Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Boswell’s Life of Johnson: 15

Edited by Dan Leo, LL.D., Professor Emeritus of Forgotten Classics, Assistant Golf Coach, Olney Community College; author of Bozzie and Dr. Sam: The Case of the Importunate Bawd, the Olney Community College Press.

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In 1742 he wrote Proposals for Printing Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford. He was employed in this business by Mr. Thomas Osborne the bookseller. It has been confidently related, with many embellishments, that Johnson one day knocked Osborne down in his shop, with a folio, and put his foot upon his neck. 

The simple truth I had from Johnson himself.

'Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him. But it was not in his shop: it was in my own chamber.'

But I should think myself much wanting, both to my illustrious friend and my readers, did I not introduce here, with more than ordinary respect, an exquisitely beautiful Ode, which has not been inserted in any of the collections of Johnson's poetry, written by him at a very early period, as Mr. Hector informs me, and inserted in the Gentleman's Magazine of this year. 


'Friendship, peculiar boon of heav'n,   
The noble mind's delight and pride, 
To men and angels only giv'n,   
To all the lower world deny'd.  

While love, unknown among the blest,   
Parent of thousand wild desires,
The savage and the human breast   
Torments alike with raging fires;

With bright, but oft destructive, gleam,  
Alike o'er all his lightnings fly;
Thy lambent glories only beam   
Around the fav'rites of the sky.

Thy gentle flows of guiltless joys   
On fools and villains ne'er descend;
In vain for thee the tyrant sighs,   
And hugs a flatterer for a friend.


Directress of the brave and just,   
O guide us through life's darksome way!
And let the tortures of mistrust
On selfish bosoms only prey.

Nor shall thine ardours cease to glow,   
When souls to blissful climes remove;
What rais'd our virtue here below,   
Shall aid our happiness above.' 

Johnson had now an opportunity of obliging his schoolfellow Dr. James, of whom he once observed, 'no man brings more mind to his profession.' 

James published this year his Medicinal Dictionary, in three volumes folio. Johnson, as I understood from him, had written, or assisted in writing, the proposals for this work; and being very fond of the study of physick, in which James was his master, he furnished some of the articles. He, however, certainly wrote for it the Dedication to Dr. Mead, which is conceived with great address, to conciliate the patronage of that very eminent man.

His circumstances were at this time much embarrassed; yet his affection for his mother was so warm, and so liberal, that he took upon himself a debt of her's, which, though small in itself, was then considerable to him. This appears from the following letter which he wrote to Mr. Levett, of Lichfield, the original of which lies now before me. 

'To MR. LEVETT; IN LICHFIELD. 'December 1, 1743.


'I am extremely sorry that we have encroached so much upon your forbearance with respect to the interest, which a great perplexity of affairs hindered me from thinking of with that attention that I ought, and which I am not immediately able to remit to you, but will pay it (I think twelve pounds,) in two months. I look upon this, and on the future interest of that mortgage, as my own debt; and beg that you will be pleased to give me directions how to pay it, and not mention it to my dear mother.

If it be necessary to pay this in less time, I believe I can do it; but I take two months for certainty, and beg an answer whether you can allow me so much time. I think myself very much obliged to your forbearance, and shall esteem it a great happiness to be able to serve you. I have great opportunities of dispersing any thing that you may think it proper to make publick. I will give a note for the money, payable at the time mentioned, to any one here that you shall appoint. I am, Sir,  

'Your most obedient,  'And most humble servant,  'SAM. JOHNSON. 

'At Mr. Osborne's, bookseller, in Gray's Inn.'

(To be continued, as young Sam Johnson soldiers bravely on.)

part 16

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