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No tory pities, thinking what he was;
No whig compassions, for he left the cause;
The brave regret not, for he was not brave?

The honest mourn not, knowing him a knave!"l

This year his old pupil and friend, David Garrick, having become joint patentee and manager of Drury-lane Theatre, Johnson honoured his opening of it with a Prologue,* which, for just and manly dramatic criticism on the whole range of the English stage, as well as for poetical excellence, is unrivalled. Like the celebrated Epilogue to the "Distressed Mother," it was, during the season, often called for by the audience. The most striking and brilliant passages of it have been so often repeated, and are so well recollected by all the lovers of the drama and of poetry, that it would be superfluous to point them out. In the "Gentleman's Magazine" for December this year he inserted an "Ode on Winter," which is, I think, an admirable specimen of his genius for lyric poetry.

But the year 1747 is distinguished as the epoch when Johnson's arduous and important work, his "DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE," was announced to the world, by the publication of its plan or prospectus.

How long this immense undertaking had been the object of his con

templation I do not know. I once asked him
by what means he had attained to that as-
tonishing knowledge of our language, by which
he was enabled to realise a design of such ex-
tent and accumulated difficulty.
He told me,

that "it was not the effect of particular study,



These verses are somewhat too severe on the extraordinary person who is the chief figure in them; for he was undoubtedly brave. His pleasantry during his solemn trial (in which, by the way, I have heard Mr. David Hume observe, that we have one of the very few speeches of Mr. Murray, now Earl of Mansfield authentically given) was very remarkable. When asked if he had any questions to put to Sir Everard Fawkener, who was one of the strongest witnesses against him, he answered, "I only wish him joy of his young wife." And after sentence of death, in the horrible terms in such cases of treason, was pronounced upon him, and he was retiring from the bar, he said, "Fare you well, my lords, we shall not all meet again in one place." He behaved with perfect composure at his execution, and called out, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."BOSWELL.


2 My friend Mr. Courtnay, whose eulogy on Johnson's Latin Poetry has been inserted in this work, is no less happy in praising his English Poetry.

But hark, he sings! the strain even Pope admires;

Indignant virtue her own bard inspires,

Sublime as Juvenal he pours his lays,

And with the Roman shares congenial praise ;

In glowing numbers now he fires the age,

And Shakspeare's sun relumes the clouded stage.-BOSWELL.

that it had grown up in his mind insensibly." I have been informed by Mr. James Dodsley, that several years before this period, when Johnson was one day sitting in his brother Robert's shop, he heard his brother suggest to him that a dictionary of the English language would be a work that would be well received by the public; that Johnson seemed at first to catch at the proposition, but, after a pause, said, in his abrupt decisive manner, "I believe I shall not undertake it." That he, however, had bestowed much thought upon the subject before he published his Plan," is evident from the enlarged, clear, and accurate views which it exhibits; and we find him mentioning in that tract, that many of the writers whose testimonies were to be produced as authorities were selected by Pope; which proves that he had been furnished, probably by Mr. Robert Dodsley, with whatever hints that eminent poet had contributed towards a great literary project, that had been the subject of important consideration in a former reign.


The booksellers who contracted with Johnson, single and unaided, for the execution of a work, which in other countries has not been effected but by the co-operating exertions of many, were Mr. Robert Dodsley, Mr. Charles Hitch, Mr. Andrew Millar, the two Messieurs Longman, and the two Messieurs Knapton. The price stipulated was fifteen hundred and seventy-five pounds.

The "Plan" was addressed to Philip Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield then one of his Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State; a nobleman who was very ambitious of literary distinction, and who, upon being informed of the design, had expressed himself in terms very favourable to its success. There is, perhaps, in everything of any consequence, a secret history which it would be amusing to know, could we have it authentically communicated. Johnson told me,1 "Sir, the way in which the plan of my Dictionary came to be inscribed to Lord Chesterfield was this: I had neglected to write it by the time appointed. Dodsley suggested a desire to have it addressed to Lord Chesterfield. I laid hold of this as a pretext for delay, that it might be better done, and let Dodsley have his desire. I said to my friend, Dr. Bathurst, 'Now if any good comes of my addressing to Lord Chesterfield, it will be ascribed to deep policy, when, in fact, it was only a casual excuse for laziness." "

It is worthy of observation that the "Plan" has not only the substantial merit of comprehension, perspicuity, and precision, but that the language of it is unexceptionably excellent; it being altogether free from that inflation of style, and those uncommon but apt and energetic words, which in some of his writings have been censured with more petulance than justice; and never was there a more dignified strain of compliment than that in which he courts the attention of one who, he had been persuaded to believe, would be a respectable patron.

1 September 22, 1777, going from Ashbourne in Derbyshire to see Ilam.-BOSWELL



"With regard to questions of purity or propriety," says he, "I was once in doubt whether I should not attribute to myself too much in attempting to decide them, and whether my province was to extend beyond the proposition of the question, and the display of the suffrages on each side; but I have been since determined, by your lordship's opinion, to interpose my own judgment, and shall therefore endeavour to support what appears to me most consonant to grammar and reason. Ausonius thought that modesty forbade him to plead inability for a task to which Cæsar had judged him equal:

'Cur me posse negem, posse quod ille putat?'

