The Life of Johnson
1762: AETAT. 53.]--A lady having at this time solicited him to obtain the Archbishop of
Canterbury's patronage to have her son sent to the University, one of those solicitations
which are too frequent, where people, anxious for a particular object, do not consider
propriety, or the opportunity which the persons whom they solicit have to assist them, he
wrote to her the following answer, with a copy of which I am favoured by the Reverend
Dr. Farmer, Master of Emanuel College, Cambridge.
'MADAM,--I hope you will believe that my delay in answering your letter could proceed
only from my unwillingness to destroy any hope that you had formed. Hope is itself a
species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like
all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain;
and expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment. If it be asked, what is
the improper expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will quickly
answer, that it is such expectation as is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation
raised, not by the common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an
expectation that requires the common course of things to be changed, and the general
rules of action to be broken.
'When you made your request to me, you should have considered, Madam, what you
were asking. You ask me to solicit a great man, to whom I never spoke, for a young
person whom I had never seen, upon a supposition which I had no means of knowing to
be true. There is no reason why, amongst all the great, I should chuse to supplicate the
Archbishop, nor why, among all the possible objects of his bounty, the Archbishop
should chuse your son. I know, Madam, how unwillingly conviction is admitted, when
interest opposes it; but surely, Madam, you must allow, that there is no reason why that
should be done by me, which every other man may do with equal reason, and which,
indeed no man can do properly, without some very particular relation both to the
Archbishop and to you. If I could help you in this exigence by any proper means, it
would give me pleasure; but this proposal is so very remote from all usual methods, that I
cannot comply with it, but at the risk of such answer and suspicions as I believe you do
not wish me to undergo.
'I have seen your son this morning; he seems a pretty youth, and will, perhaps, find some
better friend than I can procure him; but, though he should at last miss the University, he
may still be wise, useful, and happy. I am, Madam, your most humble servant,
'June 8, 1762.'
'To Mr. Joseph Baretti, At Milan.
'London, July 20, 1762.