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THE LIFE AND GENIUS
SAMUEL JOHNSON. LL. D.
When the works of a great writer, who has be- | require nothing but the truth. Nam nec historia
, and, above all, whether plain truth shall be the answer. The propriehe pursued the wisdom which he recommends, tors of Johnson's Works thought the life, which and practised the virtue which his writings in- they prefixed to their former edition, too unweildy spire. A principle of gratitude is awakened in for republication. The prodigious variety of föevery generous mind. For the entertainment reign matter, introduced into that performance, and instruction which genius and diligence have seemed to overload the memory of Dr. Johnson, provided for the world, men of refined and sensi- and in the account of his own life to leave him ble tempers are ready to pay their tribute of hardly visible. They wished to have a more praise, and even to form a posthumous friend-concise, and, for that reason, perhaps a more saship with the author.
tisfactory account, such as may exhibit a just In reviewing the life of such a writer, there is, picture of the man, and keep him the principai besides, a rule of justice to which the public have figure in the foreground of his own picture. an undoubted claim. Fond admiration and par- To comply with that request is the design tial friendship should not be suffered to represent this essay, which the writer undertakes with a his virtues with exaggeration ; nor should ma- trembling hand. He has no discoveries, no se lignity be allowed, under a specious disguise, to cret anecdotes, no occasional controversy, no magnify mere defects, the usual failings of hu- sudden flashes of wit and humour, no private man nature, into vice or gross deformity. The conversation, and no new facts to embellish his lights and shades of the character should be work. Every thing has been gleaned. Dr. given; and, if this be done with a strict regard to Johnson said of himself, “I am not uncandid truth, a just estimate of Dr. Johnson will afford nor severe: I sometimes say more than I mean, a lesson, perhaps as valuable as the moral doc- in jest, and people are apt to think me serious."* trine that speaks with energy in every page of the exercise of that privilege which is enjoyed his works.
by every man in society, has not been allowed The present writer enjoyed the conversation to him. His fame has given importance even to and friendship of that excellent man more than trifles; and the zeal of his friends has brought thirty years. He thought it an honour to be so every thing to light. What should be related, connected, and to this hour he reflects on his loss and what should not, has been published withwith regret: but regret, he knows has secret out distinction. Dicenda tacenda locuti ! Every bribes, by, which the judgment may be influ- thing that fell from him has been caught with enced, and partial affection may be carried be eagerness by his admirers, who, as he says in yond the bounds of truth. In the present case, one of his letters, have acted with the diligence however, nothing needs to be disguised, and ex- of spies upon his conduct. To some of them aggerated praise is unnecessary. It is an ob- the following lines, in Mallet's Poem, on verbal servation of the younger Pliny, in his Epistle to criticism, are not inapplicable: his friend Tacitus, that history ought never to magnify matters of fact, because worthy actions.
* Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. ij. p. 465. 4to. edit (a)
38 X70 5
"Such that grave bird in Northern seas is found, where he was not remarkable for diligence or
Whose name a Dutchman only kvows to sound;
regular application. Whatever he read, his leo This humble friend attends from shore to shore;
nacious memory made his own. In the fields With eye still earnest, and with bill inclined, with his school-fellows, he talked more to himHo picks up what his patron left behind,
self than with his companions. In 1725, when With those choice cates his palate to regale, And is the careful 7'ibbald of a Whale.“
he was about sixteen years old, he went on a
visit to his cousin Cornelius Ford, who detained After so many essays and volumes of Johnsoni- him for some months, and in the mean time asana, what remains for the present writer? Per- sisted him in the classics. The general direchaps, what has not been attempted; a short, yet tion for his studies, which he then received, he full—a faithful, yet temperate, history of Dr. related to Mrs. Piozzi. “Obtain,” says Ford, Johnson.
