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be given to the world, and what should be withheld; and, with a view to popular information, to collect what is diffused, to give a concise, yet full, a faithful, yet temperate, account of his personal history and literary productions, digested in the form of a chronicle; subjoining an estimate of his character, an examination of his writings, the testimonies of his biographers, and the judgments of contemporary critics.
Samuel JOHNSON was born at Lichfield in Staffordshire, September 7, 1709, 0. S. His father, Michael Johnson, was a native of Cubley, a small village in Derbyshire, of obscure extraction, who settled in Lichfield as a bookseller, and carried on that business at all the neighbouring towns on market days; but was so respectable as to be made one of the magistrates of that city *. He was a man of a large and robust body, and of a strong and active mind; but was always subject to a morbid me
• He served the office of sheriff in 1709, under bailiff in 1718, and senior bailiff in 1725.
lancholy. He was a zealous high-church man and Jacobite; though he reconciled himself, by casuistical arguments of expediency and necessity, to take the oaths imposed by the Government. He was a pretty good Latin scholar; and being a man of good sense and skill in his trade, he acquired a reasonable share of wealth, of which he afterwards lost the greatest part, by engaging unsuccessfully in the manufacture of parchment. He had a brother of the name of Andrew, who,- for some time, kept the ring in Smithfield, appropriated to wrestlers and boxers, and was so remarkable for his strength and skill in the art of attack and defence, that she was never thrown or conquered.". His mother, Sarah Ford, descended of an ancient race of substantial yeomanry in Warwickshire, was the sister of Dr Joseph Ford, a physician of great eminence, and father of the Rev.. Cornelius Ford, chaplain to the Earl of Chesterfield, supposed to be represented by the Parson near the punch-bowl, in Hogarth's " Modern Midnight Conversation;" a man," whose abilities, instead of furnishing convivial merriment to the voluptuous and dissolute, might have enabled him to excel among the virtuous and the wise *.” She was a woman of distinguished understanding, prudence, and piety. They were well advanced in years when they married, and had only another child, named Nathaniel, who succeeded his father in his business ; of whose manly spirit his brother has been heard to speak with pride and pleasure.
1. ini During the period of infancy all children are prodigies of form and understanding to their parents. With a natural fondness they exaggerate every symptom of sense into the perfection of wisdom, and decorate every feature with an adventitious grace. If the object of their admiration should at more mature years become distinguished for excellence, it is hoped that we may believe wonders of the child, because we have seen greatness in the man. Hence, in our fondness for the marvellous, the traditions of the nursery respect
Life of Fenton
ing such persons are amplified beyond the bounds of credibility, and recited with all the confidence of truth.
Every great genius must begin with a prodigy; and it is not to be supposed that Johnson should be without attestations of these miracles of early genius, which are believed by some to be as necessary to the attainment of future pre-eminence, as that fruits should be preceded by the blossom. Among other stories of his infant precocity, generally circulated, and generally believed, we are told by Mrs Piozzi and Sir John Hawkins, that, at the age of three years, he trod by accident upon one of a brood of eleven ducklings, and killed it, and upon that occasion made the fol lowing verses :
This prodigy is scarcely exceeded by the bees on Plato's lips, or the doves that covered the infant poet with leaves and flowers; for how should a child of three years old make regular verses, and in alternate rhyme ? The internal evidence is sufficient to counterbalance any testimony that these verses could be the production of a child of such an early age. But, by good fortune, credulity is relieved from the burden of doubt, by Johnson's having himself assured Mr Boswell, that they were made by his father, who wished them to pass for his son's. He added, “
my father was a foolish old man, that is to say, foolish in talking of his children.” He always seemed mortified at the recollection of the bustle his father made to exhibit him as a prodigy of early understanding. « That,” said he to Mrs Piozzí,“ is the great misery of late marriages; the unhappy produce of them becomes the plaything of dotage *.”
He derived from his parents, or from an unwholesome nurse, the distemper called the
* Mrs Piozzi's Anecdotes, p. 14.