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complacent, she had valuable qualities, and her departure left a blank in his house. Upon this occasion he, according to his habitual course of piety, composed a prayer."
I shall here insert a few particulars concerning him, with which I have been favoured by one of his friends.
"He had once conceived the design of writing the Life of Oliver Cromwell, saying, that he thought it must be highly curious to trace his extraordinary rise to the supreme power from so obscure a beginning. He at length laid aside his scheme, on discovering that all that can be told of him is already in print; and that it is impracticable to procure any authentic information in addition to what the world is already in possession of." 3
"He had likewise projected, but at what part of his life is not known, a work to show how small a quantity of REAL FICTION there is in the world; and that the same images, with very little variation, have served all the authors who have ever written."
"His thoughts in the latter part of his life were frequently employed on his deceased friends. He often muttered these or such like sentences: 'Poor man! and then he died.""
"Speaking of a certain literary friend, 'He is a very pompous puzzling fellow,' said he; 'he lent me a letter once that somebody had written to him, no matter what it was about; but he wanted to have the letter back, and expressed a mighty value for it; he hoped it was to be met with again; he would not lose it for a thousand pounds. I laid my hand upon it soon afterwards, and gave it him. I believe I said I was very glad to have met with it.
1 Prayers and Meditations, p. 226.
"In his letter to Miss Susannah Thrale, Sept. 9, he thus writes:
"Pray shew mamma this passage of a letter from Dr. Brocklesby:-'Mrs. Williams, from mere inanition, has at length paid the great debt to nature, about three o'clock this morning (Sept. 6). She died without a struggle, retaining her faculties entire to the very last; and, as she expressed it, having set her house in order, was prepared to leave it at the last summons of nature."
In his letter to Mrs. Thrale, Sept. 22, he adds :—
"Poor Williams has, I hope, seen the end of her afflictions. She acted with prudence, and she bore with fortitude. She has left me.
'Thou thy weary task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages.'
Had she good humour and prompt elocution, her universal curiosity and comprehensive knowledge would have made her the delight of all that knew her. She left her little to your charity-school."-M.
3 Mr. Malone observes, "This, however, was entirely a mistake, as appears from the Memoirs published by Mr. Noble. Had Johnson been furnished with the materials which the industry of that gentleman has procured, and with others which it is believed are yet preserved in manuscript, he would, without doubt, have produced a most valuable and curious history of Cromwell's life."
O, then he did not know that it signified anything. So you see, when the letter was lost it was worth a thousand pounds, and when it was found it was not worth a farthing.'
"The style and character of his conversation is pretty generally known; it was certainly conducted in conformity with a precept of Lord Bacon, but it is not clear, I apprehend, that this conformity was either perceived or intended by Johnson. The precept alluded to is as follows: 'In all kinds of speech, either pleasant, grave, severe, or ordinary, it is convenient to speak leisurely, and rather drawlingly than hastily; because hasty speech confounds the memory, and oftentimes, besides the unseemliness, drives a man either to stammering, a non-plus, or harping on that which should follow; whereas a slow speech confirmeth the memory, addeth a conceit of wisdom to the hearers, besides a seemliness of speech and countenance.' 1 Dr. Johnson's method of conversation was certainly calculated to excite attention, and to amuse and instruct (as it happened), without wearying or confusing his company. He was always most perfectly clear and perspicuous; and his language was so accurate, and his sentences so neatly constructed, that his conversation might have been all printed without any correction. At the same time it was easy and natural; the accuracy of it had no appearance of labour, constraint, or stiffness: he seemed more correct than others by the force of habit, and the customary exercises of his powerful mind."
"He spoke often in praise of French literature.
The French are excellent in this,' he would say, 'they have a book on every subject.' From what he had seen of them he denied them the praise of superior politeness, and mentioned, with very visible disgust, the custom they have of spitting on the floors of their apartments. This,' said the doctor, 'is as gross a thing as can well be done; and one wonders how any man, or set of men, can persist in so offensive a practice for a whole day together; one should expect that the first effort towards civilisation would remove it even among savages.'
