Samuel Johnson
Leslie Stephen

Part 1 out of 3

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Linda Cantoni and PG Distributed
















Samuel Johnson was born in Lichfield in 1709. His father, Michael
Johnson, was a bookseller, highly respected by the cathedral clergy, and
for a time sufficiently prosperous to be a magistrate of the town, and,
in the year of his son's birth, sheriff of the county. He opened a
bookstall on market-days at neighbouring towns, including Birmingham,
which was as yet unable to maintain a separate bookseller. The tradesman
often exaggerates the prejudices of the class whose wants he supplies,
and Michael Johnson was probably a more devoted High Churchman and Tory
than many of the cathedral clergy themselves. He reconciled himself with
difficulty to taking the oaths against the exiled dynasty. He was a man
of considerable mental and physical power, but tormented by
hypochondriacal tendencies. His son inherited a share both of his
constitution and of his principles. Long afterwards Samuel associated
with his childish days a faint but solemn recollection of a lady in
diamonds and long black hood. The lady was Queen Anne, to whom, in
compliance with a superstition just dying a natural death, he had been
taken by his mother to be touched for the king's evil. The touch was
ineffectual. Perhaps, as Boswell suggested, he ought to have been
presented to the genuine heirs of the Stuarts in Rome. Disease and
superstition had thus stood by his cradle, and they never quitted him
during life. The demon of hypochondria was always lying in wait for him,
and could be exorcised for a time only by hard work or social
excitement. Of this we shall hear enough; but it may be as well to sum
up at once some of the physical characteristics which marked him through
life and greatly influenced his career.

The disease had scarred and disfigured features otherwise regular and
always impressive. It had seriously injured his eyes, entirely
destroying, it seems, the sight of one. He could not, it is said,
distinguish a friend's face half a yard off, and pictures were to him
meaningless patches, in which he could never see the resemblance to
their objects. The statement is perhaps exaggerated; for he could see
enough to condemn a portrait of himself. He expressed some annoyance
when Reynolds had painted him with a pen held close to his eye; and
protested that he would not be handed down to posterity as "blinking
Sam." It seems that habits of minute attention atoned in some degree for
this natural defect. Boswell tells us how Johnson once corrected him as
to the precise shape of a mountain; and Mrs. Thrale says that he was a
close and exacting critic of ladies' dress, even to the accidental
position of a riband. He could even lay down aesthetical canons upon
such matters. He reproved her for wearing a dark dress as unsuitable to
a "little creature." "What," he asked, "have not all insects gay
colours?" His insensibility to music was even more pronounced than his
dulness of sight. On hearing it said, in praise of a musical
performance, that it was in any case difficult, his feeling comment was,
"I wish it had been impossible!"

The queer convulsions by which he amazed all beholders were probably
connected with his disease, though he and Reynolds ascribed them simply
to habit. When entering a doorway with his blind companion, Miss
Williams, he would suddenly desert her on the step in order to "whirl
and twist about" in strange gesticulations. The performance partook of
the nature of a superstitious ceremonial. He would stop in a street or
the middle of a room to go through it correctly. Once he collected a
laughing mob in Twickenham meadows by his antics; his hands imitating
the motions of a jockey riding at full speed and his feet twisting in
and out to make heels and toes touch alternately. He presently sat down
and took out a _Grotius De Veritate_, over which he "seesawed" so
violently that the mob ran back to see what was the matter. Once in such
a fit he suddenly twisted off the shoe of a lady who sat by him.
Sometimes he seemed to be obeying some hidden impulse, which commanded
him to touch every post in a street or tread on the centre of every
paving-stone, and would return if his task had not been accurately

In spite of such oddities, he was not only possessed of physical power
corresponding to his great height and massive stature, but was something
of a proficient at athletic exercises. He was conversant with the
theory, at least, of boxing; a knowledge probably acquired from an uncle
who kept the ring at Smithfield for a year, and was never beaten in
boxing or wrestling. His constitutional fearlessness would have made him
a formidable antagonist. Hawkins describes the oak staff, six feet in
length and increasing from one to three inches in diameter, which lay
ready to his hand when he expected an attack from Macpherson of Ossian
celebrity. Once he is said to have taken up a chair at the theatre upon
which a man had seated himself during his temporary absence, and to have
tossed it and its occupant bodily into the pit. He would swim into pools
said to be dangerous, beat huge dogs into peace, climb trees, and even
run races and jump gates. Once at least he went out foxhunting, and
though he despised the amusement, was deeply touched by the
complimentary assertion that he rode as well as the most illiterate
fellow in England. Perhaps the most whimsical of his performances was
when, in his fifty-fifth year, he went to the top of a high hill with
his friend Langton. "I have not had a roll for a long time," said the
great lexicographer suddenly, and, after deliberately emptying his
pockets, he laid himself parallel to the edge of the hill, and
descended, turning over and over till he came to the bottom. We may
believe, as Mrs. Thrale remarks upon his jumping over a stool to show
that he was not tired by his hunting, that his performances in this kind
were so strange and uncouth that a fear for the safety of his bones
quenched the spectator's tendency to laugh.

In such a strange case was imprisoned one of the most vigorous
intellects of the time. Vast strength hampered by clumsiness and
associated with grievous disease, deep and massive powers of feeling
limited by narrow though acute perceptions, were characteristic both of
soul and body. These peculiarities were manifested from his early
infancy. Miss Seward, a typical specimen of the provincial _precieuse_,
attempted to trace them in an epitaph which he was said to have written
at the age of three.

Here lies good master duck
Whom Samuel Johnson trod on;
If it had lived, it had been good luck,
For then we had had an odd one.

The verses, however, were really made by his father, who passed them off
as the child's, and illustrate nothing but the paternal vanity. In fact
the boy was regarded as something of an infant prodigy. His great powers
of memory, characteristic of a mind singularly retentive of all
impressions, were early developed. He seemed to learn by intuition.
Indolence, as in his after life, alternated with brief efforts of
strenuous exertion. His want of sight prevented him from sharing in the
ordinary childish sports; and one of his great pleasures was in reading
old romances--a taste which he retained through life. Boys of this
temperament are generally despised by their fellows; but Johnson seems
to have had the power of enforcing the respect of his companions. Three
of the lads used to come for him in the morning and carry him in triumph
to school, seated upon the shoulders of one and supported on each side
by his companions.

After learning to read at a dame-school, and from a certain Tom Brown,
of whom it is only recorded that he published a spelling-book and
dedicated it to the Universe, young Samuel was sent to the Lichfield
Grammar School, and was afterwards, for a short time, apparently in the
character of pupil-teacher, at the school of Stourbridge, in
Worcestershire. A good deal of Latin was "whipped into him," and though
he complained of the excessive severity of two of his teachers, he was
always a believer in the virtues of the rod. A child, he said, who is
flogged, "gets his task, and there's an end on't; whereas by exciting
emulation and comparisons of superiority, you lay the foundations of
lasting mischief; you make brothers and sisters hate each other." In
practice, indeed, this stern disciplinarian seems to have been specially
indulgent to children. The memory of his own sorrows made him value
their happiness, and he rejoiced greatly when he at last persuaded a
schoolmaster to remit the old-fashioned holiday-task.

Johnson left school at sixteen and spent two years at home, probably in
learning his father's business. This seems to have been the chief period
of his studies. Long afterwards he said that he knew almost as much at
eighteen as he did at the age of fifty-three--the date of the remark.
His father's shop would give him many opportunities, and he devoured
what came in his way with the undiscriminating eagerness of a young
student. His intellectual resembled his physical appetite. He gorged
books. He tore the hearts out of them, but did not study systematically.
Do you read books through? he asked indignantly of some one who expected
from him such supererogatory labour. His memory enabled him to
accumulate great stores of a desultory and unsystematic knowledge.
Somehow he became a fine Latin scholar, though never first-rate as a
Grecian. The direction of his studies was partly determined by the
discovery of a folio of Petrarch, lying on a shelf where he was looking
for apples; and one of his earliest literary plans, never carried out,
was an edition of Politian, with a history of Latin poetry from the time
of Petrarch. When he went to the University at the end of this period,
he was in possession of a very unusual amount of reading.

Meanwhile he was beginning to feel the pressure of poverty. His father's
affairs were probably getting into disorder. One anecdote--it is one
which it is difficult to read without emotion--refers to this period.
Many years afterwards, Johnson, worn by disease and the hard struggle of
life, was staying at Lichfield, where a few old friends still survived,
but in which every street must have revived the memories of the many who
had long since gone over to the majority. He was missed one morning at
breakfast, and did not return till supper-time. Then he told how his
time had been passed. On that day fifty years before, his father,
confined by illness, had begged him to take his place to sell books at a
stall at Uttoxeter. Pride made him refuse. "To do away with the sin of
this disobedience, I this day went in a post-chaise to Uttoxeter, and
going into the market at the time of high business, uncovered my head
and stood with it bare an hour before the stall which my father had
formerly used, exposed to the sneers of the standers-by and the
inclemency of the weather; a penance by which I trust I have propitiated
Heaven for this only instance, I believe, of contumacy to my father." If
the anecdote illustrates the touch of superstition in Johnson's mind, it
reveals too that sacred depth of tenderness which ennobled his
character. No repentance can ever wipe out the past or make it be as
though it had not been; but the remorse of a fine character may be
transmuted into a permanent source of nobler views of life and the

There are difficulties in determining the circumstances and duration of
Johnson's stay at Oxford. He began residence at Pembroke College in
1728. It seems probable that he received some assistance from a
gentleman whose son took him as companion, and from the clergy of
Lichfield, to whom his father was known, and who were aware of the son's
talents. Possibly his college assisted him during part of the time. It
is certain that he left without taking a degree, though he probably
resided for nearly three years. It is certain, also, that his father's
bankruptcy made his stay difficult, and that the period must have been
one of trial.

The effect of the Oxford residence upon Johnson's mind was
characteristic. The lad already suffered from the attacks of melancholy,
which sometimes drove him to the borders of insanity. At Oxford, Law's
_Serious Call_ gave him the strong religious impressions which remained
through life. But he does not seem to have been regarded as a gloomy or
a religious youth by his contemporaries. When told in after years that
he had been described as a "gay and frolicsome fellow," he replied, "Ah!
sir, I was mad and violent. It was bitterness which they mistook for
frolic. I was miserably poor, and I thought to fight my way by my
literature and my wit; so I disregarded all power and all authority."
Though a hearty supporter of authority in principle, Johnson was
distinguished through life by the strongest spirit of personal
independence and self-respect. He held, too, the sound doctrine,
deplored by his respectable biographer Hawkins, that the scholar's life,
like the Christian's, levelled all distinctions of rank. When an
officious benefactor put a pair of new shoes at his door, he threw them
away with indignation. He seems to have treated his tutors with a
contempt which Boswell politely attributed to "great fortitude of mind,"
but Johnson himself set down as "stark insensibility." The life of a
poor student is not, one may fear, even yet exempt from much bitterness,
and in those days the position was far more servile than at present. The
servitors and sizars had much to bear from richer companions. A proud
melancholy lad, conscious of great powers, had to meet with hard
rebuffs, and tried to meet them by returning scorn for scorn.

Such distresses, however, did not shake Johnson's rooted Toryism. He
fully imbibed, if he did not already share, the strongest prejudices of
the place, and his misery never produced a revolt against the system,
though it may have fostered insolence to individuals. Three of the most
eminent men with whom Johnson came in contact in later life, had also
been students at Oxford. Wesley, his senior by six years, was a fellow
of Lincoln whilst Johnson was an undergraduate, and was learning at
Oxford the necessity of rousing his countrymen from the religious
lethargy into which they had sunk. "Have not pride and haughtiness of
spirit, impatience, and peevishness, sloth and indolence, gluttony and
sensuality, and even a proverbial uselessness been objected to us,
perhaps not always by our enemies nor wholly without ground?" So said
Wesley, preaching before the University of Oxford in 1744, and the words
in his mouth imply more than the preacher's formality. Adam Smith,
Johnson's junior by fourteen years, was so impressed by the utter
indifference of Oxford authorities to their duties, as to find in it an
admirable illustration of the consequences of the neglect of the true
principles of supply and demand implied in the endowment of learning.
Gibbon, his junior by twenty-eight years, passed at Oxford the "most
idle and unprofitable" months of his whole life; and was, he said, as
willing to disclaim the university for a mother, as she could be to
renounce him for a son. Oxford, as judged by these men, was remarkable
as an illustration of the spiritual and intellectual decadence of a body
which at other times has been a centre of great movements of thought.
Johnson, though his experience was rougher than any of the three, loved
Oxford as though she had not been a harsh stepmother to his youth. Sir,
he said fondly of his college, "we are a nest of singing-birds." Most of
the strains are now pretty well forgotten, and some of them must at all
times have been such as we scarcely associate with the nightingale.
Johnson, however, cherished his college friendships, delighted in paying
visits to his old university, and was deeply touched by the academical
honours by which Oxford long afterwards recognized an eminence scarcely
fostered by its protection. Far from sharing the doctrines of Adam
Smith, he only regretted that the universities were not richer, and
expressed a desire which will be understood by advocates of the
"endowment of research," that there were many places of a thousand a
year at Oxford.

