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HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL
'HEN Dr. JOHNSON undertook to write
this justly celebrated paper, he had many difficulties to encounter. * If, lamenting that during the long period which had elapsed since the conclusion of the writings of ADDISON, vice and folly had begun to recover from depression and contempt, he wished again to rectify publick taste and manners, to “ give confidence to virtue and ardour to truth,” he knew that the popularity of those writings had constituted them a precedent, which his genius was incapable of following, and from which it would be dangerous to depart. In the character of an Essayist he was hitherto unknown to the publick. He had written nothing by which a favourable judgment could be formed of his success in a species of composition, which seemed to require the ease, and vivacity and humour of polished life; and he had probably often heard it repeated that Addison and his
colleagues had anticipated all the subjects fit for a popular essay: that he might indeed aim at varying or improving what had been said before, but could stand no chance of being esteemed an original writer, or of striking the imagination by new and unexpected reflections and incidents. He was likewise, perhaps, aware that he might be reckoned, what he about this time calls himself, “ a retired and uncourtly scholar," unfit to describe, because precluded from the observation of refined society and manners.
But they who pride themselves on long and accurate knowledge of the world, are not aware how little of that knowledge is necessary in order to expose vice, or detect absurdity ; nor can they believe that evidence, far short of ocular demonstration, is amply sufficient for the purposes of the wit and the moralist. Dr. Johnson appeared in the character of a moral teacher with powers of mind beyond the common lot of man, and with a knowledge of the inmost recesses of the human heart, such as never was displayed with more elegance, or stronger conviction. Though in some respects a recluse, he had not been an inattentive observer of human life; and he was now of an age at which probably as much is known as can be known, and at which the full vigour of his faculties enabled him to divulge his experience and his observations, with a certainty that they were neither immature nor fallacious. He had studied, and he had noted the varieties of human character; and it is evident, that the lesser improprieties of conduct, and errors of domestick life, had often been the subjects of his secret ridicule.
Previously to the commencement of the RAMBLER, he had drawn the outlines of many essays, of which specimens may be seen in the biographies of Sir John Hawkins, and Mr. BOSWELL; and it is probable that the sentiments of all these papers had been long floating in his mind. With such preparation, he began the RAMBLER without any com.nunication with his friends, or desire of assistance. Whether he proposed the scheme himself does not appear; but he was fortunate in forming an engagement with Mr. JOHN PAYNE, a bookseller in Paternoster-row, and afterwards the chief accountant in the bank of England*: a man with whom he lived
many years in habits of friendship; and who on the present occasion treated his author with great liberality. He engaged to pay him two guineas for each paper, or four guineas per week; which at that time must have been to JOHNSON a very considerable sum; and he admitted him to a share of the future profits of the work, when it should
This office he resigned June 30, 1785. He had been long the friend and disciple of Dr. James Foster, an eminent dissenter, but afterwards became no less an admirer of the pious William Law, and wrote a volume in his defence, against Dr. Warburton. He published also a volume of Evangelical Discourses, and gave a new Translation of Thomas a Kempis, being dissatisfied with the loose paraphrase of Dean Stanhope. In all these his abilities appeared to considerable advantage He died March 10, 1787, at an advanced age.