"Baxter's 'Reasons of the Christian Religion,' he thought contained the best collection of the evidences of the divinity of the Christian system."
"Chymistry was always an interesting pursuit with Dr. Johnson. Whilst he was in Wiltshire, he attended some experiments that were made by a physician at Salisbury on the new kinds of air. In the course of the experiments frequent mention being made of Dr. Priestley, Dr. Johnson knit his brows, and in a stern manner inquired, 'Why do we hear so much of Dr. Priestley?'" He
1 Hints for Civil Conversation.-Bacon's Works, 4to. vol. i. p. 571.—M.
2 I do not wonder at Johnson's displeasure when the name of Dr. Priestley was mentioned; for I know no writer who has been suffered to publish more pernicious doctrines. I shall instance only three. First, Materialism; by which mind is denied to human nature; which, if believed, must deprive us of every elevated principle. Secondly, Necessity; or the doctrine that every action, whether good or bad, is included in an unchangeable and unavoidable system; a notion utterly subversive of moral government. Thirdly, that we have no reason to think that the future world (which, as he is pleased to inform us, will be adapted to
was very properly answered, 'Sir, because we are indebted to him for these important discoveries.' On this Dr. Johnson appeared well content, and replied, 'Well, well, I believe we are; and let every man have the honour he has merited.""
"A friend was one day, about two years before his death, struck with some instance of Dr. Johnson's great candour. 'Well, Sir,' said he, 'I will always say that you are a very candid man.' 'Will you?' replied the doctor; 'I doubt then you will be very singular. But, indeed, Sir,' continued he, 'I look upon myself to be a man very much misunderstood. I am not an uncandid, nor am I a severe man. I sometimes say more than I mean, in jest; and people are apt to believe me serious: however, I am more candid than I was when I was younger. As I know more of mankind, I expect less of them, and am ready now to call a man a good man upon easier terms than I was formerly.'"
On his return from Heale he wrote to Dr. Burney :—
our merely improved nature) will be materially different from this; which, if believed, would sink wretched mortals into despair, as they could no longer hope for the "rest that remaineth for the people of God," or for that happiness which is revealed to us as something beyond our present conceptions, but would feel themselves doomed to a continuation of the uneasy state under which they now groan. I say nothing of the petulant intemperance with which he dares to insult the venerable establishments of his country. As a specimen of his writings, I shall quote the following passage, which appears to me equally absurd and impious, and which might have been retorted upon him the men who were prosecuted for burning his house. "I cannot," says he, "as a necessarian [meaning necessitarian], hate any man; because I consider him as being, in all respects, just what God has made him to be; and also as doing, with respect to me, nothing but what he was expressly designed and appointed to do: God being the only cause, and men nothing more than the instruments in his hands to execute all his pleasure.”—Illustrations of Philosophical Necessity, p. 111. The Reverend Dr. Parr, in a late tract, appears to suppose that Dr. Johnson not only endured, but almost solicited, an interview with Dr. Priestley. In justice to Dr. Johnson, I declare my firm belief that he never did. My illustrious friend was particularly resolute in not giving countenance to men whose writings he considered as pernicious to society. I was present at Oxford when Dr. Price, even before he had rendered himself so generally obnoxious by his zeal for the French revolution, came into a company where Johnson was, who instantly left the room. Much more would he have reprobated Dr. Priestley. Whoever wishes to see a perfect delineation of this Literary Jack of all Trades may find it in an ingenious tract, entitled "A Small Whole-Length of Dr. Priestley," printed for Rivingtons, in St. Paul's Churchyard.-B.
The foregoing note produced a reply from Dr. Parr (Gent. Mag. March, 1795), in which he endeavoured to support his assertion by evidence, which, however, really contradicted him. For instead of Johnson's having solicited an interview (which was the point in dispute), Dr. Parr is obliged to admit that the meeting was at Mr. Paradise's dinner-table, that Dr. Johnson did not solicit the interview, but was aware that Dr. Priestley was invited, and that he behaved to him with civility: and then Dr. Parr concludes, in a way that does little credit either to his accuracy or his candour, "Should Mr. Boswell be pleased to maintain that Dr. Johnson rather consented to the interview, than almost solicited it, I shall not object to the change of expression."-C.
