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We may be certain, though it is not expressly named in the following letters to Mr. Cave in 1738, that they all relate to it:
To Mr. CAVE.
[No date, 1738.) “SIR,-When I took the liberty of writing to you a few days ago, I did not expect a repetition of the same pleasure so soon; for a pleasure I shall always think it, to converse in any manner with an ingenious and candid man; but having the inclosed poem in my hands to dispose of for the benefit of the authour, (of whose abilities I shall say nothing, since I send you his performance,) I believed I could not procure more advantageous terms from any person than from you, who have so much distinguished yourself by your generous encouragement of poetry; and whose judgement of that art nothing but your commendation of my trifle a can give me any occasion to call in question. I do not doubt but you will look over this poem with another eye, and reward it in a different manner, from a mercenary bookseller, who counts the lines he is to purchase, and considers nothing but the bulk. I cannot help taking notice, that, besides what the authour may hope for on account of his abilities, he has likewise another claim to your regard, as he lies at present under very disadvantageous circumstances of fortune. I beg, therefore, that you will favour me with a letter to-morrow, that I may know what you can afford to allow him, that he may either part with it to you, or find out (which I do not expect) some other way more to his satisfaction.
“I have only to add, that as I am sensible I have transcribed it very coarsely, which, after having altered it, I was obliged to do, I will, if you please to transmit the sheets from the press, correct it for you; and take the trouble of altering any stroke of satire which you may dislike.
“By exerting on this occasion your usual generosity, you will not only encourage learning, and relieve distress, but (though it be in comparison of the other motives of very small account) oblige in a very sensible manner, Sir,
" Your very
“ SAM. JOHNSON."
To Mr. CAVE.
“Monday, No. 6, Castle-street. “SIR,-I am to return you thanks for the present you were so kind as to send by me, and to intreat that you will be pleased to
• His Ode “Ad Urbanum” probably. N.
inform me by the penny-post, whether you resolve to print the poem. If you please to send it me by the post, with a note to Dodsley, I will go and read the lines to him, that we may have his consent to put his name in the title-page. As to the printing, if it can be set immediately about, I will be so much the authour's friend, as not to content myself with mere solicitations in his favour. I propose, if my calculation be near the truth, to engage for the reimbursement of all that you shall lose by an impression of 500, provided, as you very generously propose, that the profit, if any, be set aside for the authour's use, excepting the present you made, which, if he be a gainer, it is fit he should repay. I beg that you will let one of your servants write an exact account of the expence of such an impression, and send it with the poem, that I may know what I engage for. I am very sensible, from your generosity on this occasion, of your regard to learning, even in its unhappiest state, and cannot but think such a temper deserving of the gratitude of those who suffer so often from a contrary disposition. I am, Sir,
“ Your most humble servant,
“ SAM. JOHNSON.”
To Mr. CAVE.
[No date.] “SIR,I waited on you to take the copy to Dodsley's: as I remember the number of lines which it contains, it will be longer than Eugenio, with the quotations, which must be subjoined at the bottom of the page, part of the beauty of the performance (if any beauty be allowed it) consisting in adapting Juvenal's sentiments to modern facts and persons.
It will, with those additions, very conveniently make five sheets. And since the expence will be no more, I shall contentedly insure it, as I mentioned in my last. If it be not therefore gone to Dodsley's, I beg it may be sent me by the penny-post, that I may have it in the evening. I have composed a Greek Epigram to Eliza, and think she ought to be celebrated in as many different languages as Lewis le Grand. Pray send me word when you will begin upon the poem, for it is a long way to walk. I would leave my Epigram, but have not daylight to transcribe it. I am, Sir,
“ Your's, &c.
“ Sam. JOHNSON."
a The learned Mrs. Elizabeth Carter.?
? She was born 1717, and died 1806. allusions to her, and Johnson, whose Her father writes to her, “ You mention necessities made him very deferential to Johnson : that is a name with which I his employer's wishes, may have been am utterly unacquainted.” -(Life, 39.) prompted to join in her praise. Cave's MS. letters to Birch are full of
To Mr. Cave.
[No date.] “SIR,-I am extremely obliged by your kind letter, and will not fail to attend you to-morrow with IRENE, who looks upon you as one of her best friends.
“I was to-day with Mr. Dodsley, who declares very warmly in favour of the paper you sent him, which he desires to have a share in, it being, as he says, a creditable thing to be concerned in. I knew not what answer to make till I had consulted you, nor what to demand on the authour's part, but am very willing that, if you please, he should have a part in it, as he will undoubtedly be more diligent to disperse and promote it. If you can send me word tomorrow what I shall say to him, I will settle matters, and bring the poem with me for the press, which as the town empties, we cannot be too quick with. I am,
I am, Sir,
“ Your's, &c.
To us who have long known the manly force, bold spirit, and masterly versification of this poem, it is a matter of curiosity to observe the diffidence with which its authour brought it forward into publick notice, while he is so cautious as not to avow it to be his own production; and with what humility he offers to allow the printer to “alter any stroke of satire which he might dislike.” That any such alteration was made, we do not know. If we did, we could not but feel an indignant regret; but how painful is it to see that a writer of such vigorous powers of mind was actually in such distress, that the small profit which so short a poem, however excellent, could yield, was courted as a " relief."
