« AnteriorContinuar »
compliments, but observing that Dr. Johnson, who was reading, did not see him, “tapt him gently on the shoulder. “Tis Mr. Ch-Im-ley;' says my husband. Well, Sit-and what if it is Mr. Ch-im-ley,' says the other, sternly, just lifting his eyes a moment from his book, and returning to it again with renewed avidity." This surely conveys a notion of Johnson, as if he had been grossly rude to Mr. Cholmondeley, a gentleman whom he always loved and esteemed. If, therefore, there was an absolute necessity for mentioning the story at all, it might have been thought that her tenderness for Dr. Johnson's character would have disposed her to state any thing that could soften it. Why then is there a total silence as to what Mr. Cholmondeley told her that Johnson, who had known him from his earliest years, having been made sensible of what had doubtless a strange appearance, took occasion, when he afterwards met him, to make a very courteous and kind apology. There is another little circumstance which I cannot but remark. Her book was published in 1785, she had then in her possession a letter from Dr. Johnson, dated in 1777,2 which begins thus: “Cholmondeley's story shocks me, if it be true, which I can hardly think, for I am utterly unconscious of it: I am very sorry, and very much ashamed.” Why then publish the anecdote? Or if she did, why not add the circumstances, with which she was well acquainted !
In his social intercourse she thus describes him :S “ Ever musing till he was called out to converse, and conversing till the fatigue of his friends, or the promptitude of his own temper to take offence, consigned him back again to silent meditation." Yet, in the same book, she tells us, “ He was, however, seldom inclined to be silent, when any moral or literary question was started ; and it was on such occasions that, like the Sage in • Rasselas,' he spoke, and attention watched his lips; he reasoned, and conviction dosed his periods.”—His conversation, indeed, was so far from ever fatiguing his friends, that they regretted when it was interrupted or ceased, and could exclaim in Milton's language,
“With thee conversing, I forgot all time." I certainly, then, do not claim too much in behalf of my 1 George James Cholmondeley, Esg. grandson of George, third Earl of Caoimondeley, and one of the Commissioners of Excise; a gentleman respected for his abilities, and elegance of manners 2 " Letters to Mrs Thrale," VOL II. p. 12 3 “Anecdotes," p 23. • Ibid. p. 302
illustrious friend in saying, that however smart and entertaining Mrs. Thrale's “ Anecdotes” are, they must not be held as good evidence against him ; for wherever an instance of harshness and severity is told, I beg leave to doubt its perfect authenticity; for though there may have been some foundation for it, yet, like that of his reproof to the “very celebrated lady,” it may be so exhibited in the narration as to be very unlike the real fact.
The evident tendency of the following anecdotel is to represent Dr. Johnson as extremely deficient in affection, tenderness, or even common civility. “ When I one day lamented the loss of a first cousin killed in America, — * Prithee, my dear, (said he,) have done with canting; how would the world be the worse for it, I may ask, if all your relations were at once spitted like larks, and roasted for Presto's supper?' Presto was the dog that lay under the table while we talked.”—I suspect this too of exaggeration and distortion. I allow that he made her an angry speech ; but let the circumstances fairly appear, as told by Mr. Baretti, who was present:
“Mrs. Thrale, while supping very heartily upon larks, laid down her knife and fork, and abruptly exclaimed, O, my dear Johnson, do you know what has happened? The last letters from abroad have brought us an account that our poor cousin's head was taken off by a cannon-ball.' Johnson, who was shocked both at the fact, and her light unfeeling manner of mentioning it, replied, 'Madam, it would give you very little concern if all your relations were spitted like those larks, and drest for Presto's supper.'
It is with concern that I find myself obliged to animadvert on the inaccuracies of Mrs. Piozzi's “ Anecdotes," and perhaps I may be thought to have dwelt too long upon her little collection. But as from Johnson's long residence under Mr. Thrale's roof, and his intimacy with her, the account which she has given of him may have made an unfavourable and unjust impression, my duty, as a faithful biographer, has obliged me reluctantly to perform this unpleasing task.
1 "Anecdotes," p. 63. 2 Upon mentioning this to my friend Mr. Wilkes, he, with his usual readiness, pleasantly matched it with the following sentimental anecdote. He was invited by a young man of fashion at Paris, to sup with him and a lady, who had been for some time his mistress, but with whom he was going to part. He said to Mr. Wilkes that he really felt very much for her, she was in such distress; and th of two hundred louis-d'ors. Mr. Wilkes observed the behaviour of Mademoiselle, who sighed indeed very piteously, and assumed every pathetick air of grief; but eat no less than three French pigeons, which are as large as English partridges, besides other things. Mr. Wilkes whispered the gentleman, "We often say in England, Excessive sorrow is exceeding dry, but I never heard Excessive sorrow is excecding hungry. Perhaps one hundred will do.” The gentleman took the hint.
he meant to make her a present
he was much pleased, and he exerted himself to be as entertaining as his indisposition allowed him.
The anxiety of his friends to preserve so estimable a life, as long as human means might be supposed to have influence, made them plan for him a retreat from the severity of a British winter, to the mild climate of Italy. This scheme was at last brought to a serious resolution at General Paoli's, where I had often talked of it. One essential matter, however, I understood was necessary to be previously settled, which was obtaining such an addition to his income, as would be sufficient to enable him to defray the expence in a manner becoming the first literary character of a great nation, and, independent of all his other merits, the Authour of The DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. The person to whom I above all others thought I should apply to negociate this business, was the Lord Chancellor," because I knew that he highly valued Johnson, and that Johnson highly valued his Lordship; so that it was no degradation of my illustrious friend to solicit for him the favour of such a man. I have mentioned what Johnson said of him to me when he was at the bar; and after his Lordship was advanced to the seals, he said of him, “I would prepare myself for no man in England but Lord Thurlow. When I am to meet with him, I should wish to know a day before.” How he would have prepared himself, I cannot conjecture. Would he have selected certain topicks, and considered them in every view, so as to be in readiness to argue them at all points ? and what may we suppose those topicks to have been? I once started the curious enquiry to the great man who was the subject of this compliment: he smiled, but did not pursue it.
