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press my sense of your favours?; but I am, indeed, much
my Shakspeare will not be out so soon as I promised my subscribers; but I did not promise them more than I promised myself. It will, however, be published before summer.
“I have sent you a bundle of proposals, which, I think, do not profess more than I have hitherto performed. I have printed many of the plays, and have hitherto left very few passages unexplained: where I am quite at loss, I confess my ignorance, which is seldom done by commentators.
“ I have likewise enclosed twelve receipts; not that I mean to impose upon you the trouble of pushing them with more importunity than may seem proper, but that you may rather have more than fewer than you will want. The proposals you will desseminate as there shall be an opportunity: I once printed them at length in the Chronicle, and some of my friends (I believe Mr. Murphy, who formerly wrote the Gray’s-Inn Journal) introduced them with a splendid encomium.
“ Since the Life of Browne, I have been a little engaged, from time to time, in the Literary Magazine, but not very lately. I have not the collection by me, and therefore cannot draw out a catalogue of my own parts, but will do it, and send it. Do not buy them, for I will gather all those that have any thing of mine in them, and send them to Mrs. Burney, as a small token of gratitude for the regard which she is pleased to bestow upon me.
I am, sir, your most obliged and most humble servant,
“ SAM, JOHNSON.”
Dr. Burney has kindly favoured me with the following memorandum, which I take the liberty to insert in his own genuine easy style. I love to exhibit sketches of my illustrious friend by various eminent hands.
“ Soon after this, Mr. Burney, during a visit to the capital, had an interview with him in Gough-square",
| This letter was an answer to one, in which was enclosed a draft for the payment of some subscriptions to his Shakspeare.--BOSWELL.
(If the error in the date of the letter to Mr. Langton, of January, 1759, had not been discovered, we might have doubted the accuracy of Dr. Burney as to his having been entertained by Johnson, in Gough-square, so late in the spring of 1758: but it is now plain that it was not till the spring of 1759 that he broke up his establishment there. -ED.]
Here he gave
where he dined and drank tea with him, and was introduced to the acquaintance of Mrs. Williams. After dinner, Mr. Johnson proposed to Mr. Burney to go up with him into his garret, which being accepted, he there found about five or six Greek folios, a deal writing-desk, and a chair and a half. Johnson giving to his guest the entire seat, tottered himself on one with only three legs and one arm. Mr. Burney Mrs. Williams's history, and showed him some volumes of his Shakspeare already printed, to prove that he was in earnest. Upon Mr. Burney's opening the first volume, at the Merchant of Venice, he observed to him, that he seemed to be more severe on Warburton than Theobald. • O poor Tib.! (said Johnson) he was ready knocked down to my hands; Warburton stands between me and him.'- But, sir (said Mr. Burney), you'll have Warburton upon your bones, won't you?'—'No, sir; he'll not come out: he'll only growl in his den.'—But you think, sir, that Warburton is a superiour critick to Theobald ?' -0, sir, he'd make two-and-fifty Theobalds, cut into slices ! The worst of Warburton is, that he hås a rage for saying something, when there's nothing to be said.'--Mr. Burney then asked him whether he had seen the letter which Warburton had written in answer to a pamphlet addressed “To the most impudent Man alive.'
He answered in the negative. Mr. Burney told him it was supposed to be written by Mallet. The controversy now raged between the friends of Pope and Bolingbroke; and Warburton and Mallet were the leaders of the several parties. Mr. Burney asked him then if he had seen Warburton's book against Bolingbroke's Philosophy? •No, sir; I have never read Bolingbroke's impiety, and therefore am not interested about its confutation ?."
' [Sec ante, p. 253. ED.)
- On the fifteenth of April he began a new periodical paper, entitled “ THE IDLER *,” which came out every Saturday in a weekly newspaper, called “ The Universal Chronicle, or Weekly Gazette,” published by Newbery'. These essays were continued till April 5, 1760. Of one hundred and three, their total number, twelve were contributed by his friends; of which, Numbers 33, 93, and 96, were written by Mr. Thomas Warton ; No. 67, by Mr. Langton; and No. 76, 79, and 82, by Sir Joshua Reynolds; the concluding words of No. 82, “and pollute his canvas with deformity,” being added by Johnson; as Sir Joshua informed me.
