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put one in mind of Casimir's ode to Pope Urban:
“ Urbane, regum maxime, maxime
Urbane vatum."The Polish poet was, probably, at that time, in the hands of a man, who had meditated the history of the Latin poets. Guthrie, the historian, had, from July, 1736, composed the parliamentary speeches for the magazine ; but, from the beginning of the session, which opened on the 19th of November, 1740, Johnson succeeded to that department, and continued it from that time to the debate on spirituous liquors, which happened in the house of lords, in February, 1742-3. The eloquence, the force of argument, and the splendor of language, displayed in the several speeches, are well known, and universally admired. That Johnson was the author of the debates, during that period, was nct generally known ; but the secret transpired several years afterwards, and was avowed, by himself, on the following occasion. Mr. Wedderburne, now lord Loughborough', Dr. Johnson, Dr. Francis, the translator of Horace, the present writer, and others, dined with the late Mr. Foote. An important debate, towards the end of sir Robert Walpole's administration, being mentioned, Dr. Francis observed, “that Mr. Pitt's speech, on that occasion, was the best he had ever read.” He added, “that he had employed eight years of his life in the study of Demosthenes, and finished a translation of that celebrated orator, with all the decorations of style and language within the reach of his capacity; but he had met with nothing equal to the speech above mentioned.” Many of the company remembered the debate, and some passages were cited, with the approbation and applause of all present. During the ardour of conversation, Johnson remained silent. As soon as the warmth of praise subsided, he opened with these words: “That speech I wrote in a garret in Exeter street.” The company was struck with astonishment. After staring at each other in silent amaze, Dr. Francis asked, “how that speech could be written by him?" « Sir,” said Johnson, “I wrote it in Exeter street. I never had been in the gallery of the house of commons but once. Cave had interest with the door-keepers. He, and the persons employed under him, gained admittance; they brought away the subject of discussion, the names of the speakers, the side they took, and the
* Afterwards earl of Roslin. He died January 3, 1805.
order in which they rose, together with notes of the arguments advanced in the course of the debate. The whole was afterwards communicated to me, and I composed the speeches in the form which they now have in the parliamentary debates.". To this discovery, Dr. Francis made answer : “ Then, sir, you have exceeded Demosthenes himself; for to say, that you have exceeded Francis's Demosthenes, would be saying nothing.” The rest of the company bestowed lavish encomiums on Johnson: one, in particular, praised his impartiality; observing, that he dealt out reason and eloquence, with an equal hand to both parties. “ That is not quite true,” said Johnson ; " I saved appearances tolerably well; but I took care that the wuIG DOGS should not have the best of it.". The sale of the magazine was greatly increased by the parliamentary debates, which were continued by Johnson till the month of March, 1742-3. From that time the magazine was conducted by Dr. Hawkesworth.
In 1743-4, Osborne, the bookseller, who kept a shop in Gray's inn, purchased the earl of Oxford's library, at the price of thirteen thousand pounds. He projected a catalogue in five octavo volumes, at five shillings each. Johnson was employed in that painful drudgery. He was, likewise, to collect all such small tracts as were, in any degree, worth preserving, in order to reprint and publish the whole in a collection, called The Harleian Miscellany. The catalogue was completed; and the miscellany, in 1749, was published in eight quarto volumes. In this business Johnson was a day-labourer for immediate subsistence, not unlike Gustavus Vasa, working in the mines of Dalecarlia. What Wilcox, a bookseller of eminence in the Strand, said to Johnson, on his first arrival in town, was now almost confirmed. He lent our author five guineas, and then asked him, “ How do you mean to earn your livelihood in this town?" By my literary labours," was the answer. Wilcox, staring at him, shook his head : “ By your literary labours! You had better buy a porter's knot.” Johnson used to tell this anecdote to Mr. Nichols : but he said, “ Wilcox was one of my best friends, and he meant well.” In fact, Johnson, while employed in Gray's inn, may be said to have carried a porter's knot. He paused occasionally to peruse the book that came to his hand. Osborne thought that such curiosity tended to nothing but delay, and objected to it with all the pride and insolence of a man who knew that he paid daily wages. In the dispute that of course ensued, Osborne, with that roughness
which was natural to him, enforced his argument by giving the lie. Johnson seized a folio, and knocked the bookseller down. This story has been related as an instance of Johnson's ferocity; but merit cannot always take the spurns of the unworthy with a patient spirit *.
