Boswell's Life of Johnson, Anno 1709-27

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Edited, from the two-volume Oxford edition of 1904, by Jack Lynch.
SAMUEL JOHNSON was born in Lichfield, in Staffordshire, on the 18th of September, N.S. 1709; and his initiation into the Christian Church was not delayed; for his baptism is recorded in the register of St. Mary's parish in that city, to have been performed on the day of his birth: His father is there stiled Gentleman, a circumstance of which an ignorant panegyrist has praised him for not being proud; when the truth is, that the appellation of Gentleman, though now lost in the indiscriminate assumption of Esquire, was commonly taken by those who could not boast of gentility. His father was Michael Johnson, a native of Derbyshire, of obscure extraction, who settled in Lichfield as a bookseller and stationer. His mother was Sarah Ford, descended of an ancient race of substantial yeomanry in Warwickshire. They were well advanced in years when they married, and never had more than two children, both sons, Samuel, their first-born, who lived to be the illustrious character whose various excellence I am to endeavour to record, and Nathanael, who died in his twenty-fifth year.1

Mr. Michael Johnson was a man of a large and robust body, and of a strong and active mind; yet, as in the most solid rocks, veins of unsound substance are often discovered, there was in him a mixture of that disease, the nature of which eludes the most minute enquiry, though the effects are well known to be a weariness of life, an unconcern about those things which agitate the greater part of mankind, and a general sensation of gloomy wretchedness. From him then his son inherited, with some other qualities, “a vile melancholy,” which in his too strong expression of any disturbance of mind, “made him mad all his life, at least not sober.”2 Michael was, however, forced by the narrowness of his circumstances to be very diligent in business, not only in his shop, but by occasionally resorting to several towns in the neighbourhood,3 some of which were at a considerable distance from Lichfield. At that time booksellers' shops in the provincial towns of England were very rare, so that there was not one even in Birmingham, in which town old Mr. Johnson used to open a shop every market-day. He was a pretty good Latin scholar, and a citizen so creditable as to be made one of the magistrates of Lichfield; and, being a man of good sense, and skill in his trade, he acquired a reasonable share of wealth, of which however he afterwards lost the greatest part, by engaging unsuccessfully in a manufacture of parchment. He was a zealous high-church man and royalist, and retained his attachment to the unfortunate house of Stuart, though he reconciled himself, by casuistical arguments of expediency and necessity, to take the oaths imposed by the prevailing power.

There is a circumstance in his life somewhat romantick, but so well authenticated, that I shall not omit it. A young woman of Leek, in Staffordshire, while he served his apprenticeship there, conceived a violent passion for him; and though it met with no favourable return, followed him to Lichfield, where she took lodgings opposite to the house in which he lived, and indulged her hopeless flame. When he was informed that it so preyed upon her mind that her life was in danger, he with a generous humanity went to her and offered to marry her, but it was then too late: Her vital power was exhausted; and she actually exhibited one of the very rare instances of dying for love. She was buried in the cathedral of Lichfield; and he, with a tender regard, placed a stone over her grave with this inscription:
	     Here lies the body of Mrs. ELIZABETH BLANEY, a
	     stranger:  She departed this life 20 of September,
Johnson's mother was a woman of distinguished understanding.4 I asked his old school-fellow, Mr. Hector, surgeon, of Birmingham, if she was not vain of her son. He said, “she had too much good sense to be vain, but she knew her son's value.” Her piety was not inferiour to her understanding; and to her must be ascribed those early impressions of religion upon the mind of her son, from which the world afterwards derived so much benefit. He told me, that he remembered distinctly having had the first notice of Heaven, “a place to which good people went,” and hell, “a place to which bad people went,” communicated to him by her, when a little child in bed with her; and that it might be the better fixed in his memory, she sent him to repeat it to Thomas Jackson, their man-servant; he not being in the way, this was not done; but there was no occasion for any artificial aid for its preservation.

In following so very eminent a man from his cradle to his grave, every minute particular, which can throw light on the progress of his mind, is interesting. That he was remarkable, even in his earliest years, may easily be supposed; for to use his own words in his Life of Sydenham, “That the strength of his understanding, the accuracy of his discernment, and the ardour of his curiosity, might have been remarked from his infancy, by a diligent observer, there is no reason to doubt. For, there is no instance of any man, whose history has been minutely related, that did not in every part of life discover the same proportion of intellectual vigour.”

