« PreviousContinue »
"TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
Edinburgh, Feb. 24, 1777.
Your letter, dated the 18th instant, I had the pleasure to receive last post. Although my late long neglect, or rather delay, was truly culpable, I am tempted not to regret it, since it has produced me so valuable a proof of your regard. I did, indeed, during that inexcusable silence, sometimes divert the reproaches of my own mind, by fancying that I should hear again from you, inquiring with some anxiety about me, because for aught you knew, I might have been ill.
"You are pleased to show me that my kindness is of some consequence to you. My heart is elated at the thought. Be assured, my dear Sir, that my affection and reverence for you are exalted and steady. I do not believe that a more perfect attachment ever existed in the history of mankind, And it is a noble attachment; for the attractions are Genius, Learning, and Piety.
"Your difficulty of breathing alarms me, and brings into my imagination an event which, although in the natural course of things I must expect at some period, I cannot view with composure.
"My wife is much honoured by what you say of her. She begs you may accept of her best compliments. She is to send you some marmalade of oranges of her own making.
March 14, 1777.
"I have been much pleased with your late letter, and am glad that my old enemy, Mrs. Boswell, begins to feel some remorse. As to Miss Veronica's Scotch, I think it cannot be helped. An English maid you might easily have; but she would still imitate the greater number, as they would be likewise those whom she must most respect. Her dialect will not be gross. Her mamma has not much Scotch, and you have yourself very little. I hope she knows my name, and does not call me Johnston.1
"The immediate cause of my writing is this:-One Shaw, who seem a modest and a decent man, has written an Erse Grammar, which a very learned Highlander, Macbean, has, at my request, examined and approved.
The book is very little, but Mr. Shaw has been persuaded by his friends to set it at half a guinea, though I advised only a crown, and thought myself liberal. You, whom the author considers as a great encourager of ingenious men, will receive a parcel of his proposals and receipts. I have undertaken
1 Johnson is the most common English formation of the surname from John; Johnston the Scotch. My illustrious friend observed, that many North Britons pronounced his name in their own way.-BOSWELL.
Early in this year came out, in two volumes quarto, the posthumous works of the learned Dr. Zachary Pearce, Bishop of Rochester; being, A Commentary, with Notes, on the Four Evangelists and the Acts of the Apostles," with other theological pieces. Johnson had now an opportunity of making a grateful return to that excellent prelate, who, we have seen, was the only person who gave him any assistance in the compilation of his Dictionary. The Bishop had left some account of his life and character, written by himself. To this Johnson made some valuable additions, and furnished to the editor, the Reverend Mr. Derby,2 a Dedication, which I shall here insert, both because it will appear at this time with peculiar propriety, and because it will tend to propagate and increase that "fervour of loyalty," which in me, who boast of the name of TORY, is not only a principle but a passion
"TO THE KING.
"I presume to lay before your Majesty the last labours of a learned Bishop who died in the toils and duties of his calling. He is now beyond the reach of all earthly honours and rewards; and only the hope of inciting others to imitate him, makes it now fit to be remembered that he enjoyed in his life the favour of your Majesty.
"The tumultuary life of Princes seldom permits them to survey the wide extent of national interest without losing sight of private merit; to exhibit qualities which may be imitated by the highest and the humblest of mankind; and to be at once amiable and great.
"Such characters, if now and then they appear in history, are contemplated with admiration. May it be the ambition of all your subjects to make haste with their tribute of reverence; and as posterity may learn from your Majesty how kings should live, may they learn likewise from your people how they should be honoured. I am, may it please your Majesty,
"With the most profound respect,
"Your Majesty's most dutiful and devoted
In the summer he wrote a Prologue, which was spoken before "A Word to the Wise," a comedy by Mr. Hugh Kelly, which had been
Bishop Pearce was the son of a distiller in High Holborn, and educated at Westminster School. He became successively the Vicar of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, Dean of Winchester, Bishop of Bangor, and, in 1756, the Bishop of Rochester. His principal works were critical and erudite editions of Longinus and Cicero. He left, among numerous charitable bequests, 5000l. to the College for Clergymen's Widows, at Brompton. He was born in 1690, and died in 1774.-ED.
2 Mr. Derby was Rector of Southfleet and Longfield, in Kent. He died in 1778.GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE.
3 Mr. Hugh Kelly was not only the author of various dramatic pieces, but he was also a poet, a novelist, and an essayist. His "Thespis," a poem in the manner of Churchill's "Rosciad," and his "Louisa Mildmay," a novel, are familiar to most readers. He was born in 1739, near the Lakes of Killarney, and originally apprenticed to a staymaker. He died in 1777.-ED.
brought upon the stage in 1770; but he being a writer for the ministry in one of the newspapers, it fell a sacrifice to popular fury, and, in the playhouse phrase, was damned. By the generosity of Mr. Harris, the proprietor of Covent-garden Theatre, it was now exhibited for one night, for the benefit of the author's widow and children. To conciliate the favour of the audience, was the intention of Johnson's Prologue, which, as it is not long, I shall here insert, as a proof that his poetical talents were in no degree impaired.
"This night presents a play, which public rage,
Or right or wrong, once hooted from the stage:
The man whom Fate has laid where all must lie.
To wit, reviving from its author's dust,
Be kind, ye judges, or at least be just:
Th' oblivious grave's inviolable shade.
When pleasure fired her torch at virtue's flame,
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 up with alterations, at, Drury-lane Theatre. The Prologue to it was written by Mr. Richard Brinsley Sheridan; in which, after describing vely pathetically the wretchedness of
"Ill fated Savage, at whose birth was giv'n
No parent but the Muse, no friend but Heav'n: "
he introduced an elegant compliment to Johnson on his Dictionary, that
! This tragedy first appeared in 1723, and the profits thence arising amounted to 2007. It was the means of bringing Savage into public notice.-ED.
wonderful performance which cannot be too often or too highly praised; of which Mr. Harris, in his "Philological Inquiries,”1 justly and liberally observes, "Such is its merit, that our language does not possess a more copious, learned, and valuable work." The concluding lines of this Prologue were these :
"So pleads the tale that gives to future times
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 he 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.
66 MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
"MY DEAR SIR, July 9, 1777. "For the health of my wife and children, I have taken the little countryhouse 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 peas and beans, and cabbages, &c. &c., 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 Campbells, 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
1 Part i. chap. iv.-Mr. James Harris was born at Salisbury, in 1709; in 1774 he was made Secretary and Comptroller to the Queen. His writings display considerable ingenuity and philological erudition. He died in 1780.-ED.
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 abridgment of Murdoch's account of him, in 'The Biographia Britannica,' and another abridgment of it in 'The Biographical Dictionary,' enriched with Dr. Joseph Warton's critical panegyric 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 Scott1 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.
"Your edition3 of 'The English Poets,' will be very valuable, on account or 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 enthusiastic. I now imagine that perhaps they may please you.
1 George Lewis Scott, Esq., F.R.S., an amiable and learned man, formerly Sub-Preceptor to his present Majesty, and afterwards appointed a Commissioner of Excise. He died in 1780.-MALONE.
2 Dr. John Armstrong, the celebrated poet and physician, who has produced one of the best didactic poems in our language, entitled, "The Art of Preserving Health." He was born at Castleton, co. Roxburg, in 1709, and died in 1779.-ED.
3 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.