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L I F E
SAMUEL JOHNSON, LL.D.
The “ Lives of the Poets” completed. Observations upon, and various Readings in the Life of Cowley. - Waller. - Milton. Dryden. — Pope. — Broome. Addison. - Parnell. — Blackmore. Philips. Congreve.—Tickell. Akenside.- Lord Lyttleton. Young. — Swift.
IN 1781, Johnson at last completed his “ Lives of the Poets,” of which he gives this account : “ Some time in March I finished the “Lives of the Poets,' which I wrote in my usual way, dilatorily and hastily, unwilling to work, and working with vigour and haste.” (1) In a memorandum previous to this,
(1) This facility of writing, and this dilatoriness ever to writé, Dr. Johnson always retained, from the days that he lay a-bed and dictated his first publication to Mr. Hector, to the moment he made me copy out those variations in Pope's
he says of them : “Written, I hope, in such a manner as may tend to the promotion of piety.” — (Pr. and Med. pp. 174. 190.)
This is the work which, of all Dr. Johnson's writings, will perhaps be read most generally, and with most pleasure. Philology and biography were his favourite pursuits, and those who lived most in intimacy with him, heard him upon all occasions, when there was a proper opportunity, take delight in expatiating upon the various merits of the English poets: upon the niceties of their characters, and the events of their progress through the world which they contributed to illuminate. His mind was so full of that kind of information, and it was so well arranged in his memory, that in performing what he had undertaken in this way, he had little more to do than to put his thoughts upon paper ; exhibiting first each poet's life, and then subjoining a critical examination of his genius and works. But when he began to write, the subject swelled in such a manner, that instead of prefaces to each poet, of no more than a few pages, as he had originally intended (1), he produced an ample, rich, and most
Homer which are printed in the Lives of the Poets. • And now,' said he, when I had finished it for him, I fear not Mr. Nichols (the printer] of a pin.' – Piozzi. The first livraison was published in 1779. This edition of the Poets was in sixty volumes, small octavo. — C.
(1) His design is thus announced in his advertisement: “ The booksellers having determined to publish a body of English poetry, I was persuaded to promise them a preface to the works of each author; an undertaking, as it was then presented to my mind, not very tedious or difficult. My purpose was only to