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“TO MR. WILLIAM DRUMMOND. “Sir,
Johnson's-court, Fleet-street, Aug. 13, 1766. "I did not expect to hear that it could be, in an assembly convened for the propagation of Christian knowledge, a question whether any nation uninstructed in religion should receive instruction; or whether that instruction should be imparted to them by a translation of the holy books into their own language. If obedience to the will of God be necessary to happiness, and knowledge of his will be necessary to obedience, I know not how he that withholds this knowledge, or delays it, can be said to love his neighbour as himself. He that voluntarily continues ignorance, is guilty of all the crimes which ignorance produces ; as to him that should extinguish the tapers of a lighthouse, might justly be imputed the calamities of shipwrecks. Christianity is the highest perfection of humanity; and as no man is good but as he wishes the good of others, no man can be good in the highest degree, who wishes not to others the largest measures of the greatest good. To omit for a year, or for a day, the most efficacious method of advancing Christianity, in compliance with any purposes that terminate on this side of the grave, is a crime of which I know not that the world has yet had an example, except in the practice of the planters of America, a race of mortals whom, I suppose, no other man wishes to resemble.
The Papists have, indeed, denied to the laity the use of the Bible; but this prohibition, in few places now very rigorously enforced, is defended by arguments which have for their foundation the care of souls. To obscure, upon motives merely political, the light of revelation, is a practice reserved for the reformed; and, surely, the blackest midnight of Popery is meridian sunshine to such a reformation. I am not very willing that any language should be totally extinguished. The similitude and derivation of languages afford the most indubitable proof of the traduction of nations, and the genealogy of mankind. They add often physical certainty to historical evidence; and often supply the only evidence of ancient migrations, and of the revolutions of ages which left no written monuments behind them.
“Every man's opinions, at least his desires, are a little influenced by his favourite studies. My zeal for languages may seem, perhaps, rather overheated, even to those by whom I desire to be well esteemed. To those who have nothing in their thoughts but trade or policy, present power, or present money, I should not think it necessary to defend my opinions; but with men of letters I would not unwillingly compound, by wishing the continuance of every language, however narrow in its extent, or however incommodious for common purposes, till it is reposited in some version of a known book, that it may be always hereafter examined and compared with other languages, and then permitting its disuse. For this purpose the translation of the Bible is most to be desired. It is not certain that the same method will not preserve the Highland language, for the purposes of learning, and abolish it from daily use. When the Highlanders read the Bible, they will naturally wish to have its obscurities cleared and to know the history, collateral or appendant. Knowledge always desires increase ; it is like fire, which must first be kindled by some external agent, but which will afterwards propagate itself. When they once desire to learn, they will naturally have recourse to the nearest language by which that desire can be gratified ; and one will tell another that if he would attain knowledge, he must learn English.
“ This speculation may, perhaps, be thought more subtle than the grossness of real life will easily admit. Let it, however, be remembered, that the efficacy of ignorance has long been tried, and has not produced the consequence expected. Let knowledge, therefore, take its turn; and let the patrons of privation standd awhile aside, and admit the operation of positive principles.
“You will be pleased, Sir, to assure the worthy man who is employed in the new translation, that he has my wishes for his success; and if here or at Oxford I can be of any use, that I shall think it more than honour to promote his undertaking “I am sorry that I delayed so long to write.
“I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
“SAM. JOHNSON.” The opponents of this pious sheme being made ashamed of their conduct, the benevolent undertaking was allowed to go on.
The following letters, though not written till the year after, being chiefly upon the same subject, are here inserted :
"TO MR. WILLIAM DRUMMOND. “ DEAR SIR,
Johnson's court, Fleet-street, April 21, 1767. “That my letter should have had such effects as you mention, gives me great pleasure. I hope you do not flatter me by imputing to me more goodl than I have really done. Those whom my arguments have persuaded to change their opinion, show such modesty and candour as deserve great praise.
“I hope the worthy translator goes diligently forward. He has a higher reward in prospect than any honours which this world can bestow. I wish I could be useful to him.
“The publication of my letter, if it could be 'of use in a cause to which all other causes are nothing, I should not prohibit. But first, I would have you to consider whether the publication will really do any good; next, whether by printing and distributing a very small number, you may not attain all that you propose ; and, what perhaps I should have said first, whether the letter, which I do not now perfectly remember, be fit to be printed.
