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1738]

REPORTS OF THE DEBATES

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It appears that he was now enlisted by Mr. Cave as a regular coadjutor in his magazine, by which he probably obtained a tolerable livelihood. At what time, or by what means, he had acquired a competent knowledge both of French and Italian, I do not know; but he was so well skilled in them, as to be sufficiently qualified for a translator. That part of his labour which consisted in emendation and improvement of the productions of other contributors, like that employed in levelling ground, can be perceived only by those who had an opportunity of comparing the original with the altered copy. What we certainly know to have been done by him in this way, was the Debates in both houses of Parliament, under the name of 'The Senate of Lilliput,' sometimes with feigned denominations of the several speakers, sometimes with denominations formed of the letters of their real names, in the manner of what is called anagram, so that they might easily be decyphered. Parliament then kept the press in a kind of mysterious awe, which made it necessary to have recourse to such devices. In our time it has acquired an unrestrained freedom, so that the people in all parts of the kingdom have a fair, open, and exact report of the actual proceedings of their representatives and legislators, which in our constitution is highly to be valued ; though, unquestionably, there has of late been too much reason to complain of the petulance with which obscure scribblers have presumed to treat men of the most respectable character and situation.

This important article of the Gentleman's Magazine was, for several years, executed by Mr. William Guthrie, a man who deserves to be respectably recorded in the literary

'No page more grateful to th' harmonious nine
Than that wherein thy labours we survey;
Where solemn themes in fuller splendour shine,
(Delightful mixture,) blended with the gay,
Where in improving, various joys we find,
A welcome respite to the wearied mind.

'Thus when the nymphs in some fair verdant mead,
Of various flow'rs a beauteous wreath compose,
The lovely violet's azure-painted head

Adds lustre to the crimson-blushing rose.

Thus splendid Iris, with her varied dye,

Shines in the æther, and adorns the sky. BRITON.'

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WILLIAM GUTHRIE

[1738 annals of this country. He was descended of an ancient family in Scotland; but having a small patrimony, and being an adherent of the unfortunate house of Stuart, he could not accept of any office in the state; he therefore came to London, and employed his talents and learning as an Authour by profession.' His writings in history, criticism, and politicks, had considerable merit1. He was the first English historian who had recourse to that authentick source of information, the Parliamentary Journals; and such was the power of his political pen, that, at an early period, Government thought it worth their while to keep it quiet by a pension, which he enjoyed till his death. Johnson esteemed him enough to wish that his life should be written. The debates in Parliament, which were brought home and digested by Guthrie, whose memory, though surpassed by others who have since followed him in the same department, was yet very quick and tenacious, were sent by Cave to Johnson for his revision; and, after some time, when Guthrie had attained to greater variety of employment, and the speeches were more and more enriched by the accession of Johnson's genius, it was resolved that he should do the whole himself, from the scanty notes furnished by persons employed to attend in both houses of Parliament. Sometimes, however, as he himself told me, he had nothing more communicated to him than the names of the several speakers, and the part which they had taken in the debate.

Thus was Johnson employed during some of the best years of his life, as a mere literary labourer for gain, not glory,' solely to obtain an honest support. He however indulged himself in occasional little sallies, which the French so happily express by the term jeux d'esprit, and which will be noticed in their order, in the progress of this work.

But what first displayed his transcendent powers, and 'gave the world assurance of the MAN,' was his London, a Poem, in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal: which came out in May this year, and burst forth with a splendour, the rays of which will for ever encircle his name.

Boileau

that

1 How much poetry he wrote, I know not: but he informed me, he was the authour of the beautiful little piece, The Eagle and Robin Redbreast, in the collection of poems entitled The Union, though it is there said to be written by Archibald Scott, before the year 1600.

1738] OLDHAM AND JOHNSON COMPARED

81

had imitated the same satire with great success, applying it to Paris; but an attentive comparison will satisfy every reader, that he is much excelled by the English Juvenal. Oldham had also imitated it, and applied it to London; all which performances concur to prove, that great cities, in every age, and in every country, will furnish similar topicks of satire. Whether Johnson had previously read Oldham's imitation, I do not know; but it is not a little remarkable, that there is scarcely any coincidence found between the two performances, though upon the very same subject. The only instances are, in describing London as the sink of foreign worthlessness:

the common shore,

Where France does all her filth and ordure pour.' OLDHAM. 'The common shore of Paris and of Rome.'

and,

'No calling or profession comes amiss,

JOHNSON.

