The Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches of Lord Macaulay [Encyclopaedia Britannica, Poems, etc.]

Part 2 out of 4

aristocracy of the neighbourhood to laughter or to disgust. At
Lichfield, however, Johnson could find no way of earning a
livelihood. He became usher of a grammar school in
Leicestershire; he resided as a humble companion in the house of
a country gentleman; but a life of dependence was insupportable
to his haughty spirit. He repaired to Birmingham, and there
earned a few guineas by literary drudgery. In that town he
printed a translation, little noticed at the time, and long
forgotten, of a Latin book about Abyssinia. He then put forth
proposals for publishing by subscription the poems of Politian,
with notes containing a history of modern Latin verse: but
subscriptions did not come in; and the volume never appeared.

While leading this vagrant and miserable life, Johnson fell in
love. The object of his passion was Mrs Elizabeth Porter, a
widow who had children as old as himself. To ordinary
spectators, the lady appeared to be a short, fat, coarse woman,
painted half an inch thick, dressed in gaudy colours, and fond of
exhibiting provincial airs and graces which were not exactly
those of the Queensberrys and Lepels. To Johnson, however, whose
passions were strong, whose eyesight was too weak to distinguish
ceruse from natural bloom, and who had seldom or never been in
the same room with a woman of real fashion, his Titty, as he
called her, was the most beautiful, graceful, and accomplished of
her sex. That his admiration was unfeigned cannot be doubted;
for she was as poor as himself. She accepted, with a readiness
which did her little honour, the addresses of a suitor who might
have been her son. The marriage, however, in spite of occasional
wranglings, proved happier than might have been expected. The
lover continued to be under the illusions of the wedding-day till
the lady died in her sixty-fourth year. On her monument he
placed an inscription extolling the charms of her person and of
her manners; and when, long after her decease, he had occasion to
mention her, he exclaimed, with a tenderness half ludicrous, half
pathetic, "Pretty creature!"

His marriage made it necessary for him to exert himself more
strenuously than he had hitherto done. He took a house in the
neighbourhood of his native town, and advertised for pupils. But
eighteen months passed away; and only three pupils came to his
academy. Indeed, his appearance was so strange, and his temper
so violent, that his schoolroom must have resembled an ogre's
den. Nor was the tawdry painted grandmother whom he called his
Titty well qualified to make provision for the comfort of young
gentlemen. David Garrick, who was one of the pupils, used, many
years later, to throw the best company of London into convulsions
of laughter by mimicking the endearments of this extraordinary

At length Johnson, in the twenty-eighth year of his age,
determined to seek his fortune in the capital as a literary
adventurer. He set out with a few guineas, three acts of the
tragedy of Irene in manuscript, and two or three letters of
introduction from his friend Walmesley.

Never, since literature became a calling in England, had it been
a less gainful calling than at the time when Johnson took up his
residence in London. In the preceding generation a writer of
eminent merit was sure to be munificently rewarded by the
government. The least that he could expect was a pension or a
sinecure place; and, if he showed any aptitude for politics, he
might hope to be a member of parliament, a lord of the treasury,
an ambassador, a secretary of state. It would be easy, on the
other hand, to name several writers of the nineteenth century of
whom the least successful has received forty thousand pounds from
the booksellers. But Johnson entered on his vocation in the most
dreary part of the dreary interval which separated two ages of
prosperity. Literature had ceased to flourish under the
patronage of the great, and had not begun to flourish under the
patronage of the public. One man of letters, indeed, Pope, had
acquired by his pen what was then considered as a handsome
fortune, and lived on a footing of equality with nobles and
ministers of state. But this was a solitary exception. Even an
author whose reputation was established, and whose works were
popular, such an author as Thomson, whose Seasons were in every
library, such an author as Fielding, whose Pasquin had had a
greater run than any drama since The Beggar's Opera, was
sometimes glad to obtain, by pawning his best coat, the means of
dining on tripe at a cookshop underground, where he could wipe
his hands, after his greasy meal, on the back of a Newfoundland
dog. It is easy, therefore, to imagine what humiliations and
privations must have awaited the novice who had still to earn a
name. One of the publishers to whom Johnson applied for
employment measured with a scornful eye that athletic though
uncouth frame, and exclaimed, "You had better get a porter's
knot, and carry trunks." Nor was the advice bad; for a porter
was likely to be as plentifully fed, and as comfortably lodged,
as a poet.

Some time appears to have elapsed before Johnson was able to form
any literary connection from which he could expect more than
bread for the day which was passing over him. He never forgot
the generosity with which Hervey, who was now residing in London,
relieved his wants during this time of trial. "Harry Hervey,"
said the old philosopher many years later, "was a vicious man;
but he was very kind to me. If you call a dog Hervey I shall
love him." At Hervey's table Johnson sometimes enjoyed feasts
which were made more agreeable by contrast. But in general he
dined, and thought that he dined well, on sixpenny worth of meat,
and a pennyworth of bread, at an alehouse near Drury Lane.

The effect of the privations and sufferings which he endured at
this time was discernible to the last in his temper and his
deportment. His manners had never been courtly. They now became
almost savage. Being frequently under the necessity of wearing
shabby coats and dirty shirts, he became a confirmed sloven.
Being often very hungry when he sat down to his meals, he
contracted a habit of eating with ravenous greediness. Even to
the end of his life, and even at the tables of the great, the
sight of food affected him as it affects wild beasts and birds of
prey. His taste in cookery, formed in subterranean ordinaries
and alamode beefshops, was far from delicate. Whenever he was so
fortunate as to have near him a hare that had been kept too long,
or a meat pie made with rancid butter, he gorged himself with
such violence that his veins swelled, and the moisture broke out
on his forehead. The affronts which his poverty emboldened
stupid and low-minded men to offer to him would have broken a
mean spirit into sycophancy, but made him rude even to ferocity.
Unhappily the insolence which, while it was defensive, was
pardonable, and in some sense respectable, accompanied him into
societies where he was treated with courtesy and kindness. He
was repeatedly provoked into striking those who had taken
liberties with him. All the sufferers, however, were wise enough
to abstain from talking about their beatings, except Osborne, the
most rapacious and brutal of booksellers, who proclaimed
everywhere that he had been knocked down by the huge fellow whom
he had hired to puff the Harleian Library.

About a year after Johnson had begun to reside in London, he was
fortunate enough to obtain regular employment from Cave, an
enterprising and intelligent bookseller, who was proprietor and
editor of the "Gentleman's Magazine." That journal, just
entering on the ninth year of its long existence, was the only
periodical work in the kingdom which then had what would now be
called a large circulation. It was, indeed, the chief source of
parliamentary intelligence. It was not then safe, even during a
recess, to publish an account of the proceedings of either House
without some disguise. Cave, however, ventured to entertain his
readers with what he called "Reports of the Debates of the Senate
of Lilliput." France was Blefuscu; London was Mildendo: pounds
were sprugs: the Duke of Newcastle was the Nardac secretary of
State: Lord Hardwicke was the Hurgo Hickrad: and William
Pulteney was Wingul Pulnub. To write the speeches was, during
several years, the business of Johnson. He was generally
furnished with notes, meagre indeed, and inaccurate, of what had
been said; but sometimes he had to find arguments and eloquence
both for the ministry and for the opposition. He was himself a
Tory, not from rational conviction--for his serious opinion was
that one form of government was just as good or as bad as
another--but from mere passion, such as inflamed the Capulets
against the Montagues, or the Blues of the Roman circus against
the Greens. In his infancy he had heard so much talk about the
villanies of the Whigs, and the dangers of the Church, that he
had become a furious partisan when he could scarcely speak.
Before he was three he had insisted on being taken to hear
Sacheverell preach at Lichfield Cathedral, and had listened to
the sermon with as much respect, and probably with as much
intelligence, as any Staffordshire squire in the congregation.
The work which had been begun in the nursery had been completed
by the university. Oxford, when Johnson resided there, was the
most Jacobitical place in England; and Pembroke was one of the
most Jacobital colleges in Oxford. The prejudices which he
brought up to London were scarcely less absurd than those of his
own Tom Tempest. Charles II. and James II. were two of the best
kings that ever reigned. Laud, a poor creature who never did,
said, or wrote anything indicating more than the ordinary
capacity of an old woman, was a prodigy of parts and learning
over whose tomb Art and Genius still continued to weep. Hampden
deserved no more honourable name than that of "the zealot of
rebellion." Even the ship money, condemned not less decidedly by
Falkland and Clarendon than by the bitterest Roundheads, Johnson
would not pronounce to have been an unconstitutional impost.
Under a government, the mildest that had ever been known in the
world--under a government, which allowed to the people an
unprecedented liberty of speech and action--he fancied that he
was a slave; he assailed the ministry with obloquy which refuted
itself, and regretted the lost freedom and happiness of those
golden days in which a writer who had taken but one-tenth part of
the license allowed to him would have been pilloried, mangled
with the shears, whipped at the cart's tail, and flung into a
noisome dungeon to die. He hated dissenters and stockjobbers,
the excise and the army, septennial parliaments, and continental
connections. He long had an aversion to the Scotch, an aversion
of which he could not remember the commencement, but which, he
owned, had probably originated in his abhorrence of the conduct
of the nation during the Great Rebellion. It is easy to guess in
what manner debates on great party questions were likely to be
reported by a man whose judgment was so much disordered by party
spirit. A show of fairness was indeed necessary to the
prosperity of the Magazine. But Johnson long afterwards owned
that, though he had saved appearances, he had taken care that the
Whig dogs should not have the best of it; and, in fact, every
passage which has lived, every passage which bears the marks of
his higher faculties, is put into the mouth of some member of the

A few weeks after Johnson had entered on these obscure labours,
he published a work which at once placed him high among the
writers of his age. It is probable that what he had suffered
during his first year in London had often reminded him of some
parts of that noble poem in which Juvenal had described the
misery and degradation of a needy man of letters, lodged among
the pigeons' nests in the tottering garrets which overhung the
streets of Rome. Pope's admirable imitations of Horace's Satires
and Epistles had recently appeared, were in every hand, and were
by many readers thought superior to the originals. What Pope had
done for Horace, Johnson aspired to do for Juvenal. The
enterprise was bold and yet judicious. For between Johnson and
Juvenal there was much in common, much more certainly than
between Pope and Horace.

Johnson's London appeared without his name in May 1738. He
received only ten guineas for this stately and vigorous poem; but
the sale was rapid, and the success complete. A second edition
was required within a week. Those small critics who are always
desirous to lower established reputations ran about proclaiming
that the anonymous satirist was superior to Pope in Pope's own
peculiar department of literature. It ought to be remembered, to
the honour of Pope, that he joined heartily in the applause with
which the appearance of a rival genius was welcomed. He made
inquiries about the author of London. Such a man, he said, could
not long be concealed. The name was soon discovered; and Pope
with great kindness, exerted himself to obtain an academical
degree and the mastership of a grammar school for the poor young
poet. The attempt failed; and Johnson remained a bookseller's

It does not appear that these two men, the most eminent writer of
the generation which was going out, and the most eminent writer
of the generation which was coming in, ever saw each other. They
lived in very different circles, one surrounded by dukes and
earls, the other by starving pamphleteers and index makers.
Among Johnson's associates at this time may be mentioned Boyse,
who, when his shirts were pledged, scrawled Latin verses sitting
up in bed with his arms through two holes in his blanket; who
composed very respectable sacred poetry when he was sober; and
who was at last run over by a hackney coach when he was drunk:
Hoole, surnamed the metaphysical tailor, who, instead of
attending to his measures, used to trace geometrical diagrams on
the board where he sate cross-legged; and the penitent impostor,
George Psalmanazar, who, after poring all day, in a humble
lodging, on the folios of Jewish rabbis and Christian fathers,
indulged himself at night with literary and theological
conversation at an alehouse in the city. But the most remarkable
of the persons with whom at this time Johnson consorted was
Richard Savage, an earl's son, a shoemaker's apprentice, who had
seen life in all its forms, who had feasted among blue ribands in
Saint James's Square, and had lain with fifty-pounds' weight of
iron on his legs in the condemned ward of Newgate. This man had,
after many vicissitudes of fortune, sunk at last into abject and
hopeless poverty. His pen had failed him. His patrons had been
taken away by death, or estranged by the riotous profusion with
which he squandered their bounty, and the ungrateful insolence
with which he rejected their advice. He now lived by begging.
He dined on venison and champagne whenever he had been so
fortunate as to borrow a guinea. If his questing had been
unsuccessful, he appeased the rage of hunger with some scraps of
broken meat, and lay down to rest under the Piazza of Covent
Garden in warm weather, and, in cold weather, as near as he could
get to the furnace of a glass house. Yet, in his misery, he was
still an agreeable companion. He had an inexhaustible store of
anecdotes about that gay and brilliant world from which he was
now an outcast. He had observed the great men of both parties in
hours of careless relaxation, had seen the leaders of opposition
without the mask of patriotism, and had heard the prime minister
roar with laughter and tell stories not over decent. During some
months Savage lived in the closest familiarity with Johnson; and
then the friends parted, not without tears. Johnson remained in
London to drudge for Cave. Savage went to the West of England,
lived there as he had lived everywhere, and in 1743, died,
penniless and heart-broken, in Bristol gaol.

