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342

SPECIMEN OF GOLDSMITH'S PROSE.

same manner.

engaged the limner, (for what could I do?) our next deliberation was to show the superiority of our taste in the attitudes. As for our neighbour's family, there were seven of them, and they were drawn with seven oranges,-a thing quite out of taste, no variety in life, no composition in the world. We desired to have something in a brighter style, and, after many debates, at length came a unanimous resolution of being drawn together, in one large historical familypiece. This would be cheaper, since one frame would serve for all; and it would be infinitely more genteel, for all families of any taste were now drawn in the

As we did not immediately recollect an historical subject to hit us, we were contented each with being drawn as independent historical figures. My wife desired to be represented as Venus; and the painter was requested not to be too frugal of his diamonds in her stomacher and hair. Her two little ones were to be as Cupids by her side ; while I, in my gown and bands, was to present her with my books on the Whistonian Controversy. Olivia would be drawn as an Amazon, sitting upon a bank of flowers, dressed in a green joseph, richly laced with gold, and a whip in her hand. Sophia was to be a shepherdess, with as many sheep as the painter could put in for nothing ; and Moses was to be dressed out with a hat and white feather.

Our taste so much pleased the squire, that he insisted on being put in as one of the family, in the character of Alexarder the Great at Olivia's feet. This was considered by us all as an indication of his desire to be introduced into the family, nor could we refuse his request. The painter was therefore set to work, and, as he wrought with assiduity and expedition, in less than four days the whole was completed. The piece was large, and it must be owned he did not spare his colours; for which my wife gave him great encomiums. We were all perfectly satisfied with his performance; but an unfortunate circumstance, which had not occurred till the picture was finished, now struck us with dismay. It was so very large that we had no place in the house to fix it! How we all came to disregard so material a point is inconceivable; but certain it is we had all been greatly remiss. This picture, therefore, instead of gratifying our vanity, as we hoped, leaned in a most mortifying manner against the kitchen wall, where the canvas was stretched and painted, much too large to be got through any of the doors, and the jest of all our neighbours. One compared it to Robinson Crusoe's long-boat, too large to be removed ; another thought it more resembled a reel in a bottle ; some wondered how it could be got out, but still more were amazed how it ever got in.

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A HUGE and slovenly figure, clad in a greasy brown coat and coarse black worsted stockings, wearing a grey wig with scorched foretop, rolls in his arm-chair long past midnight, holding in a dirty hand his nineteenth cup of tea. As he pauses to utter one of his terrible growls of argument, or rather of dogmatic assertion, commencing invariably with a thunderous “Sir,” we have leisure to note the bitten nails, the scars of king's evil that mark his swollen face, and the convulsive workings of the muscles round mouth and eyes, which accompany the puffs and snorts foreboding a coming storm of ponderous English talk. Such was the famous Doctor Samuel Johnson in his old age, when he had climbed from the most squalid cellars of Grub Street to the dictatorial throne of English criticism—such the man who wrote Rasselas and London, who compiled the great English Dictionary, and composed the majestically moral pages of the Rambler.

This celebrated son of a poor man, who used to spread his little book-stall on market-day in Lichfield to tempt the louts of Staffordshire, was born in that town on the 18th of September 1709. From infancy the child struggled with constitutional disease, which weakened his eyes and left indelible seams across bis little face. The father gave

his

poor afflicted boy all he could—a liberal education; and upon

this foundation—the best for fame that can ever be laid—the work of a great and noble lifetime began to rise.

Slowly, obscurely, and with many heavy falls, did the ill

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SETS OUT FOR LONDON.

A.D.

dressed, ugly, clumsy youth begin to take his first steps towards the kingship of English letterdom. Having received his elementary education chiefly at Stourbridge, he entered Pembroke College, Oxford. But his dying father could spare no more money to the lad, so a degree could not be taken then. He must wait until he has earned a higher title with his pen. One terrible foe, with which poor Johnson had to battle through all his life, must not be forgotten, when we strive to estimate the greatness of his triumph over circumstances. Fits of morbid melancholy often seized him, which, as he says, “ kept him mad half his life.” Penniless, diseased, ill-favoured, but half educated, and touched with terrible

insanity, the youth of twenty-two stood on the threshold 1731 of the mean house, within which his father lay dead,

looking out upon a world, that secmed all cold and bare

and friendless to his gaze. No wonder that his earlier portrait shows a thin cheek and saddened brow, with lines of suffering already round the wasted lips.

