Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1736

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Edited, from the two-volume Oxford edition of 1904, by Jack Lynch.
His juvenile attachments to the fair sex were, however, very transient: and it is certain, that he formed no criminal connection whatsoever. Mr. Hector, who lived with him in his younger days in the utmost intimacy and social freedom, has assured me, that even at that ardent season his conduct was strictly virtuous in that respect; and that though he loved to exhilarate himself with wine, he never knew him intoxicated but once.

In a man whom religious education has secured from licentious indulgences, the passion of love, when once it has seized him, is exceedingly strong; being unimpaired by dissipation, and totally concentrated in one object. This was experienced by Johnson, when he became the fervent admirer of Mrs. Porter, after her first husband's death.1 Miss Porter told me, that when he was first introduced to her mother, his appearance was very forbidding: he was then lean and lank, so that his immense structure of bones was hideously striking to the eye, and the scars of the scrophula were deeply visible. He also wore his hair, which was straight and stiff, and separated behind: and he often had, seemingly, convulsive starts and odd gesticulations, which tended to excite at once surprise and ridicule. Mrs. Porter was so much engaged by his conversation that she overlooked all these external disadvantages, and said to her daughter, “this is the most sensible man that I ever saw in my life.”

Though Mrs. Porter was double the age of Johnson,2 and her person and manner, as described to me by the late Mr. Garrick, were by no means pleasing to others,3 she must have had a superiority of understanding and talents4 as she certainly inspired him with a more than ordinary passion; and she having signified her willingness to accept of his hand, he went to Lichfield to ask his mother's consent to the marriage; which he could not but be conscious was a very imprudent scheme, both on account of their disparity of years, and her want of fortune. But Mrs. Johnson knew too well the ardour of her son's temper, and was too tender a parent to oppose his inclinations.

“Mrs. Williams's account of Mrs. Johnson was, that she had a good understanding, and great sensibility, but inclined to be satirical. Her first husband died insolvent; her sons were much disgusted with her for her second marriage, perhaps because they being struggling to get advanced in life, were mortified to think that she had allied herself to a man who had not any visible means of being useful to them; however, she always retained her affection for them. While they [Dr. and Mrs. Johnson] resided in Gough Square, her son, the officer, knocked at the door, and asked the maid, if her mistress was at home. She answered, 'Yes, Sir; but she is sick in bed.' 'O,' says he, 'if it's so, tell her that her son Jervis, called to know how she did;' and was going away. The maid begged she might run up to tell her mistress, and without attending to his answer, left him. Mrs. Johnson enraptured to hear her son was below, desired the maid to tell him she longed to embrace him. When the maid descended, the gentleman was gone, and poor Mrs. Johnson was much agitated by the adventure; it was the only time he ever made an effort to see her. Dr. Johnson did all he could to console his wife, but told Mrs. Williams, 'Her son is uniformly undutiful; so I conclude, like many other sober men, he might once in his life be drunk, and in that fit nature got the better of his pride.'”

The following anecdotes of Dr. Johnson are recorded by the same lady:
“One day that he came to my house to meet many others, we told him that we had arranged our party to go to Westminster Abbey: would not he go with us? 'No,' he replied, 'not while I can keep out.'

“Upon our saying that the friends of a lady had been in great fear lest she should make a certain match, he said, 'We that are his friends have had great fears for him.'

“Dr. Johnson's political principles ran high, both in church and state: he wished power to the King and to the Heads of the Church, as the laws of England have established; but I know he disliked absolute power; and I am very sure of his disapprobation of the doctrines of the church of Rome; because about three weeks before we came abroad, he said to my Cornelia, 'you are going where the ostentatious pomp of church ceremonies attracts the imagination; but if they want to persuade you to change, you must remember, that by increasing your faith, you may be persuaded to become Turk.' If these were not the words. I have kept up to the express meaning.” -- M.]
I know not for what reason the marriage ceremony was not performed at Birmingham; but a resolution was taken that it should be at Derby, for which place the bride and bridegroom set out on horseback, I suppose in very good humour. But though Mr. Topham Beauclerk used archly to mention Johnson's having told him with much gravity, “Sir, it was a love marriage on both sides,” I have had from my illustrious friend the following curious account of their journey to church upon the nuptial morn: -- “Sir, she had read the old romances, and had got into her head the fantastical notion that a woman of spirit should use her lover like a dog. So, Sir, at first she told me that I rode too fast, and she could not keep up with me: and, when I rode a little slower, she passed me, and complained that I lagged behind. I was not to be made the slave of caprice; and I resolved to begin as I meant to end. I therefore pushed on briskly, till I was fairly out of her sight. The road lay between two hedges, so I was sure she could not miss it; and I contrived that she should soon come up with me. When she did, I observed her to be in tears.”

