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received Mr. Shaw's proposals for its publication, which I can perceive are written by the hand of a master.
'Pray get me all the editions of Walton's Lives. I have a notion that the republication of them with notes will fall upon me, between Dr. Horne and Lord Hailes.'1
Mr. Shaw's proposals for An Analysis of the Scotch Celtic Language, were thus illuminated by the pen of Johnson :
'Though the Erse dialect of the Celtic language has, from the earliest times, been spoken in Britain, and still subsists in the northern parts and adjacent islands, yet, by the negligence of a people rather warlike than lettered, it has hitherto been left to the caprice and judgment of every speaker, and has floated in the living voice, without the steadiness of analogy or direction of rules. An Erse Grammar is an addition to the stores of literature; and its auther hopes for the indulgence always shown to those that attempt to do what was never done before. If his work shall be found defective it is at least all his own: he is not like other grammarians, a compiler or transcriber; what he delivers he has learned by attentive observation among his countrymen, who perhaps will be themselves surprised to see that speech reduced to principles which they have used only by imitation.
"The use of this book will, however, not be confined to the mountains and islands; it will afford a pleasing and important subject of speculation to those whose studies lead them to trace the affinity of languages and the migrations of the ancient races of mankind.'
TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON
'Glasgow, April 24, 1777. 'MY DEAR SIR, -Our worthy friend Thrale's death having appeared in the newspapers, and been afterwards contradicted, I have been placed in a state of very uneasy uncertainty,
1 [None of the persons here mentioned executed the work which they had in contemplation. Walton's valuable book, however, has been correctly republished in quarto, with notes and illustrations, by the Rev. Mr. Zouch.-M.1
from which I hoped to be relieved by you: but my hopes have as yet been vain. How could you omit to write to me on such an occasion? I shall wait with anxiety.
'I am going to Auchinleck to stay a fortnight with my father. It is better not to be there very long at one time. But frequent renewals of attention are agreeable to him.
'Pray tell me about this edition of the English Poets, with a Preface, biographical and critical, to each Author, by Samuel Johnson, LL.D., which I see advertised. I am delighted with the prospect of it. Indeed I am happy to feel that I am capable of being so much delighted with literature. But is not the charm of this publication chiefly owing to the magnum nomen in the front of it?
'What do you say of Lord Chesterfield's Memoirs and last Letters?
'My wife has made marmalade of oranges for you. I left her and my daughters and Alexander all well yesterday. I have taught Veronica to speak of you thus ;-Dr. Johnson, not Johnston.-I remain, my dear sir, your most affectionate and obliged humble servant, JAMES BOSWELL.'
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'DEAR SIR,-The story of Mr. Thrale's death, as he had neither been sick nor in any other danger, made so little impression upon me that I never thought about obviating its effects on anybody else. It is supposed to have been produced by the English custom of making April fools, that is, of sending one another on some foolish errand on the first of April.
'Tell Mrs. Boswell that I shall taste her marmalade cautiously at first. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. Beware, says the Italian proverb, of a reconciled enemy. But when I find it does me no harm I shall then receive it and be thankful for it as a pledge of firm, and, I hope, of unalterable kindness. She is, after all, a dear, dear lady.
'Please to return Dr. Blair thanks for his sermons. The Scotch write English wonderfully well.
'Your frequent visits to Auchinleck, and your short stay there, are very laudable and very judicious. Your present
concord with your father gives me great pleasure; it was all that you seemed to want.
'My health is very bad and my nights are very unquiet. What can I do to mend them? I have for this summer nothing better in prospect than a journey into Staffordshire and Derbyshire, perhaps with Oxford and Birmingham in my way.
'Make my compliments to Miss Veronica; I must leave it to her philosophy to comfort you for the loss of little David. You must remember, that to keep three out of four is more than your share. Mrs. Thrale has but four out of eleven.
'I am engaged to write little Lives and little Prefaces to a little edition of the English Poets. I think I have persuaded the booksellers to insert something of Thomson; and if you could give me some information about him, for the life which we have is very scanty, I should be glad.—I am, dear sir, your most affectionate humble servant, SAM. JOHNSON. 'May 3, 1777.'
