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RECEPTION OF THE POEM

83

buzz of the literary circles was, "Here is an unknown poet, greater even than Pope." And it is recorded in the "Gentleman's Magazine of that year,' that it "got to the second edition in the course of a week."

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One of the warmest patrons of this poem on its first appearance was General Oglethorpe, whose " strong benevolence of soul" was unabated during the course of a very long life; though it is painful to think, that he had but too much reason to become cold and callous, and discontented with the world, from the neglect which he experienced of his public and private worth, by those in whose power it was to gratify so gallant a veteran with marks of distinction. This extraordinary person was as remarkable for his learning and taste, as for his other eminent qualities; and no man was more prompt, active, and generous, in encouraging merit. encouraging merit. I have heard Johnson gratefully acknowledge, in his presence, the kind and effectual support which he gave to his "London," though unacquainted with its author.

Pope, who then filled the poetical throne without a 1 Page 269. B.

2 "One, driven by strong benevolence of soul,

Shall fly, like Oglethorpe, from pole to pole."
Pope's Imitations of Horace, ii. 2, 276.

James Edward Oglethorpe (1698-1785) was educated at Oxford, served under Prince Eugene against the Turks, and had a command in the rebellion of 1745, where he was considered to have been rather too lenient to the enemy. His conduct was the subject of an inquiry, and though he was acquitted, he was never afterwards. employed. He sat for several Parliaments, where he acquired the reputation of a Jacobite. The quotation refers to his exertions in the reform of our prisons and the colonisation of the province of Georgia, where he spent ten years. His wisdom does not seem to have been always equal to his philanthropy. Horace Walpole (Letters, viii. 548) thus describes him in his eighty-seventh year: "His eyes, ears, articulation, limbs, and memory would suit a boy, if a boy could recollect a century backwards. His teeth are gone; he is a shadow and a wrinkled one; but his spirits and his spirit are in full bloom: two years and a half ago he challenged a neighbouring gentleman for trespassing on his manor."

rival, it may reasonably be presumed, must have been particularly struck by the sudden appearance of such a poet; and, to his credit, let it be remembered, that his feelings and conduct on the occasion were candid and liberal. He requested Mr. Richardson, son of the painter, to endeavour to find out who this new author was. Mr. Richardson, after some inquiry, having informed him that he had discovered only that his name was Johnson, and that he was some obscure man, Pope said, "He will soon be déterré." 1 We shall presently see, from a note written by Pope, that he was himself, afterward more successful in his inquiries than his friend.

That in this justly-celebrated poem may be found a few rhymes which the critical precision of English prosody at this day would disallow, cannot be denied; but with this small imperfection, which in the general blaze of its excellence is not perceived, till the mind has subsided into cool attention, it is, undoubtedly, one of the noblest productions in our language, both for sentiment and expression. The nation was then in that ferment against the Court and the Ministry, which some years after ended in the downfall of Sir Robert Walpole; and as it has been said, that Tories are Whigs when out of place, and Whigs Tories when in place; so, as a Whig Administration ruled with what force it could, a Tory Opposition had all the animation and all the eloquence of resistance to power, aided by the common topics of patriotism, liberty, and independence! Accordingly we find in Johnson's "London" the most spirited invectives against tyranny and oppression, the warmest predilection for his own country, and the purest love of virtue; interspersed with traits of his own particular character and situation, not omitting his prejudices as a "true-born Englishman," not only

"2

1 Sir Joshua Reynolds, from the information of the younger Richardson.

B.

2 It is, however, remarkable, that he uses the epithet, which undoubtedly, since the union between England and Scotland, ought to denominate the natives of both parts of our island:

"Was early taught a BRITON's rights to prize." B.

RECEPTION OF THE POEM.

85

against foreign countries, but against Ireland and Scotland. On some of these topics I shall quote a few passages:

"The cheated nation's happy fav'rites see;

Mark whom the great caress, who frown on me."
"Has heaven reserv'd, in pity to the poor,
No pathless waste, or undiscover'd shore?
No secret island in the boundless main ?
No peaceful desert yet unclaim'd by Spain?
Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore,
And bear Oppression's insolence no more."
"How, when competitors like these contend,
Can surly Virtue hope to find a friend ? "

"This mournful truth is every where confess'd,
SLOW RISES WORTH, BY POVERTY DEPRESS'D!"

We may easily conceive with what feeling a great mind like his, cramped and galled by narrow circumstances, uttered this last line, which he marked by capitals. The whole of the poem is eminently excellent, and there are in it such proofs of a knowledge of the world, and of a mature acquaintance with life, as cannot be contemplated without wonder, when we consider that he was then only in his twenty-ninth year, and had yet been so little in the 'busy haunts of men.'

