« ElőzőTovább »
regularly about the month of July, or three weeks after the beginning of the rainy season in Æthiopia. The different degrees of this flood are such certain indications of the fruitfulness or sterility of the ensuing year, that it is publickly proclaimed at Cairo how much the water hath gained during the night.”
Such is the account of the Nile and its inundations, which, it is hoped, will not be deemed an improper or tedious digression, especially as the whole is an extract from Johnson's translation. He is, all the time, the actor in the scene, and, in his own words, relates the story. Having finished this work, he returned in February, 1734, to his native city; and, in the month of August following, published proposals for printing, by subscription, the Latin poems of Politian, with the history of Latin poetry, from the æra of Petrarch to the time of Politian ; and also the life of Politian, to be added by the editor, Samuel Johnson. The book to be printed in thirty octavo sheets, price five shillings. It is to be regretted that this project failed for want of encouragement. Johnson, it seems, differed from Boileau, Voltaire, and D'Alembert, who had taken upon them to proscribe all modern efforts to write with elegance in a dead language. For a decision pronounced in so high a tone, no good reason can be assigned. The interests of learning require, that the diction of Greece and Rome should be cultivated with care; and he who can write a language with correctness, will be most likely to understand its idiom, its grammar, and its peculiar graces of style. What man of taste would willingly forego the pleasure of reading Vida, Fracastorius, Sannazaro, Strada, and others, down to the late elegant productions of bishop Lowth? The history which Johnson proposed to himself would, beyond all question, have been a valuable addition to the history of letters; but his project failed. His next expedient was to offer his assistance to Cave, the original projector of the Gentleman's Magazine. For this purpose he sent his proposals in a letter, offering, on reasonable terms, occasionally to fill some pages with poems and inscriptions, never printed before; with fugitive pieces that deserved to be revived, and critical remarks on authors, ancient and modern. Cave agreed to retain him as a correspondent and contributor to the magazine. What the conditions were cannot now be known; but, certainly, they were not sufficient to hinder Johnson from casting his eyes about him in quest of other employment. Accordingly, in 1735, he made overtures to the reverend Mr. Budworth, master of a gram
mar school at Brerewood, in Staffordshire, to become his assistant. This proposition did not succeed. Mr. Budworth apprehended, that the involuntary motions, to which Johnson's nerves were subject, might make him an object of ridicule with his scholars, and, by consequence, lessen their respect for their master. Another mode of advancing himself presented itself about this time. Mrs. Porter, the widow of a mercer in Birmingham, admired his talents. It is said, that she had about eight hundred pounds; and that sum, to a person in Johnson's circumstances, was an affluent fortune. A marriage took place; and, to turn his wife's money to the best advantage, he projected the scheme of an academy for education. Gilbert Walmsley, at that time, registrar of the ecclesiastical court of the bishop of Lichfield, was distinguished by his erudition, and the politeness of his manners. He was the friend of Johnson, and, by his weight and influence, endeavoured to promote his interest. The celebrated Garrick, whose father, captain Garrick, lived at Lichfield, was placed in the new seminary of education by that gentleman's advice.-Garrick was then about eighteen years old. An accession of seven or eight pupils was the most that could be obtained, though notice was given by a public advertisement 5, that at Edial, near Lichfield, in Staffordshire, young gentlemen are boarded and taught the Latin and Greek languages, by Samuel Johnson.
The undertaking proved abortive. Johnson, having now abandoned all hopes of promoting his fortune in the country, determined to become an adventurer in the world at large. His young pupil, Garrick, had formed the same resolution; and, accordingly, in March, 1737, they arrived in London together. Two such candidates for fame, perhaps never, before that day, entered the metropolis together. Their stock of money was soon exhausted. In his visionary project of an academy, Johnson had probably wasted his wife's substance; and Garrick's father had little more than his half-pay.—The two fellow-travellers had the world before them, and each was to choose his road to fortune and to fame. They brought with them genius, and powers of mind, peculiarly formed by nature for the different vocations to which each of them felt himself inclined. They acted from the impulse of young minds, even then meditating great things, and with courage anticipating success. Their friend, Mr. Walmsley, by a
letter to the reverend Mr. Colson, who, it seems, was a great mathematician, exerted his good offices in their favour. He gave notice of their intended journey: “Davy Garrick,” he said, “will be with you next week; and Johnson, to try his fate with a tragedy, and to get himself employed in some translation, either from the Latin or French. Johnson is a very good scholar and a poet, and, I have great hopes, will turn out a fine tragedy-writer. If it should be in your way, I doubt not but you will be ready to recommend and assist your countrymen.” Of Mr. Walmsley's merit, and the excellence of his character, Johnson has left a beautiful testimonial at the end of the life of Edmund Smith. It is reasonable to conclude, that a mathematician, absorbed in abstract speculations, was not able to find a sphere of action for two men, who were to be the architects of their own fortune. In three or four years afterwards, Garrick came forth with talents that astonished the public. He began his career at Goodman's fields, and there, “monstratus fatis Vespasianus !" he chose a lucrative profession, and, consequently, soon emerged from all his difficulties. · Johnson was left to toil in the humble walks of literature. A tragedy, as appears by Walmsley's letter, was the whole of his stock. This, most probably, was Irene; but, if then finished, it was doomed to wait for a more happy period. It was offered to Fleetwood, and rejected. Johnson looked round him for employment. Having, while he remained in the country, corresponded with Cave, under a feigned name, he now thought it time to make himself known to a man, whom he considered as a patron of literature. Cave had announced, by public advertisement, a prize of fifty pounds for the best poem on life, death, judgment, heaven, and hell; and this circumstance diffused an idea of his liberality. Johnson became connected with him in business, and in a close and intimate acquaintance. Of Cave's character it is unnecessary to say any thing in this place, as Johnson was afterwards the biographer of his first and most useful patron. To be engaged in the translation of some important book was still the object which Johnson had in view. For this purpose, he proposed to give the history of the council of Trent, with copious notes, then lately added to a French edition. Twelve sheets of this work were printed, for which Johnson received forty-nine pounds, as appears by his receipt, in the possession of Mr. Nichols, the compiler of that entertaining and useful work, the Gentleman's Magazine. Johnson's
translation was never completed : a like design was offered to the public, under the patronage of Dr. Zachary Pearce; and, by that contention, both attempts were frustrated. Johnson had been commended by Pope, for the translation of the Messiah into Latin verse; but he knew no approach to so eminent a man. With one, however, who was connected with Pope, he became acquainted at St. John's gate; and that person was no other than the well-known Richard Savage, whose life was afterwards written by Johnson with great elegance, and a depth of moral reflection. Savage was a man of considerable talents. His address, his various accomplishments, and, above all, the peculiarity of his misfortunes, recommended him to Johnson’s notice. They became united in the closest intimacy. Both had great parts, and they were equally under the pressure of want. Sympathy joined them in a league of friendship. Johnson has been often heard to relate, that he and Savage walked round Grosvenor square till four in the morning ; in the course of their conversation reforming the world, dethroning princes, establishing new forms of government, and giving laws to the several states of Europe, till, fatigued at- length with their legislative office, they began to feel the want of refreshment, but could not muster up more than fourpence-halfpenny. Savage, it is true, had many vices; but vice could never strike its roots in a mind like Johnson's, seasoned early with religion, and the principles of moral rectitude. His first prayer was composed in the year 1738. He had not, at that time, renounced the use of wine; and, no doubt, occasionally enjoyed his friend and his bottle. The love of late hours, which followed him through life, was, perhaps, originally contracted in company with Savage. However that may be, their connexion was not of long duration. In the year 1738, Savage was reduced to the last distress. Mr. Pope, in a letter to him, expressed his concern for “the miserable withdrawing of his pension after the death of the queen;" and gave him hopes that, “in a short time, he should find himself supplied with a competence, without any dependance on those little creatures, whom we are pleased to call the great.” The scheme proposed to him was, that he should retire to Swansea in Wales, and receive an allowance of fifty pounds a year, to be raised by subscription : Pope was to pay twenty pounds. This plan, though finally established, took more than a year before it was carried into execution. In the mean time, the intended retreat of Savage called to Johnson's mind the third satire of Juvenal, in which that poet takes leave of a friend, who was withdrawing himself from all the vices of Rome. Struck with this idea, he wrote that well-known poem, called London. The first lines manifestly point to Savage.
“ Though grief and fondness in my breast rebel,
Johnson, at that time, lodged at Greenwich. He there fixes the scene, and takes leave of his friend; who, he
in his life, parted from him with tears in his eyes. The poem,
when finished, was offered to Cave. It happened, however, that the late Mr. Dodsley was the purchaser, at the price of ten guineas. It was published in 1738; and Pope, we are told, said, “ The author, whoever he is, will not be long concealed;" alluding to the passage in Terence, “ Ubi, ubi est, diu celari non potest.” Notwithstanding that prediction, it does not appear that, besides the copy-money, any advantage accrued to the author of a poem, written with the elegance and energy of Pope. Johnson, in August, 1738, went, with all the fame of his poetry, to offer himself a candidate for the mastership of the school at Appleby, in Leicestershire. The statutes of the place required, that the person chosen should be a master of arts. To remove this objection, the then lord Gower was induced to write to a friend, in order to obtain for Johnson a master's degree in the university of Dublin, by the recommendation of Dr. Swift. The letter was printed in one of the magazines, and was as follows:
SIR,—Mr. Samuel Johnson, author of London, a satire, and some other poetical pieces, is a native of this county, and much respected by some worthy gentlemen in the neighbourhood, who are trustees of a charity-school, now vacant; the certain salary of which is sixty pounds per year, of which they are desirous to make him master; but, unfortunately, he is not capable of receiving their bounty, which would make him happy for life, by not being a master of arts, which, by the statutes of the school, the master of it must be.
Now these gentlemen do me the honour to think, that I have