On leaving the University, in 1731, the world was all before him. His
father died in the end of the year, and Johnson's whole immediate
inheritance was twenty pounds. Where was he to turn for daily bread?
Even in those days, most gates were barred with gold and opened but to
golden keys. The greatest chance for a poor man was probably through the
Church. The career of Warburton, who rose from a similar position to a
bishopric might have been rivalled by Johnson, and his connexions with
Lichfield might, one would suppose, have helped him to a start. It would
be easy to speculate upon causes which might have hindered such a
career. In later life, he more than once refused to take orders upon the
promise of a living. Johnson, as we know him, was a man of the world;
though a religious man of the world. He represents the secular rather
than the ecclesiastical type. So far as his mode of teaching goes, he is
rather a disciple of Socrates than of St. Paul or Wesley. According to
him, a "tavern-chair" was "the throne of human felicity," and supplied
a better arena than the pulpit for the utterance of his message to
mankind. And, though his external circumstances doubtless determined his
method, there was much in his character which made it congenial.
Johnson's religious emotions were such as to make habitual reserve
almost a sanitary necessity. They were deeply coloured by his
constitutional melancholy. Fear of death and hell were prominent in his
personal creed. To trade upon his feelings like a charlatan would have
been abhorrent to his masculine character; and to give them full and
frequent utterance like a genuine teacher of mankind would have been to
imperil his sanity. If he had gone through the excitement of a Methodist
conversion, he would probably have ended his days in a madhouse.

Such considerations, however, were not, one may guess, distinctly
present to Johnson himself; and the offer of a college fellowship or of
private patronage might probably have altered his career. He might have
become a learned recluse or a struggling Parson Adams. College
fellowships were less open to talent then than now, and patrons were
never too propitious to the uncouth giant, who had to force his way by
sheer labour, and fight for his own hand. Accordingly, the young scholar
tried to coin his brains into money by the most depressing and least
hopeful of employments. By becoming an usher in a school, he could at
least turn his talents to account with little delay, and that was the
most pressing consideration. By one schoolmaster he was rejected on the
ground that his infirmities would excite the ridicule of the boys. Under
another he passed some months of "complicated misery," and could never
think of the school without horror and aversion. Finding this situation
intolerable, he settled in Birmingham, in 1733, to be near an old
schoolfellow, named Hector, who was apparently beginning to practise as
a surgeon. Johnson seems to have had some acquaintances among the
comfortable families in the neighbourhood; but his means of living are
obscure. Some small literary work came in his way. He contributed essays
to a local paper, and translated a book of Travels in Abyssinia. For
this, his first publication, he received five guineas. In 1734 he made
certain overtures to Cave, a London publisher, of the result of which I
shall have to speak presently. For the present it is pretty clear that
the great problem of self-support had been very inadequately solved.

Having no money and no prospects, Johnson naturally married. The
attractions of the lady were not very manifest to others than her
husband. She was the widow of a Birmingham mercer named Porter. Her age
at the time (1735) of the second marriage was forty-eight, the
bridegroom being not quite twenty-six. The biographer's eye was not
fixed upon Johnson till after his wife's death, and we have little in
the way of authentic description of her person and character. Garrick,
who had known her, said that she was very fat, with cheeks coloured both
by paint and cordials, flimsy and fantastic in dress and affected in her
manners. She is said to have treated her husband with some contempt,
adopting the airs of an antiquated beauty, which he returned by
elaborate deference. Garrick used his wonderful powers of mimicry to
make fun of the uncouth caresses of the husband, and the courtly
Beauclerc used to provoke the smiles of his audience by repeating
Johnson's assertion that "it was a love-match on both sides." One
incident of the wedding-day was ominous. As the newly-married couple
rode back from church, Mrs. Johnson showed her spirit by reproaching
her husband for riding too fast, and then for lagging behind. Resolved
"not to be made the slave of caprice," he pushed on briskly till he was
fairly out of sight. When she rejoined him, as he, of course, took care
that she should soon do, she was in tears. Mrs. Johnson apparently knew
how to regain supremacy; but, at any rate, Johnson loved her devotedly
during life, and clung to her memory during a widowhood of more than
thirty years, as fondly as if they had been the most pattern hero and
heroine of romantic fiction.

Whatever Mrs. Johnson's charms, she seems to have been a woman of good
sense and some literary judgment. Johnson's grotesque appearance did not
prevent her from saying to her daughter on their first introduction,
"This is the most sensible man I ever met." Her praises were, we may
believe, sweeter to him than those of the severest critics, or the most
fervent of personal flatterers. Like all good men, Johnson loved good
women, and liked to have on hand a flirtation or two, as warm as might
be within the bounds of due decorum. But nothing affected his fidelity
to his Letty or displaced her image in his mind. He remembered her in
many solemn prayers, and such words as "this was dear Letty's book:" or,
"this was a prayer which dear Letty was accustomed to say," were found
written by him in many of her books of devotion.

Mrs. Johnson had one other recommendation--a fortune, namely, of
L800--little enough, even then, as a provision for the support of the
married pair, but enough to help Johnson to make a fresh start. In 1736,
there appeared an advertisement in the _Gentleman's Magazine_. "At
Edial, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, young gentlemen are boarded and
taught the Latin and Greek languages by Samuel Johnson." If, as seems
probable, Mrs. Johnson's money supplied the funds for this venture, it
was an unlucky speculation.

Johnson was not fitted to be a pedagogue. Success in that profession
implies skill in the management of pupils, but perhaps still more
decidedly in the management of parents. Johnson had little
qualifications in either way. As a teacher he would probably have been
alternately despotic and over-indulgent; and, on the other hand, at a
single glance the rough Dominie Sampson would be enough to frighten the
ordinary parent off his premises. Very few pupils came, and they seem to
have profited little, if a story as told of two of his pupils refers to
this time. After some months of instruction in English history, he asked
them who had destroyed the monasteries? One of them gave no answer; the
other replied "Jesus Christ." Johnson, however, could boast of one
eminent pupil in David Garrick, though, by Garrick's account, his master
was of little service except as affording an excellent mark for his
early powers of ridicule. The school, or "academy," failed after a year
and a half; and Johnson, once more at a loss for employment, resolved to
try the great experiment, made so often and so often unsuccessfully. He
left Lichfield to seek his fortune in London. Garrick accompanied him,
and the two brought a common letter of introduction to the master of an
academy from Gilbert Walmsley, registrar of the Prerogative Court in
Lichfield. Long afterwards Johnson took an opportunity in the _Lives of
the Poets_, of expressing his warm regard for the memory of his early
friend, to whom he had been recommended by a community of literary
tastes, in spite of party differences and great inequality of age.
Walmsley says in his letter, that "one Johnson" is about to accompany
Garrick to London, in order to try his fate with a tragedy and get
himself employed in translation. Johnson, he adds, "is a very good
scholar and poet, and I have great hopes will turn out a fine tragedy

The letter is dated March 2nd, 1737. Before recording what is known of
his early career thus started, it will be well to take a glance at the
general condition of the profession of Literature in England at this



"No man but a blockhead," said Johnson, "ever wrote except for money."
The doctrine is, of course, perfectly outrageous, and specially
calculated to shock people who like to keep it for their private use,
instead of proclaiming it in public. But it is a good expression of that
huge contempt for the foppery of high-flown sentiment which, as is not
uncommon with Johnson, passes into something which would be cynical if
it were not half-humorous. In this case it implies also the contempt of
the professional for the amateur. Johnson despised gentlemen who dabbled
in his craft, as a man whose life is devoted to music or painting
despises the ladies and gentlemen who treat those arts as fashionable
accomplishments. An author was, according to him, a man who turned out
books as a bricklayer turns out houses or a tailor coats. So long as he
supplied a good article and got a fair price, he was a fool to grumble,
and a humbug to affect loftier motives.

Johnson was not the first professional author, in this sense, but
perhaps the first man who made the profession respectable. The principal
habitat of authors, in his age, was Grub Street--a region which, in
later years, has ceased to be ashamed of itself, and has adopted the
more pretentious name Bohemia. The original Grub Street, it is said,
first became associated with authorship during the increase of pamphlet
literature, produced by the civil wars. Fox, the martyrologist, was one
of its original inhabitants. Another of its heroes was a certain Mr.
Welby, of whom the sole record is, that he "lived there forty years
without being seen of any." In fact, it was a region of holes and
corners, calculated to illustrate that great advantage of London life,
which a friend of Boswell's described by saying, that a man could there
be always "close to his burrow." The "burrow" which received the
luckless wight, was indeed no pleasant refuge. Since poor Green, in the
earliest generation of dramatists, bought his "groat'sworth of wit with
a million of repentance," too many of his brethren had trodden the path
which led to hopeless misery or death in a tavern brawl. The history of
men who had to support themselves by their pens, is a record of almost
universal gloom. The names of Spenser, of Butler, and of Otway, are
enough to remind us that even warm contemporary recognition was not
enough to raise an author above the fear of dying in want of
necessaries. The two great dictators of literature, Ben Jonson in the
earlier and Dryden in the later part of the century, only kept their
heads above water by help of the laureate's pittance, though reckless
imprudence, encouraged by the precarious life, was the cause of much of
their sufferings. Patronage gave but a fitful resource, and the author
could hope at most but an occasional crust, flung to him from better
provided tables.

In the happy days of Queen Anne, it is true, there had been a gleam of
prosperity. Many authors, Addison, Congreve, Swift, and others of less
name, had won by their pens not only temporary profits but permanent
places. The class which came into power at the Revolution was willing
for a time, to share some of the public patronage with men distinguished
for intellectual eminence. Patronage was liberal when the funds came out
of other men's pockets. But, as the system of party government
developed, it soon became evident that this involved a waste of power.
There were enough political partisans to absorb all the comfortable
sinecures to be had; and such money as was still spent upon literature,
was given in return for services equally degrading to giver and
receiver. Nor did the patronage of literature reach the poor inhabitants
of Grub Street. Addison's poetical power might suggest or justify the
gift of a place from his elegant friends; but a man like De Foe, who
really looked to his pen for great part of his daily subsistence, was
below the region of such prizes, and was obliged in later years not only
to write inferior books for money, but to sell himself and act as a spy
upon his fellows. One great man, it is true, made an independence by
literature. Pope received some L8000 for his translation of Homer, by
the then popular mode of subscription--a kind of compromise between the
systems of patronage and public support. But his success caused little
pleasure in Grub Street. No love was lost between the poet and the
dwellers in this dismal region. Pope was its deadliest enemy, and
carried on an internecine warfare with its inmates, which has enriched
our language with a great satire, but which wasted his powers upon low
objects, and tempted him into disgraceful artifices. The life of the
unfortunate victims, pilloried in the _Dunciad_ and accused of the
unpardonable sins of poverty and dependence, was too often one which
might have extorted sympathy even from a thin-skinned poet and critic.

Illustrations of the manners and customs of that Grub Street of which
Johnson was to become an inmate are only too abundant. The best writers
of the day could tell of hardships endured in that dismal region.
Richardson went on the sound principle of keeping his shop that his shop
might keep him. But the other great novelists of the century have
painted from life the miseries of an author's existence. Fielding,
Smollett, and Goldsmith have described the poor wretches with a vivid
force which gives sadness to the reflection that each of those great men
was drawing upon his own experience, and that they each died in
distress. The _Case of Authors by Profession_ to quote the title of a
pamphlet by Ralph, was indeed a wretched one, when the greatest of their
number had an incessant struggle to keep the wolf from the door. The
life of an author resembled the proverbial existence of the flying-fish,
chased by enemies in sea and in air; he only escaped from the slavery of
the bookseller's garret, to fly from the bailiff or rot in the debtor's
ward or the spunging-house. Many strange half-pathetic and
half-ludicrous anecdotes survive to recall the sorrows and the
recklessness of the luckless scribblers who, like one of Johnson's
acquaintance, "lived in London and hung loose upon society."

