Johnson, Samuel (1709-1784) (DNB00)
JOHNSON, SAMUEL (1709–1784), lexicographer, son of Michael Johnson, bookseller at Lichfield, by his wife Sarah (Ford), was born at Lichfield on 18 Sept. (N.S.) 1709, and was baptised 17 Sept. (i.e. 28 Sept. N.S.), according to the parish register (Gent. Mag. October 1829). The father, born in 1656, remembered the publication of ‘Absalom and Achitophel’ in 1681 (Johnson, Life of Dryden). He transmitted to his son a powerful frame and ‘a vile melancholy.’ Besides keeping his shop (now preserved as a public memorial) at Lichfield he sold books occasionally at Birmingham, at Uttoxeter, and at Ashby-de-la-Zouch (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. v. 33). He was churchwarden in 1688, sheriff of Lichfield (then a county) in 1709, junior bailiff in 1718, and senior bailiff in 1725. As became a bookseller in a cathedral town, he was a high churchman, and something of a Jacobite. Unbusinesslike habits or a speculation in the ‘manufacture of parchment’ brought him into difficulties. His wife, born in 1669 at King's Norton, Worcestershire, is described as ‘descendant of an ancient race of yeomanry in Warwickshire.’ They married on 9 June 1706 (ib. ii. 384), and had, besides Samuel, a son Nathanael, born in 1712, who died in 1737.
Strange stories were told of Samuel's precocity. It is said that before he was three years old he insisted upon going to church to hear Sacheverell preach (Boswell, Life, by Hill, i. 39). His father was foolishly proud of him, and passed off an epitaph on ‘Good Master Duck,’ really written by himself, as Samuel's composition at the age of three. The child suffered from scrofula, which disfigured his face and injured or destroyed the sight of one eye. He was ‘touched’ by Queen Anne, and he retained a vague recollection of a ‘lady in diamonds and a long black hood’ (Piozzi, Anecdotes, p. 10). He learnt his letters at a dame-school under one Jane Brown, who published a spelling-book, and ‘dedicated it to the Universe,’ which, however, has preserved no copies. He next learnt Latin in Lichfield school. After two years he was under the head-master, Hunter, who was a brutal but efficient teacher. Johnson afterwards valued the birch as a less demoralising incentive than emulation. His force of mind and character already secured respect, and three of his schoolfellows used regularly to carry him to school. One of them, named Hector, survived to give information to Boswell. He was indolent and unwieldy, unable to join in games, and ‘immoderately fond’ of reading the old romances, a taste which he retained through life. In the autumn of 1725 (Hawkins) he visited an uncle, Cornelius Ford, a clergyman, who wasted considerable ability by convivial habits (Johnson, Life of Fenton). Ford was struck by the lad's talents, and kept him till the next Whitsuntide. He was then excluded from the Lichfield school, and sent, by Ford's advice, to a school at Stourbridge under a Mr. Wentworth, whom he is also said to have assisted in teaching. After a year he returned home, and spent two years in ‘lounging.’ It was at this time probably that he refused, out of pride, to attend his father to Uttoxeter market. On the same day some fifty years later he performed penance for this offence by visiting Uttoxeter market and standing bareheaded for an hour in the rain on the site of his father's bookstall (Boswell, iv. 373; R. Warner, Tour through the Northern Counties; for some slight discrepancies in these statements see Notes and Queries, 6th ser. xi. 1, 91, 193). He read a great deal in a desultory fashion, and said afterwards (Boswell, Letters, p. 34) that he knew as much at eighteen as he did at fifty-two. He had written verses, of which Boswell gives specimens (one of them inserted in the Gent. Mag. for 1743, p. 378), and had no doubt made a reputation among his father's customers at Lichfield. A ‘neighbouring gentleman, Mr. Andrew Corbet,’ according to Hawkins (p. 9), offered to send Johnson to Oxford to read with his son, who had entered Pembroke College in 1727. Johnson was entered as a commoner on 31 Oct. 1728. According to Hawkins a disagreement with Corbet followed, and Johnson's supplies from this source were stopped after a time. The dates, however, are confused. Hawkins and Boswell say that Johnson remained three years at Oxford. The college books show him to have resided continuously till 12 Dec. 1729, after which he only resided for a few brief periods, and his name was removed on 8 Oct. 1731 (see appendix to Hill's Dr. Johnson, his Friends and his Critics). Johnson's tutor was a Mr. Jorden. He despised Jorden's lectures, though he respected the kindliness of the lecturer. Johnson seems to have surprised the college authorities by the extent of his reading, and a Latin translation of Pope's ‘Messiah,’ performed as a Christmas exercise, spread his reputation in the university, and was printed in 1731 in an Oxford ‘Miscellany’ brought out by J. Husbands, a fellow of Pembroke. Pope, to whom it was shown by George, son of Dr. Arbuthnot, is said to have paid it a high compliment (Hawkins, p. 13). Johnson was said by William Adams (1706–1789) [q. v.], who succeeded Jorden as tutor, to have been a ‘gay and frolicsome fellow,’ and generally popular at Oxford. Johnson told Boswell, upon hearing this, that he was only ‘mad and violent.’ He was ‘miserably poor,’ meant to ‘fight his way by his literature and wit, and so disregarded all authority.’ He was occasionally insubordinate (Boswell, i. 59, 271), but amenable to kindness. He suffered from hypochondria, of which (ib. p. 63) he had a violent attack at Lichfield during the vacation of 1729. He frequently, says Boswell, walked from Lichfield to Birmingham and back in order to overcome his melancholy by violent exertion. He wrote an account of his case in Latin, and laid it before his godfather, Dr. Swinfen, who was so much struck by its ability that, to Johnson's lasting offence, he showed it to several friends. While at Oxford he took up the ‘Serious Call’ of William Law [q. v.], by which he was profoundly affected. He had previously fallen into indifference to religious matters, and was even ‘a lax talker against religion.’ From this time his religious sentiments were always strong, though he continued to reproach himself with carelessness in practice. His poverty exposed him to vexations. His schoolfellow, John Taylor, afterwards J. Taylor of Ashbourne, proposed to become his companion at Pembroke, but upon Johnson's advice went to Christ Church to be under a Mr. Bateman, regarded as the best tutor at Oxford. Johnson used to get Bateman's lectures from Taylor, till he observed that the Christ Church men laughed at his worn-out shoes. Some one placed a new pair of shoes at his door, when he ‘threw them away with indignation.’ Johnson read Greek and ‘metaphysics’ at Oxford in his usual desultory fashion, and, in spite of his sufferings, retained a warm regard for his college and the university.
