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HORTLY after the death of Johnson-the day after, according to Dr. Michael Lort in his letter to Bishop Percy, Nichols' "Illustrations of Literature," vol. vii., p. 467— there appeared the first of the various Lives of Johnson. It was entitled: "The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D., with Occasional Remarks on his Writings, an authentic Copy of his Will, and Catalogue of his Works :" and was published in 8vo., by Kearsley. It ran through several editions. The author of this anonymous sketch was William Cooke, afterwards known by the name of Conversation Cooke, from a poem of his entitled Conversation." The author professes to give but a “sketch warm from the Life;" but, sketch though it be, it contains the main facts of Johnson's life, stated with considerable accuracy and precision. A few even of the original letters, which we meet with in Boswell's matured "Life," are given in the course of this narrative.
The animated sketch of Thomas Tyers, appeared in two consecutive numbers of the "Gentleman's Magazine," the number for December, 1784, and that for January, 1785. It is reprinted at full length in the volume "Johnsoniana," p. 171-193. Boswell, though he refused to avail himself to any great extent of this sketch, admits that it may be regarded as "an entertaining little collection of fragments" (vol. iii., p. 24). Tom Tyers was a favourite; his vivacity and eccentricity endeared him to Johnson, and this essay in the "Gentleman's Magazine" confirms the justice of Boswell's
remark, that Tyers had lived with Johnson in as easy a manner as almost any of his very numerous acquaintance.
Within a year after the publication of these mere sketches by Cooke and Tyers, there appeared, “Memoirs of the Life and Writings of the late Dr. Samuel Johnson, printed by J. Walker, 44, Pater-Noster Row, 1785." This also was anonymous, but internal evidence of a very cogent character plainly points to the Rev. William Shaw as the author of this little volume of 197 pages 12mo.-which has become exceedingly
From the notices of Shaw which we find in Boswell, and especially from the statements of Shaw himself in this little volume, the chief particulars regarding his relations to Johnson may be satisfactorily ascertained.
About Christmas of 1774-just, therefore, as the " "Journey to the Western Islands" was about to leave the press-through the kind offices of their common friend Mr. Elphinston, Shaw had been introduced to Johnson,' who eagerly interrogated the young Highlander "on his knowledge of Erse, and whether the Poems of Fingal existed in that language." The candour of Shaw, who confessed his ignorance of their existence, though he admitted that he had often endeavoured to satisfy himself on the point, at once recommended him to Johnson's friendship and sympathy. In a letter to Boswell under date March 14, 1777,' he says, that "one Shaw, who seems a modest and a decent man, has written an Erse grammar, which a very learned Highlander, Mr. Macbean, has, at my request, examined and approved." The grammar was still in manuscript, but its publication had been recommended by formal proposals, a parcel of which were forwarded to Boswell. The real author of "the proposals for an Analysis of the Scotch Celtic Language," Boswell at once discovered, and saw in them
Memoirs, &c., p. 148.
2 Vol. ii., p. 375.
an illumination of the pen of Johnson.' In due time the little book was published at London, 1778, as " An Analysis of the Gaelic Language." Encouraged by the success with which, he says, his labours were received, he conceived the plan of "a Collection of all the Vocables in the Gaelic Language, that could be collected from the voice, or old books and MSS." Johnson entering into his scheme with true interest, encouraged him to appeal to the Scottish nation to raise a fund for the undertaking. An attempt was therefore made to enlist the sympathies and gain the support of the Highland Society; but the machinations, as our author asserts, of Macpherson, who was aware of Shaw's connection with Johnson, defeated these efforts. In his vexation and disappointment, he turned to Johnson for advice; professed to him that he would risk his little all, three or four hundred pounds, if he could entertain any hopes of his outlays being ultimately refunded. Courage and perseverance were inspired into his heart by a speech the Doctor made to him on this occasion. "Sir, if you give the world a vocabulary of that language, while the island of Great Britain stands in the Atlantic Ocean, your name will be mentioned." The youthful enthusiasm of Shaw was rekindled by the noble words, and setting forth that same spring, he travelled in the pursuit of his object 3,000 miles, finished the work at his own expense, and "has not to this day been paid their subscriptions by his countrymen." Thus "A Gaelic and English Dictionary, containing all the words in the Scotch and Irish dialects of the Celtic, that could be collected from the voice, and old books, and MSS.," was published in London, in 2 vols. 4to., 1780.