There was Samuel Boyse, for example, whose poem on the _Deity_ is quoted
with high praise by Fielding. Once Johnson had generously exerted
himself for his comrade in misery, and collected enough money by
sixpences to get the poet's clothes out of pawn. Two days afterwards,
Boyse had spent the money and was found in bed, covered only with a
blanket, through two holes in which he passed his arms to write. Boyse,
it appears, when still in this position would lay out his last
half-guinea to buy truffles and mushrooms for his last scrap of beef. Of
another scribbler Johnson said, "I honour Derrick for his strength of
mind. One night when Floyd (another poor author) was wandering about
the streets at night, he found Derrick fast asleep upon a bulk. Upon
being suddenly awaked, Derrick started up; 'My dear Floyd, I am sorry to
see you in this destitute state; will you go home with me to my
_lodgings_?'" Authors in such circumstances might be forced into such a
wonderful contract as that which is reported to have been drawn up by
one Gardner with Rolt and Christopher Smart. They were to write a
monthly miscellany, sold at sixpence, and to have a third of the
profits; but they were to write nothing else, and the contract was to
last for ninety-nine years. Johnson himself summed up the trade upon
earth by the lines in which Virgil describes the entrance to hell; thus
translated by Dryden:--

Just in the gate and in the jaws of hell,
Revengeful cares and sullen sorrows dwell.
And pale diseases and repining age,
Want, fear, and famine's unresisted rage:
Here toils and Death and Death's half-brother, Sleep--
Forms, terrible to view, their sentry keep.

"Now," said Johnson, "almost all these apply exactly to an author; these
are the concomitants of a printing-house."

Judicious authors, indeed, were learning how to make literature pay.
Some of them belonged to the class who understood the great truth that
the scissors are a very superior implement to the pen considered as a
tool of literary trade. Such, for example, was that respectable Dr. John
Campbell, whose parties Johnson ceased to frequent lest Scotchmen should
say of any good bits of work, "Ay, ay, he has learnt this of Cawmell."
Campbell, he said quaintly, was a good man, a pious man. "I am afraid he
has not been in the inside of a church for many years; but he never
passes a church without pulling off his hat. This shows he has good
principles,"--of which in fact there seems to be some less questionable
evidence. Campbell supported himself by writings chiefly of the
Encyclopedia or Gazetteer kind; and became, still in Johnson's phrase,
"the richest author that ever grazed the common of literature." A more
singular and less reputable character was that impudent quack, Sir John
Hill, who, with his insolent attacks upon the Royal Society, pretentious
botanical and medical compilations, plays, novels, and magazine
articles, has long sunk into utter oblivion. It is said of him that he
pursued every branch of literary quackery with greater contempt of
character than any man of his time, and that he made as much as L1500 in
a year;--three times as much, it is added, as any one writer ever made
in the same period.

The political scribblers--the Arnalls, Gordons, Trenchards, Guthries,
Ralphs, and Amhersts, whose names meet us in the notes to the _Dunciad_
and in contemporary pamphlets and newspapers--form another variety of
the class. Their general character may be estimated from Johnson's
classification of the "Scribbler for a Party" with the "Commissioner of
Excise," as the "two lowest of all human beings." "Ralph," says one of
the notes to the _Dunciad_, "ended in the common sink of all such
writers, a political newspaper." The prejudice against such employment
has scarcely died out in our own day, and may be still traced in the
account of Pendennis and his friend Warrington. People who do dirty work
must be paid for it; and the Secret Committee which inquired into
Walpole's administration reported that in ten years, from 1731 to 1741,
a sum of L50,077 18_s_. had been paid to writers and printers of
newspapers. Arnall, now remembered chiefly by Pope's line,--

Spirit of Arnall, aid me whilst I lie!

had received, in four years, L10,997 6_s_. 8_d_. of this amount. The
more successful writers might look to pensions or preferment. Francis,
for example, the translator of Horace, and the father, in all
probability, of the most formidable of the whole tribe of such literary
gladiators, received, it is said, 900_l_. a year for his work, besides
being appointed to a rectory and the chaplaincy of Chelsea.

It must, moreover, be observed that the price of literary work was
rising during the century, and that, in the latter half, considerable
sums were received by successful writers. Religious as well as dramatic
literature had begun to be commercially valuable. Baxter, in the
previous century, made from 60_l_. to 80_l_. a year by his pen. The
copyright of Tillotson's _Sermons_ was sold, it is said, upon his death
for L2500. Considerable sums were made by the plan of publishing by
subscription. It is said that 4600 people subscribed to the two
posthumous volumes of Conybeare's _Sermons_. A few poets trod in Pope's
steps. Young made more than L3000 for the Satires called the _Universal
Passion_, published, I think, on the same plan; and the Duke of Wharton
is said, though the report is doubtful, to have given him L2000 for the
same work. Gay made L1000 by his _Poems_; L400 for the copyright of the
_Beggar's Opera_, and three times as much for its second part, _Polly_.
Among historians, Hume seems to have received L700 a volume; Smollett
made L2000 by his catchpenny rival publication; Henry made L3300 by his
history; and Robertson, after the booksellers had made L6000 by his
_History of Scotland_, sold his _Charles V._ for L4500. Amongst the
novelists, Fielding received L700 for _Tom Jones_ and L1000 for
_Amelia_; Sterne, for the second edition of the first part of _Tristram
Shandy_ and for two additional volumes, received L650; besides which
Lord Fauconberg gave him a living (most inappropriate acknowledgment,
one would say!), and Warburton a purse of gold. Goldsmith received 60
guineas for the immortal _Vicar_, a fair price, according to Johnson,
for a work by a then unknown author. By each of his plays he made about
L500, and for the eight volumes of his _Natural History_ he received 800
guineas. Towards the end of the century, Mrs. Radcliffe got L500 for the
_Mysteries of Udolpho_, and L800 for her last work, the _Italian_.
Perhaps the largest sum given for a single book was L6000 paid to
Hawkesworth for his account of the South Sea Expeditions. Horne Tooke
received from L4000 to L5000 for the _Diversions of Purley_; and it is
added by his biographer, though it seems to be incredible, that Hayley
received no less than L11,000 for the _Life of Cowper_. This was, of
course, in the present century, when we are already approaching the
period of Scott and Byron.

Such sums prove that some few authors might achieve independence by a
successful work; and it is well to remember them in considering
Johnson's life from the business point of view. Though he never grumbled
at the booksellers, and on the contrary, was always ready to defend them
as liberal men, he certainly failed, whether from carelessness or want
of skill, to turn them to as much profit as many less celebrated rivals.
Meanwhile, pecuniary success of this kind was beyond any reasonable
hopes. A man who has to work like his own dependent Levett, and to make
the "modest toil of every day" supply "the wants of every day," must
discount his talents until he can secure leisure for some more
sustained effort. Johnson, coming up from the country to seek for work,
could have but a slender prospect of rising above the ordinary level of
his Grub Street companions and rivals. One publisher to whom he applied
suggested to him that it would be his wisest course to buy a porter's
knot and carry trunks; and, in the struggle which followed, Johnson must
sometimes have been tempted to regret that the advice was not taken.

The details of the ordeal through which he was now to pass have
naturally vanished. Johnson, long afterwards, burst into tears on
recalling the trials of this period. But, at the time, no one was
interested in noting the history of an obscure literary drudge, and it
has not been described by the sufferer himself. What we know is derived
from a few letters and incidental references of Johnson in later days.
On first arriving in London he was almost destitute, and had to join
with Garrick in raising a loan of five pounds, which, we are glad to
say, was repaid. He dined for eightpence at an ordinary: a cut of meat
for sixpence, bread for a penny, and a penny to the waiter, making out
the charge. One of his acquaintance had told him that a man might live
in London for thirty pounds a year. Ten pounds would pay for clothes; a
garret might be hired for eighteen-pence a week; if any one asked for an
address, it was easy to reply, "I am to be found at such a place."
Threepence laid out at a coffee-house would enable him to pass some
hours a day in good company; dinner might be had for sixpence, a
bread-and-milk breakfast for a penny, and supper was superfluous. On
clean shirt day you might go abroad and pay visits. This leaves a
surplus of nearly one pound from the thirty.

Johnson, however, had a wife to support; and to raise funds for even so
ascetic a mode of existence required steady labour. Often, it seems, his
purse was at the very lowest ebb. One of his letters to his employer is
signed _impransus_; and whether or not the dinnerless condition was in
this case accidental, or significant of absolute impecuniosity, the less
pleasant interpretation is not improbable. He would walk the streets all
night with his friend, Savage, when their combined funds could not pay
for a lodging. One night, as he told Sir Joshua Reynolds in later years,
they thus perambulated St. James's Square, warming themselves by
declaiming against Walpole, and nobly resolved that they would stand by
their country.

Patriotic enthusiasm, however, as no one knew better than Johnson, is a
poor substitute for bed and supper. Johnson suffered acutely and made
some attempts to escape from his misery. To the end of his life, he was
grateful to those who had lent him a helping hand. "Harry Hervey," he
said of one of them shortly before his death, "was a vicious man, but
very kind to me. If you call a dog Hervey, I shall love him." Pope was
impressed by the excellence of his first poem, _London_, and induced
Lord Gower to write to a friend to beg Swift to obtain a degree for
Johnson from the University of Dublin. The terms of this circuitous
application, curious, as bringing into connexion three of the most
eminent men of letters of the day, prove that the youngest of them was
at the time (1739) in deep distress. The object of the degree was to
qualify Johnson for a mastership of L60 a year, which would make him
happy for life. He would rather, said Lord Gower, die upon the road to
Dublin if an examination were necessary, "than be starved to death in
translating for booksellers, which has been his only subsistence for
some time past." The application failed, however, and the want of a
degree was equally fatal to another application to be admitted to
practise at Doctor's Commons.

Literature was thus perforce Johnson's sole support; and by literature
was meant, for the most part, drudgery of the kind indicated by the
phrase, "translating for booksellers." While still in Lichfield, Johnson
had, as I have said, written to Cave, proposing to become a contributor
to the _Gentleman's Magazine_. The letter was one of those which a
modern editor receives by the dozen, and answers as perfunctorily as his
conscience will allow. It seems, however, to have made some impression
upon Cave, and possibly led to Johnson's employment by him on his first
arrival in London. From 1738 he was employed both on the Magazine and in
some jobs of translation.

Edward Cave, to whom we are thus introduced, was a man of some mark in
the history of literature. Johnson always spoke of him with affection
and afterwards wrote his life in complimentary terms. Cave, though a
clumsy, phlegmatic person of little cultivation, seems to have been one
of those men who, whilst destitute of real critical powers, have a
certain instinct for recognizing the commercial value of literary wares.
He had become by this time well-known as the publisher of a magazine
which survives to this day. Journals containing summaries of passing
events had already been started. Boyer's _Political State of Great
Britain_ began in 1711. _The Historical Register_, which added to a
chronicle some literary notices, was started in 1716. _The Grub Street
Journal_ was another journal with fuller critical notices, which first
appeared in 1730; and these two seem to have been superseded by the
_Gentleman's Magazine_, started by Cave in the next year. Johnson saw
in it an opening for the employment of his literary talents; and
regarded its contributions with that awe so natural in youthful
aspirants, and at once so comic and pathetic to writers of a little
experience. The names of many of Cave's staff are preserved in a note to
Hawkins. One or two of them, such as Birch and Akenside, have still a
certain interest for students of literature; but few have heard of the
great Moses Browne, who was regarded as the great poetical light of the
magazine. Johnson looked up to him as a leader in his craft, and was
graciously taken by Cave to an alehouse in Clerkenwell, where, wrapped
in a horseman's coat, and "a great bushy uncombed wig," he saw Mr.
Browne sitting at the end of a long table, in a cloud of tobacco-smoke,
and felt the satisfaction of a true hero-worshipper.

It is needless to describe in detail the literary task-work done by
Johnson at this period, the Latin poems which he contributed in praise
of Cave, and of Cave's friends, or the Jacobite squibs by which he
relieved his anti-ministerialist feelings. One incident of the period
doubtless refreshed the soul of many authors, who have shared Campbell's
gratitude to Napoleon for the sole redeeming action of his life--the
shooting of a bookseller. Johnson was employed by Osborne, a rough
specimen of the trade, to make a catalogue of the Harleian Library.
Osborne offensively reproved him for negligence, and Johnson knocked him
down with a folio. The book with which the feat was performed (_Biblia
Graeca Septuaginta, fol._ 1594, Frankfort) was in existence in a
bookseller's shop at Cambridge in 1812, and should surely have been
placed in some safe author's museum.

