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Johnson's Parliamentary Debates.
Johnson told me that as soon as he found that the speeches were thought genuine, he determined that he would write no more of them ; for ‘he would not be accessary to the propagation of falsehood. And such was the tenderness of his conscience, that a short time before his death he expressed his regret for his having been the authour of fictions, which had passed for realities!
He nevertheless agreed with me in thinking, that the debates which he had framed were to be valued as orations upon questions of publick importance. They have accordingly been collected in volumes, properly arranged, and recommended to the notice of parliamentary speakers by a preface, written by no inferior hand? I must, however, observe, that although there is in those debates a wonderful store of political information, and very powerful eloquence, I cannot agree that they exhibit the manner of each particular speaker, as Sir John Hawkins seems to think. But, indeed, what opinion can we have of his judgement, and taste in publick speaking, who presumes to give, as the characteristicks of two celebrated orators, 'the deepmouthed rancour of Pulteney), and the yelping pertinacity of Pitto.
This year I find that his tragedy of Irene had been for some time ready for the stage, and that his necessities made him desirous of getting as much as he could for it, without delay; for there is the following letter from Mr. Cave to Dr. Birch, in the same volume of manuscripts in the British Museum, from which I copied those above quoted. They were most obligingly pointed out to me by Sir William Musgrave, one of the Curators of that noble repository.
+ See post, Dec. 1784, in Nichols's Anecdotes. If we may trust Hawkins, it is likely that Johnson's ‘tenderness of conscience' cost Cave a good deal ; for he writes that, while Johnson composed the Debates, the sale of the Magazine increased from ten to fifteen thousand copies a month. 'Cave manifested his good fortune by buying an old coach and a pair of older horses. Hawkins's Johnson, p. 123.
2 I am assured that the editor is Mr. George Chalmers, whose commercial works are well known and esteemed. BOSWELL.
3 The characteristic of Pulteney's oratory is thus given in Hazlitt's Northcote's Conversations (p. 288): -Old Mr. Tolcher used to say
of the famous Pulteney—“My Lord Bath always speaks in blank verse." ! 4 Hawkins's Life of Johnson, P. BOSWELL.
Sept. 9, 1741. 'I have put Mr. Johnson's play into Mr. Gray's' hands, in order to sell it to him, if he is inclined to buy it; but I doubt whether he will or not. He would dispose of the copy, and whatever advantage may be made by acting it. Would your society", or any gentleman, or body of men that you know, take such a bargain? He and I are very unfit to deal with theatrical persons. Fleetwood was to have acted it last season, but Johnson's diffidence or prevented it.'
I have already mentioned that Irene was not brought into publick notice till Garrick was manager of Drury-lane theatre.
1742: ATAT. 33.]-IN 1742* he wrote for the Gentleman's Magazine the ‘Preface,'t the ‘Parliamentary Debates,'* 'Essay on the Account of the conduct of the Duchess of Marlborough,'* then the popular topick of conversation. This ' Essay’is a short but masterly performance. We find him in No. 13 of his Rambler, censuring a profligate sentiment in that 'Accounts,' and again insisting upon it strenuously in conyersation. An account of the Life of Peter Burman,'* I believe chiefly taken from a foreign publication; as, indeed, he could not himself know much about Burman; 'Additions to his Life of Baretier;'* The Life of Sydenham,'* afterwards prefixed to Dr. Swan's edition of his works ; 'Proposals for Printing Bibliotheca Harleiana, or a Catalogue of the Library of the Earl of Oxford?.'* His account of that
A bookseller of London. BosWELL.
• Not the Royal Society; but the Society for the encouragement of learning, of which Dr. Birch was a leading member. Their object was to assist authors in printing expensive works. It existed from about 1735 to 1746, when having incurred a considerable debt, it was dissolved. BOSWELL.
* There is no erasure here, but a mere blank; to fill up which may be an exercise for ingenious conjecture. BOSWELL.
* Johnson, writing to Dr. Taylor on June 10, 1742, says :- I propose to get Charles of Sweden ready for this winter, and shall therefore, as I imagine, be much engaged for some months with the dramatic writers
into whom I have scarcely looked for many years. Keep Irene close, you may send it back at your leisure.' Notes and Queries, 6th S., v. 303. Charles of Sweden must have been a play which he projected.
5 The profligate sentiment was, that 'to tell a secret to a friend is no breach of fidelity, because the number of persons trusted is not multiplied, a man and his friend being virtually the same. Rambler, No. 13.
Journal of a tour to the Hebrides, 3rd edit. p. 167. [Sept. 10, 1773.] BOSWELL.
? This piece contains a passage in honour of some great critic. “May the shade, at least, of one great English critick rest without disturbance; and may no man presume to
Osborne the bookseller.
celebrated collection of books, in which he displays the importance to literature of what the French call a catalogue raisonné, when the subjects of it are extensive and various, and it is executed with ability, cannot fail to impress all his readers with admiration of his philological attainments. It was afterwards prefixed to the first volume of the Catalogue, in which the Latin accounts of books were written by him. He was employed in this business by Mr. Thomas Osborne the bookseller, who purchased the library for 13,0col., a sum which Mr. Oldys' says, in one of his manuscripts, was not more than the binding of the books had cost; yet, as Dr. Johnson assured me, the slowness of the sale was such, that there was not much gained by it. It has been confidently related, with many embellishments, that Johnson one day knocked Osborne down in his shop, with a folio, and put his foot upon his neck. The simple truth I had from Johnson himself. 'Sir, he was impertinent to me, and I beat him. But it was not in his shop: it was in my own chamber?'
