« السابقةمتابعة »
To Dr. Birch.
** I Have sent some parts of my Dictionary, such as were at hand, for your inspection. The favour which I beg is, that if you do not like them, you will say nothing. 1 am, Sir,
"Your most affectionate humble servant,
"Sam. Johnson." "To Mr. Samuel Johnson. "Sir, Norfolk-street, April 22, 1755.
"The part of your Dictionary which you have favoured me with the sight of, has given me such un idea of the whole, that I most sincerely congratulate the public upon the acqnisition of a work long wanted, and now executed with an industry, accuracy, and jndgment, equal to the importance of the subject. You might, perhaps, have chosen one in which your genins would have appeared to more advantage, but you could not have fixed upon any other in which your labours would have done such substantial service to the present age and to posterity. I am glad that your health has supported the application necessary to the performance of so vast a task; and can undertake to promise you as one (though perhaps the only) reward of it, the approbation and thanks of. every well-wisher to the honour of the English lauguage. I am, with the greatest regard, Sir, "Your most faithful and
"Most affectionate humble servant, "Tho. Birch." Mr. Charles Burney, who has since distingnished himself so much in the science of Music, and obtained a Doctor's degree from the University of Oxford, had been driven from the capital by bad health, and was now residing at Lynne Regis in Norfolk. He had been so much delighted with Johnson's Rambler, and the plan of his Dictionary, that when the great work was announced in the news-papers as nearly finished, he wrote to Dr. Johnson, begging to be informed when and in what manner his Dictionary would be published; entreating, if it should be by subscription, or be should have any books at his own disposal, to be favoured with six copies for himself and friends.
In answer to this application, Dr. Johnson wrote the following letter, of which (to use Dr. Burney's own words) " if it be remembered that it was written to an obscure young man, who at this time had not much distingnished himself even in his own profession, but whose name could never have reached the author of The Rambler, the politeness and urbanity may be opposed to some of the stories which have been lately circulated of Dr. Johnson's natural rndeness and ferocity."
"To Mr. Burney, In Lynne Regis, Norfolk "Sir,
"If you imagine that by delaying my answer I intended to shew
any neglect of the notice with which you have favoured me, you will
neither think justly of yourself nor of me. Your civilities were offered
with too much elegance not to engage attention ; and 1 have too much
No. 8. S pleasure in pleasing men like you, not to feel very sensibly the distinction which you have bestowed upon me.
"Few consequences of my endeavours to please or to benefit mankind have delighted me more thuu your friendship thus voluntarily offered, which now 1 have it I hope to keep, because I hope to continue to deserve it.
"I have no Dictionaries to dispose of for myself, but shall be glad to have you direct your friends to Mr. Dodsley, because it was by his recommendation that I was employed in the work.
"When you have leisure to think again upon me, let me be favoured with another letter; and another yet, when you have looked into my Dictionary. If you find faults, I shall endeavour to mend them ; if you find none, I shall think you blinded by kind partiality : but to have made you partial in his favour, will very much gratify the ambition of, Sir,
"Your most obliged "Gough-square, Fleet-street, "And most humble servant,
"April 8, 1755." "sam. Johnson."
Mr. Andrew Millar, bookseller in the Strand, took the principal charge of conducting the publication of Johnson's Dictionary; and as the patience of the proprietors was repeatedly tried, aud almost exhausted, by their expecting that the work would be compleated within the time which Johnson had sauguinely supposed, the learned author was often goaded to dispatch, more especially as he had received all the copy-money, by different drafts, a considerable time before he had finished his task. When the messenger who carried the last sheet to Millar returned, Johnson asked him, " Well, what did he say ?"—"Sir, (answered the messenger) he said, thank God I have done with him." "I am glad (replied Johnson, with a smile,) that he thanks God for any thing."^ It is remarkable, that those with whom Johnson chiefly contracted for his literary labours were Scotchmen, Mr. Millar and Mr. Strahan. Millar, though himself no great judge of literature, had good sense enough to have for his friends verv able men to give him their opinion and advice in the purchase of copy-right; the consequence of which was his acquiring a. very large fortune, with great liberality. Johnson said of him, " I respect Millar, Sir; he has raised the price of literature." The same praise may be justly given to Panckoucke, the eminent bookseller of Paris. Mr. Strahan's liberality, judgment, and success, are well known.