Soon after his death, while the public curiosity was strongly
excited about his extraordinary character, and his not less
extraordinary adventures, a life of him appeared widely different
from the catchpenny lives of eminent men which were then a staple
article of manufacture in Grub Street. The style was indeed
deficient in ease and variety; and the writer was evidently too
partial to the Latin element of our language. But the little
work, with all its faults, was a masterpiece. No finer specimen
of literary biography existed in any language, living or dead;
and a discerning critic might have confidently predicted that the
author was destined to be the founder of a new school of English

The life of Savage was anonymous; but it was well known in
literary circles that Johnson was the writer. During the three
years which followed, he produced no important work, but he was
not, and indeed could not be, idle. The fame of his abilities
and learning continued to grow. Warburton pronounced him a man
of parts and genius; and the praise of Warburton was then no
light thing. Such was Johnson's reputation that, in 1747,
several eminent booksellers combined to employ him in the arduous
work of preparing a Dictionary of the English language, in two
folio volumes. The sum which they agreed to pay him was only
fifteen hundred guineas; and out of this sum he had to pay
several poor men of letters who assisted him in the humbler parts
of his task.

The prospectus of the Dictionary he addressed to the Earl of
Chesterfield. Chesterfield had long been celebrated for the
politeness of his manners, the brilliancy of his wit, and the
delicacy of his taste. He was acknowledged to be the finest
speaker in the House of Lords. He had recently governed Ireland,
at a momentous conjuncture, with eminent firmness, wisdom, and
humanity; and he had since become Secretary of State. He
received Johnson's homage with the most winning affability, and
requited it with a few guineas, bestowed doubtless in a very
graceful manner, but was by no means desirous to see all his
carpets blackened with the London mud, and his soups and wines
thrown to right and left over the gowns of fine ladies and the
waistcoats of fine gentlemen, by an absent, awkward scholar, who
gave strange starts and uttered strange growls, who dressed like
a scarecrow, and ate like a cormorant. During some time Johnson
continued to call on his patron, but after being repeatedly told
by the porter that his lordship was not at home, took the hint,
and ceased to present himself at the inhospitable door.

Johnson had flattered himself that he should have completed his
Dictionary by the end of 1750; but it was not till 1755 that he
at length gave his huge volumes to the world. During the seven
years which he passed in the drudgery of penning definitions and
making quotations for transcription, he sought for relaxation in
literary labour of a more agreeable kind. In 1749 he published
the Vanity of Human Wishes, an excellent imitation of the Tenth
Satire of Juvenal. It is in truth not easy to say whether the
palm belongs to the ancient or to the modern poet. The couplets
in which the fall of Wolsey is described, though lofty and
sonorous, are feeble when compared with the wonderful lines which
bring before us all Rome in tumult on the day of the fall of
Sejanus, the laurels on the doorposts, the white bull stalking
towards the Capitol, the statues rolling down from their
pedestals, the flatterers of the disgraced minister running to
see him dragged with a hook through the streets, and to have a
kick at his carcase before it is hurled into the Tiber. It must
be owned too that in the concluding passage the Christian
moralist has not made the most of his advantages, and has fallen
decidedly short of the sublimity of his Pagan model. On the
other hand, Juvenal's Hannibal must yield to Johnson's Charles;
and Johnson's vigorous and pathetic enumeration of the miseries
of a literary life must be allowed to be superior to Juvenal's
lamentation over the fate of Demosthenes and Cicero.

For the copyright of the Vanity of Human Wishes Johnson received
only fifteen guineas.

A few days after the publication of this poem, his tragedy, begun
many years before, was brought on the stage. His pupil, David
Garrick, had, in 1741, made his appearance on a humble stage in
Goodman's Fields, had at once risen to the first place among
actors, and was now, after several years of almost uninterrupted
success, manager of Drury Lane Theatre. The relation between him
and his old preceptor was of a very singular kind. They repelled
each other strongly, and yet attracted each other strongly.
Nature had made them of very different clay; and circumstances
had fully brought out the natural peculiarities of both. Sudden
prosperity had turned Garrick's head. Continued adversity had
soured Johnson's temper. Johnson saw with more envy than became
so great a man the villa, the plate, the china, the Brussels
carpet, which the little mimic had got by repeating, with
grimaces and gesticulations, what wiser men had written; and the
exquisitely sensitive vanity of Garrick was galled by the thought
that, while all the rest of the world was applauding him, he
could obtain from one morose cynic, whose opinion it was
impossible to despise, scarcely any compliment not acidulated
with scorn. Yet the two Lichfield men had so many early
recollections in common, and sympathised with each other on so
many points on which they sympathised with nobody else in the
vast population of the capital, that, though the master was often
provoked by the monkey-like impertinence of the pupil, and the
pupil by the bearish rudeness of the master, they remained
friends till they were parted by death. Garrick now brought
Irene out, with alterations sufficient to displease the author,
yet not sufficient to make the piece pleasing to the audience.
The public, however, listened with little emotion, but with much
civility, to five acts of monotonous declamation. After nine
representations the play was withdrawn. It is, indeed,
altogether unsuited to the stage, and, even when perused in the
closet, will be found hardly worthy of the author. He had not
the slightest notion of what blank verse should be. A change in
the last syllable of every other line would make the
versification of the Vanity of Human Wishes closely resemble the
versification of Irene. The poet, however, cleared, by his
benefit nights, and by the sale of the copyright of his tragedy,
about three hundred pounds, then a great sum in his estimation.

About a year after the representation of Irene, he began to
publish a series of short essays on morals, manners, and
literature. This species of composition had been brought into
fashion by the success of the Tatler, and by the still more
brilliant success of the Spectator. A crowd of small writers had
vainly attempted to rival Addison. The Lay Monastery, the
Censor, the Freethinker, the Plain Dealer, the Champion, and
other works of the same kind, had had their short day. None of
them had obtained a permanent place in our literature; and they
are now to be found only in the libraries of the curious. At
length Johnson undertook the adventure in which so many aspirants
had failed. In the thirty-sixth year after the appearance of the
last number of the Spectator appeared the first number of the
Rambler. From March 1750 to March 1752 this paper continued to
come out every Tuesday and Saturday.

From the first the Rambler was enthusiastically admired by a few
eminent men. Richardson, when only five numbers had appeared,
pronounced it equal, if not superior, to the Spectator. Young
and Hartley expressed their approbation not less warmly. Bubb
Doddington, among whose many faults indifference to the claims of
genius and learning cannot be reckoned, solicited the
acquaintance of the writer. In consequence probably of the good
offices of Doddington, who was then the confidential adviser of
Prince Frederic, two of his Royal Highness's gentlemen carried a
gracious message to the printing office, and ordered seven copies
for Leicester House. But these overtures seem to have been very
coldly received. Johnson had had enough of the patronage of the
great to last him all his life, and was not disposed to haunt any
other door as he had haunted the door of Chesterfield.

By the public the Rambler was at first very coldly received.
Though the price of a number was only twopence, the sale did not
amount to five hundred. The profits were therefore very small.
But as soon as the flying leaves were collected and reprinted
they became popular. The author lived to see thirteen thousand
copies spread over England alone. Separate editions were
published for the Scotch and Irish markets. A large party
pronounced the style perfect, so absolutely perfect that in some
essays it would be impossible for the writer himself to alter a
single word for the better. Another party, not less numerous,
vehemently accused him of having corrupted the purity of the
English tongue. The best critics admitted that his diction was
too monotonous, too obviously artificial, and now and then turgid
even to absurdity. But they did justice to the acuteness of his
observations on morals and manners, to the constant precision and
frequent brilliancy of his language, to the weighty and
magnificent eloquence of many serious passages, and to the solemn
yet pleasing humour of some of the lighter papers. On the
question of precedence between Addison and Johnson, a question
which, seventy years ago, was much disputed, posterity has
pronounced a decision from which there is no appeal. Sir Roger,
his chaplain and his butler, Will Wimble and Will Honeycomb, the
Vision of Mirza, the Journal of the Retired Citizen, the
Everlasting Club, the Dunmow Flitch, the Loves of Hilpah and
Shalum, the Visit to the Exchange, and the Visit to the Abbey,
are known to everybody. But many men and women, even of highly
cultivated minds, are unacquainted with Squire Bluster and Mrs
Busy, Quisquilius and Venustulus, the Allegory of Wit and
Learning, the Chronicle of the Revolutions of a Garret, and the
sad fate of Aningait and Ajut.

The last Rambler was written in a sad and gloomy hour. Mrs
Johnson had been given over by the physicians. Three days later
she died. She left her husband almost broken-hearted. Many
people had been surprised to see a man of his genius and learning
stooping to every drudgery, and denying himself almost every
comfort, for the purpose of supplying a silly, affected old woman
with superfluities, which she accepted with but little gratitude.
But all his affection had been concentrated on her. He had
neither brother nor sister, neither son nor daughter. To him she
was beautiful as the Gunnings, and witty as Lady Mary. Her
opinion of his writings was more important to him than the voice
of the pit of Drury Lane Theatre or the judgment of the Monthly
Review. The chief support which had sustained him through the
most arduous labour of his life was the hope that she would enjoy
the fame and the profit which he anticipated from his Dictionary.
She was gone; and in that vast labyrinth of streets, peopled by
eight hundred thousand human beings, he was alone. Yet it was
necessary for him to set himself, as he expressed it, doggedly to
work. After three more laborious years, the Dictionary was at
length complete.

It had been generally supposed that this great work would be
dedicated to the eloquent and accomplished nobleman to whom the
prospectus had been addressed. He well knew the value of such a
compliment; and therefore, when the day of publication drew near,
he exerted himself to soothe, by a show of zealous and at the
same time of delicate and judicious kindness, the pride which he
had so cruelly wounded. Since the Ramblers had ceased to appear,
the town had been entertained by a journal called the World, to
which many men of high rank and fashion contributed. In two
successive numbers of the World the Dictionary was, to use the
modern phrase, puffed with wonderful skill. The writings of
Johnson were warmly praised. It was proposed that he should be
invested with the authority of a Dictator, nay, of a Pope, over
our language, and that his decisions about the meaning and the
spelling of words should be received as final. His two folios,
it was said, would of course be bought by everybody who could
afford to buy them. It was soon known that these papers were
written by Chesterfield. But the just resentment of Johnson was
not to be so appeased. In a letter written with singular energy
and dignity of thought and language, he repelled the tardy
advances of his patron. The Dictionary came forth without a
dedication. In the preface the author truly declared that he
owed nothing to the great, and described the difficulties with
which he had been left to struggle so forcibly and pathetically
that the ablest and most malevolent of all the enemies of his
fame, Horne Tooke, never could read that passage without tears.

