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Johnson's acquaintance with Savage was one of the most memorable incidents of his life at this period. That unfortunate and misguided man, to his literary talents added an easy politeness of manner, and elegance of conversation, which had at least their full value in the eyes of a rustic scholar. Johnson sympathised in his misfortunes, and was captivated with his „society, to: such a degree as to become his companion in nocturnali rambles, 'in which he was a spectator of the vice and disorder of the mbtropolis, ażid: a sharer in the hardships of penury and irregularity. It is saja that. this:connexion produced a short separation from his wife; who.wjo now come to London; but the breach was soon closed; and whatever temporary stain the morals of Johnson might receive, it was obliterated by the permanent influence of rooted principles of piety and virtue.
He first attracted the notice of judges of literary merit by the publication, in 1738, of “ London, a Poem," written in imitation of Juvenal's third satire. After being rejected by several booksellers, it was published by Dodsley, who gave the author ten pounds; and Pope, who was then in the height of reputation as a satirist, gave a liberal testimony to its merit, and prophesied that the author could not be long concealed. The manly vigour and strong painting of this piece place it high among works of the kind, though its censure is mostly coarse and exaggerated, and it ranks as a party, rather than a moral, poem. Whatever praise he might receive from this performance, he thought his prospects so little improved, that in this year he offered himself as a candidate for the
mastership of a free-school in Leicestershire. As it was necessary, for occupying this station, that he should have the degree of M. A. the recommendation of Pope induced lord Gower to apply to a friend in Dublin to obtain it for him from that university, through the mediation of dean Swift. His lordship’s letter has been printed; and the following paragraph from it affords a striking picture of a man of genius in distress under the eye of a nobleman capable of feeling his merit !
They say he is not afraid of the strictest examination, though he is of so long a journey; and yet he will venture it, if the dean thinks it necessary, chusing rather to die upon the road, than to be starved to death in translating for booksellers, which has been his only subsistence for some time past." The application produced no effect; and from Swift's unwillingness to interfere in the matter, Johnson's permanent dislike of him has been deduced.
His engagement in the Gentleman's Magazine gave occasion to the exercise of his powers in a new way. The parliamentary debates were given to the public in that miscellany under the fiction of debates in the senate of Lilliput, and the speakers were disguised under feigned names. Guthrie, a writer of history, for a time composed these speeches from such heads as could be brought away in the memory. Johnson first assisted in this department, and then entirely filled it; and the publick was highly gratified with the extraordinary eloquence displayed in these compositions, which was almost exclusively the product of his own invention. In process of time he came to consider this deceit as an unjustifiable imposition upon the world. It is probable, however, that he adhered in general to the tenor of argument really employed by the supposed speakers, otherwise they could scarcely have passed at the time for genuine. He owned that he was not quite impartial in dealing out his reason and rhetoric, but “took care that the whig dogs should not have the best of it.”. His attachment to the tory, or rather Jacobite, party was further shewn by an humorous pamphlet in 1739, entitled “ Marmor Norfolciense,” consisting of a supposed ancient prophecy in Latin monkish rhymes, with an explanation. For some years longer,
, Johnson's literary exertions are scarcely to be traced except in the Gentleman's Magazine. For that miscellany he composed several biogra. phical articles, in which he gave specimens of a species of composition very happily adapted to his manly cast of thought, and sagacity of research into the human character. His principal performance in this class was “ The Life of Savage,” published separately in 1714, and gener rally admired both as a most interesting and curious individual por:rait, and as the vehicle of many admirable reflections on lite and manners.
After a number of abortive projects, some deserted by himself, others coldly received by the public, Johnson settled in earnest to a work which was to form the base of his philological fame, and entitle him to the gratitude of a long succession of writers in his native language. This was his “ English Dictionary,” of which the plan was given to the public in 1747, in a pamphlet addressed to the earl of Chesterfield. The plan was an excellent piece of writing, which proved how much he was a master of the language he was about to fix and elucidate. It presented a very perspicuous and comprehensive view of the desiderata which he was to supply, and the mode he meant to pursue for that purpose. At the present time, however, a person would be thought inadequately qualified for such a task, without a much greater knowledge
a frequent subject of his prayers; for he agreed with the Roman. catholic church in conceiving that prayer might properly and usefully be offered for the dead. Not long afterwards he took into his house as an inmate Mrs. Anne Williams, the daughter of a physician in South Wales who had consumed his time and fortune in pursuit of the longitude. Her destitute condition, aggravated by blindness, with her talents for writing and conversation, recommended her to the benevolence of Johnson.
