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Queen Anne. Mrs. Johnson indeed, as Mr. Hector insormed me, acted by the advice of the celebrated Sir John Floyer, then a physician in Lichfield. Johnson used to talk of this very frankly; and Mrs. Piozzi has preserved his very picturesque description of the scene, as it remained upon his fancy. Being asked if he could remember Queen Anne,-“He had (he said) a confused, but somehow a sort of solemn recollection of a lady in diamonds, and a long black hood." This touch, however, wa. without any effect. I ventured to say to him, in allusion to the political principles in which he was educated, and of which he ever retained some odour, that “his mother had not carried him far enough, she should have taken him to Rome.”
He was first taught to read English by Dame Oliver, a widow, who kept a school for young children in Lichfield. He told me she could read the black letter, and asked him to borrow for her, from his father, a bible in that character. When he was goiog to Oxford, she came to take leave of him, brought him, in the simplicity of her kindness, a present of gingerbread, and said he was the best scholar she ever had. He delighted in mentioning this early compliinent: adding, with a smile, that “this was as high a proof of his merit as he could conceive.” His next instructor in English was a master, whom, when he spoke of him to me, he familiarly called Tom Brown, “who,” said he, “published a spelling-book, and dedicated it to the UNIVERSE ; but, I fear, no copy of it can now be had.”
He began to learn Latin with M. Hawkins, usher, or under-master of Lichfield school, “a man (said he) very skilful in his little way.” With him he continued two years, aud then rose to be under the care of Mr. Hunter, the head-master, who, according to his account, “ was very severe, and wrong-headedly severe. He used (said he) to beat us unmercifully; and he did not distinguish between ignorance and negligence; for he would beat a boy equally for not knowing a thing, as for neglecting to know it. He would ask a boy a question, and if he did not answer it, he would beat him, without considering whether he had an opportunity of knowing how to answer it. For instance, he would call up a boy and ask him Latin for a candlestick, which the boy could not expect to be asked. Now, Sir, if a boy could answer every question, there would be no need of a master to teach him."
It is, however, but justice to the memory of Mr. Hunter to mention, that though he might err in being too severe, the school of Lichfield was very respectable in his time. The late Dr. Taylor, Prebendary of Westminster, who was educated under him, told me, that " he was an excellent master, and that his ushers were most of them inen of emninence; that Holbrook, one of the most ingenious men, best scholars, and best preachers of his ege, was usher during the greatest part of the time that Johnson was at school. Then came llague, of whom as much might be said, with the addition that he was an elegant poet. Hague was succeeded by Green, afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, whose character in the learned world is well known. In the same forin with Johnson was Coogreve, who afterwards became chaplain to Archbishop Loulter, and
by that connection obtained good preferment in Ireland. He was a younger son of the ancient family of Congreve, in Staffordshire, of which the poet was a branch. His brother sold the estate. There was also Lowe, afterwards Canon of Windsor.”
Indeed Johnson was very sensible how much be owed to Mr. Hunter. Mr. Langton one day asked bim how he had acquired so accurate a knowledge of Latin, in which, I believe, he was exceeded by no man of his time; he said, “My master wbipt me very well. Without that, Sir, I should have done nothing." He told Mr. Langton, that wbile Hunter was flogging his boys unmercifully, he used to say, “ And this I do to save you from the gallows." Johnson, upon all occasions, expressed his approbation of enforcing instruction by means of the rod. “I would rather (said he) have the rod to be the general terror to all, to make them learn, than tell a child, if you do thus, or thus, you will be more esteemed than your brothers or sisters. The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself. A child is afraid of being wipped, and gets his task, and there's an end on't; whereas, by exciting emulation and comparisous of superiority, you lay the foundation of lasting misa chies; you make brothers and sisters hate each other."
When Johnson saw some young ladies in Lincolnshire who were remarkably well behaved, owing to their mother's strict discipline and severe correction, he exclaimed, in one of Shakspeare's lines a little varied,
“Rod, I will honour thee for this thy duty." That superiority over his fellows, which he maintained with so much dignity in his march through life, was not assumed from vanity and ostentation, but was the natural and constant effect of those extraordinary powers of mind, of which he could not but be conscious by comparison; the intellectual difference, which io other cases of comparison of characters, is often a matter of undecided contest, being as clear in his case as the superiority of stature in some men above others. Johnson did not strut or stand' on tip-toe; he only did not stoop. From bis earliest years, his superiority was perceived and acknowledged. He was from the beginning Avaš avèpôv, a king of men. His schoolfellow, Mr. Hector, has obligingly furnished me with many particulars of his boyish days; and assured me that he never knew him corrected at school, but for talking and diverting other boys from their business. lle seemed to leasu by intuition ; for though indolence and procrastivation were inberent in his constitution, whenever he made an exertion he did more than any one else.