In all such investigations it is certainly unwise to pay too much attention to incidents which the credulous relate with eager satisfaction, and the more scrupulous or witty enquirer considers only as topicks of ridicule: Yet there is a traditional story of the infant Hercules of toryism, so curiously characteristick, that I shall not withhold it. It was communicated to me in a letter from Miss Mary Adye, of Lichfield.

“When Dr. Sacheverel was at Lichfield, Johnson was not quite three years old. My grandfather Hammond observed him at the cathedral perched upon his father's shoulders, listening and gaping at the much celebrated preacher. Mr. Hammond asked Mr. Johnson how he could possibly think of bringing such an infant to church, and in the midst of so great a croud. He answered, because it was impossible to keep him at home; for, young as he was, he believed he had caught the publick spirit and zeal for Sacheverel, and would have staid for ever in the church, satisfied with beholding him.”

Nor can I omit a little instance of that jealous independence of spirit, and impetuosity of temper, which never forsook him. The fact was acknowledged to me by himself, upon the authority of his mother. One day, when the servant who used to be sent to school to conduct him home, had not come in time, he set out by himself, though he was then so near-sighted, that he was obliged to stoop down on his hands and knees to take a view of the kennel before he ventured to step over it. His school-mistress, afraid that he might miss his way, or fall into the kennel, or be run over by a cart, followed him at some distance. He happened to turn about and perceive her. Feeling her careful attention as an insult to his manliness, he ran back to her in a rage, and beat her, as well as his strength would permit.

Of the power of his memory, for which he was all his life eminent to a degree almost incredible, the following early instance was told me in his presence at Lichfield, in 1776, by his step-daughter, Mrs. Lucy Porter, as related to her by his mother. When he was a child in petticoats, and had learnt to read, Mrs. Johnson one morning put the common prayer-book into his hands, pointed to the collect for the day, and said, “Sam, you must get this by heart.” She went up stairs, leaving him to study it: but by the time she had reached the second floor, she heard him following her. “What's the matter?” said she. “I can say it,” he replied; and repeated it distinctly, though he could not have read it more than twice.

But there has been another story of his infant precocity generally circulated, and generally believed, the truth of which I am to refute upon his own authority. It is told,5 that, when a child of three years old, he chanced to tread upon a duckling, the eleventh of a brood, and killed it; upon which, it is said, he dictated to his mother the following epitaph:
 “Here lies good master duck,
   Whom Samuel Johnson trod on; If it had liv'd, it had been
   good luck, For then we'd had an odd one.”
There is surely internal evidence that this little composition combines in it, what no child of three years old could produce, without an extension of its faculties by immediate inspiration; yet Mrs. Lucy Porter, Dr. Johnson's step-daughter, positively maintained to me, in his presence, that there could be no doubt of the truth of this anecdote, for she had heard it from his mother. So difficult is it to obtain an authentick relation of facts, and such authority may there be for errour; for he assured me, that his father made the verses, and wished to pass them for his child's. He added, “my father was a foolish old man; that is to say, foolish in talking of his children.”6

Young Johnson had the misfortune to be much afflicted with the scrophula, or king's-evil, which disfigured a countenance naturally well formed, and hurt his visual nerves so much, that he did not see at all with one of his eyes, though its appearance was little different from that of the other. There is amongst his prayers,7 one inscribed "When my EYE was restored to its use,” which ascertains a defect that many of his friends knew he had, though I never perceived it.8 I supposed him to be only near-sighted; and indeed I must observe, that in no other respect, could I discern any defect in his vision; on the contrary, the force of his attention and perceptive quickness made him see and distinguish all manner of objects, whether of nature or of art, with a nicety that is rarely to be found. When he and I were travelling in the Highlands of Scotland, and I pointed out to him a mountain which I observed resembled a cone, he corrected my inaccuracy, by shewing me, that it was indeed pointed at the top, but that one side of it was larger than the other. And the ladies with whom he was acquainted agree, that no man was more nicely and minutely critical in the elegance of female dress. When I found that he saw the romantick beauties of Islam, in Derbyshire, much better than I did, I told him that he resembled an able performer upon a bad instrument. How false and contemptible then are all the remarks which have been made to the prejudice either of his candour or of his philosophy, founded upon a supposition that he was almost blind. It has been said, that he contracted this grievous malady from his nurse.9 His mother, yielding to the superstitious notion, which, it is wonderful to think, prevailed so long in this country, as to the virtue of the regal touch; a notion, which our kings encouraged, and to which a man of such enquiry and such judgement as Carte could give credit; carried him to London, where he was actually touched by Queen Anne.10 Mrs. Johnson indeed, as Mr. Hector informed me, acted by the advice of the celebrated Sir John Floyer, then a physician in Lichfield. Johnson used to talk of this very frankly; and Mrs. Piozzi has preserved his very picturesque description of the scene, as it remained upon his fancy. Being asked if he could remember Queen Anne, -- “He had (he said) a confused, but somehow a sort of solemn recollection of a lady in diamonds, and a long black hood.”11 This touch, however, was without any effect. I ventured to say to him, in allusion to the political principles in which he was educated, and of which he ever retained some odour, that “his mother had not carried him far enough; she should have taken him to ROME.”

