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IO The Life of Dr. Johnson
read as enquirers after natural or moral knowledge, whether we intend to inlarge our science or increase our virtue, are more important than publick occurrences. Thus Sallust, the great master of nature, has not forgot in his account of Catiline to remark, that his walk was now quick, and again slow, as an indication of a mind revolving with violent commotion. Thus the story of Melancthon affords a striking lecture on the value of time, by informing us, that when he had made an appoint ment, he expected not only the hour, but the minute to be fixed, that the day might not run out in the idleness of suspense; and all the plans and enterprises of De Witt are now of less importance to the world than that part of his personal character, which represents him as careful of his health, and negligent of his life. “But biography has often been allotted to writers, who s very little acquainted with the nature of their task, or negligent about the performance. They rarely afford other account than might be collected from publick p but imagine themselves writing a life, when they exhib chronological series of actions or preferments; and have little regard to the manners or behaviour of their heroe more knowledge may be gained of a man's real character, to short conversation with one of his servants, than from a for and studied narrative, begun with his pedigree, and ended W. his funeral. - “There are indeed, some natural reasons why these narrat are often written by such as were not likely to give instruction or delight, and why most accounts of par persons are barren and useless. If a life be delayed tâû terest and envy are at an end, we may hope for impartia but must expect little intelligence; for the incidents which excellence to biography are of a volatile and evanescent ki such as soon escape the memory, and are rarely transmit by tradition. We know how few can pourtray a liv acquaintance, except by his most prominent and observi particularities, and the grosser features of his mind; an may be easily imagined how much of this little knowle may be lost in imparting it, and how soon a successio copies will lose all resemblance of the original.” I am fully aware of the objections which may be mad the minuteness on some occasions of my detail of John conversation, and how happily it is adapted for the 1 Rambler, No. 6o.
exercise of ridicule, by men of superficial understanding, and ludicrous fancy; but I remain firm and confident in my opinion, that minute particulars are frequently characteristick, and always amusing, when they relate to a distinguished man. I am therefore exceedingly unwilling that any thing, however slight, which my illustrious friend thought it worth his while to express, with any degree of point, should perish. For this almost superstitious reverence, I have found very old and venerable authority, quoted by our great modern prelate, t Secker, in whose tenth sermon there is the following passage: M “Rabbi David Kimchi, a noted Jewish Commentator, who to lived about five hundred years ago, explains that passage in to the first Psalm, His leaf also shall not wither, from Rabbins et older than himself, thus: That even the idle talk, so he exse” io it, of a good man ought to be regarded; the most super- no us things he saith are always of some value. And other C imont authours have the same phrase, nearly in the same sense.” *of one thing I am certain, that considering how highly the I'll portion which we have of the table talk and other Fogdotes of oto - rated writers is valued, and how earnestso o§ is reso. o not more, I am justified in
Poling to some, and perhaps to the Collector or Yoost agreeable to hany; and the greater number th: hall our can please if any degree, the more pleasure does there go to a benevolen mind. o To those who are weak enough to think this a degrading shok, and the time and labour which have been devoted to it. §employed, I shall content myself with opposing the hority of the greatest man of any age, JULIUS CAESAR, of om Bacon observes, that “in his book of Apothegms which £ollected, we see that he esteemed it more honour to make *self but a pair of tables, to take the wise and pithy words others, than to have every word of his own to be made an yāthegm or an oracle.” I osłaving said thus much by way of introduction, I commit * following pages to the candour of the Publick.
AMUEL JoHNSON was born at Lichfield, in Staffordshire, the 18th of September, N.S. 1709; and his initiation into o - * Bacon's Advancement of Learning, Book I.
