페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

1737

Ætat. 2S.

He had a little money when he came to town, and he knew how he could live in the cheapest manner. His first lodgings were at the house of Mr. Norris, a staymaker, in Exeter-street, adjoining Catharine-street, in the Strand. “ I dined (said he) very well for eight-pence, with very good company, at the Pine Apple in New-street, just by. Several of them had travelled. They expected to meet every day; but did not know one another's names. It used to cost the rest a shilling, for they drank wine ; but I had a cut of meat for six-pence, and bread for a penny, and gave the waiter a penny; so that I was quite well served, 'nay, better than the rest, for they gave the waiter nothing.”

He at this time, I believe, abstained entirely from fermented liquors; a practice to which he rigidly conformed for many years together, at different periods of his life.

His Ofellus in the Art of living in London, I have heard him relate, was an Irish painter, whom he knew at Birmingham, and who had practised his own precepts of economy for several years in the British capital. He assured Johnson, who, I suppose, was then meditating to try his fortune in London, but was apprehensive of the expence, “ that thirty pounds a year was enough to enable a man to live there without being contemptible. He allowed ten pounds for clothes and linen. He said a man might live in a garret at eighteen-pence a week ; few people would inquire where he lodged; and if they did, it was easy to say, “Sir, I am to be found at such a place. By spending three-pence in a coffee-house, he might be for some hours every day in very good company; he might dine for fix-pence, breakfast on bread and milk for a penny, and do without supper. On clean-shirt-day he went abroad, and paid visits." I have heard him more than once talk of this frugal friend, whom he recollected with esteem and kindness, and did not like to have any one smile at the recital. “ This man (said he, gravely,) was a very sensible man, who perfectly understood common affairs: a man of a great deal of knowledge of the world, fresh from life, not strained through books. He borrowed a horse and ten pounds at Birmingham. Finding himself master of so much money, he set off for West Chester, in order to get to Ireland. He returned the horse, and probably the ten pounds too, after he got

home." Considering Johnson's narrow circumstances in the early part of his life, and particularly at the interesting æra of his launching into the ocean of London, it is not to be wondered at, that an actual instance, proved by experience, of the possibility of enjoying the intellectual luxury of social life, upon a very small income, should deeply engage his attention, and be ever recol

H

lected

1737

Ætat. 28.

It may be

lected by him as a circumstance of much importance. He amused himself,
I remember, by computing how much more expence was absolutely necessary
to live upon the same scale with that which his friend described, when the
value of money was diminished by the progress of commerce.
estimated that double the money might now with difficulty be sufficient.

Amidst this cold obscurity, there was one brilliant circumstance to cheer him; he was well acquainted with Mr. Henry Hervey, one of the branches of the noble family of that name, who had been quartered at Lichfield as an officer of the army, and had at this time a house in London, where Johnson was frequently entertained, and had an opportunity of meeting genteel company. Not very long before his death, he mentioned this, among other particulars of his life, which he was kindly communicating to me; and he described this early friend “ Harry Hervey,” thus : “He was a vicious man, but very kind to me.

If

you call a dog Hervey, I shall love him.” He told me he had now written only three acts of his Irene, and that he retired for some time to lodgings at Greenwich, where he proceeded in it somewhat farther, and used to compose, walking in the Park; but did not stay long enough at that place to finish it.

At this period we find the following letter from him to Mr. Edward Cave, which, as a link in the chain of his literary history, it is proper to insert:

To Mr. Cave.

[ocr errors]

Greenwich, next door to the Golden Heart,

Church-street, July 12, 1737. “ HAVING observed in your papers very uncommon offers of encouragement to men of letters, I have chosen, being a stranger in London, to communicate to you the following design, which, I hope, if you join in it, will be of advantage to both of us.

“ The History of the Council of Trent having been lately translated into French, and published with large Notes by Dr. Le Courayer, the reputation of that book is so much revived in England, that, it is presumed, a new translation of it from the Italian, together with Le Courayer's Notes from the French, could not fail of a favourable reception.

“ If it be answered, that the History is already in English, it must be remembered, that there was the same objection against Le Courayer's undertaking, with this disadvantage, that the French had a version by one of their best translators, whereas you cannot read three pages of the English History 4

without

[ocr errors]

without discovering that the style is capable of great improvements; but

1737 whether those improvements are to be expected from this attempt, you must Ærat. 78. judge from the specimen, which, if you approve the proposal, I shall submit to your examination.

“ Suppose the merit of the versions equal, we may hope that the addition
of the Notes will turn the balance in our favour, considering the reputation of
the Annotator.

