페이지 이미지


Ætat. 29.

Thus was Johnson employed, during some of the best years of his life, as a mere literary labourer " for gain, not glory,” solely to obtain an honest support. He however indulged himself in occasional little fallies, which the French so happily express by the term jeux d'esprit, and which will be noticed in their order, in the progrefs of this work. But what first displayed his transcendent powers, and “

gave the world assurance of the Man,” was his “ London, a Poem, in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal,” which came out in May this year, and burst forth with a splendour, the rays of which will for ever encircle his name. Boileau had imitated the same fatire with great success, applying it to Paris ; but an attentive comparison will satisfy every reader, that he is much excelled by the English Juvenal. Oldham had also imitated it, and applied it to London; all which performances concur to prove, that great cities, in every age, and in every country, will furnish similar topicks of satire. Whether Johnson had previously read Oldham's imitation, I do not know; but it is not a little remarkable, that there is fcarcely any coincidence found between the two performances, though upon the very fame subject. The only instances are, in describing London as the fink of foreign worthlessness :

the common shore,
“ Where France does all her filth and ordure pour."

“ The common shore of Paris and of Rome.”


“ No calling or profession comes amiss,
« A needy monsieur can be what he please.”

“ All sciences a fasting monsieur knows.”

JOHNSON. The particulars which Oldham has collected, both as exhibiting the horrours of London, and of the times, contrasted with better days, are different from those of Johnson, and in general well chofen, and well exprest®.

There 8 I own it pleased me to find amongst them one trait of the manners of the age in London, in the last century, to shield from the sneer of English ridicule, what was some time ago too common a practice in my native city of Edinburgh :

“ If what I've said can't from the town affright,
o Consider other dangers of the night;
I 2

" Whea


There are, in Oldham's imitation, many prosaick verses and bad rhymes, and his poem sets out with a strange inadvertent blunder:

Ætat. 29.

«c. Tho' much concern'd to leave my dear old friend,
“ I must, however, bis design commend
“ Of fixing in the country.

It is plain he was not going to leave his friend; his friend was going to leave him.. A young lady at once corrected this with good critical fagacity:


“ Tho' much concern'd to lose my dear old friend."

There is one passage in the original, better transfused by Oldham than by Johnson :

Nil babet infelix paupertas durius in fe

Quàm quod ridiculos homines facit.

which is an exquisite remark on the galling meanness and contempt annexed
to poverty: JOHNSON's imitation is,

« Of all the griefs that harrass the distrest;
6. Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest.”

Oldham's, though less elegant, is more just :

Nothing in poverty so ill is borne,
“As its exposing men to grinning scorn.”

Where, or in what manner this poem was composed, I am sorry that I neglected to ascertain with precision, from Johnson's own authority. He has marked upon his corrected copy of the first edition of it, “ Written in 1738 ;” and, as it was published in the month of May in that year, it is evident that much time was not employed in preparing it for the press. The history of its publication I am enabled to give in a very satisfactory manner; and judging from myself, and many of my friends, I trust that it will not be uninteresting to my readers.

“ When brickbats are from upper stories thrown;
“ And emptied chamberpots come pouring down
" From garret windows."


We may be certain, though it is not expressly named in the following letters to Mr. Cave in 1738, that they all relate to it: .


Ætat. 29.

6 SIRg

TO: Mr. Cave.

Castle-Atreet, Wednesday morning.

[No date. 1738.] “ WHEN I took the liberty of writing to you a few days ago, I did not expect a repetition of the same pleasure so soon ; for a pleasure I shall always think it, to converse in any manner with an ingenious and candid man; but having the inclosed poem in my hands to dispose of for the benefit of the authour, (of whose abilities I shall say nothing, since I send you


performance,) I believed I could not procure more advantageous terms from: any person than from you, who have so much distinguished yourself by your generous encouragement of poetry; and whose judgement of that art nothing but your commendation of my trifle can give me any occasion to call in question. I do not doubt but you will look over this poem with another eye, and reward it in a different manner, from a mercenary bookseller, who : counts the lines he is to purchase, and considers nothing but the bulk. I cannot help taking notice, that, besides what the authour may hope for on account of his abilities, he has likewise another claim to your regard, as he lies at present under very disadvantageous circumstances of fortune. I beg, therefore, that you will favour me with a letter to-morrow, that I may know what you can afford to allow him, that he may either part with it to you,, or find out (which I do not expect) some other way more to his satisfaction.

