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consequence, if the person whose life Johnson wrote, was her son; or shall we not rather believe that the person who then assumed the name of Richard Savage was an impostor, being in reality the son of the shoemaker, under whose wife's care Lady Macclesfield's child was placed; that after the death of the real Richard Savage, he attempted to personate him; and that the fraud being known to Lady Macclesfield, he was therefore repulsed by her with just resentment.
There is a strong circumstance in support of the last supposition, though it has been mentioned as an aggravation of Lady Macclesfield's unnatural conduct, and that is, her having prevented him from obtaining the benefit of a legacy left to him by Mrs. Lloyd, his god-mother. For if there was such a legacy left, his not being able to obtain payment of it, must be imputed to his consciousness that he was not the real person. The just inference should be, that by the death of Lady Macclesfield's child before its god-mother, the legacy became lapsed, and therefore that Johnson's Richard" Savage was an impostor.
If he had a title to the legacy, he could not have found any difficulty in recovering it: for had the executors resisted his claim, the whole costs, as well as the legacy, must have been paid by them, if he had been the thild to whom it was given.
The talents of Savage, and the mingled fire, rudeness, pride, meanness, and ferocity of bis character, concur in making it credible that he was fit to plan and carry on an ambitious and daring scheme of imposture, similar instances of which have not been wanting in higher spheres, in the history of different countries, and have had a considerable degree of success.
Yet, on the other hand, to the companion of Johnson, (who, through whatever medinm he was conveyed into this world,—be it ever so doubt- . ful " To whom related, or by whom begot," was, unquestionably, a man of no common endowments,) we must allow the weight of general repute as to his Status or parentage, though illicit; and supposing him to be an impostor, it seems strange that Lord Tyrcoonel, the nephew of Lady Macclesfield, should patronise him, and even admit him as a guest in his family. Lastly, it must ever appear very suspicious, that three different accounts of the Life of Richard Savage, one published in "The Plain Dealer," in 1724, another in 1727, and another by the powerful pen of Johnson, in 1744, and all of them while Lady Macclesfield was alive, should, nothithstanding the severe attacks upon her, have been suffered to pass without any public and effectual contradiction. 1 have thus endeavoured to sum up the evidence upon the case, as fairly as 1 can ; and the result seems to be, that the world must vibrate in a state of uncertainty as to what was the truth.
This digression, 1 trust, will not be censured, as it relates to a matter exceedingly curious, and very intimately connected with Johnsou, both as a man and an author.
He this year wrote the " Preface to the Harleian Miscellany."* The selection of the pamphlets of which it was composed was made by Mr. Oidys, a man of eager curiosity, and indefatigable diligence, who first exerted that spirit of inqniry into the literature of the old English writers, by which the works of our great dramatic poet have of late been so signally illustrated.
Iu 1745 he published a pamphlet entitled, " Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, with Remarks 0n Sir T. H.'s (Sir Thomas Hanmer's) Edition of Shakspeare."* To which he affixed, proposals for a new edition of that poet.
As we do not trace any thing else published by him during the course of this year, we may conjecture that he was occupied entirely with that work. But the little encouragement which was given by the public to his anonymous proposals for the execution of a task which Warburton was known to have undertaken, probably damped his ardour. His pamphlet, however, was highly esteemed, and was fortunate enough to obtain the approbation even of the supercilious Warburton himself, who, in the Preface published to his Shakspeare, two years afterwards, thus mentioned it: "As to all those things which have been published under the titles of Essays, Remarks, Observations, &c. on Shakspeare, if you except some Critical Notes on Macbeth, given as a specimen of a projected edition, and written, as appears, by a man of parts and genins, the rest are absolutely below a serious notice."
Of this flattering distinction shewn to him by Warburton, a very grateful remembrance was ever entertained by Johnson, who said, " He praised me at a time when praise was of valne to me."
In 174G it is probable that he was still employed upon his Shakspeare, which perhaps he laid aside for a time, upon account of the high expectations which were formed of Wurburton's edition of that great poet. It is somewhat curious, that his literary career appears to have been almost totally suspended in the years 1745 and 1746, those which were marked by a civil war in Great-Britain, when a rash attempt was made to restore the House of Stuart to the throne. That he had a tenderness for that unfortunate House, is well known; and some may fancifully imagine, that a sympathetic anxiety impeded the exertion of his intellectual powers: but I am inclined to think, that he was, during this time, sketching the outlines of his great philological work.
None of his letters during those years are extant, so far as I can discover. This is much to be regretted. It might afford some entertainment to see how he then expressed himself to his private friends concerning State affairs. Dr. Adams informs me, that " at this time a favourite object which he had in contemplation was * The' Life of Alfred;' in which, from the warmth with which he spoke about it, he would, I believe, had he been master of his own will, have engaged himself, rather than on any other subject."
In 1747 it is supposed that the Gentleman's Magazine for May was enriched by him with five short poetical pieces, distingnished by three asterisks. The first is a translation, or rather a paraphrase, of a Latin Epitaph on Sir Thomas Hanmer, Whether the Latin was his, or not, I have never heard, though I should think it probably was, if it be certain that he wrote the English; as to which my only cause of doubt is, that his slighting character of Hammer as an editor, in his " Observations on Macbeth," is very different from that in the Epitaph. It may be said, that there is the same contrariety between the charucter in the Observations, and that in his own Preface to Shukspeare; but a considerable time elapsed between the one publication and the other, whereas the Observations and the Epitaph came close together. The others are " To
Miss , on her giving the Author a gold and silk net-work Purse of
her own weaving;" "Stella in Mourning;" " The Winter's Walk;" "An Ode;" and, " To Lyce, an elderly Lady." I am not positive that all these were his productions; butas "The Winter's Walk," has never been controverted to be his, and all of them have the same mark, it is reasonable to conclude that they are all written by the same hand. Yet to the Ode, in which we find a passage very characteristic of him, being a learned description of the gout,
"Unhappy, whom to beds of pain
there is the following note, "The authour being ill of the gout:" but Johnson was not attacked with that distemper till a very late period of his life. May not this, however, be a poetical fiction? Why may not a poet suppose himself to have the gout, as well as suppose himself to be in love, of which we have innumerable instances, and which has been admirably ridiculed by Johnson in his "Life of Cowley?" I have also some difficulty to believe that he could produce such a group of conceits as appears in the verses to Lyce, in which he claims for this ancient personage as good a right to be assimilated to heaven, as nymphs whom other poets have flattered; he therefore ironically ascribes to her the attributes of the sky, in such stanzas as this:
"Her teeth the night with darkness dies,
"She's starr'd with pimples o'er;
"And can with thunder roar."