The most remarkable of Johnson's performances as a hack writer deserves
a brief notice. He was one of the first of reporters. Cave published
such reports of the debates in Parliament as were then allowed by the
jealousy of the Legislature, under the title of _The Senate of
Lilliput_. Johnson was the author of the debates from Nov. 1740 to
February 1742. Persons were employed to attend in the two Houses, who
brought home notes of the speeches, which were then put into shape by
Johnson. Long afterwards, at a dinner at Foote's, Francis (the father of
Junius) mentioned a speech of Pitt's as the best he had ever read, and
superior to anything in Demosthenes. Hereupon Johnson replied, "I wrote
that speech in a garret in Exeter Street." When the company applauded
not only his eloquence but his impartiality, Johnson replied, "That is
not quite true; I saved appearances tolerably well, but I took care that
the Whig dogs should not have the best of it." The speeches passed for a
time as accurate; though, in truth, it has been proved and it is easy to
observe, that they are, in fact, very vague reflections of the original.
The editors of Chesterfield's Works published two of the speeches, and,
to Johnson's considerable amusement, declared that one of them resembled
Demosthenes and the other Cicero. It is plain enough to the modern
reader that, if so, both of the ancient orators must have written true
Johnsonese; and, in fact, the style of the true author is often as
plainly marked in many of these compositions as in the _Rambler_ or
_Rasselas_. For this deception, such as it was, Johnson expressed
penitence at the end of his life, though he said that he had ceased to
write when he found that they were taken as genuine. He would not be
"accessory to the propagation of falsehood."

Another of Johnson's works which appeared in 1744 requires notice both
for its intrinsic merit, and its autobiographical interest. The most
remarkable of his Grub-Street companions was the Richard Savage already
mentioned. Johnson's life of him written soon after his death is one of
his most forcible performances, and the best extant illustration of the
life of the struggling authors of the time. Savage claimed to be the
illegitimate son of the Countess of Macclesfield, who was divorced from
her husband in the year of his birth on account of her connexion with
his supposed father, Lord Rivers. According to the story, believed by
Johnson, and published without her contradiction in the mother's
lifetime, she not only disavowed her son, but cherished an unnatural
hatred for him. She told his father that he was dead, in order that he
might not be benefited by the father's will; she tried to have him
kidnapped and sent to the plantations; and she did her best to prevent
him from receiving a pardon when he had been sentenced to death for
killing a man in a tavern brawl. However this may be, and there are
reasons for doubt, the story was generally believed, and caused much
sympathy for the supposed victim. Savage was at one time protected by
the kindness of Steele, who published his story, and sometimes employed
him as a literary assistant. When Steele became disgusted with him, he
received generous help from the actor Wilks and from Mrs. Oldfield, to
whom he had been introduced by some dramatic efforts. Then he was taken
up by Lord Tyrconnel, but abandoned by him after a violent quarrel; he
afterwards called himself a volunteer laureate, and received a pension
of 50_l_. a year from Queen Caroline; on her death he was thrown into
deep distress, and helped by a subscription to which Pope was the chief
contributor, on condition of retiring to the country. Ultimately he
quarrelled with his last protectors, and ended by dying in a debtor's
prison. Various poetical works, now utterly forgotten, obtained for him
scanty profit. This career sufficiently reveals the character. Savage
belonged to the very common type of men, who seem to employ their whole
talents to throw away their chances in life, and to disgust every one
who offers them a helping hand. He was, however, a man of some talent,
though his poems are now hopelessly unreadable, and seems to have had a
singular attraction for Johnson. The biography is curiously marked by
Johnson's constant effort to put the best face upon faults, which he has
too much love of truth to conceal. The explanation is, partly, that
Johnson conceived himself to be avenging a victim of cruel oppression.
"This mother," he says, after recording her vindictiveness, "is still
alive, and may perhaps even yet, though her malice was often defeated,
enjoy the pleasure of reflecting that the life, which she often
endeavoured to destroy, was at last shortened by her maternal offices;
that though she could not transport her son to the plantations, bury him
in the shop of a mechanic, or hasten the hand of the public executioner,
she has yet had the satisfaction of embittering all his hours, and
forcing him into exigencies that hurried on his death."

But it is also probable that Savage had a strong influence upon
Johnson's mind at a very impressible part of his career. The young man,
still ignorant of life and full of reverent enthusiasm for the literary
magnates of his time, was impressed by the varied experience of his
companion, and, it may be, flattered by his intimacy. Savage, he says
admiringly, had enjoyed great opportunities of seeing the most
conspicuous men of the day in their private life. He was shrewd and
inquisitive enough to use his opportunities well. "More circumstances to
constitute a critic on human life could not easily concur." The only
phrase which survives to justify this remark is Savage's statement
about Walpole, that "the whole range of his mind was from obscenity to
politics, and from politics to obscenity." We may, however, guess what
was the special charm of the intercourse to Johnson. Savage was an
expert in that science of human nature, learnt from experience not from
books, upon which Johnson set so high a value, and of which he was
destined to become the authorized expositor. There were, moreover,
resemblances between the two men. They were both admired and sought out
for their conversational powers. Savage, indeed, seems to have lived
chiefly by the people who entertained him for talk, till he had
disgusted them by his insolence and his utter disregard of time and
propriety. He would, like Johnson, sit up talking beyond midnight, and
next day decline to rise till dinner-time, though his favourite drink
was not, like Johnson's, free from intoxicating properties. Both of them
had a lofty pride, which Johnson heartily commends in Savage, though he
has difficulty in palliating some of its manifestations. One of the
stories reminds us of an anecdote already related of Johnson himself.
Some clothes had been left for Savage at a coffee-house by a person who,
out of delicacy, concealed his name. Savage, however, resented some want
of ceremony, and refused to enter the house again till the clothes had
been removed.

What was honourable pride in Johnson was, indeed, simple arrogance in
Savage. He asked favours, his biographer says, without submission, and
resented refusal as an insult. He had too much pride to acknowledge, not
not too much to receive, obligations; enough to quarrel with his
charitable benefactors, but not enough to make him rise to independence
of their charity. His pension would have sufficed to keep him, only that
as soon as he received it he retired from the sight of all his
acquaintance, and came back before long as penniless as before. This
conduct, observes his biographer, was "very particular." It was hardly
so singular as objectionable; and we are not surprised to be told that
he was rather a "friend of goodness" than himself a good man. In short,
we may say of him as Beauclerk said of a friend of Boswell's that, if he
had excellent principles, he did not wear them out in practice.

There is something quaint about this picture of a thorough-paced scamp,
admiringly painted by a virtuous man; forced, in spite of himself, to
make it a likeness, and striving in vain to make it attractive. But it
is also pathetic when we remember that Johnson shared some part at least
of his hero's miseries. "On a bulk, in a cellar, or in a glass-house,
among thieves and beggars, was to be found the author of _The Wanderer_,
the man of exalted sentiments, extensive views, and curious
observations; the man whose remarks on life might have assisted the
statesman, whose ideas of virtue might have enlightened the moralist,
whose eloquence might have influenced senators, and whose delicacy might
have polished courts." Very shocking, no doubt, and yet hardly
surprising under the circumstances! To us it is more interesting to
remember that the author of the _Rambler_ was not only a sympathizer,
but a fellow-sufferer with the author of the _Wanderer_, and shared the
queer "lodgings" of his friend, as Floyd shared the lodgings of Derrick.
Johnson happily came unscathed through the ordeal which was too much for
poor Savage, and could boast with perfect truth in later life that "no
man, who ever lived by literature, had lived more independently than I
have done." It was in so strange a school, and under such questionable
teaching that Johnson formed his character of the world and of the
conduct befitting its inmates. One characteristic conclusion is
indicated in the opening passage of the life. It has always been
observed, he says, that men eminent by nature or fortune are not
generally happy: "whether it be that apparent superiority incites great
designs, and great designs are naturally liable to fatal miscarriages;
or that the general lot of mankind is misery, and the misfortunes of
those, whose eminence drew upon them an universal attention, have been
more carefully recorded because they were more generally observed, and
have in reality been only more conspicuous than those of others, not
more frequent or more severe."

The last explanation was that which really commended itself to Johnson.
Nobody had better reason to know that obscurity might conceal a misery
as bitter as any that fell to the lot of the most eminent. The gloom due
to his constitutional temperament was intensified by the sense that he
and his wife were dependent upon the goodwill of a narrow and ignorant
tradesman for the scantiest maintenance. How was he to reach some solid
standing-ground above the hopeless mire of Grub Street? As a journeyman
author he could make both ends meet, but only on condition of incessant
labour. Illness and misfortune would mean constant dependence upon
charity or bondage to creditors. To get ahead of the world it was
necessary to distinguish himself in some way from the herd of needy
competitors. He had come up from Lichfield with a play in his pocket,
but the play did not seem at present to have much chance of emerging.
Meanwhile he published a poem which did something to give him a general

_London_--an imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal--was published in
May, 1738. The plan was doubtless suggested by Pope's imitations of
Horace, which had recently appeared. Though necessarily following the
lines of Juvenal's poem, and conforming to the conventional fashion of
the time, both in sentiment and versification, the poem has a
biographical significance. It is indeed odd to find Johnson, who
afterwards thought of London as a lover of his mistress, and who
despised nothing more heartily than the cant of Rousseau and the
sentimentalists, adopting in this poem the ordinary denunciations of the
corruption of towns, and singing the praises of an innocent country
life. Doubtless, the young writer was like other young men, taking up a
strain still imitative and artificial. He has a quiet smile at Savage in
the life, because in his retreat to Wales, that enthusiast declared that
he "could not debar himself from the happiness which was to be found in
the calm of a cottage, or lose the opportunity of listening without
intermission to the melody of the nightingale, which he believed was to
be heard from every bramble, and which he did not fail to mention as a
very important part of the happiness of a country life." In _London_,
this insincere cockney adopts Savage's view. Thales, who is generally
supposed to represent Savage (and this coincidence seems to confirm the
opinion), is to retire "from the dungeons of the Strand," and to end a
healthy life in pruning walks and twining bowers in his garden.

There every bush with nature's music rings,
There every breeze bears health upon its wings.

Johnson had not yet learnt the value of perfect sincerity even in
poetry. But it must also be admitted that London, as seen by the poor
drudge from a Grub Street garret, probably presented a prospect gloomy
enough to make even Johnson long at times for rural solitude. The poem
reflects, too, the ordinary talk of the heterogeneous band of patriots,
Jacobites, and disappointed Whigs, who were beginning to gather enough
strength to threaten Walpole's long tenure of power. Many references to
contemporary politics illustrate Johnson's sympathy with the inhabitants
of the contemporary Cave of Adullam.

This poem, as already stated, attracted Pope's notice, who made a
curious note on a scrap of paper sent with it to a friend. Johnson is
described as "a man afflicted with an infirmity of the convulsive kind,
that attacks him sometimes so as to make him a sad spectacle." This
seems to have been the chief information obtained by Pope about the
anonymous author, of whom he had said, on first reading the poem, this
man will soon be _deterre_. _London_ made a certain noise; it reached a
second edition in a week, and attracted various patrons, among others,
General Oglethorpe, celebrated by Pope, and through a long life the warm
friend of Johnson. One line, however, in the poem printed in capital
letters, gives the moral which was doubtless most deeply felt by the
author, and which did not lose its meaning in the years to come. This
mournful truth, he says,--

Is everywhere confess'd,
Slow rises worth by poverty depress'd.

Ten years later (in January, 1749) appeared the _Vanity of Human
Wishes_, an imitation of the Tenth Satire of Juvenal. The difference in
tone shows how deeply this and similar truths had been impressed upon
its author in the interval. Though still an imitation, it is as
significant as the most original work could be of Johnson's settled
views of life. It was written at a white heat, as indeed Johnson wrote
all his best work. Its strong Stoical morality, its profound and
melancholy illustrations of the old and ever new sentiment, _Vanitas
Vanitatum_, make it perhaps the most impressive poem of the kind in the
language. The lines on the scholar's fate show that the iron had entered
his soul in the interval. Should the scholar succeed beyond expectation
in his labours and escape melancholy and disease, yet, he says,--

Yet hope not life from grief and danger free,
Nor think the doom of man reversed on thee;
Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes
And pause awhile from letters, to be wise;
There mark what ills the scholar's life assail,
Toil, envy, want, the patron and the jail;
See nations, slowly wise and meanly just,
To buried merit raise the tardy bust.
If dreams yet flatter, once again attend.
Hear Lydiat's life and Galileo's end.

