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French and Italian, I do not know; but he was so well skilled in them, as to be sufficiently qualified for a translator. That part of his labour which consisted in emendation and improvement of the productions of other contributors, like that employed in levelling ground, can be perceived only by those who had an opportunity of comparing the original with the altered copy. What we certainly know to have been done by him in this way, was the debates in both houses of parliament, under the name of The Senate of Lilliput, sometimes with feigned denominations of the several speakers, sometimes with denominations formed of the letters of their real names, in the manner of what is called anagram, so that they might easily be deciphered. Parliament then kept the press in a kind of mysterious awe, which made it necessary to have recourse to such devices. In our time it has acquired an unrestrained freedom, so that the people in all parts of the kingdom have a fair, open, and exact report of the actual proceedings of their representatives and legislators, which in our constitution is highly to be valued; though, unquestionably, there bas of late been too much reason to complain of the petulance with which obscure scribblers have presumed to treat men of the most respectable character and situation.
This important article of the Gentleman's Magazine was, for several years, executed by Mr. William Guthrie, a man who deserves to be respectably recorded in the literary annals of this country. He was descended of an ancient family in Scotland ; but having a small patrimony, and being an adherent of the unfortunate house of Stnart, he could not accept of any office in the state ; be therefore came to London, and employed his talents and learning as an author by profession. His writings in history, criticism, and politicks, had considerable merita. He was the first English historian who had recourse to that authentick source
a How much poetry he wrote, I know not; but he informed me that he was the author of the beautiful little piece, The Eagle and Robin-red-breast, in the collection of poems entitled, The Union, though it is there said to be written by Archibald Scott, before the year 1600.-BOSWELL.
of information, the parliamentary journals; and such was the power of his political pen, that, at an early period, government thought it worth their while to keep it quiet by a pension, which he enjoyed till his death. Johnson esteemed him enough to wish that his life should be written, The debates in parliament, which were brought home and digested by Guthrie, whose memory, though surpassed by others who have since followed him in the same department, was yet very quick and tenacious, were sent by Cave to Johnson for his revision; and after some time, when Guthrie had attained to greater variety of employment, and the speeches were more and more enriched by the accession of Johnson's genius, it was resolved that he should do the whole himself, from the scanty notes furnished by persons employed to attend in both houses of parliament. Sometimes, however, as he himself told me, he had nothing more communicated to him than the names of the several speakers, and the part which they had taken in the debate.
Thus was Johnson employed during some of the best years of his life, as a mere literary labourer" for gain, not glory," solely to obtain an honest support. He, however, indulged himself in occasional little sallies, which the French so happily express by the term 'jeux d'esprit,' and which will be noticed in their order, in the progress of this work.
But what first displayed his transcendent powers, and “ gave
the world assurance of the man,” was his LONDON, a Poem, in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal; which came out in May this year, and burst forth with a splendour, the rays of which will for ever encircle his name. Boileau had imitated the same satire with great success, applying it to Paris : but an attentive comparison will satisfy every reader, that he is much excelled by the English Juvenal. Oldham had also imitated it, and applied it to London; all which performances concur to prove, that great cities, in every age, and in every country, will furnish similar topicks of satire. Whether Johnson had previously
read Oldham's imitation, I do not know; but it is not a little remarkable, that there is scarcely any coincidence found between the two performances, though upon the very same subject. The only instances are, in describing London as the sink of foreign worthlessness.
-the common shore,
OLDHAM. The common shore of Paris and of Rome. JOHNSON.
No calling or profession comes amiss,
The particulars which Oldham has collected, both as exhibiting the horrours of London, and of the times, contrasted with better days, are different from those of Johnson, and in general well chosen, and well exprestb.
There are in Oldham's imitation, many prosaick verses and bad rhymes; and his poem sets out with a strange inadvertent blunder:
Though much concern’d to leave my dear old friend,
Of fixing in the country
6 I own it pleased me to find amongst them one trait of the manners of the age in Lordon, in the last century, to shield from the sneer of English ridicule, what was some time ago too common a practice in my native city of Edinburgh.
If what I've said can't from the town affright,
BoswELL. See the Praxis Rerum Criminalium of Damhouderius, for a law against this nauseous practice, which, in spite of Boswell's vindication, we must insist was retained longer in the Scottish capital than our own. Che curious work alluded to has a pictorial illustration of the mode of committing each crime it denounces; and among others the northern offence of ejectment.--Ed.
was going to leave him. A young lady at once corrected this with good critical sagacity, to
Though much concern'd to lose my dear old friend. There is one passage in the original, better transfused by Oldham than by Johnson:
Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se,
which is an exquisite remark on the galling meanness and contempt annexed to poverty. Johnson's imitation is,
Of all the griefs that harass the distrest,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest. Oldham's, though less elegant, is more just :
Nothing in poverty so ill is borne,
As its exposing men to grinning scorn. Where, or in what manner this poem was composed, I am sorry that I neglected to ascertain with precision, from Johnson's own authority. He has marked upon his corrected copy of the first edition of it, “ Written in 1738;" and as it was published in the month of May in that year, it is evident that much time was not employed in preparing it for the press. The history of its publication I am enabled to give in a very satisfactory manner; and judging from myself, and many of my friends, I trust that it will not be uninteresting to my readers.
We may be certain, though it is not expressly named in the following letters to Mr. Cave, in 1738, that they all relate to it.
TO MR. CAVE.
“ Castle-street, Wednesday morning,
[No date. 1738.] “SIR, When I took the liberty of writing to you a few days ago, I did not expect a repetition of the same pleasure so soon; for a pleasure I shall always think it, to converse in
any manner with an ingenious and candid man; but having the euclosed poem in my hands to dispose of for the benefit of the author, (of whose abilities I shall say nothing, since I send you his performance,) I believed I could not procure more advantageous terms from any person than from you, who have so much distinguished yourself by your generous encouragement of poetry; and whose judgment of that art nothing but your commendation of my trifle can give me any occasion to call in question. I do not doubt but you will look over this poem with another eye, and reward it in a different manner from a mercenary bookseller, who counts the lines he is to purchase, and considers nothing but the bulk. I cannot help taking notice, that besides what the author may hope for on account of his abilities, he has likewise another claim to your regard, as he lies at present under very disadvantageous circumstances of fortune. I beg, therefore, that you will favour me with a letter to-morrow, that I may know what you can afford to allow him, that he may either part with it to you, or find out (which I do not expect) some other way more to his satisfaction.
I have only to add, that as I am sensible I have transcribed it very coarsely, which, after having altered it, I was obliged to do, I will, if you please to transmit the sheets from the press, correct it for you; and take the trouble of altering any stroke of satire which you may dislike.
“ By exerting on this occasion your usual generosity, you will not only encourage learning, and relieve distress, but (though it be in comparison of the other motives of very small account) oblige in a very sensible manner, sir,
“ Your very humble servant,
TO MR. CAVE,
· Monday, No. 6, Castle-street. “SIR, I am to return you thanks for the present you so kind as to send by me, and to entreat that you will
c His Ode Ad Urbanum, probably.—Nichols.