What follows I consider to be exceedingly odd. It seems extraordinary that the publisher should not have the names of the subscribers to his publication, and be actually missing two-thirds of these "encouragers". There are plenty of naval officers, as might be expected.. I haven't yet explored who most of the others might be, but could not help noticing one name which stands out like a beacon.
Heading the list of those whose names begin with G is that of the famous historian Edward Gibbon, with the curiously irrelevant, and virtually unique, information that he is a "Commissioner of Trade". At first I thought that this must be a different Edward Gibbon, but no, the celebrated Edward Gibbon definitely held the appointment of Commissioner of Trade in 1779. Moreover, the first volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire had already been published to widespread acclaim. Of what conceivable significance could it be that he concurently held the sinecure of Trade Commissioner ?
Wikipedia: By February 1773, Gibbon was writing in earnest, but not without the occasional self-imposed distraction. He took to London society quite easily, and joined the better social clubs, including Dr. Johnson's Literary Club. The Decline and Fall, Volume I, was published on 17 February 1776. He was assailed by many pamphleteers and subjected to much ridicule. His ugliness and elaborate clothes made him an easy target. For the most part he ignored his critics. The historians David Hume and William Robertson recognized him as their equal if not their superior. To those who had accused him of falsifying his evidence he made a devastating reply in A Vindication of Some Passages in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Chapters of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1779. In the same year as the publication of Hervey's Naval History he obtained a valuable sinecure as a commissioner of trade and plantations.
In 1775 he was elected to Johnson's Club. However, Johnson's biographer, James Boswell, openly detested Gibbon, and it may be inferred that Johnson disliked him. (David Morrice Low, Encyclopaedia Britannica). J.B.Bury also writes: dislike of Gibbon was definitely expressed by Boswell, who wrote: 'Gibbon is an ugly, affected, disgusting fellow, and poisons our literary club to me.' Also: 'Mr. Gibbon, with his usual sneer, (contradicted Reynolds on Johnson's success with ladies), perhaps in resentment of Johnson's having talked with some disgust of his ugliness, which one would think a philosopher would not mind.'
Summary of Argument for Johnson's Interest
It has to be agreed that Frederic Hervey and Samuel Johnson were separate individuals. This Hervey lived on, at least some years, after Johnson died. What, then, fuels the suspicion that their involvement in the Naval History of Great Britain was mutual ?
1. The first edition, 1779, (there were evidently two editions) was professedly authored by Frederic Hervey, and others. Who were these others ?
2. The Prefaces to the "Volumes" repeatedly stress the "plan" according to which the History was written.
3. These Prefaces also repeatedly stress the participation of more than one author.
4. The "plan" followed appears to repeat the fortuitous arrangement of Johnson's much earlier anonymous contributions to the Gentleman's Magazine.
5. There is sufficient stylistic evidence in the Naval History to be confident that its authors were familiar with Johnson's earlier contributions to Britain's naval history, in the Gentleman's Magazine of the 1740s. Could Johnson have revised and rewritten them himself ?
6. According to a correspondent, the second edition, which was retitled The naval, commercial, and general history of Great Britain: including the lives of the admirals, and other illustrious commanders and navigators, from the earliest times to the present: with a great number of beautiful copper-plates and accurate maps ... was apparently expanded upon and improved by Hervey and published in 1786, two years after Johnson's death. Was acknowledgement of indebtedness to other authors discontinued ?
7. Why, knowing Johnson's dislike of Edward Gibbon, is attention in Hervey's Naval History, 1779, particularly drawn, apparently gratuitously, to Gibbon's sinecure as a Commissioner of Trade ?
8. 1740 and 1779 were years of crisis for the British spirit, both occasions demanding exertions of national strength at sea. The first presaged the toppling of the Spanish Empire; the second threatened a similar toppling of its British replacement. The time was at hand for a stiffening of national sinews, by recalling the drum-beat of Drake, and the roll-call of Cromwell's General-at-Sea, undaunted Blake.
9. Not long before he died, Johnson confided to Boswell that he could love a dog, if it were called Hervey.
10. Whose dog, or puppy, was Frederic Hervey ? What were his dates and family antecedents ? Did Johnson, since 1737, feel some sense of obligation to the Herveys ?