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LIFE OF DR. JOHNSON.
THERE is not perhaps in the whole annals of literature, a life which has afforded more events for the detail of the biographer, than that of the very extraordinary character, which is the subject of the following memoirs. As it is natural that the merits and demerits, personal and literary, of a man so eminently distinguished in the departments of biography and criticism as Johnson, should attract the notice and call forth the exertions of numerous writers; it is not to be accounted singular, that besides several slight sketches of his life taken by unknown authors, both favourable and copious narratives should have been presented to the world by Sir John Hawkins, Mr. Boswell, Mr. Tyers, Mrs. Piozzi, Dr. Towers, and Mr. Arthur Murphy; who from their intimate acquaintance with him, were enabled to write from personal knowledge. These several writers, by representing his character in different lights, contrasting his virtues with his faults, and displaying in a variety of anecdotes and incidents, the strength of his mind and the poignancy of his wit, have greatly contributed to the instruction and entertainment of those who are particularly inclined to the reading of biography. Amongst the number specified, the publi
cations of Sir John Hawkins and Mr. Boswell being more elaborately composed, claim a pre-eminence over the rest, and entitle their authors to the appellation of his biographers; while the accounts of the others being compressed by abridgment, are more properly denominated • Biographical Sketches,' * Anecdote,' and · Essays.The major part of the facts related in the present account, have therefore of course been taken from the narratives of the beforementioned biographers, with the addition of such particulars, as other narratives have been found to supply.
Samuel Johnson was the eldest son of Michael John, son, a bookseller at Litchfield, in which city this great man was born, on the 7th of September 1709. His mother, Sarah Ford, was the sister of Dr. Joseph Ford, an eminent physician, and father of Cor. nelius Ford, chaplain to Lord Chesterfield, supposed to be the parson in Hogarth's “Modern Midnight Conversation,'-a man of great parts, but profligate manners. -Mrs. Ford was a woman of distinguished understanding, prudence and piety.
As something extraordinary is often related of the infant state of a great genius, we are told by Mrs. Piozzi and Sir John Hawkins, that at the age of three years Johnson trod by accident upon one of a brood of
a eleven ducks, and killed it, and upon that occasion made the following verses.
Here lies good master duck,
Whom Samuel Johnson trod on.
For then we'd had an odd one,
But very extraordinary must be that credulity, that can admit of these verses being the production of a child of such an early age; credulity however is relieved from the burthen of doubt by Johnson's having himself assured Mr. Boswell, that they were made by his father, who wished them to pass for his son's. He added, 'my father was a foolish old man, that is to say, foolish in talking of his children.'
Johnson was initiated in classical learning at the free school of his native city, under the tuition of Mr. Hunter, and having afterwards resided some time at the house of his cousin Cornelius Ford, who assisted him in the classics, he was by his advice at the age of fifteen removed to the school of Stourbridge in Worcestershire, of which Mr. Wentworth was then master, whom he has described as a very able man, but an idle man; and to him unreasonably severe." Parson Ford he has described in his life of Tonten,
a clergyman at that time too well known, whose abilities, instead of furnishing convivial merriment to the voluptuous and the clissolute, might have enabled him to excel amongst the virtuous and the wise.'
On the 31st of October 1728, he was entered a commoner of Pembroke College, Oxford, being then in his nineteenth year. Of his tutor Mr. Jourden, he gave the following account. •He was a very worthy man, but a heavy man, and I did not profit much by his instruction ; indeed I did not attend him much." He had, however, a love and respect for Jourden, not for his literature, but for his worth. Whenever,” said he, a young man becomes Jourden's pupil, he becomes his son.
In the year 1730, Mr. Corbet, a young gentleman whom Johnson had accompanied to Oxford as a com
panion, left the University, and his father, to whom, according to the account of Sir John Hawkins, Johnson trusted for support, declined contributing any farther to that purpose ; and as his father's business was by no means lucrative, his remittances were consequently too small to supply even the decencies of external appearance. Thus unfortunately situated, he was under the necessity of quitting the University without a degree, having been a member of it little more than three years. This was a circumstance which, in the subsequent part of his life he had occasion to regret, as an obstacle to his obtaining a settlement, whence he might have derived that subsistence which he could not procure by any other means.
In December 1731, his father died, in the 79th year of his age,
in very narrow circumstances, so that, for present support, he condescended to accept the employment of usher, in the free grammar-school at Market-Bosworth in Leicestershire, which he relinquished in a short time, and went to reside at Birmingham, where he derived considerable benefit from several of his literary productions.
Notwithstanding the apparant austerity of his temper, he was by no means insensible to the power of female charms; when at Stourbridge school he was much enamoured of Olivia Lloyd, a young quaker, to whom he addressed a copy of verses. In 1735 he became the warm admirer of Mrs. Porter, widow of Mr. Henry Porter, mercer in Birmingham. was,' he said, “ a love match on both sides,' and judging from a description of their persons, we must suppose that the passion was not inspired by the beauties of form or graces of manner; but by a mutual admiration of each others minds. Johnson's appearance is described as very forbidding. He was then lean
and lank, so that his immense structure of bones was hideously striking to the eye, and the scars of the scrophula were deeply visible. He also wore his hair, which was straight and stiff, and separated behind ; and he had seemingly convulsive starts and odd gesticulations, which tended at once to excite surprise and ridicule.' Mrs. Porter was double the age of Johnson, and her person and manner as described by Garrick were by no means pleasing to others. She was,' he says, ' very fat, with a bosom of more than ordinary protuberance. Her swelled cheeks were of a florid red, produced by thick painting, and increased by the liberal use of cordials; she was faring and fantastic in her dress, and affected both in her speech and her general behaviour.' It was beyond a doubt, how. ever, that whatever her real charms might have been, in the eye of her husband she was extremely beautiful, for in her epitaph he has recorded her as such, and given many instances in his writings of a sincere and permanent affection.
With the property he acquired with his wife, which is supposed to have amounted to about 8001. he attempted to establish a boarding school for young gen, tlemen at Edial, near Litchfield; but the plan proved abortive, the only pupils put under his care, were Garrick, the celebrated English Roscius, his brother George, and a Mr. Offely, a young gentleman of good fortune, who died early. * Disappointed in his expec
* About this time he was assiduously engaged in his tragedy called Irene, with which his friends were so well pleased that they advised him to proceed with it.