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AN attentive consideration of the period at which any work of moral instruction has appeared, and of the admonitions appropriate to the state of those times, is highly necessary for a correct estimate of the merits of the writer. For, to quote the judicious remarks of one of our earlier essayists*, “ there is a sort of craft attending vice and absurdity; and when hunted out of society in one shape, they seldom want address to reinsinuate themselves in another: hence the modes of license vary almost as often as those of dress, and consequently require continual observation to detect and explode them anew.” The days in which the Rambler first undertook to reprove and admonish his country, may be said to have well required a moralist of their own. For the modes of fashionable life, and the marked distinction between the capital and the country, which drew forth the satire, and presented scope for the admonitions of the Spectator and the Tatler, were then fast giving place to other follies, and to characters that had not hitherto subsisted. The crowd of writers , whatever might be their individual merit, who offered their labours to the public, between the close of the Spectator and the appearance of the Rambler, had contributed, in a most decided manner, towards the diffusion of a taste for literary information. It was no longer a coterie of wits at Button's, or at Will's, who, engrossing all
a The Champion, by Fielding, 1741, 12mo. vol. i. p. 258.
• Dr. Drake, in his Essays on the Rambler, &c. enumerates eighty-two periodical papers published during that period. For the comparative state of female literature, see Dr. Johnson himself, in Rambler, No. 173.
acquaintance with belles lettres, pronounced with a haughty and exclusive spirit on every production for the stage or the closet ;
but it was a reading public to whom writers now began to make appeal for censure or applause. That education which the present day beholds so widely spread had then commenced its progress; and, perhaps, it is not too bold to say, that Johnson almost foresaw the course that it would run. He saw a public already prepared for weightier discussions than could have been understood the century before. In addition to a more general education, the improved intercourse between the remotest parts of the country and the metropolis made all acquainted with the dissipation and manners, which, during the publication of the Spectator, were hardly known beyond the circle where they existed. The pages of that incomparable production were, therefore, perused by general readers, as well for the gratification of curiosity, as for the improvement of morals. The passing news of the day, the tattle of the auction or the Mall, the amusing extravagancies of dress, and the idle fopperies of fashion, topics that excited merriment rather than detestation, were those most judiciously selected to allure a nation to read. Addison and Steele, therefore, in their age, acted wisely; their contemporaries would have been driven “, “ by the sternness of the Rambler's philosophy, to more cheerful and airy companions.” The pages of the Tatler were enlivened by foreign and domestic politics, by the current scandal of the town, and by easy critiques on the last new play; by advertisements of “orangerie for beaux d,” and by prescriptions for the cure of love-sickness or the spleen. The Guardian uttered forth his moral lessons from the wide and voracious mouth of an imaginary lion, whose roarings were to have influence e « for the purifying of behaviour and the bettering of manners.” But for Johnson was reserved a different task, and one for which his powers and the natural bent of his mind were peculiarly fitted. He disdained, as derogatory from the dignity of a teacher, to
# Tatler, No. 94.
© Rambler, No. 208.
thus humour trifling minds, and to barter by idle conceits for the reception of his precepts. His aim was not to amuse but to instruct, not to ridicule the frivolities of fashion, but to lash the enormities of guilt. He resolved to write a book in which nothing should be fattered that men had agreed to flatter, and in which no tenderness should be shown to public prejudice or to private folly'. In pursuance of this deep and solemn purpose we accordingly find him imploring assistance in his labours from that “Giver of all good things, without whose help all labour is ineffectual, and without whose grace all wisdom is folly 8."
The Rambler was published on Tuesday, March 20, 1749_50, and appeared, without intermission, every Tuesday and Saturday until March 14, 1752, on which day it closed h. The author was not exhausted nor weary ; his latter pages do not fall off; perhaps, without partiality, we may say, that he evidently gathered strength as he proceeded in his work. But prepared as the age had been by preceding writers, it was not enlightened to an extent adequate to the universal reception of truths so abstract and so spoken out'; it could not comprehend within its reach of sight such bold and broad sketches of human nature. In the sententious and didactic papers of the Rambler, where truth appears “towering and majestic, unassisted and alone k," lighter readers missed with regret the sportive variety of his predecessors. We can adduce, perhaps, no stronger proof of Johnson's elevation above his times, than the fact that the meagre, common-place, and jejune paper of Richardson, was the only one that obtained an immediate popularity! The sale of the Rambler seldom exceeded five hundred; while it is on record that twenty thousand Spectators were sometimes sold in a day m. But Johnson wrote not for his own generation alone, but for posterity, and posterity will pay him his meed of immortality.
Chalmers' Preface to the Idler, British Essayists, vol. xxxiii.
See Boswell's Life of Dr. Johnson, vol. i. and Chalmers' Preface to Rambler. ' Precepts of morality, besides the natural corruption of our tempers, are abstracted from ideas of sense.-Addison.
* Rambler, No. 96.
' This fact was communicated, on the authority of Mr. Payne, (the original publisher of the Rambler,) by Mr. Nichols to Mr. Chalmers.
See Dr. Drake's Literary Life of Dr. Johnson in his Essays on the Rambler, &c. His Rambler, which is almost all essence of thought, unalloyed by those baser ingredients which so commonly add to the quantity without adding to the worth of human compositions, experienced at first a general coldness, discouragement, and even censure and ridicule. Censura Literaria, vol. viii. p. 361, first edition.
The Rambler, with some trivial exceptions, is the work of a single and unaided author, who composed it during his performance of a task which had fatigued“ united academies and long successions of learned compilers n." He wrote, as he pathetically describes himself, “ under the pressure of disease, obstructed by constitutional indolence, and when much of his time was spent in provision for the day that was passing over himo.” The only contributions in aid of his work, all of which he acknowledges in his concluding Rambler, were the following papers.
In Number 10, the four billets were written by Miss Mulso, daughter of Thomas Mulso, esq. who came of an ancient family at Twywell, Northamptonshire. She is better known to the public as Mrs. Chapone. The above articles are said to have been her first literary productions P.
For Number 30, Dr. Johnson was indebted to Miss Catherine Talbot, only daughter of the reverend Edward Talbot, archdeacon of Berks, and preacher at the Rolls. She was provided for by the liberal bequest of archbishop Secker, with whom she had chiefly resided ; and her composition in the Rambler, like all her other works, breathes a spirit of piety characteristic of her exemplary patron and protector.
Numbers 44 and 100 were contributed by Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, the justly celebrated translator of Epictetus, whose eminence in literature was only surpassed by her amiable
m Addisoniana, 12mo. vol. ii. p. 52.