صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

y

[ocr errors]

Rought the publick spirit and zeal for Sacheverel, and would have staid for ever in the church, satisfied with beholding him.” Nor can I omit a little instance of that jealous independence of spirit, and impetuosity of temper, which never forsook him. The fact was acknowledged to me by himself, upon the authority of his mother. One day, when the servant who used to be sent to school to conduct him home, had not come in time, he set out by himself, though he was then so near-sighted, that he was obliged to stoop down on his hands and knees to take a view of the kennel before he ventured to step over it. His school-mistress, afraid that he might miss his way, or fall into the kennel, or be run over by a cart, followed him at some distance. He happened to turn about and perceive her. Feeling her careful attention as an insult to his manliness, he ran back to her in a rage, and beat her, as well as his strength would permit. Of the power of his memory, for which he was all his life eminent to a degree almost incredible, the following early instance was told me in his presence at Lichfield, in 1776, by his step-daughter, Mrs. Lucy Porter, as related to her by his mother. When he was a child in petticoats, and had learnt to read, Mrs. Johnson one morning put the common prayer-book into his hands, pointed to the collect for the day, and said, “Sam, you must get this by heart.” She went up stairs, leaving him to study it: but by the time she had reached the second floor, she heard him following her. “What's the matter P” said she. “I can say it,” he replied; and repeated it distinctly, though he could not have read it more than tWice. But there has been another story of his infant precocity generally circulated, and generally believed, the truth of which I am to refute upon his own authority. It is told,” that, when a child of three years old, he chanced to tread upon a duckling, the eleventh of a brood, and killed it; upon which, it is said, he dictated to his mother the following epitaph: “Here lies good master duck, Whom Samuel Johnson trod on ; If it had liv'd, it had been good luck, For then we’d had an odd one.” There is surely internal evidence that this little composition combines in it, what no child of three years old could produce, . A who, said he, “published a spelling-book, and dediated it to the UNIVERSE ; but, I fear, no copy of it can now behad.” to He began to learn Latin with Mr. Hawkins, usher, olunder-is: master of Lichfield school, “a man (said he) very skilfulin histo little way.” With him he continued two years, and then roseon to be under the care of Mr. Hunter, the headmaster, who according to his account, “was very severe, and wrong-headedlyū severe. He used (said he) to beat us unmercifully; and how did not distinguish between ignorance and negligence; foto." would beat a boy, equally for not knowing a thing, ou ow neglecting to know it. He would ask a boy a question, ju he did not answer it, he would beat him, without consi Lo whether he had an opportunity of knowing how to ans M For instance, he would call up a boy and ask him Latinth candlestick, which the boy could not expect to be in Now, Sir, if a boy could answer every question, there w Mr no need of a master to teach him.” It is, however, but justice to the memory of Mr. Hu mention, that though he might err in being too seve: school of Lichfield was very respectable in his time. Tho Dr. Taylor, Prebendary of Westminster, who was educat

1 Anecdotes of Dr. Johnson, by Hester Lynch Piozzi, p. 11. Life of Dr. Johnson, by

o Sir John Hawkins, p. 6.

under him, told me, that “he was an excellent master, and to not his ushers “were most of them men of eminence; o #wh Holbrook, one of the most ingenious men, best scholars of ima best preachers of his age, was usher during the greatest - o the time th9tsinson wars o' ool. Then came Hawtoo whom as much might be sarò, with the addition that he was an his

elegant poet. Hague was succeeded by Green, afterwards led Bishop of Lincoln, whose character in the learned world is well | Ine known. In the same form with Johnson was Congreve, who me afterwards became chaplain to Archbishop Boulter, and by tha that connection obtained good preferment in Ireland. Heo and was a younger son of the ancient family of Congreve, in olear Staffordshire, of which the poet was a branch. His brothero wer sold the estate. There was also Lowe, afterwards Canon of exel Windsor.” iller

Indeed Johnson was very sensible how much he owed toolboy Mr. Hunter. Mr. Langton one day asked him how he had cha. acquired so accurate a knowledge of Latin, in which, I believe, owho he was exceeded by no man of his time; he said, “My master oibe whipt me very well. Without that, Sir, I should have done def nothing.” He told Mr. Langton, that while Hunter was . .

flogging his boys unmercifully, he used to say, “And this I do ;

[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]
[graphic]

to save you from the gallows.” Johnson, upon all occasions, expressed his approbation of enforcing instruction by means of the rod.” (“I would rather (said he) have the rod to be the general terrour to all, to make them learn, than tell a child, if you do thus, or thus, you will be more esteemed than your brothers or sisters. The rod produces an effect which terminates in itself. A child is afraid of being whipped, and gets *is task, and there's an end on’t ; whereas, by exciting othulation and comparisons of superiority, you lay the oandation of lasting mischief; you make brothers and sisters hate each other.” When Johnson saw some young ladies in Lincolnshire who ere remarkably well behaved, owing to their mother's strict iscipline and severe correction, he exclaimed, in one of Shakespeare's lines a little varied,” “A’od, I will honour thee for this thy duty.” • * That superiority over his fellows, which he maintained with: 9° much dignity in his march through life, was not assumed fo on vanity and ostentation, but was the natural and constant set of those extraordinary powers of mind, of which he could not but be conscious by comparison; the intellectual difference, which in other cases of comparison of characters, is often a matter of undecided contest, being as clear in his case as the E. of stature in some men above others. Johnson did strut or stand on tip-toe ; he only did not stoop. From his earliest years, his superiority was perceived and acknowledged. He was from the beginning, "Avač avöpów, a king of men. His schoolfellow, Mr. Hector, has obligingly furnished me with many particulars of his boyish days; and assured me that he never knew him corrected at school, but for talking and diverting other boys from their business. He seemed to learn by intuition ; for though indolence and procrastination were inherent in his constitution, whenever he made an exertion he did more than any one else. In-short, he is a memorable instance of what has been often observed, that the boy is the man-in miniature:-and-that the distinguishing characteristicks of each individual are the same, through the whole course of life. His favourites used to receive very liberal assistance from him ; and such was the submission and deference with which he was treated, such the desire to obtain