He was first taught to read English by Dame Oliver, a widow, who kept a school for young children in Lichfield. He told me she could read the black letter, and asked him to borrow for her, from his father, a bible in that character. When he was going to Oxford, she came to take leave of him, brought him, in the simplicity of her kindness, a present of gingerbread, and said he was the best scholar she ever had. He delighted in mentioning this early compliment: adding, with smile, that “this was as high a proof of his merit as he could conceive.” His next instructor in English was a master, whom, when he spoke of him to me, he familiarly called Tom Brown, who, said he, “published a spelling-book, and dedicated it to the UNIVERSE; but, I fear, no copy of it can now be had.”

He began to learn Latin with Mr. Hawkins, usher, or under-master of Lichfield school, “a man (said he) very skilful in his little way.” With him he continued two years, and then rose to be under the care of Mr. Hunter, the headmaster, who, according to his account, “was very severe, and wrong-headedly severe. He used (said he) to beat us unmercifully; and he did not distinguish between ignorance and negligence; for he would beat a boy equally for not knowing a thing, as for neglecting to know it. He would ask a boy a question, and if he did not answer it, he would beat him, without considering whether he had an opportunity of knowing how to answer it. For instance, he would call up a boy and ask him Latin for a candlestick, which the boy could not expect to be asked. Now, Sir, if a boy could answer every question, there would be no need of a master to teach him.”

It is, however, but justice to the memory of Mr. Hunter to mention, that though he might err in being too severe, the school of Lichfield was very respectable in his time. The late Dr. Taylor, Prebendary of Westminster, who was educated under him, told me, that “he was an excellent master, and that his ushers were most of them men of eminence; that Holbrook, one of the most ingenious men, best scholars, and best preachers of his age, was usher during the greatest part of the time that Johnson was at school. Then came Hague, of whom as much might be said, with the addition that he was an elegant poet. Hague was succeeded by Green, afterwards Bishop of Lincoln, whose character in the learned world is well known. In the same form with Johnson was Congreve, who afterwards became chaplain to Archbishop Boulter, and by that connection obtained good preferment in Ireland. He was a younger son of the ancient family of Congreve, in Staffordshire, of which the poet was a branch. His brother sold the estate. There was also Lowe, afterwards Canon of Windsor.”

Indeed Johnson was very sensible how much he owed to Mr. Hunter. Mr. Langton one day asked him how he had acquired so accurate a knowledge of Latin, in which, I believe, he was exceeded by no man of his time; he said, “My master whipt me very well. Without that, Sir, I should have done nothing.” He told Mr. Langton, that while Hunter was flogging his boys unmercifully, he used to say, “And this I do to save you from the gallows.” Johnson, upon all occasions, expressed his approbation of enforcing instruction by means of the rod.12 “I would rather (said he) have the rod to be the general terrour to all, to make them learn, than tell a child, if you do thus, or thus, you will be more esteemed than your brothers or sisters. The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself. A child is afraid of being whipped, and gets his task, and there's an end on't; whereas, by exciting emulation and comparisons of superiority, you lay the foundation of lasting mischief; you make brothers and sisters hate each other.”

