For the entertainment and instruction which genius and diligence have provided for the world, men of refined and sensible tempers are ready to pay their tribute of praise, and even to form a posthumous friendship with the author. In reviewing the life of such a writer, there is, besides, a rule of justice to which the publick have an undoubted claim.
Fond ad miration and partial friendship should not be suffered to represent his virtues with exaggera tion; nor should malignity be allowed, under a specious disguise, to magnify mere defects, the usual failings of human nature, into vice or gross deformity. The lights and shades of the character should be given; and, if this be done with a strict regard to truth, a just esti mate of Dr. The present writer enjoyed the conversation and friendship of that excellent man more than thirty years. He thought it an honour to be so connected, and to this hour he reflects on his loss with regret: but regret, he knows, has secret bribes, by which the judgement may be influenced, and partial affection may be carried beyond the bounds of truth.
In the present case, however, nothing needs to be disguised, and exaggerated praise is unnecessary. It is an observation of the younger Pliny, in his Epistle to his Friend of Tacitus, that history ought never to magnify matters of fact, because worthy actions require nothing but the truth. Nam nec historia debet egredi veritatem, et honeste factis veritas sufficit. This rule the present biographer promises shall guide his pen throughout the following narrative.
It may be said, the death of Dr. Johnson kept the public mind in agitation beyond all former example. The plain truth shall be the answer.
The proprietors of Johnson's Works thought the life, which they prefixed to their former edition, too unwieldy for re publication. The prodigious variety of foreign matter, introduced into that performance, seemed to overload the memory of Dr. John son, and in the account of his own life to leave him hardly visible. They wished to have a more concise, and, for that reason, perhaps a more satisfactory account, such as may exhibit a just picture of the man, and keep him the principal figure in the fore ground of his own picture.
To comply with that request is the design of this essay, which the writer under takes with a trembling hand.
A meeting of minds for James Boswell and Samuel Johnson
He has no dis coveries, no secret anecdotes, no occasional controversy, no sudden flashes of wit and humour, no private conversation, and no new facts to embellish his work. Every thing has been gleaned. The exercise of that privilege, which is enjoyed by every man in society, has not been allowed to him. His fame has given importance even to trifles, and the zeal of his friends has brought every thing to light.
What should be related, and what should not, has been published with out distinction.
Man of Fetters
Dicenda tacenda locuti! Every thing that fell from him has been caught with eagerness by his admirers, who, as he says in one of his letters, have acted with the dili gence of spies upon his conduct. To some of them the following lines, in Mallet's Poem on Verbal Criticism, are not inapplicable:. Perhaps, what has not been attempted; a short, yet full, a faithful, yet temperate his tory of Dr. His father, Michael Johnson, was a bookseller in that city; a man of large athletic make, and violent passions; wrong-headed, positive, and at times afflicted with a degree of melancholy, little short of madness.
His mother was sister to Dr. Being chaplain to the Earl of Ches terfield, he wished to attend that nobleman on his embassy to the Hague.
Colley Cibber has recorded the anecdote. Pray, my Lord, what is that? Hypocrisy, my dear Doc tor. Johnson had a younger brother named Nathaniel, who died at the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Michael Johnson, the father, was chosen in the year Under Bailiff of Lichfield, and in the year he served the office of the Senior Bailiff. He had a brother of the name of Andrew, who, for some years, kept the ring at Smithfield, ap propriated to wrestlers and boxers.
Our author used to say, that he was never thrown or con quered. Michael, the father, died December , at the age of seventy-six; his mother at eighty-nine, of a gradual decay, in the year Of the family nothing more can be related worthy of notice. Johnson did not delight in talking of his relations.
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There is little pleasure, he said to Mrs. Piozzi, in relating the anecdotes of beggary. The Jacobites at that time believed in the efficacy of the royal touch; and accordingly Mrs. Johnson presented her son, when two years old, before Queen Anne, who, for the first time, performed that office, and communicated to her young patient all the healing virtue in her power.
He was after wards cut for that scrophulous humour, and the under part of his face was seamed and dis figured by the operation. It is supposed, that this disease deprived him of the sight of his left eye, and also impaired his hearing. At eight years old, he was placed under Mr.
Life of Johnson by Boswell, First Edition - AbeBooks
Hawkins, at the Free-school at Lichfield, where he was not remarkable for diligence or regular application. Whatever he read, his tenacious memory made his own. In the fields with his school-fellows he talked more to him self than with his companions. In , when he was about sixteen years old, he went on a visit to his cousin Cornelius Ford, who detained him for some months, and in the mean time assisted him in the classics.
This advice Johnson seems to have pursued with a good inclination.
His reading was always desul tory, seldom resting on any particular author, but rambling from one book to another, and, by hasty snatches, hoarding up a variety of know ledge. It may be proper in this place to men tion another general rule laid down by Ford for Johnson's future conduct: You will make your way the more easily in the world, as you are contented to dispute no man's claim to conversation-excellence: they will, therefore, more willingly allow your preten sions as a writer.
Pi ozzi, the features of peculiarity, which mark a character to all succeeding generations, are slow in coming to their growth.
The Life of Samuel Johnson
On Johnson's return from Cornelius Ford, Mr. Hunter, then Master of the Free-school at Lichfield, refused to receive him again on that foundation. At this distance of time, what his reasons were, it is vain to enquire; but to refuse assistance to a lad of promising genius must be pronounced harsh and illiberal. It did not, however, stop the progress of the young student's education. He was placed at another school, at Stourbridge in Worcester shire, under the care of Mr.
The college tutor, Mr. Jordan, was a man of no genius; and Johnson, it seems, shewed an early contempt of mean abilities, in one or two instances behaving with insolence to that gentleman.
Making His Name
Of his general conduct at the university there are no particulars that merit attention, except the translation of Pope's Messiah, which was a college exercise imposed upon him as a talk by Mr. Corbet left the university in about two years, and Johnson's salary ceased. He was, by conse quence, straitened in his circumstances; but he still remained at college. Jordan, the tutor, went off to a living; and was succeeded by Dr. Adams, who afterwards became head of the college, and was esteemed through life for his learning, his talents, and his amiable cha racter.
Johnson grew more regular in his attendance. Ethics, theology, and classic lite rature, were his favourite studies. He disco vered, notwithstanding, early symptoms of that wandering dispostion of mind which ad hered to him to the end of his life. His read ing was by sits and starts, undirected to any particular science. He received, at that time, an early impression of piety, and a taste for the best authors ancient and modern.
It may, notwithstanding, be questioned whether, ex cept his Bible, he ever read a book entirely through.