For the "patron," Johnson had originally written the "garret." The
change was made after an experience of patronage to be presently
described in connexion with the _Dictionary_.

For _London_ Johnson received ten guineas, and for the _Vanity of Human
Wishes_ fifteen. Though indirectly valuable, as increasing his
reputation, such work was not very profitable. The most promising career
in a pecuniary sense was still to be found on the stage. Novelists were
not yet the rivals of dramatists, and many authors had made enough by a
successful play to float them through a year or two. Johnson had
probably been determined by his knowledge of this fact to write the
tragedy of _Irene_. No other excuse at least can be given for the
composition of one of the heaviest and most unreadable of dramatic
performances, interesting now, if interesting at all, solely as a
curious example of the result of bestowing great powers upon a totally
uncongenial task. Young men, however, may be pardoned for such blunders
if they are not repeated, and Johnson, though he seems to have retained
a fondness for his unlucky performance, never indulged in play writing
after leaving Lichfield. The best thing connected with the play was
Johnson's retort to his friend Walmsley, the Lichfield registrar. "How,"
asked Walmsley, "can you contrive to plunge your heroine into deeper
calamity?" "Sir," said Johnson, "I can put her into the spiritual
court." Even Boswell can only say for _Irene_ that it is "entitled to
the praise of superior excellence," and admits its entire absence of
dramatic power. Garrick, who had become manager of Drury Lane, produced
his friend's work in 1749. The play was carried through nine nights by
Garrick's friendly zeal, so that the author had his three nights'
profits. For this he received L195 17_s_. and for the copy he had L100.
People probably attended, as they attend modern representations of
legitimate drama, rather from a sense of duty, than in the hope of
pleasure. The heroine originally had to speak two lines with a bowstring
round her neck. The situation produced cries of murder, and she had to
go off the stage alive. The objectionable passage was removed, but
_Irene_ was on the whole a failure, and has never, I imagine, made
another appearance. When asked how he felt upon his ill-success, he
replied "like the monument," and indeed he made it a principle
throughout life to accept the decision of the public like a sensible man
without murmurs.

Meanwhile, Johnson was already embarked upon an undertaking of a very
different kind. In 1747 he had put forth a plan for an English
Dictionary, addressed at the suggestion of Dodsley, to Lord
Chesterfield, then Secretary of State, and the great contemporary
Maecenas. Johnson had apparently been maturing the scheme for some
time. "I know," he says in the "plan," that "the work in which I engaged
is generally considered as drudgery for the blind, as the proper toil of
artless industry, a book that requires neither the light of learning nor
the activity of genius, but may be successfully performed without any
higher quality than that of bearing burdens with dull patience, and
beating the track of the alphabet with sluggish resolution." He adds in
a sub-sarcastic tone, that although princes and statesmen had once
thought it honourable to patronize dictionaries, he had considered such
benevolent acts to be "prodigies, recorded rather to raise wonder than
expectation," and he was accordingly pleased and surprised to find that
Chesterfield took an interest in his undertaking. He proceeds to lay
down the general principles upon which he intends to frame his work, in
order to invite timely suggestions and repress unreasonable
expectations. At this time, humble as his aspirations might be, he took
a view of the possibilities open to him which had to be lowered before
the publication of the dictionary. He shared the illusion that a
language might be "fixed" by making a catalogue of its words. In the
preface which appeared with the completed work, he explains very
sensibly the vanity of any such expectation. Whilst all human affairs
are changing, it is, as he says, absurd to imagine that the language
which repeats all human thoughts and feelings can remain unaltered.

A dictionary, as Johnson conceived it, was in fact work for a "harmless
drudge," the definition of a lexicographer given in the book itself.
Etymology in a scientific sense was as yet non-existent, and Johnson was
not in this respect ahead of his contemporaries. To collect all the
words in the language, to define their meanings as accurately as might
be, to give the obvious or whimsical guesses at Etymology suggested by
previous writers, and to append a good collection of illustrative
passages was the sum of his ambition. Any systematic training of the
historical processes by which a particular language had been developed
was unknown, and of course the result could not be anticipated. The
work, indeed, required a keen logical faculty of definition, and wide
reading of the English literature of the two preceding centuries; but it
could of course give no play either for the higher literary faculties on
points of scientific investigation. A dictionary in Johnson's sense was
the highest kind of work to which a literary journeyman could be set,
but it was still work for a journeyman, not for an artist. He was not
adding to literature, but providing a useful implement for future men of

Johnson had thus got on hand the biggest job that could be well
undertaken by a good workman in his humble craft. He was to receive
fifteen hundred and seventy-five pounds for the whole, and he expected
to finish it in three years. The money, it is to be observed, was to
satisfy not only Johnson but several copyists employed in the mechanical
part of the work. It was advanced by instalments, and came to an end
before the conclusion of the book. Indeed, it appeared when accounts
were settled, that he had received a hundred pounds more than was due.
He could, however, pay his way for the time, and would gain a reputation
enough to ensure work in future. The period of extreme poverty had
probably ended when Johnson got permanent employment on the _Gentleman's
Magazine_. He was not elevated above the need of drudgery and economy,
but he might at least be free from the dread of neglect. He could
command his market--such as it was. The necessity of steady labour was
probably unfelt in repelling his fits of melancholy. His name was
beginning to be known, and men of reputation were seeking his
acquaintance. In the winter of 1749 he formed a club, which met weekly
at a "famous beef-steak house" in Ivy Lane. Among its members were
Hawkins, afterwards his biographer, and two friends, Bathurst a
physician, and Hawkesworth an author, for the first of whom he
entertained an unusually strong affection. The Club, like its more
famous successor, gave Johnson an opportunity of displaying and
improving his great conversational powers. He was already dreaded for
his prowess in argument, his dictatorial manners and vivid flashes of
wit and humour, the more effective from the habitual gloom and apparent
heaviness of the discourser.

The talk of this society probably suggested topics for the _Rambler_,
which appeared at this time, and caused Johnson's fame to spread further
beyond the literary circles of London. The wit and humour have, indeed,
left few traces upon its ponderous pages, for the _Rambler_ marks the
culminating period of Johnson's worst qualities of style. The pompous
and involved language seems indeed to be a fit clothing for the
melancholy reflections which are its chief staple, and in spite of its
unmistakable power it is as heavy reading as the heavy class of
lay-sermonizing to which it belongs. Such literature, however, is often
strangely popular in England, and the _Rambler_, though its circulation
was limited, gave to Johnson his position as a great practical moralist.
He took his literary title, one may say, from the _Rambler_, as the more
familiar title was derived from the _Dictionary_.

The _Rambler_ was published twice a week from March 20th, 1750, to
March 17th, 1752. In five numbers alone he received assistance from
friends, and one of these, written by Richardson, is said to have been
the only number which had a large sale. The circulation rarely exceeded
500, though ten English editions were published in the author's
lifetime, besides Scotch and Irish editions. The payment, however,
namely, two guineas a number, must have been welcome to Johnson, and the
friendship of many distinguished men of the time was a still more
valuable reward. A quaint story illustrates the hero-worship of which
Johnson now became the object. Dr. Burney, afterwards an intimate
friend, had introduced himself to Johnson by letter in consequence of
the _Rambler_, and the plan of the _Dictionary_. The admiration was
shared by a friend of Burney's, a Mr. Bewley, known--in Norfolk at
least--as the "philosopher of Massingham." When Burney at last gained
the honour of a personal interview, he wished to procure some "relic" of
Johnson for his friend. He cut off some bristles from a hearth-broom in
the doctor's chambers, and sent them in a letter to his
fellow-enthusiast. Long afterwards Johnson was pleased to hear of this
simple-minded homage, and not only sent a copy of the _Lives of the
Poets_ to the rural philosopher, but deigned to grant him a personal

Dearer than any such praise was the approval of Johnson's wife. She told
him that, well as she had thought of him before, she had not considered
him equal to such a performance. The voice that so charmed him was soon
to be silenced for ever. Mrs. Johnson died (March 17th, 1752) three days
after the appearance of the last _Rambler_. The man who has passed
through such a trial knows well that, whatever may be in store for him
in the dark future, fate can have no heavier blow in reserve. Though
Johnson once acknowledged to Boswell, when in a placid humour, that
happier days had come to him in his old age than in his early life, he
would probably have added that though fame and friendship and freedom
from the harrowing cares of poverty might cause his life to be more
equably happy, yet their rewards could represent but a faint and mocking
reflection of the best moments of a happy marriage. His strong mind and
tender nature reeled under the blow. Here is one pathetic little note
written to the friend, Dr. Taylor, who had come to him in his distress.
That which first announced the calamity, and which, said Taylor,
"expressed grief in the strongest manner he had ever read," is lost.

"Dear Sir,--Let me have your company and instruction. Do not live away
from me. My distress is great.

"Pray desire Mrs. Taylor to inform me what mourning I should buy for my
mother and Miss Porter, and bring a note in writing with you.

"Remember me in your prayers, for vain is the help of man.

"I am, dear sir,


We need not regret that a veil is drawn over the details of the bitter
agony of his passage through the valley of the shadow of death. It is
enough to put down the wails which he wrote long afterwards when visibly
approaching the close of all human emotions and interests:--

"This is the day on which, in 1752, dear Letty died. I have now uttered
a prayer of repentance and contrition; perhaps Letty knows that I prayed
for her. Perhaps Letty is now praying for me. God help me. Thou, God,
art merciful, hear my prayers and enable me to trust in Thee.

"We were married almost seventeen years, and have now been parted

It seems half profane, even at this distance of time, to pry into grief
so deep and so lasting. Johnson turned for relief to that which all
sufferers know to be the only remedy for sorrow--hard labour. He set to
work in his garret, an inconvenient room, "because," he said, "in that
room only I never saw Mrs. Johnson." He helped his friend Hawkesworth in
the _Adventurer_, a new periodical of the _Rambler_ kind; but his main
work was the _Dictionary_, which came out at last in 1755. Its
appearance was the occasion of an explosion of wrath which marks an
epoch in our literature. Johnson, as we have seen, had dedicated the
Plan to Lord Chesterfield; and his language implies that they had been
to some extent in personal communication. Chesterfield's fame is in
curious antithesis to Johnson's. He was a man of great abilities, and
seems to have deserved high credit for some parts of his statesmanship.
As a Viceroy in Ireland in particular he showed qualities rare in his
generation. To Johnson he was known as the nobleman who had a wide
social influence as an acknowledged _arbiter elegantiarum_, and who
reckoned among his claims some of that literary polish in which the
earlier generation of nobles had certainly been superior to their
successors. The art of life expounded in his _Letters_ differs from
Johnson as much as the elegant diplomatist differs from the rough
intellectual gladiator of Grub Street. Johnson spoke his mind of his
rival without reserve. "I thought," he said, "that this man had been a
Lord among wits; but I find he is only a wit among Lords." And of the
_Letters_ he said more keenly that they taught the morals of a harlot
and the manners of a dancing-master. Chesterfield's opinion of Johnson
is indicated by the description in his _Letters_ of a "respectable
Hottentot, who throws his meat anywhere but down his throat. This absurd
person," said Chesterfield, "was not only uncouth in manners and warm in
dispute, but behaved exactly in the same way to superiors, equals, and
inferiors; and therefore, by a necessary consequence, absurdly to two of
the three. _Hinc illae lacrymae!_"

Johnson, in my opinion, was not far wrong in his judgment, though it
would be a gross injustice to regard Chesterfield as nothing but a
fribble. But men representing two such antithetic types were not likely
to admire each other's good qualities. Whatever had been the intercourse
between them, Johnson was naturally annoyed when the dignified noble
published two articles in the _World_--a periodical supported by such
polite personages as himself and Horace Walpole--in which the need of a
dictionary was set forth, and various courtly compliments described
Johnson's fitness for a dictatorship over the language. Nothing could be
more prettily turned; but it meant, and Johnson took it to mean, I
should like to have the dictionary dedicated to me: such a compliment
would add a feather to my cap, and enable me to appear to the world as a
patron of literature as well as an authority upon manners. "After making
pert professions," as Johnson said, "he had, for many years, taken no
notice of me; but when my _Dictionary_ was coming out, he fell a
scribbling in the _World_ about it." Johnson therefore bestowed upon the
noble earl a piece of his mind in a letter which was not published till
it came out in Boswell's biography.