"some general principles of every science: he
who can talk only on one subject, or act only in Samuel Johnson was born at Litchfield, Sep- one department, is seldom wanted, and perhaps tember 7, 1709, 0. S.* His father Michael never wished for; while the man of general Johnson was a bookseller in that city; a man knowledge can often benefit, and always please.” of large athletic make, and violent passions, This advice Johnson seems to have pursued with wrong-headed, positive, and at times afflicted a good inclination. His reading was always dewith a degree of melancholy, little short of mad- sultory, seldom resting on any particular author,
His mother was sister to Dr. Ford, a but rambling from one book to another, and, by practising physician, and father of Cornelius hasty snatches, hoarding up a variety of knows Ford, generally known by the name of Parson ledge. It may be proper in this place to menFord, the same who is represented near the tion another general rule laid down by Ford for punch-bowl in Hogarth's Midnight Modern Johnson's future conduct: “You will make your Conversation. In the life of Fenton, Johnson way the more easily in the world, as you are consays, that “his abilities, instead of furnishing tented to dispute no man's claim to conversation convivial merriment to the voluptuous and disso- excellence: they will, therefore, more willingly lute, might have enabled him to excel among the allow your pretensions as a writer.” “But," virtuous and the wise.” Being chaplain to the says Mrs. Piozzi, “the features of peculiarity, Earl of Chesterfield, he wished to attend that which mark a character to all succeeding genenobleman on his embassy to the Hague. Colorations, are slow in coming to their growth.” ley Cibber has recorded the anecdote. “You That ingenious lady adds, with her usual vivashould go," said the witty peer, “if to your many city, “Can one, on such an occasion, forbear revices you would add one more," "Pray, my collecting the predictions of Boileau's father, Lord, what is that?” “Hypocrisy, my dear Doc- who said, stroking the head of the young satirist, tor." Johnson had a younger brother named this little man has too much wit, but he will nee Nathaniel, who died at the age of twenty-seven ver speak ill of any one?"" or twenty-eight. Michael Johnson, the father, On Johnson's return from Cornelius Ford, was chosen in the year 1718, under bailiff of Mr. Hunter, then master of the Free-school at Litchfield; and in the year 1725 he served the Litchfield, refused to receive him again on that office of the senior bailift. He had a brother of foundation. At this distance of time, what his the name of Andrew, who, for some years, kept reasons were, it is vain to inquire ; but to refuse the ring at Smithfield, appropriated to wrestlers assistance to a lad of promising genius must be and boxers. Our author used to say, that he was pronounced harsh and illiberal. It did not, hownever thrown or conquered. Michael, the fa- ever stop the progress of the young student's ther, died December 1731, at the age of seventy- education. He was placed at another school, six; his mother at eighty-nine, of a gradual de- at Stourbridge in Worcestershire, under the cay, in the year 1759. Of the family nothing care of Mr. Wentworth. Having gone through more can be related worthy of notice. 'Johnson the rudiments of classic literature, he returned did not delight in talking of his relations. to his father's house, and was probably intended "There is little pleasure,” he said to Mrs. Piozzi, for the trade of a bookseller. He has been heard “in relating the anecdotes of beggary."
to say that he could bind a book. At the end Johnson derived from his parents, or from an of two years, being then about nineteen, he went unwholesome nurse, the distemper called the to assist the studies of a young gentleman of the king's evil. The jacobites at that time believed name of Corbett, to the University of Oxford; in the efficacy of the royal touch; and accord- and on the 31st of October, 1728, both were eningly Mrs. Johnson presented her son, when two tered of Pembroke College; Corbett, as a gentleyears old, before Queen Anne, who, for the first man-commoner, and Johnson as a commoner. time, performed that office, and communicated The college tutor, Mr. Jordan, was a man of no to her young patient all the healing virtue in her genius; and Johnson, it seems, showed an early power. He was afterwards cut for that scrophu- contempt of mean abilities, in one or two inlous humour, and the under part of his face was stances behaving with insolence to that gentlesearned and disfigured by the operation. It is man.
Of his general conduct at the university supposed that this disease deprived him of the there are no particulars that merit attention, exsight of his left eye, and also impaired his hear-cept the translation of Pope's Messiah, which ing. At eight years old he was placed under was a college exercise imposed upon him as a Mr. Hawkins, at the Free-school in Litchfield, task, by Mr. Jordan. Corbett left the university
in about two years, and Johnson's salary ceased. * This appears in a note to Johnson's Diary, prefixed to
He was by consequence straitened in his circumthe first of his prayers. After the alteration of the style, stances: but he still remained at college. Mr he kept his birth-day on the 18th of September, and it is Jordan the tutor, went off to a living; and was nocordingly marked September, 7-18.