Johnson's poverty no doubt caused his premature departure. He returned at the end of 1729 to Lichfield, where his father died in December 1731. The father was on the verge of bankruptcy, though not actually bankrupt. Johnson in July 1732 received 20l. from the estate, all that he could expect until his mother's death, and had therefore to ‘make his own fortune’ (Diary, quoted by Boswell, i. 80). He had some friends at Lichfield, especially Dr. Swinfen, Garrick's father, and Gilbert Walmsley, whom he describes with warm gratitude in the ‘Life of Edmund Smith.’ He also was on friendly terms with Miss Hill Boothby [q. v.], to whom he wrote affectionate letters in her last illness (first published in Piozzi's Letters), and with Miss ‘Molly Aston,’ the loveliest creature he ever saw (Boswell, i. 83; Piozzi, Anecd. p. 157). He now tried for some scholastic employment, though the dates are rather confused, and was (probably in the first part of 1732) usher at Market Bosworth school. On 30 Oct. 1731 he describes himself as ‘still unemployed,’ having failed in an application for an ushership at his old school at Stourbridge. On 16 July (apparently 1732) he says that he walked to Market Bosworth (Boswell, i. 84–5), and on 27 July he had recently left the house of Sir Wolstan Dixie, the patron of the Bosworth school. He can hardly have been usher, as Hawkins says, under Anthony Blackwall [q. v.], who died 8 April 1730. His life at Bosworth, whatever the date, was miserable. Dixie, to whom he acted as chaplain, treated him harshly, and he always spoke of the monotonous drudgery with ‘the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horror.’ A letter from Addenbrooke, dean of Lichfield, recommending him for a tutorship about this time, is given in ‘Notes and Queries,’ 6th ser. x. 421. He gave up the place after a few months, and went to live with an old schoolfellow, Hector, who was boarding at Birmingham with a Mr. Warren, the chief bookseller of the place and publisher of the ‘Birmingham Journal.’ Johnson is said to have contributed to this paper, besides giving other help to Warren. He translated Lobo's ‘Voyage to Abyssinia,’ for which Warren gave him five guineas. It was published in 1735. About 1734 he returned to Lichfield, and there made proposals for publishing Politian's Latin poems, with notes and a life. He addressed a letter to Edward Cave [q. v.] from Birmingham, dated 25 Nov. 1734, proposing to write a ‘literary article’ for the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’
Johnson had been introduced by Hector to a Henry Porter, a mercer at Birmingham. He was brother-in-law of Johnson's old master, Hunter (Nichols, Lit. Illustr. vii. 363). Porter was buried on 3 Aug. 1734, leaving a widow (born 4 Feb. 1688–9), whose maiden name was Jarvis, with a daughter, Lucy (baptised 8 Nov. 1715), and two sons. Miss Seward told Boswell that Johnson had been in love with the daughter, whom she identified as the object of some verses written by him at Stourbridge. Hector emphatically denied this (see controversy in Gent. Mag. vols. liii. and liv., partly reprinted in Nichols's Lit. Illustr. vii. 321–64). After Porter's death Johnson married Mrs. Porter, 9 July 1735. It was, as he told Beauclerk, ‘a love marriage on both sides,’ and, though outsiders mocked, the strength of Johnson's affection was unsurpassable. Though his face was scarred, his ‘huge structure of bones … hideously striking, his head wigless, ‘his gesticulations grotesque,’ Mrs. Porter at once recognised him as the ‘most sensible man’ she had ever seen. She was twenty years his senior. Her appearance is chiefly known from Garrick's comic descriptions to Boswell and Mrs. Piozzi. She was, he told Boswell, fat, with red painted cheeks, fantastic dress, and affected manners. Mrs. Piozzi, however, to whom he described her as a ‘little painted puppet,’ saw a picture of her at Lichfield, ‘very pretty,’ and, according to her daughter, ‘very like.’ The pair rode from Birmingham to be married at St. Werburgh's Church, Derby, and on the way Johnson showed his bride, by refusing to alter his pace at her bidding, that he would not be treated like a dog, which she had learnt from ‘the old romances’ to be the correct mode of behaving to lovers. The author of ‘Memoirs … of Johnson’ (1785) says that she brought him 700l. or 800l., and Mr. Timmins (‘Dr. Johnson in Birmingham,’ from Transactions of Midland Institute, 1876) shows that she had 100l. in the hands of an attorney. Mrs. Johnson's small fortune probably enabled him to take a house at Edial, near Lichfield, where, as an advertisement announced in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for 1736, ‘young gentlemen are boarded and taught the Greek and Latin languages by Samuel Johnson.’ Johnson's impatience, irregular habits, and uncouth appearance were hardly likely to conciliate either parent or pupils. Objections to these peculiarities prevented him from obtaining the mastership of Solihull school in August 1735, and an ushership at Brewood school in 1736 (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. x. 465; Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iii. 333). According to Boswell his only boys at Edial were ‘David and George Garrick and one other.’ Hawkins says that the number ‘never exceeded eight.’ The school collapsed, and Johnson resolved to try his fortunes in London. He left Lichfield on 3 March 1737, in company with Garrick—Johnson, as he said jokingly, having twopence halfpenny in his pocket, and Garrick three halfpence in his. The pair had also a letter from Walmsley to John Colson [q. v.], then master of a school at Rochester. Walmsley expected that Johnson would turn out ‘a fine tragedy-writer.’ He had written three acts of ‘Irene’ at Edial. Johnson left his wife at Lichfield, lodged at a staymaker's in Exeter Street, Strand, occasionally retiring to Greenwich, and lived with the utmost economy and temperance. A friend told him that he could live for 30l. a year without being contemptible. He found a patron, it seems, in Henry Hervey, third son of the Earl of Bristol, who had been in a regiment quartered at Lichfield. Hervey, as he said to Boswell in his last years, ‘though a vicious man, was very kind to me. If you call a dog Hervey I shall love him.’ Johnson, however, had to gain independence by literary work. The profession of authorship was beginning to be a recognised, though still a very unprofitable, pursuit. Cave's foundation of the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ in 1731 had opened new prospects of employment, and Johnson now applied to Cave (12 July) proposing a new translation of the ‘History of the Council of Trent.’ He returned in the summer to Lichfield, where he finished ‘Irene’ (he afterwards gave the manuscript to Langton, who presented it to the King's Library, now in the British Museum), and, after three months' stay, returned with his wife to London, leaving Lucy Porter at Lichfield, and took lodgings in Woodstock Street, Hanover Square, and afterwards in Castle Street, Cavendish Square. Lucy Porter lodged with Johnson's mother at Lichfield till her fortieth year, when the death of a brother improved her means, and she lived at Lichfield till her death, 13 Jan. 1786. Johnson was always indulgent to her, allowed her to scold him ‘like a schoolboy, and kept up constant communications with her till his death’ (Seward, Letters, i. 116). He offered ‘Irene,’ without success, to Fleetwood, patentee of Drury Lane. In March 1738 a Latin ode by him to ‘Sylvanus Urban’ appeared in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ and he soon became a regular contributor. He beheld St. John's Gate, the printing-office of the magazine, ‘with reverence.’ He still had illusions about authors. Hawkins (p. 49) tells of his introduction by Cave to an ale-house where he could see the great Mr. Browne smoking a pipe. Malone (Browne, i. 63) gives a similar account of his dining behind a screen at Cave's to hear Walter Harte [q. v.]'s conversation without exposing his shabbiness. If Harte, as is said, praised the life of Savage, this was as late as 1744. Johnson's employment upon the parliamentary debates began about 1738, when they were given, with fictitious names, as debates in the ‘Senate of Lilliput.’ They were written by William Guthrie (1708–1770) [q. v.], and only corrected by Johnson at this period (ib. i. 136). He wrote those published in the ‘Magazine’ from July 1741 to March 1744. The debates were often delayed till some time after the session, in order to avoid a breach of privilege, and the last report by Johnson was of a debate on 22 Feb. 1743. Johnson was never in the gallery himself, but had some assistance from persons employed by Cave. Some of the debates, however, were ‘the mere coinage of his own imagination’ (ib. iv. 409). They evidently bear a very faint resemblance to the real debates, as Mr. Birkbeck Hill shows by a comparison with Secker's notes. In fact it is not conceivable that all the speakers confined themselves to sonorous generalities in the true Johnsonian style. At the time, however, they were often regarded as genuine, and Johnson near his death (ib.) expressed some compunction for the deception. Murphy describes a dinner at Foote's when Johnson claimed a speech attributed to Pitt and compared by the elder Francis to Demosthenes. He took care, he added, that the ‘whig dogs should not have the best of it.’ One debate was translated into French, German, and Spanish, as was stated in the ‘Magazine’ for February 1743; and Johnson's immediate cessation is plausibly regarded by Mr. Hill as a confirmation of his statement to Boswell that he stopped reporting because he ‘would not be accessory to the propagation of falsehood’ (ib. i. 152; see a full discussion by Mr. Birkbeck Hill, Boswell, i. App. A.) In May 1738 Johnson published ‘London,’ in imitation of the third satire of ‘Juvenal.’ It was offered to Cave, who seems to have received it favourably, but was finally published by Dodsley, who gave ten guineas for the copyright. Johnson was determined not to take less than had been given to Paul Whitehead, whom he despised. Though Boswell denies it, the ‘Thales’ of the poem may perhaps refer to Savage (see Mr. Hill's note on Boswell, i. 125). It appeared on the same day as Pope's ‘Epilogue,’ originally called ‘1738,’ and reached a second edition in a week. Though without the consummate polish of the ‘Epilogue,’ one of Pope's most finished pieces, it showed a masculine force of thought, which caused the unknown writer to be welcomed as a worthy follower of the chief poet of the day. Many passages expressed the patriotic sentiment which then stimulated the growing opposition to Walpole, both among tories and malcontent whigs. Pope himself inquired the author's name, and hearing his obscurity said, ‘He will soon be déterré.’ Johnson, however, was still poor enough to apply in 1739 for the mastership of a school at Appleby. The salary was 60l. a year, and it was required that masters should have the degree of M.A. Pope, knowing nothing of Johnson, it is said, but his satire, recommended him to Lord Gower, probably as having interest with the trustees; and Gower wrote to a friend of Swift (1 May 1739) in order to obtain a M.A. degree from Dublin. Johnson, as Gower reported, would rather die upon the road to an examination (if required) ‘than be starved to death in translating for booksellers, which has been his only subsistence for some time past.’ The application failed, and the want of a degree was also fatal to an application made by Johnson for leave to practise as an advocate at Doctors' Commons.
