Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1750

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Edited, from the two-volume Oxford edition of 1904, by Jack Lynch.
In 1750 he came forth in the character for which he was eminently qualified, a majestick teacher of moral and religious wisdom. The vehicle which he chose was that of a periodical paper, which he knew had been, upon former occasions, employed with great success. The Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, were the last of the kind published in England, which had stood the test of a long trial; and such an interval had now elapsed since their publication, as made him justly think that, to many of his readers, this form of instruction would, in some degree, have the advantage of novelty. A few days before the first of his Essays came out, there started another competitor for fame in the same form, under the title of “The Tatler Revived,” which I believe was “born but to die.” Johnson was, I think, not very happy in the choice of his title, -- “The Rambler;” which certainly is not suited to a series of grave and moral discourses; which the Italians have literally, but ludicrously, translated by Il Vagabondo; and which has been lately assumed as the denomination of a vehicle of licentious tales, “The Rambler's Magazine.” He gave Sir Joshua Reynolds the following account of its getting this name: “What must be done, Sir, will be done. When I was to begin publishing that paper, I was at a loss how to name it. I sat down at night upon my bedside, and resolved that I would not go to sleep till I had fixed its title. The Rambler seemed the best that occurred, and I took it.”1

With what devout and conscientious sentiments this paper was undertaken, is evidenced by the following prayer, which he composed and offered up on the occasion: “Almighty God, the giver of all good things, without whose help all labour is ineffectual, and without whose grace all wisdom is folly: grant, I beseech Thee, that in this undertaking thy Holy Spirit may not be with-held from me, but that I may promote thy glory, and the salvation of myself and others: grant this, O Lord, for the sake of thy son, JESUS CHRIST. Amen.”2

The first paper of the Rambler was published on Tuesday the 20th of March, 1749-50; and its authour was enabled to continue it, without interruption, every Tuesday and Saturday, till Saturday the 17th day of March,3 1752, on which day it closed. This is a strong confirmation of the truth of a remark of his, which I have had occasion to quote elsewhere,4 that “a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it;” for, notwithstanding his constitutional indolence, his depression of spirits, and his labour in carrying on his Dictionary, he answered the stated calls of the press twice a week from the stores of his mind, during all that time; having received no assistance, except four billets in No. 10, by Miss Mulso, now Mrs. Chapone; No. 30, by Mrs. Catharine Talbot; No. 97, by Mr. Samuel Richardson, whom he describes in an introductory note as “An authour who has enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue;” and Numbers 44 and 100, by Mrs. Elizabeth Carter. Posterity will be astonished when they are told, upon the authority of Johnson himself, that many of these discourses, which we should suppose had been laboured with all the slow attention of literary leisure, were written in haste as the moment pressed, without even being read over by him before they were printed. It can be accounted for only in this way; that by reading and meditation, and a very close inspection of life, he had accumulated a great fund of miscellaneous knowledge, which, by a peculiar promptitude of mind, was ever ready at his call, and which he had constantly accustomed himself to clothe in the most apt and energetick expression. Sir Joshua Reynolds once asked him by what means he had attained his extraordinary accuracy and flow of language. He told him, that he had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on every occasion, and in every company: to impart whatever he knew in the most forcible language he could put it in; and that by constant practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape him, or attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them in the clearest manner, it became habitual to him.5

Yet he was not altogether unprepared as a periodical writer; for I have in my possession a small duodecimo volume, in which he has written, in the form of Mr. Locke's Common-Place Book, a variety of hints for essays on different subjects. He has marked upon the first blank leaf of it, “To the 128th page, collections for the RAMBLER;” and in another place, “In fifty-two there were seventeen provided; in 97-21; in 190-25.” At a subsequent period (probably after the work was finished) he added, “In all, taken of provided materials, 30.”

Sir John Hawkins, who is unlucky upon all occasions, tells us, that “this method of accumulating intelligence had been practised by Mr. Addison, and is humourously described in one of the Spectators, wherein he feigns to have dropped his paper of notanda, consisting of a diverting medley of broken sentences and loose hints, which he tells us he had collected, and meant to make use of. Much of the same kind is Johnson's Adversaria.”6 But the truth is, that there is no resemblance at all between them. Addison's note was a fiction, in which unconnected fragments of his lucubrations were purposely jumbled together, in as odd a manner as he could, in order to produce a laughable effect. Whereas Johnson's abbreviations are all distinct, and applicable to each subject of which the head is mentioned.

For instance, there is the following specimen:
Youth's Entry, &c.

Baxter's account of things in which he had changed his mind as he grew up. Voluminous. -- No wonder. -- If every man was to tell, or mark, on how many subjects he has changed, it would make vols. but the changes not always observed by man's self. -- From pleasure to bus. [business] to quiet; from thoughtfulness to reflect. to piety; from dissipation to domestic. by impercept. gradat. but the change is certain. Dial. non progredi, progress. esse conspicimus. Look back, consider what was thought at some dist. period.

Hope predom. in youth. Mind not willingly indulges unpleasing thoughts. The world lies all enamelled before him, as a distant prospect sun-gilt;7 -- inequalities only found by coming to it. Love is to be all joy -- children excellent -- Fame to be constant -- caresses of the great -- applauses of the learned -- smiles of Beauty.

