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To wit, reviving from its author's dust,
And mirth was bounty with an humbler name. A circumstance which could not fail to be very pleasing to Johnson occurred this year. The tragedy of Sir Thomas Overbury, written by his early companion in London, Richard Savage, was brought out with alterations at Drury-lane theatre". The prologue to it was written by Mr. Richard Brinsley Sheridan ; in which, after describing very pathetically the wretchedness of
Ill-fated Savage, at whose birth was giv'n
he introduced an elegant compliment to Johnson on his dictionary, that wonderful performance, which cannot be too often or too highly praised; of which Mr. Harris, in his Philological Inquiries *, justly and liberally observes, “ Sucb is its merit, that our language does not possess a more copious, learned, and valuable work.” The concluding lines of this prologue were these :
u This tragedy was performed not at Drury-lane, but Covent-garden theatre, This mistake, into which Boswell was probably led by the prologue's having been written by Sheridan, was corrected by the late John P. Kemble.--Ev.
* Part first, chap. 4.
So pleads the tale y that gives to future times
Fix'd by THE HAND THAT BIDS OUR LANGUAGE LIVE. Mr. Sheridan here at once did honour to his taste and to his liberality of sentiment, by showing that he was not prejudiced from the unlucky difference which had taken place between his worthy father and Dr. Johnson. I have already mentioned, that Johnson was very desirous of reconciliation with old Mr. Sheridan. It will, therefore, not seem at all surprising that he was zealous in acknowledging the brilliant merit of his son. While it had as yet been displayed only in the drama, Johnson proposed him as a member of the Literary Club, observing, that “ He who has written the two best comedies of his age, is surely a considerable man. And be had, accordingly, the honour to be elected; for an honour it undoubtedly must be allowed to be, when it is considered of whom that society consists, and that a single black ball excludes a candidate.
MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON,
“ July 9, 1777. “MY DEAR SIR,-For the health of my wife and children I have taken the little country house at which you visited my uncle, Dr. Boswell, who, having lost his wife, is gone to live with his son. We took possession of our villa about a week ago: we have a garden of three quarters of an acre, well stocked with fruit-trees and flowers, and gooseberries and currants, and pease and beans, and cabbages, etc. etc. and my children are quite happy. I now write to you in a little study, from the window of which I see around me a verdant grove, and beyond it the lofty mountain called Arthur's Seat.
“Your last letter, in which you desire me to send you some additional information concerning Thomson, reached me very fortunately just as I was going to Lanark, to put my wife's two nephews, the young Campbell's, to school there, under the care of Mr. Thomson, the master of it, whose wife is sister to the author of the Seasons. She is an old woman; but her memory is very good ; and she will with pleasure give me for you every particular that you wish to know, and she can tell. Pray then take the trouble to send me such questions as may lead to biographical materials. You say that the life which we have of Thomson is scanty. Since I received your letter, I have read his life published under the name of Cibber, but, as you told me, really written by a Mr. Shiels; that written by Dr. Murdoch; one prefixed to an edition of the Seasons published at Edinburgh, which is compounded of both, with the addition of an anecdote of Quin's relieving Thomson from prison ; the abridgement of Murdoch's account of him, in the Biographia Britannica; and another abridgement of it in the Biographical Dictionary, enriched with Dr. Joseph Warton's critical panegyrick on the Seasons, in his Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope: from all these it appears to me that we have a pretty full account of this poet. However, you will, I doubt not, show me many blanks; and I shall do what can be done to have them filled up. As Thomson never returned to Scotland, (which you will think very wise,) his sister can speak from her own knowledge only as to the early part of his life. She has some letters from him, which may probably give light as to his more advanced progress, if she will let us see them, which I suppose she will. I believe George Lewis Scotta and Dr. Armstrong are now his only surviving companions while he lived in and about London; and they, I dare say, can tell more of him than is yet known. My own notion is, that Thomson was a much coarser man than his friends are willing to acknowledge. His Seasons are indeed full of elegant and pious sentiments: but a rank soil, nay, a dunghill, will produce beautiful flowers.
y Life of Richard Savage, by Dr. Johnson.