The public, on this occasion, did Johnson full justice, and
something more than justice. The best lexicographer may well be
content if his productions are received by the world with cold
esteem. But Johnson's Dictionary was hailed with an enthusiasm
such as no similar work has ever excited. It was indeed the
first dictionary which could be read with pleasure. The
definitions show so much acuteness of thought and command of
language, and the passages quoted from poets, divines, and
philosophers are so skilfully selected, that a leisure hour may
always be very agreeably spent in turning over the pages. The
faults of the book resolve themselves, for the most part, into
one great fault. Johnson was a wretched etymologist. He knew
little or nothing of any Teutonic language except English, which
indeed, as he wrote it, was scarcely a Teutonic language; and
thus he was absolutely at the mercy of Junius and Skinner.

The Dictionary, though it raised Johnson's fame, added nothing to
his pecuniary means. The fifteen hundred guineas which the
booksellers had agreed to pay him had been advanced and spent
before the last sheets issued from the press. It is painful to
relate that, twice in the course of the year which followed the
publication of this great work, he was arrested and carried to
spunging-houses, and that he was twice indebted for his liberty
to his excellent friend Richardson. It was still necessary for
the man who had been formally saluted by the highest authority as
Dictator of the English language to supply his wants by constant
toil. He abridged his Dictionary. He proposed to bring out an
edition of Shakspeare by subscription; and many subscribers sent
in their names and laid down their money; but he soon found the
task so little to his taste that he turned to more attractive
employments. He contributed many papers to a new monthly
journal, which was called the Literary Magazine. Few of these
papers have much interest; but among them was the very best thing
that he ever wrote, a masterpiece both of reasoning and of
satirical pleasantry, the review of Jenyn's Inquiry into the
Nature and Origin of Evil.

In the spring of 1758 Johnson put forth the first of a series of
essays, entitled the Idler. During two years these essays
continued to appear weekly. They were eagerly read, widely
circulated, and indeed, impudently pirated, while they were still
in the original form, and had a large sale when collected into
volumes. The Idler may be described as a second part of the
Rambler, somewhat livelier and somewhat weaker than the first

While Johnson was busied with his Idlers, his mother, who had
accomplished her ninetieth year, died at Lichfield. It was long
since he had seen her; but he had not failed to contribute
largely, out of his small means, to her comfort. In order to
defray the charges of her funeral, and to pay some debts which
she had left, he wrote a little book in a single week, and sent
off the sheets to the press without reading them over. A hundred
pounds were paid him for the copyright; and the purchasers had
great cause to be pleased with their bargain; for the book was

The success of Rasselas was great, though such ladies as Miss
Lydia Languish must have been grievously disappointed when they
found that the new volume from the circulating library was little
more than a dissertation on the author's favourite theme, the
Vanity of Human Wishes; that the Prince of Abyssinia was without
a mistress, and the princess without a lover; and that the story
set the hero and the heroine down exactly where it had taken them
up. The style was the subject of much eager controversy. The
Monthly Review and the Critical Review took different sides.
Many readers pronounced the writer a pompous pedant, who would
never use a word of two syllables where it was possible to use a
word of six, and who could not make a waiting woman relate her
adventures without balancing every noun with another noun, and
every epithet with another epithet. Another party, not less
zealous, cited with delight numerous passages in which weighty
meaning was expressed with accuracy and illustrated with
splendour. And both the censure and the praise were merited.

About the plan of Rasselas little was said by the critics; and
yet the faults of the plan might seem to invite severe criticism.
Johnson has frequently blamed Shakspeare for neglecting the
proprieties of time and place, and for ascribing to one age or
nation the manners and opinions of another. Yet Shakspeare has
not sinned in this way more grievously than Johnson. Rasselas
and Imlac, Nekayah and Pekuah, are evidently meant to be
Abyssinians of the eighteenth century: for the Europe which
Imlac describes is the Europe of the eighteenth century; and the
inmates of the Happy Valley talk familiarly of that law of
gravitation which Newton discovered, and which was not fully
received even at Cambridge till the eighteenth century. What a
real company of Abyssinians would have been may be learned from
Bruce's Travels. But Johnson, not content with turning filthy
savages, ignorant of their letters, and gorged with raw steaks
cut from living cows, into philosophers as eloquent and
enlightened as himself or his friend Burke, and into ladies as
highly accomplished as Mrs Lennox or Mrs Sheridan, transferred
the whole domestic system of England to Egypt. Into a land of
harems, a land of polygamy, a land where women are married
without ever being seen, he introduced the flirtations and
jealousies of our ball-rooms. In a land where there is boundless
liberty of divorce, wedlock is described as the indissoluble
compact. "A youth and maiden meeting by chance, or brought
together by artifice, exchange glances, reciprocate civilities,
go home, and dream of each other. Such," says Rasselas, "is the
common process of marriage." Such it may have been, and may
still be, in London, but assuredly not at Cairo. A writer who
was guilty of such improprieties had little right to blame the
poet who made Hector quote Aristotle, and represented Julio
Romano as flourishing in the days of the oracle of Delphi.

By such exertions as have been described, Johnson supported
himself till the year 1762. In that year a great change in his
circumstances took place. He had from a child been an enemy of
the reigning dynasty. His Jacobite prejudices had been exhibited
with little disguise both in his works and in his conversation.
Even in his massy and elaborate Dictionary, he had, with a
strange want of taste and judgment, inserted bitter and
contumelious reflections on the Whig party. The excise, which
was a favourite resource of Whig financiers, he had designated as
a hateful tax. He had railed against the commissioners of excise
in language so coarse that they had seriously thought of
prosecuting him. He had with difficulty been prevented from
holding up the Lord Privy Seal by name as an example of the
meaning of the word "renegade." A pension he had defined as pay
given to a state hireling to betray his country; a pensioner as a
slave of state hired by a stipend to obey a master. It seemed
unlikely that the author of these definitions would himself be
pensioned. But that was a time of wonders. George the Third had
ascended the throne; and had, in the course of a few months,
disgusted many of the old friends and conciliated many of the old
enemies of his house. The city was becoming mutinous. Oxford
was becoming loyal. Cavendishes and Bentincks were murmuring.
Somersets and Wyndhams were hastening to kiss hands. The head of
the treasury was now Lord Bute, who was a Tory, and could have no
objection to Johnson's Toryism. Bute wished to be thought a
patron of men of letters; and Johnson was one of the most eminent
and one of the most needy men of letters in Europe. A pension of
three hundred a year was graciously offered, and with very little
hesitation accepted.

This event produced a change in Johnson's whole way of life. For
the first time since his boyhood he no longer felt the daily goad
urging him to the daily toil. He was at liberty, after thirty
years of anxiety and drudgery, to indulge his constitutional
indolence, to lie in bed till two in the afternoon, and to sit up
talking till four in the morning, without fearing either the
printer's devil or the sheriff's officer.

One laborious task indeed he had bound himself to perform. He
had received large subscriptions for his promised edition of
Shakspeare; he had lived on those subscriptions during some
years: and he could not without disgrace omit to perform his
part of the contract. His friends repeatedly exhorted him to
make an effort; and he repeatedly resolved to do so. But,
notwithstanding their exhortations and his resolutions, month
followed month, year followed year, and nothing was done. He
prayed fervently against his idleness; he determined, as often as
he received the sacrament, that he would no longer doze away and
trifle away his time; but the spell under which he lay resisted
prayer and sacrament. His private notes at this time are made up
of self-reproaches. "My indolence," he wrote on Easter Eve in
1764, "has sunk into grosser sluggishness. A kind of strange
oblivion has overspread me, so that I know not what has become of
the last year." Easter 1765 came, and found him still in the
same state. "My time," he wrote, "has been unprofitably spent,
and seems as a dream that has left nothing behind. My memory
grows confused, and I know not how the days pass over me."
Happily for his honour, the charm which held him captive was at
length broken by no gentle or friendly hand. He had been weak
enough to pay serious attention to a story about a ghost which
haunted a house in Cock Lane, and had actually gone himself with
some of his friends, at one in the morning, to St John's Church,
Clerkenwell, in the hope of receiving a communication from the
perturbed spirit. But the spirit, though adjured with all
solemnity, remained obstinately silent; and it soon appeared that
a naughty girl of eleven had been amusing herself by making fools
of so many philosophers. Churchill, who, confidant in his
powers, drunk with popularity, and burning with party spirit, was
looking for some man of established fame and Tory politics to
insult, celebrated the Cock Lane Ghost in three cantos, nicknamed
Johnson Pomposo, asked where the book was which had been so long
promised and so liberally paid for, and directly accused the
great moralist of cheating. This terrible word proved effectual;
and in October 1765 appeared, after a delay of nine years, the
new edition of Shakspeare.

This publication saved Johnson's character for honesty, but added
nothing to the fame of his abilities and learning. The preface,
though it contains some good passages, is not in his best manner.
The most valuable notes are those in which he had an opportunity
of showing how attentively he had during many years observed
human life and human nature. The best specimen is the note on
the character of Polonius. Nothing so good is to be found even
in Wilhelm Meister's admirable examination of Hamlet. But here
praise must end. It would be difficult to name a more slovenly,
a more worthless edition of any great classic. The reader may
turn over play after play without finding one happy conjectural
emendation, or one ingenious and satisfactory explanation of a
passage which had baffled preceding commentators. Johnson had,
in his prospectus, told the world that he was peculiarly fitted
for the task which he had undertaken, because he had, as a
lexicographer, been under the necessity of taking a wider view of
the English language than any of his predecessors. That his
knowledge of our literature was extensive is indisputable. But,
unfortunately, he had altogether neglected that very part of our
literature with which it is especially desirable that an editor
of Shakspeare should be conversant. It is dangerous to assert a
negative. Yet little will be risked by the assertion, that in
the two folio volumes of the English Dictionary there is not a
single passage quoted from any dramatist of the Elizabethan age,
except Shakspeare and Ben. Even from Ben the quotations are few.
Johnson might easily, in a few months, have made himself well
acquainted with every old play that was extant. But it never
seems to have occurred to him that this was a necessary
preparation for the work which he had undertaken. He would
doubtless have admitted that it would be the height of absurdity
in a man who was not familiar with the works of Aeschylus and
Euripides to publish an edition of Sophocles. Yet he ventured to
publish an edition of Shakspeare, without having ever in his
life, as far as can be discovered, read a single scene of
Massinger, Ford, Decker, Webster, Marlow, Beaumont, or Fletcher.
His detractors were noisy and scurrilous. Those who most loved
and honoured him had little to say in praise of the manner in
which he had discharged the duty of a commentator. He had,
however, acquitted himself of a debt which had long lain on his
conscience; and he sank back into the repose from which the sting
of satire had roused him. He long continued to live upon the
fame which he had already won. He was honoured by the University
of Oxford with a Doctor's degree, by the Royal Academy with a
professorship, and by the King with an interview, in which his
Majesty most graciously expressed a hope that so excellent a
writer would not cease to write. In the interval, however,
between 1765 and 1775 Johnson published only two or three
political tracks, the longest of which he could have produced in
forty-eight hours, if he had worked as he worked on the life of
Savage and on Rasselas.

