Samuel Johnson.

Dr. Johnson's Works: Life, Poems, and Tales, Volume 1 The Works of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D., in Nine Volumes online

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Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonDr. Johnson's Works: Life, Poems, and Tales, Volume 1 The Works of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D., in Nine Volumes → online text (page 12 of 40)
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But though he did not lose the opportunity which success gave him, of
setting a high rate on his abilities, but paid due deference to the
suffrages of mankind when they were given in his favour, he did not
suffer his esteem of himself to depend upon others, nor found any thing
sacred in the voice of the people, when they were inclined to censure
him; he then readily showed the folly of expecting that the publick
should judge right, observed how slowly poetical merit had often forced
its way into the world; he contented himself with the applause of men of
judgment, and was somewhat disposed to exclude all those from the
character of men of judgment who did not applaud him.

But he was at other times more favourable to mankind than to think them
blind to the beauties of his works, and imputed the slowness of their
sale to other causes; either they were published at a time when the town
was empty, or when the attention of the publick was engrossed by some
struggle in the parliament, or some other object of general concern; or
they were, by the neglect of the publisher, not diligently dispersed, or
by his avarice not advertised with sufficient frequency. Address, or
industry, or liberality, was always wanting; and the blame was laid
rather on any person than the author.

By arts like these, arts which every man practises in some degree, and
to which too much of the little tranquillity of life is to be ascribed,
Savage was always able to live at peace with himself. Had he indeed only
made use of these expedients to alleviate the loss or want of fortune or
reputation, or any other advantages which it is not in man's power to
bestow upon himself, they might have been justly mentioned as instances
of a philosophical mind, and very properly proposed to the imitation of
multitudes, who, for want of diverting their imaginations with the same
dexterity, languish under afflictions which might be easily removed.

It were, doubtless, to be wished, that truth and reason were universally
prevalent; that every thing were esteemed according to its real value;
and that men would secure themselves from being disappointed in their
endeavours after happiness, by placing it only in virtue, which is
always to be obtained; but, if adventitious and foreign pleasures must
be pursued, it would be, perhaps, of some benefit, since that pursuit
must frequently be fruitless, if the practice of Savage could be taught,
that folly might be an antidote to folly, and one fallacy be obviated by
another.

But the danger of this pleasing intoxication must not be concealed; nor
indeed can any one, after having observed the life of Savage, need to
be cautioned against it. By imputing none of his miseries to himself, he
continued to act upon the same principles, and to follow the same path;
was never made wiser by his sufferings, nor preserved by one misfortune
from falling into another. He proceeded, throughout his life, to tread
the same steps on the same circle; always applauding his past conduct,
or, at least, forgetting it to amuse himself with phantoms of happiness,
which were dancing before him; and willingly turned his eyes from the
light of reason, when it would have discovered the illusion, and shown
him, what he never wished to see, his real state.

He is even accused, after having lulled his imagination with those ideal
opiates, of having tried the same experiment upon his conscience; and,
having accustomed himself to impute all deviations from the right to
foreign causes, it is certain that he was, upon every occasion, too
easily reconciled to himself, and that he appeared very little to regret
those practices which had impaired his reputation. The reigning errour
of his life was, that he mistook the love for the practice of virtue,
and was, indeed, not so much a good man as the friend of goodness.

This, at least, must be allowed him, that he always preserved a strong
sense of the dignity, the beauty, and the necessity of virtue; and that
he never contributed deliberately to spread corruption amongst mankind.
His actions, which were generally precipitate, were often blameable; but
his writings, being the productions of study, uniformly tended to the
exaltation of the mind, and the propagation of morality and piety.

These writings may improve mankind, when his failings shall be
forgotten; and, therefore, he must be considered, upon the whole, as a
benefactor to the world; nor can his personal example do any hurt, since
whoever hears of his faults will hear of the miseries which they brought
upon him, and which would deserve less pity, had not his condition been
such as made his faults pardonable. He may be considered as a child
exposed to all the temptations of indigence, at an age when resolution
was not yet strengthened by conviction, nor virtue confirmed by habit; a
circumstance which, in his Bastard, he laments in a very affecting
manner:

No mother's care
Shielded my infant innocence with pray'r:
No father's guardian hand my youth maintain'd,
Call'd forth my virtues, or from vice restrain'd.

