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"You will be pleased to make my compliments to all my friends; and be so kind, at every idle hour, as to remember, dear sir, yours, &c. "SAM. JOHNSON."
Dr. Adams told me, that this scheme of a Bibliotheque was a serious one: for upon his visiting him one day, he found his parlour floor covered with parcels of foreign and English literary journals, and he told Dr. Adams he meant to undertake a Review. "How, sir (said Dr. Adams), can you think of doing it alone? All branches of knowledge must be considered in it. Do you know Mathematicks? Do you know Natural History?" Johnson answered, Why, sir, I must do as well as I can. My chief purpose is to give my countrymen a view of what is doing in literature upon the continent; and I shall have, in a good measure, the choice of my subject, for I shall select such books as I best understand." Dr. Adams suggested, that as Dr. Maty1 had just then finished his Bibliotheque Britannique, which was a well-executed work, giving foreigners an account of British publications, he might, with great advantage, assume him as an assistant. "He (said Johnson), the little black dog! I'd throw him into the Thames.” The scheme, however, was dropped.
In one of his little memorandum books I find the following hints for his intended Review or Literary Journal:
[Matthew Maty, M.D. and F. R. S. He was born in Holland in 1718, and educated at Leyden, but he came in 1740 to settle in England. He became secretary to the Royal Society in 1765, on the resignation of Dr. Birch, and in 1772, principal librarian of the British Museum. Maty being the friend and admirer of Lord Chesterfield, whose works he afterwards published, would, as Dr. Hall observes, particularly at this period, have little recommendation to the good opinion of the lexicographer; but his Journal Britannique is mentioned by Mr. Gibbon in a tone very different from Dr. Johnson's. "This humble though useful labour, which had once been dignified by the genius of Bayle and the learning of Le Clerc, was not disgraced by the taste, the knowledge, and the judgment of Maty. His style is pure and eloquent, and in his virtues or even in his defects he may be reckoned as one of the last disciples of the school of Fontenelle."-Gibbon's Misc. Works. Dr. Maty died in 1776.-ED.]
"The Annals of Literature, foreign as well as domestick. Imitate Le Clerc Bayle-Barbeyrac. Infelicity of Journals in England. Works of the learned.' We cannot take in all. Sometimes copy from foreign Journalists. Always tell."
"DR. JOHNSON TO DR. BIRCH.
"29th March, 1755. "SIR,-I have sent some parts of my Dictionary, such as were at hand, for your inspection. The favour which I beg is, that if you do not like them, you will say nothing. I am, sir, your most affectionate humble servant, "SAM. JOHNSON."
"TO MR. SAMUEL JOHNSON. "Norfolk-street, 23th April, 1755. "SIR,-The part of your Dictionary which you have favoured me with the sight of has given me such an idea of the whole, that I most sincerely congratulate the publick upon the acquisition of a work long wanted, and now executed with an industry, accuracy, and judgement, equal to the importance of the subject. You might, perhaps, have chosen one in which your genius would have appeared to more advantage, but you could not have fixed upon any other in which your labours would have done such substantial service to the present age and to posterity. I am glad that your health has supported the application necessary to the performance of so vast a task; and can undertake to promise you as one (though perhaps the only) reward of it, the approbation and thanks of every well-wisher to the honour of the English language. I am, with the greatest regard, sir, your most faithful and most affectionate humble servant, "THO. BIRCH."
Mr. Charles Burney, who has since distinguished himself so much in the science of musick, and obtained a doctor's degree from the University of Oxford, had been driven from the capital by bad health, and was now residing at Lynne Regis in Norfolk. He had been so much delighted with Johnson's Rambler, and the plan of his Dictionary, that when the great work was announced in the newspapers as nearly finished, he wrote to Dr. Johnson, begging to be informed when and in what manner his Dictionary would be published; entreating,
if it should be by subscription, or he should have any books at his own disposal, to be favoured with six copies for himself and friends.
In answer to this application, Dr. Johnson wrote the following letter, of which (to use Dr. Burney's own words) "if it be remembered that it was written to an obscure young man, who at this time had not much distinguished himself even in his own profession, but whose name could never have reached the authour of The Rambler, the politeness and urbanity may be opposed to some of the stories which have been lately circulated of Dr. Johnson's natural rudeness and ferocity."
"TO MR. BURNEY, LYNNE REGIS, NORFOLK.
"Gough-square, Fleet-street, 8 April, 1755. "SIR,-If you imagine that by delaying my answer I intended to show any neglect of the notice with which you have favoured me, you will neither think justly of yourself nor of Your civilities were offered with too much elegance not to engage attention; and I have too much pleasure in pleasing men like you, not to feel very sensibly the distinction you have bestowed upon me.
