Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1753

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Edited, from the two-volume Oxford edition of 1904, by Jack Lynch.
He entered upon this year 1753 with his usual piety, as appears following prayer, which I transcribed from that part of his diary which he burnt a few days before his death:
“Jan. 1, 1753, N.S. which I shall use for the future.

“Almighty God, who has continued my life to this day, grant that, by the assistance of thy Holy Spirit, I may improve the time that thou shalt grant me, to my eternal salvation. Make me to remember, to thy glory, thy judgements and thy mercies. Make me so to consider the loss of my wife, whom thou hast taken from me, that it may dispose me, by thy grace, to lead the residue of my life in thy fear. Grant this, O Lord, for JESUS CHRIST'S sake. Amen.”
He now relieved the drudgery of his Dictionary, and the melancholy of his grief, by taking an active part in the composition of “The Adventurer,” in which he began to write, April 10, marking his essays with the signature T, by which most of his papers in that collection are distinguished: those, however, which have that signature and also that of Mysargyrus, were not written by him, but, as I suppose, by Dr. Bathurst. Indeed, Johnson's energy of thought and richness of language, are still more decisive marks than any signature. As a proof of this, my readers, I imagine, will not doubt that number 39, on sleep, is his; for it not only has the general texture and colour of his style, but the authours with whom he was peculiarly conversant are readily introduced in it in cursory allusion. The translation of a passage in Statius1 quoted in that paper, and marked C.B. has been erroneously ascribed to Dr. Bathurst, whose Christian name was Richard. How much this amiable man actually contributed to “The Adventurer,” cannot be known. Let me add, that Hawkesworth's imitations of Johnson are sometimes so happy, that it is extremely difficult to distinguish them, with certainty, from the compositions of his great archetype. Hawkesworth was his closest imitator, a circumstance of which that writer would once have been proud to be told; though, when he had become elated by having risen into some degree of consequence, he, in a conversation with me, had the provoking effrontery to say he was not sensible of it.

Johnson was truly zealous for the success of “The Adventurer”; and very soon after his engaging in it, he wrote the following letter:


“I OUGHT to have written to you before now, but I ought to do many things which I do not; nor can I, indeed, claim any merit from this letter; for being desired by the authours and proprietor of the Adventurer to look out for another hand, my thoughts necessarily fixed upon you, whose fund of literature will enable you to assist them, with very little interruption of your studies.

“They desire you to engage to furnish one paper a month, at two guineas a paper, which you may very readily perform. We have considered that a paper should consist of pieces of imagination, pictures of life, and disquisitions of literature. The part which depends on the imagination is very well supplied, as you will find when you read the paper; for descriptions of life, there is now a treaty almost made with an authour and an authouress;2 and the province of criticism and literature they are very desirous to assign to the commentator on Virgil.

“I hope this proposal will not be rejected, and that the next post will bring us your compliance. I speak as one of the fraternity, though I have no part in the paper, beyond now and then a motto; but two of the writers are my particular friends, and I hope the pleasure of seeing a third united to them, will not be denied to, dear Sir,

“Your most obedient,
“And most humble servant,


“March 8, 1753.”
The consequence of this letter was, Dr. Warton's enriching the collection with several admirable essays.

Johnson's saying “I have no part in the paper, beyond now and then a motto,” may seem inconsistent with his being the authour of the papers marked T. But he had, at this time, written only one number;3 and besides, even at any after period, he might have used the same expression, considering it as a point of honour not to own them; for Mrs. Williams told me that, as he had given those Essays to Dr. Bathurst, who sold them at two guineas each, he never would own them; nay, he used to say, he did not write them; but the fact was, that he dictated them, while Bathurst wrote.” I read to him Mrs. Williams' account; he smiled, and said nothing.

I am not quite satisfied with the casuistry by which the productions of one person are thus passed upon the world for the productions of another. I allow that not only knowledge, but powers and qualities of mind may be communicated; but the actual effect of individual exertion never can be transferred, with truth, to any other than its own original cause. One person's child may be made the child of another person by adoption, as among the Romans, or by the ancient Jewish mode of a wife having children borne to her upon her knees, by her handmaid. But these were children in a different sense from that of nature. It was clearly understood that they were not of the blood of their nominal parents. So in literary children, an authour may give the profits and fame of his composition to another man, but cannot make that other the real authour. A Highland gentleman, a younger branch of a family, once consulted me if he could not validly purchase the Chieftainship of his family from the Chief, who was willing to sell it. I told him it was impossible for him to acquire, by purchase, a right to be a different person from what he really was; for that the right of Chieftainship attached to the blood of primogeniture, and, therefore, was incapable of being transferred. I added, that though Esau sold his birth-right, or the advantages belonging to it, he still remained the first-born of his parents; and that whatever agreement a Chief might make with any of the clan, the Heralds-Office could not admit of the metamorphosis, or with any decency attest that the younger was the elder; but I did not convince the worthy gentleman.