It has been generally said, I know not with what truth, that Johnson offered his “ LONDON" to several booksellers, none of whom would purchase it. To this circumstance Mr. Derrick alludes in the following lines of his “ FORTUNE, A RHAPSODY :"
" Will no kind patron Johnson own?
Shall Johnson friendless range the town?
The offspring of his happy Muse ?"
Dodsley is remarkable for having published some of the most famous works of his day, such as “Tristram Shandy,” Goldsmith's Poems, &c. He
had been a footman, and courageously em. bodied some of his experiences in a little volume entitled “ The Muse in Livery."
merit, and thought it creditable to have a share in it. The fact is, that, at a future conference, he bargained for the whole property of it, for which he gave Johnson ten guineas, who told me, “I might, perhaps, have accepted of less; but that Paul Whitehead had a little before got ten guineas for a poem ; and I would not take less than Paul Whitehead."
I may here observe, that Johnson appeared to me to undervalue Paul Whitehead upon every occasion when he was mentioned, and, in my opinion, did not do him justice; but when it is considered that Paul Whitehead was a member of a riotous and profane club, we may account for Johnson's having a prejudice against him. Paul Whitehead was, indeed, unfortunate in being not only slighted by Johnson, but violently attacked by Churchill, who utters the following imprecation :
“May I (can worse disgrace on manhood fall ?)
Be born a Whitehead, and baptiz'd a Paul!" yet I shall never be persuaded to think meanly of the authour of so brilliant and pointed a satire Manners.”
Johnson's "London" was published in May, 1738;& and it is remarkable, that it came out on the same morning with Pope's satire, entitled “ 1738;" so that England had at once its Juvenal and Horace as poetical monitors. The Reverend Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of Carlisle, to whom I am indebted for some obliging communications, was then a student at Oxford, and remembers well the effect which “ London " produced. Everybody was
Sir John Hawkins, p. 86, tells us “The event is antedated, in the poem of • London;' but in every particular, except the difference of a year, what is there said of the departure of Thales, must be understood of Savage, and looked upon as true history.” This conjecture is, I believe, entirely groundless. I have been assured that Johnson said he was not so much as acquainted with Savage when he wrote his “ London.” If the departure mentioned in it was the departure of Savage, the event was not antedated but foreseen; for “ London” was published in May, 1738, and Savage did not set out for Wales till July, 1739. However well Johnson could defend the credibility of second sight, he did not pretend that he himself was possessed of that faculty.?
1 The monks of Medmenham Abbey, where shocking orgies, in imitation of religious rites, were carried on. Wilkes, Sir F. Dashwood, and, it is said, Hall Stevenson, were members. Paul Whitehead was their laureate.
* Thales unquestionably stands for Savage. The allusions, “spurned as a beggar," “of dissipated wealth the small remains,” and the departure for “ Cambria," which was such a curious incident in Savage's history, irresistibly support this conclusion. Boswell's ob.
jection is a trifling one, for the idea of getting Savage away from London must have been often entertained before it was carried out. Again, Savage and Johnson both resided at Greenwich. Mr. Croker has objected that there are some lines in “ London" which might be applied to the drunken brawl and its fatal consequences, for which Savage was tried, adding that Johnson would never thus allude to his friend's disgrace; but this is disposed of by the fact that they are almost a translation of Juvenal's lines.
delighted with it; and there being no name to it, the first buz of the literary circles was “here is an unknown poet, greater even than Pope.” And it is recorded in the Gentleman's Magazine of that year,” that it “got to the second edition in the course of a week.” One of the warmest patrons of this poem on its first appearance was General OGLETHoRPE, whose “strong benevolence of soul” was unabated during the course of a very long life; though it is painful to think, that he had but too much reason to become cold and callous, and discontented with the world, from the neglect which he experienced of his publick and private worth, by those in whose power it was to gratify so gallant a veteran with marks of distinction. This extraordinary person was as remarkable for his learning and taste, as for his other eminent qualities; and no man was more prompt, active, and generous in encouraging merit. I have heard Johnson gratefully acknowledge, in his presence, the kind and effectual support which he gave to his “London,” though unacquainted with its authour. Pope, who then filled the poetical throne without a rival, it may reasonably be presumed, must have been particularly struck by the sudden appearance of such a poet; and, to his credit, let it be remembered, that his feelings and conduct on the occasion were candid and liberal. He requested Mr. Richardson, son of the painter, to endeavour to find out who this new authour was. Mr. Richardson, after some inquiry, having informed him that he had discovered only that his name was Johnson, and that he was some obscure man, Pope said, “He will soon be deterré.”” We shall presently see, from a note written by Pope, that he was himself afterwards more successful in his inquiries than his friend. That in this justly-celebrated poem may be found a few rhymes which the critical precision of English prosody at this day would disallow, cannot be denied ; but with this small imperfection, which in the general blaze of its excellence is not perceived, till the mind has subsided into cool attention, it is, undoubtedly, one of the noblest productions in our language, both for sentiment and expression. The nation was then in that ferment against the court and the ministry, which some years after ended in the downfall of Sir Robert Walpole; and as it has been said, that Tories are Whigs when out of place, and Whigs, Tories when in place; so, as a whig administration ruled with what force it could, a tory • P. 269. * Sir Joshua Reynolds, from the information of the younger Richardson.