1 LJohnson's observations to Dr. Rose on this subject, may be found in a subsequent rt of this work. See fast, near the end of the year 1775.-BURNEY.] ń. [More than a little. The line is in KING HENRY VI. Part ii. act iv. sc. last: wood, I will hallow thee for this thy deed.”—M.]

his regard, that three of the boys, of whom Mr. Hector was sometimes one, used to come in the morning as his humble attendants, and carry him to school. One in the middle stooped, while he sat upon his back, and one on each side supported him ; and thus he was borne triumphanto. Such a proof of the early predominance of intellectual vigour is very remarkable, and does honour to human nature.—Talking to me once himself of his being much distinguished at school, he told me, “they never thought to raise me by comparing me to any one; they never said, Johnson is as good a scholar as such a one; but such a one is as good a scholar as Johnson; and this was said but of one, but of Lowe; and I do not think he was as good a scholar.” - He discovered a great ambition to excel, which roused him. to counteract his indolence. He was uncommonly inquisitive; and his memory was so tenacious, that he never forgot anything that he either heard or read. Mr. Hector remembers having recited to him eighteen verses, which, after a little pause, he repeated verbatim, varying only one epithet, by which he improved the line. He never joined with the other boys in their ordinary diversions: his only amusement was in winter, when he took a pleasure in being drawn upon the ice by a boy barefooted, who pulled him along by a garter fixed round him; no very easy operation, as his size was remarkably large. His defective sight, indeed, prevented him from enjoying the common sports; and he once pleasantly remarked to me, “how wonderfully well he had contrived to be idle without them.” Lord Chesterfield, however, has justly observed in one of his letters, when earnestly cautioning a friend against the pernicious effects of idleness, that active sports are not to be reckoned idleness in young people; and that the listless torpor of doing nothing alone deserves that name. Of this dismal inertness of disposition, Johnson had all his life too great a share. Mr. Hector relates, that “he could not oblige him more than by sauntering away the hours of vacation in the fields, during which he was more engaged in talking to himself than to his companion.” Dr. Percy, the Bishop of Dromore, who was long intimately acquainted with him, and has preserved a few anecdotes concerning him, regretting that he was not a more diligent collector, informs me, that “when a boy he was immoderately

.

fond of reading romances of chivalry, and he retained his,'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[merged small][ocr errors]

spending part of a summer at my parsonage-house in the country, he chose for his regular reading the old Spanish romance of FELIXMARTE of HIRCANIA, in folio, which he read quite through. Yet I have heard him attribute to these extravagant fictions that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his ever fixing in any profession.” After having resided for some time at the house of his uncle,” Cornelius Ford, Johnson was, at the age of fifteen, removed to the school of Stourbridge, in Worcestershire, of which Mr. Wentworth was then master. This step was taken by the advice of his cousin, the Rev. Mr. Ford, a man in whom both talents and good dispositions were disgraced by licentiousness,”

but who was a very able judge of what was right. At this

school he did not receive so much benefit as was expected.

it has been said, that he acted in the capacity of an assistant

to Mr. Wentworth, in teaching the younger boys. “Mr. Wentworth (he told me) was a very able man, but an idle man, and to me very severe; but I cannot blame him much. I was then a big boy; he saw I did not reverence him; and that he should get no honour by me. I had brought enough with me, to carry me through ; and all I should get at his school would be ascribed to my own labour, or to my former master. Yet he taught me a great deal.” He thus discriminated, to Dr. Percy, Bishop of Dromore, his progress at his two grammar-schools. “At one, I learned much in the school, but little from the master; in the other, I learnt much from the master, but little in the school.” The Bishop also informs me, that “Dr. Johnson's father, before he was received at Stourbridge, applied to have him admitted as a scholar and assistant to the Rev. Samuel Lea, M.A., head master of Newport school, in Shropshire; (a very diligent good teacher, at that time-in high reputation, under whom Mr. Hollis is said, in the Memoirs of his Life, to have been also educated).” This application to Mr. Lea was not successful; but Johnson had afterwards the gratification to hear that the old gentleman, who lived to a very advanced age, mentioned it as one of the most memorable events of his life, that “he was very near having that great man for his scholar.”

* [Cornelius Ford, according to Sir John Hawkins, was his cousin-german, being the

son of Dr. Joseph § Nathanael] Ford, an eminent Physician, who was brother to

Johnson's mother.-M.] * He is said to be the original of the parson in Hogarth's Modern Midnight Conver.

sation.

1,?,As was likewise the Bishop of Dromore many years afterwards.

« السابقةمتابعة »