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was neither over-burthened with the work of his great Dictionary, nor depressed by the long illness which was slowly but surely bringing his wife to the grave. Had he, like Addison, passed his days “in the broad sunshine of life," his Ramblers no doubt would have gained in gaiety and liveliness, but would have wanted something of that sad but noble strain which is so often heard in them. They are the work of an unhappy but not a complaining man ; of one who finds the burthen of life heavy indeed, but who freely allows at all times that strength has been given him sufficient for his task. The writers in the Tatler and the Spectator were for the most part
masters of common life." It is true that “they superadded literature and criticism, and sometimes towered far above their predecessors; and taught with great justness of argument and dignity of language the most important duties and sublime truths." But their chief glory lay in “exhibiting the characters and manners of the age.” When we think of the Spectator, it is not on the criticism of the Paradise Lost, or even on the vision of Mirza, that our memory rests, but on the life in the clubs and coffee-houses, on the Spectator himself and Sir Roger de Coverley. The Rambler was written on a very different plan and with very different aims. "As it has been my principal design," wrote Johnson in his last number, “to inculcate “wisdom or piety, I have allotted few papers
to the “idle sports of imagination.” It was fortunate for his readers, though some at the time complained
1 Johnson's Works, vii. 430.
of “the sternness of the Rambler's philosophy," that he wrote in the strain which at the time came most naturally to his mind. In his sadness there is nothing artificial, while his "harmless merriment,” as he calls it, seems too often forced.
The task which he had undertaken was almost as daring a one as is to be found in the history of literature. He was " tugging at his oar” in the preparation of his great Dictionary. It had taken the French Academy, with its forty members, forty years to compile their rival work, and he singlehanded took less than ten--perhaps less than nine —with his. At one time he had hoped to finish it in three. “Let me see "; he said to his friend Dr. Adams ; “forty times forty is sixteen hundred. As “three to sixteen hundred, so is the proportion of "an Englishman to a Frenchman.”l It was written “not in the soft obscurities of retirement, or under “the shelter of academic bowers, but amidst in"convenience and distraction, in sickness and in
His wife's health, as I have shown, began to fail, and her long illness required the solace of delicacies and indulgencies which the poor wages of “that harmless drudge, a lexico.
grapher,” could not afford. It is not known for certain how long he was employed on his Dictionary, but the gross payment made to him fell below, probably a good deal below, £200 a year. From this had to be deducted “the expense of amanuenses, paper, and other articles,"
1 Boswell's Johnson, i. 186. 2 Johnson's Works, v. 51. 3 Boswell's Johnson, i. 304.
as well as the rent of the room in which he and his assistants worked. He too, as well as his wife, was often sick in body. To one of his correspondents he wrote at the time when he was bringing out his Ramblers :-"I am often, very often, ill ; “and when I am well, am obliged to work."! For too frequently he had, as he says in his last number, “to bring to his task an attention dis“sipated, a memory embarrassed, an imagi. “nation overwhelmed, a mind distracted with “anxieties, a body languishing with disease.” Yet in the face of all these difficulties, twice a week for the space of two years, every Tuesday and every Saturday,he gave to the world an essay which, in its revised form, is about as long as a column and a quarter of the leading articles in the Times, but as it was first published was perhaps not much shorter than a column and a half. He had no editor to save him half his task by providing him with his subject. He “never complied “ with temporary curiosity, nor enabled his readers " to discuss the topic of the day.” It was on his own mind, with its vast stores of learning, observation and reflection, that he almost always drew. That he should never have been behindhand in his task is, as Boswell points out, “a strong confirmation of the truth of a remark of his, that'a
1 Boswell's Johnson, i. 210.
2 Four numbers and parts of three others were supplied by friends. Boswell says that only in five numbers was assistance given ; but see Johnson's statement in the last Rambler. He is also wrong in asserting that Friday was one of the days on which the paper was published.
8 Rambler, No. 208.
man may write at any time if he will set him“self doggedly to it.' "'1 He left himself no time for correction. “ Almost all his Ramblers
were written (he said) just as they were wanted "for the press; he sent a certain portion of the
copy of an essay, and wrote the remainder while “ the former part of it was printing.
When it was wanted, and he had fairly sat down to it, he was
sure it would be done.''2 Mrs. Gastrell, Molly Aston's sister, related that “she was on a visit at Mr. Hervey's, in London, at the time that Johnson was writing the Rambler. The printer's
boy would often come after him to their house, “and wait while he wrote off a paper for the press “in a room full of company.'
“The original "manuscripts of the Rambler," writes Hawkins, "have passed through my hands, and I am war“ ranted to say, as was said of Shakespeare by the
players of his time, that he never blotted out a “ line."4
Now and then--probably not more than one time in six-he wrote from notes" provided
materials," as he called them. But for the most part his method was such as he himself describes in his hundred and thirty-fourth Rambler. "I sat, yesterday morning,” he writes, "employed in deliberating on which among the “ various subjects that occurred to my imagina“tion I should bestow the paper of to-day. After
1 Boswell's Johnson, i, 203.
4 Hawkins's Life of Johnson, ed. 1787, p. 382. Shakespeare's mind and hand went together : and what he thought he uttered with that easiness that we have scarce received from him a blot in his papers.”—Preface by the Players.
5 Boswell's Johnson, i. 204. See post Rambler, No, 196, for a specimen of these notes,
a short effort of meditation, by which nothing " was determined, I grew every moment more “irresolute, my ideas wandered from the first “ intention, and I rather wished to think than “thought upon any settled subject; till at last “I was awakened from this dream of study by a summons from the press; the time was now
come for which I had been thus negligently “purposing to provide, and however dubious or "sluggish, I was now necessitated to write." He adds, however, " that it was no great aggravation of “his task to be obliged to a sudden composition.” Had he lived in this age, he would have been the greatest leading-article writer that the world has ever seen, and perhaps nothing more. With an hour's work three or four times a week he would have earned far more than the sum of money which, he said, enables a man “to pass “his life in splendour."1 With money so plentifully, and so easily earned, he would in all likelihood have yielded to his constitutional indolence, and never have given to the world his Dictionary, his Ramblers, and his Rasselas. He might perhaps
1 "He said that he would rather have his pension doubled than a grant of a thousand pounds: "For (said he) though probably I may not live to receive as much as a thousand pounds, a man would have the consciousness that he should pass the remainder of his life in splendour, how long soever it might be.'"-Boswell's Johnson, iv. 337. His pension was three hundred pounds.