« VorigeDoorgaan »
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL. D.
In 1764 and 1765 it should seem that Dr. Johnson was so busily employed with his edition of Shakspeare, as to have had little leisure for any other literary exertion, or, indeed, even for private correspondence. He did not favour me with a single letter for more than two years,
for which it will appear that he afterwards apologized.
He was, however, at all times ready to give assistance to his friends and others, in revising their works, and in writing for them, or greatly improving their dedications. In that courtly species of composition no man excelled Dr. Johnson. Though the loftiness of his mind prevented him from ever dedicating in his own person, he wrote a very great number of dedications for others. Some of these, the persons who were favoured with them are unwilling should be mentioned, from a too anxious apprehension, as I think, that they might be suspected of having received larger assistance; and some, after all the diligence I have bestowed, have escaped my enquiries. He told me, a great many years ago,
“ he believed he had dedicated to all the royal family round;" and it was indifferent to him what was the subject of the work dedicated, provided it were innocent. He once dedicated some musick for the German flute to Edward duke of York. In writing dedications for others, he considered himself as by no means speaking his own sentiments.
Notwithstanding his long silence, I never omitted to write to him, when I had any thing worthy of communicating.
I generally kept copies of my letters to him, that I might have a full view of our correspondence, and never be at a loss to understand any reference in his letters. He kept the greater part of mine very carefully; and a short time before his death was attentive enough to seal them up in bundles, and order them to be delivered to me, which was accordingly done. Amongst them I found one, of which I had not made a copy, and which I own I read with pleasure at the distance of almost twenty years. It is dated November, 1765, at the palace of Pascal Paoli, in Corte, the capital of Corsica, and is full of generous enthusiasm. After giving a sketch of what I had seen and heard in that island, it proceeded thus: “ I dare to call this a spirited tour. I dare to challenge your approbation.”
This letter produced the following answer, which I found on my arrival at Paris.
A MR. MR. BOSWELL, CHEZ MR. WATERS, BANQUIER,
“ DEAR SIR, -Apologies are seldom of any use. will delay till your arrival the reasons, good or bad, which have made me such a sparing and ungrateful correspondent. Be assured, for the present, that nothing has lessened either the esteem or love with which I dismissed you at Harwich. Both have been increased by all that I have been told of you by yourself or others; and when you return, you will return to an unaltered, and, I hope, unalterable friend.
“ All that you have to fear from me is the vexation of disappointing me. No man loves to frustrate expectations which have been formed in his favour; and the pleasure which I promise myself from your journals and remarks is so great, that perhaps no degree of attention or discernment will be sufficient to afford it.
“ Come home, however, and take your chance. I long to see you, and to hear you; and hope that we shall not be so long separated again. Come home, and expect such
welcome as is due to him whom a wise and noble curiosity has led, where perhaps no native of this country ever was before. I have no news to tell
that can deserve your notice; nor would I willingly lessen the pleasure that any novelty may give you at your return. I am afraid we shall find it difficult to keep among us a mind which has been so long feasted with variety. But let us try what esteem and kindness can effect.
" As your father's liberality has indulged you with so long a ramble, I doubt not but you will think his sickness, or even his desire to see you, a sufficient reason for hastening your return. The longer we live, and the more we think, the higher value we learn to put on the friendship and tenderness of parents and of friends. Parents we can have but once; and he promises himself too much, who enters life with the expectation of finding many friends. Upon some motive, I hope that you will be here soon; and am willing to think that it will be an inducement to your return, that it is sincerely desired by, dear sir,
66 Your affectionate humble servant, “ Johnson's Court, Fleet-street,
5. SAM, JOHNSON. January 14, 1766.”
I returned to London in February, and found Dr. Johnson in a good house in Johnson's-court, Fleet-street, in which he had accommodated Miss Williams with an apartment on the ground floor, while Mr. Levett occupied his post in the garret: his faithful Francis was still attending
He received me with much kindness. The fragments of our first conversation, which I have preserved, are these : I told him that Voltaire, in a conversation with me, had distinguished Pope and Dryden thus :-“ Pope drives a handsome chariot, with a couple of neat trim nags; Dryden a coach, and six stately horses.” JOHNSON. “ Why, sir, the truth is, they both drive coaches and six ; but Dryden's horses are either galloping or stumbling;
Pope's go at a steady even trot a.” He said of Goldsmith's Traveller, which had been published in my absence, “ There has not been so fine a poem since Pope's time.”
And here it is proper to settle, with authentick precision, what has long floated in publick-report, as to Johnson's being himself the author of a considerable part of that poem. Much, no doubt, both of the sentiments and expression were derived from conversation with him ; and it was certainly submitted to his friendly revision : but in the year 1783, he at my request marked with a pencil the lines which he had furnished, which are only line 420,
To stop too fearful, and too faint to go; and the concluding ten lines, except the last couplet but one, which I distinguish by the Italick character:
How small of all that human hearts endure,
power but rarely known, Leave reason, faith, and conscience, all our own. He added, “ These are all of which I can be sure.” They bear a small proportion to the whole, which consists of four hundred and thirty-eight verses. Goldsmith, in the couplet which he inserted, mentions Luke as a person well known, and superficial readers have passed it over quite smoothly; while those of more attention have been
a It is remarkable that Mr. Gray has employed somewhat the same image to characterize Dryden. He, indeed, furnishes his car with but two horses ; but they are of “ethereal race:"
Behold where Dryden's less presumptuous car
Ode on the Progress of Poesy.--Boswell.