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That he was remarkable in his early years has been supposed, but many proofs have not been advanced by his biographers. He had, indeed, a retentive me. mory, and soon discovered symptoms of an impetuous temper, but these circumstances are not enough to distinguish him from hundreds of children who never attain eminence. In his infancy he was afflicted with the scrophula, which injured his sight, and he was carried to London to receive the royal touch from the hand of queen Anne, the last of our sovereigns who encouraged that popular superstition.
He was first taught to read English by a woman who kept a school for young children at Litchfield, and afterwards by one Brown. Latin he learned at Litchfield-school, under Mr. Hunter, a man of severe discipline, but an attentive teacher. Johnson owned that he needed correction, and that his master did not spare him, but this instead of being the cause of unpleasant recollections in his advanced life, served only to convince him that severity in school-education is ne. cessary, and in all his conversations on the subject, he persisted in pleading for a liberal use of the rod.
At this school his superiority was soon acknowledged by his companions, who could not refuse submission to the ascendancy which he acquired. His proficiency, however, as in every part of his life, exceeded his apparent diligence. He could learn more than others in the same allotted time, and he was learning when he seemed to be idle. fle betrayed an early aversion to stated tasks, but, if roused, he could recover the time he appeared to have lost with great facility. Yet he seems afterwards to have been conscious that much depends on regularity of study, and we find him often prescribing to himself stated portions of reading, and recommending the same to others. No man perhaps was ever more sensible. of his failings, or avowed them with more candour, nor, indeed, would many of them have been known, if he had not exhibited them as warnings.
His memory was uncommonly tenacious, and to his last days he prided him. self on it, considering a defect of memory as the prelude of total decay. Perhaps he carried this doctrine rather too far, when he asserted that the occasional fai. lure of memory in a man of seventy must imply something radically wrong; but it may be in general allowed that the memory is a pretty accurate standard of mental strength.
Although his weak sight prevented him from joining in the amusements of his school-fellows, for which he was otherwise well qualified by personal courage and an ambition to excell, he found an equivalent pleasure in sauntering in the fields, or reading such books as came into his way, particularly old romances. For these he retained a foodness throughout life, but was wise and candid enough to attribute to them, in some degree, that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his fixing in any profession.
About the age of fifteen, he paid a long visit to his uncle Cornelius Ford, but on his return his master, Hunter, refused to receive him again on the foundation of Litchfield-school; what his reasons were is not known. He was now removed to the school of Stourbridge in Worcestershire, where he remained about a year, with very little acquisition of knowledge bnt here, as well as at Lichfield, he gave several proofs of his inclination to poetry, and afterwards published some of
these juvenile productions in the Gentleman's Magazine. From Stourbridge he returned home, where he remained about two years, without any regular appli. 'cation. His time, however, was not entirely wasted, as he employed it in read. ing many of the ancient writers, and stored his mind with so much various information, that when he went to Oxford, Dr. Adams said he “
was the best qualified for the university that he had ever known come there."
By what means his father was enabled to defray the expense of an university education has not been very accurately told. It is generally reported that he went to assist the studies of a young gentleman of the name of Corbet. His friend, Dr. Taylor, assured Mr. Boswell, that he never could have gone to college, had not a gentleman of Shropshire, one of his school.fellows, spontaneously undertaken to support him at Oxford, in the character of his companion, though, in fact, he never received any assistance whatever from that gentleman. He was, however, entered a commoner of Pembroke College on the 31st October 1728. His tutor was Mr. Jordan, a fellow of Pembroke, a man whom Johnson mentioned with respect many years after, but to whose instructions he did not pay much regard, except that he formally attended his lectures, as well as those in the College-hall. It was at Jordan's request that he translated Pope's Messiah into Latin verse, as a Christmas exercise.
Pope is said to have expressed his bigh approbation of it, but critics in that language, among whom Pope could never be ranked, have not considered Johnson's Latin poems as the happiest of his com. positions. When Jordan left college to accept of a living, Johnson became a scholar of Dr. Adams, who was afterwards the head of Pembroke, and with whom Johnson maintained a strict friendship to the last hour of his life.
