« PreviousContinue »
to him Mrs. Williams's consent, he roared, Frank, a elean shirt,” and was very soon drest. When I had him fairly seated in a hackney coach with me, I exulted as much as a fortune-hunter who has got an heiress into a post-chaise with him to set out for Gretna-green.
When we entered Mr. Dilly's drawing-room, he found himself in the midst of a company he did not know. I kept myself snug and silent, watching how he would conduct himself. I observed him whispering to Mr. Dilly, “ Who is that gentleman, sir?”—“ Mr. Arthur Lee.”JOHNSON. “Too, too, too,” under his breath, which was one of his habitual mutterings. Mr. Arthur Lee could not but be very obnoxious to Johnson, for he was not only a patriot, but an American. He was afterwards minister from the United States at the court of Madrid. who is the gentleman in lace ?”—“Mr. Wilkes, sir.” This information confounded him still more: he had some difficulty to restrain himself, and, taking up a book, sat down upon a window-seat and read, or at least kept his eye upon it intently for some time, till he composed himself. His feelings, I dare say, were awkward enough. But he no doubt recollected his having rated me for supposing that he could be at all disconcerted by any company; and he therefore resolutely set himself to behave quite as an easy man of the world, who could adapt himself at once to the disposition and manners of those whom he might chance to meet.
The cheering sound of “ Dinner is upon the table,” dissolved his reverie, and we all sat down without any symptom of ill humour. There were present, beside Mr. Wilkes, and Mr. Arthur Lee, who was an old companion of mine when he studied physick at Edinburgh, Mr. (now sir John) Miller, Dr. Lettsom, and Mr. Slater, the druggist. Mr. Wilkes placed himself next to Dr. Johnson, and behaved to him with so much attention and politeness, that he gained upon him insensibly. No man eat more heartily than Johnson, or loved better what was nice and delicate. Mr. Wilkes was very assiduous in helping him to some fine veal. “ Pray give me leave, sir ;-It is better here- A little of the brown-Some fat, sir-A little of the stuffing-Some gravy-Let me have the pleasure of giving you some butter-Allow me to recommend a squeeze of this orange ;-or the lemon, perhaps, may
, have more zest.”—“Sir, sir; I am obliged to you, sir,” cried Johnson, bowing, and turning his head to him with a look for some time of " surly virtuek,” but, in a short while, of complacency.
Foote being mentioned, Johnson said, “ He is not a good mimick.” One of the company added, “A merryandrew, a buffoon.” JOHNSON. “ But he has wit too, and is not deficient in ideas, or in fertility and variety of imagery, and not empty of reading; he has knowledge enough to fill up his part. One species of wit he has in an eminent degree, that of escape. You drive him into a corner with both hands; but he's gone, sir, when you think you have got him-like an animal that jumps over your head. Then he has a great range for wit; he never lets truth stand between him and a jest, and he is sometimes mighty coarse. Garrick is under many restraints from which Foote is free.” WILKES. “ Garrick's wit is more like lord Chesterfield's.” JOHNSON. “ The first time I was in company with Foote was at Fitzherbert's. Having no good opinion of the fellow, I was resolved not to be pleased; and it is very difficult to please a man against his will. I went on eating my dinner pretty sullenly, affecting not to mind him. But the dog was so very comical, that I was obliged to lay down my knife and fork, throw myself back upon my chair, and fairly laugh it out. No, sir, he was irresistible?" He upon one occasion experienced, in an extraordinary degree, the efficacy of his powers of entertaining. Amongst the many and various modes which he tried of getting money, he became a partner with a small beer brewer, and he was to have a share of the profits for procuring customers amongst his numerous acquaintance. Fitzherbert was one who took his small beer; but it was so bad that the servants resolved not to drink it. They were at some loss how to notify their resolution, being afraid of offending their master, who, they knew, liked Foote much as a companion. At last they fixed upon a little black boy, who was rather a favourite, to be their deputy, and deliver their remonstrance; and, having invested him with the whole authority of the kitchen, he was to inform Mr. Fitzherbert, in all their names, upon a certain day, that they would drink Foote's small beer no longer. On that day Foote happened to dine at Fitzherbert's, and this boy served at table; he was so delighted with Foote's stories, and merriment, and grimace, that when he went down stairs, he told them, " This is the finest man I have ever seen. I will not deliver your message. I will drink his small beer.”
k Johnson's London, a Poem, v. 145.
| Foote told me that Johnson said of him, “ For loud, obstreperous, broadfaced mirth, I know not his equal."-Boswell.