succeeded by Dr. Adams, who afterwards be came head of the college, and was esteemed tion. He appears, by his modest and unaffected through life for his learning, his talents, and his narration, to have described things as he saw amiable character. Johnson grew more regular them; to have copied nature from the life; and in his attendance. Ethics, theology, and classic to have consulted his senses, not his imagination. literature, were his favourite studies. He disco- He meets with no basilisks, that destroy with vered, notwithstanding, early symptoms of that their eyes; his crocodiles devour their prey, withwandering disposition of mind, which adhered out tears; and his cataracts fall from the rock, to him to the end of his life. His reading was without deafening the neighbouring inhabitants. by fits and starts, undirected to any particular The reader will here find no regions cursed with science. General philology, agreeably to his irremediable barrenness, or blessed with sponcousin Ford's advice, was the object of his am- taneous fecundity; no perpetual gloom, or unbition. He received, at that time, an early im- ceasing sunshine: nor are the nations, here depression of piety, and a taste for the best authors, scribed, either void of all sense of humanity, or ancient and modern. It may, notwithstanding, consummate in all private and social virtues : be questioned whether, except his Bible, he ever here are no Hottentots without religion, polity, read a book entirely through. Late in life, if any or articulate language; no Chinese perfectly poman praised a book in his presence, he was sure lite, and completely skilled in all sciences : he to ask, “Did you read it through ?" If the answer will discover, what will always be discovered by was in the affirmative, he did not seem willing to a diligent and impartial inquirer, that, wherever believe it. He continued at the university till the human nature is to be found, there is a mixture want of pecuniary supplies obliged him to quit of vice and virtue, a contest of passion and reathe place. He obtained, however, the assistance son; and that the Creator doth not appear partial of a friend, and returning in a short time, was in his distributions, but has balanced, in most able to complete a residence of three years. The countries, their particular inconveniences by parhistory of his exploits, at Oxford, he used to say, ticular favours."—We have here an early spewas best known to Dr. Taylor and Dr. Adams. cimen of Johnson's manner; the vein of thinkWonders are told of his memory, and, indeed, ing and the frame of the sentences are maniall who knew him late in life, can witness that festly his: we see the infant Hercules. The he retained that faculty in the greatest vigour.
translation of Lobo's Narrative has been reFrom the university Johnson returned to printed lately in a separate volume, with some Litchfield. His father died soon after, Decem- other tracts of Dr. Johnson's, and therefore ber 1731; and the whole receipt out of his ef- forms no part of this edition ; but a compendious fects, as appeared by a memorandum in the son's account of so interesting a work as Father Lohand-writing, dated 15th June, 1732, was no bo's discovery of the head of the Nile will not, it more than twenty pounds. * In this exigence, is imagined, be unacceptable to the reader. determined that poverty should neither depress Father Lobo, the Portuguese Missionary, emhis spirit nor warp his integrity, he became un- barked, in 1622, in the same fleet with the der-master of a grammar-school at Market-Bos- Count Vidigueira, who was appointed, by the worth in Leicestershire. That resource, how- king of Portugal, 'Viceroy of the Indies. They ever, did not last long. Disgusted by the pride arrived at Goa ; and, in January 1624, Father of Sir Wolstan Dixie, the patron of that little Lobo set out on the mission to Abyssinia. Two seminary, he left the place in discontent, and of the Jesuits, sent on the same commission, were ever after spoke of it with abhorrence. In 1733 murdered in their attempt to penetrate into that he went on a visit to Mr. Hector, who had been empire. Lobo had better success; he surais school-fellow, and was then a surgeon at mounted all difficulties, and made his way into Birmingham, lodging at the house of Warren, a the heart of the country. Then follows a debookseller. At that place Johnson translated a scription of Abyssinia, formerly the largest emvoyage to Abyssinia, written by Jerome Lobo, pire of which we have an account in history. It a Portuguese missionary. This was the first extended from the Red Sea to the kingdom of literary work from the pen of Dr. Johnson. His Congo, and from Egypt to the Indian Sea, confriend Hector was occasionally his amanuensis. taining no less than forty provinces. At the The work was, probably, undertaken at the de-time of Lobo's mission, it was not much larger sire of Warren, the bookseller, and was printed than Spain, consisting then but of five kingdoms, at Birmingham; but it appears in the Literary of which part was entirely subject to the EmMagazine, or History of the Works of the peror, and part paid him a tribute, as an acLearned, for March 1735, that it was published knowledgment. The provinces were inhabited by Bettesworth and Hitch, Paternoster-row. It by Moors, Pagans, Jews, and Christians. The contains a narrative of the endeavours of a com- last was, in Lobo's time, the established and pany of missionaries to convert the people of reigning religion. The diversity of people and Abyssinia to the Church of Rome. In the pre- religion is the reason why the kingdom was unface to this work Johnson observes, “that the der different forms of government, with laws Portuguese traveller, contrary to the general and customs extremely various. Some of the view of his countrymen, has amused his readers people neither sowed their lands, nor improved with no romantic absurdities, or incredible fic- them by any kind of culture, living upon milk
