The Life of Johnson HTML version
1756: AETAT. 47.]--In 1756 Johnson found that the great fame of his Dictionary had not
set him above the necessity of 'making provision for the day that was passing over him.'
No royal or noble patron extended a munificent hand to give independence to the man
who had conferred stability on the language of his country. We may feel indignant that
there should have been such unworthy neglect; but we must, at the same time,
congratulate ourselves, when we consider that to this very neglect, operating to rouse the
natural indolence of his constitution, we owe many valuable productions, which
otherwise, perhaps, might never have appeared.
He had spent, during the progress of the work, the money for which he had contracted to
write his Dictionary. We have seen that the reward of his labour was only fifteen hundred
and seventy-five pounds; and when the expence of amanuenses and paper, and other
articles are deducted, his clear profit was very inconsiderable. I once said to him, 'I am
sorry, Sir, you did not get more for your Dictionary.' His answer was, 'I am sorry, too.
But it was very well. The booksellers are generous, liberal-minded men.' He, upon all
occasions, did ample justice to their character in this respect. He considered them as the
patrons of literature; and, indeed, although they have eventually been considerable
gainers by his Dictionary, it is to them that we owe its having been undertaken and
carried through at the risk of great expence, for they were not absolutely sure of being
He this year resumed his scheme of giving an edition of Shakspeare with notes.* He
issued Proposals of considerable length, in which he shewed that he perfectly well knew
what a variety of research such an undertaking required; but his indolence prevented him
from pursuing it with that diligence which alone can collect those scattered facts that
genius, however acute, penetrating, and luminous, cannot discover by its own force. It is
remarkable, that at this time his fancied activity was for the moment so vigorous, that he
promised his work should be published before Christmas, 1757. Yet nine years elapsed
before it saw the light. His throes in bringing it forth had been severe and remittent; and
at last we may almost conclude that the Caesarian operation was performed by the knife
of Churchill, whose upbraiding satire, I dare say, made Johnson's friends urge him to
'He for subscribers bates his hook,
And takes your cash; but where's the book?
No matter where; wise fear, you know,
Forbids the robbing of a foe;
But what, to serve our private ends,
Forbids the cheating of our friends?'
* First proposed in 1745--ED.