism is a "negation of all principle;" it is in his view,
not so much the preference of one form to another, as an attack upon the
vital condition of all government. He called Burke a "bottomless Whig"
in this sense, implying that Whiggism meant anarchy; and in the next
generation a good many people were led, rightly or wrongly, to agree
with him by the experience of the French revolution.

This dogged conservatism has both its value and its grotesque side. When
Johnson came to write political pamphlets in his later years, and to
deal with subjects little familiar to his mind, the results were
grotesque enough. Loving authority, and holding one authority to be as
good as another, he defended with uncompromising zeal the most
preposterous and tyrannical measures. The pamphlets against the Wilkite
agitators and the American rebels are little more than a huge
"rhinoceros" snort of contempt against all who are fools enough or
wicked enough to promote war and disturbance in order to change one form
of authority for another. Here is a characteristic passage, giving his
view of the value of such demonstrators:--

"The progress of a petition is well known. An ejected placeman goes down
to his county or his borough, tells his friends of his inability to
serve them and his constituents, of the corruption of the government.
His friends readily understand that he who can get nothing, will have
nothing to give. They agree to proclaim a meeting. Meat and drink are
plentifully provided, a crowd is easily brought together, and those who
think that they know the reason of the meeting undertake to tell those
who know it not. Ale and clamour unite their powers; the crowd,
condensed and heated, begins to ferment with the leaven of sedition. All
see a thousand evils, though they cannot show them, and grow impatient
for a remedy, though they know not what.

"A speech is then made by the Cicero of the day; he says much and
suppresses more, and credit is equally given to what he tells and what
he conceals. The petition is heard and universally approved. Those who
are sober enough to write, add their names, and the rest would sign it
if they could.

"Every man goes home and tells his neighbour of the glories of the day;
how he was consulted, and what he advised; how he was invited into the
great room, where his lordship caressed him by his name; how he was
caressed by Sir Francis, Sir Joseph, and Sir George; how he ate turtle
and venison, and drank unanimity to the three brothers.

"The poor loiterer, whose shop had confined him or whose wife had locked
him up, hears the tale of luxury with envy, and at last inquires what
was their petition. Of the petition nothing is remembered by the
narrator, but that it spoke much of fears and apprehensions and
something very alarming, but that he is sure it is against the
government.

"The other is convinced that it must be right, and wishes he had been
there, for he loves wine and venison, and resolves as long as he lives
to be against the government.

"The petition is then handed from town to town, and from house to house;
and wherever it comes, the inhabitants flock together that they may see
that which must be sent to the king. Names are easily collected. One man
signs because he hates the papists; another because he has vowed
destruction to the turnpikes; one because it will vex the parson;
another because he owes his landlord nothing; one because he is rich;
another because he is poor; one to show that he is not afraid; and
another to show that he can write."

The only writing in which we see a distinct reflection of Johnson's talk
is the _Lives of the Poets_. The excellence of that book is of the same
kind as the excellence of his conversation. Johnson wrote it under
pressure, and it has suffered from his characteristic indolence. Modern
authors would fill as many pages as Johnson has filled lines, with the
biographies of some of his heroes. By industriously sweeping together
all the rubbish which is in any way connected with the great man, by
elaborately discussing the possible significance of infinitesimal bits
of evidence, and by disquisition upon general principles or the whole
mass of contemporary literature, it is easy to swell volumes to any
desired extent. The result is sometimes highly interesting and valuable,
as it is sometimes a new contribution to the dust-heaps; but in any case
the design is something quite different from Johnson's. He has left much
to be supplied and corrected by later scholars. His aim is simply to
give a vigorous summary of the main facts of his heroes' lives, a pithy
analysis of their character, and a short criticism of their productions.
The strong sense which is everywhere displayed, the massive style, which
is yet easier and less cumbrous than in his earlier work, and the
uprightness and independence of the judgments, make the book agreeable
even where we are most inclined to dissent from its conclusions.