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Yet, while we admire the poetical excellence of this poem, candour obliges us to allow, that the flame of patriotism and zeal for popular resistance with which it is fraught, had no just cause. There was, in truth, no "oppression"; the "nation was not "cheated." Sir Robert Walpole was a wise and a benevolent minister, who thought that the happiness and prosperity of a commercial country like ours would be best promoted by peace, which he accordingly maintained with credit, during a very long period. Johnson himself afterward honestly acknowledged the merit of Walpole, whom he called "a fixed star"; while he characterised his opponent, Pitt, as "a meteor.' But Johnson's juvenile poem was naturally impregnated with the fire of opposition, and upon every account was universally admired.

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Though thus elevated into fame, and conscious of uncommon powers, he had not that bustling confidence, or, I may rather say, that animated ambition, which one might have supposed would have urged him to endeavour at rising in life. But such was his inflexible dignity of character, that he could not stoop to court the great; without which, hardly any man has made his way to a high station. He could not expect to produce many such works as his "London," and he felt the hardships of writing for bread; he was, therefore, willing to resume the office of a schoolmaster, so as to have a sure, though moderate, income for his life; and an offer being made to him of the mastership of a school,' provided he could

"some

1 In a billet written by Mr. Pope in the following year, this school is said to have been in Shropshire; but as it appears from a letter from Earl Gower, that the trustees of it were worthy gentlemen in Johnson's neighbourhood," I in my first edition suggested that Pope must have, by mistake, written Shropshire instead of Staffordshire. But I have since been obliged to Mr. Spearing, attorney-at-law, for the following information :"William Adams, formerly citizen and haberdasher of London, founded a school at Newport, in the county of Salop, by deed dated 27th of November, 1656, by which he granted, the yearly sum of sixty pounds to such able and learned schoolmaster, from time to time, being of godly life and conversation, who should have been educated at one of the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, and had taken the degree of Master of Arts, and was well read in the Greek and Latin tongues, as should be nominated from time to time by the said William Adams, during his life; and after the decease of the said William Adams by the governors (namely, the Master and Wardens of the Haberdashers' Company of the city of London) and their successors.' The manor and lands out of which the revenues for the maintenance of the school were to issue are situate at Knighton and Adbaston, in the county of Stafford." From the foregoing account of this foundation, particularly the circumstances of the salary being sixty pounds, and the degree of Master of Arts being a requisite qualification in the teacher, it seemed probable that this was the school in contemplation; and that Lord Gower erroneously supposed that the gentlemen who possessed the lands, out of which the revenues issued, were trustees of the charity. Such was the probable conjecture. But in the Gentleman's Magazine for May, 1793, there is a letter

POPE'S INTEREST IN THE AUTHOR

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obtain the degree of Master of Arts, Dr. Adams was applied to, by a common friend, to know whether that could be granted him as a favour from the University of Oxford. But though he had made such a figure in the literary world, it was then thought too great a favour to be asked.

Pope, without any knowledge of him but from his "London," recommended him to Earl Gower, who endeavoured to procure for him a degree from Dublin, by the following letter to a friend of Dean Swift :

"SIR,

"MR. SAMUEL JOHNSON (author of "London," a satire, and some other poetical pieces) is a native of this country, and much respected by some worthy gentlemen in his neighbourhood, who are trustees of a charity-school now vacant; the certain salary is sixty pounds a year, of which they are desirous to make him master; but unfortunately, he is not capable of receiving their bounty, which would make him happy for life, by not being a Master of Arts; which by the statutes of this school, the master

of it must be.

from Mr. Henn, one of the masters of the school of Appleby, in Leicestershire, in which he writes as follows: "I compared time and circumstance together, in order to discover whether the school in question might not be this of Appleby. Some of the trustees at that period were 'worthy gentlemen of the neighbourhood of Lichfield.' Appleby itself is not far from the neighbourhood of Lichfield: the salary, the degree requisite, together with the time of election, all agreeing with the statutes of Appleby. The election, as said in the letter, could not be delayed longer than the 11th of next month,' which was the 11th of September, just three months after the annual audit-day of Appleby school, which is always on the 11th of June; and the statutes enjoin, ne ullius præceptorum electio diutius tribus mensibus moraretur, &c. These I thought to be convincing proofs that my conjecture was not ill-founded, and that in a future edition of that book, the circumstance might be recorded as fact. But what banishes every shadow of doubt, is the Minute-book of the school, which declares the head-mastership to be at that time VACANT." I cannot omit returning thanks to this learned gentleman for the very handsome manner in which he has in that letter been so good as to speak of this work. B.

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