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might be an useful and profitable publication, Mr. Warren and Mr. Hector joined in urging him to undertake it. He accordingly agreed; and the Ætat. 24. book not being to be found in Birmingham, he borrowed it of Pembroke College. A part of the work being very soon done, one Osborn, who was Mr. Warren's printer, was set to work with what was ready, and Johnson engaged to supply the press with copy as it should be wanted ; but his conftitutional indolence foon prevailed, and the work was at a stand. Mr. Hector, who knew that a motive of humanity would be the most prevailing argument with his friend, went to Johnson, and represented to him, that the printer could have no other employment till this undertaking was finished, and that the poor man and his family were suffering. Johnson upon this exerted the powers of his mind, though his body was relaxed. He lay in bed with the book, which was a quarto, before him, and dictated while Hector wrote. Mr. Hector carried the sheets to the press, and corrected almost all the proof sheets, very few of which were even seen by Johnson. In this manner, with the aid of Mr. Hector's active friendship, the book was completed, and was published in 1735, with LONDON upon the title-page, though it was in reality printed at Birmingham, a device too common with provincial publishers. For this work he had from Mr. Warren only the sum of five guineas.
This being the first prose work of Johnson, it is a curious object of inquiry how much may be traced in it of that style which marks his subsequent writings with such peculiar excellence; with so happy an union of force, vivacity, and perspicuity. I have perused the book with this view, and have found that here, as I believe in every other transation, there is in the work itself no vestige of the translator's own style ; for the language of translation being adapted to the thoughts of another person, insensibly follows their cast, and, as it were, runs into a mould that is ready prepared.
Thus, for instance, taking the first sentence that occurs at the opening of the book, p. 4.
“ I lived here above a year, and completed my studies in divinity; in which time fome letters were received from the fathers in Ethiopia, with an account that Sultan Segned, Emperour of Abyssinia, was converted to the church of Rome; that many of his subjects had followed his example, and that there was a great want of missionaries to improve these prosperous beginnings. Every body was very desirous of seconding the zeal of our fathers, and of fending them the assistance they requested ; to which we were the more encouraged, because the Emperour's letter informed our Provincial, that we might easily enter his dominions by the way of Dancala ;
but, unhappily, the secretary wrote Geila for Dancala, which cost two of our
But, in the Preface, the Johnsonian style begins to appear; and though
“ The Portuguese traveller, contrary to the general vein of his countrymen, has amused his reader with no romantick absurdity, or incredible fictions ; whatever he relates, whether true or not, is at least probable ; and he who tells nothing exceeding the bounds of probability, has a right to demand that they should believe him who cannot contradict him.
“ He appears, by his modest and unaffected narration, to have described things as he saw them, to have copied nature from the life, and to have consulted his senses, not his imagination. He meets with no basilisks that destroy with their eyes, his crocodiles devour their prey without tears, and his cataracts fall from the rocks without deafening the neighbouring inhabitants.
“ The reader will here find no regions cursed with irremediable barrenness, or blessed with spontaneous fecundity; no perpetual gloom, or unceasing sunfhine ; nor are the nations here described either devoid of all fense of humanity, or consummate in all private or social virtues. Here are no Hottentots without religious polity or articulate language; no Chinese perfectly polite, and completely skilled in all sciences; he will discover, what will always be discovered by a diligent and impartial enquirer, that wherever human nature is to be found, there is a mixture of vice and virtue, a contest of passion and reason; and that the Creator doth not appear partial in his distributions, but has balanced, in most countries, their particular inconveniencies by particular favours.”
Here we have an early example of that brilliant and energetick expression, which, upon innumerable occasions in his subsequent life, justly impressed the world with the highest admiration.
Nor can any one, conversant with the writings of Johnson, fail to discern his hand in this passage of the Dedication to John Warren, Esq. of Pembrokeshire, though it is ascribed to Warren the bookseller.
“A generous and elevated mind is distinguished by nothing more certainly than an eminent
degree of curiosity; nor is that curiosity ever more agreeably or usefully em- 1734. ployed, than in examining the laws and customs of foreign nations. I hope, Ætat. 25. therefore, the present I now presume to make, will not be thought improper ; which, however, it is not my business as a dedicator to commend, nor as a bookseller to depreciate.”
It is reasonable to suppose, that his having been thus accidentally led to a particular study of the history and manners of Abyssinia, was the remote occasion of his writing, many years afterwards, his admirable philosophical tale, the principal scene of which is laid in that country.
Johnson returned to Lichfield early in 1734, and in August that year he made an attempt to procure fome little subsistence by his pen; for he published proposals for printing by subscription the Latin poems of Politian : “ Angeli Politiani Poemata Latina, quibus, Notas, cum historia Latinæ poeseos, à Petrarche ævo ad Politiani tempora deducta, et vità Politiani fufius quam antibac enarrata, addidit Sam. JOHNSON *."
