Johnson, Samuel

, an English divine of remarkable learning and steadiness in suffering for the principles of tha | Revolution in 1688, was born in 1649, in Warwickshire and being put to St. Paul’s school in London, studied with such* success and reputation, that as soon as he was fit for the university, he was made keeper of the library to that school. In this station he applied himself to the Oriental languages, in which he made great progress. He was of Trinity-college, Cambridge, but left the university without taking a degree. He entered into orders, and was presented by a friend, Mr. Robert Biddulph, in 1669-70, to the rectory of Corringham in Essex. This living, worth only 80l. a year, was the only church preferment he ever had and, as the air of the place did not agree with him, he placed a curate upon the spot, and settled himself at London; a situation so much the more agreeable to him, as he had a strong disposition for politics, and had even made some progress in that study before he was presented to this living.

The times were turbulent; the duke of York declaring himself a Papist, his succession to the crown began to be warmly opposed; and. this brought the doctrine of indefeasible hereditary right into dispute, which was strongly disrelished by Johnson, who was naturally of no submissive temper.*


Of this truth we cannot have a stronger evidence than from himself. In a piece printed 1689, speaking of bishop Burnet’s Pastoral Letter, published a little before, in order to place king William’s right to the crown upon conquest, he expresses himself thus: “I will presently join issue with this conquering bishop, for I have not been afraid of a conqueror these 18 years; for long since I used to walk by the New Exchange gate, where stood an overgrown porter with his gown and staff, giving him a resemblance of authority, whose business it was to regulate the coachmen before the entrance; and would make nothing of lifting a coachman off his box, and beating him, and throwing him into his box again. I have several times looked up at this tall mastering fellow, and put the case: Suppose this conqueror should take me up under his arm, like a gizzard, and run away with me; am I his subject? No, thought I, I am my own, and not his: and, having thus invaded me, if I could not otherwise rescue myself from him, I would smite him under the fifth rib. The application is easy.” Tract concerning king James’s Abrogation, in our author’s works, p. 207, 268.

This inclination was early observed by his patron, who warned him against the danger of it to one of his profession, and advised him, if he would turn his thoughts to that subject, to read Bracton and Fortescue “de laudibus legum Angliae,” &c. that so he might be acquainted with the old English constitution but by no means to make politics the subject of his sermons, for that matters of faith and practice formed more suitable admonitions from the pulpit. Johnson, it is said, religiously | observed this advice; and though, by applying himself to the study of the books recommended to him, he became well versed in the English constitution, yet he never flitroduced it in his sermons, but employed these, with zeal, to expose the absurdity and mischief of the Popish religion, which was then too much encouraged, and would, he thought, unavoidably be established if the next heir to the crown was not set aside. This point he laboured incessantly in his private conversation, and became so good a master of the arguments for it, that the opposers of the court gave him suitable encouragement to proceed. The earl of Essex admitted him into his company and lord William Russel, respecting his parts and probity, made him his domestic chaplain. This preferment placed him in a conspicuous point of view; and in 1679 he was appointed to preach before the mayor and aldermen at Guildhallchapel, on Palm-Sunday. He took that opportunity of preaching against Popery; and from this time, he tells us himself, “he threw away his liberty with both hands, and with his eyes open, for his country’s service.” In short, he began to be regarded by his party as their immoveable bulwark; and to make good that character, while the bill of exclusion was carried on by his patron at the head of that party in the House of Commons, his chaplain, to promote the same cause, engaged the ecclesiastical champion of passive obedience, Dr. Hickes ,*

Dr. Hickes’s production here attacked, was a sermon preached before the lord mayor in 1681, and published in 1682.

in a book entitled “Julian‘ the Apostate, &c.” published in 1682. This tract being written to expose the doctrine, then generally received, of passive obedience, was answered by Dr. Hickes, in a piece entitled “Jovian, &c.” to which Johnson drew up a reply, under the title of “Julian’s arts to undermine and extirpate Christianity,” &c. This was printed and entered at Stationers’-hall, 1683, in order to be published; but, seeing his patron lord Russel seized and imprisoned, Johnson thought proper to check his zeal, and take the advice of his friends in suppressing it.

