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A Prologue by Johnson.
To wit, reviving from its authour's dust,
Th' oblivious grave's inviolable shade.
If want of skill or want of care appear,
Yet then shall calm reflection bless the night,
A circumstance which could not fail to be very pleasing to Johnson occurred this year. The Tragedy of Sir Thomas Overbury, written by his early companion in London, Richard Savage', was brought out with alterations at Drury-lane theatre. The Prologue to it was written by Mr. Richard
''This address had the desired effect. The play was well received.' Murphy's Garrick, p. 302. Johnson wrote to Mrs. Thrale from Lichfield, 'Lucy [his step-daughter] thinks nothing of my prologue for Kelly, and says she has always disowned it.' Piozzi Letters, i. 352.
1 It was composed at a time when Savage was generally without lodging, and often without meat. Much of it was written with pen and ink that were borrowed, on paper that had been picked up in the streets. The unhappy poet 'was obliged to submit himself wholly to the players, and admit with whatever reluctance the emendations of Mr. Cibber, which he always considered as the disgrace of his performance.' When it was brought out, he himself took the part of Overbury. He was so much ashamed of having been reduced to appear as a player, that he always blotted out his name from the list when a copy of his tragedy was to be shown to his friends.' Johnson's Works, viii. 110-112.
3 It was not at Drury-lane, but at Covent Garden theatre, that it was acted. MALONE.
Aetat. 68.] Sheridan's compliment to Johnson.
Brinsley Sheridan; in which, after describing very pathetically the wretchedness of
'Ill-fated Savage, at whose birth was giv'n
No parent but the Muse, no friend but Heav'n :' he introduced an elegant compliment to Johnson on his Dictionary, that wonderful performance which cannot be too often or too highly praised; of which Mr. Harris, in his Philological Inquiries', justly and liberally observes: 'Such is its merit, that our language does not possess a more copious, learned, and valuable work.' The concluding lines of this Prologue were these:—
'So pleads the tale' that gives to future times
Fix'd by THE HAND THAT BIDS OUR LANGUage live.'
Mr. Sheridan here at once did honour to his taste and to his liberality of sentiment, by shewing that he was not prejudiced from the unlucky difference which had taken place between his worthy father and Dr. Johnson. I have already mentioned, that Johnson was very desirous of reconciliation with old Mr. Sheridan3. It will, therefore, not seem at all surprizing that he was zealous in acknowledging the brilliant merit of his son. While it had as yet been displayed only in the drama, Johnson proposed him as a member of THE LITERARY CLUB, observing, that 'He who has written the two best comedies of his age, is surely a considerable man'.'
' Part First, Chap. 4. BOSWELL. See ante, ii. 258.
* Life of Richard Savage, by Dr. Johnson. Boswell.
• See ante, i. 448, and post, May 17, 1783.
• Sheridan joined the Literary Club in March, 1777. and The Duenna were brought out in 1775; The Trip to Scarborough on Feb. 24, 1777, and The School for Scandal in the following May. Moore (Life of Sheridan, i. 168), speaking of The Duenna, says, 'The run of this opera has, I believe, no parallel in the annals of the drama. Sixty-three nights was the career of The Beggar's Opera; but The Duenna was acted no less than seventy-five times during the season.' The Trip to Scarborough was a failure. Johnson, therefore, doubtless referred to The Rivals and The Duenna.
Materials for a Life of Thomson. [A.D. 1777.
And he had, accordingly, the honour to be elected; for an honour it undoubtedly must be allowed to be, when it is considered of whom that society consists, and that a single black ball excludes a candidate.
'MR. BOSWELL TO DR. JOHNSON.
'July 9', 1777.
'MY DEAR SIR,
'For the health of my wife and children I have taken the little country-house at which you visited my uncle, Dr. Boswell', who, having lost his wife, is gone to live with his son. We took possession of our villa about a week ago; we have a garden of three quarters of an acre, well stocked with fruit-trees and flowers, and gooseberries and currants, and peas and beans, and cabbages, &c. &c., and my children are quite happy. I now write to you in a little study, from the window of which I see around me a verdant grove, and beyond it the lofty mountain called Arthur's Seat.
'Your last letter, in which you desire me to send you some additional information concerning Thomson, reached me very fortunately just as I was going to Lanark, to put my wife's two nephews, the young Campbells, to school there, under the care of Mr. Thomson, the master of it, whose wife is sister to the authour of The Seasons. She is an old woman; but her memory is very good; and she will with pleasure give me for you every particular that you wish to know, and she can tell. Pray then take the trouble to send me such questions as may lead to biographical materials. You say that the Life which we have of Thomson is scanty. Since I received your letter I have read his Life, published under the name of Cibber, but as you told me, really written by a Mr. Shiels'; that written by Dr. Murdoch; one prefixed to an edition of the Seasons, published at Edinburgh, which is compounded of both, with the addition of an anecdote of Quin's relieving Thomson from prison; the abridgement of Murdoch's account of him, in
1 The date is wrongly given. Boswell says that he wrote again on June 23 (post, p. 120), and Johnson's letter of June 28 is in answer to both letters. The right date is perhaps June 9.