This, it must be allowed, was a singular beginning of connubial felicity; but there is no doubt that Johnson, though he thus shewed a manly firmness, proved a most affectionate and indulgent husband to the last moment of Mrs. Johnson's life: and in his “Prayers and Meditations,” we find very remarkable evidence that his regard and fondness for her never ceased, even after her death.

He now set up a private academy, for which purpose he hired a large house, well situated near his native city. In the Gentleman's Magazine for 1736, there is the following advertisement: “At Edial, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, young gentlemen are boarded and taught the Latin and Greek Languages, by SAMUEL JOHNSON.” But the only pupils that were put under his care were the celebrated David Garrick and his brother George, and a Mr. Offely, a young gentleman of good fortune who died early. As yet, his name had nothing of that celebrity which afterwards commanded the highest attention and respect of mankind. Had such an advertisement appeared after the publication of his LONDON, or his RAMBLER, or his DICTIONARY, how would it have burst upon the world! with what eagerness would the great and the wealthy have embraced an opportunity of putting their sons under the learned tuition of SAMUEL JOHNSON. The truth, however, is, that he was not so well qualified for being a teacher of elements, and a conductor in learning by regular gradations, as men of inferiour powers of mind. His own acquisitions had been made by fits and starts, by violent irruptions into the regions of knowledge; and it could not be expected that his impatience would be subdued, and his impetuosity restrained, so, as to fit him for a quiet guide to novices. The art of communicating instruction, of whatever kind, is much to be valued; and I have ever thought that those who devote themselves to this employment, and do their duty with diligence and success, are entitled to very high respect from the community, as Johnson himself often maintained. Yet I am of opinion, that the greatest abilities are not only not required for this office, but render a man less fit for it.

While we acknowledge the justness of Thomson's beautiful remark,
 “Delightful task! to rear the tender thought, And teach
the young idea how to shoot!” 
we must consider that this delight is perceptible only by “a mind at ease,” a mind at once calm and clear; but that a mind gloomy and impetuous like that of Johnson, cannot be fixed for any length of time in minute attention, and must be so frequently irritated by unavoidable slowness and errour in the advances of scholars, as to perform the duty, with little pleasure to the teacher, and no great advantage to the pupils. Good temper is a most essential requisite in a Preceptor. Horace paints the character as bland:
 "-- Ut pueris olim dant crustula blandi Doctores,
elementa velint ut discere prima.” 
Johnson was not more satisfied with his situation as the master of an academy, than with that of the usher of a school; we need not wonder, therefore, that he did not keep his academy above a year and a half. From Mr. Garrick's account he did not appear to have been profoundly reverenced by his pupils. His oddities of manner, and uncouth gesticulations, could not but be the subject of merriment to them; and in particular, the young rogues used to listen at the door of his bed-chamber, and peep through the key-hole, that they might turn into ridicule his tumultuous and awkward fondness for Mrs Johnson, whom he used to name by the familiar appellation of Tetty or Tetsey, which, like Betty or Betsey, is provincially used as a contraction for Elizabeth, her christian name, but which to us seems ludicrous, when applied to a woman of her age and appearance. Mr. Garrick described her to me as very fat, with a bosom of more than ordinary protuberance, with swelled cheeks, of a florid red, produced by thick painting, and increased by the liberal use of cordials; flaring and fantastick in her dress, and affected both in her speech and her general behaviour. I have seen Garrick exhibit her, by his exquisite talent of mimickry, so as to excite the heartiest burst of laughter; but he, probably, as is the case in all such representations, considerably aggravated the picture.

