Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1743

Previous -- Contents -- Next
Edited, from the two-volume Oxford edition of 1904, by Jack Lynch.
His writings in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1743, are, the “Preface,”+ the “Parliamentary Debates,”+ “Considerations on the Dispute between Crousaz and Warburton, on Pope's Essay on Man;"+ in which while he defends Crousaz, he shews an admirable metaphysical acuteness and temperance in controversy; “Ad Lauram parituram Epigramma;"*1 and, “A latin Translation of Pope's Verses on his Grotto;"* and, as he could employ his pen with equal success upon a small matter as a great, I suppose him to be the authour of an advertisement for Osborne, concerning the great Harleian Catalogue.

But I should think myself much wanting, both to my illustrious friend and my readers, did I not introduce here, with more than ordinary respect, an exquisitely beautiful Ode, which has not been inserted in any of the collections of Johnson's poetry, written by him at a very early period, as Mr. Hector informs me, and inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine of this year.

FRIENDSHIP, peculiar boon of heav'n,
  The noble mind's delight and pride, To men and angels only
  giv'n, To all the lower world deny'd.

While love, unknown among the blest,
  Parent of thousand wild desires, The savage and the human
  breast Torments alike with raging fires;

With bright, but oft destructive, gleam,
  Alike o'er all his lightnings fly; Thy lambent glories only
  beam Around the fav'rites of the sky.

Thy gentle flows of guiltless joys,
  On fools and villains ne'er descend; In vain for thee the
  tyrant sighs, And hugs a flatterer for a friend.

Directress of the brave and just,
  O guide us through life's darksome way!  And let the tortures
  of mistrust On selfish bosoms only prey.

Nor shall thine ardour cease to glow,
  When souls to blissful climes remove:  What rais'd our virtue
  here below, Shall aid our happiness above.  
Johnson had now an opportunity of obliging his schoolfellow Dr. James, of whom he once observed, “no man brings more mind to his profession.” James published this year his “Medicinal Dictionary,” in three volumes folio. Johnson, as I understood from him, had written, or assisted in writing, the proposals for this work; and being very fond of the study of physick, in which James was his master, he furnished some of the articles. He, however, certainly wrote for it the Dedication to Dr. Mead,+ which is conceived with great address, to conciliate the patronage of that very eminent man.2

It has been circulated, I know not with what authenticity, that Johnson considered Dr. Birch as a dull writer, and said of him, “Tom Birch is as brisk as a bee in conversation; but no sooner does he take a pen in his hand, than it becomes a torpedo to him, and benumbs all his faculties.” That the literature of this country is much indebted to Birch's activity and diligence must certainly be acknowledged. We have seen that Johnson honoured him with a Greek Epigram; and his correspondence with him, during many years, proves that he had no mean opinion of him.

“Thursday, Sept. 29, 1743.


“I HOPE you will excuse me for troubling you on an occasion on which I know not whom else I can apply to; I am at a loss for the Lives and Characters of Earl Stanhope, the two Craggs, and the minister Sunderland; and beg that you will inform [me] where I may find them, and send my pamphlets, &c. relating to them to Mr. Cave to be perused for a few days by, Sir,

“Your most humble servant,

His circumstances were at this time embarrassed; yet his affection for his mother was so warm, and so liberal, that he took upon himself a debt of hers, which, though small in itself, was then considerable to him. This appears from the following letter which he wrote to Mr. Levett, of Lichfield, the original of which lies now before me.

“December 1, 1743.


“I AM extremely sorry that we have encroached so much upon your forbearance with respect to the interest, which a great perplexity of affairs hindered me from thinking of with that attention that I ought, and which I am not immediately able to remit to you, but will pay it (I think twelve pounds,) in two months. I look upon this, and on the future interest of that mortgage, as my own debt; and beg that you will be pleased to give me directions how to pay it, and not mention it to my dear mother. If it be necessary to pay this in less time, I believe I can do it; but I take two months for certainty, and beg an answer whether you can allow me so much time. I think myself very much obliged to your forbearance, and shall esteem it a great happiness to be able to serve you. I have great opportunities of dispersing any thing that you may think it proper to make publick. I will give a note for the money, payable at the time mentioned, to any one here that you shall appoint. I am, Sir,

“Your most obedient

“And most humble servant,


“At Mr. Osborne's, bookseller, in Gray's Inn.”


 Angliacas inter pulcherrima Laura
  Mox uteri pondus depositura grave, Adsit, Laura, tibi facilis
  Lucina dolenti, Neve tibi noceat praenituisse Deae.
Mr. Hector was present when this Epigram was made impromptu. The first line was proposed by Dr. James, and Johnson was called upon by the company to finish it, which he instantly did.

[The following elegant Latin Ode, which appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1743, (vol. xiii. p. 548,) was many years ago pointed out to James Bindley, Esq. as written by Johnson, and may safely be attributed to him.

VANAE sit arti, sit studio modus,
  Formosa virgo: sit speculo quies Curamque quaerendi decoris
  Mitte, supervacuosque cultus.

Ut fortuitis verna coloribus Depicta vulgo rura magis placent,
  Nec invident horto nitenti
    Divitis operosiores:

Lenique fons cum murmure pulchrior Obliquat ultro praecipitem
  Inter reluctantes lapillos, et
    Ducit aquas temere sequentes:

Utque inter undas, inter et arbores, Jam vere primo dulce
strepunt aves,
  Et arte nulla gratiores
    Ingeminant sine lege cantus:

Nativa sic te gratia, te nitor Simplex decebit, te veneres tuae;
  Nudus Cupido suspicatur
    Artifices nimis apparatus.

Ergo fluentem tu; male sedula, Ne saeva inuras semper acu comam;
  Nec sparsa odorato nitentes
    Pulvere dedecores capillos;

Quales nec olim vel Ptolemaeia Jactabat uxor, sidereo in choro
  Utcunque devotae refulgent
    Verticis exuviae decori;

Nec diva mater, cum similem tuae Mentita formam, et pulchrior
  Permisit incomtas protervis
    Fusa comas agitare ventis.  
In vol. xiv, p. 46, of the same work, an elegant Epigram was inserted, in answer to the foregoing Ode, which was written by Dr. Inyon of Pulham, in Norfolk, a physician, and an excellent classical scholar:
  Ad Authorem Carminis AD ORNATISSIMAM PUELLAM O cui non
  potuit, quia culta, placere puella, Qui speras Musam posse
  placere tuam? -- M.] 


“THAT the Medicinal Dictionary is dedicated to you, is to be imputed only to your reputation for superiour skill in those sciences which I have endeavoured to explain and facilitate: and you are, therefore, to consider this address, if it be agreeable to you, as one of the rewards of merit; and if otherwise, as one of the inconveniences of eminence.

“However you shall receive it, my design cannot be disappointed; because this publick appeal to your judgement will shew that I do not found my hopes of approbation upon the ignorance of my readers, and that I fear his censure least, whose knowledge is most extensive. I am, Sir,

“Your most obedient humble servant,