The Life of Johnson HTML version
The res angusta domi prevented him from having the advantage of a complete academical
education. The friend to whom he had trusted for support had deceived him. His debts in
College, though not great, were increasing; and his scanty remittances from Lichfield,
which had all along been made with great difficulty, could be supplied no longer, his
father having fallen into a state of insolvency. Compelled, therefore, by irresistible
necessity, he left the College in autumn, 1731, without a degree, having been a member
of it little more than three years.
And now (I had almost said POOR) Samuel Johnson returned to his native city, destitute,
and not knowing how he should gain even a decent livelihood. His father's misfortunes in
trade rendered him unable to support his son; and for some time there appeared no means
by which he could maintain himself. In the December of this year his father died.
Johnson was so far fortunate, that the respectable character of his parents, and his own
merit, had, from his earliest years, secured him a kind reception in the best families at
Lichfield. Among these I can mention Mr. Howard, Dr. Swinfen, Mr. Simpson, Mr.
Levett, Captain Garrick, father of the great ornament of the British stage; but above all,
Mr. Gilbert Walmsley, Register of the Prerogative Court of Lichfield, whose character,
long after his decease, Dr. Johnson has, in his Life of Edmund Smith, thus drawn in the
glowing colours of gratitude:
'Of Gilbert Walmsley, thus presented to my mind, let me indulge myself in the
remembrance. I knew him very early; he was one of the first friends that literature
procured me, and I hope that, at least, my gratitude made me worthy of his notice.
'He was of an advanced age, and I was only not a boy, yet he never received my notions
with contempt. He was a whig, with all the virulence and malevolence of his party; yet
difference of opinion did not keep us apart. I honoured him and he endured me.
'At this man's table I enjoyed many cheerful and instructive hours, with companions, such
as are not often found--with one who has lengthened, and one who has gladdened life;
with Dr. James, whose skill in physick will be long remembered; and with David Garrick,
whom I hoped to have gratified with this character of our common friend. But what are
the hopes of man! I am disappointed by that stroke of death, which has eclipsed the
gaiety of nations, and impoverished the publick stock of harmless pleasure.'
In these families he passed much time in his early years. In most of them, he was in the
company of ladies, particularly at Mr. Walmsley's, whose wife and sisters-in-law, of the
name of Aston, and daughters of a Baronet, were remarkable for good breeding; so that
the notion which has been industriously circulated and believed, that he never was in
good company till late in life, and, consequently had been confirmed in coarse and
ferocious manners by long habits, is wholly without foundation. Some of the ladies have