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*** Will no kind patron Johnson own?
“ And every publisher refuse
*** The offspring of his happy Muse?” But we have seen that the worthy, modeft, and ingenious Mr. Robert Dodney had taste enough to perceive its uncommon merit, and thought it creditable to have a share in it. The fact is, that, at a future conference, he bargained for the whole property of it, for which he gave Johnson ten guineas, who told me, “ I might, perhaps, have accepted of less; but that Paul Whitehead had a little before got ten guineas for a poem ; and I would not take less than Paul Whitehead.”
I may here observe, that Johnson appeared to me to undervalue Paul Whitehead upon every occasion when he was mentioned, and, in my opinion, did not do him justice ;. but when it is considered that Paul Whitehead was a member of a riotous and profane club, we may account for Johnson's having a prejudice against him. Paul Whitehead was, indeed, unfortunate in being not only sighted by Johnson, but violently attacked by Churchill, who utters the following imprecation:
May I (can worse disgrace on manhood fall ?) 2.6 Be born a Whitehead, and baptiz'd a Paul!”
yet I shall never be persuaded to think meanly of the authour of so brilliant
“ London” was published in May, 1738 ?; and it is remarkable, that it came out on the same morning with Pope's satire, entitled “ 1738;" so that England had at once its Juvenal and Horace as poetical monitors. The Reverend Dr. Douglas, now Bishop of Carlisle, to whom I am indebted for some obliging communications, was then a student at Oxford, and remembers well the effect which “ London” produced. Every 1738. body was delighted with it; and there being no name to it, the first buz of the Ætat. 29. 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.”
* Sir John Hawkins, p. 86, tells us “ The event is antedated, in the poem of London ;' but in every particular, except the difference of a year, what is there said of the departure of Thales, must be understood of Savage, and looked upon as true hiftory." This conjecture is, I believe, entirely groundless. I have been assured, that Johnson said he was not so much as acquainted with Savage when he wrote his “ London.” If the departure mentioned in it was the departure of Savage, the event was not antedated but foreseen; for “ London" was published in May, 1738, and Savage did not set out for Wales till July, 1739. However well Johnson could defend the credibility of second fight, he did not pretend that he himself was possessed of that faculty.
Oxford, 3 P. 263.
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 publick and private worth, by those in whose power it was to gratify fo 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. I have heard Johnson gratefully acknowledge, in his presence, the kind and effectual support which he gave to his “ London,” though unacquainted with its authour.
Pope, who then filled the poetical throne without a 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 authour 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 deterrét.” We shall presently see, from a note written by Pope, that he was himself afterwards 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 fentiment 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
4 Sir Joshua Reynolds, from the information of the younger Richardson. K
1738. eloquence of resistance to power, aided by the common topicks of patriotism, Ætat. 29. liberty, and independence ! Accordingly, we find in Johnson's “ London"
the most spirited invectives against tyranny and oppression, the warmest pre-
« The cheated nation's happy fav’rites see ;
Quick let us rise, the happy seats explore,
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 fo little in the busy haunts of men.”
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 wife 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 OF DR. JOHNSON. accordingly maintained, with credit, during a very long period. Johnson him
s 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."
1738. felf afterwards honestly acknowledged the merit of Walpole, whom he called “a Atat. 29. 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.
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 high station. He could not expect to produce many fuch works as his “ LONDON,” and he felt the hardship 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 a school in Staffordshire', provided he could 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:
“ Mr. Samuel Johnson (authour of London, a satire, and some other poetical pieces) is a native of this county, 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.
“ Now these gentlemen do me the honour, to think that I have interest enough in you, to prevail upon you to write to Dean Swift, to persuade the
6 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 “ some worthy gentlemen in Johnson's neighbourhood," I conclude that Pope must have, by mistake, written Shropshire instead of Staffordshire.
University of Dublin to send a diploma to me, constituting this poor mant Master of Arts in their University. They highly extol the man's learning and probity; and will not be persuaded, that the University will make any difficulty of conferring such a favour upon a stranger, if he is recommended by the Dean. They say he is not afraid of the strictest examination, though he is of so long a journey; and will venture it, if the Dean thinks it necefsary; choosing rather to die upon the road, than be ftarved to death in translating for booksellers ; which has been his only subsistence for some time past.
“ I fear there is more difficulty in this affair, than those good-natured gentlemen apprehend; especially as their election cannot be delayed longer than the 11th of next month. If you see this matter in the fame light that it appears to me, I hope you will burn this, and pardon me for giving you so much trouble about an impracticable thing ; but, if you think there is a probability of obtaining the favour asked, I am sure your humanity, and propensity to relieve merit in distress, will incline you to serve the poor man, without my adding any more to the trouble I have already given you, than assuring you that I am, with great truth, Sir, as Your faithful humble servant,
os GOWER." Trentham, Aug. 1, 1739.".
It was, perhaps no small disappointment to Johnson that this respectable application had not the desired effect; yet how much reason has there been, both for himself and his country, to rejoice that it did not succeed, as he might probably have wasted in obscurity those hours in which he afterwards produced his incomparable works.
About this time he made one other effort to emancipate himself from the drudgery of authourship. He applied to Dr. Adams, to consult Dr. Smalbroke of the Commons, whether a person might be permitted to practice as an advocate there, without a doctor's degree in Civil Law. “ I am (said he) a total stranger to these studies; but whatever is a profession, and maintains numbers, must be within the reach of common abilities, and some degree of industry.” Dr. Adams was much pleased with Johnson's design to employ his talents in that manner, being confident he would have attained to great eminence. And, indeed, I cannot conceive a man better qualified to make a distinguished figure as a lawyer; for, he would have brought to his profession a rich store of various knowledge, an uncommon acuteness, and a command of language, in which few could have equalled, and none have