When Johnson saw some young ladies in Lincolnshire who were remarkably well behaved, owing to their mother's strict discipline and severe correction, he exclaimed, in one of Shakespeare's lines a little varied,13
Rod, I will honour thee for this thy duty.” 
That superiority over his fellows, which he maintained with so much dignity in his march through life, was not assumed from vanity and ostentation, but was the natural and constant effect of those extraordinary powers of mind, of which he could not but be conscious by comparison; the intellectual difference, which in other cases of comparison of characters, is often a matter of undecided contest, being as clear in his case as the superiority of stature in some men above others. Johnson did not strut or stand on tip-toe; he only did not stoop. From his earliest years, his superiority was perceived and acknowledged. He was from the beginning, Anax andron, a king of men. His schoolfellow, Mr. Hector, has obligingly furnished me with many particulars of his boyish days; and assured me that he never knew him corrected at school, but for talking and diverting other boys from their business. He seemed to learn by intuition; for though indolence and procrastination were inherent in his constitution, whenever he made an exertion he did more than any one else. In short, he is a memorable instance of what has been often observed, that the boy is the man in miniature: and that the distinguishing characteristicks of each individual are the same, through the whole course of life. His favourites used to receive very liberal assistance from him; and such was the submission and deference with which he was treated, such the desire to obtain his regard, that three of the boys, of whom Mr. Hector was sometimes one, used to come in the morning as his humble attendants, and carry him to school. One in the middle stooped, while he sat upon his back, and one on each side supported him; and thus he was borne triumphant. Such a proof of the early predominance of intellectual vigour is very remarkable, and does honour to human nature. -- Talking to me once himself of his being much distinguished at school, he told me, “they never thought to raise me by comparing me to any one; they never said, Johnson is as good a scholar as such a one; but such a one is as good a scholar as Johnson; and this was said but of one, but of Lowe; and I do not think he was as good a scholar.”

He discovered a great ambition to excel, which roused him to counteract his indolence. He was uncommonly inquisitive; and his memory was so tenacious, that he never forgot anything that he either heard or read. Mr. Hector remembers having recited to him eighteen verses, which, after a little pause, he repeated verbatim, varying only one epithet, by which he improved the line.

He never joined with the other boys in their ordinary diversions: his only amusement was in winter, when he took a pleasure in being drawn upon the ice by a boy barefooted, who pulled him along by a garter fixed around him; no very easy operation, as his size was remarkably large. His defective sight, indeed, prevented him from enjoying the common sports; and he once pleasantly remarked to me, “how wonderfully well he had contrived to be idle without them.” Lord Chesterfield, however, has justly observed in one of his letters, when earnestly cautioning a friend against the pernicious effects of idleness, that active sports are not to be reckoned idleness in young people; and that the listless torpor of doing nothing alone deserves that name. Of this dismal inertness of disposition, Johnson had all his life too great a share. Mr. Hector relates, that “he could not oblige him more than by sauntering away the hours of vacation in the fields, during which he was more engaged in talking to himself than to his companion.”

Dr. Percy, the Bishop of Dromore, who was long intimately acquainted with him, and has preserved a few anecdotes concerning him, regretting that he was not a more diligent collector, informs me, that “when a boy he was immoderately fond of reading romances of chivalry, and he retained his fondness for them through life; so that (adds his Lordship) spending part of a summer at my parsonage-house in the country, he chose for his regular reading the old Spanish romance of FELIXMARTE OF HIRCANIA, in folio, which he read quite through. Yet I have heard him attribute to these extravagant fictions that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his ever fixing in any profession.”

After having resided for some time at the house of his uncle,14 Cornelius Ford, Johnson was, at the age of fifteen, removed to the school of Stourbridge, in Worcestershire, of which Mr. Wentworth was then master. This step was taken by the advice of his cousin, the Rev. Mr. Ford, a man in whom both talents and good dispositions were disgraced by licentiousness, but who was a very able judge of what was right. At this school he did not receive so much benefit as was expected. It has been said, that he acted in the capacity of an assistant to Mr. Wentworth, in teaching the younger boys. “Mr. Wentworth (he told me) was a very able man, but an idle man, and to me very severe; but I cannot blame him much. I was then a big boy; he saw I did not reverence him; and that he should get no honour by me. I had brought enough with me, to carry me through; and all I should get at his school would be ascribed to my own labour, or to my former master. Yet he taught me a great deal.”

He thus discriminated, to Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore, his progress at his two grammar-schools. “At one, I learned much in the school, but little from the master; in the other, I learnt much from the master, but little in the school.”

