Page images

1781"; and when Mr. John Clark of Edinburgh attacked he for the opinions he had expressed in the above pamphlet, there is no doubt that Johnson contributed largely to the "Reply to Mr. Clark's Answers," London, 1782. Boswell in the "Life" selects a few paragraphs from this answer, which "mark their great author." The controversy continued, and waxed warmer: Mr. Clark answered (1783) Mr. Shaw's reply, and a "Rejoinder to an Answer from Mr. Clark on the subject of Ossian's Poems" was published by Mr. Shaw in 1784.

In answer to an appeal which Shaw addressed to Johnson, "to state the facts at large, which first led you to a discovery of this monstrous imposition, to rescue your Gallic (sic) coadjutors from the odium incurred by espousing your cause," he assures us that had Johnson's health permitted, he intended "to have published a state of the controversy from the beginning, to balance the arguments and evidence on both sides, and to pronounce judgment on the whole." There seems to be no record of the subsequent history of this able and vigorous man. From a letter of Johnson to Boswell, we learn that Shaw had sought Johnson's help to obtain for him, through Lord Eglinton, a chaplaincy in one of the newlyraised (Highland) Regiments. Of this intervention, if indeed it were made, nothing further is said. It would appear as if Johnson induced him "to take orders in the Church of England," though he lived not to see him provided for. Upon his going to settle in Kent in 1780 as a curate, Johnson wrote to Mr. Allen, the vicar of St. Nicholas, Rochester, in his favour, the following letter:


"Mr. William Shaw, the gentleman from whom you will receive this, is a studious and literary man: he is a stranger and will

1 Vol. iii., p. 349-50.


2 Memoirs, p. 159-64.

Life, vol. ii., p. 470.

be glad to be introduced into proper company: and he is my friend, and any civility you shall show him, will be an obligation on, Sir, your most obedient servant, (Signed) "SAM. JOHNSON."

In the preface to his little volume of Memoirs he tells us that he had been favoured with contributions from Mrs. Desmoulins, Thomas Davies of Covent Garden, and, above all, from Mr. Elphinston, who had introduced him to Johnson.

Omitting for the present any allusion to the "Journal of the Tour to the Hebrides," which Boswell published in 1785, the next book which occupied the attention of the world was "The Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D., during the last twenty years of his life, by Hesther Lynch Piozzi." From a letter of Walpole's, in Mr. Hayward's "Life and Writings of Mrs. Piozzi,” vol. i., p. 290, we learn that it came out on the 26th of March, 1786. The sale was rapid. It is said that when the king sent for a copy of the "Anecdotes" on the evening of the day of publication, not a single copy was to be had. Though printed in London, the "Anecdotes" had been written in Italy. It was at Venice that she learnt by a letter from Cadell, her publisher, that he never brought out a work the sale of which was so rapid, and that rapidity of so long continuance. With very pardonable exultation, she says, "I suppose the fifth edition will meet me at my return." The "Anecdotes" gave great offence to Johnson's friends, to none more than to Boswell. He who was, on the whole, singularly kind, genial, and considerate in his estimate of character, was impelled, reluctantly we believe, to turn aside and animadvert on her not infrequent inaccuracies, and her somewhat heartless levities, in her delineations of Johnson's character and habits. Just as we seem to see the monk whom Sterne sketches at the opening of the "Sentimental Journey" mild, pale, penetrating so Boswell's

Hayward's Piozzi, vol. i., p. 291.

2 Ibid., p. 291.

[ocr errors]

equally graphic description of Mrs. Thrale-short, plump, brisk-prepares us to understand the lady, whose character seems to have been marred by a flippancy which recurs too often in her pages. But all this notwithstanding, her active kindnesses to Johnson, continued for nearly twenty years of his life, should be remembered to her credit by all who love and respect Johnson. Her "Anecdotes," with all abatements made, must ever take high rank among the books which help us to understand him. Readers will, therefore, find them occupying the first place in the volume entitled "Johnsoniana."

