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« Historia Latinæ Poeseos a Petrarchæ ævo ad Poli
tiani tempora deducta, et Vita Politiani fusius quam
antehac enarrata, addidit Sam. Johnson. The book was to be contained and printed in thirty octavo sheets, and delivered at the price of five shillings; but not meeting with sufficient encouragement, Johnson dropped the design.
From the above particulars it evidently appears, that he had entertained a resolution to depend for a livelihood upon what he should be able, either in the way of original composition, or translation, or in editing the works of celebrated authors, to procure by his studies, and, in short, to become an author by profession; an occupation, which, though it may, in some views of it, be deemed mercenary, as adapting itself to particular occasions and conjunctures, nay, to the interests, passions and prejudices, and even humours of mankind, has yet some illustrious examples, at least in our times, to justify it. It is true, that many persons distinguish between those writings which are the effect of a natural impulse of genius, and those other that owe their existence to interested motives, and, being the offspring of another parent, may, in some sense, be said to be illegitimate ; but, Johnson knew of no such distinction, and would never acquiesce in it when made by others : on the contrary,
I have, more than once, heard him assert, that he knew of no genuine motive for writing, other than necessity.
In the prosecution of this his design, he, in the year, 1734, made a tender of assistance to Cave, the editor, printer, and publisher of the Gentleman's Magazine ; a man of whom I shall hereafter have 3
frequent occasion to speak. The letter of Johnson to Cave, on this occasion, is yet extant, and is here given as a literary curiosity :
Nov. 25, 1734.
As you appear no less sensible than your readers, of the defect of your poetical article, you will not be
displeased, if, in order to the improvement of it, I ' communicate to you the sentiments of a person, who ( will undertake, on 'reasonable terms, sometimes to < fill a column.
* His opinion is, that the public would not give you ' a bad reception, if, beside the current wit of the (month, which a critical examination would generally ' reduce to a narrow compass, you admitted, not
only poems, inscriptions, &c. never printed be<fore, which he will sometimes supply you with,
but likewise short literary dissertations in Latin or English, critical remarks on authors ancient or modern, forgotten poems that deserve revival, or loose
pieces, like Floyer's, worth preserving. By this ' method, your Literary Article, for so it might be • called, will, he thinks, be better recommended to " the public, than by low jests, aukward buffoonery, or the dull scurrilities of either party. • If such a correspondence will be agreeable to you, be pleased to inform me, in two posts, what the con• ditions are on which you shall expect it. Your late
offer* gives me no reason to distrust your generosity. • If you engage in any literary projects besides this
• A prize of fifty pounds for the best poem on Life, Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hall.'
paper, I have other designs to impart, if I could be • secure from having others reap the advantage of what I should hint.
Your letter, by being directed to S. Smith, to be ' left at the Castle in Birmingham, Warwickshire, will warva kishin ' reach 'Your humble servant.”
To this letter Cave returned an answer, dated 2d December following, wherein he accepted the services of Johnson, and retained him as a correspondent and a contributor to his Magazine.
This correspondence exhibits a view of the Gentleman's Magazine in its rudiments, and may excite a curiosity in the patrons thereof, to trace back to its origin the publication of a miscellany, the fame whereof has extended itself to the most remote parts of the literary world. Histories of the learned men of modern times, and short abridgments of their works, as also such pieces as for their brevity required some vehicle to convey them to posterity, it has been the practice of foreign countries, in their memoirs, and of universities and academies, in their acts and transactions, to give. The historical and memorable diurnal events of the passing times, have also been recorded in publications variously denominated, particularly, in a work, entitled the Political State of Great Britain, beginning with the year 1711, and compiled by the well known Abel Boyer. In this are contained debates and speeches in parliament; and also, abstracts of po
• This letter, and Cave's answer to it, may serve to refute an affertion in an anonymous account of Johnson's life, that he was introduced to the acquaintance of Cave by Savage.
litical pamphlets ; but of a work that should comprehend intelligence of both these kinds, we know of no exemplar in this country, earlier than the year 1716, when an essay towards such a one was made in the publication of a book, entitled The Historical Register, containing, an impartial relation of all transactions foreign and domestic, by a body of men, from whom few would have expected any thing of the kind. In short, the editors of the Historical Regifter, were the members of a society, affociated about the year above-mentioned, for the purpose of insurance from fire, which, from the badge assumed by them, obtained the denomination of the Sun-fire-Office, and is still subfisting in a flourishing state. One of the managing persons in this society, was, if my information misleads me not, a man of the name of Povey, who, by the way, was a great improver of that useful project, the Penny Poft,* and died within my memory. Having a scheming head, a plausible tongue, and a ready pen, he prevailed on his fellow-members to undertake the above publication, foreign as it was to the nature of their institution. In Strype's continuation of Stow's Survey, I find the following article respecting this fociety: ' All persons taking out policies for
insurance, must pay two shillings and six-pence per quarter; and, besides their insurance, shall have a book, called the Historical Register, left every quarter at their house.'
The Historical Register gave also an account of the proceedings of Parliament: the first volume contains
* The original inventor thereof was one Mr. Dockwra, a citizen of such eminence, that he stood for the office of Chamberlain, against Sir Wm. Fazakerley.
the fpeeches in both houses, on the debate on the Septennial Bill; but, fo great is the caution observed in drawing them up, that none of those in the House of Lords are appropriated, otherwise, than by such words as these: 'A noble Duke stood up, and said, · This speech was answered by a Northern Peer,' and other such vague designations. In those in the House of Commons, the names of the speakers, Mr. Shippen, Mr. Hampden, Sir Richard Steele, and others are gi. ten, without any artifices of concealment,
This publication was continued to the year 1737, inclusive, and may be supposed to have been superfeded by the Gentleman's Magazine, which was then rising very fast in its reputation.
From the Historical Register the hint was taken, of a publication, entitled The Grub-street Journal,* which, besides a brief account of public occurrences, contained criticisins and censures of dull and profane
• Mention is often made, in the Dunciad and other modern books, of Grub-street writers and Grub-street publications, but the terms are little understood: the following historical fact will explain them: During the usurpation, a prodigious number of seditious and libellous pamphlets and papers, tending to exasperate the people, and encrease the confusion in which the nation was involved, were from time to time published. The authors of these were, for the most part, men whose indigent circumstances compelled them to live in the suburbs and most obscure parts of the town ; Grubftreet then abounded with mean and old houses, which were let out in lodgings, at low rents, to persons of this defcription, whose occupation was the publishing anonymous treason and slander. One of the original inhabitants of this street was Fox the Martyrologist, who, during his abode there, wrote his Acts and Monuments. It was also rendered famous by having been the dwelling-place of Mr. Henry Welby, a gentleman of whom it is related in a printed narrative that he lived there forty years without being seen of any.