Fear of disgrace -- Bashfulness -- Finds things of less importance. Miscarriages forgot like excellencies; -- if remembered, of no import. Danger of sinking into negligence of reputation; -- lest the fear of disgrace destroy activity.

Confidence in himself. -- Long tract of life before him. -- No thought of sickness. -- Embarrassment of affairs. -- Distraction of family. Publick calamities. -- No sense of the prevalence of bad habits. Negligent of time -- ready to undertake -- careless to pursue -- all changed by time.

Confident of others -- unsuspecting as unexperienced -- imagining himself secure against neglect, never imagines they will venture to treat him ill. Ready to trust; expecting to be trusted. Convinced by time of the selfishness, the meanness, the cowardice, the treachery of men.

“Youth ambitious, as thinking honours easy to be had.

“Different kinds of praise pursued at different periods. Of the gay in youth. -- dang. hurt, &c. despised.

“Of the fancy in manhood. Ambit. -- stocks -- bargains. -- Of the wise and sober in old age -- seriousness -- formality -- maxims, but general -- only of the rich, otherwise age is happy -- but at last every thing referred to riches -- no having fame, honour, influence, without subjection to caprice.


“Hard it would be if men entered life with the same views with which they leave it, or left as they enter it. -- No hope -- no undertaking -- no regard to benevolence -- no fear of disgrace, &c.

“Youth to be taught the piety of age -- age to retain the honour of youth.”
This, it will be observed, is the sketch of Number 196 of the Rambler. I shall gratify my readers with another specimen:
"Confederacies difficult; why. “Seldom in war a match for single persons -- nor in peace; therefore kings make themselves absolute. Confederacies in learning -- every great work the work of one. Bruy. Scholars' friendship like ladies. Scribebamus, &c. Mart.8 The apple of discord -- the poverty of criticism. Swift's opinion of the power of six geniuses united. That union scarce possible. His remarks just; -- man a social, not steady nature. Drawn to man by words, repelled by passions. Orb drawn by attraction, rep. [repelled] by centrifugal.

“Common danger unites by crushing other passions -- but they return. Equality hinders compliance. Superiority produces insolence and envy. Too much regard in each to private interest: -- too little.

“The mischiefs of private and exclusive societies. -- The fitness of social attraction diffused through the whole. The mischiefs of too partial love of our country. Contraction of moral duties -- oi philoi, ou philos.

“Every man moves upon his own center, and therefore repels others from too near a contact, though he may comply with some general laws.

“Of confederacy with superiors every one knows the inconvenience. With equals, no authority; -- every man his own opinion -- his own interest.

“Man and wife hardly united; -- scarce ever without children. Computation, if two to one against two, how many against five? If confederacies were easy -- useless; -- many oppresses many. -- If possible only to some, dangerous. Principum amicitias.
Here we see the embryo of Number 45 of the Adventurer; and it is a confirmation of what I shall presently have occasion to mention, that the papers in that collection marked T. were written by Johnson.

This scanty preparation of materials will not, however, much diminish our wonder at the extraordinary fertility of his mind; for the proportion which they bear to the number of essays which he wrote, is very small; and it is remarkable, that those for which he had made no preparation, are as rich and as highly finished, as those for which the hints were lying by him. It is also to be observed, that the papers formed from his hints are worked up with such strength and elegance, that we almost lose sight of the hints, which become like “drops in the bucket.” Indeed, in several instances, he has made a very slender use of them, so that many of them remain still unapplied.9 As the Rambler was entirely the work of one man, there was, of course, such a uniformity in its texture, as very much to exclude the charm of variety; and the grave and often solemn cast of thinking, which distinguished it from other periodical papers, made it, for some time, not generally liked. So slowly did this excellent work, of which twelve editions have now issued from the press, gain upon the world at large, that even in the closing number the authour says, “I have never been much a favourite of the publick.”10

Yet, very soon after its commencement, there were who felt and acknowledged its uncommon excellence. Verses in its praise appeared in the newspapers; and the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine mentions, in October, his having received several letters to the same purpose from the learned. “The Student, or Oxford and Cambridge Miscellany,” in which Mr. Bonnell Thornton and Mr. Colman were the principal writers, describes it as “a work that exceeds any thing of the kind ever published in this kingdom, some of the Spectators excepted, -- if indeed they may be excepted.” And afterwards, “May the publick favours crown his merits, and may not the English, under the auspicious reign of GEORGE the second, neglect a man, who, had he lived in the first century, would have been one of the greatest favourites of Augustus.” This flattery of the monarch had no effect. It is too well known, that the second George never was an Augustus to learning or genius.

Johnson told me, with an amiable fondness, a little pleasing circumstance relative to this work. Mrs. Johnson, in whose judgement and taste he had great confidence, said to him, after a few numbers of the Rambler had come out, “I thought very well of you before; but I did not imagine you could have written any thing equal to this.” Distant praise, from whatever quarter, is not so delightful as that of a wife whom a man loves and esteems. Her approbation may be said to “come home to his bosom”; and being so near, its effect is most sensible and permanent.

