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With respect to the prospects held out to an adventurer in the career of literature, a curious anecdote was communicated by Dr. Johnson himself to Mr. John Nichols. Mr. Wilcox the bookseller, on being informed by him that his intention was to get his livelihood as an author, eyed his robust frame attentively, and, with a significant look, said, “ You had better buy a porter's knot.” He however added, “ Wilcox was one of my best friends."
One of his earliest labours was the compilation of the debates in parliament, for the Gentleman's Ma. gazine, which he did from very slender menuoranduns. He told a friend, however, that as soon as he found the speeches were thought genuine, he determined he would write no more of them; “ for he would not be accessory to the propagation of falsehood.” And such was the tenderness of his couscience, that a short time before his death, he expressed his regret for his having been the author of fictions, which had passed for realities.
The rapidity with which he composed is a wonderful circumstance. He has been heard to say, "I wrote forty.eight of the printed octavo pages of the Life of Savage at a sitting; but then I sat up all night."
In a letter to the Rev. T. Warton, he mentions his design of writing a Review. Dr. Adams told Boswell, that this scheme of a Bibliothéque was a serious one: for, upon his visiting him one day, he found his parlour floor covered with parcels of fo. reign and English literary journals, and he told Dr. Adams he meant to undertake a Review. ADAMS. “ How, sir, can you think of doing it alone? All branches of knowledge must be considered in it. Do you know mathematics ? Do you know natural history?” JOHNSON. “Why, sir, I must do as well as I can. My chief purpose is to give my countrymen a view of what is doing in literature upon the continent; and I shall have, in a good measure, the choice of my subject; for I shall select such books as I best understand.” ADAMS. “ As Dr. Maty has just finished his Bibliothéque Britan, nique, which is a well executed work, giving foreigners an account of British publications, you might, with great advantage, assume him as an assistant.” JOHNSON. “ He, the little black dog! I'd throw him into the Thames.” The scheme, however, was dropped.
In one of his little memorandum-books were the following hints for his intended Review, or Literary Journal; “ The Annals of Literature, foreign as well as domestic. Imitate Le Clerc—Bayle-Barbeyrac; Infelicity of Journals in England; works of the learned: we cannot take in all. Sometimes copy from foreign journalists--always tell.".
Having written a preface to Rolt’s Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, in which he displays such a clear and comprehensive knowledge of the subject, as might lead the reader to think that its author had devoted all his life to it-Boswell asked him whether he knew much of Rolt, and of his work.
Sir,” said he, “ I never saw the man, and never read the book. The booksellers wanted a preface to a Dictionary of Trade and Commerce; I knew very well what such a dictionary should be, and I wrote a preface accordingly."
A pension of two hundred pounds a year having been given to Sheridan, Johnson, who thought slightingly of Sheridau's art, upon hearing it, exclaimed, " What! have they given him a pension ? Then it is time for me to give up mine." Whether this proceeded from a momentary indignation, as if it were an affrout to his exalted merit that a player should be rewarded in the same manner with him, or was the sudden effect of a fit of peevishness, it was unluckily said, and indeed cannot be justified. Mr. Sheridan's pension was granted to him, not as a player, but as a sufferer in the cause of government, when he was manager of the Theatre Royal in Ireland, when parties ran high in 1753: and it must also be allowed that he was a man of literature, and had considerably improved the arts of reading and speaking with distinctness and propriety.
Johuson afterwards complained, that a man who disliked him, repeated his sarcasm to Mr. Sheridan, without telling him what followed, which was, that after a pause, he added, “ However, I am glad that he has a pension, for he is a very good man.”
Mrs. Sheridan's novel, entitled, Memoirs of Miss Sydney Biddulph, contains an excellent moral, while it inculcates a future state of retribution; and what it teaches is impressed upon the mind by a series of ás deep distress as can affect humanity, in the amiable and pious heroine, who goes to her grave unrelieved, but resigned, and full of hope of“ Heaven's mercy." Johnson paid her this high compliment upon it : “ I know not, madam, that you have a right, upon moral principles, to make your readers suffer so much.'
“ People,” he remarked, may be taken in once, who imagine that an author is greater in private life than other men. Uncommon parts require uncommon opportunities for their exertion."
Afterwards : “Sir, this book (The Elements of Criticism, which he had taken up), is a pretty essay, and deserves to be held in some estimation, though much of it is chimerical.”
At this time the controyersy concerning the pieces published by Mr. James Macpherson, as translations of Ossian, was at its height. Johnson had all along denied their authenticity; and what was still more provoking to their admirers, maintained that they had no merit. The subject ha. ving been introduced by Dr. Fordyce-Dr. Blair, relying on the internal evidence of their antiquity, asked Dr. Johnson whether he thought any man of a modern age could have written such poems ? Johnson replied, “ Yes, sir, many men, many women, and many children.” Johnson, at this time, did not know that Dr. Blair had just published a dissertation, not only defending their authenticity, but seriously ranking them with the poems of Homer and Virgil ; and when he was