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The Young Authore.
WHEN first the peasant, long inclin’d to roam,
e This he inserted, with many alterations, in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1743.-Boswell.
His name, however, was not given. See Gent. Mag. XIII. 378.-Ed.
Epilogue', intended to have been spoken by a lady who was to
personate the ghost of Hermione ®.
in barb'rous play,
every beauty withers at the blast: f Some young ladies at Lichfield having proposed to act The Distressed Mother, Johnson wrote this, and gave it to Mr. Hector to convey it privately to them.-BOSWELL.
Where'er they fly their lovers' ghosts pursue,
bosom tear ;
The two years which he spent at home, after his return from Stourbridge, he passed in what he thought idleness, and was scolded by his father for his want of steady application. He had no settled plan of life, nor looked forward at all, but merely lived from day to day. Yet he read a great deal in a desultory manner, without any scheme of study, as chance threw books in his way, and inclination directed him through them. He used to mention one curious instance of his casual reading, when but a boy. Having imagined that his brother had hid some apples behind a large folio upon an upper shelf in his father's shop, he climbed up to search for them. There were no apples; but the large folio proved to be Petrarch, whom he had seen mentioned, in some preface, as one of the restorers of learning. His curiosity having been thus excited, he sat down with avidity, and read a great part of the book. What he read during these two years, he told me, was not works of mere amusement,"not voyages and travels, but all literature, sir, all ancient writers, all manly; though but little Greek, only some of Anacreon and Hesiod: but in this irregular manner,” added he, “I had looked into a great many books, which were not commonly known at the universities, where they seldom read any books but what are put into their hands by their tutors; so that when I came to Oxford, Dr. Adams, now master of Pembroke college, told me, I was the best qualified for the university that he had ever known come there.”
In estimating the progress of his mind during these two years, as well as in future periods of his life, we must not regard his own hasty confession of idleness ; for we see, wben he explains himself, that he was acquiring various stores; and, indeed, he himself concluded the account, with saying, “I would not have you think I was doing nothing then.” He might, perhaps, have studied more assiduously; but it may be doubted, whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature, than if it had been confined to any single spot. The analogy between body and mind is very general; and the parallel will hold as to their food, as well as any other particular. The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?
That a man in Mr. Michael Johnson's circumstances should think of sending his son to the expensive university of Oxford at his own charge, seems very improbable. The subject was too delicate to question Johnson upon; but I have been assured by Dr. Taylor, that the scheme never would have taken place, had not a gentleman of Shropshire, one of his schoolfellows, spontaneously undertaken to support him at Oxford, in the character of his companion; though, in fact, he never received any assistance whatever from that gentleman.
He, however, went to Oxford, and was entered a commoner of Pembroke college, on the thirty-first of October, 1728, being then in his nineteenth year.
The reverend Dr. Adams, who afterwards presided over Pembroke college with universal esteem, told me he was present, and gave me some account of what passed on the night of Johnson's arrival at Oxford. On that evening, his father, who had anxiously accompanied him, found means to have him introduced to Mr. Jorden, who was to be his tutors. His being put under any tutor, reminds us of what Wood says of Robert Burton, author of the Anatomy of Melancholy, when elected student of Christ-church: “for form's sake, though he wanted not a tutor, he was put under the tuition of Dr. John Bancroft, afterwards bishop of Oxonh.”
His father seemed very full of the merits of his son, and told the company he was a good scholar, and a poet, and wrote Latin verses. His figure and manner appeared strange to them; but he behaved modestly, and sat silent, till upon something which occurred in the course of conversation, he suddenly struck in and quoted Macrobius; and thus he gave the first impression of that more extensive reading in which he had indulged himself.
His tutor, Mr. Jorden, fellow of Pembroke, was not, it seems, a man of such abilities as we should conceive requisite for the instructer of Samuel Johnson; who gave me the following account of him. “He was a very worthy man, but a heavy man; and I did not profit much by his instructions. Indeed, I did not attend him much. The first day after I came to college, I waited upon him, and then staid away four. On the sixth, Mr. Jorden asked me why I had not attended. I answered I had been sliding in Christ-church meadow. And this I said with as much nonchalance as I am nowi talking to you. I had no notion that I was wrong or irreverent to my tutor.” BOSWELL. “That, sir, was great fortitude of mind." Johnson. “No, sir; stark insensibility k.”
The fifth of November was at that time kept with great solemnity at Pembroke college, and exercises upon the subject of the day were required. Johnson neglected to perform his, which is much to be regretted; for his vivacity
& William Jorden, M. A. June 7, 1708.-B. D. April 8, 1728.
k It ought to be remembered, that Dr. Johnson was apt, in his literary as well as moral exercises, to overcharge his defects. Dr. Adams informed me, that he attended his tutor's lectures, and also the lectures in the college hall, very regularly.-BOSWELL.