The criticism is that of a school which has died out under the great
revolution of modern taste. The booksellers decided that English poetry
began for their purposes with Cowley, and Johnson has, therefore,
nothing to say about some of the greatest names in our literature. The
loss is little to be regretted, since the biographical part of earlier
memoirs must have been scanty, and the criticism inappreciative.
Johnson, it may be said, like most of his contemporaries, considered
poetry almost exclusively from the didactic and logical point of view.
He always inquires what is the moral of a work of art. If he does not
precisely ask "what it proves," he pays excessive attention to the
logical solidity and coherence of its sentiments. He condemns not only
insincerity and affectation of feeling, but all such poetic imagery as
does not correspond to the actual prosaic belief of the writer. For the
purely musical effects of poetry he has little or no feeling, and allows
little deviation from the alternate long and short syllables neatly
bound in Pope's couplets.

To many readers this would imply that Johnson omits precisely the poetic
element in poetry. I must be here content to say that in my opinion it
implies rather a limitation than a fundamental error. Johnson errs in
supposing that his logical tests are at all adequate; but it is, I
think, a still greater error to assume that poetry has no connexion,
because it has not this kind of connexion, with philosophy. His
criticism has always a meaning, and in the case of works belonging to
his own school a very sound meaning. When he is speaking of other
poetry, we can only reply that his remarks may be true, but that they
are not to the purpose.

The remarks on the poetry of Dryden, Addison, and Pope are generally
excellent, and always give the genuine expression of an independent
judgment. Whoever thinks for himself, and says plainly what he thinks,
has some merit as a critic. This, it is true, is about all that can be
said for such criticism as that on _Lycidas_, which is a delicious
example of the wrong way of applying strong sense to inappropriate
topics. Nothing can be truer in a sense, and nothing less relevant.

"In this poem," he says, "there is no nature, for there is no truth;
there is no art, for there is nothing new. Its form is that of a
pastoral, easy, vulgar, and therefore disgusting; whatever images it can
supply are easily exhausted, and its inherent improbability always
forces dissatisfaction on the mind. When Cowley tells of Hervey that
they studied together, it is easy to suppose how much he must miss the
companion of his labours and the partner of his discoveries; but what
image of tenderness can be excited by these lines?--

  We drove afield, and both together heard
  What time the gray fly winds her sultry horn,
  Battening our flocks with the fresh dews of night.

We know that they never drove a-field and had no flocks to batten; and
though it be allowed that the representation may be allegorical, the
true meaning is so uncertain and remote that it is never sought, because
it cannot be known when it is found.

"Among the flocks and copses and flowers appear the heathen deities:
Jove and Phoebus, Neptune and Aeolus, with a long train of mythological
imagery such as a college easily supplies. Nothing can less display
knowledge or less exercise invention than to tell how a shepherd has
lost his companion, and must now feed his flocks alone, without any
judge of his skill in piping; how one god asks another god what has
become of Lycidas, and neither god can tell. He who thus grieves will
excite no sympathy; he who thus praises will confer no honour."

This is of course utterly outrageous, and yet much of it is undeniably
true. To explain why, in spite of truth, _Lycidas_ is a wonderful poem,
would be to go pretty deeply into the theory of poetic expression. Most
critics prefer simply to shriek, being at any rate safe from the errors
of independent judgment.

The general effect of the book, however, is not to be inferred from this
or some other passages of antiquated and eccentric criticism. It is the
shrewd sense everywhere cropping up which is really delightful. The keen
remarks upon life and character, though, perhaps, rather too severe in
tone, are worthy of a vigorous mind, stored with much experience of many
classes, and braced by constant exercise in the conversational arena.
Passages everywhere abound which, though a little more formal in
expression, have the forcible touch of his best conversational sallies.
Some of the prejudices, which are expressed more pithily in _Boswell_,
are defended by a reasoned exposition in the _Lives_. Sentence is passed
with the true judicial air; and if he does not convince us of his
complete impartiality, he at least bases his decisions upon solid and
worthy grounds. It would be too much, for example, to expect that
Johnson should sympathize with the grand republicanism of Milton, or
pardon a man who defended the execution of the blessed Martyr. He
failed, therefore, to satisfy the ardent admirers of the great poet. Yet
his judgment is not harsh or ungenerous, but, at worst, the judgment of
a man striving to be just, in spite of some inevitable want of sympathy.

The quality of Johnson's incidental remarks may be inferred from one or
two brief extracts. Here is an observation which Johnson must have had
many chances of verifying. Speaking of Dryden's money difficulties, he
says, "It is well known that he seldom lives frugally who lives by
chance. Hope is always liberal, and they that trust her promises, make
little scruple of revelling to-day on the profits of the morrow."

