« PreviousContinue »
« The bounds of knowledge marks, and points the way
This year Mr. William Payne, brother of the respectable bookseller of that name, published as An Introduction to the Game of Draughts,” to which Johnson contributed a Dedication to the Earl of Rochford, * and a Preface, * both of which are admirably adapted to the treatise to which they are prefixed. Johnson, I believe, did not play at draughts after leaving College, by which he suffered, for it would have afforded him an innocent soothing relief from the melancholy which distressed him so often. I have heard him regret that he had not learnt to play at cards; and the game of draughts we know is peculiarly calculated to fix the attention without straining it. There is a composure and gravity in draughts which insensibly tranquillises the mind; and, accordingly, the Dutch are fond of it, as they are of smoaking, of the sedative
& Some time after Dr. Johnson's death there apppeared in the newspapers and magazines an illiberal and petulant attack upon him, in the form of an Epitaph, under the name of Mr. Soame Jennings, very unworthy of that gentleman, who had quietly submitted to the critical lash while Johnson lived. It assumed, as characteristicks of him, a!l the vulgar circumstances of abuse which had circulated amongst the ignorant. It was an unbecoming indulgence of puny resentment, at a time when he himself was at a very advanced age, and had a near prospect of descending to the grave. I was truly forry for it; for he was then become an avowed, and (as my Lord Bishop of London, who had a serious conversation with him on the subject, assures me) a fincere Christian. He could not expect that Johnson's numerous friends would patiently bear to have the memory of their master ftigmatized by no mean pen, but that at least one would be found to retort, Accordingly, this unjust and sarcastick Epitaph was met in the same publick field by an answer, in terms by no means foft, and such as wanton provocation only could justify:
Feebly attempted, petulant and vain,
influence of which, though he himself never smoaked, he had a high opinion?. 1756. Besides, there is in draughts some exercise of the faculties; and, accordingly, Ærat. 47. Johnson wishing to dignify the subject in his Dedication with what is most estimable in it, observes, “ Triflers may find or make any thing a trifle; but since it is the great characteristick of a wise man to fee events in their causes, to obviate consequences, and ascertain contingencies, your Lordship will think, nothing a trifle by which the mind is inured to caution, foresight, and circumspection.”
As one of the little occasional advantages which he did not disdain to take by his pen, as a man whose profession was literature, he this year accepted of a guinea from Mr. Robert Dodney, for writing the introduction to “ The London Chronicle,” an evening newspaper; and even in so flight a performance exhibited peculiar talents. This Chronicle still subsists, and from what I observed, when I was abroad, has a more extensive circulation
the Continent than any of the English newspapers. It was constantly read by Johnson himself; and it is but just to observe, that it has all along been diftinguished for good sense, accuracy, moderation, and delicacy.
Another instance of the same nature has been communicated to me by the Reverend Dr. Thomas Campbell, who has done himself considerable credit by his own writings. Sitting with Dr. Johnson one morning alone, he asked me if I had known Dr. Madden, who was authour of the premium-scheme in Ireland. On my answering in the affirmative, and also that I had for some years lived in his neighbourhood, &c. he begged of me that when I returned to Ireland, I would endeavour to procure for him a poem of Dr. Madden’s, called · Boulter's Monument.' The reason (said he) why I wish for it, is this: when Dr. Madden came to London, he submitted that work to my castigation; and I remember I blotted a great many lines, and might have blotted many more, without making the poem the worse. However, the Doctor was very thankful, and very generous, for he gave me ten guineas, which was to me at that time a great sum.”
He this year resumed his scheme of giving an edition of Shakspeare with notes. He issued Proposals of considerable length, in which he shewed that he perfectly well knew what a variety of research such an undertaking required ; but his indolence prevented him from pursuing it with that diligence which alone can collect those scattered facts that genius, however acute, penetrating, and luminous, cannot discover by its own force. It is remarkable, that at
9 Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3d edit. p. 48.
this time his fancied activity was for the moment so vigorous, that he
“ He for subscribers bates his hook,
About this period he was offered a living of considerable value in Lincolnshire, if he were inclined to enter into holy orders. It was a rectory in the gift of Mr. Langton, the father of his much valued friend. But he did not accept of it; partly I believe from a conscientious motive, being persuaded that his temper and habits rendered him unfit for that assiduous and familiar instruction of the vulgar and ignorant, which he held to be an essential duty in a clergyman; and partly because his love of a London life was so strong, that he would have thought himself an exile in any other place, particularly if residing in the country. Whoever would wish to see his thoughts upon that subject displayed in their full force, may peruse the Adventurer, No. 126.