In the year after this, he returned to the more distinctively Ossianic controversy in "An Enquiry into the Authenticity of the Poems ascribed to Ossian. By W. Shaw, A.M. London, 1 Vol. ii., p. 376. 2 Ibid., p. 152. 3 Memoirs, p. 153. Ibid., p. 154. See also Life, vol. iii., p. 349.
1781"; and when Mr. John Clark of Edinburgh attacked he for the opinions he had expressed in the above pamphlet, there is no doubt that Johnson contributed largely to the "Reply to Mr. Clark's Answers," London, 1782. Boswell in the "Life" selects a few paragraphs from this answer, which "mark their great author." The controversy continued, and waxed warmer: Mr. Clark answered (1783) Mr. Shaw's reply, and a "Rejoinder to an Answer from Mr. Clark on the subject of Ossian's Poems" was published by Mr. Shaw in 1784.
In answer to an appeal which Shaw addressed to Johnson, "to state the facts at large, which first led you to a discovery of this monstrous imposition, to rescue your Gallic (sic) coadjutors from the odium incurred by espousing your cause,' he assures us that had Johnson's health permitted, he intended "to have published a state of the controversy from the beginning, to balance the arguments and evidence on both sides, and to pronounce judgment on the whole." There seems to be no record of the subsequent history of this able and vigorous man. From a letter of Johnson to Boswell,' we learn that Shaw had sought Johnson's help to obtain for him, through Lord Eglinton, a chaplaincy in one of the newlyraised (Highland) Regiments. Of this intervention, if indeed it were made, nothing further is said. It would appear as if Johnson induced him "to take orders in the Church of England," though he lived not to see him provided for. Upon his going to settle in Kent in 1780 as a curate, Johnson wrote to Mr. Allen, the vicar of St. Nicholas, Rochester, in his favour, the following letter:
"Mr. William Shaw, the gentleman from whom you will receive this, is a studious and literary man he is a stranger and will
1 Vol. iii., p. 349-50.
2 Memoirs, p. 159-64.
Life, vol. ii., p. 470.
be glad to be introduced into proper company: and he is my friend, and any civility you shall show him, will be an obligation on, Sir, your most obedient servant, (Signed) "SAM. JOHNSON."
In the preface to his little volume of Memoirs he tells us that he had been favoured with contributions from Mrs. Desmoulins, Thomas Davies of Covent Garden, and, above all, from Mr. Elphinston, who had introduced him to Johnson.
Omitting for the present any allusion to the "Journal of the Tour to the Hebrides," which Boswell published in 1785, the next book which occupied the attention of the world was "The Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D., during the last twenty years of his life, by Hesther Lynch Piozzi." From a letter of Walpole's, in Mr. Hayward's "Life and Writings of Mrs. Piozzi," vol. i., p. 290, we learn that it came out on the 26th of March, 1786. The sale was rapid. It is said that when the king sent for a copy of the “Anecdotes” on the evening of the day of publication, not a single copy was to be had.' Though printed in London, the "Anecdotes" had been written in Italy. It was at Venice that she learnt by a letter from Cadell, her publisher, that he never brought out a work the sale of which was so rapid, and that rapidity of so long continuance.' With very pardonable exultation, she says, "I suppose the fifth edition will meet me at my return." The "Anecdotes" gave great offence to Johnson's friends, to none more than to Boswell. He who was, on the whole, singularly kind, genial, and considerate in his estimate of character, was impelled, reluctantly we believe, to turn aside and animadvert on her not infrequent inaccuracies, and her somewhat heartless levities, in her delineations of Johnson's character and habits. Just as we seem to see the monk whom Sterne sketches at the opening of the "Sentimental Journey"— mild, pale, penetrating — so Boswell's
1 Hayward's Piozzi, vol. i., p. 291.
2 Ibid., p. 291.