Mr. James Elphinston, who has since published various works, and who was ever esteemed by Johnson as a worthy man, happened to be in Scotland while the Rambler was coming out in single papers at London. With a laudable zeal at once for the improvement of his countrymen, and the reputation of his friend, he suggested and took the charge of an edition of those Essays at Edinburgh, which followed progressively the London publication.11

The following letter written at this time, though not dated, will show how much pleased Johnson was with this publication, and what kindness and regard he had for Mr. Elphinston.

[No date.]


“I cannot but confess the failures of my correspondence, but hope the same regard which you express for me on every other occasion, will incline you to forgive me. I am often, very often, ill; and, when I am well, am obliged to work: and, indeed, have never much used myself to punctuality. You are, however, not to make unkind inferences, when I forbear to reply to your kindness; for be assured, I never receive a letter from you without great pleasure, and a very warm sense of your generosity and friendship, which I heartily blame myself for not cultivating with more care. In this, as in many other cases, I go wrong, in opposition to conviction; for I think scarce any temporal good equally to be desired with the regard and familiarity of worthy men. I hope we shall be some time nearer to each other, and have a more ready way of pouring out our hearts.

“I am glad that you still find encouragement to proceed in your publication, and shall beg the favour of six more volumes to add to my former six, when you can, with any convenience, send them me. Please to present a set, in my name, to Mr. Ruddiman,12 of whom, I hear, that his learning is not his highest excellence. I have transcribed the mottos, and returned them, I hope not too late, of which I think many very happily performed. Mr. Cave has put the last in the magazine,13 in which I think he did well. I beg of you to write soon, and to write often, and to write long letters, which I hope in time to repay you; but you must be a patient creditor. I have, however, this of gratitude, that I think of you with regard, when I do not, perhaps, give the proofs which I ought, of being, Sir,

“Your most obliged and
“Most humble servant,

This year he wrote to the same gentleman another letter upon a mournful occasion.

“September 25, 1750.


“You have, as I find by every kind of evidence, lost an excellent mother; and I hope you will not think me incapable of partaking of your grief. I have a mother, now eighty-two years of age, whom, therefore, I must soon lose, unless it please God that she should rather mourn for me. I read the letters in which you relate your mother's death to Mrs. Strahan, and think I do myself honour, when I tell you that I read them with tears; but tears are neither to you nor to me of any farther use, when once the tribute of nature has been paid. The business of life summons us away from useless grief, and calls us to the exercise of those virtues of which we are lamenting our deprivation. The greatest benefit which one friend can confer upon another, is to guard, and excite, and elevate, his virtues. This your mother will still perform, if you diligently preserve the memory of her life, and of her death: a life, so far as I can learn, useful, wise, and innocent; and a death resigned, peaceful, and holy. I cannot forbear to mention, that neither reason nor revelation denies you to hope, that you may increase her happiness by obeying her precepts; and that she may, in her present state, look with pleasure upon every act of virtue to which her instructions or example have contributed. Whether this be more than a pleasing dream, or a just opinion of separate spirits, is, indeed, of no great importance to us, when we consider ourselves as acting under the eye of God: yet, surely, there is something pleasing in the belief, that our separation from those whom we love is merely corporeal; and it may be a great incitement to virtuous friendship, if it can be made probable, that that union that has received the divine approbation shall continue to eternity.

“There is one expedient by which you may, in some degree, continue her presence. If you write down minutely what you remember of her from your earliest years, you will read it with great pleasure, and receive from it many hints of soothing recollection, when time shall remove her yet farther from you, and your grief shall be matured to veneration. To this, however painful for the present, I cannot but advise you, as to a source of comfort and satisfaction in the time to come; for all comfort and all satisfaction is sincerely wished you by, dear Sir,

“Your most obliged, most obedient,
“And most humble servant,

The Rambler has increased in fame as in age. Soon after its first folio edition was concluded, it was published in six duodecimo volumes;14 and its authour lived to see ten numerous editions of it in London, beside those of Ireland and Scotland.

I profess myself to have ever entertained a profound veneration for the astonishing force and vivacity of mind, which the Rambler exhibits. That Johnson had penetration enough to see, and seeing would not disguise the general misery of man in this state of being, may have given rise to the superficial notion of his being too stern a philosopher. But men of reflection will be sensible that he has given a true representation of human existence, and that he has, at the same time, with a generous benevolence displayed every consolation which our state affords us; not only those arising from the hopes of futurity, but such as may be attained in the immediate progress through life. He has not depressed the soul to despondency and indifference. He has every where inculcated study, labour, and exertion. Nay, he has shewn, in a very odious light, a man whose practice is to go about darkening the views of others, by perpetual complaints of evil, and awakening those considerations of danger and distress, which are, for the most part, lulled into a quiet oblivion. This he has done very strongly in his character of Suspirius,15 from which Goldsmith took that of Croaker, in his comedy of “The Good-natured Man,” as Johnson told me he acknowledged to him, and which is, indeed, very obvious.

