« AnteriorContinuar »
st things which have been published under the " titles of Essays, Remarks, Observations, &c. “ on Shakespeare (if you except some critical “ notes on Macbeth, given as a specimen of a pro"jected edition, and written, as appears, by à màn
of parts and genius), the rest are absolutely below a serious notice.” Johnson always expressed himself as grateful for this compliment paid him by Warburton.' “ He praised me," said he, " at a time when praise was of value to me."
It is one of the greatest moral advantages possessed by modern times, that, independent altogether of the patronage of statesmen, or the good or bad management of public institutions, a body of commercial meri are at all times interested in the prosperity and diffusion of literature. The booksellers of London had become sensible of Johnson's merit, and proposed to him to prepare a Dictionary of the English language. Mr Dodsley, together with Mr Charles Hitch, Mr Andrew Millar, the two Mess. Longman, and the two Mess. Knapton, entered into an agreement with him for its execution. The stipulated price was 1575 l. to account of which partial payments were to be made. In 1747, Johnson published “ The Plan of a Dic
tionary of the English Language, addressed to " the Right Honourable Philip Dormer, Earl of * Chesterfield, one of his Majesty's Secretaries of “ State.” The way in which it came to be inscribed to Chesterfield was this : 66 I had ne"glected," said he, “ to write it by the time ap"pointed. Dodsley suggested a desire to have it " addressed to Lord Chesterfield; I laid hold of " this as a pretext for delay, that it might be bet“ ter done, and let Dodsley have his desire.” His Lordship was accordingly informed of what was intended, and as he was ambitious of literary distinction, was much pleased with the compliment paid to him, and expressed himself very favourably with regard to the project. Johnson was greatly flattered by the hepe of obtaining the patronage of a man so highly distinguished both in the political and the fashionable world as Lord Chesterfield, and entertained sanguine hopes that better days were about to open upon him. But Chesterfield, however accomplished, was of a character too hollow and selfish to endure the independent spirit which Johnson always exhibited in his conversation, and he was also, in all probability, disgusted by Johnson's personal appearance.
After a few visits, Johnson found himself coldly received. He was left waiting a full hour in an anti-chamber, till a gentleman should retire and leave his Lordship at leisure. He at length saw the gentleman withdraw, and observing that it was the celebrated Colley Cibber, he left Lord Chesterfield's house in indignation, and never returned ; nor did Lord Chesterfield take the trouble to make any inquiry concerning him. Johnson was grievously mortified by this termination of his hope of patronage, and could never forgive his Lordship.
By his engagement to write the Dictionary, Johnson considered himself as having attained to a regular income for some time. He therefore hired a house in Gough-Square, Fleet-Street. He fitted up an upper room after the manner of a counting-house, and employed six amanuenses there in transcribing ; five of whom were natives of North Briton : Mr M.Bean, author of “ A “ System of Ancient Geography,” &c. Mr Shiels, the principal collector and digester of the materials for the « Lives of the Poets, 1758," to which the name of Mr Theo. Cibber is
prefixed; Mr Stewart, son of Mr George Stewart, bookseller in Edinburgh; and a Mr Maitland. The sixth was Mr Peyton, a French master, who published some elementary tracts. The words, partly taken from other dictionaries, and partly supplied by himself, having been' first written down, with spaces left between them, Johnson delivered in writing their etymologies, definitions, and various significations. The authorities were copied from the books themselves, in which he had marked the passages with a black lead pencil, the traces of which could easily be effaced.
Johnson did not withdraw himself from other literary efforts in consequence of his having undertaken to prepare a dictionary. In January 1749, he published, when in the fortieth year of his age, “ The Vanity of Human Wishes, being the Tenth “ Satire of Juvenal imitated.” His friend and former pupil, the celebrated David Garrick, being now manager
of Drury-Lane Theatre, agreed to bring upon the stage his tragedy of Irene. Dr Adams, who had for some time been Johnson's college tutor, was present the first night of the representation, and gave Mr Boswell the following account of the reception of the play. “ Before “ the curtain drew up, there were cat-calls whis“ tling, which alarmed Johnson's friends. The “prologue, which was written by himself in a “ manly strain, soothed the audience ; and the VOL. I.
play went off tolerably well, till it came to the “ conclusion, when Mrs Pritchard, the heroine of “ the piece, was to be strangled on the stage, and 6 was to speak two lines with the bow-string round " her neck, The audience cried out, · Murder ! « Murder!' She several times attempted to
speak, but in vain. At last she was obliged to
go off the stage alive" This passage was afterwards struck out, and she was carried off to be put to death behind the scenes, as the play now has it. The play did not succeed; but Garrick's zeal carried it through during nine nights, so that the author received the profits of three nights, and Mr Dodsley gave him 1001. for the copy-right.
By this time the celebrity of Johnson, in consequence of his poems and his Life of Savage, was very considerable, and his acquaintance was courted. In 1749 he established, or at least became member, of a club which met in Ivy-Lane every Tuesday evening for conversation. The members of this society were Samuel Johnson, Dr Salter, (father of the late master of the Charter-house) Dr Hawkesworth, Mr Ryland, a merchant, Mr Payne, a bookseller in Paternoster-row, Mr Samuel Dyer, a learned young man, Dr William M‘Ghee, a Scottish physician, Dr Edward Barker, a young physician, Dr Bathurst, another young physician, and Sir John Hawkins. Speedily after the institution of this club, and while preparing his dictionary, Johnson began his great moral work entitled “ The Rambler." The first paper was published on the 20ch of March, 1750, and was continued every Tuesday and Friday till the 17th of March, 1752. The whole papers aré his own, excepting five, viz. No. 10, No. 30. No. 97, No. 44, and No. 100. These were supplied by Mrs Chapone, Mrs Talbot Richardson, and Miss Car. ter.
The work was not popular. Never more than 500 copies of any number were sold ; yet the bookseller had the merit of persisting, although his trade must have been unprofitable, as he paid two guineas to the author for each number. But Johnson ultimately had the satisfaction to see ten large editions of it published in London before his death. While the numbers were published in single papers in London, an edition of the same papers was progressively carried on at Edinburgh by Mr James Elphinston.
The publication of The Rambler must be consi. dered as an æra of considerable importance, not merely in the life of Dr Johnson, but in British lie terature. On entering upon the undertaking, the author wrote and offered up the following prayer : “ Almighty God, the giver of all good things, “ without whose help all labour is ineffectual, and " without whose grace all wisdom is folly; grant, “ I beseech thee, that in this undertaking, thy “ Holy Spirit may not be withheld from me, but " that I may promote thy glory, and the salvation “ of myself and others : Grant this, O Lord, for
the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen." The work was conducted in a manner suitable to the temper of mind with which it was begun, and fixed the author's character with the world as a pious and a virtuous man, while at the same time it afforded an opportunity of displaying the energy of his powers. The style in which it was written was the most highly finished, and most beautifully