the Christian church was not delayed; for his baptism is
neighbourhood,” some of which were at a considerable os
1 [Nathanael was born in 1712, and died in 1737. Their father, Michael Johnson, to: at Cubley in Derbyshire, in 1656, and § at Lichfield in 1731, at the o: seventy-six. Sarah Ford, his wife, , was born at King's Norton, in the county, Worcester, in 1669, and died at Lichfield, in January 1759, in her nieśtieth §: Norton Dr. Johnson supposed to be in Warwickshire, (see his inscription for his m tomb) but it is in Worcestershire, probably on the confines of the county of W —M. 2 him. of a Tour to the Hebrides, third edition, p. 213 (Sept. #6]. s £xtract of a letter, dated “Trentham, St. Peter's day, 1716," written by the George Plaxton, Chaplain at that time to Lord Gower, which may servo, to show high estimation in which the Father of our great Moralist was held -"Johnson, the Lithfield Librarian, is now here; he propagates learning all. Qver this diocese, eth knowledge to its just height; all the Clergy here are his pupils, and suck all
advanc - * -- *----. From him; Allen cannot make a warrant without his precident, nor o: Evans draw a recognizance sine directione Michaelis."—Gentlero"
ober, 1791. o
distance from Lichfield. At that time booksellers' shops in the provincial towns of England were very rare, so that there was not one even in Birmingham, in which town old Mr. Johnson used to open a shop every market-day. He was a pretty good Latin scholar, and a citizen so creditable as to be made one of the magistrates of Lichfield; and, being a man of good sense, and skill in his trade, he acquired a reasonable share of wealth, of which however he afterwards lost the greatest part, by engaging unsuccessfully in a manufacture of parchment. He was a zealous high-church man and royalist, and retained his attachment to the unfortunate house of Stuart, though he reconciled himself, by casuistical arguments of expediency and necessity, to take the oaths imposed by the prevailing power. - --There is a circumstance in his life somewhat romantick, but so well authenticated, that I shall not omit it. A young woman of Leek, in Staffordshire, while he served his appren:
i liceship there, conceived a violento passion for him; and
hough it met with no favourable rero followed him os|lochfield, where she took lodgings opposite to the house in which he lived, and indulged her hopeless flame. When he was informed that it so preyed upon her mind that her life was in danger, he with a generous humanity went to her and offered to marry her, but it was then too late: Her vital power was exhausted; and she actually exhibited one of the ery rare instances of dying for love. She was buried in the fathedral of Lichfield; and he, with a tender regard, placed a o over her grave with this inscription: Here lies the body of - Mrs ELIZABETH BLANEY, a stranger: t She departed this life i 20 of September, 1694. Johnson's mother was a woman of distinguished understanding. I asked his old school-fellow, Mr. Hector, o
*1 It was not, however, much cultivated, as we may collect from Dr. Johnson's own – lo of his early years, published by R. Phillips, Evo 1835, a work undoubtedly authentick, and which, though short, is curious, and well worthy of perusal. My father and mother (says Johnson) had not much happiness from each other. They seldom oversed; for my father could not bear, to talk of his affairs; and my mother, being sacruainted with books, cared not to talk of anything else. Had my mother been more iterate, they had been better companions. She, might have sometimes introduced her welcome topick with more success, if she could have diversified her conversation. Of iness she had no distinct conception; and therefore her discourse was composed only of complaint, fear, and suspicion. Neither of them,ever, tried to calculate the profits of e, or the expences of living, My mother concluded that we wers poor, because we o by some of our trades; but the truth was, that my father, having in the early part of
surgeon, of Birmingham, if she was not vain of her son. He said, “she had too much good sense to be vain, but she knew her son's value.” Her piety was not inferiour to her understanding; and to her must be ascribed those early impressions of religion upon the mind of her son, from which the world afterwards derived so much benefit. He told me, that he remembered distinctly having had the first notice of Heaven, “a place to which good people went,” and hell, “a place to which bad people went,” communicated to him by her, when a little child in bed with her; and that it might be the better fixed in his memory, she sent him to repeatsit to Thomas Jackson, their man-servant; he not being in the way, this was not done; but there was no occasion for any artificial aid for its preservation. In following so very eminent a man from his cradle to his grave, every minute particular, which can throw light on the progress of his mind, is interesting. That he was remarkable, even in his earliest years, may easily be supposed; for to use —o-own words in his fife of Sydenham, “That the strength of his understanding, the ocuracy of his discernment, and the ardour of his curiosity, might have been remarked from-fitsinfancy, by a diligent observer, there is no reason to doubt, For, there is no instance of any man, whose history has been minutely related, that did not in every part of life discover the same proportion of intellectual vigour.” * In all such investigations it is certainly unwise to pay too much attention to incidents which the credulous relate with eager satisfaction, and the more scrupulous or witty enquirer considers only as topicks of ridicule: Yet there is a traditional story of the infant Hercules of toryism, so curiously character. istick, that I shall not withhold it. It was communicated to me in a letter from Miss Mary Adye, of Lichfield. “When Dr. Sacheverel was at Lichfield, Johnson was not quite three years old. My grandfather Hammond observed him at the cathedral perched upon his father's shoulders, listening and gaping at the much celebrated preacher. Mr. Hammond asked Mr. Johnson how he could possibly think of bringing such an infant to church, and in the midst of so great a crowd. He answered, because it was impossible to keep him at home; for, young as he was, he believed he ba”
his life contracted debts, never had trade sufficient to enable him to pay them, and maintain his family: he got something, but not enough. It was not tils about 1768, t • calculate the returns of my father's trade, and by that estimate his p-co , I believe, my parents never did."—M.] I &