To point out the numerous subjects which the Rambler treats, with a dignity and perspicuity which are there united in a manner which we shall in vain look for anywhere else, would take up too large a portion of my book, and would, I trust, be superfluous, considering how universally those volumes are now disseminated. Even the most condensed and brilliant sentences which they contain, and which have very properly been selected under the name of “BEAUTIES,”16 are of considerable bulk. But I may shortly observe, that the Rambler furnishes such an assemblage of discourses on practical religion and moral duty, of critical investigations, and allegorical and oriental tales, that no mind can be thought very deficient that has, by constant study and meditation, assimilated to itself all that may be found there. No. 7, written in Passion-week on abstraction and self-examination, and No. 110, on penitence and the placability of the Divine Nature, cannot be too often read. No. 54, on the effect which the death of a friend should have upon us, though rather too dispiriting, may be occasionally very medicinal to the mind. Every one must suppose the writer to have been deeply impressed by a real scene; but he told me that was not the case; which shews how well his fancy could conduct him to the “house of mourning.” Some of these more solemn papers, I doubt not, particularly attracted the notice of Dr. Young, the authour of “The Night Thoughts,” of whom my estimation is such, as to reckon his applause an honour even to Johnson. I have seen volumes of Dr. Young's copy of the Rambler, in which he has marked the passages which he thought particularly excellent, by folding down a corner of the page; and such as he rated in a super-eminent degree are marked by double folds. I am sorry that some of the volumes are lost. Johnson was pleased when told of the minute attention with which Young had signified his approbation of his Essays.

I will venture to say, that in no writings whatever can be found more bark and steel for the mind, if I may use the expression; more that can brace and invigorate every manly and noble sentiment. No. 32 on patience, even under extreme misery, is wonderfully lofty, and as much above the rant of stoicism, as the Sun of Revelation is brighter than the twilight of Pagan philosophy. I never read the following sentence without feeling my frame thrill: “I think there is some reason for questioning whether the body and mind are not so proportioned, that the one can bear all which can be inflicted on the other; whether virtue cannot stand its ground as long as life, and whether a soul well principled will not be sooner separated than subdued.”

Though instruction be the predominant purpose of the Rambler, yet it is enlivened with a considerable portion of amusement. Nothing can be more erroneous than the notion which some persons have entertained, that Johnson was then a retired authour, ignorant of the world; and, of consequence, that he wrote only from his imagination, when he described characters and manners. He said to me, that before he wrote that work, he had been “running about the world,” as he expressed it, more than almost any body; and I have heard him relate, with much satisfaction, that several of the characters in the Rambler were drawn so naturally, that when it first circulated in numbers, a club in one of the towns in Essex imagined themselves to be severally exhibited in it, and were much incensed against a person who, they suspected, had thus made them objects of publick notice; nor were they quieted till authentick assurance was given them, that the Rambler was written by a person who had never heard of any one of them. Some of the characters are believed to have been actually drawn from the life, particularly that of Prospero from Garrick,17 who never entirely forgave its pointed satire. For instances of fertility of fancy, and accurate description of real life, I appeal to No. 19, a man who wanders from one profession to another, with most plausible reason for every change: No. 34, female fastidiousness and timorous refinement: No. 82, a Virtuoso who has collected curiosities: No. 88, petty modes of entertaining a company, and conciliating kindness: No. 182, fortune-hunting: No. 194-195, a tutor's account of the follies of his pupil: No. 197-198, legacy-hunting. He has given a specimen of his nice observation of the mere external appearances of life, in the following passage in No. 179, against affectation, that frequent and most disgusting quality: “He that stands to contemplate the crowds that fill the streets of a populous city, will see many passengers, whose air and motions it will be difficult to behold without contempt and laughter; but if he examine what are the appearances that thus powerfully excite his risibility, he will find among them neither poverty nor disease, nor any involuntary or painful defect. The disposition to derision and insult, is awakened by the softness of foppery, the swell of insolence, the liveliness of levity, or the solemnity of grandeur; by the sprightly trip, the stately stalk, the formal strut, and the lofty mien; by gestures intended to catch the eye, and by looks elaborately formed as evidences of importance.”

Every page of the Rambler shews a mind teeming with classical allusion and poetical imagery: illustrations from other writers are, upon all occasions, so ready, and mingle so easily in his periods, that the whole appears of one uniform vivid texture.

The style of this work has been censured by some shallow criticks as involved and turgid, and abounding with antiquated and hard words. So ill-founded is the first part of this objection, that I will challenge all who may honour this book with a perusal, to point out any English writer whose language conveys his meaning with equal force and perspicuity. It must, indeed, be allowed, that the structure of his sentences is expanded, and often has somewhat of the inversion of Latin; and that he delighted to express familiar thoughts in philosophical language; being in this the reverse of Socrates, who, it is said, reduced philosophy to the simplicity of common life. But us attend to what he himself says in his concluding paper: “When common words were less pleasing to the ear, or less distinct in their signification, I have familiarised the terms of philosophy, by applying them to popular ideas.”18 And, as to the second part of this objection, upon a late careful revision of the work, I can with confidence say, that it is amazing how few of those words, for which it has been unjustly characterised, are actually to be found in it; I am sure, not the proportion of one to each paper. This idle charge has been echoed from one babbler to another, who have confounded Johnson's Essays with Johnson's Dictionary; and because he thought it right in a Lexicon of our language to collect many words which had fallen into disuse, but were supported by great authorities, it has been imagined that all of this have been woven into his own compositions. That some of them have been adopted by him unnecessarily, may, perhaps, be allowed; but, in general they are evidently an advantage, for without them his stately ideas would be confined and cramped. “He that thinks with more extent than another, will want words of larger meaning.”19 He once told me, that he had formed his style upon that of Sir William Temple, and upon Chambers's Proposal for his Dictionary.20 He certainly was mistaken; or if he imagined at first that he was imitating Temple, he was very unsuccessful,21 for nothing can be more unlike than the simplicity of Temple, and the richness of Johnson. Their styles differ as plain cloth and brocade. Temple, indeed, seems equally erroneous in supposing that he himself had formed his style upon Sandys's View of the State of Religion in the Western parts of the World.