The Bishop also informs me, that “Dr. Johnson's father, before he was received at Stourbridge, applied to have him admitted as a scholar and assistant to the Rev. Samuel Lea, M.A., head master of Newport school, in Shropshire; (a very diligent good teacher, at that time in high reputation, under whom Mr. Hollis is said, in the Memoirs of his Life, to have been also educated).16 This application to Mr. Lea was not successful; but Johnson had afterwards the gratification to hear that the old gentleman, who lived to a very advanced age, mentioned it as one of the most memorable events of his life, that “he was very near having that great man for his scholar.”

He remained at Stourbridge little more than a year, and then he returned home, where he may be said to have loitered, for two years, in a state very unworthy his uncommon abilities. He had already given several proofs of his poetical genius, both in his school-exercises and in other occasional compositions. Of these I have obtained a considerable collection, by the favour of Mr. Wentworth, son of one of his masters, and of Mr. Hector, his school-fellow and friend; from which I select the following specimens:

Translation of VIRGIL. Pastoral I

  Now, Tityrus, you, supine and careless laid, Play on your pipe
  beneath this beechen shade; While wretched we about the world
  must roam, And leave our pleasing fields and native home, Here
  at your ease you sing your amorous flame, And the wood rings
  with Amarillis' name.

  Those blessings, friend, a deity bestow'd, For I shall never
  think him less than God; Oft on his altar shall my firstlings
  lie, Their blood the consecrated stones shall dye:  He gave my
  flocks to graze the flowery meads, And me to tune at ease th'
  unequal reeds.

  My admiration only I exprest, (No spark of envy harbours in my
  breast) That, when confusion o'er the country reigns, To you
  alone this happy state remains.  Here I, though faint myself,
  must drive my goats, Far from their antient fields and humble
  cots.  This scarce I lead, who left on yonder rock Two tender
  kids, the hopes of all the flock.  Had we not been perverse
  and careless grown, This dire event by omens was foreshown;
  Our trees were blasted by the thunder stroke, And left-hand
  crows, from an old hollow oak, Foretold the coming evil by
  their dismal croak.  

Translation of HORACE. Book I. Ode xxii

 THE man, my friend, whose conscious heart
  With virtue's sacred ardour glows, Nor taints with death the
  envenom'd dart Nor needs the guard of Moorish bows;

Though Scythia's icy cliffs he treads,
  Or horrid Africk's faithless sands; Or where the fam'd
  Hydaspes spreads His liquid wealth o'er barbarous lands.

For while by Chloe's image charm'd,
  Too far in Sabine woods I stray'd; Me singing, careless and
  unarm'd, A grizly wolf surprised, and fled.

No savage more portentous stain'd
  Apulia's spacious wilds with gore; No fiercer Juba's thirsty
  land, Dire nurse of raging lions, bore.

Place me where no soft summer gale
  Among the quivering branches sighs; Where clouds condens'd for
  ever veil With horrid gloom the frowning skies:

Place me beneath the burning line,
  A clime deny'd to human race:  I'll sing of Chloe's charms
  divine, Her heav'nly voice, and beauteous face.  

Translation of HORACE. Book II. Ode ix

 CLOUDS do not always veil the skies,
  Nor showers immerse the verdant plain:  Nor do the billows
  always rise, Or storms afflict the ruffled main.

Nor, Valgius, on th' Armenian shores
  Do the chain'd waters always freeze; Not always furious Boreas
  roars, Or bends with violent force the trees.

But you are ever drown'd in tears,
  For Mystes dead you ever mourn; No setting Sol can ease your
  care, But finds you sad at his return.

The wise experienc'd Grecian sage
  Mourn'd not Antilochus so long; Nor did King Priam's hoary age
  So much lament his slaughter'd son.

Leave off, at length, these women's sighs,
  Augustus' numerous trophies sing; Repeat that prince's
  victories, To whom all nations tribute bring.

Niphates rolls an humbler wave,
  At length the undaunted Scythian yields, Content to live the
  Roman's slave, And scarce forsakes his native fields.  