In 1757 it does not appear that he published any thing, except some of those articles in the Literary Magazine, which have been mentioned. That magazine, after Johnson ceased to write in it, gradually declined, though the popular epithet of Antigallican was added to it; and in July 1758 it expired. He probably prepared a part of his Shakspeare this year, and he dictated a speech on the subject of an Address to the Throne, after the expedition to Rochfort, which was delivered by one of his friends, I know not in what publick meeting. It is printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for October 1785 as his, and bears sufficient marks of authenticity.
By the favour of Mr. Walker, of the Treasury, Dublin, I have obtained a copy of the following letter from Johnson to the venerable authour of “ Differtations on the History of Ireland.”
TO CHARLES O'CONOR, Esq.
“ I have lately, by the favour of Mr. Faulkner, seen your account of Ireland, and cannot forbear to solicit a prosecution of your design. Sir William Temple complains that Ireland is less known than any other country, as to its ancient state. The natives have had little leisure, and little encouragement for enquiry; and strangers, not knowing the language, have had no ability.
“ I have long wished that the Irish literature were cultivated. Ireland is known by tradition to have been once the seat of piety and learning; and surely it would be very acceptable to all those who are curious either in the original of nations, or the affinities of Languages, to be further informed of the revolutions of a people so ancient, and once so illustrious.
“ What relation there is between the Welch and Irish languages, or between the language of Ireland and that of Biscay, deserves enquiry. Of these proyincial and unextended tongues, it feldom happens that more than one are understood by any one man; and, therefore, it seldom happens that a fair comparison can be made, I hope you will continue to cultivate this kind of learning, which has lain too long neglected, and which, if it be suffered to remain in oblivion for another century, may, perhaps, never be retrieved. As I wish well to all useful undertakings, I would not forbear to let you
know how much you deserye, in my opinion, from all lovers of study, and how much pleasure your work has given to, Sir, 1 L
“ Your most obliged sü.
« And most humble servant, .“ London, Apr. 9, 1755.
To the Reverend Mr. THOMAS WARTON. " DEAR SIR,
“ Dr. Marseli of Padua, a learned gentleman, and good Latin poet, has a mind to see Oxford. I have given him a letter to Dr. Huddesford'; and shall be glad if you will introduce him, and shew him any thing in Oxford.
“ I am printing my new edition of Shakspeare.
“ I long to see you all, but cannot conveniently come yet. You might write to me now and then, if you were good for any thing. But honores mutant mores. Professors forget their friends. I shall certainly complain to Miss Jones ?. I am
“ Your, &c. [London,] June 21, 1754.
SAM. JOHNSON. • Please to make my compliments to Mr. Wise.”
Mr. Burney having enclosed to him an extract from the review of his Dictionary in the Bibliotheque des Savans 4, and a list of subscribers to his Shakspeare, which Mr. Burney had procured in Norfolk, he wrote the following answer :
“ THAT I may show myself fensible of your favours, and not commit the same fault a fecond time, I make haste to answer the letter which I received this morning. The truth is, the other likewise was received, and I wrote an answer ; but being desirous to transmit you some proposals and receipts, I waited till I could find a convenient conveyance, and day was passed after day, till other things drove it from my thoughts, yet not so, but that I remember with great pleasure your commendation of 'my Dictionary. Your praise was welcome, not only because I believe it was sincere, but because praise has been very scarce. A man of your candour will be surprised when I tell you, that among all my acquaintance there were only two, who upon the publication of my book did not endeavour to depress me with threats of cenfure from the publick, or with objections learned from those who had learned them from my own Preface. Yours is the only, letter of good-will that I
3 « Miss Jones lived at Oxford, and was often of our parties. She was a very ingenious poetess, and published a volume of poems; and, on the whole, was a moft fenfible, agreeable, and amiable woman. She was fister of the Reverend River Jones, Chanter of Christ Church cathedral at Oxford, and Johnson used to call her the Chantress. I have heard him often address her in this passage from · IL PENSEROSO :'
· Thee, Chantress, oft the woods among
4. Tom. III. p. 482.