"My Lord,--I have been lately informed by the proprietor of the _World_
that two papers, in which my _Dictionary_ is recommended to the public,
were written by your lordship. To be so distinguished is an honour
which, being very little accustomed to favours from the great, I know
not well how to receive, or in what terms to acknowledge.

"When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your Lordship, I
was overpowered, like the rest of mankind, by the enchantment of your
address; and could not forbear to wish that I might boast myself, _le
vainqueur du vainqueur de la terre_--that I might obtain that regard for
which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance so little
encouraged that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to continue
it. When I had once addressed your Lordship in public, I had exhausted
all the arts of pleasing which a wearied and uncourtly scholar can
possess. I had done all that I could; and no man is well pleased to have
his all neglected, be it ever so little.

"Seven years, my lord, have now passed, since I waited in your outward
rooms and was repulsed from your door; during which time I have been
pushing on my work through difficulties of which it is useless to
complain, and have brought it at last to the verge of publication
without one act of assistance, one word of encouragement, and one smile
of favour. Such treatment I did not expect, for I never had a patron

"The shepherd in _Virgil_ grew at last acquainted with Love, and found
him a native of the rocks.

"Is not a patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man
struggling for life in the water, and when he has reached the ground
encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take
of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed
till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and
cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no
very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has
been received, or to be unwilling that the public should consider me as
owing that to a patron which Providence has enabled me to do for myself.

"Having carried on my work thus far with so little obligation to any
favourer of learning, I shall not be disappointed though I should
conclude it, should loss be possible, with loss; for I have been long
wakened from that dream of hope in which I once boasted myself with so
much exultation, my Lord,

"Your Lordship's most humble, most obedient servant,


The letter is one of those knock-down blows to which no answer is
possible, and upon which comment is superfluous. It was, as Mr. Carlyle
calls it, "the far-famed blast of doom proclaiming into the ear of Lord
Chesterfield and through him, of the listening world, that patronage
should be no more."

That is all that can be said; yet perhaps it should be added that
Johnson remarked that he had once received L10 from Chesterfield, though
he thought the assistance too inconsiderable to be mentioned in such a
letter. Hawkins also states that Chesterfield sent overtures to Johnson
through two friends, one of whom, long Sir Thomas Robinson, stated that,
if he were rich enough (a judicious clause) he would himself settle L500
a year upon Johnson. Johnson replied that if the first peer of the realm
made such an offer, he would show him the way downstairs. Hawkins is
startled at this insolence, and at Johnson's uniform assertion that an
offer of money was an insult. We cannot tell what was the history of the
L10; but Johnson, in spite of Hawkins's righteous indignation, was in
fact too proud to be a beggar, and owed to his pride his escape from
the fate of Savage.

The appearance of the _Dictionary_ placed Johnson in the position
described soon afterwards by Smollett. He was henceforth "the great Cham
of Literature"--a monarch sitting in the chair previously occupied by
his namesake, Ben, by Dryden, and by Pope; but which has since that time
been vacant. The world of literature has become too large for such
authority. Complaints were not seldom uttered at the time. Goldsmith has
urged that Boswell wished to make a monarchy of what ought to be a
republic. Goldsmith, who would have been the last man to find serious
fault with the dictator, thought the dictatorship objectionable. Some
time indeed was still to elapse before we can say that Johnson was
firmly seated on the throne; but the _Dictionary_ and the _Rambler_ had
given him a position not altogether easy to appreciate, now that the
_Dictionary_ has been superseded and the _Rambler_ gone out of fashion.
His name was the highest at this time (1755) in the ranks of pure
literature. The fame of Warburton possibly bulked larger for the moment,
and one of his flatterers was comparing him to the Colossus which
bestrides the petty world of contemporaries. But Warburton had subsided
into episcopal repose, and literature had been for him a stepping-stone
rather than an ultimate aim. Hume had written works of far more enduring
influence than Johnson; but they were little read though generally
abused, and scarcely belong to the purely literary history. The first
volume of his _History of England_ had appeared (1754), but had not
succeeded. The second was just coming out. Richardson was still giving
laws to his little seraglio of adoring women; Fielding had died (1754),
worn out by labour and dissipation; Smollett was active in the literary
trade, but not in such a way as to increase his own dignity or that of
his employment; Gray was slowly writing a few lines of exquisite verse
in his retirement at Cambridge; two young Irish adventurers, Burke and
Goldsmith, were just coming to London to try their fortune; Adam Smith
made his first experiment as an author by reviewing the _Dictionary_ in
the _Edinburgh Review_; Robertson had not yet appeared as a historian;
Gibbon was at Lausanne repenting of his old brief lapse into Catholicism
as an act of undergraduate's folly; and Cowper, after three years of
"giggling and making giggle" with Thurlow in an attorney's office, was
now entered at the Temple and amusing himself at times with literature
in company with such small men of letters as Colman, Bonnell Thornton,
and Lloyd. It was a slack tide of literature; the generation of Pope had
passed away and left no successors, and no writer of the time could be
put in competition with the giant now known as "Dictionary Johnson."

When the last sheet of the _Dictionary_ had been carried to the
publisher, Millar, Johnson asked the messenger, "What did he say?"
"Sir," said the messenger, "he said, 'Thank God I have done with him.'"
"I am glad," replied Johnson, "that he thanks God for anything."
Thankfulness for relief from seven years' toil seems to have been
Johnson's predominant feeling: and he was not anxious for a time to take
any new labours upon his shoulders. Some years passed which have left
few traces either upon his personal or his literary history. He
contributed a good many reviews in 1756-7 to the _Literary Magazine_,
one of which, a review of Soame Jenyns, is amongst his best
performances. To a weekly paper he contributed for two years, from
April, 1758, to April, 1760, a set of essays called the _Idler_, on the
old _Rambler_ plan. He did some small literary cobbler's work,
receiving a guinea for a prospectus to a newspaper and ten pounds for
correcting a volume of poetry. He had advertised in 1756 a new edition
of Shakspeare which was to appear by Christmas, 1757: but he dawdled
over it so unconscionably that it did not appear for nine years; and
then only in consequence of taunts from Churchill, who accused him with
too much plausibility of cheating his subscribers.

He for subscribers baits his hook;
And takes your cash: but where's the book?
No matter where; wise fear, you know
Forbids the robbing of a foe;
But what to serve our private ends
Forbids the cheating of our friends?

In truth, his constitutional indolence seems to have gained advantages
over him, when the stimulus of a heavy task was removed. In his
meditations, there are many complaints of his "sluggishness" and
resolutions of amendment. "A kind of strange oblivion has spread over
me," he says in April, 1764, "so that I know not what has become of the
last years, and perceive that incidents and intelligence pass over me
without leaving any impression."

It seems, however, that he was still frequently in difficulties. Letters
are preserved showing that in the beginning of 1756, Richardson became
surety for him for a debt, and lent him six guineas to release him from
arrest. An event which happened three years later illustrates his
position and character. In January, 1759, his mother died at the age of
ninety. Johnson was unable to come to Lichfield, and some deeply
pathetic letters to her and her stepdaughter, who lived with her, record
his emotions. Here is the last sad farewell upon the snapping of the
most sacred of human ties.

"Dear Honoured Mother," he says in a letter enclosed to Lucy Porter,
the step-daughter, "neither your condition nor your character make it
fit for me to say much. You have been the best mother, and I believe the
best woman in the world. I thank you for your indulgence to me, and beg
forgiveness of all that I have done ill, and of all that I have omitted
to do well. God grant you His Holy Spirit, and receive you to
everlasting happiness for Jesus Christ's sake. Amen. Lord Jesus receive
your spirit. I am, dear, dear mother,

"Your dutiful son,


Johnson managed to raise twelve guineas, six of them borrowed from his
printer, to send to his dying mother. In order to gain money for her
funeral expenses and some small debts, he wrote the story of _Rasselas_.
It was composed in the evenings of a single week, and sent to press as
it was written. He received L100 for this, perhaps the most successful
of his minor writings, and L25 for a second edition. It was widely
translated and universally admired. One of the strangest of literary
coincidences is the contemporary appearance of this work and Voltaire's
_Candide_; to which, indeed, it bears in some respects so strong a
resemblance that, but for Johnson's apparent contradiction, we would
suppose that he had at least heard some description of its design. The
two stories, though widely differing in tone and style, are among the
most powerful expressions of the melancholy produced in strong
intellects by the sadness and sorrows of the world. The literary
excellence of _Candide_ has secured for it a wider and more enduring
popularity than has fallen to the lot of Johnson's far heavier
production. But _Rasselas_ is a book of singular force, and bears the
most characteristic impression of Johnson's peculiar temperament.

A great change was approaching in Johnson's circumstances. When George
III. came to the throne, it struck some of his advisers that it would be
well, as Boswell puts it, to open "a new and brighter prospect to men of
literary merit." This commendable design was carried out by offering to
Johnson a pension of three hundred a year. Considering that such men as
Horace Walpole and his like were enjoying sinecures of more than twice
as many thousands for being their father's sons, the bounty does not
strike one as excessively liberal. It seems to have been really intended
as some set-off against other pensions bestowed upon various hangers-on
of the Scotch prime minister, Bute. Johnson was coupled with the
contemptible scribbler, Shebbeare, who had lately been in the pillory
for a Jacobite libel (a "he-bear" and a "she-bear," said the facetious
newspapers), and when a few months afterwards a pension of L200 a year
was given to the old actor, Sheridan, Johnson growled out that it was
time for him to resign his own. Somebody kindly repeated the remark to
Sheridan, who would never afterwards speak to Johnson.

The pension, though very welcome to Johnson, who seems to have been in
real distress at the time, suggested some difficulty. Johnson had
unluckily spoken of a pension in his _Dictionary_ as "generally
understood to mean pay given to a State hireling for treason to his
country." He was assured, however, that he did not come within the
definition; and that the reward was given for what he had done, not for
anything that he was expected to do. After some hesitation, Johnson
consented to accept the payment thus offered without the direct
suggestion of any obligation, though it was probably calculated that he
would in case of need, be the more ready, as actually happened, to use
his pen in defence of authority. He had not compromised his independence
and might fairly laugh at angry comments. "I wish," he said afterwards,
"that my pension were twice as large, that they might make twice as much
noise." "I cannot now curse the House of Hanover," was his phrase on
another occasion: "but I think that the pleasure of cursing the House of
Hanover and drinking King James's health, all amply overbalanced by
three hundred pounds a year." In truth, his Jacobitism was by this time,
whatever it had once been, nothing more than a humorous crotchet, giving
opportunity for the expression of Tory prejudice.

"I hope you will now purge and live cleanly like a gentleman," was
Beauclerk's comment upon hearing of his friend's accession of fortune,
and as Johnson is now emerging from Grub Street, it is desirable to
consider what manner of man was to be presented to the wider circles
that were opening to receive him.



It is not till some time after Johnson had come into the enjoyment of
his pension, that we first see him through the eyes of competent
observers. The Johnson of our knowledge, the most familiar figure to all
students of English literary history had already long passed the prime
of life, and done the greatest part of his literary work. His character,
in the common phrase, had been "formed" years before; as, indeed,
people's characters are chiefly formed in the cradle; and, not only his
character, but the habits which are learnt in the great schoolroom of
the world were fixed beyond any possibility of change. The strange
eccentricities which had now become a second nature, amazed the society
in which he was for over twenty years a prominent figure. Unsympathetic
observers, those especially to whom the Chesterfield type represented
the ideal of humanity, were simply disgusted or repelled. The man, they
thought, might be in his place at a Grub Street pot-house; but had no
business in a lady's drawing-room. If he had been modest and retiring,
they might have put up with his defects; but Johnson was not a person
whose qualities, good or bad, were of a kind to be ignored. Naturally
enough, the fashionable world cared little for the rugged old giant.
"The great," said Johnson, "had tried him and given him up; they had
seen enough of him;" and his reason was pretty much to the purpose.
"Great lords and great ladies don't love to have their mouths stopped,"
especially not, one may add, by an unwashed fist.

