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Johnson's rapid composition.
reading and meditation, and a very close inspection of life, he had accumulated a great fund of miscellaneous knowledge, which, by a peculiar promptitude of mind, was ever ready at his call, and which he had constantly accustomed himself to clothe in the most apt and energetick expression. Sir Joshua Reynolds once asked him by what means he had attained his extraordinary accuracy and flow of language. He told him, that he had early laid it down as a fixed rule to do his best on every occasion, and in every company; to impart whatever he knew in the most forcible language he could put it in; and that by constant practice, and never suffering any careless expressions to escape him, or attempting to deliver his thoughts without arranging them in the clearest manner, it became habitual to him'.
Yet he was not altogether unprepared as a periodical writer; for I have in my possession a small duodecimo volume, in which he has written, in the form of Mr. Locke's Common-Place Book, a variety of hints for essays on different subjects. He has marked upon the first blank leaf of it, 'To the 128th page, collections for the Rambler;' and in another place, 'In fifty-two there were seventeen provided; in 97-21; in 190-25.' At a subsequent period (probably after the work was finished) he added, 'In all, taken of provided materials, 30'.'
Sir John Hawkins, who is unlucky upon all occasions, tells us, that 'this method of accumulating intelligence had been practised by Mr. Addison, and is humourously described in one of the
censures of his enemies or praises of himself, and they only could be expected to peruse them, whose passions left them leisure for the contemplation of abstracted truth, and whom virtue could please by her native dignity without the assistance of modish ornaments.' Gent. Mag. xxii. 117.
'I have never complied with temporary curiosity, nor enabled my readers to discuss the topic of the day; I have rarely exemplified my assertions by living characters; in my papers no man could look for censures of his enemies, or praises
of himself; and they only were expected to peruse them, whose passions left them leisure for abstracted truth, and whom virtue could please by its naked dignity.' Johnson's Works, iii. 462.
'Such relicks [Milton's early manuscripts] shew how excellence is acquired; what we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.' Johnson's Works, vii. 119.
2 Of the first 52 Ramblers 49 were wholly by Johnson; of the last 156, 154. He seems to say that in the first 49, 17 were written from notes, and in the last 154 only 13.
Hints for THE RAMBLER.
Spectators', wherein he feigns to have dropped his paper of notanda, consisting of a diverting medley of broken sentences and loose hints, which he tells us he had collected, and meant to make use of. Much of the same kind is Johnson's Adversaria?? But the truth is, that there is no resemblance at all between them. Addison's note was a fiction, in which unconnected fragments of his lucubrations were purposely jumbled together, in as odd a manner as he could, in order to produce a laughable effect. Whereas Johnson's abbreviations are all distinct, and applicable to each subject of which the head is mentioned.
For instance, there is the following specimen:
Youth's Entry, &c.
'Baxter's account of things in which he had changed his mind as he grew up. Voluminous.-No wonder.-If every man was to tell, or mark, on how many subjects he has changed, it would make vols, but the changes not always observed by man's self.— From pleasure to bus. [business] to quiet; from thoughtfulness to reflect. to piety; from dissipation to domestic. by impercept. gradat. but the change is certain. Dial3 non progredi, progress. esse conspicimus. Look back, consider what was thought at some dist. period.
'Hope predom. in youth. Mind not willingly indulges unpleasing thoughts. The world lies all enameled before him, as a distant prospect sun-gilt*; inequalities only found by coming to it. Love is to be all joy-children excellent-Fame to be constant-caresses of the great-applauses of the learned-smiles of Beauty.
'Fear of disgrace-bashfulness-Finds things of less importMiscarriages forgot like excellencies;-if remembered, of no import. Danger of sinking into negligence of reputation. Lest the fear of disgrace destroy activity.
'Confidence in himself. Long tract of life before him.-No thought of sickness.-Embarrassment of affairs.-Distraction of
1 No. 46.
Hawkins's Life of Johnson, p. 268 [p. 265]. BOSWELL.
The sly shadow steals away upon the dial, and the quickest eye can distinguish no more than that
it is gone.' Glanville, quoted in Johnson's Dictionary.
* This most beautiful image of the enchanting delusion of youthful prospect has not been used in any of Johnson's essays. BOSWELL.
Hints for THe Rambler.
family. Publick calamities.-No sense of the prevalence of bad habits. Negligent of time-ready to undertake-careless to pursue all changed by time.
"Confident of others-unsuspecting as unexperienced-imagining himself secure against neglect, never imagines they will venture to treat him ill. Ready to trust; expecting to be trusted. Convinced by time of the selfishness, the meanness, the cowardice, the treachery of men.
'Youth ambitious, as thinking honours easy to be had.
'Different kinds of praise pursued at different periods. Of the gay in youth. dang. hurt, &c. despised.
'Of the fancy in manhood. Ambit.-stocks-bargains.-Of the wise and sober in old age-seriousness-formality-maxims, but general-only of the rich, otherwise age is happy-but at last every thing referred to riches-no having fame, honour, influence, without subjection to caprice.