and flesh, and, like the Arabs, encamping with•The entry of this is remarkable, for his early resolu
out any settled habitation. In some places tion to preserve through life a fair and upright character: they practised no rites of worship, though they “1732, Junii 15. Undecim aureos deposui, quo die, believed that, in the regions above, there dwells quidquid ante matris funus (quod serum sit precor) de a Being that governs the world. This Deity paternis bonis
sperare licet, viginti scilicet libras, accepi. they call in their language On. The ChristiUsque adeo mihi mea fortuna fingenda est interea, et ne paupertate
vires animi languescaut, ne in dagitia egestas anity professed by the people in some parts, is adig at, cavendum."
corrupted with superstitious errors, and here
Bing, and so mingled with ceremonies borrowed: “As to the course of the Nile, its waters, afe from the Jews, that little, besides the name of ter the first rise, run towards the East, about the Christianity, is to be found among them. The length of a musket-shot: then, turning northAbyssins cannot properly be said to have either ward, continue hidden in the grass and weeds cities or houses; they live in tents or cottages for about a quarter of a league, when they remade of straw or clay, very rarely building with appear amongst a quantity of rocks. The Nile stone. Their villages or towns consist of these from its source proceeds with so inconsiderable huts; yet even of such villages they have but a current, that it is in danger of being dried up few; because the grandees, the viceroys, and the by the hot season; but soon receiving an increase emperor himself, are always in camp, that they from the Gemma, the Keltu, the Bransa, and the may be prepared, upon the most sudden alarm, other smaller rivers, it expands to such a breadth to meet every emergence, in a country which is in the plains of Boad, which is not above three engaged every year either in foreign wars or in- days' journey from its source, that a muskettestine commotions. Ethiopia produces very ball will scarcely fly from one bank to the other. near the same kinds of provision as Portugal, Here it begins to run northward, winding, howthough, by the extreme laziness of the inhabit- ever, a little to the East for the space of pine or ants, in a much less quantity. What the an- ten leagues, and then enters the so-much-talkedcients imagined of the torrid zone being a part of Lake of Dambia, flowing with such violent of the world uninhabitable, is so far from being rapidity, that its waters may be distinguished true, that the climate is very temperate. The through the whole passage, which is no less than blacks have better features than in other coui-six leagues. Here begins the greatness of the tries, and are not without wit and ingenuity. Nile. Fifteen miles further, in the land of Alata, Their apprehension is quick, and their judgment it rushes precipitately from the top of a high rock, sound. There are in the climate two harvests and forms one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the year : one in winter, which lasts through in the world. Lobo says, he passed under it the months of July, August and September; without being wet, and resting himself
, for the the other in the Spring. They have, in the sake of the coolness, was charmed with a thougreatest plenty, raisins, peaches, pomegranates, sand delightful rainbows, which the sunbeams sugar-canes, and some figs. Most of these are painted on the water, in all their shining and ripe about Lent, which the Abyssins keep with lively colours. The fall of this mighty stream, great strictness. The animals of the country from so great a height, makes a noise that may are the lion, the elephant, the rhinoceros, the uni- be heard at a considerable distance; but it was corn, horses, mules, oxen, and cows without not found, that the neighbouring inhabitants number. They have a very particular custom, were deaf. After the cataract, the Nile collects which obliges every man, that has a thousand its scattered stream among the rocks, which are cows, to save every year one day's milk of all so near each other, that in Lobo's time, a bridge his herd, and make a bath with it for his rela- of beams, on which the whole imperial army tions. This they do so many days in each year, passed, was laid over them. Sultan Sequed has as they have thousands of cattle; so that, to ex- since built a stone bridge of one arch, in the press how rich a man is, they tell you he bathes same place, for which purpose he procured ma 80 many times.
