« PreviousContinue »
Dr. Johnson began to learn Latin with Mr. Hawkins, usher, or under-master of Lichfield school; ^ a man,” said he, “ very skilful in his little way.” With him he continued two years, and then rose to be under the care of Mr. Hunter, the head master, who, according to his account, “ was very severeand wrong-headedly severe. He used," said he, " to beat us unmercifully : and he did not distinguish between ignorance and negligence ; for he would beat a boy equally for not knowing a thing, as for neglecting to know it. He would ask a boy a question, and if he did not answer it, he would beat him, without considering whether he had an opportunity of knowing how to answer it. For instance, he would call up a boy and ask him Latin for á candlestick, which the boy could not expect to be asked. Now, sir, if a boy could answer every question, there would be no need of a master to teach him.”
It is, however, but justice to the memory of Mr. Hunter, to mention, that though he might err in be., ing too severe, the school of Lichfield was very respectable in his time. The late Dr. Taylor, prebendary of Westminster, who was educated under him, told Mr. Boswell, that “ he was an excellent master, and that his ushers were most of them men of eminence; that Holbrook, one of the most ingenious men, best scholars, and best preachers of his age, was usher during the greatest part of the time that Johnson was at school. Then came Hague, of whom as much might be said, with the addition that he was an elegant poet. Hague was succecded by Green, afterward bishop of Lincolu, whose character in the learned world is well known. In the same form with Johnson was Congreve, who afterward became chaplain to archbishop Boulter, and by this connexion obtained good preferment in Ireland. He was a younger son of the ancient fa. inily of Congreve, in Staffordshire, of which the poet was a branch : his brother sold the estate. There was also Lowe, afterward canon of Wind
Indeed Johnson was very sensible how much he owed to Mr. Hunter. Mr. Langton one day asked him how he had acquired so accurate a knowledge of Latin, in which, perhaps, he was exceeded by no man of his time: he said, “My master whipped me very well : without that, sir, I should have done nothing.” He told Mr. Langton, that while Hunter was flogging his boys unmercifully, he used to say, “ And this I do to save you from the gallows." Johnson, upon all occasions, expressed his approbation of enforcing instruction by means of the rod. “ I would rather," said he, “ have the rod to be the general terror to all, to make them learn, than tell a child, if you do thus, or thus, you will be more esteemed than your brothers or sisters. The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself. A child is afraid of being whipped-and gets his task -and there's an end on't; whereas, by exciting emulation, and comparisons of superiority, you lay the foundation of lasting mischief: you make brothers and sisters hate each other.”
When Johnson saw some young ladies in Lincolu. shire, who were remarkably well behaved, owing to their mother's strict discipline and severe correction, he exclaimed, in one of Shakspeare's, lines, a little varied,
“ Rod, I will honour thee for this thy duty.".
At a subsequent period, he observed to Dr. Rose, “ There is now less flogging in our great schools than formerly, but then less is learned there; so that what the boys get at one end they lose at the other.”
He thus discriminated, to Dr. Percy, bishop of Dromore, his progress at his two grammar schools : "At one I learned much in the school, but little from the master; in the other, I learned much from the master, but little in the school.” · After leaving school, he remained at home two years before he went to college. What he read during this period, was not works of mere amusement
not voyages and travels, but all literature, sir, all ancient writers, all manly; though but little Greek -only some of Anacreon and Hesiod : but in this
irregular manuer I had looked into a great many books which were not commonly known at the uni.. versities, where they seldom read any books but what are put into their hands by their tutors; so that when I came to Oxford, Dr. Adams, uow master of Pembroke college, told me, I was the best qualified for the university that he had ever known come there."
- His apartment in Pembroke college was that upon the second floor over the gateway. One day, while he was sitting in it quite alone, Dr. Panting, then master of the college, whom he called a fine Jacobite fellow, overheard him uttering this soli. loquy, in his strong emphatic voice, “ Well, I have a mind to see what is done in other places of learn. ing. I'll go and visit the universities abroad. I'll go to France and Italy. I'll go to Padua-and I'll mind my business : for an Athenian blockhead is the worst of all blockheads."
Dr. Adams observed, that Johnson, while he was at Pembroke college, “ was caressed and loved by all about him, was a gay and frolicksome fellow, and passed there the happiest part of his life.” But this is a striking proof of the fallacy of appearances, and how little any of us know of the real internal state even of those whom we see most frequently; for the truth is, that he was then depressed by poverty, and irritated by disease. When Boswell inen. tioned to him this account, as given him by Dr. Adams, he said, “ Ah, sir, I was mad and violent. It was bitterness which they mistook for frolic. I was miserably poor, and I thought to fight my way by my literature and my wit ; so I disgregarded all power and all authority.”