« PreviousContinue »
COW PERTHWAIT & CO. PHILADELPHIA.
When the works of a great writer, who has be-/ require nothing but the truth. Nam nec historia queathed to posterity a lasting legacy, are pre-debet egredi veritatem, et honeste factis veritas sufi. sented to the world, it is naturally expected, ihat cit. This rule the present biographer promises some account of his life should accompany the shall guide his pen throughout the following nar. edition. The reader wishes to know as much as rative. possible of the author. The circumstances that It may be said, the death of Dr. Johnson kept attended him, the features of his private charac- the public mind in agitation beyond all former ter, his conversation, and the means by which example. No literary character ever excited so he rose to eminence, becomes the favourite ob- much attention; and, when the press has teemed jects of inquiry. Curiosity is excited; and the with anecdotes, apophthegms, essays, and publiadmirer of his works is eager to know his pri- cations of every kind, what occasion now for a vate opinions, his course of study, the particu- new tract on the same threadbare subject? The larities of his conduct, and, above all, whether plain truth shall be the answer. The propriehe pursued the wisdom which he recommends, tors of Johnson's Works thought the life, which and practised the virtue which his writings in- they prefixed to their former edition, too unweildy spire. A principle of gratitude is awakencd in for republication. The prodigious variety of foevery generous mind. For the entertainment reign matter, introduced into that performance, and instruction which genius and diligence have seemed to overload the memory of Dr. Johnson, provided for the world, men of refined and sensi- and in the account of his own life to leave him ble tempers are ready to pay their tribute of hardly visible. They wished to have a more praise, and even to form a posthumous friend-concise, and, for that reason, perhaps a more saship with the anthor.
tisfactory account, such as may exhibit a just In reviewing the life of such a writer, there is, picture of the man, and keep him the principai besides, a rule of justice to which the public have figure in the foreground of his own picture. an undoubted claim. Fond admiration and par- To comply with that request is the design o tial friendship should not be suffered to represent this essay, which the writer undertakes with a his virtues with exaggeration; nor should ma- trembling hand. He has no discoveries, no se. lignity be allowed, under a specious disguise, to cret anecdotes, no occasional controversy, no magnify mere defects, the usual failings of hu- sudden flashes of wit and humour, no private man nature, into vice or gross deformity. The conversation, and no new facts to embellish his lights and shades of the character should be work. Every thing has been gleaned. Dr. given; and, if this be done with a strict regard to Johnson said of himself, “I am not uncandid truth, a just estimate of Dr. Johnson will afford nor severe: I sometimes say more than I mean, a lesson, perhaps as valuable as the moral doc- in jest, and people are apt to think me serious."* trine that speaks with energy in every page of the exercise of that privilege which is enjoyed his works.
by every man in society, has not been allowed The present writer enjoyed the conversation to him. His fame has given importance even to and friendship of that excellent man more than trifles; and the zeal of his friends has brought thirty years. He thought it an honour to be so every thing to light. What should be related, connected, and to this hour he reflects on his loss and what should not, has been published withwith regret : but regret, he knows has secret out distinction. Dicenda tacenda locui! Every bribes, by which the judgment may be influ- thing that fell from him has been caught with enced, and partial affection may be carried be- eagerness by his admirers, who, as he says in yond the bounds of truth. In the present case, one of his letters, have acted with the diligence however, nothing needs to be disguised, and ex- of spies upon his conduct. To some of them aggerated praise is unnecessary. It is an ob- the following lines, in Mallet's Poem, on verbal servation of the younger Pliny, in his Epistle to criticism, are not inapplicable : his friend Tacitus, that history ought never to magnify matters of fact, because worthy actions * Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. ii. p. 465. 4to. edit
"Such that grave bird in Northern seas is found, where he was not remarkable for diligence or
regular application. Whatever he read, bis ies This humble friend attends from shore to share;
nacious memory made his own. In the fields With eye still earnest, and with bill inclined, with his school-fellows, he talhed more to himHe picks up what his patron left behind,
sell than with bis companions. In 1725, when With those choice cates his palatr to regale, And is the careful Tibbald of a Whale."
he was about sixteen years old, he went on a
visit to his cousin Cornelius Ford, who detained After so many essays and volumes of Johnsoni- him for some months, and in the man tine asana, what remains for the present writer ? Per sisted him in the classics. The general direchaps, what has not been attempted; a short, yet tion for his studies, which he then received, he full-a faithful, yet temperate, history of Dr. related to Mrs. l'iozzi. "Ubtain,” says Ford, Johnson.
