, one of the most eminent and highly-distinguished writers of the
, one of the most eminent and highly-distinguished writers of the eighteenth century, was born on the 18th of September, 1709, at Lichfield in Staffordshire, where his father, Michael Johnson, a native of Derbyshire, of obscure extraction, was at that time a bookseller and stationer. His mother, Sarah Ford, was a native of Warwickshire, and sister to Dr. Ford, physician, who was father to Cornelius Ford, a clergyman of loose character, whom Hogarth has satirized in the print of Modern Midnight Conversation. Our author was the eldest of two sons. Nathaniel, the youngest, died in 1737 in his twenty-fifth year. The father was a man of robust body and active mind, yet occasionally depressed by melancholy, which Samuel inherited, and, with the aid of a stronger mind, was not always able to shake off. He was also a steady high-churchman, and an adherent of the house of Stuart, a prejudice which his son outlived in the nation at large, without entirely conquering in himself. Mrs. Johnson was a woman of good natural understanding, unimproved by education; and our author acknowledged with gratitude, that she endeavoured to instil sentiments of piety as soon as his mind was capable of any instruction. There is little else in his family history worthy of notice, nor had he much pleasure in tracing his pedigree. He venerated others, however, who could produce a recorded ancestry, and used to say, that in him this was disinterested, for he could scarcely teil who was his grandfather. That he was remarkable in his early years has been supposed, but many proofs have not been advanced by his biographers. He had, indeed, a retentive memory, and soon discovered symptoms of an impetuous temper; but these circumstances are not enough to distinguish him from hundreds of children who never attain eminence. In his infancy he was afflicted with the scrophula, which injured his sight, and he was carried to London to receive the royal touch from the hand of queen Anne, the last of our sovereigns who encouraged that popular superstition. He was first taught to read English by a woman who kept a school for young children at Lichfield; and afterwards by one Brown. Latin he learned at Lichfield school, under Mr. Hunter, a man of severe discipline, but an attentive teacher. Johnson owned that he needed correction, and that his master did not spare him; but this, instead of being the cause of unpleasant recollections in his advanced life, served only to convince him that severity in school-education is necessary; and in all his conversations on the subject, he persisted in pleading for a liberal use of the rod. At this school his superiority was soon acknowledged by his companions, who could not refuse submission to the ascendancy which he acquired. His proficiency, however, as in every part of his life, exceeded his apparent diligence. He could learn more than others in the same allotted time: and he was learning when he seemed to be idle. He betrayed an early aversion to stated tasks, but, if roused, he could recover the time he appeared to have lost with great facility. Yet he seems afterwards to have been conscious that much depends on regularity of study, and we find him often prescribing to himself stated portions of reading, and recommending the same to others. No man perhaps was ever more sensible of his failings, or avowed them with more candour; nor, indeed, would many of them have been known, if he had not exhibited them as warnings. His memory was uncommonly tenacious, and to his last days he prided himself on it, considering a defect of memory as the prelude of total decay. Perhaps be carried this doctrine rather too far when he asserted, that the occasional failure of memory in a man of seventy must imply something radically wrong; but it may be in. general allowed, that the memory is a pretty accurate standard of mental strength. Although his weak sight prevented him from joining in the amusements of his schoolfellows, for which he was otherwise well qualified by personal courage and an ambition to excel, he found an equivalent pleasure in sauntering in the fields, or reading such books as came in his way, particularly old romances. For these he retained a fondness throughout life; but was wise and candid enough to attribute to them, in some degree, that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his fixing in any profession.