During the vacation, in the following year, he suffered severely by an attack of his constitutional melancholy, accompanied by alternate irritation, fretfulness and languor. It appears, however, that he resisted his disorder by every effort of a great mind, and proved that it did not arise from want of mental resources, or weakness of understanding. On his return to the university, he probably con, tinued his desultory manner of reading, and occasionally formed resolutions of re. gular study, in which he seldom persisted. Among his companions he was looked up to as a young man of wit and spirit, singular and unequal in temper, impatient of college rules, and not over respectful to his seniors. Such at least seems to be the result of Mr. Boswell's inquiries, but little is known with certainty, except what is painful to relate, that he either put on an air of gaiety to conccal his anxious cares, or secluded himself from company that that poverty might not be koown which at length compelled him to leave college without a degree.
He now (1731) returned to Litchfield, with very gloomy prospects. His father died a few months after his return,and the little he left behind him was barely suf. ficient for the temporary support of his widow. In the following year our author accepted the place of usher of the school of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, an employment which the pride of sir Wolstan Dixie, the patron, soon rendered irkşome, and he threw it up in a disgust which recurred whenever he recollected this part of his history. For six months after, he resided at Birmingham as the guest of Mr. Hector, an eminent surgeon, and is supposed during that time to have fur. nished some periodical essays for a newspaper printed by Warren a bookseller in Birmingham. Here, too, he abridged and translated Father Lobo's Voyage to Abyssinia, which was published in 1735 by Bettesworth and Hitch in Paternoster Row, London. For this, his first literary performance, he received the small sum of five guineas. In the translation there is little that marks the hand of Joho. son, but in the preface and dedication are a few passages in the same energetic and manly style which he may be said to have invented, and to have taught to his countrymen.
In 1734, he returned to Litchfield, and issued proposals for an editiun of the Latin poems of Politian, with the history of Latin poetry, from the era of Pe. trarch to the time of Politian, and also the life of Politian; the book to be priot, ed in thirty octayo sheets, price five shillings. Those who have not attended to the literary history of this country will be surprised that such a work could not be undertaken without the precaution of a subscription, and they will regret that in this case the subscription was so inadequate to the expense of printing as to deter our author from executing what probably would have made him known and pa. tronized by the learned world. · Disappointed in this scheme, he offered his services to Mr. Cave, the propric. tor and editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, who had given some proofs of a li, beral spirit of enterprize in calling forth the talents of unknown and ingenious
On this occasion he suggested some improvements in the management of the Magazine and specified the articles which he was ready to supply, Cave an. swered his letter, but it does not appear that any agreement was formed at this time. He soon, however, entered into a connection of a more tender kind, which ended in marriage. His wife, who was about twenty years older than bim self, was the widow of Mr. Porter, a mercer of Birmingham, a lady whose character has been variously represented, but seldom to her discredit. She ever, the object of his first passion, and although they did not pass the whole time of their union in uninterrupted harmony, he lamented her death with unfeigned sorFOW, and retained an enthusiastic veneration for her memory.
She had a fortune of eight hundred pounds, and with part of this he hired a large house at Edial near Litchfield, which he fitted up as an academy, where young gentlemen were to be boarded and taught the Latin and Greek languages., Gil. bert Walmsley, a man of learning and worth, whom he has celebrated by a character drawn with unparalleled elegance, endeavoured to promote this plan, but it proved abortive. Three pupils only appeared, one of whom was David Garrick : with these he made a shift to keep the school open for about a year and a half, and was then obliged to discontinue it, perhaps not much against his inclination. No man knew better than Johnson what ought to be taught, but the business of edu. cation was confessedly repugnant to his habits and his temper.
Doring this short residence at Edial, he wrote a considerable part of his Irene, which Mr. Walmsley advised him to prepare for the stage, and it was probably by this gentleman's advice that he determined to try his fortune in London. His pupil Garrick had formed the same resolution, and in March 1737, they arrived in London together. Garrick, after some farther preparatory education, was dosigned for the study of the law, but in three or four years went on the stage, ob tained the highest honours that dramatic fame could confer, with a fortune splendid