Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Boswell's Life of Johnson: 7

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Assistant Professor of 18th Century Literary  Studies, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Missing Cask of Port, the Olney Community College Press.

Illustrated by rhoda penmarq; a penmarq international™ production.*

*”A ‘penmarq international™ production’ is a first-class production.” – Horace P. Sternwall , author and motivational speaker

to begin at the beginning, click here

for previous chapter, click here


His father's misfortunes in trade rendered him unable to support his son; and for some time there appeared no means by which he could maintain himself.

In the December of this year his father died. 

The state of poverty in which he died, appears from a note in one of Johnson's little diaries of the following year, which strongly displays his spirit and virtuous dignity of mind.

'1732, Julii 15. I layed by eleven guineas on this day, when I received twenty pounds, being all that I have reason to hope for out of my father's effects, previous to the death of my mother; an event which I pray GOD may be very remote. I now therefore see that I must make my own fortune. Meanwhile, let me take care that the powers of my mind may not be debilitated by poverty, and that indigence do not force me into any criminal act.'

Johnson was so far fortunate, that the respectable character of his parents, and his own merit, had, from his earliest years, secured him a kind reception in the best families at Lichfield.

In these families he passed much time in his early years. In most of them, he was in the company of ladies, particularly at Mr. Walmsley's, whose wife and sisters-in-law, of the name of Aston, and daughters of a Baronet, were remarkable for good breeding; so that the notion which has been industriously circulated and believed, that he never was in good company till late in life, and, consequently had been confirmed in coarse and ferocious manners by long habits, is wholly without foundation.

In the forlorn state of his circumstances, he accepted of an offer to be employed as usher in the school of Market-Bosworth, in Leicestershire.

This employment was very irksome to him in every respect, and he complained grievously of it in his letters to his friend Mr. Hector, who was now settled as a surgeon at Birmingham. Mr. Hector recollects his writing 'that the poet had described the dull sameness of his existence in these words, "Vitam continet una dies" (one day contains the whole of my life); that it was unvaried as the note of the cuckow; and that he did not know whether it was more disagreeable for him to teach, or the boys to learn, the grammar rules.'

His general aversion to this painful drudgery was greatly enhanced by a disagreement between him and Sir Wolstan Dixey, the patron of the school, in whose house, I have been told, he officiated as a kind of domestick chaplain, so far, at least, as to say grace at table, but was treated with what he represented as intolerable harshness; and, after suffering for a few months such complicated misery, he relinquished a situation which all his life afterwards he recollected with the strongest aversion, and even a degree of horrour.

Being now again totally unoccupied, he was invited by Mr. Hector to pass some time with him at Birmingham, as his guest, at the house of Mr. Warren, with whom Mr. Hector lodged and boarded.

Mr. Warren was the first established bookseller in Birmingham, and was very attentive to Johnson, who he soon found could be of much service to him in his trade, by his knowledge of literature.

He continued to live as Mr. Hector's guest for about six months, and then hired lodgings in another part of the town, finding himself as well situated at Birmingham as he supposed he could be any where, while he had no settled plan of life, and very scanty means of subsistence.

He made some valuable acquaintances there, amongst whom were Mr. Porter, a mercer, whose widow he afterwards married.

In what manner he employed his pen at this period, or whether he derived from it any pecuniary advantage, I have not been able to ascertain. He probably got a little money from Mr. Warren; and we are certain, that he executed here one piece of literary labour, of which Mr. Hector has favoured me with a minute account.

Having mentioned that he had read at Pembroke College A Voyage to Abyssinia, by Lobo, a Portuguese Jesuit, and that he thought an abridgment and translation of it from the French into English might be an useful and profitable publication, Mr. Warren and Mr. Hector joined in urging him to undertake it. He accordingly agreed; and the book not being to be found in Birmingham, he borrowed it of Pembroke College.

A part of the work being very soon done, one Osborn, who was Mr. Warren's printer, was set to work with what was ready, and Johnson engaged to supply the press with copy as it should be wanted; but his constitutional indolence soon prevailed, and the work was at a stand.

Mr. Hector, who knew that a motive of humanity would be the most prevailing argument with his friend, went to Johnson, and represented to him, that the printer could have no other employment till this undertaking was finished, and that the poor man and his family were suffering.

Johnson upon this exerted the powers of his mind, though his body was relaxed.

He lay in bed with the book, which was a quarto, before him, and dictated while Hector wrote.

Mr. Hector carried the sheets to the press, and corrected almost all the proof sheets, very few of which were even seen by Johnson.

In this manner, with the aid of Mr. Hector's active friendship, the book was completed, and was published in 1735.

For this work he had from Mr. Warren only the sum of five guineas. 


part 8

No comments:

Post a Comment