"Few consequences of my endeavours to please or to benefit mankind have delighted me more than your friendship thus voluntarily offered, which now I have it I hope to keep, because I hope to continue to deserve it.
"I have no Dictionaries to dispose of for myself, but shall be glad to have you direct your friends to Mr. Dodsley, because it was by his recommendation that I was employed in the work.
"When you have leisure to think again upon me, let me be favoured with another letter; and another yet, when you have looked into my Dictionary. If you find faults, I shall endeavour to mend them; if you find none, I shall think you blinded by kind partiality: but to have made you partial in his favour, will very much gratify the ambition of, sir, your most obliged and most humble servant, "SAM. JOHNSON."
Mr. Andrew Millar, bookseller in the Strand, took the principal charge of conducting the publication of Johnson's Dictionary; and as the patience of the pro
prietors was repeatedly tried and almost exhausted, by their expecting that the work would be completed, within the time which Johnson had sanguinely supposed, the learned authour was often goaded to despatch, more especially as he had received all the copy money, by different drafts, a considerable time before he had finished his task. When the messenger who carried the last sheet to Millar returned, Johnson asked him, "Well, what did he say?"-"Sir (answered the messenger), he said, thank God I have done with him."—" I am glad (replied Johnson with a smile) that he thanks GOD for any thing'." It is remarkable, that those with whom Johnson chiefly contracted for his literary labours were Scotchmen, Mr. Millar and Mr. Strahan. Millar, though himself no great judge of literature, had good ser.se enough to have for his friends very able men, to give him their opinion and advice in the purchase of copyright; the consequence of which was his acquiring a very large fortune with great liberality. Johnson said of him, "I respect Millar, sir; he has raised the price of literature." The same praise may be justly given to Panckoucke, the eminent bookseller of Paris. Mr. Strahan's liberality, judgment, and success, are well known.
"TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ. AT LANGTON. "6 May, 1755. "SIR,-It has been long observed, that men do not suspect faults which they do not commit; your own elegance of manners, and punctuality of complaisance, did not suffer you to impute to me that negligence of which I was guilty, and [for2]which I have not since atoned. I received both your letters, and re
1 Sir John Hawkins (Life, p. 341), inserts two notes as having passed formerly between Andrew Millar and Johnson, to the above effect. I am assured this was not the case. In the way of incidental remark it was a pleasant play of raillery. To have deliberately written notes in such terms would have been morose.-BoSWELL.
2 The word "for" has here probably slipped out by error of the transcriber or the press. See the word atone, in Johnson's Dictionary.-ED.]
ceived them with pleasure proportioned to the esteem which so short an acquaintance strongly impressed, and which I hope to confirm by nearer knowledge, though I am afraid that gratification will be for a time withheld.
"I have, indeed, published my book', of which I beg to know your father's judgment, and yours; and I have now staid long enough to watch its progress in the world. It has, you see, no patrons, and I think has yet had no opponents, except the criticks of the coffee-house, whose outcries are soon dispersed into the air, and are thought on no more; from this, therefore, I am at liberty, and think of taking the opportunity of this interval to make an excursion, and why not then into Lincolnshire? or, to mention a stronger attraction, why not to dear Mr. Langton? I will give the true reason, which I know you will approve:-I have a mother more than eighty years old, who has counted the days to the publication of my book, in hopes of seeing me; and to her, if I can disengage myself here, I resolve to go.
"As I know, dear sir, that to delay my visit for a reason like this, will not deprive me of your esteem, I beg it may not lessen your kindness. I have very seldom received an offer of friendship which I so earnestly desire to cultivate and mature. I shall rejoice to hear from you, till I can see you, and will see you as soon as I can; for when the duty that calls me to Lichfield is discharged, my inclination will carry me to Langton. I shall delight to hear the ocean roar3, or see the stars twinkle, in the company of men to whom nature does not spread her volume to utter her voice in vain.
"Do not, dear sir, make the slowness of this letter a precedent for delay, or imagine that I approved the incivility that I have committed; for I have known you enough to love you, and sincerely to wish a further knowledge; and I assure you once more, that to live in a house that contains such a father and such a son, will be accounted a very uncommon degree of pleasure, by, dear sir, your most obliged, and most humble “SAM. JOHNSON."
"DR. JOHNSON TO MR. WARTON. "(London), 13 May, 1755. "DEAR SIR,—I am grieved that you should think me capable
1 His Dictionary.-BOSWELL.
2 [It is to be feared that this duty was not performed: see post, January, 1759.-ED.]
3[This must refer to some general allusion in Mr. Langton's letters, for the village of Langton is ten or twelve miles from the coast.-ED.]