"To Bennet Langton, Esq. At Lancton, Near Spilsuy, LinColnshire. "sir,
"It has been long observed, that men do not suspect faults which they do not commit; your own elegance of manners, and punctuality of
X Sir John Hawkins, p. 341, inserts two notes as having passed formerly between Andrew Millar and Johnson, to the above effect. I am assured this was not the case. In the way of incidental remark it was a pleasant play of raillery. To have deliberately written notes in such terms would have been morose.
complaisance, did not suffer you to impute to me that negligence of which 1 was guilty, and which I huve not since atoned. I received both vour letters, and received them with pleasure proportionate to the esteem which so short an acquaintance strongly impressed, and which 1 hope to confirm by nearer knowledge, though I am afraid that gratification will be for a time withheld.
I have, indeed, published my Book, of which I beg to know your father's judgment, and yours; and I have now staid long enough to watch its progress in the world. It has, you see, no patrons, and, I think, has yet had no opponents, except the critics of the coffee-house, whose outcries are soon dispersed into the air, and are thought on no more: from this, therefore, I am at liberty, and think of taking the opportunity of this interval to make an excursion, and why not then into Lincolnshire? or, to mention a stronger attraction, why not to dear Mr. Laugton? I will give the true reason, which I know you will approve:—1 have a mother more than eighty years old, who has counted the days to the publication of my book, in hopes of seeing me; and to her, if I can disengage myself here, I resolve to go.
"As I know, dear Sir, that to delay my visit for a reason like this, will not deprive me of your esteem, I beg it may not lessen your kindnets. 1 have very seldom received an offer of friendship which I so earnestly desire to cultivate and mature. I shall rejoice to hear from yon, till I can see you, and will tee you as soon as 1 can; for, when the duty that culls me to Lichfield is discharged, my inclination will carry me to Langton. I shall delight to hear the ocean roar, or see the stars twinkle, in the company of men to whom Nature does not spread her volume-, or utter her voice in vain.
"Do not, dear Sir, make the slowness of this letter a precedent for delay, or imagine that I approved the incivility that 1 huve committed; for 1 have known you enough to love you, and sincerely to wish a further knowledge; and I assure you, once more, that to live in a house that contains such a father and such a son, will be accounted a very uncommon degree of pleasure, by, dear Sir, your most obliged, and
"Most humble servant, «May 0', 1755. "Sam. Johnson."
"To The Reveuend Mr, Thomas Vvarton. "Dbar, Sir,
"I Am grieved that you should think me capable of neglecting your letters; and beg you will never admit any such suspicion again. I purpose to come down next week, if you shall be there; or any other week, that shall be more agreeable to you. Therefore let me know. 1 can stay this visit but a week, but inteitd to make preparations, for a longer stay next time; being resolved not to lose sight of the University. How goes Apollonius? Don't let him be forgotten—. Some tiiing of this kind must be done, to keep us up. Pay my compliments to Mr. Wise, aud all my other friends. 1 think to come to Kettel-llall. I am, Sir,
"Your most affectionate, &c. "[London,] May 13, 1755. "Sam. Johnson." To thE SAME.
"Dear Sir, "it-is strange how many things will happen to intercept every pleasure, though it [be] only that of two friends meeting together. I have promised myself every day to inform you when you might expect me at Oxford, and have not been able to fix a time. The time, however, is, I think, at last come; and I promise myself to repose in KettelHall, one of the first nights of the next week. I am afraid my stay with you cannot be long; but what is the inference? We must endeavour to make it chearful. 1 wish your brother could meet us, that we might go and drink tea with Mr. Wise in a body. I hope he will be at Oxford, or at his nest of British and Saxon antiquities. I shall expect to see Spenser finished, and many other things begun. Dodsley is gone to visit the Dutch. The Dictionary sells well. The rest of the world goes on as it did. "Dear Sir,
"Your most affectionate, &c. ■' [London,] June 10, 1755. "Sam. Johnson."
