Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1757

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Edited, from the two-volume Oxford edition of 1904, by Jack Lynch.
In 1757 it does not appear that he published any thing, except some of those articles in the Literary Magazine, which have been mentioned. That magazine, after Johnson ceased to write in it, gradually declined, though the popular epithet of Antigallican was added to it; and in July 1758 it expired. He probably prepared a part of his Shakspeare this year, and he dictated a speech on the subject of an address to the Throne, after the expedition to Rochfort, which was delivered by one of his friends, I know not in what publick meeting. It is printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for October 1785 as his, and bears sufficient marks of authenticity.

By the favour of Mr. Joseph Cooper Walker, of the Treasury, Dublin, I have obtained a copy of the following letter from Johnson to the venerable authour of “Dissertations on the History of Ireland.”


“I HAVE lately, by the favour of Mr. Faulkner, seen your account of Ireland, and cannot forbear to solicit a prosecution of your design. Sir William Temple complains that Ireland is less known than any other country, as to its ancient state. The natives have had little leisure, and little encouragement for enquiry; and strangers, not knowing the language, have had no ability.

“I have long wished that the Irish literature were cultivated.2 Ireland is known by tradition to have been once the seat of piety and learning; and surely it would be very acceptable to all those who are curious either in the original of nations, or the affinities of languages, to be further informed of the revolution of a people so ancient, and once so illustrious.

“What relation there is between the Welsh and Irish language, or between the language of Ireland and that of Biscay, deserves enquiry. Of these provincial and unextended tongues, it seldom happens that more than one are understood by any one man; and, therefore, it seldom happens that a fair comparison can be made. I hope you will continue to cultivate this kind of learning, which has too long lain neglected, and which, if it be suffered to remain in oblivion for another century, may, perhaps, never be retrieved. As I wish well to all useful undertakings, I would not forbear to let you know how much you deserve in my opinion, from all lovers of study, and how much pleasure your work has given to, Sir,

“Your most obliged,
“And most humble servant,

“London, April 9, 1757.”


“DR. MARSILI Of Padua, a learned gentleman, and good Latin poet, has a mind to see Oxford. I have given him a letter to Dr. Huddesford,3 and shall be glad if you will introduce him, and shew him any thing in Oxford.

“I am printing my new edition of Shakspeare.

“I long to see you all, but cannot conveniently come yet. You might write to me now and then, if you were good for any thing. But honores mutant mores. Professors forget their friends.4 I shall certainly complain to Miss Jones.5 I am,

“Your, &c.


“[London] June 21, 1757.

“Please to make my compliments to Mr. Wise.”
Mr. Burney having enclosed to him an extract from the review of his Dictionary in the Bibliotheque des Savans,6 and a list of subscribers to his Shakspeare, which Mr. Burney had procured in Norfolk, he wrote the following answer:


“THAT I may show myself sensible of your favours, and not commit the same fault a second time, I make haste to answer the letter which I received this morning. The truth is, the other likewise was received, and I wrote an answer; but being desirous to transmit you some proposals and receipts, I waited till I could find a convenient conveyance, and day was passed after day, till other things drove it from my thoughts; yet not so, but that I remember with great pleasure your commendation of my Dictionary. Your praise was welcome, not only because I believe it was sincere, but because praise has been very scarce. A man of your candour will be surprised when I tell you, that among all my acquaintance there were only two, who upon the publication of my book did not endeavour to depress me with threats of censure from the publick, or with objections learned from those who had learned them from my own preface. Your's is the only letter of good-will that I have received; though, indeed, I am promised something of that sort from Sweden.

“How my new edition7 will be received I know not; the subscription has not been very successful. I shall publish about March.

“If you can direct me how to send proposals, I should wish that they were in such hands.

“I remember, Sir, in some of the first letters with which you favoured me, you mentioned your lady. May I enquire after her? In return for the favours which you have shewn me, it is not much to tell you, that I wish you and her all that can conduce to your happiness. I am, Sir,

“Your most obliged,
“And most humble servant,

“Gough-square, Dec. 24, 1757.”


1. [Of this gentleman, who died at his seat at Ballinegare, in the county of Roscommon in Ireland, July 1, 1791, in his 82nd year, some account may be found in the Gentleman's Magazine of that date. Of the work here alluded to by Dr. Johnson -- “Dissertations on the History of Ireland” -- a second and much improved edition was published by the authour in 1766. -- M.]

2. The celebrated oratour, Mr. Flood, has shown himself to be of Dr. Johnson's opinion; having by his will bequeathed his estate, after the death of his wife Lady Frances, to the University of Dublin; desiring that immediately after the said estate shall come into their possession, they shall appoint two professors, one for the study of the native Erse or Irish language, and the other for the study of Irish antiquities and Irish history, and for the study of any other European language illustrative of, or auxiliary to, the study of Irish antiquities or Irish history; and that they shall give yearly two liberal premiums for two compositions, one in verse, and the other in prose, in the Irish language. [Since the above was written, Mr. Flood's Will has been set aside, after a trial at bar, in the Court of Exchequer in Ireland. -- M.]

3. “Now, or late, Vice-Chancellor.”

4. “Mr. Warton was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in the preceding year.”

5. “Miss Jones lived at Oxford, and was often of our parties. She was a very ingenious poetess, and published a volume of poems; and, on the whole, was a most sensible, agreeable, and amiable woman. She was sister to the Reverend River Jones, Chanter of Christ-Church cathedral at Oxford, and Johnson used to call her the Chantress. I have heard him often address her in this passage from 'IL PENSEROSO':
'Thee, Chantress, oft the woods among
I woo,' &c.
She died unmarried.”

6. Tom. III, p. 482.

7. Of Shakspeare.