July-December 1855

The Collected Letters, Volume 30


TC AND OTHERS TO THE EDITOR OF THE TIMES ; 31 October 1855; DOI: 10.1215/lt-18551031-TCAO-EOT-01; CL 30: 97-100


[31 Oct. 1855]

Sir,—The following document, and the proposal or appeal now grounded on it, require to be made known to the British public, for which object we, as the course is, apply to the Editor of The Times.

In the month of May last there was presented to Lord Palmerston, as head of Her Majesty's Government, a memorial on behalf of a certain aged Miss Lowe and her sister,1 which memorial will sufficiently explain itself, and indicate who the Misses Lowe are, to those who read it here:—

“The undersigned beg respectfully to submit to Lord Palmerston a statement of reasons which appear to them to constitute, on behalf of the two aged surviving daughters of Mauritius Lowe, therein described, a claim to such small yearly pension as in his Lordship's judgment may consist with other claims and demands for the ensuing year, upon the fund appropriate to literature.

In Dr. Samuel Johnson's last Will is this passage,—‘I also give and bequeath to my godchildren, the son and daughter of Mauritius Lowe, painter, each of them 100l. of my stock in the Three per Cent. Consolidated Annuities, to be disposed of by and at the discretion of my executors in the education or settlement in the world of them my said legatees.’2

The Mauritius Lowe mentioned here, who was once a man of great promise in his art, favourably known in the Royal Academy and in the world as a man of refined manners and real talent and worth (though probably with something of morbid or over-sensitive in his character), died 10 years after Johnson without fulfilling the high hopes entertained of him. The godson, or younger Lowe, mentioned in the will, who at one time (1810–13) appears to have held some small appointment in Barbadoes, creditably to himself, but with loss of health—the crown and consummation of various other losses he had met with—is also long since dead. Of these Lowes and their hopes and struggles there is now nothing to be said. They are sunk under the horizon. Nor can they pretend to have any hold of the world's memory except what is derived from the father's intimacy with Johnson, of which and of Johnson's helpfulness and real esteem and affection for the man there are still abundant proofs, printed and not printed, besides this of the Will.

But the goddaughter mentioned in the will has not yet sunk under the horizon. She still survives among us, a highly respectable old person, now in her 78th year, with all her faculties about her, living with her younger sister, aged 72, the only other remnant of the family, in a house they have long occupied—No. 5, Minerva-place, New-cross, Deptford—with numerous memorials of Johnson in their possession,3 which vividly bring home to us and present as a still living fact, their connexion with that great man. They have lived there for many years in rigorous though not undignified poverty, which now, by some unforeseen occurrences, threatens to become absolute indigence in these their final years.

They are gentlewomen in manners; by all evidence, persons of uniformly unexceptionable conduct; veracity, sense, ingenious propriety, noticeable in them both, to a superior degree. The elder, especially, must have been a graceful lively little woman, something of a beauty in her younger days, and by no means wanting for talent. She still recollects in a dim but ineffaceable manner the big, awful figure of Samuel Johnson, to whom she was carried shortly before his death, that he might lay his hand on her head and give her his blessing; her awe and terror very great on the occasion.4 Both sisters are in perfect possession of their faculties—the younger only is slightly hard of hearing; the elder (on whose head lay Johnson's hand) has still a light step, perfectly erect carriage, and vivacious memory and intellect. The younger, who is of very honest and somewhat sterner features, appears to be the practical intellect of the house, and probably the practical hand. They are very poor, but have taken their poverty in a quiet, unaffectedly handsome manner, and have still hope that, in some way or other, intolerable want will not be permitted to overtake them. They have an altogether respectable, or, we might say (bringing the past and the present into contact), a touching and venerable air. There, in their little parlour at Deptford, is the fir desk (capable of being rigorously authenticated as such) upon which Samuel Johnson wrote the English Dictionary; the best dictionary ever written, say some.

It is in behalf of these two women, of Johnson's goddaughter fallen old and indigent, that we venture to solicit from the Government some small public subvention, to screen their last years from the worst misery. It may be urged that there is no public fund appropriated for such precise objects, and that their case cannot, except in a reflex way, be brought under the head of ‘literary pensions’: but, in a reflex way, it surely can; and we humbly submit withal, that this case of theirs is, in some measure, a peculiar and unique one.