Somebody observed that Garrick could not have done this. WILKES. “ Garrick would have made the small beer still smaller. He is now leaving the stage ; but he will play Scrub all his life.” I knew that Johnson would let nobody attack Garrick but himself, as Garrick once said to me, and I had heard him praise his liberality; so to bring out his commendation of his celebrated pupil, I said, loudly, “ I have heard Garrick is liberal.” JOHNSON. “ Yes, sir; I know that Garrick has given away more money
any man in England that I am acquainted with, and that not from ostentatious views. Garrick was very poor when he began life; so when he came to have money, he probably was very unskilful in giving away, and saved when he should not. But Garrick began to be liberal as soon as he could ; and I am of opinion, the reputation of avarice which he has had, has been very lucky for him, and prevented his having many enemies. You despise a man for avarice, but do not hate him. Garrick might have been much better attacked for living with more splendour than is suitable to a player: if they had had the wit to have assaulted him in that quarter, they might have galled him more. But they have kept clamouring about his avarice, which has rescued him from much obloquy and envy.”
Talking of the great difficulty of obtaining authentick information for biography, Johnson told us, “ When I was a young fellow I wanted to write the life of Dryden, and, in order to get materials, I applied to the only two persons then alive who had seen him; these were old Swinney m, and old Cibber. Swinney's information was no more than this, " That at Will's coffee-house Dryden had a particular chair for himself, which was set by the fire in winter, and was then called his winter chair; and that it was carried out for him to the balcony in summer,
and was then called his summer chair. Cibber could tell no more but • That he remembered him a decent old man, arbiter of critical disputes at Will's. You are to consider, that Cibber was then at a great distance from Dryden, bad perhaps one leg only in the room, and durst not draw in the other.” BOSWELL. " Yet Cibber was a man of observation.” JOHNSON. I think not.” BOSWELL. “ You will allow his Apology to be well done.” JOHNSON.“ Very well done, to be sure, sir. That book is a striking proof of the justice of Pope's remark:
Each might his several province well command,
Would all but stoop to what they understand.” BOSWELL. “ And his plays are good.” JOHNSON. “ Yes; but that was his trade; l'esprit du corps ;' he had been all his life among players and play-writers. I wondered that he had so little to say in conversation, for he had kept the best company, and learnt all that can be got by the ear. He abused Pindar to me, and then showed me an ode of his own, with an absurd couplet, making a linnet soar on an eagle's wing". I told him that
m Owen MʼSwinney, who died in 1754, and bequeathed his fortune to Mrs. Woffingtou, the actress. He had been a manager of Drury-lane theatre, and afterwards of the Queen's theatre in the Haymarket. He was also a dramatick writer, having produced a comedy entitled The Quacks, or Love's the Physician, 1705, and two operas.—MALONE.
" See page 314 of vol. i.
when the ancients made a simile, they always made it like something real."
Mr. Wilkes remarked, that, “among all the bold flights of Shakespeare's imagination, the boldest was making Birnam wood march to Dunsinane; creating a wood where there never was a shrub: a wood in Scotland! ba! ha! ha!” And he also observed, that “the clannish slavery of the highlands of Scotland was the single exception to Milton's remark of. The mountain nymph, sweet Liberty,' being worshipped in all hilly countries."-"When I was at Inverary,” said he, "on a visit to my old friend Archibald duke of Argyle, his dependents congratulated me on being such a favourite of his grace. I said, 'It is then, gentlemen, truly lucky for me ; for if I bad displeased the duke, and he had wished it, there is not a Campbell among you but would have been ready to bring John Wilkes's head to him in a charger. It would have been only,
Off with his head! so much for Aylesbury.
I was then member for Aylesbury.”
Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes talked of the contested passage in Horace's Art of Poetry, “ Difficile est proprie communia dicere." Mr. Wilkes, according to my note, gave the interpretation thus: “It is difficult to speak with propriety of common things; as, if a poet had to speak of queen Caroline drinking tea, he must endeavour to avoid the vulgarity of cups and saucers.” But, upon reading my note, he tells me that he meant to say, that the word communia, being a Roman law term, signifies here things communis juris, that is to say, what have never yet been treated by any body; and this appears clearly from what followed,
You will easier make a tragedy out of the Iliad than on