But, though his pen was now idle, his tongue was active. The
influence exercised by his conversation, directly upon those with
whom he lived, and indirectly on the whole literary world, was
altogether without a parallel. His colloquial talents were
indeed of the highest order. He had strong sense, quick
discernment, wit, humour, immense knowledge of literature and of
life, and an infinite store of curious anecdotes. As respected
style, he spoke far better than he wrote. Every sentence which
dropped from his lips was as correct in structure as the most
nicely balanced period of the Rambler. But in his talk there was
no pompous triads, and little more than a fair proportion of
words in "osity" and "ation". All was simplicity, ease, and
vigour. He uttered his short, weighty, and pointed sentences
with a power of voice, and a justness and energy of emphasis, of
which the effect was rather increased than diminished by the
rollings of his huge form, and by the asthmatic gaspings and
puffings in which the peals of his eloquence generally ended.
Nor did the laziness which made him unwilling to sit down to his
desk prevent him from giving instruction or entertainment orally.
To discuss questions of taste, of learning, casuistry, in
language so exact and so forcible that it might have been printed
without the alteration of a word, was to him no exertion, but a
pleasure. He loved, as he said, to fold his legs and have his
talk out. He was ready to bestow the overflowings of his full
mind on anybody who would start a subject, on a fellow-passenger
in a stage coach, or on the person who sate at the same table
with him in an eating-house. But his conversation was nowhere so
brilliant and striking as when he was surrounded by a few
friends, whose abilities and knowledge enabled them, as he once
expressed it, to send him back every ball that he threw. Some of
these, in 1764, formed themselves into a club, which gradually
became a formidable power in the commonwealth of letters. The
verdicts pronounced by this conclave on new books were speedily
known over all London, and were sufficient to sell off a whole
edition in a day, or to condemn the sheets to the service of the
trunk-maker and the pastry-cook. Nor shall we think this strange
when we consider what great and various talents and acquirements
met in the little fraternity. Goldsmith was the representative
of poetry and light literature, Reynolds of the arts, Burke of
political eloquence and political philosophy. There, too, were
Gibbon, the greatest historian, and Jones, the greatest linguist,
of the age. Garrick brought to the meetings his inexhaustible
pleasantry, his incomparable mimicry, and his consummate
knowledge of stage effect. Among the most constant attendants
were two high-born and high-bred gentlemen, closely bound
together by friendship, but of widely different characters and
habits; Bennet Langton, distinguished by his skill in Greek
literature, by the orthodoxy of his opinions, and by the sanctity
of his life; and Topham Beauclerk, renowned for his amours, his
knowledge of the gay world, his fastidious taste, and his
sarcastic wit. To predominate over such a society was not easy.
Yet even over such a society Johnson predominated. Burke might
indeed have disputed the supremacy to which others were under the
necessity of submitting. But Burke, though not generally a very
patient listener, was content to take the second part when
Johnson was present; and the club itself, consisting of so many
eminent men, is to this day popularly designated as Johnson's

Among the members of this celebrated body was one to whom it has
owed the greater part of its celebrity, yet who was regarded with
little respect by his brethren, and had not without difficulty
obtained a seat among them. This was James Boswell, a young
Scotch lawyer, heir to an honourable name and a fair estate.
That he was a coxcomb and a bore, weak, vain, pushing, curious,
garrulous, was obvious to all who were acquainted with him. That
he could not reason, that he had no wit, no humour, no eloquence,
is apparent from his writings. And yet his writings are read
beyond the Mississippi, and under the Southern Cross, and are
likely to be read as long as the English exists, either as a
living or as a dead language. Nature had made him a slave and an
idolater. His mind resembles those creepers which the botanists
call parasites, and which can subsist only by clinging round the
stems and imbibing the juices of stronger plants. He must have
fastened himself on somebody. He might have fastened himself on
Wilkes, and have become the fiercest patriot in the Bill of
Rights Society. He might have fastened himself on Whitfield, and
have become the loudest field preacher among the Calvinistic
Methodists. In a happy hour he fastened himself on Johnson. The
pair might seem ill matched. For Johnson had early been
prejudiced against Boswell's country. To a man of Johnson's
strong understanding and irritable temper, the silly egotism and
adulation of Boswell must have been as teasing as the constant
buzz of a fly. Johnson hated to be questioned; and Boswell was
eternally catechising him on all kinds of subjects, and sometimes
propounded such questions as "What would you do, sir, if you were
locked up in a tower with a baby?" Johnson was a water drinker;
and Boswell was a wine-bibber, and indeed little better than a
habitual sot. It was impossible that there should be perfect
harmony between two such companions. Indeed, the great man was
sometimes provoked into fits of passion in which he said things
which the small man, during a few hours, seriously resented.
Every quarrel, however, was soon made up. During twenty years
the disciple continued to worship the master: the master
continued to scold the disciple, to sneer at him, and to love
him. The two friends ordinarily resided at a great distance from
each other. Boswell practised in the Parliament House of
Edinburgh, and could pay only occasional visits to London.
During those visits his chief business was to watch Johnson, to
discover all Johnson's habits, to turn the conversation to
subjects about which Johnson was likely to say something
remarkable, and to fill quarto note books with minutes of what
Johnson had said. In this way were gathered the materials out of
which was afterwards constructed the most interesting
biographical work in the world.

Soon after the club began to exist, Johnson formed a connection
less important indeed to his fame, but much more important to his
happiness, than his connection with Boswell. Henry Thrale, one
of the most opulent brewers in the kingdom, a man of sound and
cultivated understanding, rigid principles, and liberal spirit,
was married to one of those clever, kind-hearted, engaging, vain,
pert young women, who are perpetually doing or saying what is not
exactly right, but who, do or say what they may, are always
agreeable. In 1765 the Thrales became acquainted with Johnson;
and the acquaintance ripened fast into friendship. They were
astonished and delighted by the brilliancy of his conversation.
They were flattered by finding that a man so widely celebrated,
preferred their house to any other in London. Even the
peculiarities which seemed to unfit him for civilised society,
his gesticulations, his rollings, his puffings, his mutterings,
the strange way in which he put on his clothes, the ravenous
eagerness with which he devoured his dinner, his fits of
melancholy, his fits of anger, his frequent rudeness, his
occasional ferocity, increased the interest which his new
associates took in him. For these things were the cruel marks
left behind by a life which had been one long conflict with
disease and with adversity. In a vulgar hack writer such
oddities would have excited only disgust. But in a man of
genius, learning, and virtue their effect was to add pity to
admiration and esteem. Johnson soon had an apartment at the
brewery in Southwark, and a still more pleasant apartment at the
villa of his friends on Streatham Common. A large part of every
year he passed in those abodes, abodes which must have seemed
magnificent and luxurious indeed, when compared with the dens in
which he had generally been lodged. But his chief pleasures were
derived from what the astronomer of his Abyssinian tale called
"the endearing elegance of female friendship." Mrs Thrale
rallied him, soothed him, coaxed him, and, if she sometimes
provoked him by her flippancy, made ample amends by listening to
his reproofs with angelic sweetness of temper. When he was
diseased in body and in mind, she was the most tender of nurses.
No comfort that wealth could purchase, no contrivance that
womanly ingenuity, set to work by womanly compassion, could
devise, was wanting to his sick-room. He requited her kindness
by an affection pure as the affection of a father, yet delicately
tinged with a gallantry, which, though awkward, must have been
more flattering than the attentions of a crowd of the fools who
gloried in the names, now obsolete, of Buck and Maccaroni. It
should seem that a full half of Johnson's life, during about
sixteen years, was passed under the roof of the Thrales. He
accompanied the family sometimes to Bath, and sometimes to
Brighton, once to Wales, and once to Paris. But he had at the
same time a house in one of the narrow and gloomy courts on the
north of Fleet Street. In the garrets was his library, a large
and miscellaneous collection of books, falling to pieces and
begrimed with dust. On a lower floor he sometimes, but very
rarely, regaled a friend with a plain dinner, a veal pie, or a
leg of lamb and spinage, and a rice pudding. Nor was the
dwelling uninhabited during his long absences. It was the home
of the most extraordinary assemblage of inmates that ever was
brought together. At the head of the establishment Johnson had
placed an old lady named Williams, whose chief recommendations
were her blindness and her poverty. But, in spite of her murmurs
and reproaches, he gave an asylum to another lady who was as poor
as herself, Mrs Desmoulins, whose family he had known many years
before in Staffordshire. Room was found for the daughter of Mrs
Desmoulins, and for another destitute damsel, who was generally
addressed as Miss Carmichael, but whom her generous host called
Polly. An old quack doctor named Levett, who bled and dosed
coal-heavers and hackney coachmen, and received for fees crusts
of bread, bits of bacon, glasses of gin, and sometimes a little
copper, completed this strange menagerie. All these poor
creatures were at constant war with each other, and with
Johnson's negro servant Frank. Sometimes, indeed, they
transferred their hostilities from the servant to the master,
complained that a better table was not kept for them, and railed
or maundered till their benefactor was glad to make his escape to
Streatham, or to the Mitre Tavern. And yet he, who was generally
the haughtiest and most irritable of mankind, who was but too
prompt to resent anything which looked like a slight on the part
of a purse-proud bookseller, or of a noble and powerful patron,
bore patiently from mendicants, who, but for his bounty, must
have gone to the workhouse, insults more provoking than those for
which he had knocked down Osborne and bidden defiance to
Chesterfield. Year after year Mrs Desmoulins, Polly, and Levett,
continued to torment him and to live upon him.

The course of life which has been described was interrupted in
Johnson's sixty-fourth year by an important event. He had early
read an account of the Hebrides, and had been much interested by
learning that there was so near him a land peopled by a race
which was still as rude and simple as in the middle ages. A wish
to become intimately acquainted with a state of society so
utterly unlike all that he had ever seen frequently crossed his
mind. But it is not probable that his curiosity would have
overcome his habitual sluggishness, and his love of the smoke,
the mud, and the cries of London, had not Boswell importuned him
to attempt the adventure, and offered to be his squire. At
length, in August 1773, Johnson crossed the Highland line, and
plunged courageously into what was then considered, by most
Englishmen, as a dreary and perilous wilderness. After wandering
about two months through the Celtic region, sometimes in rude
boats which did not protect him from the rain, and sometimes on
small shaggy ponies which could hardly bear his weight, he
returned to his old haunts with a mind full of new images and new
theories. During the following year he employed himself in
recording his adventures. About the beginning of 1775, his
Journey to the Hebrides was published, and was, during some
weeks, the chief subject of conversation in all circles in which
any attention was paid to literature. The book is still read
with pleasure. The narrative is entertaining; the speculations,
whether sound or unsound, are always ingenious; and the style,
though too stiff and pompous, is somewhat easier and more
graceful than that of his early writings. His prejudice against
the Scotch had at length become little more than matter of jest;
and whatever remained of the old feeling had been effectually
removed by the kind and respectful hospitality with which he had
been received in every part of Scotland. It was, of course, not
to be expected that an Oxonian Tory should praise the
Presbyterian polity and ritual, or that an eye accustomed to the
hedgerows and parks of England should not be struck by the
bareness of Berwickshire and East Lothian. But even in censure
Johnson's tone is not unfriendly. The most enlightened
Scotchmen, with Lord Mansfield at their head, were well pleased.
But some foolish and ignorant Scotchmen were moved to anger by a
little unpalatable truth which was mingled with much eulogy, and
assailed him whom they chose to consider as the enemy of their
country with libels much more dishonourable to their country than
anything that he had ever said or written. They published
paragraphs in the newspapers, articles in the magazines, sixpenny
pamphlets, five-shilling books. One scribbler abused Johnson for
being blear-eyed; another for being a pensioner; a third informed
the world that one of the Doctor's uncles had been convicted of
felony in Scotland, and had found that there was in that country
one tree capable of supporting the weight of an Englishman.
Macpherson, whose Fingal had been proved in the Journey to be an
impudent forgery, threatened to take vengeance with a cane. The
only effect of this threat was that Johnson reiterated the charge
of forgery in the most contemptuous terms, and walked about,
during some time, with a cudgel, which, if the impostor had not
been too wise to encounter it, would assuredly have descended
upon him, to borrow the sublime language of his own epic poem,
"like a hammer on the red son of the furnace."

