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Aetat. 40.]

Johnson no tragedy-writer.



that he had not the sensibility to perceive them. His great friend Mr. Walmsley's prediction, that he would turn out a fine tragedy-writer',' was, therefore, ill-founded. Johnson was wise enough to be convinced that he had not the talents necessary to write successfully for the stage, and never made another attempt in that species of composition2.

When asked how he felt upon the ill success of his tragedy, he replied, 'Like the Monument3;' meaning that he continued firm

'See ante, p. 102.

Murphy (Life, p. 53) says that 'some years afterwards, when he knew Johnson to be in distress, he asked Garrick why he did not produce another tragedy for his Lichfield friend? Garrick's answer was remarkable: "When Johnson writes tragedy, declamation roars, and passion sleeps: when Shakespeare wrote, he dipped his pen in his own heart."' Johnson was perhaps aware of the causes of his failure as a tragedy-writer. In his criticism of Addison's Cato he says:-'Of Cato it has been not unjustly determined, that it is rather a poem in dialogue than a drama, rather a succession of just sentiments in elegant language than a representation of natural affections, or of any state probable or possible in human life. . . . The events are expected without solicitude, and are remembered without joy or sorrow. ... Its success has introduced or confirmed among us the use of dialogue too declamatory, of unaffecting elegance and chill philosophy.' Works, vii. 456. 'Johnson thought Cato the best model of tragedy we had; yet he used to say, of all things the most ridiculous would be to see a girl cry at the representation of it.' Johnson's Works (1787), xi. 207. Cato, if neglected, has added at least eight 'habitual quotations' to the language (see Thackeray's English Humourists, p. 98). Irene has perhaps not added a single one. It has


nevertheless some quotable lines, such as

'Crowds that hide a monarch from himself.' Act i. sc. 4. 'To cant... of reason to a lover.' Act iii. sc. 1. 'When e'en as love was breaking off from wonder,

And tender accents quiver'd on my lips.' Ib. 'And fate lies crowded in a narrow space.' Act iii. sc. 6. 'Reflect that life and death, affecting sounds,

Are only varied modes of endless being.' Act iii. sc. 8. 'Directs the planets with a careless nod.' Ib. 'Far as futurity's untravell'd waste.' Act iv. sc. I. 'And wake from ignorance the western world.' Act iv. sc. 2. 'Through hissing ages a proverbial coward,

The tale of women, and the scorn of fools.' Act iv. sc. 'No records but the records of the sky.' Ib. . . . thou art sunk beneath reproach.' Act v. sc. 2. 'Oh hide me from myself.' Act v. sc. 3.


Johnson wrote of Milton:-'I cannot but conceive him calm and confident, little disappointed, not at all dejected, relying on his own merit with steady consciousness, and waiting without impatience the vicissitudes of opinion, and the impartiality and

Deference for the general opinion.

and unmoved as that column. And let it be remembered, as an admonition to the genus irritabile' of dramatick writers, that this great man, instead of peevishly complaining of the bad taste of the town, submitted to its decision without a murmur. He had, indeed, upon all occasions, a great deference for the general opinion: A man (said he) who writes a book, thinks himself wiser or wittier than the rest of mankind; he supposes that he can instruct or amuse them, and the publick to whom he appeals, must, after all, be the judges of his pretensions.'

On occasion of his play being brought upon the stage, Johnson had a fancy that as a dramatick authour his dress should be more gay than what he ordinarily wore; he therefore appeared behind the scenes, and even in one of the side boxes, in a scarlet waistcoat, with rich gold lace, and a gold-laced hat3. He humourously observed to Mr. Langton, 'that when in that dress he could not treat people with the same ease as when in his usual plain clothes.' Dress indeed, we must allow, has more


of a future generation.' Johnson's Works, vii. 108.

1 'Genus irritabile vatum.' 'The fretful tribe of rival poets.' Francis, Horace, Ep. ii. 2. 102. 2 This deference he enforces in many passages in his writings; as for instance :-'Dryden might have observed, that what is good only because it pleases, cannot be pronounced good till it has been found to please.' Johnson's Works, vii. 252. 'The authority of Addison is great; yet the voice of the people, when to please the people is the purpose, deserves regard.' Ib. 376. ‘'About things on which the public thinks long, it commonly attains to think right.' Ib. 456. 'These apologies are always useless: "de gustibus non est disputandum;" men may be convinced, but they cannot be pleased against their will.' Ib. viii. 26. 'Of things that terminate in human life, the world is the proper judge; to despise its sentence, if it were possible, is not just; and if it were just, is not possible.' Ib. viii. 316.

[A D. 1749.

Lord Chesterfield in writing to his son about his first appearance in the world said, 'You will be tried and judged there, not as a boy, but as a man; and from that moment there is no appeal for character? Lord Chesterfield's Letters, iii. 324. Addison in the Guardian, No. 98, had said that 'men of the best sense are always diffident of their private judgment, till it receives a sanction from the public. Provoco ad populum, I appeal to the people, was the usual saying of a very excellent dramatic poet, when he had any disputes with particular persons about the justness and regularity of his productions.' See post, March 23, 1783.

