« PreviousContinue »
would be a disadvantage, as then there would not be such choice in the nursery for the church, curates being candidates for the higher ecclesiastical offices, according to their merit and good behaviour.” He explained the system of the English hierarchy exceedingly well. It is not thought fit,” said he,“ to trust a man with the care of a parish, till he has given proof as a curate that he shall deserve such a trust.” This is an excellent theory; and if the practice were according to it, the church of England would be admirable indeed. However, as I have heard Dr. Johnson observe as to the universities, bad practice does not infer that the constitution is bad.
We had with us at dinner several of Dr. Taylor's neighbours, good civil gentlemen, who seemed to understand Dr. Johnson very well, and not to consider him in the light that a certain person did, who being struck, or rather stunned, by his voice and manner, when he was afterwards asked what he thought of him, answered, “He's a tremendous companion.'
Johnson told me, that “ Taylor was a very sensible, acute man, and had a strong mind; that he had great activity in some respects, and yet such a sort of indolence, that if you should put a pebble upon his chimney-piece, you would find it there, in the same state, a year afterwards."
And here is the proper place to give an account of Johnson's humane and zealous interference in behalf of the reverend Dr. William Dodd, formerly prebendary of Brecon, and chaplain in ordinary to his majesty ; celebrated as a very popular preacher, an encourager of charitable institutions, and author of a variety of works, chiefly theological. Having unhappily contracted expensive habits of living, partly occasioned by licentiousness of manners, he in an evil hour, when pressed by want of money, and dreading an exposure of his circumstances, forged a bond, of which he attempted to avail himself to support his credit, flattering himself with hopes that he might be able to repay its amount without being detected. The person
whose name he thus rashly and criminally presumed to falsify, was the earl of Chesterfield, to whom he had been tutor; and who, he perhaps, in the warmth of his feelings, flattered himself would have generously paid the money in case of an alarm being taken, rather than suffer him to fall a victim to the dreadful consequences of violating the law against forgery, the most dangerous crime in a commercial country ; but the unfortunate divine had the mortification to find that he was mistaken. His noble pupil appeared against him, and he was capitally convicted.
Johnson told me that Dr. Dodd was very little acquainted with bim, having been but once in his company, many years previous to this period, (which was precisely the state of my own acquaintance with Dodd;) but in his distress he bethought himself of Johnson's persuasive power of writing, if haply it might avail to obtain for him the royal mercy. He did not apply to him directly, but, extraordinary as it may seem, through the late countess of Harrington”, who wrote a letter to Johnson, asking him to employ his pen in favour of Dodd. Mr. Allen the printer, who was Johnson's landlord and next neighbour in Bolt-court, and for whom he had much kindness, was one of Dodd's friends, of whom, to the credit of humanity be it recorded, that he had many who did not desert him, even after his infringement of the law had reduced him to the state of a man under sentence of death. Mr. Allen told me that he carried lady Harrington's letter to Johnson, that Johnson read it, walking up and down his chamber, and seemed much agitated; after which he said, “I will do what I can:”—and certainly he did make extraordinary exertions.
He this evening, as he had obligingly promised in one of his letters, put into my hands the whole series of his writings upon this melancholy occasion, and I shall present my readers with the abstract which I made from the collection; in doing which I studied to avoid copying what pronounced
9 Caroline, eldest daughter of Charles Fitzroy, duke of Grafton, and wife of William, the second earl of Harrington.– MALONE.
had appeared in print, and now make part of the edition of Johnson's works, published by the booksellers of London, but taking care to mark Johnson's variations in some of the pieces there exhibited.
Dr. Johnson wrote, in the first place, Dr. Dodd's Speech to the Recorder of London, at the Old Bailey, when sentence of death was about to be
him. He wrote also the Convict's Address to his unhappy Brethren, a sermon delivered by Dr. Dodd in the chapel of Newgate. According to Johnson's manuscript it began thus, after the text, “ What shall I do to be saved ?"“ These were the words with which the keeper, to whose custody Paul and Silas were committed by their persecutors, addressed his prisoners, when he saw them freed from their bonds by the perceptible agency of divine favour, and was, therefore, irresistibly convinced that they were not offenders against the laws, but martyrs to the truth.”
Dr. Johnson was so good as to mark for me with his own hand, on a copy of this sermon, which is now in my possession, such passages as were added by Dr. Dodd. They are not many: whoever will take the trouble to look at the printed copy, and attend to what I mention, will be satisfied of this.