But as at a very advanced age he could condescend to trifle in nambypamby rhymes, to please Mrs. Thrale and her daughter, he may have, in his earlier years, composed such a piece as this.
It is remarkable, that in this first edition of " The Winter's Walk," the concluding line is much more Johnsonian than it was afterwards printed; for in subsequent editions, after praying Stella to "snatch him to her arms," he says,
"And fluid me from the Hit of life." Whereas in the first edition it is
"And hide me from the tight of life."
A horror at life in general is more consonant with Johnson's habitual gloomy cost of thought.
I have heard him repeat with great energy the following verses, which appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine for April this year; but I have no authority to say they were his own. Indeed one of the best criticks of our age suggests to me, that "the word indifferently , being used in the sense of without cencern, and being also very unpoetical, renders it improbable that they should have been his composition."
"On Lord Lovat's Execution.
This year his old pupil and friend, David Garrick, having become joint patentee and manager of Drury-lane theatre, Johnson honoured his opening of it with a Prologne,* which for just and manly dramatic criticism on the whole range of the English stage, as well as for poetical excellence, || is unrivalled. Like the celebrated Epilogne to the "Distressed Mother," it was, during the season, often called for by the andience. The most striking and brilliant passages of it have been so often
J These verses are somewhat too severe on the extraordinary person who is the chief figure in them; for he was undoubtedly brave. His pleasantry during his solemn trial (in which, by the way, I hare heard Mr. David Hume observe, that we have one of the very few speeches of Mr. Murray, now Earl of Mansfield, authentically given) was very remarkable. When asked if he had any qnestions to put to Sir Everard Fawkener, who was one of the strongest witnesses against him, he answered "I only wish him joy of his young wife." And after sentence of death, in the horrible terms in such cases of treason, was pronounced upon him, and he was retiring from the bar, he saidi "Fare you well, my Lords, we shall not all meet again in one place." He behaved with perfect composure at his execution, and called out "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."
|| My friend Mr. Courtenay, whose enlogy on Johnson's Latin Poetry has been inserted in this Work, is no less happy in praising his English Poetry: But hark, he sings! the strain even Pope admires; Indignant virtne her own bard inspires. Sublime as Juvenal he pours his lays. And with the Roman shares congenial praise;— In glowing numbers now be fires the age, And Shakspeare's sun relumes the clouded stage.
repeated, and are so well recollected by all the lovers of the drama, and of poetry, that it would be superfluous to point them out.—In the Gentleman's Magazine for December this year, he inserted an " Ode on Winter," which is, I think, an admirable specimen of his genins for lyric poetry.
But the year 1747 is distinguished as the epoch, when Johnson's arduous and important work, his Dictionary Of The English LanGuage, was announced to the world, by the publication of its Plan or Prospectus.
How long this immense undertaking had been the object of his contemplation, I do not know. I once asked him by what means he had attained to that astonishing knowledge of our language, by which he was enabled to realize a design of such extent and accumulated difficulty. He told me, that " it was not the effect of particular study; but that it had grown up in his mind insensibly." 1 have been informed by Mr. James Dodsley, that several years before this period, when Johnson was one day sitting in his brother Robert's shop, he heard his brother suggest to him, that a Dictionary of the English Language would be a work that would be well received by the public; that Johnson seemed at first to catch at the proposition, but, after a pause, said, in his abrupt decisive manner, " I believe I shall not undertake it." That he, however, had bestowed much thought upon the subject, before he published his *' Plan," is evident from the enlarged, clear, and accurate views which it exhibits; and we find him mentioning in that tract, that many of the writers whose testimonies were to be produced as authorities, were selected by Pope; which proves that he had been furnished, probably by Mr. Robert Dodsley, with whatever hints that eminent poet had contributed towards a great literary project, that' had been the subject of important consideration in a former reign.
The booksellers who contracted with Johnson, single and unaided, for the execution of a work, which in other countries has uot been effected but by the co-operating exertions of many, were Mr. Robert Dodsley, Mr. Charles Hitch, Mr. Andrew Millar, the two Messieurs Longman, and the two Messienrs Knapton. The price. stipulated was fifteen hundred and seventy-five pounds.
The" Plan" was addressed to Philip Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield, then one of his Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State: a nobleman who was very ambitious of literary distinction, nnd who, upon being informed of the design, had expressed himself in terms very favourable to its success. There is, perhaps in every thing of any consequence, a secret history which it would be amusing to know, we have it authentically communicated. Johnson told me, " Sir, the way in which the plan of my Dictionary canIe to be inscribed to Lord Chesterfield, was this: I had neglected to write it by the time appointed. Dodsely suggested a desire to have it addressed to Lord Chesterfield. I laid hold of this as a pretext for delay, that it might be better done, and let Dodsley have his desire. I said to my friend, Dr. J3athurtt, ' Now if any good come■