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Johnson finishes “ Irene" Writes Essay on the
Account of the Conduct of the Duchess of Marlborough" Lives of Burman and Sydenham “ Proposals for printing Bibliotheca Harleiana.” Projects a History of Parliament. Writes « Con. siderations on the Dispute between Crousaz and Warburton, on Pope's Essay on Man”. “ Dedication to James's Dictionary” “ Friendship, an Ode." - His extreme Indigence at this Time. His Acquaintance with Savage. Anecdotes. Publishes “ The Life of Richard Savage.” Case of the Countess of Macclesfield. — Writes “ Preface to the Harleian Miscellany."
year I find that his tragedy of IRENE had been for some time ready for the stage, and that his necessities made him desirous of getting as much as he could for it without delay; for there is the following letter from Mr. Cave to Dr. Birch, in the same volume of manuscripts in the British Museum, from which I copied those above quoted. They were most obligingly pointed out to me by Sir William Musgrave ('), one of the curators of that noble repository.
(1) (Sir William Musgrave, Bart., commissioner for auditing the public accounts, died in 1800.]
“ Sept. 9. 1741. “ I have put Mr. Johnson's play into Mr. Gray's (1) hands, in order to sell it to him, if he is inclined to buy it; but I doubt whether he will or not. would dispose of the copy, and whatever advantage may be made by acting it. Would your society (2), or any gentleman, or body of men that you know, take such a bargain ? He and I are very unfit to deal with theatrical persons.
Fleetwood was to have acted it last season, but Johnson's diffidence or
(3) prevented it.”
I have already mentioned that “Irene,” was not brought into public notice till Garrick was manager of Drury-lane theatre.
In 1742 (4) he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine, the “ Preface," + the “ Parliamentary De
Essay on the Account of the Conduct of the Duchess of Marlborough,"* then the popular
bates," * "
(1) [John Gray was a bookseller, at the Cross Keys in the Poultry, the shop formerly kept by Dr. Samuel Chandler. Like his predecessor, he became a dissenting minister ; but he afterwards took orders in the church, and held a living at Ripon in Yorkshire.]
(2) Not the Royal Society; but the Society for the Encouragement of Learning, of which Dr. Birch was a leading member. Their object was, to assist authors in printing expensive works. It existed from about 1735 to 1746, when, having incurred a considerable debt, it was dissolved.
(3) There is no erasure here, but a mere blank; to fill up which may be an exercise for ingenious conjecture. - Boswell. Probably pride. Such, at least, is the common-place antithesis. - CROKER.
(4) From one of his letters to a friend, written in June, 1742, it should seem that he then purposed to write a play on the subject of Charles the Twelfth of Sweden, and to have it ready for the ensuing winter. The passage alluded to, however, is somewhat ambiguous; and the work which he then had in contemplation may have been a history of that monarch. MALONE.
topic of conversation. This Essay is a short but masterly performance. We find him, in No. 13. of his Rambler, censuring a profligate sentiment in that “ Account” (?), and again insisting upon it strenuously in conversation. (3) “An Account of the Life of Peter Burman,”* I believe chiefly taken from a foreign publication; as, indeed, he could not himself know much about Burman ; “ Additions to his Life of Barretier,” * Life of Sydenham,”* afterwards prefixed to Dr. Swan's edition of his works ; Proposals for printing Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford.” * His account of that celebrated collection of books, in which he displays the importance to literature, of what the French call a catalogue raisonné, when the subjects of it are extensive and various, and it is executed with ability, cannot fail to impress all his readers
(1) [The most singular part of this Essay is the character of King William at the conclusion : -“In the beginning of his reign, he found that his old friends, the Whigs, treated him ill; in the midst of it, he was convinced that he was ill served by them; and the conduct of all his parliaments showed him plainly that the bulk of the nation were Tories; and, therefore, he at last wisely resolved to be served by the moderate men of all parties, and to make no distinction, but the natural and great distinction of such as were well affected to his government, and such as were against it."]
(2) [“ A late female minister of state has been shameless enough to inform the world, that she used, when she wanted to extract any thing from her sovereign, to remind her of Montaigne's reasoning; who has determined, that to tell a secret to a friend is no breach of fidelity, because the number of persons trusted is not multiplied, - a man and his friend being virtually the same.” — Rambler, No. 13. ]
(3) [See post, Sept. 10. 1773.]
with admiration of his philological attainments. It was afterwards prefixed to the first volume of the Catalogue, in which the Latin accounts of books were written by him. (1) He was employed in this business by Mr. Thomas Osborne the bookseller, who purchased the library for 13,000l., a sum which Mr. Oldys says, in one of his manuscripts, was not more than the binding of the books had cost (2); yet, as Dr. Johnson assured me, the slowness of the sale was such, that there was not much gained by it. It has been confidently related, with many embellishments, that Johnson one day knocked Osborne (3) down in his shop with a folio, and put his foot
upon his neck. The simple truth I had from Johnson himself. “ Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him. But it was not in his shop: it was in my own chamber.”
A very diligent observer may trace him where we should not easily suppose him to be found. I have no doubt that he wrote the little abridgment entitled “Foreign History,” in the Magazine for
(1) [In my humble opinion, the preface is unworthy of the Doctor: it contains a few general philological reflections, expressed in a style sufficiently stately, but is divested of_bibliographical anecdote and interesting intelligence. — DIBDIN, Bibliomania.]
(2) (See Censura Literaria, vol. i. p. 438.]
(3) (Osborne appears, in the Dunciad, contending for the prize among the booksellers, and carrying it off:
“ Osborne, through perfect modesty o'ercome,
Crown'd with the jordan, walks contented home." He was extremely ignorant : of title-pages or editions he had no knowledge or remembrance, but in alĩ the petty tricks of his trade he was most expert. Dr. Johnson, in his Life of Pope, says, that he was “entirely destitute of shame, without sense of any disgrace, but that of poverty." He died in 1767.]
December. To prove it, I shall quote the Introduc
“ As this is that season of the year in which Nature may be said to command a suspension of hostilities, and which seems intended, by putting a short stop to violence and slaughter, to afford time for malice to relent, and animosity to subside ; we can scarce expect any other account than of plans, negociations, and treaties, of proposals for peace, and preparations for war.”
As also this passage : —
“Let those who despise the capacity of the Swiss, tell us by what wonderful policy, or by what happy conciliation of interests, it is brought to pass, that in a body made up of different communities and different religions, there should be no civil commotions, though the people are so warlike, that to nominate and raise an army is the same.”
I am obliged to Mr. Astle (1) for his ready permission to copy the two following letters, of which the originals are in his possession. Their contents show that they were written about this time, and that Johnson was now engaged in preparing an historical account of the British Parliament.
LETTER 12. TO MR. CAVE.
[Aug. 1743.] I believe I am going to write a long letter, and have therefore taken a whole sheet of paper.
(1) Thomas Astle, Esq., many years Keeper of the Records in the Tower, one of the Keepers of the Paper Office, and Trustee of the British Museum. He contributed many articles to the Archæologia; but his principal work was the “ Origin and Progress of Writing, as well Hieroglyphic as Elementary." He died Dec. 1. 1803.]