Background/Introduction/Reason Behind Writing Letter
Letter To Chesterfield, Samuel Johnson was a lexicographer which means he was a dictionary writer. Dr. Johnson had been writing his famous dictionary for eight years. A coalition of seven London booksellers had commissioned the project eight years previously. Johnson got only 1575 pounds in return for his hard labor. Dr. Johnson wanted some more money. On the advice of the bookseller, he published the plan of the dictionary and dedicated it to Lord Chesterfield in the hope of getting some monetary help from him. He personally visited the Lord but met with disappointment. The Lord helped him with much less money than Johnson had expected.
But when Dictionary was published after 13 years, delayed by five years, Lord Chesterfield published an advance review of it in a magazine named The World, Presenting himself as a principal patron of the word.
This excited Dr. Johnson’s anger and he wrote the letter to his Lordship. This is one of the great letters of all time.
The Letter To Chesterfield
Dr. Johnson wrote the Letter as Follows:
The Right Honourable the Earl of Chesterfield
February 7, 1755.
I have been recently informed by the proprietor of The World that you wrote two papers for the magazine recommending my dictionary to the public.
This is such a distinguished honor and favor shown by the Great which I am not accustomed to. In other words, no Great man ever showed any favor to me. I, therefore fail to understand how I should receive it and in what terms to acknowledge it.
When upon some slight encouragement I first visited enamored by the beauty of your residence and was so pleased with the idea of meeting you that I considered myself the conqueror of the world. But I was so much neglected there that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to center it. Once I addressed you in public, I tried my best to please you with all my oratory, but to no avail. I was ignored and I got nothing.
My Lord, seven years ago, I waited for you in your outer rooms and I replaced from there empty-handed. There is no use in complaining of these adverse circumstances in which I continued my work during those seven years and been kind to me. Now it has been so much delayed that I am different from it and cannot share this honor with my wife who has died, now I am known to the world and I do not need the favor of anyone.
In my opinion, there is no harshness in being cynical about a favor that does not bring any benefit. I am unwilling that the public should consider me as a patron, which actually I have done. God alone enables me to complete my work all alone.
Though, I carry on my work with Little Obligation to any favourer of the learned man. I shall not be disappointed, if I get the least support and encouragement from them, for I have wakened from that Dream of hope of which I once boasted with utmost joy.
Some important point
The name of the Earl of Chesterfield was “Philip Dormer”,
Meaning of Johnson’s statement “Le Vainquer du Vainquer dc la terre” – The Conqueror of the world’s conqueror.
Name of a dictionary written by Johnson – “A Dictionary of the English Language.
Thus through “Letter to Chesterfield” Samuel Johnson, depicts his feeling toward the honorable Earl of Chesterfield, Phillip Dormer. Johnson’s tone throughout the letter is very cynical and sarcastic. Johnson expresses his frustration to Lord Chesterfield through this letter. This letter is also described as literature’s Declaration of Independence.