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AN ACCOUNT OF THE EARLY LIFE OF DR.
JOHNSON, WRITTEN BY HIMSELF.
[From a little volume published in 1805, and now become scarce, entitled “ An Account of the Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, from his Birth to his Eleventh Year, written by himself: to which are added, Original Letters to Dr. Johnson, by Miss Hill Boothby: from the MSS. preserved by the Doctor, and now in possession of Richard Wright, Surgeon, of Lichfield."-" This volume (says the Editor) was among that mass of papers which were ordered to be committed to the flames a few days before Dr. Johnson's death, thirty-two pages of which were torn out by himself, and destroyed. Francis Barber, his black servant, unwilling that all the MSS of his illustrious master should be utterly lost, preserved these relics from the flames. By purchase they came into the possession of the Editor."] ,
I. 1709-10. Sept. 7.(1) 1709, I was born at Lichfield. My mother had a very difficult and dangerous labour, and was assisted by George Hector, a man-midwife of great reputation. I was born almost dead (2), and could not cry for some time. When he had me in his arms, he said, “ Here is a brave boy.”
In a few weeks an inflammation was discovered on my buttock, which was at first, I think, taken for a burn; but soon appeared to be a natural disorder. It swelled, broke, and healed.
My Father being that year Sheriff of Lichfield, and to ride the circuit of the County next day, which was a ceremony
(1) 18. of the present style. - Orig.
(2) To have been born almost dead has been related of many eminent men; amongst others of Addison, Lord Lyttelton, and Voltaire. -CROKER.
then performed with great pomp; he was asked by my mother, “ Whom he would invite to the Riding ?” and answered, “ All the town now." He feasted the citizens with uncommon magnificence, and was the last but one that maintained the splendour of the Riding.
I was, by my father's persuasion, put to one Marclew, commonly called Bellison (1), the servant, or wife of a servant of my father, to be nursed in George Lane, where I used to call when I was a bigger boy, and eat fruit in the garden, which was full of trees. Here it was discovered that my eyes were bad; and an issue was cut in my left arm(), of which I took no great notice, as I think my mother has told me, having my little hand in a custard.
It is observable, that, having been told of this operation, I always imagined that I remembered it, but I laid the scene in the wrong house. Such confusions of memory I suspect to be common.
My mother visited me every day, and used to go different ways, that her assiduity might not expose her to ridicule; and often left her fan or glove behind her, that she might have a pretence to come back unexpected; but she never discovered any token of neglect. Dr. Swinfen (3) told me, that the scrofulous sores which afflicted me proceeded from the bad humours of the nurse, whose son had the same distemper, and was likewise short-sighted, but both in a less degree. My mother thought my diseases derived from her family.(4)
' (1) The name of Marklew, alias Bellison, is yet common in Lichfield, and is usually so distinguished. - R. Wright.
(2) How long this issue was continued I do not remember, I believe it was suffered to dry when I was about six years old. - Orig.
(3) Samuel Swinfen, who took a degree of Doctor of Medicine from Pembroke College in 1712.- HALL.
(4) His mother and Dr. Swinfen were both perhaps wrong in their con. Secture as to the origin of the disease; he more probably inherited it from his father, with the morbid melancholy which is so commonly an attendant on scrofulous habits. - CROKER,
In ten weeks I was taken home, a poor, diseased infant, almost blind.
I remember my aunt Nath. Ford told me, when I was about ... years old, that she would not have picked such a poor creature up in the street.
In ... 67, when I was at Lichfield, I went to look for my nurse's house; and, inquiring somewhat obscurely, was told “ this is the house in which you were nursed.” I saw may nurse's son, to whose milk I succeeded, reading a large Bible, which my nurse had bought, as I was then told, some time before her death.
Dr. Swinfen used to say, that he never knew any child reared with so much difficulty.
