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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 (1), 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 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 than the names of the several speakers, and the part which they had taken in the debate.
66 The Eagle and Robin Redbreast,” in the collection of poems entitled, « The Union,” though it is there said to be written by Alexander Scott, before the year 1600.
(1) See, in D'Israeli's “ Calamities of Authors," vol. i. p. 5., a letter from Guthrie to the minister, dated June 3. 1762, stating, that a pension of 2001. a year had been “regularly and quarterly paid him, ever since the year 1745-6; and offering to serve his Majesty, under the minister's “future patronage and protection, with greater zeal, if possible, than ever." Guthrie was born at Brechin, in 1708, and died in 1770.7
Johnson publishes “ London, a Poem.” — Letters to
Cave relating thereto. — Endeavours, without Success, to obtain the Degree of Master of Arts. — Recommended by. Pope to Earl Gower. – The Earl's Letter on his Behalf. — Begins a Translation of Father Paul Sarpi's History. — Publishes “ A Complete Vindication of the Licensers of the Stage” – and “ Marmor Norfolciense.” – Pope's Note to Richardson concerning him. — Characteristic Anecdotes. Writes the Debates in Parliament, under the Dis. guise of “ the Senate of Lilliput.”
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. (1) 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 topics of satire. Whether Johnson had previously read Oldham's imitation (2), 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.”
(1) It is hardly fair to compare the poems in this hostile way: Boileau's was a mere badinage, complaining of, or laughing at, the personal dangers and inconveniences of Paris. Johnson's object was to satirise the moral depravity of a great city. CROKER.
(2) [John Oldham, whose Satires against the Jesuits gained him the appellation of “the English Juvenal," was born in 1653, and died in 1683, in his thirtieth year. At one period of his life he was a perfect votary of the bottle. In a letter (now in the Bodleian Library) written by him to one of his companions, after he had retired from London, he says, “ Thou knowest, Jack, there was never a more unconcerned coxcomb than myself once; but experience and thinking have made me quit that humour. I think virtue and sobriety (how much soever the men of wit may turn 'em into ridicule) the only measures to be happy, and believe the feast of a good conscience the best treat that can make a true epicure. I find I retain all the briskness, acriness, and gaiety I had, but purged from the dross and lees of debauchery; and am as merry as ever, though not so mad.”]
“ No calling or profession comes amiss,
OLDHAM. “ All sciences a fasting monsieur knows.”
JOHNSON. The particulars which Oldham has collected, both as exhibiting the horrors of London, and of the times, contrasted with better days, are different from those of Johnson, and in general well chosen, and well expressed. (1)
There are in Oldham's imitation, many prosaic verses and bad rhymes, and his poem sets out with a strange inadvertent blunder:“ Though much concern’d to leave my old dear friend, : I must, however, his design commend
Of fixing in the country." 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 “ Though much concern’d to lose my old dear friend.”
There is one passage in the original better transfused by Oldham than by Johnson:“ Nil habet in felix paupertas durius in se,
Quàm quod ridiculos homines facit.”
(1) 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,
Consider other dangers of the night;
the night affright,
From emptied chs are from
which is an exquisite remark on the galling meanness and contempt annexed to poverty. Johnson's imitation is, – “ Of all the griefs that harass the distrest,
Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest.” Oldham's, though less elegant, is more just, — “ Nothing in poverty so ill is borne,
As its exposing men to grinning scorn.”('). 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.
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 :
LETTER 4. TO MR. CAVE.
“ Castle Street, Wednesday Morning. (March, 1738.] “Sir, — When I took the liberty of writing to you a few days ago, I did not expect a repetition of this same
(1) [“ O Poverty, thy thousand ills combined
Sink not so deep into the generous mind
Gifford's Juvenal. 7