[ocr errors]







The Dictionary.





Johnson writes the "Life of Cave.” ·
- Lord Chesterfield. His alleged Neglect of John-
His Papers in "The World," in Recom-
mendation of the Dictionary. - Letter to the Earl.
-Bolingbroke's Works edited by Mallet. - Johnson
visits Oxford for the Purpose of consulting the
Libraries. His Conversations with Mr. Warton,
Mr. Wise, and others. Sir Robert Chambers.·
Letters to Warton. Collins.

IN 1754 I can trace nothing published by him, except his numbers of the Adventurer, and " The Life of Edward Cave," in the Gentleman's Magazine for February. In biography there can be no question that he excelled, beyond all who have attempted that species of composition; upon which, indeed, he set the highest value. To the minute



selection of characteristical circumstances, for which the ancients were remarkable, he added a philosophical research, and the most perspicuous and energetic language. (1) Cave was certainly a man of estimable qualities, and was eminently diligent and successful in his own business, which, doubtless, entitled him to respect. But he was peculiarly fortunate in being recorded by Johnson; who, of the narrow life of a printer and publisher, without any digressions or adventitious circumstances, has made an interesting and agreeable narrative.

The Dictionary, we may believe, afforded Johnson full occupation this year. As it approached to its conclusion, he probably worked with redoubled vigour, as seamen increase their exertion and alacrity when they have a near prospect of their haven.

Lord Chesterfield, to whom Johnson had paid the high compliment of addressing to his lordship the Plan of his Dictionary, had behaved to him in such a manner as to excite his contempt and indignation. The world has been for many years amused with a story confidently told, and as confidently repeated with additional circumstances, that a sudden disgust was taken by Johnson upon occasion of his having been one day kept long in waiting in his lordship's

(1) This is not Johnson's appropriate praise; and, indeed, his want of attention to details is his greatest, if not his only, fault, as a biographer. In the whole Life of Savage there is not one date. Several details and corrections of errors, with which he was furnished for his Lives of the Poets, were wholly neglected. But in truth Mr. Boswell himself has, more than any other writer, contributed to create the public taste for biographical details; "the minute selection of characteristic circumstances was neither the style of Johnson, nor the fashion of his day. - CROKER.

antechamber, for which the reason assigned was, that he had company with him; and that at last, when the door opened, out walked Colley Cibber; and that Johnson was so violently provoked when he found for whom he had been so long excluded, that he went away in a passion, and never would return. I remember having mentioned this story to George Lord Lyttelton, who told me he was very intimate with Lord Chesterfield; and, holding it as a wellknown truth, defended Lord Chesterfield by saying, that "Cibber, who had been introduced familiarly by the back-stairs, had probably not been there above ten minutes." It may seem strange even to entertain a doubt concerning a story so long and so widely current, and thus implicitly adopted, if not sanctioned, by the authority which I have mentioned; but Johnson himself assured me, that there was not the least foundation for it. (1) He told me, that there never was any particular incident which produced a quarrel between Lord Chesterfield and him; but that his lordship's continued neglect was the reason why he resolved to have no connection with him.

When the Dictionary was upon the eve of publication, Lord Chesterfield, who, it is said, had flattered himself with expectations that Johnson would dedicate the work to him, attempted, in a courtly manner, to soothe and insinuate himself with the sage, conscious, as it should seem, of the cold in

(1) [Mr. Croker observes, that some expressions in Dr. Johnson's celebrated letter (see p. 8. post) seem, nevertheless, to give colour to the story of his being detained in the anteroom; and it must be remembered, that, at this period, Hawkins, whose edition of the story is attacked by Boswell, was in constant habits of intercourse with Johnson.]

difference with which he had treated its learned author; and further attempted to conciliate him, by writing two papers in "The World," in recommendation of the work and it must be confessed, that they contain some studied compliments, so finely turned, that if there had been no previous offence, it is probable that Johnson would have been highly delighted. Praise, in general, was pleasing to him; but by praise from a man of rank and elegant accomplishments, he was peculiarly gratified. His Lordship says,

"I think the public in general, and the republic of letters in particular, are greatly obliged to Mr. Johnson for having undertaken and executed so great and desirable a work. Perfection is not to be expected from man; but if we are to judge by the various works of Johnson already published, we have good reason to believe, that he will bring this as near to perfection as any man could do. The Plan of it, which he published some years ago, seems to me to be a proof of it. Nothing can be more rationally imagined, or more accurately and elegantly expressed. I therefore recommend the previous perusal of it to all those who intend to buy the Dictionary, and who, I suppose, are all those who can afford it."



"It must be owned, that our language is, at present, in a state of anarchy, and hitherto, perhaps, it may not have been the worse for it. During our free and open trade, many words and expressions have been imported, adopted, and naturalised from other languages, which have greatly enriched our own. Let it still preserve what real strength and beauty it may have borrowed from others; but let it not, like the Tarpeian maid, be overwhelmed and crushed by unnecessary ornaments. The time for discrimination seems to be

« VorigeDoorgaan »