Johnson's papers in the Adventurer are very similar to those of the Rambler; but being rather more varied in their subjects,4 and being mixed with essays by other writers, upon topicks more generally attractive than even the most elegant ethical discourses, the sale of the work, at first, was more extensive. Without meaning, however, to depreciate the Adventurer, I must observe, that as the value of the Rambler came, in the progress of time, to be better known, it grew upon the publick estimation, and that its sale has far exceeded that of any other periodical papers since the reign of Queen Anne.

In one of the books of his diary I find the following entry:
“Apr. 3, 1753. I began the second vol. of my Dictionary, room being left in the first for Preface, Grammar, and History none of them yet begun.

“O God, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in this labour, and in the whole task of my present state; that when I shall render up, at the last day, an account of the talent committed to me, I may receive pardon, for the sake of JESUS CHRIST. Amen.”
He this year favoured Mrs. Lennox with a Dedication * to the Earl of Orrery, of her “Shakspeare illustrated.5


1. [This is a slight inaccuracy. The Latin Sapphicks translated by C.B. in that paper were written by Cowley, and are in his fourth book on Plants. -- M.]

2. [It is not improbable, that the “authour and authouress, with whom a treaty was almost made, -- for descriptions of life,” and who are mentioned in a manner that seems to indicate some connexion between them, were Henry, and his sister Sally, Fielding, as she was then popularly called. Fielding had previously been a periodical essayist, and certainly was well acquainted with life in all its varieties, more especially within the precincts of London; and his sister was a lively and ingenious writer. To this notion perhaps it may be objected, that no papers in THE ADVENTURER are known to be their productions. But it should be remembered, that of several of the Essays in that work the authours are unknown; and some of these may have been written by the persons here supposed to be alluded to. Nor would the objection be decisive, even if it were ascertained that neither of them contributed any thing to THE ADVENTURER; for the treaty above-mentioned might afterwards have been broken off. The negotiator, doubtless, was Hawkesworth, and not Johnson. -- Fielding was at this time in the highest reputation; having, in 1751, produced his AMELIA, of which the whole impression was sold off on the day of its publication. -- M.]

3. [The authour, I conceive, is here in an errour. He had before stated, that Johnson began to write in “the Adventurer” on April 10th (when No. 45 was published,) above a month after the date of his letter to Dr. Warton. The two papers published previously, with the signature T, and subscribed MYSARGYRUS, (No. 34 and 41,) were written, I believe, by Bonnell Thornton, who contributed also all the papers signed A. This information I received several years ago; but do not precisely remember from whom I derived it. I believe, however, my informer was Dr. Warton.

With respect to No. 39, on Sleep, which our authour has ascribed to Johnson, (see earlier in this section,) even if it were written by him, it would not be unconsistent with his statement to Dr. Warton; for it appeared on March 20th, near a fortnight after the date of Johnson's letter to that gentleman. -- But on considering it attentively, though the style bears a strong resemblance to that of Johnson, I believe it was written by his friend, Dr. Bathurst, and perhaps touched in a few places by Johnson. Mr. Boswell has observed, that “this paper not only has the general texture and colour of his style, but the authours with whom he was peculiarly conversant are readily introduced in it, in cursory allusion.” Now the authours mentioned in that paper are, Fontenelle, Milton, Ramazzini, Madlle. de Scuderi, Swift, Homer, Barretier, Statius, Cowley, and Sir Thomas Browne. With many of these, doubtless, Johnson was particularly conversant; but I doubt whether he would have characterised the expression quoted from Swift, as elegant; and with the works of RAMAZZINI it is very improbable that he should have been acquainted. Ramazzini was a celebrated physician, who died at Padua, in 1714, at the age of 81; with whose writings Dr. Bathurst may be supposed to have been conversant. So also with respect to Cowley: Johnson, without doubt, had read his Latin poem on Plants; but Bathurst's profession probably led him to read it with more attention than his friend had given to it; and Cowley's eulogy on the Poppy would more readily occur to the Naturalist and the Physician, than to a more general reader. I believe, however, that the last paragraph of the paper on Sleep, in which Sir Thomas Browne is quoted, to shew the propriety of prayer, before we lie down to rest, was added by Johnson. -- M.]

4. [Dr. Johnson lowered and somewhat disguised his style, in writing the Adventurers, in order that his Papers might pass for those of Dr. Bathurst, to whom he consigned the profits. This was Hawkesworth's opinion. -- BURNEY.]

5. [Two of Johnson's Letters, addressed to Samuel Richardson, authour of CLARRISSA, &c. the former dated March 9, 1750-1, the other September 26, 1753, are preserved in Richardson's CORRESPONDENCE, 8vo. 1804, vol. v. pp. 281-284. In the latter of these letters Johnson suggested to Richardson, the propriety of making an Index to his three works: “but while I am writing, (he adds) an objection arises; such an index to the three would look like the preclusion of a fourth, to which I will never contribute; for if I cannot benefit mankind, I hope never to injure them.” Richardson, however, adopted the hint; for in 1755 he published in octavo, “A collection of the Moral and Instructive Sentiments, Maxims, Cautions, and Reflections, contained in the Histories of Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison, digested under proper heads.”

It is remarkable, that both to this book, and to the first two volumes of Clarissa, is prefixed a Preface, by a friend. The “friend,” in this latter instance, was the celebrated Dr. Warburton. -- M.]