The court, however, having information of it, he was summoned, about two months after lord Russel was beheaded, to appear before the king and council, where the lord keeper North examined him upon these points 1. “Whether he was the author of a book called `Julian’s | Arts and Methods to undermine and extirpate Christianity’?” To which having answered in the affirmative, he was aked, “Why, after the book-had been so long entered at Stationers’-hall, it was not published?” To which he replied, “That the nation was in too great a ferment to have the matter further debated at that time.” Upon this he was commanded to produce one of those books to the council, being told that it should be published if they approved it; but he answered, “he had suppressed them himself, so that they were now his own private thoughts, for which he was not accountable to any power upon earth.” The council then dismissed him; but he was sent for twice afterwards, and the same questions urged, to which he returned the same answers, and was then sent prisoner to the Gatehouse, by a warrant of commitment dated Aug. 3, 1683, and signed by sir Leoline Jenkins, one of the privy council, and principal secretary of state. He was bailed out of prison by two friends, and the court used all possible means to discover the book; but, being disappointed in the search, recourse was had to promises, and a considerable sum, besides the favour of the court, was offered for one of the copies, to the person in whose hands they were supposed to be lodged. This was refused; and, as neither threats nor promises prevailed, the court was obliged to drop the prosecution upon that book, and an information against Johnson was lodged in the King’s-bench, for writing “Julian the Apostate,” &c. The prosecution was begun and carried on by the interest of the duke of York. The following was one of the first of the passages on which the information was founded: “And therefore, I much wonder at those men who trouble the nation at this time of day, with the unseasonable prescription of prayers and tears, and the passive obedience of the Thebean legion, and such-like last remedies, which are proper only at such a time as the laws of our country are armed against our religion.” The attack of this apparently innocent sentence gives a strong idea of the violence of the times.

When Mr. Johnson was brought to trial, he employed Mr. Wallop as his counsel, who urged for his client, that he had offended against no law of the land that the book, taken together, was innocent but that any treatise might be made criminal, if treated as those who drew up the information had treated this. The judges, however, had orders to proceed in the cause, and the chief justice | Jeffries upbraided Johnson for meddling wi^tt what did not belong to him, and scoffingly told him, that he would give him a text, which was, “Let every man study to be quiet, and rnmd his own business:” to which Johnson replied, that he did mind his business as an Englishman when he wrote that book. He was condemned, however, in a fine of 500 marks, and committed prisoner to the King’sbench till he should pay it. Here he lay in very necessitous circumstances, it being reckoned criminal to visit or shew him any kindness; so that few had the courage to come near him, or give him any relief; by which means he was reduced very low. Notwithstanding which, when his mother, whom he had maintained for many years, sent to him for subsistence, such was his filial affection, that though he knew not how to supply his own wants, and those of his wife and children, and was told on this occasion, that “charity begins at home,” he sent her forty shillings, though he had but fifty in the world, saying, he would do his duty, and trust Providence for his own supply. The event shewed that his hopes were not vain; for the next morning he received lOl. by an unknown hand, which he discovered at a distant period to have been sent by Dr. Fowler, afterwards bishop of Gloucester.

