« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
you call him the great boy, but take my word for it, ' he will one day prove a great man.'
A more particular character of him while a school. boy, and of his behaviour at school, I find in a paper now before me, written by a person yet living, and of which the following is a copy:
* Johnson and I were, early in life, school-fellows at Lichfield, and for many years in the same class. As ' his uncommon abilities for learning far exceeded us,
we endeavoured by every boyish piece of flattery to
gain his assistance, and three of us, by turns, used to 'call on him in a morning, on one of whose backs,
supported by the other two, he rode triumphantly " to school. He never associated with us in any of 'our diversions, except in the winter when the ice was ' firm, to be drawn along by a boy bare-footed. His
ambition to excel was great, though his application to books, as far as it appeared, was very trifling. I 'could not oblige him more than by fauntering away every vacation, that occurred, in the fields, during
which time he was more engaged in talking to him' self than his companion. Verses or themes he would 'dictate to his favourites, but he would never be at 'the trouble of writing them. His dislike to business ' was so great, that he would procrastinate his exer'cises to the last hour. I have known him after a
long vacation, in which we were rather severely . tasked, return to school an hour earlier in the morn,
ing, and begin one of his exercises, in which he purposely left fome faults, in order to gain time to finish
' I never knew him corrected at school, unless ic was for talking and diverting other boys from their
business, by which, perhaps, he might hope to keep • his ascendancy. He was uncommonly inquisitive, ' and his memory so tenacious, that whatever he read
or heard he never forgot. I remember rehearsing to him eighteen verfes, which after a little pause he repeated verbatim, except one epithet, which improved the line.
' After a long absence from Lichfield, when he returned I was apprehensive of something wrong in his
conftitution, which might either impair his intellect ' or endanger his life, but, thanks to Almighty God, my fears have proved false.'
In the autumn of the year 1725, he received an invitation from his uncle, Cornelius Ford, to fpend a few days with him at his house, which I conjecture to have been on a living of his in one of the counties bordering upon Staffordshire ; but it seems that the uncle, discovering that the boy was possessed of uncommon parts, was unwilling to let him return, and to make up for the loss he might sustain by his absence from school, became his instructor in the claslics, and farther afifted him in his studies ; so that it was not till the Whitsuntide following, that Johnson went back to Lichfield. Whether Mr. Hunter was displeased to find a visit of a few days protracted into a vacation of many months, or that he resented the interference of another person in the tuition of one of his scholars, and he one of the most promising of any under his care, cannot now be known; but, it seems, that at Johnson's return to Lichfield, he was not received into the school of that city; on the contrary, I am informed, by a person who was his school-fellow there, that he was placed in one at Stourbridge in Worceftershire, under the care of a master named Winkworth,
but who, affecting to be thought allied to the Strafford family, assumed the name of Wentworth.
When his school education was finished, his father, whose circumstances were far from affluent, was for some time at a loss how to dispose of him: he took him home, probably with a view to bring him up to his own trade ; for I have heard Johnson say, that he himself was able to bind a book. This suspense continued about two years, at the end whereof, a neighbouring gentleman, Mr. Andrew Corbet, having a son, who had been educated in the same school with Johnson, whom he was about to send to Pembroke college in Oxford, a proposal was made and accepted, that Johnson should attend this son thither, in quality of assistant in his studies; and accordingly, on the 31st day of October, 1728, they were both entered, Corbet as a gentleman-commoner, and Johnson as a commoner.
The collegé tutor, at that time, was a man named Jordan, whom Johnson, though he loved him for the goodness of his nature, fo contemned for the meanness of his abilities, that he would oftener risque the payment of a small fine than attend his lectures ; nor was he studious to conceal the reason of his absence. Upon occasion of one such imposition, he said to Jordan, “Sir, you have sconced me two-pence for non• attendance at a lecture not worth a penny.'
Whether it was this discouragement in the outset of their studies, or any other ground of disinclination that moved him to it, is not known, but this is certain, that young Corbet could not brook submission to a man who seemed to be little more learned than himself, and
that having a father living, who was able to dispose of him in various other ways, he, after about two years stay, left the college, and went home.
But the case of Johnson was far different: his fortunes were at fea; his title to a stipend was gone, and all that he could obtain from the father of Mr. Corbet, was, an agreement, during his continuance at college, to pay for his commons. With no exhibition, or other means of support in the prosecution of his studies, he had nothing to depend on, save the assistance of a kind and indulgent parent. At that time the trade of a country bookseller, even in a city where was a cathedral and an incorporation of ecclesiastics, was lefs profitable than it is now; for though it may be faid, that during the reign of Queen Anne, multitudes of controversial books and pamphlets were publishing, yet these yielded but fmall advantage to the mere venders of them ; there were then no such publications for the mere amusement of young readers or idle persons as the press now daily sends forth had
any bookseller entertained in his mind the project of a circulating library: from hence it is evident, that his father, hava ing no other means of subsisting himself and his children, than the ordinary income of his shop, was but little able to afford him any other than a scanty maintenance,
The want of that assistance, which scholars in general derive from their parents, relations, and friends, soon became visible in the garb and appearance of Johnson, which, though in fome degree concealed by a scholar's gown, and that we know is never deemed . the lefs honourable for being old, was so apparent as to
excite pity in some that saw and noticed him. Shall I be particular, and relate a circumstance of his distress, that cannot be imputed to him as an effect of his own extravagance or irregularity, and consequently reflects no disgrace on his memory? He had scarce any change of raiment, and, in a short time after Corbet left him, but one pair of shoes, and those fo old, that his feet were feen through them: a gentleman of his college, the father of an eminent clergyman now living, directed a servitor one morning to place a new pair at the door of Johnson's chamber, who, seeing them upon his first going out, so far forgot himself and the spirit that must have actuated his unknown benefactor, that, with all the indignation of an insulted man, he threw them away.
He may be supposed to have been under the age of twenty, when this imaginary indignity was offered him,
period of life at which, so far as concerns the knowledge of mankind, and the means of improving adverse circumstances, every one has much to learn : he had, doubtless, before this time, experienced the proud 'man's contumely;' and in this school of affliction might have first had reason to say,
Slow rises worth by poverty depreft.' his spirit was, nevertheless, too great to sink under this depression. His tutor, Jordan, in about a year's space, went off to a living which he had been presented to, upon giving a bond to resign it in favour of a mis nor, and Johnson became the pupil of Mr. Adams, a. person of far superior endowments, who afterwards attained a doctor's degree, and is at this time head of his college. Encouraged, by a change fo propitious to his