The Bastard, however it might provoke or mortify his mother, could not
be expected to melt her to compassion, so that he was still under the
same want of the necessaries of life; and he, therefore, exerted all the
interest which his wit, or his birth, or his misfortunes, could procure,
to obtain, upon the death of Eusden, the place of poet laureate, and
prosecuted his application with so much diligence, that the king
publickly declared it his intention to bestow it upon him; but such was
the fate of Savage, that even the king, when he intended his advantage,
was disappointed in his schemes; for the lord chamberlain, who has the
disposal of the laurel, as one of the appendages of his office, either
did not know the king's design, or did not approve it, or thought the
nomination of the laureate an encroachment upon his rights, and,
therefore, bestowed the laurel upon Colley Cibber.

Mr. Savage, thus disappointed, took a resolution of applying to the
queen, that, having once given him life, she would enable him to support
it, and, therefore, published a short poem on her birthday, to which he
gave the odd title of Volunteer Laureate. The event of this essay he has
himself related in the following letter, which he prefixed to the poem,
when he afterwards reprinted it in the Gentleman's Magazine, from whence
I have copied it entire, as this was one of the few attempts in which
Mr. Savage succeeded.

"Mr. URBAN, - In your magazine for February you published the
last Volunteer Laureate, written on a very melancholy occasion,
the death of the royal patroness of arts and literature in
general, and of the author of that poem in particular; I now
send you the first that Mr. Savage wrote under that title. This
gentleman, notwithstanding a very considerable interest, being,
on the death of Mr. Eusden, disappointed of the laureate's
place, wrote the before-mentioned poem; which was no sooner
published, but the late queen sent to a bookseller for it. The
author had not at that time a friend either to get him
introduced, or his poem presented at court; yet such was the
unspeakable goodness of that princess, that, notwithstanding
this act of ceremony was wanting, in a few days after
publication, Mr. Savage received a bank bill of fifty pounds,
and a gracious message from her majesty, by the lord North and
Guildford, to this effect: 'That her majesty was highly pleased
with the verses; that she took particularly kind his lines there
relating to the king; that he had permission to write annually
on the same subject; and that he should yearly receive the like
present, till something better (which was her majesty's
intention) could be done for him.' After this, he was permitted
to present one of his annual poems to her majesty, had the
honour of kissing her hand, and met with the most gracious
reception.

"Yours, &c."

Such was the performance[80], and such its reception; a reception,
which, though by no means unkind, was yet not in the highest degree
generous: to chain down the genius of a writer to an annual panegyrick,
showed in the queen too much desire of hearing her own praises, and a
greater regard to herself than to him on whom her bounty was conferred.
It was a kind of avaricious generosity, by which flattery was rather
purchased than genius rewarded.

Mrs. Oldfield had formerly given him the same allowance with much more
heroick intention: she had no other view than to enable him to prosecute
his studies, and to set himself above the want of assistance, and was
contented with doing good without stipulating for encomiums.

Mr. Savage, however, was not at liberty to make exceptions, but was
ravished with the favours which he had received, and probably yet more
with those which he was promised: he considered himself now as a
favourite of the queen, and did not doubt but a few annual poems would
establish him in some profitable employment.

He, therefore, assumed the title-of volunteer laureate, not without some
reprehensions from Cibber, who informed him, that the title of laureate
was a mark of honour conferred by the king, from whom all honour is
derived, and which, therefore, no man has a right to bestow upon
himself; and added, that he might with equal propriety style himself a
volunteer lord or volunteer baronet. It cannot be denied that the remark
was just; but Savage did not think any title, which was conferred upon
Mr. Cibber, so honourable as that the usurpation of it could be imputed
to him as an instance of very exorbitant vanity, and, therefore,
continued to write under the same title, and received every year the
same reward.