“ Be pleased to favour me with a speedy answer, if you are not willing
to engage in this scheme; and appoint me a day to wait upon you, if you
I am, Sir,
" Your humble servant,

“ SAM. Johnson."

are.

It should seem from this letter, though subscribed with his own name, that he had not yet been introduced to Mr. Cave. We shall presently see what was done in consequence of the proposal which it contains.

In the course of the summer he returned to Lichfield, where he had left Mrs. Johnson, and there he at last finished his tragedy, which was not executed with his rapidity of composition upon other occasions, but was Nowly and painfully elaborated. A few days before his death, while burning a great mass of papers, he picked out from among them the original unformed sketch of this tragedy, in his own hand-writing, and gave it to Mr. Langton, by whose favour a copy of it is now in my poffeffion. It contains fragments of the intended plot, and speeches for the different persons of the drama, partly in the raw materials of prose, partly worked up into verse; as also a variety of hints for illustration borrowed from the Greek, Roman, and modern writers. The hand-writing is very difficult to be read, even by those who were best acquainted with Johnson's mode of penmanship, which at all times was very particular. The King having graciously accepted of this manuscript as a literary curiosity, Mr. Langton made a fair and distinct copy of it, which he ordered to be bound up with the original and the printed tragedy ; and the volume is deposited in the King's library. His Majesty was pleased to permit Mr. Langton to take a copy of it for himself.

The whole of it is rich in thought and imagery, and happy expressions ; and of the disjeta membra scattered throughout, and as yet unarranged, a good dramatick poet might avail himself with considerable advantage. I shall give my readers fome specimens of different kinds, distinguishing them by the Italick character.

« Nor

H 2

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

A small part only of this interesting admonition is preserved in the play, and is varied, I think, not to advantage :

“ The foul once tainted with so foul a crime,
“ No more shall glow with friendship’s hallow'd ardour:
“ Those holy beings whose superiour care
“ Guides erring mortals to the paths of virtue,

Affrighted at impiety like thine,
Resign their charge to baseness and to ruin.”

I feel the soft infection
Flush in my cheek, and wander in my veins.

« Teach me the Grecian arts of soft persuasion.
Sure this is love, which heretofore I conceived the dream of idle maids,
and wanton poets.

Though no comets or prodigies foretold the ruin of Greece, signs which beaven must by another miracle enable us to understand, yet might it be foreshown, by tokens no less certain, by the vices which always bring it on.

This last passage is worked up in the tragedy itself, as follows:

LEONTIUS.

That power that kindly spreads
“ The clouds, a signal of impending showers,
“ To warn the wand’ring linnet to the shade,
“ Beheld, without concern, expiring Greece,
“ And not one prodigy foretold our fate.”

DEMETRIUS. 1737.

DEMETRIU S.

Ætat. 28.

“ A thousand horrid prodigies foretold it;
“ A feeble government, eluded laws,
“ A factious populace, luxurious nobles,
And all the maladies of sinking states.
“ When publick villainy, too strong for justice,
“ Shows his bold front, the harbinger of ruin,
“ Can brave Leontius call for airy wonders,
“ Which cheats interpret, and which fools regard ?
When some neglected fabrick nods beneath
“ The weight of years, and totters to the tempest,
~ Must heaven dispatch the messengers of light,
Or wake the dead, to warn us of its fall ?”

MAHOMET (to IRENE). “ I have tried thee, and joy to find that thou defervest to be loved by Mahomet,—with a mind great as his own. Sure, thou art an errour of nature, and an exception to the rest of thy sex, and art immortal ; for sentiments like thine were never to sink into nothing. I thought all the thoughts of the fair had been to select the graces of the day, dispose the colours of the flaunting (flowing) robe, tune the voice and roll the eye, place the gem, choose the dress, and add new roses to the fading cheek, but-Sparkling.

[ocr errors]

Thus in the tragedy:

“ Illustrious maid, new wonders fix me thine ;
“ Thy soul completes the triumphs of thy face:
“ I thought, forgive my fair, the noblest aim,
“ The strongest effort of a female foul,
“ Was but to choose the graces of the day,
“ To tune the tongue, to teach the eyes to roll,

Dispose the colours of the flowing robe,
« And add new colours to the faded cheek.”

I shall select one other passage, on account of the doctrine which it illus

Irene observes, that the Supreme Being will accept of virtue, whatever outward circumstances it may be accompanied with, and may be delighted with varieties of worship ;-but is answered, that variety cannot affeat that Being, who

trates.

infinitely

« 이전계속 »