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And that his politeness was not merely occasional and temporary, or confined to the circles of Lichfield, is ascertained by the testimony of a lady, who, in a paper with which I have been favoured by a daughter of his intimate friend and physician, Dr. Lawrence, thus describes Dr. Johnson some years afterwards :
As the particulars of the former part of Dr. Johnson's life do not seem to be very accurately known, a lady hopes that the following information may not be unacceptable.
"She remembers Dr. Johnson on a visit to Dr. Taylor, at Ashbourn, some time between the end of the year 37, and the middle of the year 40; she rather thinks it to have been after he and his wife were removed to London. During his stay at Ashbourn, he made frequent visits to Mr. Meynell, at Bradley, where his company was much desired by the ladies of the family, who were, perhaps, in point of elegance and accomplishments, inferiour to few of those with whom he was afterwards acquainted. Mr. Meynell's eldest daughter was afterwards married to Mr. Fitzherbert, father to Mr. Alleyne Fitzherbert, lately minister to the court of Russia. Of her, Dr. Johnson said, in Dr. Lawrence's study, that she had the best understanding he ever met with in any human being. At Mr. Meynell's he also commenced that friendship with Mrs. Hill Boothby, sister to the present sir Brook Boothby, which continued till her death. The 'young woman whom he used to call Molley Aston',' was sister to sir Thomas Aston, and daughter to a baronet; she was also sister to the wife of his friend, Mr. Gilbert Walmsley". Besides his intimacy with the abovementioned persons, who were surely people of rank and education, while he was yet at Lichfield he used to be fre
t The words of sir John Hawkins, p. 316.
" Sir Thomas Aston, bart. who died in January, 1724-5, left one son, named Thomas also, and eight daughters. Of the daughters, Catherine married Johnson's friend, the hon. Henry Hervey; Margaret, Gilbert Walmsley. Another of these ladies married the rev. Mr. Gastrell. Mary, or Molly Aston, as she was usually called, became the wife of captain Brodie of the navy. Another sister, who was unmarried, was living at Lichfield in 1776.—Malone.
quently at the house of Dr. Swinfen, a gentleman of a very ancient family in Staffordshire, from which, after the death of his elder brother, he inherited a good estate. He was, besides, a physician of very extensive practice; but for want of due attention to the management of his domestick concerns, left a very large family in indigence. One of his daughters, Mrs. Desmoulins, afterwards found an asylum in the house of her old friend, whose doors were always open to the unfortunate, and who well observed the precept of the gospel, for he was kind to the unthankful and to the evil."
In the forlorn state of his circumstances, he accepted of an offer to be employed as usher in the school of MarketBosworth, in Leicestershire, to which it appears, from one of his little fragments of a diary, that he went on foot, on the 16th of July.—' Julii 16. Bosvortiam pedes petii.' But it is not true, as has been erroneously related, that he was assistant to the famous Anthony Blackwall, whose merit has been honoured by the testimony of bishop Hurd*, who was his scholar; for Mr. Blackwall died on the 8th of April, 1730, more than a year before Johnson left the university.
This employment was very irksome to him in every respect, and he complained grievously of it in his letters to his friend, Mr. Hector, who was now settled as a surgeon at Birmingham. The letters are lost; but Mr. Hector recollects his writing that the poet had described the dull sameness of his existence in these words, Vitam continet una dies, one day contains the whole of my life;' that it was unvaried as the note of the cuckoo; and that he did
× There is here, as Mr. James Boswell observes to me, a slight inaccuracy. Bishop Hurd, in the epistle dedicatory prefixed to his commentary on Horace's Art of Poetry, etc. does not praise Blackwall, but the rev. Mr. Budworth, head master of the grammar school at Brewood in Staffordshire, who had himself been bred under Blackwall. See vol. iv. near the end, where, from the information of Mr. John Nichols, Johnson is said to have applied in 1736 to Mr. Budworth, to be received by him as an assistant in his school in Staffordshire.-MALONE.
y See Gent. Mag. Dec. 1784, p. 957.
not know whether it was more disagreeable for him to teach, or the boys to learn, the grammar rules. His general aversion to this painful drudgery was greatly enhanced by a disagreement between him and sir Wolstan Dixie, the patron of the school, in whose house, I have been told, he officiated as a kind of domestick chaplain, so far, at least, as to say grace at table, but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horrour. But it is probable that at this period, whatever uneasiness he may have endured, he laid the foundation of much future eminence by application to his studies.