Of other assailants Johnson took no notice whatever. He had
early resolved never to be drawn into controversy; and he adhered
to his resolution with a steadfastness which is the more
extraordinary, because he was, both intellectually and morally,
of the stuff of which controversialists are made. In
conversation, he was a singularly eager, acute, and pertinacious
disputant. When at a loss for good reasons, he had recourse to
sophistry; and, when heated by altercation, he made unsparing use
of sarcasm and invective. But, when he took his pen in his hand,
his whole character seemed to be changed. A hundred bad writers
misrepresented him and reviled him; but not one of the hundred
could boast of having been thought by him worthy of a refutation,
or even of a retort. The Kenricks, Campbells, MacNicols, and
Hendersons, did their best to annoy him, in the hope that he
would give them importance by answering them. But the reader
will in vain search his works for any allusion to Kenrick or
Campbell, to MacNicol or Henderson. One Scotchman, bent on
vindicating the fame of Scotch learning, defied him to the combat
in a detestable Latin hexameter.

"Maxime, si tu vis, cupio contendere tecum."

But Johnson took no notice of the challenge. He had learned,
both from his own observation and from literary history, in which
he was deeply read, that the place of books in the public
estimation is fixed, not by what is written about them, but by
what is written in them; and that an author whose works are
likely to live is very unwise if he stoops to wrangle with
detractors whose works are certain to die. He always maintained
that fame was a shuttlecock which could be kept up only by being
beaten back, as well as beaten forward, and which would soon fall
if there were only one battledore. No saying was oftener in his
mouth than that fine apophthegm of Bentley, that no man was ever
written down but by himself.

Unhappily, a few months after the appearance of the Journey to
the Hebrides, Johnson did what none of his envious assailants
could have done, and to a certain extent succeeded in writing
himself down. The disputes between England and her American
colonies had reached a point at which no amicable adjustment was
possible. Civil war was evidently impending; and the ministers
seem to have thought that the eloquence of Johnson might with
advantage be employed to inflame the nation against the
opposition here, and against the rebels beyond the Atlantic. He
had already written two or three tracts in defence of the foreign
and domestic policy of the government; and those tracts, though
hardly worthy of him, were much superior to the crowd of
pamphlets which lay on the counters of Almon and Stockdale. But
his Taxation No Tyranny was a pitiable failure. The very title
was a silly phrase, which can have been recommended to his choice
by nothing but a jingling alliteration which he ought to have
despised. The arguments were such as boys use in debating
societies. The pleasantry was as awkward as the gambols of a
hippopotamus. Even Boswell was forced to own that, in this
unfortunate piece, he could detect no trace of his master's
powers. The general opinion was that the strong faculties which
had produced the Dictionary and the Rambler were beginning to
feel the effect of time and of disease, and that the old man
would best consult his credit by writing no more.

But this was a great mistake. Johnson had failed, not because
his mind was less vigorous than when he wrote Rasselas in the
evenings of a week, but because he had foolishly chosen, or
suffered others to choose for him, a subject such as he would at
no time have been competent to treat. He was in no sense a
statesman. He never willingly read or thought or talked about
affairs of state. He loved biography, literary history, the
history of manners; but political history was positively
distasteful to him. The question at issue between the colonies
and the mother country was a question about which he had really
nothing to say. He failed, therefore, as the greatest men must
fail when they attempt to do that for which they are unfit; as
Burke would have failed if Burke had tried to write comedies like
those of Sheridan; as Reynolds would have failed if Reynolds had
tried to paint landscapes like those of Wilson. Happily, Johnson
soon had an opportunity of proving most signally that his failure
was not to be ascribed to intellectual decay.

On Easter Eve 1777, some persons, deputed by a meeting which
consisted of forty of the first booksellers in London, called
upon him. Though he had some scruples about doing business at
that season, he received his visitors with much civility. They
came to inform him that a new edition of the English poets, from
Cowley downwards, was in contemplation, and to ask him to furnish
short biographical prefaces. He readily undertook the task, a
task for which he was pre-eminently qualified. His knowledge of
the literary history of England since the Restoration was
unrivalled. That knowledge he had derived partly from books, and
partly from sources which had long been closed; from old Grub
Street traditions; from the talk of forgotten poetasters and
pamphleteers who had long been lying in parish vaults; from the
recollections of such men as Gilbert Walmesley, who had conversed
with the wits of Button; Cibber, who had mutilated the plays of
two generations of dramatists; Orrery, who had been admitted to
the society of Swift; and Savage, who had rendered services of no
very honourable kind to Pope. The biographer therefore sate down
to his task with a mind full of matter. He had at first intended
to give only a paragraph to every minor poet, and only four or
five pages to the greatest name. But the flood of anecdote and
criticism overflowed the narrow channel. The work, which was
originally meant to consist only of a few sheets, swelled into
ten volumes, small volumes, it is true, and not closely printed.
The first four appeared in 1779, the remaining six in 1781.

The Lives of the Poets are, on the whole, the best of Johnson's
works. The narratives are as entertaining as any novel. The
remarks on life and on human nature are eminently shrewd and
profound. The criticisms are often excellent, and, even when
grossly and provokingly unjust, well deserve to be studied. For,
however erroneous they may be, they are never silly. They are
the judgments of a mind trammelled by prejudice and deficient in
sensibility, but vigorous and acute. They therefore generally
contain a portion of valuable truth which deserves to be
separated from the alloy; and, at the very worst, they mean
something, a praise to which much of what is called criticism in
our time has no pretensions.

Savage's Life Johnson reprinted nearly as it had appeared in
1744. Whoever, after reading that life, will turn to the other
lives will be struck by the difference of style. Since Johnson
had been at ease in his circumstances he had written little and
had talked much. When, therefore, he, after the lapse of years,
resumed his pen, the mannerism which he had contracted while he
was in the constant habit of elaborate composition was less
perceptible than formerly; and his diction frequently had a
colloquial ease which it had formerly wanted. The improvement
may be discerned by a skilful critic in the Journey to the
Hebrides, and in the Lives of the Poets is so obvious that it
cannot escape the notice of the most careless reader.

Among the lives the best are perhaps those of Cowley, Dryden, and
Pope. The very worst is, beyond all doubt, that of Gray.

This great work at once became popular. There was, indeed, much
just and much unjust censure: but even those who were loudest in
blame were attracted by the book in spite of themselves. Malone
computed the gains of the publishers at five or six thousand
pounds. But the writer was very poorly remunerated. Intending
at first to write very short prefaces, he had stipulated for only
two hundred guineas. The booksellers, when they saw how far his
performance had surpassed his promise, added only another
hundred. Indeed, Johnson, though he did not despise, or affect
to despise, money, and though his strong sense and long
experience ought to have qualified him to protect his own
interests, seems to have been singularly unskilful and unlucky in
his literary bargains. He was generally reputed the first
English writer of his time. Yet several writers of his time sold
their copyrights for sums such as he never ventured to ask. To
give a single instance, Robertson received four thousand five
hundred pounds for the History of Charles V.; and it is no
disrespect to the memory of Robertson to say that the History of
Charles V. is both a less valuable and a less amusing book than
the Lives of the Poets.

Johnson was now in his seventy-second year. The infirmities of
age were coming fast upon him. That inevitable event of which he
never thought without horror was brought near to him; and his
whole life was darkened by the shadow of death. He had often to
pay the cruel price of longevity. Every year he lost what could
never be replaced. The strange dependents to whom he had given
shelter, and to whom, in spite of their faults, he was strongly
attached by habit, dropped off one by one; and, in the silence of
his home, he regretted even the noise of their scolding matches.
The kind and generous Thrale was no more; and it would have been
well if his wife had been laid beside him. But she survived to
be the laughing-stock of those who had envied her, and to draw
from the eyes of the old man who had loved her beyond anything in
the world tears far more bitter than he would have shed over her
grave. With some estimable and many agreeable qualities, she was
not made to be independent. The control of a mind more steadfast
than her own was necessary to her respectability. While she was
restrained by her husband, a man of sense and firmness, indulgent
to her taste in trifles, but always the undisputed master of his
house, her worst offences had been impertinent jokes, white lies,
and short fits of pettishness ending in sunny good humour. But
he was gone; and she was left an opulent widow of forty, with
strong sensibility, volatile fancy, and slender judgment. She
soon fell in love with a music-master from Brescia, in whom
nobody but herself could discover anything to admire. Her pride,
and perhaps some better feelings, struggled hard against this
degrading passion. But the struggle irritated her nerves, soured
her temper, and at length endangered her health. Conscious that
her choice was one which Johnson could not approve, she became
desirous to escape from his inspection. Her manner towards him
changed. She was sometimes cold and sometimes petulant. She did
not conceal her joy when he left Streatham; she never pressed him
to return; and, if he came unbidden, she received him in a manner
which convinced him that he was no longer a welcome guest. He
took the very intelligible hints which she gave. He read, for
the last time, a chapter of the Greek testament in the library
which had been formed by himself. In a solemn and tender prayer
he commended the house and its inmates to the Divine protection,
and, with emotions which choked his voice and convulsed his
powerful frame, left for ever that beloved home for the gloomy
and desolate house behind Fleet Street, where the few and evil
days which still remained to him were to run out. Here, in June
1783, he had a paralytic stroke, from which, however, he
recovered, and which does not appear to have at all impaired his
intellectual faculties. But other maladies came thick upon him.
His asthma tormented him day and night. Dropsical symptoms made
their appearance. While sinking under a complication of
diseases, he heard that the woman whose friendship had been the
chief happiness of sixteen years of his life had married an
Italian fiddler; that all London was crying shame upon her; and
that the newspapers and magazines were filled with allusions to
the Ephesian matron, and the two pictures in Hamlet. He
vehemently said that he would try to forget her existence. He
never uttered her name. Every memorial of her which met his eye
he flung into the fire. She meanwhile fled from the laughter and
hisses of her countrymen and countrywomen to a land where she was
unknown, hastened across Mount Cenis, and learned, while passing
a merry Christmas of concerts and lemonade parties at Milan, that
the great man with whose name hers is inseparably associated had
ceased to exist.

He had, in spite of much mental and much bodily affliction, clung
vehemently to life. The feeling described in that fine but
gloomy paper which closes the series of his Idlers seemed to grow
stronger in him as his last hour drew near. He fancied that he
should be able to draw his breath more easily in a southern
climate, and would probably have set out for Rome and Naples, but
for his fear of the expense of the journey. That expense,
indeed, he had the means of defraying; for he had laid up about
two thousand pounds, the fruit of labours which had made the
fortune of several publishers. But he was unwilling to break in
upon this hoard; and he seems to have wished even to keep its
existence a secret. Some of his friends hoped that the
government might be induced to increase his pension to six
hundred pounds a year: but this hope was disappointed; and he
resolved to stand one English winter more. That winter was his
last. His legs grew weaker; his breath grew shorter; the fatal
water gathered fast, in spite of incisions which he, courageous
against pain, but timid against death, urged his surgeons to make
deeper and deeper. Though the tender care which had mitigated
his sufferings during months of sickness at Streatham was
withdrawn, he was not left desolate. The ablest physicians and
surgeons attended him, and refused to accept fees from him.
Burke parted from him with deep emotion. Windham sate much in
the sick room, arranged the pillows, and sent his own servant to
watch a night by the bed. Frances Burney, whom the old man had
cherished with fatherly kindness, stood weeping at the door;
while Langton, whose piety eminently qualified him to be an
adviser and comforter at such a time, received the last pressure
of his friend's hand within. When at length the moment, dreaded
through so many years, came close, the dark cloud passed away
from Johnson's mind. His temper became unusually patient and
gentle; he ceased to think with terror of death, and of that
which lies beyond death; and he spoke much of the mercy of God,
and of the propitiation of Christ. In this serene frame of mind
he died on the 13th of December 1784. He was laid, a week later,
in Westminster Abbey, among the eminent men of whom he had been
the historian,--Cowley and Denham, Dryden and Congreve, Gay,
Prior, and Addison.