The IDLER is evidently the work of the same mind which produced the RAMBLER, but has less body and more spirit. It has more variety of real life, and greater facility of language. He describes the miseries of idleness, with the lively sensations of one who has felt them; and in his private memorandums while engaged in it, we find “ This year I hope to learn diligence.” Many of these excellent essays Prayers were written as hastily as an ordinary letter. Mr. Langton remembers Johnson, when on a visit at Oxford, asking him one evening how long it was till the post went out; and on being told about half an hour, he exclaimed, “then we shall do very well." He upon this instantly sat down and finished an Idler, which it was necessary should be in London the next day. Mr. Langton having signified a wish to read it, “Sir, (said he) you shall not do more than I have done myself.” He then folded it up, and sent it off. . . Yet there are in the Idler several papers which
1 This is a slight mistake. The first number of “ The Idler" appeared on the 15th of April, 1758, in No. 2 of the Universal Chronicle, &c., which was published by J. Payne, for whom also the Rambler had been printed. On the 29th of April this newspaper assumed the title of Payne's Universal Chronicle, &c.-MALONE.
show as much profundity of thought, and labour of language, as any of this great man's writings. No. 14, “ Robbery of Time;" No. 24, “ Thinking;” No. 41, “ Death of a Friend;" No. 43, “Flight of Time;" No. 51, “ Domestick greatness unattainable;" No. 52, “ Self-denial;” No. 58, “Actual, how short of fancied, excellence;" No. 89, “ Physical evil moral good ;" and his concluding paper on “ The horrour of the last,” will prove this assertion. I know not why a motto, the usual trapping of periodical papers, is prefixed to very few of the Idlers, as I have heard Johnson commend the custom; and he never could be at a loss for one, his memory being stored with innumerable passages of the classicks.
of the classicks. In this series of essays he exhibits admirable instances of mour, of which he had an uncommon share. Nor on some occasions has he repressed that power of sophistry which he possessed in so eminent a degree. In No. 11, he treats with the utmost contempt the opinion that our mental faculties depend, in some degree, upon the weather; an opinion, which they who have never experienced its truth are not to be envied, and of which he himself could not but be sensible, as the effects of weather upon him were very visible. Yet thus he declaims: “Surely nothing is more reproachful to a being endowed with reason, than to resign its powers to the influence of the air, and live in dependence on the weather and the wind for the only blessings which nature has put into our power, tranquillity and benevolence.—This distinction of seasons is produced only by imagination operating on luxury. To temperance, every day is bright; and every hour is propitious to diligence. He that shall resolutely excite his faculties, or exert his virtues, will soon make himself superiour to the seasons; and may set at defiance the morning mist and the even
ing damp, the blasts of the east, and the clouds of the south.”
Alas! it is too certain, that where the frame has delicate fibres, and there is a fine sensibility, such influences of the air are irresistible. He might as well have bid defiance to the ague, the palsy, and all other bodily disorders. Such boasting of the mind is false elevation :
“I think the Romans call it Stoicism." But in this number of his Idler his spirits seem to run riot'; for in the wantonness of his disquisition he forgets, for a moment, even the reverence for that which he held in high respect; and describes “the attendant on a court," as one “ whose business is to watch the looks of a being, weak and foolish as himself."
His unqualified ridicule of rhetorical gesture or action is not, surely, a test of truth; yet we cannot help admiring how well it is adapted to produce the effect which he wished. “ Neither the judges of our laws, nor the representatives of our people, would be much affected by laboured gesticulations, or believe any man the more because he rolled his eyes, or puffed his cheeks, or spread abroad his arms, or stamped the ground, or thumped his breast; or turned his eyes sometimes to the ceiling, and sometimes to the floor."
A casual coincidence with other writers, or an adoption of a sentiment or image which has been found in the writings of another, and afterwards appears in the mind as one's own, is not unfrequent.
(This doctrine of the little influence of the weather, however, seems to have been his fixed opinjon: he often repeated it in conversation. See post, 9th July, 1763.-E..]
? [See ante, p. 294. Mr. Boswell seems resolved to forget that Johnson's reverence for the court had not yet commenced. George II. was still alive, whom Johnson always abused, and sometimes very indecently. See ante, p. 118, and post, 6th April, 1776.-ED.]