II. 1710-11. In the second year I knew not what happened to me. I be. lieve it was then that my mother carried me to Trysul (), to consult Dr. Atwood, an oculist of Worcester. My father and Mrs. Harriots, I think, never had much kindness for each other. She was my mother's relation; and he had none so high to whom he could send any of his family. He saw her seldom himself, and willingly disgusted her, by sending his horses from home on Sunday; which she considered, and with reason, as a breach of duty. My father had much vanity, which his adversity hindered from being fully exerted. I remember, that, mentioning her legacy in the humility of distress, he called her our good Cousin Hurriots. My mother had no value for his relations; those indeed whom we knew of were much lower than hers. This contempt began, I know not on which side, very early : but, as my father was little at home, it had not much effect.
My father and mother had not much happiness from each other. They seldom conversed; for my father could not bear to talk of his affairs; and my mother, being unacquainted with books, cared not to talk of any thing else. Had my mother been more literate, they had been better companions. She might have sometimes introduced her unwelcome topic with more success, if she could have diversified her conversation. Of business she had no distinct conception; and therefore her discourse was composed only of complaint, fear, and suspicion. Neither of them ever tried to calculate the profits of trade, or the expenses of living. My mother concluded that we were poor, because we lost by some of our trades; but the truth was, that my father, having in the early part of his life contracted debts, never had trade sufficient to enable him to pay them, and maintain his family; he got something, but not enough.
1) Near Wolverhampton,
It was not till about 1768, that I thought to calculate the returns of my father's trade, and by that estimate his probable profits. This, I believe, my parents never did.
III. 1711-12. This year, in Lent - 12. I was taken to London, to be touched for the evil by Queen Anne. My mother was at Nicholson's, the famous bookseller, in Little Britain. (1). I always retained some memory of this journey, though I was then but thirty months old. I remembered a little dark room behind the kitchen, where the jack-weight fell through a hole in the floor, into which I once slipped my leg. ()
I remember a boy crying at the palace when I went to be touched. Being asked, “on which side of the shop was the counter ?” I answered, “on the left from the entrance," many years after, and spoke, not by guess, but by memory. We went in the stage-coach, and returned in the waggon, as my mother said, because my cough was violent. The hope of saving a few shillings was no slight motive; for she, not having
(1) My mother, then with child, concealed her pregnancy, that she might not be hindered from the journey. - Orig.
(2) I seem to remember, that I played with a string and a bell, which my cousin Isaac Johnson gave me; and that there was a cat with a white collar, and a dog, called Chops, that leaped over a stick : but I know not whether I remember the thing, or the talk of it.- Orig.
been accustomed to money, was afraid of such expenses as now seem very small. She sewed two guineas in her petticoat, lest she should be robbed.
We were troublesome to the passengers; but to suffer such inconveniences in the stage-coach was common in these days to persons in much higher rank. (1) She bought me a small silver cup and spoon, marked SAM. I., lest, if they had been marked S. I., which was her name, they should, upon her death, have been taken from me. She bought me a speckled linen frock, which I knew afterwards by the name of my London frock. The cup was one of the last pieces of plate which dear Tetty ) sold in our distress. I have now the spoon. She bought at the same time two tea-spoons, and till my manhood she had no more.
My father considered tea as very expensive, and discouraged my mother from keeping company with the neighbours, and from paying visits or receiving them. She lived to say, many years after, that if the time were to pass again, she would not comply with such unsocial injunctions. (3)
I suppose that in this year I was first informed of a future state. I remember, that being in bed with my mother one morning, I was told by her of the two places to which the inhabitants of this world were received after death : one, a fine place filled with happiness, called Heaven; the other, a sad place, called Hell. That this account much affected my imagination, I do not remember. When I was risen, my mother bade me repeat what she had told me to Thomas Jackson. When I told this afterwards to my mother, she
. (1) I was sick; one woman fondled me, the other was disgusted. — Orig.
(2) His wife, whom he called by this familiar contraction of Elizabeth. - CROKER.
(3) When Dr. Johnson, at an advanced age, recorded all these minute circumstances, he contemplated, we are told, writing the history of own life, and probably intended to develope, from his own infant recollections, the growth and powers of the faculty of memory, which he possessed in so remarkable a degree. From the little details of his domestic history he perhaps meant also to trace the progressive change in the habits of the middle classes of society, - CROKER.