The style of Johnson was, undoubtedly, much formed upon that of the great writers in the last century, Hooker, Bacon, Sanderson, Hakewell, and others; those “GIANTS,” as they were well characterised by A GREAT PERSONAGE, whose authority, were I to name him, would stamp a reverence on the opinion.

We may, with the utmost propriety, apply to his learned style that passage of Horace, a part of which he has taken as the motto to his Dictionary:
 "Cum tabulis animum censoris sumet honesti; Audebit
quaecumque parum splendoris habebunt Et sine pondere erunt, et
honore indigna ferentur, Verba movere loco, quamvis invita
recedant, Et versentur adhuc intra penetralia Vestae.  Obscurata
diu populo bonus eruet, atque Proferet in lucem speciosa
vocabula rerum, Quae priscis memorata Catonibus atque Cethegis,
Nunc situs informis premit et deserta vetustas:  Adsciscet nova,
quae genitor produxerit usus:  Vehemens, et liquidus, puroque
simillimus amni, Fundet opes Latiumque beabit divite
To so great a master of thinking, to one of such vast and various knowledge as Johnson, might have been allowed a liberal indulgence of that licence which Horace claims in another place:
	"-- Si forte necesse est Indiciis monstrare
	recentibus abdita rerum, Fingere cinctutis non exaudita
	Cethegis Continget, dabiturque licentia sumpta
	pudenter:  Et nova fictaque nuper habebunt verba fidem,
	si Graeco fonte cadant, parce detorta. Quid autem
	Caecilio Plautoque dabit Romanus, ademptum Virgilio
	Varioque? Ego cur, acquirere pauca Si possum, invideor;
	cum lingua Catonis et Enni Sermonem patrium ditaverit,
	et nova rerum Nomina protulerit? Licuit, semperque
	licebit Signatum praesente nota producere nomen.”23 
Yet Johnson assured me, that he had not taken upon him to add more than four or five words to the English language, of his own formation; and he was very much offended at the general licence by no means “modestly taken” in his time, not only to coin new words, but to use many words in senses quite different from their established meaning, and those frequently very fantastical.

Sir Thomas Brown, whose Life Johnson wrote, was remarkably fond of Anglo-Latin diction; and to his example we are to ascribe Johnson's sometimes indulging himself in this kind of phraseology.24 Johnson's comprehension of mind was the mould for his language. Had his conceptions been narrower, his expression would have been easier. His sentences have a dignified march; and, it is certain, that his example has given a general elevation to the language of his country, for many of our best writers have approached very near to him; and, from the influence which he has had upon our composition, scarcely any thing is written now that is not better expressed than was usual before he appeared to lead the national taste.

This circumstance, the truth of which must strike every critical reader, has been so happily enforced by Mr. Courtenay, in his “Moral and Literary Character of Dr. Johnson,” that I cannot prevail on myself to withhold it, notwithstanding his, perhaps, too great partiality for one of his friends:
 “By nature's gifts ordain'd mankind to rule, He, like a
Titian, form'd his brilliant school; And taught congenial
spirits to excel, While from his lips impressive wisdom fell.
Our boasted GOLDSMITH felt the sovereign sway; From him deriv'd
the sweet, yet nervous lay.  To Fame's proud cliff he bade our
Raffaelle rise:  Hence REYNOLDS' pen with REYNOLDS' pencil
vies.  With Johnson's flame melodious BURNEY glows, While the
grand strain in smoother cadence flows.  And you, MALONE, to
critick learning dear, Correct and elegant, refin'd though
clear, By studying him, acquir'd that classick taste, Which high
in Shakspeare's fane thy statue plac'd.  Near Johnson STEVENS
stands, on scenick ground, Acute, laborious, fertile, and
profound.  Ingenious HAWKESWORTH to this school we owe, And
scarce the pupil from the tutor know.  Here early parts
accomplish'd JONES sublimes, And science blends with Asia's
lofty rhymes:  Harmonious JONES! who in his splendid strains
Sings Camdeo's sports, on Agra's flowery plains, In Hindu
fictions while we fondly trace Love and the Muses, deck'd with
Attick grace.  Amid these names can BOSWELL be forgot, Scarce by
North Britons now esteem'd a Scot?25 Who to
the sage devoted from his youth, Imbib'd from him the sacred
love of truth; The keen research, the exercise of mind, And that
best art, the art to know mankind. -- Nor was his energy
confin'd alone To friends around his philosophick throne; Its
influence wide improv'd our letter'd isle, And lucid vigour
mark'd the general style:  As Nile's proud waves, swoln from
their oozy bed, First o'er the neighbouring meads majestick
spread; Till gathering force, they more and more expand, And
with new virtue fertilise the land.” 
Johnson's language, however, must be allowed to be too masculine for the delicate gentleness of female writing. His ladies, therefore, seem strangely formal, even to ridicule; and are well denominated by the names which he has given them, as Misella, Zozima, Properantia, Rhodoclia.

