Third and fourth volumes of his History of England. The fifth volume appeared after his death. Resigned his seat in Parliament. Life of Samuel Johnson. Life of Oliver Goldsmith. Entered Pembroke College, Oxford. Turned Pope's Messiah into Latin verse. His first important work: London. Began to write for The Gentleman's Magazine. Introduced to the Thrales. His edition of Shakspere published. Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland published.
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Taxation no Tyranny. Received the degree of Doctor in Civil Law from Oxford. Samuel Johnson, one of the most eminent English writers of the eighteenth century, was the son of Michael Johnson, who was, at the beginning of that century, a magistrate of Lichfield, and a bookseller of great note in the midland counties. Michael's abilities and attainments seem to 5 have been considerable. He was so well acquainted with the contents of the volumes which he exposed to sale, that the country rectors of Staffordshire and Worcestershire thought him an oracle on points of learning.
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Between him and the clergy, indeed, there was a strong religious and political 10 sympathy. He was a zealous churchman, and, though he had qualified himself for municipal office by taking the oaths to the sovereigns in possession, was to the last a Jacobite in heart. At his house, a house which is still pointed out to every traveller who visits Lichfield, Samuel was born on the 18th of 15 September In the child, the physical, intellectual, and moral peculiarities which afterwards distinguished the man were plainly discernible; great muscular strength accompanied by much awkwardness and many infirmities; great quickness of parts, with a morbid propensity to sloth and procrastination; 20 a kind and generous heart, with a gloomy and irritable temper.
He had inherited from his ancestors a scrofulous taint, which it was beyond the power of medicine to remove.
His parents 2 were weak enough to believe that the royal touch was a specific for this malady. In his third year he was taken up to London, inspected by the court surgeon, prayed over by the court chaplains, and stroked and presented with a piece of gold by Queen Anne. One of his earliest recollections was that of a stately lady in a diamond stomacher and a long black hood.
The boy's features, which were originally noble and not irregular, were distorted by his malady. His cheeks were deeply scarred. He lost for a time the sight of one eye; and he saw but very imperfectly with the other. But the force of his mind overcame every impediment.
From sixteen to eighteen he resided at home, and was left to his own devices. He learned much at this time, though his studies were without guidance and without 15 plan. He ransacked his father's shelves, dipped into a multitude of books, read what was interesting, and passed over what was dull. An ordinary lad would have acquired little or no useful knowledge in such a way: but much that was dull to ordinary lads was interesting to Samuel.
He read little Greek; for his 20 proficiency in that language was not such that he could take much pleasure in the masters of Attic poetry and eloquence. But he had left school a good Latinist; and he soon acquired, in the large and miscellaneous library of which he now had the command, an extensive knowledge of Latin literature. That 25 Augustan delicacy of taste which is the boast of the great public schools of England he never possessed.
But he was early familiar with some classical writers who were quite unknown to the best scholars in the sixth form at Eton. He was peculiarly attracted by the works of the great restorers of learning. The name excited his curiosity; and he eagerly devoured hundreds of pages. Indeed, the 3 diction and versification of his own Latin compositions show that he had paid at least as much attention to modern copies from the antique as to the original models. While he was thus irregularly educating himself, his family was sinking into hopeless poverty. Old Michael Johnson was much better qualified to pore upon books, and to talk about 5 them, than to trade in them.
His business declined; his debts increased; it was with difficulty that the daily expenses of his household were defrayed. It was out of his power to support his son at either university; but a wealthy neighbour offered assistance; and, in reliance on promises which proved to be of 10 very little value, Samuel was entered at Pembroke College, Oxford. When the young scholar presented himself to the rulers of that society, they were amazed not more by his ungainly figure and eccentric manners than by the quantity of extensive and curious information which he had picked up during many 15 months of desultory but not unprofitable study.
On the first day of his residence he surprised his teachers by quoting Macrobius; and one of the most learned among them declared that he had never known a freshman of equal attainments. At Oxford, Johnson resided during about three years. He was driven from the quadrangle of Christ Church by the sneering looks which the members of that aristocratical society cast at the holes in his shoes. Some charitable person 25 placed a new pair at his door; but he spurned them away in a fury.
