Page images
PDF
EPUB

tation of deriving a subsistence from the establishment of a boarding school, he set out on the 2d of March, 1737, being then in the 28th year of his age, for London; and it is a memorable circumstance, that his pupil Garrick went there at the same time, with an intention to complete his education, and follow the profession of the law. They were recommended to Mr. Colson, master of the mathematical school at Rochester, by a letter from a friend, who inentions the joint expedition of these two eminent men to the metropolis in the following manner.

• This young gentleman and another neighbour of mine, one Mr. Samuel Johnson, set out this morning together for London. Davy Garrick is to be with you early next week, and Mr. Johnson to try his fate with a tragedy, and endeavour to get himself employed in some translation, either from the Latin or the French. Johnson is a very good scholar, and I have great hopes he will turn out a fine tragedy writer. In London he found it necessary to practise the most rigid economy, and his Osellus in the Art of Living in London, is the real character of an Irish painter, who initiated him in the mode of living cheaply in London. Here he experienced the kindness and hospitality of Mr. Hervey, one of the branches of the Bristol family; and ever after retained a grateful sense of the services he rendered him. Not very long before his death, he thus described this early friend, • Harry Hervey, he was a vicious

man,

but
very

kind to me. If you call a dog Hervey I shall love him.'

It is founded upon a passage in Smollet's History of the Turks, a book which he afterwards highly praised and recommended in the Rambler.

In three months after he came to London, his tragedy being as he thought completely finished, and fit for the stage, he solicited Mr. Fleetwood, the manager of Drury Lane Theatre to bring it out at his house ; but Mr. Fleetwood declined receiving it. Soon after he was employed by Mr. Cave, as a co-adjutor in his magazine, which for some years was his principal resource for support. His first performance in the Gentleman's magazine' was a Latin Ode, Ad Urbanum, in March 1738; a translation of which by an unknown correspondent appeared in the Magazine for May following.

At this period the misconduct and misfortunes of Savage had reduced him to the lowest state of wretchedness, as a writer for bread; and his visits at St. John's Gate, where the “Gentleman's Magazine' was originally printed, naturally brought Johnson and him together, and as they both possessed great abilities, and were equally under the pressure of want, they had naturally a fellow feeling ; so that in a short time the strictest intimacy subsisted between them. Johnson mentioned to Sir Joshua Reynolds some of their whimsical adventures in early life, and in his writings describes Savage as having a graceful and manly deportment, a solemn dignity of mien, but which upon a nearer acquaintance softened into an engaging easiness of manners.' How much he admired his friend Savage, for that knowledge of letters which he himself so much cultivated, and what kindness he entertained for him is evident, from some verses he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine,' for April 1738.

About the same time he became acquainted with Miss Elizabeth Carter, the learned translator of Epictetas, to whom he shewed particular tokens of

respect, and in the same Magazine complimented her in an Ænigma to Eliza, both in Greek and Latin. He writes Mr. Cave, I think she ought to be celebrated in as many different languages as Lewis Le Grand.'

In May 1738, he published his London, a Poem, written in imitation of the third satire of Juvenal. It has been generally said that he offered it to several booksellers, none of whom would purchase it. Mr. Cave at length communicated it to Dodsley, who had judgment enough to discern its intrinsic merit, and thought it creditable to be concerned in it. Dodsley gave him ten pounds for the copy. It is remarkable that it came out the same morning with Pope's Satire entitled One Thousand Seven Hundred and Thirty Eight.' Pope was so struck with its merit, that he sought to discover the author, and prophesied his future fame, and from his note to Lord Gower, it seems that he was successful in his enquiries. From a short extract in the Gentleman's Magazine for May, it appears that the poem got to the second edition in the space of a week. Indeed this admi. rable production laid the foundation of Johnson's fame.

In course of his engagement with Cave, he composed the Debates in the Senate of Magna Lilliputia, the first number of which appeared in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for June 1738, sometimes with feigned names of the several speakers, with denominations formed of the letters of their real names, so that they might be easily decyphered. Parliament then kept the press in a kind and mysterious awe, which rendered it necessary to have recourse to such devices. The debates for some time were taken and digested by Guthrie, and afterwards sent by Mr. Cave to Johnson for revision : when Guthrie afterwards was engaged in a diversity of employment, and the speeches were more enriched by the accession of Johnson's genius; it was resolved that he should do the whole himself from notes furnished by persons employed to attend in both houses of parliament. His sole composition of them began Nov. 19, 1740, and ended February 23d, 1742-3. From that time they were written by Hawkesworth to the year 1760.

He derived however, so little emolument from his literary productions, that notwithstanding the success of his Londun, he was willing to accept of an offer made him of becoming a master of a free school, at a salary of sixty pounds a year : but as the statutes of the school required that he should be a Master of Arts, he was under the necessity of declining it. It is said of Pope to his honour, that without any know, ledge of Johnson_but from his London, he recommended him to Lord Gower, who by a letter to a friend of Swift, endeavoured to procure him a degree from Trinity College Dublin ; but the expedient failed, and it is supposed that Swift declined to interfere in the business; to which circumstance Johnson's known dislike to Swift has been often imputed.

Thus disappointed, he was under the necessity of persevering in that course into which he was forced, and therefore resumed his design of translating Father Paul's History of the Council of Trent in two volumes quarto, which were announced in the Weekly Miscellany, Oct. 21st. 1738. Though twelve sheets of this translation were printed off, Johnson was unfortunately frustrated in his design ; for it happened that another Samuel Johnson, librarian of St. Martin in the Fields, and curate of that parish, had engaged in the same undertaking, under the patronage of the learned Dr. Pearce, the consequence of which was an opposition that destroyed the productive effects of both the works.

In the same year he took part in the opposition to the administration of Sir Robert Walpole, and published a pamphlet entitled, Marmor Norfolciense by Probus Britannicus, in which he inveighed against the Brunswick succession and the measures of government consequent upon it, with the most intemperate zeal and pointed sarcasm. Sir John Hawkins says, that the jacobite principles inculcated in this pamphlet aroused the vigilance of the ministry, and that a warrant was issued and messengers employed to apprehend the author, who it seems was known; but that he eluded their search, by retiring into an obscure lodging in Lambeth Marsh. Mr. Boswell denies the authenticity of this story, alledging that Mr.' Steele, one of the secretaries of the treasury, had directed every possible search to be made in the records of the treasury and secretary of state's office; but could find no trace of any warrant having been issued to apprehend the author of this pamphlet.

This jacobitical production obtained the sanction of the Tory party in general, and of Pope in particular, as appears from the following note concerning Johnson, copied with minute exactness by Mr. Boswell from the original, in the possession of Dr. Percy.

· This (London] is imitated by one Johnson, who put up for a public school in Shropshire, but was disappointed. He has an infirmity of the convulsive kind, that attacks him sometimes, so as to make him a sad spectacle. Mr. P. from the merit of this work, which was all the knowledge he had of him, endea

« PreviousContinue »