Since his death the popularity of his works--the Lives of the
Poets, and, perhaps, the Vanity of Human Wishes, excepted--has
greatly diminished. His Dictionary has been altered by editors
till it can scarcely be called his. An allusion to his Rambler
or his Idler is not readily apprehended in literary circles. The
fame even of Rasselas has grown somewhat dim. But, though the
celebrity of the writings may have declined, the celebrity of the
writer, strange to say, is as great as ever. Boswell's book has
done for him more than the best of his own books could do. The
memory of other authors is kept alive by their works. But the
memory of Johnson keeps many of his works alive. The old
philosopher is still among us in the brown coat with the metal
buttons and the shirt which ought to be at wash, blinking,
puffing, rolling his head, drumming with his fingers, tearing his
meat like a tiger, and swallowing his tea in oceans. No human
being who has been more than seventy years in the grave is so
well known to us. And it is but just to say that our intimate
acquaintance with what he would himself have called the
anfractuosities of his intellect and of his temper serves only to
strengthen our conviction that he was both a great and a good



(January 1859.)

William Pitt, the second son of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham,
and of Lady Hester Granville, daughter of Hester Countess Temple,
was born on the 28th of May 1759. The child inherited a name
which, at the time of his birth, was the most illustrious in the
civilised world, and was pronounced by every Englishman with
pride, and by every enemy of England with mingled admiration and
terror. During the first year of his life, every month had its
illuminations and bonfires, and every wind brought some messenger
charged with joyful tidings and hostile standards. In Westphalia
the English infantry won a great battle which arrested the armies
of Louis the Fifteenth in the midst of a career of conquest;
Boscawen defeated one French fleet on the coast of Portugal;
Hawke put to flight another in the Bay of Biscay; Johnson took
Niagara; Amherst took Ticonderoga; Wolfe died by the most
enviable of deaths under the walls of Quebec; Clive destroyed a
Dutch armament in the Hooghly, and established the English
supremacy in Bengal; Coote routed Lally at Wandewash, and
established the English supremacy in the Carnatic. The nation,
while loudly applauding the successful warriors, considered them
all, on sea and on land, in Europe, in America, and in Asia,
merely as instruments which received their direction from one
superior mind. It was the great William Pitt, the great
commoner, who had vanquished French marshals in Germany, and
French admirals on the Atlantic; who had conquered for his
country one great empire on the frozen shores of Ontario, and
another under the tropical sun near the mouths of the Ganges. It
was not in the nature of things that popularity such as he at
this time enjoyed should be permanent. That popularity had lost
its gloss before his children were old enough to understand that
their father was a great man. He was at length placed in
situations in which neither his talents for administration nor
his talents for debate appeared to the best advantage. The
energy and decision which had eminently fitted him for the
direction of war were not needed in time of peace. The lofty and
spirit-stirring eloquence which had made him supreme in the House
of Commons often fell dead on the House of Lords. A cruel malady
racked his joints, and left his joints only to fall on his nerves
and on his brain. During the closing years of his life, he was
odious to the court, and yet was not on cordial terms with the
great body of the opposition. Chatham was only the ruin of Pitt,
but an awful and majestic ruin, not to be contemplated by any man
of sense and feeling without emotions resembling those which are
excited by the remains of the Parthenon and of the Coliseum. In
one respect the old statesman was eminently happy. Whatever
might be the vicissitudes of his public life, he never failed to
find peace and love by his own hearth. He loved all his
children, and was loved by them; and, of all his children, the
one of whom he was fondest and proudest was his second son.

The child's genius and ambition displayed themselves with a rare
and almost unnatural precocity. At seven, the interest which he
took in grave subjects, the ardour with which he pursued his
studies, and the sense and vivacity of his remarks on books and
on events, amazed his parents and instructors. One of his
sayings of this date was reported to his mother by his tutor. In
August 1766, when the world was agitated by the news that Mr Pitt
had become Earl of Chatham, little William exclaimed, "I am glad
that I am not the eldest son. I want to speak in the House of
Commons like papa." A letter is extant in which Lady Chatham, a
woman of considerable abilities, remarked to her lord, that their
younger son at twelve had left far behind him his elder brother,
who was fifteen. "The fineness," she wrote, "of William's mind
makes him enjoy with the greatest pleasure what would be above
the reach of any other creature of his small age." At fourteen
the lad was in intellect a man. Hayley, who met him at Lyme in
the summer of 1773, was astonished, delighted, and somewhat
overawed, by hearing wit and wisdom from so young a mouth. The
poet, indeed, was afterwards sorry that his shyness had prevented
him from submitting the plan of an extensive literary work, which
he was then meditating, to the judgment of this extraordinary
boy. The boy, indeed, had already written a tragedy, bad of
course, but not worse than the tragedies of his friend. This
piece is still preserved at Chevening, and is in some respects
highly curious. There is no love. The whole plot is political;
and it is remarkable that the interest, such as it is, turns on a
contest about a regency. On one side is a faithful servant of
the Crown, on the other an ambitious and unprincipled
conspirator. At length the King, who had been missing,
reappears, resumes his power, and rewards the faithful defender
of his rights. A reader who should judge only by internal
evidence would have no hesitation in pronouncing that the play
was written by some Pittite poetaster at the time of the
rejoicings for the recovery of George the Third in 1789.

The pleasure with which William's parents observed the rapid
development of his intellectual powers was alloyed by
apprehensions about his health. He shot up alarmingly fast; he
was often ill, and always weak; and it was feared that it would
be impossible to rear a stripling so tall, so slender, and so
feeble. Port wine was prescribed by his medical advisers: and
it is said that he was, at fourteen, accustomed to take this
agreeable physic in quantities which would, in our abstemious
age, be thought much more than sufficient for any full-grown man.
This regimen, though it would probably have killed ninety-nine
boys out of a hundred, seems to have been well suited to the
peculiarities of William's constitution; for at fifteen he ceased
to be molested by disease, and, though never a strong man,
continued, during many years of labour and anxiety, of nights
passed in debate and of summers passed in London, to be a
tolerably healthy one. It was probably on account of the
delicacy of his frame that he was not educated like other boys of
the same rank. Almost all the eminent English statesmen and
orators to whom he was afterwards opposed or allied, North, Fox,
Shelburne, Windham, Grey, Wellesley, Grenville, Sheridan,
Canning, went through the training of great public schools. Lord
Chatham had himself been a distinguished Etonian: and it is
seldom that a distinguished Etonian forgets his obligations to
Eton. But William's infirmities required a vigilance and
tenderness such as could be found only at home. He was therefore
bred under the paternal roof. His studies were superintended by
a clergyman named Wilson; and those studies, though often
interrupted by illness, were prosecuted with extraordinary
success. Before the lad had completed his fifteenth year, his
knowledge both of the ancient languages and of mathematics was
such as very few men of eighteen then carried up to college. He
was therefore sent, towards the close of the year 1773, to
Pembroke Hall, in the university of Cambridge. So young a
student required much more than the ordinary care which a college
tutor bestows on undergraduates. The governor, to whom the
direction of William's academical life was confided, was a
bachelor of arts named Pretyman, who had been senior wrangler in
the preceding year, and who, though not a man of prepossessing
appearance or brilliant parts, was eminently acute and laborious,
a sound scholar, and an excellent geometrician. At Cambridge,
Pretyman was, during more than two years, the inseparable
companion, and indeed almost the only companion of his pupil. A
close and lasting friendship sprang up between the pair. The
disciple was able, before he completed his twenty-eighth year, to
make his preceptor Bishop of Lincoln and Dean of St Paul's; and
the preceptor showed his gratitude by writing a life of the
disciple, which enjoys the distinction of being the worst
biographical work of its size in the world.

Pitt, till he graduated, had scarcely one acquaintance, attended
chapel regularly morning and evening, dined every day in hall,
and never went to a single evening party. At seventeen, he was
admitted, after the bad fashion of those times, by right of
birth, without any examination, to the degree of the Master of
Arts. But he continued during some years to reside at college,
and to apply himself vigorously, under Pretyman's direction, to
the studies of the place, while mixing freely in the best
academic society.

The stock of learning which Pitt laid in during this part of his
life was certainly very extraordinary. In fact, it was all that
he ever possessed; for he very early became too busy to have any
spare time for books. The work in which he took the greatest
delight was Newton's Principia. His liking for mathematics,
indeed, amounted to a passion, which, in the opinion of his
instructors, themselves distinguished mathematicians, required to
be checked rather than encouraged. The acuteness and readiness
with which he solved problems was pronounced by one of the ablest
of the moderators, who in those days presided over the
disputations in the schools, and conducted the examinations of
the Senate House, to be unrivalled in the university. Nor was
the youth's proficiency in classical learning less remarkable.
In one respect, indeed, he appeared to disadvantage when compared
with even second-rate and third-rate men from public schools. He
had never, while under Wilson's care, been in the habit of
composing in the ancient languages: and he therefore never
acquired that knack of versification which is sometimes possessed
by clever boys whose knowledge of the language and literature of
Greece and Rome is very superficial. It would have been utterly
out of his power to produce such charming elegiac lines as those
in which Wellesley bade farewell to Eton, or such Virgilian
hexameters as those in which Canning described the pilgrimage to
Mecca. But it may be doubted whether any scholar has ever, at
twenty, had a more solid and profound knowledge of the two great
tongues of the old civilised world. The facility with which he
penetrated the meaning of the most intricate sentences in the
Attic writers astonished veteran critics. He had set his heart
on being intimately acquainted with all the extant poetry of
Greece, and was not satisfied till he had mastered Lycophron's
Cassandra, the most obscure work in the whole range of ancient
literature. This strange rhapsody, the difficulties of which
have perplexed and repelled many excellent scholars, "he read,"
says his preceptor, "with an ease at first sight, which, if I had
not witnessed it, I should have thought beyond the compass of
human intellect."

To modern literature Pitt paid comparatively little attention.
He knew no living language except French; and French he knew very
imperfectly. With a few of the best English writers he was
intimate, particularly with Shakspeare and Milton. The debate in
Pandemonium was, as it well deserved to be, one of his favourite
passages; and his early friends used to talk, long after his
death, of the just emphasis and the melodious cadence with which
they had heard him recite the incomparable speech of Belial. He
had indeed been carefully trained from infancy in the art of
managing his voice, a voice naturally clear and deep-toned. His
father, whose oratory owed no small part of its effect to that
art, had been a most skilful and judicious instructor. At a
later period, the wits of Brookes's, irritated by observing,
night after night, how powerfully Pitt's sonorous elocution
fascinated the rows of country gentlemen, reproached him with
having been "taught by his dad on a stool."

His education, indeed, was well adapted to form a great
parliamentary speaker. One argument often urged against those
classical studies which occupy so large apart of the early life
of every gentleman bred in the south of our island is, that they
prevent him from acquiring a command of his mother tongue, and
that it is not unusual to meet with a youth of excellent parts,
who writes Ciceronian Latin prose and Horatian Latin Alcaics, but
who would find it impossible to express his thoughts in pure,
perspicuous, and forcible English. There may perhaps be some
truth in this observation. But the classical studies of Pitt
were carried on in a peculiar manner, and had the effect of
enriching his English vocabulary, and of making him wonderfully
expert in the art of constructing correct English sentences. His
practice was to look over a page or two of a Greek or Latin
author, to make himself master of the meaning, and then to read
the passage straightforward into his own language. This
practice, begun under his first teacher Wilson, was continued
under Pretyman. It is not strange that a young man of great
abilities, who had been exercised daily in this way during ten
years, should have acquired an almost unrivalled power of putting
his thoughts, without premeditation, into words well selected and
well arranged.