It is easy to blame them now. Everybody can see that a saint in beggar's
rags is intrinsically better than a sinner in gold lace. But the
principle is one of those which serves us for judging the dead, much
more than for regulating our own conduct. Those, at any rate, may throw
the first stone at the Horace Walpoles and Chesterfields, who are quite
certain that they would ask a modern Johnson to their houses. The trial
would be severe. Poor Mrs. Boswell complained grievously of her
husband's idolatry. "I have seen many a bear led by a man," she said;
"but I never before saw a man led by a bear." The truth is, as Boswell
explains, that the sage's uncouth habits, such as turning the candles'
heads downwards to make them burn more brightly, and letting the wax
drop upon the carpet, "could not but be disagreeable to a lady."

He had other habits still more annoying to people of delicate
perceptions. A hearty despiser of all affectations, he despised
especially the affectation of indifference to the pleasures of the
table. "For my part," he said, "I mind my belly very studiously and very
carefully, for I look upon it that he who does not mind his belly will
hardly mind anything else." Avowing this principle he would innocently
give himself the airs of a scientific epicure. "I, madam," he said to
the terror of a lady with whom he was about to sup, "who live at a
variety of good tables, am a much better judge of cookery than any
person who has a very tolerable cook, but lives much at home, for his
palate is gradually adapted to the taste of his cook, whereas, madam,
in trying by a wider range, I can more exquisitely judge." But his
pretensions to exquisite taste are by no means borne out by independent
witnesses. "He laughs," said Tom Davies, "like a rhinoceros," and he
seems to have eaten like a wolf--savagely, silently, and with
undiscriminating fury. He was not a pleasant object during this
performance. He was totally absorbed in the business of the moment, a
strong perspiration came out, and the veins of his forehead swelled. He
liked coarse satisfying dishes--boiled pork and veal-pie stuffed with
plums and sugar; and in regard to wine, he seems to have accepted the
doctrines of the critic of a certain fluid professing to be port, who
asked, "What more can you want? It is black, and it is thick, and it
makes you drunk." Claret, as Johnson put it, "is the liquor for boys,
and port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy." He
could, however, refrain, though he could not be moderate, and for all
the latter part of his life, from 1766, he was a total abstainer. Nor,
it should be added, does he ever appear to have sought for more than
exhilaration from wine. His earliest intimate friend, Hector, said that
he had never but once seen him drunk.

His appetite for more innocent kinds of food was equally excessive. He
would eat seven or eight peaches before breakfast, and declared that he
had only once in his life had as much wall-fruit as he wished. His
consumption of tea was prodigious, beyond all precedent. Hawkins quotes
Bishop Burnet as having drunk sixteen large cups every morning, a feat
which would entitle him to be reckoned as a rival. "A hardened and
shameless tea-drinker," Johnson called himself, who "with tea amuses the
evenings, with tea solaces the midnights, and with tea welcomes the
mornings." One of his teapots, preserved by a relic-hunter, contained
two quarts, and he professed to have consumed five and twenty cups at a
sitting. Poor Mrs. Thrale complains that he often kept her up making tea
for him till four in the morning. His reluctance to go to bed was due to
the fact that his nights were periods of intense misery; but the vast
potations of tea can scarcely have tended to improve them.

The huge frame was clad in the raggedest of garments, until his
acquaintance with the Thrales led to a partial reform. His wigs were
generally burnt in front, from his shortsighted knack of reading with
his head close to the candle; and at the Thrales, the butler stood ready
to effect a change of wigs as he passed into the dining-room. Once or
twice we have accounts of his bursting into unusual splendour. He
appeared at the first representation of _Irene_ in a scarlet waistcoat
laced with gold; and on one of his first interviews with Goldsmith he
took the trouble to array himself decently, because Goldsmith was
reported to have justified slovenly habits by the precedent of the
leader of his craft. Goldsmith, judging by certain famous suits, seems
to have profited by the hint more than his preceptor. As a rule,
Johnson's appearance, before he became a pensioner, was worthy of the
proverbial manner of Grub Street. Beauclerk used to describe how he had
once taken a French lady of distinction to see Johnson in his chambers.
On descending the staircase they heard a noise like thunder. Johnson was
pursuing them, struck by a sudden sense of the demands upon his
gallantry. He brushed in between Beauclerk and the lady, and seizing her
hand conducted her to her coach. A crowd of people collected to stare at
the sage, dressed in rusty brown, with a pair of old shoes for slippers,
a shrivelled wig on the top of his head, and with shirtsleeves and the
knees of his breeches hanging loose. In those days, clergymen and
physicians were only just abandoning the use of their official costume
in the streets, and Johnson's slovenly habits were even more marked than
they would be at present. "I have no passion for clean linen," he once
remarked, and it is to be feared that he must sometimes have offended
more senses than one.

In spite of his uncouth habits of dress and manners, Johnson claimed
and, in a sense, with justice, to be a polite man. "I look upon myself,"
he said once to Boswell, "as a very polite man." He could show the
stately courtesy of a sound Tory, who cordially accepts the principle of
social distinction, but has far too strong a sense of self-respect to
fancy that compliance with the ordinary conventions can possibly lower
his own position. Rank of the spiritual kind was especially venerable to
him. "I should as soon have thought of contradicting a bishop," was a
phrase which marked the highest conceivable degree of deference to a man
whom he respected. Nobody, again, could pay more effective compliments,
when he pleased; and the many female friends who have written of him
agree, that he could be singularly attractive to women. Women are,
perhaps, more inclined than men to forgive external roughness in
consideration of the great charm of deep tenderness in a thoroughly
masculine nature. A characteristic phrase was his remark to Miss
Monckton. She had declared, in opposition to one of Johnson's
prejudices, that Sterne's writings were pathetic: "I am sure," she said,
"they have affected me." "Why," said Johnson, smiling and rolling
himself about, "that is because, dearest, you are a dunce!" When she
mentioned this to him some time afterwards he replied: "Madam, if I had
thought so, I certainly should not have said it." The truth could not be
more neatly put.

Boswell notes, with some surprise, that when Johnson dined with Lord
Monboddo he insisted upon rising when the ladies left the table, and
took occasion to observe that politeness was "fictitious benevolence,"
and equally useful in common intercourse. Boswell's surprise seems to
indicate that Scotchmen in those days were even greater bears than
Johnson. He always insisted, as Miss Reynolds tells us, upon showing
ladies to their carriages through Bolt Court, though his dress was such
that her readers would, she thinks, be astonished that any man in his
senses should have shown himself in it abroad or even at home. Another
odd indication of Johnson's regard for good manners, so far as his
lights would take him, was the extreme disgust with which he often
referred to a certain footman in Paris, who used his fingers in place of
sugar-tongs. So far as Johnson could recognize bad manners he was polite
enough, though unluckily the limitation is one of considerable

Johnson's claims to politeness were sometimes, it is true, put in a
rather startling form. "Every man of any education," he once said to the
amazement of his hearers, "would rather be called a rascal than accused
of deficiency in the graces." Gibbon, who was present, slily inquired of
a lady whether among all her acquaintance she could not find _one_
exception. According to Mrs. Thrale, he went even further. Dr. Barnard,
he said, was the only man who had ever done justice to his good
breeding; "and you may observe," he added, "that I am well-bred to a
degree of needless scrupulosity." He proceeded, according to Mrs.
Thrale, but the report a little taxes our faith, to claim the virtues
not only of respecting ceremony, but of never contradicting or
interrupting his hearers. It is rather odd that Dr. Barnard had once a
sharp altercation with Johnson, and avenged himself by a sarcastic copy
of verses in which, after professing to learn perfectness from different
friends, he says,--

Johnson shall teach me how to place,
In varied light, each borrow'd grace;
From him I'll learn to write;
Copy his clear familiar style,
And by the roughness of his file,
Grow, like himself, polite.

Johnson, on this as on many occasions, repented of the blow as soon as
it was struck, and sat down by Barnard, "literally smoothing down his
arms and knees," and beseeching pardon. Barnard accepted his apologies,
but went home and wrote his little copy of verses.

Johnson's shortcomings in civility were no doubt due, in part, to the
narrowness of his faculties of perception. He did not know, for he could
not see, that his uncouth gestures and slovenly dress were offensive;
and he was not so well able to observe others as to shake off the
manners contracted in Grub Street. It is hard to study a manual of
etiquette late in life, and for a man of Johnson's imperfect faculties
it was probably impossible. Errors of this kind were always pardonable,
and are now simply ludicrous. But Johnson often shocked his companions
by more indefensible conduct. He was irascible, overbearing, and, when
angry, vehement beyond all propriety. He was a "tremendous companion,"
said Garrick's brother; and men of gentle nature, like Charles Fox,
often shrank from his company, and perhaps exaggerated his brutality.

Johnson, who had long regarded conversation as the chief amusement, came
in later years to regard it as almost the chief employment of life; and
he had studied the art with the zeal of a man pursuing a favourite
hobby. He had always, as he told Sir Joshua Reynolds, made it a
principle to talk on all occasions as well as he could. He had thus
obtained a mastery over his weapons which made him one of the most
accomplished of conversational gladiators. He had one advantage which
has pretty well disappeared from modern society, and the disappearance
of which has been destructive to excellence of talk. A good talker, even
more than a good orator, implies a good audience. Modern society is too
vast and too restless to give a conversationalist a fair chance. For the
formation of real proficiency in the art, friends should meet often, sit
long, and be thoroughly at ease. A modern audience generally breaks up
before it is well warmed through, and includes enough strangers to break
the magic circle of social electricity. The clubs in which Johnson
delighted were excellently adapted to foster his peculiar talent. There
a man could "fold his legs and have his talk out"--a pleasure hardly to
be enjoyed now. And there a set of friends meeting regularly, and
meeting to talk, learnt to sharpen each other's skill in all dialectic
manoeuvres. Conversation may be pleasantest, as Johnson admitted, when
two friends meet quietly to exchange their minds without any thought of
display. But conversation considered as a game, as a bout of
intellectual sword-play, has also charms which Johnson intensely
appreciated. His talk was not of the encyclopaedia variety, like that of
some more modern celebrities; but it was full of apposite illustrations
and unrivalled in keen argument, rapid flashes of wit and humour,
scornful retort and dexterous sophistry. Sometimes he would fell his
adversary at a blow; his sword, as Boswell said, would be through your
body in an instant without preliminary flourishes; and in the
excitement of talking for victory, he would use any device that came to
hand. "There is no arguing with Johnson," said Goldsmith, quoting a
phrase from Cibber, "for if his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down
with the butt-end of it."

Johnson's view of conversation is indicated by his remark about Burke.
"That fellow," he said at a time of illness, "calls forth all my powers.
Were I to see Burke now, it would kill me." "It is when you come close
to a man in conversation," he said on another occasion, "that you
discover what his real abilities are. To make a speech in an assembly is
a knack. Now I honour Thurlow, sir; Thurlow is a fine fellow, he fairly
puts his mind to yours."

Johnson's retorts were fair play under the conditions of the game, as it
is fair play to kick an opponent's shins at football. But of course a
man who had, as it were, become the acknowledged champion of the ring,
and who had an irascible and thoroughly dogmatic temper, was tempted to
become unduly imperious. In the company of which Savage was a
distinguished member, one may guess that the conversational fervour
sometimes degenerated into horse-play. Want of arguments would be
supplied by personality, and the champion would avenge himself by
brutality on an opponent who happened for once to be getting the best of
him. Johnson, as he grew older and got into more polished society,
became milder in his manners; but he had enough of the old spirit left
in him to break forth at times with ungovernable fury, and astonish the
well-regulated minds of respectable ladies and gentlemen.

Anecdotes illustrative of this ferocity abound, and his best
friends--except, perhaps, Reynolds and Burke--had all to suffer in turn.
On one occasion, when he had made a rude speech even to Reynolds,
Boswell states, though with some hesitation, his belief that Johnson
actually blushed. The records of his contests in this kind fill a large
space in Boswell's pages. That they did not lead to worse consequences
shows his absence of rancour. He was always ready and anxious for a
reconciliation, though he would not press for one if his first overtures
were rejected. There was no venom in the wounds he inflicted, for there
was no ill-nature; he was rough in the heat of the struggle, and in such
cases careless in distributing blows; but he never enjoyed giving pain.
None of his tiffs ripened into permanent quarrels, and he seems scarcely
to have lost a friend. He is a pleasant contrast in this, as in much
else, to Horace Walpole, who succeeded, in the course of a long life, in
breaking with almost all his old friends. No man set a higher value upon
friendship than Johnson. "A man," he said to Reynolds, "ought to keep
his friendship in constant repair;" or he would find himself left alone
as he grew older. "I look upon a day as lost," he said later in life,
"in which I do not make a new acquaintance." Making new acquaintances
did not involve dropping the old. The list of his friends is a long one,
and includes, as it were, successive layers, superposed upon each other,
from the earliest period of his life.

