By the generosity of Mr. Harris, the proprietor of Covent Garden theatre, it was now exhibited for one night, for the benefit of the authour's widow and children. To conciliate the favour of the audience was the intention of Johnson's Prologue, which, as it is not long, I shall here insert, as a proof that his poetical talents were in no degree impaired.

'This night presents a play, which publick rage, Or right or wrong, once hooted from the stage: From zeal or malice, now no more we dread, For English vengeance wars not with the dead. A generous foe regards with pitying eye The man whom Fate has laid where all must lie. To wit, reviving from its authour's dust, Be kind, ye judges, or at least be just: Let no renewed hostilities invade Th' oblivious grave's inviolable shade. Let one great payment every claim appease, And him who cannot hurt, allow to please; To please by scenes, unconscious of offence, By harmless merriment, or useful sense. Where aught of bright or fair the piece displays, Approve it only;--'tis too late to praise. If want of skill or want of care appear, Forbear to hiss;--the poet cannot hear. By all, like him, must praise and blame be found, At last, a fleeting gleam, or empty sound; Yet then shall calm reflection bless the night, When liberal pity dignified delight; When pleasure fir'd her torch at virtue's flame, And mirth was bounty with an humbler name.'[335]

A circumstance which could not fail to be very pleasing to Johnson occurred this year. The Tragedy of Sir Thomas Overbury, written by his early companion in London, Richard Savage[336] was brought out with alterations at Drury-lane theatre[337]. The Prologue to it was written by Mr. Richard Brinsley Sheridan; in which, after describing very pathetically the wretchedness of

'Ill-fated Savage, at whose birth was giv'n No parent but the Muse, no friend but Heav'n:'

he introduced an elegant compliment to Johnson on his Dictionary, that wonderful performance which cannot be too often or too highly praised; of which Mr. Harris, in his Philological Inquiries[338], justly and liberally observes: 'Such is its merit, that our language does not possess a more copious, learned, and valuable work.' The concluding, lines of this Prologue were these:--

'So pleads the tale that gives to future times The son's misfortunes and the parent's crimes; There shall his fame (if own'd to-night) survive, Fix'd by THE HAND THAT BIDS OUR LANGUAGE LIVE[339].'

Mr. Sheridan here at once did honour to his taste and to his liberality of sentiment, by shewing that he was not prejudiced from the unlucky difference which had taken place between his worthy father and Dr. Johnson. I have already mentioned, that Johnson was very desirous of reconciliation with old Mr. Sheridan.[340] It will, therefore, not seem at all surprizing that he was zealous in acknowledging the brilliant merit of his son. While it had as yet been displayed only in the drama, Johnson proposed him as a member of THE LITERARY CLUB, observing, that 'He who has written the two best comedies of his age, is surely a considerable man[341].' And he had, accordingly, the honour to be elected; for an honour it undoubtedly must be allowed to be, when it is considered of whom that society consists, and that a single black ball excludes a candidate.


'July 9, 1777.[342]


'For the health of my wife and children I have taken the little country-house at which you visited my uncle, Dr. Boswell[343], who, having lost his wife, is gone to live with his son. We took possession of our villa about a week ago; we have a garden of three quarters of an acre, well stocked with fruit-trees and flowers, and gooseberries and currants, and peas and beans, and cabbages, &c. &c., and my children are quite happy. I now write to you in a little study, from the window of which I see around me a verdant grove, and beyond it the lofty mountain called Arthur's Seat.

'Your last letter, in which you desire me to send you some additional information concerning Thomson, reached me very fortunately just as I was going to Lanark, to put my wife's two nephews, the young Campbells, to school there, under the care of Mr. Thomson, the master of it, whose wife is sister to the authour of The Seasons. She is an old woman; but her memory is very good; and she will with pleasure give me for you every particular that you wish to know, and she can tell. Pray then take the trouble to send me such questions as may lead to biographical materials. You say that the Life which we have of Thomson is scanty. Since I received your letter I have read his Life, published under the name of Cibber, but as you told me, really written by a Mr. Shiels[344]; that written by Dr. Murdoch; one prefixed to an edition of the Seasons, published at Edinburgh, which is compounded of both, with the addition of an anecdote of Quin's relieving Thomson from prison[345]; the abridgement of Murdoch's account of him, in the Biographia Britannica, and another abridgement of it in the Biographical Dictionary, enriched with Dr.

Life of Johnson Vol_03 Page 35

James Boswell

Scottish Authors

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

James Boswell
Classic Literature Library
Classic Authors

All Pages of This Book