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of the ministry, and he received no kind of reward for what he had done. His pension neither he or his friends ever considered in that light, although it might make him acquiesce more readily in what the minister required. He was willing to do something for gratitude, but nothing for hire.
A few months after the publication of his last pamphlet, he received his diploma as doctor of laws from the university of Oxford, in consequence of a recom. mendation from the chancellor, lord North. It is remarkable, however, that he never assumed this title in writing notes or cards.- In the autumn of this year, he went on a tour to France with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale. Of this tour Mr. Bos. well has printed a few memorandums, which were probably intended as the foun. dation of a more regular narrative, but this he does not appear to have ever begun. As the tour lasted only about two months, it would probably have produced more sentiment than description.
In 1777, he was engaged by the London booksellers to write short lives or prefa. ces to an edition of the English poets, and this being one of the most important of his literary undertakiogs, some account of its origin is necessary, especially as the precise share which belongs to him has been frequently misrepresented. It is perhaps too late now to inquire into the propriety of the decision of the house of lords respecting literary property. It had not, however, taken place many months before some of the predicted consequences appeared. Among other instances, an edition of the English poets was published at Edinburgh, in direct violation of that honourable compact by which the booksellers of London had agreed to respect each other's property, notwithstanding their being deprived of the more effectual support of the law. This, therefore, induced the latter to un. dertake an edition of the poets in a more commodious form, and with suitable ac. quracy of text. A meeting was called of about forty of the most respectable book. sellers of London, the proprietors, or the successors and descendants of the pro. prietors of copyrights in these works, and it was agreed that an elegant and upi. form edition of The English Poets should be printed, with a concise account of the life of each author by Dr. Samuel Johnson, and that Messrs. Straban, Cadell and 1. Davies, should wait upon him with their proposals.
Johnson was delighted with the task, the utility of which had probably occur. red to his mind long before, and be had certainly more acquaintance than any man then living with the poetical biography of his country, and appeared to be best qualified to illustrate it by judicious criticism. Whether we consider what he un. dertook, or what he performed, the sum of two hundred guineas which he de. pianded, will appear a very trivial recompense. His original intention, and all indeed that was expected from him, was a very concise biographical and critical account of each poet, but he had not proceeded far before he began to enlarge the lives to the present extent, and at last presented the world with such a body of criticism as was scarcely to be expected from one man, and still less from one now verging on his seventieth year.
Of this edition it is yet necessary to say, that Dr. Johnson was not in all re. spects to be considered as the editor. He had not the choice of the poets to be admitted, although in aldition to the list prepared by his employers, he recommend. Blackmore, Watts, Pomfret, and Yalden. The selection was made by the booksela
lers, who appear to have been guided, partly by the acknowledged merit of the poet, and partly by his popularity, a quality which is sometimes independent of the former. Our author, however, felt himself under no restraint in accepting the list offered, por did he in any itistance consider himself bound to lean with partiality to any authór merely that the admission of his works might he justified. This absurd species of prejudice which has contaminated so many single lives and critical prefaces, was repugnant to his, as it must ever be to the opinion of every man who considers truth as essential to biography, and that the possession of talents, however brilliant, ought to be no excuse for the abuse of them. Every preliminary having been settled in the month of April, 1777, the new edition of the poets was sent to press, and Johnson was informed that his lives might be written in the meantime, so as to be ready to accompany the publication.