Being now again totally unoccupied, he was invited by Mr. Hector to pass some time with him at Birmingham, as his guest, at the house of Mr. Warren, with whom Mr. Hector lodged and boarded. Mr. Warren was the first established bookseller in Birmingham, and was very attentive to Johnson, who he soon found could be of much service to him in his trade, by his knowledge of literature; and he even obtained the assistance of his pen in furnishing some numbers of a periodical essay printed in the newspaper, of which Warren was proprietor. After very diligent inquiry, I have not been able to recover those early specimens of that particular mode of writing by which Johnson afterwards so greatly distinguished himself.
He continued to live as Mr. Hector's guest for about six months, and then hired lodgings in another part of the town, finding himself as well situated at Birmingham as he supposed he could be anywhere, while he had no settled plan of life, and very scanty means of subsistence.
2 It appears from a letter of Johnson's to a friend, which I have read, dated Lichfield, July 27, 1732, that he had left sir Wolstan Dixie's house recently before that letter was written. He then had hopes of succeeding, either as master or usher, in the school of Ashburne.-MALONE.
a In the year 1734, according to sir J. Hawkins, p. 32, he resided with one Jervis, probably a relation of Mrs. Porter, his future wife.-ED.
He made some valuable acquaintances there, amongst whom were Mr. Porter, a mercer, whose widow he afterwards married, and Mr. Taylor, who by his ingenuity in mechanical inventions, and his success in trade, acquired an immense fortune. But the comfort of being near Mr. Hector, his old schoolfellow and intimate friend, was Johnson's chief inducement to continue here.
In what manner he employed his pen at this period, or whether he derived from it any pecuniary advantage, I have not been able to ascertain. He probably got a little money from Mr. Warren; and we are certain, that he executed here one piece of literary labour, of which Mr. Hector has favoured me with a minute account. Having mentioned that he had read, at Pembroke college, a voyage to Abyssinia, by Lobo, a Portuguese jesuit, and that he thought an abridgement and translation of it from the French into English might be an useful and profitable publication; Mr. Warren and Mr. Hector joined in urging him to undertake it. He accordingly agreed; and the book not being to be found in Birmingham, he borrowed it of Pembroke college. A part of the work being very soon done, one Osborn, who was Mr. Warren's printer, was set to work with what was ready, and Johnson engaged to supply the press with copy as it should be wanted; but his constitutional indolence soon prevailed, and the work was at a stand. Mr. Hector, who knew that a motive of humanity would be the most prevailing argument with his friend, went to Johnson, and represented to him, that the printer could have no other employment till this undertaking was finished, and that the poor man and his family were suffering. Johnson upon this exerted the powers of his mind, though his body was relaxed. He lay in bed with the book, which was a quarto, before him, and dictated while Hector wrote. Mr. Hector carried the sheets to the and corrected almost all the proof sheets, very few of which were even seen by Johnson. In this manner, with the aid of Mr. Hector's active friendship, the book was completed, and was published in 1735, with London upon the title
page, though it was in reality printed at Birmingham, a device too common with provincial publishers. For this work he had from Mr. Warren only the sum of five guineas.
This being the first prose work of Johnson, it is a curious object of inquiry how much may be traced in it of that style which marks his subsequent writings with such peculiar excellence; with so happy an union of force, vivacity, and perspicuity. I have perused the book with this view, and have found that here, as I believe in every other translation, there is in the work itself no vestige of the translator's own style; for the language of translation being adapted to the thoughts of another person, insensibly follows their cast, and, as it were, runs into a mould that is ready prepared.
Thus, for instance, taking the first sentence that occurs at the opening of the book, p. 4, "I lived here above a year, and completed my studies in divinity; in which time some letters were received from the fathers of Ethiopia, with an account that sultan Segned, emperour of Abyssinia, was converted to the church of Rome; that many of his subjects had followed his example, and that there was a great want of missionaries to improve these prosperous beginnings. Every body was very desirous of seconding the zeal of our fathers, and of sending them the assistance they requested; to which we were the more encouraged, because the emperour's letter informed our provincial, that we might easily enter his dominions by the way of Dancala; but, unhappily, the secretary wrote Geila for Dancala, which cost two of our fathers their lives." Every one acquainted with Johnson's manner will be sensible that there is nothing of it here; but that this sentence might have been composed by any other man,
But, in the preface, the Johnsonian style begins to appear; and though use had not yet taught his wing a permanent and equable flight, there are parts of it which exhibit his best manner in full vigour. I had once the pleasure of examining it with Mr. Edmund Burke, who confirmed me in this opinion, by his superiour critical saga