« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
pofterity, are forgotten, for the very reason for which they might expect to be remembered. It has been 'long lamented, that the duration of the monuments of genius and study, as well as of wealth and power, depends in no small measure on their bulk; and that 'volumes, considerable only for their size, are handed down from one age to another, when compendious treatises, of far greater importance, are suffered to perish, as the compactest bodies sink into the water, while those of which the extension bears a greater proportion to the weight, float upon the surface.
* This observation hath been so often confirmed by ' experience, that, in the neighbouring nation, the 'common appellation of small performances is derived
from this unfortunate circumstance; a flying sheet, or a fugitive piece, are the terms by which they are distin'guished, and distinguished with too great propriety,
as they are subject, after having amused mankind for ' a while, to take their flight and disappear for
What are the losses which the learned have already sustained, by having neglected to fix those fugitives in some certain residence, it is not easy to say ; but there is no doubt that many valuable observations have been repeated, because they were not preserved;
and that, therefore, the progress of knowledge has * been retarded, by the neceslity of doing what had 'been already done, but was done for those who forgot their benefactor.
· The obvious method of preventing these losses, of ' preserving to every man the reputation he has me‘rited by long affiduity, is to unite these scattered
pieces into volumes, that those which are too fmall
to preserve themselves, may be secured by their « combination with others; to consolidate these atoms
of learning into systems, to collect these disunited rays,
that their light and their fire may become perceptible. • Of encouraging this useful design, the studious and inquisitive have now an opportunity, which,
perhaps, was never offered them before, and which, <if it should now be lost, there is not any probability
that they will ever recover. They may now con<ceive themselves in possession of the lake into which
all those rivulets of science have for many years been flowing : but which, unless its waters are turned into
proper channels, will soon burst its banks, or be dif! persed in imperceptible exhalations.
• In the Harleian library, which I have purchased,
are treasured a greater number of pamphlets and · small treatises, than were perhaps ever yet seen in
one place; productions of the writers of all parties, and of every age, from the reformation; collected
with an unbounded and unwearied curiosity, without "exclusion of any subject.
* So great is the variety, that it has been no small • labour to peruse the titles, in order to reduce them to ra rude division, and range their heaps under general
heads; of which the number, though not yet increased by the subdivision which an accurate survey will necessarily produce, cannot but excite the curio
sity of all the studious, as there is scarcely any part ! of knowledge which some of these articles do not comprehend.
[Then follows an enumeration of articles to the amount of more than an hundred and fifty, which it is needless here to insert.]
' As many of these tracts must be obscure by * length of time, or defective for want of those disco'veries which have been made since they were writ'ten, there will be added some historical, explanatory, or supplemental notes, in which the occasion of the treatise will be shewn, or an account given of the
author, allusions to forgotten facts will be illustrated, or the subject farther elucidated from other writers.'
We may well conclude that the proposal met with all due encouragement, as the pieces recommended in it were in the year 1749, published in eight quarto volumes. To the first of them was prefixed, as an. introduction, an essay on the origin and importance of small tracts and fugitive pieces.
Osborne was an opulent tradesman, as may be judged from his ability to make so large a purchase as that above-mentioned; he was used to boast that he was worth forty thousand pounds, but of booksellers he was one of the most ignorant: of title-pages or editions he had no knowledge or remembrance, but in all the tricks and arts of his trade he was most expert. Johnson, in his life of Pope says, that he was entirely destitute of shame, without sense of any disgrace, but that. of poverty
. He purchased a number of unsold copies of Mr. Pope's Iliad, of the folio size, printed on an inferior paper and without cuts, and cutting off the top and bottom margins, which were very large, had the impudence to call them the subscription books, and
to vend thein as such *. His insolence to his custo. mers was also frequently past bearing. If one came for a book in his catalogue, he would endeavour to force on him some new publication of his own, and, if he refused, would affront him.
I mention the above particulars of this worthless fellow as an introduction to a fact respecting his behaviour to Johnson, which I have often heard related, and which himself confessed to be true. Johnson, while employed in selecting pieces for the Harleian MiscelJany, was necessitated, not only to peruse the title-page of each article, but frequently to examine its contents, in order to form a judgment of its worth and importance, in the doing whereof, it must be supposed, curiosity might sometimes detain him too long, and whenever it did, Osborne was offended. Seeing Johnson one day deeply engaged in perusing a book, and the work being for the instant at a stand, he reproached him with inattention and delay, in such coarse language as few men would use, and still fewer could brook : the other in his justification asserted somewhat, which Osborne answered by giving him the lie; Johnson's anger at so foul a charge, was not so great as to make him forget that he had weapons at hand: he seized a folio that lay near him, and with it felled his adversary to the ground, with some exclamation, which, as it is differently related, I will not venture to repeat.
This transaction, which has been seldom urged with any other view than to shew that Johnson was of
See a note on the Dunciad, Book ii, verse 167, in the later editions.
an irascible temper, is generally related as an entertaining story: with me it has always been a subject of melancholy reflection. In our estimation of the enjoyments of this life, we place wisdom, virtue, and learning in the first class, and riches and other adventitious gifts of fortune in the last. The natural subordination of the one to the other we see and approve, and when that is disturbed we are forry. How then must it affect a sensible mind to contemplate that misfortune, which could subject a man endued with a capacity for the highest offices, a philosopher, a poet, an orator, and, if fortune had so ordered, a chancellor, a prelate, a statesinan, to the infolence of a mean, worthless, ignorant fellow, who had nothing to justify the superiority he exercised over a man so endowed, but those advantages which Providence indiscriminately difpenfes to the worthy and the worthless! to see such a man, for the supply of food and raiment, submitting to the commands of his inferior, and, as a hireling, looking up to him for the reward of his work, and receiving it accompanied with reproach and contumely, this, I say, is a subje t of melancholy reflection,
Having completed the Harleian catalogue and inifcellany, and thereby disengaged himself from Osborne, Johnson was at liberty to pursue some scheme of profit, less irksome than that in which he had so lately been employed, Biography was a kind of writing that he delighted in ; it called forth his powers of reflection, and gave him occasion to contemplate human life and manners. He had made some essays of his talent in the lives of Barretier and Boerhaave, men unknown to him, and was now prompted to give to the