“ I have only to add, that as I am sensible Iohave transcribed it very coarsely, which, after having altered it, I was obliged to do, I will, if you please to transmit the sheets from the prefs

, correct it for you; and take thé trouble of altering any stroke of satire which you may disike.

By exerting on this occasion your usual generosity, you will not only encourage learning, and relieve distress, but (though it be in comparison of the other motives of very small account) oblige in a very sensible man

ner, Sir,

«. Your very humble servant,


9 His Ode.“ Ad Urbanum" probably, N.


Ætat. 29.

[ocr errors]

To Mr. Cave.

Monday, No. 6, Castle-street. I AM to réturn you thanks for the present you were so kind as to send by me, and to intreat that you will be pleased to inform me by the pennypost, whether you resolve to print the poem. If you please to lend it me by the post, with a note to Dodsey, I will go and read the lines to him, that we may have his consent to put his name in the title-page. As to the printing, if it can be set immediately about, I will be so much the authour's friend, as not to content myself with mere solicitations in his favour. I propose, if m calculation be near the truth, to engage for the reimbursement of all that you shall lose by an impression of 500, provided, as you very generously propose, that the profit, if any, be set aside for the authour’s use, excepting the present you made, which, if he be a gainer, it is fit he should repay. I beg that you will let one of your servants write an exact account of the expence of such an impression, and send it with the poem, that I may know what I engage for. I am very sensible, from your generosity on this occasion, of your regard to learning, even in its unhappiest state, and cannot but think such a temper deserving of the gratitude of those who suffer fo often from a contrary disposition, I am, Sir,

« Your most humble servant,


« SIR,

TO Mr. Cave.

[No date.] “ I WAITED on you to take the copy to DodNey's: as I remember the number of lines which it contains, it will be longer than Eugenio, with the quotations, which must be subjoined at the bottom of the page, part of the beauty of the performance (if any beauty be allowed it) confifting in adapting Juvenal's sentiments to modern facts and persons. It will, with those additions, very conveniently make five sheets. And since the expence will be no more, I shall contentedly insure it, as I mentioned in my last. If it be not therefore gone to DodNey's, I beg it may be sent me by the penny-post, that I may have it in the evening. I have composed a Greek Epigram to Eliza', and think she ought to be celebrated in as many different languages as Lewis le Grand. Pray send me word when you will begin upon

The learned Mrs. Elizabeth Carter.

che 1738.

the poem, for it is a long way to walk. I would leave my Epigram, but have not day-light to transcribe it. I am, Sir,

• Your's, &c.

“ SAM. Johnson.”

Ætat. 29.

T: Mr. CAVE.

« SIR,

[No date.] I AM extremely obliged by your kind letter, and will not fail to attend you to-morrow with IRENE, who looks upon you as one of her best friends.

“ I was to day with Mr. Dodsey, who declares very warmly in favour of the paper you sent him, which he desires to have a share in, it being, as he says, a creditable thing to be concerned in. I knew not what answer to make till I had consulted you, nor what to demand on the authour's part, but am very willing that, if you please, he should have a part in it, as he will. undoubtedly be more diligent to disperse and promote it. If you can send me word to-morrow what I shall say to him, I will settle matters, and bring the poem with me for the press, which as the town empties, we cannot be too quick with. I am, Sir,

6. Your's, &c.


To us who have long known the manly force, bold spirit, and terly versification of this poem, it is a matter of curiosity to observe the diffidence with which its authour brought it forward into publick notice, while he is so cautious as not to avow it to be his own production; and with what humility he offers to allow the printer to “ alter any stroke of satire which he might disike.” That any such alteration was made, we do not know. If we did, we could not but feel an indignant regret ; but how painful is it to see that a writer of such vigourous powers of mind was actually in such distress, that the small profit which fo short a poem, however excellent, could yield, was courted as a “relief.”

It has been generally said, I know not with what truth, that Johnson offered his “ London" to several booksellers, none of whom would purchase it. To this circumstance Mr. Derrick alludes in the following lines of. his “ FORTUNE, A RHAPSODY;"

66. Will

« 이전계속 »