Page images
PDF
EPUB

be pleased to inform me by the penny-post, whether you resolve to print the poem. If you please to send it me by the post, with a note to Dodsley, I will go and read the lines to him, that we may have his consent to put his name in the title-page. As to the printing, if it can be set immediately about, I will be so much the author's friend, as not to content myself with mere solicitations in his favour. I propose, if my calculation be near the truth, to engage for the reimbursement of all that you shall lose by an impression of five hundred; provided, as you very generously propose, that the profit, if any, be set aside for the author's.use, excepting the present you made, which, if he be a gainer, it is fit he should repay. I beg that you will let one of your servants write an exact account of the expense of such an impression, and send it with the poem, that I may know what I engage for. I am very sensible, from your generosity on this occasion, of your regard to learning, even in its unhappiest state; and cannot but think such a temper deserving of the gratitude of those who suffer so often from a contrary disposition. I am, sir,

“ Your most humble servant,

“ SAM. JOHNSON.”.

TO MR. CAVE.

[No date.] “SIR, I waited on you to take the copy to Dodsley's: as I remember the number of lines which it contains, it will be no longer than Eugeniod, with the quotations, which must be subjoined at the bottom of the page; part of the beauty of the performance (if any beauty be allowed it) consisting in adapting Juvenals sentiments to modern facts and per

It will; with those additions, very conveniently make five sheets. And since the expense will be no more, I shall contentedly ensure it, as I mentioned in my last. If it be not, therefore, gone to Dodsley's, I beg it may be sent me by the penny-post, that I may have it in the evening. I have composed a Greek Epigram to Eliza, and think she ought to be celebrated in as many different languages as Lewis le grand. Pray send me word when you will begin upon the poem, for it is a long way to walk.

sons.

d A poem, published in 1737, of which see an account in vol. ii. under April 30, 1773.

. I would leave my epigram, but have not daylight to transcribe it. I am, sir,

“ Yours, etc.

“SAM. JOHNSON."

TO MR. CAVE.

[No date.] "SIR, I am extremely obliged by your kind letter, and will not fail to attend you to-morrow with Irene, who looks upon you as one of her best friends.

“I was to-day with Mr. Dodsley, who declares very warmly in favour of the paper you sent him, which he desires to have a share in, it being, as he says, “a creditable thing to be concerned in.' I knew not what answer to make till I had consulted you, nor what to demand on the author's part, but am very willing that, if you please, he should have a part in it, as he will undoubtedly be more diligent to disperse and promote it. If you can send me word to-morrow what I shall say to him, I will settle matters, and bring the poem with me for the press, which, as the town empties, we cannot be too quick with. I am, sir,

Yours, etc.

“SAM. JOHNSON.”

To us who have long known the manly force, bold spirit, and masterly versification of this poem, it is a matter of curiosity to observe the diffidence with which its author brought it forward into publick notice, while he is so cautious as not to avow it to be his own production; and with what humility he offers to allow the printer to alter any stroke of satire which he might dislike. That any such alteration was made, we do not know. If we did, we could not but feel an indignant regret; but how painful is it to see that a writer of such vigorous powers of mind was actually in such distress, that the small profit which so short a poem, however excellent, could yield, was courted as a relief.

e Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, daughter of Dr. Carter. For her contributions to the Rambler see preface to vol. ii. of Johnson's Works, Oxford Ed.; and for the Epigram above referred to, see vol. i. p. 170 of the same. This learned and accomplished lady died in 1806, at the advanced age of 89.-Ed.

It has been generally said, I know not with what truth, that Johnson offered his London to several booksellers, none of whom would purchase it. To this circumstance Mr. Derrick alludes in the following lines of his Fortune, a Rhapsody:

Will no kind patron JOHNSON Own?
Shall JOHNSON friendless range the town?
And every publisher refuse

The offspring of his happy muse? But we have seen that the worthy, modest, and ingenious Mr. Robert Dodsley, had taste enough to perceive its uncommon merit, and thought it creditable to have a share in it. The fact is, that, at a future conference, he bargained for the whole property of it, for which he gave Johnson ten guineas; who told me, “ I might perhaps have accepted of less; but that Paul Whitehead had a little before got ten guineas for a poem; and I would not take less than Paul Whitehead.”