The “ Adventurer," conducted by Dr. Hawkesworth, succeeded the Rambler as a periodical works and Johnson, through friendship to the editor, interested himself in its success. He supplied it with several papers of his own writing, and obtained the contributions of the reverend Thomas Warton. The year 1755 was distinguished by the first pubJication of his “ Dictionary." As the author of a work of so much consequence, he thought it advisable to appear under a literary title, and accordingly, through the means of Mr. Warton, procured a diploma for the degree of M.A. from Oxford. The approaching publication of this work had been favourably announced some months before in two papers of “ The World,” by lord Chesterfield. This civility was by Johnson regarded as an advance from that nobleman for the purpose of obtaining from him a dedication as patron of the work. Conscious that during its progress he had experienced none of the benefits of patronage, although, from his lordship's declared approbation of the undertaking, he might have expected it, Johnson determined to repel the supposed advance; and accordingly wrote a letter to Jord Chesterfield, in which he employed all the force of pointed sarcasm and manly disdain to make him ashamed of his conduct. It would, perhaps, have been more dignified to have passed the matter over in silence; the letter, however, remains an admirable lesson of reproof to those who, presuming upon fortune and title, think they can maintain the character of patrons of literature, while they treat its professors with the haughtiness of distant notice, and the indifference of cold neglect. The Dictionary was received by the public with general applause, and its author was ranked among the greatest benefactors of his native tongue. It underwent some ridicule on account of pomposity, and some criticism on account of errors, but was in general judged to be as free from imperfections as could be expected in a work of such extent, conducted by one man. Modern accuracy has rendered its defects more apparent; and though it still stands as the capital work of the kind in
the language, its authority as a standard is somewhat depreciated. In a pecuniary light the author received only a temporary benefit from it, for at the time of publication he had been paid more than the stipu
He was therefore still entirely dependent upon the exertions of the day for his support; and it is melancholy to find that a writer, esteemed an honour to his country, was under an arrrest for five pounds eighteen shillings in the subsequent year. It is no wonder that his constitutional melancholy should at this time have exerted peculiar sway
over his mind.
An edition of Shakespeare, another periodical work entitled “ The Idler," and occasional contributions to a literary Magazine or Review, were the desultory occupation of some years. Upon the last illness of his aged mother, in 1759, for the purpose of visiting her and defraying the expence of her funeral, he wrote his romance of “ Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia.” According to his own account, he composed it in the evenings of one week, sent it to the press in portions as it was written, and never re-perused it when finished. It is, however, one of his most splendid performances, elegant in language, rich in imagery, and weighty in sentiment; its views of human life are, indeed, deeply tinged with the gloom which overshadowed the author's mind, nor can it be praised for moral effect. It was much admired at home, and has been translated into several foreign languages. Such, at this period, was the state of his finances, that he was obliged to break up housekeeping, and retire to chambers, where he lived, says his biographer Mr. Murphy, " in poverty, total idleness, and the pride of literature.” From this unhappy state he was at length rescued by the grant of a pension of three hundred pounds per annum from his majesty, in 1762, during the ministry of lord Bute. When the liberal offer was made, a short struggle of repugnance to accept a favour from the house of Hanover, and become that character, a pensioner, on which he had bestowed a sarcastic definition in his Dictionary, was overcome by a sense of the honour and substantial benefit conferred by it. Much obloquy attended this circumstance of his life, which, in the enjoyment of independence, he might well despise ; nor, indeed, can any good reason be assigned, why he should not, as a literary benefactor to his country, accept a reward from a public functionary, and issuing in effect from the public purse.
A fondness for liberal and cultivated conversation was one of Jolin. son's strongest propensities, and he had sought it in a club of literary men soon after his settling in the metropolis. His advanced reputation and amended circumstances now enabled him to indulge it in a higher style; and he became member of a weekly club in Gerard-street, composed of persons eminent for various talents, and occupying distinguished situations in society.
He acquired an additional resource for enjoyment, both corporeal and intellectual, by his introduction, in 1765, to the acquaintance of Mr. Thrale, an opulent brewer, whose lady possessed lively parts improved by an enlarged education. In their hospitable retreat at Streatham, Johnson was for a considerable time domesticated, receiving every attention that could flatter his pride, and accommodated with every convenience and gratification that wealth could bestow. His shattered spirits were recruited, and his habits of life rendered more regular, in this agreeable residence; yet it may be questioned whether either his mind or body derived permanent advantage from the luxurious indolence in which he was led to indulge.
His long-promised edition of Shakespeare appeared in 1765, and was ushered in by a preface written with all the powers of his masterly pen, and certainly among the mosť valuable of his critical disquisitions. His arguments against the existence of even a temporary illusion in the spectator during a dramatic perforinance, seem, however, to indicate that want of ductility to impressions on the organs of sense, which may be traced in his judgments on other attempts to act upon the imagination. The edition itself disappointed those who had conceived high expectations of his ability to elucidate the obscurities of the great dramatist. Sound sense was frequently displayed in comparing the different readings suggested by different critics ; but little felicity of original conjecture, and none of that knowledge of the language and writings of the age in and near which Shakespeare flourished, which has since been found the only genuine source of illustration.
Although the pension conferred upon Johnson was burthened with no condition of literary service to the court or minister, yet it cannot be doubted that it was felt by him in some measure as a demand upon
his gratitude. His innate principles of loyalty, too, after they had been reconciled with present power, would naturally dispose him to lean to the monarchical side in political contests. This loyalty, moreover, was enhanced by the uncommon honour he received of a personal interview