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Samuel JOHNSON was born at Lichfield, September 7, 1709, O. S.* His father, Michael Johnson, was a bookseller in that city; a man of large athletick make, and violent passions ; wrong-headed, positive, and at times afflicted with a degree of melancholy, little short of madness. His mother was sister to Dr. Ford, a practising physician, and father of Cornelius Ford, generally known by the name of Parson Ford, the same who is represented near the punchbowl in Hogarth's Midnight Modern Conversation. In the Life of Fenton, Johnson says,
that “ his abilities, instead of furnishing convivial merriment to the voluptuous and dissolute, might have enabled him to excel among the virtuous and the wise.” Being chaplain to the Earl of Chesterfield, he wished to attend that nobleman on his embassy to the Hague. Colley Cibber has recorded the anecdote.
“ You should go," said the witty peer, “ if to your many vices you would add one more.' Pray, my lord,
* This appears in a note to Johnson's Diary, prefixed to the first of his prayers. After the alteration of the style, he kept his birth-day on the 18th of September, and it is accordingly marked September 1s.
what is that?” Hypocrisy, my dear .doctor.” Johnson had a younger brother, named Nathaniel, who died at the age of twentyseven or twenty-eight. Michael Johnson, the father, was chosen in the year 1718 under bailiff of Lichfield; and in the year 1725 he served the office of the senior bailiff. He had a brother of the name of Andrew, who, for some years, kept the ring at Smithfield, appropriated to wrestlers and boxers. Our author used to say that he was never thrown or conquered. Michael, the father, died December, 1731, at the age of seventy-six ; his mother at eighty-nine, of a gradual de
1759. Of the family nothing more can be related worthy of notice. Johnson did not delight in talking of his relations. “ There is little pleasure,” he said to Mrs. Piozzi, “ in relating the anecdotes of beg
cay, in the
Johnson derived from his parents, or from an unwholesome nurse, the distemper called the king's evil. The Jacobites at that time believed in the efficacy of the royal touch; and accordingly Mrs. Johnson presented her son, when two years old, before Queen Anne, who, for the first time, performed that office, and communicated to her young patient all the healing virtue in her power. He was afterwards cut for that scrophulous humour, and the under part of his face was seamed and disfigured by the operation. It is supposed that this disease deprived him of the sight of his left eye, and also impaired his hearing. At eight years old, he was placed under Mr. Hawkins, at the free-school at Lichfield, where he was not remarkable for diligence or regular application. Whatever he read, his tenacious memory made his own. In the fields with his schoolfellows he talked more to himself than with his companions. In 1725, when he was about sixteen years old, he went on a visit to his cousin, Cornelius Ford, who detained him for some months, and in the mean time assisted him in the classics. The general direction for his studies, which he then received, he related to Mrs. Piozzi. “ Obtain,” says Ford, “ some general principles of every science: he who can talk only on one subject, or act only.in one department, is seldom wanted, and, perhaps, never wished for; while the man of general knowledge can often benefit, and always please.” This advice Johnson seems to have pursued with a good inclination. His reading was always desultory, seldom resting on any particular author, but rambling from one book to another, and, by hasty snatches, hoarding up a variety of knowledge. It may be proper in this place to mention another general rule laid down by Ford for Johnson's future conduct: “ You will make your way the more easily in the world, as you are contented to dispute no man's claim to conversation-excellence: they will, therefore, more willingly allow
your pretensions as a writer.” “But,” says Mrs. Piozzi, “ the features of peculiarity, which mark a character to all succeeding generations, are slow in coming to their growth.” That ingenious lady adds, with her usual vivacity, “ Can one, on such an occasion, forbear recollecting the predictions of Boileau's father, who said, stroking the head of the young satirist,
satirist, “this little man has too much wit, but he will never speak ill of any
On Johnson's return from Cornelius Ford, Mr. Hunter, then master of the free-school
at Lichfield, refused to receive him again on that foundation. At this distance of time, what his reasons were, it is vain to inquire ; but to refuse assistance to a lad of promising genius must be pronounced harsh and illiberal. It did not, however, stop the progress of the young student's education. He was placed at another school, at Stourbridge, in Worcestershire, under the care of Mr. Wentworth. Having gone through the rudiments of classic literature, he returned to his father's house, and was probably intended for the trade of a bookseller. He has been heard to say that he could bind a book. At the end of two years, being then about nineteen, he went to assist the studies of a young gentleman, of the name of Corbet, to the university of Oxford ; and on the 31st of October, 1728, both were entered of Pembroke College ; Corbet as a gentleman-commoner, and Johnson as a commoner. The college tutor, Mr. Jordan, was a man of no genius; and Johnson, it seems, showed an early contempt of mean abilities, in one or two instances behaving with insolence to that gentleman. Of his general conduct at the university there are no particulars that merit