He remained at Stourbridge little more than a year, and then he returned home, where he may be said to have loitered, for two years, in a state very unworthy his uncommon abilities. [His father was for some Hawk. time at a loss how to dispose of him: he probably had p. 9. a view to bring him up to his own trade; for Sir J. Hawkins heard Johnson say, that he himself was able to bind a book.] He had already given several proofs of his poetical genius, both in his school-exercises and in other occasional compositions. Of these I have obtained a considerable collection, by the favour of Mr. Wentworth, son of one of his masters, and of Mr. Hector, his schoolfellow and friend; from which I select some specimens [which will be found in the Appendix].

The two years which he spent at home, after his return from Stourbridge, he passed in what he thought idleness, and was scolded by his father for his want of steady application. He had no settled plan of life, nor looked forward at all, but merely lived from day to day. Yet he read a great deal in a desultory manner, without any scheme of study, as chance threw books in his way, and inclination directed him through them. He used to mention one curious instance of his casual reading, when but a boy. Having imagined that his brother had hid some apples behind a large folio upon an upper shelf in his father's shop, he climbed up to search for them. There were no apples; but the large folio proved to be Petrarch', whom he had seen mentioned, in some preface, as one of the restorers of learning. His curiosity having been thus excited, he sat down with avidity, and read a great part of the book. What he read during these two years, he told me, was not works of mere amusement, "not

[This was probably the folio edition of Petrarch's Opera Omnia quæ extant, Bas. 1554. It could have been only the Latin works that Johnson read, as there is no reason to suppose that he was, at this period, able to read Italian.-ED.]

voyages and travels, but all literature, sir, all ancient writers, all manly: though but little Greek, only some of Anacreon and Hesiod: but in this irregular manner (added he) I had looked into a great many books, which were not commonly known at the Universities, where they seldom read any books but what are put into their hands by their tutors; so that when I came to Oxford, Dr. Adams, now master of Pembroke College, told me, I was the best qualified for the University that he had ever known come there."


In estimating the progress of his mind during these two years, as well as in future periods of his life, we must not regard his own hasty confession of idleness; for we see, when he explains himself, that he was acquiring various stores; and, indeed, he himself concluded the account, with saying, "I would not have you think I was doing nothing then.” might, perhaps, have studied more assiduously; but it may be doubted, whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature, than if it had been confined to any single spot. The analogy between body and mind is very general, and the parallel will hold as to their food, as well as any other particular. The flesh of animals who feed excursively is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks1?

That a man in Mr Michael Johnson's circumstances should think of sending his son to the expensive university of Oxford, at his own charge,

[Dr. Johnson's prodigious memory and talents enabled him to collect from desultory reading a vast mass of general information; but he was in no science, and indeed we might almost say in no branch of literature, what is usually called a profound scholar-that character is only to be carned by laborious study; and Mr. Boswell's fanciful allusion to the flavour of the flesh of animals seems fallacious, not to say foolish.-ED.]

seems very improbable. The subject was too delicate to question Johnson upon; but I have been assured by Dr. Taylor, that the scheme never would have taken place, had not a gentleman of Shropshire, one of his schoolfellows, spontaneously undertaken to support him at Oxford, in the character of his companion: though, in fact, he never received any assistance whatever from that gentleman.

P. 9, 10.

[Sir John Hawkins thus states this circumstance: Hawk. A neighbouring gentleman, Mr. Andrew Corbett, having a son, who had been educated in the same school with Johnson, whom he was about to send to Pembroke College in Oxford, a proposal was made and accepted, that Johnson should attend this son thither, in quality of assistant in his studies; and accordingly, on the 31st day of October, 1728, they were both entered, Corbett as a gentleman commoner, and Johnson as a commoner. Whether it was discouragement in the outset of their studies, or any other ground of disinclination that moved him to it, is not known, but this is certain, that young Corbett could not brook submission to a man who seemed to be little more learned than himself, and that having a father living, who was able to dispose of him in various other ways, he, after about two years' stay, left the college, and went home. But the case of Johnson was far different; his fortunes were at sea; his title to a stipend was gone, and all that he could obtain from the father of Mr. Corbett was an agreement, during his continuance at college, to pay for his commons1.]

