In spite of the weather there was a large audience at Mr. Copeland's lecture on "Dr. Johnson" in the Fogg Museum yesterday afternoon.
Mr. Copeland began by stating the main facts and events of Johnson's life. Johnson, Samuel, the son of a bookseller of unusual intelligence and hypochondriac constitution, was born at Litchfield in the year 1709. From a dame school the boy went to the grammar school of the town. He left it at the age of sixteen and for two years helped his father in the bookshop. One incident of this period resulted fifty years later in Johnson's only connection with Litchfield after boyhood which the world takes note of. His father begged him one day to go to the neighboring town of Uttoxeter to tend his bookstall. The boy refused from pride. The man, half a century afterward, found himself in Litchfield on the anniversary of that day; he was missed by his hosts; and it was afterward discovered that Johnson had driven to Uttoxeter and stood bareheaded in the rain for an entire hour before the bookstall which had been his father's. This incident illustrates at once Johnson's filial tenderness and a streak of characteristic superstition, which took an emblematic form of penance.
Johnson's life was one of hard and poverty-stricken labor. At the age of twenty-six he had married a woman of forty-eight who had no beauty and very little fortune. Johnson was besides encumbered by several pensioners, even poorer than he, whose misfortunes had excited his pity. "The Rambler," "The Lives of the Poets," and the Dictionary-finished in 1755 after a Jacobean struggle of seven years-had brought the doctor fame, but comparatively little money. In 1759, however, came a pension of three hundred pounds from the government and it is from the subsequent brighter days of leisure and competence, when Johnson was able to go about the world of London and indulge his passion for talk, that we know him best. Boswell is the clear medium through which succeeding generations behold Johnson in London, at the club, in the Hebrides, with his poor folk, as well as with the many pretty and clever women whom Johnson had added to the list of his acquaintance. But one of the less known anecdotes of Johnson makes clear what, in spite of success and reputation and the pleasure of being dictator-or, to use Smollett's word, the great Cham of literature-remained a pervading quality of his great, uncouth, impeded man of genius. He asked an old beggar woman, who accosted him once in the street, who she was, and her reply that she was an old struggler gave the doctor keen delight. Johnson, too, so he rejoined, was an old struggler, and bestowed upon the beggar woman all the money he had in his pockets. And this sense of pain and struggle can never be lost in any true estimate of Samuel Johnson.
We cannot read him now, said Mr. Copeland, except for the lives of the poets, the vanity of human wishes, and a very few other things; but we love to read about him-indeed, we can never read enough-and we see and remember him as we remember only two other men in the long line of English writers, Swift and Carlyle.