Translation of Part of the Dialogue between HECTOR and ANDROMACHE; from the Sixth Book of HOMER'S ILIAD

  SHE ceas'd; then godlike Hector answer'd kind, (His various
  plumage sporting in the wind) That post, and all the rest,
  shall be my care; But shall I, then, forsake the unfinished
  war?  How would the Trojans brand great Hector's name!  And
  one base action sully all my fame, Acquired by wounds and
  battles bravely fought!  Oh! how my soul abhors so mean a
  thought.  Long since I learn'd to slight this fleeting breath,
  And view with cheerful eyes approaching death.  The inexorable
  sisters have decreed That Priam's house, and Priam's self
  shall bleed:  The day will come, in which proud Troy shall
  yield, And spread its smoking ruins o'er the field.  Yet
  Hecuba's, nor Priam's hoary age, Whose blood shall quench some
  Grecian's thirsty rage, Nor my brave brothers, that have bit
  the ground, Their souls dismiss'd through many a ghastly
  wound, Can in my bosom half that grief create, As the sad
  thought of your impending fate:  When some proud Grecian dame
  shall tasks impose, Mimick your tears, and ridicule your woes;
Beneath Hyperia's waters shall you sweat, And, fainting, scarce
support the liquid weight:  Then shall some Argive loud
insulting cry, Behold the wife of Hector, guard of Troy!  Tears,
at my name, shall drown those beauteous eyes, And that fair
bosom heave with rising sighs!  Before that day, by some brave
hero's hand May I lie slain, and spurn the bloody sand.  


  THIS tributary verse receive my fair, Warm with an ardent
  lover's fondest pray'r.  May this returning day for ever find
  Thy form more lovely, more adorn'd thy mind; All pains, all
  cares, may favouring heav'n remove, All but the sweet
  solicitudes of love!  May powerful nature join with grateful
  art, To point each glance, and force it to the heart!  O then,
  when conquered crouds confess thy sway, When ev'n proud wealth
  and prouder wit obey, My fair, be mindful of the mighty trust,
  Alas! 'tis hard for beauty to be just.  Those sovereign charms
  with strictest care employ; Nor give the generous pain, the
  worthless joy:  With his own form acquaint the forward fool,
  Shewn in the faithful glass of ridicule; Teach mimick censure
  her own faults to find, No more let coquettes to themselves be
  blind, So shall Belinda's charms improve mankind.  


  WHEN first the peasant, long inclin'd to roam, Forsakes his
  rural sports and peaceful home, Pleas'd with the scene the
  smiling ocean yields, He scorns the verdant meads and flow'ry
  fields; Then dances jocund o'er the watery way, While the
  breeze whispers, and the streamers play:  Unbounded prospects
  in his bosom roll, And future millions lift his rising soul;
  In blissful dreams he digs the golden mine, And raptur'd sees
  the new-found ruby shine.  Joys insincere! thick clouds invade
  the skies, Loud roar the billows, high the waves arise;
  Sick'ning with fear, he longs to view the shore And vows to
  trust the faithless deep no more.  So the young Authour,
  panting after fame, And the long honours of a lasting name,
  Entrusts his happiness to human kind, More false, more cruel,
  than the seas or wind.  “Toil on, dull croud, in extacies he
  cries, For wealth or title, perishable prize; While I those
  transitory blessings scorn, Secure of praise from ages yet
  unborn.” This thought once form'd, all council comes too late,
He flies to press, and hurries on his fate; Swiftly he sees the
imagin'd laurels spread, And feels the unfading wreath surround
his head.  Warn'd by another's fate, vain youth be wise, Those
dreams were Settle's once, and Ogilby's:  The pamphlet spreads,
incessant hisses rise, To some retreat, the baffled writer
flies; Where no sour criticks snarl, no sneers molest, Safe from
the tart lampoon, and stinging jest; There begs of heaven a less
distinguish'd lot, Glad to be hid, and proud to be forgot.

EPILOGUE, intended to have been spoken by a LADY who was to personate the Ghost of HERMIONE19

