Page images

some inferior employment from the booksellers, and produced some of the most valuable of his original works.

In 1749, he published his second imitation of Juvenal, under the title of the Vanity of Human Wishes, for which, with all the fame he had now acquired, he received only 6fteen guineas. In his London, we have the manners of common life; in the Vanity of Human Wishes, he has given us more of his own mind, more of that train of sentiment, excited sometimes by poverty, and sometimes by disappointment, which always iuclined him to view the gloomy side of human affairs,

In the same year, Garrick offered to produce his Irene on the Drury-lane theatre, but presumed at the same time to suggest such alterations as his superior knowledge of stage-effect might be supposed to justify. Johnson did not much like that his la. bours should be revised and amended at the pleasure of an actor, and with soma difficulty was persuaded to yield to Garrick's advice. The play, however, was at length performed, but without much success; although the manager contrived to have it played long enough to entitle the author to the profits of his three nights, and Dodsley bought the copy right for one hundred pounds. It is now added to his poetical works, as it has ever been admired in the closet, for the propriety of its sentiments and the elegance of its language.

In 1750, he commenced a work which raised his fame yet higher than it had ever yet reached, and will probably convey his name to the latest posterity. He appears to have entered on the Rambler without any communication with his friends, or desire of assistance. Whether he proposed the scheme himself, is uncertain, but he was fortunate enough in forming a connexion with Mr. John Payne, a bookseller in Paternoster Row, and afterwards chief accountant in the Bank of England, a man with whom he lived many years in habits of friendship, and who on the present occasion treated him with great liberality. He engaged to pay him two guineas for each paper, or four guineas per week, which at that time must have been to Johnson a very considerable sum; and he admitted him to a share of the future profits of the work, when it should be collected into volumes: this share Johnson afterwards sold. As I have given a foll history of this paper in another work, it may suffice to add that it began Tuesday, March 20, 1749-50, and closed on Saturday, March 14, 1752. So cunscious was Johnson that his fame would in a great measure rest on this production, that he corrected the first two editions with the most scrupulous care, of which specimens are given in the volume referred to in the note.

In 1751, he was carrying on his Dictionary and the Rambler, and besides some occasional contributions to the Magazine, assisted in the detection of Lauder, who had imposed on him and on the world by advancing forged evidence, that Milton was a gross plagiary. Dr. Douglas, the late bishop of Salisbury, was the first who rcfuted this un principled impostor; and Johnson, whom Lauder's ingenuity had in. duced to write a preface and postscript to his work, now dictated a letter addressed to Dr. Douglas, acknowledging his fraud in terms of contrition, which Lauder subscribed. The candour of Johnson on this occasion was as readily ac.

- British Essayists, vol. xix. Preface to the Rambler. C.

knowledged at that time, as it has since been disrepresented by the bigotted adherents to Milton's politics. Lauder, however, returned to his , 66 dirty work," and published in 1754, a pamphlet entitled The Grand Impostor detected, or Milton convicted of Forgery against Charles I, which was reviewed with censure, in the Gentleman's Magazine of that year, and probably by Johnson.

The Rambler was concluded on March 14, 1752, and three days after, the author's wife died, a loss which he long deplored, and never at the latest period of life recollected without emotion. Many instances of his affection for her occur in the collection of Prayers and Meditations published after his death, which, however they may expose him to ridicule, combine to prove that his attachment to her was uniformly sincere. She was buried at Bromley, and Johnson placed a Latin inscription on her tomb. She left a daughter by her former husband, and by her means our author became acquainted with Mrs. Anne Williams, the daughter of Zachary Williams, a physician who died about this time. Mrs. Williams was a woman of considerable talents, and her conversation was interesting. She was left in poverty by her father, and had the additional affliction of being totally blind. To relieve his melancholy reflections, Johnson took her home to his house in Gough-Square, procured her a benefit play from Garrick, and assisted her in publishing a volume of poems, by both of which schemes she raised about three hundred pounds. With this fund, she became an inmate in Johnson's house, where she passed the remainder of her days, protected and cheered by every act of kindness and tenderness which he could have showed to the nearest relation.

When he had in some measure recovered from the shock of Mrs. Johnson's death, he contributed several papers to the Adventurer, which was carried on by Dr. Hawkesworth and Dr. Warton. The profit of these papers he is said to have' given to Dr. Bathurst, a physician of little practice, but a very amiable man, whom he highly respected. Mr. Boswell thinks he endeavoured to make them pass for Bathurst's, which is highly improbable. In 1754, we find him approaching to the completion of his Dictionary. Lord Chesterfield, to whom he once looked up as to a liberal patron, had treated him with neglect, of which, after Johnson declined to pay court to such a man, he became sensible, and, as an effort at reconciliation, wrote two papers in the World, recommending the Dictionary, and soothing the author by some ingenious compliments. Had there been no previous offence, it is probable this end would have been answered, and Johnson would have dedicated the work to him. He loved praise, and from lord Chesterfield, the Mæcenas of the age, and the most elegant of noble writers, praise was at this time valuable. But Johnson never departed from exacting the just respect due to a man of letters, and was not to be appeased by the artifice of these protracted compliments. He could not even brook that bis lordship should for a moment suppose him reconciled by his fattery, but immediately wrote that celebrated letter which has been so much admired as a model of dignified contempt. The allusion to the loss of his wife and to his present situation, is exquisitely beautiful : 6. The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind : but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it:

3 Sec this matter explained in the Preface to the Adventurer, British Essayists, vol. xxiii. c.

« PreviousContinue »