Of all the remains of antiquity, the orations were those on which
he bestowed the most minute examination. His favourite
employment was to compare harangues on opposite sides of the same
question, to analyse them, and to observe which of the arguments
of the first speaker were refuted by the second, which were
evaded, and which were left untouched. Nor was it only in books
that he at this time studied the art of parliamentary fencing.
When he was at home, he had frequent opportunities of hearing
important debates at Westminster; and he heard them, not only
with interest and enjoyment, but with a close scientific
attention resembling that with which a diligent pupil at Guy's
Hospital watches every turn of the hand of a great surgeon
through a difficult operation. On one of these occasions, Pitt,
a youth whose abilities were as yet known only to his own family
and to a small knot of college friends, was introduced on the
steps of the throne in the House of Lords to Fox, who was his
senior by eleven years, and who was already the greatest debater,
and one of the greatest orators, that had appeared in England.
Fox used afterwards to relate that, as the discussion proceeded,
Pitt repeatedly turned to him, and said, "But surely, Mr Fox,
that might be met thus;" or, "Yes; but he lays himself open to
this retort." What the particular criticisms were Fox had
forgotten; but he said that he was much struck at the time by the
precocity of the lad who, through the whole sitting, seemed to be
thinking only how all the speeches on both sides could be

One of the young man's visits to the House of Lords was a sad and
memorable era in his life. He had not quite completed his
nineteenth year, when, on the 7th of April 1778, he attended his
father to Westminster. A great debate was expected. It was
known that France had recognised the independence of the United
States. The Duke of Richmond was about to declare his opinion
that all thought of subjugating those states ought to be
relinquished. Chatham had always maintained that the resistance
of the colonies to the mother country was justifiable. But he
conceived, very erroneously, that on the day on which their
independence should be acknowledged the greatness of England
would be at an end. Though sinking under the weight of years and
infirmities, he determined, in spite of the entreaties of his
family, to be in his place. His son supported him to a seat.
The excitement and exertion were too much for the old man. In
the very act of addressing the peers, he fell back in
convulsions. A few weeks later his corpse was borne, with gloomy
pomp, from the Painted Chamber to the Abbey. The favourite child
and namesake of the deceased statesman followed the coffin as
chief mourner, and saw it deposited in the transept where his own
was destined to lie.

His elder brother, now Earl of Chatham, had means sufficient, and
barely sufficient, to support the dignity of the peerage. The
other members of the family were poorly provided for. William
had little more than three hundred a year. It was necessary for
him to follow a profession. He had already begun to eat his
terms. In the spring of 1780 he came of age. He then quitted
Cambridge, was called to the bar, took chambers in Lincoln's Inn,
and joined the western circuit. In the autumn of that year a
general election took place; and he offered himself as a
candidate for the university; but he was at the bottom of the
poll. It is said that the grave doctors, who then sate robed in
scarlet, on the benches of Golgotha, thought it great presumption
in so young a man to solicit so high a distinction. He was,
however, at the request of a hereditary friend, the Duke of
Rutland, brought into Parliament by Sir James Lowther for the
borough of Appleby.

The dangers of the country were at that time such as might well
have disturbed even a constant mind. Army after army had been
sent in vain against the rebellious colonists of North America.
On pitched fields of battle the advantage had been with the
disciplined troops of the mother country. But it was not on
pitched fields of battle that the event of such a contest could
be decided. An armed nation, with hunger and the Atlantic for
auxiliaries, was not to be subjugated. Meanwhile the House of
Bourbon, humbled to the dust a few years before by the genius and
vigour of Chatham, had seized the opportunity of revenge. France
and Spain were united against us, and had recently been joined by
Holland. The command of the Mediterranean had been for a time
lost. The British flag had been scarcely able to maintain itself
in the British Channel. The northern powers professed
neutrality; but their neutrality had a menacing aspect. In the
East, Hyder had descended on the Carnatic, had destroyed the
little army of Baillie, and had spread terror even to the
ramparts of Fort Saint George. The discontents of Ireland
threatened nothing less than civil war. In England the authority
of the government had sunk to the lowest point. The King and the
House of Commons were alike unpopular. The cry for parliamentary
reform was scarcely less loud and vehement than in the autumn of
1830. Formidable associations, headed, not by ordinary
demagogues, but by men of high rank, stainless character, and
distinguished ability, demanded a revision of the representative
system. The populace, emboldened by the impotence and
irresolution of the government, had recently broken loose from
all restraint, besieged the chambers of the legislature, hustled
peers, hunted bishops, attacked the residences of ambassadors,
opened prisons, burned and pulled down houses. London had
presented during some days the aspect of a city taken by storm;
and it had been necessary to form a camp among the trees of Saint
James's Park.

In spite of dangers and difficulties abroad and at home, George
the Third, with a firmness which had little affinity with virtue
or with wisdom, persisted in his determination to put down the
American rebels by force of arms; and his ministers submitted
their judgment to his. Some of them were probably actuated
merely by selfish cupidity; but their chief, Lord North, a man of
high honour, amiable temper, winning manners, lively wit, and
excellent talents both for business and for debate, must be
acquitted of all sordid motives. He remained at a post from
which he had long wished and had repeatedly tried to escape, only
because he had not sufficient fortitude to resist the entreaties
and reproaches of the King, who silenced all arguments by
passionately asking whether any gentleman, any man of spirit,
could have the heart to desert a kind master in the hour of

The opposition consisted of two parties which had once been
hostile to each other, and which had been very slowly, and, as it
soon appeared, very imperfectly reconciled, but which at this
conjuncture seemed to act together with cordiality. The larger
of these parties consisted of the great body of the Whig
aristocracy. Its head was Charles, Marquess of Rockingham, a man
of sense and virtue, and in wealth and parliamentary interest
equalled by very few of the English nobles, but afflicted with a
nervous timidity which prevented him from taking a prominent part
in debate. In the House of Commons, the adherents of Rockingham
were led by Fox, whose dissipated habits and ruined fortunes were
the talk of the whole town, but whose commanding genius, and
whose sweet, generous, and affectionate disposition, extorted the
admiration and love of those who most lamented the errors of his
private life. Burke, superior to Fox in largeness of
comprehension, in extent of knowledge, and in splendour of
imagination, but less skilled in that kind of logic and in that
kind of rhetoric which convince and persuade great assemblies,
was willing to be the lieutenant of a young chief who might have
been his son.

A smaller section of the opposition was composed of the old
followers of Chatham. At their head was William, Earl of
Shelburne, distinguished both as a statesman and as a lover of
science and letters. With him were leagued Lord Camden, who had
formerly held the Great Seal, and whose integrity, ability, and
constitutional knowledge commanded the public respect; Barre, an
eloquent and acrimonious declaimer; and Dunning, who had long
held the first place at the English bar. It was to this party
that Pitt was naturally attracted.

On the 26th of February 1781, he made his first speech, in favour
of Burke's plan of economical reform. Fox stood up at the same
moment, but instantly gave way. The lofty yet animated
deportment of the young member, his perfect self-possession, the
readiness with which he replied to the orators who had preceded
him, the silver tones of his voice, the perfect structure of his
unpremeditated sentences, astonished and delighted his hearers.
Burke, moved even to tears, exclaimed, "It is not a chip of the
old block; it is the old block itself." "Pitt will be one of the
first men in Parliament," said a member of the opposition to Fox.
"He is so already," answered Fox, in whose nature envy had no
place. It is a curious fact, well remembered by some who were
very recently living, that soon after this debate Pitt's name was
put up by Fox at Brookes's.

On two subsequent occasions during that session Pitt addressed
the House, and on both fully sustained the reputation which he
had acquired on his first appearance. In the summer, after the
prorogation, he again went the western circuit, held several
briefs, and acquitted himself in such a manner that he was highly
complimented by Buller from the bench, and by Dunning at the bar.

On the 27th of November the Parliament reassembled. Only forty-
eight hours before had arrived tidings of the surrender of
Cornwallis and his army; and it had consequently been necessary
to rewrite the royal speech. Every man in the kingdom, except
the King, was now convinced that it was mere madness to think of
conquering the United States. In the debate on the report of the
address, Pitt spoke with even more energy and brilliancy than on
any former occasion. He was warmly applauded by his allies; but
it was remarked that no person on his own side of the house was
so loud in eulogy as Henry Dundas, the Lord Advocate of Scotland,
who spoke from the ministerial ranks. That able and versatile
politician distinctly foresaw the approaching downfall of the
government with which he was connected, and was preparing to make
his own escape from the ruin. From that night dates his
connection with Pitt, a connection which soon became a close
intimacy, and which lasted till it was dissolved by death.

About a fortnight later, Pitt spoke in the committee of supply on
the army estimates. Symptoms of dissension had begun to appear
on the Treasury bench. Lord George Germaine, the Secretary of
State, who was especially charged with the direction of the war
in America, had held language not easily to be reconciled with
declarations made by the First Lord of the Treasury. Pitt
noticed the discrepancy with much force and keenness. Lord
George and Lord North began to whisper together; and Welbore
Ellis, an ancient placeman who had been drawing salary almost
every quarter since the days of Henry Pelham, bent down between
them to put in a word. Such interruptions sometimes discompose
veteran speakers. Pitt stopped, and, looking at the group, said,
with admirable readiness, "I shall wait till Nestor has composed
the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles."

After several defeats, or victories hardly to be distinguished
from defeats, the ministry resigned. The King, reluctantly and
ungraciously, consented to accept Rockingham as first minister.
Fox and Shelburne became Secretaries of State. Lord John
Cavendish, one of the most upright and honourable of men, was
made Chancellor of the Exchequer. Thurlow, whose abilities and
force of character had made him the dictator of the House of
Lords, continued to hold the great seal.

To Pitt was offered, through Shelburne, the Vice-Treasurership of
Ireland, one of the easiest and most highly paid places in the
gift of the crown; but the offer was, without hesitation,
declined. The young statesman had resolved to accept no post
which did not entitle him to a seat in the cabinet: and, in a
few days later, he announced that resolution in the House of
Commons. It must be remembered that the cabinet was then a much
smaller and more select body than at present. We have seen
cabinets of sixteen. In the time of our grandfathers a cabinet
of ten or eleven was thought inconveniently large. Seven was an
usual number. Even Burke, who had taken the lucrative office of
paymaster, was not in the cabinet. Many therefore thought Pitt's
declaration indecent. He himself was sorry that he had made it.
The words, he said in private, had escaped him in the heat of
speaking; and he had no sooner uttered them than he would have
given the world to recall them. They, however, did him no harm
with the public. The second William Pitt, it was said, had shown
that he had inherited the spirit, as well as the genius, of the
first. In the son, as in the father, there might perhaps be too
much pride; but there was nothing low or sordid. It might be
called arrogance in a young barrister, living in chambers on
three hundred a year, to refuse a salary of five thousand a year,
merely because he did not choose to bind himself to speak or vote
for plans which he had no share in framing; but surely such
arrogance was not very far removed from virtue.

Pitt gave a general support to the administration of Rockingham,
but omitted, in the meantime, no opportunity of courting that
Ultra-Whig party which the persecution of Wilkes and the
Middlesex election had called into existence, and which the
disastrous events of the war, and the triumph of republican
principles in America, had made formidable both in numbers and in
temper. He supported a motion for shortening the duration of
Parliaments. He made a motion for a committee to examine into
the state of the representation, and, in the speech, by which
that motion was introduced, avowed himself the enemy of the close
boroughs, the strongholds of that corruption to which he
attributed all the calamities of the nation, and which, as he
phrased it in one of those exact and sonorous sentences of which
he had a boundless command, had grown with the growth of England
and strengthened with her strength, but had not diminished with
her diminution or decayed with her decay. On this occasion he
was supported by Fox. The motion was lost by only twenty votes
in a house of more than three hundred members. The reformers
never again had so good a division till the year 1831.

