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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

Monstrously affected and absurd


1737--Johnson and his work]

He was ready to do anything, to turn to anything, to write, to translate, to teach. He fell in love with an amazing woman more than twenty years his senior, monstrously fat, monstrously painted, monstrously affected and absurd; he fell in love with her, and he married her. She had a little money, and Johnson set up an academy for the instruction of youth. But youth would not come to be instructed. One youth came, one of the very few, a soldier's son and a grandson of a Huguenot refugee, named David Garrick. The master and the pupil became friends, and the friendship lasted with life. Master and pupil resolved to make the adventure of the town together. The eyes of aspiring provincials turned always to the great city, every ambitious provincial heart beat with desire for the conquest of London. The priest of letters and the player of parts, the real man and the shadow of all men, packed up bag and baggage and came to London to very different fame and very different fortune. The great city had one kind of welcome to give to the man who desired to speak truth and another to the man who proposed to give pleasure. The chances for men of letters and for players were very unlike just then. The two strands of life ran across the web of London, the strand of Johnson iron-gray, the strand of Garrick gleaming gold. Through long years Johnson hid in dingy courts and alleys, ill-clothed, ill-fed, an uncouth Apollo in

the service of Admetus Cave and his kind, while the marvellous actor was climbing daily higher and higher on the ladder of an actor's fame, the friend of the wealthy, the favored of the great, the admired, the applauded, the well-beloved. Garrick deserved his fame and his fortune, his splendid successes and {43} his shining rewards; but the grand, rough writer of books did not deserve his buffets and mishaps, his ferocious hungers, his acquaintanceship with sponging-houses, and all the catalogue of his London agonies. His struggle for life was a Titan's struggle, and it was never either selfish or ignoble. He wanted to live and be heard because he knew that he had something to say that was worth hearing. He needed to live for the sake of his ardent squalid affections, for the sake of the people who were always dependent upon his meagre bounty, for the sake of the wife he loved so deeply, mourned so truly when she died, and remembered with such tender loyalty so long as life was left to him. Miserably poor himself, he always had about him people more miserable and more poor, who looked to him for the very bread and water of their affliction, dependents whom he tended not merely generously, but, what was better still, cheerfully. Under conditions of existence that would have seemed crushing to men of letters with a tithe of Johnson's greatness of soul, Johnson fought his way inch by inch in the terrible career of the man who lived by his pen, and by his pen alone. He wrote

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