He did not appear to consider these encomiums as tests of his abilities,
or as any thing more than annual hints to the queen of her promise, or
acts of ceremony, by the performance of which he was entitled to his
pension, and, therefore, did not labour them with great diligence, or
print more than fifty each year, except that for some of the last years
he regularly inserted them in the Gentleman's Magazine, by which they
were dispersed over the kingdom.

Of some of them he had himself so low an opinion, that he intended to
omit them in the collection of poems, for which he printed proposals,
and solicited subscriptions; nor can it seem strange, that, being
confined to the same subject, he should be at some times indolent, and
at others unsuccessful; that he should sometimes delay a disagreeable
task till it was too late to perform it well; or that he should
sometimes repeat the same sentiment on the same occasion, or at others
be misled by an attempt after novelty to forced conceptions and
far-fetched images.

He wrote, indeed, with a double intention, which supplied him with some
variety; for his business was, to praise the queen for the favours which
he had received, and to complain to her of the delay of those which she
had promised: in some of his pieces, therefore, gratitude is
predominant, and in some discontent; in some, he represents himself as
happy in her patronage; and, in others, as disconsolate to find himself
neglected.

Her promise, like other promises made to this unfortunate man, was never
performed, though he took sufficient care that it should not be
forgotten. The publication of his Volunteer Laureate procured him no
other reward than a regular remittance of fifty pounds.

He was not so depressed by his disappointments as to neglect any
opportunity that was offered of advancing his interest. When the
princess Anne was married, he wrote a poem upon her departure, only, as
he declared, "because it was expected from him," and he was not willing
to bar his own prospects by any appearance of neglect[81].

He never mentioned any advantage gained by this poem, or any regard that
was paid to it; and, therefore, it is likely that it was considered at
court as an act of duty, to which he was obliged by his dependence, and
which it was, therefore, not necessary to reward by any new favour: or,
perhaps, the queen really intended his advancement, and, therefore,
thought it superfluous to lavish presents upon a man whom she intended
to establish for life.

About this time not only his hopes were in danger of being frustrated,
but his pension likewise of being obstructed, by an accidental calumny.
The writer of the Daily Courant, a paper then published under the
direction of the ministry, charged him with a crime, which, though not
very great in itself, would have been remarkably invidious in him, and
might very justly have incensed the queen against him. He was accused by
name of influencing elections against the court, by appearing at the
head of a tory mob; nor did the accuser fail to aggravate his crime, by
representing it as the effect of the most atrocious ingratitude, and a
kind of rebellion against the queen, who had first preserved him from an
infamous death, and afterwards distinguished him by her favour, and
supported him by her charity. The charge, as it was open and confident,
was likewise, by good fortune, very particular. The place of the
transaction was mentioned, and the whole series of the rioter's conduct
related. This exactness made Mr. Savage's vindication easy; for he never
had in his life seen the place which was declared to be the scene of his
wickedness, nor ever had been present in any town when its
representatives were chosen. This answer he, therefore, made haste to
publish, with all the circumstances necessary to make it credible; and
very reasonably demanded, that the accusation should be retracted in the
same paper, that he might no longer suffer the imputation of sedition
and ingratitude. This demand was likewise pressed by him in a private
letter to the author of the paper, who, either trusting to the
protection of those whose defence he had undertaken, or having
entertained some personal malice against Mr. Savage, or fearing lest, by
retracting so confident an assertion, he should impair the credit of his
paper, refused to give him that satisfaction.

Mr. Savage, therefore, thought it necessary, to his own vindication, to
prosecute him in the King's Bench; but as he did not find any ill
effects from the accusation, having sufficiently cleared his innocence,
he thought any further procedure would have the appearance of revenge;
and, therefore, willingly dropped it.

He saw, soon afterwards, a process commenced in the same court against
himself, on an information in which he was accused of writing and
publishing an obscene pamphlet.