It has of late been the fashion to compare the style of Addison and Johnson, and to depreciate, I think, very unjustly, the style of Addison as nerveless and feeble, because it has not the strength and energy of that of Johnson. Their prose may be balanced like the poetry of Dryden and Pope. Both are excellent, though in different ways. Addison writes with the ease of a gentleman. His readers fancy that a wise and accomplished companion is talking to them; so that he insinuates his sentiments and taste into their minds by an imperceptible influence. Johnson writes like a teacher. He dictates to his readers as if from an academical chair. They attend with awe and admiration; and his precepts are impressed upon them by his commanding eloquence. Addison's style, like a light wine, pleases everybody from the first. Johnson's, like a liquor of more body, seems too strong at first, but, by degrees, is highly relished; and such is the melody of his periods, so much do they captivate the ear, and seize upon the attention, that there is scarcely any writer, however inconsiderable, who does not aim, in some degree, at the same species of excellence. But let us not ungratefully undervalue that beautiful style, which has pleasingly conveyed to us much instruction and entertainment. Though comparatively weak, opposed to Johnson's Herculean vigour, let us not call it positively feeble. Let us remember the character of his style, as given by Johnson himself: “What he attempted he performed: he is never feeble, and he did not wish to be energetick; he is never rapid, and he never stagnates. His sentences have neither studied amplitude, nor affected brevity: his periods, though not diligently rounded, are voluble and easy.26 Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the volumes of Addison.”27

Though the Rambler was not concluded till the year 1752, I shall, under this year, say all that I have to observe upon it. Some of the translations of the mottos by himself, are admirably done. He acknowledges to have received “elegant translations” of many of them from Mr. James Elphinston; and some are very happily translated by a Mr. F. Lewis, of whom I never heard more, except that Johnson thus described him to Mr. Malone: “Sir, he lived in London, and hung loose upon society.”28 The concluding paper of his Rambler is at once dignified and pathetick. I cannot, however, but wish, that he had not ended it with an unnecessary Greek verse, translated29 also into an English couplet. It is too much like the conceit of those dramatick poets, who used to conclude each act with a rhyme; and the expression in the first line of his couplet, “Celestial powers,” though proper in Pagan poetry, is ill suited to Christianity, with “a conformity” to which he consoles himself. How much better would it have been, to have ended with the prose sentence “I shall never envy the honours which wit and learning obtain in any other cause, if I can be numbered among the writers who have given ardour to virtue, and confidence to truth.”

His friend, Dr. Birch, being now engaged in preparing an edition of Raleigh's smaller pieces, Dr. Johnson wrote the following letter to that gentleman:

“Gough-square, May 12, 1750.


“KNOWING that you are now preparing to favour the publick with a new edition of Raleigh's miscellaneous pieces, I have taken the liberty to send you a Manuscript, which fell by chance within my notice. I perceive no proofs of forgery in my examination of it; and the owner tells me, that he has heard, the hand-writing is Sir Walter's. If you should find reason to conclude it genuine, it will be a kindness to the owner, a blind person,30 to recommend it to the booksellers. I am, Sir,

“Your most humble servant,

His just abhorrence of Milton's political notions was ever strong. But this did not prevent his warm admiration of Milton's great poetical merit, to which he has done illustrious justice, beyond all who have written upon the subject. And this year he not only wrote a Prologue, which was spoken by Mr. Garrick before the acting of Comus at Drury-lane theatre, for the benefit of Milton's grand-daughter, but took a very zealous interest in the success of the charity. On the day preceding the performance, he published the following letter in the “General Advertiser,” addressed to the printer of that paper:

“THAT a certain degree of reputation is acquired merely by approving the works of genius, and testifying a regard to the memory of authours, is a truth too evident to be denied; and therefore to ensure a participation of fame with a celebrated poet, many, who would, perhaps, have contributed to starve him when alive, have heaped expensive pageants upon his grave.31

“It must, indeed, be confessed, that this method of becoming known to posterity with honour, is peculiar to the great, or at least to the wealthy; but an opportunity now offers for almost every individual to secure the praise of paying a just regard to the illustrious dead, united with the pleasure of doing good to the living. To assist industrious indigence, struggling with distress and debilitated by age, is a display of virtue, and an acquisition of happiness and honour.

“Whoever, then, would be thought capable of pleasure in reading the works of our incomparable Milton, and not so destitute of gratitude as to refuse to lay out a trifle in rational and elegant entertainment, for the benefit of his living remains, for the exercise of their own virtue, the increase of their reputation, and the pleasing consciousness of doing good, should appear at Drury-lane theatre to-morrow, April 5, when Comus will be performed for the benefit of Mrs. Elizabeth Foster, grand-daughter to the authour,32 and the only surviving branch of his family.

“N.B. There will be a new prologue on the occasion, written by the authour of Irene, and spoken by Mr. Garrick; and, by particular desire, there will be added to the Masque a dramatick satire, called Lethe, in which Mr. Garrick will perform.”


