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THE history of Johnson's dealings with Shakespeare extends over the greater part of his working life. An edition of Shakespeare was the earliest of his larger literary schemes. In 1745, when he was earning a scanty living by work for the booksellers, he published a pamphlet entitled Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, with remarks on Sir T. H.'s (Sir Thomas Hanmer's) Edition of Shakespeare. To this pamphlet, says Boswell, he affixed proposals for a new edition by himself. He had certainly announced these proposals in the advertisements, but no copy of the pamphlet can be found which contains them. It seems likely that after he had advertised his intention, he was discouraged, and changed his mind. When he first thought of editing Shakespeare, he believed that he had only Rowe and Pope and Theobald to contend with and to supersede. Then, while his notes on Macbeth were in the press, Hanmer's edition appeared, and it became known to him that the great Warburton was engaged on the same task. Johnson allowed the specimen of his projected edition to go forward, but probably did not print any formal proposals. If any were printed, they are lost. The proposals of 1756 cannot have been written at this earlier date, for in them Johnson speaks, with a certain pride, of his labours on the Dictionary. With regard,' he says,
'to obsolete or peculiar diction, the editor may perhaps claim some degree of confidence, having had more motives to consider the whole extent of our language than any other man from its first formation.' But the Dictionary was not planned until the scheme for an edition of Shakespeare had broken down. It was necessary for Johnson, if he was to raise himself above the crowd of venal writers, to inscribe his name on some large monument of scholarship. Shakespeare was his first choice; when, perhaps through the timidity of the booksellers, that failed him, he turned his attention to Shakespeare's language, and in 1747 issued the Plan for a Dictionary, which he addressed to the Earl of Chesterfield.
The Dictionary was finished in 1755, and Johnson, compelled to find some new means of livelihood, returned to Shakespeare. Warburton's edition had in the meantime been added to the list of his rivals, but his own confidence had increased and his fame was established. The Proposals for Printing the Dramatick Works of William Shakespeare, which he issued in 1756, are magnificent in their range and discernment. The whole duty of a Shakespearian commentator and critic is here, for the first time, expounded. The complete collation of the early editions; the tracing of Shakespeare's knowledge to its sources; the elucidation of obscurities by a careful study of the language and customs of Shakespeare's time; the comparison of Shakespeare's work with that of other great poets, ancient and modern-all this and more is promised
in the Proposals. He seems to have hoped that his edition would be final, and in order to give it that character he promised to reprint all that seemed valuable in the notes of earlier commentators. The whole project breathes that warm air of imagination in which authors design extensive and laborious works. It is possible, but not likely, that he set to work at once on the edition. He originally promised that it should be published in December, 1757. When December came, he mentioned March, 1758, as the date of publication. In March he said that he should publish before summer. On June 27 of the same year Dr. Grainger wrote to Dr. Percy, I have several times called on Johnson to pay him part of your subscription. I say, part, because he never thinks of working if he has a couple of guineas in his pocket; but if you notwithstanding order me, the whole shall be given him at once.' Perhaps it was after one of these calls that Johnson, stimulated to unusual effort, wrote to Thomas Warton, on June 1, 1758, 'Have you any more notes on Shakespeare ? I shall be glad of them.' Five years later a young bookseller waited on him with a subscription, and modestly asked that the subscriber's name should be inserted in the printed list. 'I shall print no list of subscribers;' said Johnson, with great abruptness : then, more complacently, ' Sir, I have two very cogent reasons for not printing any list of subscribers;—one, that I have lost all the names,-the other, that I have spent all the money.' This magnanimous confession
almost bears out the charge brought against him by Churchill in his satire, The Ghost, published in the spring of 1762 :—
He for subscribers baits his hook,
And takes their cash; but where's the book?
But what, to serve our private ends,
There is no evidence that Johnson was in any way perturbed by Churchill's attack, yet it was the means of hastening the long-deferred edition. His friends,' says Hawkins, more concerned for his reputation than himself seemed to be, contrived to entangle him by a wager, or some other pecuniary engagement, to perform his task within a certain time.' In 1764 and 1765, according to Boswell's account, he was so busily engaged with the edition as to have little leisure for any other literary exertion. That is to say, he worked at it intermittently, and satisfied his conscience, after the manner of authors, by working at nothing else. In October, 1765, at last appeared The Plays of William Shakespeare, in Eight Volumes, with the Corrections and Illustrations of Various Commentators; To which are added Notes by Sam. Johnson. He had spent nine years on the work, but a longer delay would have been amply justified by the Preface alone, which Adam Smith styled 'the most manly piece of criticism that was ever published in any country'.
There is nothing singular or strange in this chapter
of literary history. The promises of authors are like the vows of lovers; made in moments of careless rapture, and subject, during the long process of fulfilment, to all kinds of unforeseen dangers and difficulties. Of these difficulties Johnson has left his own account in the Life of Pope. Indolence, interruption, business, and pleasure,' he says, ' all take their turns of retardation; and every long work is lengthened by a thousand causes that can, and ten thousand that cannot be recounted. Perhaps no extensive and multifarious performance was ever effected within the term originally fixed in the undertaker's mind. He that runs against time has an antagonist not subject to casualties.' Something steadier and more habitual than the fervour of the projecting imagination is required to carry through a long piece of editorial work. This more constant motive was supplied to Johnson by necessity. He did not pretend to write for pleasure. In a letter to his friend Hector, announcing the new edition of Shakespeare, he says: The proposals and receipts may be had from my mother, to whom I beg you to send for as many as you can dispose of, and to remit to her the money which you or your acquaintances shall collect.' In January, 1759, his mother died, and he wrote Rasselas in the evenings of one week, to defray the expenses of her funeral, and to pay some little debts which she had left. The famous saying, 'No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,' may thus be regarded as the voice of his