Here is another shrewd comment upon the compliments paid to Halifax, of
whom Pope says in the character of Bufo,--

  Fed with soft dedications all day long,
  Horace and he went hand and hand in song.

"To charge all unmerited praise with the guilt of flattery, or to
suppose that the encomiast always knows and feels the falsehoods of his
assertions, is surely to discover great ignorance of human nature and of
human life. In determinations depending not on rules, but on reference
and comparison, judgment is always in some degree subject to affection.
Very near to admiration is the wish to admire.

"Every man willingly gives value to the praise which he receives, and
considers the sentence passed in his favour as the sentence of
discernment. We admire in a friend that understanding that selected us
for confidence; we admire more in a patron that bounty which, instead of
scattering bounty indiscriminately, directed it to us; and if the patron
be an author, those performances which gratitude forbids us to blame,
affection will easily dispose us to exalt.

"To these prejudices, hardly culpable, interest adds a power always
operating, though not always, because not willingly, perceived. The
modesty of praise gradually wears away; and, perhaps, the pride of
patronage may be in time so increased that modest praise will no longer
please.

"Many a blandishment was practised upon Halifax, which he would never
have known had he no other attractions than those of his poetry, of
which a short time has withered the beauties. It would now be esteemed
no honour by a contributor to the monthly bundles of verses, to be told
that, in strains either familiar or solemn, he sings like Halifax."

I will venture to make a longer quotation from the life of Pope, which
gives, I think, a good impression of his manner:--

"Of his social qualities, if an estimate be made from his letters, an
opinion too favourable cannot easily be formed; they exhibit a perpetual
and unclouded effulgence of general benevolence and particular fondness.
There is nothing but liberality, gratitude, constancy, and tenderness.
It has been so long said as to be commonly believed, that the true
characters of men may be found in their letters, and that he who writes
to his friend lays his heart open before him.

"But the truth is, that such were the simple friendships of the Golden
Age, and are now the friendships only of children. Very few can boast of
hearts which they dare lay open to themselves, and of which, by whatever
accident exposed, they do not shun a distinct and continued view; and
certainly what we hide from ourselves, we do not show to our friends.
There is, indeed, no transaction which offers stronger temptations to
fallacy and sophistication than epistolary intercourse.

"In the eagerness of conversation, the first emotions of the mind often
burst out before they are considered. In the tumult of business,
interest and passion have their genuine effect; but a friendly letter is
a calm and deliberate performance in the cool of leisure, in the
stillness of solitude, and surely no man sits down by design to
depreciate his own character.

"Friendship has no tendency to secure veracity; for by whom can a man so
much wish to be thought better than he is, as by him whose kindness he
desires to gain or keep? Even in writing to the world there is less
constraint; the author is not confronted with his reader, and takes his
chance of approbation among the different dispositions of mankind; but a
letter is addressed to a single mind, of which the prejudices and
partialities are known, and must therefore please, if not by favouring
them, by forbearing to oppose them. To charge those favourable
representations which men give of their own minds, with the guilt of
hypocritical falsehood, would show more severity than knowledge. The
writer commonly believes himself. Almost every man's thoughts while they
are general are right, and most hearts are pure while temptation is
away. It is easy to awaken generous sentiments in privacy; to despise
death when there is no danger; to glow with benevolence when there is
nothing to be given. While such ideas are formed they are felt, and
self-love does not suspect the gleam of virtue to be the meteor of
fancy.

"If the letters of Pope are considered merely as compositions, they seem
to be premeditated and artificial. It is one thing to write, because
there is something which the mind wishes to discharge; and another to
solicit the imagination, because ceremony or vanity requires something
to be written. Pope confesses his early letters to be vitiated with
_affectation and ambition_. To know whether he disentangles himself
from these perverters of epistolary integrity, his book and his life
must be set in comparison. One of his favourite topics is contempt of
his own poetry. For this, if it had been real, he would deserve no
commendation; and in this he was certainly not sincere, for his high
value of himself was sufficiently observed; and of what could he be
proud but of his poetry? He writes, he says, when 'he has just nothing
else to do,' yet Swift complains that he was never at leisure for
conversation, because he 'had always some poetical scheme in his head.'
It was punctually required that his writing-box should be set upon his
bed before he rose; and Lord Oxford's domestic related that, in the
dreadful winter of '40, she was called from her bed by him four times in
one night, to supply him with paper lest he should lose a thought.

