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DR. JOHNSON TO CHARLES O'CONNOR, ESQ.1
'SIR,-Having had the pleasure of conversing with Dr. Campbell about your character and your literary undertaking, I am resolved to gratify myself by renewing a correspondence which began and ended a great while ago, and ended, I am afraid, by my fault; a fault which, if you have not forgotten it, you must now forgive.
'If I have ever disappointed you, give me leave to tell you that you have likewise disappointed me. I expected great discoveries in Irish antiquity, and large publications in the Irish language; but the world still remains as it was, doubtful and ignorant. What the Irish language is in itself, and to what languages it has affinity, are very interesting questions, which every man wishes to see resolved that has any philological or historical curiosity. Dr. Leland begins his history too late the ages which deserve an exact inquiry are those times (for such there were) when Ireland was the school of the west, the quiet habitation of sanctity and literature. If you could give a history, though imperfect, of the Irish nation, from its conversion to Christianity to the invasion from England, you would amplify knowledge with new views and new objects. Set about it therefore, if you can: do what you can easily do without anxious exactness. Lay the foundation and leave the superstructure to posterity.-I am, sir, your humble servant, SAM. JOHNSON.
'May 19, 1777.
Early in this year came out, in two volumes quarto, the posthumous works of the learned Dr. Zachary
1 Mr. Joseph Cooper Walker, of the Treasury, Dublin, who obligingly communicated to me this and a former letter from Dr. Johnson to the same gentleman (for which see vol. i. p. 263), writes to me as follows:'Perhaps it would gratify you to have some account of Mr O'Connor. He is an amiable, learned, venerable old gentleman, of an independent fortune, who lives at Belanagar, in the county of Roscommon; he is an admired writer, and Member of the Irish Academy. The above letter is alluded to in the Preface to the 2nd edit. of his Dissert. p. 3.' Mr. O'Connor afterwards died at the age of eighty-two, July 1, 1791. See a well-drawn character of him in the Gentleman's Magazine for August 1791.
person who gave him any
Pearce, Bishop of Rochester, being A Commentary, with Notes, on the Four Evangelists and the Acts of the Apostles, with other theological pieces. Johnson had now an opportunity of making a grateful return to that excellent prelate, who, we have seen, was the only assistance in the compilation of his Dictionary. The Bishop had left some account of his life and character, written by himself. To this Johnson made some valuable additions, and also furnished to the editor, the Reverend Mr. Derby, a dedication, which I shall here insert, both because it will appear at this time with peculiar propriety, and because it will tend to propagate and increase that 'fervour of Loyalty,' which in me, who boast of the name of Tory, is not only a principle but a passion.
TO THE KING
'SIR,-I presume to lay before your Majesty the last labours of a learned Bishop, who died in the toils and duties of his calling. He is now beyond the reach of all earthly honours and rewards; and only the hope of inciting others to imitate him makes it now fit to be remembered, that he enjoyed in his life the favour of your Majesty.
"The tumultuary life of Princes seldom permits them to survey the wide extent of national interest without losing sight of private merit; to exhibit qualities which may be imitated by the highest and the humblest of mankind; and to be at once amiable and great.
'Such characters, if now and then they appear in history, are contemplated with admiration. May it be the ambition of all your subjects to make haste with their tribute of reverence; and as posterity may learn from your Majesty how Kings should live, may they learn likewise from your people how they should be honoured.-I am, may it please your Majesty, with the most profound respect, your Majesty's most dutiful and devoted subject and servant.'
In the summer he wrote a Prologue which was spoken before A Word to the Wise, a comedy by Mr. Hugh Kelly, which had been brought upon the stage in 1770, but he being a writer for ministry in one of the newspapers, it fell a sacrifice to popular fury, and, in the playhouse phrase, was damned. By the generosity of Mr. Harris, the proprietor of Covent Garden Theatre, it was now exhibited for one night, for the benefit of the author's widow and children. To conciliate the favour of the audience was the intention of Johnson's Prologue, which, as it is not long, I shall here insert, as a proof that his poetical talents were in no degree impaired :
"This night presents a play, which public rage,
The man whom Fate has laid where all must lie.
Be kind, ye judges, or at least be just:
Th' oblivious grave's inviolable shade.
When pleasure fired her torch at virtue's flame,
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 up with alterations at Drury Lane Theatre. The Prologue to it was written by Mr. Richard 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,1 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 2 that gives to future times
Mr. Sheridan here at once did honour to his taste and to his liberality of sentiment, by showing 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. Sheridan. It will, therefore, not seem at all surprising that he was zealous in acknowledging the brilliant merit of his son. While it had as yet been displayed
1 Part i. chap. 4.
'Life of Richard Savage, by Dr. Johnson.'
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.' 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, etc. etc., 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 author 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; 1 that written by Dr. Murdoch; one prefixed to an edition of The Seasons, published at Edinburgh, which is compounded of
1 See p. 39 of this volume.