It appears that his brother Nathanael had taken up his father's trade ; for it is mentioned, that “ subscriptions are taken in by the Editor, or N. Johnson, bookseller, of Lichfield,” Notwithstanding the merit of Johnson, and the cheap price at which this translation, with its accompanyments, was offered, there were not subscribers enough to insure a sufficient sale; so the work never appeared, and, probably, never was executed.
We find him again this year at Birmingham, and there is preserved the following letter from him to Mr. Edward Caye', the original compiler and editor of the Gentleman's Magazine :
To Mr. CAVE.
Nov. 25, 1734. “ AS you appear no less sensible than your readers of the defects of your poetical article, you will not be displeased, if, in order to the improvement of it, I communicate to you the sentiments of a person, who will undertake, on reasonable terms, sometimes to fill a column.
* The book was to contain more than thirty sheets, the price to be two shillings and six-pence at the time of subscribing, and two shillings and fix-pence at the delivery of a perfect book in quires.
Miss Cave, the Grand-niece of Mr. Edward Cave, has obligingly shewn me the originals of this and the other letters of Dr Johnson, to him, which were first published in the Gentleman's Magazine, with notes by Mr. John Nichols, the worthy and indefatigable editor of that valuable miscellany, figned N; some of which I Mall occasionally transcribe in the course of this work.
“ His opinion is, that the publick would not give you a bad reception, if, beside the current wit of the month, which a critical examination would generally reduce to a narrow compaís, you admitted not only poems, inscriptions, &c. never printed before, which he will sometimes fupply you with ; but likewise short literary dissertations in Latin or English, critical remarks on authours ancient or modern, forgotten poems that deserve revival, or loose pieces, like Floyer's, worth preserving. By this method your literary article, for so it might be called, will, he thinks, be better recommended to the publick, than by low jests, aukward buffoonery, or the dull fcurrilities of
“ If such a correspondence will be agreeable to you, be pleased to inform me in two posts, what the conditions are on which you shall expect it. Your late offer gives me no reason to distrust your generosity. If you engage in any literary projects besides this paper, I have other designs to impart, if I could be secure from having others reap the advantage of what I should hint.
“ Your letter, by being directed to S. Smith, to be left at the Castle in Birmingham, Warwickshire, will reach
“ Your humble servant."
Mr. Cave has put a note on this letter, “ Answered Dec. 2.” But whether any thing was done in consequence of it we are not informed.
Johnson had, from his early youth, been sensible to the influence of female charms. When at Stourbridge school, he was much enamoured of Olivia Lloyd, a young quaker, to whom he wrote a copy of verses, which I have not been able to recover; and I am assured by Miss Seward, that he conceived a tender passion for Miss Lucy Porter, daughter of the lady whom he afterwards married. Miss Porter was sent very young on a visit to Lichfield, where Johnson had frequent opportunities of seeing and admiring her; and he addressed to her the following verses, on her presenting him with a nosegay of myrtle:
“ What hopes, what terrors does thy gift create,
Ambiguous emblem of uncertain fate :
• A prize of fifty pounds for the best poem “on Life, Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell.” See Gentleman's Magazine, Vol. IV. p. 560. N.
“ In myrtle shades oft sings the happy swain,
His juvenile attachments to the fair sex were, however, very transient; and it is certain, that he formed no criminal connection whatsoever. Mr. Hector, who lived with him in his younger days in the utmost intimacy and social freedom, has assured me, that even at that ardent season his conduct was strictly virtuous in that respect, and that though he loved to exhilarate himself with wine, he never knew him intoxicated but once.
In a man whom religious education has secured from licentious indulgences, the passion of love, when once it has seized him, is exceedingly strong; being unimpaired by dissipation, and totally concentrated in one object. This was experienced by Johnson, when he became the fervent admirer of Mrs. Porter, after her first husband's death. Miss Porter told me, that when he was first introduced to her mother, his appearance was very forbidding: He was then lean and lank, so that his immense structure of bones was hideously striking to the eye, and the scars of the scrophula were deeply visible. He also wore his hair, which was straight and stiff, and separated behind; and he often had, seemingly, convulsive starts and odd gesticulations, which tended to excite at once surprise and ridicule. Mrs. Porter was so much engaged by his conversation that she overlooked all these external disadvantages, and said to her daughter, « this is the most sensible man that I ever saw in
3 Mrs. Piozzi, in her “ Anecdotes," afferts that Johnson wrote this effufion of elegant tender. ness not in his own person, but for a friend who was in love. But that lively lady is as inaccurate in this instance as in many others; for Miss Seward writes to me-" I know those verses we addressed to Lucy Porter, when he was enamoured of her in his boyish days, two or three years before he had seen her mother, his future wife. He wrote them at my grandfather's, and gave them to Lucy in the presence of my mother, to whom he shewed them on the instant. She used to repeat them to me, when I asked her for the verses Dr. Johnson gave her on a sprig of myrtle, which he had folen or begged from her bofom. We all know honest Lucy Porter to have been incapable of the mean vanity of applying to herself a compliment not intended for her."