It was always Mr. Savage's desire to be distinguished; and, when any
controversy became popular, he never wanted some reason for engaging in
it with great ardour, and appearing at the head of the party which he
had chosen. As he was never celebrated for his prudence, he had no
sooner taken his side, and informed himself of the chief topicks of the
dispute, than he took all opportunities of asserting and propagating his
principles, without much regard to his own interest, or any other
visible design than that of drawing upon himself the attention of
mankind.

The dispute between the bishop of London and the chancellor is well
known to have been, for some time, the chief topick of political
conversation; and, therefore, Mr. Savage, in pursuance of his character,
endeavoured to become conspicuous among the controvertists with which
every coffee-house was filled on that occasion. He was an indefatigable
opposer of all the claims of ecclesiastical power, though he did not
know on what they were founded; and was, therefore, no friend to the
bishop of London. But he had another reason for appearing as a warm
advocate for Dr. Rundle; for he was the friend of Mr. Foster and Mr.
Thomson, who were the friends of Mr. Savage.

Thus remote was his interest in the question, which, however, as he
imagined, concerned him so nearly, that it was not sufficient to
harangue and dispute, but necessary likewise to write upon it.

He, therefore, engaged with great ardour in a new poem, called by him,
the Progress of a Divine; in which he conducts a profligate priest, by
all the gradations of wickedness, from a poor curacy in the country to
the highest preferments of the church; and describes, with that humour
which was natural to him, and that knowledge which was extended to all
the diversities of human life, his behaviour in every station; and
insinuates, that this priest, thus accomplished, found at last a patron
in the bishop of London.

When he was asked by one of his friends, on what pretence he could
charge the bishop with such an action, he had no more to say than that
he had only inverted the accusation; and that he thought it reasonable
to believe, that he who obstructed the rise of a good man without
reason, would, for bad reasons, promote the exaltation of a villain.

The clergy were universally provoked by this satire; and Savage, who, as
was his constant practice, had set his name to his performance, was
censured in the Weekly Miscellany[82] with severity, which he did not
seem inclined to forget.

But a return of invective was not thought a sufficient punishment. The
court of King's Bench was, therefore, moved against him; and he was
obliged to return an answer to a charge of obscenity. It was urged in
his defence, that obscenity was criminal when it was intended to promote
the practice of vice; but that Mr. Savage had only introduced obscene
ideas, with the view of exposing them to detestation, and of amending
the age, by showing the deformity of wickedness. This plea was admitted;
and sir Philip Yorke, who then presided in that court, dismissed the
information with encomiums upon the purity and excellence of Mr.
Savage's writings. The prosecution, however, answered in some measure
the purpose of those by whom it was set on foot; for Mr. Savage was so
far intimidated by it, that, when the edition of his poem was sold, he
did not venture to reprint it; so that it was in a short time forgotten,
or forgotten by all but those whom it offended.

It is said that some endeavours were used to incense the queen against
him: but he found advocates to obviate, at least, part of their effect;
for, though he was never advanced, he still continued to receive his
pension.

This poem drew more infamy upon him than any incident of his life; and,
as his conduct cannot be vindicated, it is proper to secure his memory
from reproach, by informing those whom he made his enemies, that he
never intended to repeat the provocation; and that, though, whenever he
thought he had any reason to complain of the clergy, he used to threaten
them with a new edition of the Progress of a Divine, it was his calm
and settled resolution to suppress it for ever.

He once intended to have made a better reparation for the folly or
injustice with which he might be charged, by writing another poem,
called the Progress of a Freethinker, whom he intended to lead through
all the stages of vice and folly, to convert him from virtue to
wickedness, and from religion to infidelity, by all the modish sophistry
used for that purpose; and, at last, to dismiss him by his own hand into
the other world.

That he did not execute this design is a real loss to mankind; for he
was too well acquainted with all the scenes of debauchery to have failed
in his representations of them, and too zealous for virtue not to have
represented them in such a manner as should expose them either to
ridicule or detestation.

But this plan was, like others, formed and laid aside, till the vigour
of his imagination was spent, and the effervescence of invention had
subsided; but soon gave way to some other design, which pleased by its
novelty for awhile, and then was neglected like the former.

He was still in his usual exigencies, having no certain support but the
pension allowed him by the queen, which, though it might have kept an
exact economist from want, was very far from being sufficient for Mr.
Savage, who had never been accustomed to dismiss any of his appetites
without the gratification which they solicited, and whom nothing but
want of money withheld from partaking of every pleasure that fell within
his view.

His conduct, with regard to his pension, was very particular. No sooner
had he changed the bill, than he vanished from the sight of all his
acquaintances, and lay, for some time, out of the reach of all the
inquiries that friendship or curiosity could make after him. At length
he appeared again penniless as before, but never informed even those
whom he seemed to regard most, where he had been; nor was his retreat
ever discovered.

This was his constant practice during the whole time that he received
the pension from the queen: he regularly disappeared and returned. He,
indeed, affirmed that he retired to study, and that the money supported
him in solitude for many months; but his friends declared, that the
short time in which it was spent sufficiently confuted his own account
of his conduct.

His politeness and his wit still raised him friends, who were desirous
of setting him at length free from that indigence by which he had been
hitherto oppressed; and, therefore, solicited sir Robert Walpole in his
favour with so much earnestness, that they obtained a promise of the
next place that should become vacant, not exceeding two hundred pounds a
year. This promise was made with an uncommon declaration, "that it was
not the promise of a minister to a petitioner, but of a friend to his
friend." Mr. Savage now concluded himself set at ease for ever, and, as
he observes in a poem written on that incident of his life, trusted and
was trusted; but soon found that his confidence was ill-grounded, and
this friendly promise was not inviolable. He spent a long time in
solicitations, and, at last despaired and desisted.

He did not indeed deny, that he had given the minister some reason to
believe that he should not strengthen his own interest by advancing him,
for he had taken care to distinguish himself in coffee-houses as an
advocate for the ministry of the last years of queen Anne, and was
always ready to justify the conduct, and exalt the character of lord
Bolingbroke, whom he mentions with great regard in an Epistle upon
Authors, which he wrote about that time, but was too wise to publish,
and of which only some fragments have appeared, inserted by him in the
magazine after his retirement.

To despair was not, however, the character of Savage; when one patronage
failed, he had recourse to another. The prince was now extremely
popular, and had very liberally rewarded the merit of some writers, whom
Mr. Savage did not think superiour to himself, and, therefore, he
resolved to address a poem to him.

For this purpose he made choice of a subject which could regard only
persons of the highest rank and greatest affluence, and which was,
therefore, proper for a poem intended to procure the patronage of a
prince; and, having retired, for some time, to Richmond, that he might
prosecute his design in full tranquillity, without the temptations of
pleasure, or the solicitations of creditors, by which his meditations
were in equal danger of being disconcerted, he produced a poem on
Publick Spirit, with regard to Publick Works.

The plan of this poem is very extensive, and comprises a multitude of
topicks, each of which might furnish matter sufficient for a long
performance, and of which some have already employed more eminent
writers; but as he was, perhaps, not fully acquainted with the whole
extent of his own design, and was writing to obtain a supply of wants
too pressing to admit of long or accurate inquiries, he passes
negligently over many publick works, which, even in his own opinion,
deserved to be more elaborately treated.

But, though he may sometimes disappoint his reader by transient touches
upon these subjects, which have often been considered, and, therefore,
naturally raise expectations, he must be allowed amply to compensate his
omissions, by expatiating, in the conclusion of his work, upon a kind of
beneficence not yet celebrated by any eminent poet, though it now
appears more susceptible of embellishments, more adapted to exalt the
ideas, and affect the passions, than many of those which have hitherto
been thought most worthy of the ornaments of verse. The settlement of
colonies in uninhabited countries, the establishment of those in
security, whose misfortunes have made their own country no longer
pleasing or safe, the acquisition of property without injury to any, the



Online LibrarySamuel JohnsonDr. Johnson's Works: Life, Poems, and Tales, Volume 1 The Works of Samuel Johnson, Ll.D., in Nine Volumes → online text (page 12 of 40)