A needy monsieur can be what he please.' OLDHAM. 'All sciences a fasting monsieur knows.' JOHNSON.

The particulars which Oldham has collected, both as exhibiting the horrours of London, and of the times, contrasted with better days, are different from those of Johnson, and in general well chosen, and well exprest1.

There are, in Oldham's imitation, many prosaick verses and bad rhymes, and his poem sets out with a strange inadvertent blunder:

'Tho' much concern'd to leave my dear old friend,

I must, however, his design commend

Of fixing in the country

It is plain he was not going to leave his friend; his friend was going to leave him. A young lady at once corrected this with good critical sagacity, to

'Tho' much concern'd to lose my dear old friend.'

I own it pleased me to find amongst them one trait of the manners of the age in London, in the last century, to shield from the sneer of English ridicule, which was some time ago too common a practice in my native city of Edinburgh :

'If what I've said can't from the town affright,
Consider other dangers of the night;

When brickbats are from upper stories thrown,
And emptied chamberpots come pouring down
From garret windows.'

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THE PUBLICATION OF LONDON

[1738

There is one passage in the original, better transfused by Oldham than by Johnson :

'Nil habet infelix paupertas durius in se,

Quàm quod ridiculos homines facit;'

which is an exquisite remark on the galling meanness and contempt annexed to poverty: JOHNSON's imitation is: 'Of all the griefs that harass the distrest, Sure the most bitter is a scornful jest.'

OLDHAM's, though less elegant, is more just: 'Nothing in poverty so ill is borne,

As its exposing men to grinning scorn.'

Where, or in what manner this poem was composed, I am sorry that I neglected to ascertain with precision, from Johnson's own authority. He has marked upon his corrected copy of the first edition of it, 'Written in 1738;' and, as it was published in the month of May in that year, it is evident that much time was not employed in preparing it for the press. The history of its publication I am enabled to give in a very satisfactory manner; and judging from myself, and many of my friends, I trust that it will not be uninteresting to my readers.

We may be certain, though it is not expressly named in the following letters to Mr. Cave, in 1738, that they all relate to it:

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'To MR. CAVE.

Castle-street, Wednesday Morning. 'SIR, [No date. 1738.] 'When I took the liberty of writing to you a few days ago, I did not expect a repetition of the same pleasure so soon; for a pleasure I shall always think it, to converse in any manner with an ingenious and candid man; but having the inclosed poem in my hands to dispose of for the benefit of the authour, (of whose abilities I shall say nothing, since I send you his performance,) I believed I could not procure more advantageous terms from any person than from you, who have so much distinguished yourself by your generous encouragement of poetry; and whose judgment of that art nothing but your commendation of my trifle1 can give me any occasion to call in question. I do not His Ode Ad Urbanum probably. NICHOLS.

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1738]

JOHNSON'S LETTERS TO CAVE

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doubt but you will look over this poem with another eye, and reward it in a different manner, from a mercenary bookseller, who counts the lines he is to purchase, and considers nothing but the bulk. I cannot help taking notice, that, besides what the authour may hope for on account of his abilities, he has likewise another claim to your regard, as he lies at present under very disadvantageous circumstances of fortune. I beg, therefore, that you will favour me with a letter to-morrow, that I may know what you can afford to allow him, that he may either part with it to you, or find out, (which I do not expect,) some other way more to his satisfaction.

"I have only to add, that as I am sensible I have transcribed it very coarsely, which, after having altered it, I was obliged to do, I will, if you please to transmit the sheets from the press, correct it for you; and take the trouble of altering any stroke of satire which you may dislike.

By exerting on this occasion your usual generosity, you will not only encourage learning, and relieve distress, but (though it be in comparison of the other motives of very small account) oblige in a very sensible manner, Sir, your very humble servant,

'SIR,

'To MR. CAVE.

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'SAM. JOHNSON."

Monday, No. 6, Castle-street. 'I am to return you thanks for the present you were so kind as to send by me, and to intreat that you will be pleased to inform me by the penny-post, whether you resolve to print the poem. If you please to send it me by the post, with a note to Dodsley, I will go and read the lines to him, that we may have his consent to put his name in the titlepage. As to the printing, if it can be set immediately about, I will be so much the authour's friend, as not to content myself with mere solicitations in his favour. I propose, if my calculation be near the truth, to engage for the reimbursement of all that you shall lose by an impression of 500; provided, as you very generously propose, that the profit, if any, be set aside for the authour's use, excepting the present you made, which, if he be a gainer, it is fit he should repay. I beg that you will let one of your servants write an exact

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