Page images

self, and that having a father living, who was able to dispose of him in various other ways, he, after about two years ftay, left the college, and went home.

But the case of Johnson was far different: his for tụnes were at sea; his title to a ftipend was gone, and all that he could obtain from the father of Mr. Corbet, was, an agreement, during his continuance at college, to pay for his commons. With no exhibition, or other means of support in the prosecution of his studies, he had nothing to depend on, save the affiftance of a kind and indulgent parent. At that time the trade of a country bookseller, even in a city where was a cathedral and an incorporation of ecclefiaftics, was less

profitable than it is now; for though it may be faid, that during the reign of Queen Anne, multitudes of controversial books and pamphlets were publishing, yet these yielded but small advantage to the mere venders of them : there were then no such publications for the mere amusement of young readers or idle perfons as the press now daily sends forth; nor had any bookseller entertained in his mind the project of a circulating library: from hence it is evident, that his father, having no other means of subsisting himfelf and his children, than the ordinary income of his shop, was but little able to afford him any other than a scanty maintenance.

The want of that affistance, which scholars in general derive from their parents, relations, and friends, foon became viĝble in the garb and appearance of Johnson, which, though in some degree concealed by a scholar's gown, and that we know is never deemed the lefs honourable for being old, was so apparent as to

excite pity in some that saw and noticed him. Shall I be particular, and relate a circumstance of his diftress, that cannot be imputed to him as an effect of his own extravagance or irregularity, and consequently reflects no disgrace on his memory? He had scarce any change of raiment, and, in a short time after Corbet left him, but one pair of shoes, and those so old, that his feet were seen through them: a gentleman of his college, the father of an eminent clergyman now living, directed a servitor one morning to place a new pair at the door of Johnson's chamber, who, seeing them upon his first going out, so far forgot himself and the spirit that must have actuated his unknown benefactor, that, with all the indignation of an infulted man, he threw them away.

He may be fupposed to have been under the age of twenty, when this imaginary indignity was offered hiin, a period of life at which, so far as concerns the knowledge of mankind, and the means of improving adverse circumstances, every one has much to learn: he had, doubtless, before this time, experienced

the proud man's contumely;' and in this school of ami&tion might have first had reason to say,

Slow rises worth by poverty deprest.' his spirit was, nevertheless, too great to sink under this depreffion. His tutor, Jordan, in about a year's space, went off to a living which he had been presented tô, upon giving a bond to resign it in favour of a minor, and Johnson became the pupil of Mr. Adams, a person of far superior endowments, who afterwards attained a doctor's degree, and is at this time head of his college. Encouraged, by a change so propitious to his


ftudies, he prosecuted them with diligence, attended both public and private le&tures, performed his exercises with alacrity, and in short, neglected no means or opportunities of improvement. . He had at this time a great emulation, to call it by no worse a name, to excel his competitors in literature. There was a young gentleman of his college, named Meekes, whose exercises he could not bear to hear commended; and whenever he declaimed or disputed in the hall, Johnfon would retire to the farthest corner thereof, that he might be out of the reach of his voice.

In this course of learning, his favourite objects were classical literature, ethics, and theology, in the latter whereof he laid the foundation by studying the Fathers. If we may judge from the magnitude of his Adversaria, which I have now by me, his plan for study was a very extensive one. The heads of science, to the extent of six folio volumes, are copiously branched throughout it; but, as is generally the case with young students, the blank far exceed in number the written leaves.

To say the truth, the course of his studies was far from regular : he read by fits and starts, and, in the intervals, digested his reading by meditation, to which he was ever prone. Neither did he regard the hours of study, farther than the discipline of the college compelled him. It was the practice in his time, for a servitor, by order of the master, to go round to the rooms of the young men, and knocking at the door, to enquire if they were within, and, if no answer was returned, to report them ablent: Johnson could not endure this intrusion, and would frequently be silent, when the utterance of a word would have insured hiin from cenfure; and, farther to be revenged for being disturbed


[ocr errors]

when he was as profitably employed as perhaps he
could be, would join with others of the young men in
the college in hunting, as they called it, the servitor,
who was thus diligent in his duty; and this they did
with the noise of pots and candlesticks, singing to the
tune of Chevy-chace, the words in that old ballad,

"To drive the deer with hound and horn,' &c.
not seldom to the endangering the life and limbs of
the unfortunate victim.

Thése, and other such levities, marked his behaviour for a short time after his coming to college ; but he soon convinced those about him, that he came thither for other purposes than to make sport either for himself or them. His exercises were applauded, and his tutor was not so shallow a man, but that he could difcover in Johnson great skill in the classics, and also a talent for Latin versification, by such compositions as few of his standing could equal *. Mr. Jordan taking advantage, therefore, of a transgression of this his pupil, the absenting himself from early prayers, imposed on him for a vacation exercise, the task of tranNating into Latin verse the Messiah of Mr. Pope, which being shewn to the author of the original, by a son of Dr. Arbuthnot, then a gentleman-commoner of Christ-church, and brother of the late Mr. Arbuchnot of the Exchequer-office, was read, and returned with this encomium: · The writer of this poem will • leave it a question for posterity, whether his or mine

[ocr errors][merged small]

Johnson had through his life a propensity to Latin compo. sition : he lhewed it' very early at school, and while there made fome Latin verses, for which the Earl of Berkihire, who was a good scholar, and had always a Horace in his pocket, gave him a guinea.

[ocr errors]

• be the original. * This translation found its way into a miscellany published by subscription at Oxford, in the year 1731, under the name of J. Husbands.

He had but little relish for mathematical learning, and was content with such a degree of knowledge in physics, as he could not but acquire in the ordinary exercises of the place: his fortunes and circumstances had determined him to no particular course of study, and were such as seemed to exclude him from every one of the learned professions. He, more than once, signified to a friend who had been educated at the same school with him, then at Christchurch, and intended for the bar, an inclination to the practice of the civil or the common law; the former of these required a long course of academical infticution, and how to succed in the latter, he had not learned; † but his father's inability to support him


• Mr. Pope, in another instance, gave a proof of his candor and disposition to encourage the essays of young men of genius. When Smart published his Latin translation of Mr. Pope's ode on St. Cecilia's day, Mr. Pope having read it, in a letter to Newbery the bookfeller some time after, returned his thanks to the author, with an assurance, that it exceeded his own original. . This fact Newbery himself told me, and offered to thew me the letter in Mr. Pope's hand-writing.

+ In the two professions of the civil and common law, a notable difference is discernible: the former admits such only as have had the previous qualification of an univerfity education; the latter receives all whose broken fortunes drive, or a confidence in their abilities tempts to seek a maintenance in it. Men of low extraction, domeftic servants, and clerks to eminent lawyers, have become special pleaders and advocates; and, by an unrestrained abuse of the liberty of speech, have acquired popularity and wealth. A remarkable instance of this kind occurs in the account of a famous lawyer of the last century, lord chief justice Saunders, exhibited in the life of the lord keeper Guilford, Page 223.


[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »