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In its original edition the Adventurer has none of the elegance of the Rambler as a piece of typography. It was printed like it in folio on a sheet and a half, but with such little uniformity that in some pages there are less than thirty, and in other pages more than forty lines. In every respect the printer's part has been worse done. The payment to the contributors at the rate of two guineas a paper was not quite equal to that for the Rambler, as the articles for the most part were somewhat longer. There was, moreover, no share in the copyright to bring in Johnson a second payment.
It met at first with a more extensive sale, for there was greater variety in its pages ; but it did not stand so well the test of time, and was soon out-stripped in the race for popularity.
The last number is dated March 9, 1754 ; the first Idler appeared on April 15, 1758. In the four intervening years Johnson had completed his great Dictionary, written a few.Lives and Reviews, and made some progress with his edition of Shakespeare. He had promised to have this last work ready by Christmas, 1757; but by his indolence it was so much delayed that it was not till the October of 1765 that the subscribers received their copies. " It was provoking to all his friends," writes Hawkins,“ to see him waste his days, his weeks, and “his months so long, that they feared a mental “lethargy had seized him, out of which he would “never recover. In this, however, they were happily “deceived, for after two years' inactivity they found " him roused to action, and engaged, not in the pro
“secution of the work, for the completion whereof "he stood doubly bound, but in a new one"—the Idler. On the profits which he made from it, on some of the subscriptions to his Shakespeare, and on the money which he received from his Rasselas, he lived for more than four years. During this time, if we may trust Miss Reynolds, " he literally “dressed like a beggar, and from what I have been “told,” she adds," he as literally lived as such, at "least as to common conveniences. A gentleman “who frequently visited him, whilst writing his “ Idlers, constantly found him at his desk, in his “study, sitting on a chair with three legs, and on
rising from it he remarked that Dr. Johnson never “forgot its defect, but would either hold it in his “hand, or place it with great composure against
some support, taking no notice of its imperfection " to his visitor." His study was the garret of his “house in Gough Square, where Burney visiting “him in the year 1758, “ found there about five or
six Greek folios, a deal writing desk, and a chair " and a half. Johnson, giving to his guest the " entire seat, tottered himself on one with only three “ legs and one arm." In this same house he had written his Dictionary, his Ramblers, and his Adventurers. While he was engaged on the Idler he removed from Gough Square to Staple Inn, and from Staple Inn to Gray's Inn, and, perhaps from Gray's Inn to Inner Temple Lane.
1 Hawkins's Life of Johnson, p. 363. 2 Boswell's Johnson, i. 328, n. 1.
3 No. 17. Hutton's Literary Landmarks of London, ed; 1888, p. 158.
4 This desk is preserved in the Library of Pembroke College, Oxford.
5 Boswell's Johnson, i. 328.
It was not published separately, like its two predecessors, but in a newspaper which came out every Saturday morning, under the varying titles of The Universal Chronicle or Weekly Gazette, Payne's Universal Chronicle and the Universal Chronicle and Westminster Journal. According to Hawkins the successes of the war under the elder Pitt "had excited a rage for intelligence in even the "lowest order of the people ;” of which Newbery, the bookseller of St. Paul's Churchyard, taking advantage, had planned this newspaper. Johnson, it is clear, was not tied down to an exact number of columns, for his papers are of very varying lengths. They are shorter, too, than his earlier essays.
The one hundred and three Idlers fill no more pages in the Oxford edition of his works than sixty-two Ramblers. It is not improbable that to the freedom in which he was now writing is partly due that "greater facility of language " which Boswell notices. He was no longer tempted to fill up a stated task by " triptology." He had nothing to gain by “loading his style.” He had no gaps to bridge over by epithets. His general method of composition seems, however, to have been the same as in his Rambler. He delayed as long as he could, and then wrote with great speed. “Many of these excellent essays were written as “hastily as an ordinary letter. Mr. Langton re
1 Boswell's Johnson, i. 330. 2 Hawkins's Life of Johnson, p. 364. 3 Ante, p. xix. orne the
members Johnson, when on a visit at Oxford, "asking him one evening how long it was till the
post went out; and on being told about halfan hour, "he exclaimed, ' Then we shall do very well. He
upon this instantly sat down and finished an Idler, " which it was necessary should be in London the “next day. Mr. Langton having signified a wish
to read it, 'Sir,' said he, 'you shall not do more “than I have done myself' He then folded it up, " and sent it off.” 1 Boswell goes on to say, “I “know not why a motto, the usual trapping of
periodical papers, is prefixed to very few of the “ Idlers, as I have heard Johnson commend the cus“tom.” For this custom Fielding gives a plausible “reason in his Tom Jones.” “The ingenious author "of the Spectator," he says, “was principally in“duced to prefix Greek and Latin mottoes to every
paper, from the consideration of guarding against “scribblers ; ” for “by this device it became im
practicable for any man to presume to imitate the “ Spectators without understanding at least one
sentence in the learned languages." Johnson for six numbers followed the usual practice. That he went so far with it throws some doubt on Mrs. Piozzi's statement, where she says: “I asked him
one day why the Idlers were published without “mottoes ? He replied that
1 Boswell's Johnson, i. 331. Johnson was at Oxford in July, 1759. The Idler for July 14 of that year, No. 65, mentions the publication at Oxford of the sequel of Clarendon's History. Perhaps it was the paper which was written in Langton's presence.
2 Bk ix., ch. I.
“ better to conceal himself and escape discovery. A man who had already drawn on Horace's Odes and Satires, Statius, Homer, Anacreon, and a Greek proverb for “the trapping” of his paper was somewhat late in the attempt to veil his learning. Mrs. Piozzi adds that he went on to say :-"But let us “think of some now for the next edition. We can “fit the two volumes in two hours, can't we?
Accordingly he recollected and I wrote down “these following,2 till some friend coming in in " about five minutes put an end to our further progress.”
What payment he received for the Idler Boswell does not tell us. Hawkins says that he was to share in the profits of the paper in which they were published. In the reprint in two small volumes he had a two-thirds share, as is shown by the following account, which has been fortunately preserved among other papers belonging to Newbery.