? See p. 24 of this volume.
a George Lewis Scott, esq. F. R. S. an amiable and learned man, formerly sub-preceptor to his present [late] majesty, and afterwards appointed a commissioner of excise. He died in 1790,--MALONE.
“ Your edition of the English poets will be very valuable, on account of the prefaces and lives. But I have seen a specimen of an edition of the poets at the Apollo press, at Edinburgh, which, for excellence in printing and engraving, highly deserves a liberal encouragement.
“ Most sincerely do I regret the bad health and bad rest with which you have been afflicted; and I hope you are better. I cannot believe that the prologue which you generously gave to Mr. Kelly's widow and children the other day, is the effusion of one in sickness and in disquietude: but external circumstances are never sure indications of the state of man. I send you a letter which I wrote to you two years ago at Wilton; and did not send it at the time, for fear of being reproved as indulging too much tenderness; and one written to you at the tomb of Melancthon, which I kept back, lest I should appear at once too superstitious and too enthusiastick. I now imagine that perhaps they may please you.
“ You do not take the least notice of my proposal for our meeting at Carlisleo. Though I have meritoriously refrained from visiting London this year, I ask you if it would not be wrong that I should be two years without having the benefit of your conversation, when, if you come down as far as Derbyshire, we may meet at the expense of a few days journeying, and not many pounds. I wish you to see Carlisle, which made me mention that place, But if you have not a desire to complete your tour of the English cathedrals, I will take a larger share of the road between this place and Ashbourne. So tell me where you will fix for our passing a few days by ourselves. Now dont cry, “ Foolish fellow," Foolish fellow,” or “ Idle dog."
b Dr. Johnson was not the editor of this collection of the English poets; he merely furnished the biographical prefaces with which it is enriched; as is rightly stated in a subsequent page.
He, indeed, from a virtuous motive, recommended the works of four or five poets (whom he has named) to be added to the collection; but he is no otherwise answerable for any which are found there, or any which are omitted.The poems of Goldsmith (whose life I know he intended to write, for I collected some materials for it by his desire) were omitted in consequence of a petty exclusive interest in some of them, vested in Mr. Carnan, a bookseller. -MALONE.
Johnson repeatedly expressed his repugnance to Boswell at being confined to a certain set of lives; and was obliged to solicit the insertion of Dr. Watts as a favour. See his letter to Dilly, p. 111 of this volume, and Prefatory Notice to the Lives of the Poets, vol. vii. p. xi. and several passages subsequently in this volume. Ed.
c Dr. Johnson had himself talked of our seeing Carlisle together. High was a favourite word of his to denote a person of rank. He said to me, “Sir, I believe we may meet at the house of a Roman catholick lady in Cumberland; a high lady, sir.” I afterwards discovered that he meant Mrs. Strickland, sister of Charles Townley, esq. whose very noble collection of statues and pictures is
“ Idle dog." Chain your humour, and let your kindness play.
“You will rejoice to hear that Miss Macleod of Rasay, is married to colonel Mure Campbell, an excellent man, with a pretty good estate of his own, and the prospect of having the earl of Loudoun's fortune and honours. Is not this a noble lot for our fair Hebridean? How happy am I that she is to be in Ayrshire! We shall have the laird of Rasay, and old Malcolm, and I know not how many gallant Macleods, and bagpipes, etc. etc. at Auchinleck. Perhaps you may meet them all there.
“ Without doubt you have read what is called the Life of David Hume, written by himself, with the letter from Dr. Adam Smith subjoined to it. Is not this an age of daring effrontery? My friend Mr. Anderson, professor of natural philosophy at Glasgow, at whose house you and I supped, and to whose care Mr. Windham of Norfolk was intrusted at that university, paid me a visit lately; and after we had talked with indignation and contempt of the poisonous productions with which this age is infested, he said there was now an excellent opportunity for Dr. Johnson to step forth. I agreed with him that you might knock Hume's and Smith's heads together, and make vain and not more to be admired, than his extraordinary and polite readiness in showing it, which I and several of my friends have agreeably experienced. They who are possessed of valuable stores of gratification to persons of taste, should exercise their benevolence in imparting the pleasure. Grateful acknowledgments are due to Welbore Ellis Agar, esq. for the liberal access which he is pleased to allow to his exquisite collection of pictures.—Boswell.