Boswell's Life of Johnson, 1760

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Edited, from the two-volume Oxford edition of 1904, by Jack Lynch.
In 1760 he wrote “an Address of the Painters to George III. on his Accession to the Throne of these Kingdoms,” + which no monarch ever ascended with more sincere congratulations from his people. Two generations of foreign princes had prepared their minds to rejoice in having again a King, who gloried in being “born a Briton.” He also wrote for Mr. Baretti the Dedication + of his Italian and English Dictionary, to the Marquis of Abreu, then Envoy-Extraordinary from Spain at the Court of Great-Britain.

Johnson was now either very idle, or very busy with his Shakspeare; for I can find no other publick composition by him except an Introduction to the proceedings of the Committee for cloathing the French Prisoners; * one of the many proofs that he was ever awake to the calls of humanity; and an account which he gave in the Gentleman's Magazine of Mr. Tytler's acute and able vindication of Mary, Queen of Scots. * The generosity of Johnson's feelings shines forth in the following sentence: “It has now been fashionable, for near half a century, to defame and vilify the house of Stuart, and to exalt and magnify the reign of Elizabeth. The Stuarts have found few apologists, for the dead cannot pay for praise; and who will, without reward, oppose the tide of popularity? Yet there remains still among us, not wholly extinguished, a zeal for truth, a desire of establishing right in opposition to fashion.”

In this year I have not discovered a single private letter written by him to any of his friends. It should seem, however, that he had at this period a floating intention of writing a history of the recent and wonderful successes of the British arms in all quarters of the globe; for among his resolutions or memorandums, September 18, there is, “Send for books for Hist. of War.”1 How much is it to be regretted that this intention was not fulfilled. His majestick expression would have carried down to the latest posterity the glorious achievements of his country, with the same fervent glow which they produced on the mind at the time. He would have been under no temptation to deviate in any degree from truth, which he held very sacred, or to take a licence, which a learned divine told me he once seemed, in a conversation, jocularly to allow to historians. “There are (said he) inexcusable lies, and consecrated lies. For instance, we are told that on the arrival of the news of the unfortunate battle of Fontenoy, every heart beat, and every eye was in tears. Now we know that no man eat his dinner the worse, but there should have been all this concern; and to say there was, (smiling) may be reckoned a consecrated lie.”

This year Mr. Murphy, having thought himself ill-treated by the Reverend Dr. Franklin, who was one of the writers of “The Critical Review,” published an indignant vindication in “A Poetical Epistle to Samuel Johnson, A.M.” in which he compliments Johnson in a just and elegant manner:
 “Transcendant Genius! whose prolifick vein Ne'er knew the
frigid poet's toil and pain; To whom APOLLO opens all his store,
And every Muse presents her sacred lore; Say, pow'rful JOHNSON,
whence thy verse is fraught With so much grace, such energy of
thought; Whether thy JUVENAL instructs the age In chaster
numbers, and new points his rage; Or fair IRENE sees, alas! too
late Her innocence exchang'd for guilty state; Whate'er you
write, in every golden line Sublimity and elegance combine; Thy
nervous phrase impresses every soul, While harmony gives rapture
to the whole.” 
Again towards the conclusion:
 “Thou then, my friend, who see'st the dang'rous strife In
which some demon bids me plunge my life, To the Aonian fount
direct my feet, Say, where the Nine thy lonely musings meet?
Where warbles to thy ear the sacred throng, Thy moral sense, thy
dignity of song?  Tell, for you can, by what unerring art You
wake to finer feelings every heart; In each bright page some
truth important give, And bid to future times thy RAMBLER live.”
I take this opportunity to relate the manner in which an acquaintance first commenced between Dr. Johnson and Mr. Murphy. During the publication of “The Gray's-Inn Journal,” a periodical paper which was successfully carried on by Mr. Murphy alone, when a very young man, he happened to be in the country with Mr. Foote; and having mentioned that he was obliged to go to London in order to get ready for the press one of the numbers of that Journal, Foote said to him, “You need not go on that account. Here is a French magazine, in which you will find a very pretty oriental tale; translate that, and send it to your printer.” Mr. Murphy having read the tale, was highly pleased with it, and followed Foote's advice. When he returned to Town, the tale was pointed out to him in “The Rambler,” from whence it had been translated into the French magazine. Mr. Murphy then waited upon Johnson, to explain this curious incident. His talents, literature, and gentlemanlike manners, were soon perceived by Johnson, and a friendship was formed which was never broken.2