'Hard it would be if men entered life with the same views with which they leave it, or left as they enter it.-No hope— no undertaking-no regard to benevolence-no fear of disgrace, &c.
'Youth to be taught the piety of age-age to retain the honour of youth.'
This, it will be observed, is the sketch of Number 196 of the Rambler. I shall gratify my readers with another specimen :
'Confederacies difficult; why.
'Seldom in war a match for single persons-nor in peace; therefore kings make themselves absolute. Confederacies in learning-every great work the work of one. Bruy. Scholar's friendship like ladies. Scribebamus, &c. Mart. the apple of discord the laurel of discord-the poverty of criticism. Swift's opinion of the power of six geniuses united3. That union scarce
From Horace (Ars Poet. 1. 175) he takes his motto for the number:-'Multa ferunt anni venientes commoda secum, Multa recedentes adimunt.' The blessings flowing in with life's full tide
Down with our ebb of life decreasing glide.'
FRANCIS. * Lib. xii. 96 . 'In Tuccam æmulum omnium suorum studiorum.' MALONE.
3 There never appear,' says Swift, 'more than five or six men of genius
Hints for THE Rambler.
possible. His remarks just; man a social, not steady nature. Drawn to man by words, repelled by passions. Orb drawn by attraction rep. [repelled] by centrifugal.
Common danger unites by crushing other passions--but they return. Equality hinders compliance. Superiority produces insolence and envy. Too much regard in each to private interest-too little.
'The mischiefs of private and exclusive societies—the fitness of social attraction diffused through the whole. The mischiefs of too partial love of our country. Contraction of moral duties —δι φιλοι ου φιλος Ε.
'Every man moves upon his own center, and therefore repels others from too near a contact, though he may comply with some general laws.
'Of confederacy with superiours, every one knows the inconvenience. With equals, no authority;-every man his own opinion-his own interest.
'Man and wife hardly united;-scarce ever without children. Computation, if two to one against two, how many against five? If confederacies were easy-useless;—many oppresses many.—If possible only to some, dangerous. Principum amicitias??
Here we see the embryo of Number 45 of the Adventurer; and it is a confirmation of what I shall presently have occasion to mention 3, that the papers in that collection marked T. were written by Johnson.
This scanty preparation of materials will not, however, much diminish our wonder at the extraordinary fertility of his mind; for the proportion which they bear to the number of essays which he wrote, is very small; and it is remarkable, that those
THE RAMBLER'S slow sale.
for which he had made no preparation, are as rich and as highly finished as those for which the hints were lying by him. It is also to be observed, that the papers formed from his hints are worked up with such strength and elegance, that we almost lose sight of the hints, which become like 'drops in the bucket.' Indeed, in several instances, he has made a very slender use of them, so that many of them remain still unapplied'.
As the Rambler was entirely the work of one man, there was, of course, such a uniformity in its texture, as very much to exclude the charm of variety; and the grave and often solemn cast of thinking, which distinguished it from other periodical papers, made it, for some time, not generally liked. So slowly did this excellent work, of which twelve editions have now issued from the press, gain upon the world at large, that even in the closing number the authour says, 'I have never been much a favourite of the publick3.'
Sir John Hawkins has selected from this little collection of materials, what he calls the 'Rudiments of two of the papers of the Rambler? But he has not been able to read the manuscript distinctly. Thus he writes, p. 266, Sailor's fate any mansion ;' whereas the original is 'Sailor's life my aversion.' He has also transcribed the unappropriated hints on Writers for bread, in which he decyphers these notable passages, one in Latin, fatui non famæ, instead of fami non famæ; Johnson having in his mind what Thuanus says of the learned German antiquary and linguist, Xylander, who, he tells us, lived in such poverty, that he was supposed fami non fama scribere; and another in French, Degente de fate [fatu] et affamé a'argent, instead. of Dégouté de fame, (an old word for renommée) et affamé d'argent. The manuscript being written in an exceedingly small hand, is indeed very hard to read; but it would have been better to have left blanks than to write nonsense. BOSWELL.
2 When we know that of the 208
Ramblers all but five were written by Johnson, it is amusing to read a passage in one of Miss Talbot's letters to Mrs. Carter, dated Oct. 20, 1750:-'Mr. Johnson would, I fear, be mortified to hear that people know a paper of his own by the sure mark of somewhat a little excessive, a little exaggerated in the expression.' Carter Corres. i. 357.
3 The Ramblers certainly were little noticed at first. Smart, the poet, first mentioned them to me as excellent papers, before I had heard any one else speak of them. When I went into Norfolk, in the autumn of 1751, I found but one person, (the Rev. Mr. Squires, a man of learning, and a general purchaser of new books,) who knew anything of them. Before I left Norfolk in the year 1760, the Ramblers were in high favour among persons of learning and good taste. Others there were, devoid of both, who said that the hard words in the Rambler were used by the authour to render his Dictionary indispensably necessary. BURNEY. We have notices of the Yet,