sons from India. Here the river alters its course, “Of the river Nile, which has furnished so and passes through various kingdoms, such as much controversy, we have a full and clear de- Amhara, Olaca, Choaa, Damot, and the kingscription. It is called by the natives, Abavi, dom of Goiama, and, after various windings, the Father of Water. It rises in Sacalá, a pro- returns within a short day's journey of its spring. vince of the kingdom of Goiama, the most fer. To pursue it through all its mazes, and accomtile and agreeable part of the Abyssinian do- pany it round the kingdom of Goiama, is a jourminions. On the Eastern side of the country, ney of twenty-nine days. From Abyssinia, the on the declivity of a mountain, whose descent is river passes into the countries of Fazulo and so easy, that it seems a beautiful plain, is that Ombarca, two vast regions little known, inhasource of the Nile, which has been sought after bited by nations entirely different from the Abysat so much expense and labour. This spring, sins. Their hair, like that of the other blacks in or rather these two springs, are two holes, each those regions, is short and curled. In the year about two feet diameter, a stone's cast distant 1615, Rassela Christos, Lieutenant-General to from each other. One of them is about five Sultan Sequed, entered those kingdoms in a hosfeet and a half in depth. Lobo was not able to tile manner; but, not being able to get intellisink his plummet lower, perhaps, because it was gence, returned without attempting any thing. stopped by roots, the whole place being full of As the empire of Abyssinia terminates at these trees. A line of ten feet did 'not reach the bot. descents, Lobo followed the course of the Nile tom of the other. These springs are supposed no farther, leaving it to range over barbarous by the Abyssins to be the vents of a great sub- kingdoms, and convey wealth and plenty into terraneous lake. At a small distance to the Ægypt, which owes to the annual inundations South, is a village called Guix, through which you ascend to the top of the mountain, where
* This, Mr. Bruce, the late traveller, avers to be a downthere is a little hill, which the idolatrous Agaci right falsehood. He says, a deep pool of water reaches to hold in great veneration. Their priest calls the very foot of the rock ; and allowing that there was a them together to this place once a year: and seat or bench (which there is not) in the middle of the
pool, it is absolutely iinpossible, by any exertion of human every one sacrifices a cow, or more, according strength, to have arrived at it. But it may be asked, can to the different degrees of wealth and devotion Mr. Bruce say, what was the face of the country in the Hence we have sufficient proof, that these na
year 1622, when Lobo saw the magnificent sight which he tions always paid adoration to the Deity of this formed since; and Lobo, perhaps, was content to sit down of this river its envied fertility.* Lobo knows want of encouragement. Johnson, it seems, nothing of the Nile in the rest of its passage, differed from Boileau, Voltaire, and D'Alembert, except that it receives great increase from many who had taken upon them to proscribe all moother rivers, has several cataracts like that al. dern efforts to write with elegance in a dead ready described, and that few fish are to be language. For a decision pronounced in so found in it; that scarcity is to be attributed to high a tone, no good reason can be assigned. the river horse and the crocodile, which destroy The interests of learning require that the dicthe weaker inhabitants of the river. Something, tion of Greece and Rome should be cultivated likewise, must be imputed to the cataracts, where with care; and he who can write a language fish cannot fall without being killed. Lobo adds, with correctness, will be most likely to underthat neither he, nor any with whom he conversed stand its idiom, its grammar, and its peculiar about the crocodile, ever saw him weep; and graces of style. What man of taste would willtherefore all that hath been said about his tears ingly forego the pleasure of reading Vida, Framust be ranked among the fables invented for castorius, Sannazaro, Strada, and others, down the amusement of children.
has described ? Mr. Bruce's pool of water may have been famous riyor.
without a bench.