A very diligent observer may trace him where we should not easily suppose him to be found. I have no doubt that he wrote the little abridgement entitled 'Foreign History,' in the Magazine for December. To prove it, I shall quote the Introduction. As this is that season of the year in which Nature may be said to command a suspension of hostilities, and which seems intended, by putting a short stop to violence and slaughter, to afford time for malice to relent, and animosity to subside ; we can scarce expect any other accounts than of plans, negotiations and treatics, of proposals for peace, and preparations for war. As insult his memory, who wants his Johnson thus mentions Osborne :learning, his reason, or his wit.' Pope was ignorant enough of his Johnson's Works, v. 182. Bentley own interest to make another change, had died on July 14 of this year, and and introduced Osborne contending there can be little question that for the prize among the booksellers Bentley is meant.
[Dunciad, ii. 167]. Osborne was a See post, end of 1744.
man entirely destitute of shame, 2 “There is nothing to tell, dearest without sense of any disgrace but lady, but that he was insolent and I that of poverty. ... The shafts of beat him, and that he was a block satire were directed equally in vain head and told of it, which I should against Cibber and Osborne ; being never have done. ... I have beat repelled by the impenetrable impumany a fellow, but the rest had the dence of one, and deadened by the wit to hold their tongues. Piozzi's impassive dulness of the other.' Anec. p. 233. In the Life of Pope Johnson's Works, viii. 302.
A projected parliamentary history.
also this passage: 'Let those who despise the capacity of the Swiss, tell us by what wonderful policy, or by what happy conciliation of interests, it is brought to pass, that in a body made up of different communities and different religions, there should be no civil commotions", though the people are so warlike, that to nominate and raise an army is the same.'
I am obliged to Mr. Astle” for his ready permission to copy the two following letters, of which the originals are in his possession. Their contents shew that they were written about this time, and that Johnson was now engaged in preparing an historical account of the British Parliament,
"To MR. CAVE.
[No date.) 'SIR,
'I believe I am going to write a long letter, and have therefore taken a whole sheet of paper. The first thing to be written about is our historical design.
'You mentioned the proposal of printing in numbers, as an alteration in the scheme, but I believe you mistook, some way or other, my meaning; I had no other view than that you might rather print too many of five sheets, than of five and thirty.
"With regard to what I shall say on the manner of proceeding, I would have it understood as wholly indifferent to me, and my opinion only, not my resolution. Emptoris sit eligere.
'I think the insertion of the exact dates of the most important events in the margin, or of so many events as may enable the reader to regulate the order of facts with sufficient exactness, the proper medium between a journal, which has regard only to time, and a history which ranges facts according to their dependence on each other, and postpones or anticipates according to the convenience of narration. I think the work ought to partake of the spirit of history, which is contrary to minute exactness, and of the regularity of a journal, which is inconsistent with spirit. For this reason, I neither admit numbers or dates, nor reject them.
'I am of your opinion with regard to placing most of the resolutions &c., in the margin, and think we shall give the most complete account of Parliamentary proceedings that can be contrived. The naked papers, without an historical treatise interwoven, require some other
* In the original contentions.
3 'Dec. 21, 1775. In the Paper Office there is a wight, called Thomas
Astle, who lives like moths on old parchments.' Walpole's Letters, vi. 299.
Payment for work.
book to make them understood. I will date the succeeding facts with some exactness, but I think in the margin. You told me on Saturday that I had received money on this work, and found set down 131. 25. 6d., reckoning the half guinea of last Saturday. As you hinted to me that you had many calls for money, I would not press you too hard, and therefore shall desire only, as I send it in, two guineas for a sheet of copy; the rest you may pay me when it may be more convenient; and even by this sheet-payment I shall, for some time, be very expensive.
• The Life of Savage! I am ready to go upon; and in Great Primer, and Pica notes, I reckon on sending in half a sheet a day; but the money for that shall likewise lye by in your hands till it is done. With the debates, shall not I have business enough? if I had but good pens.
*Towards Mr. Savage's Life what more have you got? I would willingly have his trial, &c., and know whether his defence be at Bristol, and would have his collection of poems, on account of the Preface.—The Plain Dealer?,—all the magazines that have anything of his, or relating to him.
'I thought my letter would be long, but it is now ended; and I am, Sir,
‘ 'Yours, &c. SAM. JOHNSON. 'The boy found me writing this almost in the dark, when I could not quite easily read yours.
'I have read the Italian--nothing in it is well.
'I had no notion of having any thing for the Inscription? I hope you don't think I kept it to extort a price. I could think of nothing, till to day. If you could spare me another guinea for the history, I should take it very kindly, to night; but if you do not I shall not think it an injury.--I am almost well again.'
"To MR. CAVE.
'You did not tell me your determination about the 'Soldier's Letter*,' which I am confident was never printed. I think it will not do by itself, or in any other place, so well as the Mag. Extraordinarys.
Savage died on Aug. 1, 1743, so not the Runick Inscription in the numthat this letter is misplaced.
ber for March 1742, as Malone sug· The Plain Dealer was published gests ; for the earliest possible date in 1724, and contained some account of this letter is seventeen months later. of Savage. BOSWELL.
* I have not discovered what this In the Gent. Mag. for Sept. 1743
BOSWELL. (p. 490) there is an epitaph on R-d s The Mag.-Ertraordinary is perS-e, Esq., which may perhaps be haps the Supplement to the Decemthis inscription. ‘His life was want,' ber number of cach year. this epitaph dcclares. It is certainly