Trudging on foot to Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, he became usher in a school. It would not do; by natural temperament he was totally unfitted for the work. We then find him translating for a bookseller in Birmingham; and after a while marrying a Mrs. Porter, the widow of a mercer there, who had £800.* With this money he attempted to start a school of his own near Lichfield; but he could not gather pupils enough to pay the rent

and keep his wife in comfort. So, packing up his little 1736 stock of clothes and books, he set out in March 1736 for

London, accompanied by a former pupil, fresh-coloured,

good-humoured, little Davy Garrick, who was going up to study law in Lincoln's Inn, but in whose brain the foot-lights were already shining far more brightly than briefs or pleadings at the bar. It was just as well for the theatre-going folks of England that the little Huguenot's head did not become a wig-block, on which to air a covering of grey horse-hair.

So up to London went the dapper pupil and his great hulking * Mrs. Johnson died on the 17th of March 1752, to the deep and lasting grief of her bosbund, and was buried at Bromley.

A.D.

BEGINNING TO BE FAMOUS.

345

master; and there they parted, to meet occasionally, but each to go his several way. And Johnson's was a hard and perilous path. We have already given a picture of literary life in those days. The worst miseries of such a life were endured by Johnson. For six-and-twenty years the pen scarcely ever left his hand. How often he and Savage wandered foot-sore all night through the streets of London, unable to hire the meanest shelter; how often they spent their last penny on a little loaf, which they tore with wolfish teeth, we cannot tell. But we know that miseries like these were commonly endured by men of letters in Johnson's day, and that he had his full share of such bitterness and want. It was for Cave the bookseller that he chiefly drudged, enriching the “Gentleman's Magazine” with articles of various kinds. His poem London, a satire in imitation of Juvenal, laid the foundation of his literary fame, by establishing him in the good graces of the booksellers. For this work Dodsley gave him ten guineas. A Life of Savage (1744) was followed by a second satire in Juvenal's manner, The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749); but these are only the most notable works in a vast crowd of minor writings, which occupied the days and nights of these busy years. His tragedy of Irene, begun in his teaching days, was brought upon the stage in 1749; but it failed to hold its ground.

Johnson's name is inseparably associated with the Rambler, a periodical of the “Spectator" class, which appeared twice a week between March 1750 and March 1752. Only four of the papers proceeded from other pens. There was some strange sympathy between the bulky frame of the essayist and the ponderous words that came from his ink-bottle; and in the pages of the “Rambler” there is certainly much of wordy weight. He reappeared as an essayist, after the lapse of six years, in a lighter periodical called the Idler, which ran to 103 numbers, closing with its last shcet the chequered list of single-article serials, which had opened with the “Tatler’s” pleasant talk.

While writing for the “ Rambler,” and for some years before the starting of that heavy serial, Johnson had been steadily at work upon his Dictionary of the English Language. There was no such

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THE DICTIONARY” AND “RASSELAS."

work in English literature; and when Johnson undertook to finish the herculean labour in three years, he had but a slight notion of the toil that lay before him. He was to receive for the completed work £1575; a comparatively small sum when we recollect that it took him seven years to bring his labour to a close, and that he had to pay several copyists, who sat in his house in Gough Square, in a room fitted up like a lawyer's office, working away at the slips of paper on which the various words, definitions, and quotations were jotted down roughly by the great lexicographer himself. The name we have just used sounded sweet to the ear of classical Johnson, who was never so happy as when piling these huge blocks of antiquity into English sentences. The “Dictionary” was a great work, but necessarily imperfect. In etymology it is very defective; ; for of those Teutonic languages from which come three-fifths of our English, he knew next to nothing. When Johnson's mother died, he devoted the nights of a single

week to the composition of a book, which paid the 1759 expenses of her funeral. This was Rasselas, a tale of

Abyssinia, in which much solid morality is incul

cated in language of “a long resounding march.” But there is no attempt on the part of the author to identify himself with Oriental modes of thought. The heik and burnoos of the Eastern prince and philosopher cannot conceal the old brown coat and worsted stockings of the pompous English moralist. The grey wig peeps from below the turban. In a word, Johnson talks at us throughout the entire book; he talks sensibly and well, but we cannot believe in the thin disguise of tawny cheek and muslin robes. If we could imagine Johnson "doing" the Nile, as modern English travellers are apt to call their boating up that noble river; and for a freak, donning the native dress, and staining his cheeks with the printers' ink of which he knew so much; we might be able, perhaps, to conceive how such grand declamations, as certain paragraphs we know of in Rasselas, came to be spoken among the lotuses and river-horses of the African highlands.

The great turning-point of Johnson's life, at which he comes out from darkness, or at least from dim twilight, into bright and

A.D.

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