2 See Boswell's Hebrides, under Nov. 11, 1773.
3 See p. 34 of this volume. BOSWELL.
Johnson, describing 'the fond intimacy' of Quin and Thomson, says (Works, viii. 374) :-'The commencement of this benevolence is very honourable to Quin, who is reported to have delivered Thomson,
Aetat. 68.] Materials for a Life of Thomson.
the Biographia Britannica, and another abridgement of it in the Biographical Dictionary, enriched with Dr. Joseph Warton's critical panegyrick on the Seasons in his Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope: from all these it appears to me that we have a pretty full account of this poet. However, you will, I doubt not, shew me many blanks, and I shall do what can be done to have them filled up. As Thomson never returned to Scotland, (which you will think very wise,) his sister can speak from her own knowledge only as to the early part of his life. She has some letters from him, which may probably give light as to his more advanced progress, if she will let us see them, which I suppose she will'. I believe George Lewis Scott and Dr. Armstrong3 are now his only surviving companions, while he lived in and about London; and they, I dare say, can tell more of him than is yet known. My own notion is, that Thomson was a much coarser man than his friends are willing to acknowledge*. His Seasons are indeed full of elegant and pious sentiments: but a rank soil, nay a dunghill, will produce beautiful flowers".
'Your edition of The English Poets will be very valuable, on account of the Prefaces and Lives. But I have seen a specimen of an edition of The Poets at the Apollo press, at Edinburgh, which, for excellence in printing and engraving, highly deserves a liberal encouragement.
then known to him only for his genius, from an arrest by a very considerable present; and its continuance is honourable to both, for friendship is not always the sequel of obligation.'
1 See ante, ii. 72, and post, June 18, 1778.
* Formerly Sub-preceptor to his present Majesty, and afterwards a Commissioner of Excise. MALONE.
The physician and poet. He died in 1779.
• Boswell nine years earlier (ante, ii. 72) had heard Johnson accuse Thomson of gross sensuality.
Savage, who lived much with Thomson, once told me he heard a lady remarking that she could gather from his works three parts of his character, that he was a great lover, a great swimmer, and rigorously abstinent; but, said Savage, he knows not any love but that of the sex; he was perhaps never in cold water in his life; and he indulges himself in all the luxury that comes within his reach.' Johnson's Works, viii. 377.
• Dr. Johnson was not the editor of this Collection of The English Poets; he merely furnished the biographical prefaces. MALONE. See post, Sept. 14, 1777.
Proposal for a meeting at Carlisle. [A.D. 1777.
'Most sincerely do I regret the bad health and bad rest with which you have been afflicted; and I hope you are better. I cannot believe that the Prologue which you generously gave to Mr. Kelly's widow and children the other day, is the effusion of one in sickness and in disquietude: but external circumstances are never sure indications of the state of man. I send you a letter which I wrote to you two years ago at Wilton'; and did not send it at the time, for fear of being reproved as indulging too much tenderness; and one written to you at the tomb of Melancthon', which I kept back, lest I should appear at once too superstitious and too enthusiastick. I now imagine that perhaps they may please
'You do not take the least notice of my proposal for our meeting at Carlisle'. Though I have meritoriously refrained from visiting London this year, I ask you if it would not be wrong that I should be two years without having the benefit of your conversation, when, if you come down as far as Derbyshire, we may meet at the expence of a few days' journeying, and not many pounds. I wish you to see Carlisle, which made me mention that place. But if you have not a desire to complete your tour of the English cathedrals, I will take a larger share of the road between this place and Ashbourne. So tell me where you will fix for our passing a few days by ourselves. Now don't cry "foolish fellow," or "idle dog." Chain your humour, and let your kindness play.
'You will rejoice to hear that Miss Macleod, of Rasay*, is
1 See ante, under April 18, 1775.
'One letter he seems to have sent to him from this spot. See ante, ii. 3, note 2.
' Dr. Johnson had himself talked of our seeing Carlisle together. High was a favourite word of his to denote a person of rank. He said to me, 'Sir, I believe we may meet at the house of a Roman Catholick lady in Cumberland; a high lady, Sir.' I afterwards discovered that he meant Mrs. Strickland, sister of Charles Townley, Esq., whose very noble collection of statues and pictures is not more to be admired, than his extraordinary and polite readiness in shewing it, which I and several of my friends have agreeably experienced. They who are possessed of valuable stores of gratification to persons of taste, should exercise their benevolence in imparting the pleasure. Grateful acknowledgements are due to Welbore Ellis Agar, Esq., for the liberal access which he is pleased to allow to his exquisite collection of pictBOSWELL.
• See Boswell's Hebrides, Sept. 11, 1773.