And I may hope, my lord, that since you, whose authority in our language is so generally acknowledged, have commissioned me to declare my own opinion, I shall be considered as exercising a kind of vicarious jurisdiction: and that the power which might have been denied to my own claim will be readily allowed me as the delegate of your lordship."

This passage proves that Johnson's addressing his "Plan" to Lord Chesterfield was not merely in consequence of the result of a report by means of Dodsley that the earl favoured the design, but that there had been a particular communication with his lordship concerning it. Dr. Taylor told me that Johnson sent his "Plan" to him in manuscript for his perusal; and that when it was lying upon his table, Mr. William Whitehead happened to pay him a visit, and being shown it, was highly pleased with such parts of it as he had time to read, and begged to take it home with him, which he was allowed to do; that from him it got into the hands of a noble lord, who carried it to Lord Chesterfield. When Taylor observed this might be an advantage, Johnson replied, No, Sir, it would have come out with more bloom if it had not been seen before by any body."


The opinion conceived of it by another noble author appears from the following extract of a letter from the Earl of Orrery to Dr. Birch :—

"Caledon, Dec. 30, 1747.

"I have just now seen the specimen of Mr. Johnson's Dictionary, addressed to Lord Chesterfield. I am much pleased with the plan, and I think the specimen is one of the best that I have ever read. Most specimens disgust rather than prejudice us in favour of the work to follow; but the language of Mr. Johnson's is good, and the arguments are properly and modestly expressed. However, some expressions may be cavilled at, but they are trifles. I'll mention one: the barren laurel. The laurel is not barren, in any sense whatever; it bears fruits and flowers. Sed hæ sunt nugœ, and I have great expectations from the performance." [Birch MSS. Brit. Mus. 4303.]

That he was fully aware of the arduous nature of the undertaking he acknowledges, and shows himself perfectly sensible of it in the conclusion of his "Plan;" but he had a noble consciousness of his own abilities, which enabled him to go on with undaunted spirit.

Dr. Adams found him one day busy at his Dictionary, when the following dialogue ensued:-ADAMS: "This is a great work, Sir. How are you to get all the etymologies?" JOHNSON: "Why, Sir, here is a shelf with Junius, and Skinner, and others; and there is a Welsh gentleman who has published a collection of Welsh proverbs, who will help me with the Welsh." ADAMS: "But, Sir, how can you do this in three years?" JOHNSON: "Sir, I have no doubt that I can do it in three years." ADAMS: “But the French Academy, which consists of forty members, took forty years to compile their Dictionary." JOHNSir, thus it is: this is the proportion. Let me see; forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of an Englishman to a Frenchman." With so much ease and pleasantry could he talk of that prodigious labour which he had undertaken to execute.


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The public has had, from another pen,1 a long detail of what had been done in this country by prior lexicographers; and no doubt Johnson was wise to avail himself of them, so far as they went, but the learned yet judicious research of etymology, the various yet accurate display of definition, and the rich collection of authorities were reserved for the superior mind of our great philologist. For the mechanical part he employed, as he told me, six amanuenses; and let it be remembered by the natives of North Britain, to whom he is supposed to have been so hostile, that five of them were of that country. There were two Messieurs Macbean; Mr. Shiels, who, we shall hereafter see, partly wrote the "Lives of the Poets," to which the name of Cibber is affixed;2 Mr. Stewart, son of Mr. George Stewart, bookseller at Edinburgh; and a Mr. Maitland. The sixth of these humble assistants was Mr. Peyton, who, I believe, taught French, and published some elementary tracts.

To all these painful labourers Johnson showed a never-ceasing kindness, so far as they stood in need of it. The elder Mr. Macbean had afterwards the honour of being librarian to Archibald Duke of Argyle, for many years, but was left without a shilling. Johnson wrote for him a Preface to "A System of Ancient Geography ;" and, by the favour of Lord Thurlow, got him admitted a poor brother of the Charter-house. For Shiels, who died of a consumption, he had much tenderness; and it has been thought that some choice sentences in the "Lives of the Poets" were supplied by him. Peyton, when reduced to penury, had frequent aid from the bounty of Johnson, who at last was at the `expense of burying him and his wife.

While the Dictionary was going forward, Johnson lived part of the time in Holborn, part in Gough-square, Fleet-street; and he had an

1 See Sir John Hawkins's "Life of Johnson."-BosWELL.

Sir John Hawkins's list of former English Dictionaries is, however, by no means complete.-MALONE.

2 See vol. iii. under April 10, 1776.-BoswELL.

upper room fitted up like a counting-house for the purpose, in which he gave to the copyists their several tasks. The words, partly taken from other dictionaries, and partly supplied by himself, having been first written down with spaces left between them, he delivered in writing

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their etymologies, definitions, and various significations. The authorities were copied from the books themselves, in which he had marked the passages with a black-lead pencil, the traces of which could easily be effaced. I have seen several of them, in which that trouble had not been taken, so that they were just as when usea by the copyists. It is remarkable, that he was so attentive in the choice of the passages in which words were authorised, that one may read page after page of his Dictionary with improvement and pleasure; and it should not pass unobserved, that he has quoted no author whose writings had a tendency to hurt sound religion and morality.

The necessary expense of preparing a work of such magnitude for the press must have been a considerable deduction from the price stipu

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