"some general principles of every science: he
who can talk only on one subject, or act only in SAMUEL JOHNSON was born at Litchfield, Sep-one department, is seldom wanted, and perhaps tember 7, 1709, 0. S.* His father Michael never wished for; while the man of general Johnson was a' bookseller in that city; a man knowledge can often benefit, and alwaysplease.” of large athletic make, and violent passions ; This advice Johnson seems to have pursued with wrong-headed, positive, and at times atilicted a good inclination. His reading was always dewith a degree of melancholy, little short of mad- sultory, seldom resting on any particular aindor,
His mother was sister to Dr. Ford, a but rambling from one book io another, and, by practising physician, and father of Cornelius lasty snatches, hoarding up a variety of knows Ford, generally known by the name of PARSON ledge. It may be proper in this place to menFord, the same who is represented near the tion another general rule laid dow'n by Ford for punch-bowl in Hogarth's Midnight Modern Jolinson's future conduct: “You will make your Conversation. In the life of Fenton, Johnson way the more easily in the world, as you are consays, that “his abilities, instead of furnishing tented to dispute no man's claim to conversation convivial merriment to the voluptuous and disso- excellence: they will, therefore, more willingly lute, might have enabled him to excel among the allow your pretensions as a writer.” But," virtuous and the wise." Being chaplain to the says Mrs. Piozzi, “the features of peculiarity, Earl of Chesterfield, he wished to attend that which mark a character to all succeeding genenobleman on his embassy to the Hague. Colorations, are slow in coming to their growth.” ley Cibber has recorded the anecdote. “You That ingenious lady adds, with her usual vivashould go," said the witty peer,“if to your many city,“ Can one, on such an occasion, forbear revices you would add one more,” “Pray, my collecting the predictions of Boileau's father, Lord, what is that?” “Hypocrisy, my dear Doc- who said, stroking the head of the young satirist, tor.” Johnson had a younger brother named this little man has too much wit, but he will ne Nathaniel, who died at the age of twenty-seven ver speak ill of any one ?"" or twenty-eight. Michael Johnson, the father, On Johnson's return from Cornelius Ford, was chosen in the year 1718, under bailill of Mr. Hunter, then master of the Free-school at Litchfield; and in the year 1725 he served the Litchfield, refused to receive him again on that office of the senior bailifl. He had a brother of foundation. At this distance of time, what his the name of Andrew, who, for some years, kept reasons were, it is vain to inquire; but to refuse the ring at Smithfield, appropriated to wrestlers assistance to a lad of promising genius must be and boxers. Our author used to say, that he was pronounced harsh and illiberal. It did not, hownever thrown or conquered. Michael, the fa-ever stop the progress of the yong student's ther, died December 1731, at the age of seventy- education. He was placed at another school,
his mother at eighty-nine, of a gradual de- at Stourbridre in Worcestershire, under the cay, in the year 1759. Of the family nothing care of Nir. Wentworth. Having gone through more can be related worthy of notice. “Johnson the rudiments of classic literature, he returned did not delight in talking of his relations, to his father's house, and was probably intended “There is little pleasure,” he said to Mrs. Piozzi, for the trade of a bookseller. He has been heard “in relating the anecdotes of beggary.”
to say that he could bind a book. At the end Johnson derived from his parents, or from an of two years, being then about nineteen, he went unwholesome nurse, the distemper called the to assist the studies of a young gentleman of the king's evil. The jacobites at that time believed name of Corbett, to the University of Oxford; in the efficacy of the royal touch; and accord and on the 31st of October, 1728, both were eningly Mrs. Johnson presented her son, when two tered of Pembroke College; Corbett, as a gentleyears old, before Queen Anne, who, for the first man-commoner, and Johnson as a commoner. time, performed that office, and communicated The college intor, Mr. Jordan, was a man of'no to her young patient all the healing virtue in her genius; and Jolmson, it seems, showed an early power. He was afierwards cut for ihat scrophu- contempt of mean abilities, in one or two inlous humour, and the under part of his face was
stances behaving with insolence to that gentleseamed and disfigured by the operation. It is man.
Of his general conduct at the university supposed that this disease deprived him of the there are no particulars that merit attention, exsight of his left eye, and also impaired his hear- cept the translation of Pope's Messiah, which ing. At eight years old he was placed under was a college exercise imposed upon him as a Mr. Hawkins, at the Free-school in Litchfield, task, by Mr. Jordan. Corbett left the university
in about two years, and Johnson's salary ceased. *This appears in a note to Johnson's Diary, prefixed to stances: but he still remained ai college. Mr
He was by consequence straitened in his circumthe first of his prayers. After the alirration of the style, he kept his birth-eíny on the 19th of September, and it is Jordan the tutor, went off to a living; and was accordingly marked September, 7-18.
succeeded by Dr. Adams, who afterwards be