The Life of Johnson HTML version

1746: AETAT. 37.]--It is somewhat curious, that his literary career appears to have been
almost totally suspended in the years 1745 and 1746, those years which were marked by a
civil war in Great- Britain, when a rash attempt was made to restore the House of Stuart
to the throne. That he had a tenderness for that unfortunate House, is well known; and
some may fancifully imagine, that a sympathetick anxiety impeded the exertion of his
intellectual powers: but I am inclined to think, that he was, during this time, sketching the
outlines of his great philological work.
1747: AETAT. 38.]--This year his old pupil and friend, David Garrick, having become
joint patentee and manager of Drury-lane theatre, Johnson honoured his opening of it
with a Prologue, which for just and manly dramatick criticism, on the whole range of the
English stage, as well as for poetical excellence, is unrivalled. Like the celebrated
Epilogue to the Distressed Mother, it was, during the season, often called for by the
But the year 1747 is distinguished as the epoch, when Johnson's arduous and important
work, his DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, was announced to the
world, by the publication of its Plan or Prospectus.
How long this immense undertaking had been the object of his contemplation, I do not
know. I once asked him by what means he had attained to that astonishing knowledge of
our language, by which he was enabled to realise a design of such extent, and
accumulated difficulty. He told me, that 'it was not the effect of particular study; but that
it had grown up in his mind insensibly.' I have been informed by Mr. James Dodsley, that
several years before this period, when Johnson was one day sitting in his brother Robert's
shop, he heard his brother suggest to him, that a Dictionary of the English Language
would be a work that would be well received by the publick; that Johnson seemed at first
to catch at the proposition, but, after a pause, said, in his abrupt decisive manner, 'I
believe I shall not undertake it.' That he, however, had bestowed much thought upon the
subject, before he published his Plan, is evident from the enlarged, clear, and accurate
views which it exhibits; and we find him mentioning in that tract, that many of the writers
whose testimonies were to be produced as authorities, were selected by Pope; which
proves that he had been furnished, probably by Mr. Robert Dodsley, with whatever hints
that eminent poet had contributed towards a great literary project, that had been the
subject of important consideration in a former reign.
The booksellers who contracted with Johnson, single and unaided, for the execution of a
work, which in other countries has not been effected but by the co-operating exertions of
many, were Mr. Robert Dodsley, Mr. Charles Hitch, Mr. Andrew Millar, the two
Messieurs Longman, and the two Messieurs Knapton. The price stipulated was fifteen
hundred and seventy-five pounds.