In an account of this gentleman, published recently after his death, he is reported to have said, that “he was but twenty-one, when he had the impudence to write a periodical paper, during the time that Johnson was publishing the Rambler.” -- In a subsequent page, in which Mr. Boswell gives an account of his first introduction to Johnson, will be found a striking instance of the incorrectness of Mr. Murphy's memory; and the assertion above-mentioned, if indeed he made it, which is by no means improbable, furnishes an additional proof of his inaccuracy; for both the facts asserted are unfounded. He appears to have been eight years older than twenty-one, when he began the Gray's-Inn Journal; and that paper, instead of running a race with Johnson's production, did not appear till after the closing of the Rambler, which ended March 14, 1752. The first number of the Gray's-Inn Journal made its appearance about seven months afterwards, in a news-paper of the time, called the Craftsman, October 21, 1752; and in that form the first forty-nine numbers were given to the publick. On Saturday, Sept. 29, 1753, it assumed a new form, and was published as a distinct periodical paper; and in that shape it continued to be published till the 21st of Sept. 1754, when it finally closed; forming in the whole one hundred and one Essays, in the folio copy. The extraordinary paper mentioned in the text, is No. 38 of the second series, published on June 15, 1754; which is a re-translation from the French version of Johnson's Rambler, No. 190. It was omitted in the re-publication of these Essays in two volumes 12mo. in which one hundred and four are found, and in which the papers are not always dated on the days when they really appeared; so that the motto prefixed to this Anglo-Gallick Eastern tale, obscuris vera involvens, might very properly have been prefixed to this work, when re-published. Mr. Murphy did not, I believe, wait on Johnson recently after the publication of this adumbration of one of his Ramblers, as seems to be stated in the text; for, in his concluding Essay, Sept. 21, 1754, we find the following paragraph:


“YOU that travel about the world, have more materials for letters, than I who stay at home: and should, therefore, write with frequency equal to your opportunities. I should be glad to have all England surveyed by you, if you would impart your observations in narratives as agreeable as your last. Knowledge is always to be wished to those who can communicate it well. While you have been riding and running, and seeing the tombs of the learned, and the camps of the valiant, I have only staid at home, and intended to do great things, which I have not done. Beau3 went away to Cheshire, and has not yet found his way back. Chambers passed the vacation at Oxford.

“I am very sincerely solicitous for the preservation or curing of Mr. Langton's sight, and am glad that the chirurgeon at Coventry gives him so much hope. Mr. Sharpe is of opinion that the tedious maturation of the cataract is a vulgar errour, and that it may be removed as soon as it is formed. This notion deserves to be considered, I doubt whether it be universally true; but if it be true in some cases, and those cases can be distinguished, it may save a long and uncomfortable delay.

“Of dear Mrs. Langton you give me no account; which is the less friendly, as you know how highly I think of her, and how much I interest myself in her health. I suppose you told her of my opinion, and likewise suppose it was not followed; however, I still believe it to be right.

“Let me hear from you again, wherever you are, or whatever you are doing; whether you wander or sit still, plant trees or make Rustics,4 play with your sisters or muse alone; and in return I will tell you the success of Sheridan, who at this instant is playing Cato, and has already played Richard twice. He had more company the second than the first night, and will make I believe a good figure in the whole, though his faults seem to be very many; some of natural deficience, and some of laborious affectation. He has I think, no power of assuming either that dignity or elegance which some men, who have little of either in common life, can exhibit on the stage. His voice when strained is unpleasing, and when low is not always heard. He seems to think too much on the audience, and turns his face too often to the galleries.

“However, I wish him well; and among other reasons, because I like his wife.5

“Make haste to write to, dear Sir,

“Your most affectionate servant,


“Oct. 18, 1760.”


1. Prayers and Meditations, p. 42.

2. [When Mr. Murphy first became acquainted with Dr. Johnson, he was about thirty-one years old. He died at Knightsbridge, June 18, 1805, it is believed in his eighty-second year. “Besides, why may not a person rather choose an air of bold negligence, than the obscure diligence of pedants and writers of affected phraseology. For my part, I have always thought an easy style more eligible than a pompous diction, lifted up by metaphor, amplified by epithet, and dignified by too frequent insertions of the Latin idiom.” It is probable that the Rambler was here intended to be ensured, and that the authour, when he wrote it, was not acquainted with Johnson, whom, from his first introduction, he endeavoured to conciliate. Their acquaintance, therefore, it may be presumed, did not commence till towards the end of this year 1754. Murphy however had highly praised Johnson in the preceding year, No. 14 of the second series, Dec. 22, 1753. -- M.]

3. Topham Beauclerk, Esq.

4. Essays with that title, written about this time by Mr. Langton, but not published.

5. Mrs. Sheridan was authour of “Memoirs of Miss Sydney Biddulph,” a novel of great merit, and of some other pieces. -- See her character, post, Aetat. 54.