  YE blooming train, who give despair or joy, Bless with a
  smile, or with a frown destroy; In whose fair cheeks
  destructive Cupids wait, And with unerring shafts distribute
  fate; Whose snowy breasts, whose animated eyes, Each youth
  admires, though each admirer dies; Whilst you deride their
  pangs in barb'rous play, Unpitying see them weep, and hear
  them pray, And unrelenting sport ten thousand lives away; For
  you, ye fair, I quit the gloomy plains; Where sable night in
  all her horrour reigns; No fragrant bowers, no delightful
  glades, Receive the unhappy ghosts of scornful maids.  For
  kind, for tender nymphs the myrtle blooms, And weaves her
  bending boughs in pleasing glooms:  Perennial roses deck each
  purple vale, And scents ambrosial breathe in every gale:  Far
  hence are banish'd vapours, spleen, and tears, Tea, scandal,
  ivory teeth, and languid airs:  No pug, nor favourite Cupid
  there enjoys The balmy kiss, for which poor Thyrsis dies;
  Form'd to delight, they use no foreign arms, Nor torturing
whalebones pinch them into charms; No conscious blushes there
their cheeks inflame, For those who feel no guilt can know no
shame; Unfaded still their former charms they shew, Around them
pleasures wait, and joys for ever new.  But cruel virgins meet
severer fates; Expell'd and exil'd from the blissful seats, To
dismal realms, and regions void of peace, Where furies ever
howl, and serpents hiss.  O'er the sad plains perpetual tempests
sigh, And pois'nous vapours, black'ning all the sky, With living
hue the fairest face o'ercast, And every beauty withers at the
blast:  Where'er they fly their lovers' ghosts pursue,
Inflicting all those ills which once they knew; Vexation, Fury,
Jealousy, Despair, Vex ev'ry eye, and every bosom tear; Their
foul deformities by all descry'd, No maid to flatter, and no
paint to hide.  Then melt, ye fair, while crouds around you
sigh, Nor let disdain sit lowring in your eye; With pity soften
every awful grace, And beauty smile auspicious in each face; To
ease their pains exert your milder power, So shall you guiltless
reign, and all mankind adore.  
The two years which he spent at home, after his return from Stourbridge, he passed in what he thought idleness, and was scolded by his father for his want of steady application. He had no settled plan of life, nor looked forward at all, but merely lived from day to day. Yet he read a great deal in a desultory manner, without any scheme of study, as chance threw books in his ways, and inclination directed him through them. He used to mention one curious instance of his casual reading, when but a boy. Having imagined that his brother had hid some apples behind a large folio upon an upper shelf in his father's shop, he climbed up to search for them. There were no apples; but the large folio proved to be Petrarch, whom he had seen mentioned, in some preface, as one of the restorers of learning. His curiosity having been thus excited, he sat down with avidity, and read a great part of the book. What he read during these two years; he told me, was not works of mere amusement, “not voyages and travels, but all literature, Sir, all ancient writers, all manly: though but little Greek, only some of Anacreon and Hesiod: but in this irregular manner (added he) I had looked into a great many books, which were not commonly known at the Universities, where they seldom read any books but what are put into their hands by their tutors; so that when I came to Oxford, Dr. Adams, now master of Pembroke College, told me, I was the best qualified for the University that he had ever known come there.”

In estimating the progress of his mind during these two years, as well as in future periods of his life, we must not regard his own hasty confession of idleness; for we see, when he explains himself, that he was acquiring various stores; and, indeed he himself concluded the account, with saying, “I would not have you think I was doing nothing then.” He might, perhaps, have studied more assiduously; but it may be doubted, whether such a mind as his was not more enriched by roaming at large in the fields of literature, than if it had been confined to any single spot. The analogy between body and mind is very general, and the parallel will hold as to their food, as well as any other particular. The flesh of animals who feed excursively, is allowed to have a higher flavour than that of those who are cooped up. May there not be the same difference between men who read as their taste prompts, and men who are confined in cells and colleges to stated tasks?


1. [Nathanael was born in 1712, and died in 1737. Their father, Michael Johnson, was born at Cubley in Derbyshire, in 1656, and died at Lichfield in 1731, at the age of seventy-six. Sarah Ford, his wife, was born at King's-Norton, in the county of Worcester, in 1669, and died at Lichfield, in January 1759, in her ninetieth year. -- King's-Norton Dr. Johnson supposed to be in Warwickshire (see his inscription for his mother's tomb), but it is in Worcestershire, probably on the confines of the county of Warwick. -- M.]

2. Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, third edition, p. 213 [Sept. 16].

3. Extract of a letter, dated “Trentham, St. Peter's day, 1716,” written by the Rev. George Plaxton, Chaplain at that time to Lord Gower, which may serve to show the high estimation in which the Father of our great Moralist was held: -- “Johnson, the Lichfield Librarian, is now here; he propagates learning all over this diocese, and advanceth knowledge to its just height; all the Clergy here are his pupils, and suck all they have from him; Allen cannot make a warrant without his precedent, nor our quondam John Evans draw a recognizance sine directione Michaelis.” -- Gentleman's Magazine, October, 1791.