I first consulted with Sir Joshua Reynolds, who perfectly coincided in opinion with me, and I therefore, though personally very little known to his Lordship, wrote to him,2 stating the case, and requesting his good offices for Dr. Johnson. I mentioned that I was obliged to set out for Scotland early in the following week, so that if his Lordship should have any commands for me as to this pious negociation, he would be pleased to send them before that time ; otherwise Sir Joshua Reynolds would give all attention to it.
This application was made not only without any suggestion 1 (Edward Lord Thurlow, who was devested of the great seal a second time, in 1793, and died Sept. 12, 1806, in the seventy-first year of his age.-M.]
2 It is strange that Sir John Hawkins should have related that the application was made by Sir Joshua Reynolds, when could so easily have been informed of the truth by enquiring of Sir Josbua. Sir John's carelessness to ascertain facts is very remarkable.
on the part of Johnson himself, but was utterly unknown to him, nor had he the smallest suspicion of it. Any insinuations, therefore, which since his death have been thrown out, as if he had stooped to ask what was superfluous, are without any foundation. But, had he asked it, it would not have been superfluous; for though the money he had saved proved to be more than his friends imagined, or I believe than he himself, in his carelessness concerning worldly matters, knew it to be, had he travelled upon the Continent, an augmentation of his income would by no means have been unnecessary.
On Wednesday, June 23, I visited him in the morning, after having been present at the shocking sight of fifteen men executed before Newgate. I said to him, I was sure that human life was not machinery, that is to say, a chain of fatality planned and directed by the Supreme Being, as it had in it so much wickedness and misery, so many instances of both, as that by which my mind was now clouded.
Were it machinery, it would be better than it is in these respects, though less noble, as not being a system of moral government. He agreed with me now, as he always did, upon the great question of the liberty of the human will, which has been in all ages perplexed with so much sophistry, "But, Sir, as to the doctrine of Necessity, no man believes it. If a man should give me arguments that I do not see, though I could not answer them, should I believe that I do not see?” It will be observed, that Johnson at all times made the just distinction between doctrines contrary to reason, and doctrines above reason.
Talking of the religious discipline proper for unhappy convicts, he said, “Sir, one of our regular clergy will probably not impress their minds sufficiently : they should be attended by a Methodist preacher ;1 or a Popish priest.” Let me however observe, in justice to the Reverend Mr. Vilette, who has been Ordinary of Newgate for no less than eighteen years, in the course of which he has attended many hundreds of wretched criminals, that his earnest and humane exhortations have been very effectual. His extraordinary diligence is highly praiseworthy, and merits a distinguished reward.2
On Thursday, June 24, I dined with him at Mr. Dilly's, where were the Rev. Mr. (now Dr.) Knox, master of Tunbridge
1 A friend of mine happened to be passing by a field congregation in the environs of London, when a Methodist preacher quoted this passage with triumph.
2 I trust that The City of LONDON, now happily in unison with The Court, will have the justice and generosity to obtain preferment for this Reverend Gentleman, now a worthy old servant of that magnificent Corporation.
school, Mr. Smith, Vicar of Southill, Dr. Beattie, Mr. Pinkerton, authour of various literary performances, and the Rev. Dr. Mayo. At my desire old Mr. Sheridan was invited, as I was earnest to have Johnson and him brought together again by chance, that a reconciliation might be effected. Mr. Sheridan happened to come early, and having learnt that Dr. Johnson was to be there, went away; so I found, with sincere regret, that my friendly intentions were hopeless. I recollect nothing that passed this day, except Johnson's quickness, who, when Dr. Beattie observed, as something remarkable which had happened to him, that he had chanced to see both No. 1, and No. 1000, of the hackney-coaches, the first and the last ; " Why, Sir, (said Johnson,) there is an equal chance for one's seeing those two numbers as any other two." He was clearly right; yet the seeing of the two extremes, each of which is in some degree more conspicuous than the rest, could not but strike one in a stronger manner than the sight of any other two numbers.— Though I have neglected to preserve his conversation, it was perhaps at this interview that Dr. Knox formed the notion of it which he has exhibited in his “Winter Evenings.”
On Friday, June 25, I dined with him at General Paoli's, where, he says in one of his letters to Mrs. Thrale, “I love to dine.” There was a variety of dishes much to his taste, of all which he seemed to me to eat so much, that I was afraid he might be hurt by it; and I whispered to the General my fear, and begged he might not press him. “Alas ! (said the General,) see how very ill he looks; he can live but a very short time. Would you refuse any slight gratifications to a man under sentence of death? There is a humane custom in Italy, by which persons in that melancholy situation are indulged with having whatever they like best to eat and drink, even with expensive delicacies."
I shewed him some verses on Lichfield by Miss Seward, which I had that day received from her, and had the pleasure to hear him approve of them. He confirmed to me the truth of a high compliment which I had been told he had paid to that lady, when she mentioned to him “The Colombiade," an epick poem, by Madame du Boccage :-“Madam, there is not any thing equal to your description of the sea round the North Pole, in your Ode on the death of Captain Cook.”
On Sunday, June 27, I found him rather better. I mentioned to him a young man who was going to Jamaica with his wife and children, in expectation of being provided for by two of