"I came home on the 18th of September, at noon, to a very disconsolate house. You and I have lost our friends; but you have more friends at home. My domestic companion is taken from me. She is much missed, for her acquisitions were many, and her curiosity universal; so that she partook of every conversation. I am not well enough to go much out; and to sit, and eat, or fast alone, is very wearisome. I always mean to send my compliments to all the ladies."
His fortitude and patience met with severe trials during this year. The stroke of the palsy has been related circumstantially; but he was also afflicted with the gout, and was besides troubled with a complaint which not only was attended with immediate inconvenience, but threatened him with a chirurgical operation, from which most men would shrink. The complaint was a sarcocele, which Johnson bore with uncommon firmness, and was not at all frightened while he looked forward to amputation. He was attended by Mr. Pott and Mr. Cruikshank. I have before me a letter of the 30th of July, this year, to Mr. Cruikshank, in which he says, "I am going to put myself into your hands:" and another, accompanying a set of his "Lives of the Poets," in which he says, "I beg your acceptance of these volumes, as an acknowledgment of the great favours which you have bestowed on, Sir, your most obliged and most humble servant." I have in my possession several more letters from him to Mr. Cruikshank, and also to Dr. Mudge at Plymouth, which it would be improper to insert, as they are filled with unpleasing technical details. I shall, however, extract from his letters to Dr. Mudge such passages as show either a felicity of expression, or the undaunted state of his mind.
"My conviction of your skill, and my belief of your friendship, determine me to entreat your opinion and advice. In this state I with great earnestness desire you to tell me what is to be done. Excision is doubtless necessary to the cure, and I know not any means of palliation. The operation is doubtless painful; but is it dangerous? The pain I hope to endure with decency; but I am loth to put life into much hazard. By representing the gout as an antagonist to the palsy, you have said enough to make it welcome. This is not strictly the first fit, but I hope it is as good as the first; for it is the second that ever confined me; and the first was ten years ago, much less fierce and fiery than this. Write, dear Sir, what you can to inform or encourage me. The operation is not delayed by any fears or objections of mine."
TO BENNET LANGTON, ESQ.
"London, Sept. 29, 1788. "DEAR SIR,-You may very reasonably charge me with insensibility of your kindness and that of Lady Rothes, since I have suffered so much time to pass without paying any acknowledgment. I now, at last, return my thanks; and why I did it not sooner I ought to tell you. I went into Wiltshire as soon as I well could, and was there much employed in palliating my own malady. Disease produces much selfishness. A man in pain is looking after ease, and lets most other things go as chance shall dispose of them. In the meantime I have lost a companion (Mrs. Williams), to whom I have had recourse for domestic amusement for thirty years, and whose variety of knowledge never was exhausted; and now return to a habitation vacant and desolate. I carry about a very troublesome and dangerous complaint, which admits of no cure but by the chirurgical knife. Let me have your prayers. I am, &c.,
Happily the complaint abated without his being put to the torture of amputation. But we must surely admire the manly resolution which he discovered while it hung over him.
In a letter to the same gentleman he writes, "The gout has within these four days come upon me with a violence which I never experienced before. It made me helpless as an infant." And in another, having mentioned Mrs. Williams, he says,—" whose death following that of Levett has now made my house a solitude. She left her little substance to a charity-school. She is, I hope, where there is neither darkness,' nor want, nor sorrow."
I wrote to him, begging to know the state of his health, and mentioned that "Baxter's Anacreon, which is in the library at Auchinleck, was, I find, collated by my father in 1727 with the MS. belonging to the University of Leyden, and he has made a number of notes upon it. Would you advise me to publish a new edition of it?" His answer was dated September 30.
"You should not make your letters such rarities, when you know, or might know, the uniform state of my health. It is very long since I heard from you; and that I have not answered is a very insufficient reason for the silence of a friend. Your Anacreon is a very uncommon book: neither London nor Cambridge can supply a copy of that edition. Whether it should be reprinted, you cannot do better than consult Lord Hailes. Besides my constant and
1 In allusion to her blindness.-C.