The new administration was strong in abilities, and was more
popular than any administration which had held office since the
first year of George the Third, but was hated by the King,
hesitatingly supported by the Parliament, and torn by internal
dissensions. The Chancellor was disliked and distrusted by
almost all his colleagues. The two Secretaries of State regarded
each other with no friendly feeling. The line between their
departments had not been traced with precision; and there were
consequently jealousies, encroachments, and complaints. It was
all that Rockingham could do to keep the peace in his cabinet;
and, before the cabinet had existed three months, Rockingham

In an instant all was confusion. The adherents of the deceased
statesman looked on the Duke of Portland as their chief. The
King placed Shelburne at the head of the Treasury. Fox, Lord
John Cavendish, and Burke, immediately resigned their offices;
and the new prime minister was left to constitute a government
out of very defective materials. His own parliamentary talents
were great; but he could not be in the place where parliamentary
talents were most needed. It was necessary to find some member
of the House of Commons who could confront the great orators of
the opposition; and Pitt alone had the eloquence and the courage
which were required. He was offered the great place of
Chancellor of the Exchequer; and he accepted it. He had scarcely
completed his twenty-third year.

The Parliament was speedily prorogued. During the recess, a
negotiation for peace which had been commenced under Rockingham
was brought to a successful termination. England acknowledged
the independence of her revolted colonies; and she ceded to her
European enemies some places in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf
of Mexico. But the terms which she obtained were quite as
advantageous and honourable as the events of the war entitled her
to expect, or as she was likely to obtain by persevering in a
contest against immense odds. All her vital parts, all the real
sources of her power, remained uninjured. She preserved even her
dignity: for she ceded to the House of Bourbon only part of what
she had won from that House in previous wars. She retained her
Indian empire undiminished; and, in spite of the mightiest
efforts of two great monarchies, her flag still waved on the rock
of Gibraltar. There is not the slightest reason to believe that
Fox, if he had remained in office, would have hesitated one
moment about concluding a treaty on such conditions. Unhappily
that great and most amiable man was, at this crisis, hurried by
his passions into an error which made his genius and his virtues,
during a long course of years, almost useless to his country.

He saw that the great body of the House of Commons was divided
into three parties, his own, that of North, and that of
Shelburne; that none of those three parties was large enough to
stand alone; that, therefore, unless two of them united, there
must be a miserably feeble administration, or more probably, a
rapid succession of miserably feeble administrations, and this at
a time when a strong government was essential to the prosperity
and respectability of the nation. It was then necessary and
right that there should be a coalition. To every possible
coalition there were objections. But, of all possible
coalitions, that to which there were the fewest objections was
undoubtedly a coalition between Shelburne and Fox. It would have
been generally applauded by the followers of both. It might have
been made without any sacrifice of public principle on the part
of either. Unhappily, recent bickerings had left in the mind of
Fox a profound dislike and distrust of Shelburne. Pitt attempted
to mediate, and was authorised to invite Fox to return to the
service of the Crown. "Is Lord Shelburne," said Fox, "to remain
prime minister?" Pitt answered in the affirmative. "It is
impossible that I can act under him," said Fox. "Then
negotiation is at an end," said Pitt; "for I cannot betray him."
Thus the two statesmen parted. They were never again in a
private room together.

As Fox and his friends would not treat with Shelburne, nothing
remained to them but to treat with North. That fatal coalition
which is emphatically called "The Coalition" was formed. Not
three quarters of a year had elapsed since Fox and Burke had
threatened North with impeachment, and had described him, night
after night, as the most arbitrary, the most corrupt, the most
incapable of ministers. They now allied themselves with him for
the purpose of driving from office a statesman with whom they
cannot be said to have differed as to any important question.
Nor had they even the prudence and the patience to wait for some
occasion on which they might, without inconsistency, have
combined with their old enemies in opposition to the government.
That nothing might be wanting to the scandal, the great orators,
who had, during seven years, thundered against the war,
determined to join with the authors of that war in passing a vote
of censure on the peace.

The Parliament met before Christmas 1782. But it was not till
January 1783 that the preliminary treaties were signed. On the
17th of February they were taken into consideration by the House
of Commons. There had been, during some days, floating rumours
that Fox and North had coalesced; and the debate indicated but
too clearly that those rumours were not unfounded. Pit was
suffering from indisposition: he did not rise till his own
strength and that of his hearers were exhausted; and he was
consequently less successful than on any former occasion. His
admirers owned that his speech was feeble and petulant. He so
far forgot himself as to advise Sheridan to confine himself to
amusing theatrical audiences. This ignoble sarcasm gave Sheridan
an opportunity of retorting with great felicity. "After what I
have seen and heard to-night," he said, "I really feel strongly
tempted to venture on a competition with so great an artist as
Ben Jonson, and to bring on the stage a second Angry Boy." On a
division, the address proposed by the supporters of the
government was rejected by a majority of sixteen.

But Pitt was not a man to be disheartened by a single failure, or
to be put down by the most lively repartee. When a few days
later, the opposition proposed a resolution directly censuring
the treaties, he spoke with an eloquence, energy, and dignity
which raised his fame and popularity higher than ever. To the
coalition of Fox and North he alluded in language which drew
forth tumultuous applause from his followers. "If," he said,
"this ill-omened and unnatural marriage be not yet consummated, I
know of a just and lawful impediment; and, in the name of the
public weal, I forbid the banns."

The ministers were again left in a minority; and Shelburne
consequently tendered his resignation. It was accepted; but the
King struggled long and hard before he submitted to the terms
dictated by Fox, whose faults he detested, and whose high spirit
and powerful intellect he detested still more. The first place
at the board of Treasury was repeatedly offered to Pitt; but the
offer, though tempting, was steadfastly declined. The young man,
whose judgment was as precocious as his eloquence, saw that his
time was coming, but was not come, and was deaf to royal
importunities and reproaches. His Majesty, bitterly complaining
of Pitt's faintheartedness, tried to break the coalition. Every
art of seduction was practised on North, but in vain. During
several weeks the country remained without a government. It was
not till all devices had failed, and till the aspect of the House
of Commons became threatening, that the King gave way. The Duke
of Portland was declared First Lord of the Treasury. Thurlow was
dismissed. Fox and North became Secretaries of State, with power
ostensibly equal. But Fox was the real prime minister.

The year was far advanced before the new arrangements were
completed; and nothing very important was done during the
remainder of the session. Pitt, now seated on the opposition
bench, brought the question of parliamentary reform a second time
under the consideration of the Commons. He proposed to add to
the House at once a hundred county members and several members
for metropolitan districts, and to enact that every borough of
which an election committee should report that the majority of
voters appeared to be corrupt should lose the franchise. The
motion was rejected by 293 votes to 149.

After the prorogation, Pitt visited the Continent for the first
and last time. His travelling companion was one of his most
intimate friends, a young man of his own age, who had already
distinguished himself in Parliament by an engaging natural
eloquence, set off by the sweetest and most exquisitely modulated
of human voices, and whose affectionate heart, caressing manners,
and brilliant wit, made him the most delightful of companions,
William Wilberforce. That was the time of Anglomania in France;
and at Paris the son of the great Chatham was absolutely hunted
by men of letters and women of fashion, and forced, much against
his will, into political disputation. One remarkable saying
which dropped from him during this tour has been preserved. A
French gentleman expressed some surprise at the immense influence
which Fox, a man of pleasure, ruined by the dice-box and the
turf, exercised over the English nation. "You have not," said
Pitt, "been under the wand of the magician."

In November 1783 the Parliament met again. The government had
irresistible strength in the House of Commons, and seemed to be
scarcely less strong in the House of Lords, but was, in truth,
surrounded on every side by dangers. The King was impatiently
waiting for the moment at which he could emancipate himself from
a yoke which galled him so severely that he had more than once
seriously thought of retiring to Hanover; and the King was
scarcely more eager for a change than the nation. Fox and North
had committed a fatal error. They ought to have known that
coalitions between parties which have long been hostile can
succeed only when the wish for coalition pervades the lower ranks
of both. If the leaders unite before there is any disposition to
union among the followers, the probability is that there will be
a mutiny in both camps, and that the two revolted armies will
make a truce with each other, in order to be revenged on those by
whom they think that they have been betrayed. Thus it was in
1783. At the beginning of that eventful year, North had been the
recognised head of the old Tory party, which, though for a moment
prostrated by the disastrous issue of the American war, was still
a great power in the state. To him the clergy, the universities,
and that large body of country gentlemen whose rallying cry was
"Church and King," had long looked up with respect and
confidence. Fox had, on the other hand, been the idol of the
Whigs, and of the whole body of Protestant dissenters. The
coalition at once alienated the most zealous Tories from North,
and the most zealous Whigs from Fox. The University of Oxford,
which had marked its approbation of North's orthodoxy by electing
him chancellor, the city of London, which had been during two and
twenty years at war with the Court, were equally disgusted.
Squires and rectors, who had inherited the principles of the
cavaliers of the preceding century, could not forgive their old
leader for combining with disloyal subjects in order to put a
force on the sovereign. The members of the Bill of Rights
Society and of the Reform Associations were enraged by learning
that their favourite orator now called the great champion of
tyranny and corruption his noble friend. Two great multitudes
were at once left without any head, and both at once turned their
eyes on Pitt. One party saw in him the only man who could rescue
the King; the other saw in him the only man who could purify the
Parliament. He was supported on one side by Archbishop Markham,
the preacher of divine right, and by Jenkinson, the captain of
the Praetorian band of the King's friends; on the other side by
Jebb and Priestley, Sawbridge and Cartwright, Jack Wilkes and
Horne Tooke. On the benches of the House of Commons, however,
the ranks of the ministerial majority were unbroken; and that any
statesman would venture to brave such a majority was thought
impossible. No prince of the Hanoverian line had ever, under any
provocation, ventured to appeal from the representative body to
the constituent body. The ministers, therefore, notwithstanding
the sullen looks and muttered words of displeasure with which
their suggestions were received in the closet, notwithstanding
the roar of obloquy which was rising louder and louder every day
from every corner of the island, thought themselves secure.

Such was their confidence in their strength that, as soon as the
Parliament had met, they brought forward a singularly bold and
original plan for the government of the British territories in
India. What was proposed was that the whole authority, which
till that time had been exercised over those territories by the
East India Company, should be transferred to seven Commissioners
who were to be named by Parliament, and were not to be removable
at the pleasure of the Crown. Earl Fitzwilliam, the most
intimate personal friend of Fox, was to be chairman of this
board; and the eldest son of North was to be one of the members.

As soon as the outlines of the scheme were known, all the hatred
which the coalition had excited burst forth with an astounding
explosion. The question which ought undoubtedly to have been
considered as paramount to every other was, whether the proposed
change was likely to be beneficial or injurious to the thirty
millions of people who were subject to the Company. But that
question cannot be said to have been even seriously discussed.
Burke, who, whether right or wrong in the conclusions to which he
came, had at least the merit of looking at the subject in the
right point of view, vainly reminded his hearers of that mighty
population whose daily rice might depend on a vote of the British
Parliament. He spoke, with even more than his wonted power of
thought and language, about the desolation of Rohilcund, about
the spoliation of Benares, about the evil policy which had
suffered the tanks of the Carnatic to go to ruin; but he could
scarcely obtain a hearing. The contending parties, to their
shame it must be said, would listen to none but English topics.
Out of doors the cry against the ministry was almost universal.
Town and country were united. Corporations exclaimed against the
violation of the charter of the greatest corporation in the
realm. Tories and democrats joined in pronouncing the proposed
board an unconstitutional body. It was to consist of Fox's
nominees. The effect of his bill was to give, not to the Crown,
but to him personally, whether in office or in opposition, an
enormous power, a patronage sufficient to counterbalance the
patronage of the Treasury and of the Admiralty, and to decide the
elections for fifty boroughs. He knew, it was said, that he was
hateful alike to King and people; and he had devised a plan which
would make him independent of both. Some nicknamed him Cromwell,
and some Carlo Khan. Wilberforce, with his usual felicity of
expression, and with very unusual bitterness of feeling,
described the scheme as the genuine offspring of the coalition,
as marked by the features of both its parents, the corruption of
one and the violence of the other. In spite of all opposition,


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