Having, by the bonds of himself and two friends, obtained the liberty of the rules, he was enabled to incur still further dangers, by printing some pieces against Popery in 1685, and dispersing several of them about the country at his own expence. These being answered in three “Observators,” by sir Roger L’Estrange, who also, discovering the printer, seized all the copies that were in his hands, Johnson caused a paper to be posted up everywhere, entitled “A Parcel of wry Reasons and wrong Inferences, but right Observator.” Upon the encampment of the army the following year, 1686, on Hounslow-heath, he drew up “An humble and hearty Address to all the Protestants in the present Army,” &c. He had dispersed about 1000 copies of this paper, when the rest of the impression was seized, and himself committed to close custody, to undergo a second trial at the King’s-bench; where he was condemned to stand in the pillory in Palace-yard, Westminster, Charingcross, and the Old Exchange, to pay a fine of 500 marks, and to be whipped from Newgate to Tyburn, after he had been degraded from the priesthood. This last ought to have been done, according to the canons, by his own | diecesan, the bishop of London, Dr. Compton; but that prelate being then under suspension himself (for not obeying the king’s order to suspend Dr. Sharp, afterwards archbishop of York, for preaching against Popery in his own parish church of St. Giles’s in the Fields), Dr. Crewe, bishop of Durham, Dr. Sprat, bishop of Rochester, and Dr. White, bishop of Peterborough, who were then commissioners for the diocese of London, were appointed to degrade Mr. Johnson. This they performed in the chapter-house of St. Paul’s, where Dr. Sherlock, and other clergymen, attended; but Dr. Stillingfleet, then dean of St. Paul’s, refused to be present. Johnson’s behaviour on this occasion was observed to be so becoming that character of which his enemies would have deprived him, that it melted some of their hearts, and forced them to acknowledge, that there was something very valuable in him. Among other things which he said to the divines then present, he told them, in the most pathetic manner, et It could not but grieve him to think, that, since all he had wrote was designed to keep their gowns on their backs, they should be made the unhappy instruments to pull off his; and he begged them to consider whether they were not making rods for themselves.“When they came to the formality of putting a Bible in his hand and taking it from him again, he was much affected, and parted from it with difficulty, kissed it, and said, with tears,” That they could not, however, deprive him of the use and benefit of that sacred depositum." It happened, that they were guilty of an omission, in not stripping him of his cassock; which, slight as such a circumstance may seem, rendered his degradation imperfect, and afterwards saved him his living.*


He came with it on to the pillory where Mr. House, the under-sherrif, tore it off, and put a frize coat upon him, Report of the committee in 1689.

A Popish priest made an offer for 200L to get the whipping part of the sentence remitted: the money was accordingly lodged, by one of Johnson’s friends, in a third hand, for the priest, if he performed what he undertook but to no purpose; the king was deaf to all in treaties the answer was, “That since Mr. Johnson had the spirit of martyrdom, it was fit he should suffer.” Accordingly, Dec. 1, 1686, the sentence was rigorously put in execution; which yet he bore with great firmness, and went through | even with alacrity. He observed afterwards to an intimate friend, that this text of Scripture which came suddenly into his mind, “He endured the cross, despising the shame,” so much animated and supported him in his bitter journey, that, had he not thought it would have looked like vain-glory, he could have sung a psalm while the executioner was doing his office, with as much composure and cheerfulness as ever he had done in the church; though at the same time he had a quick sense of every stripe which was given him, to the number of 317, with a whip of nine cords knotted. This was the more remarkable in him, because he had not the least tincture of enthusiasm .*


Excepting this, he seems to have been cast in much such a mould as Jobn Lilburn, to whom he bore a great re­ semblance, both in the hardiness of his temper, and in the quarrelsomeness of it.

The truth is, he was endued with a natural hardiness of temper to a great degree; and being inspirited by an eager desire to suffer for the cause he had espoused, he was enabled to support himself with the firmness of a martyr. After the execution of this sentence, the king gave away his living; and the clergyman who had the grant of it, made application to the three bishops abovementioned for institution; but they, being sensible of his imperfect degradation, would not grant it without a bond of indemnity; after which, when he went to Corringham for induction, the parishioners opposed him, so that he could never obtain entrance, but was obliged to return re iiifectd. Mr. Johnson thus kept his living, and with it, his resolution also to oppose the measures of the court; insomuch that, before he was out of the surgeon’s hands, he reprinted 3000 copies of his “Comparison between Popery and Paganism.” These, however, were not then published; but not long after, about the time of the general toleration, he published “The Trial and Examination of a late Libel,” &c. which was followed by others every year till the Revolution. The parliament afterwards, taking his case into consideration, resolved, June 11, 1689, that the judgement against him in the King’s-bench, upon an information for a misdemeanor, was cruel and illegal; and a committee was at the same time appointed to bring in a bill for reversing that judgement. Being also ordered to inquire how Mr. Johnson came to be degraded, and by what authority it was done, Mr. Christy, the chairman, some days after reported his case, by which it | appears, that a libel was then exhibited against him, charging him with great misdemeanors, though none were specified or proved that he demanded a copy of the libel, and an advocate, both which were denied that he protested against the proceedings, as contrary to law and the 132d canon, not being done by his own diocesan but his protestation was refused, as was also his appeal to the king in chancery and that Mrs. Johnson had also an information exhibited against her, for the like matter as that against her husband. The committee came to the following resolutions, which were all agreed to by the house “That the judgement against Mr. Johnson was illegal and cruel: that the ecclesiastical commission was illegal, and consequently, the suspension of the bishop of London, and the authority committed to three bishops, null and illegal: that Mr. Johnson’s not being degraded by his own diocesan, if he had deserved it, was illegal: that a bill be brought in to reverse the judgement, and to declare all the proceedings before the three bishops null and illegal: and that an address be made to his majesty, to recommend Mr. Johnson to some ecclesiastical preferment, suitable to his services and sufferings.” The house presented two addresses to the king, in behalf of Mr. Johnson: and, accordingly, the deanery of Durham was offered him, which however he refused, as an unequal reward for his services,

