Later Years.—By the time he had been for ten years in London, his abilities were sufficiently well known to the leading booksellers for them to hire him to compile a Dictionary of the English Language for L1575. He was seven years at this work, finishing it in 1755. Between 1750 and 1760 he wrote the matter for two periodicals, The Rambler (1750-1752) and The Idler (1758-1760), which contain papers on manners and morals. He intended to model these papers on the lines of The Tatler and The Spectator, but his essays are for the most part ponderously dull and uninteresting.
In 1762, for the first time, he was really an independent man, for then George III. gave him a life pension of L300 a year. Even as late as 1759, in order to pay his mother’s funeral expenses, Johnson had been obliged to dash off the romance of Rasselas in a week; but from the time he received his pension, he had leisure “to cross his legs and have his talk out” in some of the most distinguished gatherings of the eighteenth century. During the rest of his life he produced little besides Lives of the English Poets, which is his most important contribution to literature. In 1784 he died, and was buried in Westminster Abbey among the poets whose lives he had written.
A Man of Character.—Any one who will read Macaulay’s Life of Johnson may become acquainted with some of Johnson’s most striking peculiarities; but these do not constitute his claims to greatness. He had qualities that made him great in spite of his peculiarities. He knocked down a publisher who insulted him, and he would never take insolence from a superior; but there is no case on record of his having been unkind to an inferior. Goldsmith said: “Johnson has nothing of a bear but the skin.” When some one manifested surprise that Johnson should have assisted a worthless character, Goldsmith promptly replied: “He has now become miserable, and that insures the protection of Johnson.”
Johnson, coming home late at night, would frequently slip a coin into the hand of a sleeping street Arab, who, on awakening, was rejoiced to find provision thus made for his breakfast. He spent the greater part of his pension on the helpless, several of whom he received into his own house.
There have been many broader and more scholarly Englishmen, but there never walked the streets of London a man who battled more courageously for what he thought was right. The more we know of him, the more certain are we to agree with this closing sentence from Macaulay’s Life of Johnson: “And it is but just to say that our intimate acquaintance with what he would himself have called the anfractuosities of his intellect and of his temper serves only to strengthen our conviction that he was both a great and a good man.”