To THE SAME.
"To talk of coming to you, and not yet to come, has an air of trifling which I would not willingly have among you ; and which, I believe, you will not willingly impute to me, when I have told you, that since my promise, two of our partners are dead, and that I was solicited to suspend my excursion till we could recover from our confusion.
"I have not laid aside my purpose; for every day makes me more impatient of staying from you. But death, you know, hears not supplications, nor pays any regard to the convenience of mortals. I hope now to see you next week ; but next week is but another name for to-morrow, which has been noted for promising and deceiving.
"1 am, &c. '• [London,] June 24, 1755. "Sam. Johnson.''
To thE SAME.
"Dear Sir, "I Toi.d you, that among the manuscripts are some things of Sir Thomas More. I beg you to pass an hour in looking on them, and procure a transcript of the ten or twenty first lines of each, to be compared with what I have; that I may know whether they are yet published. The manuscripts are these:
« Catalogue of Bodl. MS. pag. 122. F. 3. Sir Thomas More.
1. Fall of angels. 2. Creation and fall of mankind. 3. Determination of the Trinity for the rescue of mankind. 4. Five lectures of our Saviour's passion. 5. Of the institution of the sacrament, three lectures. 6. How to receive the blessed body of our Lord sacramentally. 7* Neonienia, the new mem. 8. De Iristitia, terdio, pavore, et oratione Christi ante eaptionem ejus.
"Catalogue, pag. 154. Life of Sir Thomas More. Qu. Whether Roper's? Page 363. De resignalione Magni Sigilli in manus Regis per D. Thomam Morum. Pag. 364. Mori Defensio Moria.
"If yon procure the young gentleman in the library to write out what you think fit to be written, I will send to Mr. Prince the bookseller to pay him what you shall think proper.
"Be pleased to make my compliments to Mr. Wise, and all my friends.
"I am, Sir,
"Your affectionate &c. "[London,] Aug. 7, 1755. "Sam. Johnson."
The Dictionary, with a Grammar and History of the English Language, being now at length published, in two volumes folio, the world contemplated with wonder so stupendous a work achieved by one man, while other countries had thought such undertakings fit only for whole academies. Vast as his powers were, I cannot but think that his imagination deceived him, when he supposed that by constant application he might have performed the task in three years. Let the Preface be attentively perused, in which is given, in a clear, strong, and glowing style, a ccfmprehensive yet particular view of what he had done; and it will be evident, that the time he employed upon it was comparatively short. I am unwilling to swell my book with long qnotations from what is in every body's hands, and I believe there are few prose compositions in the English language that are read with more delight, or are more impressed upon the memory, than that preliminary discourse. One of its excellencies has always struck me with peculiar admiration; I mean the perspicnity with which he has expressed abstract scientific notions. As an instance of this, 1 shall qnote the following sentence : "When the radical idea branches out into parallel ramifications, how can a consecutive series be formed of senses in their own nature collateral?" We have here an example of what has been often said, and I believe with justice, that there is for every thought a certain nice adaptation of words which none other could equal, and which, when a mau has been so fortunate as to hit, he has attained, in that particular case, the perfection of language.
The extensive reading which was absolutely necessary forthe accumulation of authorities, and which alone may account for Johnson's retentive mind being enriched with a very large and various store of knowledge and imagery, must have occupied several years. The Preface furnishes an eminent instance of a double talent, of which Johnson was fully conscious. Sir Joshua Reynolds heard him say, "There are two things which I am Confident I can do very well ; one is an introduction to any literary work, stating what it is to contain, and how it should be executed in the most perfect manner; the other is a conclusion, shewing from various causes why the execution has not been equal to what the aulhour promised to himself and to the publick."
How should puny scribblers be abashed and disappointed, when they find him displaying a perfect theory of lexicographical excellence, yet at the same time candidly and modestly allowing that he " had not satisfied his own expectations." Here was a fair occasion for the exercise of Johnson's modesty, when he was called upon to compare his own ardnous