1. I have heard Dr. Warton mention, that he was at Mr. Robert Dodsley's with the late Mr. Moore, and several of his friends, considering what should be the name of the periodical paper which Moore had undertaken. Garrick proposed the Sallad, which, by a curious coincidence, was afterwards applied to himself by Goldsmith:
 “Our Garrick's a sallad, for in him we see Oil, vinegar,
sugar, and saltness agree!” 
At last, the company having separated, without any thing of which they approved having been offered, Dodsley himself thought of The World.

2. Prayers and Meditations, p. 9.

3. [This is a mistake, into which the authour was very pardonably led by the inaccuracy of the original folio edition of the Rambler, in which the concluding paper of that work is dated on “Saturday, March 17.” But Saturday was in fact the fourteenth of March. This circumstance, though it may at first appear of very little importance, is yet worth notice; for Mrs. Johnson died on the seventeenth of March. -- M.]

4. Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 3rd edit, p. 28 [Aug. 16, 1773].

5. [The rule which Dr. Johnson observed, is sanctioned by the authority of two great writers of antiquity: “Ne id quidem tacendum est, quod eidem Ciceroni placet, nullum nostrum usquam negligentem esse sermonem: quicquid loquemur, ubicunque, sit pro sua scilicet portione perfectum.” Quinctil. x. 7. -- M.]

6. Hawkins's Life of Johnson, p. 268.

7. This most beautiful image of the enchanting delusion of youthful prospect has not been used in any of Johnson's essays.

8. [Lib. xii. 96. “In Tuccam aemulum omnium suorum studiorum.” -- M.]

9. Sir John Hawkins has selected from this little collection of materials, what he calls the “Rudiments of two of the papers of the Rambler.” But he has not been able to read the manuscript distinctly. Thus he writes, p. 266, “Sailor's fate any mansion;” whereas the original is “Sailor's life my aversion.” He has also transcribed the unappropriated hints on Writers for bread, in which he decyphers these notable passages, one in Latin, fatui non famae, instead of fami non famae; Johnson having in his mind what Thuanus says of the learned German antiquary and linguist, Xylander, who, he tells us, lived in such poverty, that he was supposed fami non famae scribere; and another in French, Degente de fate et affame d'argent, instead of Degoute de fame (an old word for renomme) et affame d'argent. The manuscript being written in an exceedingly small hand, is indeed very hard to read; but it would have been better to have left blanks than to write nonsense.

10. [The Ramblers certainly were little noticed at first. Smart, the poet, first mentioned them to me as excellent papers, before I had heard any one else speak of them. When I went into Norfolk, in the autumn of 1751, I found but one person (the Rev. Mr. Squires, a man of learning, and a general purchaser of new books,) who knew any thing of them. But he had been misinformed concerning the true authour, for he had been told they were written by a Mr. Johnson of Canterbury, the son of a clergyman who had had a controversy with Bentley: and who had changed the readings of the ballad entitled Norton Falgate, in Bentley's bold style, (meo periculo) till not a single word of the original song was left. Before I left Norfolk in the year 1760, the Ramblers were in high favour among persons of learning and good taste. Others there were, devoid of both, who said that the hard words in the Rambler were used by the authour to render his Dictionary indispensably necessary -- BURNEY.]

[It may not be improper to correct a slight errour in the preceding note, though it does not at all affect the principal object of Dr. Burney's remark. The clergyman above alluded to, was Mr. Richard Johnson, Schoolmaster at Nottingham, who in 1717 published an octavo volume in Latin, against Bentley's edition of Horace, entitled ARISTARCHUS ANTI-BENTLEIANUS. In the middle of this Latin work (as Mr. Bindley observes to me,) he has introduced four pages of English criticism, in which he ludicrously corrects, in Bentley's manner, one stanza, not of the ballad the hero of which lived in Norton Falgate, but of a ballad celebrating the achievements of TOM BOSTOCK; who in a sea-fight performed prodigies of valour. The stanza, on which this ingenious writer has exercised his wit, is as follows:
 “Then old Tom Bostock he fell to the work, He pray'd like
a Christian, but fought like a Turk, And cut 'em off all in a
jerk, Which no body can deny,” &c. -- M.] 
11. It was executed in the printing-office of Sands, Murray, and Cochran, with uncommon elegance, upon writing paper, of a duodecimo size, and with the greatest correctness: and Mr. Elphinston enriched it with translations of the mottos. When completed, it made eight handsome volumes. It is, unquestionably, the most accurate and beautiful edition of this work; and there being but a small impression, it is now become scarce, and sells at a very high price.

[With respect to the correctness of this edition, the authour probably derived his information from some other person, and appears to have been misinformed; for it was not accurately printed, as we learn from Mr. A. Chalmers. -- J. BOSWELL.]

12. Mr. Thomas Ruddiman, the learned grammarian of Scotland, well known for known for his various excellent works, and for his accurate editions of several authours. He was also a man of a most worthy private character. His zeal for the Royal House of Stewart did not render him less estimable in Dr. Johnson's eye.

13. [If the Magazine here referred to be that for October 1752, (See GENT. MAG. vol. 22, p. 468,) then this letter belongs to a later period. If it relates to the Magazine for Sept. 1750, (See GENT. MAG. vol. 20, p. 406.) then it may be ascribed to the month of October in that year, and should have followed the subsequent letter. -- M.]