1 Mr. Murphy, in his Life of Johnson, follows Hawkins; but the date of [Mr. Corbett's entry into and retirement from college does not tally with either Boswell's or Hawkins's account. Andrew Corbett appears, from the books of Pembroke College (as Dr. Hall informs me), to have been admitted 24th February, 1727, and his name was removed from the books February 21, 1732 so that, as Johnson entered in Oct. 1728, and does not appear to have returned after Christmas, 1729, Corbett was of the University twenty months before, and twelve or thirteen months after Johnson. And, on re

He, however, went to Oxford, and was entered a commoner of Pembroke College, on the 31st of October, 1728, being then in his nineteenth year.

The Reverend Dr. Adams, who afterwards presided over Pembroke College with universal esteem, told me he was present, and gave me some account of what passed on the night of Johnson's arrival at Oxford. On that evening, his father, who had anxiously accompanied him, found means to have him introduced to Mr. Jorden, who was to be his tutor. His being put under any tutor, reminds us of what Wood says of Robert Burton, author of the "Anatomy of Melancholy," when elected student of Christ-church; "for form's sake, though he wanted not a tutor, he was put under the tuition of Dr. John Bancroft, afterwards Bishop of Oxon1."

His father seemed very full of the merits of his son, and told the company he was a good scholar, and a poet, and wrote Latin verses. His figure and manner appeared strange to them; but he behaved modestly, and sat silent, till upon something which occurred in the course of conversation, he suddenly struck in and quoted Macrobius; and thus he gave the first impression of that more extensive reading in which he had indulged himself.

His tutor, Mr. Jorden, fellow of Pembroke, was

ference to the college books, it appears that Corbett's residence was so irregular, and so little coincident with Johnson's, that there is no reason to suppose that Johnson was employed either as the private tutor of Corbett, as Hawkins states, or his companion, as Boswell suggests.-ED.]

Athen. Oxon. edit. 1721, i. 627.-BosWELL.

2 [There are, as Dr. Hall observes to me, many small errors in Mr. Boswell's account of Johnson's college life, and particularly as to the relation between him and Mr. Jorden. It is not the custom at Pembroke to assign particular tutors to individual students. There are two college tutors appointed for the whole. Mr. Jorden was therefore no more the tutor of Johnson than of any other student, and Johnson was equally the pupil of the other college tutor; though, as the latter was probably the tutor in mathematics, it seems likely that Johnson did not pay him much attention. Mr. Boswell either did not consult Dr. Adams, or did not remember accurately what the Doctor must have told him on these points.-ED.]


p. 9.

not, it seems, a man of such abilities as we should conceive requisite for the instructor of Samuel Johnson, who [would oftener risk the payment of a Hawk. small fine than attend his lectures; nor was he studious to conceal the reason of his absence. Upon occasion of one such imposition, he said to Jorden, "Sir, you have sconced me two-pence for non-attendance at a lecture not worth a penny1."] He gave me the following account of him: "He was a very worthy man, but a heavy man, and I did not profit much by his instructions. Indeed, I did not attend him much. The first day after I came to college, I waited upon him, and then staid away four. On the sixth, Mr. Jorden asked me why I had not attended. I answered I had been sliding in Christ-church meadow. And this I said with as much nonchalance as I am now talking to you. I had no notion that I Oxford, was wrong or irreverent to my tutor." BOSWELL. 1776.


That, sir, was great fortitude of mind." JOHNSON. “No, sir; stark insensibility"."

20 Mar.

[When he told this anecdote to Mrs. Piozzi, he Piozzi, laughed very heartily at the recollection of his own in- P. 23. solence, and said they endured it from him with wonderful acquiescence, and a gentleness that, whenever he thought of it, astonished himself. He said, too, that when he made his first declamation, he wrote over but one copy, and that coarsely; and having given it into the hand of the tutor who stood to receive it as he passed, was obliged to begin by chance and continue on how he could, for he had got but little of it by heart; so, fairly trusting to his present powers for immediate supply, he finished by adding

[It has been thought worth while to preserve this anecdote, as an early specimen of the antithetical style of Johnson's conversation.-ED.]

2 It ought to be remembered, that Dr. Johnson was apt, in his literary as well as moral exercises, to overcharge his defects. Dr. Adams informed me, that he attended his tutor's lectures, and also the lectures in the College Hall, very regularly.-BOSWELL.

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