I may here observe, that Johnson appeared to me to undervalue Paul Whitehead upon every occasion when he was mentioned, and, in my opinion, did not do him justice; but when it is considered that Paul Whitehead was a member of a riotous and profane club, we may account for Johnson's having a prejudice against him. Paul Whitehead was, indeed, unfortunate in being not only slighted by Johnson, but violently attacked by Churchill, who utters the following imprecation:

May I (can worse disgrace on manhood fall?)
Be born a Whitehead, and baptized a Paul!

yet I shall never be persuaded to think meanly of the author of so brilliant and pointed a satire as “ Manners.".

Johnson's London was published in May, 1738f; and it is remarkable, that it came out on the same morning with Pope's satire, entitled 1738; so that England had at once its Juvenal and Horace as poetical monitors. The reverend Dr. Douglas, now bishop of Salisbury, to whom I am indebted for some obliging communications, was then a student at Oxford, and remembers well the effect which London produced. Every body was delighted with it; and there being no name to it, the first buz of the literary circles was, Here is an unknown poet, greater even than Pope. And it is recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine of that years, that it got to the second edition in the course of a week.

One of the warmest patrons of this poem on its first appearance was general Oglethorpe, whose“ strong benevolence of soul” was unabated during the course of a very long life; though it is painful to think, that he had but too much reason to become cold and callous, and discontented with the world, from the neglect which he experienced of his publick and private worth, by those in whose power it was to gratify so gallant a veteran with marks of distinction, This extraordinary person was as remarkable for his learning and taste, as for his other eminent qualities; and no man was more prompt, active, and generous, in encouraging merit. I have heard Johnson gratefully acknowledge,

Sir John Hawkins, p. 86, tells us, “ The event is antedated, in the poem of London ; but in every particular, except the difference of a year, what is there said of the departure of Thales, must be understood of Savage, and looked upon as true history.” This conjecture is, I believe, entirely groundless. I have been assured that Johnson said he was not so much as acquainted with Savage when he wrote his London. If the departure mentioned in it was the departure of Savage, the event was not anteduted but foreseen ; for London was published in May, 1738, and Savage did not set out for Wales till July, 1739. However well Johnson could defend the credibility of second sight, he did not pretend that he himself was possessed of that faculty.-Boswell.

On this subject, however, see Prefatory Remarks to the poem on London, vol. i. of Johnson's Works, page is and the authorities there adduced. Ed.

8 Page 269.

[ocr errors]

in his presence, the kind and effectual support which he gave to his London, though unacquainted with its author.

Pope, who then filled the poetical throne without a rival, it may reasonably be presumed, must have been particularly struck by the sudden appearance of such a poet; and, to his credit let it be remembered, that his feelings and conduct on the occasion were candid and liberal. He requested Mr. Richardson, son of the painter, to endeavour to find out who this new author was. Mr. Richardson, after some inquiry, having informed him that he had discovered only that his name was Johnson, and that he was some obscure man, Pope said, “ He will soon be déterréh.” We shall presently see, from a note written by Pope', that he was himself afterwards more successful in his inquiries than his friend.

That in this justly celebrated poem may be found a few rhymes which the critical precision of English prosody at this day would disallow, cannot be denied; but with this small imperfection, which in the general blaze of its excellence is not perceived till the mind has subsided into cool attention, it is, undoubtedly, one of the noblest productions in our language both for sentiment and expression. The nation was then in that ferment against the court and the ministry, which some years after ended in the downfall of sir Robert Walpole ; and as it has been said, that tories are whigs when out of place, and whigs tories when in place; so, as a whig administration ruled with what force it could, a tory opposition had all the animation and all the eloquence of resistance to power, aided by the common topicks of patriotism, liberty, and independ

Accordingly, we find in Johnson's London the most spirited invectives against tyranny and oppression, the warmest predilection for his own country, and the pureșt love of virtue; interspersed with traits of his own particular character and situation, not omitting his preju

ence.

h Sir Joshua Reynolds, from the information of the younger Richardson. BOSWELL. Ubi, ubi est, diu celari non potest. Terence.--Ed.

i See p. 99,

« PreviousContinue »