After some months of instruction in English history,
he asked them who had destroyed the monasteries?
One of them gave no answer; the other replied “Jesus
Christ.” Johnson, however, could boast of
one eminent pupil in David Garrick, though, by Garrick’s
account, his master was of little service except as
affording an excellent mark for his early powers of
ridicule. The school, or “academy,”
failed after a year and a half; and Johnson, once
more at a loss for employment, resolved to try the
great experiment, made so often and so often unsuccessfully.
He left Lichfield to seek his fortune in London.
Garrick accompanied him, and the two brought a common
letter of introduction to the master of an academy
from Gilbert Walmsley, registrar of the Prerogative
Court in Lichfield. Long afterwards Johnson took
an opportunity in the Lives of the Poets
expressing his warm regard for the memory of his early
friend, to whom he had been recommended by a community
of literary tastes, in spite of party differences
and great inequality of age. Walmsley says in
his letter, that “one Johnson” is about
to accompany Garrick to London, in order to try his
fate with a tragedy and get himself employed in translation.
Johnson, he adds, “is a very good scholar and
poet, and I have great hopes will turn out a fine tragedy
The letter is dated March 2nd, 1737. Before recording
what is known of his early career thus started, it
will be well to take a glance at the general condition
of the profession of Literature in England at this
“No man but a blockhead,” said Johnson,
“ever wrote except for money.” The
doctrine is, of course, perfectly outrageous, and specially
calculated to shock people who like to keep it for
their private use, instead of proclaiming it in public.
But it is a good expression of that huge contempt
for the foppery of high-flown sentiment which, as is
not uncommon with Johnson, passes into something which
would be cynical if it were not half-humorous.
In this case it implies also the contempt of the professional
for the amateur. Johnson despised gentlemen who
dabbled in his craft, as a man whose life is devoted
to music or painting despises the ladies and gentlemen
who treat those arts as fashionable accomplishments.
An author was, according to him, a man who turned out
books as a bricklayer turns out houses or a tailor
coats. So long as he supplied a good article
and got a fair price, he was a fool to grumble, and
a humbug to affect loftier motives.