3 Were I,' he said, 'to wear a laced or embroidered waistcoat, it should be very rich. I had once a very rich laced waistcoat, which I wore the first night of my tragedy.' Boswell's Hebrides, Oct. 27, 1773


* 'Topham Beauclerc used to give a pleasant description of this greenroom finery, as related by the author himself: But,' said Johnson, with effect

Johnson in the Green Room.

effect even upon strong minds than one should suppose, without having had the experience of it. His necessary attendance while his play was in rehearsal, and during its performance, brought him acquainted with many of the performers of both sexes, which produced a more favourable opinion of their profession than he had harshly expressed in his Life of Savage'. With some of them he kept up an acquaintance as long as he and they lived, and was ever ready to shew them acts of kindness. He for a considerable time used to frequent the Green Room, and seemed to take delight in dissipating his gloom, by mixing in the sprightly chit-chat of the motley circle then to be found there. Mr. David Hume related to me from Mr. Garrick, that Johnson at last denied himself this amusement, from considerations of rigid virtue; saying, 'I'll come no more behind your scenes, David; for the silk stockings and white bosoms of your actresses excite my amorous propensities.'

1750: ÆTAT. 41.]-IN 1750 he came forth in the character for which he was eminently qualified, a majestick teacher of moral and religious wisdom. The vehicle which he chose was that of a periodical paper, which he knew had been, upon former occasions, employed with great success. The Tatler, Spectator, and Guardian, were the last of the kind published in England, which had stood the test of a long trial3; and such an interval had now elapsed since their publication, as made him justly think that, to many of his readers, this form of instruction would, in some degree, have the advantage of novelty. A few days before the first of his Essays came out, there started another competitor for fame in the same form, under the title of The

Aetat. 41.]

great gravity, 'I soon laid aside my gold-laced hat, lest it should make me proud.' Murphy's Johnson, p. 52. In The Idler (No. 62) we have an account of a man who had longed to 'issue forth in all the splendour of embroidery.' When his fine clothes were brought, 'I felt myself obstructed,' he wrote, 'in the common intercourse of civility by an uneasy consciousness of my new appearance; as I thought myself more observed, I was more anxious about my mien


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Tatler Revived', which I believe was born but to die.' Johnson was, I think, not very happy in the choice of his title, The Rambler, which certainly is not suited to a series of grave and moral discourses; which the Italians have literally, but ludicrously translated by Il Vagabondo3; and which has been lately assumed as the denomination of a vehicle of licentious tales, The Rambler's Magazine. He gave Sir Joshua Reynolds the following account of its getting this name: 'What must be done, Sir, will be done. When I was to begin publishing that paper, I was at a loss how to name it. I sat down at night upon my bedside, and resolved that I would not go to sleep till I had fixed its title. The Rambler seemed the best that occurred, and I took it'.'


1 'Two new designs have appeared about the middle of this month [March, 1750], one entitled, The Tatler Revived; or The Christian Philosopher and Politician, half a sheet, price 2d. (stamped); the other, The Rambler, three half sheets (unstamped); price 2d. Gent. Mag. xx.

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With what devout and conscientious sentiments this paper was undertaken, is evidenced by the following prayer, which he composed and offered up on the occasion: 'Almighty GOD, the giver of all good things, without whose help all labour is ineffectual, and without whose grace all wisdom is folly; grant, I beseech Thee, that in this undertaking5 thy Holy Spirit may not be with-held from me, but that I may promote thy glory, and the salvation of myself and others: grant this, O LORD, for the sake of thy son JESUS CHRIST. Amen.'

The first paper of the Rambler was published on Tuesday the 20th of March, 1750; and its authour was enabled to continue it, without interruption, every Tuesday and Friday, till Saturday the


2 Pope's Essay on Man, ii. 10. 3 See post, under Oct. 12, 1779.

4 I have heard Dr. Warton mention, that he was at Mr. Robert Dodsley's with the late Mr. Moore, and several of his friends, considering what should be the name of the periodical paper, which Moore had undertaken. Garrick proposed The

[A.D. 1750.

Sallad, which, by a curious coincidence, was afterwards applied to himself by Goldsmith:

'Our Garrick's a sallad, for in him

we see

Oil, vinegar, sugar, and saltness agree! [Retaliation, line 11.] At last, the company having separated, without any thing of which they approved having been offered, Dodsley himself thought of The World. BOSWELL.

5 In the original MS. 'in this my undertaking,' and below, 'the salvation both of myself and others.'

6 Prayers and Meditations, p. 9. BOSWELL.

Aetat. 41.]

Revision of THe Rambler.

17th of March, 1752', on which day it closed. This is a strong confirmation of the truth of a remark of his, which I have had occasion to quote elsewhere, that ‘a man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it3;' for, notwithstanding his constitutional indolence, his depression of spirits, and his labour in carrying on his Dictionary, he answered the stated calls of the press twice a week from the stores of his mind, during all that time; having received no assistance, except four billets in No. 10, by Miss Mulso, now Mrs. Chapone'; No. 30, by Mrs. Catharine Talbot'; No. 97, by Mr. Samuel Richardson, whom he describes in an introductory note as 'An author who has enlarged the knowledge of human nature, and taught the passions to move at the command of virtue;' and Nos. 44 and 100 by Mrs. Elizabeth Carter.

Posterity will be astonished when they are told, upon the authority of Johnson himself, that many of these discourses, which we should suppose had been laboured with all the slow attention of literary leisure, were written in haste as the moment pressed, without even being read over by him before they were printed. It can be accounted for only in this way; that by

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* The correspondence between her and Mrs. Carter was published in 1808.


Dr. Birch says:- The proprietor of the Rambler, Cave, told me that copy was seldom sent to the press till late in the night before the day of publication,' Croker's Boswell, p. 121, note. See post, April 12, 1776, and beginning of 1781.

Johnson carefully revised the Ramblers for the collected edition. The editor of the Oxford edition of Johnson's Works states (ii. x), that 'the alterations exceeded six thousand.' The following passage from the last number affords a good instance of this revision.

First edition.

'I have never complied with temporary curiosity, nor furnished my readers with abilities to discuss the topic of the day; I have seldom exemplified my assertions by living characters; from my papers therefore no man could hope either reading

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