In sbort, he is a memorable instance of what has been often observed, that the boy is the man in miniature: and that the distinguishing characteristics of each individual are the same, through the whole course of life. His favourites used to receive very liberal assistance from him; and such was the submission and deference with which he was treated, such the desire to obtain his regard, that three of the boys, of whom Mr. Hector was sometimes one, used to come in the morning as his humble attendants, and carry him to school. Ove in the middle stooped, while he sat upon his back, and one on each side supported him; and thus he was borne triumphant. Such a proof of the early predominance of intellectual vigour is very remarkable, and does honour to human nature.—Talking to me once himself of his being much distinguished at school, he told me, “they never thought to raise me by comparing me to any one; they never said, Johnson is as good a scholar as such a one; but such a ove is as good a scholar as Johnson; and this was said but of one, but of Lowe; and I do not think he was as good a scholar.”
He discovered a great ambition to excel, which roused him to counteract bis indolence. He was uncommonly inquisitive ; and his memory was so tenacious, that he never forgot any thing that he either heard or read. Mr. Hector remembers having recited to him eighteen verses, which, after a little pause, he repeated verbatim, varying only one epithet, by which he improved the line.
He never joined with the other boys in their ordinary diversions : bis only amusement was in winter, when he took a pleasure in being drawn upon the ice by a boy bare footed, who pulled him along by a garter fixed round him: no very easy operation, as his size was remarkably large. His defective sight, indeed, prevented him from enjoying the common sports; and he once pleasantly remarked to me, “ how wonderfully well he had coptrived to be idle without them.” Lord Chesterfield, however, has justly observed in one of his letters, when earnestly cautioning a friend against the pernicious effects of idleness, that active sports are not to be reckoned idleness in young people; and that the listless torpor of doiog nothing, alone deserves that name. of this dismal inertness of disposition, Johnson had all his life too great a share. Mr. Hector relates, that “ he could not oblige him more than by sauntering away the hours of vacation in the fields, during which he was more engaged in talking to himself than to his companion.”
Dr. Percy, the Bishop of Dromore, who was long intimately acquainted with him, and has preserved a few anecdotes concerning him, regretting thal he was not a more diligent collector, informs that “when a boy he was immoderately fond of reading romances of chivalry, and he retained his foudness for them through life; so that (adds his Lordship) spending part of a summer at my parsonage-bouse in the country, he chose for his regular reading the old Spanish romance of FELIXMARTE OF HIRCANIA, in folio, which he read quite through. Yet I have heard him attribute to these extravagant fictions that unsettled turn of mind which prevented him evertising in any profession."
After having resided for some at the house of his uncle, Cornelius Ford, Johuson was at the age of fifteen, removed to the school of Stourbridge, in Worcestershire, of which Mr. Wentworth was then master. This step was taken by the advice of his cousin, the Rev. Mr. Ford, a man in whom both talents and good dispositions were disgraced by licentuousness, but who was a very able judge of what was right. At this school he did not receive so much benefit as was expected. It has been said that he acted in the capacity of an assistant to Mr. Wentworth, in teaching the younger boys. “Mr. Wentworth (he told me) was a
very able man, but an idle man, and to me very severe; but I cannot blame him much. I was then a big boy; he saw I did not reverence him; and that he should get no honour by me. I had brought enough with me to carry me through; and all I should get at his school would be ascribed to my own labour, or to my former master. Yet he taught me a great deal.”
He thus discriminated, to Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore, his progress at bis two grammar-schools. “ At one, I learned much in the school, but little from the master; in the other, I learned much from the master, but little in the school,”
The Bishop also informs me, that “ Dr. Johnsoui's father, before he was received at Stourbridge, applied to have him admitted as a scholar and assistant to the Rev. Samuel Lea, M. A., head master of Newport school, in Shropshire; (a very diligent good teacher, at that time in high reputation, under wbom Mr. Hollis is said, in the Memoirs of his Life, to have been also educated.) This application to Mr. Lea was not successful: but Johnson had afterwards the gratification to hear that the old gentleman, who lived to a very advanced age, mentioned it as one of the most memorable events of his life, that “ be was very near hav. ing that great man for his scholar.”
He remained at Stourbridge little more than a year, and then he returned home, where he may be said to have loitered, for two years, in a state very unworthy his uncommon abilities. He had already given several proofs of his genius, both in his school-exercises and other occa. sional con positions. Of these I have obtained a considerable collection, by the favour of Mr. Wentworth, son of one of his masters, and of Mr. Hector, bis schoolfellow and friend; from which I select the following specimens:
Translation of VIRGIL. Pastoral I.
Now, Tityrus, you, supine and careless laid,
Those blessings, friend, a deity bestow'd,
Here I, though faint myself, must drive my goals,
Translation of Horace, Book I. Ode xxii.
Translation of HORĄCE. Book II. Ode ix. Clouds do not always veil the skies, Nor showers immerse the verdant plain; Nor do the billows always rise, Or storms afflict the ruffled main. Nor, Valgius, on th' Armenian shores Do the chain'd waters always freeze ; Not always furious Boreas roars, Or bends with violent force the trees. But you are ever drown'd in tears, For Mystes dead you ever mourn; No setting Sol can ease your care, But finds you sad at his return.