Dr. Joseph Towers followed (1786) in “An Essay on the Life, Character, and Writings of Dr. Samuel Johnson." Born March, 1737, he was the son of a second-hand bookseller in Southwark. His access to books, which he enjoyed from an early age, seems to have been his chief education. He appears to have been essentially a self-educated man, and acquired his very considerable stock of knowledge by diligent study in the leisure hours after business. He carried on the business of bookseller for nine years in Fore Street, but with no great success. In 1774 he gave up business, and was ordained a preacher in the Unitarian body, and became forenoon preacher at Newington Green, where the celebrated Dr. Price preached in the afternoon. He stepped forth boldly, but with the respect which was due to Johnson's reputation, to reply to Johnson's political pamphlets, in "A Letter to Samuel Johnson, occasioned by his late political publications." This letter, together with a paragraph in a letter from Temple to Boswell, were laid before Johnson by Boswell himself, who notifies that these two instances of animadversion appeared, from the effects they had on Johnson, evinced by his silence and his looks, to impress him much. "I am willing to do justice," Boswell remarks, "to the merits of Dr. Towers, of



Biograph. Dict., vol. xxix.



2 Ubi supra, p. 191.

Life, vol. ii., p. 150.

whom I will say, that though I abhor his whiggish democratical notions and propensities, I esteem him as an ingenious, knowing, and very convivial man." Boswell's testimony to Towers' social and convivial talents may be more implicitly received than his testimony to Towers' political principles. His "Essay on the Life, Character, and Writings of Dr. Samuel Johnson" will, however, reward study. We miss, indeed, the charm of original anecdotes and conversations. Of these Towers has none, except those which he had derived from the recently published sources described in the preceding remarks.

Appointed an executor under the will, Sir John Hawkins now pressed forward to be the biographer of Johnson, and the editor of the first collected edition of his works. He had been appointed, not only the executor of his will, but also, as he tells us in his advertisement to his Life, the "guardian of his fame;" and in this capacity of guardian of Johnson's fame, Sir John at once proceeded to prepare the first formal Life, and the first collected edition of his works. He could hardly have completed his arrangements with the trade before some months of 1785 had elapsed; and in little more, therefore, than two years, the eleven octavo volumes containing "The Life and Works" appeared in 1787. The four volumes which afterwards appeared as supplements to the "Works" show that not conscientious care, but greedy haste, had been the motive power, alike of the biographer and the publishers, in the work which they had produced. The Life, indeed, has its merits. In spite of the extraneous matter, which belonged as well to the biography of any of Johnson's contemporaries as to that of Johnson, there is much in Hawkins's Life which has not been superseded. His account of the manner in which the debates in Parliament were drawn up by Guthrie and Johnson for the "Gentleman's Magazine," still repay reading; and the same may be said of the accounts of the Ivy Lane Club

and its members, and of the more celebrated Turk's Head Club, Gerard Street, Soho, which became the Club. But it is singular how few examples are given of the conversational power of Johnson; a want which confirms and justifies Boswell's assertion that he had never seen Hawkins in Johnson's company, he thinks, but once, and he is sure not above twice. Yet, when he wrote his book, the sayings of Johnson were in the minds and on the lips of hundreds; and his 800 pages proved the best foil that could be imagined to the biography soon to appear by him whom, with a native boorishness, he describes as "Mr. James Boswell, a native of Scotland." 2

Yet that "native of Scotland" had given to the world a volume of the most singularly interesting and fascinating character: "The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.," which at once eclipsed all preceding sources of information. By no author, before or since, has Boswell been surpassed in his admirable art of recording conversation. It is one of extreme difficulty. If any one be inclined to question this, let him try, when perchance he meets an eminent man, to record specimens of his conversation, and not merely with accuracy, but with something of the dramatic force and propriety which we invariably find in Boswell's handiwork. The attempt will convince him of the delicacy and difficulty of the task, and that Boswell was a master of the art. The "Journal of the Tour" was first published in the autumn of 1785, just thirteen years after the tour itself. During this long period, the manuscript of it had lain in his possession. From time to time, even while they went from place to place, and from island to island, Johnson had seen and read portions of it as they were successively written. "He came to my room this morning, Sept. 19, before breakfast, to read my Journal, which 1 Life, vol. i., p. 2. 2 Life, p. 472.

« PreviousContinue »