THE following letter, an accurate copy of the original, appears with slight variations in Boswell's "Life of Johnson." A foot-note credited to the "Gentleman's Magazine," states that "several letters passed between them, after the American Dr Johnson had returned to his native country; of which, however, it is found that this is the only one remaining."
It is "the only one" to which an answer has been found, and the answer is here printed for the first time from the original draught. He is known to have written one other letter, but probably the outbreak of the Revolution interrupted the correspondence. This was sent under cover, as appears from the filling up of the superscription, to Rev. Mr. White, afterwards Bishop of Pennsylvania, to whom the English Dr. Johnson wrote the same date, saying: "I take the liberty which you give me, of troubling you with a letter, of which you will please fill up the direction."
So highly did he esteem his American friend, that he presented him, before leaving England, with an elegantly bound copy of his large folio Dictionary, third edition, 1765; and an engraving of himself, from a painting of Sir Joshua Reynolds, which he considered his best likeness.
To DR. JOHNSON:--
Sir,--Of all those whom the various accidents of life have brought within my notice, there is scarce any one whose acquaintance I have more desired to cultivate than yours. I cannot indeed charge you with neglecting me, yet our mutual inclination could scarce gratify itself with opportunities; the current of the day always bore us away from one another, and now the Atlantic is between us.
Whether you carried away an impression of me as pleasing as that which you left me of yourself, I know not; if you did, you have not forgotten me, and will be glad that I do not forget you. Merely to be remembered is indeed a barren pleasure, but it is one of the pleasures which is more sensibly felt as human nature is more exalted.
To make you wish that I should have you in my mind, I would be glad to tell you something which you do not know, but all public affairs are printed; and as you and I had no common friends, I can tell you no private history.
The Government I think grows stronger, but I am afraid the next general election will be a time of uncommon turbulence, violence, and outrage.
Of Literature no great product has appeared, or is expected; the attention of the people has for some years been otherwise employed.
I was told two days ago of a design which must excite some curiosity. Two ships are [in] preparation, which are under the command of Captain Constantine Phipps, to explore the Northern ocean, not to seek the Northeast or the Northwest passage, but to sail directly north, as near the pole as they can go. They hope to find an open ocean, but I suspect it is one mass of perpetual congelation. I do not much wish well to discoveries, for I am always afraid they will end in conquest and robbery.
I have been out of order this winter, but am grown better. Can I ever hope to see you again; or must I be always content to tell you that in another hemisphere,
I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
JOHNSON'S COURT, FLEET STREET, LONDON, March 4, 1773.
STRATFORD, June 5, 1773.
DEAR AND RESPECTED SIR,--I am perfectly unable to express the grateful sense I have of the singular honor you have done me by your favor of the 4th of March. There was no man in England whose acquaintance I so much wished to be honored with when I first embarked in my late voyage. Your excellent writings had given me the highest veneration and esteem of your character. I waited some time for some accidental or favorable introduction to you, but when none offered, I presumed so much on the idea I had formed of you, that I at last ventured to introduce myself to you in the abrupt manner you remember. The kind and obliging reception you then and ever after gave me, when I waited upon you, confirmed and increased my respect, and your kind remembrance of me now lays me under such obligations as I must never hope to repay. To be remembered by one of the first characters of an age in which there are so few whose remembrance is not rather a reproach than an honor, is, I assure you, to me one of the highest pleasures that I am capable of.
I bless God that at the date of your letter you were returning again to health, which I hope will be very long continued to you not only for your own sake, but of human nature, which will be benefited by your labors, for you live not for yourself, but for all mankind.
It will, I hope, be some satisfaction to you to know that your writings are in the highest esteem and are doing much good in this extensive and growing country, and will, I doubt not, continue to do so to very late posterity, for which reason, as well as for the increase of your reputation, which I assure you is very dear to me, I hope you will be still preparing something for the public, who will read with the utmost avidity whatever appears under the sanction of your name.
It gives me great pleasure to learn from so good an authority that Government grows stronger. You had indeed convinced me that the alarm which the factious and the desperate had excited was false, but I hardly expected when I left England that Government would have obtained so speedy and so manifest a superiority over the friends of confusion, as, if we may credit the printed accounts, it seems to have done. From them it would seem as if the cause of opposition was almost desperate. It must be expected, however, that every effort will be made to revive it against the next general election, and I wish your apprehensions may not be verified: but still I hope there is no great danger of their gaining so great advantages as to enable them to do much mischief to the public. Upon the stability of Government will depend also in a high degree the felicity of this country. The Government have much to do here when the opinion that has been maintained by the Boston Assembly [in] a late dispute with no opposition to their Governor, that the Colonies are independent of the Parliament of Great Britain, gains ground, and will require their attention unless they mean to acquiesce in the idea and give up their authority over us, which I presume they will not be inclined to do.
The design you mention of exploring the Northern Ocean, is an experiment of great curiosity, and I shall be impatient to know the success of it. I have ever entertained the opinion you seem to have adopted that the Pole is the empire of frost and snow, which will effectually forever stop the gains from those evils which, as you justly remark, have generally been the consequence of discoveries. Neither ambition nor avarice, I fancy, will there have any opportunity for gratification; we shall only acquire an innocent and perhaps useless acquaintance with an unknown part of our globe.
I wish I could gratify you with any intelligence from this side of the Atlantic; but nothing occurs to me worthy of your notice. I have lost since my return to America my venerable father, who, to his other good qualities, added a sincere respect and esteem for you, and was extremely minute and particular in his inquiries concerning you. We had the happiness to spend three months together after my return, when he expired full of days, satisfied with life, with hopes full of immortality, and without a groan or any apparent previous pain.
For myself I am again engaged largely in the busy, and in this country not very profitable profession of the law, which, however, answers tolerably well for the support of the numerous young family with which God has blessed me. That you may enjoy every felicity, and long, very long continue as you have done to bless mankind, be useful to the world, is and will be the sincere and ardent prayer of, dear Sir,
Your most obedient and most faithful humble servant,
WM. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
TO DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON.
Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, London.