This is so marked a feature in Johnson's character, that it will be as
well at this point to notice some of the friendships from which he
derived the greatest part of his happiness. Two of his schoolfellows,
Hector and Taylor, remained his intimates through life. Hector survived
to give information to Boswell, and Taylor, then a prebendary of
Westminster, read the funeral service over his old friend in the Abbey.
He showed, said some of the bystanders, too little feeling. The relation
between the two men was not one of special tenderness; indeed they were
so little congenial that Boswell rather gratuitously suspected his
venerable teacher of having an eye to Taylor's will. It seems fairer to
regard the acquaintance as an illustration of that curious adhesiveness
which made Johnson cling to less attractive persons. At any rate, he did
not show the complacence of the proper will-hunter. Taylor was rector of
Bosworth and squire of Ashbourne. He was a fine specimen of the
squire-parson; a justice of the peace, a warm politician, and what was
worse, a warm Whig. He raised gigantic bulls, bragged of selling cows
for 120 guineas and more, and kept a noble butler in purple clothes and
a large white wig. Johnson respected Taylor as a sensible man, but was
ready to have a round with him on occasion. He snorted contempt when
Taylor talked of breaking some small vessels if he took an emetic.
"Bah," said the doctor, who regarded a valetudinarian as a "scoundrel,"
"if you have so many things that will break, you had better break your
neck at once, and there's an end on't." Nay, if he did not condemn
Taylor's cows, he criticized his bulldog with cruel acuteness. "No, sir,
he is not well shaped; for there is not the quick transition from the
thickness of the fore-part to the _tenuity_--the thin part--behind,
which a bulldog ought to have." On the more serious topic of politics
his Jacobite fulminations roused Taylor "to a pitch of bellowing."
Johnson roared out that if the people of England were fairly polled
(this was in 1777) the present king would be sent away to-night, and his
adherents hanged to-morrow. Johnson, however, rendered Taylor the
substantial service of writing sermons for him, two volumes of which
were published after they were both dead; and Taylor must have been a
bold man, if it be true, as has been said, that he refused to preach a
sermon written by Johnson upon Mrs. Johnson's death, on the ground that
it spoke too favourably of the character of the deceased.

Johnson paid frequent visits to Lichfield, to keep up his old friends.
One of them was Lucy Porter, his wife's daughter, with whom, according
to Miss Seward, he had been in love before he married her mother. He was
at least tenderly attached to her through life. And, for the most part,
the good people of Lichfield seem to have been proud of their
fellow-townsman, and gave him a substantial proof of their sympathy by
continuing to him, on favourable terms, the lease of a house originally
granted to his father. There was, indeed, one remarkable exception in
Miss Seward, who belonged to a genus specially contemptible to the old
doctor. She was one of the fine ladies who dabbled in poetry, and aimed
at being the centre of a small literary circle at Lichfield. Her letters
are amongst the most amusing illustrations of the petty affectations and
squabbles characteristic of such a provincial clique. She evidently
hated Johnson at the bottom of her small soul; and, indeed, though
Johnson once paid her a preposterous compliment--a weakness of which
this stern moralist was apt to be guilty in the company of ladies--he no
doubt trod pretty roughly upon some of her pet vanities.

By far the most celebrated of Johnson's Lichfield friends was David
Garrick, in regard to whom his relations were somewhat peculiar.
Reynolds said that Johnson considered Garrick to be his own property,
and would never allow him to be praised or blamed by any one else
without contradiction. Reynolds composed a pair of imaginary dialogues
to illustrate the proposition, in one of which Johnson attacks Garrick
in answer to Reynolds, and in the other defends him in answer to Gibbon.
The dialogues seem to be very good reproductions of the Johnsonian
manner, though perhaps the courteous Reynolds was a little too much
impressed by its roughness; and they probably include many genuine
remarks of Johnson's. It is remarkable that the praise is far more
pointed and elaborate than the blame, which turns chiefly upon the
general inferiority of an actor's position. And, in fact, this seems to
have corresponded to Johnson's opinion about Garrick as gathered from

The two men had at bottom a considerable regard for each other, founded
upon old association, mutual services, and reciprocal respect for
talents of very different orders. But they were so widely separated by
circumstances, as well as by a radical opposition of temperament, that
any close intimacy could hardly be expected. The bear and the monkey are
not likely to be intimate friends. Garrick's rapid elevation in fame and
fortune seems to have produced a certain degree of envy in his old
schoolmaster. A grave moral philosopher has, of course, no right to look
askance at the rewards which fashion lavishes upon men of lighter and
less lasting merit, and which he professes to despise. Johnson, however,
was troubled with a rather excessive allowance of human nature. Moreover
he had the good old-fashioned contempt for players, characteristic both
of the Tory and the inartistic mind. He asserted roundly that he looked
upon players as no better than dancing-dogs. "But, sir, you will allow
that some players are better than others?" "Yes, sir, as some dogs dance
better than others." So when Goldsmith accused Garrick of grossly
flattering the queen, Johnson exclaimed, "And as to meanness--how is it
mean in a player, a showman, a fellow who exhibits himself for a
shilling, to flatter his queen?" At another time Boswell suggested that
we might respect a great player. "What! sir," exclaimed Johnson, "a
fellow who claps a hump upon his back and a lump on his leg and cries,
'_I am Richard III._'? Nay, sir, a ballad-singer is a higher man, for he
does two things: he repeats and he sings; there is both recitation and
music in his performance--the player only recites."

Such sentiments were not very likely to remain unknown to Garrick nor to
put him at ease with Johnson, whom, indeed, he always suspected of
laughing at him. They had a little tiff on account of Johnson's Edition
of Shakspeare. From some misunderstanding, Johnson did not make use of
Garrick's collection of old plays. Johnson, it seems, thought that
Garrick should have courted him more, and perhaps sent the plays to his
house; whereas Garrick, knowing that Johnson treated books with a
roughness ill-suited to their constitution, thought that he had done
quite enough by asking Johnson to come to his library. The revenge--if
it was revenge--taken by Johnson was to say nothing of Garrick in his
Preface, and to glance obliquely at his non-communication of his
rarities. He seems to have thought that it would be a lowering of
Shakspeare to admit that his fame owed anything to Garrick's exertions.

Boswell innocently communicated to Garrick a criticism of Johnson's upon
one of his poems--

I'd smile with the simple and feed with the poor.

"Let me smile with the wise, and feed with the rich," was Johnson's
tolerably harmless remark. Garrick, however, did not like it, and when
Boswell tried to console him by saying that Johnson gored everybody in
turn, and added, "_foenum habet in cornu_." "Ay," said Garrick
vehemently, "he has a whole mow of it." The most unpleasant incident
was when Garrick proposed rather too freely to be a member of the Club.
Johnson said that the first duke in England had no right to use such
language, and said, according to Mrs. Thrale, "If Garrick does apply,
I'll blackball him. Surely we ought to be able to sit in a society like

'Unelbowed by a gamester, pimp, or player!'"

Nearly ten years afterwards, however, Johnson favoured his election, and
when he died, declared that the Club should have a year's widowhood. No
successor to Garrick was elected during that time.

Johnson sometimes ventured to criticise Garrick's acting, but here
Garrick could take his full revenge. The purblind Johnson was not, we
may imagine, much of a critic in such matters. Garrick reports him to
have said of an actor at Lichfield, "There is a courtly vivacity about
the fellow;" when, in fact, said Garrick, "he was the most vulgar
ruffian that ever went upon boards."

In spite of such collisions of opinion and mutual criticism, Johnson
seems to have spoken in the highest terms of Garrick's good qualities,
and they had many pleasant meetings. Garrick takes a prominent part in
two or three of the best conversations in Boswell, and seems to have put
his interlocutors in specially good temper. Johnson declared him to be
"the first man in the world for sprightly conversation." He said that
Dryden had written much better prologues than any of Garrick's, but that
Garrick had written more good prologues than Dryden. He declared that it
was wonderful how little Garrick had been spoilt by all the flattery
that he had received. No wonder if he was a little vain: "a man who is
perpetually flattered in every mode that can be conceived: so many
bellows have blown the fuel, that one wonders he is not by this time
become a cinder!" "If all this had happened to me," he said on another
occasion, "I should have had a couple of fellows with long poles walking
before me, to knock down everybody that stood in the way. Consider, if
all this had happened to Cibber and Quin, they'd have jumped over the
moon. Yet Garrick speaks to us," smiling. He admitted at the same time
that Garrick had raised the profession of a player. He defended Garrick,
too, against the common charge of avarice. Garrick, as he pointed out,
had been brought up in a family whose study it was to make fourpence go
as far as fourpence-halfpenny. Johnson remembered in early days drinking
tea with Garrick when Peg Woffington made it, and made it, as Garrick
grumbled, "as red as blood." But when Garrick became rich he became
liberal. He had, so Johnson declared, given away more money than any man
in England.

After Garrick's death, Johnson took occasion to say, in the _Lives of
the Poets_, that the death "had eclipsed the gaiety of nations and
diminished the public stock of harmless pleasures." Boswell ventured to
criticise the observation rather spitefully. "Why _nations_? Did his
gaiety extend further than his own nation?" "Why, sir," replied Johnson,
"some imagination must be allowed. Besides, we may say _nations_ if we
allow the Scotch to be a nation, and to have gaiety--which they have
not." On the whole, in spite of various drawbacks, Johnson's reported
observations upon Garrick will appear to be discriminative, and yet, on
the whole, strongly favourable to his character. Yet we are not quite
surprised that Mrs. Garrick did not respond to a hint thrown out by
Johnson, that he would be glad to write the life of his friend.

At Oxford, Johnson acquired the friendship of Dr. Adams, afterwards
Master of Pembroke and author of a once well-known reply to Hume's
argument upon miracles. He was an amiable man, and was proud to do the
honours of the university to his old friend, when, in later years,
Johnson revisited the much-loved scenes of his neglected youth. The
warmth of Johnson's regard for old days is oddly illustrated by an
interview recorded by Boswell with one Edwards, a fellow-student whom he
met again in 1778, not having previously seen him since 1729. They had
lived in London for forty years without once meeting, a fact more
surprising then than now. Boswell eagerly gathered up the little scraps
of college anecdote which the meeting produced, but perhaps his best
find was a phrase of Edwards himself. "You are a philosopher, Dr.
Johnson," he said; "I have tried, too, in my time to be a philosopher;
but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in." The phrase,
as Boswell truly says, records an exquisite trait of character.

Of the friends who gathered round Johnson during his period of struggle,
many had vanished before he became well known. The best loved of all
seems to have been Dr. Bathurst, a physician, who, failing to obtain
practice, joined the expedition to Havannah, and fell a victim to the
climate (1762). Upon him Johnson pronounced a panegyric which has
contributed a proverbial phrase to the language. "Dear Bathurst," he
said, "was a man to my very heart's content: he hated a fool and he
hated a rogue, and he hated a Whig; he was a _very good hater_." Johnson
remembered Bathurst in his prayers for years after his loss, and
received from him a peculiar legacy. Francis Barker had been the negro
slave of Bathurst's father, who left him his liberty by will. Dr.
Bathurst allowed him to enter Johnson's service; and Johnson sent him
to school at considerable expense, and afterwards retained him in his
service with little interruption till his own death. Once Barker ran
away to sea, and was discharged, oddly enough, by the good offices of
Wilkes, to whom Smollett applied on Johnson's behalf. Barker became an
important member of Johnson's family, some of whom reproached him for
his liberality to the nigger. No one ever solved the great problem as to
what services were rendered by Barker to his master, whose wig was "as
impenetrable by a comb as a quickset hedge," and whose clothes were
never touched by the brush.

Among the other friends of this period must be reckoned his biographer,
Hawkins, an attorney who was afterwards Chairman of the Middlesex
Justices, and knighted on presenting an address to the King. Boswell
regarded poor Sir John Hawkins with all the animosity of a rival author,
and with some spice of wounded vanity. He was grievously offended, so at
least says Sir John's daughter, on being described in the _Life of
Johnson_ as "Mr. James Boswell" without a solitary epithet such as
celebrated or well-known. If that was really his feeling, he had his
revenge; for no one book ever so suppressed another as Boswell's Life
suppressed Hawkins's. In truth, Hawkins was a solemn prig, remarkable
chiefly for the unusual intensity of his conviction that all virtue
consists in respectability. He had a special aversion to "goodness of


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