Not long after he undertook this work, he was invited to contribute the aid of his eloquent pen in saving the forfeited life of Dr. William Dodd, a clergyman, who was convicted of forgery. This unhappy man had long been a popular preacher in the metropolis : and the public sentiment was almost universal in de. precating so shameful a sight as that of a clergyman of the church of England suffering by á public execution. Whether there was much in Dodd's character to justify this sentiment, or to demand the interference of the corporation of London, backed by the petitions of thousands of the most distinguished and wealthy citizens, may perhaps be doubted. Jobinson, however, could not resist what put every other consideration out of the question, “a call for mercy," and accord. ingly contributed every thing that the friends of Dodd could suggest as useful. He wrote his Speech to the Recorder of London, delivered at the Old Bailey when sentence of death was about to be passed on him: The Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren, a sermon delivered by Dodd in the chapel of Newgate: two letters, one to the lord chancellor Bathurst, and one to lord chief justice Mans field: a petition from Dr.Dodd to the king: another from Mrs.Dodd to the queen : observations inserted in the newspapers, on occasion of earl Percy's having presented to his majesty a petition for mercy to Dodd, signed by twenty thousand persons : a petition from the city of London ; and Dr. Doud's last solemn decla. ration, which he left with the sheriff at the place of execution. All these have been printed in Dr. Johnson's works, with some additional correspondence which Mr. Boswell inserted in his life. Every thing is written in a style of pathetic elo. quence, but as the author could not be concealed, it was impossible to impress a stronger sense of the value of Dodd's talents than had already been entertained. The papers, however, contributed to heighten the clamour which was at that time raised against the execution of the sentence, and which was confounded with what was then thought more censurable, the conduct of those by whom the un. happy man might have been saved before the process of law had been beguo.
In 1779, the first four volumes of his Lives of the Poets were published, and the remajader in the year 1781, which he wrote, by his own confession, "dilatorily and hastily, unwilling to work, and working with vigour and haste.” He had, however, performed so much more than was expected, that his employers presented him with an hundred pounds in addition to the stipulated sum. As he never was insensible to the pleasure or value of fame, it is not improbable that he was
yet more substantially gratified by the eagerness with which his lives of the poets were read and praised. He enjoyed likewise another satisfaction which it appears be thought not unnecessary to the reputation of a great writer. He was attacked on all sides for his contempt of Milton's politics, and the sparing praise, or direct censure he had bestowed on the poetry of Prior, Hammond, Collins, Gray and a few others. The errours, iodeed, which on any other subject might have passed for errours of judgment, were by the irascible tempers of his adversaries magnified into high treason against the majesty of poctic genius. During his life, these attacks were not few, nor very respectful to a veteran whom common consent had placed at the head of the literature of his country; but the courage of his adversaries was observed to rise very considerably after his death, and the name which public opinion had consecrated, was reviled with the utmost malignity. Even some who duriog his life were glad to conceal their hostility, now took an opportunity to retract the admiration in which they had joined with apparent cordiality: and to discover faults in a body of criticism which, after all reasonable exceptions are admitted, was never equalled, and perhaps never will be equalled for justice, acuteness and elegance. Where can we hope to find discussions that can be com. pared with those introduced in the lives of Cowley, Milton, Dryden and Pope? His abhorrence indeed of Milton's political conduct led him to details and observations which can never be acceptable to a certain class of politicians, but when he comes to analyze his poetry, and to fix his reputation on its proper basis, it must surely be confessed that no man, since the first appearance of Paradise Lost, has ever bestowed praise with a more munificent hand. He appears to have col. lected his whole energy to immortalize the genius of Milton, nor has any advocate for Milton's democracy appeared who has not been glad to surrender the guardianship of his poetical fame to Johnson.
In 1782, the public demand rendered it necessary to print an edition of the Lives in four octavo volumes ; and in 1783, another edition of the same number, but considerably enlarged, altered and corrected by the author. I cannot here suppress a circumstance communicated by my worthy friend, Mr. Nichols, which may check the murmurs of the public respecting improved editions. Although the corrections and alterations of the edition of 1783 were printed separately and offered gratis to the purchasers of the former, not ten copies were called for!
With this work the public labours of Johnson ended, and when we consider his advanced time of life, and the almost unabated vigour of his mind, it may be surely added, that his sun set with unrivalled splendour. But the infirmities of age were now undermining a constitution that had kept perpetual war with hereditary disease, and his most valued friends were dropping into the grave before him. He lost Mr. Thrale and Mrs. Williams: his home became cheerless, and much visiting was no longer convenient. His health began to decline more visi. bly from the month of June 1783, when he had a paralytic stroke, and although he recovered so far as to be able to take another journey to Litchfield and Oxford towards the close of the year, symptoms of a dropsy indicated the probability of his dissolution at no distant period. Some relief, however, having been admi. nistered, he rejoined the society of his friends, and with a mind still curious, intelligent, and active, renewed his attention to the concerns of literature, dic.