« ZurückWeiter »
many gilded vessels of the most gallant trim have suffered shipwreck,
Youth on the prow and Pleasure at the helm,"
how inestimable such a Mentor !
Alas! how justly may the inexperienced mariner, in too numerous instances, complainingly ask, with the son of Alcmena,
DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.*
SAMUEL, the son of Michael Johnson, à bookseller by trade, and in principle a high-churchman and a Jacobite, was born at Lichfield, September 18, 1709. His mother, Sarah, was aunt to the Rev. Cornelius Ford, whom Hogarth has satirised as a clergyman of dissolute character in his · Modern Midnight Conversation. She was a woman of good natural understanding, unimproved by education; and instilled into the mind of her son, as he often acknowledged with gratitude, sentiments of piety in his earliest years. To her death, which took place in 1759, he tenderly alludes in his Idler, No. 41, and (as appears from several of his letters) ever loved her with the most anxious affection; having always, often indeed when he knew not where to recruit his own finances, contributed liberally to her support.
From his father he inherited, with an athletic body and an active mind, a scrophulous taint which
* AUTHORITIES. Boswell's Life of Johnson, and Journal a Tour to the Hebrides ; Piozzi's Anecdotes ; Towers' Essay on his Life, Character, and Writings; and Chalmers' British Essayists, xix.
impaired his sight and his hearing, and a disposition to morbid melancholy which, with all his intellectual vigour, he was not always able to shake off. For his bodily ailment he was (by the advice of Sir John Floyer, a physician of Lichfield) carried to London, when two years old, to receive the healing touch from the hand of Queen Anne, the last of our sovereigns who encouraged that popular superstition. The mental infirmity even royal empirics have never affected to
He was initiated in the rudiments of learning in his native city. From his second Latin master, Mr, Hunter, a man of severe discipline but an attentive teacher, as he has himself informed us, he frequently received well-deserved and salutary correction; and, throughout life, he persisted in pleading for a liberal use of the rod. The powers of his memory* enabling him to gain more than others in a given time, he acquired a habit of aversion from stated tasks; but, conscious in after-life how much depends on regularity of study, he frequently prescribed to himself certain portions of reading, and recommended the same practice to others. After paying a long visit at the age of fifteen to his uncle Dr. Ford, his master refused (for reasons now unknown) to receive him again on the foundation of Lichfield school. He was, therefore, removed to Stour
* Upon these he prided himself to his last hour, and considered their failure as the prelude of total decay. Even an occasional lapse of recollection he, perhaps too rigorously, regarded as indicating something radically wrong: but great authorities agree with him in pronouncing the memory a tolerably accurate standard of mental strength.
bridge, in Worcestershire; continued subsequently two years at home with his father, and only at nineteen became a commoner of Pembroke College, Oxford.*
His going to college was effected by the suggestion of a Mr. Corbet of Shropshire, the father of one of his schoolfellows, from whom however he never received any assistance. But his literary charácter must not be considered as having been formed at Oxford. He read there indeed, “ solidly,” Homer and Euripides, and now and then a little epigram; but even his favourite study of metaphysics received from him only a desultory attention. His first tutor, Mr. Jorden, was a man, whose abilities could command from Johnson little respect. Already furnished with a large store of information, he seems to have been careless of his character with re
* A short time before his death he sent to this College a present of all his works, to be deposited in their library, and he had thoughts of leaving to it his house at Lichfield: but his friends, who were about him, very properly dissuading him from it, he bequeathed it to some poor relations. He took a pleasure in boasting of the many eminent men, who had been educated at Pembroke. In this list are found the names of Hawkins the Poetry Professor, Shenstone, Sir William Blackstone, and others: not forgetting the celebrated popular preacher, George Whitefield; of whom, though Johnson did not think very highly, it must be acknowledged that his eloquence was powerful, his views pious and charitable, and his assiduity almost incredible; and that, since his death, the integrity of his character has been fülly vindicated. Being himself a poet, he was peculiarly happy in mentioning, how many of the sons of Pembroke were poets;' adding, with a smile of sportive, triumph, “Sir, we are a nest of singing birds." (Boswell's Life of Johnson.')
His regard for this society he retained to the last. His apartment was that
the second floor over the gateway.
spect both to the discipline, and also to the studies, of the place : and his indigence generated a kind of despair, which he attempted to hide by affected turbulence and frolic. Yet, even so circumstanced, he distinguished himself by his poetical talents. Among other specimens, he translated Pope's Messiah into Latin verse, as a Christmas exercise, with uncommon rapidity and in a masterly manner. The English author himself was greatly delighted with his new dress. With Jorden's successor, Dr. Adams (afterward the head of Pembroke College) Johnson maintained a strict intimacy to the end of his life.
In 1731, he was compelled, through increasing distress of circumstances, which must forcibly have reminded him of his own Juvenal's
Haud facilè emergunt, quorum virtutibus obstat
Res angusta domi, to leave college after a residence of three years without a degree, and accept the ushership of a school at Market Bosworth, Leicestershire, whither he went on foot in July, 1732. About this period of his life, he was first led to think in earnest of religion by the perusal of Law's · Serious Call to the Unconverted;' and it cannot be doubted, that his feelings on this most important of topics received a considerable impression from the principles inculcated in that powerfully written book.
His new employment from the haughty treatment of the patron * proving extremely irksome to him, he soon quitted it, and was invited by Mr. Hector, who had been his schoolfellow, to pass some time at Birmingham. Mr. Warren, the first established
* Sir Wolstan Dixie, Bart.