Samuel Johnson is such a literary man as probably will not appear again in England for a very great length of time. His works and his life, looked at well, have something in them of heroic, which is of value beyond most literature, and much beyond all money and money's worth to the nation which produced him. That same English Dictionary, written on the poor fir desk above spoken of, under sternly memorable circumstances, is itself a proud possession to the English nation, and not in the philological point of view alone. Such a dictionary has an architectonic quality in it; and for massive solidity of plan, manful correctness and fidelity of execution, luminous intelligence, rugged honesty and greatness of mind pervading every part of it, is like no other.5 This, too, is a Cathedral of St. Paul's, after its sort;6 and stands there for long periods, silently reminding every English soul of much that is very necessary to remember.

Samuel Johnson himself is far beyond the reach of our gratitude. He left no child or representative of any kind to claim pensions or distinctions from us; and here, by accident, thrown upon the waste seabeach, is something venerably human with Johnson's mark still legible upon it; Johnson, as it were, mutely bequeathing it to us, and to what humanity and loyalty we have, for the few years that may still be left. Our humble request, in the name of literature withal is, that the English nation will, in some small adequate way, respond to this demand of Johnson's.

HENRY HALLAM, Wilton-crescent.

JAMES STEPHEN, Trinity-hall, Cambridge.

S. OXON, Cuddesdon Palace.

THOMAS CARLYLE, 5, Cheyne Row, Chelsea.

ALEXANDER DYCE, 9, Gray's-inn-square.

B. W. PROCTER, 32, Weymouth-street, Portland-place.

C. L. EASTLAKE, 7, Fitzroy-square.

JOHN FORSTER, 58, Lincoln's-inn-fields.

T. B. MACAULAY, Albany.

W. M. THACKERAY, 36, Onslow-square.

ALFRED TENNYSON, Freshwater, Isle of Wight.

A. W. FONBLANQUE, Board of Trade.

CHARLES DICKENS, Tavistock-house.

E. BULWER LYTTON, 1, Park-lane.

G. R. GLEIG, Warwick-square.

RICHARD OWEN, Royal College of Surgeons.

ROD. E. MURCHISON, Belgrave-square.

B. DISRAELI, Grosvenor-gate.

H. H. MILMAN, Deanery, St. Paul's.”7

To this memorial his Lordship made answer, with due courtesy and without undue delay, that the fund set apart for encouragement of literature could not be meddled with for a pension to the goddaughter of Johnson; but that, in consideration of the circumstances, his Lordship, from some other fund, had made a donation of 100l. Which sum of 100l. was accordingly paid to Miss Lowe in June last—a very welcome gift and help—all that the Prime Minister could do in this matter,8 and, unfortunately, only about the fifth part of what it was, and is, indispensable to get done.

It was still hoped that the last resource of an appeal to the public might be avoided; that there might be other Government helps, minute charitable funds, adequate to this small emergency. And new endeavours were accordingly made in that direction, and new expectations entertained; but these likewise have all proved ineffectual: and the resulting fact now is, that there is still needed something like an annuity of 30l. for the joint lives of these two aged persons; that, strictly computing what pittances certain and precarious they already have, and what they still want, their case cannot be satisfactorily left on lower terms—that is to say, about 400l., to purchase such an annuity, is still needed for them.

If the thing is half as English as we suppose it to be, a small pecuniary result of that kind is not doubtful, now when the application is once made. At all events, as the English Government is not able to do this thing, we are now bound to apprise the English nation of it, and to ask the English nation in its miscellaneous capacity—Are you willing to do it?9

Messrs. Coutts, bankers, will receive subscriptions from such as feel that this is a valid call upon English beneficence; and we have too much reverence for Samuel Johnson, and for the present generation of his countrymen, to use any soliciting or ignoble pressure on the occasion. So soon as the requisite amount has come in, the subscriptions will cease; of which due notice will be given.

We are, Sir, your obedient servants,




Athenæum Club, Oct. 31.