"He pretends insensibility to censure and criticism, though it was
observed by all who knew him that every pamphlet disturbed his quiet,
and that his extreme irritability laid him open to perpetual vexation;
but he wished to despise his critics, and therefore hoped he did despise
them. As he happened to live in two reigns when the court paid little
attention to poetry, he nursed in his mind a foolish disesteem of kings,
and proclaims that 'he never sees courts.' Yet a little regard shown him
by the Prince of Wales melted his obduracy; and he had not much to say
when he was asked by his Royal Highness, 'How he could love a prince
while he disliked kings.'"

Johnson's best poetry is the versified expression of the tone of
sentiment with which we are already familiar. The _Vanity of Human
Wishes_ is, perhaps, the finest poem written since Pope's time and in
Pope's manner, with the exception of Goldsmith's still finer
performances. Johnson, it need hardly be said, has not Goldsmith's
exquisite fineness of touch and delicacy of sentiment. He is often
ponderous and verbose, and one feels that the mode of expression is not
that which is most congenial; and yet the vigour of thought makes itself
felt through rather clumsy modes of utterance. Here is one of the best
passages, in which he illustrates the vanity of military glory:--

  On what foundation stands the warrior's pride,
  How just his hopes let Swedish Charles decide;
  A frame of adamant, a soul of fire,
  No dangers fright him and no labours tire;
  O'er love, o'er fear, extends his wide domain,
  Unconquer'd lord of pleasure and of pain;
  No joys to him pacific sceptres yield,
  War sounds the trump, he rushes to the field;
  Behold surrounding kings their powers combine,
  And one capitulate, and one resign:
  Peace courts his hand, but spreads her charms in vain.
  "Think nothing gain'd," he cries, "till nought remain;
  On Moscow's walls till Gothic standards fly,
  And all be mine beneath the polar sky?"
  The march begins in military state,
  And nations on his eye suspended wait;
  Stern Famine guards the solitary coast,
  And Winter barricades the realms of Frost.
  He comes, nor want nor cold his course delay--
  Hide, blushing glory, hide Pultowa's day!
  The vanquish'd hero leaves his broken bands,
  And shows his miseries in distant lands;
  Condemn'd a needy supplicant to wait,
  While ladies interpose and slaves debate--
  But did not Chance at length her error mend?
  Did no subverted empire mark his end?
  Did rival monarchs give the fatal wound?
  Or hostile millions press him to the ground?
  His fall was destined to a barren strand,
  A petty fortress and a dubious hand;
  He left the name at which the world grew pale,
  To point a moral and adorn a tale.

The concluding passage may also fitly conclude this survey of Johnson's
writings. The sentiment is less gloomy than is usual, but it gives the
answer which he would have given in his calmer moods to the perplexed
riddle of life; and, in some form or other, it is, perhaps, the best or
the only answer that can be given:--

  Where, then, shall Hope and Fear their objects find?
  Must dull suspense corrupt the stagnant mind?
  Must helpless man, in ignorance sedate,
  Roll darkling down the torrent of his fate?
  Must no dislike alarm, no wishes rise?
  No cries invoke the mercies of the skies?
  Inquirer cease; petitions yet remain
  Which Heaven may hear, nor deem religion vain;
  Still raise for good the supplicating voice,
  But leave to Heaven the measure and the choice
  Safe in His power whose eyes discern afar
  The secret ambush of a specious prayer.
  Implore His aid, in His decisions rest,
  Secure whate'er He gives--He gives the best.
  Yet when the scene of sacred presence fires,
  And strong devotion to the skies aspires,
  Pour forth thy fervours for a healthful mind,
  Obedient passions and a will resign'd;
  For Love, which scarce collective men can fill;
  For Patience, sovereign o'er transmuted ill;
  For Faith, that panting for a happier seat,
  Counts Death kind nature's signal of retreat.
  These goods for man the laws of Heaven ordain,
  These goods He grants who grants the power to gain;
  With these Celestial Wisdom calms the mind,
  And makes the happiness she does not find.


THE END.





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