To those who delight in tracing the progress of works of literature, it will be an entertainment to compare the limited design with the ample execution of that admirable performance, the Lives of the English Poets, which is the richest, most beautiful, and indeed most perfect, production of Johnson's pen. His notion of it at this time appears in the preceding letter. He has a memorandum in this year, 29 May, Easter Eve, I treated with booksellers on a bargain, but the time was not long.'1 The bargain was concerning that undertaking; but his tender conscience seems alarmed lest it should have intruded too much on his devout preparation for the solemnity of the ensuing day. But, indeed, very little time was necessary for Johnson's concluding a treaty with the booksellers; as he had, I believe, less attention to profit from his labours than
1 Prayers and Meditations, p. 155.
any man to whom literature has been a profession. I shall here insert from a letter to me from my late worthy friend Mr. Edward Dilly, though of a later date, an account of this plan so happily conceived ; since it was the occasion of procuring for us an elegant collection of the best biography and criticism of which our language can boast.
TO JAMES BOSWELL, ESQ.
'Southhill, Sept. 26, 1777.
'DEAR SIR,-You will find by this letter that I am still in the same calm retreat from the noise and bustle of London, as when I wrote to you last. I am happy to find you had such an agreeable meeting with your old friend Dr. Johnson; I have no doubt your stock is much increased by the interview; few men, nay, I may say, scarcely any man, has got that fund of knowledge and entertainment as Dr. Johnson in conversation. When he opens freely every one is attentive to what he says, and cannot fail of improvement as well as pleasure.
"The edition of the Poets, now printing, will do honour to the English press; and a concise account of the life of each author, by Dr. Johnson, will be a very valuable addition, and stamp the reputation of this edition superior to anything that is gone before. The first cause that gave rise to this undertaking, I believe, was owing to the little trifling edition of the Poets, printing by the Martins at Edinburgh, and to be sold by Bell, in London. Upon examining the volumes which were printed the type was found so extremely small that many persons could not read them; not only this inconvenience attended it, but the inaccuracy of the press was very conspicuous. These reasons, as well as the idea of an invasion of what we call our Literary Property, induced the London Booksellers to print an elegant and accurate edition of all the English poets of reputation, from Chaucer to the present time.
'Accordingly a select number of the most respectable booksellers met on the occasion; and, on consulting together,
agreed that all the proprietors of copyright in the various poets should be summoned together; and when their opinions were given, to proceed immediately on the business. Accordingly a meeting was held, consisting of about forty of the most respectable booksellers of London, when it was agreed that an elegant and uniform edition of The English Poets should be immediately printed, with a concise account of the life of each author, by Dr. Samuel Johnson; and that three persons should be deputed to wait upon Dr. Johnson to solicit him to undertake the Lives, viz., T. Davies, Strahan, and Cadell. The Doctor very politely undertook it, and seemed exceedingly pleased with the proposal. As to the terms, it was left entirely to the Doctor to name his own; he mentioned two hundred guineas; it was immediately agreed to; and a further compliment, I believe, will be made him. A committee was likewise appointed to engage the best engravers, viz. Bartolozzi, Sherwin, Hall, etc. Likewise another committee for giving directions about the paper, printing, etc., so that the whole will be conducted with spirit, and in the best manner, with respect to authorship, editorship, engravings, etc. etc. My brother will give you a list of the Poets we mean to give, many of which are within the time of the Act of Queen Anne, which Martin and Bell cannot give, as they have no property in them; the proprietors are almost all the booksellers in London of consequence.-I am, dear sir, ever yours, EDWARD DILLY.'
I shall afterwards have occasion to consider the extensive and varied range which Johnson took, when he was once led upon ground which he trod with a peculiar delight, having long been intimately acquainted with all the circumstances of it that could interest and please.
1 [Johnson's moderation in demanding so small a sum is extraordinary. Had he asked one thousand, or even fifteen hundred guineas, the booksellers, who knew the value of his name, would doubtless have readily given it. They have probably got five thousand guineas by this work in the course of twenty-five years.-M.]