4. [It was not, however, much cultivated, as we may collect from Dr. Johnson's own account of his early years, published by R. Phillips, 8vo. 1805, a work undoubtedly authentick, and which, though short, is curious, and well worthy of perusal. “My father and mother (says Johnson) had not much happiness from each other. They seldom conversed; for my father could not bear to talk of his affairs; and my mother, being unacquainted with books, cared not to talk of any thing else. Had my mother been more literate, they had been better companions. She might have sometimes introduced her unwelcome topick with more success, if she could have diversified her conversation. Of business she had no distinct conception; and therefore her discourse was composed only of complaint, fear, and suspicion. Neither of them ever tried to calculate the profits of trade, or the expences of living. My mother concluded that we were poor, because we lost by some of our trades; but the truth was, that my father, having in the early part of his life contracted debts, never had trade sufficient to enable him to pay them, and to maintain his family: he got something, but not enough. It was not till about 1768, that I thought to calculate the returns of my father's trade, and by that estimate his probable profits. This, I believe, my parents never did.” -- M.]

5. Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson, by Hester Lynch Piozzi, p. 11. Life of Dr. Johnson, by Sir John Hawkins, p. 6.

6. This anecdote of the duck, though disproved by internal and external evidence, has nevertheless, upon supposition of its truth, been made the foundation of the following ingenious and fanciful reflections of Miss Seward, amongst the communications concerning Dr. Johnson with which she has been pleased to favour me: -- “These infant numbers contain the seeds of those propensities which through his life so strongly marked his character, of that poetick talent which afterwards bore such rich and plentiful fruits; for, excepting his orthographick works, every thing which Dr. Johnson wrote was Poetry, whose essence consists not in numbers, or in jingle, but in the strength and glow of a fancy, to which all the stores of nature and of art stand in prompt administration; and in an eloquence which conveys their blended illustrations in a language, 'more tuneable than needs or rhyme or verse to add more harmony.' “The above little verses also shew that superstitious bias which 'grew with his growth, and strengthened with his strength,' and, of late years particularly, injured his happiness, by presenting to him the gloomy side of religion, rather than that bright and cheering one which gilds the period of closing life with the light of pious hope.” This is so beautifully imagined, that I would not suppress it. But, like many other theories, it is deduced from a supposed fact, which is, indeed, a fiction.

7. Prayers and Meditations, p. 27.

8. [Speaking himself of the imperfection of one of his eyes, he said to Dr. Burney, “the dog was never good for much.” -- BURNEY.]

9. [Such was the opinion of Dr. Swinfen. Johnson's eyes were very soon discovered to be bad, and to relieve them, an issue was cut in his left arm. At the end of ten weeks from his birth, he was taken home from his nurse, “a poor diseased infant, almost blind.” See a work, already quoted, entitled “An account of the life of Dr. Samuel Johnson, from his birth to his eleventh year; written by himself.” 8vo. 1805. -- M.]

10. [He was only thirty months old, when he was taken to London to be touched for the evil. During this visit, he tells us, his mother purchased for him a small silver cup and spoon. “The cup,” he affectingly adds, “was one of the last pieces of plate which dear Tetty sold, in our distress. I have now the spoon. She bought at the same time two tea-spoons, and till my manhood, she had no more.” Ibid. -- M.]

11. Anecdotes, p. 10.

12. [Johnson's observations to Dr. Rose on this subject, may be found in a subsequent part of this work. See post, near the end of the year 1775. -- BURNEY.]

13. [More than a little. The line is in KING HENRY VI. Part ii. act iv. sc. last: “Sword, I will hallow thee for this thy deed.” -- M.]

14. [Cornelius Ford, according to Sir John Hawkins, was his cousin-german, being the son of Dr. Joseph [Q. Nathanael] Ford, an eminent Physician, who was brother to Johnson's mother. -- M.]

15. He is said to be the original of the parson in Hogarth's Modern Midnight Conversation.

16. As was likewise the Bishop of Dromore many years afterwards.

17. Mr. Hector informs me that this was made almost impromptu, in his presence.

18. This he inserted with many alterations, in the Gentleman's Magazine, 1743. [He however, did not add his name. See Gent. Mag. vol. xiii, p. 378. -- M.]

19. Some young ladies at Lichfield having proposed to act “The Distressed Mother,” Johnson wrote this, and gave it to Mr. Hector to convey it privately to them.