That Johnson well knew the most proper course to be pursued in the instruction of youth is authentically ascertained by the following paper in his own hand-writing, given about this period to a relation, and now in the possession of Mr. John Nichols:
“SCHEME for the CLASSES of a GRAMMAR SCHOOL

“WHEN the introduction, or formation of nouns and verbs, is perfectly mastered, let them learn

“Corderius by Mr. Clarke, beginning at the same time to translate out of the introduction, that by this means they may learn the syntax. Then let them proceed to

“Erasmus, with an English translation, by the same authour

“Class II. Learns Eutropius and Cornelius Nepos, or Justin, with the translation.

“N.B. The first class gets for their part every morning the rules which they have learned before, and in the afternoon learns the Latin rules of the nouns and verbs.

“They are examined in the rules which they have learned, every Thursday and Saturday.

“The second class does the same whilst they are in Eutropius; afterwards their part is in the irregular nouns and verbs, and in the rules for making and scanning verses. They are examined as the first.

“Class III. Ovid's Metamorphoses in the morning, and Caesar's Commentaries in the afternoon.

“Practise in the Latin rules till they are perfect in them; afterwards in Mr Leeds's Greek Grammar. Examined as before.

“Afterwards they proceed to Virgil, beginning at the same time to write themes and verses, and to learn Greek; from thence passing on to Horace, &c. as shall seem most proper.

“I know not well what books to direct you to, because you have not informed me what study you will apply yourself to. I believe it will be most for your advantage to apply yourself wholly to the languages, till you go to the university. The Greek authours I think it best for you to read are these:
 “Cebes.               Attick.  “Aelian.
Attick.  “Lucian by Leeds.     Attick.  “Xenophon.
Attick.  “Homer.               Ionick.  “Theocritus.
Dorick.  “Euripides.           Attick and Dorick.  
“Thus you will be tolerably skilled in all the dialects, beginning with the Attick, to which the rest must be referred.

“In the study of Latin, it is proper not to read the latter authours, till you are well versed in those of the purest ages; as Terence, Tully, Caesar, Sallust, Nepos, Velleius Paterculus, Virgil, Horace, Phaedrus.

“The greatest and most necessary task still remains, to attain a habit of expression, without which knowledge is of little use. This is necessary in Latin, and more necessary in English; and can only be acquired by a daily imitation of the best and correctest authours.

“SAM. JOHNSON.”

Notes

1. [It appears, from Mr. Hector's letter, that Johnson became acquainted with her three years before he married her. -- M.]

2. [Mrs. Johnson's maiden name was Jervis. Though there was a great disparity of years between her and Dr. Johnson, she was not quite so old as she is here represented, having only completed her forty-eighth year in the month of February preceding her marriage, as appears by the following extract from the parish-register of Great Peatling in Leicestershire, which was obligingly made at my request, by the Hon. and Rev. Mr. Ryder, Rector of Lutterworth, in that county: “Anno Dom. 1688 [-9] Elizabeth, the daughter of William Jervis, Esq and Mrs. Anne his wife, born the fourth day of February and mane, baptized 16th day of the same month by Mr. Smith, Curate of Little Peatling.

“John Allen, Vicar.” The family of Jervis, Mr. Ryder informs me, once possessed nearly the whole lordship of Great Peatling, (about 2000 acres), and there are many monuments of them in the Church; but the estate is now much reduced. The present representative of this ancient family is Mr. Charles Jervis, of Hinckley, Attorney at Law. -- M.]

3. [That in Johnson's eyes she was handsome, appears from the epitaph which he caused to be inscribed on her tomb-stone not long before his own death, and which may be found in a subsequent page, under the year 1752. -- M.]

4. [The following account of Mrs. Johnson, and her family, is copied from a paper (chiefly relating to Mrs. Anna Williams) written by Lady Knight at Rome, and transmitted by her to the late John Hoole, Esq., the translator of Metastasio, &c., by whom it was inserted in the European Magazine for October, 1799.