That the history of an author must be found in his works is, in general, a true observation; and was never more apparent than in the present narrative. Every æra of Johnson's life is fixed by his writings. In 1744, he published the life of Savage; and then projected a new edition of Shakespeare. As a prelude to that design, he published, in 1745, Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, with remarks on sir Thomas Hanmer's edition; to which were prefixed, Proposals for a new Edition of Shakespeare, with a specimen. Of this pamphlet, Warburton, in the preface to Shakespeare, has given his opinion : “ As to all those things, which have been published under the title of essays, remarks, observations, &c. on Shakespeare, if you except some critical notes on Macbeth, given as a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genius, the rest are absolutely below a serious notice.” But the attention of the public was not excited; there was no friend to promote a subscription, and the project died to revive at a future day. A new undertaking, however, was soon after proposed ; namely, an English dictionary upon an enlarged plan. Several of the most opulent booksellers had meditated a work of this kind; and the agreement was soon adjusted between the parties. Emboldened by this connexion, Johnson thought of a better habitation than he had hitherto known. He had lodged with his wife in courts and alleys about the Strand; but now, for the purpose of carrying on his arduous undertaking, and to be nearer his printer and friend, Mr. Strahan, he ventured to take a house in Gough square, Fleet street. He was told, that the earl of Chesterfield was a friend to his undertaking; and, in consequence of that intelligence, he published, in 1747, The Plan of a Dietionary of the English Language, addressed to the right honourable Philip Dormer, earl of Chesterfield, one of his majesty's principal secretaries of state. Mr. Whitehead, afterwards poet
* Mr. Boswell says, “ The simple truth I had from Johnson himself. he was impertinent to me, and I beat him. But it as not in his shop : it was in my own chamber.' »
laureate, undertook to convey the manuscript to his lordship: the consequence was an invitation from lord Chesterfield to the author. A stronger contrast of characters could not be brought together; the nobleman, celebrated for his wit, and all the graces of polite behaviour; the author, conscious of his own merit, towering in idea above all competition, versed in scholastic logic, but a stranger to the arts of polite conversation, uncouth, vehement, and vociferous. The coalition was too unnatural. Johnson expected a Mæcenas, and was disappointed. No patronage, no assistance followed. Visits were repeated; but the reception was not cordial. Johnson, one day, was left a full hour, waiting in an antichamber, till a gentleman should retire, and leave his lordship at leisure. This was the famous Colley Cibber. Johnson saw him go, and, fired with indignation, rushed out of the house!.. What lord Chesterfield thought of his visitor may be seen in a passage in one of that nobleman's letters to his son m. “ There is a man, whose moral character, deep learning, and superior parts, I acknowledge, admire, and respect; but whom it is so impossible for me to love, that I am almost in a fever, whenever I am in his company. His figure (without being deformed) seems made to disgrace or ridicule the common structure of the human body. His legs and arms are never in the position which, according to the situation of his body, they ought to be in, but constantly employed in committing acts of hostility upon the graces. He throws any where, but down his throat, whatever he means to drink; and mangles what he means to carve. Inattentive to all the regards of social life, he mistimes and misplaces every thing. He disputes with heat indiscriminately, mindless of the rank, character, and situation of those with whom he disputes. Absolutely ignorant of the several gradations of familiarity and respect, he is exactly the same to his superiors, his equals, and his inferiors; and, therefore, by a necessary consequence, is absurd to two of the three. Is it possible to love such a man? No. The utmost I can do for him is, to consider him a respectable Hottentot.” Such was the idea entertained by lord Chesterfield. After the incident of Colley Cibber, Johnson never repeated his visits. In his high and decisive tone, he has been often heard to say, “ lord Chesterfield is a wit among lords, and a lord among wits.”
I Dr. Johnson denies the whole of this story. See Boswell's Life, vol. i. p. 128. oct. edit. 1804.
m Letter 212.
In the course of the year 1747, Garrick, in conjunction with Lacy, became patentee of Drury lane playhouse. For the opening of the theatre, at the usual time, Johnson wrote, for his friend, the well-known prologue, which, to say no more of it, may, at least, be placed on a level with Pope's to the tragedy of Cato. The playhouse being now under Garrick's direction, Johnson thought the opportunity fair to think of his tragedy of Irene, which was his whole stock on his first arrival in town, in the year 1737. That play was, accordingly, put into rehearsal in January, 1749. As a precursor to prepare the way, and to awaken the public attention, The Vanity of human Wishes, a poem in imitation of the tenth satire of Juvenal, by the author of London, was published in the same month. In the Gentleman's Magazine, for February, 1749, we find that the tragedy of Irene was acted at Drury lane, on Monday, February the 6th, and, from that time, without interruption, to Monday, February the 20th, being in all thirteen nights. Since that time, it has not been exhibited on any stage. Irene
may be added to some other plays in our language, which have lost their place in the theatre, but continue to please in the closet. During the representation of this piece, Johnson attended every night behind the scenes. Conceiving that his character, as an author, required some ornament for his person, he chose, upon that occasion, to decorate himself with a handsome waistcoat, and a gold-laced hat. The late Mr. Topham Beauclerc, who had a great deal of that humour, which pleases the more for seeming undesigned, used to give a pleasant description of this green-room finery, as related by the author himself; “ But," said Johnson, with great gravity," I soon laid aside my gold-laced hat, lest it should make me proud.” The amount of the three benefit nights for the tragedy of Irene, it is to be feared, was not very considerable, as the profit, that stimulating motive, never invited the author to another dramatic attempt. Some years afterwards, when the present writer was intimate with Garrick, and knew Johnson to be in distress, he asked the manager, why he did not produce another tragedy for his Lichfield friend? Garrick's answer was remarkable: “When Johnson writes tragedy, 'declamation roars, and passion sleeps :' when Shakespeare wrote, he dipped his pen in his own heart."
There may, perhaps, be a degree of sameness in this regular