“If you can consult Dr. Robertson, to whom I am a little known, I shall be satisfied about the propriety of whatever he shall direct. If he thinks that it should be printed, I entreat him to revise it; there may, perhaps, be some negligent lines written, and whatever is amiss, he knows very well how to rectify.? “Be pleased to let me know, from time to time, how this excellent design
1 The Rev. Mr. John Campbell, Minister of the parish of Kippen, near Stirling, who has lately favoured me with a long, intelligent, and very obliging letter upon this work, makes the following remark: “ Dr. Johnson has alluded to the worthy man employed in the translation of the New Testament. Might not this have afforded you an opportunity of paying a proper tribute of respect to the memory of the Rev. Mr. James Stuart, late Minister of Killin, distinguished by his eminent piety, learning, and taste? simplicity of his lite, his warm benevolence, his indefatigable and successiul exertions for civilizing and improving the parish of which he was minister for upwards of fifty years, entitle him to the gratitude of his country, and the veneration of all good men. tainly would be a pity, if such a character shouid be permitted to sink into oblivion.”Boswell
2 This paragraph shows Johnson's real estimation of the character and abilities of the celebrated Scottish historian, however lightly, in a moment of caprice, he may have spoken of his works.-BosWELL.
“Make my compliments to young Mr. Drummond, whom I hope you will live to see such as you desire him.
I have not lately seen Mr. Elphinston, but believe him to be prosperous. I shall be glad to hear the same of you, for I am, Sir, “Your affectionate humble servant,
TO THE SAME.
London, Johnson's-court, Fleet-street, Oct. 24, 1767. “I returned this week from the country, after an absence of near six months, and found your letter with many others, which I should have answered sooner, if I had sooner seen them.
Dr. Robertson's opinion was surely right. Men should not be told of the faults which they have mended. I am glad the old language is taught, and honour the translator as a man whom God has distinguished by the high office of propagating his word.
“I must take the liberty of engaging you in an office of charity. Mrs. Heely, the wife of Mr. Heely, who had lately some office in your theatre, is my near relation, and now in great distress. They wrote me word of their situation some time ago, to which I returned them an answer which raised hopes of more than it is proper for me to give them. Their representation of their affairs I have discovered to be such as cannot be trusted ; and at this distance, though their case requires haste, I know not how to act. She, or her daughters, may be heard of at Canongate Head. I must beg, Sir, that you will inquire after them, and let me know what is to be done. I am willing to go to ten pounds, and will transmit you such a sum, if upon examination you find it likely to be of
If they are in immediate want, advance them what you think proper. What I could do, I would do for the woman, having no great reason to pay much regard to Heely himself.1
“I believe you may receive some intelligence from Mrs. Baker, of the theatre, whose letter I received at the same time with yours ; and to whom, if you see her, you will make my excuse for the seeming neglect of answer
“Whatever you advance within ten pounds shall be immediately returned to you, or paid as you shall order. I trust wholly to your judgment.
“I am, Sir, &c.,
“SAM. JOHNSON." Mr. Cuthbert Shaw," alike distinguished by his genius, misfortunes, and misconduct, published this year a poem, called “The Race, by Mercurius Spur, Esq.," in which he whimsically made the living poets of England contend for pre-eminence of fame by running :
“ Prove by their heels the prowess of the head.” 1 This is the person concerning whom Sir John Hawkins has thrown out very un. warrantable reflections both against Dr. Johnson and Mr. Francis Barber.-BOSWELL.
2 See an account of him in “ The European Magazine," Jan. 1786.-BOSWELL.
In this poem there was the following portrait of Johnson :
“Here Johnson comes,-unblest with outward grace,
His rigid morals stamp'd upon his face.
Ere Johnson stay, when Virtue bids retire.” The Honourable Thomas Hervey and his lady, having unhappily disagreed, and being about to separate, Johnson interfered as their friend, and wrote him a letter of expostulation, which I have not been able to find ; but the substance of it is ascertained by a letter to Johnson in answer to it, which Mr. Hervey printed. The occasion of this correspondence between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Hervey, was thus related to me by Mr. Beauclerk.
“ Tom Hervey had a great liking for Johnson, and in his will had left him a legacy of fifty pounds. One day he said to me, ‘Johnson may want this money now, more than afterwards. I have a mind to give it him directly. Will you be so good as to carry a fifty pound note from me to him ?' This I positively refused to do, as he might, perhaps, have knocked me down for insulting him, and have afterwards put the note in his pocket. But I said if Hervey would write him a letter, and enclose a fifty pound note, I should take care to deliver it. He accordingly did write him a letter, mentioning that he was only paying a legacy a little sooner. To his letter he added, ' P.S. I am going to part with my wife.' Johnson then wrote to him, saying nothing of the note, but remonstrating with him against parting with his wife.”
When I mentioned to Johnson this story, in as delicate terms as I could, he told me that the fifty pound note was given to him by Mr. Hervey in consideration of his having written for him a pamphlet against Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, who, Mr. Hervey imagined, was the author of an attack upon him ; but that it was afterwards discovered to be the work of a garreteer, who wrote “ The Fool ;" the pamphlet therefore against Sir Charles was not printed.
1 The Honourable Thomas Hervey, whose letter to Sir Thomas Hanmer in 1742, was much read at that time. He was the second son of John, the first Earl of Bristol, and one of the brothers of Johnson's early friend, Henry Hervey. He married in 1744, Anne, daughter of Francis Coughlan, Esq., and died Jan. 20, 1775.-Malose.