Page images
PDF
EPUB

city, and was, I remember, much delighted with the following specimen:

“ The Portuguese traveller, contrary to the general vein of his countrymen, bas amused his reader with no romantick absurdity, or incredible fictions: whatever he relates, whether true or not, is at least probable; and he who tells · nothing exceeding the bounds of probability, has a right to demand that they should believe him who cannot contradict him.

“He appears by his modest and unaffected narration, to have described things as he saw them, to have copied nature from the life, and to have consulted his senses, not his imagination. He meets with no basilisks that destroy with their eyes, his crocodiles devour their prey without tears, and his cataracts fall from the rocks without deafening the neighbouring inhabitants.

“The reader will here find no regions cursed with irremediable barrenness, or blest with spontaneous fecundity; no perpetual gloom, or unceasing sunshine ; nor are the nations here described, either devoid of all sense of humanity, or consummate in all private or social virtues. Here are no Hottentots without religious policy or articulate language; no Chinese perfectly polite, and completely skilled in all sciences: he will discover, what will always be discovered by a diligent and impartial inquirer, that wherever human nature is to be found, there is a mixture of vice and virtue, a contest of passion and reason; and that the Creator doth not appear partial in his distributions, but has balanced, in most countries, their particular inconveniencies by particular favours.”

Here we have an early example of that brilliant and energetick expression, which, upon innumerable occasions in his subsequent life, justly impressed the world with the highest admiration b.

Nor can any one, conversant with the writings of Johnson, fail to discern his hand in this passage of the Dedica

V “Here,” says Murphy, in his Essay on the Life and Genius of Johnson, we see the infant Hercules.”—ED.

ور

tion to John Warren, esq. of Pembrokeshire, though it is ascribed to Warren the bookseller. “A generous and elevated mind is distinguished by nothing more certainly than an eminent degree of curiosityo; nor is that curiosity ever more agreeably or usefully employed, than in examining the laws and customs of foreign nations. I hope, therefore, the present I now presume to make, will not be thought improper; which, however, it is not my business as a dedicator to commend, nor as a bookseller to depreciate.”

It is reasonable to suppose, that his having been thus accidentally led to a particular study of the history and manners of Abyssinia, was the remote occasion of his writing, many years afterwards, his admirable philosophical tale, the principal scene of which is laid in that country.

Johnson returned to Lichfield early in 1734, and in August that year he made an attempt to procure some little subsistence by his pen; for he published proposals for printing by subscription the Latin poems of Politiand: “ Angeli Politiani Poemata Latina, quibus, notas cum bistoria Latinæ poeseos a Petrarchæ ævo ad Politiani tempora deducta, et vita Politiani fusius quam antehac enarrata, addidit SAM. JOHNSON." It appears that his brother Nathanael had taken

up

his father's trade; for it is mentioned that subscriptions are taken in by the editor, or N. Johnson, bookseller, of Lichfield. Notwithstanding the merit of Johnson, and the cheap price at which this book was offered, there were not subscribers enough to ensure a sufficient sale ; so the work never appeared, and, probably, never was executed.

We find him again this year at Birmingham, and there

[ocr errors]

c See Rambler, No. 103.

d May we not trace a fanciful similarity between Politian and Johnson ? Huetius, speaking of Paulus Pelissonius Fontanerius, says—" in quo natura, ut olim in Angelo Politiano, deformitatem oris excellentis ingenii præstantia compensavit.” Comment. de Reb. ad eum pertin. Edit. Amstel. 1718, p. 200.BOSWELL.

e The book was to contain more than thirty sheets, the price to be two shil. lings and sixpence at the time of subscribing, and two shillings and sixpence at the delivery of a perfect book in quires.--Boswell.

is preserved the following letter from him to Mr. Edward Cave', the original compiler and editor of the Gentleinan's Magazine.

TO MR. CAVE.

[ocr errors]

Nov. 25, 1734. “SIR, -As you appear no less sensible than your readers of the defects of your poetical article, you will not be displeased, if, in order to the improvement of it, I communicate to you the sentiments of a person who will undertake, on reasonable terms, sometimes to fill a column.

“ His opinion is, that the publick would not give you a bad reception, if, beside the current wit of the month, which a critical examination would generally reduce to a narrow compass, you admitted not only poems, inscriptions, etc. never printed before, which he will sometimes supply you with ; but likewise short literary dissertations in Latin or English, critical remarks on authors, ancient or modern, forgotten poems that deserve revival, or loose pieces, like Floyer's, worth preserving. By this method, your literary article, for so it might be called, will, he thinks, be better recommended to the publick than by low jests, awkward buffoonery, or the dull scurrilities of either party.

If such a correspondence will be agreeable to you, be pleased to inform me in two posts, what the conditions are on which you shall expect it. Your late offerh gives me no reason to distrust your generosity. If you engage in any literary projects besides this paper, I have other designs to impart, if I could be secure from having others reap the advantage of what I shoựld hint.

f Miss Cave, the grandniece of Mr. Edw. Cave, has obligingly shown me the originals of this and the other letters of Dr. Johnson to him, which were first published in the Gentleman's Magazine, with notes by Mr. John Nichols, the worthy and indefatigable editor of that valuable miscellany, signed N.; some of which I shall occasionally transcribe in the course of this work.--BOSWELL.

