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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 Dodney, Mr. Charles Hitch, Mr. Andrew Millar, the two Messieurs Longman, and the two Messieurs Knapton. The price ftipulated 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 every thing of any consequence, a secret history which it would be amusing to know, could we have it authentically communicated. Johnson told me', “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 Dodsey have his desire. I said to my friend Dr. Bathurst,
Now if any good comes of my addressing to Lord Chesterfield, it will be afcribed 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 energetick 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 whom he had been persuaded to believe would be a respectable patron.
« 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 judgement, and Thall therefore endeavour to support what appears to me most consonant to
3 September 22, 1777, going from Ashbourne in Derbyshire, to see Islam. O2
grammar and reason. Ausonius thought that modesty forbade him to plead inability for a talk to which Cæsar had judged him equal :
* Cur me pose negem posle quod ille putat ?' And I may hope, my Lord, that since you, whose authority in our language is fo 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 Dodsey, 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 shewn 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 authour, 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. and I have great expectations from the performance 4."
Sed hæ sunt nugas
That he was fully aware of the arduous nature of the undertaking, he acknowledges, and shews himself perfectly sensible of it in the conclusion of his
2 Birch. MSS. Brit. Muf. 4303.
« 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 Welch gentleman who has published a collection of Welch proverbs, who will help me with the Welch. 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. Johnson. Sir, 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.
The publick has had, from another pen, 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 superiour 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, the writer of the Lives of the Poets to which the name of Cibber is affixed; 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 shewed a nevēr-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 Charterhouse. 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 expence of burying both 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 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 their etymologies, definitions, and various significations. The authorities were copied from the books themfelves, 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 used 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 authour whose writings had a tendency to hurt sound religion and morality.
The necessary expence of preparing a work of such magnitude for the press, must have been a considerable deduction from the price stipulated to be paid for the copy-right. I understand that nothing was allowed by the booksellers on that account; and I remember his telling me, that a large portion of it having, by mistake, been written«upon both sides of the paper, so as to be inconvenient for the compositor, it cost him twenty pounds to have it transcribed upon one side only.
He is now to be considered as “ tugging at his oar,” as engaged in a steady continued course of occupation, sufficient to employ all his time for some years, and which was the best preventive of that constitutional melancholy which was ever lurking about him, ready to trouble his quiet. But his enlarged and lively mind could not be satisfied without more diversity of employment, and the pleasure of animated relaxation. He therefore not only exerted his talents in occasional composition very different from Lexicography, but formed a club in Ivy-lane, Paternoster-row, with a view to enjoy literary discussion, and amuse his evening hours. The members associated with him in this little fociety were his beloved friend Dr. Richard Bathurst, Mr. Hawkesworth, afterwards well known by his writings, Mr. John Hawkins, an attorney ?, and a few others of different professions,
5 He was afterwards for several years Chairman of the Middlesex Justices, and upon occasion of presenting some address to the King, accepted the usual offer of Knighthood. He is authour of “ A History of Musick,” in five volumes in quarto. By affiduous attendance upon Johnson in It his last illness, he obtained the office of one of his executors ; in consequence of which, the bookfellers of London employed him to publish an edition of Dr. Johnson's works, and to write his Life.
In the Gentleman's Magazine for May of this year he wrote a “ Life of 1748. Lord Roscommon, *" with Notes, which he afterwards much improved, Ætat. 39. indented the notes into text, and inserted it amongst his Lives of the English Poets.
Mr. Dodney this year brought out his Preceptor, one of the most valuable books for the improvement of young minds that has appeared in any language ; and to this meritorious work Johnson furnished « The Preface, *" containing a general sketch of the book, with a short and perspicuous recommendation of each article; as also, “ The Vision of Theodore the Hermit, found in his Cell, *” a most beautiful allegory of human life, under the figure of ascending the mountain of Existence. The Bishop of Dromore heard Dr. Johnson say, that he thought this was the best thing he ever wrote.
In January, 1749, he published “ The VANITY OF HUMAN WISHES, being the Tenth Satire of Juvenal imitated.” He, I believe, composed it the preceding year'. Mrs. Johnson, for the sake of country air, had lodgings at Hampstead, to which he resorted occasionally, and there the greatest part, if not the whole, of this Imitation was written. The fervid rapidity with which it was produced, is scarcely credible. I have heard him say, that he composed seventy lines of it in one day, without putting one of them upon paper till they were finished. I remember when I once regretted to him that he had not given us more of Juvenal's Satires, he said he probably should give more, for he had them all in his head; by which I understood, that he had the originals and correspondent allusions floating in his mind, which he could, when he pleased, embody and render permanent without much labour. Some of them, however, he observed, were too gross for imitation.
The profits of a single poem, however excellent, appear to have been very small in the last reign, compared with what a publication of the same size has since been known to yield. I have mentioned, upon Johnson's own authority, that for his London he had only ten guineas ; and now, after his fame was established, he got for his “ Vanity of human Wishes” but five guineas more, , as is proved by an authentick document in my possession?..
o Sir John Hawkins, with folemn inaccuracy, represents this poem as a consequence of the indifferent reception of his tragedy. But the fact is, that the poem was published on the gth of January, and the tragedy was not acted till the 6th of the February following. 7 « Nov, 25, 1748. I received of Mr. Dodsey fifteen guineas, for which I align to him the