There is a short introduction by Dr. Dodd; and he also inserted this sentence: “You see with what confusion and dishonour I now stand before you ;-no more in the pulpit of instruction, but on this humble seat with yourselves." The notes are entirely Dodd's own, and Johnson's writing ends at the words, “ the thief whom he pardoned on the cross.” What follows was supplied by Dr. Dodd himself.
The other pieces mentioned by Johnson in the abovementioned collection, are two letters, one to the lord chancellor Bathust, (not lord North, as is erroneously supposed,) and one to lord Mansfield ;-a petition Dr. Dodd to the king ;-a petition from Mrs. Dodd to the queen ;observations of some length inserted in the newspapers, on occasion of earl Percy's having presented to his majesty a
petition for mercy to Dodd, signed by twenty thousand people, but all in vain. He told me that he had also written a petition for the city of London ; “ but,” said he, with a significant smile," they mended it"."
The last of these articles which Johnson wrote is Dr. Dodd's last solemn declaration, which he left with the sheriff at the place of execution. Here also my friend marked the variations on a copy of that piece now in my possession. Dodd inserted, “I never knew or attended to the calls of frugality, or the needful minuteness of painful economy :” and in the next sentence he introduced the words which I distinguish by Italicks; “ My life for some few unhappy years past has been dreadfully erroneous.”
Johnson's expression was hypocritical; but his remark on the margin is, “ With this he said he could not charge himself.”
Having thus authentically settled what part of the occasional papers concerning Dr. Dodd's miserable situation came from the pen of Johnson, I shall proceed to present my readers with my record of the unpublished
r Having unexpectedly, by the favour of Mr. Stone, of London-field, Hackney, seen the original in Johnson's handwriting of the petition of the city of London to his majesty in favour of Dr. Dodd, I now present it to my readers, with such passages as were omitted enclosed in crotchets, and the additions or variations marked in Italicks.
“That William Dodd, doctor of laws, now lying under sentence of death in your majesty's gaol of Newgate, for the crime of forgery, has for a great part of his life set a useful and laudable example of diligence in his calling, (and, as we have reason to believe, has exercised his ministry with great fidelity and efficacy,] which, in many instances, has produced the most happy effect.
“That he has been the first institutor, [or] and a very earnest and active promoter of several modes of useful charity, and [that] therefore [he] may be considered has having been, on many occasions, a benefactor to the publick.
“[That when they consider his past life, they are willing to suppose his late crime to have been not the consequence of habitual depravity, but the sugyestion of some sudden and violent temptation.]
[That] Your petitioners, therefore, considering his case, as in some of its circumstances unprecedented and peculiar, and encouraged by your majesty's known clemency, [they] most humbly recommend the said William Dodd to [his] your majesty's most gracious consideration, in hopes that he will be found not altogether (unfit] unworthy to stand an example of royal mercy.”
writings relating to that extraordinary and interesting matter.
I found a letter to Dr. Johnson from Dr. Dodd, May 23d, 1777, in which the Convict's Address seems clearly to be meant:
“ I am so penetrated, my ever dear sir, with a sense of your extreme benevolence towards me, that I cannot find words equal to the sentiments of my heart. * * * *
“ You are too conversant in the world to need the slightest hint from me, of what infinite utility the speech s on the awful day has been to me. I experience every hour ome good effect from it. I am sure that effects still more salutary and important must follow from your kind and intended favour. I will labour-God being my helper—to do justice to it from the pulpit. I am sure, had I your sentiments constantly to deliver from thence, in all their mighty force and power, not a soul could be left unconvinced and unpersuaded." **
He added, “ May God Almighty bless and reward with his choicest comforts your philanthropick actions, and enable me at all times to express what I feel of the high and uncommon obligations which I owe to the first man in our times.”
On Sunday, June 22nd, he writes, begging Dr. Johnson's assistance in framing a supplicatory letter to his majesty.
“ If his majesty could be moved of his royal clemency to spare me and my family the horrours and ignominy of a publick death, which the publick itself is solicitous to wave, and to grant me in some silent distant corner of the globe to pass the remainder of my days in penitence and prayer, I would bless his clemency and be humbled.”
s His speech at the Old Bailey, when found guilty.--Boswell. Mrs. : Carter believed that the last solemn Declaration was written by Dr. Dodd ; and says, in one of her letters to Mrs. Montague, vol. iii. p. 27 : “ There was nothing ostentatious or affected in it, but all was a natural expression of a heart deeply impressed with a sense of so awful a situation.” To have deceived so acute a mind as Mrs. Carter's required no ordinary versatility of composition. See some remarks in this volume, by Johnson and his friends, on the subject of writing for another.-Ed.