The truth is, he was his own chief enemy; and his disappointment, in his expectations of preferment, was the effect of his own temper and conduct. For, with very good abilities, considerable learning, and great clearness, strength, and vivacity of sentiment and expression, of which his writings are a sufficient evidence; and with a firmness of mind capable of supporting the severest trials, for any cause which he considered as important, he was passionate, impatient of contradiction, conceited in his own opinions, haughty, apt to overrate his own services, and undervalue those of others, whose advancement above himself was an insupportable mortification to him. The roughness of his temper, and turbulency of his genius, rendered him also unfit for the higher stations of the church, of which he was immoderately ambitious. Not being able to obtain a bishopric, lady Russel made use of the influence she had with Dr. Tillotson, to solicit a pension for him ;*


Tillotson laboured the matter very heartily, though Johnson continued abusing him and reviling him all the time. While he was in prison also,


Tillotson had sent him 30/, which, though his necessities obliged him to accept, yet he did it with an air of the utmost contempt. Birch’s Life of Tillotson, p. 201.

and in consequence of this application, king William granted him, | 300l. a year out of the post-office, for his own and his son’s life, with 1000l. in money, and a place of 100l. a year for his son.

Violence produces violence; and his enemies were so much exasperated against him, that his life was frequently endangered. After publishing his famous tract, entitled “An Argument proving that the Abrogation of King James,” &c. which was levelled against all those who complied with the Revolution upon any other principles than his own, in 1692, a remarkable attempt was actually made upon him. Seven assassins broke into his house in Bondstreet, Nov. 27, very early in the morning; and five of them, with a lantern, got into his chamber, where he, with his wife and young son, were in bed. Mr. Johnson was fast asleep but his wife, being awaked by their opening the door, cried out, Thieves and endeavoured to awaken her husband the villains in the mean time threw open the curtains, three of them placed themselves on that side of the bed where he lay, with drawn swords and clubs, and two stood at the bed’s feet with pistols. Mr. Johnson started up; and, endeavouring to defend himself from their assaults, received a blow on the head, which knocked him backwards. His wife cried out with great earnestness, and begged them not to treat a sick man with such barbarity; upon which they paused a little, and one of the miscreants called to Mr. Johnson to hold up his face, which his wife begged him to do, thinking they only designed to gag him, and that they would rifle the house and be gone. Upon this he sat upright; when one of the rogues cried, “Pistol him for the book he wrote” which discovered their design for it was just after the publishing of the book last mentioned. Whilst he sat upright in his bed, one of them cut him with a sword over the eye-brow, and the rest presented their pistols at him; but, upon Mrs. Johnson’s passionate intreaties, they went off without doing him further mischief, or rifling the house. A surgeon wa immediately sent for, who found two wounds in his head, and his body much bruised. With due care, however, he recovered; and though his health was much impaired and broken by this and other troubles, yet he handled his pen with the same unbroken spirit as before. He died in May 1703. | In 1710 all his treatises were collected, and published in one folio volume; to which were prefixed some memorials of his life. The second edition came out in 1713, folio. 1


Biog. Brit. Gen. Dict. Life prefixed to his Works. Birch’s Life of Tillotson. Knight’s Life of Golet, Kettlewell’s Life, p. 331, Comber’s Life of Comber, p. 222.