Cave meanwhile had accepted his proposed translation of Father Paul's history, and in 1738–9 he received 49l. 7s. on account of work done upon it; but it fell through in consequence of a project for a translation of the same book by another Samuel Johnson. In the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ of 1739 he wrote a ‘Life of Father Paul,’ and continued to contribute various small articles. A squib against Walpole, called ‘Marmor Norfolciense,’ April 1739, was not very lively, and seems to have failed, though Hawkins tells a story (contradicted by Boswell) that warrants were issued against the author. Pope refers to it as ‘very Humerous’ in a note sent to Richardson the painter, with ‘London,’ in which he says that Johnson's convulsive infirmities made him ‘a sad spectacle.’ In 1742 Johnson was employed by Thomas Osborne, a bookseller, to catalogue the library of Edward Harley, second earl of Oxford [q. v.] Osborne, treating Johnson with insolence, was knocked down for his pains. ‘I have beat many a fellow,’ as Johnson told Mrs. Piozzi, ‘but the rest had the wit to hold their tongues’ (Boswell, i. 154; Piozzi, Anecd. p. 233). A folio Septuagint of 1594 was shown at a bookseller's shop in 1812 as the weapon with which the deed was performed (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. viii. 446). Except his contributions to the ‘Magazine,’ and a letter (1 Dec. 1743) in which he takes upon himself a debt owed by his mother, little is preserved about Johnson till in February 1744 his very powerful life of Savage (who died 1 Aug. 1743) was published by one Roberts. The book was written with great rapidity, forty-eight octavo pages at a sitting. It gives a striking account of miseries in which Johnson was himself a sharer. Savage and Johnson had passed nights in roaming the streets without money to pay for a lodging, and on one such occasion passed the time in denouncing Walpole, and resolved to ‘stand by their country.’ It seems possible that for a time Johnson had to part from his wife, who may have found a refuge with friends (Boswell, i. 163; Hawkins, pp. 53 sq.), though Hawkins kindly suggests that Johnson's ‘irregularities’ were the cause of the temporary separation.
A period follows of such obscurity that Croker ventured the absurd hypothesis that Johnson was in some way implicated in the rebellion of 1745. A pamphlet of observations upon ‘Macbeth,’ with remarks upon Hanmer's edition of Shakespeare and proposals for a new edition by himself, was published in 1745. Warburton two years later, in the preface to his own ‘Shakespeare,’ excepted Johnson's remarks from a sweeping condemnation of other critics, as written by a ‘man of parts and genius,’ and Johnson was grateful for praise given ‘when praise was of value.’ Warburton met Johnson once (Boswell, iv. 48), and was so pleased as to ‘pat him.’ He afterwards told Hurd, however, that Johnson's ‘Shakespeare’ showed ‘as much folly as malignity’ (Letters to Hurd, p. 367). Johnson was deterred by Warburton's edition, or diverted by a new undertaking, from attempting ‘Shakespeare’ at present. In 1747 he issued the plan of his dictionary, inscribed to Lord Chesterfield. The inscription, as Johnson said, was the accidental result of his agreeing, at Dodsley's request, to write it in order to have a pretext for delay. The wording implies, however, that some communication had passed between them. The booksellers who undertook the enterprise (including Dodsley, Millar, and the Longmans) agreed to pay 1,575l. for the copyright. The payment included the whole work of preparing for the press; and Johnson lost 20l. on one occasion for a transcription of some leaves which had been written on both sides. He employed six amanuenses, five of whom, as Boswell is glad to record, were Scotsmen. From a letter published by Mr. Hill (Boswell, vi. xxxv) it appears that they received 23s. a week, which he agreed to raise to 2l. 2s., not, it is to be hoped, out of the 1,575l. To all of them he afterwards showed kindness when in distress. He began (Hawkins, p. 175) by having an interleaved copy of the dictionary of Nathan Bailey [q. v.], then the most in use. He read through all the books to be quoted, marked the sentences, and had them transcribed by his clerks on separate slips of paper. After they had been arranged he added definitions and etymologies from Skinner, Junius, and others. The work was done in a house in Gough Square, near the printers, which was visited by Carlyle and described in his article on Johnson. While the dictionary was still in preparation Johnson published his ‘Vanity of Human Wishes’ in January 1749. He received fifteen guineas for the copyright. In this and subsequent agreements he reserved a right to print one edition for himself. This the finest of his poems was profoundly admired by Byron and Sir Walter Scott, and is scarcely rivalled in the language in its peculiar style of grave moral eloquence. He said that he had composed seventy lines of it in one day before writing them down. Garrick had become manager of Drury Lane in 1747, when Johnson contributed the opening prologue. Garrick now offered to bring out his friend's tragedy. Some alterations which he suggested were so resented by the author that Dr. Taylor had to be called in as pacificator. ‘Irene’ was produced on 6 Feb. 1749, with an epilogue by Sir W. Yonge, secretary-at-war under Walpole. It went off tolerably till Irene (Mrs. Pritchard) appeared with the bowstring round her neck, when the audience cried ‘Murder!’ The scene was altered, and Garrick managed to carry the piece through nine nights, when the author's three nights brought him 195l. 17s., and the copyright was sold to Dodsley for 100l. The play, however, was felt to be a failure, and Johnson had the sense to discover that his talents were not those of a dramatic author. The only explanation, indeed, of his rash attempt is that the drama was still the most profitable field of authorship, and Johnson was better paid for his play than for his other writing. When asked how he felt its ill-success he replied, ‘Like the monument.’ He is reported to have appeared in a side-box in a scarlet waistcoat with rich gold lace and a gold-laced hat.
In 1750 Johnson began a more congenial task by writing the ‘Rambler.’ The first number appeared on Tuesday, 20 March 1750, and it came out every Tuesday and Saturday till the last number, published on Saturday, 14 March 1752. Johnson wrote the whole, except No. 10, partly by Mrs. Chapone, No. 30 by Miss Catherine Talbot, No. 97 by Samuel Richardson, and Nos. 44 and 100 by Mrs. Elizabeth Carter. Johnson received two guineas a paper (Murphy, 1806, p. 59). The papers were written in great haste, but carefully revised for the collected editions. Chalmers says, on the authority of Nichols the publisher, that there were six thousand corrections in the second and third editions. The ‘Rambler’ attracted little notice at first, although the author was gratified by his wife's declaration that he had surpassed even her expectations. The sale is said to have rarely exceeded five hundred; the only one which had a ‘prosperous sale’ being Richardson's (Chalmers, British Essayists, xix, xiv, xxvi). As the price was twopence, the profits cannot have been large. When collected, however, the papers acquired a high reputation, and ten editions (1,250 copies each) were published in London during Johnson's lifetime, besides Scottish and Irish editions. James Elphinston [q. v.] superintended the publication at Edinburgh. The ‘Rambler’ had probably a more lasting success than any other imitation of the ‘Spectator,’ though its rare modern readers will generally consider it as a proof of the amazing appetite of Johnson's public for solid sermonising. Omitting its clumsy attempts at occasional levity, it may be granted that in its ponderous sentences lie buried a great mass of strong sense and an impressive and characteristic view of life. From this time Johnson became accepted as an imposing moralist.
In 1750 Johnson wrote a prologue for ‘Comus,’ which was performed on 5 April at Drury Lane for the benefit of Milton's granddaughter. He had written a preface to the pamphlet in which William Lauder (d. 1771) [q. v.] published his forgeries as to Milton's alleged imitations of the moderns, and in it urged a subscription for the benefit of the granddaughter. Upon the exposure of the forgery by Douglas, Johnson dictated a letter of confession to Lauder.
The ‘Rambler’ was hardly finished when Johnson lost his wife, 17 March 1752. He felt the blow with extreme keenness, and ever afterwards cherished her memory with a tenderness which appears from many touching references in his ‘Prayers and Meditations.’ Compunction for little disagreements was no doubt exaggerated by his melancholy temperament. She was buried at Bromley in Kent, and he wrote a sermon to be delivered by Taylor on the occasion. It was not preached, but printed after his death. Taylor is said (Piozzi, Letters, ii. 384) to have declined because the sermon was too complimentary to the deceased.
In 1753–4 Johnson wrote some papers in the ‘Adventurer,’ undertaken by his friend and closest imitator, Hawkesworth, and enlisted Joseph Warton as a contributor. The dictionary was now approaching completion, and produced a famous encounter with Chesterfield. A story told by Hawkins, that the first offence was caused by Chesterfield's reception of Colley Cibber, while Johnson was left in the antechamber, was denied to Boswell by Johnson himself. His only complaint was Chesterfield's continued neglect. Chesterfield now wrote a couple of papers in the ‘World’ (28 Nov. and 5 Dec. 1754), recommending the book, no doubt with a view to a dedication. Johnson wrote a letter, dated 7 Feb. 1755, repelling this advance with singular dignity and energy. He felt bound, it seems, to preserve some reticence in regard to his letter, but ultimately gave copies to Baretti and to Boswell. Boswell deposited both in the British Museum. Johnson says that the notice has been delayed ‘till I am indifferent and cannot enjoy it, till I am lonely and cannot impart it, till I am known and do not want it.’ Warburton complimented Johnson, through Adams, upon his manly spirit. Chesterfield was wise enough not to reply, but suggested, in conversation with Dodsley, that he had always been ready to receive Johnson, whose pride or shyness was therefore to be blamed for the result. Dr. Birkbeck Hill proves that Chesterfield did not, as Boswell believed, refer to Johnson as the ‘respectable Hottentot’ of his letters (Dr. Johnson, &c., pp. 214–29). Johnson said that he had once received 10l. from Chesterfield, doubtless in recognition of the ‘plan’ inscribed to him, but thought it too trifling a favour to be mentioned in the letter. The letter justifies itself, and no author can fail to sympathise with this declaration of literary independence. Hawkins (p. 191) says that Chesterfield sent Sir Thomas Robinson to apologise, and that Robinson declared that, if he could have afforded it, he would have settled an annuity of 500l. a year upon Johnson. Johnson replied that if the first peer of the realm made such an offer he would show him downstairs.
In 1754 Johnson visited Oxford for the first time since he had ceased to reside, in order to consult some books for the dictionary, although he seems to have in fact collected nothing, and stayed five weeks at Kettel Hall, near Trinity College. His chief companion was Thomas Warton, then resident at Trinity, in whose company he renewed his acquaintance with the university. Warton also helped to obtain for him the M.A. degree. It was thought desirable that these letters should appear on the title-page of the dictionary for the credit both of himself and the university. The official letter from the chancellor referred to the ‘Rambler’ and to the forthcoming work. The diploma is dated 20 Feb. 1755. The dictionary appeared, in 2 vols. folio, on 15 April 1755, and at once took its place as the standard authority. It was a great advance upon its predecessors. The general excellence of its definitions and the judicious selection of illustrative passages make it (as often observed) entertaining as well as useful for reference. Its most obvious defect arises from Johnson's ignorance of the early forms of the language and from the conception then natural of the purpose of a dictionary. Johnson (see his preface) had sensibly abandoned his first impression that he might be able to ‘fix the language,’ as he came to see that every living language must grow. He did not aim, however, at tracing the growth historically, but simply at defining the actual senses of words as employed by the ‘best authors.’ He held that the language had reached almost its fullest development in the days of Shakespeare, Hooker, Bacon, and Spenser, and thought it needless to go further back than Sidney. He also, as a rule, omitted living authors. The dictionary, therefore, was of no philological value, although it has been the groundwork upon which many later philologists have worked. Taking for granted the contemporary view of the true end of a dictionary, it was a surprising achievement, and made an epoch in the study of the language.
Johnson's labours during the preparation of the dictionary must have been enormous, especially while he was also publishing the ‘Rambler.’ He never afterwards overcame his constitutional indolence for so strenuous and prolonged an effort. He was already attracting many friends, and no man ever had a more numerous or distinguished circle, or was more faithful to all who had ever done him a kindness. He took an early delight in the tavern clubs characteristic of the time. The first mentioned appears to be a club in Old Street, at which he met Psalmanazar, and the ‘Metaphysical Tailor,’ an uncle of John Hoole [q. v.] In the winter of 1749 he formed a club which met weekly at ‘a famous beefsteak-house,’ the King's Head, Ivy Lane. Among the members were Richard Bathurst [q. v.], the ‘good hater,’ who was a ‘man after his own heart,’ John Hawkesworth [q. v.], his special imitator, Samuel Dyer [q. v.], and (Sir) John Hawkins [q. v.], his biographer. Johnson already made it a rule to talk his best, and thus acquired his conversational supremacy (Hawkins, pp. 219–59, gives a long account of this club; see Boswell, i. 190–1, with Mr. Hill's note). Among other friends acquired at this period was Bennet Langton [q. v.], who had been attracted to him by reading the ‘Rambler.’ Through Langton he became known to Topham Beauclerk [q. v.], and with the pair had his famous night's frisk to Billingsgate (Boswell, i. 251). He made the acquaintance of Reynolds at the house of their common friends, two daughters of Admiral Cotterell, who had been neighbours of Johnson in 1738. Reynolds, it seems, had been induced by the life of Savage to cultivate Johnson's acquaintance. Charles Burney (1726–1814) [q. v.] had been impressed by the ‘Rambler,’ and in 1755 wrote to Johnson from Lynn Regis offering to take some copies of the dictionary. Their first interview seems to have been in 1758 (ib. i. 328). Johnson made Goldsmith's acquaintance in 1761, and must have become known to Burke by the same time. He constantly added friends to his circle, and declared late in life that he thought a day lost in which he did not make a new acquaintance. ‘A man,’ he said, ‘should keep his friendship in constant repair,’ and he scarcely lost a friend, except by death. Some time after the loss of his wife he received into his house Miss Anna Williams, daughter of a Welsh physician, Zachariah Williams, who died 12 July 1755. Miss Williams had come to London, for an operation upon her eyes, during Mrs. Johnson's life. She afterwards became totally blind, and had a permanent apartment in Johnson's house. Her father had invented a method for determining the longitude by means of the variation of the compass, of which Johnson wrote an account in 1755 (published, with an Italian translation, by Baretti; a copy, presented by Johnson, is in the Bodleian Library). Miss Williams was well-educated and intelligent. Johnson took pleasure in her conversation, took her advice, and always treated her with high respect, in spite of her growing ‘peevishness’ in later years. She seems to have had some small means. Lady Knight (see Croker's Johnsoniana) says that she was never dependent on Johnson, and that each drew freely on the other's purse. Garrick, however, gave her a benefit, at Johnson's desire, by which she made 200l. (Boswell, i. 393), and Mrs. Montagu gave her a small annuity in 1775. Another inmate of Johnson's house from an early period was Robert Levett, who had been waiter in a French coffee-house, picked up a knowledge of physic, and practised among the poor. Johnson had known him from about 1746. He was grotesque, stiff, and silent, according to Boswell (i. 24), and always waited upon Johnson at breakfast. Johnson, however, never treated him as a dependent, and upon his death, 20 Jan. 1782, wrote the most pathetic of his poems. In 1777 or 1778 Johnson took into his house Mrs. Desmoulins (to whom he allowed half a guinea a week), widow of a writing-master and daughter of his godfather, Dr. Swinfen, and a Miss Carmichael, of whom little is known (ib. iv. 222). The party was not harmonious. Williams, said Johnson, ‘hates everybody; Levett hates Desmoulins, and does not love Williams; Desmoulins hates them both; Poll [Miss Carmichael] loves none of them.’ Johnson sometimes feared to go home on account of their complaints, says Mrs. Piozzi (Anecdotes, p. 213); but if any one reproached them, he always defended them. His charity to the unprotected was unbounded through life, according to the testimony of Boswell, Mrs. Piozzi, Murphy, and even Hawkins (see Mr. Hill's appendix to Boswell, vol. iii.). Johnson had also a black servant, Francis Barber, born in Jamaica as a slave of Colonel Bathurst, father of Richard Bathurst. He was freed by the colonel's will, and about 1752 entered Johnson's service. Johnson sent him to school, and Barber left him to go to sea in 1759. Johnson applied to Smollett, who applied to Wilkes, who obtained Barber's discharge by his influence with one of the lords of the admiralty. From this time till Johnson's death Barber continued in his service (ib. i. 238, 348).
The sum due for the dictionary had been advanced, and apparently 100l. more (Murphy, p. 78), before the task was completed. Johnson's poverty is shown by a note addressed to Richardson on 16 March 1756, stating that he had been arrested for 5l. 13s. and asking for a loan (ib. p. 86). Richardson sent him six guineas. He undertook to edit the ‘Literary Magazine, or Universal Review,’ of which the first number appeared in May 1756, and contributed a good many essays. A review of Jonas Hanway provoked a retort from the author, and Johnson made the only reply to which he ever condescended. He was defending his favourite tea, of which his potations were enormous. Cumberland's report of his having drunk twenty-five cups at a sitting seems to mark the maximum. Another remarkable article was his attack on Soame Jenyns's ‘Inquiry into the Origin of Evil,’ which gave an occasion for some characteristic utterances. The magazine expired in 1758, Johnson having ceased to write in it. He now took up again, in 1756, his proposed edition of Shakespeare, but dawdled over it unconscionably. On 15 April 1758 appeared the first number of his ‘Idler,’ published on Saturdays in Newbery's ‘Universal Chronicle.’ The last appeared on 5 April 1760. Twelve of the 103 numbers were contributed by friends, including Langton, Thomas Warton, and Reynolds. They were written hastily and were less impressive than the ‘Rambler.’ The first collected edition in 2 vols. appeared in October 1761, and Johnson's two-thirds of the profits produced 84l. 2s. 4d.
In January 1759 (about the 20th) Johnson's mother died at the age of ninety. Johnson had been unable to see her for some years, though he had helped her with money and wrote some very touching letters to her on her deathbed. In order to raise a small sum to meet the expense of her illness and death and to discharge some small debts he wrote ‘Rasselas’ in the evenings of one week (Boswell, i. 341, 512–16). He received 100l. for the copyright, and had a present of 25l. more on a second edition. This powerful though ponderous work was apparently the most popular of his writings. It reached a fifth edition in 1775, and has been translated into French, German, Italian, Dutch, Bengalee, Hungarian, Polish, modern Greek, and Spanish (J. Macaulay, Bibliography of Rasselas). Johnson himself remarked the curious coincidence with Voltaire's ‘Candide.’ On 20 Jan. Johnson promised to deliver ‘Rasselas’ to the printers on Monday (the 25th), and it appeared about the end of March (Boswell, i. 516, vi. xxviii). ‘Candide’ is mentioned by Grimm on 1 April as having just appeared. Each is a powerful assault upon the fashionable optimism of the day, though Voltaire's wit has saved ‘Candide’ from the partial oblivion which has overtaken ‘Rasselas.’ About this time Johnson ‘found it necessary to retrench his expenses.’ He gave up his house in Gough Square; Miss Williams went into lodgings in Bolt Court, Fleet Street; and he took chambers at No. 1 Inner Temple Lane, where he lived in indolent poverty (Murphy, p. 90). Though most of Johnson's literary services to friends were gratuitous, he occasionally received money for such work. Thomas Hervey [q. v.] gave him 50l. for a pamphlet (never published) written in his defence (Boswell, ii. 33), and he received 10l. 10s. from Dr. Madden for correcting his ‘Boulter's Monument.’ Occasional windfalls of this kind must have been of some importance to his finances. Johnson took tea with Miss Williams every night (as Boswell mentions in 1763) before going home, however late he might be. Beyond helping his friends with a few dedications and articles and writing an introduction to the proceedings of a committee for clothing French prisoners (1760), he did little unless he worked at his Shakespeare. On 1 Feb. 1762 he took part in examining into the ridiculous Cock Lane ghost story, and published an account of the detection of the cheat in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (xxxii. 81).
After the accession of George III a few pensions were given to literary persons, chiefly, it seems, to hangers-on of the Bute ministry. Thomas Sheridan and Murphy, who were common friends of Johnson and Wedderburne (afterwards Lord Loughborough), suggested to Wedderburne to apply to Bute on behalf of Johnson. Other friends appear to have concurred in the application, and a pension of 300l. a year was granted in July 1762. Johnson, who had said in his dictionary that a pension in England was ‘generally understood to mean pay given to a state hireling for treason to his country,’ hesitated as to the propriety of accepting the offer. Reynolds, whom he consulted, told him, of course, that the definition would not apply to him; and the scruple was probably of the slightest. Bute assured Johnson emphatically that the grant was solely for what he had done, not for anything that he was to do. There is no reason for doubting either Bute's sincerity or Johnson's. The opposition writers naturally made a little fun out of the pension. Johnson laughed at the noise, and wished that his pension were twice as large and the noise twice as great (Boswell, i. 429). Johnson was requested to write pamphlets by ministers, and received materials from the ministry for writing upon the Falkland Islands. It is probable that he felt some obligations as a pensioner, in spite of the assurances given him at the time; but the pamphlets clearly expressed his settled convictions. The first was not written for seven years after this time, and he received nothing for them except from the booksellers (ib. ii. 147). No imputation can be made upon his independence, though the impulse to write would hardly have come to him had it not been for his connection with the government.
The pamphlets thus written were ‘The False Alarm’ (1770), upon the expulsion of Wilkes and the seating of his opponent Luttrell; ‘Thoughts on the late Transactions respecting Falkland's Islands’ (1771), in answer to the Junius letter of 30 Jan. 1771 (Junius took no notice of the attack); ‘The Patriot’ (1774), written on behalf of Thrale, then candidate for Southwark at the general election (ib. ii. 286); and ‘Taxation no Tyranny’ (1775), in answer to the address of the American congress. The first edition of the Falkland Islands pamphlet was stopped by Lord North, after some copies had been sold, in order to suppress a sneer at George Grenville (‘if he could have got the money’ [the Manilla ransom] ‘he could have counted it’) (see Boswell, ii. 136; and Junius' Letters, 1812, ii. 199). The ministry cut out at least one insulting passage from the American pamphlet (Boswell, ii. 313). The pamphlets are written forcibly and with less than the usual mannerism; but they have in general the natural defect of amateur political writing. They are interesting as expressions of Johnson's sturdy toryism, his conviction of the necessity of subordination and of the frivolity of popular commonplaces about liberty. He hated whigs, not so much because they had different principles of government as because he held that ‘whiggism was a negation of all principle’ (ib. i. 431). The attack upon the Americans is arrogant and offensive. Although Mr. Hill truly points out (vol. ii. App. B) that Johnson's dislike to America was associated with his righteous hatred of slavery and consequent prejudice against the planters, it is equally true that he states the English claims in the most illiberal and irritating fashion.
The pension unfortunately led to a quarrel with Thomas Sheridan, who had helped to procure it. Sheridan also received a pension of 200l. a year, and a petulant remark of Johnson's (‘that it is time for me to give up mine’) was repeated to Sheridan and caused a lasting alienation, the only case recorded of the loss of a friend of Johnson's by his rough remarks. Johnson was willing in this case to be reconciled, and Reynolds observes that, after he had given offence by his rudeness, he was always the first to seek for reconciliation (Taylor, Reynolds, ii. 457).
Beauclerk hoped that Johnson would now ‘purge and live cleanly like a gentleman,’ and for the rest of his life Johnson was free from pecuniary troubles. He paid off old debts and made loans to friends. He was enabled to indulge his constitutional indolence and to write comparatively little. ‘No man but a blockhead,’ he said, ‘ever wrote except for money’ (ib. iii. 19). His spreading reputation at the same time increased his opportunities for social relaxation. According to Dr. Maxwell, who knew him from 1754, he was often in bed till twelve o'clock or ‘declaiming over his tea.’ Literary people looked in about that time, and, after talking all the morning, he dined at a tavern, stayed late, and afterwards loitered long at some friend's house, though he seldom took supper. He never refused an invitation to a tavern, often amused himself at Ranelagh, and, according to Maxwell, must have read and written at night (ib. ii. 119). It was on 16 May 1763 that he made the acquaintance of Boswell [see under Boswell, James], and thus became visible to posterity. One famous field for conversational display was opened by the foundation of the Club, probably in the winter of 1763–4. Sir Joshua Reynolds suggested it to Johnson, and the other original members were Burke, Dr. Nugent (Burke's father-in-law), Beauclerk, Langton, Goldsmith, Anthony Chamier [q. v.], and Hawkins. It began by a weekly supper in the Turk's Head, Gerrard Street, Soho, where it was held till 1783. In 1772 the supper was changed to a fortnightly dinner during the meeting of parliament. Boswell was elected, owing chiefly to Johnson's influence, on 30 April 1773, and the numbers were gradually increased till in 1780 there were thirty-five members. Among the chief members elected in Johnson's lifetime were Bishop Percy, G. Colman, Garrick, Sir W. Jones, C. J. Fox, Gibbon, Adam Smith, R. B. Sheridan, Dunning, Lord Stowell, Bishop Shipley, Thomas and Joseph Warton, and Charles Burney (see list of Club in Croker, Boswell, ii. App. 1). Johnson was annoyed by Garrick's assumption in saying ‘I'll be of you,’ but welcomed his election in 1773, and upon his death declared that the Club should keep a year's widowhood. Johnson did not attend very regularly after the first years; but the Club no doubt extended the conversational empire of the man whom Smollett had called in 1759 the ‘great Cham of literature.’
The connection with the Thrales, formed about this time, was of more importance to Johnson's happiness. Henry Thrale was a prosperous brewer, who was member for Southwark (1768–80). He had a house at Streatham, called Streatham Park, a large white house in a park of about a hundred acres on the south side of the lower common. It was pulled down in May 1863 (Thorne, Environs of London, p. 590). His wife, Hesther Lynch Salisbury, afterwards Mrs. Piozzi [q. v.], was a very bright little woman of literary tastes. Murphy, who was intimate with the Thrales, introduced them to Johnson in 1764 (Piozzi, Anecd. p. 125). He dined with them frequently and followed them to Brighton in the autumn of 1765. Johnson appears to have had a serious illness about this time, and in February 1766 Boswell found that he had been obliged to give up the use of wine. His constitutional melancholy seems to have been developed, although he was now free from money troubles and had settled in a comfortable house in Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, with Miss Williams and Levett. The Thrales tried to soothe him, and on one occasion found him in such despair, apparently fearing that his melancholy would lead to insanity, that they prevailed upon him to leave the close London court for Streatham. He stayed there from midsummer to October 1766 (Boswell, ii. 25; see Mr. Hill's Appendix F to vol. ii. for a discussion of dates).
He soon became almost a member of the family. He had a room at Streatham, where he generally spent some months in the summer, coming up to town from Saturday to Monday to see that his dependents got three good dinners in the week (Piozzi, Anecd. p. 85). He had also a room in their town houses, first in Southwark, and, for a short time before Thrale's death, in Grosvenor Square. Thrale was a sensible man, with some scholarship as well as knowledge of business, and a delight, according to Madame d'Arblay (Memoirs of Burney, ii. 104), in ‘provoking a war of words,’ which Johnson frequently gratified. He was, however, rather given to foolish speculations, and in his last years, when his mind was probably weakened, became troublesome to his wife. Johnson learned to drop some of his roughness and irregular habits at the house. His presence naturally attracted literary society, and Mrs. Thrale was flattered by her power over the literary dictator. Johnson, who called her ‘my mistress’ and Thrale ‘my master,’ was alternately a wise monitor and a tolerably daring flatterer, while Thrale invariably treated him with profound respect. They soothed, as he said long afterwards, ‘twenty years of a life radically wretched.’
Johnson's intellectual activity henceforward found its chief outlet in conversation. To the inimitable reports of Boswell may be added the sayings reported by Mrs. Piozzi (though obviously not very accurate), the excellent descriptions in Mme. d'Arblay's ‘Diary,’ and a variety of detached sayings scattered through works to which a reference is given below. His interview with George III, especially valued by Boswell, took place in February 1767 (Boswell, ii. 33–43); that with Wilkes, which showed Boswell's diplomatic powers at their highest, on 15 May 1776 (ib. iii. 69–78); and that in which the quaker Mrs. Knowles claimed to have confuted him in an argument about a convert to her faith, on 15 April 1778 (ib. iii. 284–98). Mrs. Knowles published a counter-version of this in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for June 1791 (reprinted in ‘Johnsoniana’), and Miss Seward gave a third account (Letters, i. 97). The quaintest proof of Johnson's dictatorship is the ‘round-robin’ presented to him in 1776 to request him to write Goldsmith's epitaph in English (facsimile in Boswell, iii. 83), written by Burke, presented by Reynolds, and signed (among others) by Gibbon. Nearly every distinguished man of letters of the period came more or less into contact with Johnson, except David Hume, to whom he would hardly have consented to speak, and Gray, whose acquaintance in town was limited to the Walpole circle. Walpole speaks of Johnson with aversion, and doubtless expressed the prejudices of ‘good society.’ ‘Great lords and ladies,’ said Johnson (Boswell, iv. 116), ‘don't love to have their mouths stopped.’ Their curiosity was therefore soon satisfied, and, in spite of his reverence for rank, he saw little of the leaders in society or politics.
In October 1765 Johnson had at last brought out his Shakespeare, which he describes as at press in 1757. A sneer in Churchill's ‘Ghost’ (1763) is supposed to have hastened the appearance:
He for subscribers baits his hook,
And takes their cash—but where's the book?
(bk. iii. ll. 801–2). The commentary may perhaps be said to be better than could have been expected from a man whose strong intellect, unprovided with the necessary knowledge of contemporary authors, was steeped in the narrow conceptions of poetry most unlike Shakespeare's, and too indolent for minute study. He received 375l. for the first and 100l. for the second edition (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. v. 597). After this, besides occasionally helping friends and writing his ‘Tour to the Hebrides’ (see below), he did little until he wrote the most permanently valuable of his books. On 29 May 1777 he agreed with the booksellers to write prefaces for a proposed collection of the English poets. They judiciously asked him to name his own price. He suggested two hundred guineas, though, according to Malone, they would have given one thousand or fifteen hundred (Boswell, iii. 114). Another 100l. was given afterwards, and a further 100l. on the publication of a separate edition of the lives (ib. iv. 35). The poets were selected by the booksellers, though Blackmore, Watts, Pomfret, and Yalden were added on Johnson's advice. The first four volumes appeared in 1779, the last six in 1781. They include a reprint of the life of Savage and a life of Young by Sir Herbert Croft (1751–1816) [q. v.] Johnson's mannerism had become less marked; and the book, except in the matter of antiquarian research, is a model of its kind. Of all his writings this falls least behind his conversation in excellence, and is admirable within the limits of his critical perception.
Johnson's pension enabled him to indulge in frequent excursions from London. Though constantly expressing his passion for London (e.g. ‘when a man is tired of London he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford’) (ib. iii. 178), he often showed interest in travel. His journeys consisted chiefly of visits to Oxford and Lichfield, and to Dr. Taylor at Ashbourne, where he discussed his old friend's bulls and bulldogs. He enjoyed the motion, and said that he should like to spend his life ‘driving briskly in a post-chaise with a pretty woman’ (ib. iii. 162). His chief performance, however, was his journey with Boswell in 1773. Leaving Edinburgh on 18 Aug. they travelled by St. Andrews and the east coast to Inverness, crossed to Skye, and spent some time in visiting the neighbouring islands. They returned by Inverary to Glasgow, and by Auchinleck, where he had a smart encounter with the elder Boswell, to Edinburgh.
The account of his journey was published in 1775, and, if it shows little taste for the picturesque, proved a keen interest in the social condition of the natives. It was commended by Burke and others, much to Johnson's pleasure (ib. iii. 137); but its dignified disquisition is less amusing than Boswell's graphic account of the same journey, in which Johnson is himself the chief figure. An expression of disbelief in the authenticity of Ossian's poems, chiefly on the ground that MacPherson had appealed to original manuscripts which were never produced, caused MacPherson to write an angry letter to Johnson. Johnson replied in a contemptuous letter saying that he ‘would not be deterred from detecting what he thought a cheat by the menaces of a ruffian’ (original sold in 1875 for 50l.). The letter implies that MacPherson had threatened violence (see Academy, 19 Oct. 1878, for MacPherson's letters), which Johnson despised. Boswell relates that when Foote threatened to mimic him on the stage he sent for a stout oak stick to administer punishment. Foote judiciously gave up the plan (Boswell, ii. 299).
In 1774 Johnson made a Welsh tour with the Thrales, and in 1775 accompanied them to Paris. His brief diaries give little of the impressions made upon him. In France he persisted in talking Latin, and saw nothing of the literary society which had welcomed Hume. His name was probably little known, and it was as well for the credit of English good manners that his hosts should not hear his opinion of them. Although Johnson had talked of a visit to Ireland in early days, and after his Scottish tour wanted Boswell to go up the Baltic with him, he never left England except on his French tour. An intended journey to Italy with the Thrales in 1776 was abandoned in consequence of the death of Thrale's only son (see Mr. Hill's list of Johnson's travels, Boswell, iii. App. B).
In his later years Johnson's health gradually declined. He suffered much from asthma and gout. The comforts of Streatham and Mrs. Thrale's attentions were the more valuable as he became more of an invalid. On 4 April 1781 Thrale, who had had an apoplectic attack in 1779, died of another fit, to Johnson's profound sorrow. ‘I looked,’ he said, ‘for the last time upon the face that for fifteen years had never been turned upon me but with respect and benignity.’ Johnson was appointed executor with a legacy of 200l., and enjoyed a taste of practical business, observing at the sale of the brewery that ‘we are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich beyond the dreams of avarice’ (Boswell, iv. 87). According to Mrs. Piozzi he took a simple-minded pleasure in discharging his duties as executor and signing cheques for large sums.
For some time the loss of Thrale did not affect Johnson's position in the family. In the autumn he made his usual visit to Lichfield, where he was depressed by the growing infirmities of his friends, especially Miss Aston and his stepdaughter Lucy Porter. In the beginning of 1782 he was seriously ill; and his household was made desolate by the death of Levett (17 Jan.) and the decline of Miss Williams, who, however, lingered till 1 Sept. 1783 (Piozzi, Letters, ii. 309).
The comforts of Streatham were therefore more valuable than ever; but in the autumn of 1782 this resource failed. Mrs. Piozzi in her ‘Anecdotes’ (1785) gave an account of the circumstances, which was an implicit apology for her own conduct. She says that she had only been able to bear Johnson's ‘yoke’ while she had the support of her ‘coadjutor’ Thrale; that, after Thrale's death, Johnson's roughness and demands upon her time became intolerable; and that she ‘took advantage of a lost lawsuit’ to abandon London and Streatham on the plea of economy, and retire to Bath, where she could be free. Johnson's health, she adds, no longer needed her attention, as he suffered from nothing but ‘old age and infirmity,’ and had abundance of medical advice and attendance. This statement, accepted by her biographer, Hayward, has helped to support the accusations of brutality made against Johnson. The documents, however, which he publishes show that it is incomplete and misleading. During Thrale's illness of two years, and for a year or so after his death, Johnson's ‘yoke’ had been a most valued support. She had attended him affectionately during his illness in 1781–2, and in her diary had spoken even passionately of his value. ‘If I lose him,’ she says 1 Feb. 1782, ‘I am more than undone’ (Hayward, Piozzi, i. 164, 167). A sudden change appears when she made up her mind to travel in Italy in order to economise. She felt that it was impossible to take Johnson, and yet that it would be ‘shocking’ to leave him. A temporary improvement in his health encouraged her (22 Aug.) to reveal her plan to him. To her annoyance he approved of it, and told her daughter that he should stay at home. She at once decided that his connection with her (though not his connection with Thrale) was interested, and that he cared less for her conversation than for her ‘roast beef and plumb pudden, which he now devours too dirtily for endurance’ (ib. p. 171). The habits which she had borne for sixteen years became suddenly intolerable.
The explanation of this change, naturally passed over in the ‘Anecdotes,’ is obvious. She was already (ib.) contemplating marriage with Piozzi, an Italian musician whom she had first met in 1780. To visit Italy under his guidance ‘had long been her dearest wish.’ Johnson had already, in 1781, written of Piozzi (Piozzi, Letters, ii. 227, 229) in terms which, though civil, imply some jealousy of his influence. Mrs. Thrale knew that the marriage to a poor popish foreigner would (however unreasonably) disgust all her friends, and especially her daughters, now growing up. It led to sharp quarrels with them, and she condemns their heartlessness as vigorously as Johnson's. That Johnson would be furious if he suspected was certain, and he could hardly be without suspicions. Mme. d'Arblay declared in her memoirs of her father (1832) that Mrs. Thrale had become petulant, that she neglected and slighted Johnson, and that he resented the change. Although this statement, written many years later, contains some palpable and important inaccuracies, it gives a highly probable account of the relations between Johnson and Mrs. Thrale at the time.
Mrs. Thrale resolved to give up Streatham. On 6 Oct. 1782 Johnson took a solemn leave of the library and the church, recording also in Latin the composition of his last dinner (possibly for medical reasons). He accompanied the Thrales to Brighton, where, according to Mme. d'Arblay's ‘Diary’ (ii. 177), he was in his worst humour and made himself generally disagreeable. Mrs. Thrale had given up the Italian journey, and was now induced by her daughter's remonstrances to break with Piozzi for a time. Johnson was still on apparently friendly terms with her during her stay in London in the winter. She went to Bath in April 1783 and corresponded with Johnson. Their letters, however, show a marked want of cordiality and frequent irritation on both sides. Johnson complains of the now desolate state of his house, and gives details of his growing infirmities. On 17 June he had a paralytic stroke. He recovered for the time, and in July spent a fortnight with Langton at Rochester. Mrs. Thrale finally obtained her daughters' consent and married Piozzi in June 1784. Upon her announcing the marriage to Johnson he replied in a letter of unjustifiable fury, to which she made a dignified reply. He admitted that he had exceeded his right, thanked her for her kindness, and took leave with sad forebodings. She states that she replied affectionately; but they never again met, as she was abroad until his death.
Johnson, deprived of his old asylum, endeavoured to find solace in his old resources. In 1781 his friend John Hoole had formed a city club for him at the Queen's Arms, St. Paul's Churchyard. In the winter of 1783–1784 he collected a few survivors of the old Ivy Lane Club, who held some rather melancholy meetings. At the end of 1783 he formed another club at the Essex Head in Essex Street, kept by an old servant of Thrale's. Among the members were Daines Barrington [q. v.], Dr. Brocklesby [q. v.], Arthur Murphy [q. v.], Samuel Horsley [q. v.] (afterwards bishop of St. Asaph), and William Windham, who was strongly attached to him in his later years (a list of members is given in Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iv. 553). His infirmities, however, were now becoming oppressive, and his letters give painful details of his suffering. His spirits occasionally revived. He visited Oxford in June 1784 with Boswell, staying with his old friend Adams, the master of Pembroke College, where he gave characteristic utterance to his fears of death. He dined for the last time at the Literary Club on 22 June. Boswell thought that some benefit to Johnson's health might be derived from a winter in Italy. After consulting Reynolds he applied to Thurlow, lord chancellor, for a grant which would enable Johnson to bear the expense. Thurlow made a favourable answer, which was communicated to Johnson by Reynolds and Boswell. Johnson was much affected, and mentioned that Brocklesby had offered to settle upon him an annuity of 100l. For some reason which does not appear, Thurlow's application was unsuccessful. He proposed, however, that Johnson should draw upon him for 500l. or 600l., and to lessen the obligation suggested a mortgage on the pension. Johnson declined the offer in a grateful letter, saying that his health had improved so far that by accepting he would be now ‘advancing a false claim.’ In the autumn he made his last visit to Lichfield and Ashbourne, returning to London on 16 Nov. In December he sent directions to Lichfield for epitaphs to be placed over his father, mother, and brother in St. Michael's Church, Lichfield.
He now rapidly failed. He was attended by Brocklesby, Heberden, Cruikshank, and others, who refused fees; and his friends Burke, Langton, Reynolds, Windham, Miss Burney, and others, attended him affectionately. An account of his last illness (10 Nov. to 13 Dec.) was drawn up by Hoole. He begged Reynolds to forgive him a debt of 30l.; to read his bible, and never to paint on a Sunday; and gave pious admonitions to many friends. He submitted courageously to operations for the relief of his dropsy, and called to his surgeon to cut deeper. He made his will on 8 and 9 Dec., became composed after some agitation, and died quietly on 13 Dec. 1784. He was buried on 20 Dec. in Westminster Abbey, in the presence of many members of the Literary Club, Taylor reading the funeral service. Complaints were made of the absence of any special cathedral service; Hawkins, as executor, not considering himself justified in paying the fees, which the cathedral authorities did not offer to remit (Twining, in Country Clergymen of the Eighteenth Century, p. 129; Steevens and Parr in Johnsoniana). A subscription opened by the Literary Club provided the monument by John Bacon [q. v.], with an epitaph by Dr. Parr, erected in St. Paul's in 1785 at a cost of eleven hundred guineas. From an account of a post-mortem examination, published by G. T. Squibb, it appears that Johnson suffered from gout, emphysema of the lungs, and granular disease of the kidneys. A plate of an emphysematous lung in Baillie's ‘Morbid Anatomy’ represents one of Johnson's.
In his will Johnson describes his property, which amounted to about 2,300l. He left 200l. to the representatives of Thomas Innys, bookseller, in gratitude for help formerly given to his father; 100l. to a female servant; while the rest was to be applied to a provision for his negro servant Barber. In a codicil he left some sums to obscure relations, and a number of books to various friends. Boswell and others were omitted, probably from mere inadvertence. Langton, in consideration of 750l. left in his hands, was to pay an annuity of 70l. to Barber, who was also made residuary legatee. Barber settled at Lichfield.
Johnson gave Boswell a list of his lodgings in London (Boswell, iii. 407). After leaving Castle Street (now East) about 1738, he lived successively in the Strand, Boswell Court, the Strand, Holborn, Fetter Lane, Holborn, Gough Square (1749–59), Staple Inn, Gray's Inn, 1 Inner Temple Lane (present site of Johnson Buildings), 7 Johnson's Court, and 8 Bolt Court (the house in Bolt Court was burnt in 1819, Notes and Queries, 1st ser. v. 232). Johnson's house at Lichfield was sold in 1785 for 235l. It was bought in 1887 for 800l. by Mr. G. H. Johnson of Southport (no relation), who preserves it without alteration. A statue by T. C. Lucas was erected at Lichfield in 1838, and a monument at Uttoxeter (commemorative of his penance there) in 1878 (Notes and Queries, 7th ser. iv. 402).
Johnson received the degree of LL.D. from Dublin in 1765, and from Oxford in 1775; but scarcely ever himself used the familiar title of ‘Dr. Johnson’ (Boswell, ii. 332). His library was sold after his death by James Christie the elder [q. v.] for 242l. 9s. A sale-catalogue is in the Bodleian Library.
A miniature of Johnson by an unknown painter before 1752 was engraved for Croker's edition. Reynolds painted him: (1) In 1756 (Boswell's picture, often engraved, given in Hill's Boswell, vol. i. opposite p. 392); (2) in 1770 for Lucy Porter, arms raised with characteristic gesture; replica at Knole Park, shown at Guelph Exhibition, 1891; (3) in 1773 for Beauclerk, afterwards Langton's, replica at Streatham, afterwards Sir Robert Peel's, now in National Gallery; frontispiece to Hill's ‘Boswell,’ vol. iii.; (4) in 1778 for Malone; the picture which made Johnson say that he would not be ‘blinking Sam’ (Piozzi, Anecdotes, p. 248; Leslie and Taylor, Life of Reynolds, i. 147, 357, ii. 143, 221). He was painted by Barry about 1781; for Kearsley, by S. C. Trotter, in 1782, an ‘ugly fellow, like the original,’ according to Johnson (Life of, 1785, published by Kearsley); by Miss Reynolds in 1783, called by the original ‘Johnson's grimly ghost’ (Piozzi, Letters, ii. 302); and by Opie, who never finished the picture, according to Hawkins, p. 569. A fine mezzotint from this by Townley is in the common-room of University College; given in Hill's ‘Boswell,’ frontispiece to vol. iii. 245. Nollekens in 1777 made a bust in clay, never put into marble. There is a drawing of it by Wivell reproduced in Hill's ‘Boswell’ (frontispiece to vol. ii.)
Johnson had a tall, well-formed, and massive figure, indicative of great physical strength, but made grotesque by a strange infirmity. Madame d'Arblay speaks of his ‘vast body in constant agitation, swaying backwards and forwards;’ Miss Reynolds (Johnsoniana, p. 222) describes his apparently unconscious ‘antics,’ especially when he crossed a threshold. Sometimes when he was reading a book in the fields a mob would gather to stare at his strange gestures. Reynolds mentioned that he could constrain them when he pleased (Boswell, i. 144), though Boswell called them St. Vitus's dance. He had queer tricks of touching posts and carefully counting steps, even when on horseback (ib. i. 484, v. 306; Whyte, Miscellanea Nova, pp. 49, 50). He was constantly talking or muttering prayers to himself. His face, according to Campbell (Diary, p. 337), had ‘the aspect of an idiot.’ He remained in silent abstraction till roused, or, as Tyers said (Boswell, v. 73), was like a ghost, who never speaks till he is spoken to. In spite of his infirmities he occasionally indulged in athletic performances. Mrs. Piozzi says that he sometimes hunted with Thrale. He understood boxing, and regretted the decline of prize-fighting, jumped, rowed, and shot, in a ‘strange and unwieldy’ way, to show that he was not tired after a ‘fifty miles' chase,’ and, according to Miss Reynolds, swarmed up a tree and beat a young lady in a foot-race when over fifty. Langton described to Best how at the age of fifty-five he had solemnly rolled down a hill. His courage was remarkable; he separated savage dogs, swam into dangerous pools, fired off an overloaded gun, and defended himself against four robbers single-handed (ib. ii. 299). His physical infirmities were partly accountable for roughness of manner. He suffered from deafness and was shortsighted to an extreme degree, although by minute attention he could often perceive objects with an accuracy which surprised his friends (Piozzi, Anecdotes, p. 287; Miss Reynolds in Johnsoniana; Madame d'Arblay, Diary, i. 85, ii. 174; Boswell, i. 41, &c.) He was thus often unable to observe the failings of his companions. Manners learnt in Grub Street were not delicate; his mode of gratifying a voracious appetite was even disgusting (Boswell, i. 468); while his dress was slovenly, and he had ‘no passion for clean linen’ (ib. i. 397). He piqued himself, indeed, upon his courtesy; and, when not provoked by opposition, or unable to perceive the failings of others, was both dignified and polite. Nobody could pay more graceful compliments, especially to ladies, and he was always the first to make advances after a quarrel. His friends never ceased to love him; and their testimony to the singular tenderness which underlay his roughness is unanimous. He loved children, and was even too indulgent to them; he rejoiced greatly when he persuaded Dr. Sumner to abolish holiday tasks (Piozzi, Anecdotes, p. 21), and was most attentive to the wants of his servants. He was kind to animals, and bought oysters himself for his cat Hodge, that his servants might not be prejudiced against it (Boswell, iv. 178). He loved the poor, as Mrs. Piozzi says, as she never saw any one else do; and tended to be indiscriminate in his charity. He never spent, he says, more than 70l. or 80l. of his pension upon himself. Miss Reynolds was first attracted by hearing that he used to put pennies into the hands of outcast children sleeping in the streets, that they might be able to buy a breakfast. Boswell (iv. 321) tells of his carrying home a poor outcast woman from the streets and doing his best to restore her to an honest life. His services to poor friends by lending his pen or collecting money from the rich were innumerable. His constantly expressed contempt for ‘sentimental’ grievances was not, as frequently happens, a mask for want of sympathy, though it was often so interpreted. He not only felt for all genuine suffering, from death, poverty, and sickness to the wounded vanity of his friends, but did his utmost to alleviate it.
This depth of tender feeling was, in fact, the foundation of Johnson's character. His massive and keenly logical, but narrow and rigid intellect, was the servant of strong passions, of prejudices imbibed through early association, and of the constitutional melancholy which made him a determined pessimist. He feared madness, and constantly expressed his dread of the next world, and his conviction of the misery of this. His toryism and high-churchmanship had become part of his nature. He looked leniently upon superstitions, such as ghosts and second-sight, which appeared to fall in with his religious beliefs, while his strong common sense often made him even absurdly sceptical in ordinary matters. According to Mrs. Piozzi (Anecdotes, pp. 138, 141) he would not believe in the earthquake at Lisbon for six months, and ridiculed the statement that red-hot balls had been used at the siege of Gibraltar. His profound respect for truth, emphasised by all his friends, had made him impatient of loose talk, and a rigid sifter of evidence. His melancholy, as often happens, was combined with a strong sense of humour. Hawkins (p. 258), Murphy (p. 139), and Mrs. Piozzi (Anecdotes, pp. 205, 298) agree that he was admirable at sheer buffonery, and Madame d'Arblay describes his powers of mimicry. No man could laugh more heartily; like a rhinoceros, said Tom Davies (Boswell, ii. 378); or as Boswell describes it, so as to be heard from Temple Bar to Fleet Ditch (ii. 268). The faculty shows itself little in his earlier writings. His sesquipedalian style appears in his early efforts, and seems to have been partly caught from the seventeenth-century writers, such as Sir Thomas Browne, whom he studied and admired; and in whose high-built latinised phraseology there was something congenial. The simplicity and clearness of the style accepted in his youth affected his taste, and he acquired the ponderosity without out the finer qualities of his model. His love of talk diminished his mannerism in later years; and, at his worst, his phrases are not mere verbiage, but an awkward embodiment of very keen dialectical power. The strong sense, shrewd and humorous observations which appear in his ‘Lives of the Poets’ give him the very first rank among all the talkers of whom we have any adequate report. Carlyle calls him the last of the tories. He was the typical embodiment of the strength and weakness, the common sense masked by grotesque prejudice, and the genuine sentiment underlying a rough outside, which characterise the ‘true-born Englishman of the eighteenth century.’ He was the first author who, living by his pen alone, preserved absolute independence of character, and was as much respected for his high morality as for his intellectual power.
A full list of Johnson's works, drawn up by Boswell, is in Hill's ‘Boswell,’ i. 16–24. The works, published separately, are: 1. Abridgment and translation of Lobo's ‘Voyage to Abyssinia,’ 1735. 2. ‘London,’ 1738. 3. ‘Marmor Norfolciense; or an Essay on an Ancient Prophetical Inscription in Monkish Rhyme, lately discovered near Lynne in Norfolk by Probus Britannicus,’ 1739 (also in Gent. Mag.) 4. ‘Proposals for Publishing “Bibliotheca Harleiana,” a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford’ (also in Gent. Mag., and prefixed to first volume of Catalogue), 1742. 5. ‘Life of Richard Savage,’ 1744. 6. ‘Miscellaneous Observations on the Tragedy of Macbeth, with Remarks on Sir T[homas] H[armer's] Edition of Shakespeare, and Proposals for a New Edition of that Poet,’ 1745. 7. ‘Plan for a Dictionary of the English Language, addressed to Philip Dormer, Earl of Chesterfield,’ 1747. 8. ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes, being the Tenth Satire of Juvenal Imitated,’ 1749. 9. ‘Irene,’ 1749; 2nd edit. 1754. 10. The ‘Rambler,’ 1750–2 (see above). 11. Papers in the ‘Adventurer,’ 1753 (see above). 12. ‘A Dictionary, with a Grammar and History of the English Language,’ 1755. Five editions appeared during his lifetime; the eleventh in 1816. A verbatim reprint of the author's last edition was published by Bohn in 1854. An abridgment by Johnson appeared in 1756 and was several times reprinted. Supplements, abridgments, and editions by other authors have also appeared. 13. ‘Account of an Attempt to ascertain the Longitude at Sea …’ (for Z. Williams), 1755 (see above). 14. ‘Life of Sir Thomas Browne,’ prefixed to new edition of ‘Christian Morals,’ 1756. 15. ‘The Idler,’ 1758–1760 (see above). 16. ‘Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia,’ 1759; a facsimile of the first edition, with a bibliography by James Macaulay, was published in 1884. 17. ‘Life of Ascham,’ prefixed to ‘Ascham's English Works,’ by Bennet, 1763. 18. ‘Plays of William Shakespeare, with Notes,’ 8 vols. 1765. 19. ‘The False Alarm,’ 1770. 20. ‘Thoughts on the late Transactions respecting Falkland Islands,’ 1771. 21. ‘The Patriot,’ 1774. 22. ‘A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland,’ 1775. 23. ‘Taxation no Tyranny,’ 1775. 24. ‘Prefaces Biographical and Critical to the Works of the most Eminent English Poets,’ 1779 and 1781. Published separately as ‘Lives of the English Poets’ in many editions. The edition by Peter Cunningham appeared in 1854; and one by Mrs. Napier in 1890. An edition of the six chief lives, with preface by Matthew Arnold, appeared in 1878.
Johnson's ‘Prayers and Meditations,’ edited by G. Strahan, appeared in 1785; and his ‘Letters’ to Madame Piozzi in 1788. ‘Sermons left for Publication,’ by John Taylor, which appeared in 1788 and passed through several editions, have also been attributed to him. ‘An Account of the Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson from his Birth to his Eleventh Year, written by Himself’ (1805), was a fragment saved from some papers burnt by him before his death, and not seen by Boswell. Johnson also contributed many articles to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ from 1738 to 1748; some to the ‘Universal Visitor’ in 1756; and some to the ‘Literary Magazine’ of the same year. He wrote many prefaces, dedications, and other trifles for his friends.
His collected works were edited by Hawkins in 1787 in 11 vols., to which two, edited by Stockdale, were added. Murphy edited them in 11 vols. in 1796. The Oxford edition of 1825 was edited by Francis Pearson Walesby, fellow of Lincoln College, and professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. This contains the works in 9 vols., and the ‘Parliamentary Debates’ (also published separately, 2 vols. 1787) in 2 vols.