The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D., by James Boswell

1757: AETAT. 48.

MR. BURNEY having enclosed to him an extract from the review of his Dictionary in the Bibliotheque des Savans, and a list of subscribers to his Shakspeare, which Mr. Burney had procured in Norfolk, he wrote the following answer:

‘TO MR. BURNEY, IN LYNNE, NORFOLK.

‘SIR— That I may shew myself sensible of your favours, and not commit the same fault a second 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 censure from the publick, or with objections learned from those who had learned them from my own Preface. Your’s is the only letter of goodwill that I have received; though, indeed, I am promised something of that sort from Sweden.

‘How my new edition will be received I know not; the subscription has not been very successful. I shall publish about March.

‘If you can direct me how to send proposals, I should wish that they were in such hands.

‘I remember, Sir, in some of the first letters with which you favoured me, you mentioned your lady. May I enquire after her? In return for the favours which you have shewn me, it is not much to tell you, that I wish you and her all that can conduce to your happiness. I am, Sir, your most obliged, and most humble servant,

‘SAM. JOHNSON.’

‘Gough-square, Dec. 24, 1757.’

In 1758 we find him, it should seem, in as easy and pleasant a state of existence, as constitutional unhappiness ever permitted him to enjoy.

‘TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ., AT LANGTON, LINCOLNSHIRE.

‘DEAREST SIR— I must indeed have slept very fast, not to have been awakened by your letter. None of your suspicions are true; I am not much richer than when you left me; and, what is worse, my omission of an answer to your first letter, will prove that I am not much wiser. But I go on as I formerly did, designing to be some time or other both rich and wise; and yet cultivate neither mind nor fortune. Do you take notice of my example, and learn the danger of delay. When I was as you are now, towering in the confidence of twenty-one, little did I suspect that I should be at forty-nine, what I now am.

‘But you do not seem to need my admonition. You are busy in acquiring and in communicating knowledge, and while you are studying, enjoy the end of study, by making others wiser and happier. I was much pleased with the tale that you told me of being tutour to your sisters. I, who have no sisters nor brothers, look with some degree of innocent envy on those who may be said to be born to friends; and cannot see, without wonder, how rarely that native union is afterwards regarded. It sometimes, indeed, happens, that some supervenient cause of discord may overpower this original amity; but it seems to me more frequently thrown away with levity, or lost by negligence, than destroyed by injury or violence. We tell the ladies that good wives make good husbands; I believe it is a more certain position that good brothers make good sisters.

‘I am satisfied with your stay at home, as Juvenal with his friend’s retirement to Cumae: I know that your absence is best, though it be not best for me.

‘Quamvis digressu veteris confusus amici,

Laudo tamen vacuis quod sedem figere Cumis

Destinet, atque unum civem donare Sibylloe.’

‘Langton is a good Cumae, but who must be Sibylla? Mrs. Langton is as wise as Sibyl, and as good; and will live, if my wishes can prolong life, till she shall in time be as old. But she differs in this, that she has not scattered her precepts in the wind, at least not those which she bestowed upon you.

‘The two Wartons just looked into the town, and were taken to see Cleone, where, David11 says, they were starved for want of company to keep them warm. David and Doddy1212 have had a new quarrel, and, I think, cannot conveniently quarrel any more. Cleone was well acted by all the characters, but Bellamy left nothing to be desired. I went the first night, and supported it, as well as I might; for Doddy, you know, is my patron, and I would not desert him. The play was very well received. Doddy, after the danger was over, went every night to the stage-side, and cried at the distress of poor Cleone.

11 Mr. Garrick — BOSWELL.

12* Mr. Dodsley, the Authour of Cleone. — BOSWELL.

‘I have left off housekeeping, and therefore made presents of the game which you were pleased to send me. The pheasant I gave to Mr. Richardson,13 the bustard to Dr. Lawrence, and the pot I placed with Miss Williams, to be eaten by myself. She desires that her compliments and good wishes may be accepted by the family; and I make the same request for myself.

13 Mr. Samuel Richardson, authour of Clarissa. — BOSWELL.

‘Mr. Reynolds has within these few days raised his price to twenty guineas a head, and Miss is much employed in miniatures. I know not any body [else] whose prosperity has increased since you left them.

‘Murphy is to have his Orphan of China acted next month; and is therefore, I suppose, happy. I wish I could tell you of any great good to which I was approaching, but at present my prospects do not much delight me; however, I am always pleased when I find that you, dear Sir, remember, your affectionate, humble servant,

‘SAM. JOHNSON.’

‘Jan. 9, 1758.’

Dr. Burney has kindly favoured me with the following memorandum, which I take the liberty to insert in his own genuine easy style. I love to exhibit sketches of my illustrious friend by various eminent hands.

‘Soon after this, Mr. Burney, during a visit to the capital, had an interview with him in Gough-square, where he dined and drank tea with him, and was introduced to the acquaintance of Mrs. Williams. After dinner, Mr. Johnson proposed to Mr. Burney to go up with him into his garret, which being accepted, he there found about five or six Greek folios, a deal writing-desk, and a chair and a half. Johnson giving to his guest the entire seat, tottered himself on one with only three legs and one arm. Here he gave Mr. Burney Mrs. Williams’s history, and shewed him some volumes of his Shakspeare already printed, to prove that he was in earnest. Upon Mr. Burney’s opening the first volume, at the Merchant of Venice, he observed to him, that he seemed to be more severe on Warburton than Theobald. “O poor Tib.! (said Johnson) he was ready knocked down to my hands; Warburton stands between me and him.” “But, Sir, (said Mr. Burney,) you’ll have Warburton upon your bones, won’t you?” “No, Sir; he’ll not come out: he’ll only growl in his den.” “But you think, Sir, that Warburton is a superiour critick to Theobald?” “O Sir he’d make two-and-fifty Theobalds, cut into slices! The worst of Warburton is, that he has a rage for saying something, when there’s nothing to be said.” Mr. Burney then asked him whether he had seen the letter which Warburton had written in answer to a pamphlet addressed “To the most impudent Man alive.” He answered in the negative. Mr. Burney told him it was supposed to be written by Mallet. The controversey now raged between the friends of Pope and Bolingbroke; and Warburton and Mallet were the leaders of the several parties. Mr. Burney asked him then if he had seen Warburton’s book against Bolingbroke’s Philosophy? “No, Sir, I have never read Bolingbroke’s impiety, and therefore am not interested about its confutation.”’

On the fifteenth of April he began a new periodical paper, entitled The Idler, which came out every Saturday in a weekly news-paper, called The Universal Chronicle, or Weekly Gazette, published by Newbery. These essays were continued till April 5, 1760. Of one hundred and three, their total number, twelve were contributed by his friends.

The Idler is evidently the work of the same mind which produced The Rambler, but has less body and more spirit. It has more variety of real life, and greater facility of language. He describes the miseries of idleness, with the lively sensations of one who has felt them; and in his private memorandums while engaged in it, we find ‘This year I hope to learn diligence.’ Many of these excellent essays were written as hastily as an ordinary letter. Mr. Langton remembers Johnson, when on a visit at Oxford, asking him one evening how long it was till the post went out; and on being told about half an hour, he exclaimed, ‘then we shall do very well.’ He upon this instantly sat down and finished an Idler, which it was necessary should be in London the next day. Mr. Langton having signified a wish to read it, ‘Sir, (said he) you shall not do more than I have done myself.’ He then folded it up and sent it off.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31