Distress made him, not servile, but reckless and ungovernable. No opulent gentleman commoner, panting for one-and-twenty, could have treated the academical authorities with more gross disrespect. The needy scholar was generally to be 30 seen under the gate of Pembroke, a gate now adorned with his effigy, haranguing a circle of lads, over whom, in spite of his tattered gown and dirty linen, his wit and audacity gave 4 him an undisputed ascendency.
In every mutiny against the discipline of the college he was the ringleader.
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Much was pardoned, however, to a youth so highly distinguished by abilities and acquirements. He had early made himself known by turning Pope's Messiah into Latin verse. The style and rhythm, indeed, were not exactly Virgilian; but the translation 5 found many admirers, and was read with pleasure by Pope himself. The time drew near at which Johnson would, in the ordinary course of things, have become a Bachelor of Arts: but he was at the end of his resources.
Those promises of 10 support on which he had relied had not been kept.
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His family could do nothing for him. His debts to Oxford tradesmen were small indeed, yet larger than he could pay. In the autumn of , he was under the necessity of quitting the university without a degree. In the following winter his father 15 died. The old man left but a pittance; and of that pittance almost the whole was appropriated to the support of his widow. The property to which Samuel succeeded amounted to no more than twenty pounds. His life, during the thirty years which followed, was 20 one hard struggle with poverty.
The misery of that struggle needed no aggravation, but was aggravated by the sufferings of an unsound body and an unsound mind. Before the young man left the university, his hereditary malady had broken forth in a singularly cruel form. He had become an incurable 25 hypochondriac. He said long after that he had been mad all his life, or at least not perfectly sane; and, in truth, eccentricities less strange than his have often been thought grounds sufficient for absolving felons, and for setting aside wills. His grimaces, his gestures, his mutterings, sometimes diverted and 30 sometimes terrified people who did not know him.
At a dinner table he would, in a fit of absence, stoop down and twitch off a lady's shoe. He would amaze a drawing-room by suddenly 5 ejaculating a clause of the Lord's Prayer.
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He would conceive an unintelligible aversion to a particular alley, and perform a great circuit rather than see the hateful place. He would set his heart on touching every post in the streets through which he walked. If by any chance he missed a post, he would go back a hundred yards and repair the omission. Under the influence 5 of his disease, his senses became morbidly torpid, and his imagination morbidly active.
At one time he would stand poring on the town clock without being able to tell the hour. At another, he would distinctly hear his mother, who was many miles off, calling him by his name. But this was not the 10 worst. A deep melancholy took possession of him, and gave a dark tinge to all his views of human nature and of human destiny.
Such wretchedness as he endured has driven many men to shoot themselves or drown themselves. But he was under no temptation to commit suicide. He was sick of life; 15 but he was afraid of death; and he shuddered at every sight or sound which reminded him of the inevitable hour.
In religion he found but little comfort during his long and frequent fits of dejection; for his religion partook of his own character. The light from heaven shone on him indeed, but not in a 20 direct line, or with its own pure splendour. The rays had to struggle through a disturbing medium; they reached him refracted, dulled and discoloured by the thick gloom which had settled on his soul; and, though they might be sufficiently clear to guide him, were too dim to cheer him. With such infirmities of body and mind, this celebrated man was left, at two-and-twenty, to fight his way through the world.
He remained during about five years in the midland counties. At Lichfield, his birthplace and his early home, he had inherited some friends and acquired others. He was kindly 30 noticed by Henry Hervey, a gay officer of noble family, who happened to be quartered there. Gilbert Walmesley, registrar of the ecclesiastical court of the diocese, a man of distinguished 6 parts, learning, and knowledge of the world, did himself honour by patronising the young adventurer, whose repulsive person, unpolished manners, and squalid garb moved many of the petty aristocracy of the neighbourhood to laughter or to disgust.
At Lichfield, however, Johnson could find no way of earning a livelihood. He became usher of a grammar 5 school in Leicestershire; he resided as a humble companion in the house of a country gentleman; but a life of dependence was insupportable to his haughty spirit.
He repaired to Birmingham, and there earned a few guineas by literary drudgery. In that town he printed a translation, little noticed at the 10 time, and long forgotten, of a Latin book about Abyssinia.