8 Sir John Floyer's Treatise on Cold Baths. Gent. Mag. 1734, p. 197.

h A prize of fifty pounds for the best poem on Life, Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. See Gentleman's Magazine, vol. iv. p. 560.-Nichols.

Your letter, by being directed to S. Smith, to be left at the Castle in Birmingham, Warwickshire, will reach

“ Your humble servant."

Mr. Cave has put a note on this letter, “ Answered Dec. 2.” But whether any thing was done in consequence of it, we are not informed.

Johnson had, from his early youth, been sensible to the influence of female charms. When at Stourbridge school, he was much enamoured of Olivia Lloyd, a young quaker, to whom he wrote a copy of verses, which I have not been able to recoveri; but with what facility and elegance he could warble the amorous lay, will appear from the following lines, which he wrote for his friend Mr. Edmund Hector.

Verses to a Lady, on receiving from her a Sprig of Myrtle.

What hopes, what terrours does thy gift create,
Ambiguous emblem of uncertain fate!
The myrtle, ensign of supreme command,
Consign'd by Venus to Melissa's hand;
Not less capricious than a reigning fair,
Now grants, and now rejects a lover's prayer.
In myrtle shades oft sings the happy swain,
In myrtle shades despairing ghosts complain ;
The myrtle crowns the happy lovers' heads,
The unhappy lover's grave the myrtle spreads :

From some papers of the late Mr. Malone's, which the editor of the present edition purchased at the Boswell sale in the spring of the year 1825, it appears that Johnson wrote some love verses entitled, “To Miss Hickman playing on the Spinet,” before he left Staffordshire, and which seem to have escaped Boswell's researches. Dr. Turton, a physician, the son of Miss Hickman, gave his testimony to their being Dr. Johnson's composition, by a note on the back of the original copy, in the author's own handwriting, in Mr. Malone's possession. As Dr. Turton was born in 1735, the verses in question must have been written before his mother's marriage. They consist of twenty vigorous and spirited lines, and may be found in vol. i. p. 136, of Johnson's Works. -ED.

O then the meaning of thy gift impart,
And ease the throbbings of an anxious heart !
Soon must this bough, as you shall fix his doom,
Adorn Philander's head or grace his tomb k.

k Mrs. Piozzi gives the following account of this little composition, from Dr. Johnson's own relation to her, on her inquiring whether it was rightly attributed to him." I think it is now just forty years ago, that a young fellow had a sprig of myrtle given him by a girl he courted, and asked me to write him some verses that he might present her in return. I promised, but forgot; and when he called for his lines at the time agreed on-Sit still a moment, says I, dear Mund, and I'll fetch them thee—so stepped aside for five minutes, and wrote the nonsense you now keep such a stir about.” Anecdotes,

p

34. In my first edition I was induced to doubt the authenticity of this account, hy the following circumstantial statement in a letter to me from Miss Seward, of Lichfield :—“I know those verses were addressed to Lucy Porter, when he was enamoured of her in his boyish days, two or three years before he had seen her mother, his future wife. He wrote them at my grandfather's, and gave them to Lucy in the presence of my mother, to whom he showed them on the instant. She used to repeat them to me, when I asked her for the verses Dr. Johnson gave her on a sprig of myrtle, which he had stolen or begged from her bosom. We all know honest Lucy Porter to have been incapable of the mean vanity of applying to herself a compliment not intended for her.” Such was this lady's statement, which, I make no doubt, she supposed to be correct : but it shows how dangerous it is to trust too implicitly to traditional testimony and ingenious inference ; for Mr. Hector has lately assured me that Mrs. Piozzi's account is in this instance accurate, and that he was the person for whom Johnson wrote those verses, which have been erroneously ascribed to Mr. Hammond.

I am obliged in so many instances to notice Mrs. Piozzi's incorrectness of relation, that I gladly seize this opportunity of acknowledging that, however often, she is not always inaccurate.

The author having been drawn into a controversy with Miss Anna Seward, in consequence of the preceding statement, (which may be found in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. Ixiii. and lxiv.) received the following letter from Mr. Edmund Hector, on the subject.

Dear Sir,—I am sorry to see you are engaged in altercation with a lady, who seems unwilling to be convinced of her errours. Surely it would be more ingenuous to acknowledge than to persevere.

· Lately, in looking over some papers I meant to burn, I found the original manuscript of the myrtle, with the date on it, 1731, which I have enclosed.

“ The true history (which I could swear to) is as follows: Mr. Morgan Graves, the elder brother of a worthy clergyman near Bath, with whom I was acquainted, waited upon a lady in this neighbourhood, who at parting presented him the branch. He showed it me, and wished much to return the compliment in verse. I applied to Johnson, who was with me, and in about half an hour dictated the verses which I sent to my friend.

“I most solemnly declare, at that time Johnson was an entire stranger to

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »