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A MEETING OF BOOKSELLERS [1777 * Accordingly a select number of the most respectable booksellers met on the occasion; and, on consulting together, agreed, that all the proprietors of copy-right 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 elegant and uniform edition of The English Poets should be immediately printed, with a concise account of the life of each authour, 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 farther 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 authourship, 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 your's,

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 cir. cumstances 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 book. sellers, 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.]

1777] JOHNSON'S LETTER TO MR. O'CONNOR

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DR. JOHNSON TO CHARLES O'CONNOR, Esq. '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 enquiry 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 most humble servant, * May 19, 1777.

SAM. JOHNSON.'

Early in this year came out, in two volumes quarto, the posthumous works of the learned Dr. Zachary Pearce, Bishop of Rochester ; being A Commentary, with Notes,

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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. 213), 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. See a welldrawn character of him in the Gent. Mag. for August 1791.

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BISHOP PEARCE'S WORKS (1777 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 person who

gave
him
any

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.

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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 news papers, it fell a sacrifice to popular fury, and in the playhouse phrase, was damned. By the generosity of Mr. Harris, the pro

1777] A PROLOGUE BY JOHNSON

85 prietor of Covent Garden theatre, it was now exhibited for one night, for the benefit of the authour'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 publick rage,
Or right or wrong, once hooted from the stage :
From zeal or malice, now no more we dread,
For English vengeance wars not with the dead.
A generous foe regards with pitying eye
The man whom Fate has laid where all must lie.
To wit, reviving from its authour's dust,
Be kind, ye judges, or at least be just :
Let no renewed hostilities invade
Th' oblivious grave's inviolable shade.
Let one great payment every claim appease,
And him who cannot hurt, allow to please ;
To please by scenes, unconscious of offence,
By harmless merriment, or useful sense.
Where aught of bright or fair the piece displays,
Approve it only ;—’tis too late to praise.
If want of skill or want of care appear,
Forbear to hiss ;-the poet cannot hear.
By all, like him, must praise and blame be found,
At last, a fleeting gleam, or empty sound ;
Yet then shall calm reflection bless the night,
When liberal pity dignified delight;
When pleasure fir'd her touch at virtue's flame,

And mirth was bounty with an humbler name.' 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 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 :

1 It was not at Drury-lane, but at Covent Garden theatre, that it was acted. [M.]

? Part First, Chap. 4.

86 R. B. SHERIDAN AND THE CLUB. [1777 *Such is its merit, that our language does not possess a more copious, learned, and valuable work.' The conclud. ing lines of this Prologue were these :

So pleads the tale that gives to future times
The son's misfortunes and the parent's crimes ;
There shall his fame (if own'd to-night) survive,

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. Sheridan. It will, therefore, not seem at all surprizing that he was zealous in acknowledg. ing 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.' 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. · MY DEAR SIR,

‘July 9, 1777. * 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

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

1 Life of Richard Savage, by Dr. Johnson.

his son.

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