« PreviousContinue »
His first performance in the Gentleman's Magazine, which for many years was his principal resource for employment and support, was a copy of Latin verses, in March, 1738, addressed to the editor in so happy a style of compliment, that Cave must have been destitute both of taste and sensibility, had he not felt himself
URBANE, nullis fesse laboribus,
URBANE, nullis victe calumniis,
Cui fronte sertum in erudità
Quid moliatur gens imitantium,
Lingua procacis plumbea spicula,
Intende nervos, fortis, inanibus
Non ulla Musis pagina gration.
* Cave is described as rough and coarse in his dealings, and was surrounded by a crowd of “hack” authors, whom he dealt with as so many “hands.” One of these was Moses Browne, whose pride he hurt by omitting the “Mr.” in the inscription on an engraving, and which he clumsily attempted to soothe by putting a “caret,” with the letters above. Cave classed Johnsonbelow these drudges, and promised him “a chance” of seeing Browne and other luminaries, if he should repair to a certain alehouse in Clerkenwell. He was introduced, “dressed in a loose horseman's coat and such a great, bushy, uncombed wig as he constantly wore, to the sight of Mr. Browne, whom
he found sitting at the upper end of a long
table in a cloud of tobacco-smoke."—
It appears that he was now enlisted by Mr. Cave as a regular coadjutor in his magazine, by which he probably obtained a tolerable livelihood. At what time, or by what means, he had acquired a competent knowledge both of French and Italian, I do not know; but he was so well skilled in them, as to be sufficiently qualified for a translator. That part of his labour which consisted in emendation and improvement of the productions of other contributors, like that employed in levelling ground, can be perceived only by those who had an opportunity of comparing the original with the altered copy. What we certainly know to have been done by him in this way, was the Debates in both houses of Parliament, under the name of “The Senate of Lilliput,” sometimes with feigned denominations of the several speakers, sometimes with denominations formed of the letters of their real names, in the manner of what is called anagram, so that they might easily be decyphered. Parliament then kept the press in a kind of mysterious awe, which made it necessary to have recourse to such devices. In our time it has acquired an unrestrained freedom, so that the people in all parts of the kingdom have a fair, open, and exact report of the actual proceedings of their representatives and legislators; which in our constitution is highly to be valued, though, unquestionably, there has of late been too much reason to complain of the petulance with which obscure scribblers have presumed to treat men of the most respectable character and situation. the horrours of London, and of the times, contrasted with better
* A translation of this Ode, by an unknown correspondent, appeared in the Magazine for the month of May following: *
“Hail URBAN indefatigable man,
Unwearied yet by all thy useful toil
Whom no base calumny can put to foil.
“What mean the servile imitating crew,
What their vain blust'ring, and their empty noise,
Unconquer'd by the rabble's venal voice.
“The senseless sneerings of an haughty tongue,
Unworthy thy attention to engage,
By manly silence disappoint their rage.
“Exert thy powers, nor slacken in the course,
Thy spotless fame shall quash all false reports:
But thou shalt smile at all his vain efforts;
“No page more grateful to th’ harmonious nine
Than that wherein thy labours we survey:
(Delightful mixture,) blended with the gay.
“Thus when the nymphs in some fair verdant mead,
* The three first stanzas refer to the that “Dr. Urban "had gone mad. The rivalry of the London Magazine, and success of the Gentleman's had almost to the hostility of other enemies, who swamped the other competitors. were sending round burlesque reports
This important article of the Gentleman's Magazine was, for several years, executed by Mr. William Guthrie, a man who deserves to be respectably recorded in the literary annals of this country. He was descended of an ancient family in Scotland; but having a smali patrimony, and being an adherent of the unfortunate house of Stuart, he could not accept of any office in the state; he therefore came to London, and employed his talents and learning as an “Authour by profession.” His writings in history, criticism, and politicks, had considerable merit." He was the first English historian who had recourse to that authentic source of information, the Parliamentary Journals; and such was the power of his political pen, that, at an early period, government thought it worth their while to keep it quiet by a pension, which he enjoyed till his death. Johnson esteemed him enough to wish that his life should be written. The debates in Parliament, which were brought home and digested by Guthrie, whose memory, though surpassed by others who have since followed him in the same department, was yet very quick and tenacious, were sent by
• How much poetry he wrote, I know not; but he informed me, that he was the authour of the E. little piece, “The Eagle and Robin Redbreast,” in the collection of poems entitled “THE UNION,” though it is there said to be written by Archibald Scott, before the year 1000.
Cave to Johnson for his revision; and, after some time, when Guthrie had attained to greater variety of employment, and the speeches were more and more enriched by the accession of Johnson's genius, it was resolved that he should do the whole himself, from the scanty notes furnished by persons employed to attend in both houses of Parliament. Sometimes, however, as he himself told me, he had nothing more communicated to him but the names of the several speakers, and the part which they had taken in the debate. Thus was Johnson employed, during some of the best years of his life, as a mere literary labourer “for gain, not glory,” solely to obtain an honest support. He however indulged himself in occasional little sallies, which the French so happily express by the term jeux d'esprit, and which will be noticed in their order, in the progress of this work. But what first displayed his transcendent powers, and “gave the world assurance of the MAN,” was his “LoNDoN, a Poem, in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal,” which came out in May this year, and burst forth with a splendour, the rays of which will for ever encircle his name. Boileau had imitated the same satire with great success, applying it to Paris; but an attentive comparison will satisfy every reader, that he is much excelled by the English Juvenal. Oldham had also imitated it, and applied it to London; all which performances concur to prove, that great cities, in every age, and in every country, will furnish similar topicks of satire. Whether Johnson had previously read Oldham's imitation, I do not know; but it is not a little remarkable, that there is scarcely any coincidence found between the two performances, though upon the very same subject. The only instances are, in describing London as the sink of foreign worthlessness:
the common shore, Where France does all her filth and ordure pour.” OLDHAM.
“The common shore of Paris and of Rome.”
days, are different from those of Johnson, and in general well
chosen, and well exprest.” There are, in Oldham's imitation, many prosaick verses and
bad rhymes, and his poem sets out with a strange inadvertent blunder:
“Tho' much concern'd to leave my dear old friend,
It is plain he was not going to leave his friend ; his friend was
going to leave him. A young lady at once corrected this with good critical sagacity to
“Tho' much concern'd to lose my dear old friend.”
There is one passage in the original, better transfused by Oldham than by Johnson :
“Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se,
which is an exquisite remark on the galling meanness and contempt annexed to poverty: Johnson's imitation is,
“Of all the griefs that harrass the distrest,
OLDHAM's, though less elegant, is more just :
“Nothing in poverty so ill is borne,
Where, or in what manner this poem was composed, I am sorry that I neglected to ascertain with precision from Johnson's own authority. He has marked upon his corrected copy of the first edition of it, “Written in 1738; ” and, as it was published in the month of May in that year, it is evident that much time was not employed in preparing it for the press. The history of its publication I am enabled to give in a very satisfactory manner; and judging from myself, and many of my friends, I trust that it will not be uninteresting to my readers.
* I own it pleased me to find amongst them one trait of the manners of the age
in London, in the last century, to shield from the sneer of English ridicule, what was some time ago too common a practice in my native city of Edinburgh:
“If what I've said can't from the town affright,