14. This is not quite accurate. In the GENT. MAG. for Nov. 1751, while the work was yet proceeding, is an advertisement, announcing that four volumes of the Rambler would speedily be published; and it is believed that they were published in the next month. The fifth and sixth volumes, with tables of contents and translations of the mottos, were published in July 1752, by Payne (the original publisher,) three months after the close of the work.

When the Rambler was collected into volumes, Johnson revised and corrected it throughout. Mr. Boswell was not aware of this circumstance, which has lately been discovered and accurately stated by Mr. Alexander Chalmers in a new edition of these and various other periodical Essays, under the title of “the British Essayists.” -- M.]

15. No. 55.

16 Dr. Johnson was gratified by seeing this selection, and wrote to Mr. Kearsley, bookseller in Fleet-street, the following note:

“Mr. Johnson sends compliments to Mr. Kearsley, and begs the favour of seeing him as soon as he can. Mr. Kearsley is desired to bring with him the last edition of what he has honoured with the name of BEAUTIES. May 20, 1782.”

17. [That of GELIDUS in No. 24, from Professor Colson, (see p. 54 of this vol.) and that of EUPHUES in the same paper, which, with many others, was doubtless drawn from the life. EUPHUES, I once thought, might have been intended to represent either Lord Chesterfield or Soame Jenyns: but Mr. Bindley, with more probability, thinks, that George Bubb Dodington, who was remarkable for the homeliness of his person, and the finery of his dress, was the person meant under that character. -- M.]

18. Yet his style did not escape the harness shafts of pleasant humour; for the ingenious Bonnell Thornton published a mock Rambler in the Drury-lane Journal.

19. Idler, No. 70.

20. [The paper here alluded to was, I believe, Chambers's Proposal for a second and improved edition of his Dictionary, which, I think, appeared in 1738. This Proposal was probably in circulation in 1737, when Johnson first came to London. -- M.]

21. [The authour appears to me to have misunderstood Johnson in this instance. He did not, I conceive, mean to say, that, when he first began to write, he made Sir William Temple his model, with a view to form a style that should resemble his in all its parts; but that he formed his style on that of Temple and others; by taking from each those characteristic excellencies which were most worthy of imitation. -- See this matter further explained under April 9, 1778; where, in a conversation at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, Johnson himself mentions the particular improvements which Temple made in the English style. These, doubtless, were the objects of his imitation, so far as that writer was his model. -- M.]

22. Horat. Epist. Lib. ii. Epist. ii.

23. Horat. De Arte Poetica.

24. The observation of his having imitated Sir Thomas Brown has been made by many people; and lately it has been insisted on, and illustrated by a variety of quotations from Brown, in one of the popular Essays written by the Reverend Mr. Knox, master of Tunbridge-school, whom I have set down in my list of those who have sometimes not unsuccessfully imitated Dr. Johnson's style.

25. The following observation in Mr. Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides may sufficiently account for that Gentleman's being “now scarcely esteemed a Scot” by many of his countrymen: “If he [Dr. Johnson] was particularly prejudiced against the Scots, it was because they were more in his way; because he thought their success in England rather exceeded the due proportion of their real merit; and because he could not but see in them that nationality which, I believe, no liberal-minded Scotchman will deny.” Mr. Boswell, indeed, is so free from national prejudices, that he might with equal propriety have been described as --
 “Scarce by South Britons now esteem'd a Scot.”
			    -- COURTENAY.
26. [When Johnson shewed me a proof-sheet of the character of Addison, in which he so highly extols his style, I could not help observing, that it had not been his own model, as no two styles could differ more from each other. -- “Sir, Addison had his style, and I have mine.” -- When I ventured to ask him, whether the difference did not consist in this, that Addison's style was full of idioms, colloquial phrases, and proverbs; and his own more strictly grammatical, and free from such phraseology and modes of speech as can never be literally translated or understood by foreigners; he allowed the discrimination to be just. -- Let any one who doubts it, try to translate one of Addison's Spectators into Latin, French, or Italian; and though so easy, familiar, and elegant to an Englishman, as to give the intellect no trouble; yet he would find the transfusion into another language extremely difficult, if not impossible. But a Rambler, Adventurer, or Idler, of Johnson, would fall into any classical or European language, as easily as if it had been originally conceived in it. -- BURNEY.]

27. I shall probably, in another work, maintain the merit of Addison's poetry, which has been very unjustly depreciated.

28. [In the Gentleman's Magazine for October, 1752, p. 468, he is styled “the Rev. Francis Lewis, of Chiswick.” The late Lord Macartney, while he resided at Chiswick, at my request, made some inquiry concerning him at that place, but no intelligence was obtained.

The translations of the mottos supplied by Mr. Elphinston, appeared first in the Edinburgh edition of the Rambler, and in some instances were revised and improved, probably by Johnson, before they were inserted in the London octavo edition. The translations of the mottos affixed to the first thirty numbers of the Rambler, were published, from the Edinburgh edition, in the Gentleman's Magazine for September, 1750, before the work was collected into volumes. -- M.]

29. [Not in the original edition, in folio. -- M.]

30. Mrs. Williams is probably the person meant.

31. [Alluding probably to Mr. Auditor Benson. See the Dunciad, b. iv. -- M.]

32. [Mrs. Elizabeth Foster died May 9, 1754. -- A. CHALMERS.]