to the late elegant productions of Bishop Lowth? As to the causes of the inundations of the The history which Johnson proposed io himself Nile, Lobo observes, that many an idle hypothe-would, beyond all question, have been a valuablu sis has been framed. Some theorists ascribe it addition to the history of letters; but his project to the high winds, that stop the current, and failed. His next expedient was to offer his as force the water above its banks. Others pre- sistance to Cave, the original projector of the tend a subterraneous communication between Gentleman's Magazine. For this purpose he the Ocean and the Nile, and that the sea, when sent his proposals in a letter, offering, on rea violently agitated, swells the river. Many are sonable terms, occasionally to fill some pages of opinion, that this mighty food proceeds from with poems and inscriptions never printed bethe melting of the snow on the mountains of fore; with fugitive pieces that deserved to be reEthiopia ; but so much snow and such prodigious vived, and critical remarks on authors ancient heat are never met with in the same region. and modern. Cave agreed to retain him as a Lobo never saw snow in Abyssinia, except on correspondent and contributor to the Magazine. Mount Semen in the kingdom of Tigre, very What the conditions were cannot now be remote from the Nile; and on Namara, which known; but certainly they were not sufficient is, indeed, not far distant, but where there never to hinder Johnson from casting his eyes about falls snow enough to wet, when dissolved, the him in quest of other employment. Accordingfoot of the mountain. To the immense labours ly, in 1735, he made overtures to the Rev. Mr. of the Portuguese, mankind is indebted for the Budworth, Master of a Grammar-school at knowledge of the real cause of these inundations, Brerewood, in Staffordshire, to become his asso great and so regular. By them we are in- sistant. This proposition did not succeed. Mr. formed, that Abyssinia, where the Nile rises, is Budworth apprehended, that the involuntary full of mountains, and in its natural situation, is motions, to which Johnson's nerves were submuch higher than Egypt; that in the winter, from ject, might make him an object of ridicule with June to September, no day is without rain; that his scholars, and, by consequence, lessen their the Nile receives in its course, all the rivers, respect for their master. Another mode of adbrooks, and torrents, that fall from those moun- vancing himself presented itself about this time, tains, and, by necessary consequence, swelling Mrs. Porter, the widow of a mercer in Birming, above its banks, fills the plains of Egypt with ham, admired his talents. It is said that she had inundations, which come regularly about the about eight hundred pounds; and that sum to a month of July, or three weeks after the begin- person in Johnson's circumstances was an affluning of the rainy season in Ethiopia. The dif- ent fortune. A marriage took place, and to turn ferent degrees of this flood are such certain indi- his wife's money to the best advantage, he pro cations of the fruitfulness or sterility of the ensu- jected the scheme of an academy for education ing year, that it is publicly proclaimed at Cairo how Gilbert Walmsley, at that time Registrar of the much the water hath gained during the night.” Ecclesiastical Court of the Bishop of Litchfield,
Such is the account of the Nile and its inun- was distinguished by his erudition, and the podations, which it is hoped will not be deemed an liteness of his manners. He was the friend of improper or tedious digression, especially as the Johnson, and, by his weight and influence enwhole is an extract from Johnson's translation. deavoured to promote his interest. The celeHe is all the time the actor in the scene, and in brated Garrick, whose father, Captain Garrick, his own words relates the story. Having finish- lived at Litchfield, was placed in the new semied this work, he returned, in February 1734, to nary of education, by that gentleman's advice.his native city, and, in the month of August fol- Garrick was then about eighteen years old. An lowing, published proposals for printing by sub- accession of seven or eight pupils was the most scription the Latin Poems of Politian, with the that could be obtained, though notice was given History of Latin Poetry, from the Era of Pe- by a public advertisement,f that at Edial, near trarch, to the time of Politian; and also the Litchfield, in Staffordshire, young gentlemen are life of Politian, to be added by the Editor, boarded and taught the Latin and Greek LauSamuel Johnson. The book to be printed guages, by Samuel Johnson. in thirty octavo sheets, price five shillings. The undertaking proved abortive. Johnson It is to be regretted that this project failed for having now abandoned all hopes of promoting
his fortune in the country, determined to become After comparing this description with that lately given an adventurer in the world at large. . His young by Mr. Bruce, the reader will judge whether Lobo is to pupil, Garrick, had formed the same resolution; lose the honour of having been at the head of the Nile Roar (wo centuries before any other European traveller. See the Gentleman's Magazine for 1736, p. 418